The Ornament By Riley Zahn

The Ornament

To whoever made the custom ornament my family got me for Christmas.

When you painted those white letters on that blue glass ball,
did you know what they meant?
When you wrote the words “Riley’s First Christmas”
did you think it was for a newborn?

When you painted the R, did you hear the echoes of that old name
that rang in my ears for months after I came out?
Did you hear the frustration in my dad’s voice when he writes
Ryan instead of Riley on a Christmas card.
Did you feel the hesitation as they unpacked memories
desperately searching for names and pronouns, slamming the breaks
On 24 years of inertia.

When you painted the I, did you sense the self-conscious dread in my voice
when I finally willed those words out of my mouth: “I’m transgender”
Did you feel the weightlessness as we
floated in them
like cold molasses?
Did you see the teardrops on my mom’s pillow that night?
Did you feel how much tighter she hugs me now?

When you painted the L, did you feel the uncertainty,
Like all of the questions I still don’t know the answer to
Like, what is your middle name?
Like, will you be able to find a job?’
Like, how did this happen?
Like, did we do something wrong? It feels like you’re dying.

When you painted the e, did you see the red edit marks
on the hopes and dreams and aspirations they had for their son?
Did you see grandkids blur?
Did you hear a father of the groom speech fade to nothing?
Did you feel them letting go of knowing me
better than I know myself?”

When you painted the Y, did you see the avalanche bearing down on me?
made of a hundred questions and a thousand worries
and a society that won’t understand?
Did you see them dig me out of the snow pack, and together
We scaled a learning curve so steep, none of us could see the other side?

When you put in the work to make that ornament,
did you know the work it took for them to order it?

When you painted those white letters on that blue glass ball,
did you hear the story behind them?
When you painted the words “Riley’s First Christmas”
Did you think it was for a newborn?
Or did you suspect that when I opened the box and looked inside,
I would be home for the very first time?

By Riley Zahn


Riley Zahn (she/her) is a trans woman, poet, educator and graduate student from Mankato, MN. She spends her time learning, unlearning, playing nerdy card games, and wondering if the people who work at the Chinese Buffet place are judging her for how often she eats there alone.

The candles are in stock, though it isn’t summer, yet By Juniper Cruz

The candles are in stock, though it isn’t summer, yet

And there is still blood before the bodega.
Channel 3’s cameraman focuses on it and

Kara Sundlun says the word “again.”
They breathe in gnats, here for the blood

I refuse an interview; I didn’t know him.
We probably used to play basketball together.

I hand the owner fifty cents for a lucy. A candle
with the image of Mary sits beside her.

I sell them by packs of five now, she says,
everyone here has lost at least five people.

I heard she’d lost one a month ago.

there was another shooting last night, Sundlun says.
The saints burn from the tops of their heads.

The owner goes outside, picks up the candle with
St. Jude on it, and lights her cigarette with its fire.

The flame’s light swallows its own
shadow as if trying to capture its own grief.

By Juniper Cruz


Juniper Cruz is a Queer Afro-Latinx Muslim poet from Hartford, Connecticut. They are currently an undergraduate student at Kenyon College. Their work has been published in The Atlantic, Lambda Literary, and Puerto Del Sol.

Hello, From The Men of the Indianola By Stephanie Cui

Hello, From The Men of the Indianola

August hailstorm — something reckless.
Every pilot, a brittle moon

snapping to attention. Now, we unleash
our grief, as if it were a dog. From here,

we cannot witness our arson
colored aftermath,

can only see a thick film of clouds.
Nothing lives at this altitude.

From here, dying resembles sand
in shallow water —

looks like natural phenomena.
What happens below is nothing

more than an afterthought.
We only did what was necessary

didn’t we?

By Stephanie Cui


Stephanie Cui is a 16-year-old from Rochester, NY (not the city!) She enjoys photography and plans on studying graphic design in the near future. She has also worked as a stage manager!

Boxing Gloves By Audrey Lee

Boxing Gloves

Six years after Time Magazine’s “The Protester”

In the shadow of a low-lying sun
is foul matter: dignity more important
than bread, milk poured into eyes much like
into a breakfast glass

waging with pepper spray, lachrymatory.
In six years, I am taller than I ever have been before;
whittled, carved down with a chainsaw into
calves, collarbones, a waist.

A faucet that leaks petroleum. A town with no tap water,
all I am is a coat hanger for men to bite their teeth into:
orthodontics in between incisors. Prepubescent retainers.
A fire set to their conjecture.

I skirmish with earthquakes and euthanasia
in the face of a blighted ovum.
The sun has never seen the night but
God, it will now,

as I barricade the sun from setting,
and stand on a deserted soapbox.
A moon’s laughter is illuminated in telescope lenses;
for the tides have drowned the incitation of dissent.

By Audrey Lee


Audrey Lee will be attending Franklin and Marshall College this coming fall. She is the winner of the 2016 DeSales University Poetry Contest and her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and Columbia College of Chicago. Her work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Teen Vogue, Rookie Magazine, The Ellis Review, and Paper Swans Press. Her chapbook Unknown Futures is forthcoming from Red Paint Hill Publishing in 2018.

Friday, April 7; 12:11 AM By Lydia Havens

Friday, April 7; 12:11 AM

The author listens to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” nearly one year after writing a poem about the original Nine Inch Nails version as a means to talk about being sexually abused // The author doesn’t feel anything but she can picture things // like the blur of a city she does not know after 2AM // or her fingers covered in smeared  chalky eyeliner and all the worst grime still under her nails // The author still prefers the original version of this song // despite not being able to listen to it anymore // without becoming that ring of fire Johnny was always talking about // The author does not wear a crown of shit // or thorns // The author’s just trying to make wearing her head feel ok for once // The author was diagnosed with PTSD right after writing that poem // and ever since her name has been a song she doesn’t feel comfortable knowing the words to // The author’s flashbacks are mostly just about skin that was not hers // and chairs clattering against linoleum floors // The author hears a man make a joke about the pizza parlor in DC being the headquarters of an international political child pornography ring // while in front of a pizza parlor in downtown Boise // “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails is blasting through the open door and across the patio // and she wonders if this is what God cutting you down is supposed to feel like

This poem is related to “Backstage at the Dance Show”, which was published in Survive Like the Water

By Lydia Havens


Lydia Havens is a poet and editor currently living in Boise, Idaho. Her work has previously been published or is forthcoming in Winter Tangerine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Black Napkin Press, among others. Videos of her spoken word performances have been published on YouTube channels such as Button Poetry and Write About Now. Her first full-length collection, Survive Like the Water, was published in early 2017 by Rising Phoenix Press. Lydia currently works for Big Tree Arts Inc., and is a member of Boise’s 2017 National Poetry Slam team. She really likes exclamation points and lizards.

Black Man Poetry By David M. Taylor

Black Man Poetry

I used to write black man poems
about being black and a man.
But my words were discarded
in digital trashcans by white editors
wanting more—
a reason to demonstrate they understood
injustice and poverty,
food stamps and a dream deferred.

So I wrote about dreadlocks and marijuana,
stories about drunken fists shattering
my twelve-year-old bones
by my father who struggled
against the shackles of history,
the rage of being less than.

I said my brother was high,
got shot for being black
while walking across the street
to our barren apartment.

But then that didn’t matter–
I was simply a black man writing
black man poetry.

Luckily Ferguson became hip
and white people paid better
when I talked about how black lives matter,
commercialized history chained
black men to textbooks,
whitewashed oppression and apartheid.

And I wrote about black fists penetrating
swollen skies and teargas raped
broken neighborhoods
while school children hid under
their beds until morning came.

But I finally ran out of John Singleton plotlines
and talked about how the Cosby Show
made me believe in the power of education,
the audacity to want more than
twenty minutes in an afterschool special.

I said my parents were both doctors,
that I never grew up wanting—
my story was as simple as childhood.

And then Bill Cosby turned out to be a rapist.

This poem was originally published in Trailer Park Quarterly 

By David M. Taylor


I teach at a community college is St. Louis, MO. My work has appeared in various magazines including Trailer Park Quarterly, The Harrow, and Anthology, as well as upcoming in Misfit Magazine. I also have three poetry chapbooks—M&Ms and Other Insignificant Poems, Two Cobras in a Ritual Dance, and Life’s Ramblings.

Landing By Riley Zahn


The first time a person has sex after being assaulted
is a bit like jumping out of an airplane
when you may or may not have a parachute.
The harsh air rushing past you, the ground growing more urgent
and until you pull the cord
you have no idea if you made a huge mistake.

For me, this was the first time we had sex, I’ll never forget it.
Not for the orgasms, or the screams of pleasure
although they were memorable,
but the way you wrapped yourself around me
like the warmest fuzziest blanket
In the coldest, winteriest, Minnesota night.

For the way you asked if you could take off my shirt
And the icicles that hung from my memory melted
anxiety dripped down my legs and
formed a pool of serenity at the foot of your bed.
You dipped your fingers in that pool
and gently traced my scars.
The ones that were never on my body.
The ones left by that previous lover
who mistook my “no” for “try again later.”
The calmness coated my skin like warm wax, hot comfort
every time you checked in with a simple
“How are you doing?
“Do you want me to keep going?”
“Is this ok?”

You didn’t make those scars go away,
but you showed me that I’m not disfigured.

And I didn’t understand how you did it:
Navigated those scars so expertly,
Fingers Following every twist and turn like a car
hugging a winding, mountain road.
And I didn’t understand how you knew exactly what to say
to make me feel like everything was going to be ok
until I said “you make me feel safe”
And I could see it in your face:
You knew exactly what that meant.
You knew it all too well.

At the end of the night, I did not shut my eyes and pray that I would fall asleep
so I wouldn’t have to be awake for what you were going to do to me.

I kept my eyes open and prayed I would stay awake
so I could watch your chest rise and fall with each breath
just a little while longer,
but I fell asleep in your arms anyway.

And in my dreams, I pulled the cord,
The backpack opened,
and you jumped out
and expanded above me
and I
to the ground.

By Riley Zahn


Riley Zahn (she/her) is a trans woman, poet, educator and graduate student from Mankato, MN. She spends her time learning, unlearning, playing nerdy card games, and wondering if the people who work at the Chinese Buffet place are judging her for how often she eats there alone.