“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.

“Rescue” by Emily Costa

Every week in July’s heat you scrub the kennels and shovel pounds of shit into heavy-duty trash bags. The dogs wait patiently, run through gravel as you clean. You grunt, lift the bags into your trunk and drive up the hill to the dump. You heave them off the cliff. You watch their soft landing.

Jill had you do extra at the rescue this week, had you make signs for the Night Fair. There you’re to meet Brian, a new recruit. Jill was always looking for dumb, sensitive kids who wanted to pet dogs so she could lasso them into shoveling shit for free. That’s how you ended up shoveling shit for free.

Brian meets you at your car as you yank out milk crates full of pamphlets and donation jars. You chat idly. He’s just a kid: eighteen, on college break. You tell him that’s the age you teach, and he’s shocked you’re 28. You feel old and young at the same time. You always do. It’s been a war inside you.

He carries chairs, apologizes for a slow, limping gait. Later he tells you it’s from a drunken fall.

The Night Fair is in a wealthy suburb of the city you’re supposed to be helping, your city with its pit-bull-crowded pound, your city with roaming Chihuahuas. This is designer dog territory. You advertise the thick, boxy dogs you have for adoption, the dogs that look like the ones you own, the ones curled up at home with your husband as you try to save more. Brian has a chocolate lab. My only friend, he says. That’s where it starts. Sometimes you meet someone and immediately feel as if they’re a broken part of you, some chipped piece you’d lost, or perhaps some other version of yourself, caught in warped time. You and Brian trip over words, talking easily. You open up too quickly. When he shares about his depression, you tell him of yours. This is why sometimes you fail at teaching. You want to be friend and parent, too.

When you get home, you ask your husband how weird it would be to adopt an eighteen-year-old. His father’s an alcoholic, you say. His parents don’t understand him. You say, I’m worried about him.

You keep in touch. You see him at another rescue event, and then he’s off to school again. You make a care package for him, then worry you’re overstepping. You don’t send it. You hope he’s okay. A month later, Jill fires everyone from the rescue because you all call her on unsafe practices, question where funds are going. She’s nuts, you tell Brian. I’m just sad for the dogs, he says.

Things taper off, two years go by. You see on social media that he has a girlfriend. You have a son. You begin a life, new schedules, new priorities. Then one day you think of him suddenly, the baby near you making soft sleep sounds. You scroll through your phone. The obituary feels indescribably shocking yet inevitable. You don’t know where to put the grief. You feel selfish in thinking you could’ve had any impact at all. But maybe you could have. Your dogs look up at you, two helpless things who don’t understand your language, but understand you.

Emily Costa teaches freshmen at Southern Connecticut State University, where she received her MFA. Her writing can be found in Hobart, Barrelhouse, The RS 500, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Memoir Mixtapes, and elsewhere. You can follow her on twitter @emilylauracosta.

Photo by Hyunwon Jang.