Your neighbor Dorie says it’s hard to leave a man who is emotionally abusing you. Mom likes Franklin Graham. Your cousin Brian shared a selfie. Your colleague Jacquard published a poem that took years to write. Your niece’s husband Jesus ran Bloomsday while pushing his daughter Gabriela in a stroller. Your friend Mei is taking an online class with a comedian who kicks cismales off the stage. Brian likes Defend the 2nd. Gaia says being online is living in Plato’s cave. Defend the 2nd wants people to join their community of patriots. Dorie harvested a thousand delicious plums from her backyard. Blackivist says the government dismantled the Black Panthers because black people stood up for justice. Brian likes cutting big trees and watching them fall. Mei likes Blackivist. Sounds True says mindfulness is being fully awake. Brian can’t believe a naked woman walked into an elevator at the middle school. Mei wants people telling Hillary to shut up, to shut up. Dorie says the naked woman was on drugs and just trying to find her dog that had wandered into the school. Jacquard’s poem features three men, one of whom raped her. Dorie wants advice on how to get rid of hornets nesting under her house. Franklin Graham thanks President Donald J. Trump for his support. Jacquard learned there’s such a thing as an Assassin Caterpillar and is using that as her spirit animal. Sounds True says mindfulness is about not having a self. Dorie shared a video of three men rescuing a goat from an electrical wire. Brian likes Secured Borders.
Gaia says we are just little waves in a great big ocean. Brian and Mei checked in at Murphy’s brew pub, Jesus is at the Mariner’s game, and Mom is babysitting Gabriela.
by DJ Lee
DJ Lee is a professor of literature and creative writing at Washington State University with an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and a PhD from the University of Arizona. DJ’s creative work has been published in Narrative, the Montreal Review, Vela, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as other journals and anthologies. One was a nonfiction prize finalist at Terrain and The Offbeat; another received a Pushcart Prize special mention. Yet another was shortlisted for the Disquiet International Literary Prize.
This is not a metaphor for anything. I am talking about a very real pungency. Smashed yellow cherries on the concrete sidewalk. It’s check-the-bottom-of-your-shoe season, it’s did-I-step-in-dog-poop season, it’s no-you-didn’t season: it’s Gingko Season.
It’s that one spring in Brooklyn where we finally discovered that the Chinese restaurant on the corner had been using the construction dumpster by our house to get rid of their old fry oil, mouldering baby corn, yellowed tofu corners, slimy strips of chicken fat.
You can’t call 311 on a tree.
It’s the constant whiff of judgment: who threw up here? It’s the smell of some young person’s humiliation: partially-digested macaroni and cheese soaked through with liquor and bile. It would not be an exaggeration to say I always gag when walking under a gingko tree. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I almost always automatically ‘tsk’ when walking under a gingko tree. Its effects are both physiological and psychological.
There is no solution to this problem except to be glad that gingko trees are one of my problems. And anyway, gingko season doesn’t last long: soon the cold air will take the edge off the stench, soon the pulpy sidewalks will be layered over with snow. Soon enough, I could live somewhere else entirely. The gingkos would still be here, steady canopies with a million little fluttering leaf fans. The gingkos would still be here, obstinately performing their ritual above our heads.
by Olivia Dunn
Olivia Dunn is a Visiting Professor of English at Skidmore College and a graduate of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared recently in The Pinch Journal, SHANTIH Journal, Tinker Street, The Nervous Breakdown, River Teeth, and McSweeney’s.
Are the items most frequently listed for my grocery getting. When I check off each item on my phone, I wonder if I should just uncheck it for next week’s go round. To switch it up, I’ll get different cheeses. Or hummus. Even a zucchini. God knows which vitamins I’m overloading or lacking. I dare not try to find out and alter my recurring list.
That wasn’t how it was. Half a life ago meals were full of turmeric and cloves and mustard seeds. Lentils and peas and eggplant delight. My mom’s hands are art. Her rhythmic strokes are apparent in watercolor, hair braiding, and deep frying. Prettiness is ubiquitous with her touch. Her salads present perfectly married greens, a balanced spice profile, topped with pomegranate gems.
I remember that with beauty comes the beast. “That okra is too expensive.” “Don’t put too much ghee on the roti.” “You’re wasting your food!” So many moving parts would come together for her delicacies, but they gave rise to my shoulders. Froze my initiative. Beleaguered my soul. What was normal half a life ago is simplified now. A basic list. Week after week.
I don’t dislike cooking. But recipes with ingredients galore revive the tension of not enough. I recall Saturday mornings milling through coupons while going between the sales at four grocery stores. I always missed Saturday morning cartoons. They were a mystery to me. I was a fake kid. A grown-up kid. Not a kid.
I get to shop for myself now. When I’m armed with a coupon, I rejoice in my roots. But having the choice offers Saturday mornings all to myself. I eat a breakfast of eggs, cheese, meat, and spinach with a dose of my favorite TV.
by Nisha Mody
Nisha Mody is a librarian, writer, and cat mom. She hails from Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. Her writing has been published in Everyday Feminism, Role Reboot, and Chicago Literati. Follow her on Twitter @nishamody.
The father with oil stains on his button-down shirt is enraged he cannot find a golf course in Tijuana. A perverse butt of a chewed cigar hangs on his lower lip flaking tarred edges onto his chin. Spitting slurs he moves among the crowd, his daughter twisting underneath him. He insists people are lying to him. He demands knowledge. The crowd parts to make room, turning three-quarters to observe the spectacle.
One man steps out from the crowd to direct the father. He takes contained steps, edging the Big Man and little daughter to a lone paradise.
It is safer with only daughter, father, tantrums. No audience. Ghosts of trees and annihilated bushes and flowers haunt a cloudless sky. White bright light. Mule-like a caddy follows on the heels of the father (as does his 5 year old), rolling over green dominated hills.
Mastery of this game consists in striking precisely in order to sink wrinkled white balls into an abyss,
dark narrow curved
On again off again: padding, spitting, squinting. Relentless pursuit meets relentless failure.
Squint, shift voluminous hips, pad torn yellowed turf, aim.
Sweatily he goes, quarters ripping holes in his shorts, to the pinball machine, which he strikes with his hip and bangs more successfully. The daughter steps on a milkcrate and wraps her arms around the width of the machine. The father goads, then yells at her for losing.
At five this ends. A Siren sounds. He responds as if he had been waiting his life for this signal. The casinos are open! He wanders, the weight of his belly speeding him down paved roads towards machines and tables where he’ll work to forget people, the world and people in the world. He never gets far enough away into the fog to make them disappear.
by Patricia Coleman
Patricia Coleman is a writer/director whose pieces have appeared or will be appearing in presses including Bennington Review, Maintenant 11, Poetica, PAJ, Bomb and The New Review of Literature. She has staged 25+ productions at venues including The Kitchen, Chashama, and JACK. Her adaptation of Euripdes’ Medea was performed by glass-blowers and puppeteers at Brooklyn Glass in 2014.
I saw Felipe yesterday. It was the first time I’d seen him since his brother’s wedding, and he looked just the way he’s always looked when he was sleeping.
He’s slept the same way since we were born. Mouth open, the thoughtful look on his face accompanied by a scab or scrape for good measure.
Those scabs when we were little were often my fault. Even now, at 22 we both still have reminders of our childhood wars: his on his forehead, me on my hand. We poked, hit, bit, pushed, kicked, and absolutely refused to be separated.
We were a team at that age. We were for better of for worse.
The “worse” was public. It was in everyone’s faces and at the expense of our Uncle’s and Aunt’s, and parent’s energies as they would try to chase us around the house pulling us off of each other or whatever cabinet, or shelf, or tree we had decided to scale.
The “for better” part was ours. It was quiet and mostly private. They were the times he’d try to nurture and fix my wounds regardless of the fact he mostly caused them. The way he absent-mindedly played with my hair at 8-years old while we were squished together on the couch with his sister watching the scary movies we’d found tucked away in a closet. The way he always made me laugh. Sharing his journal writing with me and the stories behind it as we grew a little older. And, the occasional heart-to-hearts we’d have at 2am when our late teens brought greater distance between the amount we’d see each other.
Being exactly three weeks apart we spent our lives arguing about who should get the final say while renting videos, buying snack food, deciding what to do, where to go. But we also shared stories from grade to grade about adventures, teachers and what we were learning, and sometimes we even revealed secrets on how to get in good with the opposite sex.
All the millions of memories forgotten in the back of my mind, and all the ones still colorfully vivid came to me as I watched him. My Felipe. Just lying there.
I waited for him to wake up. I kissed his cheek and he didn’t swat me away. I twisted his hair in my fingers and whispered, ‘I see you finally decided to brush it’.
But still he didn’t move. And when I took his hand, I really knew for the first time that he never would again.
It felt so cold. I wanted to wrap him up in a blanket. His fingers were waxy and smooth like they’d been scrubbed clean—a long way from the rough and strong hands that had shaken me awake almost every Christmas morning since we were born.
There he was. Little Felipe. Little teaching me to play Nintendo, holding my head under the covers after he’d farted, swaying with me for hours in the basement hammock, Felipe. My partner in mischief and the only person who’s ever shared the loves of my life: scheming, and dreaming. There he was.
Still managing to bring life, tears and love into the room, even in death.
Amaya Duran is a Latina American writer based in Seattle, WA. For her day job she works as a humanitarian in disaster zones. Her off time is spent with her family, and 1 year old Maltipoo.
One October when I was eight, I made gravestones of me and my family. Perhaps I had a fascination with death. Perhaps I wanted to feel the stickiness of glue between my thumb and forefinger and the permanence of a Sharpie in my hand. I asked my mother to buy grey and brown construction paper—grey for the headstone, brown for the dirt—so I could make them and place them against our foyer wall so trick-or-treaters could see them when they approached the front door.
I grabbed one of my old wallet-sized school pictures and glue-sticked it to the grey construction paper underneath where I had put my name and birth and death dates in black permanent marker. I made one for my mother, father, and two younger brothers. I even made one for the dog. By the time my mother figured out what I was doing, it was too late. The paper gravestones were taped along the very bottom of the wall, the brown paper taped to the scratched hardwood floor directly in front. When my mother saw them all she said was, “I don’t like that.”
“But it’s decoration,” I said. “For Halloween.”
To me, they were as spooky and brilliant as my mother’s orangey-yellow glittering pumpkins she set up on the coffee table or the purple and black-clothed witch with the oversized boil on her crooked nose that sat on the bay window ledge.
“I don’t like seeing that,” she repeated.
“Well, I like it, so it’s staying,” I said, proud of my art.
But when I came home from school the next day, my art was gone. You could faintly see where the tape marks left diagonal lines of dirt from the day before.
I don’t remember what my mother said when I asked her where she had put my gravestones, except that it was probably as vague as what she told me the previous day when she first saw them.
Perhaps seeing her family all lined in a neat and tidy row at the bottom of a wall made her feel small. Perhaps she didn’t want to be reminded every morning when she’d walk past the foyer into the kitchen for her morning coffee that we would all end up at the bottom of a wall, beneath a floor, sinking further and further away from this earth. Perhaps it was just too soon.
“Too soon,” she said about a decade later when my father died at forty-five.
“Too soon,” she said two years after that when my grandmother died at sixty-eight.
Too soon. Too soon.
But these realities are everywhere in her home. She just masquerades them as something else.
In that same foyer is a staircase my father built that leads to the second floor. Photo frames hang in a diagonal line that ascend or cascade depending on which direction you’re going on the staircase. One diagonal line that runs parallel to the staircase has individual 8×10 frames of me and my two brothers. The other three or four lines hold various sized frames of my grandparents at my aunt’s wedding, my brother and one my cousins when they were about four in the Azores, a black and white photograph of my great-grandparents before they immigrated. It is a collage of family and life.
But all I see is a graveyard. A graveyard with its bony, dripping, crusty claws outstretched trying to grip another photo frame.
Every time I visit my mother, I’ll take a moment to lie on the cat-scratched twenty-year-old couch with my hands folded underneath my head and stare at the staircase wall. And then I’ll count the faces in my head.
Dead, dead, dead, alive, dead, alive, alive, dead.
No matter what, it’s always too soon for the living to turn dead.
Sarah Chaves is a 28-year-old Portuguese-American writer who strives to bring another strong female voice to the Portuguese literary world. In 2007, her father died in a car accident while her family was vacationing in the Azores, and since then, she has been working on a memoir that details her experience in the context of a grief and coming-of-age narrative. She completed the first draft during the 2015-2016 year as a Fulbright Scholar in Portugal and is now revising the second draft at Grub Street as part of the year-long Memoir Incubator Workshop.