atonement By Natalie Hampton

atonement

My sister thinks I’m a saint
and falls to her knees when I pass.

I remember what belief felt like:
pews and bowed heads and lips

peaked with desires. Church was a place.
I think it smelled like mildew or maybe

that was the bathrooms I hid in when
the sermons got too long. The summer

before second grade, I went to a church
camp. They played familiar songs on

banjos, the strings snapping halfway
through. We sung along and they

changed the lyrics away from sex and
drugs to praying and bibles. One of the

counselors was a high school student.
He liked to hold my hand between

activities. I wonder how he’s doing now.
I think his name was Alex. Or maybe John.

***

My mother thinks I’m a demon
and surrounds my room with salt.

She took three years of Spanish in
high school and retains nothing but

the curses. With her white accent, she
tells me to go to hell and I pretend

not to understand. At church camp, they
told me if I didn’t accept god into my

heart I was going down below. They said
my Jewish friends, my Muslim friends,

my Atheist friends would all have a place
there. I spit in their faces and they sent

me to the corner where I cried until they
felt bad. Next time, I’ll throw salt back at her.

***

My father thinks I’m an angel
and never dares to come close.

I’m made of light, in his mind,
delicate matter that burns at

the touch, and maybe that’s why
he stays away. He still writes

me letters on my birthday, and
every other December, I stay

at his new house with his new
mortal family: he doesn’t have

to be afraid of them. He can touch
them, hold them. My sister doesn’t

remember him, not his face or name,
and I don’t tell her either. We were the

only family at Church cleaved in two,
and I heard people whisper that

the bible condemns divorce. But that
union birthed an angel, so even

if temporary, I say we deserve a temporary
reprieve. Can we ask the saints for that?

First appeared in The Lumiere Review (June 2021)

By Natalie Hampton

Biography

Natalie Hampton is a rising junior at the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Creative Writing Department. She has been recognized at the National level of the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition and by the Harris County Department of Education, the Young Poets Network, the Pulitzer Center, and Ringling College of Art and Design. She serves as an editor at Polyphony Lit and Cathartic Literary Magazine. She has taken online workshops and classes with Iowa, Brown, Sewanee, and Ellipsis Writing.

The Wind Phone By Gaetan Sgro

The Wind Phone

—for the people of Otsuchi

The booth is like any other. Silver
Frame and windows engraved
By some past passenger’s keys.

How long has it been since you folded
Yourself like a letter, dashed off at the receiver
And melted into the breeze?

This portal sits on a hill
In a garden overlooking the sea.
Salt rinses it daily.

In the sky above
Great pylons loom
Without lines connecting.

A man comes by car each morning
Tracing a series of arcs, echoes
Of his uncle’s voice across decades.

On the last day, he arrives and cuts
The engine. Sunlight electrifies
The dull steel cage.

Squinting, the old man stumbles
And just as he reaches the portal
The wind phone rings.

By Gaetan Sgro

Biography

Gaetan Sgro is an internal medicine doctor, “girl dad,” and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where he directs a program in the medical humanities. His poems have appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Glass: Poet’s Resist, Blueline, The Healing Muse, Apiary Magazine, Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Best New Poets 2016, and other fine publications.

Atlanta By Caroline Aung

Atlanta

I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors.
Who touched them? Whom did they touch? Did they close their eyes or keep them open? Did
they like it— the touching— despise it, or merely see it as synonymous to mundane survival?

I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors.
I see my mother lying face-up on the parlor floor. Leaking her one life onto the linoleum. Glass
shattered around her deflated body. I see my brother, heaving, his face hidden in her shirt. No
breath, no noise, just darkness swelling, swallowing.

I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors.
How did they call their children to the dinner table at the closing of every day? Cutie pie,
sweetie, love? Érzi, ttal, adeul? In my dreams tonight, my mother calls me to dinner, but I never
reach her no matter how far I walk towards her voice.

I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors.
Nothing makes sense. “Hypersexualization,” “Eliminate,” “Asian.” Why does nothing make
sense? The words flash resolutely on searing screens. The words displace all air with piles of
pixels, confused sound waves. What is living in the face of “violence,” “gender,” “race”? What
is the point of language, with all its fucking artificiality?

I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors.
I gasp awake shivering, his bare chest damp against my cheek. He rolls towards me with his
typical depthless tenderness. My love, you are my love, where else can I find such safety? How
far you see beneath my yellow skin. How far do you see beneath my yellow skin? His ocean eyes
stare straight through me, and I dissolve into his arms, formless.

I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors.
Sisters, mothers, listen— a part of me died with you that day. I say this with eyes closed. Tell me,
what does peace look like to you? What would you have done if given exactly that kind of
peace? Tell me what to do with this one precious life, unwilding swiftly beneath our fingertips.

By Caroline Aung

Biography

Caroline Aung is an anthropologist and urbanist from Austin, Texas. She received her B.A. in anthropology from Stanford University and is pursuing her M.A. in city design at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a finalist for Bellingham Review’s Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction, and strongly believes in the power of writing to contribute to social change.

Are you even an American? By Allison Deptolla

Are you even an American?

Are you even an American until the sirens wail and the rumble of helicopters shakes your house as much as your heart?

Until you shuffle your children into the basement family room, shutting the curtains and locking the doors, in case the gunman is out there?

Until you hold your breath for hours

            dreading the release of names

                        waiting for the response to a text

                                    wondering if this was all an imagined horror,

                                                because such things happen in other places?

Until you’ve received the frantic messages yourself, your fingers flying as you confirm that yes, we’re at home, we’re safe….for now?

Until your street is blocked with media tents, broadcasting images that look like the aftermath of every other mass shooting, except this time it’s from the library lawn where your children read books and pick dandelions?

Are you even an American until you have to grapple with the reality that all the candles by the gates are for neighbors who died

            buying tomatoes

                        scanning cartons of chicken broth

                                                waiting in line at the pharmacy counter for a vaccine?

Until you’ve hung signs and flowers in a place you’ve been countless times before, in the ordinary days of buying bread without blood on the floor?

Until you’ve fallen to your knees by the yellow crime scene tape, knees sinking into the soggy spring earth, and wondered how you’ll pass this place every day?

Until you suddenly become very aware of the fact that you are indeed alive, knowing some are not?

Are you even an American until you come face to face with realizing it could have been you

            your child

                        your mother

                                    your father

                                                your neighbor

                                                            your friend

                                                                        who becomes a victim to gun violence in America?

Until you look your daughter in the eye and try to explain without weeping that a man with a gun did a very bad thing just two blocks down the hill, and we don’t know why?

Until you learn that a brave father perished while protecting your community?

Until you’ve heard the bullets spray, if only in your nightmares?

Are you even an American until this story comes to visit your town

            your school

                        your church

                                    your family

                                                your community?

If I wasn’t before, then I am truly American now.

By Allison Deptolla

Biography:

Allison Deptolla is a Lecturer at the International English Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She holds a BA in English and an MA in Applied Linguistics. This is her first published poem.

Ink By Emily Enriquez

Ink

A raven flew in,
through an open door.

Black and blue wingspan
across my clean walls.
But my skin was a cage

the raven,

was never meant,

to see.

He splattered his ink,
in ugly patterns,
all over my white halls.

He plucked,

and peeled,

my flesh

from my bones.
And shattered

the only window

I left-

Intact.

By Emily Enriquez

Biography

Emily Enriquez is a poet from Wrightwood, California. She has been passionate about writing since she was a child, entering many contests and publications for the Creative Communication company throughout middle and high school. All of Emily’s poems are focused on capturing raw emotion and the human experience. She graduates with a Bachelor’s in English this year and is planning on seeking further education in publishing.

Jackknifed By Gaetan Sgro

Jackknifed

Good news, the tests have all been negative.
The doctors think the pain is nothing serious.
Bent double like the knife against my shin
I’ve come unhinged since the incident.

The doctors think the pain is nothing serious.
Sixty dollars, man. That’s all, the police said.
Unhinged since the incident, I never leave my house
Without a weapon. The screen door boxes with the wind.

Sixty dollars, man. That’s all the police said.
My son was one good looking kid, tall and slim
He left the screen door thrashing in the wind.
They cut my tall son down and stuffed his body in the trash.

My son was one good looking kid, tall and slim.
We had to close the casket. Unhinged I started hacking at
My wrists. They threw my son away like he was trash.
Good news the doctors said. The tests have all been negative.

By Gaetan Sgro

Biography

Gaetan Sgro is an internal medicine doctor, “girl dad,” and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where he directs a program in the medical humanities. His poems have appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Glass: Poet’s Resist, Blueline, The Healing Muse, Apiary Magazine, Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Best New Poets 2016, and other fine publications.

Stinging By Georgi Butch

Stinging

To sew is to
Lick the frayed nerves
And tie them to the needle
As holes are poked and threaded
In pain
Through the seam that needs stitching;
And the sting
Is felt not by the skin
But the holes
Which do not open
They close.

To heal is to
Let the clouds roll over on their sides
And release what they hold
As the sky roars
To drain
What never truly belonged;
As it falls
It feels not the lows
But the highs
And it does not dampen
It dries.

To sprout is to
Let the alcohol into the cracks
And let it sting
As the biting drops fall
Like rain
On a plant that needs water;
While it flows
It feels not the water
But the sun
And it does not burn
It grows.

By Georgi Butch

Biography:

Georgi Butch is a rising poet who currently attends high school in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She frequents poetry slams and enjoys performing spoken word, but hopes to have her work widely published in print.

Tunnel of Fireflies By Eryka Renata

Tunnel of Fireflies

I had this

 friend.

                                    a friend.           a friend

A friend            A friend            A friend. The paper people come out the train when

                                                                        I followed the dark dashes to cut

Here. Instructions. Please be gentle while opening. Caution.

Rogue Schizophrenic Extra-Terrestrial. Handle with care.

He was away. I watered the forest of his room.
The plants were too heavy to carry myself.
I am too heavy to carry myself.
The house swelled in and out my body
Learning how to catch itself again.
Please be gentle while

Opening. The car door into the humid air. Into the summer night. We stepped on

rocks to go somewhere by the train tracks. Red light carving the outline of his

face. Don’t look for the foreshadowing

Here. a Tunnel of Fireflies. A forest around us but

there was no canopy. Little green fires everywhere.

There is all fire and no

language.
my friend spoke an extra terrestrial
language to me on my nineteenth birthday and
i sat in the alphabet of it all and imagine
plants and fire escapes and a canopy
to hide everyone else in the room.
there, i could form biographies inside of my head
based on the false translations of his language
[He       could        be       saying        anything]
Please, be

                                                            Gentle. It’s all stop signs. Red light. Goodnight.

                                                            Like the book. i’ll read you a children’s book.

                                                            Something along the lines of there was a green

                                                            bear in the middle of a dark starry night and the

                                                            fireflies danced around him as he lifted himself

                                                            On to two legs at the edge of the tracks bending both

his knees as if he’s going to—   

By Eryka Renata

Biography

Eryka Renata is a poet from the Chicagoland area. Dedicated to craft and the avant-garde, much of her work borders the experimental while maintaining the realism of everyday life. She believes in the complex combination of art and storytelling, wishing to amplify her voice to offer a unique lens in which she sees the world. Renata is also a student of psychology who dreams to spread a long breath of compassion and empathy wherever she goes.

A Shrine of Babies By Diepreye Amanah

A Shrine of Babies

I watch her as she slips her spread fingers
into transparent examination gloves, digs
them into the potting soil in the flower pot,
pulls a handful up and pours potato peels
into the bottom. In this pot she puts
the withering bunch of red rose flowers
she was gifted last month for her
52nd birthday anniversary which she claims
is her 48th , then adds it to the collection
of vases in the right corner of the living room.
In the vases are dying or recently resuscitated
blue orchids, eucalyptus, dracaena, purple orchids
peace lilies, and a bonsai tree.
Since last month she grows ecstatic whenever
she finds a sprouted onion or potato in the pantry,
or an old garlic clove choking in parsley and celery
at the bottom of the refrigerator. She runs to tuck them
into the spaces in the soil around the other plants.
They grow now, reaching out like fingers and toes
plagued with arthritis. Their weak breath caresses her palms
and her heart leaps. I bet she names them all—
names them after the babies she could have cradled.
Maybe if she had begun this shrine
many years ago, one of the stalks would have
climbed up, crawled into and filled her empty womb.

By Diepreye Amanah

Biography:

Diepreye Amanah is a senior studying English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her poems appear in Carolina Woman Magazine, the Health Humanities Journal of UNC, and as prize winners in the 2021 A.R. Ammons Poetry Contest. Her poem is forthcoming in Up the Staircase Quarterly.

Sammi Yamashiro By Sammi Yamashiro

Duffel Bag Girl

It is August 26, 2019: I rush through Naha Airport to board my plane to Narita, then to Houston…

Never was a…
Never was a…

Semifluid coagulation, concealed by an orange rind. 
My hips pocket my pulp
fiction, revolutionized.

What gaudy contents! 

                     Desiccated raisin of a torso;

                     My shoulder, a coat rack, balances the duffel—

                     barely secured on that waxing crescent moon.

                     It is I, bolstering the single ton, 

                                                                        all on my own.

Hush now, fellow passengers: a baptism is in session.  

                                                 Let this be the lesson:

The TSA agents hack
at my dermis with their x-ray gaze.
Performing an exorcism, the deepest cleansing.

Bleach the layers of my cake, clean-cut.
Annihilate my enamel, corner up the blanket
till you expose my nail beds.

You are the colonizers ransacking 
the beniimo fields, hurling molotovs at Shuri Castle.
A fifth time wasn’t good enough?

Underneath my rubble lies the hymns of Heaven.
Hatch out of your egg, my blinding song!
You moths follow the crumbs to my sticky light.

Christ has crossed my heart with His 
scarlet thumb. A message 
bleeds forth: Do not hope to die.

                     Another chance is your fundamental right.

                     So onward, girl!

                     Your neighborhood’s stowed safe 

                     in your duffel bag, in the pocket

                     of your hips.

My shriveled-up Sequoia forests
leap across tectonic plates. Away from this greenhouse mess.

A refugee who will not plead—
a title that fits my fingertips!
This feels illegal. This entrances me.

I shall gladly do time. 

By Sammi Yamashiro

Biography:

Sammi Yamashiro began her poetry journey in high school and has had multiple poems featured in several anthologies (Train River Publishing, Sunday Mornings at the River). She self-published her poetry collection “The Peach Pit Mask”, which reached #1 in New Releases in Asian American Poetry on Amazon Kindle. You can read her writing on Instagram (@sammiyamashiro) or visit her website (sammiyamashiro.com) to find more of her work.