Because the night is a quiet horse, asleep in the field, you notice the lonely noises I make as I scratch my skin bloody as I dream: please & who’s there & the water which, unhindered by my medicine-broken brain, flows from closed eyes. Lover, it would be such a good night mare: blood under my nails, scars hidden over time with hair. The shiver which wanders my muscles from my nervous mind. But if a foal is a sprinter, learning to stand, let the way you touch me gently be the dreamer learning to wake. The fields of sheets shiver from the wind of the open window. Later, yes, I’m yours. Your saddle. We ride. But for now, moon in the morning sky, you steer these hooves to sweetgrass. You calm me free.
Willow James Claire (they/them) is a trans poet from Arizona. Their work has been nominated for both the Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize anthologies, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Frontier, Protean, The Indianapolis Review, and Foglifter. Willowholds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.
with wings i wobble down a cobble road i left a bottle of brown rum at the crossroads
my limp is getting fuller by the moon i wonder who plotted
this path, this map i make my life
i am swift as the spaceships behind my eyelids
beauty finds me dappled in ecstasy i found by the magnolia outside
maybe these were killing fields but today my heart is here,
and there’s no one i desire to destroy let us live a together that jumps fences
i have had many agendas i left them at the crossroads too
i am only one in this great wide ocean of language wielding wonder in verse
i am a stanza of beauty nothing can counter but me we are stanzas glory be to god
if i’m strange when i get there i’ll have my wings outer space blues clearing my mind outer space hues might blow
all our minds
what if freedom crawls from deep within
oh, cry and cry, ocean sky let down the rain
i will savor in the mess of mud draw all my fears near
shake the dust after i’m ashes i’ll be an ancestor running free
the sky i choose to see only growing wider
gather fire coal, pit me in that hole i can take the heat
alchemize my soul it is myself I desire to meet
there are words crawling around to be picked up words i choose i give myself permission i will not apologize for the blue butterfly dancing in my hydrangeas memories there are many things seen i dream space of no time i before—of dark sounds beat evil eye down my back
here is happy as a crow perched upon my crown for lunch at winyah bay i do not require you
and i love big as all that water big as all that water holding stories
i ripple out love i breathe like the live oak i stand rooted i speak to you plain
there is much i have to say i love myself now i love myself
this here being which means i can feel you
III. Out There
tone-deaf tercets are still gonging bells syllables of narcissism
run capitalism run politicians run U.S.A.’s god
tourmalinated quartz double terminated points is me standing here
as a recordkeeper telling you these are loops we are living in
there is no time i’m hands up don’t shoot sixteen years old & the cop
has e¹ finger on the trigger in anywhere is everywhere took 20 years for that fear
to leave my wonderful body look here is my heart pumping full of the brightest blue
i am bloody as when I arrived i soak my pen in its dye i shift rhythms invoke reparations i don’t ask permission i stand in my power
fear fear fear fear look look there is your heart
when i needed you to see me i did not write anything i meant to say what i mean to say is the writing is best when I don’t know where i’m going
where I’m going might be Black as my granddaddy’s face topsoil beneath crimson clover i was shiny and i was for sale now all i want is growing a garden lush inside of me
we all grow when one does we all know suffering because we are alive
when i realized i was alive decay and fear left my front porch haint blue began to speak alongside mugwort gone to seed i listened to cinnamon sticks boiling on my stove
i put my head over steam of basil said hello being we are alive kiss the day
when i entered my third decade of bag lady i was alone inside, remembering little me
little me who loved stars feared the night counting evergreens as i passed by i think about how much love it took to survive
a part of me believed when i forgot to charm you you wouldn’t stay
it’s been proven i the fool over and over melting into different parts of the same face same empty eyes
trying to get my lesson how grandma said
now i know running for my life cannot be running from myself
rain flooding my home all around is water for me to wade
watching trouble decay trail off
into a rusted storm drain
i pray thank you every time i remember
____________________ 1. In Gullah-Geechee culture, e/em are gender-neutral pronouns.
Marlanda Dekine’s forthcoming collection, Thresh & Hold (Hub City Press, 2022), won the New Southern Voices Poetry Prize, selected by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Their poem, “Ars Poetica,” is the text for a muso-poetic community performance with the award-winning composer/performer collective, counter)induction. Dekine is a Tin House Scholar, a Palm Beach Poetry Festival Langston Hughes Fellow, and a Fellow at The Watering Hole. Their work is obsessed with ancestry, memory, and the process of staying within one’s own body, leaving spells and incantations for others to follow for themselves. They live in South Carolina with their wise dog, Malachi
The famous white male poet at the poetry reading who during the first BLM Movement said there was nothing left to say said I should write more love poems, he said, That’s what Eileen is so good at, That’s what Adrienne was so good at.
All the white men’s books stuck on the shelves of closed stores, coughing Listen to the behind the paywalls of song, sounds of the their voices dim pages & dimmer—I’m listening to my pulp Of the Devoured
country cringe. Cringe & scroll
& forget where she got that [cotton garment] forget
If she ever really knew you If you ever really knew her
R/B Mertz (thee/thou) is a trans/non-binary butch poet and artist. They wrote the memoir Burning Butch (Unnamed Press, 2022), the essay, “How Whiteness Kills God & Sprinkles Crack on the Body,” the foreword for John J. McNeill’s Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone Else, and many poems, including “(We all end up in) the CAN,” published by American Poetry Journal. Mertz taught writing in Pittsburgh for eleven years and was honored to be a finalist for City of Asylum’s 2020-21 Emerging Poet Laureate of Pittsburgh. On January 1, 2021, Mertz left the US for love, and they now reside in Toronto, Ontario, traditionally the territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples.
Coyote Shook is a cartoonist, Appalachian apostate, and PhD candidate in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. They can also be found traipsing through New Mexico and Louisiana not infrequently.
Their comics and visual essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in a range of American and Canadian literary magazines, including (but not limited to) Shenandoah Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Maine Review, The Puritan, The South Dakota Review, and Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly.
Their debut graphic novel, Coyote the Beautiful, was the 2020 winner of the Jeanne Leiby Chapbook Contest with The Florida Review, the first comic to win. Feel free to follow them on Instagram (@coyoteshook) or to check out their website: coyoteshookcomics.com.
Twist me, why don’t you, a wet towel between your hands wrung out onto a peeling linoleum floor.
Whisper that I need prayer for a fast marriage to a god-fearing husband and babies crawling on my back.
Make me put on a skirt, grow my hair out, dedicate my life to daily sermons like some goddamned saint, give servers gospel tracts instead of tips, burn all my good vinyl.
Choke me until I recant and reclaim your bitter god. Baptize me in saltwater.
Shake me until the tattoos fall off my chest.
See what good it does you.
Soon Jones is a Korean American lesbian poet, fiction writer, and failed missionary from the rural countryside of the American South. Their work has been published or is forthcoming in Westerly, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Moon City Review, and Emerge: Lambda Literary Fellows Anthology. They can be found at soonjones.com.
skin sheens sweat / thru dark a man stares at me & why this fear / manifests itself as fixation I don’t mean I’m afraid I mean it hurts every time
last night I was a cowboy / pursued by sheriff ghosts at the campfire / the dead bastards shot me / a fugitive feeling not unlike being hunted / haunted / don’t look behind you
falling asleep to Lorde’s “Buzzcut Season” / ode to the waking dream I confuse the lyric / I live in a hologram with you / for hallowed ground cannot unhear this / make believe it’s hyperreal / wildsmoke off the fence
night elides us / slick, cold & breath-close chorus of the lost / a mistaken intimacy a mondegreen / a green world
for so long this hard press of knife. / slice my calloused fingertips / & out sprouts a phantom touch / ghostpoppies / invocation of softness /
some nights they come to me as zombies. or not zombies but undead / not ghosts (immaterial) or reanimated (fleshrot) but as a kind of undoing / alternate spring / in which the dead never die
late summer afternoon I awake with a start / sweat-choked & burning / taste of pink bubblegum seared in the mouth how to carry over / sweetsmell / make real all that is not
blue of the ante-sun / out of the damp, black gravel / the platypus-penguins begin to hatch one tips its vermillion bill in my palm
tapping in recognition / hunger / I run away. it’s screaming & I’m not its mother what do I care.
in the dream the ghost refuses to leave my body / says she holds me back bc I will not reckon with the truth great. how the disease is exactly the symptom
in “Revolutionary Letter #41,” Diane di Prima describes revolution as turning, as the earth / turns, among planets, as the sun / turns round some (darker) star
we turn / from dark to light, turn faces of pain & fear, the dawn awash among them
disremember all the tonguesick paradigms / paradise a walled lotus-garden / utopia / which means nothing of heaven / its root of sky / ceiling / boundary / limit
unswallow the misery that soothes says / escape is only a dream. no dream will escape us
dream up for our loves / dead & new / new freedoms devotions / dance / songs / aches / words / to shout each we are wood-ash, bile & moonrust to give
the cicada-nymphs / crawl out of their dreams into my mouth / perch on my tongue / turn towards the unfamiliar firmament / sing counterpoint
I come to / dreamsong to sunrise / to remake our hands a murmuration / wavering. or waving
Leon Barros (he/they) is a queer Filipino editor and poet. Their work has been featured in The Daily Cal and HOLD: A Journal. You can find them on Twitter @leonbarros or Instagram @leon_barros.
Summer wants me fully grown and tender tendergrown and short haired. I cut myself loose fall right into the warm and broken mouths of my 3 ex-girlfriends, last of which was Me. Well, Julian of Norwich got sick and found the world in a hazelnut, found love thumping its hind legs through the shell. Well, I got better and found my masculinity in a tiny rubber horse, found what drowns me in 3 specks of light. Well, winter wants me half-shorn and beautiful. I was always one for running away; spring is what happens to the princes that want to swallow rainfall. Well, whatever: don’t you think I look even prettier than before? Kid, this is what Butch looks like: sticking your tongue through autumn and seeing stars in the veins of November.
It’s Thursday and I’m bent over the bathroom sink, trying to fix a bad cut. they always see my bad haircuts for what they are: a paper-mache ceiling I don’t let anybody break through but their drunk self on the roof, old Docs dangling through a hole that bleeds with spring’s light. they’re cross legged on the floor, sporting a bright and brave face, letting their tendergrown hair fall into a bucket. I never fall too far from them, really, because I’m always trying to get back to the transness that birthed me so freakishly beautiful is lipstick on lipstick is a smattering of sun-dried tomatoes on dusk – our kinds of lips hardly move for anything other than big love and the mottled want that manages to scrape through when we fall through the city’s pipes and song. I want to be handsome, real handsome and I want to get all pretty and handsome for the love of my life who understands this performance is no small thing and quietly smiles when they rub their fingers over my neck – feel the sound of my hydrangea voice rushing through like blood and water and sweetness. when they look at me there are one too many genders in my heart, all unbearable spring light: touch me. touch me. touch me before the paints are one color. touch me afterwards, too. touch me when there’s nothing to touch. touch me when desire finally pushes its way through my soft scalp and is no longer the jagged bone I know it to be. touch me when the ground gives way for the last time. “You’re pretty handsome with that deep voice of yours, aren’t you? Almost makes up for the bad cut,” they say. Touch me, I say.
Joan Angel Estrada is a trans writer currently residing in Southern California. His work has been published in the Santa Ana River Review and in Sunday Mornings at the River. You can find him thinking about Joan of Arc or on Instagram @rockingoceans.