Sai Pradhan

Borrowed Light

A series of cables were hooked up to the orb, as if it was all nothing more than a simple construction site. I live in Hong Kong, so I suppose, technically, there should have been unending bamboo scaffolding as well, but there wasn’t. 

I noticed some faint diagrams as I looked upwards to the familiar glow. They looked like Leonardo da Vinci’s sepia-tinted Vitruvian Man drawings. No man though, just the general geometry. Someone had clearly put some thought into this. It was plotted.

And then, with no sound at all, it was drawn down like an incredibly efficient, gigantic elevator. I imagined it feeling like ice-cream that’s been refrozen. Texturally incorrect in as much as one can imagine the texture of a thing one hasn’t touched: in a state of defrosting, but still holding onto its deformed heft. Perhaps the birds it downed on the way felt a pleasantly cooling sensation as they died, crushed mid-flight.

In slow motion, it dipped into the ocean in front of me still soundless – this thing that shouldn’t and couldn’t and certainly couldn’t be made to. I should note that I didn’t seem surprised.

I turned to my husband and said quietly, now there will be waves. Big at first, and then slower and lower tides. Nothing is going to make sense. Leave aside the gravitational implications, what would become of poems and prayers and myths and silhouettes and owls and bats and hippos that forage at night if the moon really had just sunk into the waters like a melting scoop? Light from the sun used to bounce off the earth, and then bounce off the moon, and bounce back to our billions of light-perceptive eyes. In that way, earthshine and moonshine existed. Now what? 

Did you ever even get to see a lunar halo? 

It’s just a common illusion created due to that borrowed light being refracted through ice crystals in feathery cirrus clouds, but if you see it, you wouldn’t think it common at all.

Oneirocritical as usual, I woke up and found myself wondering if I was perimenopausal. Maybe I just ate too much ice-cream this past week, while celebrating my fortieth birthday. 


Sai Pradhan is an Indian American writer and artist who lives in Hong Kong. Her work has been in Ligeia, Litro US, Litro UK, Sleepingfish, NB, and will be in The Iowa Review. She used to write opinions for the press, and is now writing a book of fiction. Her art can be seen at and on Instagram @sai_pradhan_art.




Allison Darcy

Dear Anna: Letters to my Ex-Metamour

metamour (noun): in a polyamorous relationship, one’s lover’s lover 


Dear Anna–

Do you remember when we went to see that decaying house near the old part of the highway? We took my car because it had four-wheel drive, and we did it in broad daylight because we figured nobody knew who was or wasn’t supposed to be there, anyway. You were braver than I was and went inside to explore the old kitchen, the peeling tiles. On the way out you gave me bad directions and I ran us into a ditch.

We stood on the side of the road in our polka-dot dresses, too afraid or too bold to call your fiancé, who was also my boyfriend. We were so sure we could get out of it on our own. Everybody stopped to see if we were okay and we smiled at every single one of them: the truckers, the cops, the couple across the street who stayed on their porch watching out for us for forty minutes. It was all so very Southern. 

Eventually, we did get home. He had slept through the whole thing, but we knew we still had to say something. “I can’t believe we drove into a ditch!”, you and I had been laughing in the car.

“Allison got us stuck,” you said to him then.

I’m marrying him in fifty-three days and I still don’t know if I’m sorry.


Dear Anna– 

The word, you told me, was metamour. That is what you call the person who is dating the same person you are. This is what good polyamory looks like, you said. You have to unlearn everything toxic. Us, we’ve let go of the idea that we can possess other people. We’ve let go of jealousy. We have no purpose for that obnoxious couple thing where people refer to each other in the plural. “We think.” “We want.” “We are.”

Look at us, you said. It’s all about open and honest communication. What the agreements are. What makes us insecure. You work it out. Look at us. We’re best friends. We’re exactly what metamours should be.


Dear Anna–

Do you remember the poem I wrote about you lying on the couch with your tears stuck to your eyelashes, and how you wanted to show it to the man in Florida you were leaving us for? That really is how I remember you, most days. It’s hard—I saw it coming for so long, your sadness, but I still didn’t do anything to stop it. 

Could I have, if I tried? If I had left, would you have been happy? I don’t think so. I’m still not sure.

It’s hard to figure out what was true, if anything was. When I was out of the country, your relationship was so fragile. He said you didn’t touch him for weeks. I had started to see through you by then, and I told him it would all change the day I came back. And sure enough, when I walked in the door to surprise him that morning, the two of you were singing together in the shower. 

I always thought it was strange timing, since you were the one who knew when I was coming over.


Dear Anna–

Sometimes I hope you had a secret life, like the hidden cabinet we found after you left filled with trash from Popeye’s, which we didn’t know you even liked. You stored it away so we wouldn’t find out that on your lonely days, you filled his absence with fast food. But I cannot understand why you didn’t just walk it to the trash.

Still, I find myself hoping you had other secrets, hidden like that in compartments that were yours alone to know about. There was a boy at the restaurant you waited tables at that seemed to like you, and I know when your car got repossessed, somebody still had to take you to work. I hope it was him, even though our relationships were supposed to be closed. 

“Polyfidelitous.” That’s what we were. A closed triad. So many new words.

The only thing I knew then about your Florida boyfriend was that he liked the poem and didn’t like us. But he got in touch with me a few months ago. He felt like he needed to apologize. He told me he wished he had believed what we were trying to tell everyone about you; he said you had near ruined his life and he’d tell people now too, even though nobody would ever believe any of us.


Dear Anna–

I’m sorry I tried to tell everyone about you.


Dear Anna–

In movies, you always see therapists telling people to write letters they’ll never send, but I’ve never had one say it to me, and I have had so very many therapists. I can’t figure out if doing this is helping or not. Maybe this is a made-up medicine. Maybe you could tell me, if you ever did go to talk to someone about your sadness—but I guess you’re more of an expert on the “made-up” part, right? 

When I called you to switch the last of the utilities, we wished each other well. I used to think I could tell your real voice from your fake voice, but now I realize I didn’t know more than anybody else. I really do wish you well. I just don’t know what that means.

I haven’t deleted your number or your email yet, but my best friend tells me I shouldn’t ever send anything like this.

I remember when I would have asked your advice, too. I remember when “best friend” came out of your mouth.


Dear Anna–

I probably should have asked you to explain it to me, you know. How it all works. Nobody really ever did. I watched Big Love and Sister Wives for research, knowing they were amplifications, and sought our personalities in each of the women. I didn’t have any good examples of how it should be in real life except for what this relationship gave me. 

It turns out you didn’t have any idea yourself. Or at least, you didn’t adhere to one. I’m sure that at one time you did believe that relationship agreements were binding. Until it didn’t suit you anymore. Until it meant I wasn’t capable of infinite love. Until it meant I was limiting him. Until I was set to move in. Until it meant he’d treat us as equals. 

Until it meant something you thought could make me leave. 


Dear Anna–

It was Chastity?

How in the fuck do we live in a universe where you convinced him to break our triad with a girl named Chastity?!


Dear Anna–

If you’re wondering where your very expensive vibrator went, he hid it in the dirty laundry basket because he knew that meant you’d never find it.


Dear Anna–

I admit it now: as hard as I tried, I am not polyamorous. I’m not polyfidelitous, either. I can’t even be in an open relationship, much less whatever it is we were trying. I couldn’t do it again. 

The hard part is I do believe it works for some people, and so I always wonder if it would have eventually worked for the two of you—three, four, however many at any given time—if I hadn’t come along and wedged myself into those near-invisible cracks between those peeling tiles. But yes, I’ve seen people who it works for, who are crazy in love with all their partners and who get along or who at least don’t pretend…

I see more who pretend. I hate that I have to say that. I see so many who fell for someone before they knew the preexisting conditions. Groups where one person is unhappy and poison. Where everybody knows someone is miserable, and maybe they even like it. Maybe they’re even trying to make it worse, just so they can be the partner who stays the longest. I’ve had people we knew confess to me so often since they heard: they don’t want to do this anymore, but they’re too afraid to admit it.

When are you going to admit it too? When are you going to admit that you always have to be pushing someone out, just so you know you can win?


Dear Anna–

“How did you make him be monogamous?” is a question people really ask me, as if he didn’t have a say in the manner, as if I have some manipulation or magic trick that will work for their own failing arrangements. The truth is it isn’t that complicated. “If Anna leaves,” I told him one day, “I need you to not replace her with someone. I need it to be just us, or else I need to go.” I feel like you could have told him this at any point too, but you didn’t. Why is it so hard to tell each other what we need?

Maybe I said, “When Anna leaves.” I don’t remember anymore.


Dear Anna–

Sometimes I see you write online about how your relationship was so toxic, and I get angry and say you’re lying since I was in the same relationship at the same time and I saw everything, but I have to ask if maybe you did think that and just never told me, and if that’s the case, why not? Did you really think I wouldn’t have done something? 

You said I was your best friend.


Dear Anna– 

I had this dream where we met at a dance class one day and I found you annoying and you found me exhausting and we didn’t like each other and then we never spoke again and you were gone before I ever met him.


Dear Anna– 

I had this dream about you. We were driving to Virginia in that rainstorm, and we kept driving.


Dear Anna–

I think the best night we ever spent together was when we went to that Mexican restaurant so you could give me back your key. We signed our names together on the bathroom’s neon wall, and I loved you so much. We weren’t in competition and you were so beautiful. We both cried when you had to drive away.

I knew we wouldn’t see each other again. I did think we would keep talking every day. And for a few months, we did. But without the competition, it all fell apart, and I kept learning more and more at home.

Why did you do it? Convince him to cheat on me, I mean—to do what you knew was outside of bounds.

Was it possible for him to cheat on one of us, and not the other? 

How much did Chastity know?

Don’t answer that.


Dear Anna–

You still owe us nearly five thousand dollars. 


Dear Anna–

Even though we never dated, I’m realizing I need to treat you like an ex. The me that existed back then loved the you that existed back then, and even if I were to get closure now it wouldn’t be from the same person. 

I still need closure.

Did you ever love me?


Dear Anna–

I still need closure.

Why did you do it?


Dear Anna–

I have a secret.

When it all went to Hell, I was in St. Louis at a bar.

I hadn’t broken our polyfidelity yet. I may have later that night. Instead, I saw those missed calls from both of you at once, and I turned to the guy who was pushing an orange slice into my next Blue Moon, and I said, “I’m sorry, but can you take me back to my car? I think my boyfriend’s fiancée just left him.”


Dear Anna–

Here are the five traffic tickets and the court summons that got sent here for you. I’m sending them because I don’t want anyone to come bang on our door looking for you, and not because I still care.


Dear Anna–

You’re monogamous now. (Yes, I occasionally check.)

You have a dog. 

You have a house. 

You’ve deactivated almost all your old social media. 

You said goodbye and “thank you to everyone who was a part of that time in [your] life.” 

Anna, do you feel any gratitude towards me, or anything else at all?


Dear Anna–

Do you know how concerned you looked when you told me what had happened with Chastity while I was gone, and how gentle you were while I sat there crying in your arms? You said you were so torn up about helping him lie to me that you hadn’t been able to touch him for weeks. You consoled me and told me you would support whatever choice I made. You said that we’d always be friends. You told me she was manipulative and that she had blinded you, too, but now you saw you never should have been friends with her and you were so, so sorry. 

When you handed me the key, you told me to look for her love letters under the bed. 

He told me he didn’t know they were there.


Dear Anna–

I wish I’d been louder about it all, for the sake of the poor girlfriend of the man you met next.


Dear Anna–

You do realize it was your leaving that made it final, right? That you handed me the thing you really wanted? 

He told me how you and Chastity sat down with him, the weekend she was in town, and told him if he wasn’t willing to date her too, then I really must be controlling everything. That he was weak. That he wasn’t asserting his needs. 

And I know, I know, I should be mad at him for cheating on me, for breaking those rules. And I was. And I am. And I continue to be.

But you knew what you were doing, too.

He was gentle about it, you know. He didn’t tell me it was you who encouraged it until I started to realize how rotten things were between us. Until one day you just never replied to my text ever again. Until you’d already started to call someone else your best friend. He tried to protect you. Me, too.

Did you ever tell him what you really wanted?

Does everyone look weak to you, Anna? What do you think of yourself, if you ever do?


Dear Anna–

Whenever I tried to tell our side of the story, people said to stop airing dirty laundry.


Dear Anna–

Sometimes I search your name on the internet, and the articles come up about that author who just came out with her second best-seller. The first time I saw them, I wondered if you had stolen one of my dreams just because I had stolen one of yours.


Dear Anna–

Sometimes I search your name on the internet and see your posts to Chastity about how much you miss her.


Dear Anna–

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You knew how much I loved him, and leaving so we could be together in the way I needed was the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me. I can’t be grateful enough. I am so happy now. He treats me differently these days. I feel like I need to tell you: things are different. 

Not that things were bad when you were around—God, do you remember when the three of us went to see the Muppets? How we made fun of everybody we hated together, and we sang musicals together in the car, and we held hands over the popcorn? How we didn’t care if anybody saw?

I’m really sorry for everything I’ve said about you being a liar and lazy and a bitch. It was a bad situation for you. You were actually the better friend. I could have left for your sake, but I didn’t. I don’t think you’re as awful as this makes you look. 

To me, I mean. To everyone else, you look happy.

Anna, have you ever been happy?


Dear Anna–

When I told you I liked how your head looked shaved, I lied.


Dear Anna–

I miss you. Please miss me back.


Dear Anna–

I still don’t understand. Please tell me somebody else made you do it. Please tell me you were sick. Please tell me you were confused. Hell, tell me he made it all up. Just tell me you didn’t actually engineer a situation specifically in order to hurt me. 

At the very least, tell me you’re sorry.


Dear Anna–

Sometimes when there’s a snowstorm, I wonder when you’re going to wake up from where you would fall asleep face-down on the bed. I wonder when you’ll come down the stairs in your red footie pajamas, and when you’re going to convince me to go back out to make snow angels. I save the last spoon of cookie dough ice cream for you. I sing the song I wrote about kissing the top of your head. Maybe we’ll trade corsets. Maybe we’ll go to Walmart in our tutus. Maybe we’ll bake something. Dear Anna: do you want to come over?


Dear Anna–

Was any of it real?


Dear Anna–

Do you know how much I hate you?


Dear Anna–

Are you doing all right?


Dear Anna–

It’s been five years since I first put these on paper. I still write more letters. And then I write more. 

I still don’t trust him. I’d never trust you. I’m glad you got to get married. I hope you love someone you can trust.

I’m still trying to make something beautiful from what you left me, something that hurts in the truest ways. I miss you more than anyone I’ve ever lost. I think of texting you all the time. 

I love you in that way that we once were. I don’t think I know what was real. 

I hope you’re a better person now. I wish we’d met in a different way. 

And I think if we had—

And I think if things had gone differently—

And I think if we were in touch—

But it doesn’t matter. I just hope you’re happy. 

I do. I do. I do.


Allison Darcy is a disabled Jewish writer currently based in North Carolina. Her fiction has been published with Catapult and took first place in the 2020 North Carolina Fiction Contest, and her Pushcart Prize-nominated essays have appeared in such publications as Words and Sports Quarterly, Nat. Brut., Alma, and the Eastern Iowa Review. She holds an MFA in Fiction from North Carolina State University and can be found at and/or obeying the whims of her 50-pound lapdog, Freyja. Photo by Angel Alberto.




Stephanie Sauer

A Triangle Is the Most Stable Formation

Destroy: as play

On the sidewalk, a dead branch landed perfectly upright on its three equal spires. The urge in me to crush it goes like this: focus narrows as I fantasize stepping my full weight upon the apex of this balanced anomaly, feel the thing shatter, the crunch of it shocking my ears and rippling through muscle. The impulse to demolish this accidental perfection rushes through as joy. A pointless, playful joy. 

Instead, I pass to the side of the makeshift monument and hope another child finds it. 

The desire to destroy, though, does not leave me. It does leave the unsteady heartbeat I’ve come to know as marking giddiness. It leaves the memory of fun I took in destroying perfectly made things: mailing bubbles, green fronds stripped of their stems, sturdy cardboard boxes, seedpods that fell like helicopters, a fully bloomed dandelion, a sap-laced pinecone in a camping fire. 

Now that I am grown, I bring this play into making. It does not always present as fun. Sometimes destroying becomes confused with pain or ache or defiance. Sometimes it is purposeful. Sometimes, impulsive. I wonder if it would be better to simply admit that it is fun, that I cannot make without also wrecking. 


Dying: an inventory

Scarves, silk (12)
Handkerchiefs, cotton (6)
Gloves, paired (9)
Purses (13)
Pleated polyester pants, size 8 (6)
Denim pants, high-waisted, brown, size 10 (2)
Denim pants, low-rise, blue, size 10-14 (3)
Socks, paired (19)
Socks, unpaired (5)
Shoes, paired (26)
Bath robes (5)
Brassiere, lace, 32DDD (11)
Brassiere, satin, 32DDD (7)
Pantyhose, worn (21)
Pantyhose, unopened boxes (8)
Flat sheets, King (14)
Fitted sheets, King (3)
Pillowcases (28)
Beach towels (5)
Wash cloths (23)
Macramé plant hangars (2)
Filing cabinets (3)
Typewriters, electric (1)
Typewriters, manual (1)
Adding machine (1)
Display case, lighted (1)
Santa Clause figurines (33)
Christmas lights, strings of unused (18)
Christmas lights, strings of used (11)
Christmas-themed collectors’ plates (32)
Collectors’ plates (82)
Artworks, made by grandchildren (11)
Artworks, made by self (7)
Artworks, other (12)
Oil paint, tubes (34)
Paint brushes (9)
Gun cabinet (1)
Shotguns (5)
Handguns (1)
False teeth, sets (2)
Nail clippers (5)
Roller sets (4)
Lipstick tubes (17)
Lipstick tubes inherited from deceased sister (14)
Hair dryers (2)
Books (94)
CD/Cassette Players (2)
CDs (61)
Cassettes (27)
VHS players, working (1)
VHS players, broken (1)
DVD players, broken (2)
VHS tapes (24)
DVDs (19)
Tea pots (5)
Tea cups (53)
Cookbooks (24)
Recipe box (1)
Silverware, pieces (108)
Blankets (11)
Keys (89)


Dying: a beginning

After the last exhale, I braid a crown atop her head and sit in the stillness. There will be no viewing, no funeral, only fire.


Improvise: a body

In composing a poem, I do not know where the words, the sounds are heading, only that the ink is seeping around the ballpoint and onto the fibers of what was once living. Sound leads. 

But still, composing a poem never feels quite like improvising. The page is safe, too easy to crumple when no one is watching. To improvise requires witness and vulnerability, otherwise it is only a draft. 

I did not set out to learn about improvisation from Sophia. I was perfectly content with my drafting and my writing of scripts before performances. I had only signed up for the “traditional Oriental dance class” advertised at the neighborhood gym one night in the limbo that is a Chicago winter. A tall slip of a woman in flowing layers greeted us each as we unlaced our sneakers and stripped off our socks. 

Newcomers were advised to not use a coin skirt for at least our first few classes so as to avoid distraction by our own hips. Instead, Sophia lined us up in front of the mirrored wall under florescent lights in a room that smelled of day-old sweat and lemony Pledge, Pilates balls coloring the corners. She instructed us to stand with the weight of our bodies grounded in our heels, which should be almost touching. Toes out at a 45° angle, a triangle is the most stable formation. Knees bent. Shoulders back. Chest up. Chin out. Belly taut. Arms a loose oval, with fingers meeting at the bottom. A position my cells remembered from ballet.

To the tune of a song none of us had before heard, Sophia demonstrated the isolations: head, fingers, hand, arm, torso, hip. True to the format of every dance class I had ever attended, including the impromptu banda lesson from a friend at the county fair in Colima, we went the hour stacking movements together until we generated a nice little choreography of which to be proud. Classes continued this way, a savored break from writing. I practiced pivots and formed curvatures that, once embedded in muscle, I did not have to think about.

Months in, when the world was not so much frozen solid as frozen brittle, Sophia offered those of us who wanted more challenge a chance to form a small group with her on Tuesday nights in Rogers Park. Three of us accepted and trudged our way up north to meet her outside a studio basement she had rented for three hours at a time. Things there started off as familiar: she pressing PLAY on the portable CD player, leading us through warm-ups and isolations; we following with some by-then familiar sets. Soon, though, she asked us to improvise the next ten beats. Go! I was terrified, but we all moved simultaneously so that no one was paying attention to anyone else. A draft.

The rest of class moved this way, a blend of memorized steps and dips into trusting that our bodies would simply take us. A trusting, too, of the music. In the following weeks, she eased us deeper and deeper into the trusting. First, as short, solo improvisations of several beats when she pointed our way. Then came the day we were to improvise an entire song alone in front of the others. A song we had never heard. She explained that this had been the way traditional dancers perform, the way she had performed decades ago in venues throughout the city, always with a live band, each improvising off the other. We were given no warning. We were two hours in on a random Tuesday, sweaty and already a bit out of our heads. 

Still, I panicked. Thoughts raced. We all had coin skirts, but the other dancers were more experienced. One had even been performing in bars and was only there to sharpen her skills. I did not even trust my own body yet. I’d felt betrayed by it, having just recovered from a year of eczema so severe it had me sleeping in wet clothing while wrapped in 15-gallon garbage bags, even at the height of winter. It was a treatment specialists recommend for infants and finally prescribed to me when it became clear that nothing else worked, flesh aflame from the inside, no steroids or dietary changes helping. I raged at my body, feared it. But there in the basement, I filled with sadness and a new urge to befriend the body from which I’d been so severed. My turn came. Sophia played a Sephardic track that began with quiet strumming and vocals the pitch of pain. I began with finger isolations that traveled up my arms, then melodic lines extending to my hips, curving eights. Timed clapping rose and I let the sound stamp my right heal into the ground. Then left. Left, again. Rage swallowed up the sorrow that had hollowed thought. At the return of guitar, I found myself led by body the way I had been led by poetry. Hips flittered vocals. Arms outlined the whip of a string. Torso set fluid in a half whirl marked by heal slamming wood, adding sound. I lost I in the dervish, was filled and filling. Absorbed at the height of a hip pop, a smile. The song ended on the sharp edge of a wail. I closed my eyes and let the silence inside, let my palms tingle. 

I moved out of Chicago that next fall and I never found a dance instructor to compare. But in the performances I have given since, I rarely read from a script. I memorize the sounds and practice the beats, but when the lights dim and the air goes quiet, I improvise. It is a license I never believed myself capable of assuming, for language had too long resided out of body. 


Dying: still dead

Six months and she is still dead. No reckoning, only ache. Nothing will begin again. Sometimes, it is just a dying. This dying is only bearable because there was love. 


Failure: a beginning

Mid-performance, my technology failed. Costumed and flushed, I battled with the laptop from which I was to project a short video I’d made. The audience sat still, then began to stir. The spell of the performance had broken. The air went limp. A participant, then two, tried making the video play, but nothing came of our efforts. I apologized to those in attendance and asked if they still had patience for the film. I could replace the laptop, but would have to walk from the venue over to my collaborator’s apartment four blocks away to borrow hers. They were patient people and were in a place that served libations, so my collaborator and I branded it an intermission and left the stage in costume, devastated. Caught off guard, I broke character. I was not a seasoned performer. I was a planner and a perfectionist and I was mortified by this failing, did not act on my feet. I began the usual self-reprimand in the subjunctive tense. But as we walked and gained distance from the heat, the humor that infused the piece I was performing began to infuse me. I had no choice but to see this chaos as part of the making and as part of the making of me, a humbling. 

When we returned to the venue, we loaded the film and it played easily. The response of the crowd was generous and most stayed for more libations. 

In the days and weeks that followed, I felt a new kind of courage. I was no longer afraid of performing. My worst fears—a remarkedly botched performance and being revealed as openly embarrassed in front of a crowd of people—had come to pass and I had survived. I soon began to love this failure. I began to feel free not from it but because of it. Nothing else, in fact, could have freed me.


Dying: an intermission

Before the last breath, there is a waking, a final aliveness. Muscles lift, eyes open and fix and see, voice pierces chords not struck in weeks. The one who has been drowning in memory and forgetting, in pain and pee, refusing to drink or eat, speaking a language that contains no syntax and no translation, suddenly squeezes my hand and looks at me clean and tells the shimmery, whispery, crystalline thing. In the time after the dying, this touch this seeing this sound hold me. Is everything, only. There is no time in dying, only this touch this seeing this sound. And all that quiet.


Destroy: a making

I once wrote toward a book for an entire year. I was proud of my Discipline, of the Steadiness and Steadfastness that led to Productivity. I propped myself up with these values from a culture built on capital and progress. 

Trouble was, at the end of that year, I did not like the writing. I did not like the book my writing was becoming. I was bored by it and wanted no one else to be bored by it either. So, I threw out all the writing that bored me. What remained were three short entries, the first three entries. This writing excited me. 

I must qualify here: I did not simply throw the rest of the writing out all at once. I began by following the advice of another woman who writes. She must have known it would be hard for a human who had lived so few years to throw away all the work she had done in one of those years. She must have also known that it is hard for a US American to admit that labor has not amounted to something. She urged me to print the manuscript and cut into it with scissors, to cut up each section into a separate body. Then, I was to separate those bodies into piles marked DEFINITELY NOT, MAYBE, and DEFINITELY. Rather than throw out the piles marked DEFINITELY NOT and MAYBE, I placed their contents into manila folders and filed them away. I did as she’d instructed and never looked at their contents again, not even to this day, but their existence made the erasing and the writing possible. Everything opened out from their lack and the book I was writing became the book I wanted to write. 


Dying: a beginning that is also a middle

The calendar tells me three years have passed. I spread the heavy ash of her bones and sinews high in the Sierras, onto fresh snow. She hated the cold but loved these peaks, would love this view. We stay there together, me and what is left. I’d kept her remaining gray matter in a mason jar near me at all times, not quite ready to be orphaned. 

Three years, I am told, is a long time. I am not so sure.


Dying: an end that is also a middle

There is no time in dying.


Stephanie Sauer is an interdisciplinary artist and the author of Almonds Are Members of the Peach Family (Noemi Press) and The Accidental Archives of the Royal Chicano Air Force (University of Texas Press). Her work has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, Sacatar, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as a Barbara Deming Memorial Award for Nonfiction. She teaches prose writing in Stetson University’s MFA of the Americas program and develops Lólmen Publications for the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. @spoonsinthewoods.




Shella Parcarey

Alam Ni Lola (Grandmother Knows)

There is violence in food: getting it, cooking it, eating it. 

To crack open a coconut, hold it in one hand. Meet the scratch of the brown husk with your fingers like claws, arm outstretched. In the other hand, wield a machete. Aim its silver glint – its power recently renewed from the hiss of the sharpening stone – toward the coconut. Summon measured aggression. Strike. Drain the coconut water into a bowl. 

Know where your food comes from. Remember that the chicken hanging upside down in front you was, moments ago, pecking at grains in our yard. Its throat slit, its blood draining into a cup, it is the same fertilized egg you warmed in your hand, the same chick whose feathers you fluffed and petted, the same one you will gather with your fingers, mixed with rice and sauced with vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic for your adobo dinner. 

Rice grains plump and soften in steam, but it comes to our house hard. It arrives from across the bay to our front door in burlap sacks, maybe half a dozen at a time, harvested and packed by tenant farmers with calloused palms. When you open a sack, the grains inside are light brown, poky to the touch. What you want is inside the husk. 

Drag a sack out to the street in front of our house on an eye-frying sunny day. Spread out the rough grains thinly. Let them dry, raking every so often over many hours like sand in a Zen garden. Coax the moisture off in the tropical humidity so you can then take sacks of it to the only mill in town that can break grain from husk. There is only foot traffic in this part of the village, so tires will not disturb many hours of this meditation. 

There is only one oven in the whole village in the baker’s house, so there will be no chocolate chip cookies waiting after school at home. The baker’s oven has enough room only for the pan de sal, which the families who can afford them will buy for the next day’s breakfast. 

If you want an after-school treat, the aratilis tree to the side of the house has many branches to climb. Hitch a basket onto your arm and pluck the blueberry-sized red fruits up above. Try not to eat all of them before getting down, even if their cotton candy taste temptation beckons. If you fall off while reaching for the reddest ripe fruit two branches up, the mud below will cushion your butt and limit your bruises. Scrape off the dirt and climb again. 

Butter is such a luxury in the rural Philippines, there is not even a Tagalog word for it. There is only a noun that becomes an adjective to describe it: mantikilya. Used to suggest that it is like shortening, except for rich people. You can spread it on your pan de sal and sprinkle sugar on top, but only sparingly. Because butter is a few towns and a ride away, slow in a jeepney through a forested hillside, where rebel soldiers of the New People’s Army may or may not stop you, their rifles cocked to make your heart beat faster while the butter in your market sack begins to melt in the tropical heat. 

The shock of food-filled shelves in a real grocery store in the next big town will overwhelm you that you will forget to buy something, like dried spices. You will have to rely on onions. Sibuyas with an “S” in Tagalog. They may come from your neighbors’ yard, but the word comes from cebollas with a “C,” among the many words the Spanish colonizers brought in the 1500s. As you slice sibuyas for your bistek, they will draw out tears from your eyes. Let them trace salty streaks down your face to remind you of the words and letters that erased the Sanskrit-like language and symbols your ancestors used to speak before the Spanish sailed over. 

They captured more than 7,000 islands and claimed them after their ruler King Philip II. Indigenous culture was destroyed. And indigenous identity. By the time of the movement against Spanish rule, even the Katipunan, the brotherhood of revolutionaries, were led by men with Spanish names like Rizal and Bonifacio. 

Violence is inherent in every day, in history. But forgiveness can be as close as reaching for the leche flan across the table, a sweetness to share. 

Be grateful for your food, savor the poetry of flavor, and remember that survival comes from many sacrifices. 


Shella Parcarey is a Filipino writer working on her first novel based on her childhood growing up in the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship. Her poetry has been published in Black Fox Literary, and she is a former journalist published in The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, and the Arizona Daily Star. She is an Anaphora Arts Fellow, and her work has received support from Tin House Summer Workshop, VONA, and StoryBoard workshop at StoryStudio Chicago. She is an MFA student and Mapmakers Scholar at Pacific University. She graduated from Yale University, where she studied political science.




Miah Jeffra

First Love: A

Aram   (âr’ŭm).  1. In the Old Testament, an ancient country of southwest Asia, roughly coextensive with present-day Syria.  2. A common name among males in Armenia.  3. In this case, lean and bronze, with amber eyes that pulled me into the horizon.  4. I could never pronounce it correctly – only his mother could – but she liked me anyway, and allowed me to call him the Colorado River instead.

arbitrary  (är’bĭ-trĕr’ē) adj.   1. Determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle.  2. Based on or subject to individual judgment or preference: his choice to be a musician was arbitrary3. Not limited by law; despotic.

SYNONYMS: arbitrary, capricious, whimsical.  The central meaning shared by these adjectives is “determined by or arising from whim or caprice rather than judgment or reason”: an arbitrary decision; a capricious refusal; the butt of whimsical persecution.

arborization  (är’bür-ĭ-zā’shün) n.   1. A branching, treelike shape or arrangement, as that of the dendrite of a nerve cell.   2. The formation of a treelike shape or arrangement.

arc    (ärk)   n.   1.   Something shaped like a curve or an arch: the vivid arc of a rainbow.     2.   Mathematics.    A segment of a circle.     3. Electricity.    A luminous discharge of current that is formed when a strong current jumps a gap in a circuit or between two electrodes.    4.   Astronomy.    The apparent path of a celestial body as it rises above and falls below the horizon.

arcane  (är-kān’) adj.  Known or understood only by a few.  See Synonyms at mysterious.

archaic  (är-kā’ĭk)  also archaical  (är-kā-ĭ-kül) adj1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a much earlier, often more primitive period: an archaic bronze statuette2. No longer current or applicable; antiquated.  3. Of, relating to, or characteristic of words and language that were once common but are now used chiefly to suggest something that once was, but no longer: I should have seen it coming.

[paper, words, finite objects, and something always comes after.]

archell  (är-kël) n.   1. The feeling of being betrayed, particularly in the condition of lustful advances toward those understood to be forbidden, by social qualm.   2.  I mean, totally off-limits cheating, and, certainly, with the kind of person that would evoke the deepest of breaks, the bone shard in the gut tissue, in order to demonstrate sexual power, superiority:  “I’m beautiful, I’m beautiful, I’m beautiful dammit.”

archetype  (är’kĭ-tīp) n1. An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype: “’Frankenstein’…’Dracula’…’Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’…the archetypes that have influenced all subsequent horror stories” (New York Times).  2. An ideal example of a type; quintessence.

arctic  (ärk’tĭk) adj.  Extremely cold; frigid.  See Synonyms at cold.

– ard  or  – art  suff.  One that habitually or excessively is in a specified condition or performs a specified action: drunk-ard; cheat-ard; fuckt-ard.

arduous  (är’jû-ës) adj1. Demanding great effort or labor; difficult: “the arduous work of preparing a Dictionary of the English Language” (Macauley).  2. Testing severely     powers of                      ; strenuous: a          , arduous, and exhausting      
                           .  3. Hard to traverse,             , or surmount: “you will never own me, Miah” (Aram).

arenicolous  (ăr’ë-nĭkë-lës) adj.                   , living, or burrowing in sand.

ar•gue    (är’gyû) v.    1. To put forth reasons for or against; debate.    2. To attempt to prove by reasoning; maintain or contend.   3. To persuade or influence (another), as by presenting reasons: “I wanted to…but you wouldn’t understand, not then” (both of us, maybe).

arid  (ăr’ĭd) adj.   2. Lacking interest or feeling; lifeless and dull: I would never give the satisfaction, not in words.

[there are a lot of definitions, here.  the precision, more security than the cup of a palm to face.  I guess]

arise  (ë-rīz) intr.v.   1. To get up; as from a sitting or prone position; rise.  2.  To move upward; ascend.  3. To come into being; originate: hoped that new spirit of freedom was arising4. To result, issue, or proceed: well, what else is there?  Really.  What else?  Can one arise from a river?
                                     See Synonyms at stem.

[only pages believe the word truly lasts forever.]


Miah Jeffra is author of four books—most recently the short story collection The Violence Almanac (finalist for several awards, including the Grace Paley and St. Lawrence Book Prizes) and the novel American Gospel, winner of the Clark-Gross Award—and co-editor, with Arisa White and Monique Mero, of the anthology Home is Where You Queer Your Heart. Work can be seen in StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, The North American Review, Barrelhouse, DIAGRAM, storySouth, jubilat, and many others. Miah is co-founder of Whiting Award-winning queer and trans literary collaborative, Foglifter Press, and teaches writing and decolonial studies at Sonoma State University.




Allya Yourish

How to Stay Alive Underwater

My parents met scuba diving off Florida’s Atlantic coast. The story goes that my mother was seasick, vomiting over the edge of the boat. My father checked on her, held her hair back, and asked her on a date. I inherited a love of the water, its nausea too.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by enlarged images of fish. The backgrounds were always aquamarine water, clear as glass, the fish gape-mouthed and frozen in time. My father took all these photos, kept his SLR in its underwater casing, even though we lived two hours from the ocean. “I’ll teach you sometime,” he’d say.

Underwater, everything is nearly silent. This is true even in the ocean, with improbably large creatures moving around who, I swear, should be making some kind of sound. I see a shark at Sugarship, off of Perhentian Besar. I pass by first, swimming toward a wide and yawning doorway on the floor of the ocean, and only notice the shark when the dive master bangs a small metal rod against the steel of his oxygen tank. The dull clank draws my attention, he indicates towards the wreck and I am awed by the smear of grey nestled amongst the splitting planks and collapsing doorways.

I get scuba certified on half a tablet of Xanax and a huge dose of dramamine. Chris, our instructor, tells me he thought I’d drop out. It’s one task that gets in my way—we have to sit on the ocean’s shallow floor, turn off our oxygen, take off our masks and then restart the airflow, put the mask back on, and blow out all the trapped water. It feels like drowning. I get as far as taking off the mask before frantically swimming the ten feet to the surface, my tears mixing with the surrounding water. Chris follows me up. “Look around,” he tells me. The island rises in front of us, palm trees dotting the coastline. “You’re in the most beautiful place in the world. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Not up here, I want to tell him, but down there, without air or vision or noise, there is no beauty, there is no place. I put the mask back on. I keep crying. I descend and try again. Push back to the surface, gulp in a steady supply of salty air, descend, try again. Eventually the drugs get me drowsy enough to forget how to panic. “I’m just surprised you got through it,” he tells me later, “most people don’t, not once they start surfacing.”

It is a running joke in my family: never promise me anything, I always remember what I’m owed. After high school, my father promises me a trip to Hawaii to learn how he captured the underwater world in all those photos he took before my birth. We study digitized slides, the fish bug-eyed and vibrant through his lens. My mother delays the trip, my father dies the following year.

Every dive ends with a hand signal from the dive master, we gather around a line dropped by the boat, a tether to the surface. We ascend slowly, pausing halfway up. The quality of light changes as we go, the color of the water transitioning from a deep cobalt to a pale green. When we break through the surface, I am always shocked by the desaturated world, the waves, the way reality crashes into existence and I am suddenly buffeted by wind and water. It is so busy, so chaotic.

On their honeymoon, my parents meet and befriend an octopus. My mother repeats the story at every chance she gets: the octopus lived in a dilapidated wreck, was the size of her palm, would fit rocks together like puzzle pieces with her. They went back to the wreck daily, the octopus always greeted them. “As smart as a four year old,” she’d say. I don’t remember my father telling this story. Anyway, I never met an octopus while diving, I cannot imagine that kind of intimacy underwater.

I find grief to be relentless. I find myself adrift, alone, within it. I cry all the time. I can’t think of my father without pain, so for a time I try to stop thinking about him, treat every memory like a purpling bruise. There are opposite nights, nights when I prod at my rawest hurts, anxiously play through every voicemail from him I have saved, when I scan my memory to corroborate that I still know his nicknames for me, that I can still hear the cadence of his voice. Most of the time I can’t stand it, though. I have to stay above the grief or I will be beneath it forever, I think.

Chris loads me up with metal disks, weights tucked into my vest to drag me down under the surface of the water. “Stop holding your breath,” Chris tells me. Air floats, I sink a few feet every time I exhale. I am stubbornly buoyant, I empty my lungs and still remain close to the surface. More weights.

I wasn’t allowed to dive until I turned 18, my parents were convinced the pressure would stunt my growth— “and you don’t have inches to spare,” my mother would say. I’ve researched it since, there is no scientific basis for this fear, but it kept me from diving sooner. It kept me from diving with my father.

After the boat takes the group home, we sit at the sand-encrusted picnic tables at the dive shop. Our wetsuits half peeled from our bodies, our skin caked in salt, we begin recounting every fish we saw on the dive and scribbling each sighting in our small blue notebooks. There is a guidebook to flip through, other divers to debate an identifying blue fin or yellow spot. I am hopeless at the task, the fish fade to a blur and my visual memory fails when it comes to the crucial specifics. My notes are reliant on the assumption that I have seen exactly what everyone else did.

I dream of my father on a boat, the wind whipping his hair back from his forehead, his eyes even bluer against the backdrop of sea and sky. He wears a wetsuit and slowly empties out of it, like sand in an hourglass, turning to dust until the black neoprene is a corpse-shaped husk.

I am on the surface of the water, Perhentian Kecil in the distance. I am crying. Chris is telling me that this place is beautiful, and that I can stay in the boat, if I’d like. I sputter and choke on the cusp of salt air and salt water. I am sick with desperation, tired of my own tears. I take a deep breath. I put my mask back on. I descend. I try again.


Allya Yourish is from Portland, Oregon and currently lives in Ames, Iowa. She was a nanny in Paris, France, a Fulbright grantee in Kuala Krau, Malaysia, a news assistant for the New York Times, and now she is getting her MFA in Creative Writing and the Environment from Iowa State University. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in The Citron Review, Terrain, Nixes Mate, ALOCASIA, and more. In her spare time, she buys too much nail polish and tells everyone to look at the moon. Find her on Twitter @AllyaYourish.