Daniel Tam-Claiborne

Capital of Hope

At the flash of the red light, Baohan cut the engine short, firing the tiny black sports car into the crosswalk. 

“Ta ma de,” he sighed, cursing the wait, and let a mouthful of smoke dissolve against the tinted windows. He turned to Yueming in the passenger seat, picking up as if they were mid-conversation.

“And what do you do after you kidnap them?” he asked. “Force them to work in your brothel and wait on you hand and foot?”

Yueming plucked a cigarette from her purse and lit up too. From the backseat, I stole glances at her in the rearview mirror. Her black hair, parted slightly, framed a slim oval face, faint age marks tastefully touched with makeup. She clenched the cigarette with her lips as though she was close to biting clean through.

“I don’t run a brothel,” Yueming said, trying to keep a level tone. She had her arms folded neatly over her pleated pants but wore her distaste clearly on her face.

“Not a traditional brothel,” Baohan countered, “not one of those pleasure dens for men. No, this is different. You find them online, chatrooms mostly, and then—.” He paused and leaned in close to Yueming. His belly butted up against the steering wheel, his gold watch cinched tight against his wrist. “Your friend, he— he doesn’t know yet, does he?” 

The end of Yueming’s cigarette smoldered in the mirror.

“Know what?” I asked, guileless, craning my neck from the backseat.

“Poor thing,” Baohan mouthed in between puffs. And then to Yueming: “So when were you going to tell him?”

We arrived at a Thai restaurant in Wangjing. It was late, but on the drive over, I could still make out our surroundings. Identical blocks of red high-rise apartment buildings. Town square obscured by pollution. A hotel that looked like a melting ice cream sundae. Wangjing contained the characters “expectant” and “capital,” and I imagined it meant something superlative, like “capital of hope.” 

It was out past the fourth ring road, farther than I’d ever been in Beijing, but that wasn’t too surprising. I was new to the city and, aside from speaking the language, didn’t know a thing. 

Yueming was a colleague. We worked together at a poverty alleviation organization that provided microloans to people who lacked access to financial services. Nearly all our clients were women: farmers, small business owners, entrepreneurs. Conventional wisdom went that women were far more credible lenders than men. You couldn’t trust a man not to gamble away any windfall, but a woman would know how to budget, how to make monthly interest payments, how to pull her family out of poverty. 

Yueming handled accounts and collections. I wrote press releases in English to attract foreign investment. We sat in neighboring cubicles, and at noon, we joined most of the rest of our colleagues in a series of light exercises meant to aid digestion. After work one day, she invited me out for dinner with Baohan. She described him as an old friend who was in town visiting his family in Beijing.

“A classmate?” I asked.

“Cha bu duo,” she said, and asked me where they could pick me up. Aside from my two roommates from Australia, I barely knew a soul. I figured Yueming must have known this and felt sorry for me—this American far from home—and invited me to come along, too. 

When we sat down at the restaurant to order, Yueming announced that she’d recently given up eating sentient beings. 

“I’m trying to be a better Buddhist,” she said.

“Do you eat fish?” Baohan asked.

“Didn’t you hear what I just said?”

“Well does your friend eat fish?” That was the way he posed every question to me: “your friend” this or “your friend” that. He never addressed me directly. Yueming nodded, and Baohan called over the waitress. 

“And two orders of curry shrimp,” he boomed, his pudgy cheeks curdling to reveal a grin. His gaze settled back on the table. “After all your transgressions, it’ll take more than being a vegetarian to earn your forgiveness.” 

At the front of the restaurant was a small stage, and every evening a group of Thai women in silk sarongs danced for the crowd. The music was upbeat, their movements daring and lively, but their faces looked drained of emotion. After the first song, they split up and cased the restaurant, recruiting other women to come up and join them. They spotted Yueming right away.

“I tried to warn her,” Baohan muttered wryly, as the other women guided her up the stairs, though he’d never mentioned a thing. Yueming followed along with the steps, catching herself through the chorus, repeated the movements as best she could. It seemed clear that, had it been up to her, she wouldn’t have been up there. But she also looked like she was trying, that she didn’t want to let the other women down, as if they were the ones who had put her up to this task and she was doing them a favor by seeing it through. 

Baohan sat smoking a cigarette, his eyes transfixed on the raised platform. I imagined the managers of the restaurant, the men who paid the dancers’ salaries, pulling up a stool and doing the same. How many women had Baohan brought here just so he could watch them dance?

The waitress brought the dishes to the table all at once: scallops in cream sauce, raw beef and wasabi, tom yum soup, pork fried rice. When Yueming got back to her seat, there was a small mound of vegetables that Baohan had scooped onto her plate, as if he was feeding a teething child. After a few bites, he started up again.

“How much does your friend know about you?” he asked.

“Please,” Yueming said, her eyes staring into the clear broth of her soup. 

“Does he know why you invited him here?”

“We’re having dinner and—”

“This is how it starts,” he said, “what she does with every new guy she meets.” He glanced over at me for the first time. I couldn’t tell what he was after, but I saw Yueming’s expression tense. “A woman like that will never get married,” he continued, nearly rising to his feet, “and no man will have her outright, so she—”


“So she sweettalks them, abducts them into her filthy brothel, and then forces them to fuck her.” He said it with so much conviction that I had no reason to believe it wasn’t true. For a moment everything was still. And then, from his mouth spewed a laugh so deep and odious that it nearly ruptured the table. I looked over at Yueming, her eyes red and puffy, and quieted my dismay in the food.

It wasn’t until later that I learned he and Yueming had met online. They corresponded over email for months before even speaking on the phone. I tried to imagine their first real life encounter: she flying halfway across the country to Fujian to see him, he recognizing her from the dog-eared photo he’d exhausted on all his friends. Three years of nervous anticipation. And then: the disappointment he felt at being turned down, the resentment he’d harbored ever since.

Slowly, Baohan regained his composure. “Does your friend want to go to karaoke?” he asked.

“My friend can do what he wants,” Yueming said, incensed. “I’m going home.”

The car ride back was silent, save for the occasional sound of screeching tires. Now and then, a horn would ring out from behind us as we cut off another driver. I didn’t know whether to will us home faster or hope to burn up in a wreck. We got to Yueming’s apartment first, a tall high-rise on the outskirts of the city and opposite a small playground. Baohan put a hand on her thigh.

“I’m just concerned,” he said in a stern voice. “You have so many men in your life right now, so for your own safety—”

“Keep driving like that and you’ll get in another accident,” she told him before getting out and slamming the door. Only then did it occur to me that this wasn’t the first time Yueming had seen Baohan since meeting him in-person. That, perhaps, she might have had her own reasons for inviting me to dinner. But by then it was too late. It was just Baohan and me, and the car slowly filling with smoke.

Even now, I don’t know why I never said anything. I left the job in microfinance and Beijing not long after that. The premise no longer spoke to me in the same way. How many people were truly breaking the cycle of poverty? And what did that even mean? Many of the same clients kept borrowing for years, and it seemed like a better life was always frustratingly out of reach. 

I asked Yueming before I left about the women that she collected loans from.

“How many pay their loans back on time?”

“Nearly all of them.” It seemed impractical to me just how many of their businesses could remain profitable.

“Don’t you ever find that strange?” I asked, but Yueming shook her head.

“They want to believe in change,” she said. “They’ll do whatever it takes. Even if it kills them.” 

I wondered how many of those women had to weather bad harvests, or borrow from loan sharks, or had to turn away their husbands when they came home, drunk, asking for money. That they might routinely have to talk down threats or put up with violence. That some knew they would not be better for it. And yet, for weeks and months they would persist, hoping that, this time, it might be different.


Daniel Tam-Claiborne is a multiracial essayist, multimedia producer, and author of the short story collection What Never Leaves. His writing has appeared in Catapult, Literary Hub, Off Assignment, The Rumpus, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. A 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow, he has also received support from the U.S. Fulbright Program, Kundiman, the New York State Summer Writers Institute, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and others. Daniel holds degrees from Oberlin College, Yale University, and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and his debut novel-in-progress, Transplants, was a finalist for the 2023 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.




Roberto Fatal & Ali Meyers-Ohki

En memoria (in memory)


We open on SOL,14, Chicana Japanese mix, staring into an adjacent room: a dress making studio.

In the center of the dark, finished goth-inspired QUINCEAÑERA DRESS on a DRESS FORM.

A BEEPING ALARM grabs Sol’s attention and she glances behind her.

At the back of the living room next to an Mexican/Japanese ALTAR sits LUNA VASQUEZ, Mexican Indigenous woman, 40s, sitting in a chair, a BANDAGE on her temple.

In front of Luna is a small COFFEE TABLE and an EMPTY CHAIR the other side.

Luna turns OFF the alarm on her WATCH.

[to Sol] Do we have an appointment?

Sol turns away from the dress and walks to Luna.

The Burkes people are coming.

Luna is unfamiliar with the words.

Sol walks over and tidies the living room.

Did you look at the quince         
invitation samples I picked up?

I’ll look at them later.

I like the white ones, but I know
black is your thing.                        

Sol does not respond.

Can you imagine Tia Lulu’s face    
when she opens the envelope and
it’s an all black invitation?             

We need to get through this exit           
interview. Can we just do that?             
Luna looks curiously, agreeably, at Sol.

Yes, we can do that, Mija.


We follow Sol to the front door.

2 INT/EXT. FRONT DOOR – DUSK 2 Through the frosted front door window, we see a silhouette.

Sol opens the door to reveal DEVROS, 30, an Indigenous woman in a BUSINESS SUIT. Devros carries a BRIEFCASE.

Good afternoon.

Sol stares at Devros with daggers.

May I come in?

We’re a no shoe household.


Take your shoes off.

Devros nods.

Sol stands aside and Devros enters.


Sol closes the door and Devros sees Luna.

Hello [looks at phone to remember
name] Luna.                                        

Devros, who stands tall above Sol, takes off her power high heels, and is suddenly at eye level with Sol.

She puts her shoes near the dress studio threshold, the dress looms large behind her but she doesn’t see it.

Sol walks to the window near Luna as Devros sets her briefcase on the coffee table, and opens it to reveal DIALS, KNOBS, a MONITOR, and other tech.

It’s a bit muggy outside today
ain’t it?                                         

Devros walks to Luna, removes her bandage and sticks a SENSOR on Lunas temple.

Supposed to cool down by the end of
the week though. Thank goodness.  

Sol stares at Devros with fire in her eyes.

Devros sits back down and TURNS ON the machine.

Luna thank you for having me. I   
will be conducting your exit          
interview. To start, I am going to 
ask you a series of questions to    
help me establish a visual              

Devros press a BUTTON.

Recording, Vasquez, Luna, August    
21st, 6:15pm. [to Luna] Please             
state your name, age and where you
were born.                                               

Luna Vasquez, age 42. I was born in

Devros looks at the small MONITOR built into the machine.

A fuzzy POV IMAGE appears on the monitor, LUNA’S MEMORIES.

ON THE MONITOR: A MAN leans over a PALETA VENDING CART. He hands a PALETA toward the screen. A small hand takes it.

Luna, where were you living at age

In Texas, at an immigrant detention

More memories appear…

ON THE MONITOR: A MAN IN UNIFORM carries away a beautiful INDIGENOUS WOMAN, Luna’s Mother. The pair of small brown hands reach out once more.

Sol stands near the window keeping an eye on Devros. Devros studies the image on the Monitor.

Devros sits in perfect posture and locks eyes with Luna.

Very good. And at age 20?

I was in the Bay Area by then.

ON THE MONITOR: Adult brown hands wave out of a car window and catch the air as the city of San Francisco comes into focus.

Okay, moving on. This next set of       
questions will determine if the            
the procedure was successful. [beat] 
Luna, where did you go to college?    

Sol braces herself and looks at Luna.

Devros looks at the monitor.

The video monitor goes BLACK.

Luna searches the ceiling for an answer.

Did you go to college?


No, I didn’t.

Tears and rage fill Sol’s eyes.

Devros pulls a ROTARY CUTTER from the briefcase.

Please identify this object.

The video monitor stays black. 

I don’t know. A pizza cutter?

Devros puts the cutter away.

Are you married?


What was your wife’s name?

My partner’s name was Miyoshi

ON THE MONITOR: MIYOSHI, non binary, Japanese, face resting on a pillow. Brown hands reach out and caress their cheek.

Where did you first meet Miyoshi?

Sol looks to from Devros to Luna bracing for impact. Luna searches the ceiling for answers.

The image of Miyoshi DISSOLVES to black.

I don’t remember.

Luna glances quickly at Sol.

Sol walks to Luna, crouches down and holds Luna’s hand.

Devros sees this gesture, swallows and refocuses her attention to the interview.

Who is professor Maria Pomo?


How much is the annual tuition at
the California Fashion Academy?  

I don’t know.

Devros then checks the video monitor which remains blank. 

   Devros studies Luna’s face sharply to detect a lie, but meets Luna’s eyes.

   Devros pulls out a DIGITAL TABLET with legalese on it. They read the words to Luna.

Luna, we are here – you are here,           
because you defaulted on your               
student loans. In accordance with         
Federal penal code 71-489, Burkes         
Loan Corporation has the right to         
reclaim from you, our property. And    
in this matter, our property would       
be the education you received from     
The California Fashion Academy from
the ages of 18 to 23. On June, 12th       
you agreed in a court of law to              
sign away the memory of this                
education in order to nullify your         
contractual obligation to Burkes.         

Luna searches her mind hard. The memories flood back.

Yes. I remember now.

Then I am certifying that all                    
memories related to your time in           
college, skills learned therein, as            
well as all work, and career                      
related memories stemming from said
education you purchased on loan          
have been satisfactorily deleted.            

Devros puts the TABLET down on the table. They place a STYLUS on the table for Ria to sign with.

Now, if you could just sign here,    
your contract with Burkes will be
terminated and your educational
debt will be absolved.                      

Sol pries Luna’s hand away from hers and puts a stylus in it. Luna signs the digital tablet.

Congratulations, Luna.

In the foreground, Devros packs the briefcase. In the background Luna sits silently as Sol holds her hand. 

Devros gets up and turns to grab her shoes, this time she NOTICES the half-finished Quinceañera dress.

For the slightest moment, Devros BREAKS.

She pries her eyes away, puts on her shoes, turns to the front door and exits.

Sol stares up at Luna, Luna stares at the table.

College. [beat] Miyoshi and I must
have met in college.                          

Freshman year. [Beat] Mamá, you
need to rest.                                       

You’re right. I need some rest.



Through a mirror on the wall, we watch Sol tuck Luna into bed and begin to walk out.

Sol stops at the doorway.

Luna begins to say something but stops.

Sol closes the door.

Off Luna.


Sol stands at the threshold of the studio staring at her unfinished quince dress.

She works up the courage and STEPS softly into the room.

She turns on the CHRISTMAS LIGHTS which illuminate the dress and walls with a soft glow.

She walks around the room reminiscing and stops on an old FAMILY PHOTO of Miyoshi and Luna tacked to the wall.

Finally, she turns to the dress and stares it down.

SUDDENLY, she GRABS the dress and THROWS it on the ground. 

She pounces on it and TEARS it apart.

When her rage subsides, she sits among shreds of fabric. Beat.

A soft KNOCK behind Sol on the studio door frame. Sol looks behind her and sees Luna at the threshold. Sol stares at her mother, horrified at what she’s done.

Luna walks over to Sol, standing tall over her, surveying the damage.

Looks like it was gonna be a pretty
bad ass dress, huh? Did you help me
make it?

Yeah. You cut out all the pieces
and I basted them together.

Luna kneels down next to Sol and looks in her eyes.

Luna picks up a scrap of fabric and a stray PIN on the ground and hands it to Sol.

Show me.

Sol takes the fabric and pin from Luna and remembers where it goes on the dress form.

She tries to pin the fabric in place, but has trouble managing the task with both hands full.

Sol hands Luna the piece of fabric.

Can you hold this piece here so I
can tack it easier?

Luna complies.

As Sol tacks the fabric in place, her eyes are locked in shame on the dress form.

I’m sorry.

Luna puts her finger under Sol’s chin and pulls her gaze into Luna’s eyes.

Baby, it’s not your fault. [beat]         
It’s not mine either. So many           
pendejos have tried to make us      
forget who we are. It never works.

Sol hugs Luna DEEPLY.

They pull apart and look at the work ahead of them.


Sol nods.

They begin piecing the dress back together, laughing and making small talk, as mother and daughter.


Roberto Fatal [they/them/ellos] is a filmmaker and storyteller. They come from Rarámuri, Tewa Pueblo, Ute, and Spanish ancestors and Mexican-American culture. Their Queer, gender fluid, Mestize/Mixed identity informs the sci-fi, films they make. Their work centers on humans who sit at the intersections of time, space and culture. From this unique vantage point, these characters can bridge divides, see all sides, find new paths forward and recall multiple histories long forgotten. The mixed people of Fatal’s stories can connect us deeply to an undercurrent of humanity that we often overlook in a world that is increasingly divided. Survival, intersectional identity, perseverance, love, empathy, community, connection and creation are at the heart of their characters and films. Fatal is a Sundance Film Institute Native Film Lab Fellow Alum and an Imagine Native Director’s Lab feature film fellow alum. Their debut feature script, Electric Homies, was selected by GLAAD x The Black List as one of the best unproduced screenplays of 2022. Their latest short sci-fi drama, Do Digital Curanderas Use Eggs In Their Limpias, will make its world premiere in 2023.

Ali Meyers-Ohki (she/her) is an emerging writer based in Sacramento, California. Her connection to her mixed Japanese and European ancestry as well as her experiences as a cis queer woman inspire her to write stories about identity, belonging, family, healing, history, and the future. Her work has been published by Queer Rain Magazine and she is a 2022 recipient of the Hedgebrook residency. She is currently enrolled in the MFA program at Bennington for fiction writing.




Ella deCastro Baron

A Checklist for Dark S(Kin) Care

“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.” -bell hooks

What is the right shade of brown in America?

Western med school students have been and are currently still trained to diagnose skin conditions by studying photos of mostly white bodies. They admit that almost “…half of US board-licensed dermatologists don’t feel comfortable diagnosing skin issues in people of color” because they don’t know how to look at darker skin. What’s worse, the few black bodies photographed in textbooks show only sexually transmitted infections. The images are “reminiscent of slave auctions, looking at their muscles and reproductive potential, humiliating them.”¹

There’s an old-ass Flexner Report that led to this literal, racist whitewashing—by shutting down Black medical colleges and other med schools that taught Native American healing along with, “herbalism, homeopathy, and chiropractic,”² which were legit modalities at the turn of the 20th century. 

And what if that shady brown girl’s skin is sick? What if she’s a walking band-aid, a perpetual affliction?

One in four Americans have skin diseases, costing $75 billion a year to treat. Throughout my decades of inherited dis-ease, I’ve invested in doctors after healers after elimination diets after practitioners after stress-eating all the potato chips after therapists for help, to cure the seemingly incurable skin.

An acceptable shade of brown. Is there such a thing?


For fellow brown n’ broken skin kin, here’s a list of what I’d want for us, an ideal dermatology visit. Lemme know what you’d add because I want this to be a radically collaborative exercise:

❑First of all, the reason you made an appointment is because on their website is the clinic’s Skins of Color Acknowledgement. They promptly recognize and commit to reparations from Western medicine’s racist, whitewashed historical and present practices. (You may arrive at the office a little SUS–as the kids say–and that’s okay. Our bodies are good at guarding us. Can you gulp water and exhale as you walk in? Text me; if you want, I can meet you there.)

❑The receptionist maintains eye contact, warm, genuine. They don’t wide-eye, gaze down or stare sideways at our skin. 

❑They thoughtfully considered our skin history before we arrived. They offer us a prepared soothing drink made from safe-for-us plant medicines. For me, it’s coconut water, tamarind juice, bayabas (guava) leaf tea.

❑We are shown a buffet of lotions and ointments, and we are trusted to choose the exact ones that work (for now—this is a rotating sitch based on weather, allergens, triggers).

❑Our treatment room is set to the climate best for our skin needs. For me, tropical climate: humid air, thickly fragrant with sweet banana leaves and Philippine jasmine, the sampaguita flower. (Big, frizzy hair is a default here!)

❑Instead of abstract art on the walls, there are photos of all ages and skin conditions reflecting us: rashy, brown, gap-toothed, freckled, peeling, black, wrinkled, rosy, plaqued, scarred, beloved.

❑With consent, we are touched gently “where it hurts,” not man-handled like a specimen or a thing with cooties. Here, they, “move at the speed of trust.” Whenever we want, and for as long as it feels good, we are hugged.

❑We rest on a warm amethyst bed, and acupuncture needles are applied to move, to release stuck or unstimulated chi—some ancestral energies waiting to be unblocked. If we need the sun’s healing (without the damaging UV) we glow underneath light therapy panels while our weary chi flickers, flutters and flows.

❑Upon our request, at any time, we can listen to audio of prose potions (e.g. Ross Gay’s Book of Delights, Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals.)

❑If further narrative medicine is needed, the doctor meets us outside where we prefer (beach, park, our neighborhood) for a long walk to hear more of our story. They witness our wonderings about why our skin is inflamed and erupting. They say, I’m sorry you’re hurting. They ask often, too, What delights you? They teach their staff to do the same, to say, Tell me more.

❑This could be when the doctor shares stories of their own family’s experiences with skin dis-eases. It’s precisely because their own flesh and blood suffer that they chose to become a dermatologist.

❑We make art, like kids who parallel play, as we ruminate and celebrate the latest therapies and treatments in communities around the planet. (A favorite: cutting and gluing collage³ visions.)

❑The more we come for treatment and care, we realize others are hanging out in this Third Space. They choose to be here. We get it; we get each other—breached skin and all. It’s deep listening without “advice” and “should-ing” on ourselves. It’s hell yeah when one has a good night’s sleep or is in remission. As regular practice, we tend to our griefs. Heart medicine.

❑For those curious and open to a little spirit-trippin’, we recline in a bed lined with fresh aloe. Indigenous healers circle us, massage coconut oil into open wounds and sing over us. We are bathed in ancestral tongues. Their voices ribbon throughout the center, weaving everyone together in song.

❑After each visit, on our way out, we are given baskets to fill with orange food our bodies can enjoy. Real orange food (not Cheetos orange) offer skin-supporting nutrients. The staff and allies grow, prepare, and bring carrots, pumpkin muffins, sweet potato chips, roasted butternut squash, dried apricots, mango smoothies, wild yam soup.

❑There are more lotion and ointment travel sizes to take, to dole out. Lotion as love language. A sign invites, “Grab and give to other skin kin!”

❑The one thing that does not fill our hands, pockets, and baskets? A bill or co-pay. 

❑When we’re ready for our next appointment, the day and time we prefer is open and waiting.

Yes, I know, this sounds BOTH so reasonable and yet, as our experiences with the medical system remind us, too good to be true. I promise, it’s possible. I’ve experienced many of these treatments. Join your dreams to ours, so we can dream the rest into life. 

May we read these out loud, first to ourselves, then around a table or fire. May we yell them into the ocean, bury, drown, spit and scratch, dig ‘em up.

May we print this out to bring to our next appointment. 

May we offer to the doctor, nurse, receptionist, therapists and techs. Our neighbors and frenemies, too. Like a birthing plan that includes the whole community.

May we raise our hands and say, This is what we want and need. We’ve been waiting our whole lives for this. Believe us. We are laboring together, our


skins en-flamed,

dancing and dripping.

¹ From Inflamed: Deep medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice, Rupa Marya and Raj Patel.
² ibid.
³ Collage is traced to China in 200 BC… “today, art involving pieces of paper, photographs, fabric and other ephemera arranged and stuck down onto a supporting surface.” 

Ephemera, “lasting only a short while.” See, “life.” 
Supporting surface, see: Collective Care


Ella deCastro Baron is a second generation Filipina American teacher and storyteller, a VONA alum, and cohort leader of Corporeal Writing’s 2024 Mushroom School. Ella’s first book, Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment, is an ironic curriculum vitae of her ethnic upbringing, inherited faith, and chronic illness. Her forthcoming book, Subo and Baon: a Memoir in Bites, is a ‘meal’ that offers nourishment while decolonizing harmful systems, so we can “re-member our long body,” recover fuller stories and indigenous ways. Ella cultivates kapwa (Filipino value of deep interconnection, shared identity) in communities near and far. Her favorite pronoun is We. elladecastrobaron.com.




Gisselle Yepes

Our Islands are Subject to Flooding and Still,

On this morning, we unfold in our bedroom. All that is ours begins
to reach for who we water. Two palms stretch from our satin sheet
towards our sky and neither of them are yours. A sun salutation, or
a mirror for how we give, when listening. I wait under the sun until
you wake to touch you. Your heartbeat begins and ends and begins
and how beautiful a drum to remind our hands, our bodies, that we
are alive. Your hand reaches for where you left our music dreaming
and your fingers string until you find a drum, until you find the soil
we nourish, until your pulse begins across my thigh, crawling while
asleep. I witness your dreaming while awake. We unfold under a sky
that is a heaven in my first tongue. We create heaven in both. Across 
our waters, our islands, this heaven made here. Mi cielo, we are alive

mi cielo, 
we are alive



Gisselle Yepes received their MFA in creative writing at Indiana University Bloomington and their BA from Wesleyan University. Yepes is a Letras Boricuas 2022 Fellowship Recipient, a Tin House Scholar, and a 2023 Sundress Academy of the Arts Resident. Their poetry has been featured in Moma Magazine, Gulf Coast, Poets.org and the anthology Sana Sana: Latinx Pain and Radical Visions of Healing and Justice. Yepes’ creative nonfiction essay “On Her Waters Summoning Us to Drown” won december magazine’s 2022 Curt Johnson Prose Award in Creative Nonfiction, and their film Recordando a Wela was featured on GIPHY.




Jen Soong

When Mermaids Weep

Art by Jen Mei Soong

One thought circled Phi’s mind like a ravenous hawk. She was the last mermaid on earth. She couldn’t recall the last time she spied glimmerwings. That’s what Bà called each shimmering scale that appeared on her tail when she came of age. Perhaps they were hiding under long gauzy layers of fabric that shushed as those foreigners trudged by. 

In the earliest days of After, her glimmerwings would draw strangers’ gawks and wide maws. Now there were too few left to be finger pointed. Each time she lost another one she cried, even though, to her disbelief, she could walk with newfound strength. Her lungs swelled. She couldn’t stop herself from sob gasping, each breath harder to swallow than the last. Tears were the closest reminder of her birthplace and memories of her salty-eyed kin. Each one, a ballad stitched underneath her skin.

Phi clutched a necklace her great-grandmother, her namesake, gave her as a child. She inched an unforgiving chair towards a rusted patio table at an erstwhile diner called Jo’s. Its dented sign sat atop heap of shingles, the letter J a lopsided grin. 

Another scorcher. Her tears dripped into an empty mug like a soft rain. Tip-tap, tip-tap. Her morning ritual. A whispered prayer of home.


Phi’s sisters were her world. In the cerulean depths of the ocean, they giggled and quibbled together. She was the youngest of five, the baby of the family. They chased eels and errant rowboats in the kelp forest, tickling each other with long tubular strands. They collected oyster shells, wrote love ballads and performed riotous musicals. Her favorite game was tail tag, where she had to swim backwards to avoid getting ousted. Time stretched with a lazy eye towards the sky.

One day near the summer solstice, the sun was hidden by clouds and her sisters swam out fast ahead of her. She lost sight of them. The waves grew dark and cold. A bitter pit swelled in her abdomen. Their absence, a void. Racing with alarm, she swam home—straight into Bà’s arms. 

They didn’t wait for me, she cried. Her great grandmother, whose long black hair flowed past her arms, had a gift. She was a charmer; she could see the future. Bà gave her a necklace with a pendant in the shape of a winged tail, glinting rainbows in an arc of sunbeams. 

Wah! Wipe away your tears, child, she said. Your name means flying, Phi. Look, she poked her. These wings mean you are destined to fly far from here. And one day you will be the one they follow. 

Phi looked toward the churn of agitated clouds. She could see frantic fish and kelp forests and wild creatures somersaulting in a silver tsunami cloud. She blinked and looked at Bà. Were her great-grandmother’s eyes watering? 

Something is coming, she said. I feel a thundering herd in my glimmerwings.


Mermaids had tried to warn humans. Phi’s sisters spelled out signs on seashells, sand dunes, even trash bins: Stop trampling our earth, polluting our air, ravaging our homeland, stop poisoning our seas, you foolish dumbbells. Stupid, stupid illiterate beasts. But no amount of prodding, insults or threats would stall mouth breathers and their goddam greed. 

One day the earth mother opened her giant maw and swallowed the fancy cities and the mountain towns and the people who inhabited them. Gulp after gulp after gulp. 

Until it was all gone.

Phi lost sight of her sisters near their hideout and woke up days later with her tail shriveled on an abandoned shore. Everything was unfamiliar. Metallic sand dotted with chipped bones. Her head erupted with grief.

Her ocean had vanished. Half the population wiped out. Only mud and metal survived. She could still hear echoes of her sisters’ screams. Terror ricocheted her chest. She saw limbs and flailing tails in the inky darkness of her nightmares.


Why was Phi the only one of her kind saved? This question haunted her, clanging in her eardrums. Her tail dissolved. She scoured abandoned cities and barely recognizable towns. Only overturned cars and ransacked barns. She wandered through tent villages at the edges of once great tree forests and traveled as far as the desert. No one spoke her tongue. No one was left to wipe away her tears. This abandoned diner had become as familiar as the kelp forest once was. Loneliness, her sole companion.


A hundred mornings later a woman in a cornflower blue dress waved her arms wildly at her. Phi froze, stunned by her sudden appearance. 

I’ve been searching for you, she said. My name is Jo. This was my diner. Before, you know, everything. She paused to catch her breath.

Me? You can understand me? Phi squinted to take in her eyes. She saw a hint of blue, something familiar like the ocean. She was reminded of her sisters, once so full of life.

Yes, you’re most definitely her. My mother gave me a painting when I was a girl. The most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Every silverfish, every starling, every human circled you in prayer. I thought you were imagined until today.

This human, who reminded Phi of all that she had lost, stretched out a hand towards Phi. Her palm, a soft opening, an invitation. 

A warm kindling awoke in Phi’s belly. A familiar scent of home saturated her lungs. The vanilla musk of star-shaped gardenia blossoms infused with brine and hope. She understood that their fates were intertwined.

Her Bà’s voice returned. You will be the one they follow.


A pair walked hand in hand north following a trail of milky white petals. Overhead a red-tailed hawk hailed her mate. Cak-cak, cak-cak. Phi wiped the last of her tears with her skirt. Her eyes glimmered a deep phosphorescent blue, the same shade as the flying, flying sea.


The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Jen Soong grew up in New Jersey, and now lives in Northern California. An alum of Tin House and VONA, her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Audacity, Black Warrior Review, Witness, and Waxwing. She earned her MFA in creative writing from UC Davis. Her memoir-in-progress a reckoning of myth and migration. Find her work at jensoong.com. Photo by Haley James.




Mia Ayumi Malhotra

Dear Body—

with a line by Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison 

We all pass through death to come into life, though some of us merely pass. 

She lost a baby before me. Also a sister. Imagine. 

Hearing this story is like breathing air that has not been breathed for forty years. Afterward I go home. I light so many candles. 

When I was born, she counted my fingers and toes, then she wept to see me alive. She looked down at me, cradled in her arms, and I was beautiful. 

She says it’s the light she remembers. The slow, wonder-filled hours. 

After giving birth, I woke every night soaked in milk—the front of my nightgown, the sheets; damp stains on cotton. A shape that spreads. 

The shape of her story, which I lived in but had no words for, though I wore it like a second skin. 

We who begin in this way, surely we can taste it. The tang of melancholy, seeping through amniotic fluid. 

Her body, bent over the sewing machine. And me, stirring inside. Stitched from bone, from the pound and yammer of machinery. 

The needle’s noisy whir, presser foot against throat. Ravenous, eating down the miles of grief. 

Difficult beauty, they say, takes time. What happens next is never ours to say. 


Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of Mothersalt (Alice James Books, forthcoming 2025); Isako Isako, a California Book Award finalist and winner of the Alice James Award, the Nautilus Gold Award, and a Maine Literary Award; and the chapbook Notes from the Birth Year. She teaches creative writing at Left Margin LIT and is a proud Kundiman Fellow, as well as a founding member of The Ruby, a gathering space for women and nonbinary artists. Read more at miamalhotra.com.




​Julián David Bañuelos

Freedom Sings

papío is dead, and the world is worse,
O we wanted more, hungry for justice
papío is dead, and the world is worse,
Pobre papío.
Qué vale más wey, her life or tuyas?
O we wanted more, hungry for justice
Qué vale más wey, her life or tuyas?
Pobre papío.
He’s as dead as a fly on the windowsill
O we wanted more, hungry for justice
He’s as dead as a fly on the windowsill
Pobre papío.
He won’t come killing us no mo’
O we wanted more, hungry for justice
He won’t come killing us no mo’
Pobre papío.


Julián David Bañuelos is a Mexican-American poet and translator from Lubbock, Tx. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. You can find his work at juliandavidbanuelos.com.




Naomi J. Williams

The Fisherman’s Wife Has Something to Say

after Hokusai, “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” (1814)

First of all, I’m not a fisherman’s wife, so stop calling me that. I’m not even married. 

Second, it wasn’t a dream. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Hokusai-san didn’t name his image, but we call it “Tako to ama.” 

Tako: octopus. Or octopuses, octopi—take your pick. We are less hung up on distinguishing between one and more than one of something.

Ama: diver. For thousands of years, we’ve dived, my mother and grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers. On a good day, we return with buckets lined with oysters and abalone and sea cucumber, enough to exchange for rice and wine, maybe fabric, a packet of needles. On less good days, which happens more often as the world and its oceans grow tired, we return with only enough to feed ourselves.

What we really want, of course, are pearls.

That’s the dream: to steam or force open an oyster and find, resting on that quivering muscular bed, one—or more than one!—lustrous, nacreous, valuable sphere. 

Today the women who dive for the entertainment of tourists wear modest white uniforms. In my day, we wore just headscarves and loincloths. Both of which I seem to have lost during this encounter. Tch tch.

Anyway, there’s nothing about marriage or fishermen. That’s some Western invention. Art “critics” who couldn’t read the text assumed the picture depicted a rape. Some even surmised that the two cephalopods were messing with a drowned woman. Then called it “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.” I mean—what?

And like I said: It wasn’t a dream.

One morning, I swam away from my mother and aunts toward an oyster bed they forbade me from visiting because, they said, it was guarded by a giant octopus. And they were right. I’d collected ten lovely, promising specimens when suddenly the octopus was before me, crimson with fury, tentacles flaring. I launched myself up and away, only to surface on a roiling gray sea, quite alone, no sign of our boat or the other women. A squall had blown through while I was underwater. Even my bamboo bucket was gone. 

Everyone assumes the octopus was male. Even Hokusai-san. He thought the smaller creature, the one that’s kissing me, was its son—which, you know, is a little weird. I think it might have been a different kind of mollusk altogether. Or they might have been a pair, these two, but not father and son. A mating pair, the smaller male and outsized female, exhibiting the remarkable sexual size dimorphism some species are known for—and perhaps a desire to spice up an old partnership?

I wasn’t thinking about any of this at the time, of course.

I had been treading water, hopelessly scanning the horizon, when the giant octopus appeared beside me and curled a tentacle around my hands. I surrendered my oysters and expected to die. But the creature pushed me gently toward shore, supporting me with its many arms when I grew tired, and helped me up onto a rocky beach, soft and slick with sea grass. As I lay there catching my breath, amazed to be alive, the octopus pried open my oysters one by one and slurped down the meat, sharing a few with its wingman. But first it held out each breached bivalve for me to see, as if showing me there were no pearls inside for me to regret.

Hokusai-san was a marvelous artist, but a bad erotica writer. He scrawled all this noisy, silly dialogue around us. I’m not going to translate for you, but—here, just listen: the octopus says, Are are, naka ga fukure agatte, yu no yō na ai-eki, nura nura doku doku, and I supposedly go, Korya dō suru no da… yō yō are are ii ii, mō mō dōshite, ee, zu zu zu…

Zu zu zu? Come on, Hokusai-san. Who sounds like that in a moment of esctasy? We’re supposed to be masters of onomatopoeia. 

It’s all right. The artist can’t know everything. Here’s something else he didn’t know: How the octopus reached up inside me until I thought I might break open, then withdrew its miraculous tentacle, shooed the little guy away from my mouth, teased open my lips, and dropped a large, perfect pearl between my teeth. It tasted of the sea, it tasted of desire, and I could have sold it and lived in comfort the rest of my life. But I didn’t. I kept diving, and I kept the pearl, a reminder that the finer treasures lie within, and the finest lovers know how to bring out the best in you. 


Naomi Williams is the author of Landfalls (FSG 2015), long-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including One Story, Electric Literature, Zoetrope All-Story, The Rumpus, and LitHub. A five-time Pushcart nominee and one-time winner, Naomi has also been the recipient of residencies at Hedgebrook, Djerassi, Willapa Bay AiR, and VCCA. A biracial Japanese-American, she was born in Japan and spoke only Japanese until she was six years old. Today, she lives in Sacramento, California, and teaches with the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University.




Rosario Rosario


Grandma Inang was nine going on ten when her mother Inay went completely blind. That first morning when Inay saw only darkness, Inang took her hand to use the outhouse. Along the bathroom’s bamboo slats, she washed Inay’s hands and face, and changed her sleepwear to a daytime saya and kamisa. Gently she talked to her mother and eased her into the dining table head chair. Patiently, she took her younger siblings’ hands and faces and washed them one by one, changed them to school clothes, and sat them at their respective places around her Inay’s table. Without missing a beat, she also doused her own hands and face and dressed not for school but for the labors ahead. In open kitchen pots, she warmed yesterday’s supper: leftovers stored in a wooden aparador afloat water bowls that served as “moats” to keep ants at bay overnight. At breakfast’s hurried end, Inang shooed her siblings to the local public school. Her young hands were forced to take over everything the only adult could no longer manage, though she could not manage a cry to wash away her young girl’s fears and sadness.

At the crack of dawn on the second morning, before her household awakened, Inang headed to market basket in hand to replenish the family’s supply of fresh food. She carried a kerchief bundled with only a few pesos and centavos her mother had given her. She knew when she counted she had to hard-bargain for rice, kangkong, guavas, fish and kalamansi. At the market, she learned to speak louder to convey her sincerity and get the goods she wanted to take home. Once home, she lit the fires and filled the pots with water to cook the rice and boil the sour sinigang soup, and doused the pan with lard to sauté a stew with garlic and onions. 

Every morning thereafter, Inang made meals for her mother and younger siblings. When they were almost running out of pesos and centavos, she dashed out before dawn to stand in line with vendors waiting on the karetelas trotting in from the farm fields. She bought fruit and vegetables in bulk; hurried home to make breakfast; then rushed back to the marketplace to sell the remaining fruit and vegetables, at a profit. Her siblings headed to school, but Inang had to drop out at second grade.

When Inang’s mother became more and more sick, and her younger siblings outgrew school clothes, Inang took on more and more odd jobs. Eventually, she started her own business. She rented a karetela and journeyed to the big Divisoria wholesale market, bringing back merchandise she sold at her own stall at the local market. 

At age nine going on 10, the day her Inay turned blind, my grandma Inang completely stopped being a child.


I was 11 on the day the endless rains let up, and I braved the floodwaters outside my wooden birth home in search of a red delicious apple. Mom could not keep anything down, vomiting relentlessly as if her insides could not stomach the foreign creature within. “Giving birth to another life is excruciating!” she’d say, a teacherly emphasis on that word, excruciating. 

Shhhhh, I repeatedly whispered, as I caressed her emaciated hand and arms, giving her sips of water, measured ever so carefully as I gently lifted her head, and pressing cool compresses on her dripping forehead and cheeks. She was wretched, retching and moaning to no one in particular. Her frame had shriveled to skin and bone, her beauty-pageant face twisted in pain. I thought how she must have been pampered as an only child; first to be served at the table, dressed and tresses combed by a maid. Over hill and valley, through the raging river at times, Mom was escorted to and from school, excursions she endured during bad weather with the aid of a beautiful red parasol gifted her by my Lola. In Lola’s mind, and mine, red carried Mom through hard times.

I felt water on my knees as I exited the back gate of our house. The heavy rain had left in its wake tributaries that connected our San Juan street to the wet market. One unsteady wooden plank overlaid into another, over the floodwaters that flowed further out into the main street of N. Domingo, where young men hand-paddled boards to take townspeople from house to house, house to church, house to hospital. 

Over the market entrance gutters, past squatting mothers and daughters tending baskets of sour kalamansi and devil-hot sili, beyond the makeshift bamboo stands heaped with sineguelas and guayabano, eggplant and cabbages, my slippery rubber slippers navigated the watery labyrinth of tiled stalls, dripping chopped goat and pig and gutted river fish at the market’s deep interior. There, on an elevated platform, stood the well-lit international store, its wooden shelves stocked with corned beef and spam, by-the-ganta white rice hand-cleaned of errant brown husks, red grapes and apples. I tucked in my belly upon ascending, very much in need of a taste of hope.

Shhhhh, I repeatedly whispered, thinking of my mother’s dark fight; alone without me at her side.

Back in our small kitchen, I unpeeled the apple’s delicate wrap and pressed it to my nose to inhale its richness. Upstairs was Dad in bed, in his usual drunken stupor. My Inang was summoned away to care for another grandchild. Each day I had turned instead to the stony likeness of the Virgin Mary whose once-blue cape draped ashen like Mom’s face. I knelt and laid my questioning heart at her immaculate feet. Why would my mother with child be suffering so? Hail Mary full of grace. Knife on plate I carefully dissected the precious fruit, scooped out the seeds and proceeded with my fractions—one quarter, one eighth, one sixteenth—estimating my ward’s mouthfuls. I decided to leave the skin. Mom loves red.

She pushed and screamed, pushed and screamed, for hours long after a sudden gush of water soaked the banig mat. I recalled Mom telling me how she had pushed and screamed, pushed and screamed until I had cut through her, and she dropped the bloody mass of me into a pail. Her eyes closed, shaking uncontrollably, I held my mother until the midwife arrived to clip the umbilical cord. No one, not even Mom, has told me who cuddled me upon arrival. But at 11, I felt alone to catch the emptiness of my mother’s stillborn child.


When my daughter was 11 going on 12, she drowned in daily crying fits. 

Shhhhh. I quietly held on to her, closely to my chest. 

She was sad because she had to miss a midtown concert with her middle-school friends. She was sad because she had to say no to impromptu pizza after school. Because she dreaded the longer commute from the Upper West Side to our new home. Because she had none of her old friends to talk to. Because her New York City home became the less desirable outer borough of Queens. Because her mother had abruptly decided to pack up and leave the family’s Manhattan apartment, and separate from her father. 

Shhhhh, I whispered, throughout her each day, my focus on her dark fight within. 

Only many years of silence later would my daughter share how worried she was. For me. For her mother. And how hard she had tried to gather strength. To stop the fuzzy feeling of helplessness; at being unable to prevent my imminent collapse from deep pain.

Shhhhh. Each night, each day I reach out to my children—to my daughter and to her young daughter—on FaceTime, by phone, holding on to them. Tightly. To be my children’s anchor. To be each other’s anchor.


Rosario Rosario carves (her)stories shaped by swerves of uprooting and second chances, which move the historically-suppressed female experience towards a magically sanctioned reality of empowerment—a creative quest necessitating exploration and expansion of storytelling voices to bridge meaning across the author’s culturally lived experiences as an American immigrant spiritually nurtured and influenced by her Filipino ancestral teachings. Rosario is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Goddard College (MFA, Creative Writing), and Founder of Writing on Water (WoW), an international creative cultural travel company. Rosario Rosario resides on Munsee Lenape land, also known as New York City.




Melissa Llanes Brownlee

Stifling the Weeds

We lay recycled cardboard on the dirt of our little plots of land, a cheap way to block weeds from growing, organic, if the cardboard doesn’t have anything poisonous hidden in its folds, ready to kill the life we are growing. We argue over dry taro, ulu, sweet potatoes. Our need for fresh produce of our own, a constant, fighting worms, snails, blights, diseases, brought from foreign lands. We till the dirt, red and fertile from ancient lava flows. We discuss growing wet taro for poi but we know that will take more water than we can afford, rain caught and stored, not enough to flood even one crop. We gnaw fingernails and broken skin, our anxiety at surviving on our homeland, our ʻāina, a struggle. We share our ebts to gather groceries and necessities brought on shipping containers, grateful we even have land to work even if we can’t earn enough money working at the resorts, restaurants, construction sites to pay for a single bedroom apartment, to keep a roof over our head, forcing us to camp next to the cardboard we pulled from dumpsters behind the Wal-Mart.


Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Fractured Lit, Flash Frog, Gigantic Sequins, Cream City Review, Indiana Review, and Craft. She is in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and Wigleaf Top 50. Read Hard Skin from Juventud Press and Kahi and Lua from Alien Buddha. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at melissallanesbrownlee.com.