Sanjida Yasmin//limenitis archippus
a viceroy sits on your barren
porch, winks at you; very next moment,
it flies away: me.
1st flew from Mirpur, Dhaka
to Manhattan, New York in 1997-
when all the streets were covered
with golden leaves & crooked-teeth
pumpkins on spooky porches.
frightened at 1st but then became
one with the terror. one with the howls,
one with the chuckles, one with the misfits.
[i return to its waste its love of]
here is anyone or anything buried look
for blood stains [a lie: i did not look
knew the stains the sand lifted away:
of scattered blood of found children of winds
running out of mouths gone again from
this desert or a match waved a match that could
not blow out the quiet skin reinserting those parts
of you left behind in the desert orbiting a spirit of]
Kathryn H. Ross//Erasure
Waiting for her, I feel nervous. Wary. My stomach is unsettled, writhing. I cross my legs and my fingers, jiggle my foot to ground myself. I exhale, take a sip of water, and rub my arms as if I’m trying to get warm. My touch against my skin reminds me of my mother and I close my eyes for a moment, feeling the coldness of my hands against my arms, and the softness of my arms against my hands. Eyes still closed, I see myself in my mind’s eye, dropping into the seat across from me.
Eyes opened, I look into my own face, a few years younger—seventeen or eighteen, maybe sixteen. My hair is quite a few inches longer; my body—smaller, shorter, thinner—like a child just barely passing the boundary into adulthood. She smiles at me nervously, a quick twitch of the lips. I smile back at her and feel a rock in my throat. I don’t want to do this, but I have to; otherwise she is always going to be in the backseat—demure and silent about what hurts, about what kills her.
I reach for her hand and she lets me hold it. It’s cold, and for a moment it feels as if there is ice between us.
I say my name and she places her dark eyes on me.
For a moment she looks puzzled and I recognize what’s going on inside—that discomfort at an apology. That sudden feeling that I do not deserve to feel hurt, that I do not deserve to bring someone down to the level of asking for my forgiveness. I am wrong for making them feel this
way—for making myself feel this way. I’m wrong for getting hurt—because they didn’t really mean it that way, and even if they did why do I have to be so sensitive?
She shifts in her seat and looks pained. Her eyes leave mine and she almost shakes her head, almost waves off the apology as if it was a dirty phrase that should not have been said—should not have been instigated. I know what she is about to say, and I cut across her:
“I need you to remember, and I’m so, so sorry.”
She doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t need to just yet. I sit back a bit in my seat, feel my heart racing, and ask if her she remembers the first time another person held their arm against mine.
I ask if she remembers how they shrieked at how close our skin tones were, at how near they were to being as brown as a black person. I ask if she remembers when they said:
If my mom knew I was almost as dark as a black person, she’d probably cry.
And you laughed with them, I tell her. You didn’t say anything. I remember that unsettled feeling in my chest, how I quickly snatched my arm away, held it against me. I looked at it, at my skin, but suddenly it didn’t look the same.
As I say this she looks down at her own arms, her own skin—my skin—as if she is remembering this memory we share that is hers and mine all at once. She doesn’t lift her head, but still examines her skin, and I speak again:
Do you remember the second time someone held their arm against mine, comparing colors? She looks at me. I tell her: You said nothing. More shrieking and laughter. More exclamations at how dark they were getting since they were nearly as brown as me. There were words I swallowed so deep, I cannot recall them now. They melted in my stomach and turned to shame and bitterness, self-hatred. I don’t know what I hated more—that I was not just black, but a measuring rod, or that I was silent. Perhaps both at the same time.
I tell her this, but she already knows.
I tell her about how the third, fourth, fifth, and fiftieth times someone held their arm against mine, pulling my hand so that my arm stretched straight, I pulled myself away like a mother snatching her child from oncoming traffic. I cradled myself while they laughed and said in a tone as nonchalant as I could manage You know I’m not even that dark.
At this she looks almost sick, because she knows how often she’s said those words—how often I’ve said them—that betraying, plaintive tone.
I ask her if she remembers how I looked away as they continued to laugh and from somewhere above me someone said, Oh shit, was that racist?
She looks like she’s about to cry now, but I can’t stop. I wipe my own eyes and look at her, my brown face, and I want to hold her to me. I want to tell her it was okay, but I can’t, because it wasn’t. Her eyes are swimming, lashes slick with unshed tears. I take her hand again and say, in the softest voice I can, “Do you remember the first time I held my arm against someone else’s?”
She closes her eyes and the tears are loosed, sliding quickly in arcs from her eyes, meeting at her chin, dripping onto her lap. Crying always gives me a headache, and I feel so
sorry for making her cry. She grips my hand and I squeeze back, and I say again, “Do you remember?”
She nods, her thick long hair falling forward over her shoulders. She wipes her eyes with her free hand and nods again—yes, yes, yes.
I don’t need to say this out loud because she already knows. She already remembers. This one hurts her more, hurts me more, because it’s so much easier to ask for forgiveness than to be asked. It’s so much easier to be wrong, because then maybe I can fix it. But I didn’t try to fix it.
Her voice watery, she tells me: The first time I held my arm against someone else’s, I was happy to see he was darker than me. Our skin, side by side, looked like a color gradient and for once I wasn’t the end of the scale.
I ask her if this meant that I was better. I ask her if it was because the darkest person wasn’t me—wasn’t black? I ask her if this proved anything I couldn’t say—made a point I couldn’t articulate.
She shakes her head, fresh tears falling. We finish the memory of her—me—with her—my—arm against his:
Shit man, someone had said as they laughed, watching us, you’re basically black.
I hand her a tissue and tell her to use it because we’re only just getting started. I keep my voice soft and gentle, but she knows that now that we’ve started, we cannot stop until we’re done.
I ask her if she remembers when I was labeled the “black friend.” How in that moment those words jarred me awake to a truth that was always present—I was the thing that was not like
the others. I ask if she remembers how that label split me, how it took me from one person to another, warring inside: the desire to belong, the knowledge that I couldn’t.
I ask her if she remembers how I reacted before I spoke—how the way I felt crossed my face and said more than I ever dared to. I ask her if she remembers how I tried to explain that that label made me a black person before a person when I just wanted to be a person. I asked her if she remembers me asking if I could just be me—if my race could just not matter. I ask her if she remembers, again and again, like I’m badgering her, because this is where it started. She says that she does. I tell her that I was wrong, that I don’t feel the same. She looks at me like she already knows, but the knowing only came a moment before.
I ask her if she remembers how, when a pale skinned Latina asked how long it took a black person to poop and promptly answered her own question with nine months, I laughed. Fully aware they were watching, I laughed at the joke. Her wide eyes watched me—she was poking the bear. But I was a bear so docile I might as well have been drugged, the needle stuck into my flesh by my own hand.
I ask if she remembers the first boy I thought I loved, and she almost blushes. I ask her if she remembers how that same boy told me his friends thought he had jungle fever because they saw him with me. I ask her if she remembers how even then, I said nothing.
I ask her if she remembers a year later, when the pale mother of the brown boy who loved me looked at me with a pained expression and closed her eyes as I was saying hello.
She looks away, and I say her name again.
I ask her if she remembers how embarrassed I felt, how shocked—but also how I only watched and let my lips fall into a smile. His mother kept her eyes closed but I kept watching her, willing her to just look at me. I’m not what you think, I wanted to shout. I’m not like them.
I ask myself what I was trying to prove. She says she doesn’t know, but we both know she’s lying.
I ask her if she remembers sitting with the boys at lunch when they were talking about their ideal girl. I ask her if she remembers how I felt when I realized the girl looked nothing like me.
I love colored eyes—they’re so pretty. Yeah, but light brown eyes are so cute too. I like super long, jet black hair. Or dark brown. Yeah. Pale skin is so fucking gorgeous.
She says she felt like an alien among them. I ask her why, even then, she didn’t say anything. She says she couldn’t. I say that I know.
She knows what’s coming next because she knows this is the one that hurts the most, the one that comes to me late at night when I lie awake and think of all the reasons why I’m not enough. I want to tell her it fades, but she knows and I know it doesn’t. She looks at me and there is a plea in her eyes that asks me not to do it—to skip this one because it still hurts just a little too much, cuts just a little too deep, speaks just a little too loudly with what I sometimes still worry are vestiges of truth. I tell her how it feels like a tumor inside and this is the only way to get it out.
Resignation crosses her face, but she doesn’t cry.
Do you remember, I ask her, when the boy who was supposed to be my best friend broke my heart? She sits, puzzled, but there is a look of understanding—I am finally giving it a name. For so long I tried to gloss over it, act as if it was something rude but not detrimental. I tell her not to lie to herself—to call it what it is: heartbreak.
She looks at me. Please don’t say it.
But I have to.
Please don’t say it out loud.
I have to.
Doesn’t it suck to know all our friends are so much prettier than you?
She closes her eyes and I tell her how I took a beat, quelling the instant hurt too raw to become anger, and merely blinked. She doesn’t need reminding, but she lets me talk.
I tell her how I said, That’s a horrible thing to say.
And he said, shrugging, Well, it’s true.
I tell her how I tried to laugh. Are you kidding?
No. It’s just true. Black girls just aren’t pretty. He paused, then added: to me.
And I said, But you didn’t have to say that.
And he shrugged, defiant, saying that it was just the truth.
I ask her: why didn’t I scream at him when inside everything was screaming? I ask her: why did I wait to cry? Why didn’t I let him see? I ask her: why didn’t I do something more than just sit there and try to pretend it didn’t hurt me?
I ask her if she knows why, and she says that she does. She asks me if I know why, and I say, voice so quiet I can hardly hear myself, that I do. We look at each other, eyes glassy, red, bright. I say my name again, and I hold her hand, and I feel her skin, and I watch her face, and she is so beautiful that I want to cry, more than I’ve ever wanted to cry for anyone, for anything.
I ask her again, “Why?”
And for a moment our voices collide, spliced together as two different strands of the same DNA. We say how I didn’t want anyone to think I was one of those black people. I didn’t want them to think I was an angry black girl—touchy and tetchy, a snarling beast. I didn’t want them to think that I was bothered—that I cared. I didn’t want them to push me into a suffocating stereotypical box. I didn’t want them to think that I was ready to call every little thing racist, so much so that I ignored racism and prejudice when it was hurled in my face. I didn’t want them to see me as the negative thing they all thought a black person was.
She’s talking and I’m talking, our voices merging into one clear note—a plaintive wail of explanation, a cry for understanding, a need to be heard—they become a single voice, a single howl, a single cry. I open my eyes and I am alone with my fists closed over a hand that was never really there.
“You see me as a black person,” I said once, “but can’t I just be a person?”
For a moment she’s there, a ghost in the chair before me. She smiles sadly and the coldness of her skin against my own chills me. I am no longer looking back; she is looking forward.
“No,” she says. “You can’t.”
Tuere T. S. Ganges//Hymns and Heartbreak
Every time he closes his eyes, he hears music. Classical guitar, violent keyboards, sensual cello. Some people see numbers as shapes or colors, others can read the written word and entire motion pictures play in their brains. He can’t ever have a true quiet moment because when the lights go out, his thoughts become a symphony.
I thought it was beautiful. How blessed one must be to be able to hear communications from Heaven? Surely, it was a gift from God. Music is a universal language and his ability seemed to transcend earthly space and messages from the other side.
Sadly…and it broke my heart to hear this…when he opens his eyes, the music stops and most melodies disappear before his vision adjusts to the light. Sometimes, he can grab his phone and record his humming. Once in awhile, a recording might play out through his fingers onto his guitar strings. I found every song magical, sometimes divine.
Then, like a scratched record in the DJ booth, our dance just stopped. He wasn’t feeling our music anymore. If he’d ever felt blessed, it was over. His metronome rocked back and forth between hating God and doubting His existence. I want to ask if he still hears music every time he closes his eyes but his voice, once so tender its tenor touched my ears and heart harmoniously, has turned harsh. His words, stabbing staccato, blame me for every one-hit-wonder of his life. I imagine he’d say he stopped sleeping a while ago…and with it, his music stopped, too.
I’ve now accepted that we’re no longer a duet and take refuge in hearing our daughter sing as much as she breathes. Our son, plays a fifth instrument and his peers look to him for all their musical needs. For our children’s sake, if anything, I pray he’ll hear Heaven in his dreams again.
Close your eyes and hear the classical guitar, the sensual cello, even the violent clash of keyboards. Remember a time when music was the first thing you thought of in the morning and your own internal lullaby every night. Sing, again, in the shower, in such a way one would wonder what was washing you more, the soap and water or the song. Tap your fingers on everything again; it was your pulse, your heartbeat. Remember a time when music not only saved you, it was you. It was never a curse. You’d always been blessed. Your life, a compilation of cheerful jingles, tear-jerking ballads, and yes, even hymns.
L. Marie Wood//Darkness and Light
It was dark, but I could see as if the sun was shining, as if the blackness that engulfed the night was nothing more than shade from a tree. It writhed there, its body moving in waves, the vibration unconcealed by its paper-thin skin. It could smell me. I knew that. It could taste the salty-sweet scent of my fear on the air in a way that a true connoisseur understands the composition of fine wine. But its anticipation had a scent also; one so enticing it woke me from my sleep. It salivates there in the woods, waiting for me to turn away, to unwittingly expose my neck to its teeth. I knew that too and would happily oblige, for a meal is a meal. And as the door locked behind me and the pulsating in my hands begins to ache, I wait to be sated as well.
Adam Golub//Genuine Natural Color
I’m best at communicating abbreviated sentiments from a distance, a quality of character I believe I inherited from my thorny grandfather, D.B. Dexter. In 1952, D.B. opened a printing plant in West Nyack, New York that specialized in postcards for hotels and motor lodges. The plant did business with road houses across the country, from Albany to Dallas to Phoenix to San Diego. A typical D.B. Dexter postcard featured three images on the front: in the top left corner, the motel sign, cropped against a blue sky with a road visible somewhere in the distance; in the top right corner, a shot of one of the guest rooms, with the bed and television always front and center; then, running the length of the bottom half of the postcard would be the pool, though never with any people in sight—just a picture of vacant lounge chairs gathered around the water.
“No people,” D.B. would tell his clients. “We don’t print people. A postcard should make the reader wish they were there, imagine themselves in the scene. You want people in your postcard, take your business elsewhere.”
As a boy I spent Saturdays at the plant, learning about D.B.’s patented color separation process and listening to him recount the story of how he and Grandma first perfected the technique in the bathtub of their house back in the 1920s. “We could make it real dark in the bathroom, and the tub was big enough to prevent spills.” He experimented with Kodak chemicals until he found the right combination that would give his prints their signature palette and style. D.B. called it “Genuine Natural Color.” In 1932, he opened a one-man shop in Pearl River, New York, taking whatever print jobs he could find. A decade later, he began printing postcards exclusively. At its peak, the West Nyack plant produced a million cards a day.
In the summers, my grandfather and I would eat lunch down by the Hackensack River, in a park that was just a short walk from the plant. Munching on tuna sandwiches and sipping root beer, we would watch people stroll along the river, some with families, some in couples, some with pets, some by themselves. D.B. would point to every person who passed by and mutter either “sender” or “receiver.” The senders, I came to understand, were the people who looked like they actually did something with their lives, the ones who went out and “adventured,” as D.B. liked to say. They would be the ones sending postcards. The receivers, by contrast, were the ones who looked like they lived uneventful lives, the ones who probably sat idly at home. They would just be receiving postcards, consigned to read about the exploits of others for the entirety of their small existence.
Such was the world as D.B. saw it, and growing up I tried my best to go out and adventure. But now, in the slumping and slowing of middle age, living in a big, quiet house, many years after I buried my grandfather and sold the plant, I give in to dread wondering if my whole life I’ve been a sender of pictures without people.
Sanjida Yasmin is a poet, writer and an artist who lives in the Bronx, New York. She splits her time between the Long Island Business Institute, where she teaches English, and St. Dominic’s Home, where she provides therapy and finds inspiration for her work. Her poems have appeared in print and online journals, among them are Pink Panther Magazine, Peacock Journal, The Promethean, Nebo, Panoplyzine, Poetry in Performance and Anomaly. She earned her MFA degree from the City University of New York.
Jacq Greyja is a queer jewish latinx poet from California. They are currently pursuing their MFA in Poetry at San Francisco State University, where they are a recipient of the William Dickey Fellowship in Poetry. They are the author of GREATER GRAVE (The Operating System, 2018). Their work has been featured or is forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry: Volume 2, Apogee, Hold: A Journal, Peach Mgzn, Columbia Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Their poetry and collages have been exhibited in “Way Bay: Poetry Assembly” (BAMPFA, 2018) and “Not Even: Poets Make Collage” (Bushel Collective, 2017). More info on past + current projects can be found on their website: jacquelinelast.com.
Kathryn H. Ross is an LA-based writer who enjoys painting, botanical gardens, and blackberry lemonade. This work is part of a collection Ross wrote for her Master’s Thesis in Fall 2017. To read her other works of fiction, personal essay, and poetry check out her site, speakthewritelanguage.com
Tuere T. S. Ganges lives, writes, and teaches in Baltimore. Her work has appeared in Wigleaf, Fiction Circus, Referential Magazine, and BlackSci-Fi.com; on stage in In Full Color, Listen to Your Mother, and Whistle in Mississippi: The Lynching of Emmett Till; and in anthologies Pyroglyphics Studio & BlackSci-Fi.Com Presents: The Scribes of Nyota, and the Hugo Award nominated, Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler. Her books, Wilted and Other Stories, and Sali at Seven: The seven deadly sins of a second grader are available on Amazon. She also writes Urban YA Lit under the pen name, 2EG.
L. Marie Wood has over 100 short stories and 2 novels. Some of her short pieces can be found in audio book format at www.audioscares.com.
Adam Golub is a writer and American Studies professor who lives in Los Angeles. His short stories have appeared in The Bookends Review, Pulp Literature, 101 Fiction, The Sirens Call, and elsewhere. He is co-editor, with Heather Richardson Hayton, of Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us (McFarland, 2017). He earned his B.A. in English from Vassar College and his Ph.D. in American Studies from The University of Texas at Austin. He teaches courses on literature, popular culture, music, and monsters at California State University, Fullerton.