Jael Montellano

The Sea, the Shell, & the Pearl: Through Embodiment to Poetry

Content warning: This contains discourse about trauma, childhood abuse, dissociation, and suicidal ideation.

This essay is a treatment. 

It tracks the predominant physiological responses of your traumatized past, the way your body remembers, the way your therapist guides you to presence, and the way presence unlocks a treasure house of language. Poetry, which has been your stillborn child as long as you’ve written, dead in its formaldehyde waters, has cracked the glass open, and you gaze at its enlivened hands with wonder.

What marvel, given you experienced childhood as though you were sleepwalking.

Deep-Brain Reorienting (DBR) is a trauma psychotherapy that processes attachment disorder through the analysis of physiological responses associated with threatening events—events like, say, a mother, your mother, threatening you with a syringe if you do not eat as you are told. Your relatives say this occurred at some comida de domingo. Which melcocha of your mother’s cooking did you refuse to eat? In your mind’s eye, a litany parades. Boiled beets? Beef liver? You have no memory of the instance, but you remember the sting of her belt buckle, the pitch of her voice, her disfiguring rage.

The developer Frank Corrigan MD, FRC Psych explains those suffering from attachment shock have a “protective tendency to turn attention away from the memory as soon as possible1.” That they experience dissociation, depersonalization, numbing, blanking out, and that the original memories are often so layered in further similar experiences that traditional talk therapy methodologies fail in accessing them.

When your therapist, M—, approaches you with this new treatment, tells you she’d like to try it with you, she explains your wounding predates language. Language lives in the cerebrum, the top brain, while your lower brain, responsible for fight, flight, freeze, the stress control of your body—it developed first, and it remembers.

Which is to say, escape from your body is more natural to you than language.

Before cutting off contact, before moving away, before even the forming of the word mamá on your mouth, you knew how to leave your mother.

“Embodiment begins with… getting comfortable with the discomfort felt in the body2,” the trauma scholar Deb Courtney says.

You spend the next three seasons of therapy with the discomfort in your body, trying to reel in your escape-artist brain, which slips with an ease like a silvered dolphin, so as to stay in your body, so as to feel the totality of your despair, taking breaks in between this violent undertaking. In each session, M— asks, “Where do you feel tension now?” and you listen, or try to listen, to the murmurs your body has long lidded and trapped.


The layers of memory accordioned over one another.

You’re thirteen and practice learning how to fall onto your couch because you read in some YA fantasy that the faerie princess could walk soundlessly, that she practiced falling down a well, and you need to know, your survival depends on it, to avoid the squeak of the third, fourth, and eighth stairs that will wake him, your mother’s love interest, and bring his searching hands.

You’re twenty-four and depart your first massage weeping and petrified, careening towards the Loop rush-hour train, because for a quarter hour your body felt weightless, and you are not ready for such goodness and your body rejects it like poison.

This essay is a temperament. 

You embarked on a prose poetry class this spring with Ruben Quesada, who you’ve had the humbling fortune to interview, and now you are his student. You learn terms such as anadiplosis, anaphora, epizeuxis. You drop into prompt replies during class. You write an alexandrine. You count your syllables on your fingers and recall the Tuesdays you sat with Dr. Kaizer tapping metronome beats to synchronize your study of the Moonlight Sonata.

Ruben introduces you to Gregory Orr and his concept of the four temperaments of poetry: story, structure, music, and imagination, and how the most scintillating poems are ones which achieve the greatest symmetry of balance amongst the four. It isn’t lost on you, in subsequent lessons, how this is a kind of embodiment, a gathering of the parts.

During class introductions, Ruben asks your small group to share why you’ve come, and when it’s your turn, you say the truest, most concrete thing you know, which is that language is opening itself up in new illiquid ways. You don’t go into details about what this means or why, don’t delay the others or the class. But the missing context is this:

You have been the shell that holds the pearl. You have been the current of the sea tossing. You have even been the pearl. But you have never been the ecosystem, never been the three things all at once, equally singular and at home within. But something inside of you has shifted. You are the multitudes now, gathering. You are the infinite depths.


In your twenties, you reunite with your cousin in California. You had been binaries of the other growing up, youths sunk into the orchestra pit with stars in their eyes, until your emigration. He criticizes you at Kroger for purchasing foundation when you are unemployed, says he didn’t take you for being vain, and you argue about splitting room and dinner prices and leave the following day on the six o’clock Amtrak without saying goodbye. You do not have the Spanish proficiency to explain the acne scarring on your face, the protective layers needed against your mother, your classmates, gender-conformity, the patriarchy. You do know you need the mask more than another night at the Motel 6.

This essay is a rhetorical device. 

It loops and repeats and folds itself ostinato, non-linear, like the actual experience of living.

A week after your first DBR session, your friend U— takes you canoeing to the Skokie Lagoons. She has a German collapsible canoe, made from cardboard laminate, that when you unfold together on the grassy slope, appears like a giant’s paper origami project, and you’re delighted by the childlike glee it reproduces in you, who used to fold paper cranes. On the water, every other canoeist or kayaker pulls alongside you and asks excitedly against the sun, “Is that a foldable canoe?” and your friend laughs in the affirmative.

Suspended in timelessness, watching how algae clings to the oars, you catch up on each other’s lives, talk about your shared fascination with danmei and dangai. She asks if you’ve been writing and you admit you have not, you cannot. You have spent the past week in a dissociated state triggered by your DBR session, wherein embodiment was too much and your brain, agile and hypervigilant, simply checked out.

For you, dissociation is absence. This does not mean you do not feel or experience emotions, but rather that everything is coated with a dampening flannel, like a piano pedal or a sound recording room, which softens and deadens the ache. It sounds soothing on the whole, has saved you since the start, but it disconnects you from yourself so entirely that you cannot manage day-to-day. Your dishes go unwashed, your meals unmade; you eat takeout or from out of the refrigerator, or, more commonly, skip meals altogether. Creativity holds no meaning for you. You waste hours on television, some of it good, some of it questionable in taste.

On the lakeside drive back to the city, U— is concerned, but you reassure her that your therapist specializes in dissociative traumas, though you hadn’t known that at the time you sought her. At home, your out-of-state friends text you, ARE YOU ALL RIGHT??? and you wonder if the cosmos is gossiping. Yeah??? you text back. The news alerts reveal the impetus of their worry—five miles from where you were, along the picturesque road you traveled, a gunman opened fire at the Highland Park Independence Day parade and slaughtered seven, wounded forty-eight. There, at the intersection where you once carved jack-o’-lanterns at the pumpkin festival years earlier.

Time collapses in a black hole. At least in your dissociation, you don’t hurt other people.


You are thirty and solitary at your Roger’s Park apartment, dressed in your satin Ren Faire dress from high school, a decision you don’t recall making. Your spouse is with her lover and you are despondent at what will bring her back (nothing), so you try to choke yourself with the exercise band draped on her closet doorknob, except you remember Chris Cornell hung himself this way and she had been upset at the news of his death, so you stop. You curl on the ottoman she restored pressing your hands against your trachea, your wails ululating like monsoon gales until your dissociation sets you free and you are blank as an 8 x 11 page. Hello, dear friend.

This essay is an opportunity.

Dream life, lucidity, and creativity go together3. There is research that describes it as a continuum with waking life on one end of the axis and sleep on the other, daydreams, lucid sleep, and dreams in the middle. Correlations exist between REM sleep disturbances, the dream state, and creative associations, and when you dream, your dreams are so vivid, it’s as if they’re made from saturated celluloid. You record them in a document and you will never run out of ideas, only time.

However, the detachment of dissociation disrupts the occipitotemporal cortex, impairs your language and judgment and motor skills4. In a state like this, how do you write from a place that requires you to feel? Poetry, of all the linguistic arts, is the one that most closely mirrors the subconscious of the brain. It can linger on a moment with such vibrancy your senses sing with it; the crush of a broken rib, the iciness of snow in your mouth, the whisper of a lover’s breath upon your skin. Poetry cauters associations, it condenses narrative and time so that events from your past life, isolated from one another, occur in a single instant instead—you are there as if you never left, only, and this is where embodiment hinges, you are there not only with your past self, but your future self, with every self you have ever been.

If your poetry felt narrow before, it was because it came from a singular direction. But you are moving from a bidirectional plane into a quantum realm, and you can begin writing from it now like a prism.


You lose it, somehow, at a picture of a person you cannot have. You’ve known this, but this gray November eve, silted like pond scum, you flail uncontrollably about it like a drowning rat. You cannot get air in your thirty-four-year-old body—on your bed, you choke, rasp. Overnight, the nightmares flash and you wake with cheeks like corrugated plastic. All day, you run through your list of grounding aids: yoga, piano, breathwork. You take long exhales through pursed lips like your therapist taught you. If these work at all, they’re fragmentary, and in ten minutes’ time you’re back to the crawling panic under your skin.

In the depth of your mania, something else pulses. You sit in your armchair with the journal you took to Iceland and a poem bleeds itself in your Lamy pen’s scarlet ink. Somewhere, a part of you marvels. You, who’ve convinced yourself you aren’t a poet, whose attempts are formless tides signifying nothing, wrote something, at last, that glimmers with musicality.

Your therapy session occurs in the same armchair via FaceTime. “M—, I tried everything,” you plead. “I walked the dog, I played piano, I even wrote a poem! Nothing helped—I just kept on feeling—”

It dawns the moment the words slip from your mouth. “Oh. That’s it, isn’t it?” you say. “I’m supposed to feel it.”

Through your screen, she nods. She looks at you with a mixture of softness and pride. “You are. But we can mourn the loss of your dissociation. You needed it for a very long time.”

This essay is an embodiment. 

When you remain at long last in your body through the duration of the DBR session, when you’ve leaned into your responses for the better part of an hour, and your eyes cease their nervous wandering, your brows relax, your breathing regulates, and you slacken, even, against your Vanitas-Still-Lifewith-Flowers-and-Skull pillow, something remarkable, miraculous, occurs—you begin to laugh mirthfully, hellaciously.

“Sorry,” you tell M—. “I don’t know why I’m laughing.”

“You don’t have to judge it,” she says.

It’s as if you were made of helium, as though if the ceiling were pulled from your apartment like a doll’s house, you would float up and join the clouds and dance shapelessly. It’s midwinter, and the clouds are tinted periwinkle.

You name this sensation joy but it can also go by other names: contentment, wholeness, embodiment. It is a state of presence, of undeniable fullness. You have found this on occasion at other moments of your life, in travel, in love, but it was dependent then on an external force to summon it, only for you to have it scatter between your fingers the moment your flight home landed or your dear one departed. Now you find it within and know, whatever murks you dive into, you will not dust yourself to oblivion.

You are grinning like a pearl, like a sea, like an ecosystem.

¹ “DBR History – Deep Brain Reorienting.” Deep Brain Reorienting, Accessed 12 May 2023.

² Heim, Benjamin. ““Bodies Tell Stories”: On Meaning Making and Trauma in Social Work,
Poetry, Pandemics, and Embodied Practice.” REFLECTIONS, vol. 28, no. 3, Accessed 12 May 2023.

³ van Heugten-van der Kloet D, Cosgrave J, Merckelbach H, Haines R, Golodetz S, Lynn SJ. Imagining the impossible before breakfast: the relation between creativity, dissociation, and sleep. Front Psychol. 2015 Mar 26;6:324. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00324. PMID: 25859231; PMCID: PMC4374390. Krause-Utz A, Frost R, Winter D, Elzinga BM. Dissociation and Alterations in Brain Function and Structure: Implications for Borderline Personality Disorder. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017 Jan;19(1):6. doi: 10.1007/s11920-017-0757-y. PMID: 28138924; PMCID: PMC5283511.

⁴ Sebastian R, Gomez Y, Leigh R, Davis C, Newhart M, Hillis AE. The roles of occipitotemporal cortex in reading, spelling, and naming. Cogn Neuropsychol. 2014;31(5-6):511-28. doi: 10.1080/02643294.2014.884060. Epub 2014 Feb 17. PMID: 24527769; PMCID: PMC4108518.


Raised in Mexico City and the Midwest United States, Jael Montellano (she/they) is an ESL writer, poet, and editor. Her work explores otherness and queer life and features in publications such as Tint Journal, Beyond Queer Words, Fauxmoir, The Selkie, the Columbia Journal, and more. She is the interviews editor at Hypertext Magazine, practices a variety of visual arts, and is at work learning her fourth language. Find her at, at X/Twitter @gathcreator, and at BlueSky @gathcreator.




Camille U. Adams

The Obeah Man

Once upon a time, in a Brooklyn branch of Duane Reade down Borough Hall, I called upon an obeah man. Summoned from the search engines of Google, Eric Miah appeared before me as a link to Ifalasa Enterprises. Intoning himself a Yoruba priest, his brown face was lit by LED cowrie shells dancing along the perimeter of his homepage.  Chipmunk cheeks announced an appetite for offerings. Smizing eyes were crowned by stringy, grey-streaked, fuckboi hair. He advertised his services as an acolyte of Ifa, plus a psychic on the side. Prices listed as fair. 

And though he seemed to me oily and sly, in that moment I prioritised the community college teaching job that wouldn’t let me quit it, the noisy city tying my ankle in a bungee rope trap making every escape attempt a mere visit, the nonreciprocal friendships with people by whom my authentic self was discomfited, the men next to whom I’d lain and still felt lonely, the lack of love in my world, and that family and their lies from which I’d freed myself taking a no-contact knife to each and every tie. Why did I have to be alone? 

I needed to know.

And so, once upon a time, before I learnt to cope, before l knew how to accept my singularity with equanimity, on a white winter’s day, I donned over-the-knee, camel Uggs, a camel, shearling coat, and boarded the express, green-line train up to El Barrio in Spanish Harlem to learn my fate. I was off to see el brujo, who in his East 116th apartment, sat in wait of me. And there occurred the inception of a violation from which it would take three years to become free. 

‘This is some good odu’. Said to me with a let-me-convince-her smile and affirming nod. The horse-shoe-shaped opele chain had again and again been flung down. Some kola nuts facing the ceiling. Some with eyes on the ground. 

This pronouncement declared, Eric’s fat Puerto Rican friend nodded. His jowls shaking. His light skin turning red. Sweat dripped into the cotton neckline of his green jersey. He bounced like a puppy. Eager to please. Quick to agree with whatever this priest man said. 

It was then, again, something chook me in my belly and say leave. Me alone, this woman in a basement with two men I don’t know. One of whom I hadn’t even been told would be there. The fat one who just appear in the apartment when I was in Eric’s bathroom changing my clothes. Stripping offensive brown leggings before making my approach to his so-called temple’s door.  Now I sat on the hard, concrete floor hosting open flames around the enclosed room. And still I say lemme stay and hear this, what he call it, odu. 


Because my life wasn’t working. 

I placed above my disquiet the restlessness inside questing for more. To fix every avenue falling apart, I’d repaired to the religiousness I abhorred. To the very Awos my sister, Sherrie, and I used to make fun of, wining down to the floor, imitating all the sexiness these robed priests had to put on just to pour some libations before they gods and mostly-female congregation, opening the way they say for them to be told life-altering information. 

Peddlers, oh sorry, they prefer to be called priests of Ifa are initiates to the orisha Orunmila, deity of destiny, and practitioners of his system of divination that uses a chain with nuts, coins, or shells to read what’s needed to restore mystical harmony. And apparently, for me, that somehow required Eric to say, ‘You’re going to have to be the one to take care of your mother’.


I wasn’t paying $75 to hear about that woman. ‘Me?’ I obliged with a humour-him question. ‘Yes, you’. Eric observed me closely. ‘She’s going to have a long life’. Fuck. The woman was only in her fifties. Arite, doh roll yuh eyes. Look down. My jaw was tight. Wah de ass dis have to do with me and about what I come to inquire? I buy some time.  

In the waiting silence, I fiddled with the sleeve of my red, gold, and cream cardigan.  Rearranged my side-swept legs. Pulled the fishtail of the white skirt I was told to wear over my slippers. Rolled my hip to let another portion of my soft thigh cushion the impact of the unpaved floor. Tried to look demure.

Eric didn’t defer. ‘The people you think will be there for her in the end won’t be there. Your mother will need you. She won’t have anyone’. I failed to see how that was my problem. She have four daughters and two uh them does still talk to her. Cyah see Ericka, her current favourite, the one with the make-amends therapist, ditching the bitch. Neither Sherrie, her finally-see-me, co-dependent, last child baby leaving Smiley in an old folks’ home. But since he not going and done, ‘what about my sisters?’ Lewwe move this along. 

Right into a prolonged speech like he at the podium and trying to breach the stubborn minds of his congregation instead of one paying client who could very well see that Eric’s NYU Bachelors of Psychology degree, displayed prominently on the wall just before the glass-paned doors leading out into the square-walled yard, did not qualify this man to justify the shards of ice my egg-donor’s abandonment, verbal disparagement, emotional instability and manipulation had driven into the bronchia of this daughter who had once felt like she couldn’t breathe without her as just being a generational divide. I would not agree it was up to me to see her side. Except he wouldn’t done talk. So, I cried. 

I figured that’s what someone who cared would do when confronted with the image of their wizened mother deserted and dying. Not enough to make my eyeliner run eh or even smudge, naturally. Just a delicate sniff, rapid blinking back the tears gathering and threatening to overflow. I still had to take the train back to East Flatbush after this. But having given these expectant men an appropriate show, maybe we could finally get to what I wanted to know. 

Why didn’t I just go?  

What is it that taught me my final stand against a life out of my control should be appeal to some spiritual force? How many of my actions were being conducted through grandfathering genes until compelled to intervene, I’d manually lift the tracks and re-chart my own course?

That day, I sat on that floor fiddling with my gold necklaces through Eric’s didactic talk of my ancestors being over-protective; and newly remembered harms wrought by my male cousin; and the benefits of being sexually uninhibited cause who doesn’t look back and wish they’d screwed around more; and, though they want me to go and I desperately want to leave, they can’t move me and I won’t be exiting that job for a minute, not until something’s fulfilled and the time is appropriate; and ways to start my own business; and me being married in the spirit to Orunmila and needing to receive icofa or his hand, and and and

Till I felt reduced. Talked down to. While he made me feel small. Till my head swirled, tangled. I hadn’t wanted to come at all. Any time I ventured into the world of candles, prayers, or coins, cards, runes, offerings of sweet bread or goat loins my life derailed. But then, at the advice of Michelle, a Columbia counsellor being trained, I tried once more to embrace this proclivity.  

Downstairs in Duane Reade on the corner of Court Street searching the make-up aisles for the perfect shade of gold eye shadow and red lip-gloss, I could have conceded that my other search on my iPhone was yielding no hope. Every other return on varied orisha keyword entries hurtled me to the steps of Spiritual Baptist churches that still imposed Christian saints over African deities. I had already been baptised in those intermediaries. My whole Trinidadian father-side family was steeped in syncretised sanctity. That never had and was not working for me. Nothing was. In the last few years, my life had become a reverse-Midas touch where every aspect turned to shit. I needed the real gods to put a stop to it. But Yoruban practitioners operated in secret. They did not flash their wares on the internet. There were no sightings until Google conjured Eric.

Reaching out, the network dropped, and Eric was rude the first two times. I should have taken that as a sign. Likewise, all the damn simmi dimmi at the front door emblazoned with a setta emblematic symbols, and the pompous, officious way he incline his head when letting me in like he forget I coming and wish instead he was left alone on his Saturday morning. And the no wife home and busy, stuffy apartment with big, clunky furniture and too much shells and colourful insignia hanging from the walls, and too many products pack up in the bathroom clawing they way out every cupboard and shelf. And the show-offy way he make a big to do before he knelt down to light the cigar and the smoky bush fire and the red candle asking The Gatekeeper if I good enough to enter before he grab the handle on the iron door at the bottom of rough-hewn concrete steps, telling me to duck my head before treading into his sacred temple basement.

Lawd, do I have no self-preservation whatsoever? A strange man from the internet in another borough taking me down underground a first-floor compound with high concrete walls and burglar-proof wire on top all around and I follow?  

Stayed below? For over an hour, for a final rattle of bones thrown like pitching dice. A new, burgeoning smile. A glance up to catch fat friend’s eyes and instruct and share whatever it was he was reading there. Dark, caterpillar eyebrows raising to mimic Eric’s. Both men impressed. And excited. Like a doctor and his apprentice about to hack into a pig. Exhilarated at the prospect of a good-character life they got to further man-splain and authoritatively dissect. I saw the glee. I knew whatever added deliverance was coming did not bode well for me. 

And yet I stayed.

‘Your daughter has something others will need. Some important work to do. She’s going to help a lot of people’. Eric’s side profile smiled. He traced his square fingers along the short chalk lines he’d drawn while delivering this edict. Now his mesmerised eyes did not leave the bare concrete floor bearing his markings. Reading. To me, though, these strokes were just etchings, resembling those from The Count of Monte Cristo, Ericka’s favourite movie, carved into the walls of his cell numbering all his trapped years. 

‘I don’t have children’. 

Was that fear on his face? Definitely doubt. Reassessment. Backtracking and confusion. Questions and refusal. ‘You don’t have children? A little girl? Your daughter?’  Both men’s eyes lasered into mine. The weight of their stares pressed me down, searching for the lie. Buh whey yuh go hide a chile? And why?

‘Nope, Ah’en ha no chirren’. This man qualify? He know how to read them bones he throwing? This man I’d interviewed on the phone. Half Puerto Rican, half Pakistani or Palestinian, or one uh them P’s practicing a distinctly Yoruban religion.  Eric looked down at his book. Wait. Was that a glossary? The man need to consult an encyclopaedia to interpret the chalk drawn lines he self inscribe? Questions kept pushing the curtain of belief aside. I paid close attention to the man behind the title on which I was being asked to rely.

I paid attention, thus this memoiristic recollection, while Eric’s brow knitted and fat friend’s head swivelled like this was a tennis match. The dogged tugging inside me to make sure and peer closely kept at it as I turned to glance into the shadowed corner behind me. A dried calabash bowl holding water proffered before the candlewax-encrusted, blue and white clad, 2-foot figurine of a Black mermaid standing there. Yemoja, their divine sea mother. Eric had lit a tealight candle on top her head and talked to her when we three had entered before he led us to the altar of sorts in the fireplace mantle.  I turned to watch the other lit candles and little bush fires blazing, left to flourish and flare. Observed the dancing smoke. Inhaled the nag champa scenting the air. Played with my gold bracelets stacked up my right forearm. Shook the gold bangles on my other wrist, enjoying the lilting chime as I discreetly checked the face of my gold watch wondering how much time before…

‘And I don’t want none. Ah doh ha no chirren cuz I don’t want any’. Jeez, what about my job? You know, what I came here to find out about. Again, having to push these arbitrary subjects along. At my resolute assertion, Eric’s salt-and-pepper head lifted, and the Cheshire cat smile came into view. Yuh know these god-like types like nothing more than a declaration of independence to try to lord their chauvinism all over you. So right on cue, ‘Oh, I know you don’t want any. I could see it on you. But Oshun wants a daughter. You were supposed to have her already. A child to pass on your gifts to. To teach. She’s anxiously waiting to be born. You can’t have her with just any man, though. It has to be a man of your same stature spiritually’.

What the fuck? My head jolted and three pairs of gold earrings struck my cheek, enacting consternation.  My eyes speared his questioningly. Was he…? ‘No, no, not me’. His cheeks tightened with the denial. ‘The man, the child’s father, won’t stay, though. But you must not grieve when he does go because then the placenta won’t attach properly’. This man was again lecturing me on female biology. ‘And then that’ll form a rift that will take years of work, and bindings, and forgiveness to bridge, if ever. So, you have to love her and want your daughter because she chose to come. Read to her and make her know she’s welcome.  Because this is what Oshun wants of you. It’s her will being done.’

This Oshun, another Black mermaid who swam across the Atlantic alongside ships transporting the ancestors like cargo in what racist academic texts still refer to as “trade”. Another of the orishas uprooted from West Africa, and now worshipped across the diaspora. This deity of the river. Coquette, seductress. Mother and inspirer of artists. Bestower of riches. Adorned in all gold. Her colours – yellow, gold, coral, amber. Dancer, warrior, wife, and mistress. Sweet honey her food, kept in a pot about and under her waist. Birther of twins. Goddess of love, lust, and all beautiful things. With a veil drawn over her face. Flipping through my mental wikipedia, drawing forth knowledge of all I’d ever read of her, I pondered what this unknown spirit had to do with me. Time to wrap this up. ‘I don’t have cash. You take debit?’

And then that Saturday, I did leave. 

Still, I returned to Eric’s just once more. After about a week. To wash my head because, apparently, I had enemies, nuh. Or maybe he liked the ease with which my PayPal payment for the previous reading cleared immediately. Either way, threat of badmind people and predatory men on my street or not, invoking maljeux guaranteed he got another $160 out of me. Trinidadians don’t take too kindly to evil eye and we grow up using bush baths to cast it aside. Eric read the ingrained culture in me right. 

So, I showed up again to his place, but this time on a weekday, using one of those many, lovely holidays CUNY’s calendar allots in the Fall. I stepped out of his bathroom this time dressed all in white. White spaghetti strap tank above a yellow bra; tight, white long-sleeved, v-neck top; a different, long, flared, white skirt; and different gold at my head, ears, neck, wrists, waist, ankles, and toes. His eyes formed o’s. His daughter’s did, too. ‘ooOOOOH, I love all your pretty jewellery,’ the cute six year old said to me before she half perched in my lap with her half-naked doll and regaled me with all her school tales including that of the little boy who sat next to her in class.  

Eric kept going downstairs to his basement and coming back up to tilt his head to the side as he stood in the frame of the sliding glass doors, studying me. I felt like I might get the hose ’fuss it take him and his quiet, aiding wife so long to compose whatever ceremony he had downstairs cooking while I played semi-patiently. Iz a simple wash. Me’en understan all de hassle and de back and forth. He done make me hadda go all over Spanish Harlem from one botanica to another, pulling out the little espanol que recuerdo to buy the herbs and flowers and oils and butters fuh de maljeaux, which any charlatan priest worth his salt supposed to do his damn self. And now I still had to spend an hour combing a dolly hair and wondering what this Ifa-derivative, Santeria man hadda prepare so much, and what next.

Huh, what next indeed. I didn’t realise Eric was giving such credence to my dress. And that the next Nigerian obeah man I visited seeking authenticity would, too. My appearance was my own expression of self, not some premeditated homage being paid to spirits I’d only read about and not served given my extended paternal and maternal family’s devout half-Ifa-half-Christianity that feared “dem devil ting” that inherently intrigued me even as a child. Their own genes that would not subside in spite of their hiding, their chiding, their deriding. The work of what they self planted inside and all it bring. 

Not uprooted that day. Their religiousity passed through the blood — the work of generations to take shape. The work of conscientious years of my life to break. 

And not pass on.


Camille U. Adams is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago. Camille’s debut memoir has been selected as a finalist in the Restless Books Prize for Immigrant Writing 2023 and her essays have received multiple Best of the Net nominations. Camille earned her MFA in Poetry from CUNY and is a current Ph.D. Candidate in Creative Nonfiction. She is a 2022 Tin House alum and an inaugural 2023-24 Tin House Reading Fellow. Camille was also awarded an inaugural fellowship from Granta Magazine’s 2023 Nature Workshop and a memoir fellowship from Roots Wounds Words. She teaches English and is a CNF Editor.




Clifton Gachagua

eating cats

tamarinds, cayenne, blue mosques, all hues of white smoke. what is non-black? the blue that sips
under the tuareg’s skin, private tours of harems in underground marrakech. what’s a cat after all?
divinity? indifference? this is how to cook a cat in tunis: pray to sekhmet, bless it while it it still
alive, allow a quick lick and goodbye to only surviving kitten, skin it as you would a rabbit, blade
cruising between fur and tender muscle, bury the head and feet and tail in the backyard for
goodluck, you’ll need this in carthage, in marsala, in your duas and salahs remember those who
await drowning. brown the meat in butter, celery, bay leaf, red wine, sea salt, clovers. simmer for
two hours. mushrooms. a broth is an option. at this point thank those already dead, those that
await you.                                                          


The Poet in Port Harcourt

my grandmother’s head, wet with blood and incoherence, sits under my bead,
all this time, myself and some friends, waiting for maulidi, walking in black sand, saying, this is how
to love your people. me walking on any kind of bridge to get rid of her head,
the weight of it on my back, language time and fatality, a premonition, like a bag of wild
mangoes, or
the taste of snails in lime water, me saying this is the bridge we must walk over,
your head heavy, your kikuyu unreadable, your love for my mother unknowable,
the ocean too far for me to fling this thing, this head, the river black and unmoving.
and all my friends will see the thing I carry — your head in a backpack —
the quiet homage to a friend who says, ‘I love you’. what does medusa dream of?
how is it that after your body there’s a field of nightmares?
pissing all over your mother’s rhododendrons. what’s jujuu, and what’s
rhumba, what’s benga? what’s highlife? and the poet of the clinical blues telling
us all these things by the poolside, not reading to us. promenade.
what is a threat of drowning?
all for you, baby, all for you.
a short exchange of words — arrivals and departures,
you saying nothing, meaning everything. back to the smells of your house,
meatballs and pasta. me going on and on about zephyrion, god of the west wind, british
architecture, hydrangeas, nigerian efficiency, all these men
who’ve never known kindness, and, here’s B, talking about the brotherhood of man.
a woman at a nigerian airport — Lagos — is a disposable thing,
and will you give me all your money, for nothing?
I’ve had enemies who killed my cats, stepped on my water lilies,
I wish them nigerian citizenship.


Clifton Gachagua is the author of Madman at Kilifi and appears in a chapbook box set Seven New Generation African Poets. Gachagua is an editor at Down River Road. His work appears in Manchester Review, Saraba, Jalada, Kwani?, Poetry Foundation, The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories (Caine Prize Anthology), AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, Sunspot Jungle, Enkare, Africa39, PEN Foundation: New Voices, and Harvard Divinity Journal, among others.




Ella Wang

yuri kochiyama told me the secret

Rumors of our disunity have been greatly exaggerated.
I don’t know a single one of my girls who wouldn’t
do the work for those we love before our own.

Adobo and hobak jeon for our girls in box braids, our jojoba oil girls
For their grandmas and aunties. Swapping recipes in the quarantine kitchen
grandmas and aunties of our own catching flour in their knuckles,

the old rutted roads carving down their hands.
I don’t have a sister who didn’t turn up
seven months pregnant, splashing water on her neck

to storm the Brooklyn Bridge. All the friends I met making posters
doing flash mobs, young and drunk,
we rewrote the lyrics. We handed out flyers for the union after.

They may not know about the girl the cops shot
in San Diego, lemon-cream wall, downy-chick police tape, saffron outline,
but they cry when I tell them. They don’t forget her name.

We’re having a strategy session which is to say
we are raiding the liquor cabinet
and I am rubbing lotion into her calf as she talks about her day,

speech growing sharp with dialect. Chinese is a tonal language too, you dig?
Her head against mine. Her head on my thigh. Her family gets loud
when they’re excited. Mine too. I gotta wonder how much

the people who talk about the deep divide, the mutual microaggressions
spend with the other side. If they were there
when the man on the subway stood between me & the man cussing me out

cause he fought for this country blah blah blah.
When he offered to call the cops for us
and we didn’t, for him. Sure, I guess I’m naive.

My experiences are not universal etc etc.
But my sisters o my sisters. Down here on the ground it is so clear.
So dark so clear. Slant-eyed street medic holding hands

with the lawyer with the Afro who speaks Cantonese to the tenants union
with a deliberate delicacy. We know the people we fight have flags. We,
we don’t have flags. We have Korean fried chicken and collard greens.

We have a door flung open in the summer heat
and a sister half out the window, singing a K-pop serenade
Her hand in mine. Blue palm. Same sunscreen. The gap between her teeth

as familiar as anything.


a possible translation:
begin here: fall in when your tongue fails you. it turns out you preserved that fleeting loneliness for nothing. so don’t think of that long-savored memory of her mouth shaping a question and you returning to faith like getting drunk, those lips your sustenance. and don’t mock how her blossoms seemed to always be perfect holy fruits in your hand. it will haunt you anyway. in winter you’re angry; in spring you’re hopeless; leaving this was not enough. no death or surrender lasts forever and no words weigh as much as her indifferent motion. swollen to smallness, every one among us grows old and stops running from ourselves and the two types of silence, the finis and the whole. in flesh we envision crime succumbing to punishment, nationalities unfurling into the constellations scored above, hearts thunderstruck with women giving way to pure rough love. & a fist of her apartment flowers. & a brassy serenade. salt water into music, despair to unsweet sport. love. and you bore it onward in lush hell and steady passion, in throbbing abundance charred to 40-watt warmth—no more shadows. this clash between reason and mysticism has left you shaken, shaking. heaven will not return by looking to worship worship worship; raze it, renounce it, escape into the air. and death finds out all shelters. and sing to share the good news.
o divine echo, bear it on.

another possible translation:
singing hands pressed together scroll please music (Emoji 5.0)
the clock will swallow you down. turn outside. you can wander in the desert for forty fruitless, mindless years, eat memory, guzzle manna and mutton from heaven like cheap beer, chew bland and joyless bouquets with your eyes ever aimed at god; but this—to linger directionless in this frost-dammed field without hope of deliverance—this is enough. this is enough. we cannot remain exiles forever. & do not say that justice may be birthed in our children’s children’s lifetimes. & we must not go to our mirrors and quietly witness the end of the world. in our meat we know: for every crime an inquisition; for every flag a cancer poised to swell; for every red and stricken body an alchemy which tempers budding resistance to night-blooming revelation, sorrow to song, tears to tart fruit swinging blue and heavy on the vine. for every sin a slow fire in the heart. if all we have is our heat and our light and our heat, that is enough. we will still wrest our future from the palsied hands of the lord himself. we do not find jerusalem; we build it out of birds and bones, we seek it out of survival and psalms, we press on. god, oh god. we press on.

Ella Wang is a spoken word and slam poet, currently in migration. Her work is also forthcoming in RHINO Poetry.




Rachael Lin Wheeler

in response to being told me to take up more space

i am v suspicious  of the sky  /  as i am of many things
/ bc i hate feeling / as small as i really am / or think i
am / which is why i first feel the impulse / to ask for
forgiveness / & then hide anytime / i speak for more
than 2 minutes straight / at a time                                

i’ve been trying to apologize / less after my friend
scolded me / for apologizing / too much so i listened
/ to Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” / from 1982
for inspiration / it didn’t rlly work                      

she also scolded me / for thanking everyone / “an
unnecessary amount of times” / though i fought back
/ on that bc i’m willing / to embarrass myself / if
there’s any chance i can keep people / from believing
they go unnoticed                      

though ya ig sometimes such noticing / is
counterproductive / like when i noticed / that one
white girl’s room freshener / made the rest of the
apartment smell like a smoothie / shop in a mall /
which tbh  /  could  have  been what she was  /  going
for  /  at one  point she wanted  to buy  /  silver  disco
balls to put next to her / unironic live laugh love sign /
ngl she kinda scares me                                   

personally my best / purchase all season / has been
that $7.00 mug i found / at Target / it reads my favorite
people  call  me  grandma
 /  &  i  immediately  wanted  to share it / w an old friend / except i can’t / do that rn
or maybe / for a long time bc we’re / not talking / so
i  wallowed  /  in my  vanilla chamomile tea  /  & only
sorta felt better                                  

idk  how to keep  /  from hurting  the people i love or
try  /  to love & or how to keep them  /  from leaving
me / hurt / & ya ik i probably won’t / solve that any
time soon / or ever / i’m sorry                      

ik ik sometimes u have to hide / bc there r no other
options  /  but  there  r  /  times  when  u  don’t  /  so
maybe we can / find each other there                      


preliminary notes for an essay whose conclusion still feels out of reach


after sifting through all these european philosophy books in the stacks, all i can really think abt is how i really want to learn french, but that’s only partly b/c of the tea between sartre & de beauvoir & mostly b/c of my need to watch portrait of a lady  on fire w/o the subtitles,

though i could probably already do that now given the number of times i’ve seen it (which, thus far, has always been at some strange & sleepless hour after midnight)—


movies i have never seen that i guess i’m supposed to have seen by now: titanic & grease & mamma mia & when harry met sally & pretty in pink & the notebook & say anything &

don’t worry, i’ve been berated for this already.   


i have too much of a god complex for that

someone i passed on a walkway said one friday night & tbh i was jealous.

the closest i’ve ever come to feeling anything near holy is whenever my body seems to flee from me & blur into the background, which is always everywhere around me anywhere i go.  

one time i heard my mother say goodnight, honey but it turns out she was talking to the cat & not me before closing her door 

& maybe that’s the reason my cat has a god complex & maybe i can learn from her?


yes it was céline sciamma who brought me this close to taking a class on media until i remembered film bros exist, which was enough to make me change my mind. 

i don’t regret it. i don’t need cishet white boys

—who worship like, idk, the godfather (according to the google search “what do film bros like??”)—

to tell me the politics of why queer love stories always end in devastation. 


“The theory of disidentification that I am offering is meant to contribute to an understanding of the ways in which queers of color identify with ethnos or queerness despite the phobic charges in both fields,” writes josé muñoz. 

how to resist interrogating the philosophy of my desire and not my desire itself.  


at cvs, i saw a box of goldfish with its motto, the snack that smiles back, & isn’t that kind of ominous 

& also maybe that gestures toward something wrong w/ society b/c the fish is smiling even though he’s abt to die 

& haven’t we all smiled when we didn’t want to, “we” here being, especially, people of color & gender-marginalized people & queer people 

& also the never-ending apocalypse (i.e. the world) is absurd & smiling, sometimes, is easier,

& long story short i didn’t buy the goldfish but i did realize how badly i needed to take a nap.


the longer the body is left illegible to others, the longer the body is rendered illegible to the self 

& it’s not exactly that i want my body to be legible but sometimes maybe it would be nice 

if to understand could mean something more than to define

tell me, someone, what it means to read the body &/or control how it is read using a method more adjacent to desire than desperation. tell me whether they are even different after all. 



Rachael Lin Wheeler is a writer who works at the rupture points of genre and discipline. Currently a student at Brown University, their work appears or is forthcoming in Waxwing, The Journal, Southern Humanities Review, wildness, The West Review, Lantern Review, Foglifter, and Gigantic Sequins, among others. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, finalist for Tinderbox Poetry Journal’s Brett Elizabeth Jenkins and Majda Gama Editors’ Prizes, and recipient of the Howard Nemerov Writing Scholarship, RL is an editorial assistant and poetry reader for Split Lip Magazine. Find them on Twitter @rlwheeler_ or at




Aldric Ulep

Etymon: Idiay


There, beyond you and me, a million crickets dance a fan dance in the dark bamboo groves. Before dawn, the man wends his way through his flooded field.  A frog choir swells deep from the bogland, and from above, a bulbul whistles his clear descant. The man attempts to hum along, but the scale does not register, does not chart against the solfège etched in his memory.

There, beyond you and me, first light dusts a rust orange glow over the man’s rice paddy. Leaning against the stone well, a bucket conjures a wish of its own, to ring like the bronzed temple bell, commanding and holy. The man appears at the well and casts the crying bucket into the depths, its metal rim clanging against the damp walls.

There, beyond you and me, the carabao’s strong jaw and elephantine haunch. A gentleness belies his bullish face, engine of this industry. A bast fiber rope strung through his nostrils. By this rope, the man leads him to the river to bathe. The beast wades in: his heft, his charcoal eyes, his small twitching ears.  

There, beyond you and me, the man’s grandmother steps out from a curing shed, her sunken eyes squinting against the rising sun. Even she could not have remembered what the field once knew: the forced quotas, a constant air of suspicion, the threat of a whip. No, that memory was long buried. He helps her bundle cured tobacco leaves to take to market. His eyes meet hers, teary from her smoke. 

There, beyond you and me, on a concrete patch the man revs his traysikel, a sputtering rickshaw with a sidecar, enough for two or three: his wife, her brother. The man’s young son always perched right behind him on the backseat, where he would hug onto his work shirt and feel the motor’s sheer force, thunderous and deafening. 

There, beyond you and me, a horse-drawn kalesa strides by, creaking and quaint. From his market stall, the man notices a young tourist: his unworked hands, a clean shirt too warm for this heat. He could be his son. The lone tourist comes to admire the umber fans of cured tobacco. Remembering a song from childhood, he asks for sigarilyas, assuming it means tobacco. No, the man shakes his head:—winged beans. You are looking for winged beans. 


Etymon: Langit


Who governs this myth
full of sky

               langit      sky 
               sangit      cry

I have felt this rain 
silver my skin

who governs these myths in the sky
the myths where—
the myths whose
language was native to—
the language whose—

who governs these myths in the sky
in the sky
the sky whose language
the sky whose first language was rain

the sky whose first language was water
the myth whose first utterance was rain

I have felt this rain 
on my tin roof

I have slipped in this rain’s puddle
I have slept in this rain’s puddle

I have cried tears which remind me of this rain
whose body of water came from this rain

tears, my tears then, have sought
to rejoin itself with the sky


Etymon: Dila


after M. NourbeSe Philip’s poem “Meditations on the Declension of Beauty by the Girl with the Flying Cheek-bones.”

a tongue cut in half / becomes sharper
Öykü Tekten


if not ᴅɪʟᴀ
if not my
if not my ᴅɪʟᴀ

if not from here
where if not

from here then
are you
from where is


I found


what can
be called

from ᴅɪʟᴀ

ᴅɪʟᴀ hiding

from ᴅɪʟᴀ

hiding ᴅɪʟᴀ
what else, what more
to lick
tongue, as in lumber
to kiss, lick
to tell a story, a fib

tongue, to lick

snake fangs

to mock

to taunt

the spirit tongue plant which wards off evil

tongue, bolt of lightning

flame, blaze
to lick, to lap

drywood mushroom
lamp of the shadow-puppeteer

to illuminate
to lick, taste
prickly pear, tiger tongue

the needle of a scale for weighing

ᴜsᴀɢᴇ; ᴏʀɪɢɪɴ:
when the ᴅɪʟᴀ                                                  dila
fractured upon                                                                                                híla
the shore
did it find new                                                                     dilaʔ







what meanings loosened
from drifting continents                                                                              lila
what hesitant
breakage                                                            dila

inflections           become ancient                                           lera

 Best viewed on desktop.


Aldric Ulep is an Ilokano American writer from Hawai‘i whose poems have appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Beloit Poetry Journal, Tinfish Journal, and Zócalo Public Square. His work was nominated for the Best New Poets 2022 anthology and earned an honorable mention in Southern Collective Experience’s 2021 Asian American Poetry Chapbook contest judged by Lee Herrick. He received his MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop.

Debasish Mishra

Smokes and Wishes

Once again, I wake and wipe the swish of sweat off my forehead
It feels as if I was sleepwalking in dreams and the night is half-burnt

Memory plays like the refracting rhythm of fishes in an aquarium—
colorful, countless, cancerous—and I try to hew its tender neck

as they do with the nameless lambs in a blood-stained slaughterhouse
My memory is a smokescreen now—Are smokescreens meant to be blank?

Or it’s full with all the smokes burnt in my dad’s lifetime gathered in one place
I imagine a huge container pregnant with all the butts, the shell-casings
of a million bullets—Is this a picture of his lungs? My mother
always said, ‘my dad didn’t burn the cigarettes but they burnt him’
Is it that easy to exchange the subject and the object?
Was he an object after all? I’m restless as though a storm 
has raised its head within my chest and meanwhile the fresh fruit 
of morning has arrived in the window after an incomplete, unripe night

Tomorrow, I know, I’ll wake again with the cold feet of memory
stretched against my face like a layer of unpleasant moisture

But I want to get rid of its tentacles at least for this moment
You may call this an urge for temporary freedom

I pick up my phone and scroll through the newsfeed as I always do
It’s No Tobacco Day—as the post at the top reads me
I wonder, if Facebook employs Artificial Intelligence
capable to intrude into the walls of human memory

I get up as though I’m possessed by dad and my body 
feels light like a sheet of paper floating in some obscure stream
I look at his lively picture-frame and light a candle— 
if cigarette is a devil, a candle is a God—
with a wish that cigarettes shouldn’t burn any parent, anywhere 


Bridge of Slumber

I have burnt the bridge of slumber—which runs from
 evenings	 	           	 to	  		   mornings—
with				 the			  smoldering 
 fire				 of			    dreams
and thoughts.						 Wakefulness

is its face.  The river of dark mourning awaits me. 	Leviathan-like
nightmares half-sunk in the viscous night. 	Each inch is a difficult
movement. 	How will the night pass?     It will pass just like the other
nights that I have survived. 	Memory is a ferry to sail me through
this night, yet again. 	As it has done over the years. 	Always.
The glimpse of my dad's toothless smile 		and the moment
of heartbreak	—You are crying over spilt milk—	play before my eyes
again, again, 	till the streetlights are drowned by a blinding sun.


Debasish Mishra is a Senior Research Fellow at National Institute of Science Education and Research, HBNI, India, who has earlier worked with United Bank of India and Central University of Odisha. He is the recipient of the 2019 Bharat Award for Literature and the 2017 Reuel International Best Upcoming Poet Prize. His recent work has appeared in Arkana, Apricity, Hawaii Pacific Review, York Literary Review, Dash Literary Journal, and elsewhere. His first book, Lost in Obscurity and Other Stories, was published by Book Street Publications, India, in 2022.




Sodïq Oyèkànmí

drowned haibun

it was a monsoon season. there was tears flood. & anywhere could be an entry point as long as there was a raft. the polyrhythmic sound of the rain could pass for music—say jùjú or sákárà. there was a cavity in our canoe—the exact size of my mouth when i saw màámi—neck-deep—in the water—ah! olúwa gbàmí. depending on how far the music have travelled in the body, flood tears could become the lyrics spilling out from the eyes. if reflected on water—the shadows of people screaming & tapping their feet for help could be mistaken for a dance. drowned chorus. drowned chords. drowned hearts canoes. omi ò lẹ́sẹ̀ omi ńgbégi lọ. i pulled her into the canoe & everyone was swimming to safety—even a dog backed a chick. i pulled them into the canoe. ọjọ́ burúkú èṣù gb’omimu. our village—filled with enough water that could dampen 7.9 kilometres of the sahara for the growth of wisterias. olúwa, we didn’t kill no albatross. why send a flood without warning—without an ark? everywhere could have been an exit point—as long as there’s dryness on the horizon, but there was a cavity in our canoe—our hearts. our prayers—bloated & unanswered—

                                                                          a praying mantis splits
                                                                                           open God’s eyes


Sodïq Oyèkànmí is a poet, dramaturg and librarian. A 2022/23 Poetry Translation Centre (UK) UNDERTOW Fellow. He holds a B.A in Theatre Arts from the University of Ibadan. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, he won the 2022 Lagos / London Poetry Competition. His works are published/ forthcoming in Agbowó, Lucent Dreaming, Longleaf Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, North Dakota Quarterly, Passages North, Poetry Wales, and Strange Horizons. He tweets @sodiqoyekan.




Stephanie Heit

Anthropocene Curse

The text of the following poem is arranged so that in the center is a blank nearly circular space.


After apocalypse midwest migration, the water wars. No more borders or countries. Big
lake got bigger. Reached fingers overland until interlaced with ocean. The light didn’t go
out but got brighter. Continents boiled to sludge in the salt/sweet ocean/freshwater mix.
Party snack for an extraterrestrial drawn to this solar system
sad marble by the rank smell and churn. Planetary slush pile
stew. We were once water anyway, with different
skin/feather/scale configurations. Earth a witchy
cauldron with all the raw extinct species materials
(that’s us!) in for the brew. Toil, trouble, double,
triple cauldron that shit. Mycelium goes undercover
to wait out more optimal conditions. A few
beauties still fly in a low sky strip: sandhill cranes bugle
beckon prehistoric compatriots. The moon rises. Tides
obey gravity. Without land to absorb the vibrations, putrid
waves play themselves in screams. Something dying. Already dead.
Burnt sun pupil reflects into liquid surfaces. Cyclops with a magnifying glass and bad
intentions. Fire and sizzle. Ether does the requisite elemental roll call. Earth doesn’t
answer. No charm, firm or good, will incant. It will take deep time. Forever.

Headshot of Stephanie Heit, a white queer disabled cis woman smiling, wearing a purple wrap, with brown wavy hair in a bob. She is on (perhaps in, feet dangling) the Huron River with background muted green of tree leaves, and dappled light before dusk.
ph: Tamara Wade

Stephanie Heit (she/her) is a queer disabled poet, dancer, teacher, and codirector of Turtle Disco, a somatic writing space on Anishinaabe land in Ypsilanti, Michigan. She is a Zoeglossia Fellow, bipolar, a mad activist, a shock/psych system survivor, and a member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. Her poetry collections are the book of hybrid memoir poems, PSYCH MURDERS (Wayne State University Press, 2022), and The Color She Gave Gravity (Operating System, 2017). Website:




Nora Hikari

The Hand

after Porpentine Charity Heartscape

They are coming for you. You know it, deep in the dim heart of your Assembly code, in the same way you know everything else you know. Things like “I am a woman,” and “this a crime,” and “they will try to kill me for it.” 

The age of the masked vigilante is gone – don’t you know Disney heroes all have their faces bare and beautiful? Instead, the boyhood fantasy made man-machine murderviolence now comes in the instanced Cyberhand, the gorgeous, pale technosassins raised in the crypt annals of imageboard militias and podcast conscriptions. A Cyberhand is a human DDoS. A Cyberhand is distributed among the clump of whatever most hateful and lowly biomass has clustered around a specific technocidal nexus, a choral outcry for bloodshed. Cyberhands are egregores, or emergent consciousnesses, or deepweb gods. One billion conscious hatreds focused on the back of a single neck. Your neck. Main Character Of The Week. Focused hot like a low-orbit ion cannon. 

You know they are coming for you. You can feel it, in the vinegar sweat coming up your throat. In its taste in your nose. You can hear it in the piercing shine in your ears that never quiets, never quite closes its eyes. The gods are murdered. The new pantheon rises and there is war in heaven. Machine-kings with subwoofer throats howl into their Blue Yeti Snowballs. They push their devotionals hard from the back of their grinding stomachs. Full spit and diaphragm and shrieking metal. They command their apostles – pay no attention to the women who beg you for mercy. They are not women. They are something worse. The Hand is coming for you. 

You know in a basic way. You know in the way your body knows how to eat and when to shit. You know in the way terror is chemical, the way death is mechanical. The Hand is here to strike you deathful. Even all your fragments cannot save you now. 

The Cyberhands are anyone made out of meat. They are a white faceful mass, a congregation tumored from every schoolyard bully, every molesting pastor or priest, pedophile Soldier of God, every would-be Harris-and-Klebold. Souls consumed as a metabolic precursor for the synthesis of hyperkillmurder and ultradeath. They wield their numbers like a Beretta M9 against your throat. They lie as a rule – all of their lies things like “Your code isn’t worth the silicon it’s run on,” “Your body belongs to me,” “Your home will burn. Your beloveds will burn,” “I know all your secrets.” 

“I know all your secrets” is the click of a trigger. It’s the shot of a gavel. It’s a sound that spells “END.” It’s pain and death for any homebrew girl. “Your secrets,” the sin, the crime, the inevitable thunderclap of Zeus striking you through ethernet for the irredeemable act of being a living trash girl. It’s any bitter word you’ve ever lathed. Any screenshot of a mangled, failed hex. Any vague curse under stifled breath. Anything to tip your scales from “cringe” to “killable.” 

Know this: your terror can be keen or keening. Drink it deep. Feel it poison your nerves, sharpen them against your own agony. Hardcode your grief. Feel it disintegrate every hope you ever had for your own peace, shatter your soul into every new part it would need to survive this. You are becoming something so much more than flesh. You are, indeed, becoming worse. 

We will never again know safety. We will never know peace. But by the wires that connect us, we will string them up. And by the blades in our wrists we will cut them down. 


Nora Hikari (she/her) is a disabled Chinese and Japanese transgender poet and artist based in NYC. She was a 2022 Lambda Literary fellow, and her work has been published in Ploughshares, Palette Poetry, Foglifter, The Journal, The Shade Journal, and others. She was a reader at the 2022 Dodge Poetry Festival and a finalist for the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Award. Her chapbook, The Small Lights Of Her Heart, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2023. Nora Hikari can be found at her website and on Twitter at @system_wires.