Category Archives: Poetry.

This Is How We Say I Love You

By Cat Taylor

Not-quite-yet hungover,
sprawled on couches,
beanbags,
beds,
pronounced like “drink some water,”
and “we’ll go to Waffle House in the morning.”
We’ve never stopped wearing our hearts on our sleeves
still sewing them back on
where our parents would have stuffed them in a drawer somewhere
When someone uses the wrong pronouns –
on purpose
That someone doesn’t get invited anymore
and that’s how they know we love them

This is how we say I love you
All-the-way hungover
Speaking it so quietly
it just might be a prayer
I can never remember how they like their coffee –
but I ask them every time
Knowing we’re all just
lonely lighthouses on abandoned islands
showing weary travelers the way home
offering cigarettes and sweet tea

This is how we say I love you
All verbal hand grenades over a game of Monopoly,
near brawls over subs vs dubs
I love you
Spoken so often
that sometimes it comes out as
laughter turned quiet because it’s starting to hurt

This is how we weather the storm
Love baked into every casserole
(we’ve got vegan options, too)
Barefaced and laid bare
no need to hide here
No “positive vibes only” drivel
Bring your bad vibes
Your frightened and trembling vibes
We’ll love you through those, too

If I haven’t told you today,
I love you
We’ll go to Waffle House in the morning

waffle house.” by shil is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0?

Soup

By Maddie Fay

maybe it’s the way i was raised
or maybe it’s my cancer rising
but i only ever feed myself well when i am feeding someone else.
i mean,
my love language is soup.
which is why my whole house smells like curry, garlic, and ginger,
why over the course of a couple of days i spent twelve of the hours i had meant to spend sleeping
pressing blocks of tofu,
individually sauteing seven different types of vegetables in fresh herbs and aromatics,
and really testing the capacity of my roommate’s food processor.

I don’t remember when I first started believing that everything that feels good is either dangerous or morally wrong, or, most likely, both, but I imagine it started with the church.

I don’t remember when I first started believing that love looked less like a fairytale and more like my best friend falling asleep in my sweater with her head on my shoulder, so close I could smell my shampoo in her hair, but I imagine it started with her.

I once spent six months eating cold unseasoned green beans out of a can for almost every meal because suffering for suffering’s sake feels righteous when you believe that you deserve it. I once spent ten years pretending not to be a dyke for essentially the same reason.

And lord, am I ever. A dyke, I mean. A big, masculine dyke,
Like,
I have always been more king Kong than Fay wray.
Like,
I have always been taught to be afraid of what my hands can do.
I remember big fat dykes depicted as monstrous,
Only able to destroy,
And I wonder if that’s why there are so many of us who make things.

i keep a knife in my pocket most of the time because i have been backed into enough corners to be cautious,
but mostly,
i use it for fixing things and cutting fruit.
danger is contagious and i do what i can to stop it from making me dangerous,
I do not want to be a frightened and frightening thing.
but one time a woman i really liked tried to wake me from a nightmare,
and with ghosts still circling my head
Before I was awake or aware,
i punched her in the face.
When I opened my eyes, there was fear in hers and blood pouring from her nose and no amount of apologizing could unbreak what I had broken.
she kissed me and told me she still trusted me and it made me remember all the bloody noses that i had once forgiven with similar ease.
So i told her i was thinking of moving to oregon and that work was getting busy and that i would wash and return her tupperware before she left in case it was a while before i could see her again.
i hugged her at her car
and she held me for too long
like she didn’t even notice all the sharp things where my skin was meant to be.
i spent the next six months
bleeding venom and avoiding handshakes.

And I don’t mean to say that I am violent,
Because I am not,
I do not yell
Or degrade
Or intimidate,
I never sleep punched anyone else before or since,
I would never hit a friend or a lover while awake. I only wear spikes to make people think before they touch me, I am all flight or freeze. But violence is not the only way to hurt someone you love. Shutting down or running away can break a heart too and blood all looks the same when it’s drying on your hands no matter where it comes from. So now I try to protect the people I love from everything dangerous, including getting too close to me.

i keep a knife in my pocket most of the time,
but on days when my body remembers in the present tense,
i take a knife from the kitchen block instead.
i cut up limes and sweet potatoes,
drown out the sirens in my head
with bubbling water and simmering oil.

i’m still learning what love looks like,
and i am so tired of breaking,
and maybe this is why every time i see someone beautiful i fantasize about building them a house,
maybe this is why i make soup.

i am only easy to love
on the days when love is not a life raft.
i have never been afraid of fire
but i am frozen earth
full of ancient seeds,
already there are new green things pushing up through cracks in me
and i worry that if the ground were to thaw,
softer things might take root,
and i am afraid that anything delicate might not survive in me.

It’s not that I am wholly unable to love recklessly,
I run whole body into the ocean every time i see her,
emerge breathless and invisible and singing praises to nobody at all but the stars.
The last time I wanted to die, I took an overnight bus to the ocean. I held my breath and dipped my whole body beneath the surface of the sea,
tried to practice drowning but instead,
by mistake,
fell in love all over again with the waves and the moon and the stars,
All the beautiful things too big and too powerful for me to hurt accidentally.
I am a soft foolish thing,
All alive and longing.
I have loved fully
What I always knew I could not hold,
My tiny heart so full of moon and sea
And every mountain
That every place is now both a home
And not.

I am not as afraid as I used to be,
I have done a lot of therapy,
And maybe one day I will sleep next to somebody breakable without feeling guilty.
And I think maybe one day,
I will trust myself enough to love the softest things that love me in the fearless way I love the ocean.
And I don’t know when that day will be,
Or whether you will stick around long enough to find out,
but i do know that i want you always to be warm and full of good things,
so in the meantime,
If you want it,
I made you some soup.

Remnants of a Smoldering Fire

By Cat Taylor

Twirling in my grandmother’s kitchen
To the sound of bluegrass
And the smell of something vaguely
Apple Cinnamon
I declare myself
A princess
She whirled around
Hand on hip
Looked at me
And said sharply that NO,
In this family, we are witches
And I called myself a Good Witch
And I wonder
If I had been a bit older
And she a bit more tired
If she would have told me how
Redundant that is

My family is full of witches
And it has been so watered down
So distilled that
Once it reached me
The only thing left
Was the memory
Of the fire

Witches were not burned for being witches
They were burned for being women
And I think
There might be a metaphor
Waiting to be picked from their ashes
About women and fire
Or powerful women, and men’s fear of them

My grandmother told me
When I brought her the 2nd bumblebee
That day
To keep this fire
And she taught me
That this fire in the belly
In the brain
Can be the gentlest sort of thing

And yesterday
When I looked in the mirror
I saw her eyes
And what a joy it is
To see that this witch’s fire
No longer burns you
Or puts you on trial
But holds you
Keeps you safe

And a week ago a wasp got caught in my bedroom
And as I held her
Gingerly
In a cup with a half-written poem below her
I marveled
At the way her fire kept her alive
And fighting
And how my fire kept me alive
And fighting

But this is not just a self-reflection
This is a call to arms
That when you feel that fire
In your belly
In your brain
That restlessness
And quiet displeasure with the world
Remember
Your ancestors were witches
Or at least
Strong women
And I think that is mostly the same thing
There is so much light
To be spread with your fire
But also, so much
That needs to be burnt down
Call it a rampage
Or a reclamation
Or a controlled burn but
Use it, passionately
To spite the ones
Who used it against your mothers so long ago
But please
Don’t forget
That your fire
Is the most witchy, gentle thing
And you can use it
However you damn well please

A Love Letter from My Dead Name

By Jordyn King

Dear Jordyn,
It is June 29th.
My 23rd birthday, and your first.
And though you know who I am
I have no idea who you are just yet;
That’s okay, though. Part of the beauty of shedding an identity
is the ability to craft a new one, and
I have a guess about the beautiful
person you’ll become.
Now, I have some things to ask you,
but first and foremost,
I want to congratulate us or…
you.
You searched for your name for a full year,
and I think you found the one tailor made for you.
It is strange to think we are the same person, but this point,
our birthday, marks a completely new chapter in your life
So Congratulations, Jordyn. Truly.

I want to make a couple requests of you,
if you’ll allow me.
You don’t need to heed them all,
but I think it’s gonna help.

1: I ask that you remember me.
It’s hard for me to accept that I’ll be gone forever,
and I know you’ll do great things without me holding you back, but still,
I ask that you keep a part of me in the most secret chambers of your heart
So that when the road seems hardest, you might remember who we once were
and celebrate how far you’ve come, and how much further you can still go.

2: I ask you to forgive me my shortcomings:
I know they’ll probably follow you,
but I want it stated that my sins are not yours. Let your first breaths be pure
and free of guilt about my past.
I will carry those to my grave for you

3: I ask that you keep on fighting.
I know you will; it’s part of who I became and, therefore, part of who you’ve always been. But for the sake of the people
we both love, I want you to hold your fist high,
and fight like you have nothing left to lose.

4: Love everyone. Love them fiercely, and without hesitation or remorse.
I was never really known for regret, except once…remember that one,
to remind you of the consequences, and then love everyone anyways.
Love them through heartbreak and through bad times and falling outs.
Love them always, and love them the way I love being you.

5: Finally, I ask that you love yourself.
You are the future we didn’t think would be possible,
the person that we never thought we’d live to be when we were younger.
Remember to love yourself,
and be kind to yourself.
And remember that you made it
for all of us.
So happy birthday Jordyn.

Forever in your heart,
[REDACTED] Your Dead Name

Far from Okay

By Benjamin Stevenson

Rubbing it raw, I gulped the load
and slithered away from him.
I thought the boys in the videos
made it look so much easier.
Crawling up the ladder of pelvic
bones I wish I had broken, I stumbled
disappointingly into a familiar feeling.

Sometimes bad men ask me,
Did you have fun down
on all fours like the bitch you
are? You actually looked like
you wanted to die this time.

Stripped of the flesh,
I plugged the wounds
and soaked the husk
I call a body in warm water,
because I know
it is best for blood
and in that moment
he could have emptied
a boiling pot onto my back, and
scrubbed me like a kitchen table
far from clean and certainly
far from okay.

I still wouldn’t have felt a thing.

Notes for My Underpaid Therapist

By Benjamin Stevenson

Heather,
I have been thinking a lot about death
about sensations
how my chest would feel
while falling through dusty
air in a desert city___
slipping off
the balcony. But the image no longer
seems poetic, when I imagine what
bones might sound like crashing
against stale concrete. Stiff
as a board, & white as a candle.
I have been thinking about the
darkness that would certainly
follow me to this lonely place.
how metaphorical doors would wax &
wane far too quickly to respond
timely, nor fashionably
& how goddamn depressing this reads
on the unbroken screen of a MacBook I can
not afford, but that all my pretty white friends have.

Heather,
I have been thinking a lot about
my childhood, and all the things
I cannot and do not want to remember-
selective memory loss
Do you ever wonder if some children
need a slice of darkness to develop
into the tragic adults which our excuse
for a god determines them to become?
I do & this glimmering idea,
makes life almost fathomable,
or at least this is what I tell
myself at the end of every blurry night.

Heather,
Do you still think we’re making progress?

From the Backroads of Rural Mississippi

By Sarah Shields

In the seat of my bike, racing down a backroad, skin blistering in the sunshine, my aunt hollered at me from her porch swing,

“You got a rat’s nest in the back of that head of yours, Sarah.”

But brushing my hair was the least of my worries. I was in constant motion—had too much to do, to see, to explore.

The heat was waiting on me.

The days were so hot it felt as if the heat enveloped your whole body as soon as you stepped outside, and when you breathed deep, the humid air turned to liquid in your lungs.

Cars rambled slowly down the distant highway. The table saw hummed and wood whined as my Papaw created a masterpiece with his hands, bending it to his will. A roar echoed from the garden down the road. I knew if I waited long enough, I would see my father proudly posted atop his red 1986 Massey Ferguson tractor.

Smells mixed together in the air. Sawdust, old leather, honeysuckle, freshly turned dirt.

And heat.

If you’re from the Deep South, you understand the way heat smells.

After moving to what my family termed the “big city,” a man once told me,

“You smell different, not like soap or perfume, but something else.”

Maybe a mixture of the sawdust, honeysuckle, worn leather and heat has seeped into my pores, clinging to me, branding me, reminding me and anyone else who comes close enough of my Mississippi roots.

I can remember walking down that backroad named after my family, thinking how idyllic it was, but not knowing that word at the time. The tree limbs hung loosely over the road, almost as if they were longing to touch the gravel as much as I was. It looked like a scene so many Southern novels describe.

Old, shaded, beautiful. Touched by time, yet untouched by the world.

If you caught it at the right moment, the sun would make its way through the leaves onto the blue gravel pavement, creating something almost magical. Like you had been transported back in time to a place that wasn’t as affected by life and circumstance. That’s the world I grew up in. Riding horses and bikes along the old pavement, never fully understanding how special and tragic it was.

Now, as an adult, the veil that covered my eyes as a child has faded.

I understand that Mississippi isn’t fondly regarded by the rest of the world. It’s the home of racism, homophobia, sexism and obesity. I can attest to all of these things being a part of Mississippi. They are the reasons I moved to a larger, more tolerant Southern city.

But what people don’t understand are the summer days on a Southern backroad. The ones with sawdust, honeysuckle, heat and just a hint of magic.

Boots Sarah

Hope Sustains the Farmer

By Christina Schmitt

Spes Alit Agricolam

The grave was five feet deep.
I know this because he asked me to stand in it.
I am 5’7.
The sun was hot, as every May day, and the tall grasses rolled in the quick breeze.
There were the right amount of clouds for cloud watching.
I noticed this when I glanced at the sky as I was standing in the hole to be turned grave and wondered if death was ever an act of mercy.
He put the bullet in his shotgun, explaining the best way to shoot her.
It’s to draw an imaginary X between the eyes and the nose and hit the cross at an angle.
He said he saw it once in the farmer’s catalog he gets every other week.
His hands trembled.
It was Friday.

On Monday we slaughtered three piglets for a pig roast wedding.

(After he shot the piglets,
We slashed the skin above their hooves
Hung them by a forklift
Bathed them in boiling water
To burn off hair.
Delicately,
With a sharpened pocket knife,
We slit their stomachs to remove their inner organs.
It is fragile work,
As you want to avoid puncturing intestines.)

She hadn’t moved from under the only tree in the pasture except wringing with the shade as the sun changed positions. She was a calf, a little over a week old. She was born hairless, which didn’t seem like a big deal when I watched her legs straighten and buckle underneath her last week.
Because new life is always beautiful, even if it is ugly.
I got in to the habit of naming the newborns, and he warned me harshly that I best not assign her a name because it’s best if she doesn’t make it.

The difference between the piglets and the calf is
The desire to kill without a need and the need to kill without the desire, and
Isn’t this a serious human problem?

Her skin was hammered by the sun, and cracked so deeply that flies feasted. She didn’t have eyelids and usually they rolled back so that I only saw the whites of them. Without the hooves, a wanderer never would have identified this miserable creature as an oversized rodent, not a newborn calf.
I checked on her every morning in the pasture that week, praying to God for mercy. If she had the energy to banter with God, I’d assume it would’ve resembled Job’s dialogue; only, God could not banter back. How could you justify misery with a child?
The 3 p.m. bell rang to signify a time of prayer on the farm.
“How appropriate,” he mused, tipped his hat. As he sauntered towards her lifeless body, she stood. Well, she tried. Every movement she made caused her skin to crack more and blood oozed out enough for small droplets to fall in the matted grass that she refused to die in.
She stumbled around for a moment, getting closer to the hole on the other side of the tree.
She stood, facing the mound of dug up dirt, forcing him to stand over it with one foot on each side. She stared at him, whites in her eyes stark against her blood red skin.
She was ready.
“Return to your Soil and Creator,” I heard him mutter as he lifted the shotgun.
She fell, not even a foot from the grave. He reloaded once more, to be sure, and fired again.
Then, he walked away.
It helped me to know that he hurt because of this. Not that I blame him, but because I know that taking lives lie in his authority and that type of power should be humbled.
He returned, where my feet hadn’t moved, and made a motion of lifting her in the grave.

She didn’t look natural, with her legs folded over her and head cocked too far left.
He said it doesn’t matter,
but it did matter.
I regret not saying that.
He regrets waiting so long.
He asked if that was hard. I asked if death was ever easy. I was the first one to see her, last week.
He offered me the bullet casing. I said no.
Some things don’t need a totem to recall their principles.

Spes Alit Agricolam

(Hope Sustains the Farmer)

Sweet Fruit

By Alec Prevett

there were no clouds in the day
all across was a sugary electroshock blue
taffy
         stretched and squashed by a universal pull.

the trees behind the fence
mocked me with their absurd height, extending
their limbs and tasting
that sticky sky—
munching on it as giraffes do
         on leaves.

the naked fruitboys nestled in the boughs
fed on it, too, reaching
from the branches to steal blue in their hands.
they hung there, far above me, laughing
         as i drooled, hungry.