by Margot Durfee

a brown leaf drifts lazily through the air, pirouetting and fluttering until it softly lands on the cobblestone
only to be crushed
under the sole of a dirty white sneaker. the air is crisp, every sound, from the hollering of children, to the music drifting through kitchen windows, to the ringing of bike bells is
clear, bright
trees rustle as their remaining leaves depart. small, grey sparrows hop along the street in search of scraps to feed their babies.

Mei-Lin walks down a narrow, winding road lined with hutongs: traditional one-floor Chinese courtyard homes that have large wooden doors, chipped red paint, and brass handles, that have housed the same families for generations, that have been slowly bought out by the government
and reduced
to street blocks of waist-high rubble
and replaced
with flashy cafes and department stores.

Mei-Lin has lived in Beijing her whole life.
she has walked past the same buildings and people every day after school since she was little.
and yet,
when she passes by the children chasing one another, the elderly women peeling vegetables on their doorsteps, the men smoking and drinking tea and playing chess,
when she smiles at them, all she receives are
blank stares.
she feels
isolated, invisible, as if she is on one side of a tinted window and the rest of the world is on the other. she has been alive long enough, and experienced enough,
to know that she doesn’t fit in,
especially in a country as racially homogenous as China, where her biracial-ass sticks out starkly
her chestnut hair and hazel eyes
a constant reminder
that she isn’t “one of them,” even though she has similar features: a rounded, flatter nose; almond-shaped eyes; straight, thick hair.

she identifies as a (mixed) Chinese person. she celebrates the Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn festival with her family, she is near fluent in Mandarin,
but still Chinese students in her classes mock her pronunciation, even converse in front of her as if she cannot understand
restaurant waiters automatically hand her a fork,
give her an English menu
recommend westernized dishes,

one day, after a birthday party
her friends decided to do an
“Asian-only” photo and they asked her to

off she goes again
chasing a receding current
so close yet forever out of reach
she is confused when her very culture and city she calls home do not seem to want her
as if she is pretending to be something she is not
as if there is another life she should live, that she belongs in
except there isn’t

she feels stranded
like she’s jumped on a boat
and only too late
has she realized
everyone around her is on another

it didn’t help that her mother
her anchor
the one who taught her about her culture
how to make dumplings during Chinese festivals
and become an expert bargainer at markets
and muster the courage to compete
and fail miserably in
the weekly badminton contest at the local park
was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was fourteen
and passed two years later

her father tries
she knows he loves her
but he’ll never be able to understand
like her mother did
nor will she be able to go into a room
with any hope of passing
when her very tall, very white, very American father
walks in behind her.

a hot iron slab hisses as a dollop of silky batter is ladled
a wooden spatula deftly spreads the batter into a thin pancake on top of which
a whisked egg poured
a crispy wonton wrapper placed
fresh green scallions and toasted sesame seeds sprinkled
all swiftly folded into a neat rectangle
a jianbing
is handed in a crinkly paper wrapper to Mei-Lin,
who gratefully receives it with her wind-numbed fingertips, her rosy cheeks blissfully enveloped in a warm, fragrant cloud.

she used to go here with her mother
striding arm-in-arm down the road
strangers returning their beams
sun glinting off windows
on chilly days, they would stop at the little food cart on the street corner
and each buy one
and walk to a nearby park and sit on a bench overlooking a reflecting pond

her mother used to say min yi shi wei tian:
Chinese people value eating to the highest degree
that no matter how she looks, speaks, moves through life her love for Chinese food roots her identity
all the moments she has felt included have been around food
passing steaming stacks of dim sum across tables with her extended family who give her chopsticks and speak to her in rapid Mandarin with no mercy

at the jianbing stand
month after month
year after year
they greeted the same woman behind the stove
with her mother, she felt whole
she could practically see the connection in people’s heads, realizing she was Chinese
affectionately calling her “xiaomei”
xiaomei, what will you both order today?
aww, you are so sweet xiaomei
see you next week xiaomei
xiaomei, where is your mother?
when she went to the stand
for the first time
the woman smiled at her warmly and prepared her regular order

There are days when Mei-Lin fears forgetting
her culture, her language, her identity
but today, munching on her jianbing,
beneath a swaying willow tree
its dancing leaves a spectrum of green reflecting off the glassy pond
she feels her mother smiling with her
and she is whole.

Lying Crooked on the Bed

by Jess Kamin

Bitterly, lying crooked on the bed
I could kill a man by taking his sweet face in my hands and snapping his neck upwards,
I could kill a man while he’s on top of me, out of fear and insecurity,
Or watch him kiss my neck, wonder when the right time is for me to reach my hand down, fumble with the zipper
Now, or maybe now, or maybe…

Lonely on a saturday, lying still on the floor
Exhausting every weekend plan until they’re all faded and bubbling, ripping pathetically from the center outwards.
Dream so intensely there is no escape; in fact, never have a dream again,
Only sleep and its continuation, so murky pink, so unable to make split second decisions,
So worried about the dictionary and all of its contents…
Now. Definitely now.

Thinking in systems: the flu shot enters my bloodstream and spoils me rotten; the trash piles up for days and days until all there is left to do is throw it away; lose your earphones, release your earthly possessions, find them in the bed, rinse, repeat; communicate through noise and distraction, distract yourself with rambling thoughts of continuity and fried rice.
Now, I tape these fleeting things to the wall, first slowly then all at once.
This is all of it.

How to deprogram a person

by Emma Stout

Sometimes I want to have three kids but then I remember that Global Warming is a thing.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to do cocaine but then I remember that my nose has
faced enough from 19 years of seasonal allergies.
Sometimes I peel almost, just almost, the entire orange in one strip.
Sometimes I consider buying a ticket to Coachella but then I realize that I don’t have an outfit.
Sometimes I still think about that night in the stairwell.

Up here is fine. No, up here.

Sometimes I try to elaborate on the quesadilla. The quesadilla.
Sometimes I try to come up with a cool name for a company.
Sometimes something like “Gelzor” or “Malitite” but all I can think of is the word “Pastrami”.
Sometimes I try so hard to describe what’s in front of me but then I just end up writing a list of
what is in my pocket.
Sometimes I wonder how it took people so long to invent the wheel.
Sometimes I can hear the door closing.

I said no, thank you.

Sometimes, but not all the time, I drink cow milk when no one is watching.
Sometimes I think I’m going to vomit if I see the word “Minimalism” one more time.
Sometimes, in bed, I close my eyes and clench my teeth together because it takes me back to
falling asleep with my braces on.
Sometimes I remember the voices in the hallway.

Remember tomorrow.

Sometimes I question if my parents really did know that I would like brussel sprouts when I grew up.
Sometimes I worry that I’m the type of girl whose favorite color is mustard yellow.
Sometimes I still picture the railing.

Dig through the water.

Sometimes I tilt my head, trying to find the exact point where the horizon meets the windowsill.
Sometimes I know I was in the wrong.

It’s okay, I forgive you.

I forgive you.

skinny hurts (sometimes)

by Anonymous

Maybe we have already passed the epoch of the body as an attribute, and maybe I’m just wasting time to lament the passing of time, but —

#1. My arms only fill up one half of the sleeves on my T-shirt. I yearn for three quarters. 

#2. I wish to use the fat on my legs to dress my shoulders.  

#3. Imagine football padding on a skeleton. Comic and unattractive. My upper body.

#4. There is such a thing as a thin person’s blessing: unlimited food intake. Or at least people seem to think so. Nothing I intake is taken by my body. I want food to grow from under the skin. 

#5. I like baggy clothing. They make balloons out of my features. 

#6. Mom said avoid black because the color “swallows” me. I wear it regardless. I wear black baggy clothing like a beast in the night, except I am smaller. 

#7. Sometimes I fill the mirror with junk. The mirror knows & smiles ruefully. The mirror is particularly good at storing my emotions.  

#8. I get scared by massive figures in the gym. They may be able to swallow me whole and make a shadow of my existence. 

#9. When I choose to be a nocturnal animal, my skin deflates like a balloon in the morning. All my T-shirts run big. 

#10. The mirror reminds me to check my shoulders before stepping into the shower. I do push-ups before leaving the room.  

#11. There is no such a thing as a thin person’s curse. Or at least I seem to think so, when I repeat the mantra in my head. 

#12. I wouldn’t stand a chance in football.  

#13. Sometimes people tell me that I should work out. They say, laughing, “you are tall enough, but not strong enough!” I laugh too, saying, “yes, I’m comic and unattractive.”

#14. Sometimes I feel like nothing I feel is felt by anyone. 

#15. Sometimes maybe only half of what I feel is worth being written about. I yearn for three quarters. 

Post-outbreak confessional, January 27th, 2020

by Blane Zhu

“Do You Have a Home? Do You Feel Warmth? Do You Know How To Care For Your Family?”

As I write this, entire cities in China are in lockdown.
People are trapped and unable to reunite with their parents.
Schools close. Markets close. Trains stop. Airplanes stored away.

Only things that are open:
The constant flow of information between face masks.
My mouth.

Mother’s words
Strike me like a gong:

“Do You Have a Home? Do You Feel Warmth? Do You Know How To Care For Your Family?”

I don’t know why.
I don’t know how she managed to send this email,
Or why she needed to feel
A connection that couldn’t
Last for longer than a
“Are you ok”
Or “I’m just fine”.
I could just show her my face,
Or I could hide
Until tomorrow,
When she stops thinking about me.

“Do You Have a Home? Do You Feel Warmth? Do You Know How To Care For Your Family?”

I read the news again.
Spreads to North America. Thailand. Britain. Australia.
Death toll confirmed.
Authorities will “try their hardest” to respond.
Death toll rises.
First death confirmed in Beijing.

My home city.

“Do You Have a Home? Do You Feel Warmth? Do You Know How To Care For Your Family?”

I don’t know
What my parents are up to,
Where my relatives have traveled.
I don’t know if they made Jiaozi.
(They usually stuff a coin in one of them for good luck.)
I can’t see what they are seeing
On their screens,
In front of their eyes.
I am just an icon, a little red dot.
Meanwhile I turn to my calendar,
Refill my deadlines & due dates,
And hope that from now
until February 15th
I won’t receive another message that says:

“Do You Have a Home? Do You Feel Warmth? Do You Know How To Care For Your Family?”

I’m afraid I cannot answer. I don’t know the answer.
But I should apologize. I know I should.
The average time of my weekly video calls
Stands at about 30 minutes.
More than enough time to say hello,
To say I feel warm because of you,
To say I care about you,
To say anything…

“Do You Have a Home? Do You Feel Warmth? Do You Know How To Care For Your Family?”

But I didn’t.
I didn’t call last weekend.
Didn’t know what I was up to
Besides being who I thought I should be.
Didn’t feel. Didn’t read the news.
I tucked myself into a cloud
Until the arrow
Breaking in from the other side
Bearing the news
Shot me down in list format:

  1. What are you up to in your college process? Why don’t you tell us? Are we not supposed to care about your future?
  2. It is SPRING FESTIVAL. Why are you not reaching out to relatives?
  3. The coronavirus outbreak here is affecting everyone, yet we have not heard a single word of concern from you to your relatives. Do they have a place in your heart?

Do You Have a Home? Do You Feel Warmth? Do You Know How To Care For Your Family?

Dear Vera

by Matthew McGovern

Dear Vera,

How long it took I do not know, but over the hills and through the woods, my letter found its way.

I’ll write to you until we’ve chopped down all the trees and left none for paper. Until each and every last wellspring – of ink, oil and inclination – has dried. Until the USPS goes bankrupt and carrier pigeons have gone extinct. Until carpal tunnel wrenches my wrists and there are no more ways for my words to get through. 

Having said that, I’ll neither email nor instant message – direct, indirect or otherwise – I’m categorically opposed. You see, despite my zeal, I’m afraid you will read me right off the bat, and leave me as such, merely ‘read’, crossed off a to-do list or, worse yet, lost in the ether. Web worldwide and images moving, I want to be more than a figment or pixel. 

Digitized words are a distraction like a fruit fly or gnat, batted away, a bright screen piquing from which you turn. Instead, please stop for a moment, hold the envelope scuffed and traveled, before opening with a penknife or peel and tear in. I hope you can acquaint yourself with my odd lettering that weaves and bobs and abbreviates, thoughts which wind across the page and escape their given partitions. 

I aim to be legible in the full sense of the word, but  what’s the harm if you have to squint and decipher, hold up the letter to your eyes? I invite you close! May there be no gulf between these words and what reaches you. 

Two stamps and a kiss, I send my words. Be in good health and high spirits, we’ll see each other again and I require no reply, foremost I want to be read true. Namely, by you. 



Ironía venenosa

by Evan Zigmond

De verdad, sabía que el mundo iba a caer en caos por algunos años, y aunque muchas personas no pueden elegir el momento exacto que se le dieron cuenta, esta memoria queda en mi mente — la empieza del fin de la civilización.

 El año: 2017. Estaba en Facebook cuando vi un anuncio para Lunchables, una merienda dirigida a los jóvenes. El producto exacto se llamaba Lunchables Walking Taco. Afortunadamente, no refiere a ningún tipo de taco sensible que camina, sino taco portable (los tacos sensibles no llegaron hasta 2032). La capcion: “Wow! Delicious! Radical! Lunchables Walking Taco is totally cool.” Eso marcó el comienzo del fin. 

Al tiempo me encantaba el anuncio por su ironía sutil. Pensaba que Lunchables había subido los tropos del mundo publicitario. En realidad la ironía se convirtió en un tropo nuevo, no solo de los anuncios sino en el mundo cotidiano. La ironía se volvió más y más popular al fin de los 2010s, cuando la gente descubrió que funcionaba muy bien en lograr un video viral – Incluso yo, que quería conseguir la fama por internet más que todo. Estaba en la calle grabando un video chistoso cuando un coche me pegó y morí por primera vez. 

Me sorprendí cuando llegue a la imagen exacta del paraíso que tiene los Cristianos: las puertas nacaradas sostenidas por las nubes. Casi manché yo mismo cuando oí la voz de dios: “jajaja nadie te dijo no caminar en la calle cabron?”

Estaba un poco harto; ¿quién habla así? Ya había morido de un coche ese día, y dios estaba añadiendo el insulto a las lesiones, literalmente. Aparte de eso, estaba harto por morirse; no es muy divertido en sí. Pregunté a dios “porque tenía que morirse a causa de la ironía específicamente?” Y Dios me contestaba:

“Tu no has morido por la ironía, la ironía le ha matado.”


“Tu entendimiento de causa y efecto es al revés. La ironía existe ante ti, y existirá después de ti. La ironía existe fuera del tiempo lineal; se está manifestando en tu mundo después de milenios de preparación necesaria (lenguaje, connotación, etc.). Entonces, durante su vida, tu no utilizaba la ironía. La ironía utilizaba a ti, como vehículo, y queda más y más fuerte cada día.

“Bueno, por lo menos puedo descansar aquí en el paraíso, lejos de todas estas malvadas.”

Dios chequeó algunos papeles en la mano. “Es irónico que tú lo dices; mis papeles dicen que vas al infierno” y con un chasquido me desperté en el medio de la calle. 

La persona que me pegó con el coche salió y me miró, pero en vez de hablar, empieza a hacer algunos Fortnite Dances (un baile popular del videojuego nombrado), pintada aquí:

Regresé a mi casa para descubrir que mis padres solamente hablaban en bromas y referencias populares. Traté de abrazar a mi madre pero ella me dijo “whoa bro that’s kinda sus” y también hice los Fortnite Dances en mi cara. 

Desde ese punto gradualmente he perdido mi control del lenguaje también; la ironía trabaja como veneno. Las palabras pierden sus significados originales hasta que sea imposible comunicar sinceramente. Lo que permanece es una corriente de referencias desconectadas: Britney Spears, NASCAR, Cody Ko, ‘Ridiculousness’ with Rob Dyrdek. “Wow! Delicious! Radical! Lunchables Walking Taco is totally cool.” 


Led Astray

by Matthew McGovern

I stepped down from the rattling bus into a foot of slush. From there, I hopped the brown snow embankment onto the lumpy, icy sidewalk, where I trudged along.

After about forty paces, I sensed some figures following me from a short distance, close enough that I could hear their chatter. As I brushed snow from my shoulder, I looked back to see who they were: jackals in leather jackets, whom I had seen on the bus in the back row, snickering. I had observed them eyeing me back there, hungry and sleep-deprived. 

I was a big piece of prey, too slow to outrun them. I resorted to other means of getting the jackals off my trail, I veered from the sidewalk into a field of thick snow. After a few long strides, I was well away from the icy path. I turned back to see them hesitate, and paw at the ground nervously in their tattered, low-top shoes. 

To my surprise and delight, they started leaping in the imprints my boots had left, with a grace unbecoming of predators like them. On the pads of their feet they leaped, and I decided to lead them in a dance through the white, unblemished snow. 

Something in these hyenas’ movements made me forget my fear and revel in the chase. I accented my steps with curving arcs and swings. A long bound, ten rapid steps (which called for light feet,) interspersed with one-foot hopping, then a twirl. But as I looped all the way back to the sidewalk, I realized they had strayed from the steps I had been leading them in. 

Underneath a leafless tree, one jackal produced a crisp, moving tune for the other two, who pranced and pirouetted in tandem, ignoring my imprints in the deep snow. One of them hoisted the other onto his shoulders, like figure skaters, and held the position as the song subsided.

On the hard sidewalk, I clomped the snow from my boots and observed my former pursuants, engrossed. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t contain my applause. The three heads snapped towards me, self-conscious and irate at having been led on. They began inching towards me, with hunger in their eyes, so I turned and bolted away on the uneven sidewalk.


By Nuha Shaikh 

情爱的你 —

Fall is the season of goodbyes, of turning over new leaves and pressing the most brightly colored memories in between the pages of the few books I brought with me to college. I’ve been compulsively picking up the leaves that catch my eye, I feel guilty otherwise. There’s a stack of at least eleven of them now. I don’t want to forget any of these days.

                 O Allah, there is nothing made easy except what you make easy, 

                 and You make difficulty easy, if You wish

                                                                             اللَّهُمَّ لَا سَهْلَ إِلَّا مَا جَعَلْتَهُ سَهْلًا، وَأَنْتَ تَجْعَلُ الْحَزْنَ سَهْلًا إِذَا شِئْتَ

It’s 2020, I’m now 20, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so clearly. How desperately I wish my reflexes were right, so that I could hold on to you forever, curled fingers around your own, and we could be young and eternal, friendship and love perfectly balanced as we found a home in each other, growing up together.

                Find, find, find a friend, 

                I found a good friend, 

                salute to them and hold their hand, 

                You are my good friend, 







I left home, finally, after dreaming about it for years, escape was such a tantalizing flight, as I headed East into the Sunrise. I left a space for you, honored who we used to be, and gave us room to grow. But giving you room and board only left me lonely and alone, dusty beds and cracked mirrors, open windows restless in the wind.

                  I don’t think anything will happen but I still hope, God willing.

                                                                                                                            إن شاء الله.

I’ve now latched the windows and closed the doors. You still have the key but the path to me is quite different than when you left me, and then I left you. If you make your way back to me, I welcome you with open hands, as always. And if you don’t, that’s okay too. I’ve said my goodbyes and made my peace with the ghost of you that lingers in me. 

                    Please take care of yourself. 





by Joseph Harmon

I’m out with the dog, which isn’t my dog. I keep forgetting his name, but I appreciate the company. He’s throwing this eager look back at me, like I’ve got a direction in mind. I don’t. He knows the woods better, and we’ll just have to live with that.

Ah, dog, what are you doing? Crunching through the frozen creek bed, is what. Now he looks a little startled. Buddy, what did you expect?

Earlier that morning, I said yes. Yes to all of it. I’m going to apply to new jobs, I’ll tidy up the weird little tchotchkes Paul has lying around, I’ll give Sarah a call and say exactly what I mean. Then, as I was brushing my teeth and looking through Paul’s medicine cabinet, something about the light outside changed. I don’t know why, but any possibility of those things happening shut down. So I thought to myself, Uh, why don’t we take a little break? I went online and lost myself in a spiral of news, funny videos, and old emails that reminded me what I meant to people. The day went down the drain, and here I was walking this dog.

My brother, Paul, part of him had to be loving this. An ego boost. He’s not the runt anymore; I’m the one camped out in his guest room. I won’t mention it unless he gives me a reason to lash out, but he’s being too cautious for that. In passing, he sometimes rests a hand on my shoulder like a sensitive kindergarten teacher—which he is, actually, and a pretty good one from what I’ve heard. He’s patient and he listens. He tells me that the kids surprise him every day.

When we were kids, we were wild. In the third grade he bit my ear, latched on like a pit bull and didn’t let up. In high school we called him Pall Mall because he’d always be smoking them in the senior parking lot, a big scowl on his face. Maybe it’s my fault. I was a bad role model. I’ve made some wrong turns, sure, I’ll be the first one to admit that. But all through it, Paul’s gentleness was there. If he hurt someone, you could trust him to set it right. Me, I’m not so sure. We keep going anyway. I’d like to think the surprises are buried in us.

Sarah doesn’t think so. She says I’m stuck, and she wants me to shape up. I tell her I’m trying. I see what needs to happen, but I can’t seem to cross that gap. The other day, in our kitchen, I gave up in a good way. I said to her, Hey, do you want this omelette? It was a work of art. Despite how stoned I was, I had caramelized the onions and everything.

“No thanks,” she said, but I scooped it onto a plate anyway. She was wearing a kind of bitter confused smile, the new way she looked at me. I still liked it. She knew all my tricks, but that meant that she knew me.

“Honey, you’re a mess,” she said. I grinned as wide as I could.

“Can I get some constructive criticism?” I asked.

Now the dog is completely still, rigid, staring off into the pines. The sun has already disappeared, but it’s hanging around just enough to see. I should have brought a headlamp.

“What is it?” I say to the dog. “No more walk?”

The dog ignores me, and I know it must be afraid. Its instincts are kicking in, but I’m too big and dumb to sense the danger. I squint off into the distance, but see nothing.

If there’s some danger out there, I just want to see it. I want to know what I’m dealing with. It’s worse to wait. I tell myself that I’m ready but know that I’m not. The dog and I just stand there, our breath condensing in the cold. If this is it, we go out together, not knowing each other’s names. Maybe there’s something beautiful in that.

Paul has a book on the coffee table that I’ve looked through. I’ve looked through everything—my days are full of hours I didn’t know we had. It’s a book of poetry, which is not at all Paul’s thing. He got it as a white elephant gift last December. What I like about it is that it’s poetry fragments. They’re from Ancient Greece, Rome. Just a tiny piece of the author’s work stands for all they were.

I’ve been wondering if this is my fragment. If this moment will define me. My choices have led me here, so probably yes. But who’s to say that it’s a low, that there hasn’t been lower. Why is it high or low, like on some graph?

Screw it, I’m out. Don’t show me the danger. I’ll just go home. I tug the dog back. He’s still transfixed, but I make him leave. It’s Paul’s home, not mine. He built it for himself and I’m resting there before I rebuild my own. This is all temporary. I have these thoughts, and even though they’re simple, I feel like they explain everything. Then, right as I’m about to understand, they slip away.

As I open the door I remember that I made a dish in the crockpot earlier. It was stewing during the walk, waiting for me, becoming something better. The smell is warm and good and strong. It welcomes me back. That’s all I want: to be welcomed back with nobody home.

I unclip the dog and he rushes to his water bowl as if dying of thirst, sloshing it over the sides.

While he does I find the coffee table, find the book. I settle down on a quilt that Paul claims our grandmother sewed but I know for a fact he bought at Kmart.

Everything is laughter and unthinkable dust, my favorite fragment says. Is that true? They don’t know who said it.