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K. Noel Moore

Naming Ritual

+++++++You have a plan.
+++++++You had a plan. You aren’t so sure about it anymore.
+++++++The plan you had started with lying to your family. Sitting in Babcia’s living room, pretending you don’t notice how handsome your cousin’s fiancé is. (He’s a Marine; she’ll tell anyone who’ll listen to this fact, also anyone who won’t. You don’t believe in the military-industrial complex, yourself, but the look of his muscles under that sweater is enough to make you want to set aside your convictions for a night.) Telling Dziadek, when he chides you for the makeup on your collar, that you’re in theatre; you are, but it isn’t the reason for that smudge. (You can’t let him know you’ve been sneaking into your sister’s makeup bag, posting photos of yourself online with ridiculous gold eyes and bright red lips.) Lie after lie after lie.
+++++++The second step: put an end to the lying, finally. Tap your glass with a spoon as everyone gathers for dessert, just like in the movies, and when all eyes turn to you, say it. Say it at last.
+++++++That’s how it was supposed to go. The plan has changed a bit now that you’ve panicked. With the smell of latkes sticking in your nose and inane bilingual chatter ringing in your ears, you locked yourself in the smallest bathroom in the house and lost your shit: crying, pulling your hair, you wanted to be sick but you wouldn’t let that happen. (Someone would come looking for you if you were sick.) You lay in the fetal position on the tile floor, trying to remember how to breathe.
+++++++The sounds of December 25th festivity (Christmas proper is a somber occasion, so Protestant Christmas is the time to celebrate) were like so many buzzing wasps, so you climbed the narrow stairs to the attic to escape. You like attics; you like the possibility they hold, that feeling of never knowing what you’ll find.
+++++++The first thing you found was the old cushion-less beige couch you knocked your shin on. Then a Seward trunk, something right out of a black-and-white film. On wire shelves, you found hardcovers missing their dust jackets and mid-90s board games in fraying boxes. In cardboard moving boxes: your mother’s prom dress, a book of your own baby pictures, cracked Christmas ornaments, little plastic baubles from the chocolate eggs Babcia brings home from Europe.
+++++++Inside the old trunk, simpler things: letters, photos, trinkets. The letters were in Polish; you could read only a few words. (Zima means winter. Kochanie means my love. Dlaczego is the beginning of a question, why, but you can’t read the rest.) You feared they would crumble at your touch, the photos too. One image shows a young mother on a stoop, holding a baby. Another shows a dirty barefoot child, with big eyes just like yours. A name on both is familiar: Ania, your Babcia’s name. Lidka i Ania, 1942. Ania, 1955.
+++++++
Lidka, you remembered, was your great-grandmother’s name. You know your great-grandfather’s well because it is yours now: Aleksander.
+++++++The trinkets fascinated you the most: a handheld mirror, a chess piece (the white bishop), a toy dog carved out of wood. The talismans of a refugee family. The last pieces of home for a Socialist and a half-Jew and a daughter born into terror.
+++++++The last object you found was a rosary, with the Orthodox cross hanging at its end. Its beads are dark redwood, and the cross bears blue and gold detail work. It’s a beauty. You’re wearing it now. It was when you hung it around your neck that you had that madcap thought.
+++++++You have a plan.
+++++++The new plan starts with a Sharpie and the inside of an empty Monopoly box. A B C D, YES, NO, GOODBYE. The cap from a bottle of Diet Coke will serve as your planchette. Candles smuggled from downstairs create atmosphere. You are going to contact your great-grandfather — your pradziadek.
+++++++You will tell him that you first wanted to kiss a boy when you were twelve, watching Notorious with your mother — to this day, you wish you could be Ingrid Bergman, kissing Cary Grant in Rio. Tell him you’ve been in love with one boy in particular, named Devin, since you had ninth-grade biology class together. Tell him you go by Sasha now, not Aleksander or Aleks or Aleksey (your living family knows that part already, though they refuse to honor it). Before you call your family to attention to declare I’m gay, you will whisper it in a makeshift séance.
+++++++You will tell him other things, things you would never tell the living. Tell him that you’re worried for Devin; you see him drifting away a little more each day. (He’s started to cut his arms.) Tell him you hate your full name, Aleksander Bogdan Marshall, mostly your middle name, Bogdan. It means given by God, and you don’t want to be given to anyone. You want to belong to yourself, and yourself alone. You will tell him (fingering the beads around your neck as you do) that you aren’t Orthodox anymore. You aren’t even sure you believe in God. The Church you once loved has become a stained-glass cage.
+++++++You have a plan.
+++++++You’ve heard that names have power, especially when reaching the other side. You repeat it three times, the name that is his and yours. Aleksander Marszałek. Aleksander Marszałek. Aleksander Marszałek. One hand on the bottle cap.
+++++++“Hello? Is anyone here?”

K. Noel Moore is a writer of both speculative and realistic short fiction; recently, she has been published in Luna Station QuarterlyVulture Bones, and X-R-A-Y. She believes in the power of names. You can find her blogging at theoutlawwrites.tumblr.com, or tweeting @mysterioustales.

Elliott Bradley

A Mother’s Prayer

The same people who don’t know your fullest being are the first to claim the worst fruits as their favorite. Kiwi, tomatoes, watermelon. I cannot say much as you look into my eyes. It is the winter after our last conversation. My God has left me out to hang, and dry.

The expectancy drops my words before your feet; waiting for you to pick them up and put them in your ears to listen to a cassette tape of things I could not burn onto a CD (nor onto paper). There’s so much I cram into your voicemail-box. I speak of the times we went around town embracing the homeless. I speak of the times we argued. I speak of the times you left.

“Do you know what you remind me of?” I ask you, on my fifth voicemail. “Cherries.”

There’s much more. Tupac collections, burned Bibles, the smell of savory things. Farmer’s markets. But cherries most of all.

“Did you enjoy it?” pause. “How fruits sprouted from your innocence: when you believed there were good men; when you kissed thinking you’ve left no bruise; when you walked down the street failing to realize every boy was thinking about cherries and how they blossomed from your womb like a tree in Africa. The pear of your figure, the coconuts upon your chest, the purging of your mother’s deliverance to become who you are.”

“Do you remember the talks your mother gave you? The ones about colonizers? Those ready to pick every one of your resources? Did you understand she wasn’t just talking about the white men?”

“You, you my Love, let women displace every one of their childish ways on different parts of your motherland, until the resources dried up, until the leaves from your tree stopped growing; until after they were already exported to places never meant for them; until they were processed into pieces so small they don’t recognize they were once part of your being. And it’s worse you didn’t know until it was long overdue,” I said in the seventh.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t end there. On the eighth, I cried for you. Prior to the ninth, I sobbed as I thought of how they spit pieces of humanity out of their mouths like apple seeds. Have you forgotten how you used to turn into a Pink Lady as their little Jonathans had Galas? How their Granny Smiths don’t look them in the eye since they’ve been building Empires on broken women’s imports?

Are there still coffee rings on top of your mother’s gospel?

Is my silent worship going unnoticed as you fail to requite my love. Will you not call me back?

Their stares were the perfume on your skin, the tears in your eyes, the GMOs I was not yet immune to. You were right. I should’ve never told the public about your orchard. All they do is mass consume, destroy, and throw away perfectly good fruit.

 

Elliott Bradley (they\he) is a junior with big dreams of becoming a writer. Bradley has been published previously by Teen Ink Magazine & Rag Queen Periodical for his personal pieces on their black, queer experiences. They can be found on Twitter & Instagram @ayeelliottmyguy, but can also be found in the nearest library, SAT Prep Center, debate tournament, or where there’s music.

Ronny Ford

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Ronny Ford is beginning the first year of his Ph.D. at Michigan State University, where he is studying Medieval Literature. Ronny obtained his Bachelor’s from the same university in the subject of creative writing. His poems have appeared or will soon appear in Sagebrush Review, Vagabond City, Cerurove Press, Junk Drawer of Trans Voices, and on Oceans and Time Blog.

Erin L. Cork

Real

I’m a dog to your bell you said with a grin. Maybe it was a different expression. But that’s how I remember it. We were new back then, still uncertain but answering the call.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++*
We lived in a world of temporary arrangements. We walked into the woods flinching with every shotgun blast. It was late fall, hunting season. What remained on the trees was torn away by wind and flurries. The ground a mix of mulch and crusty mud under a skiff of snow crunched beneath our feet.

Hunched against the cold in winter jackets, capped heads and gloved hands. It wasn’t the best day to wander off road with no orange vests to protect us from a tragic mistake. If we could have read the leaves we might have recognized that our timing would be off. Maybe.

The owl surprised us when it lifted off of a power line and flew into the pines. We understood that we had witnessed something sacred. The smell of winter approaching and your skin caused me to catch my breath. Turning back, I was sure that you were going to say something else. I pushed my hands into my pockets, tightened my shoulders and braced for it. You looped your arm through mine and pulled me towards you.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++*
It went like that. We misread each other. But we kept at it. Maybe it was stubbornness or dogged loyalty. Weariness. Resignation. Hope?
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++*
We never imagined a wedding day. Not in our lifetime. Didn’t dare to. It’s staggering what we get used to. A lack of expectation and acceptance is routine.

When we decided to do it, it was no big deal. Really. It just made sense to let our wishes be known. It was merely an opportunity to clarify. A practicality. Protection if something happened.

We’d seen aftermath. Parents and siblings swoop in like a murder of crows. Leaving only the bones of a life spent together for the surviving partner.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++*
We traveled back to the state where it all began. It meant something. Love was legal there. The Supreme ruling would validate us later that year. Nervous and sweaty-palmed we stepped up to the window, applied for the license and chose our Justice carefully.

The surprise came in the emotion. A ceremony shared with a handful of loved ones. The laughter. The tears. The kiss. It was beautiful. We felt solid. Real.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++*
It’s not hard to recall the moment I first saw you. Ahead of me in the checkout line, the junk food I tossed on the belt and the sun, spotlighting you through the window.

Jumping in my truck, the cassette deck whirring into an old song. I drove up and down the streets trying to find you, the scent of spilled coffee and dirt road dust wafting through the vents. That day changed my life. You never remembered it. That’s not how it happened for you.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++*
On our wedding day, I fell again. I was yours. You were mine. After twenty odd years and averted disasters, I finally believed that we would last forever. We had earned it. Endured.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++*
It went like that. Until it didn’t. Irritation replaced compassion.

“I know. I know. Please don’t say it again.”
+++++++And
“I’m tired.”
+++++++Or
“Maybe you could vacuum once in a while, make the bed, scrub the toilet—take your muddy shoes off.”
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++*
Plates that had stabilized rumbled. Shifted. Support we had taken for granted slipped. Shook. Pictures tilted on walls. Chairs slid across the floor. Bedrock gave way. Desperate to save ourselves, breathe on our own, we abandoned each other. We struggled for air, gasped, and choked, stopped compressions.

Death did us part. What did it mean? Was the collapse bigger than us? Did it signify a larger failure? Prove that we weren’t worthy of matrimony? Had we let down our tribe?

The final decision was relatively easy. Your need to unburden and my desire to take root left me with the house and the dog. From the front door, we watched you back out. Your car packed with only the essentials, running shoes and an atlas.

Maybe it was as simple as the numbers. Maybe we were nothing special at all.

Erin L. Cork lives in Missoula, Montana where she can be found writing and hiking in the mornings. She works the swing shift as a train dispatcher. She is addicted to music, coffee and trucker hats. She is currently editing her first novel. Her work can be found in X-R-A-Y Lit, Hypnopomp, Image OutWrite, Memoir MixTapes and forthcoming in others.

Ariel Francisco

Poem Written on My 28th Birthday

Across the tracks a single withering tulip
the color of fading summer sunlight
rising from rust, head bowed like a tired
hunched old man waiting for the train,
but this is the last stop and he’s on the
wrong side, shivering despite the still air.
In the fading summer sunlight I am waiting
for this train. I am tired, hunched over.
But I am not old. This train will arrive before
the cold, I must believe in this. There
is still time. There is still time. There is still

Ariel Francisco is the author of A Sinking Ship is Still a Ship (Burrow Press, 2020) and All My Heroes Are Broke (C&R Press, 2017). A poet and translator born in the Bronx to Dominican and Guatemalan parents and raised in Miami, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, The American Poetry Review, The New Yorker and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.

Ethan J. Murray

memory returns

i found myself in the back of a hospital
tossed with the spent sheets, the crinkle
of sterilized plastic

the incinerator
coughing in fits and starts

i am lucky
no one has ever known
how to handle me,
my despair incongruent
with youth

enough to make
a graveyard retch

rain drizzled    moonburst      caramelized     plaited sky

the air has seen worse
than a boy-girl
clutching a circlet of vines
to their chest

living in the hollow
of an oak tree, stuffing the gaps
with moss

light, only ever the lance
of absence

Ethan J. Murray is a queer, autistic poet loved into existence by 12 headmates. They want to help make the world kinder for every neurodivergent person. As always, they are still learning. You can find them on twitter @ethanandco.

Deon Robinson

What the Law of Inequivalent Exchange Taught Me About Patron Saints

someone somewhere with a drop
of my blood dies & I feel it coming,
the deadline for work extended by a casket
& I am relieved.

a man trades a stray dog
for a thunderstorm
and the sky descends
upon us with a rumbling belly

a builder creates
the rainbow bridge
for whales and the officer
demands a toll

a homeless man
leaves a tooth under his head
when he sleeps to wake to a possession
he lost before the pilgrimage

the widow leaves a bouquet
of flowers over a tombstone
and it blooms into a reason
to never come back to the graveyard

an instrument is planted in the crimson earth
& every earthquake begins
to sound like a song
you’ve heard before

I buy my mom a clock
for dinner, it leaves her stomach hollow
but her body looking young,
forever.

The Magical Negro Archetype

Expectations make a grave out of the real world,
But who’s to say how to raise a fortune teller?
Who’s to say that crows are liars?
What makes a gang dangerous if not the birdwatcher?
Didn’t we equate crows to murder to keep the doves happy?
When’s the last time you tasted the metallic of a night’s mouth and felt safe?
Was it because of the silky saliva of constellations? Do you like the dark or what light withers in it?
Does something dark have to feel so heavy?
Does a shadow have to grovel over concrete for it to feel real?
Can the crow have kids? Can it have fears or have you only thought of birds like that like symbols?
Don’t get carried away in the fiction of transparency,
Unless you want to be stuffed with feathers that melt like obsidian.
A shadow used to be harmless once, before we named black things after the discarded areas of lights and they have reclaimed their right to vengeance.

what weeps just bleeds
After George Abraham

and perhaps tears are needed to fund the war,
spit-shine the hesitation off a dusty gun’s mouth
watch it shoot off like veiny red men at baseball games.

who can resist weeping,
poker facing a revolution all the while
crawling from the unappreciated soil’s trauma?

fear god in all their forms, the sun will once again grow dormant and even the most righteous cannot baptize out the violence
a serrated night brings to our doorsteps.

smile anyway,
pull until the hinges of your mouth split
smile for the box you deserve

for the box they put you into
for the box grandma could not escape
identity and death aren’t unique to you.

tears aren’t as valuable as they used to be,
grief is its own epidemic, a boy I knew once can tell you about
the sick mother syndrome I got on his favorite tacky polo shirt

back in ‘16 when I was still knowledgeable in how to keep
the shrapnel of it all out of safe zones, and tie the leash for tears
close to these heavy eyes

tell me something,
what is it called when you stop hearing the dogs bark,
when the night feels less like a snarl and more like a prayer?

Deon Robinson is an aspiring writer from Bronx, New York. He currently studies at Susquehanna University, where he was the recipient of the Janet C. Weis Prize for Literary Excellence for his writing. His poetry has appeared/is forthcoming in Asterism, Blue Marble Review, Bridge, Glass’ Poets Resist Series, Homology Lit, Laurel Moon and Occulum Journal. Follow his misadventures and let him know what your favorite poems are on Twitter @djrthepoet.

Lake Vargas

Exodus

They say don’t love a girl with daisies in her mouth,
wrists circled by cotton, skies breaking just before
her shoulders. Don’t. In the mornings I still see
you, gauzy by the curtain, corneas slick with mist.
My mountain girl. If I tried, I said, it would mean
war and beauty. My body makes them synonymous.
You see stars in tarnishing sequins — my jagged
teeth as icebergs with razed heads. You see me
circling myself through the day, a dog that cannot
lie down. I want to be a vessel, instead. Steer me.
Send me to sled across the ocean on my stomach.
When we meet at the silo between our houses,
I say I have learned the art of wivery. Curling you
into my chest, coaxing our bodies to slot together.
You clasp hands to my cheeks like you can breathe
air into me just by thinking it. I align your figure —
chalked elbows and silhouette-whitened knees —
to my remaining days. Across the street, a truck
coughs itself back to life. You turn your head and
seek the noise. A windmill begins to wave its sails.

Lake Vargas is a regular contributor at Royal Rose Magazine. She primarily writes poetry and creative non-fiction. Her work has been published by Sea Foam Mag, Empty Mirror, and The Cerurove, among others. She tweets at @lakewrites. More of her work can be found on her Tumblr, @stonemattress.

Sean Johnson

Uncle Dizzle

Uncle Dizzle BW (2)

Sean Johnson was born in Houston, Texas where she attended the University of Houston. There she majored in Education and minored in Art. Though she has always been a writer, her interest in visual arts began in 2012.  Since that time she has been a featured live painter, exhibition artist, and vendor at Block Market, Black Girl Excellence, Survivor Seminar, Midtown Arts Center, and a host of other events.  Her painting, “Hunger for Knowledge” was published in The Hunger Magazine this year. You can follow her at @seanjohnsonarts or visit her website here.