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By Jocelyn Jane Cox
I nestle into the covers beside my mother at naptime. I hold her arm in front of my face to examine her skin.
“How many do you think you have?” I ask.
“Oh I don’t know.” She laughs. “Hundreds? Maybe thousands?”
“I think millions,” I say with awe and proceed to count them.
At work one day, I notice that my shirt, bag, notebook, and umbrella are all patterned with polka dots. I chuckle about this and show my work bestie.
“I might need to do an intervention,” she jokes and I nod in agreement. But we both know I won’t change my style.
I don’t wear polka dots, squint at the stars, over-use ellipses, marvel at the pointillists, or crack unseemly amounts of pepper onto my food in honor of my mother’s skin. Or I don’t think I do, anyway.
“Life is complicated,” I tell my son, long after she is gone. “There are a million ways to think and a million ways to be. A million different things can happen, including a million things you don’t expect, and most of them are okay.” Most of them.
He holds my arm up in the sunlight, my sleeve falling back to my elbow, and, just like I had, he proceeds to count.
Jocelyn Jane Cox holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. Her memoir-in-progress, Zebra Party, is about losing her mother on her son’s first birthday. Her essays, short fiction, and humor have appeared or are forthcoming in Slate, Brevity Blog, Roanoke Review, Penn Review, Belladonna Comedy, Slackjaw, and Five Minutes. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives near Nyack, NY with her husband and son.
THEY TORE DOWN THE BERLIN WALL
By J. Archer Avary
Victor’s social sciences teacher wheeled a TV into the classroom.
“Let’s watch,” said Mr. Glasscock. “This is history unfolding.”
They tore down the Berlin Wall. It had the aesthetic of a Pepsi commercial. Manic overjoyed youth, sledgehammers, shattered concrete. It was almost 1990. A new generation had emerged to save the world from the baby boomers.
Victor was a naive freshman at Vanderpol Academy, intimidated by the ivy-shrouded red brick buildings of its sprawling campus. His homemade clothes made him an easy target for the juniors and seniors. They were all over him when he stepped off the bus.
“Look at those clothes.” said one senior, a jock. “Are those french fries?”
Victor’s parents were hardworking and frugal. Instead of ‘wasting money’ on new clothes, his mother sewed him custom jumpsuits made from eccentric bolts of cloth she found at the fabric store. The day the Berlin Wall came down, he was wearing the one with the french fry pattern.
“Let’s call him Fry Guy,” said another jock, this one a junior. “Are these clothes a symptom of some mental deficiency?”
“My parents are just cheap,” said Victor.
“My parents are republicans,” said the senior jock. “They pay tax so leeches like your impoverished family can live large on government cheese.”
“People like you make me sick,” said the junior jock. “If we catch you alone, we’re going to kick your ass, Fry Guy.”
“That’s a promise, not a threat.”
That promise weighed on Victor like a backpack full of chemistry textbooks. If he wanted to avoid a beatdown, he needed to watch his back.
They tore down the Berlin Wall. Everyone was caught up in the euphoria.
Victor tuned-in to breathless television pundits live via satellite. It was almost 1990. The cold war was over and the cable wars were on. The sun was shining on America. Bono from U2 uttered inspirational words into a camera’s lens. It was a beautiful distraction and Victor was blinded by the light.
“It’s that french fry eating dork,” said the senior jock, the ringleader. “Kick his ass!”
The junior jock lunged but missed. Victor sprinted away, towards the social sciences building, down a cobblestone path. He flung the door open and was immediately blasted with a torrent of chemical
foam. A third jock was in on the joke, extinguishing the fire extinguisher with Al Pacino intensity.
“Take that, you french fry eating freshman!”
Victor waited in the principal’s office, caked with foamy residue, a sad excuse for a powdered donut. They tore down the Berlin Wall, but Bono was wrong, that the world would never leave the 80’s behind.
His parents were on the way to Vanderpol Academy with a fresh change of clothes. Victor hoped it
wasn’t the jumpsuit with hot dogs on it.
J. Archer Avary farms cactus in the windowsill where he writes poems and stories. He wants to finish a novel one day but lacks that kind of focus. Sometimes he goes to hot yoga, but most of the time he makes excuses not to. Fun fact: he used to be a TV weatherman. Twitter: @j_archer_avary
becoming more human
I am delivered.
I have arrived, organic
flesh and bone, feeling
human, skin stretched / muscles tensing
sleep-deprived / sleep-needing
chewing, / / digesting,
growing, / / ingesting
contemplating / reaching,
growing, achieving, moving
would you believe h u r t i n g .
the tension, tendon, tortured
laughter, wells deep of joy
crinkling eyes, confused
bursting w/ life and energy,
pulsing, alive, here, hands
conscious, height- ened, crashing.
aware, thinking, confused,
majorly confused, complicated,
urges, dancing, awkward, consequences
moving, movement, inhale, exhale,
holding, delicate, fragile, breaking
weeping, strong, rising
learning, swimming, falling
anger, sorrow, grief, hardened heart
soft, failing, giving, touch
habit, ritual, bowing, lounging
flexing, crossing, walking
standing, fighting, tossed around
knocked out, weak, growing
hitting a wall, growing
control, balance, losing
starving, satisfying, attracted
compelled, convulsions, repulsion
disgust, fear, shivers, angst, lightning
love, warmth, bitter, lashing, wild
running, playing, cooking, creating
watching, intaking, expressing, wishing
yearning yearning yearning
compact, atoms, buzzing, laughing
feeding, praying, philosophizing
connecting, riding, emotions, waves
sitting, reacting, staring, spacing
limited, mortal, wondering, scared
post traumatic stress disorder
anxiety, resistance, depression, numbness
return, nostalgia, memories, longing
difference, existential, sinning
repenting sinning repenting sinning repenting
l e a r n i n g .
b r e a t h i n g .
e x t e n d i n g .
g r o w i n g.
l i v i n g.
m o r t a l . e m b o d i e d . s p i r i t .
what is this life
I have been given
this compact concentration
of genes and stardust and earth
of information and spirituality
makes up the shape of me.
What an accident
that I was created
in their sex.
What a miracle.
All that is natural
Retired Matchmaking God
Imagine a man so focused on God
that the only reason he looked up to see you
is because he heard God say, “That’s her.”
I’ve imagined it. And he’s dumb as rocks.
I imagine a God tired of telling every creature which one to eat for lunch;
every moth which mate to flutter in the air with;
every octopus which lumbering other to dance in the sea with;
every lizard, amphibian, mammal,
which encounters to end their lives on a high note with;
every mutation to every happy painting accident,
happy sculpting accident, guiding evolution along
to get just the right cells and sparks and DNA in place.
What if God is tired of being asked to account for
for every appearance possible to be mutated into reality?
for the uncanny valley, too, for the Neanderthals were His creation too,
that He loved and folded up into later use, a creation that had its run.
He is busy, mandating every mate, sparking every love
and for the birds, it’s a lot of pressure, because they do mate for life you know;
and for the bees, it’s a lot of pressure, because one date means an entire colony;
and for the humans, well, he tried to give a different story—
tested if they could be the first asexual aromantic creatures, actually
to conceive anew from sole spiritual love, to create from outside, beaming
but the world was not ready for that. It only saw miracles in breeders.
And years later, they will divide up a tale of how man must not be alone
and limit that only to monogamy
and all the rest of unloneliness to but temptation.
Finally, God gave in and gave the humans sex just as the creatures before them
and though He emphasizes Adam chooses Eve
and though Eve is, just as much, loving Adam
they will add that her love was submissive, while Lilith’s unmatch was rebellious
though Lilith and Eve were friends, perhaps. They never fought over Adam.
(Can Liliths and Eves ever be friends? Can Adams and Eves?)
And now the people, how they cry out for matchmaking;
and how they plan love for political gain;
and how sometimes marriage is the only thin thread keeping peoples
from killing one another.
Tired matchmaking God adores when His beloveds meet at last
but delegates to the angels all this nonsense about going to hell for singleness too long
for ungratefulness for being attractive;
for selfishness of not mixing DNA every chance they get;
for cheating on future husbands, spare a thought for people who will never exist,
as if God could ever neglect to make a single soul.
Meanwhile, single souls are shot down in the land of the living, too,
every survivor not pitiable enough.
Tired matchmaking God delegates to the cloud of witnesses: all that cry of losing heaven’s pass
for horrors of loving more than once, and not bundling up all their hearts and feelings;
for the sin of knowing their own created body and what feels like comfort to them;
for the spit in the face of creation for loving truly, healthily, with full adoration
if they have too much in common, like anatomy, or talk too much beforehand.
The ancestors themselves struggle sometimes, to be more than ancestor,
to call them more than descendent. What else can we call them? they ask God.
They can barely hold themselves up, and worry too about failing generations down the line.
How to tell them it’s okay, souls already shall be, outside of time? We exist either way?
How to tell them, God knows? God has not answered yet.
Tired matchmaking God wants to turn to the cosmos and heavens
keep on creating there, for God does have others to tend to
but something keeps calling Him back, sweet children He cannot leave
crying out when they get to be loved, when they get to be loved, when they get to be loved
in a world so full of love, so crammed with heaven,
that they buried it, and misplaced their treasure,
and damned the earth that holds them up.
In the deepest dark
where you’d think is colder than the poles,
where food is a blue whale carcass
stocked for years, or none at all
Where light hypnotizes, and jaws snatch
in a world without our eyes;
Where the smallest may feast
making clean this world [unseen]
and oceans, too, without skies—
In this deepest dark,
close to the earth’s heart
where sun is a myth
and the surface unheard of
(is such ignorance bliss?):
If light filters not from above
falling to serve those below—
then let my light be from within
and in this universe, glow.
Ellen Huang (she/her) is an aroace lover of the whimsical gothic and spec-fic. She reads for Whale Road Review and is published/forthcoming in K’in, Resurrection Mag, Serendipity Lit, Brown Sugar Literary, The Sock Drawer, South Broadway Ghost Society, miniskirt magazine, warning lines, Moss Puppy Magazine, Messy Misfits, Persephone’s Daughters, and more. She is currently working on a fairytale chapbook and an asexual horror anthology.
By Abu Ibrahim
The universe is a box of paradoxes
The way opposites attract — every night, darkness and light collides,
the moon bulbs the sky
My doctor tells me:
Man is mostly a body of water
Now I understand why I am always at sea
Now I understand why I am going through hell
Abu Ibrahim Ojotule popularly known as IB is a socially conscious poet whose work has caused tremendous influence and change both locally and internationally. His debut spoken word album “Music Has Failed Us” got a Grammy acceptance, and was in line for a possible nomination by the Recording Academy for the 2022 awards. This body of work is available on all major music streaming platforms. He sees poetry as a powerful tool to cause positive change and redefine society. When he is not writing or performing poetry, he works with brands and individuals across different sectors as photographer and brand strategist/storyteller.
Oceania: The Last Beach
By Hazel J. Hall
Humanity had lessened since its peak of billions; selfishness proved to be as mortal as
Now there is only one beach. One final shore before the abyss of clouds. Sky void remnants of what no longer shines.
A woman stands before the water. Her toes feel the sand. Plastic. It feels like plastic.
Her eyes wander over the ocean. Oh, sea. Oh, reef. Forgotten words of a distant past.
Far over the water, a neon rain begins to fall. It is green. And when the lightning reaches down to touch the water, it is red.
There are no boats out at sea. All of the wanderers have found their way home. Every road has been traveled. Every path to be seen since discovered. There is nothing else left to know.
There is finally peace.
The woman clears her throat, turning to the bottle in her hand. Strawberry mead.
She lifts the glass bottle, the distant echoes of raging thunder sharing her final toast with her.
But she smiles, beginning to take a sip.
With her eyes closed, she does not even see the flash. The brief instant before contact.
The forever stillness. The road finding its way home.
Who is to say we did not know this was possible? The last beach, finally free of swimmers and tourists? A quiet world of acid rain? Acid rain, neon lightning, and desert forests.
Balance has been restored in the natural world. There is peace.
Hazel J. Hall (she/they) is an eighteen-year-old disabled-queer writer based in rural New Hampshire. Right now, she is pursuing an English degree while working on her first novel. More of Hazel’s work can be found in Dream Noir, Poetry As Promised, and Sage Cigarettes, with other pieces forthcoming or visible at their site, hazeljhall.com.