IN SKOGSKYRKOGÅRDEN

Jordan Makant, issue 04

I see an old Swedish woman on her knees
by a gravestone. There is a small towel draped
over her left shoulder. At her left side there is a bucket.
In the bucket there is soapy water and a brush. I watch her
take the brush and scrub, slowly at first, then harder
and faster, harder and faster. She sees me watching her.
I nod. She nods in return. I smile slightly. She does not smile
in return. I imagine asking her why she cleans the gravestone.
I imagine asking her if she is okay, knowing her efforts are
in vain – no matter how hard she scrubs, no matter how well
she cleans, no matter how often she visits, what lies buried still
decomposes, becomes one with the earth; even the gravestone
will one day surrender to the dirt. I say nothing.
Later, I go back. She is gone. I look at the scrubbed stone,
read what is written there. I begin to talk to the dirt. I say,
I found a flower earlier. I brought it for you. Here.
I place the flower in the soil. I imagine an old woman smiling.


our store used to be an auto body shop

by Marigrace Angelo
@marifullofgrace

oil pools iridescent on the pavement
while a woman on the street is fighting
with the meter maid;
the grey mist counts as rain here,
and everyone’s mood is sour.
I run across the street to the
café-slash-bike shop to grab a coffee;
instead, I leave with an oat milk dirty chai
and a vegan sausage sandwich.
hell, it’s york blvd after all,
and I’m already part of the problem
maybe I’m tired of fighting the problem
from my keyboard when I’m off the clock,
tired of nodding from behind the counter
at the short-banged white women
telling me that they are getting
priced out of the neighborhood
while I ring them up
for a two-hundred dollar blouse
tired of gritting my teeth
when they muse that they’ll
just buy property
in huntington park and watts
because “I just need a place to live”
but everyone needs a place to live
especially the people already living
in huntington park and watts.
maybe I just want to lean into it for a day.
maybe I just want to feel what it’s like
to buy a café breakfast that costs
an hour’s worth of my wage.
it feels like I’m barely scraping by.
I grab the packages left at jesse’s
while we were closed,
run back to the store
open the grates
and start the day.

Honey and Venom

Jennifer Crow, Issue 03
@writerjencrow


Honey
, you whisper, as though I’m dressed in it
breasts and thighs, as though
a slow fountain trickles through me
and licks at my lips. How sweet
of you to pretend not to notice
my crown of bees, and the hum
of rage that has settled on my shoulders,
a mantling of busy destruction.
Kiss me with your envenomed lips,
let your fang pierce the tender skin
of my belly, like a magician
turning something soft
into flying shards of glass. Honey,
you whisper, and I shatter
into queen and swarm, ready to die
for vengeance, for the hive.


Becoming

Savannah Stoehr, Issue 03
@vulcansmirk

My skin was a suit several sizes too small.
I’ve got stretch marks on my hips, arms, thighs, chest—
all the places my body couldn’t quite hold me in.
I will not tell my twelve-year-old self
just how long it will take
for her body to feel like home;
how many loves, labors, losses,
how many scars, chosen and not,
how many modifications this vessel will undergo
before it’s beaten into a shape she can withstand.
I will not tell her how many years she will spend
haunting her own house,
scrabbling at its walls for a foothold.

Sometimes, I think I was yanked from the world
before I ever got to set foot in it.
Sometimes, I think my life thus far has been one long DMT trip
with me standing on the threshold, staring out,
imagining what it would be like to be.

I will not tell my twelve-year-old self
how long she will stay planted in that doorway.

I’ll tell her this:
the sun rises
regardless of whether you believe in it.
You were born in the dark, and you think it’s all you know,
but you’re missing something.
You were born in the dark, and you fear the break of day—
you fear it will break you; you fear it won’t,
but in the end, you will only be grateful
and awed
when the light finally touches your skin.
When the dawn finds your stretch marks,
you will find yourself in love.
You will find yourself in a house,
weathered, scarred,
lived-in, ancient, and still there.
All at once, you will be,
as though that last forgotten switch finally flipped—
the circuit will close, the current will come,
and you will not wish to be anywhere else,
because you have built a home
of your own flesh and bone,
and you missed something:
you’re missing nothing.

I will not tell my twelve-year-old self
of the turbulent days ahead.
She already knows, and what she doesn’t
she’ll weather nonetheless.

I’ll tell her this:
Such a strange feeling,
the sudden rushing tide
of corporeality overtaking you.
You won’t know you’re a ghost
until you’re shocked back into life.

By Any Other Name

Ari Koontz, Issue 03
@paigerailstones

[sharp]

I am in the kitchen chopping vegetables, broccoli and shiitake mushrooms and cabbage and carrots, the smell of soy sauce perfuming the air, when my mother comes in and starts crying. She sits at the small table near the doorway and she is wearing her favorite sweater and I can hear her chest heaving with the sobs before I turn around to see her lips pressed together while the tears prick the corners of her eyes.

       What’s wrong, I ask, putting down my knife.

       Her shoulders shake as I walk over. I just don’t understand why you don’t like who you are.

       There are three weeks left before I leave again for college and my mother is here in the kitchen crying as I put my hand on her shoulder. This is the second time in my life I have seen her like this.

       What do you mean, I ask.

       Your name, she says, and I knew somehow before she entered the room that this is what she would say, what was always coming. It’s special. We picked it out for you, and it has history…

       As her words trail off into fragile sobs, I am thinking about how I hope the soy sauce won’t burn and how I should open a window once this conversation is over. It’s not that I don’t like who I am, I say finally. And I know it’s an important name to you. It’s not about that.

       Then what is it about. She’s started to collect herself again, but I can see in her eyes that I have hurt her deeply and I know that there is no undoing it. But I can’t make my own hurt leave, either.

       I shrug. I let go of her shoulders and return to the stove. It just doesn’t fit me right.

       There’s a thick silence for ten full minutes. I add the vegetables to the wok, stir them into the sauce, prod at them and refuse to look up. The broccoli is almost completely softened when she finally speaks again.

       I’m sorry, she says. It’s just hard for me. I’m your mother.

       I know. It’s okay.

       I love you, she says, and sits there for another moment before shaking her head and getting up from the stool, leaving the kitchen. The floorboards shudder and moan behind her.

[wrinkles]

This is what I know about my birth name: it belonged to a great-great-great-grandmother who neither me nor my mother ever met, and it was not chosen for me until the day I was born. My parents wanted to meet me before they decided what to call me; they wanted me to be a surprise, which I suppose worked out somewhat literally when I decided to enter the world three weeks before my due date. I was small and wrinkled and that name felt just right to them as they cradled my head in the artificial glow of the hospital room. If I had been given any say in the matter, I’m not sure I would have objected—I was too tired at the time to care.

       The name they wrote so carefully on my birth certificate is German in origin and has two possible meanings, one of which is simply ‘work,’ not very helpful in my cautious yearning for metaphor. The other meaning, however, is ‘rival,’ which I must admit appeals more to my writerly sensibilities: at times I feel quite at odds with my old self, when the name appears on my bank statements and a sudden wave of cognitive dissonance makes me briefly forget where I am. When I sign my chosen name out of habit on important forms and have to start all over again. When I open cards addressed to someone I’ve begun to wonder if I ever was. It’s so easy, especially in the narrative of identity that recent discourse has created, to see your origin as your enemy. What have I been doing if not running away from that ghost at full speed?

[forward]

She sends the recipes I request to my old email account, which forwards automatically to my new one. I reply without switching back and she says, Oh, you have a new Gmail? and I say, yeah, but I’ll still get stuff here if you forget to use that address. Later I remember that this noncommittal attitude is my first mistake: if I don’t ask her explicitly to make a change, I can’t expect her to do so. This is, however, easier said than done—mostly because if I don’t ask, I don’t have to feel the sharp disappointment when she forgets it anyway for the seventeenth time.

[roses]

When I first started school, I wore a dress or skirt every day for two and a half years. I can’t say exactly what it was about the sleek, swirling fabric that fascinated me back then, or even remember what it was like to look into a mirror and jump for joy. Except, well, dresses are beautiful, aren’t they? And I was beautiful, too—something I remember mostly from the photographs—a tiny bundle of energy, blurred around the edges as she spins around the kitchen without stopping until she falls over onto the tile floor and gasps for breath between peals of laughter.

Some of the dresses were solid colors, others patterned with stripes or polka dots; some were cashmere and some velvet like the deep red one I wore to The Nutcracker at least three Christmases in a row. I loved them all, but my favorites were the ones decorated with flowers—roses and daisies and dandelions that matched the ones I pulled from the backyard garden, plucking the delicate petals off one at a time. When I wore my flowers, I wore everything I loved most about the world, and in that way a dress could become a suit of armor. But softer, prettier. Armor that didn’t deflect the sword so much as embrace it.

At some point, I’m not sure when, I found out that dresses were for girls. Of course I already knew this, but there’s a difference between when you just know something and when you suddenly understand it. A few days later, I decided it was time to switch to pants, and the beautiful things were tucked away at the back of my closet—brought out reluctantly for family portraits and weddings only.

[angles]

Do not misunderstand. When I look to my younger self, she is she, because that’s who I was to me back then. I wore dresses, I had long hair, I wanted to be a princess or a benevolent witch when I grew up. But when my mother flips through the old scrapbook pages and says to me, it’s harder for me to call you Ari in these pictures than it is to call you that now, is that wrong, I shrug my shoulders and without meeting her eyes answer, it’s not wrong but I would appreciate if you would try not to say that to anyone else. Please don’t say this to anyone else.

[official]

In the place where I now live, about two hundred miles from home, an official name change costs $167.00 and requires only a piece of photo identification, a court hearing, and a single page of paperwork. As long as you are not a registered sex offender or changing your name for fraud-related reasons, there are no questions asked and no standards to meet. I am told that it takes less than ten minutes of a Friday afternoon for you to be freshly minted, brand new, certified for all intents and purposes as though you have always been the person that you finally decided to become.

       I could print the paper today, proclaim my intentions and sign on the dotted line, and set up a hearing for the end of this week. After that, it’s just a matter of contacting everyone important: my bank, my employer, my landlord, my phone company. I would have to get a new passport and a new state ID. But I could do it, if I wanted to. I’ve had the file open in my browser for at least six weeks. Staring at the blank fields and wondering why I can’t just make myself commit, even though I know why. I know who I want to ask first.

       One of my friends who has only ever heard my chosen name had theirs legally changed two months ago. They said the hearing took less time than the walk from the parking lot to the courtroom, and, at the end, one of the clerks gave everyone in the room a foil-wrapped square of dark chocolate. A little something sweet for your special day.

[roots]

Upon further reflection, maybe ‘work’ isn’t so meaningless to my identity after all. To understand who I am, to create a self that is not contradictory to everything I have been but rather grows outward like the rings of a sturdy tree, takes a lot of work indeed. The trouble is, sometimes those rings are imperceptible until a branch is snapped from its trunk.

[maybe]

An imagined scene or maybe a dream: I am two or three years older than I am now, and I’m home for a short visit, maybe the holidays. I have a real job. I have stories published. My mother reads my name in a literary journal and she does not weep. There’s a suitcase in my hand, and I am not nervous to open the front door because all the lights are on.

When I step inside, the house smells like the best kind of warmth and goodness, there must be something in the oven, and she’s standing right there waiting for me. She envelops me in her arms and holds me against her for three of her heartbeats (I can hear them, we’re so close) before releasing me and taking a long look.

       It’s so good to see you. I’m so glad you came.

       It’s good to see you too. What are you baking?

       She smiles. Come and see, and I follow her into the kitchen. Everything is as I remember it except for a few new drawings taped up to the fridge. There are three cookbooks resting on the granite countertop and several dirty bowls in the sink, and then I see it at the end of the counter, the masterpiece that makes me stop in my tracks: a two-tiered cake, frosted with a hundred tiny roses in every color. My birthday—it must be my birthday that I am here for.

       I know I’m not supposed to let you see it yet, she says, a glimmer of pride in her eyes, but what do you think?

       It’s beautiful. I take a deep breath. Wow.

       It’s chocolate with raspberry in the middle. Do you still like raspberry?

       Of course I still like raspberry. The cake looks like all of my childhood birthday parties rolled into one and my mouth is already watering.

       Don’t be ridiculous, I say, stepping forward and pulling her into my arms. Raspberry is perfect. I love you.

       I love you too, she says, and I do not feel small.

       Later, when we cut into the rainbow buttercream, the only sound in the room is that old, familiar song, wrapped around my name like soft hands lifting me up to the light.