Alison Green is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She is an Associate Editor at Live FAST Magazine. She is inspired by the desert, dreams, and intimacy in all its forms.
In Los Angeles, it is earthquake weather. It is earthquake weather, and I am falling out of love with you and breaking my own heart trying to pretend I’m not. It is earthquake weather, hazy and congested, thick clots of heat, and I stand in the middle of my backyard watching the tree branches dance in the hot breeze and try to let go. I remember your hot breath on the back of my neck in the middle of the night, remember slow dancing with you below a shamelessly full moon, remember wanting to get closer and closer, close enough to fall forward into the rippling lake of you. I remember your long jawline carving a half circle into my gut, the soft dip of your upper lip precious as a newborn every morning. There is nothing we can do but wait. Dogs bark. My roommate says she can lend me some of her anti-anxiety meds. People say it’s earthquake weather when the air feels velvety and the sun pours down like black coffee, but the truth is, there is no weather below the earth’s surface. We have no way of knowing. We don’t know whose fault it is. We didn’t listen. I sleep with tennis shoes on. I go to a friend’s art opening downtown and look up the entire time, an emergency kit in my purse. The hairs on the back of my arm stand at attention. My roommate and I crunch anti-acids like candy. You wake me at five in the morning with your hardness, fuck me facing the bare white wall. I remember looking at you, talking fast about something in a dark bar in San Francisco, and thinking, this man knows everything, and this man loves me. In my dreams, I am swallowed up by the earth and all you can hear is glass shattering. I get very drunk and call you eight times. You do not pick up. LA is a dry rattling cough. LA is that cottony taste in your mouth when you wake up hungover with your phone in your hand. We sit in silence on the 210, the lights downtown winking at us, and my stomach slices itself into shoelaces of bitterness, tying itself into knots. Your mouth is a long line. I loved you. I loved you so much I took a pregnancy test in the bathroom of a Mediterranean restaurant in Berkeley and thought, if I’m pregnant, maybe we’ll keep it. I forget the rest. The earthquake will unzip California down its center, tectonic plates rubbing together like rolling your shoulders back after a long day, like saying out loud what you are scared to admit to yourself, like I don’t love you anymore, like a long black canyon of silence, like finally: relief.
A body (A)maze
The walls are tense periwinkle tendon like someone's been smoking on the job and all the floorplans got lost in the confusion. Like we decided arteries make for great architecture so they made these four dovetails rest on a sigh; I think there’s a fault line beneath my bed. I think memory is like packing a list and watching as unfurling it shows how blank it can become. I think i can't remember my dreams. I think im still having them. I’ve been spilling seeds before sleep and all these knotted cherry stems are growing around like they own the place. this is another space ive regretfully made for fallopian metaphors. One day i woke up and ive felt tired ever since; one night i went to sleep with all my teeth a-sweating and awoke to all this hair. When i part it to the left i can breathe without calves tingling of suspicion; When I part it to the right i can laugh in that pitch that makes you think of hairless youth. Most of the time I’ll just lie there between tickling&itching about dreams i cant remember. What lives in between locks of hair? Cause there's a whole lot of space between mine and its keeping me awake at night wondering if i should be saying hello. What's it like to be a home? Im living a new life with every closed door, im birthing selves that tumble out of four walls, a rushed job that sits helter-skelter on the sidewalk right along the way to work and i don't know any routes to avoid seeing it. I think this, like all of this, might be one big question about the different ways things might taste in the outside of the inside. What does it mean that i've never received a text in my dreams? I think it might say alot about what it means to have expectations. Sometimes i forget where i am but that's okay since you gave me these months to remember i'm doing a really good job knowing what time we’re both living in. I want to show you all the things i’ve collected, i want to lay them out in front of rocks by the sea, i want to find the right placement of them next to each other as if to say ‘here’s everything i know about being alive its not alot but i think you’ll appreciate the attention to detail.’ Maybe we could spend nights next to the sea and harvest all the tree bones that wash ashore. Maybe we could build a house ourselves. I could shave off all this hair and everyone could find a space between the locks to live in. I could say hello how are you doing out there. And they would say oh we’re well, things are feeling good again.
i have this picture of me
undefined relationship #12
You said we shouldn’t make out anymore.
Two days later I got a yeast infection.
My GYN is texting: ¿Todavía te arde?
My plan is to impose loneliness on you,
in a headstand, breast to clavicle.
When you get a really nice rejection letter,
it’s like a guy thought you were awesome
but fell in love with someone else.
You’d made a list, it went: supportive, hot,
intelligent, knows what he wants to do
and does it.
The no pile clings to that warmth
in the other room.
¿Ya se te quitó el ardor o continúa?
Like a feather not quite grazing.
Do you miss me yet?
I’m doce horas por tres días
swigging a can of Best Sweet Tea.
How much it had mattered
to catch a cool
worth pausing for.
the time i realized i wasn't white
I was nine and Grandma Miller introduced me
at the San Diego Pentecostal church.
I politely kissed her white friend
on the cheek, to everyone’s shock,
and burned a red backdrop
to my freckles.
A few years after my quinceañera
my Spanish boyfriend
algo en las estructuras que no va
flattened my accent in a cove of love
a woman’s grievances
folded in papers he’d lock away
Feminism’s just a petty excuse
for my voice silenced
from radical to analyst
from beacon to branded
from brilliant to affirmative action
from man to woman.
I hide my phony diploma
behind my leg
check from the side of my eye
if anyone’s looking.
The white boy couldn’t get in anywhere
because he was a white boy.
The time I was most white was when at twenty-five
I capitalized on your adolescence in Virginia
knew your South Asian wouldn’t let you
say no to me.
That’s the time I saw myself in you.
The time I was least white was when in Mexico
a white man took my work
and didn’t invite me to the party.
In Spain at twenty-two
my teacher called Latin America
an insult to language
in front of ten women and an institution
that said the sun would do enough
to dry me.
One time I wasn’t white and
was at nineteen in New York
when Becca Stein said the Spanish street names
in my poem were disorienting
like is this Arizona or Mexico
because the way you’ve situated the text
—to a white woman.
The time I felt most white was when
at eighteen I read David Foster Wallace on SWE
The time I felt least white was when
The time I felt least white was when
people only care
if your camera won’t show your color negative
if you can afford a camera, SWE, BMW, 401K.
The time I was least white was when
insurance is only for residents
and they pick up the phone and say who’s speaking
And I say María Fernández.
The time I felt least white was when
I had a skinny iced latte in Polanco
and my girlfriends said Chicanos
weren’t really Mexican.
The time I felt most white
was when I laughed along.
boys are like houses in a biracial, transcontinental state
Two stuffed bags. A closet arranged from purple to black, customary in Columbia dorms. Chucked an exam hangover into six human-sized boxes, followed by five-dollar margaritas spewing me blue on a viscid wood floor: six legs, three tongues, multiple smartphones testifying. Then an apartment furnished to eat at the liver, pinching it tight like money. Street finds to compensate: scrubbed record shelves, an impressionist yard framed in gold. My roommate’s thick glasses, eraser dust, notes almost rebooking the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Seven choking perfume spritzes, for luck.
Two hovering years. Adrià mutated from vellum to liberty, swan song eight times through the Caribbean. Multiplied his specter into nine human-shaped deposits, followed by muscles ticking me blue on my phone: indigent, deaf-eared, pinched in a heartbeat of lubricated ego. Then hypochondria spews herpes from whitescreen to skin, harking me back to his question. Street finds to compensate: a Texan jock, a cult child, Adonis stealing his pinesmell. Erased to a new stability, a gust of wait, the future scudding out on overstretched tentacles. Left a sludge slipway, for luck.
Two potioned poems. Concocted relationships cursing my drive from genesis to mud, buried nine ribs down from atonement. My brain vacuumed into human-sizing mirrors, followed by tweezers clipping me red on a cortisone lake: YouTube yoga, insomniac, a sallow bed of cesspooled escapism. Then twenty-seven strands of rejection letters, pinning a desiccated moth to a millennial sense of purpose. Metaphysical steals to compensate: a poem Mónica de la Torre wrote in my dream, God’s voice channeled through a grimy garrafón, a therapist. Churned by a threat cue choked in shoelace, a propulsion cradled in tissue flesh, clouds spelling tedium to amaranth. Oiled ten hands in violet, for luck.
there is a thought of you
showing up in mexico
clutch two fingers on yours
in a cab
but the current seeps
echoes of footsteps
i put the kettle on
and purple afterlights
exist in spite of us
the way you hug me
a smoked chicken
at the center of a birthday cake
our walls frame the one space
so we cross our
to a five-month atlantic
where we send each other poems
just to say you’re beautiful
To bury oneself in the sands of the earth cannot mend that which the sands of time have neglected.
A change of scenery, for many, is a misguided dependency. Empty-headed, earthly voyeurism can tame a restless creature temporarily, give it a place to sleep overnight, and cradle its delicate frame as it wretches into a bin for neither the first or last time. Yet its ill-conceived, malleable friendship offers little unique or personal challenge. Material environments are important, but extenuating – never to be blamed for the creatures that emerge from them, whether bad or good. Eventually, and in excess, wanderlust is a vice dispensed as doses of antidote, or merely a self-indulgent escape that begs for more of itself. It can become just another drink that one may clutch too tightly. Closer proximity to the Earth’s eyes does not guarantee its acknowledgement or acceptance of those vying and dying for a transcendent purpose or profound epiphany. It does not need you in return. It will not offer any embrace, or whisper its secrets into the self-serving ear of the species which most exploits and manipulates it as needed, to the original parent and patent of Munchausen by proxy. Self-discovery is not a huffed lullaby through a hookah pipe. India will only inspire you if sweat corrodes upon your skin with the injustice of poverty and poor governance, rather than the rash of a cheap souvenir sari. The world is not a dependent lover or a subordinate mistress available when convenient. Its partnership is quiet and conditional, its wonders are to be interpreted meaningfully, independently, and offering the same in return. Its sands will much sooner scorch lazy eyes in dry, gritty gusts of blindness than actually clear their view to some higher knowledge.
This planet will bury you alive long before your search in its playground is complete.
Out here it always looked like sunset. The sky was ashen with the haze of displaced atoms. I imagined that the dusty earth had its particles tossed upwards like shrugging limbs, still in shock from the gratuitous development within the most barren heart of undeveloped, unsowable land.
I was a malady in the Middle East.
Shapeless vagabonds melted into sweat and smeared makeup. Slums collected between the jewel-encrusted toes of reclining sheikhs and shysters, clinging to the humid shade of anything that cast a shadow.
Lovers kissed on the Qasbah, under the safe hijab of nightfall. I felt queasy as their rough, arid lips eroded on to one another’s. It was a shared eternal dehydration that, I imagined, warm tongues would only tease. I was, I am, a stranger to this love. And so I could only imagine intimacy as a sip of saltwater in a barren desert, or the sensation of hot breaths and dusty breezes lapping at burnt limbs in a mirage of cold. I observed lovers whose eyes were fresh and vibrant, and wondered at which point these would swell into rockpools too salty for any creature to face, and too hot for any child's wandering toes to dare displace.
At 4am, barefooted children would kick a soccerball in nameless streets and alleyways where every stranger was a trusty friend. Teenagers would cycle around the soft haze of the corniche, untroubled and untroublesome. They would all scurry back to their houses and mosques at the first wailing note of the Quran’s call to prayer. It was safe and lively and relatively scrupulous, at least by human standards.
Committing crimes was for husbands and wives. Corruption was a negotiable option, given the stamps in your passport and the sandiness of your hair. Suicide was for the government to deny. Streetpaths were lined with stares, but not startles. Dangerously wealthy brats named Mohammed may kill a stray animal without reprimand, but only occasionally and anomalously would a non-local name a similarly stray creature Mohammed and be threatened with the same fate. Peace Be An Oligarchy.
Nonetheless, most Mohammeds I came across were innocuous and notably unthreatening, extreme only in hospitality and revelry. The majority of my classmates were courteous like clockwork.
“Our family would be honoured if yours were to join us in our Eid al-Fitr festivities.”
Each year, he never failed to offer.
“But you know I didn’t fast during Ramadan…”
“Habibti, our holy feast is blessed not by your faith but by your friendship. You will join us, inshallah.”
Inshallah, indeed. I am not your habibti.
In comparison to my peers, I was rough and ragged and uncouth. My pallid complexion and recessive mess branded me a curio of the classroom, but was offset by my quietly defensive nature. Drawn into my cherubic face, my peers would impale themselves on sharp, angular edges unforseen to them. I seemed to cause harm easily, deeply, unapologetically. When it rained here, it poured. And I was my own tempest in a teacup, shallow waste water appearing bottomless through a layer of filthy debris. There were no gutters, no intricate internal mechanisms to purge the storm. Water stood in the streets for weeks after monsoon, submerging everything in urban detritus.
Many new foreigners would initially become sick from the constant extremes, living halfway out the door of their air-conditioned suites in the face of dense, unrelenting heat. Old, new and industrial sectors fought for dominance, stacking upwards towards the sky like a precarious game of socioeconomic Jenga that I merely observed. Bustling souks of gold, silver, bronze and blue, provided livelihood and lucidity, while the arabesque of fanciful architecture stole the sky above them. Abra dinghies bobbed across the creek to converge the old and new for a tiny price, while jets zoomed businessmen overhead into the future, at a price dearer than a human life.
To claim sacred pieces of nature and history as our own with harsh tools and tattoos of a modernity that has little to be proud of.
To be raised by places alone, rather than a range of places and people and values and experiences, makes one worldly, but empty-worlded.
The marble palace we inhabited fell in place among smoked out stars, but never did fall from our lips as home. Like all our houses, the common areas were eerily clean like a meticulously sterilised crime scene, while the bedrooms collected every injustice we endured, thickening and blackening the grout between the tiles as if the floor were experiencing every harsh, bruising blow I did.
We were our own little emirates, united only in slashings of blood and the lashings of expatriotism we called family.
Swept away in a sandstorm, the desert I was squinting across seemed endless when I lost sight of her. It was quite possible that her initial presence was nothing but a heat-induced hallucination. She was a music box nearly buried in a sand dune – the tiny, hauntingly desperate tune of a tiny Scandinavian dancer, spinning slower and slower beneath suns that were never destined to incinerate her.
Our oasis was burnt to cinders that blew with the wind across endless plains. We would explore each edge of this desert, chasing our own ashes. On weekends he would drive us to faraway places, taking advantage of limitless roads with his foot burning a hole through the pedal in the guilt-plagued hope that we may collide into a better circumstance.
There was a string of girlfriends closer to my age than his, each of whom he would unleash upon me to play family. They were little girls with an unbranded, second-hand doll to feminise and soften and style as they pleased. But no matter how they tried, they could not conceal its patchy, haphazard haircut – and upon its graffitied face lit a kerosene semblance of a smile.
His Western egotism was predictable and patronising. He expected me to fix something so broken it had been ground into a coarse, indiscernible sand. In doing so, I was condemned to a life of over-accountability.
Discomfort grew as I did. Childhood and beyond, I was eerily silent during regular conversation, and loud only in my imperfect ideas. Playground eyes full of opinion and inquisition. Uncutesy, uncomfortable.
And I packed it all in my carry-on luggage, as did my parents with their broken marriage. The only difference being that I knew this baggage would be no lighter once we touched down at our destination.
I swallowed the blame on behalf of the creatures that had become of me.
I let my eyes close under singed eyelashes. I let my senses blur into an intense ache.
Of heat, and nothing more.
Old fashion is the malong Yasmin’s mother keeps tucked away in her closet. It smells like the soil after rain visits--petrichor, her mother tells her, the land blessed after a dry spell—and there are little spiders making homes in the edges, little bridges connecting the fabric to the wood. She tells Yasmin she will wear it on her wedding day. Yasmin thinks I do not want to be buried alive.
Old fashion is Yasmin’s father telling her what to wear and what not to wear. No crop tops, men turn away from the eyes of God to flashes of flesh; no shorts, the flesh is the Devil’s work; no mini skirts, the Devil and his army have led men to their damnation through the flesh for centuries. Yasmin takes to hiding the shorts and the skirts (she didn’t think she could pull off crop tops, they didn’t jive with her) amidst her dresses and pants and jeans and hijabs.
Old fashion is one of Yasmin’s babus—aunts—repeating what the Christians say about men loving men and women loving women: Our Lord the Most Merciful did not create man and man to grow the land, nor did He made woman and woman to name the beasts in the Garden. Family dinners get awkward every night the conversation circles around it. Yasmin can feel herself shrinking to the size of a pea. She always finishes first, excuses herself, locks herself in her room and asks the Most Merciful if He really hated people like her.
New fashion is the new girl in her class. Her name is Tala--my parents thought I was born from a star, you know—and Yasmin can feel herself falling into somewhere with a light that warms the cages of her heart. Tala and Yasmin become friends as soon as they meet. Tala is a sun on a cloudy day, her laugh echoing with the air all around them.
Tala meets Yasmin’s parents. They like her. Neither Yasmin nor Tala speak of the flowers blooming on Yasmin’s chest, or the nearly-there clutches of touch shared under the dining table. Yasmin stares too long at Tala as the darkness of the night surrounds her; her parents think she’s worried about the bad men roaming around, Yasmin thinks what if they steal her shine? and that question haunts her sleep and her dreams—coming face-to-face with a Tala desaturated and dim.
New fashion is Tala knocking on Yasmin’s window around the hour where everyone’s asleep. This Tala is not the Tala of her nightmares nor the Tala of her everyday life. The Tala before her is all moonlight and stardust. She touches Yasmin’s face, I didn’t think I’d fall for someone like you slithers inside her head and the smile on Tala’s face is sad, as if this confession is also a finality.
I love you, Yasmin whispers to the pale hand on her cheek. I always will. Tala shakes her head, removes her hand from the other girl’s face. The smile never leaves her face, but Yasmin sees an eternity of melancholy etched skin deep: from the lines on her face, to the shapes framing her hands, to what passes as a heartbeat echoing in a ribcage that’s not there. Always, Tala says, but even forever doesn’t last. Yasmin wonders if there are choirs in the heavens; Tala sounds like she’d be a part of them.
New fashion is an old god forgotten, supposedly sinking into the waters of memory, but sun-warm and a blinding beacon—alive in a way that her heartbeat joins in the chorus of other, pulsing songs.
New fashion is… an old god finding brighter than herself and a young girl learning to take love’s hand in flight.
We talk, just so we don't have to deal with our surroundings.
We talk, because that's how we deal.
She tells me, “We've been through hell and back, but we had some good times, didn't we? Good memories.”
I tell her, “Yes, plenty.”
She asks, “What's your favorite one?”
And I think, and think, and think. And I say, “New Year's Eve, 1999.”
She smiles. She knows.
The looming threat of 2K. Computers were going to collapse. The end of times. The world was going to end.
She remembers that we drove around all evening, exploring the streets in central Mexico, trying to find a restaurant or fast food place that was open. She was trying to handle me, an irritated eleven-year-old, and my sister, a quiet-but-annoyed two-year-old. She was always handling things, and she was a pro at it.
We kept looking. Looking, driving, searching, and I could tell She was trying not to fall apart.
“I've failed as a parent,” She joked back then.
“What if the world does end tonight?”
“We can do this. We'll find something.”
We ended up buying ham sandwiches and cheese croissants from a gas station in the middle of nowhere. We found a bakery on our way home, and bought hours-old pan dulce; conchas, puerquitos, donas. We got five different kinds of soda, and enough dulces to rot our teeth.
“What if the world does end tonight?”
We sat on a blanket in the middle of the living room, and She was trying not to cry. Reminders of a messy divorce were everywhere, and She was trying not to cry. She was doing her best to provide everything for us, and She was trying not to cry.
We watched rom-coms until midnight, the world didn't end, and we laughed and ate and laughed again. I focused on Her face as she blinked back tears, and She ran her fingers through my sister's hair.
I said, “I love you, mom.”
She said, “I love you more. To infinity and beyond.”
Fast-forward, fifteen years later, and we're in a hospital room. Fast-forward, and they're pumping chemicals into Her veins. Fast-forward, and we're talking about our favorite memories as if they're going to disappear if we don't talk about them.
She is starting to forget things, so I remind her of them. My throat is dry from all the talking, and Her throat is dry due to the medication. I sneak in some pan dulce that night, and we eat it under artificial lights, giggling like mischievous little girls.
We had some good times, didn't we?
I say, “I love you, mom.”
She says, “I love you. To infinity and beyond.”
The world doesn't end when she dies, but it sure feels like it.
Sometimes I want to eat myself to sleep. I want to pierce myself into submission, taming
these dreams and rebellions and words. I want to release these narratives, all possible, and
make my enemies sing at my feet. I want to rip my skin off and line my bones with soil, then
bury them with things I forgot: the characters I’d loved, the recipe that hung on my tongue,
the number on my mailbox, and think maybe, these will grow into stories.
I want to fall asleep in your arms and pretend the last eight years of my life didn’t go by as
fast as they did. I want to worry less about time and more about dinner. I want to make a
pizza that tastes as rich and greasy and cheesy as any pizza ever was, and not get fat.
I want to die on my patio in my hammock with a glass of wine in my hand. The glass will fall
and the wine will trickle over the edge of my balcony, raining purple drops on my
neighbor’s children. I want to come alive again and tell everyone I met god or satan or a
unicorn and write a book about it. I’ll make thousands of dollars and predict the END OF
THE WORLD! I’ll be wrong, but it will be okay.
Where They Were
Franklin—In the bathroom, alone
On the ground, a tooth, in a bag, with a name written in sharpie. FRANKLIN, crossed out to write FRANKIE on top. He had tripped, moving too fast—being too scared—and hit his jaw on the counter and his tooth came out. It was already lose, one of his baby teeth, so it didn’t hurt that much. But it did hurt.
He put the tooth in a plastic baggy, just like dad always did, and slept with it under his pillow-that-wasn’t-a-real-pillow because he was sleeping in the bathroom. In the bathroom, with music on, he couldn’t hear the screams outside or see the smoke in the distance. There were no windows in the bathroom. His dad always said if there was an earthquake or tornado or crazy person in the house, the bathroom was the safest place to be. He slept in the bathroom, with his tooth under his head.
He knew the tooth fairy wouldn’t come. But he hoped his dad would. He knew his dad wouldn’t come. But he hoped he would. He slept in the bathroom, but with the door unlocked, his tooth under the pillow.
Down the hall, in the master bedroom: a bottle of empty pills. On the bed, a body of emptiness. His father took every pill, just to be sure. The cap had rolled under the bed-that-wasn’t-his-bed-anymore because his family wasn’t there. His son would live, but not much longer. His son would die, but he couldn’t be the one to kill his son.
In the bathroom, tears. Franklin-called-Frankie-by-only-his-dad, vomited. He was thirsty and tired and crying so hard that vomit came out of his nose. He was thirsty, but had to pass his dad’s room to get water, so he clenched the FRANKIE-tooth-bag as he vomited, alone.
Maria and Erin—Rooftop, together
Under a shirt, a needle and a spoon. On the shirt, a bra. Small drops of blood on their shirts made them feel hardcore and bloody and endless. They were laying on the rooftop under the stars. No clothes. Clothes didn’t matter anymore. They threw their shoes off the edge of the building, watching them disappear under their industrial horizon. They made love. They fucked. They punched each other, shot up, talked about their queerness. Talked about the words they learned to identify with, and how they didn’t matter anymore.
They threw their narcotics anonymous tokens off the roof. They held each other’s hand. They talked about the last meeting they went to together and how stupid their sponsors were. How hopeless the druggies in the group were. They would observe each one and make bets on who would fall first. Oscar, who Erin thought for sure was doing just great as he often said, was admitted to rehab after a few weeks of NA. Erin had handed a 50 over to Maria, her face shrouded in sadness for him.
Maria and Erin had went to the meetings as usual after the news hit. They had smoked cigarettes and waited outside the room, but no one showed. NA seemed like a happy-fucking-druggie-family-in-recovery but when the earth started falling apart, when things got bad, in the end, they were all druggies like they always were and would be.
As they laid on the roof, Erin told Maria she was scared. Her family was out of the country, so she wouldn’t be able to see them. Tears fell down her cheeks, her chest felt heavy. Maria rolled Erin into her arms, hushing her softly. She rocked them together, under the stars-they-couldn’t-see-because-of-light-pollution-but-knew-were-there-because-of-hope.
Maria said she was glad they could die together, on their own terms. She’d rather OD—something she knew and knew how it would feel—than die into the unknown. Maria said it was good they’d all be dead. The world was a terrible place anyway. Maybe humans would get to restart. Maybe they’d all get to restart.
Bill—Front office, over Daya
Tears, on her face. Pens, markers, clips and papers on the floor. Desperate, in his hands. His hands that once belonged to a man, a good man, but now belonged to a good-man-who-does-bad-things.
He hovered over Daya. Did bad things to her. She stopped yelling. She cried. She didn’t know him. He knew her. She was the Latina lovely. The coworker down the hallway. She was perfect; until Bill ripped off her clothes. She had a pooch of fat in her lower belly and stretch marks on her hips. Her large breasts, perfect, they seemed, had stretch marks too, and sagged. She must have worn push-up bras to make them sit so perfectly. She must have worn panty-hose to make her legs look so smooth. His disappointment only made him angrier.
He had a woman, a wife, but she died. They had no kids, not really. There was one, a daughter, but she hated Bill and refused herself as his child. Bill hadn’t heard from her in five years.
The hot air coalesced his body, hanging like the heat of a fever. He felt sick, but knew it was just his anxiety tricking him. His anxiety always told him he was dying. This time, though, his anxiety was right. He just wanted to feel the touch of a woman one more time. He missed his wife. And he was going to die.
Daya—Front office, under Bill
Daya closed her eyes to this-thing-that-she-couldn’t-stop. Under her shirt, a pencil jabbed into her spine. She pulled a tack that pierced her side, thought about stabbing him with it. But let it roll away instead. She looked at her shoes under her desk. They were her “statement” shoes: a red ballet flat with a gold sequined bow. Scuffed at the toes from a surprise hike in the woods with her husband. He had taken her to top of the small mountain after their picnic, knelt down, and presented a box.
Daya laid still and thought about being anywhere else. She thought about her little sister. She thought of how they laughed when the global warning hit. Dying didn’t scare them. The things-in-life-you-couldn’t-stop were worse than death.
She lied still and quiet, resisting.
Mai and Kevin—The kid’s bedroom, together
They didn’t want them to suffer. They didn’t want them to be scared, to see the fear in their parent’s eyes. They wanted them to drift off, peacefully, with their family, in their home, unafraid.
Mai and Kevin had talked it over many times. They argued. They wrote lists. Pros and cons. Their kids were smart, so they had to be careful. Mai didn’t want them to suspect anything.
So they walked their children into the master bedroom and sat them on the bed, they watched a movie together, a funny cartoon, and pretended to be happy. They laughed with their kids and kept the tears from escaping their eyes. They fed their children the macaroni and cheese and poison, and cleaned their faces when they got messy. They were so excited, eating in Mommy and Daddy’s bed and watching a movie together. They licked their bowls and wore them on their heads.
Kevin pulled his daughter into his arms and kissed her head. Her soft arms, her plump cheeks, each rough little nail. He pulled her close, put his hand on her chest and felt the beating. Mai held their son, buried him in her chest and smelled his little boy hair. Their daughter said she was sleepy. So Mai and Kevin tucked the children in and laid next to them while they drifted away and their hearts stopped beating. Once they were gone, Mai and Kevin wanted to go quickly. They didn’t want to wait for the pills or poisons to work.
So they put guns to each other’s head, kissed, and then pulled the trigger.
D’aja—the pews, alone
A ring, in her hands, made of 14 carat gold, with a cross on it. Her pearls, white, old and still on their string, placed gently around her neck. They had been her mother’s, and now they were hers. If she’d had a daughter, they would have been passed down. But there was no daughter. There was nothing in D’aja’s womb and never would be, so she wore the pearls, counting each one as a lost egg, lost child, lost daughter she could have had.
Each pearl had a name. Names for her lost children. The pearl in the very middle, the one that was a bit scuffed and not as perfectly round as the others, was named Yalonda.
Yalonda would have been a dancer. A ballerina, or something else as graceful. She would have worn her hair in braids even though the other girls wore a bun. She would have been good at math, unlike her mother, and would have gone on to be some kind of mathematician or scientist or doctor. She would have travelled the world: danced under the Eiffel Tower, drank wine in Italy and swam in Venice’s canals to prove she could swim wherever she wanted. She would have been magical and perfect and ruled the world.
She would have.
The pearl next to Yalonda, a little darker in shade, was named Alonzo. He would have been a good boy and better man. D’aja didn’t have time for political correctness and progressive thinking; her son would have been traditional, a gentleman, a man’s man. But he would have fiercely loved his mamma. D’aja believed any good man was a mamma’s boy.
Alonzo would have looked after his sister and respected women. He would have been the football player, or basketball star, and some kind of artist. She would have wanted him to know it was okay to be creative and be an artist and still be a man’s man. He would have crawled up next to her and talked about the first girl he fell in love with, and how much it hurt to love someone. D’aja would have smiled and pat his head and held him close.
D’aja kneeled in the pews, her head in her hands. She wasn’t afraid of dying; she knew when she died, she could finally meet these perfect, beautiful children. She could finally see what they would have been. So she held the pearls, and waited to meet them.
Jourden—the woods, running
She wouldn’t be collecting years her life anymore, so she started collecting things. Her favorite thing to collect was playing cards. Not new ones, but the ones that were abandoned. The ones you found on the street or near the dumpster. She had 36 cards. It was her goal to find a whole deck before she died. Years back, on her and her husband’s first anniversary, she created a silly deck of cards. Something she found online, but thought the idea was cute: 52 reasons why I love you. She had written a reason on each card and strung the deck together for him to flip through when he was down. She only had 36 cards, but she didn’t have any more time to find the rest.
She figured she was going to hell. She prayed to “god” in her head and screamed. Though, she was sure there wasn’t anything there, and even if there was, would he/she/it listen to her? Why, when she had so strongly disbelieved her whole life? Even when her family tried to save her, or when she secretly prayed to the darkness during her panic attacks only to look away once she was better? She didn’t believe. She wanted to. She’d tried to believe. She believed she was going to hell, but she couldn’t believe in any “god.” Her soul clung to her bones. It wouldn’t let go.
She kept running still.
There are three things the woman tells strangers: she is a prostitute,
she is drinking coffee these days, and there is always a loud buzzing
She thinks about titles, frequently. The gravity they hold! "What if
children were allowed in opera houses?" She thinks. "Did capitalism
make me hate my mother?" The woman picks at her skin and the
sheets are red from menstrual blood. The baby coos at her side.
"Did you know mushrooms are all connected?" The woman whispers
to the baby. "Like, underground. They are just one big orgasm." She
says. "I mean, organism."
The woman tells the baby that cell phones are made in sweatshops by
girls the girl's age.
The woman's mother's womb animates the woman in just over nine
months about 32 years ago. The woman's mother's new groom
inspects hail damaged Fords and the woman's mother's fibrous
cocoon comes unglued, drained of liquid. The woman appears at the
opening of her mother's insides. It is the summer of helicopter seeds;
the earth is all swallowed up in the stuff, and the prairie sun is hot,
Then the woman grows and grows and is herself in labor. It is the
summer of Joshua trees and the earth--and her body-- are
extraterrestrial. White, perfect buds. Humans learn the language of
trees and the trees say "ooooo, another equally significant, just
different, part of me" and the sky turns silky with red-purple and the
baby's eyes are stormy. The woman looks at the man. He floats up like
a balloon, a blue balloon. They dance under pale light until the baby
swims out, out of amniotic sea stuff and hemorrhoids the size of
apples. The baby has roses for feathers, preternatural, really.
The woman does not speak for a decade. Humans are so complex!
Humans try hard--they just keep trying. The baby studies rabbits on
YouTube. Sometimes, the bunnies' pellets fall to the kitchen floor and
the woman sweeps them up in her hands. "More?" "Shoe?" "Milk?"
The woman is a public woman and this brings great sorrow, she
The woman has an abortion; in a mop sink, she gets sick by dawn.
"Hello? ... Hell-LO?"
Lifetimes in hiccups. Two packs of cigarettes a day only cost the
woman thirty crowns. There is a gypsy man in an old castle and at
night he flutters a red scarf under sheets of absinthe and full moons
and where flowers blossom from the bosoms of corpses. She collects
little trinkets and wooden puppets for the baby, who is not born for
hiccups and hiccups. When the baby is inside her, she shares a dream
with the woman. Blue, like water, like blood, like... When the man's
mother dies, he holds her hand and says "no more mistakes."
The man throws his head at a wall.
"You hurt," he tells the woman. The phone rings every morning at 10
o'clock but there is never anyone on the other end.
The woman tries to make friends. It is so difficult! Mothers at the
playground think the woman hisses and coils. She is not to be taunted
or poked with sticks. She carries rattles in her pocket.
The voice on the television says, "You, You there for 600." The woman
is surprised to see herself there. "What is ham?" She answers. The
man hoisting cars stares at the woman then he stares at the baby,
who, in turn, asks, "what is millet? What is the Messiah?" The woman
tries to be wise in her choices. She tries to be clever about the Daily
Double. When the woman makes deadlines, the audience applauds
but sometimes they laugh at her. It appears that the loud buzzing
noise is coming from that black box; infinite refractions.
The baby has a spoiling of cake at the woman's mother's house. "Is
this a druggie thing? Are they underwater?" The woman's mother
asks. "Why is a sponge wearing square pants?" One day, the woman's
mother says, "I loved you even then, you know." And the woman
When the woman's mother's mother dies, mourners come in nice
shoes, the kinds of shoes you keep in shoeboxes until someone dies.
Later, they remark that the funeral had been "nice," in duck themed
kitchens with books that don't open. The woman's mother's mother
appears from behind a copper saint and says, "I must be dead." Snakes
fall out of hair.
The woman wonders if, To her husband she is after all nothing but the
mother of his legitimate children and heirs, his chief housekeeper and
the supervisor of his female slaves, whom he can and does take as
concubines if he so fancies.
The woman is paralyzed with such great fear of men! When she is
onstage or in hotels, she thinks, "now, you'll never not see the things
of men and of course they do not see you" and the woman is heavy
with knowledge. Now, when she steps outside, she weighs 300
pounds. Old ladies with raccoons on their heads or maybe heads for
raccoons say, "for this I know for the bible tells me so."
The baby grows and grows into a little person who frets and screams
and the woman thinks, "I am not a person who can do this." She reads
that a woman put her toddler in the microwave. The woman checks
the microwave. There is no baby there there. She cries, sometimes.
There, there. No one roots for the whore, she thinks, not even the
scoundrel who pays!
The woman is sailing on a silver saucer with the baby all cuddly and
warm at her breast. The baby coos and the woman whispers, "I love to
you." The clouds pass overhead and the woman is surprised no one
has mentioned the earth's pirouettes or its diminishing water yet
'Is that the 1995 Final Four?’ Naw, that’s Inglorious Basterds. New rap name: fauxwoodmarcus. RNN: real nigga number. All ghetto passes should have an identifying RNN, to keep track of membership. To gather my thoughts before leaving I kick around a stool w/ my foot. The legs are silver & drop straight down curving into a 90 degree angle looping around conjoining into a blocky C. I kick it onto its side & rest my knees sorta uncomfortably on it, rocking back/forth. Sky filters everything a metallicy rapidwater blue. Can’t go down stairs slowly w/ these young ankles. I think I move pretty fluidly eeem though it borders carelessly loose. I know the way my body wants to move & I listen to it. I’m tryna get the message out to FREE HIM to the chiir’n. 2/3: I notice I always have to be holding an extremity, whether it’s each hand holding one another or my left hand grippin my lower left thigh w/ my right leg draped over. Holding my wrist or whippin the yams. Anxiety fleeing my body. Get that shit outta my house. Some IPAs taste like dirt or soap & I fw that. Thought about my relationship w/ going out. Naked in my room after getting caught in rain. It was awful until it resembled an endurance-testing obstacle course. You’re gonna have to hold some Ls either way so accept it. But I weave thoo umbrella’d people under awnings, dodge dripping streams & single self-conscious droplets under scaffolding, considering swinging from corroded beam to beam like monkey bars. My body’s not muscular or cut but if you study its gesticulations I think it proves we have a loving & affectionate relationship.
we tried to video chat but connections failed us, so skype messenger it was:
[16-06-19 11:06:04 AM] msw msw: it's all frozen & staticky on my end, i can't eeeem hear you. we can just message here if that works for you.
[16-06-19 11:07:51 AM] sydney mcneill: Sure - that sounds good! Do you have a particular time of day, place, environment etc. that you find really conducive to writing?
[16-06-19 11:10:21 AM] msw msw: for me it used to be that I had to sit in my room to write in silence. recently w/ these flash-memoirs I'm actually out on the go taking notes when I'm out to really capture the moment. my recent writing is very moment based & exists as sort of a brief flashes & i wanna capture it at the time i feel it to capture it's authenticity. this has made anywhere I'm at a sort of writing environment for me, which I'm not used to but experimenting w/.
[16-06-19 11:16:49 AM] sydney mcneill: Cool! The reason I really wanted to do this interview was because I really liked the idea of the flash-memoirs. Part of the reason I wanted to start Sea Foam was to break down stern age-old genre barriers/formatting also to challenge academia in the art community, all of which can be fairly restricting. Not that there's anything wrong with academia - it's just developed this sort of… superiority complex in a lot of communities which I think could and should be challenged. The idea of this stream-of-thought lyrical documentation of everyday life is really neat and doesn't necessarily subscribe to a genre or conventional style of writing. What inspired you to start doing it?
[16-06-19 11:21:08 AM] msw msw: oddly enough I've been doing it for years. the idea first kinda spawned itself in november when i started working on this memoir of text messages. i always like texting people as practice for writing—but then i realized wait this IS your writing. it's the way i communicate, that's why there's that subtle slang, nicknames, etc. for my whole life I've been writer & for so long i tried to write conventional prose which is still cool & i like to do it's just not necessarily my style. I've never been one for convention. once i started considering this style i was working w/ & develop it it all naturally sorta fell in place. the rhythm came naturally & the whole 350 word max was just an arbitrary guideline that helps me keep it flash-like. people responded so positively that i abandoned all i'd previously been writing & work on this unnurtured voice.
i became obsessed w/ the idea of memoirs & recording your life & the realization that everything you really do in life is part of your memoir, your personal story, & i have crazy ADD a bunch & so much of this world w/ the internet revolves around getting information fast & moving on to the next shit that i thought the length & rhythm of these pieces was relevant.
[16-06-19 11:26:31 AM] sydney mcneill: It definitely is. I think a lot of people use writing as a tool for self-discovery and time preservation, which is so important to sanity sometimes. Have you submitted to many publications? Do you plan on or hope to publish a collection?
[16-06-19 11:26:50 AM] sydney mcneill: fg
[16-06-19 11:27:04 AM] sydney mcneill: The cat is typing...
[16-06-19 11:27:08 AM] sydney mcneill: She's a handful
[16-06-19 11:29:14 AM] msw msw: tell the cat i love her.
in the past I've submitted just short stories to publications. I've submitted these FMs to only a few: you, el balazo press, & I'm currently working on a lil ep of 4 FMs (like 500 words altogether) as a mini collection to spy kids review. so I'm just starting to get my feelers out here w/ these.
i am currently home for both my parents birthdays & I'm writing a collection. these early collections will be very short which I'm totally okay w/. like 3000 words altogether but again i just like how brief it is. firs the aesthetic.
a bigger collection could be down the road fa sho. i write these flash memoirs every day w/ the intent to lose them because that's how memory works in my eyes. so i'll probably have close to 200 by the end of the year. some are unpublishable & exist as just a reference of time/place/emotion & are like one phrase or a word of two. w/ the FMs I'm tryna capture the emotion of the moment most & what i was thinking instead of the actual event. i wanna be able to look back & see exactly where i was at in my head.
[16-06-19 11:32:32 AM] sydney mcneill: The cat says thank you and knocks over my coffee...
[16-06-19 11:34:35 AM] sydney mcneill: I love El Balazo and Spy Kids Review! We're in good company. That's great - a lot to be working on. How long are you home for? And where are you living currently?
[16-06-19 11:35:46 AM] msw msw: i am home in kansas city missouri for 10 days total, only halfway into my trip. i currently live in new york city
[16-06-19 11:36:57 AM] sydney mcneill: Wonderful. I write poems daily and have been for years, so can sort of relate. Sometimes they're really really awful, but it still feels good to put something down on paper that documents a moment in time that is significant to me in the now. Do you find that sometimes you look back and roll your eyes a bit at former selves?
[16-06-19 11:39:22 AM] msw msw: oh yes oooh yes. i'll look back at even something i wrote last night & think where the fuck are you at? haha. it's less of an eyeroll most of the time & is more like a deep appreciation of having grown as a person. we're all constantly changing & shit.
the significant to the me of now is an important feature w/ these so i can relate. just an honest portrait.
[16-06-19 11:42:48 AM] sydney mcneill: Absolutely. I'm almost out of questions but I have a couple more. What are you proudest of? How do you see yourself growing and improving as a writer over time?
Oh, and also, is there anything particular on your mind that you want to say? I like features to be basically whatever the person I'm interviewing wants them to be, so if there's anything writing related or otherwise that you want to share, feel free to say so.
[16-06-19 12:03:01 PM] msw msw: I am most proudest of the person I'm becoming actually. i have spent all my life working towards being the type of person who is the embodiment of empathy & helps people & is a solid friend & who people can trust & count on. the process of really getting to know myself has bettered my writing tenfold because of the confidence it brings. & that shows in my writing a lot. over time I'm not sure how i'll improve. I'm not a person who has hella long term plans (this is because i used to be very controlling of situations up until 6 or 7 years ago, related to heavy anxiety, & i let go & started to be spontaneous & therefore i like to keep the future unpredictable) but I'm excited because i'll continue to grow as a person & hopefully that'll translate. i want to just keep the skills sharp, take days as they come. something i did kinda wanna say: these flash memoirs are designed to not only be shorter & readable but overall accessible. so much of that collegiate/academic attitude as you said can be a lil constraining & obsessed w/ conventionality. i have a strained relationship w/ academia. i have no degree because i couldn't pay for school myself & get loans & all that shit & because of that, on paper at least to some, i feel like people think I'm uneducated & under-qualified & lowkey stupid. i wanna write because i have a unique voice like everyone & i shouldn't be judged for the shit i COULDN'T do as much as the shit I'm doing. i wanna let people know that there are more avenues to express yourself & if you find your own comfortable lane you should fw that. you like what you like & you is what you is. I want to just pour empathy over the world & shit essentially. I'm not sure if my writing work has gotten there yet, to that point where people are consuming sans judgement or preconceived notion, but I'm working on it. something to look forward to fa sho.
beach bot bailout
On Vancouver Island, robots gather sea glass at the shore for entrepreneurs who 3D print settings for the finds and sell jewelry online.
People on the beach toast the bots, appreciating their bonus litter removal. Puppies play and kids caboodle on vacation beside the machines.
Robots rake shells into piles under users' docks. Fake owls perch on their heads at night. Resting, they sleep covered in barnacles.
Coelacanths become reanimated through a smartphone app. The beach writhes with new old life. People realize their mistake. Can tech help?
Beach bots collect coelacanths along with sea glass and litter. They fight the new scourge, to save the ecosystem. They ask nothing from us.
Grateful, people invite bots to join them on the beach, relaxing in the sun. Without automated harvests, sea glass jewelry becomes precious.
HANDMADE SEA GLASS JEWELLERY COMMISSIONED BY S. KAY
PHOTO: GWEN ROSSMILLER
1. Alright - to start, can you introduce yourself to us using metaphors?
Stronger than diamonds, hummingbird-delicate, as loving as a bouquet of puppies, with the determination of a bear hunting berries, and a reasonably robotic creative writing discipline,
2. What does the sea mean to and do for you?
I live with a view of the ocean in Vancouver, BC, and often write outside on my deck, immersed in a marine environment. When my eyes are not on the screen, I'm taking in the sparkling waves, the diving seals, the flying birds, or the passing boats. It's super relaxing to sit and watch sea life bob along. A recent study showed that being immersed in "blue space" of water is similar to green space with trees, it's good for mental health. Often when my mind is drifting, that's when I will be inspired, either by something I see in the vista or an idea will occur to me. It's a great way to write.
PHOTO: S. KAY
3. What are some of your creative outlets? How did you find them (or how did they find you)?
Aside from writing fiction, I make jewelry, crochet, and have created a variety of interdisciplinary projects over the years. I learned arts and crafts skills when I was a child, from my mum, Brownies, and school, and then as an adult I apprenticed for two years as a silversmith. But I moved on to other work. I also created some DIY pieces like an audio collage installation in a group show, and freeform crochet soft sculptures and hats.
One of my favourite projects was a collaboration with photographer Gwen Rossmiller in which we paired my tweet-sized tales with her art photos, using my jewelry design, in mini book necklaces.
PHOTOS: GWEN ROSSMILLER
Creative projects find me when I get inspired by opportunities (like unusual calls for submissions), or materials or people or culture. They're often conceptual. My fiction tends to be conceptual, too.
4. Much of your writing explores the future. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I'm a fan of robotics, especially interested in robopsychology, the exploration of human-robot interaction. I like to write near-future tiny tales that imagine those relationships. Often they explore foibles, amusing misadventures as we struggle to adapt to new technology. My first book, "Reliant" (tNY.Press Books, 2015), is an apocalypse in tweets, a look at a society before, during and after the end. It blends humour with doom. But although it's a favourite, I don't only write speculative fiction, I do write other things as well.
6. You have a new book, "Lost in the Land of Bears," coming out this summer. How did it come to be, what's it all about, and where can we look for it when it's out?
It began as a disparate group of tweets loosely based around building a story inspired by the forest and ocean near where I live. As I collected them, I combined elements and added new ones until I came up with a cross-genre adventure tale-in-tweets about an LGBTQ couple who travel to Canada and become lost in the forest, encountering quirky creatures and machines in their search for a way back to a futuristic resort. It's being published by Reality Hands this July in three editions: an ebook, a print on demand version, and a handmade limited edition art book with a faux fur cover. It'll be available online directly from RealityHands.com, and other book retailers TBD. Follow me on Twitter at @blueberrio for news.
7. I like to wrap up interviews pretty open-ended. Is there anything on your mind right now? Any opinions or causes we can help you share? Any recent experiences that are still resonating with you? Any advice for other artists?
Right now it's June, Pride Month, and as a queer writer I'm also conscious of the Orlando tragedy. I'm Canadian, so I don't have the power to vote for American gun control. But as a writer with global readers, I do have the power to influence culture in a positive way, with QUILTBAG characters and modern language. I often choose to make my characters queer, or gender-neutral so the reader can project their own identity onto a protagonist. I'm mindful of representation, and don't recommend all writers suddenly make all their characters queer. But do be respectful, with inclusion and diversity. And everyone can use gender-sensitive language.
Finally, since it's summer, it's a chance to be outdoors in blue space. Instead of writing at the usual café, get a drink to go and take your device to a park with a waterfront view. See if it soothes and inspires you.
PHOTO: S. KAY