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BCE, CE, & Before I Knew
by Ashna Singh

When my fleshy skin brushes over cold surfaces,
the unfamiliarity intertwines within the flow of my ocean blue veins.
Fear and unrest find a home in me
to linger through nostalgia, memory, and mourning
to glide over missing puzzle pieces of the Self.
My internal monologues stir up seduction and enchantment:
like lustful eerie-eyed sirens who want to be my first taste
of surrender—of masked destruction—of blind ecstasy.

The flavor of soft, red-berry blending through my brain waves,
Eros and Eris twirling around on my shoulders
Sensual and Excruciating paths of rhythm
carving their compulsions onto me, but I am no longer
a controlled subject.
I choose to connect
to dreams, consciousness,
the milk that nurtured me to survive elegant catastrophes,
and the source of compassion
swinging back and forth
through harmony, danger, and negotiations.
You reached for the messiest parts of me
& taught me about the paradise of security.

You chewed me up into pomegranate gush,
​devoured me,
& rebirthed me into an
Angel in disguise.
The coldness melted away, & I found shelter in my own skin.
My Life, My Rules…
covering up the sleeves of my dainty arms.
I fixed up the stitches of my thoughts,
Let them dissolve in my sleep then
my heart began to beat for myself again.

The stars took me in as their own:
Pouring multitudes inside of me
as I cling onto new hopes and sensations.
The scent of my mother’s kheer soothing and igniting
every inch of the wick that is my aura.
Dior Addict lip glows warmer than my champagne highlight,
But never as warm as the scintillation of protecting my pneuma.
Restoration is becomed when we seek vulnerability in each other.
When the weight moves, you won’t be a prisoner of contemplation
& you’ll know the kiss of sanity
& the touch of eternity.

Can't jump the garden gate anymore
by Linda M. Crate

self-love can be an act of rebellion
in a world that tells you that something
always needs to be changed or altered,
in a world that tells you: "you'll love
yourself if you do x, y, or z and not before";
but i have found that there is beauty in
me now even in all of my flaws
and imperfections—

because i am always beautiful no matter what
even with my brown eyes, even on the days
i don't feel like wearing make-up;
even on the days where i don't feel like shaving
there's always something to love because
despite everything i have been through this body
and mind and soul are the ones that have gotten me
through the worst days of my life—
i love my creativity, my strength, and my ability
to be independent in a world that tells you that
you always need someone, i have opted out of
co-dependency because to know me is a gift
not something anyone is entitled to;
i have learned to value myself and i am not going
back to the days without boundaries where
i just let anyone jump the garden gate and have
a seat at my table.

Difficult to Love My Body
by Ace Boggess

Difficult for me to love my body.
It bends at odd angles,
creaks like wet hinges of a coffin lid opening,

takes up too much space
even as I slim to a line
avoiding contact in doorways.

This is the house in which I live:
over-large, crooked awning above the porch,
windows dusted out of focus,

foundation cracked & shifting
under the heavy earth.
Difficult for me to love my body.

Difficult for others, too.
They want to make use of it,
sentence it to hard labor.

It defies them, leaning toward sloth,
while I say a dozen
Hail Bartlebys in penance.

This is the house in which I live &
others come to visit.
Some leave happy to have seen inside,

run hands over soft pillows &
glossy countertops; most knock &
leave their basket of candies at the door.

I hope they return sooner, realize
it’s as difficult for them to love my body
as for me to love my body,

this lived-in house with its rich history,
memories grand & horrid.
Ghosts, too. Not difficult for them.

Bright, white scars, they love
my body & me inside it
so much that they never plan to leave.

Don't be so hard on yourself
by Dennis "M.A. Dennis" Francis

When it comes to parenting, 
             of the glory 
             of God.

When I think of my shortcomings as a father, 
I think of Abraham and what must’ve been 
a strained relationship with his son: On their
way down from the mountain, how awkward
(and unsafe) did Isaac feel, after the almost-
human sacrifice? What if the governor, or 
goat, hadn’t called at the very last second?

When I think of my shortcomings as a dad, 
I think of Darth Vader, 
and Thanos, 
and O.J. Simpson, 
and animal kingdom patriarchs 
who eat their own young, 
and I think: I’m not as bad as I think.

When it comes to childhood, I had almost
no father—and was thrust into the dad role
without orientation or supervised training, 
and worked triplet-shifts because the job
wouldn’t gimme a break!—so I listen to my 
inner-Nell Carter: Don’t be so hardened heart
on your(stiff-necked)self.

When I think of my failures as a parent, 
I recall my son as a baby, having congestion 
so bad he couldn’t breathe—and that damn 
squeezy bulbous rubber nasal thingamajig 
wasn’t doing jack shit… So to hell with it: 
I put my mouth over his nose 
and sucked out the mucus.

Growth Mindset
by Kolbe Riney
*Series Editors' Pick

The fungus inside my brain is saying we should start a band, and we should call it growth
mindset. We’ll play songs about lichens and other maybe-painfully-symbiotic organisms and
occasionally some slimy things people think are gross, and when we come onstage we’ll scream
into the microphone, “this one goes out to all the Serratia out there who really like to spend their
time in wet shower corners!” and everyone will cheer. We’ll make lots of jokes about damp
living environments until it gets a little old, and all of our equipment will be brown. Our band
merch is little plushies of Pseudomonas with tiny cute faces and Petri dish drawings of the tour
dates. We’ll wear those little custom ear pieces that all the big rockstars wear, but instead ours
will be some species of mushroom, and when we reach the climax of the song, they’ll release
little spore clouds into the audience and make them all go wild. Your mom will come to our
shows and afterwards she’ll tell us there’s a speck of mold on the drum kit, and we’ll tell her
that’s how penicillin was discovered. We end the show by kissing every one of our fans full on
the mouth, with tongue. We’ll tell them it’s important to not be afraid. We’ll tell them we can
​share everything.

by Tim Moder

The rock that drops into the pool is me.
I am the ripple over sweet summer seas of glass
and fields of grass with salamander sweat glands.

The fish that darts furtively is me.
I am the protective ledge shelf
where bold sharks hover, free from fear.

The arrow flying over the grass is me.
I am the arched-back hunted buck
bounded over fallen swamp brush,
with thunder, evolution.

The mouse that rips moth cloth is me.
I am the hedge shelf protective thicket
where juvenile grouse hide, ripe with ease.

There is nothing that
keeps itself from me.

There is nothing
that will not become me
as I become it
in mutual selection.

"Note to Self"
by Ellen June Wright

remember the once softness of your skin
                remember the fullness of your cheeks

remember sun-warmed melanin and your blush
                 remember dream-filled kisses

remember the days long prayed for have come
                 hold the dark mind at bay…hunger for more grace

saturate your thoughts with the colors to come
                 magenta and pink impatiens

golden-yellow marigolds and goldenrods
                 lavender lilacs or wisteria dangling at the window

inundate your thoughts with the flutter of songbirds’ return
                 we’ll never forget those that we have lost

enjoy the sunlight on your skin, play, dance, keep on living
                you're not cheating the dead when you smile

Ontological Fracture 
by Xóchitl Vargas

I am split, a slice of earth,
a fissured desert where
once a lake languished,
now cacti, the scorpion
with tail raised, buzzard
overhead orbiting around
what’s left of the movements
under my rib cage: little nothings,
ancestral drumming growing fainter
under the Tejano sun, under pressure,
like an eggshell ready to hatch. Maybe,
you say, we’ll make it. Maybe not. In the
meantime, I try to measure the distance
between whispers and screams, being
and becoming. Sand in my pocket,
destination unknown, I aim my arrows
at the pretty mirage ahead—tierra opens up
to receive them, like the wings of a rebozo
I forgot I was wearing. Teotl everywhere!
I can’t tell where the flapping butterfly wings end
and I begin. So much beauty it makes me cry.
Here I am. I see now, as the tumbleweed makes music.

Out of the Pit
by  Kate Meyer-Currey

This time I didn’t dig my own grave 
with my bare hands as they looked 
on and willed me to jump right in.
I let them keep the shovel and do 
the job themselves. It was a hard
lesson but well-learned. I’ve been 
buried alive too many times before. 
Unspoken truths choke like clods of 
earth. Frustration scratches at life’s 
coffin lid until your nails wear down 
to nothing. You bite your tongue in 
half and drown in your own blood. 
Your screams are silent because 
they are deaf, dumb and blind to 
your reality. But not this time. For 
this time, you were only dormant 
in that shallow grave. You saw the 
sky and the trees and the hands 
that reached down to clasp yours
and pull you out, to wipe the tears 
and mud from your face and walk 
beside you in the light of shared 
experience, beyond silence, and 
out of shame’s void. It’s hard to 
step out into the sun when you’ve 
been burned. Shadows feel safer.
But in the slow adjustment, your 
bones straighten and you walk 
tall again, as warmth returns. It
gets easier, just as every word I 
drag from the chasm of past pain 
and struggle, frees me to speak 
with greater clarity as my rage 
ebbs into realisation that I used 
them to dig myself out, not bury 
myself deeper. So what if I’m 
walking wounded? At least I’m
still walking. Not stumbling into 
another ditch where liars wallow 
like hippos, talking dirt, eyes 
bulging and ears twitching, ogling 
fresh prey for their stick in the
mud jaws to swallow whole. Let 
them sink while I walk across 
the water, skimming like a stone, 
where no moss clings.

Reflection in the Mirror
by Nathalie Hernandez

After all the pieces of the mirror were broken 
I picked up the pieces and wondered… 
What am I to do with the damage? 
The other side of the mirror told me to pick 
the pieces up and fix them. And so I healed 
the mirror and decided to repair the damage 
focusing on the person in the reflection. 
Damaged or healed—I had to accept 
and love the reflection in the mirror.

Sestina of My Life
by Gayle Bell

I'll be ready for death
when grinning skins catch me
Till then I'm gonna live each ounce of life
like the Lord gave me a pound
Now in the life—I chase holy truth
until closures made clear
Past floods of regrets before me clear
times in fool’s haste I mated death
until Angels revealed truth
The love of women embrace me
saved me from addictions relentless pound
returning to me now precious life
When societies’ judgments of my life
Are a maze I hack with rapier pen and mind's focus clear
Zealots screech my guilt before Revelation's final hammer pound
I & mine march till the last breath's hiss of death
This is my life you don't rule me
my life, my immovable truth
What's done in the dark the light will shine the truth
was my Aunt Berta's grim proclaiming of life
in my youth-full impatience, this gift eluded me
She would smile a knowing deep within eyes no longer clear
at the hour of her death
My hand she grasped welcoming her heart's final pound
I walk urban quick, quick sidewalk pound
aware the rocky path was walked before me-loving in the truth
I will love women beyond the stillness of my flesh's death
Rainbow parades and Kente cloth interweave my life
no time for label's rigid directions I walk clear
insight forged from the fire of being me
Present days find me
full from her kiss in my soul she does pound
Welcome tears that wash past hurts clear
Once I ran, I now claim this cultural truth
bulldagger, in the life
now, until 100 past the hour of my death
I will live in truth
all my life
until death

She Considers Herself
(He considers her)

by Mark J. Mitchell

                                           For JJ, the birthday girl

            The mirror is hers.
            Don’t say anything
                          about her beauty, or years
                               your love sees. You only wait
         while time sings,
              off-key, to her face,
                                      her hair. Let her watch her fears
                         refuse to hide in mirrors.

             No point in saying
              you see all the girls
                                         she’s been—playing and praying—
                                            through all those long, lovely years,
     or time pearls
                  in her face. Her fears
                                  can’t be touched. She’s saving
                                     herself while her hair’s graying.

                 Keep bowing before
                              those still treasured eyes—
                                   let time carve its own course.
                                         Grant her room to meet her face.
      You can try—
                           It won’t work. Her place,
                                               her time’s hers to tame. Love more,
                               this girl of now and before.

Sunlight or Moonlight
by Grace Schwenk

there are two
types of people
in this life

those who soak
up the rays
of the sun
and those who dance
beneath the moonlight

children of the sun
have an aura
of positivity
that surrounds them
like a light

they have an optimistic
outlook on life
that guides them
with passion
as they share
their radiant vitality
with the world

those who love the sun
have a charismatic smile
powerful enough to halt
the spinning earth

they are driven
to make the world
a better place

children of the moon
though reserved
in demeanor,
appear as a mystery
to those around them

they have
little to say
but when they speak
their words
are strung together
with eloquence and grace

those who love the moon
have a bold look
in their sparkling eyes
and a resilience in their soul
that allows them
to glow
even in
the darkest of times

they are thinkers
meant to share
their contemplation
with the world

there are two types of people
in this life

rays of sunshine,
and beams of moonlight

The Last Days of Vacation
by Lisa Rhodes-Ryabchich

My golden arched feet
               lay in the strong red baked clay
simmering sun.

I am fearless of being burned, and taken
               from my silk skin. Nothing
can remove me from my blue

               terry towel. I don’t feel any hard
aching muscles as I lean my back
               against a lion striped lawn chair.

I don’t worry about who I am
               or what I could be
as gently my copper knees bend

               and my hips become a slide
for the playful sun to tiptoe all over me.

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