Joshua Nguyen is a Kundiman Fellow, collegiate national poetry champion (CUPSI), and a native Houstonian. He has been published in The Offing, The Acentos Review, Rambutan Literary, Button Poetry, The Texas Review, Gulf Coast, and Hot Metal Bridge. He is currently an MFA candidate at The University of Mississippi. He is a bubble tea connoisseur and works in a kitchen.
A swing brushes the cement low, in slow motion, as if drawn through night’s deep syrup, as if burdened, holding the dark ball of a child hidden in the twilight’s smeary sleight of hand. They must be there: it’s some trick of the bare winter branches and sallow moonlight. Their shivering laughter rattles like dead leaves across the blacktop, rubber-soled high tops slapping concrete.
Genelle Chaconas is nonbinary gendered, queer, an abuse survivor, has mood disorders, and feels proud. They earned a BA in Creative Writing from CSUS in 2009, an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University in 2015, and 50k of debt. They never learned to “photograph” but take photos. They’ve been published lots but don’t namedrop. Their chapbooks include Fallout, SaintsandDirty Pictures (little m press, 2011) and Yet Wave (the Lune, 2017). They serve as head editor for HockSpitSlurp Literary Magazine. They enjoy scifi and gangster flix, drone/noise/industrial music, and long walks off short piers.
Those of us hailing from that oddly shaped mid-Atlantic state haphazardly carved into the east coast of America are probably familiar with the strange phenomenon that coincides with traveling either north or south from our homeland. I’ve been as far as Massachusetts in one direction and the tip of Florida in the other. At a bar in South Carolina, I got called a “Yankee,” one hundred and fifty years after the Civil War’s conclusion. In an upstate New York antique mall, a gentleman described me as a, “good ol’ boy.” Being a Marylander is sometimes confusing.
You could blame the Mason-Dixon Line, a demarcation that resulted from a land dispute between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware during the latter half of the eighteenth century, one that would have tremendous and far-reaching consequences after becoming the de facto border between North and South, Freedom and Slavery.
For being a relatively small patch
of land, Maryland held enormous strategic importance during the Civil War. Considered
a semi-loyal “border state,” the territory remained technically in Union hands.
Though most of its population was initially sympathetic to the North, there was
certainly a strong contingent of Confederate separatists as well.
With its proximity to the nation’s capital, the Old Line State (a nickname bestowed by George Washington) became at times a hotly contested battleground. The Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day of the conflict, was fought on Maryland soil. Abraham Lincoln further stoked tension in the region by suspending the right of habeas corpus, which remained a widespread source of animosity even after the War ended. The sixteenth president is much better associated with a different Latin phrase: sic semper tyrannis, the words shouted by John Wilkes Booth, assassin, Marylander.
As a kid growing up in the 1990s, this period of American history became a big part of my educational experience. We’d be loaded onto a rickety, old, yellow school bus and carted off to sites like the Monocacy Battlefield, just outside of my hometown Frederick. In fifth grade my class re-enacted the Battle of Antietam. Donning period appropriate garb then pitching tents in the softball field, we fashioned rifles and bayonets out of construction paper and ate hardtack as we awaited further orders.
Our teachers eventually arranged us
in formation, Rebels positioned atop a small hill with Yankees lined up in
ranks at the bottom. Everyone was given a number. Our hulking gym teacher, Mr.
Bentley, a vein bursting from his forehead, rallied the troops with a booming
call to arms, “Charge!”
In retrospect, the set-up was
historically accurate if not slightly unsettling. During the final phase of the
battle, Union troops marched against a division of Confederates entrenched
along a ridge. With dense woods and large rocky outcropping, the Rebels had
ample natural cover in addition to holding high ground, making for the perfect
defensive position. The boys in blue, on the other hand, were forced to cross a
creek over a narrow stone bridge during the assault, leaving them bottlenecked
and completely exposed to Confederate fire from above. One survivor described
the scene as “a valley of death.” By the evening of September 17, 1862, almost
23,000 men were dead, wounded, or missing.
During our re-enactment, I’d been
enlisted to the Confederacy, a fact that in retrospect deeply troubles me. In
the wake of the 2017 Charlottesville attack, the catalyst of which was the
proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, recalling my ten-year-old self
clad in gray and shouting, “Die, Yankees!” makes me feel physically ill.
I remember crouching in the grass
on that tiny hill pretending to fire my paper musket. Mr. Bentley shouted out
random numbers, “Seventeen! Four! Twenty-two!” If your number was called, you
were supposed to drop dead. I watched in a gleeful sort of awe as droves of my
friends collapsed into the earth, crying out in imagined agony, their faces
contorted in pretend pain. Near the battle’s end, a bird shit on my hat and I started
Like my time spent masquerading as a Confederate infantryman, the current state slogan for Maryland is so cringeworthy I almost hesitate to write it: “If you’re looking for a merry land, go to Maryland!” It’s trite to the point of embarrassment, almost as bad as the state motto, a blatantly sexist sixteenth-century quip attributed originally to Pope Clement VII: “Fatti maschii, parole femine.” This translates from the Italian as, “Manly deeds, womanly words.” Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to modify this saying to the more gender neutral, “Strong deeds, quiet words,” but these efforts have gone in vain, despite the fact that no one seems able to concretely explain why this quote was even added onto the Maryland state seal in the first place.
I much prefer the old slogan: “More Than You Can Imagine.” As if the little microcosm of America we inhabit is some sort of abstraction, an impossibility beyond the scope of human comprehension. It’s true that I don’t understand exactly what attracts me to this place, keeps me tethered here. I suspect this inbetweenness, this duality, fits with the way I view myself, Janus-like, a multiplicity, Yankee, Rebel, both, neither.
Matt Lee is an actor, teacher, and writer from Maryland. His writing has appeared at Sleaze Mag, Tragickal, SOFT CARTEL, Philosophical Idiot, and fluland. He has also written and produced numerous original works for the stage. Visit mattleewrites.com for more info.
Not the first time I loved you, just the first time I met you. Your breath like dead fish pickled in your alcoholism. Your knuckles raw from beating someone up the night before. Your long hair greased from stress and hours. A single word etched into each of your twelve teeth:
I was born to die alone these thoughts are not my own
I made you smile three times to read the whole poem. It wasn’t hard to do: smile first and laugh at a thing you said. I don’t remember what it was. That makes me a bad person. Worse than you maybe. I don’t usually fall in the dark but in the freak of the night I had a pang— a longing to believe that we are more than they claim or at least that one of us might be.
Not the first time I loved you but when I was deep in love with you. My hand, caught in a bad dream, running across the metal plate that the doctors placed above your burning brain; the times you tried to drain the ghosts yourself through the holes someone made in your skull.
But they could not see you so the help was only hurt
And if I’m being honest, there might have been a sliver of me that wanted to believe certain people are unlovable so I might could maybe call myself a miracle worker. Your swollen foot pressed deep into the gas pedal. The speedometer breaking; the ignited city pulsing through us. You screaming at the windshield that you wanted to murder the whole world. And it would be easy enough to be horrified but instead I only whispered in your ear that crows don’t fly south for the winter.
Not the first time I loved you, just the first time I doubted you. When you tried to drown me in the bathtub, calling it the ocean. Calling it a baptism or a long time coming. Your skin turned lizard beneath the bathroom lighting and as I lay there, supine and scared, I began to notice:
All this violence was too vague all these fears were too specific
And what scared me wasn’t you and it wasn’t dying but something threatening in the underbelly of the water. My reflection choking on the air above me. I wanted to sink to the bottom of the ocean. I wanted to rise to the top of the atmosphere. Then you let go of my chest and I rose to meet myself in the space inside the surface tension. I took a breath and saw you wrapped up in yourself crying on the floor and I pulled the plug and watched the water flow down the drain.
Not the first time I loved you but the time that I left you. We drove all night and lay in the dying dark; I, drunk and hungry, you coughing up blood onto the side of the freeway. As daylight suffocated the stars I ran my aching tongue along your teeth:
I was born to die alone these thoughts are not my own
The birds began to sing the morning and I felt your breath turn heavy and my left hand pulled the keys from your pocket as my right hand circled the broken circle of your face. The engine humming, the road passing beneath me, you alone in that ditch. This makes me a bad person, worse than you maybe. I didn’t think about the first time I loved you. I didn’t think about anything at all, only stared ahead. The planet curved with cruelty, carrying me with it.
Trevor Plate spent his childhood on the island of Guam before moving to the mainland at eighteen. Now he lives all over the country while he continues to write poetry. His poems have previously appeared in Maudlin House, Boston Accent, and The Ilanot Review.
Melt the gold between your palms and smear it on everything you love: your hips, your lips, the soles of your feet.
This month I am sick of sand and sun and callouses; in my dreams I am new skin, tender and thin. The fluttering of my heartbeat rises in every place my angles meet, and anyone could see how desperate they blush to be touched.
A fist I took once to make me ice has instead made me fire, reduced cinder, liquid in the rains, the shade of dried blood.
I bite the open hand, climb the fence instead of going though, lie on my back and close my eyes to imagine it differently. I cannot be made into granite no matter how long I stand still; the bees and blooms crawl up my knees and drape me in honey too heavy to bear, too sweet to eat.
Melt the gold between your fingers and press it to everything you hate: the curve of your stomach, the length of your throat, the lines time has carved onto your face.
I breathe in black and blue until the bruises bloom and then wilt, the fat sunrise rests its face against the ocean, tired too, in a better world the dawn remakes me, new.
A.M. Kennedy is a writer and painter from Tampa. She specializes in precariously stacking books and half-finished tea mugs. She has been previously published in 3Elements Review,Popshot Magazine, and The Burningword.
Leah and Cecelia, two
teenage girls, sit buried in two chairs next to each other. They spend the
entire time on their phones, not looking up. Brief pauses are taken between
each dialogue break in which the girls continue scrolling through their phones.
Leah: Did you see Beth got her hair cut? Cecelia: No. Let me see this. -pause- oh no. Leah: I know, tragic. And she was supposed to have her date with Oliver on Friday. Cecelia: We’ll see how that happens. If that happens.
Leah: Oh this is a cool picture. Cecelia: What is it? Leah: It says it’s from the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Cecelia: Wow. It’s so empty. It is beautiful, though.
Cecelia: Why did Suze post a picture of a horse? Leah: It’s the new horse her dad got her. Cecelia: Her dad got her a horse? Leah: Yeah, he felt bad that he hadn’t seen her in a year after he lost custody in the divorce. Cecelia: If only my parents were divorced. Leah: I think he might have had to go to rehab. Cecelia: Still a fucking horse? Imagine what else she can get.
Leah: Did you hear about all the cutbacks to student loans? Now, like, practically no one can get financed. Cecelia: LOL, there goes college. Leah: Like we ever had an actual future to hope for.
Cecelia: Oh no, Denny has to go to court. Leah: Not Denny, no! What did he do? Cecelia: He was texting and driving. Again. Leah: I saw his snap-story. He was actually snapping while driving last time. Cecelia: Ah, Denny. Is there any hope for him to ever learn?
Cecelia: Did you see the news this morning? Leah: Are you talking about the townhouse fire in the city? My mom told me about that over breakfast. Cecelia: No, the mass shooting in Des Moines. 21 people were killed; they were saying about 40 others were wounded. Leah: Another one? Cecelia: Yeah, another one. Leah: People need to chill the fuck down. Love each other. Stop shooting. Cecelia: Tell me about it.
Leah: I took that “choose your dream shopping spree and we’ll tell you how old you really are” quiz. Cecelia: And? What did you get? Leah: Well, according to this, I’m a senior citizen. Cecelia: Seriously? Leah: “You are an old soul at heart. Your care for others is deep and grandmotherly to its very core. Your ideal day includes baking, watching birds, spoiling your grandkids, and watching some ‘Judge Judy.’ You might not admit it, but you have that stash of strawberry hard candies tucked away in the bottom of your bag. Everyone looks to you as a source of wisdom and cookies.” Cecelia: I can’t. No. I just can’t. Leah: Hey. Respect your elders.
Cecelia: Carter just posted a picture. His dad is in the hospital. Leah: What happened? Cecelia: Apparently he swallowed a bunch of pills and overdosed. They aren’t sure if he was trying to kill himself or what. Leah: Wow. I wish there was something we could do. Cecelia: I know. But what can we do? Leah: I don’t know. Everything I can say at this point has already been said. And besides it’s all stupid, meaningless clichés. Cecelia: Oh well. I sent him a text. I used a bunch of those little praying hands emojis. Leah: Yeah, that’ll definitely help.
Leah: Did you see Karie got a new little dog? Cecelia: A puppy? Let me see this cutie.
I could paint some surreal image of this room—how the sun latches to my back on the walk inside, how I screw it into the lamp and how it sprouts the seeds I scattered across the floor. I could say it stays there and keeps this room warm. I could say it lives there until the ceiling tiles part to reveal the moon. I suppose this naked gap could allow for fog to pile on top of us, for us to shape it into Queen and Queen costumes, able to play dress-up again. Perhaps crickets could come next, the rub of their thighs to replace the hum of machines. But this all would be dishonest. There is really a dresser with photos, there is a bible stuffed with letters, sometimes there are visitors who know my name. There is the sharing of memories and alcohol and alcohol. There is a wooden box with a keyhole. In the corner is a window with the shade always drawn and a bed that seems to grow larger but never wide enough for me to lay against her.
Alison Hazle is a poet/writer and art school survivor. She plans to pursue an MFA somewhere far away from Baltimore.
What am I if I am not a girl? The pulpy body of a dead sea mollusk, dissolving? Am I crunchy? The shell it left behind, rotted in, shouldering deception? What if I am made from other shells, who were made from mother shells, who were stepped on so often that the gravity of their woman bones collapsed in, made dust of themselves beneath the boot of a man I have never met but can feel still in the tips of my hairs anytime someone asks me what I am?
Micaela Walley is a graduate from the University of South Alabama. Her work can be found in Oracle Fine Arts Review, Occulum, and ENTROPY. She currently lives in Hanover, Maryland with her best friend—Chunky, the cat.
Abuelita wraps me up in tamalitos, so warm, But she cools me down with Fresa Tropical, ah Canciones de mariachi cry in the background, and we Dance like we’re wearing clothes made of cucarachas Executing imprecise movements like forced twitches Fixating, fixating, fixating, on las guitarras Gently strummed, unlike the singers’ vocal chords Harsh, hoarse, heartfelt vibrations that tingle my eardrum I’ve never seen tears fall in tune to a beat like this before Just watch my mother’s head sway back and forth Knowingly imitating the tapping of the performers’ feet Like her body embodies the songs of melancholic mariachi Musical notes invading her bloodstream, her lagrimas shine Nosotros – felices en nuestras vidas sencillas Oblivious to our nearing flight departure Persistently ignoring the dates on the calendar Questioning what life could have felt like before this Repressing the thoughts of once existing outside of this Sin mi país bellísimo, sin mi país, sin mi This is my people’s holy land, but it doesn’t feel mine Unfathomable experience of being both free and shackled Vulnerable with no country, vulnerable within it Withholding parts of my soul, trapped in two places Xenophobes in two nations targeting parts of me, I’m just Yearning for my country to be mine.
Emely Rodriguez is a Latina writer from the D.C. / M.D. area. She is in her first year of the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA program at the University of Baltimore, focusing on poetry. Her work has been published in 45th Parallel,The Voices Project, and Welter Magazine.