“Electric Girl” by Sarah Marie Kosch

I have a sobrina, my one and only (for now). The first child of my sister, the first granddaughter of my parents, my first niece. She asks for agua when she wants milk and her favorite food is uvas (for now—or maybe not. Maybe I am holding onto that fact because I need to believe I am not missing as much as I am, living half a country away). She can sign for please and more—more singing, more silly. We act like children for a smile. In one game, if she takes our offered fingers, we shake and flop and garble as if electrocuted by her touch. She squeals and points to each of us, signaling our turns. Grandpa, Mamá, around the circle. Now you go, now you go, now you go, now you.

My Spanish is terrible, but I feed her the pieces I have—¡Hola! ¿Que quieres? ¡Hasta luego!—to soothe her and practice like my sister did to keep up with her husband’s family. At their wedding, his tías from Bogotá spoke English like I do Spanish. We tag-teamed the centerpieces saying words neither of us understood and laughing at our stumbling, pointing fingers and smiles and hoping for the best. I could not think of the word for beautiful even though it was on the tip of my tongue.

Bonita. Muy bonita. My sister and I try on dresses, sharing the handicap dressing room stall so we can fit the stroller. My sobrina clutches at the skirts as we twirl, like she clutches and touches what she is trying to understand, her palms against my shins in black tights—why do they look like that?

We are spurred on by her giggling. Más, más, más.

Outside the dressing room, a woman’s voice snaps: Inconsiderate, rude. People going where they don’t belong. She speaks to someone, but no one answers. She doesn’t speak to us, just draws a circle, venom in the center. My sister and I go quiet, sharing disbelief with our eyes.

My sobrina points. Now you go. Me, aunt, tía.

I open the door and tell the woman that we have a baby in here, but we’re happy to move if she needs this dressing room. All the other stalls are empty. We can switch to any of them. Just give us a minute to get dressed. The woman turns Midwestern kind. Is it my offer—a body more able than the old woman she is with moving aside? Or because my face doesn’t match the words she heard behind the closed door? Her companion needs to sit down. I focus on that. Outside of the moment, it’s easy to question who was in the right and who wasn’t. Whose right comes first. But the sharpness of the woman’s tongue took a long time to fade.

I read somewhere that it helps to imagine what you would do in tense situations, to train your reaction before it is tested and fear overrides reason. I imagine building myself as a wall against those that think Spanish and brown skin make someone less, but I am a poor defense—no steel, no barbed wire, just an aunt uttering nonsense sounds and shaking my shoulders and dancing with electricity when my sobrina takes my hand. One day she will be too old for games, will rely on our family to recall for her what she used to like, how she used to be, but I keep praying to a God I will believe in for her that some memories don’t need memory, that as she grows, she needs no language to tell why she remains certain of her unexplainable power.

Sarah Marie Kosch is the prose editor for Random Sample Review. Her work has appeared most recently in Tin House Online, Grist, Rappahannock Review, Knee Jerk Magazine, and Print-Oriented Bastards. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska. 

Photo by Caleb Lucas.

Untitled by Stephanie Grey Glass

As I approached the statue, I began to weep. This was surprising.

His story wasn’t particularly bad, for a ghost story. It was deeply tragic, of course – his wife and daughter died simultaneously, he built them a massive mausoleum, moved in across the street, and commissioned a larger than life statue of himself mourning them on the steps of the tomb. But is that objectively worse than caving your own mother’s head in with an axe, another topic that had come up on the road trip? There’s something uncomfortable about visiting the Lizzie Borden house with your own mom.

But here I was, in front of the mausoleum, weeping. I couldn’t figure out why. It felt like a cloud floated around the golden statue, and when I got too close I was swallowed by it. It was like he was a living thing who couldn’t achieve homeostasis and had to pawn off his grief to me to survive.

My father always told me that the worst thing for a parent was to bury their children. Maybe that’s why I stayed with the statue – so I could take as much of his pain as I could, lighten his load. He would have more, of course, more than I could ever bear. The noxious cloud around him would continue to linger. If my father was to mourn me, I hope someone would carry some of his grief, even if the relief was only temporary.

Who can a statue call for help? In the winter, the cemetery caretakers cover him with a blanket, so that his golden coating doesn’t freeze and crack. I imagine the sadness building up under the blanket, trapped close to his body like sweat on a hot day. No one comes to take care of his grief, to sponge off the excess that oozes out of his pores.

I stayed with him until the sun began to set and I had to go, for fear of being caught in the dark driving home. It’s exhausting, to hold other people’s sadness.

Certain paranormal enthusiasts speculate that ghosts are the imprints of strong emotions in time and space. That their grief, fear, heartbreak or happiness can echo backwards and forwards through centuries, grabbing and shaking those native to that time. Did I hear, that day, my father’s grief calling from the future? A different man’s from the past? Something said to me yes, this is what your love would look like, if you could see it from the outside.

Stephanie Grey Glass is a writer, editor, and visual artist. She was recently nominated for a Prism Award for editing Being True, a comic anthology of uplifting LGBTQ stories, and is currently developing a comic book about the ghost of a Catholic schoolgirl. She’s on Twitter and Instagram @stephgreyglass.

Photo by Sergio Rodriguez.

“Exit and Enter” by Elizabeth Ditty

I wonder if the boards have the same give. The scent of the auditorium is the same, though it hits me differently now, 20 years passed. It still smells like wood and rosin and paper. I hurry down the aisle I walked a hundred, maybe a thousand times, the one to stage left, to place a bouquet in our assigned seats. Ghost-notes float back to me. The Handel’s Messiah we belted, giddy with the anticipation of winter break. The bars of Hello, Dolly! ingrained into my being thanks to monthslong prep for a three-show run. The Celtic strains of a piece I loved whose title escaped me years ago.

I can’t resist running my hand along the fabric of one of the seats. It looks the same, which makes me think it’s been replaced, but then again, maybe not. This place was, despite the trends, made to last.

I take the scenic route to backstage, where my daughter awaits her first dance recital. I peek into classrooms where I grew up. It’s been long enough since I picked up my violin that I’ve buried both the guilt and the longing, but the muscles in my fingers still remember how to turn friction into music. I pass the choir room, where my voice learned not to shake when made to stand alone. I still sing, but now it’s lullabies to half-asleep children.

In the dressing room, I brush a shimmer of gold eyeshadow onto my daughter’s shut-tight eyelids before staining her lips red. She looks like the past and the future all at once.

Later I stand in the dark alongside a handful of three-year-olds, ready to usher mine onto the stage where I spent so many hours of my adolescence. We watch as girls who are my age when I last stood here exit and enter and exit and enter, using their bodies to create a kind of art I never could have hoped to. Grace was never my strong suit. I spent most of my time here in a black robe with a crimson sash or a long black dress with silver lace overlay, but there was one outfit, a brightly-colored patchwork clown costume, that still doesn’t live up to the candy-cane-striped leotard with green- and red-layered tutu my daughter and her compatriots are currently wearing.

The stage lights go dark, and the older girls run off to change for whatever comes next. The little girls hold hands, and their teacher leads them to center stage. I stand next to the red velvet curtains, my heart inching into my throat, and it’s strange, knowing this is where I’ll stay this time. The lights go up, and the music blares, and the girls dance. They don’t get it all right. (We never did either.) The crowd loves them, despite it, because of it. And when the applause begins, I join in and know this place isn’t mine anymore. It’s hers now. The show goes on, as it must.

Elizabeth Ditty lives in Kansas City, where she is attempting to raise two children with good hearts and strong minds with the help of their father and Daniel Tiger. Her work can be found in Memoir Mixtapes, L’Éphémère Review, and Moonchild Magazine. Additionally, her set of children’s stories, “My Sister the Werewolf,” is available in the Bedtime Stories app. She haunts twitter and instagram at @ditty1013.

Photo by Ricardo Moura.

“Of Women” by Ifeanyuchukwu Peter Eze

I have a bank of them. Women. Mothers. Aunties. Sisters. Cousins. Nephews. Friends. Alive. Sleeping in the graveyard of memory. Staring at me from photos. Some I have never known. They are stories residing in the meseum of our family histories. I have gone to that past in my dreams where I’ve eaten from their pots, slept on their straw beds, listened to their chatters, their cackles, fought with them—the witches.

This photo is a faint paint of yesterday. I am wrapped in the strong arms of one. One of the many that have held me through the contours of this life. In the comfort of such, I am pitching my poise with pride as I still do. She slipped into the other side of life before adulthood stole in on me. Childhood is a fading patch of her eyes, hair, laughter, rebuke, and softness.

Next to her is the mild but fierce one. The two shades took turns to express themselves. When fierce, she shook like an earthquake to the strength of men locked inside her. She strolled out of here at childbirth. Her daughter wears her face.

Mama is still here. Her hair is leaving a space on the front part of her head. She breaths calm. Pushes the incessant tides of life under the carpet of her silence. Not tired of hoping. Not tired of being strong. She laughs. She smiles. But she is human.

And she says, Wait. Be patient. Every good thing will come.

Ifeanyichukwu Peter Eze is a contributing writer at Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. His works have appeared in: Pangolin Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, Expound, Brittle Paper, The Single Story Foundation Journal, Selfies and Signatures Anthology, The Vanguard Book of Love Stories, Late Night Blues Anthology, BPPC Anthology, and a few other places. He was the winner of the May 2019 edition of the Brigitte Poirson Poetry Contest with his poem, KILL. His Piece, ‘Life Deferred ‘ was in the top four of the January 2017 edition of the Igby Prize for nonfiction. He holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Diplomas in: Teaching Methodology, and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languges (TESOL). Facebook.

Photo by Jessica Ruscello.

“Caught in Ligation” by Amy Barnes

I learned about sex in the library. But not by making out in the stacks. My mother, who could only spell out S-E-X in a whisper, knew Judy Blume was bad and forbid me from reading her books. I snuck them chapter by chapter at a friend’s house. In a pre-social media world, Krantz, V.C. Andrews and Jean Auel were not on her censor list. I stretched the truth with tales of florists, dinosaurs and pirate adventures. The summer program librarian smirked when I added Flowers in the Attic to my reading list.

The library’s air conditioned treasure aisles were free entertainment, free books and free cold air. My mother would be shocked by my reading. And yet, there was one hot June day when the library shocked her. Our progressive-for-the-70s library frequently displayed local artwork. Some could be checked for four weeks at a time. Usually, the art was simple, innocent tablescapes or landscapes. On that June day, I stood with book contraband facing a multimedia painting labelled “Tubal Ligation.” Large hoses snaked out from the canvas. Jammed into each hose were parts of Barbie dolls and baby dolls all staring out in various doll eye stages.

I got a good look before my mother ushered my younger sister and I out of the library, her hands over our eyes. There had been no “talk” in our house. My mother gossiped about one of my classmates with a mother who lead something called Planned Parenthood. When I asked what that was, she just repeated her “don’t get pregnant” mantra. At 10, I didn’t even know how to get pregnant. I knew not to ask about the artwork. I also knew it was maybe more adult than my secretive book choices. I immersed myself in my naughty book of the week and we didn’t speak of the artwork.

Twenty years later, I experienced two very difficult pregnancies. My doctor told me having a third child would be dangerous. Two words came up: tubal ligation. That library artwork filled my mind and I involuntarily shuddered. I knew what tubes were and what a ligation was. I didn’t want to trap baby dolls in my own internal hoses. It wasn’t even that simple. If I wanted to go through with trapping all future babies forever, I also needed to sign off on the decision. And my husband had to sign off. Even though I would be a high risk, “geriatric” pregnancy. As I lay strapped down to the c-section table in crucifixion pose, I remember asking my doctor to “tie me up” like I was a damsel-in-distress on the train tracks.

I still think about that artwork four decades later. What was the artist’s thought process? Had she had a tubal ligation and regretted it? And, in true karmic fashion, I now have my own teenage daughter. She knows what tubes are. And Planned Parenthood. And pregnant. And abortion. I don’t put my hands over her eyes or her books.

Amy Barnes has words at a variety of sites including McSweeney’s, Parabola, We Were So Small, Detritus Online, Taco Bell Quarterly, Gnashing Teeth, Maria at Sampaguitas and many others. She is a reader for Narratively and CRAFT and a contributing editor for Barren Magazine. She has one husband, two dogs and two kids that inspire and hinder her writing.

Photo by Joey Thompson.

“Lineage” by Keana Águila Labra

On my paternal father’s side, there is a legend of our surname’s origin. ‘Labra’, stemming from the Spanish ‘Labrador’, a single ancestor, a thief and a rebel, successfully fled Spain.

There are no details spared: we don’t know his first name nor his city of origin. We only know his intent: he needed to get away. He shortened his name to avoid capture. My grandfather doesn’t know why our ancestor chose the Philippines, or if it were a choice at all. Perhaps the archipelago, this cluster of islands, were simply happenstance.

I am filled with vigor and pride for this lone man; how thrilling it is to be related to a rebel, to have been born from his supposed courage… until my grandfather nonchalantly describes how this same ancestor forced himself upon one of the Filipino natives and she bore him twelve sons and one daughter.

This ancestor would not have known (or perhaps he did, making it worse) the splintered identity, or lack thereof, of the indigenous Filipino people. They did not even refer to themselves as ‘Filipino’ until the Spanish occupation, as they claimed our land as theirs, dubbing us, ‘La Isla Filipinas.’

But, my grandfather tells me this story, so I know to be kind to anyone whose surname shares ours. ‘Labra’, also meaning unbreakable in its new country. He tells me this because he laments having six granddaughters from his sons. He voices his languish so blatantly in front of my sister and I.

I often wonder about the thirteenth daughter, where my distant cousins are and how they’re faring. I also wonder about the Filipina native, and how I don’t know her name. I don’t know how I may honor her.

Keana Águila Labra (she/her) is the Editor-in-Chief of Marías at Sampaguitas. She is the co-editor of Chopsticks Alley Pinoy, a regular contributor for Royal Rose Magazine, a Poetry Reader for Homology Lit, a Magazine Contributor for Ayaskala, and the anime and manga columnist behind Closed Captioning for Headcanon Magazine. Knowing the importance of representation, her work is evidence that Filipino Americans are present in the literary world. Medium & Twitter: @keanalabra

Photo by Isiah Gibson.

“Divine Siegecraft: A Short Talk on Similarities in Rilke & Carson’s Treatment of God & Walls” by Danielle Rose

Rilke’s “Du, Nachbar Gott, wenn ich ditch manchesmal” and Anne Carson’s “My Religion” are both poems about god and walls. Both poems are also violent. They are perhaps violent especially because they are poems about god and walls, because when god is behind a wall bringing down the wall becomes an act of human imperative. The walls have further similarities: they are both thin, they both inspire violence and they both concern themselves with the transmission of image. Ultimately what is most intriguing is that both Rilke and Carson were afraid.

 The two poets have their differences. Rainer Maria Rilke, born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke in 1875’s Prague, was a transitional figure in poetry representing a mystical transition straddling the Romantic to Modernist periods like a rickety bridge that enjoyed wobbling in a slight wind. Anne Carson is a classicist who at one time lived in Canada and may still (I do not know.) Rilke is dead. Carson is very living.

When Carson describes how humans interpret the gestures of god, she compares them to

“[…]a creature
let loose in a room
and battering
to get out.”
Meanwhile, Rilke desires a more kind, permissible, escape, admitting “Always I hearken. Give but a small sign. / I am quite near.” Carson is rude. Rilke is polite. Both are disquieted by their experiences concerning walls and god. And both turn to violence as a means to disrupt their religious disquiet. At the end of “My Religion” the worship is revealed to be an instrument of violence, literally, “It batters my soul / with its rifle butt.”  Even our realization of folly is experienced as an act of violence, by the 4th line Carson admits her own inevitability toward violence: “When we see / how simple it would have been / we will thrash ourselves.” Carson turns to violence when faced with god. She is flamboyant in her violence. Rilke drags under the weight of his small violences. He is a humble in how he handles the violence enacted upon himself. I cannot imagine what sublimation of the self this must have required, to become such a nothingness from such a someness. This is because of a wall, and the violence required to bring that wall down. Rilke is reserved in his violence, turning it upon himself,

“And then my senses, which too soon grow lame,
exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.”
This is how a person becomes a home for bruises. Rilke gives up, and directs himself to suffer. Carson lashes out. Neither is happy. Both are left abandoned and  discomforted.Neither believes they have the ability to not. They are unaware they could ever not be afraid.

Danielle Rose lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their two cats. She is a poet and the managing editor of Dovecote Magazine. She also used to be a boy.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso.

“Parental Personality Crisis” by Jessie Lynn McMains

The other night I had a spoken word gig. I had the usual pre-show jitters, like I’d sucked down five espressos in rapid succession, but a beer and some time with my pals took care of that. The next afternoon, I had to take my oldest son to his friend’s birthday party, and I was so anxious I almost puked. When I first moved back to southeastern Wisconsin, I thought I’d never find any kind of community or scene here. But I put myself out there, and found a crew of other poets and punks, artists and activists, queers and weirdos, many of whom are also parents. I have a hard time being around parents who aren’t in any of those groups.

A couple months ago, I volunteered at a fundraiser for my son’s school. I showed up in an outfit I thought was pretty tame: a black pleather jacket, t-shirt, jeans, black Docs. But the other moms treated me differently than they treated each other. It got worse when someone said we needed more duct tape and another marker and I pulled tape and a Sharpie from my bag. “You…carry those around with you?” Yeah, I’m the weird mom in big stompy boots who carries duct tape and Sharpies around in their bag. And I can’t count the number of times one of them asked what I do for work and I gave them the list—writer, performer, publisher; zines, workshops, tarot—and got one of two responses. Either “that’s…interesting” (code for: “yikes” or “I don’t know what half of those words mean”) or “how nice not to have a 9-5 job!” (code for: “oh, so you don’t really work”).

I was thinking about all that as I got ready. Thinking: if I didn’t pass as a straight, cis lady, would they even let me be around their kids? (Thinking, also, about people who don’t pass, how much harder it is for them.) Wondering what they’d think of me if they read one of my profanity-laced poems about blow jobs and intravenous drugs. Thinking: what the hell do I wear? I can’t wear my black hoodie because the patch on the back says ‘fuck’; I should probably make sure I cover my anarchy symbol tattoo and my mermaid’s tits… Realizing: the amount of respect and tolerance I get from these other parents is in inverse proportion to how much they know about me.

But the party wasn’t about me, it was about my son having fun with his friends. So I wore a non-descript outfit, made small talk with the other adults. I’ll continue to put on a front when I’m around the parents of my children’s friends, but I’ll also continue think it’s unfair, that I need to do that to be accepted, acceptable.

Sometimes I wonder how many of the parents I think of as normies are secret freaks—polyamorous parents, genderqueer folks, bedroom beatniks, midnight graffiti artists… How many of us are out here, faking normalcy, so afraid of ostracization that we cover our tattoos and refuse to talk about anything that matters?

Jessie Lynn McMains (they/them) is a poet, writer, zine-maker, small press publisher, and spoken word performer. They are the author of multiple chapbooks, most recently The Girl With The Most Cake and forget the fuck away from me. They have been publishing their own and others’ writing in zines and chapbooks since 1994, and have been performing their work across the US and Canada since 1998. They were the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Racine, WI, and currently write a reoccuring column for Pussy Magic. You can find their personal website at recklesschants.net, or follow them on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie

Photo by Rick Lobs

“Aftermath 2005-2006” by Charlotte Hamrick

“Nearly 85 percent of the survivors faced a major financial, income, or housing loss, and more than a third endured extreme physical adversity after Katrina struck a year ago and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the survey showed. Nearly 23 percent encountered extreme psychological adversity. About 25 percent reported having nightmares about their experiences — a figure that rises to nearly 50 percent for people who lived in New Orleans.” 

Worldpress.org, August 29, 2006

QVC became my best friend, after the debris was raked and chopped and bundled and bagged and dragged to the curb to join an ever-growing mountain of stinking household trash all abuzz with coffin flies and crawling with maggots. It soothed me as Blackhawk helicopters buzzed overhead back and forth and back and forth searching for survivors, as church groups came around and cut all the trees out of the street and volunteer workers brought blue tarps for our holey roofs and told us where to get MRE’s and water. It took me to another galaxy where there was no such thing as curfew, military patrols, FEMA trailer parks, empty grocery shelves, lines of empty-eyed people waiting for antidepressants, or so many house fires it wasn’t news anymore. It numbed my brain from thinking about the suicides, elderly drowned sisters found six weeks later, splintered coffins on city streets, abandoned pets starving, and how much longer, Lord, how much more? I sat on the sofa in a sweat-stained stupor watching the cool blonde hostesses, hypnotic and honey-tongued, cooing over the jewelry and the clothes and cosmetics – trying to sell all the stuff I would need in a future where owning things was important and made sense again.

Charlotte Hamrick’s poetry, prose, and photography has been published in The Rumpus, Literary Orphans, Flash Frontier, Foliate Oak, and numerous other journals. She is Creative Nonfiction Editor for Barren Magazine and lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets. Follow her on Twitter @charlotteAsh.

“The Waiting Room” by Lisa Lerma Weber

I sit in the waiting room of the ER, my husband next to me, holding my hand. I need to get a hold of myself, so I glance around the room in search of distraction. There is a man sitting across from us, bent over in pain, looking very much like he will either vomit or tumble out of his chair. He is alone, looks disheveled, and I wonder if he is homeless. To the right a girl is curled up, holding a small bag to her mouth. She heaves, her mother turns to her, and I turn away. To the left of us, two men stand while eating fries. My stomach rumbles because it’s been hours since I’ve eaten, but I wonder how anyone can eat in this place. How anyone can do anything but worry. In the far corner, two children stare at their phones, and I think of my son who is probably doing the same thing at home.  

I look out the window and see a toddler waddling around her mother who is on the phone. A man in dirty motorcycle gear paces while smoking a cigarette. A trio of young nurses walk by, smiling and chatting. I guess they must be starting their shifts. I turn my attention back to the room and notice the two children are talking to each other and laughing.

I look up at the television. An episode of “Law & Order SVU” is on. A boy misses what would have been the winning goal for his hockey team. He is then sexually assaulted with a hockey stick in the locker room. I remember reading something similar in the news and I think I’m going to be sick. I pray that my son will never experience such pain. That I’ll never be in this room because someone has hurt him in a way that would destroy him. Tears are threatening, and I wish my son was with us.

I look at my husband and offer a weak smile. Every part of me is filled with anxiety, and the waiting makes it worse. I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to know what the doctors might find. I don’t want to think about how fragile life is, how fleeting. I want to chase away that shadow lurking in the corner of my mind, making me think about dark possibilities.

Why is there so much pain and suffering in this world? My throat squeezes and my husband squeezes my hand. I turn to him, look into his blue eyes.

“I love you,” I whisper to him.

“I love you, too.” he replies with a smile.

I rest my head on his shoulder, feel his warmth, inhale his scent.

There is so much pain and suffering in this world. But there is so much beauty and joy, too. To know one is to know the other.

Lisa Lerma Weber is a writer living in San Diego. Her work has appeared in Black Bough Poetry, Bonnie’s Crew, Marias at Sampaguitas, Mookychick, Royal Rose, The Blue Pages Journal, Vamp Cat, and others. Follow her on Twitter @LisaLermaWeber

Photo by Alvin Leopold.