By: Madison Reid
By: Madison Reid
By: May Hong
You remember calling him Watermelon Head when he got a bad haircut in the second grade.
Him scribbling your Chinese name on a piece of scrap paper and you
vigorously crossing it out,
until you were both kicked out of the classroom.
Smoking your first cigarettes together at 13, behind the 7-Eleven where you threw up
and he laughed a little but also
held your hair.
Your grandparents comment on how much he has grown over the summer.
His mother asks you to tutor his little sisters in math.
It becomes trendy to list friends as siblings on Facebook so you do: brother, sister.
Brink of 15, him cross-legged on the floor of your room and you
on the bed, reading—a familiar scene.
You do not see him lunge but you feel
the sudden shock of his shoulder ramming into your jaw, the blur
of his shirt—a deep red—and then the smell
of lavender detergent as he pushes your face into the pillow. Confused
at first, then light-headed, you grapple for your phone but he snatches it
out of your hand and flings it
across the room.
You feel him through your shorts.
Fighting but staying
quiet, sour eyes, tearing
at the sheets for some whimpering semblance of why when abruptly
he pushes himself off of you and says
You get in the shower.
You scrub yourself with soap, twice.
You go downstairs, tell your older sister. She says, sometimes when boys do this,
we have to forgive them.
So you try to unknot your insides.
The next morning
on the school bus,
he hands you a bottle of iced tea and says sorry and you say what you think is right.
By: May Hong
My first perfume was Kenzo’s Flower, the one in the waveringly thin bottle with a single red poppy printed on top. I was 12, and had discovered it in my mother’s makeup drawer. I remember rubbing it between my wrists and then behind my ears, like I had seen Audrey do in the movies. I looked at myself in the mirror.
I did this for about a week, snuck into my mom’s bathroom every day to spray press and dab the perfume, until one day I came home from school to a brand new bottle on my nightstand.
I grew up in an apartment complex called Qing He Yuan—a small oasis of foliage and ponds within a metropolis—with a handful of other kids my age. There were two lifeguards at the communal pool, a tall lanky man and a shorter man who was for some reason nicknamed Fat Cat. The two of them taught us how to swim, first in the kiddie pool then eventually the big pool, holding us by the waist while we flailed and kicked our little arms and legs. Then they’d play Marco Polo with us, pretending like they couldn’t find us then all of a sudden lunging at us, making us scream and giggle.
I got older, and their gazes changed as my body did. One hot day when I was 14 I strolled in with a towel and waved at them, and they asked me what the RO-XY on my bikini top meant.
I moved away for college at 17, and only came home once a year during the summer. Each summer they would come over to the chaise I was laying on, cast their shadows on my body and say things like look at you all grown up, you’re the prettiest girl in Qing He. Each summer it was less friendly and more insistent. Last summer I stopped going to the pool altogether.
At my first college house party, I met some guy.
That night we sat on the fire escape chain smoking cigarettes and he said I was “interesting.” We exchanged Snapchats.
He Snapped me a dick pic while I was in the dining hall. I had no idea what to do, I had never gotten a dick pic before. So I Snapped back a picture of the plum I was eating.
He was two years older, and went to a different college in the city. The first time I went over to his dorm, he said you’re wearing lipstick. I said do you not like it? He said no, it’s hot. I sat down on the edge of his twin XL. He picked up a red flannel shirt off the floor and threw it over the standing lamp, and said this is the mood lighting. I said that’s a fire hazard. He said let’s just have sex, okay?
Our “come over” exchanges were always very curt. Plans would be made in three Snaps or less: come over tmr nite; time?; 12 ish. We started doing this thing where we’d Snap a close up of our eyes, then place the white text right on our pupils. His eyes were even darker than mine were, which I found to be novel.
The fourth or so time I went over, I asked him as I zipped myself up, if he had any real interest in getting to know me. He said, a mild interest, I guess. I felt my guts slump, but I nodded and tried to look unmoved. I wanted to cry on the Lyft back. Instead I wrote a poem about him and the flannel shirt and the dark eyes for my poetry class. The instructor said to me, don’t believe him for a second, and I thought, Rachel, you don’t know shit.
As a child I pretty much always had some iteration of the Chinese bowl cut, per my mother’s edict. I don’t know what’s the average age a girl begins to desire hair autonomy but for me it was in the fourth grade when the barber took off an extra inch past my limit and I started bawling uncontrollably in the chair. The barber was terrified but when my mom came to pick me up she reassured him it’s fine it’s fine just a little girl and shuffled me out the door. All the way home I hadn’t let up on the crying so when we got to our front door my mom said okay, you can punch me right here, in the shoulder, then we’ll be even. I hit her in the shoulder, as square as I could, and she laughed and let us in.
Each time I visit home I leave with something heavier. My mother likes to hand pick from her closet clothes that she wore when she was my age, vintage clothes she no longer fits in, and tuck them meticulously into my suitcase. Sometimes, she would come across something that would make her pause and stroke the sleeves or straighten the lapel, as if there were a body in there. Sometimes yet, she would hold up a dress against herself and pivot slightly in the mirror. We do not speak during this.
One time she gave me a small gold ring, visibly worn and no longer a perfect circle. She said, I bought this for myself when I first started working, when nobody else would buy me a ring. It’s too small to fit my ring finger, so it goes on my pinky. A symbol of good feminism, I said. Proof that I was skinnier than you, she said.
My annual pilgrimage home marks the annual meeting for the committee of relatives who like to gorge themselves on my body. It’s just how they say hello, my mother says. Right. Hello, mister, your receding hairline reminds me of the record low tide that year in Hainan before the tsunami hit, when all the unforeseen sea trash was exposed.
Someone I’m probably going to sleep with called me “skinny-thicc” the other day and I wanted to uppercut him.
I get grossed out when I watch people eat, especially finger foods, where they would press too-large bites onto their tongues and then meticulously suck their fingers clean.
I cannot eat in front of other people, with the exception of apples, because apples feel so unplanned and casual and American, pulling it out of my bag rubbing it on my shirt and biting with that slight grimace that’s unavoidable when eating whole apples, pretending as if I wasn’t going to log the calories on MyFitnessPal in the bathroom as soon as I was done.
The other evening, I binged an entire box of Trader Joe’s ginger snaps, just popped them whole into my mouth one after the other. I knew that if I had stopped and had a glass of water I would feel full but I couldn’t stop it was mechanical.
Later I went to the gym in my building at 1 am because I didn’t want anyone to see. As I did squat presses in front of the mirror, my eyes appraised my body. I think the only reason why people think I’m thin is because I am never not sucking in my stomach.
After the gym I showered and climbed into bed. Five minutes later I get a text from “skinny-thicc” that said wyd, come thru and I thought not this time, just this once, stay in bed. But I lost to myself, again, redid my make up, then called a Lyft to his place. When Lyft tells you “this is a good deal” are you just supposed to take their word for it?
By: Holly Yates
I bend my arms up and inject the needle into my right pupil
life is so much fun when every breath tastes of bleach
does god laugh at my unmistakable, beautiful insanity
as I’m hands deep in this little make-shift lobotomy?
I know they’re all on the stakes again, too many saviors
standing over bodies and I can’t feel where I put all the bandages
doctor! doctor! attendant! you will surely need more dressings
because blood always streams downward from the eyes
did Jesus die for men in lab coats carrying pills, self-proclaimed liberators?
my brain oozes in my bare hands with all its eroded peroxide
in the end nothing matters except psycho-drama, psycho-surgery
watch me as I extract my misery because they name it hysteria
I take the tissue and place it in the landfill of mental disorders
I remove the rod, and ask myself: when did I fix myself with plaster?
I glued myself together, but never get it right with each leucotomy
tell me, mother, sister, father, brother, where am I? and can you even see me?
I’m tired of fallen angels, I’ve already fallen on the filthy floor, praying for light
parts of me in arms of scalpels when I just want arms of an embrace
so I’m here moving my tongue but no one hears me scream out: s a v e m e
I can see God spelled backwards in the words attendants use for depression
the black dress of an attendant blurs, I see her big eyes in fluorescent gleam
she pulls out a needle from her pocket, syringe stuck full of glue
injections never change because tears still reflect inside mirrors
doctor knows, attendant knows, precision proves hard in a 300 second procedure
strange and stranger to think doctors won’t ever request lobotomies
attendant injects needle into my arm but I’m full of novocaine and don’t want help
I stare at the pools of blood on the floor, surely they will need more bleach
but you can only find it inside of me because I’m doused with pure insanity
so take apart my head and say it’s alright because doctors here use sterile gauze
maybe I’m just a little girl soaked in screams and God never even notices
but I’m laughing because God is dead and no one cares because believing is seeing
which one sounds the best, transorbital, lateral, frontal, prefrontal?
I’m only asking because this morgue needs more press coverage and bandages
and everyone around me is sewed together, their outside haphazardly salvaged
I hear them scratching inside chrome compartments and scraping their rotten minds
except I’m laughing and crying because I force- feed myself expired peroxide
and lobotomy is the only word that matters in this story, it pierces the white of my eye and I saved the doctors all the trouble, keep all that precious plaster! for I’ve already taken myself apart, brain underneath floor, because I won’t let them touch my mental disease anymore.
By: Casey Chiang
I heard him storming up the stairs in a clamor, the shrill clap of the bathroom door thundering through the walls. The sound resonated throughout my body and came to rest in the center of my constricting chest, suddenly heavy with the weight of worry and wariness. The urge to follow him was there, but the trail he left in his wake was charged with rage that threatened to shock any who came near.
But it wasn’t as if I had a choice. Blood tied me to obligations I couldn’t bring myself to abandon.
Anticipation and anxiousness mingled frantically in the pit of my stomach as I ascended the stairs, my steps light and limbs shaking. It must have been another fight with our mom. Probably about an assignment, a test, or something to that extent; it made no difference. Their bouts always ended catastrophically—my brother too ashamed to admit his handicap, my mother unknowing of how to help him, and fury sparking between them.
And me. Always caught in the middle. Pulled into a fight that had nothing and everything to do with me. Always thrown in abruptly without a strategy, or even a side to call my own. Instead I flitted between the two, but my lack of commitment only meant my relevancy remained subjective, and today, in my brother’s eyes, I didn’t know where I stood.
Moments later I found myself staring at a closed door, the frustrated weeps that poured out from the room only slightly muffled by the wooden barrier.
“Leave me alone!” his strangled shout ordered, and I found myself absently surprised that he even knew I was there. But instead of complying I pushed forward, opening the door to reveal his distraught face; his features scrunched up in an ugly scowl and his eyes leaking tears that coaxed my own, though I fought to keep them contained.
His misery seemed so misplaced in that bathroom – a place that to me had always represented bubbles and baths, childhood and glee. At surface level, everything appeared the same. There were the same high ceilings, the same bright lights, the same peeling wallpaper and the same ceramic tub. The large mirrors that lined the walls reflected back the playfulness of the past, but in that moment, the tempestuous aura my brother emitted seemed to draw the walls in closer and bullied innocence into the corner.
I tried to argue my mother’s point in a softer way, recounting loaded words that turned hollow with repetition.
“She’s just worried about you,” I said.
“She’s trying to help, but doesn’t know how,” I said.
“Just tell her if you’re struggling. Don’t hide it.”
Even to my own ears the arguments sounded weak in comparison to his earnest wails that beseeched me to leave him in the comfort of isolation.
But ultimately it made no difference what he wanted. Only that I selfishly needed to stay by his side, fear cementing my feet where they stood. He was hysterical; unstable. I needed to be there. Just in case.
Eventually, the words I was spouting died in my throat, but I didn’t move a muscle. His eyes told me that he knew what I was thinking, and that he resented me for it. The longer I stood there, the hotter his anger became.
Silence is a language rarely mastered, but in that moment, the translation was written all over my face.
“I’m not going to kill myself,” he spat when I failed to speak, his voice congested with disgust and his dark eyes flashing. “Even I’m not that fucked up.”
I flinched. I’d never heard that word pass his lips, and its presence lingered in the air between us. That image I had of him in my head, the one of him as my annoying little brother who liked to pull on my ponytail and had the loudest screeching laugh that I’d ever heard, fractured just a little bit more.
“I know,” I lied, speaking slowly, and when his head bowed down, his messy black bangs falling over his face, a tear escaped the confines of my eye. It traced down my cheek in mock comfort and I wiped it away furiously, swallowing around the swell in my throat before speaking again. “If you just tried taking your medicine, maybe—”
“I don’t want to take the medicine!” he erupted past chapped and trembling lips. His sobs grew hitched as he looked up to lock my gaze with his. I watched as his expression broke and when he spoke again his voice was raw with naked emotion. “It makes me feel tired all the time,” he confessed.
Those words finally cracked my stubborn façade of composure as I allowed the tears to spill, the salty taste of them slipping into the corners of my mouth.
His voice came again. Quieter this time. “I never feel truly awake anymore.”
His admission was my final silencer, my mouth opening and closing helplessly, trying to grasp something, anything, to say. But the words refused to come. With my tongue effectively tied, I clamped my mouth shut and the door soon followed. As soon as the small click that marked my retreat sounded, my brother’s weeps resumed and I joined him on the other side. My legs gave out as I slid down the wall and onto the floor, my face crumbling into my shaking hands.
There was more to do, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it, and I don’t think I ever will. In that moment, all I could do was sit there with my eyes closed and ears open. For however much the sound of his misery grated at my heart and mind, I needed to be there.
Just in case.
By: Hannah Kahn
When you leave me, I will try to remember your face in pieces.
I can only hope it will elude me in its entirety,
At least translucent im my viscous memory,
A vision of your visage dipped in sweet, sweet honey.
But I’m sure certain parts will come back to me:
The corners of your raspberry lips dripping with golden laughter,
The black curl of your hair flitted with backlit sun
And your bright eyes flicked with amber light
When they held my gaze on sticky city nights.
But honey, if I’m lucky,
Lucky like I am with you,
I will only remember your face in pieces.
The same way I shield my eyes from blazingly bright sky
To let in finger-filtered specks of finger-licking light,
Looking at you now I already know,
It will be far too painful to picture you whole.
By: Aberdeen Bird
I don’t remember
when I started writing “God”
with lowercase g
By: Aberdeen Bird
They told me not to step on thistles
but proceeded to say that we have something in common
because they, too, have Scottish veins.
I wish they’d take care to not step on me, either.
Not from fear of being squished, but fear of impaling
soft, uncalloused soles that never wander down
gravel roads, barefoot in July.
I always took pride in my indifference
roaming over sharp stones
and planting roots on mountainsides
with Rudbeckia and Salix.
My mother gathers these for her brother each year
but her opponent can no longer
race to find the first blooms of the season and offer them
on her doormat in loving triumph.
There is a stone in my mother’s sewing room,
perched on the windowsill, complacent and unmoving.
Etched are the words:
Get well soon!
I took this from the foundation of your bridge
So you better get up and go return it!”
By: Madison Reid
This week I began to fill out my taxes for the first time and had to check a box to affirm that I am, in fact, not dead. That I am me, not a loved one tying up loose ends.
Unfinished business, it seems, isn’t reserved for superheroes and wronged lovers; I know the same hands that knead the bread I eat and pass me Christmas gifts would close my coffin and fold my clothes for the donation pile. And I theirs.
Lately, the closest I’ve been to death was a glimpse of a man, covered in cloth, carried through a Chinese village. They lit fireworks to frighten spirits and fed the living with a vengeance, so set on satiety that they scraped food from the sides of huge woks with shovels and boiled rice by the kilo.
Or in Romania last October, where the bereaved wife grieved with six lungs and everyone spent half their paycheck on the flowers. The grandmothers traded their floral kerchiefs for black ones and the mourning passed out wine and bread. To thank us for sharing their sorrow.
I am far too young to make any predictions. If I turn my head too quickly I feel my hair, soft and messy, tickle my collarbones. I watch my grandfather doubled over like the women pulling weeds along the river, pinch the fat beneath my bicep to ground myself. My aunt is doing pushups for her bone density, my mother’s hair is just starting to surrender.
But parked cars are still warm and prove something, like where you are and were and how long ago you left,
And my new friends have taught me to keep windows open and tables full,
And we pick flowers for my brother’s birthday every year, the same way my grandmother mails another a card,
And the mundane follows us, right from home to heaven. Stir the soup. Sign the forms. Buy the milk. Lend you money. Kiss you on your way out the door,
And when my grandparents die, I’ll be there to dig through their broken tapes and mourn slowly, peel photos from the bottoms of boxes,
And when my aunts and uncles die, I’ll collect their children’s children in my living room and feed them jam and honey,
And when my parents die, I’ll clean the house and sell the car, leave deeper footprints than before,
And I’m going to have to file their taxes.