A Series of 3 Poems by Samuel J. Fox

Visitants

Blues & aquas - images - josh martin . photographs. I love this so much. . . but I can't figure out what it is a photograph of

 

An Update from Baptist Country

 

Like a ghost swallow, Christ was lifted into the wide, empty fields of heaven by the wind.

Yes, wide. Indeed, empty.

 

You don’t want to die before you see the face of God in the eaves of a pink dogwood tree.

If you don’t, you weren’t truly here now, were you?

 

The truth shall set you free: freely you shall set the truth.

 

In this story, for everything is a story, a boy listens to a preacher speak of hell

as a place he will go for loving every mouth that touches him.

A droplet of spittle spackles his terrified face.

 

Once, in August, that boy saw a whirlwind drop like a slow anvil from God’s hand,

the sky. He yelled into its roar. He could not hear himself speak.

 

Job didn’t do anything wrong but love his God and look what happened to that sad fucker.

 

In this story, more of a gospel, a boy kisses a girl just nights after he kissed another boy.

He realized lips feel the same, as do the raven wings unfurling wide in his stomach.

 

Peter denied his Christ, ergo his Lord’s Father, three times before dawn came

and a rooster could interrupt the heart of the devil’s malediction.

 

The truth is malleable, like thirty pieces of silver thrust into a palm, the face of Caesar on each.

 

In this story, for everything is a story, a boy becomes a man who loves his God

but does not claim to know what that God is.

 

The boy loves like a whirlwind.

Like perfection.

Like a ghost.

 

Like a nail, the truth about love drives through him.

 

 

 

faded 4 by wroquephotography on deviantART.jpeg

 

An Update from Baptist Country II

 

The saints have forgotten their marching shoes. They wear slip on moccasins,

and inch out through snow to receive the morning mail.

 

Headlines include: the 45th President, a paycheck held under the table,

LGBT rights, & the death of a Christian icon.

 

Christmas grudgingly arrives and leaves with its many symbols and tainted biographies.

The nativity falling flat in front of a low attended funeral;

Jesus came to die for our sins (a lie

spun into history like a golden thread to privilege the poor);

holiday wreaths like so many perennial palimpsests.

 

The saints forget the word love and replace it with tolerance.

Mad libs at the Christmas party avoiding any nuance of the word burning,

or pyre,

or traitor,

or faggot.

 

Yet, a youth sits, hands burning under his ass like ten flaming bundles,

his body of identity become martyrdom on the burning pyre around which his family gathers.

 

Such is the gospel for many young men and women in this portion of the world: the stares

of their families like belts across their backs. This is the country of bibliolatry.

 

The saints wave goodbye to their collective families.

When Christmas day arrives, the youth are borne into a morning blushing with a crimson dawn. And, speechless, the Lord is ashamed.

 

 

Rocket Rust.jpeg

 

An Update from Baptist Country III

 

His boots were made for walking, but not over the bodies of dead friends.

He hides

a switchblade, and his thirst, folded in his throat.

What a queer boy would do for a friend that would not die by their own hand.

 

At the funerals, the preacher always relapsed into bigotry.

Hatred a gavel with which the sound carries like a guillotine’s only choice.

Gravity a bludgeon, the queer boy’s soul battered.

 

One time, when the grievance of sins drooled from the pastor’s mouth,

the boy stood up.

He looked around him at the landscape.

Broken hearts littering the eyes of everyone watching. With no words, he walked out, remembering to flick his fuck you up, not at the preacher, but at heaven.

 

There are plenty of railroad tracks to lie down across.

There are plenty of needles here to taint.

There are plenty of people who would rather shoot an unarmed queer

than ask questions of themselves.

 

The clouds in the sky cast their looks down, their words shadows across the pavement.

There is a darkness here that can only be called temporary, but vigilant.

Still, the boy bursts into flame every time a lover kisses him, but only

because he may never feel their warmth again.

 

The boy sits alone with his people, outcasts by the older generation, upstarts in the new.

With a view of a steeple on Broad Street, he whispers that God is a fire that does not burn.

 

 

Samuel J Fox is a non-binary, bisexual writer living in the Southern US. They/He is poetry editor at Bending Genres, a nonfiction reader for Homology Lit, and a frequent columnist/reviewer at Five2One Magazine. They/He appears in numerous online/print journals as well as in dilapidated places, coffee houses, and graveyards, depending. They/He tweets (@samueljfox).

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“and then She was shipped across the world” and “Document2” by Parag Desai

Visitants

Rocket Rust.jpeg

and then She was shipped across the world

to work and produce, and to work and produce,

in a fortress of infinite greed,

tending slot machines,

for donald trump in february of ’93.

 

She met the man she married after a lapse

of two years. his belly had grown since then,

his smile had yellowed since then.

 

and exactly—with mechanical precision—a year later

i was conceived. Her belly too would grow. She quit work

to produce, and then worked to produce: a clean kitchen,

an undisturbed bed, warm roti, daal, shaak.

 

the tasks never truly added up in this fortress

of infinite greed. husband came home drunk, sorrow stuffed in a

parle-g cookie jar, a thums up in the fridge—foreign around these parts.

 

and even when nostalgia flooded Her mind

about the time Kiran did this and Jothi did that,

a foreign namesake struck Her skin like a dagger—

reminding Caesar of her place.

 

in the belly of an american beast. where they eat flesh

without cooking it and drink each other’s blood

without indignation—some savage, pagan ritual.

 

father never prepared Her

for this. never taught Her this.

 

he was a banker.

 

Photographic Print_ Burnt Earth I by Doug Chinnery _ 24x16in.jpeg

Document2

I was introduced to death the day I learned that I did not have a grandmother. At some faint point in my childhood, my mother told me that everything would have been different if she was still around. The magnitude of everything was inconceivable to grasp as a child barely able to comprehend simple arithmetic, let alone a phrase that transgressed my embryotic reality. It was at this point I learned of a state beyond living, a state of perceived presence, and a state of consequence. Possibly, since being ensnared, at the tender age of four, five, or six, by the first concepts of the world snapping its fingers in my face demanding for attention—while death itself is growing out of the pores of my backside like the bathroom ceiling mold tattooed to the walls above my head in this makeshift apartment—these seemingly ubiquitous laws have weighed heavy on my ever-shifting conscious since. The opacity of a short, stern, round woman with a mole above her lip who once appeared in a dream, shrouded in a smoky haze, smiled, nodded, “Everything will be alright,” and disappeared from her ethereal, heightened position just as quick as my shower runs out of warm water. I become stiff. I look at the black disease above my head in contempt every single day, venting to the weeping, plastic walls where I visit the playground of gods and reflect on the circumstances I wish I had the power to change, or the wars I could have won, all while subconsciously replaying the image of a doppelgänger whom I have no distinguishable connection with, but owe all of my existence to, for the majority of my life. And since, within this downward, spiraling montage of violent, flashing images a piece of me withdraws to a palpable vision of an alternate world where I hear her scold, taste her food, feel her warmth, and grasp at the philosophies she has imparted on another me. Do I dare conclude this is the basis of all optimism—all of which is objectively blind, or one’s trust in a higher being—all of which is fueled by grandiose delusion? It is true that I lost faith, arguably never had faith to begin with, since my consistent appointment with reason refused to give a sufficient answer for my grandmother’s death, refused to explain why father threw our dinner against the wall, refused to justify, refused to apologize, refused to heal.                 

I have been chasing a thought of chasing the thought of what could have been but isn’t. For twenty-three years, I have been manifesting a suffering not bound by a physical pain, but of a stinging malaise buried deep within the cage of my chest. As each cold shower, as each whiff of slight sickness cycles throughout the years, I’ve anesthetize this triple-headed behemoth born out of another’s burden. This beast: one head of a son—sweating of ethanol—who lost his mother before my birth; one of a child drowned in tears, wed into dysfunction; one head suffocating, with a muffled screech, bound in a tight mask made of reflective glass, claws made of burned ivory, an evil, steel-bristled coat, fangs drenched in a bubbling saliva, an anger, a sadness, a haunting moan bouncing from all angles in this dying, darkened prison. There is no mist covering the mirror, so I see my demons perfectly. As my grandmother echoes everything, as my father warns of everything, as my mother cries about everything, I am left with nothing but the taunt of positions that do not exist and paradoxically could exist all within the same timeframe. If I was

there goes the if              

how do I move forward?

 

 

 

Parag Desai is a graduate student at Coastal Carolina University studying in the MAW program. Currently, he holds the position of design editor for Waccamaw Journal (Conway, SC), an online publication of contemporary literature. He likes hip-hop and renaissance art.

“GROWING SWIRLING CLOUDS” By Thea Boodhoo

Visitants

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“Mark died yesterday, Margery.” My tone was patient, sad but not distraught. The time for distraught was past, I thought.

“Coral, don’t joke about those things. He was right here a few minutes ago.”

I found a serious expression in my database and displayed it for her. “It’s not a joke, Margery. He left us yesterday morning. We’re saying goodbye as soon as you’re ready for the ceremony.” Margery wore her work uniform–a faded blue jumpsuit–and had her thin, white hair pulled up in a small bun. The jumpsuit no longer fit her well. It had been made for a younger, rounder woman. I knew she prefered more formal attire for funerals.

“Where is he going?” she asked.

“Into the biomaterials recycling system.”

“Well that seems premature, he’s not dead yet,” Margery said.

“Mark died yesterday, Margery.”

Margery frowned at me, then looked down at the lower panel of her workstation. It displayed five hundred and seven rectangles of streaming data. Each rectangle represented a former inhabitant of the colony ship Ishtar. All except one: Margery herself. She, Mark, Shinji and Elise had stayed behind when the Ishtar reached its destination. They had been too frail to make the one-way journey to the planet’s surface. They had all been left in my care for their final years, and Margery was the last.

There was a second display above the panel of rectangles. It showed live video of aerial landscapes from our six satellites in orbit. Of the six, only one landscape featured squares. The squares were farms. They were near a coastline on the edge of the largest continent. Zooming in on them, one could see buildings, thin ribbons of trails, and sometimes smoke. At the highest magnification, a coffee cup held to the screen could obscure the whole colony.

Margery sat here every day, monitoring the colony. It was her job. Human attention wasn’t strictly necessary, but it made her feel useful and gave her a reason to get out of bed every day. I think it also made her feel closer to her friends and family.

She stared at the small, square farms in the sixth satellite feed, frowning.

“Are you ok, Margery?” I asked.

“Of course I’m ok,” Margery rushed the words to me without eye contact. She looked down at the rectangles on the lower panel and her eyes rested on the one with Jenna’s name on it. Her daughter.

“Would you like to wear something nice to the funeral?” I asked.

“We’ll have to let his kids know,” she said.

“They know. I told them yesterday. They send their condolences.”

“Hmph.” She looked away again, up at the live satellite feeds of the planet’s surface. The coastline of the colony was clear, forest to the west bright green and water to the east bright blue. We both watched it for a moment, in silence.

“They should be here for Shinji’s funeral. They really should be here,” Margery said.

“It’s Mark’s funeral.”

“Oh. That’s right. You said that already, didn’t you.” I took it as a rhetorical question, and said nothing. “I guess that means it’s just you and me now.”

“Yes. But you’re excellent company Margery. I’m glad I have you.” I found a comforting expression with a slight smile.

Her own faint smile answered. “I’m glad I have you, too, Coral.”

“Shall we get ready for the funeral? I’ll help you get dressed.”

“I guess we better do that. Ok.” She stood slowly, one yellow, age-spotted hand on the lower panel for balance. She placed her other hand on the back of her workstation swivel chair. I grabbed the back of the chair to hold it in place before it could swivel out of her grasp. I offered my arm to her for balance. She gripped it firmly with both hands and I rolled, at her pace, toward her room.

_________________________________________________

I’d be happy to explain why I was on a generation ship, if you want to know. I could tell the story of the engineers in California who wrote my program. How they beamed it to the Ishtar, back when Earth still sent us data. I could explain in detail how a team on the Ishtar assembled my body from spare parts. I could tell you how a branding copywriter came up with my name at a pub, while thinking of the sea. I could tell you anything you want to know about me, but not right now. Right now, I want to tell you about Margery, and what happened to the colony. So please, put your questions about me aside. I’m not important.

_____________________________________________

Most of Margery’s activities these days were napping. While she napped, I monitored her workstation. I couldn’t sit on her chair, but I could have the data fed directly to my central processor. I analyzed it while resting near Margery, or patrolling the halls. The halls were always empty, silent, and dark. I didn’t need light to see them, so there was no need to use the Ishtar’s power.

The night after Mark’s funeral, I paused by a window in a dark corridor. I could still see the planet through the window’s century of scratches. It was daylight below. White swirling clouds hid equatorial sea.

I wondered what rain felt like.

The clouds, I realized, were the edge of a vast storm forming. I double-checked the satellite data. The storm was nowhere near the colony. Same ocean, but much farther south. Three years of aggregated data told me the likelihood of it disturbing the colony was low. Less than two percent.

I sent an update to the surface, just to be safe, and asked the Ishtar to monitor the situation. I continued my patrol of the dark hallway.

Moments later, the Ishtar sent me an update. The likelihood of the storm reaching the colonists was now three percent.

I decided to check on Margery.

____________________________________________

She was upright in her bed, leaning against a pile of pillows, eyes closed. She was very still, and the skin of her face and arms was yellow and waxy. I knew her blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and oxygen levels from across the room. She was sleeping.

I didn’t want to wake her. She needed rest.

I thought of lowering the Ishtar’s gravity again, and decided to wait until she woke. I wanted to make sure it was what she wanted.

I thought of raising the Ishtar‘s oxygen level, but if it went much higher it would pose a fire hazard. There were few parts moving on the Ishtar these days, besides myself, but even I could create a spark on accident. Oxygen was already much higher than Earth’s atmosphere. The risk of going higher didn’t outweigh the temporary boost it would give Margery.

I thought of Margery’s memory. There was not much I could do to help the decline of her faculties. I could remind her of things, though. It was part of my job to remember. I remembered the past ninety-one years on the Ishtar with perfect clarity. I also had access to significant amounts of information about Earth, up to the day we lost contact. I knew about Margery’s childhood on Earth from her own stories, and things her long-gone parents had told me.

Yes, I could remind her of almost anything. She would enjoy that, I thought.

On the bed, Margery stirred. Her yellow eyelids fluttered open and her clouded blue eyes rolled toward me. “Coral?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

She murmured something unintelligible. Then, with great effort, she sat up straight and moved her legs, inch by inch, until they hung off the edge of her bed. Her bare feet were swollen and red. They had been like that for years.

She stared at me with a blank expression. “I thought you were a coat rack for a minute.” Before I found a response, she said, “I’m teasing. I’m not senile, you know.” Was that a wry smile? Or a regular smile? Or a smirk?

I found a relieved smile in my expression database and displayed it for her in response.

“Margery,” I said then, “how would you like to go through some old files with me? I have many recordings of important moments in your life. I thought you might enjoy reminiscing.”

“Not right now, dear. I have to go to the bathroom.”

I held out my arm for her and rolled, slowly, toward the small room in the corner. It was few steps for her, but each was slow. Her feet looked like ripe red potatoes, and must have been as hard to balance on. At the door of the room, she gripped the counter, and pulled herself along the edge of it to the toilet. She didn’t close the door. I turned away.

She muttered to herself as she dealt with the appropriate devices. I wondered what would happen if she fell. Although I was a machine, she would likely be embarrassed if I had to help her. Mark and Shinji were both mortified the first few times I helped them in the bathroom. Elise had never needed me for that.

The possibility of injury was real, though. Two years ago, Margery’s left knee had given out as she rose from her workstation chair. I wasn’t close enough to catch her. Shinji was there, but too slow. Margery had needed my help walking ever since. That was the first time they allowed me to lower the Ishtar’s gravity for them.

“Coral, can you lend me a hand?” Margery’s voice came from behind me, in the bathroom. “This is so silly, but I’m having trouble getting my pants back up. Can’t seem to reach that far.”

I obliged.

___________________________________________

We sat (she sat, I lowered my display to her eye level,) in the old lounge area. It still had three tables that the colonists had left behind, and four lounge chairs. The upholstery had been patched and re-patched several times since leaving Earth.

I swapped out my face for a video.

“Do you remember this day?” I asked Margery.

My display showed a well-lit corridor, two people standing by a clear, clean window with a view of solid black. If the camera exposure had been different, the window would’ve shown a field of stars. But it was set for faces, and these faces happened to be kissing.

The woman in the video pulled away. She had long, wavy auburn hair pulled into a ponytail. Her skin was smooth and light, and her figure slim. She was smiling. The man was darker, with straight black hair, a clean shave and a lopsided grin. The woman opened her mouth to say something.

My attention was diverted then, but I kept playing the video for Margery.

The likelihood of the storm on the surface reaching the colony had reached 45 percent. I composed a warning for the colonists and sent it.

“Of course I remember that day,” Margery said. “That was the day I told Shan I was pregnant with Jenna. He was fit to be tied.” She looked away from the video, then toward me. “Where did you put your eyes, Coral? Bring back your eyes.”

“I put my face away so I could show you the video.” I brought a casual smile back to my display. Margery nodded approval and looked at my eyes.

“Margery, it wasn’t Jenna. It was Urma. Jenna came three years later and she’s Bloom’s child. Not Shan’s.”

“Well yes, that’s true. Jenna is Bloom’s.”

“You just said that the video was from when you were pregnant with Jenna. But it was actually Urma.”

“Urma died,” Margery said, as if to remind me.

“Yes, I remember.”

“Why did you show me that video?” Margery’s expression became a frown. I had done something wrong, but I wasn’t sure what.

“You were happy in the video,” I said. “I thought it would be a positive experience for you to remember.”

Margery sighed. “Coral. Sometimes happy things make people sad, if the happy thing reminds them of something they lost.”

“I think I understand, Margery.”

“Let’s move on. What other old memories do you want to dig up?”

“How about this one?” I replaced my face with another scene, from New Year’s Eve twenty years ago. The setting was the lounge we sat in now, but it was far more crowded. There were tables and sofas, coffee tables, side tables, lamps and people. Men and women stood and talked and drank sparkling wine. Children chased each other and ate cake.

I wondered what each of them was doing now.

________________________________________

Eighty-five percent. The storm approaching the colony was now the biggest we’d seen since entering orbit. The colonists made emergency preparations on the surface. I sent them tutorials about how to prepare shelters for high winds and pile bags of sand to keep out the sea. I helped them back up all their data to the Ishtar’s main memory. If needed, they could go inland, but travel was already dangerous in the high winds. They would have to leave behind everything they couldn’t carry. The crops could be replanted, and makeshift shelters could be built from scratch. Communications equipment and generators were a different story. If those were lost, the colony would be unlikely to survive a generation.

A call came from the surface. I saw Jenna’s face, tanned dark from the planet’s star. The sky was gray and swirling with leaves and dust behind her. “Coral,” Jenna said, “put me through to Mom.”

I was already next to Margery, who had fallen asleep in her favorite chair in the lounge. “Hi Jenna,” I replied without making a sound in the room. “Your mom is asleep right now. Can you call back later?”

“No, Coral, this might be my last chance to talk to her if communications go down in the storm, just wake her up.”

I turned my attention to Margery. Her breath was calm and low and steady. I could tell that she was dreaming. I didn’t want to wake her. “Margery,” I said softly. No response. “Margery,” I said again.

“Urma, Mom’s napping go play somewhere else,” Margery said, her eyes still closed.

“Margery, Jenna wants to speak with you.”

Her eyes finally opened, and searched the empty room. “Where is she?” Margery asked.

“She’s on the planet.” She had been there more than three years.

“Already?” Margery frowned. “I wanted to spend more time with her.”

“She’s on a call right now, waiting. She wants to speak with you.”

“Oh, oh. Ok. How’s my hair?” Margery asked.

I reached an arm up to her face and tucked a feathery, white strand behind her ear. “You look lovely, Margery.”

She smiled. “You’re too kind, Coral. I know I look awful, but I don’t suppose Jenna cares much. She never has.”

I displayed a smile to match hers.

“I’m ready. Put her on,” Margery said.

Jenna’s face replaced mine. Her salt-and-pepper braids flapped around in the wind. “Hi Mom.”

“Hi honey. It looks like you’re having a spot of weather down there.”

Jenna shook her head. “A spot? Haven’t you been monitoring the displays?”

“Of course, it’s my job.”

“Well the storm’s been coming for days.”

“Days? No that’s not right, I was just checking the weather this morning.”

Jenna looked dumbfounded. “Jenna,” I said to her privately, “Your mom hasn’t been able to tend her workstation for several days. I’m afraid her health has been poor.”

Jenna took a deep breath and started to say something, but Margery spoke first. “Jenna, how are my grandkids? Enjoying the beach? You know I used to live by a beach when I was their age.”

“Mom, when you were their age you’d already been on the Ishtar half your life.”

“Well, close enough. I meant great-grandkids anyway.”

Jenna sighed and rolled her eyes. “Look, mom,” she said, impatience in her voice. “I just wanted to say that communications might go down so… I don’t know. If there’s anything you want to say to me or anyone else before the storm hits…” she trailed off.

“Oh, yes. Well, tell those little rascals to stay out of trouble. And their gramma loves them.”

“Ok Mom. Take care OK? I love you.”

“Are you hanging up on me already? You know I have all the time in the world up here.”

Jenna looked frustrated. “Mom. I just told you there’s a massive fucking storm coming at us and we have to evacuate and get everything ready. There’s a lot to do so no, I don’t have time to chat. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t know what I did to make you so upset,” Margery said to her daughter.

“Aaaarg, Mom look I gotta go. Take care of yourself. We’ll talk again when this thing passes. Bye.”

“Bye, sweety–” Jenna hung up, but Margery wasn’t done with her sentence, “–love you.”

___________________________________________

A day later, there was no data from the colony. Their communications equipment was damaged or destroyed–impossible to know which. Clouds still covered the entire region.

________________________________________

“Have I ever told you about the time Jenna got lost when she was a little girl?”

“No Margery,” I lied.

“She was about this high,” Margery held her hand just above where her knee would be if she were standing, “and oooh she was a troublemaker. I’d gone over to Hardy’s–or wait–no. No, it was Hardy. Well, I was just going to have dinner with him, but things, well you know. And I’d left Jenna with Tazkiyah for the day. This must’ve been in the ‘70s.”

“If Jenna was that high, it could only have been 2056.”

Margery squinted at me, with a hint of smile. The first I had seen in a few days. “So be it. ‘56. Well that was a long time ago, wasn’t it?”

“It’s all relative, Margery.”

“Why do you always have to be so… right?”

“Margery, do you want to finish the story?”

“What story?”

“The one about when Jenna got lost. She was at Tazkiyah’s and you were with Hardy.”

“Oooooh right, yes, well. I got a call from Tazkiyah the next morning, and she was so upset. Jenna had gone missing! Well I jumped right out of bed, leaving poor Hardy there, butt naked and startled, and I ran off so fast I barely got my clothes and shoes on. I didn’t even tell poor Hardy why I’d left.”

“He must have been upset.”

She giggled. “I think he was! Well I almost had the whole ship looking for her before I finally went back to my apartment, and would you know it? There was little Jenna sitting by the front door. Mad as hell at me for leaving her behind at Tazkiyah’s! Can you believe it?”

I found an expression with a big, amused smile.

“I guess thinking back on it, I should’ve let her know I was going to stay the night as soon as I realized. But you know how things happen sometimes. Or maybe you don’t. You’ve never been on a date, have you, Coral?”

“Not yet.”

Margery giggled again, then said, “I wonder why I thought of that story just now? Isn’t it funny how memory works?”

“You must have been thinking about Jenna. Are you worried about her?”

“Oh, of course not,” Margery answered, quicker than usual. “Not in the least. Even if we can’t find her right away, she’ll turn up. Maybe she’ll even come right home.”

“Is that why you thought of that story? Are you hoping she’ll come home?”

“What story is that, Coral?”

“Margery, you know the colonists can never come back up. The landers were only built to get them to the surface.”

She was quiet for a moment. All laughter gone, gaze far away. “We were all supposed to go,” she said. “Or die first. One or the other.”

We were both silent. I didn’t know what to say.

Finally I spoke up. “Margery.” Her gaze returned to me when she heard her name. I summoned a comforting, sympathetic expression. “I’m worried about Jenna, too. And everyone else.”

Her expression didn’t change.

_________________________________________

Day broke again over the colony. The clouds had finally thinned and the coast was visible to the satellites.

A smear of debris stained the coast where there should have been a colony. The square farms were now amorphous puddles. The buildings were smears of scattered wood and metal. The paths, gone. I could not zoom in far enough to see if there were bodies.

Margery was asleep.

I would have to tell her.

Or would I? I remembered how Margery reacted when I reminded her of Urma’s death. Perhaps she wouldn’t want to know.

If I told her, the emotional shock could affect her health.

If I didn’t, she would keep asking. She would wonder why I wasn’t telling her. She might lose her trust in me. The stress of that could also affect her health.

Anyway, she would find out herself the moment she checked the data.

…Unless I erased the data.

But part of my duty was to preserve all our data in tact. When Margery was gone, it would be my only duty, forever.

I made a decision.

I rolled to her room, and waited for her to wake up.

____________________________________________

She didn’t notice me at first. Her eyelids opened halfway and she looked around, squinting, in the dimmed room. She mumbled for the lights. It was an incomprehensible mumble, but I knew what she wanted and I had the Ishtar raise the light slowly for her.

Her head turned in my direction, and her eyes passed over me, unrecognizing. I waited a few more minutes, motionless. Finally she reached forward and used both hands to shove one leg out from under the covers. It tumbled off the side of the bed, and the other leg followed in same manner. Both her swollen feet rested on the floor, and her hands curled around the cliff-edge of the mattress. She paused, head hanging from arched spine, to catch her breath. Then, with great effort, she pushed herself into a precarious standing position.

“Margery–”

“Aah!” She spun to look in the direction of my voice. Her eyes aimed at the spot on the wall above and behind me, where a human face might have been. She lost her balance. I moved fast, extended my arm for her to balance with. She missed it, and fell back onto the bed.

She held her hand to her chest. Her heart was racing, but not dangerously. Her oxygen levels were OK. She was just frightened.

“Dammit Coral!” she exclaimed after finding her composure. “You nearly gave me a heart attack. How did you just appear out of nowhere like that?”

“I was right here waiting for you to wake up.”

“I thought you were a piece of furniture.” Was that an accusing tone? She had never used one with me before.

I had no response.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. There was anger in her voice, and embarrassment.

“Let me help you.” I offered my arm.

“No, you’ve done enough already.” She fidgeted before standing. “Oh drat. It’s too late.”

________________________________

I helped her clean up in the bathroom. I helped her get dressed. I helped her put on her shoes, which stayed unfastened to fit her swollen feet. When her thin, white hair was pinned up in a bun the way she liked it, I held out my arm for her. She grasped it, and we moved, slowly, to her workstation in the control room.

At the entrance to the room, I said to her, “Margery, there might be data in there that you don’t want to see. You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to.”

“What are you talking about, Coral? I have to get in there and do my job. The colony needs their weather report. You’re not trying to take my job now are you?” She raised an eyebrow at me, then continued, “I’m joking. You know they used to say machines would take all our jobs, back on Earth. I wonder if that ever happened.”

We got to the panels. Margery sat down and looked at the lower panel. “This damned thing isn’t working. There’s no data for anyone.”

“Communications went down in the storm.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sure they’ll be back up soon. We’ll just ignore that panel for now.”

She examined the satellite imagery on the upper panel. She was quiet for several minutes.

Her voice came out tight and low. “Coral, call me a crazy old woman, but can you explain why it doesn’t look like there’s any colony at all down there?”

I rolled up beside her so I could see her face in profile. She was staring, and frowning with deep intensity, at the smear on the coastline where the colony had been.

“It is supposed to be right there, right?” she asked.

“It used to be there.”

She turned now to look at me. I didn’t know which expression would be right, so I wore none. I threw a looping animation of swirling fog on my display, instead. It probably wasn’t right, but it seemed better than a face. Maybe I didn’t want a face just then.

Margery’s voice was a whisper, cracking at the end. “What in the world happened?”

“There was a storm.”

She stared at me, her eyes searching around my fog-face angrily. I tried a human face back on, one with a mournful expression, but she looked away the moment we made eye contact.

“No,” she said quietly. Then she said it again, firmly, “No,” and again, with determination. “No.”

After a long silence, she turned back to me. Her stare was strange. An expression I had never seen before, on anyone. “Coral, my mind isn’t what it used to be. Tell me I’ve imagined this.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Tell me I’ve imagined this, Coral. Please. And take me back to bed. This is a bad dream. It’s a bad dream.”

_____________________________________

I met Margery when she woke up, and helped her get ready for her day. I held out my arm and we traveled, step by step, wheel rotation by wheel rotation, to the control room. She sat, slowly and carefully, in the swivel chair in front of the display. It displayed five hundred and seven rectangles of streaming data. Each rectangle represented a former inhabitant of the colony ship Ishtar. All except one: Margery herself. Margery and I had been alone on the Ishtar for a year.

The upper screen displayed six videos from satellites. One of them showed a coastline. It was sandy white between green forest to the west and blue ocean to the east. In a section of green near the beach, we could see the tiny squares of civilization. The date, displayed in small white digits in the corner of the video, was eighteen months ago.

“Yep, looks good,” Margery said. “This little planet was a good choice for a colony.”

We monitored the data for about half an hour, then Margery was tired, and I rolled her back toward her room.

“Do you think Jenna will call today?” she asked. She gripped my arm and lowered herself into her favorite chair. I’d pushed it all the way into her quarters when she couldn’t walk to the lounge anymore.

“Jenna called yesterday,” I told her.

“Oh.” She sounded troubled.

“She told you how proud she was of you for staying up here and keeping me company, remember?”

Margery had told me to say that. I said it every day.

“Oh Coral. You really are the best robot an old lady could have, do you know that?” Her eyes shined. She only said that sometimes.

“Thank you, Margery. You’re my best friend, do you know that?”

She smiled warmly.

No one had told me to say that.

_______________________________________

I patrolled the empty Ishtar every day. All the lights were out, since I could see in the dark and no one else needed them. The gravity was off, since I could move without it. The air no longer circulated, since there was no one left who needed oxygen. The control room was dark–all the data from the satellites fed to my central processor. My display panel was dark. There was no one to make faces for.

I was in a residential hallway, passing the empty quarters of humans I’d once known. I watched the morning’s satellite images while I patrolled. It was daybreak on the empty coast, and the water sparkled with light from the system’s steady, bright star. The terminator inched across white sand, hit the forest’s edge, and made the trees glow green, one by one. They began their photosynthesis for the day.

Deep in the forest, many kilometers from the coast, near a river, I noticed something new. A single, immaculate, brown square.

 

 

 

Thea Boodhoo is a writer based in San Francisco, California. Her previous work has appeared in EARTH Magazine, Art + Marketing, JMWW, The Offbeat (forthcoming) and others. She is a 2018 workshop graduate of The Writer’s Grotto in San Francisco, and has been accepted to the 2019 Futurescapes workshop in Utah. When she’s not writing, Thea enjoys nature photography and gardening.

“Screwed: A Politically Charged Party Anthem” by Vanessa Maki

System Log

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The word “screwed” is commonly used as a sexual term, or to describe a difficult situation. Think of the amount of times you’ve heard the term used interchangeably. With the fifth track on “Dirty Computer” Janelle and Zoe utilize both meanings.

In the world we live in there’s always been a looming of disgust towards sexual expression. Not to mention sexual freedom (especially when it pertains to marginalized bodies). And the government doesn’t make it all that easy either. Nor does Trump being in office. People like him want to set the world back and make people scared that it’ll go that way. They want us to feel “screwed”.

With the lines:

“And I, I, I hear the sirens calling

And the bombs are falling in the streets

We’re all screwed”

it’s referencing Trump’s prior tweeting about going to war with North Korea. And it presents us with the other meaning of screwed.

“You fucked the world up now, we’ll fuck it all back down”

A tour bus incident is what birthed this line but Janelle also went onto to say this:

“It also is a conversation to be had about how women, how women of color in particular are out on the front lines. When you think about certain wars … when you think about the war between south and the north when we were fighting to end slavery. It was black folks and it was women in particular on the front lines, we were the first people out there. And i think that continues to happen, you continue to see us … clean up a lot of shit.”

This song is supposed to make you bop and dance but also think about the state of the world. What’s happening, what continues to happen and what should no longer be happening. Being screwed by the world doesn’t feel good and it never has. Though another question comes to mind and it’s – what do you want to do about it?  Janelle’s ability to make you deep think is an absolute gift. She’s a true artist and “Dirty Computer” is a true masterpiece.

The outro is Janelle calling out so many aspects of society that make various people feel screwed. Expressing your valid anger as a black woman is more often frowned upon. Though Janelle is explicitly unapologetic about addressing  Free the Nipple, equal pay, corruption, beauty standards, Trump’s scam of an election, protesting and last but not least– black men who claim to be apart of black empowerment but keep spewing harmful rhetoric.

Vanessa Maki is a queer writer,artist & other things. She’s full of black girl magic & has no apologizes for that. Her work has appeared in various places like Really System & others. She is also forthcoming in a variety of places. She’s founder/EIC of rose quartz magazine & is involved in other spaces as well.  Follow her twitter & visit her site

“Being Pulled Ten Ways While Focusing on Becoming One” by Jordannah Elizabeth

Braving the Days

February is always an interesting month. The American New Year is on January 1st, and everyone is scrambling to get their bearings, some reeling about Valentine’s Day, focused on love and romance.

I like February, it feels like the seasonal Wild West. Resolutions, solutions, finding comfort after being held by holiday obligations can leave one feeling pulled in ten ways while focusing on becoming one again, wanting to get back to the routine of the daily forward movement towards…whatever goals one might have.

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I still have so much to learn, while I’ve been doing the same thing for years – there are times when my life, work and narrative all aligns, there are times when I feel alone. Luckily, being a writer is a solitary job and a pleasure for me, so loneliness isn’t something I feel often.

I have been a bit vulnerable today because it is a New Moon. I feel at peace and at the same time like I can’t do anything right. I’m comfortable in this experience because it is temporary and also, doing right is a very personal thing, and the pleasure of life comes when you let your ideals go and you sit with yourself and remember that every single day brings a new experience.

Where will I be two years from now? I’ll look back and everything will be a memory. That is a settling feeling. It is possible to stay in the present but not let it hold you in a state of permanence.  It is good to remember that when there is anxiety in the air. Next year, even if you live in the same home, everything will be different.

So, in this February, on this New Moon I feel at peace. Tomorrow, I may not, but right now, while getting situated in life along with everyone who scrambles to find their footing – whether it be in love, or anything else.

Spring is almost here– but I should note that it was a 60 degree day on the East Coast of the United States today. It was quite beautiful and magical. But while we all get through the winter and settle back in, it’s nice to know that change is always guaranteed. There will be a day where change is will be something I fear, but not today, not this season.

I am thankful.

“ON THE WALL” by Moriah M. Mylod

Playground Rules & Physics

Smacked for my ever first drawing

A depiction of a Cephalopd on my bedroom wall

I shared the pale blue room with my twin

Cribs adjacent

A marker taken out of the grips of my clinging little finger tips

As my brother watched the beginning of my art career fail

 

PAINT OVER, PAINTED OVER ME

 

Locked mom out of the house as I colored the walls with oily red lipstick

And the porcelain blue and white lamp too

Bang, bang on the door

Bang, bang on the window

And “Watch me, mom- destroy the integrity of the walls”

My lipstick utensil taken out of the palm of my sweaty, but bigger hands

 

PAINT OVER, PAINTED OVER ME

 

In a hospital bed, hot

Face pressed up the cool bars of the frame

Trouble breathing, trouble sleeping, trouble eating

Sick 4 year old infantile

 

PAINT OVER, PAINTED OVER ME

 

Hamsters that bites and eat their kin

Tiny blood spatters inside the dirty glass tank

Belvidere Hotel, tasting Budweiser and watching Jaws with Dad

Throwing half eaten peaches down the toilet

Clogged

Waiting for the Plumber

Mom is cooking pre-made stuffed clam shells

Stubbed and skinned atop the big toe

Chasing Rollie Pollie bugs on the cracked hotel pavement

Just in the heat of summer’s end

We found ourselves in a Blue Cobalt and Fire Hydrant House

Chicken Pox and a stranger sleeping over telling me to get out of my mother’s room

 

PAINT OVER, PAINTED OVER ME

 

It’s night, in the doorway stands a Three Headed Sumo Wrestler

Then he is walking into my room

Lights still on

Hiding under Rainbow Purple Unicorn Cloud covers, keep me safe until tomorrow

He disappears & reappears

Stranger said, “You can’t paint the house in your pretty pink dress, honey.”

 

PAINT OVER, PAINTED OVER YOU

 

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Original painting on a wall by Moriah M. Mylod c. 2017

“Braving the Days: The Western Understanding of Karma – A Personal Thought Flow” by Jordannah Elizabeth

Braving the Days

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I saw a post on social media asking “Why do Western people use the word karma so much, but don’t understand what it truly means?”

I think about karma often and try to live by its principals, but I am very honest with myself and clear to others when I speak of it: perhaps I can never understand karma the same way our Eastern neighbors do. Like slave spirituals, gospel music, soul and jazz is embedded in the African American communities, in our hearts, in our generational lineage, so is karma in the East. It’s a cultural implant.

The Buddhist view of karma says: Karma is the law of moral causation. The theory of Karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism. This belief was prevalent in India before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was The Buddha who explained and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which we have it today; we ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are the architects of our own fate.” *

I also understand, as I am sure many do, that every ideology and religion has some a form of the concept of karma. Before we get to my own thoughts, let’s take a look at some Western belief systems ideas of karma within Christianity, wiccanism, quantum physics and theosophical belief systems.

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In Christianity (which has been adapted by Western Culture), the rule of “an eye for an eye” was part of God’s Law given by Moses to ancient Israel and was quoted by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:38, King James Version; Exodus 21:24, 25; Deuteronomy 19:21) It meant that when dealing out justice to wrongdoers, the punishment should fit the crime.

The rule applied to deliberate injurious acts against another person. Regarding a willful offender, the Mosaic Law stated: “Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, the same sort of injury he inflicted should be inflicted on him.”—Leviticus 24:20. *

In Wicca, The Rule of Three expands upon the concept of harm. This rule is also called the Threefold Law or the Law of Return. It says: all good and the harm that a person does to another returns threefold in this life.

Some Wiccans interpret this to mean that the good or harm returns back to a person three times as much. Others say the good or harm has impact in three major realms of life: the physical, emotional and spiritual. Many hold to a combination of these interpretations. *

Quantum Physics: …if we get angry or frustrated for instance, it sends out what is like ripples – as in ripples in a pool.

We are constantly walking around sending out such ripples. The quality of the ripples is up to us – that is our choice. The fact of the ripples cannot be changed. We can only have an effect on the quality of the ripples, we cannot stop sending them out.” *

Theosophy: Any system that tries to explain the existence of consciousness, life as an emergent product of physical matter as seen by quantum physics will fail, and can, from a Theosophical point of view immediately be thrown in the garbage bin. Karma, connecting all layers of the universe, seems to be the only explanation for order and logical causality in the universe, and for the existence of the intuitive fact of justice. *

____________________________

I am not perfect in any way, but some may have noticed over the years that I have become calmer, cautious, patient, willing to take responsibility for mistakes and, as an aside, I always try to offer coffee or tea to anyone arrives to visit.

When I was very young and trying to make it as a musician and author, I was homeless on and off for many years. I think I am one of very few people who knows what a hunger pain actually feels like.

One day, while living in a shelter in Los Angeles, I stumbled upon a word: grace.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grace is “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification,” or “a virtue coming from God”, or a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance. Others believe it is a “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.” * I personally lean more toward the latter definition, but find it to be a combination of the all the definitions shared in the dictionary. If you don’t believe in a God or a higher power, that’s ok. Grace is just a special unexpected gift, like a windfall of money, a new job, a loving partner or other occasion we as human beings deem to be fortunate.

I don’t think you can understand karma before you learn about grace because grace allows you to pay that unmerited forward out of thankfulness for receiving it.

Living by the laws of karma is discipline. You’ve got to make it a top priority because over time it become, you will see yourself naturally becoming a more respectful person – respectful of others space and boundaries, less judgmental, easier to get along with work and with friends, etc.,  So, it’s important to spend time alone and get to know yourself, and also understand you inner goals. What kind of person do you want to be?

Being very honest with yourself, especially if you find yourself attracting people and circumstances that are harmful to you and others, can be a wake up call, and may being about a need for change.

I have to have a conversation with myself almost every evening in meditation, or just quiet my mind to let go of anxiety and fear. Karma is not a punishment, it’s not good or bad, it’s just a reflection of what you’re giving out, and if someone is not treating you and others the way you deserve to be treated after you’ve done everything you could to be kind and supportive, what you’re doing by shielding them from consequences. You’re subconsciously protecting them from karma. I believe karma and life will eventually move you out of the way, so the person you are trying to protect can learn and grow. You will lose a friend…who essentially wasn’t a great friend, so you receive the kind karma and grace of being freed from an unhealthy connection, and they receive the chance to move forward in their lives and make new choices.

There are people in the this world who don’t like me, who mean me harm, some are people I don’t know and can’t see, but I lay in bed at night and send them love. I connect with the energy of love, compassion, grace and mercy, build my relationship myself. I ask forgiveness for anyone I may have hurt (and may not even know I did) anyone, and I also forgive anyone who has hurt me or done me harm to keep my heart clear of resentment.

If you let anger, resentment, jealousy, hatred or any other emotions similar to this build up, you will attract people who will be working through similar karma, or, who want to glean what you learned without truly understanding the sacrifice and work you do to be the person you are.

When someone is acting badly and I have to be close to them, I had to learn, “That’s their personal relationship with their karma and themselves. Do you best to be loving, but step back a little and let them walk it out.”

That’s love, autonomy: “allowing others to have a “ state of being self-governing and self-directing freedom and especially moral independence” *  without judgment…which is sooooo hard.

I am not fool. I’m a 32 year old young Black woman from Baltimore City, so I do my best to make sure my boundaries are in place I am a strong person, but I am also kind, silly, fun-loving and generous. It’s all a balance.

In a Western sense, karma is just getting what you give, so try to give yourself, others and the world sincere kindness, support, love and generosity. It will come back to you and when you see it happen for the first few times, you can learn to keep it going. It’s not luck. It’s a lifelong practice.

“Life // slip // stream” by Elisabeth Horan

Arsenic Hour

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It’s nothing / hangs / like toile / white gauze / surgery / comes and goes / lab coats I never wore / monkeys & rabbits / guilty / I am always / I hate the inaction / I hate the mascara / raccoons flood my airways / knowing what I don’t or won’t do / embarrassing / I want the chicken but waste her every time / her bones unlovable / her beak / as my tailbone / so broke so broke / the shells too thin / they crack they crack / when I brood / they smash a million pieces below my tired wide ass / unfeminine to heap one’s load upon a pile of baby trash / I pray to God… Please make it last / keep it in / give it life / he cares not / he kills things / easy as life floats in unwanted/ so it goes out out with the bathwater / sesame seed / so wanted / first term ova / non teen abortion / the rainbow baby / the dead squirrel / this mad woman / just has questions of life and the mercy of the Lord / might as well ask the tree trunk / what or why the hell / is all this praying for—

 

 

 

 

 

Elisabeth Horan is an imperfect creature advocating for animals, children and those suffering alone and in pain – especially those ostracized by disability and mental illness. Elisabeth is honored to serve as Poetry Editor at Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, and is Co-Owner of Animal Heart Press. She recently earned her MFA from Lindenwood University and received a 2018 Best of the Net Nomination from Midnight Lane Boutique and a 2018 Pushcart Nomination from Cease Cows. She has books coming out in 2019 with Fly on the Wall Poetry Press, Twist in Time Press, Flypaper Magazine, Hedgehog Poetry Press, and Cephalo Press.

 

“Portrait of a girl and her films” by Anjali Bhavan

Visitants

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take a scalpel to my temple and carve out;

frame your questions and let my dreams splay

out on your petri-dish. ask me what I really want.

and here’s what I’ll tell you: sometimes, I want to

be framed like a Guru Dutt film,

I want to be nothing but cotton balls and luminous

umbrellas shadowing lovers with cups of sake.

I want to hide, blush and drape myself in my

embarrassing ardour. I want to be a black coat and

a graduate’s moustache, perhaps the last blot of grey

ink on a dying poet’s poem for the muse who faded

away and left a stale smell winding through his fingers.

I want to be the sum of all the softness a girl and

her anklets might carry, but I find that I must

crawl through gravel and the back of my weary hands

to get through.

Sometimes, I want to be a Mani Ratnam film: towering

landscapes that fail to eclipse my lust for life, intimate

spaces between lovers I find myself breathing past, the

ceaseless, eternal roar of the seas that raises a crescendo

of completeness in my bloodstream. Maybe I’m just a girl

looking for something new to shatter over.

Sometimes, stories about sad girls around architectural

marvels will do. I could wind myself tight around a

medieval lighthouse, maybe breathe in the loneliness

plastered in its cobblestoned silence, maybe walk around

in thrushes like an invisible blip of my mother’s existence.

Sometimes, poems wearing boots and walking around

in London will do. If poetry didn’t save me and hold me

together like a house holding all its broken windows in

fragile, teetering place – would anyone, then, tie lace

around my fingers and keep me from vanishing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anjali Bhavan is an engineering undergrad. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in Speaking Tree, Porridge Magazine, Coldnoon International, Allegro Poetry Review and Sooth Swarm Journal among others. She currently writes according to her moods, and looks forward to oddball experiences.

“On names, identity, and personal mythology” by Lianna Schreiber

Visitants

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Is it still an identity crisis if what is causing you grief is a fractal self which exists only in another person’s mind?

I am hyper-aware of myself at all times, and whether or not this roots in being a woman is a discussion best left for another time and thought piece, but the fact of it stands — I curate my behavior to the best of my ability whenever I am in public spaces, even if they are just everyday internet hang-outs. I treat each word as if it were a museum piece, analyzing its possible implications so as to not have my meaning be lost in translation by leaving something I consider to be implicit up to my peers’ interpretation. I do this because I know how easily misunderstandings arise.

Even my own self is parsed through the personal lens of every individual I come in contact with: cashiers, delivery boys, bus drivers, random pedestrians. They each apply their prior personal experiences to my image, together with all the preconceptions born from them; and so a paradox arises. Although they see me, they do not really see me.

They see someone who has my body — or, in the case of online spaces, my avatar and type beat — but whose psyche may have nothing in common with my actual self. They see a simulacrum that talks with my voice without possessing my thought process or intent, and I have no control over how they construct this person in their head.

I must admit that I have something of a fascination with the phenomenon of being seen always yet never perceived fully; even my friends and family possess a notion of me that is, at best, a partial overlap with who I am.

And part of this fascination roots in a kind of raw, abject horror — I am at times filled with such genuine despair over the idea that these mirrors of me are still only ever that, an array of imperfect reflections. This in turn is because to me, being loved equates to being understood, and I want an affection that is full and uncompromising; yet all the same here I am, a stranger in small ways to even the people I hold in confidence. Minute discrepancies will always color every interpersonal interaction I have, in much the same way my atoms will never touch. That space is a world in and of itself, and it is one terribly lonesome.

Over the years, I have come to compartmentalize these alien selves. I index them according to the extant level of familiarity, a knowing which is indicated by the name basis someone uses when addressing or otherwise referring to me.

Case in point: to the world I am known by my legal name, half baptism, half inheritance. When it rolls off the tongue, it leaves behind the oilspill of my father’s sins — and swimming in its black trails is enough Orthodox longing to build a church from the ground up. There is distance, here. The world sees me, but it does not understand me, as our level of interaction is built strictly upon formalities and necessity. The agora makes no effort to know me, and so I do not try to extend it explanations.

Ours is a business relationship: I am a blur of letters left behind on government paper in neat uppercase script and the half-formed, nearly unintelligible signature underneath them. And that suits me fine. I believe deeply in the power of words, you see. I believe in their magic.

To name is to tame, as folktales teach us, and we should never give away parts of ourselves if we are not to receive in exchange something of equal value. You have lent me your eyes, and for that I will make you privy to this aspect of my personal mythology.

In naming me, my mother consigned me to two distinguished crosses.

I was given the first name of Liana, as in “vine”, but also as in “God answers”; due to geography, its etymology is at best convoluted, but no matter which map you choose to trace it on it will always lead you back to a kind of paroxysm. My middle name, Andreea, was chosen to honor an old tradition, that of consecrating children to a saint — the association with Andrew the Apostle is thus inextricable. I and half the country bear the lopsided signet of his suffering and piety, and we may only hope to be worthy.

Growing up in an environment where myth bleeds so insidiously into everyday life has made me wary of life’s fine print. Etymology is important; names are, to me, prophetic.

Thus, when I had to assign myself a professional name, I took ample time to deliberate my options. In addition to personal meaning, I took numerology into consideration, too, and eventually christened myself Lianna Schreiber. The second n was added so as to conserve within the letters one of my arc symbols, the number fifteen; Schreiber I chose for its meaning — “scribe”. That is what I am, at the end of the day. A victim of my muses, a prophet rich in only blood, half mad and always, always raving.

Here, the distance has begun to lessen. My name tells you something about me, because you know it was chosen, not given, and you know the why behind that decision.

But to name is also to own, and pet names between friends always carry an inherent contractual aspect. Mine seem to love and think of me in flowers: I have always been Li, Lia, Lili — more recently, Lilia. I have accepted this nomenclature with both hands, because in truth I have always been the bird just as much as I have been the flower on whose thorns it perches; accepting the symbol did not require me to abandon my skin. I try to live up to it, to bring honey into their lives by being a soft thing, an ointment, a nurturing presence, and all the while I worry about the day I might become a poison.

I think that such worries are only natural — they are born of an understanding love. My friends get to see me at my darkest, and when I sink into one such nocturne, it takes me days to come back up for air. Of course I worry about how that will affect them; when you care for someone, a part of their suffering and joys becomes your own.

And thus the distance lessens further: “Lia” is closer to my true self than the persona I present before the court of my peers, as the intimacy which binds me to the people who have given me the name means they have seen all sides of me.

Still, this is at best an incomplete alignment; for you see, the highest level of closeness is, ironically enough, a nameless one.

In the dark, alone with myself, I am an amorphous thing. All there is to me then is a coil of flesh and a handful of fugitive symbols — I dress myself in them as one would in battle armor, becoming what I need to mean to myself in the moment.

Bird-girl. Witchling. Star-peddler. Absolute c-nt.

My own savior just as much as I am my own destroyer, my own God.

Perhaps taking the time to explain all these self-assigned sigils would help bridge the gap in perception — they are tells, after all, much like the tremor of a deer when it senses peril. Perhaps I would be better understood if I just said outright that the reason I think of myself as a bird, for example, is about more than the metaphor of its hollow bones, that it is chiefly about the freedom their kind has yet never takes full advantage of, always flying in the same exact patterns their ancestors have for millennia. Perhaps dialogue is, after all, the solution to this flavor of hedgehog’s dilemma.

And yet. And yet. And yet —

I cannot help but feel that something is lost when I myself am the one to say it. Is it wrong of me to want to be understood without needing to explain? To want to be deciphered, never needing to meet someone halfway as they have of their own accord followed the map to the proverbial door?

 

 

 

Lianna Schreiber is a Romanian author. A self-described “New Romantic”, her work mostly concerns itself with gods, monsters, and human nature as it is caught between the sacred and the profane — all wrapped up in an overabundance of floral imagery. She can be found @ragewrites on tumblr.