Nightingale By Martina Dominique Dansereau

Nightingale

Today we have been damage wrapped
in ribbons: silk pulled tight across our cracks,
satin bows blooming over yawning spaces.
Bundled in apologies,             we try not to fall apart.
Today we have been Leda, Cassandra,
Philomela, Medusa:
electric cyclones whirling, trapped
inside stitched skins. Today we have been wreckage.
Man is God, they say. Man is the swan,
Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon.

Here is Cassandra:
refusal sparks in her mouth; he touches
the scorch marks upon his lips and curses her
with insanity.
Woman opens her mouth, and her voice
is birdsong: beautiful, incomprehensible, a language
not understood by mankind.
Woman opens her mouth, and she is caged.
Sing now, little bird, sing
from where they locked you up, from where
each plea tastes more like ashes,
more like trial by fire and looming
court dates,
more like key rings and stilettos
that you only wear because the heels are sharp enough
to be weapons,            more like it wasn’t my fault,
I never asked for this. Little bird,
they will cut out your tongue and call you Philomela.

Incidentally, female nightingales are mute;
only the males of the species sing.
Little nightingale, he will take your lament,
he will twist its words, and his voice
will be the one they hear.
Medusa was once so beautiful that she tempted
God—I mean to say she tempted Man
and was punished for it: a face terrible to behold,
hair of venomous snakes, eyes that could turn flesh
into stone. Her blood, when spilled, birthed
a horned serpent that fed off corpses.
Woman’s mouth opens and she is monster.
Take her head, take her head, cut her down,
quickly, before she bites.
She is grotesque, she is nightmare, but still they
imprison her and call her weakling.

Girl, if we are monsters, let us be lethal.
Take this skin,
write your name on it, slip it
over your shoulders again.
Take this skin,
this terrible, these teeth,
and make them part of you.
Some Greeks believed that Athena was protecting Medusa
when she gave her the power to transform any man
who set eyes on her
into stone.
Tell him, my blood boils with the rage
of a thousand generations.
Tell him, the sight of me is enough to kill.
Tell him, touch me and I will turn your skin
into granite.
Today you have been solidarity, you have been
wrath, you have been woman. You are all that
and more. After all, stone crumbles.
You are everlasting.

By Martina Dominique Dansereau

Biography:

Martina Dominique Dansereau is an 18 year old (gender)queer writer and performance poet from Vancouver, Canada, who spends the majority of xyr time blogging, snuggling snakes, and crying over spoken word. For xem, writing is a vital part of healing from trauma and mental illness as well as a platform to share xyr voice as a marginalized identity. Xe is a poetry reader for Persephone’s Daughters, a lit mag dedicated to empowering women, and has work published or forthcoming in the Rising Phoenix Review, Oddball Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Doll Hospital Journal. Xe is passionate about anti-oppression, queering platonic relationships, radicalizing self-care, and going on midnight walks in the rain. You can find more of xyr poetry online at http://numinouslights.co.vu.

You Hid Me in Your Basement By Do Nguyen Mai

You Hid Me in Your Basement

Your touch left graveyards on my skin.
They grew rampant as clover,
And smelled just as bitter,
Until dead bodies and live souls
Rooted themselves deep into the hollows
Of my rotting lungs and rotting bones.
I reeked of spores and ashes,
Instead of smelling sweetly like any child should have,
Like cotton candy and sidewalk chalk.

People came to lay flowers
All over the graves of these strangers,
Though they were strangers no more once buried in me,
The voices of every person that spoke my name
The way that you always did,
Like falling snow before it freezes into glacial prisons.

Nobody visited once the night fell –
I think they could see how grey
My complexion had become
From all the stones I’ve thrown
At ghosts for them to build new homes;
I broke my wrists bringing down hammers
On the stakes holding down restless old spirits.
But roses and chrysanthemums
Can’t cover up the stench of a dying body –

The casket of a child
Is too small for so many.

By Do Nguyen Mai

Biography:

My name is Do Nguyen Mai, written last name to first in the traditional formal style, like the way most Vietnamese poets sign their works. I am a Vietnamese-American student living in the Los Angeles area who spends too much of her free time singing old, war-era Vietnamese songs. More of my poetry can be found at lotuscrowns.tk

A Study of War By Alyson Brown

A Study of War

war: like an underwater
submarine off the coast of russia.
wiretaps and hushed conversations
and missiles ready 5000 miles away.

war: like a college student who
straps a bomb to his chest. anonymous
correspondence, burner phones, a gun
to the back of his mother’s head.

war: like the slow takeover of a
nation. trillions of dollars in debt with
taxes increasing, foreign investment,
made in china.

war: like an exhibition of all the ways
humanity has failed. a loss of understanding,
a loss of open communication, a loss of
life. pointless.

By Alyson Brown

Biography:

Alyson Brown is a high school writer who lives in San Diego, California. Along with writing poetry in her free time, she does speech and debate and helps with her school magazine. She aspires to make a difference in people’s lives with her writing. You can find more of her work on tumblr at c0nstellationofdreams.tumblr.com.

Lassitude By Ang Shuang

Lassitude

There was something about the stars
that shattered the sky; the moon,
full to bursting; and me, nearly
invisible in the fading light,
listening to the chorus of
crickets calling each other home.
Something about that song, those skies,
this world that was so very alive
even as I was so very dead.
They say we are filled with stardust
and the ocean, but all that has
done is leave me gasping
for oxygen, treading water,
pulling towards the symphony
of sirens singing me to my end.
I am so tired of living in this skin.
Something about the stars,
congregating in constellations;
the moon, floating in a sea of
satellites; the crickets, an
endless ensemble of harmony.
Something about this world
that was so very crowded
even as I was so very lonely.
Even then.

By Ang Shuang

Biography:

Ang Shuang is a 21 year old dreamer from Singapore. She writes a lot about love.

Subject: A List For When You Think It Might Happen Again Re: Work By Alexis Smithers

Subject: A List For When You Think It Might Happen Again
Re: Work

.Keep a list of the bullshit that happens. No matter how small. Have a record of every time this person makes you feel like shit. Not for revenge. No, just because you doubt the truth a lot, and this is one of the times you need to hold certainty the most.

.You noticed how at first everyone told you to talk more, but when they realized quiet is your default, they embraced it? These are the people you keep close to you because they want you, the real you. Notice how even after everyone told this person you’re quiet, he demands you speak to him, as though he’s above everyone else? Notice how he has tried to manipulate you into talking to him (even though it’s obvious it makes you uncomfortable) by saying, “You can’t clock in until you say hello to me”? Well, that’s bullshit. Even the coworkers within earshot have called bullshit on that. You don’t like him and he doesn’t get special treatment from you because he doesn’t fucking deserve it.

. He’s trying to take advantage of you because you’re obedient. That might be why what happened last time came about. But this time you know, you can say no. Everyone is telling you that, I am telling you that you can say no. If he gives you less hours because you’re not sucking up to him, that is not your fault. That is petty and fucking manipulative on his part and you are not going to apologize for it. I know you need the money and you want to keep going cause you like everyone else and you don’t want to get stuck again but if it gets to be too much, you leave, you hear me? You leave.

.He hurt your little sister. Not in the worst ways, but enough. Really, he will never be
forgiven.

.You are around sharp objects nearly all the time. Carry your pocketknife with you. Turn into a weapon. I know you’re not good at screaming with your voice, so do it with his blood if you must.

.People will tell you you are being overdramatic. People don’t know shit. They told you you were being overdramatic when they hit and screamed at and scratched and poked and terrified and isolated and raped you. People don’t know jack shit. They cannot tell you that you are so sensitive to everything, know important things and you are so wonderful how magic all of this knowing makes you and then turn around and pat you on the head saying you know nothing about this. It doesn’t work that way. You know when things are right and you know when shit is wrong and I am telling you to trust yourself, to stand up for yourself, even if no one else will.

.It’s different this time. You have already told people just one little thing about him, and they all imagine him, look at him disgust. You didn’t want to make the world any uglier on him, but he did this to himself. You cannot be evil to people and expect kindness in return. You hear that bigger people do that, exchange good for evil, but you’re too busy trying not to be small to worry about all of that.

.When he walks up behind you and you want to die, don’t. His presence does not diminish your importance. Let me tell you that again: His presence does not diminish your importance. His existence doesn’t mean you have to make your existence smaller so it’s easier for him to swallow. You’ve been inside the belly of a demon before and it took too much to get out. You’re not going back. You know how you like to disappear? Well, right here, fuck that. He doesn’t get to do that to you. You know why? Because so many people have worked so hard to bring you back because you are worth staying. Oh no, you don’t believe it, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You have worked so hard to come back even though it hurts like a motherfucker you are coming back and you are staying because you are worth staying for. I am telling you he’s trying to make it so that you run. Fuck him. Fuck him. Fuck him. There are people who love you, I fucking love you, and that is worth more than the fear he is shoving into your praying hands.

.I know you’re going to be scared because Ariel Gore’s mama said that “evil didn’t just come onto the earth, Tiniest. Evil is what we do to each other.” and you don’t want to be a monster anymore, but I’m telling you, it’s not monstrous if they are evil to you first, if they are evil to you just because you exist. No, that doesn’t make what you feel evil. You are always allowed here. Do you understand that?

.This is what I care about: what you do with what you feel. If that means you turn into a monster, so fucking be it. I have seen you begging for kindness on open wound knees like you are sin and crying with eyes turned guilty upward as though every person you meet is God granting you forgiveness as long as you do what they ask. I have seen you cruel because you are afraid and you are not going back there. You are not going back there.

.But cruel and monster are not the same. You monster however the fuck you need to, to stay safe, to keep your loves safe. It won’t be pretty, it never is, but if flesh under your claws and blood dripping from your teeth gets the job done, be a monster. Never be six years old helpless again. Come back. Stay. I told you there are times you must monster beyond redemption and this is it. This is it.

By Alexis Smithers

Biography:

Alexis Smithers is a twenty one year old explosion of messes. They are queer black writer that was published in a book about how horses heal (Wild at Heart by Heather Kirby), and has work that can be found on theEEEL. Fun facts: they tied a pillowcase to their back and tried to fly after seeing Sky High, their mantra can be found in Wreck-It Ralph, The Babadook, or Orphan Black (depending on the day) and they’re terrified of mostly everything but art makes the fear easier to hold.

How to Build a Clock That Isn’t a Bomb By Jessie Lynn McMains

How to Build a Clock That Isn’t a Bomb

(for Ahmed Mohamed)

1. The clock is not a bomb.
Resist those who say you should not have made a clock and brought it to school. Resist their fear and hatred. You have the capacity for greatness, and if you feed it with love and work it will one day explode from your soul in all the shimmering shades of golden-amber-honey sunfire that God made. The ones who try to stop your fire once had greatness inside their souls, but they fed it with fear and hatred, and it fizzled out dead. A dud.

2. The flag is a symbol. Pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. The flag is a symbol that can be purchased, a symbol that is used to justify fear and hatred and bombs. Knowledge and faith cannot be purchased, so when you put your hand over your star-spangled heart, know that you are an American. Have faith in your God and know that He does not care if you call him by a different name than your classmates do. Know that liberty and justice for all means liberty and justice for you, too.

3. This is not a hoax. When the men with guns and badges come to arrest you, they will not be discrete. They will show you that they know the clock is not a bomb, but that it looks enough like a bomb to justify their fear and hatred. “It looks like a hoax bomb,” they will say. “Like a movie bomb.” Is this a hoax? You are a fourteen-year-old boy, yet they will send in five grown men to arrest you, and if this were a movie, the not-bomb would detonate in slow motion.

4. You are a bomb. They are not afraid of the not-bomb. They are afraid of you. You are a fourteen-year-old boy, and they are grown men, and they are afraid of you. They are afraid of you and they hate you because your future greatness is supported by faith and family. When they were fourteen, no one supported their greatness. They were fed sorrow and fear. Now they have guns and badges, and they are afraid of you. Afraid of the power of your blazing curiosity. Of your sunfire-brown skin. They fear your faith, because you call your God by a foreign name. They fear your name, the holiness in it. They hear how Ahmed sounds like a(h)men. It makes them want to weep. Wanting to weep makes them angry, and afraid.

5. You are a builder. It will be shown that your livewire mind and your sun-colored soul and your hands – though they are still a boy’s hands – have generated multiple vibrations. These vibrations will flash, lightning-fast, across state lines and oceans. You thought you were building a clock, they said you were building a not-bomb, but you were really building a difference.

6. You are a star. The world will plug in to news of you. Scientists and artists and presidents, young children and grown men, will feel a connection. Famous and not-famous, people of all faiths, will be your support. They will feed you love, and help you work, and say: “We see your greatness. Keep your head up.” Though the few who hate and fear will shout to be heard, the voices of the rest will resonate the loudest.

7. The old ideas must be destroyed. The shouting few will say they are afraid of bombs, even hoax-bombs. They will say they are afraid that if you are not punished you, or someone like you, will destroy the world. They will not realize they are lying. Their real fear is that you, or someone like you, will save the world. They are afraid of this because saving the world means destroying old ideas, old beliefs, old lies. They have lived with with these old ideas for so long they are afraid to live without them.

8. Fear is a landmine. I am sorry your English teacher is afraid of you, your skin, your soul, your name. Maybe she once held greatness like a grenade inside her, longed to build meaning and difference. Maybe she once had the parts to make a poem or story that would have popped and sparked like a firecracker, that would have destroyed old ideas like a bomb. Maybe someone told her not to do it. Maybe she was punished, too.

9. You are a clockmaker. Keep countering the words of the angry, fearful alarmists with the words of those who support you. Counter them with your own smoldering thoughts. Say: “I am a star-spangled clockmaker. I am a fire. I am a son.” The world is counting on you.

10. You are a clock. You thought you were building a clock. They thought you were building a not-bomb. You were building a difference. You wanted to show them your greatness. They saw their own lack of it. This is not a movie. This is not a hoax. Nothing moves in slow-motion. Nothing explodes. You can buy a flag. You can buy the parts to make a clock. You can not buy knowledge, or faith. Or love. They might have been great, but they were fed on fear and hate. They were punished with words and symbols and flags. And now they want to punish you, too. You are an American clock, chiming out liberty and justice.

11. You are a bomb. You are a seed. Explode with sunfire; blossom like a sunflower. Detonate and bloom and save us all. Ah-men.

By Jessie Lynn McMains

Biography:

Jessie Lynn McMains (aka Rust Belt Jessie), is the Poet Laureate of Racine, Wisconsin. She has performed spoken word on tour with the Perpetual Motion Roadshow, at FILF in Cleveland, and at Queer Open Mic and Bitchez Nueve in San Francisco, as well as various other places across the US and Canada. She has been publishing her prose and poetry in her own zines since 1994, and her work has also appeared in The Chapess, New Pop Lit,The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, Wonderlust Lit Zine, Razorcake, and Word Riot, amongst others. Her short story “Insect Summer” was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. She currently writes music reviews and essays for Witchsong. Someone once called her the Debbie Harry of poetry, and she thinks that’s a pretty rad description. If you like, you can also refer to her as the punk rock Edna St. Vincent Millay. She loves music, adventure, community gardens, home-brewed beer, tarot, dancing, playing dress-up, her friends and family, and her four-year-old kidlet. She collects souvenir pennies and stick and poke tattoos. She is perpetually melancholy, restless, and nostalgic. She believes storytelling can change the world. You can find her website at recklesschants.net and her blog at rustbeltjessie.tumblr.com.

Bitter Poet Takes A Stand On Writing, Love, And Other Risky Enterprises By Jones Howell

Bitter Poet Takes A Stand On Writing, Love, And Other Risky Enterprises

so maybe it’s not going to be long walks on the beach
or wool-sweater afternoons while the leaves pile up
in the front yard. it’s going to be the witch hazel
on the open wound, the white nights when you stare
at a screen instead of her luminous face.

but it’s the bottom of the seventh inning and i have been
on the bench since the preseason, and here is what i know:
it is no small thing to pass poems back and forth
like couriers du coeur.

no passing matter to feel your heart beating in your ears
when her voice finds its way to you.

this is now or never love. we cannot be twenty-something
like this again, shiny and bright as new pennies.
don’t you want to give that to her? don’t you want to know
what that feels like?

get in the car. drive through the desert until you can drink
from her cup. taste her neck and sing hallelujah,
and when the pain comes, bear it gladly.

i am saying this, poet to poet: i have run away
from the earthquake, but i have never stopped craving
the aftershocks.

we are young and foolish and writing about our hearts
as if they are fruits, which bruise but never heal.
this is no time for caution. go headfirst, go headstrong,
go to her.

By Jones Howell

Biography:

Jones Howell is a graduate of the Northwestern University Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg Creative Writing (Fiction) sequence. She grew up on the Maryland waterfront, went to school by Lake Michigan, and now calls suburban Georgia home. She misses the sea. She has been writing, in some form or another, for over ten years. She maintains a poetry blog at joneshowell.tumblr.com.