Ally Ang

Collective Invention

My daughter was born in a flood of saltwater, her body still and tangled in kelp. As the midwife pulled my baby out from between my legs, she gasped, her stern pockmarked face turning as pale as the moon. 

“Oh god, what’s wrong?” I asked, still delirious with pain. A final agonizing contraction shook my body as I delivered the placenta: a thick, slimy mass of algae and brine. My husband’s hand, which had been steadfastly gripping my own as I labored through the night, grew slack as the midwife whisked my baby away to cut the umbilical cord. She did not cry. She did not make a sound. The room was stiflingly silent, my question hanging in the air unanswered.

There are stories, ones my mother used to tell me as I drifted off to sleep, of women who loved the sea so much that they became it. Women who would go to the shore every morning as though it were their church and offer pieces of their soul in exchange for some kind of rapture. If the ocean deemed them worthy, it would transform them, webbing their toes together, turning their blood brackish, ripping gills into their necks and peeling away their human skin to reveal iridescent scales beneath. Once the sea had claimed them, they were never seen again. Some said that they drowned, others said that their transformations were simply an excuse to begin new lives with secret lovers, but I knew the truth: they were free. 

When I was a girl, I used to pray to be transformed like these women. I went to the beach whenever I could, skipping school and sneaking out in the middle of the night just so I could touch the shore and feverishly beg the ocean to possess me. I longed to shed my body, already laden with shame. By eleven years old, I had started filling out into what my mother called a “womanly figure,” unfamiliar curves reshaping my body seemingly overnight. Though I had once been invisible to the world, suddenly I found myself subject to whispers, stares, rumors, and the lingering syrupy glances from men that I didn’t fully understand, but that left me feeling shaken and bare. 

I wasn’t sure what it meant to give up a part of my soul, but I would have sacrificed anything and everything to rid myself of my lungs and limbs and legs and hips and become one with the sea. My efforts seemed futile: occasionally, I would cough up saltwater into the sink or find a clump of algae growing in my armpits, but the transformation I so desperately longed for never came. As the years passed and I settled into my new identity as a wife, I stopped my daily pilgrimages to the sea. The time I once spent dreaming was now occupied with housework, cooking, preparing for motherhood. I tucked my desire into my apron pocket, out of sight. 

When I found out I was pregnant, I waited almost two weeks before I told my husband. This tiny, strange creature growing inside me felt too precious to share with anyone. As I took my evening bath—the only time I was left alone with my thoughts—I would run my hands along the slight, nearly imperceptible curve of my belly in wonder. For the first time, my body felt miraculous.

The moment the midwife put my daughter in my arms, I knew my childhood prayers had finally been answered. Her black fisheyes stared blankly at me, mouth agape, gills opening and closing uselessly as they searched for water. Instinctively, I unbuttoned my sweat- and blood-stained nightgown and gave her my breast. While she suckled, her tiny teeth gently grazing my nipple, I touched her chubby human leg and counted: five perfect little toes on each perfect little foot. I closed my eyes, content.

When I woke the next day, my husband was already gone. He had taken all of his belongings with him, leaving no note, no trace of his presence. I did not weep: already, his face had begun to fade from my mind into a cloudy memory. I filled the bathtub with warm water and sea salt and climbed in, clutching my baby to my chest. Together, we sank into the water, and I closed my eyes as my daughter kicked her tiny legs and swam around the tub. Soon, it would be like he had never existed at all.

I loved my daughter so fiercely I began to fear that all that love might break me. It welled up inside me until my ribs ached and my stomach swelled. Every night I would fall asleep in the bathtub holding her tight, and every morning I would awaken with my fingers and toes wrinkled like shriveled-up raisins. Occasionally, I did find myself wishing that I could brush my daughter’s hair or buy her pretty dresses, or that she had a hand for me to hold. But I cherished every part of her: her velvety soft fins, her knobby knees, the way her shining grey scales seemed to melt into her smooth flesh.

Though she could not speak, we learned to communicate in other ways. When she stamped her feet or splashed her fins, I knew that she needed to be fed or cradled or put to sleep. Fearful of the neighbors’ loose lips and judgmental stares, I did not dare bring my daughter into town or enroll her in school, but we were more than content to have just each other. I spent hours telling her stories, the same ones my mother told me and new ones that I made up just for her. I told her of the ocean, which I had begun to think of as her other parent. Like me, she enjoyed those stories the best, listening to them in enraptured silence. Unlike me, the ocean had already chosen her. It was already running through her veins. 

On her eleventh birthday, I finally took her to the sea for the first time. In truth, I do not know why I waited so long—perhaps I was afraid the ocean would try to reclaim its gift from me, or my daughter would choose the freedom of the sea over the confines of a porcelain bathtub and her mother’s suffocating love—but something in my gut told me it was time. She toddled beside me on the sand, still clumsy on her human legs, as we made our way to the water. The other beachgoers made no effort to hide their whispers and stares as they gawked at her, but we paid them no mind. Our world had long ago shrank to just the two of us; everything else was white noise.

At the shoreline, I anxiously watched my daughter, unsure of what would happen when she finally touched the ocean for the first time. Though she had never seen the beach before, I could tell immediately she knew she was home. With an air of solemnity, she lay down at the edge of the water, digging her toes into the sand. I wanted to reach for her, to pull her back into the safety of my arms before it was too late, but I stopped myself. As I held my breath and waited for the tide to come in, I looked into her eyes, as still and black as a saucer filled with ink. Her mouth opened and closed as though she were trying to speak, but she did not make a sound. At that moment, a wave crashed onto the shore and engulfed her body, pulling her out to the sea. 

The wave receded, leaving only seafoam where my daughter had been.


Ally Ang is a gaysian poet and editor based in Seattle. Their work has been published in The Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Palette Poetry, and elsewhere. Find them @TheOceanIsGay or at





Lisa Gordon

By Free, I Meant Silent

I tried to switch into Ms. Senson’s art class, and when they asked why, I said it was because I heard one of her children was killed in a car accident. The look on the principal’s face was that of disgust. I should have known better than to tell the truth. I should have known what I’d be up against.

But I’d been drawing a lot—more than usual. It was taking up my time as well as my headspace, and I wanted to experience it fully. It was Winona Ryder I could not stop drawing. It was like she consumed me, and I wanted to consume her back. I pored over videos of her on YouTube and scoured Netflix for anything she was in pre-Stranger Things, which, it turns out, was a lot. I brought my sketchbook to dinner, to gym class, on the bus. Pages and pages and pages of her face.

My mother sent me to the school therapist, whom I could have danced circles around without ever having read a child psychology book in my life (by now, I’ve read nine; The Developing Mind is my favorite, but I paid particular attention to Odd Girl Out because I was certain it would be used against me, and I was right).

His name was Mark and he had a completely blank and fine-looking face, the kind you forget as soon as you see it. I noticed he was married and I wondered, when his wife closed her eyes, how she pictured him. Did she look at him while they had sex? I wondered who was more intent on pleasing who. I was thinking about this  when he placed both of his hands, palms down on his desk, and said my name: Clara. It felt weird coming from his mouth, like a ball he was molding with his tongue. I did not like it. I looked into his eyes and decided it was a mistake for the school to have hired a man for this role. 

“Yes,” I said.

“I think you probably know what all of this is about, right?”

I winced. It bothered me when adults were not direct, when they tried to soften the blow of what they were saying by adding words that had no meaning.

“Yes,” I said.

“What do you think it is about?” he asked. On the wall behind him a round Schoolhouse brand clock ticked audibly. I listened to it for some time, trying to pick out a cadence I could speak alongside. Sometimes I used my dad’s metronome when I was sketching. Drawing was the only time when I felt my mind was really free, and by free, I meant silent. 

“It is about the fact that I asked to switch art classes because the teacher had experienced tragedy. I felt that a tragic event would surely have rendered itself in her own art, and that that was the kind of art I felt worthy of learning about, and thus concluded that the teacher would be better than the current teacher. It is also about the fact that I draw Winona Ryder constantly, and all of my teachers have noticed it, and so have the students, and that I am probably going to be the target of bullying soon, as I’m sure I’m the target of back chatter and gossip as it is. I have determined that I do not care what my peers think of me, and that in a few years, none of this will matter.”

Mark stared at me. The clock ticked. I smiled. I wanted to show him that I recognized that he was just beginning to acknowledge me as a more mature mind than he’d expected for an eighth grader, but that I was also complacent. It was a combination I’d perfected with my parents. One of his eyebrows furrowed as he wondered what to say next. I crossed my right leg over my left and waited.

“So you’ve discussed this with your mother,” he said.

I couldn’t help but let a little smirk cross my mouth, quickly covering it up with a twisting of my lips to suggest I was deep in thought. That was the best he could do?

“She told me she was going to ask that I see you. But she knows that I know why. Nothing gets past me, she says.”

“And by that you mean, nothing gets past you.”


“And what about your father?”

“He does everything my mother tells him to do. It’s like the man has no life of his own.”

Mark’s eyes slid behind me to the door and then slowly back. “Right.”

I could sense he wanted more but didn’t know what to ask. “He’s a nice man. He tries. He loves me. They both do.” I wanted desperately to add: Can we be finished now? But I knew we were only at the beginning.

Mark opened a notebook, then closed it. “So where shall we begin?” he asked. “With the art teacher? Or the drawings?”

“Isn’t that up to you?” 


Winona was born in Minnesota, in a town called Winona, her namesake. Oh, to be named after a town, I thought! She grew up on a commune in Northern California. While drawing, I fantasized about her upbringing, the freedom she had to roam through the fields, stray grasses clinging to her skirts, slicing her bare feet. I imagined the meals she’d have, maybe raw eggs in straw or turnips pulled right from the ground—surely no meatloaf and greasy potatoes, as my mother was keen on making, generally on Mondays, the alliteration of which killed me (Taco Tuesdays followed, but she’d yet to come up with something good for Wednesdays). I thought about her lying under a blanket of blinking stars, her lips dry from the wind, a knitted blanket around her shoulders for warmth she’d dragged from her bed, homemade by a family friend. And how she probably didn’t have to go to school once the kids started bullying her. Thin, androgynous, and wise beyond her years, the others couldn’t place her, didn’t know how to talk to her, didn’t appreciate the difference between “other” and “normal” and the beautiful spaces that exist in between, and how her father, a rare book historian and good friend of Timothy Leary (who I had to look up, subsequently devolving into a fascinating black hole of LSD research), probably stroked her hair and gave her a tumbler of whiskey and said something like: “the only schooling you’ll ever need is exactly what you’ll find right here.”


The incident came swift and quick. I was expecting it, and yet, it’s hard to be prepared. I got up for only a moment to buy a Coke—how cliché, right?—and left my sketchbook behind. I should have known. Lacie Peters and her gaggle of friends had been giggling about me all class, but I’d built up such a wall around them that it was like I forgot the wall was there. Rookie mistake. When I came back, there it was: “die bitch,” smeared in what had to be period blood from a used tampon.

Later, Mark asked me how I’d known what it was. And even though I’d not had mine yet, this substance, as I’d come to know over and over again when I got older, however varied in its color and texture, was among the things a woman could always recognize. 


When my father came to see me in my room, I knew he was trying his best. He always did. With another child, I often believed, he would have succeeded. He hugged me frequently (meaning he draped his arm around my shoulders and left it there for a few seconds), made my eggs the way I liked them, and played the things I used to want to play, when I was still agreeable enough to play with him. He went to work dutifully, kissed my mother dutifully, accepted his nightly scotch dutifully, asked me dutifully how my day was. Today was no different when he approached my bed, where I sat drawing, always drawing, Winona, in the exact same notebook.

He sat down slowly, tenderly, so as not to shift the mattress too much. The charcoal in my hand maintained its smooth lines, unaltered. (I’ll think of this later, much later, after he was long gone—how thoughtful that was, how few people, perhaps none other at all, would have been so considerate.) I was working on shading around her nose.

“I know that one,” he said. “Beetlejuice?” 

I nodded. 

“Did your mother let you watch that?”

I looked up at him with extreme curiosity mixed with exasperation. “It’s PG, Dad. How old, exactly, do you think I am?”

He was silent for a while, watching my drawing. 

“I know what you really want to talk about. I’ll just show it to you,” I said. 

Showing it to my mother had been easier—she’d wrestled the notebook from my hands somewhat rudely, though I knew it stemmed from her anger at what had happened more than her frustration at what kind of daughter I was, how different I’d turned out to be than what she’d hoped. She turned the pages with a ginger aggression, sighing each time a turn of the page yielded no results, and when she finally saw it, the smeared blood, some of it bleeding onto the next page in Rorschach clumps, she closed her eyes into tight buttons and pursed her lips out like a duck. She looked funny, and I could have laughed, but it was all just too serious, so serious it was absurd. “And to think that Lacie girl used to be in Brownies with you,” she said. 

“Oh, please,” I’d told her. Actually, Lacie had always seemed kind of cool in my mind, like, I thought she might be fun to hang out with if it weren’t for her friends who followed her around like princess puppies. 

I wiped the outside of my pinkie joint on the charcoal, blending ever so slightly, focusing as hard as I could on replicating the primness of Winona’s nose. I wanted nothing to be more important than that: than her tiny, perfect, feminine slope. I thought of it pushed up against a pillow, of how water might drip off of it after a shower, if men had kissed her there. And then I turned the pages, six back, until I reached it.

My father stared. He shook his head, back and forth, a slow, rhythmic movement. Then he looked up and sighed, in dialogue with someone—something—else, though not God, whom I knew he did not believe in. I could not figure out what it was he was thinking, and that was the part that bothered me the most. I was aware of my precociousness and prided myself on interpreting adult thoughts, actions, implied movements, of understanding their impulses better than they could themselves. This confounded me. I watched him curiously, this suddenly new and unknown father of mine.

And then he erased it all. He’d come so close—so close to something I did not know I wanted. He put his hand over mine, gave it a small squeeze, and said, “Sorry, kiddo. What a bummer.” He got up, closed the door behind him, and left, leaving me stunned, my hand rendered useless in a swift kick of shock, the artist in me abruptly withdrawn, focused on nothing more than how filthy the charcoal left my hands.


Winona was bullied and beat up at school—an early form of what we now call gay-bashing. Some of my favorite photographs of her are at her youngest. In one photo, a school photo, her hair is short and spiked. If you really try, you can probably tell her gender, but it’s tricky, and I liked that her face was a contradiction, two things at once. I liked it because, how can a face be a mystery? Nothing is more mysterious world than a face, nothing more deliberate and unmasked. And yet hers—I stared for hours, drew for hours. I kept thinking: how much of how she looked was intentional? Did she want to stand out? Did she not think she would? Did she not think about it at all? Answering these questions led to more contradictions: that she was either a precocious and progressive pre-teen, or incredibly naïve to the social norms of her peers. And again, the space between fascinated me. 


Her parents let her drop out. Her education, they said, could be whatever she made of it. 


In the morning, I lay in bed long past when I should have risen for school. My father had checked in on me, then my mother; I heard them whispering outside my door, with hushed urgency, debating the importance of letting me stay home while I pretended to still be asleep, my head turned toward the wall. They both knew they would, but arriving at that decision was the thing that made them feel like parents. I knew that I would, too, and overhearing this exercise in parenting made me feel doted upon, as well as lonely.

At last, I heard my father say, “all right, all right,” his faint footsteps descending the carpeted stairs. In that moment, I never felt more like an only child, and this awareness was profound, for being an only child was something I bore like a scar. And yet I wondered if I’d enjoy having siblings, and decided, never having been given the chance to know, that I wouldn’t.

The door creaked open, and my mother emerged, her face flushed with anxiety. “Clara, sweetie?” she started. Sometimes I felt like my mother loved her perceived impression of me more than the actual me—it was like, when she entered my room, some amount of love and affection disseminated when she saw the bareness of my room, my black jeans and t-shirts littered across the floor, the charcoal spread across my desk, probably smeared on my face. She sat down on the edge of the bed and rubbed my ankle absentmindedly.

“We’ve decided to let you stay home today,” she said.

“I’m fine,” I said. It felt like my duty to protest. If I was going to be the outcast, surely I should own it. But I felt as defeated as I sounded, and my mother sighed, tipping her head toward the floor.

“Those kids will be punished,” she said.

“I don’t care about that,” I said, and that was true. That was very true.

My mother appeared aghast, and just as quickly, resumed exhaustion. “What do you mean?”

“Their punishment doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care.”

“Of course we do,” she said. There was that inclusive we, the one that made me feel at once loved and excluded. “Mark will want to talk to you again,” she said. “He might call.”

I rolled my eyes exaggeratedly. “He’s a quack,” I said, sitting up and banging my head against the wall behind me. “His help is useless.”

“Clara.” She sat up straight, tucked her hair behind her ears. It was the way she got when she didn’t know how to deal with me, when I assumed she was ticking back all the memories of where she may have gone wrong as a parent. “I just wish you had some friends. Even just one…”

I began to cry. I couldn’t help it, not at all. It surprised me just as much as it did my mother, and as she reached out to wipe the tears away from my face, I felt like I was watching a movie, a terrible movie, far too sentimental, the kind that makes you cringe and yearn for reality. But I allowed this maternal gesture, closed my eyes, and felt the print of her thumb on my skin, and tried to feel it for what it was: a unique combination of pureness and responsibility, the percentages of which I’d never understand.


If I’m being honest, I know this much is true: I wasn’t necessarily as ostracized from the other students as I ostracized myself.


Mark called at 10:00 a.m. on the dot, as if he was trying to give me space as a teenager, believing I had just wrangled my depressed self out of bed, wolfed down some cereal, and used the minimal energy I had just to answer the phone. In fact, I’d taken that morning to teach myself about coffee. The magical, unduly wonder of coffee: that I’d never experimented with it before alarmed me. But once my mother had left, leaving me in the house all alone (a rare treat), it occurred to me like an epiphany. A simple Google search rendered the coffee maker nothing more than an easy game to play, and within minutes, I was toying with the harsh black liquid in my mouth, waiting patiently for something to change, to pop, to announce itself. It took some time. I took my mug, plastered with a cracking WARRIORS 1ST YEAR CHAMPS, harkening back to days of yore when I played recreational sports like every other child in America, to my father’s easy chair, positioned carefully in between the bay windows, with the piano to the left, and the front door to the right, and I sipped, and I waited. In due time—how much time, I’m not sure—I felt a thin, low buzzing in my temples and behind my eyes, forcing my eyelids to be more open than usual, my hearing more sensitive, and my involuntary gestures—blinking, twitches—to feel profound.

So when the phone rang, I was ready.

“Clara,” he said. “I’m so glad you answered.”

“Instinct more than anything else,” I said. “Being home alone, and all.”

“…Right. I want you to know that we’re taking this seriously. That’s first and foremost.”

“And I want you to know that I don’t care.”

“That can’t be true.”

I rolled by eyes. “And yet, here I am, speaking for myself, using agency, telling you my own truth.”



I had befuddled him. I was enjoying myself immensely. The coffee was making my heart race. 

“You don’t care that we’re taking it seriously? Or you don’t care that it happened?”

Ah! A question I hadn’t expected. One point for Mark. “I’m glad you’re taking it seriously. It would be way worse if you weren’t. But I don’t care that it happened. And I don’t care if they’re punished.”

“That can’t be—okay, listen. What they did was wrong, very wrong, and they will absolutely be punished, as they should be. Why wouldn’t you care about that?”

“Think about it. If they’re not punished, what message does that send?”

“That they can commit a heinous act of bullying and get away with it.”

“But they expect to be punished. I agree that, within the standard societal expectations, they should be. But if they’re not, it actually might make them think that you don’t care about them. And that would really kick them off their own pedestal.”


“Thanks. I’m thinking of writing a book.” I sipped from my coffee mug like I was being interviewed for a national newspaper on what a well-rounded yet misguided childhood looks like. The coffee was really working! I felt like I could attack the game of life and win!

“Clara,” he said again. His voice got soft. “Let me…switch tactics here. Can I ask you something? And can you answer honestly?”

“Try me,” I said, still feeling strong.

“How are you?”

This surprised me. No one had actually asked how I was. I felt a strange and sudden affection for him. Two points for Mark. I thought about telling him that I had cried earlier, that I hadn’t slept at all, but then quickly barricaded myself against his sympathy. 

“Better than ever,” I replied.


In truth, the pain of it was dull and unrelenting, but not unfamiliar to the way I’d felt for years now.


I passed a few hours sprawled in front of the TV, skipping through reality shows, bad talk shows, and cooking shows, which mesmerized me. Food was a pleasure I felt too young to appreciate, but believed that maybe some day I would. At home, we ate to satiate ourselves, a means to an end. My parents seemed to savor few things: my father, his scotch, my mother, a cup of earl gray with honey—these were things they paid careful attention to, the rituals around them as important as the liquid, and the feeling it delivered. I watched a woman with large hands spin sugar into frosting. I watched a man with spiked hair slather corned beef with mustard that fell apart, glistening, into his hands. There were only so many hours I could kill doing this, though, and the entire time, I felt my notebook calling to me, as if it was haunting me. 

I tried to ignore it, but the impulse to draw was so strong, I finally decided I’d try it without the notebook. I gathered scraps of paper from around the house, somehow believing that if I used scraps, it would render my drawings less meaningful. I pilfered bits of pencils from my father’s desk drawer, a runny pen from my mother’s old purse, sat down at the kitchen table, and closed my eyes. One of my favorites came to mind first: Winona, head cupped in her hand, a strand of hair falling across her eye, a subtle smirk that was unintentionally sexy, because she was too young to be intentionally sexy. I sketched the eyes first, my usual go-to, but I could not get the pencil to be dark enough, not enough to be worthy of her deeply dark eyes. I tried again with the hair, but the pencil was too wispy, it came out looking like frayed ends. And the pen, of course, was worse: why I thought I’d even try drawing with a pen made me laugh at myself and chuck it across the room, where it sputtered and rolled under a counter.

I wondered, if I’d ever actually made it to Ms. Senson’s class, what she might have taught me.

It was 1:06 p.m.. There was still so much time left in the day. I did not know how I would make it. I could not imagine how people did it, people who did not have jobs or could not work or did not have children or an otherwise more or less daily responsibility to keep them from going absolutely mad. For I felt mad—it was maddening, living with the desire to erase what had happened to me and what would happen, listening to the seconds tick away on the clock in the kitchen, feeling like there was nothing to look forward to. More than a friend, I yearned for a pet. Something to talk to, who wouldn’t talk back, but could offer some affection, or at least look me in the eye, so I would know I was seen.

Without knowing what else to do with myself, I decided to take a nap. I woke to the sound of the garage door opening.

“Clara?” he ventured when he came in. “I came home to check on you.” He approached me slowly, like he was afraid of me. He perched himself on the edge of the couch, rubbing a finger absentmindedly on a fraying strand of fabric. We’d had this couch my whole life, and it was only occurring to me now how old it was, and how truly ugly.

“Did Mom tell you to?”

“No. Do you think I only do what she tells me to do?”


The look on his face was that of recognition. “Well, you’re right. And you should know that we’re probably getting divorced.”

I sat up quickly. “Wait. Really?”

He nodded. “Don’t tell her I told you.” He slammed his hand against his forehead. “Shit. I shouldn’t have told you that. Not now, with what you’re doing through. Shit. What is wrong with me?”

My thoughts scrambled. I had to focus on the piano.

“I’ve never known how to be a parent.”

I stayed silent, realizing that interrupting now would mean sacrificing learning something significant. 

“It’s hard, every day. It’s like it’s all you are: just a parent, nothing else. Or a husband.”

“Want me to just run away then? It would solve all of our problems, apparently.”

He laughed. “No, Clara, don’t you see? If you left, we’d have nothing. You’re everything to us. Everything.” Then he added: “Do we stifle you?”

“Yes. No.” I said. 

“Everything is right, and everything is wrong. We can’t guide you at all. Neither can that guidance counselor you’ve got, nor the stupid kids you call classmates.”

“What’s left, then?” 


“Well, that sucks. I don’t like myself very much,” I grumbled. 

“Oh, but Clara, let me tell you a secret. You do! You like yourself very much. And that’s what makes you so great. You are you. You do what you want. You say what you want. You’re probably smarter than your mother and I both, already. You’ve never cared about perception. You’ve never given in. It’s like you’re impervious to scrutiny other than you own.”

My face turned in on itself. This comment was like a hit of dopamine, a sugar rush, the way I felt when I finished a Winona drawing perfectly without revisions. 

“Wow,” I said. “That’s pretty cool.”

“And I can’t believe you’re ours. Your mother, who wants to be perfect in everyone’s eyes. And me, who’s never known how to please anyone. And we made you. You’re the best thing we did.”

For once I didn’t have a witty reply. But I did know what I wanted to do. 

“Can you drive me to school?”

He looked at me with a blank face. “I can.” Then he narrowed his eyes at me. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing. I just want to go to school,” I said. 

“But what about…”

I shrugged. “I can’t stay home forever.”

“Well, that’s true. Look at you, parenting yourself.” He picked up his briefcase. “Well, hop to it, then. Get your things. I’ll drop you off, then go back to work, I guess.”

“Or don’t. They’re not expecting me to go back to school, and that’s why I want to go. They’re expecting you to go back to work. So don’t.”

Then my dad laughed. I saw all the teeth in his mouth and the way his Adam’s apple bobbed when he threw his head back.  

“Can you write me a note?” he asked. 

“Sure. Should it say, ‘die, bitch’”?

He laughed harder, and then we both did. 

“Let the record state that it’s not funny,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. 

“That’s what makes it funny,” I said. 

I tore a page from my notebook and wrote a note. My dad won’t be coming back to work today. Let him be.

“Thanks,” he said, holding it in his hands, admiring it as if it were a work of art. Then he folded it up and opened his briefcase, and that was when I saw it: a drawing I had done, tacked into the underside of the case. A colored pencil drawing of myself. I remember doing it, it was early on when I started learning to draw, and I was coloring everything: the kitchen, my sneakers, the air conditioning unit. In this drawing, though, I was just looking out our bay window, and I’d colored in a pair of sweatpants I used to love, purple with green dragons on them. 

I don’t know whether he saw me see it, but he closed it shut with a loud snap. 

“Off you go, now,” he said.  


Lisa’s short fiction has been published in Paper Darts, the Rumpus, Hypertext, StoryChord, Eleven Eleven, Litro, Five:2:One, and others. She is at work on two novels—wish her luck.





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




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.




Katie Rhiannon Jones translates Emmy Hennings

Wor(l)ds in Flight: Three Poems


We lie in a sea-deep lake
Knowing nothing of sorrow and heartache
We embrace and encase ourselves 
And waterlilies circle us and draw
Rings – We strive and wish and want no more
We have no cravings.
Love, something’s missing still,
A wish that’s unfulfilled:
The desire for desire…  


Ein Traum

Wir liegen in einem tiefem See
Und wissen nichts von Leid und Weh.
Wir halten uns umfangen
Und Wasserrosen rings um uns her.
Wir streben und wünschen und wollen nichts mehr.
Wir haben kein Verlangen.
Geliebter, etwas fehlt mir doch,
Einen Wunsch, den hab ich noch:
Die Sehnsucht nach der Sehnsucht.



My flesh aches somewhere in a strange 
I no longer feel my body
Feet like lead—so heavy,
Breast hollow, burned-out and branded
I don’t hurt, and yet I’m full of pain.
I look into your eyes spellbound.
I fall into a sleep, candles flicker and flame,
They light my way into the unknown land.



Mein Leib schmerzt, irgendwo in einem fremden 
Ich fühle meinen Körper längst nicht mehr,
Die Füße sind wie Blei so schwer,
Die Brust ist hohl und ausgebrannt,
Mir tut nichts weh und bin doch voller Schmerzen,
Ich seh in deine Augen wie gebannt.
Ich fall in Schlaf, es flammen Kerzen
Sie leuchten mir ins unbekannte Land.


In hospital

All autumns pass over me. 
Lying ill in a white room,
Wishing dearly to be dancing. 
Always thinking of violin tunes
And a thousand flickering lights.
O, how pretty I am today!
Faces painted so brightly
Dancing past me so fast.
O, so many wilted roses,
carried home each night
crushed by caresses 
tenderly arranged in the morning.
And I remember the girls,
Vagabonds like me—love makers,
Singing of some mythic homeland
Through tears of laughter and heartbreak.
Yet now I lie abandoned—stranded
In a white room—a blank screen.
O, my sisters of the streets,
Come to me tonight in a dream!


Im Krankenhause

Alle Herbste gehn an mir vorüber.
Krank lieg ich im weißen Zimmer,
Tanzen möchte ich wohl lieber.
An die Geigen denk ich immer.
Und es flimmern tausend Lichter.
O, wie bin ich heute schön!
Bunt geschminkte Angesichter
Schnell im Tanz vorüberwehn.
O, die vielen welken Rosen,
Die ich nachts nach Haus getragen,
Die zerdrückt vom vielen Kosen
Morgens auf dem Tische lagen.
An die Mädchen denk ich wieder,
Die wie ich die Liebe machen.
Wenn wir sangen Heimatlieder,
Unter Weinen, unter Lachen,
Und jetzt lieg ich ganz verlassen
In dem stillen weißen Raum.
O, ihr Schwestern von den Gassen,
Kommt zu mir des Nachts im Traum!


Translator’s Note:

These poems are from Emmy Hennings’s first collection, Die letzte Freude / The last Joy (1913), a title that conjures a host of compelling allusions: the reference to last joy might evoke eschatological associations, implying the author’s interest in religion and renewal, as well as her historical context at the eve of the First World War.  However, these words—letzte Freude—might equally connote an orgasmic petite mort, and are highly suggestive of one of the collection’s leitmotifs—sex work and the life of Freudenmädchen, slang for women and girls who perform sex work. Hennings occasionally relied on sex work for money, and so it might be tempting to read these references autobiographically. Yet Hennings’s intervention in the (usually male-authored) “prostitute narrative” also gestures towards a critique of the economic and gendered mechanisms of exploitation, a theme throughout her oeuvre. Imagery relating to exploitation can be noticed in “Im Krankenhause,” in which the speaker remembers aspects of her life while convalescing from an illness implicitly related to sex work. While the blankness of the poem’s white room contrasts with the speaker’s colourful memories, the remembered scenes are also anti-romantic and inflected with imagery of (mis)use—the crushed roses, for instance. In Hennings’s German, she uses rhyme to pair streets (Gassen) with abandoned (verlassen). In an attempt to maintain these associations, I’ve inserted the word ‘stranded’ to echo abandoned and bring the relationship between topography and abandonment into sharper relief. 

The poetic I’s memories of singing Heimatlieder with her comrades ironically connects the figure of the sex worker with a nationalist myth of Germany. Through the subversive image of the so-called “fallen” women singing Heimatlieder, Hennings seems to critique the provincialized innocence suggested by the term Heimat/ homeland, instead associating Germany with the unsentimental exchange and exploitation that the sex worker figure might signify. In my translation of “Im Krankenhause,” I’ve inserted the word ‘vagabond’ to gesture towards this subversive element and toward another ‘whore and vagabond’ of German literature, Courage—the picaresque protagonist of The Life of Courage: Thief, Whore and Vagabond (1670) by Johann Grimmelshausen, part of his Simplicissimus series of books. Hennings met her future husband, Hugo Ball, at Café Simplicissimus in Munich—where she performed and discussed art and politics with many other budding (or established) avant garde artists of the early twentieth century. Together with Ball, Tristan Tzara, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and others, Hennings founded the infamous Cabaret Voltaire, which opened its doors in Zurich in 1916 with Hennings performing her poem “Gefängnis”/ Prison on the opening night. Indeed, Hennings was a full participant and instigator in the Dada movement, though she has not received as much attention as her contemporaries. Descriptions of Hennings by her fellow Dadaists are far from flattering, and Erika Biddle points out that ‘the men in her inner circle undermined Hennings’, noting the way some friends dismissed her as a drug addict, or as uncommitted to the Dada spirit (Biddle 2007: 275). A contemporary reviewer refers to her ‘hysteria’ (Siurlai qtd. in Rugh 1981: 2), and later writers interested in the movement considered her work a vehicle for understanding Ball’s art, as opposed to reading it in its own right. The performative elements of her work and interest in dolls and puppetry might reflect the gender politics within the group, despite the Dadaist (cl)aim to undo such hierarchies. While the poetry translated here predates the Cabaret Voltaire, suggesting a bold poetic voice, Hennings often recited poetry written by other members of the group, particularly Ball’s. Such details add texture to Hennings’s poem ‘”Hypnose” in which the self is hollowed out, like a puppet. The hypnotic, light and dark quality of Hennings’s poetry recalls linguistically the chiaroscuro techniques used in expressionist film, and one might put her writing into dialogue with the widespread interest in somnambulism at the fin de siècle and first decades of the twentieth century. Such imagery implies the poet’s interest in personal and mass manipulation by means other than brute force.

In these translations, I’ve aimed to tread the line between faithfulness to Hennings’s meaning as well as spirit—making small changes to preserve rhymes and rhythms where possible, and shuffling or inserting the occasional new word in the spirit of transformation and flight woven throughout Hennings’s largely ignored poetry. Feminist intervention and scholarship have sought to bring Hennings’s writing into focus—and I suspect Chris Kraus’s reference to Hennings and Ball in her autofictional hit I Love Dick (1997) brought this overlooked Dadaist to the attention of many contemporary readers. Henning’s interest in theatricality, puppets, and performance marks a desire to escape rigid boundaries of gender that speaks to us across time. Yet, while Hennings’s writing might be easy for some to dismiss as autobiographical or confessional, upon a closer reading less fettered by a hermeneutics that privileges certain topics for art, we can read Hennings’s interest in feminine roles in more expansive ways. In Die letzte Freude readers can find and be affected by Hennings’s suspicion of nationalism, her fascination with mysticism, and a nuanced and conflicted relation to the mechanisms of the sometimes brutal, sometimes sublime, economies of desire.


Biddle, Erika (2007). ‘Better a One-Legged Man Than a Woman’, in Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority. Josh MacPhee and Erik Reuland (eds.). Oakland & Edinburgh: AK Press, pp. 272-284.

Rugh, T. (1981). Emmy Hennings and the Emergence of Zurich Dada, in Woman’s Art Journal. 2: 1, pp. 1-6.


Emmy Hennings née Corsden (1885-1948) played a formative role in the Dada movement and was a founding member of the Cabaret Voltaire. She was a performer who published poetry and two semi-autobiographical fictions, Gefängnis / Prison (1919) and Das Brandmal / The Branding (1920), which fictionalise the life of vagabond women—both troubled and troublesome. Hennings was married twice. First, to Joseph Hennings, with whom she had a son who died in infancy, and a daughter named Annemarie. Hennings later married the Dadaist poet Hugo Ball in 1920—the same year she converted to Catholicism. After Ball’s death in 1927, she dedicated much time to the loving promotion of his work. Hennings died in Switzerland in 1948.

Katie Jones is an academic with a particular interest in women’s life writing, and is currently working on a book exploring this topic with the working title Improper Subjects. She also writes poetry, and some her poems and publications can be found online and in print. She lives and works near the sea in Swansea, Wales. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.




Alani Rosa Hicks-Bartlett translates Pablo de Rokha

from Los gemidos, “Mar” (The Groans, “Sea”)

The Girl

—Like in novels, like in melodies, or like in oleographs, you, imperial woman, you go saddening, you go saddening the marine sunsets…


Eternally you’re perched on the majestic rocks… a popular feuilleton lost in your skirts and your immense eyes, stunned, dark, in pursuit across the distances, across the most DISTANT, most DISTANT, most DISTANT distances!… 


Your name is Luisa, Inés, Julia, Maria, your name is Maria,—“like in the novels!”—and you are dressed as a bride, you are dressed as a bride, you are dressed as a bride always, always you are dressed as a bride. 


Oh! enormous female, little romantic, poetic woman, little enchanting woman, little woman: what does it matter, what does it matter that you DELIGHT IN reading Rovetta when your attitude, your attitude, your attitude alone, alone is just as definitive as the WORLD?.. !..


La niña

—Como en las novelas, como en las tonadas, o como en las oleografías, tú, mujer imperial, vas entristeciendo, vas entristeciendo los atardeceres marinos. . .  


Eternamente estás sobre las augustas rocas. . .  el folletín vulgar caído en las faldas y los ojos inmensos, alucinados, oscuros, persiguiéndose en las distancias, en las distancias más DISTANTES, más DISTANTES, más DISTANTES! .  . . .


Te llamas Luisa, Inés, Julia, Maria, te llamas Maria,— «como en las novelas! » —, y estás de novia, estás de novia, estás de novia siempre, siempre estás de novia. 


Oh! hembra enorme, mujercita romántica, poética, mujercita encantadora, mujercita: ¡que importa, que importa que GOCES leyendo à Rovetta cuando tu actitud, tu actitud, tu actitud sola, sola es tan definitiva como el MUNDO?. .  !. . 



Over the majestic oceanic voice, the sun, the agonizing sun sings, sings, sings the ephemerality of human things and the failing light…


Already the last candles are waning, are waning in the DISTANCE… …The philosophical tune of the fisherman and the sirens of the ocean liners, the submarines, the hydroplanes, the hydroplanes migrate with the first wandering swallows towards the old eaves of melancholy… … …


The bride and groom play around with burning kisses and the withered leaves with the tombs, and the withered leaves with the tombs.


Something distant, very distant, very distant weeps with us…oh! sensation of the old lives of ours, of ours

you emerge from the sea, you emerge from the sea, you emerge from the sea, like a vague and sad memory, MUTE, from the entrails of MAN… children of the sea, children from the sea we carry all the metaphysics of the eternal waters WITH US, WITH US, WITH US!.. !.. … …


(…The tremendous cows go on bellowing, go on bellowing, with the waves… …)



Sobre la augusta voz oceánica, el sol, el sol agonizante canta, canta, canta lo pasajero de las cosas humanas y la luz desteñida. . .  


Ya las últimas velas se diluyeron, se diluyeron en la DISTANCIA. . .   . . .  La tonada filosófica del pescador y las sirenas de los transatlánticos, los submarinos, los hidroplanos, los hidroplanos emigra con las primeras golondrinas viajeras hácia los viejos aleros de la melancolía. . .  . . .  . . . 


Los novios juegan con besos ardiendo y las hojas marchitas con las tumbas, y las hojas marchitas con las tumbas. 


Algo distante, muy distante, muy distante llora con nosotros… oh! sensación de las antiguas vidas NUESTRAS, NUESTRAS, 

                             tú vienes saliendo del mar, tú vienes saliendo del mar, tú vienes saliendo del mar, como un
                             recuerdo triste y vago, MUDO, desde las entrañas del HOMBRE¡hijos del mar, hijos del mar
llevamos toda la metafísica de las aguas eternas CON NOSOTROS, CON NOSOTROS, CON NOSOTROS!..
                             !. .   . . .  . . .   


(. . . Las vacas tremendas continúan bramando, continúan bramando con las olas. . .  . . .)



You are like the sound, you are like the sound of all undone lives. . .  Your voice is pregnant with possibilities! . . !. .


Just like a lugubrious dog you go on barking, barking, barking in my heart. . .


Your attitude seems to me, sea, it seems to me and yet it isn’t at all; great quantity of waters, of waters, great quantity of waters WITHOUT SENSE, light from obscure forms!. .  ? . .  . . . 


You are CREATING YOURSELF, like this, like this, oh! wandering, macabre, macabre cradle of the earth!. .  ! ..  


Your horizontal statues, the waves, fill up the public squares, the public squares with your indefinable ways, and you fit, sea, sea, and you fit in a seashell, good friend!… 



Eres como el sonido, eres como el sonido de todas las vidas deshechas. . . Tu voz está preñada de posibilidades! . .  !. .  


Lomismo que un perro lúgubre vas ladrando, ladrando, ladrando en mi corazón. . . 


Tu actitud se me parece, mar, se me parece y NO es ninguna; ¡gran cantidad de aguas, de aguas, gran cantidad de aguas SIN SENTIDO, luz de las formas oscuras!. .  ? . .  . . .    


Estás HACIÉNDOTE, así estás, así estás, oh! cuna errante, macabra, macabra de la tierra!. .  ! . .   


Tus estatuas horizontales, las olas, llenan las plazas públicas, las plazas públicas de tus maneras indefinibles y cabes, mar, mar, y cabes en un caracol, buen amigo! . . 


Translator’s Note:

In “The Ballad of Pablo de Rokha,” the opening self-referential poem of Los Gemidos, [The Groans, 1922], Pablo de Rokha’s poetic voice emphasizes poetry’s magnetic, elemental, organic, fated pull, and describes the creative process as an involuntary, inevitable capture within its folds: “I sing, I sing without meaning to, necessarily, irremediably, fatally, at the randomness of events, like a person who eats, drinks, or walks and because certainly; I would die if I didn’t sing, I would die if I didn’t sing….”  The musicality of these sentences in the original, the destabilizing repetition, and the bright percussive mark of uncertainty—“y porque si; moriría si no cantase” [and because certainly; I would die if I didn’t sing]—repeated in the original, are among the qualities that immediately caught my attention the memorable first time I read de Rokha’s poetry some years ago. Throughout Los Gemidos, de Rokha describes poetry and the human experiences built around it as integral components of an electrifying world, a soundscape of music and words that wash over the individual as part of a consuming, transfixing, and again, electrifying process where nerves are ablaze, where synapses sing, and where linear thought (should such a thing even exist) cedes before music, bellowing animals, and crashing waves. “Walking musically,” and holding “songs that have eyes and feet, eyes and feet” in their mouths, the individuals evoked in de Rokha’s poems are portrayed encountering climactic moments in which they are swept up in a maelstrom of cosmic, Dionysian sounds that pulse, shriek, creak, and groan while alternatively animating and conquering the body. 

It is this synesthetic saturation and this tension between the body and mind, between the elements and the individual, between the natural world of lowing cows and the frenetic thrum of machines, between a prodigious, universal darkness and intrusive flashes of technology and buzzing lights that I find thrilling to read and translate. Whenever I read and translate de Rokha, I pay special attention to the acoustic atmosphere that he creates, and I strive to “hear” the resonances located in and hovering through and around each poem. Most recently, I keep returning to the juxtaposition and sonoric clash between the “groans” prioritized in the collection’s title, and the ostensibly melodious ballad evoked in the collection’s first poem, in part because it is a clash that reverberates in numerous other poems, including the “song,” “hymn,” “elegy,” “harangue,” psalm,” “ode,” and “canticle” that help constitute Los Gemidos’s sonoric landscape and its various dissonant manifestations. 

Yet it should be said that de Rokha’s poetry offers far more than anything I could succinctly express here: his rich imagery, evocative symbolism, seething conclusions, and the acuteness of his voice make every experience of reading even just one of his poems vital and constantly new. The selections from Los Gemidos’s section on the “Sea” that are included here (“La niña,” “Atardeceres,” and “Invocación”), speak to de Rokha’s expansive eye and his capacious embrace. Yet, as I have suggested above, this capaciousness is paired with an exacting temporal dimension, an awareness that the things that we love, or that we use to find our bearings will eventually fail us, or fail with us… “Atardeceres,” for example, evokes the opening “I sing, I sing” of the first poem of Los Gemidos, but this time it is the “agonizing sun,” miraculously heard over the ocean’s expansive voice that “sings, sings, sings” its melancholic awareness of the passage of time and the fugacity of human experience.


Born in Licantén in 1894, Pablo de Rokha (pseudonym, Carlos Díaz Loyola; d.1968, Santiago) is known as a towering Chilean literary figure. Although he explored various genres, de Rokha was especially prolific in poetry and essays, publishing numerous volumes of both. He published a collection of avant-garde poems, Los gemidos (The Groans) in 1922, and received numerous awards for his work, including Chile’s prestigious Premio Nacional de Literatura, which he was awarded in 1965. De Rokha was married to the poet Luisa Anabalón Sanderson (pseudonyms, Winétt de Rokha and Juana Inés de la Cruz) from 1916 until her death in 1951.

Alani Rosa Hicks-Bartlett is a writer and translator who loves the invective genre, most of all, followed by lyric and epic poetry. Especially drawn to the premodern period, she is passionate about languages and enjoys translating from Catalan, French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, and Yiddish. She has won awards for her creative writing, including the University of California, Berkeley’s Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Lyric Poetry Prize, Dorothy Rosenberg Memorial Prize in Lyric Poetry, and the Emily Chamberlain Cook Prize. Her recent creative work has appeared in The Stillwater Review, IthacaLit, Gathering Storm, Broad River Review, The Fourth River, and Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation, among others.




Maurice Rodriguez translates Vito Apüshana

To Live, To Die

We grow, like trees, inside
the footprints of our ancestors.

We live, like spiders, in the web
of the maternal corner.

We always love on the banks of thirst.

We dream there, between Kashii 1 and Ka’i2,
on the land of the spirits.

We die as if we were still alive.


Crecemos, como árboles, en el interior
de la huella de nuestros antepasados.

Vivimos, como arañas, en el tejido
del rincón materno.

Amamos siempre a orillas de la sed.

Soñamos allá, entre Kashii y Ka’i (el Luna y el Sol),
en los predios de los espíritus.

Morimos como si siguiéramos vivos.

Kataa ou-outa

Mioushii wayaa ma’akaa saain wunuu, sulu’upuna
Nouchikii na wapuulerua janakanat.
Kepiashii, wayaa ma’akaa saain aleket sakaa.
Einuushii sutuma wei.

Emejirashii wayaa sotpa wuñaasü.

Chashii wayaa a’lapuujain nakaa kashii numaa ka’i
suma’inru seyu wayuu.

Outushii wayaa ma’akaa katuule wouu.

1 The moon, a higher spiritual being of masculine gender, belonging to Wayuu mythology. Their rays originate female menstruation.
2 The sun, a higher spiritual being, belonging to Wayuu mythology.


The anthropologist with corn hair
has asked me to show her
a form of pülowi3.

By internal force I took her
towards the nocturnal Palaa4.

I don’t know if she understood
that pülowi was
in our hidden fear of seeing her.

Persona no wayuu

La antropóloga, de cabellos de maíz,
me ha pedido que le muestre
una forma de pülowi.

Por fuerza interna la llevé
hacia el mar (palaa)… nocturno.

No sé si comprendió
que pülowi estaba
en nuestro oculto temor de verla.


Tü antüropooloka, makalü ju’wala maiki,
juchuntüitpa tamüin te’iyatüin jümüin
wanee jukuwa’ipa pulowui.

Jüka tale’erujutu tatchin tamaasü
wanaa jümaa palaakaa… pi’uushe’e.

Nnojolü tatüjaain aa’u jiaawatüi jaa’u
eejetüin pulowui
jünain tü matüjaajukoo aa’u momoluin waya jeema

3 An entity that represents hidden feminine power. It takes shape as a woman with great physical beauty, nocturnal habits, and devours male travelers and recluses. Pülowi sites are mysterious and forbidden places (e.g., caves, lagoons, hills, etc.).
4 The sea, Mma’s (Mother Earth) twin sister.

Old Newcomers

On the way to Palaausain, close to Porshiina,
the rabbits dance a secret dance,
with the Kasiiwano’u5
and the shepherd children cup their hands
to invent whistles: ¡waawai! ¡waawai!

and the countryside is revealed in one hundred paths:
the one of the stone and the dust,
the one of the water and the shade,
the one of the dream and the laughter,
the one of the trap and the terror,
the one of the woman and the party.

On the way to Palaausain, close to Ouutsümana6,
the Wanülüü7 drink chicha
in the abandoned ranchos…
and the silence carries the hidden dialogue of the dead.

So we see that our ancient world
is, still, a smiling apprentice of life.

We are like eternal newcomers—

Antiguos recién llegados

Por el camino a Palausain, cerca de Porshiina,
los conejos bailan una danza secreta,
con las culebras Kasiiwanou
y los niños pastores ahuecan sus manos
para inventar los silbidos…: ¡waawai! ¡waawai!

y el monte se descubre en cien senderos:

el de la piedra y el polvo
el del agua y la sombra,
el del sueño y la risa,
el de la trampa y el temor,
el de la mujer y la fiesta.

Por el camino a Palaausain, cerca de Ouutsümana,
los espantos beben chicha
en los ranchos abandonados…
y el silencio trae el diálogo oculto de los muertos.

Así vemos que nuestro antiguo mundo
es, aún, sonriente aprendiz de la vida.

—Somos como eternos recién llegados—.

Sümaiwajee. walii e’iwaa antaa

Süpünalüü Palaausain, sü’ütpünaa Porshiina,
ayonnajüshii atpana’irua wane yonna ejejeraushi sümaa
wui’irua Kasiiwano’u…
otta tepichi’irua arüleejülii anoute’etshi najapü süpüla
akumajaa tüü ewiijaakalü…: ¡waawai! ¡waawai!

otta unaapüikalü kojuyatuasü ojutalain süjejerüin:

ejeechiki ipakalü sümaa tüü kalirashikalu
ejeechiki wuinkalü sümaa ayoolojokalü
ejeechiki lapükalü sümaa tüü asirajaakalü
ejeechiki emeeyaakalü süma kamüsheekalü
ejeechiki jietkalü sümaa tüü mi’iraakalü.

Süpünalüü Palaausain, sü’ütpünaa Ouutsümana,
asaashii uujolü wanüülüi’irua eekai miichi’irua oulaushi…
otta yüütüikalü alüüjasü tüü maüjaüshikalü süyoolo
Musüjaa werüüin sükuai’tpa wamaiwa sünain ayatüin
kulematüin ekirajai’kai katouwa’ain.
Mushiijaa wayaa maaka sain sümaiwaje’walii e’iwakalü

5 Nonvenomous savannah snakes or hunting snakes appreciated for their cleaning skills.
6 Another toponym like Palausain and Porshiina, where a place is named after a topographical feature. Here, the prefix ouutsü refers to a healing, knowledgeable, and spiritual woman, better known as a shaman.
7 A representation of evil spirits belonging to Wayuu mythology known to carry diseases and other misfortunes.


We are shepherds.
We are the men who live in the world of the trails.
We, too, graze,
return to a pen… and we are suckled.
We are milk of the dream, meat of the party… blood
              of the goodbye.

Here, in our environment,
life shepherds us.


Somos pastores.
Somos los hombres que viven en el mundo de las sendas.
Nosotros, también, apacentamos,
también regresamos a un redil… y nos amamantan.
Y somos leche del sueño, carne de la fiesta… sangre
              del adios.

Aquí, en nuestro entorno,
la vida nos pastorea.


Arüleejülii waya
Waya wayuu kepiakama wopulu’uwai.
Ekajitshii wayakanaya’asa,
ale’ejüshii waya sulu’umüin wane paüya’asa… Je
            achujeennüüshii waya.
Je süchira waya tü lapükaa, süsala tü mi’irakaa… Süsha
            tü apütawaakaa.

Ya’yaa wa’ato’upünaa,
sürüleejüin waya tü kataakaa o’u.


One afternoon, I happened to see two curlews running.
They passed swiftly by my canopy, singing:

              Leu, leu leu, ma. Leu, leu leu, ma.

There was moon over the red resting of the sun…and
I saw them get lost on the road that goes to the jagüey8 of
Late at night a dream occurred within me…filled with
I was Jierü-witush, the azulejo-woman, knitting with all
               the colors of time
Jierü-wawaachi, the dove-woman, was calling her children:

                             “Bring life here!
                             “Bring life here!

Jierü-shotti, the owl-woman, was stalking from the fire
               of her eyes the desired man
Jierü-chünü’ü, the hummingbird-woman, was restoring the flowers
               of the forgotten dreams…

many birds and many women

Jierü-kaarai, the curlew-woman, over there, swollen with
              omens in every beat of her heart
Jierü-wulu’ui, the turpial-woman, was sharing the cool water
              of laughter
Jierü-iisho, the cardinal-woman, was bearing the environment
              on her ash-red wings.
When I woke up, I told my mother about the dream…and she smiled
              without looking at me:
“Ah, she is a wainpirai9!”
And since then, I have been discovering the hidden feathers
of the women who shelter us.


En una tarde ocurrió que vi correr a dos alcaravanes.
Pasaron veloces por mi enramada, cantando:

              Leu, leu leu, ma. Leu, leu leu, ma.

Había luna sobre el rojo descanso del sol… y
los vi perderse por el camino que va hacia el jagüey de
Entrada la noche sucedió un sueño en mí… lleno de
estaba Jierü-witush, la mujer-azulejo, tejiendo con todos
              los colores del tiempo;
Jierü-wawaachi, la mujer-tótola, llamaba a sus hijos:

                            “¡Traigan la vida aquí!
                            “¡Traigan la vida aquí!

Jierü-shotii, la mujer-lechuza, acechaba desde el fuego de
               sus ojos al hombre deseado;
Jierü-chünü’ü, la mujer-colibrí, renovaba las flores de los
               sueños olvidados…
y muchas aves y muchas mujeres;
Jierü-kaarai, la mujer-alcaraván, allá, henchida de
presagios en cada latido de su corazón;
Jierü-wulu’ui, la mujer-turpial, repartía el agua fresca
               de la risa;
Jierü-iisho, la mujer-cardenal, sostenía el etorno en sus
               alas rojicenizas.

Al despertar, le conté el sueño a mi madre… y sonrió sin
“¡Aaa, ella es una wainpirai!… una mujer-sinsonte”.
Y a partir de entonces he venido descubriendo las plumas
ocultas de las mujeres que nos abrigan.


Shiasa’a so’u wanee ka’I aliikajatü te’rüin awanaajüin
             piamasü kaarai.
Alanuwaasü awataashaanainrua tepialu’upünaa, majüin
             shii’iran yaa:

                            Leu, leu leu, ma. Leu, leu leu, ma.
Ejetü kasha tü ishokoo neemeraaya ka’ikai… Je
te’rüin amoutalaainrua sulu’upünaa tü wopu
              eemüinjatkaa sülaashi Mariirop.
Shiasa’a joolu’u sa’wai eesü joolu’u wanee ta’lapüin…
              Jieyuule’eya-wuchiirua te’raka:
eejetü Jierü-witush, einna’alataain süka süna shipishuwa’a
              tü akaliaakaa;
Jierü-wawaachi, suunekajüin na süchonyuukana:
               “¡Jantira tü wakuwa’ipakaa yaamüin yaa!”
               “¡Jantira tü wakuwa’ipakaa yaamüin yaa!”
Tü Jierü-monkulunseetkaa, süpüleeruwain, sütchinru’ujee
tü so’ukoluirua, chi wayuu
sü’wayuusheekai amüin;
Jierü-chünü’ü, a’wanajüin süsiirua tü lapü motokoluirua
je watta saalii wuchiirua o’ulakaa müsia jieyuu;
Jierü-kaarai, chayaa, mainmain kasa sütijaakaa oo’u
sülatajatüin maya’awaisüsa’a atünülaain saa’in;
Jierü-wului, eitajüin tü saamatsükaa süinya tü asiraakaa;
Jierü-iisho, ajapulu’ujakaa kasa sa’ato’upünaajatü süka tü
sütünairua ishooitajakalü je pali’itatkalüirua.
Mayaashisa’a tatijiraain taküjain tü ta’lapüinkaa sümüin
                 tü teikaa…
sukulemeraaka sünain nnojolüin shiirakaain tamüin:
“Aaa, shiakaa wanee wainpirai”…
sünainje’eree tia tatüjaa tama oo’ulu tü me’raajukoo
soi tü jieyuuirua kasheinkalü waya akajee.

8 Traditional water ponds/wells used to store and distribute rainwater primarily used during periods of prolonged drought.
9 Singing bird, or mockingbird, greatly admired by the Wayuu.


We live between scarcity and abundance,

between the disturbed dream and serene wakefulness

… we are the smiling angst that prolongs life

… we are the knotted fabric in the environment’s loom,

the complacency of being earth and breath, indivisibly.


Vivimos entre lo poco y abundancia,

entre el sueño anunciador y la serena vigilia

… somos la angustia sonriente aumentadora de vida

… somos un tejido de nudos en el telar del etorno,

la complacencia de ser tierra y respiración, indivisibles.


Kepiashi wayaa sa’aka tü paliitka sumaa tü waimakat,

sa’aka tü lapükat aapirakat tü maintakat matunkuin

… wayaakanairua muliatakana kuleemata jemioulakat
            tü aa’in.

…wayakana wanee a’anuushi tü shisho’okaliüirua sau
            anütpalaka waütpunaka

tü anaa aa’in sumaa main wayakana asanala wain,

Translator’s Note:

The selected poems from Vito Apüshana’s Antiguos recién llegados (2019), offers a glimpse into the arid dreamscape of La Guajira, Colombia, where the Wayuu have preserved the spirit of the land and their way of life for centuries, historically resisting Spanish colonization and now fighting to endure the exploitation of their peninsula for its natural resources.

While Vito’s position as a cultural ambassador and human rights activist in the region focuses on Wayuu struggles, his poetic work primarily explores cultural practices, the natural world, and a spiritual/ancestral connection to this land. In fact, all the poems selected here refer to natural flora and fauna endemic to La Guajira, sites of spiritual significance, or cultural practices and beliefs. These references also share in the preservation of Wayuu language, which Vito actively retains even in his self-translations to Spanish.

The preservation of Wayuu in his self-translations not only signifies the resistant act of keeping indigenous languages alive, but it also becomes a metaphorical echo heard in the choral voice throughout all of Vito’s work, which hardly uses the singular I. Even in “Bird-women”, the I is enveloped in a dream cradled by the women who weave together the fabric of Wayuu life. The we repeated throughout most of these poems voices both ancestor and descendent collectively. While Vito is undoubtedly the author of this work, he’s the first to admit that these words aren’t only his own but also a blend of dreams, experiences, and stories echoed through time and space by those who guide him.

I’ve been honored to be able to continue this “echoing” through translation to a wider audience unfamiliar with his poetry and Wayuu culture. An integral part of these translations is the continued preservation of Wayuu language which is present throughout each poem and enhanced by the trilingual publication. As an American translator, I recognize the immense responsibility I carry to retain these indigenous references out of respect and admiration for the author, the Wayuu people, and the language itself. As you’ll notice, there are several footnotes attached to most of the featured poems, and I’m optimistic that they help balance the tense power dynamic between preservation and accessibility. For example, in the namesake poem “Old Newcomers” Vito explores the countryside of La Guajira through several different geographical sites, native fauna, and spiritual entities to express the longevity of the Wayuu and their inseparable connection to the land. Due to an abundance of Wayuu references in this poem, particularly of the terrain, I chose to footnote only the most integral location (Ouutsümana) because of its relationship to another Wayuu reference (Wanülüü). The prefix ouutsü refers to the presence of a female shaman, and Wanülüü is the manifestation of an ill-omened spirit known to carry disease. Although Vito preserved the former and not the latter in the Spanish, I chose to preserve both in my translation because English further erases the complexity of the relationship between each word within the poem. Considering our own relationship to the text as a predominantly English-speaking audience, I’ve also retained some of the Spanish in certain contexts as well to carry over another layer of cultural significance.

Overall, the experience of translating Vito’s work has been very enlightening. Although I’ve had access to the author throughout the process and have conducted my own research on particular Wayuu terminology, knowing that there’s an added distance between my own translation and the “original” source-text made for an interesting challenge. However, due to the multivocal nature of the work—exemplifying the disintegration of singularity—I felt welcomed to view my practice through the lens of a kaleidoscope. In other words, the act of translation becomes a means of revealing the myriad refractions of who we are in relation to each other. In my recent correspondence with Vito, he’s expressed his readiness to encounter more than his “two-skinned tongue” is surrounded by, so I hope these translations respectively welcome him and his people with warmth.


Vito Apüshana is a writer, human rights activist, and former professor at the University of La Guajira from the town of Carraipía, La Guajira, Colombia. His most recent collection of poetic work Antiguos recién llegados was published by Sílaba in 2019. His earlier works, Contrabandeo sueños con alijunas cercanos (1992), En las hondonadas maternas de la piel (2010), and others can be found online and in magazines like Número (Bogotá), Casa de las Américas (Havana), Le Poésie (Paris), Americas Quarterly (New York), and La Jornada (Mexico City).

Maurice Rodriguez is a writer and translator from Connecticut with an MA in English from the University of Connecticut, and is a prospective MFA student in Creative Writing at The New School. He also teaches writing at the University of New Haven. His most recent work can be found in HASH and Puerto del Sol. For more updates on his writing and translating, follow him on Twitter @yosoymojo




Johnny Damm

from “I’m a Cop”


Johnny Damm is the author of Failure Biographies (The Operating System), named by the Publishers Weekly Critics Poll as one of the best graphic novels of 2021, and The Science of Things Familiar (The Operating System, 2017). His comics, prose, and visual poetry have appeared in Guernica, Poetry, The Offing, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He lives in Santa Cruz, CA and teaches at San José State University. The complete “I’m a Cop” can be purchased as a limited edition comic book at




Zach Powers

What We Gave the Galaxy

It was Halloween when the aliens came, so we mistook them for kids in great costumes. There were the big-eyed grays of Roswell. Ones with tentacles instead of arms. Some were basically just translucent blobs, a mess of organs in see-through sacks. The insectoid and the spider-like. Hairy aliens that could inspire werewolf stories and feline aliens that had the comical tic of pawing their own faces.

It really was the best Halloween ever.

Joni first noticed something amiss when a group of aliens dropped into her bookshop on November 2nd. They browsed politely, but a particularly sticky alien left slime-prints on all the books it touched. Another, with a tiny blue baby face centered on a massive head, hovered a book open in front of itself using only the powers of its mind.

These were clearly not costumes. These were clearly not kids.

The aliens picked up English pretty quickly. They spoke human languages in a way that sounded more like math, as if every sentence was an equation in need of balancing. For example, the first words they spoke to Joni:

“We wish to read your books,” they said, “and your books wish to be read by us.”

Anyway, this situation went on for a few weeks. All these aliens in town, wandering the streets, still expecting to receive candy whenever they knocked on doors.

We had such a hard time explaining holidays.

They, in turn, could never make us grasp how they saw all days as one. Or how they marked time from a perspective outside it. Our minds were too limited, too grounded in the now.

The aliens loved scones. We had to get to the coffee shops as soon as they opened if we ever wanted a scone for ourselves.

Scones aside, the aliens never adjusted to human meals. They were snackers. They adored appetizers. Tandy, who waited tables at Outback, explained how groups of aliens would order one sirloin and cut it into bites to share. They attended art show openings but ignored the art in favor of catered canapés.

There were probably ten thousand aliens in all, and even in this tourist town, where we’re used to comers and goers, their presence was hard not to notice. The aliens traveled in mismatched packs from site to site, but rarely the sites other tourists visited. Not the fountain in the park. Not the railroad museum where you can climb inside old cars. Not the statue of the Revolutionary War soldier, lofting a battle flag in one hand, staunching his mortal wound with the other. Not the restaurant run by the TV chef with a history of racism.

The aliens were generous with their time. They answered as many of our questions as we asked. Even insensitive or annoying ones. Of course, we mostly asked about alien sex. Spores were a shockingly popular option.

We learned that galactic civilization was thriving and advanced, a million sentient species coexisting among the stars. Few planets besides Earth knew anything but peace.

We tried to share our grandest accomplishments. We made sure they read the books by our greatest thinkers: Crichton and Clancy and Franzen. We coerced them to the art museum for an exhibition of impressionist landscapes. We showed them documentaries featuring Saturn Vs and baseball and nuclear explosions.

This is where dealing with the aliens became a bummer.

Nothing we’d produced, nothing we’d done, nothing we deemed original, none of it impressed them in the least. In a sprawling galaxy filled with very smart aliens, literally everything we’d ever thought of had been thought of before.

Even scones, which the aliens so relished, they only relished because they recalled a similar food from another world.

Thanksgiving that year turned disastrous. We’d invited the aliens to share our meals. We set up folding tables and rolled extra desk chairs up to place settings. The shorter aliens sat with the kids. It was homey and warm, at least until we presented the food.

The aliens balked at our spreads. Those with cilia set them aquiver. Those with color-changing skin chameleoned to a threatening hue. Some secreted foul-smelling pheromones. Others made shrill calls of warning. We learned ten thousand new ways to express displeasure. 

After all, no beings who prefer their sustenance bite-sized could possibly be prepared for such human gluttony. Our sheer excess. They were polite about it but excused themselves from our tables before a single platter was passed.

We ate our meals with vacant seats for company.

The next day was awkward. The aliens couldn’t bring themselves to speak to us. Their eyes, those of them who had eyes, wouldn’t meet ours. And for us, how could we possibly relate? How could we ever know—really, truly know—someone who’d never tasted cranberry sauce from a can?

As we browsed the bookshop’s Black Friday sale, Joni worried the aliens would leave, and we’d be alone forever in the universe. Now, when we imagined Earth floating through space, we imagined it smaller than before. A bluish BB, and then a dot, and then a speck, and then an invisible point in proximity to the pinprick of our sun.

The aliens bought all the city’s scones to go. They carried tote bags full of tchotchkes and novelty t-shirts to their awaiting spaceships. They posed for holographic selfies, though always in the strangest of places. It was never clear what background they were trying to capture. The dumpster in the lane? The snarl of power lines? The hungover human couple taking brunch?

The aliens lingered, like at a party when you’re ready to go but too shy to initiate a goodbye.

We didn’t know what to say to them, either.

Or we knew, but how do you ask someone to stay without sounding desperate?

We were about to be dumped by the whole galaxy.

It was Duncan who saved us from this fate, surprising everybody, uppity prick that Duncan was. Cantankerous, rich, opposed to everything in the city that wasn’t exactly as it had been when he was a kid, approximately a hundred years ago.

But Duncan was good for one thing: Christmas decorations.

Seven a.m. Saturday morning, he was out spewing orders at Marguerite, the local handyperson, as she balanced on a tall aluminum ladder, adorning Duncan’s Victorian townhouse with wreaths and garlands and, most importantly as it turned out, twinkle lights.

A few aliens gathered in the square. Then more and more of them. Soon, all the thousands of aliens packed together as one.

The decorating was complete, the twinkle lights barely bright enough to be seen against the sun. But the aliens stared and waited and waited and stared. Dusk came, and when the equation of darkness to twinkle balanced just right, the whole mass of aliens cheered in all their native tongues at once.

A sound raw and pure and lovely.

Tandy asked the aliens what was up.

“In all the galaxy, this is something we have never seen before,” they said, “and we have seen before all other things in the galaxy.”

The aliens stayed there through the night and the next day, and they might still be there if we hadn’t told them that other houses, too, had been decorated. The aliens wandered our streets, oblivious to the cold, touring our decorations, preferring the tackiest, munching scones, and we like to think they finally understood the concept of a holiday, a single day distinct from all the rest.

At the post-Christmas sales, the aliens claimed every discounted strand of lights. Through their spaceships’ windows we could see the strands crisscrossing everywhere. At night, the ships twinkled from within, and somebody who didn’t know better would assume a different technology. The source of their hyperspace speeds, perhaps. But us, we knew the truth.

The New Year arrived, and soon the aliens left us. But it wasn’t like we’d worried it would be. This was a see-you-later. A temporary parting of friends. They even took a human representative with them.

So, this is the story of how humanity joined galactic civilization.

The aliens invited along the one who introduced them to twinkly lights. No, not Duncan, thank the heavens, but Marguerite. Our envoy. The face of the whole human race.

What was she thinking as she boarded the spaceship? What did her Mona Lisa smile imply?

We’re still waiting for her return. We spend our conversations guessing what she’ll tell us she’s seen. We’ll have imagined the whole cosmos before she ever makes it home.

Until then, we gather outside on clear nights and wonder aloud how of all the species among the Milky Way, only us—small, backward, hate-filled, war-torn, spiteful us—thought to recreate the stars.

At Duncan’s house, the lights are still up. The wreaths and garlands wilt. Marguerite left before Duncan could hire her to take them down. And he’s too old and too frail and too human to do the deed himself.


Zach Powers is the author of the novel First Cosmic Velocity (Putnam, 2019) and the story collection Gravity Changes (BOA Editions, 2017). His writing has been featured by American Short Fiction, Lit Hub, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. He serves as Artistic Director for The Writer’s Center and Poet Lore, America’s oldest poetry magazine. From Savannah, Georgia, he lives in Arlington, Virginia. Get to know him at