by féi hernandez
Blistering Feet, Under Blistering Sun
America is a gardener without a back
bone. Picked immigrants, planted them in
farms or white people homes or restaurants
or factories or buses or macdonal
where their brown hands
lifted the economy from depression.
Picking, growing, cleaning, scrubbing,
rotting, rearing, cooking for you! Yet you call us illegal!
When mami & I immigrated to this country
she taught me little things were big things—
the garage where concrete floor was bed was actually
a mansion of imagination where mami was also father
where Spanish was The Bible that erased all struggle &
the nine digit branding me citizen was non-existent.
I’ve always been oblivious to my blue skin or third eye,
the alien people saw in me,
until opportunities were blank like the social security
number I couldn’t fill in never turned in
like my vote in an election.
But before my rage lit a match & set a nation on fire mami said:
Paciencia, it’s the spirit’s way. Growing
up mami never let my bare feet touch ground.
She knew friend’s daughter’s of sisters,
brother’s friend’s daughter’s sister’s
that died with blistering feet, under a blistering
sun crossing the border. Mami taught me how to swim.
It was her way of erasing the bitter taste of dead bodies from water—
they call us immigrants wet backs because my people never
lifted from the pits of the Rio Grande.
Fabis speak up! talk louder, mijo!
She didn’t want my voice to recede to the sound of a whisper
or became silent like statistic in an elementary school textbook.
So she yelled at me & flung a finger to my face & said,
In your body one body all will stand!
& yes ma
& we ain’t
We ain’t going anywhere!
WE. AIN’T. GOING. ANYWHERE.
féi hernandez is a Mexican trans non-binary immigrant spiritual healer, writer, actor, visual artist and graphic designer. They grew up undocumented in Inglewood, California and has continued community work in Inglewood through their writing and art. féi’s writing has been featured in NPR, Immigrant Review, Non Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, The BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNEXT, Good Mood, and Hayden’s Ferry Issue 64. Their art work has been exhibited at Galeria de La Raza, is featured in the Latino Book Review 2019, and is currently working on a digital collection of artwork. They are the Art Director of Palms Up Academy and Lorenzana Services Inc. and teach Crafting Eternity, a writing class for developing writers in Los Angeles. féi has a forthcoming full length poetry collection through Sundress Publications on the intersections of race, citizenship, identity, the hood, sexuality and gender to delineate themes of: belonging, invisibility, joy and resistance. They also have a novel in progress. For booking or more information follow féi hernandez on Instagram: @fei.hernandez or feihernandez.com
by jeremy hsiao
Seventeen Bamboo Pipes
Steady hands caress a wooden frame,
and he plays, with every breath
exhaling, inhaling in a sheng 笙 reverberating in
gourd wind chambers, the breast of a robin,
seventeen reed pipes of history
etched in bone oracle writings.
The old man at a blood red railing with cracks
like porcelain and dry land that surrounds the
Temple of Heaven or 天壇 and
Echo Wall, a skipping record.
He returns each day
eating rice with crooked hands
gray hair, split and aging,
taking a sip of water before he continues.
The air in his lungs, clear passageways
to his mother’s house
which smells of osmanthus fragrans flowers
mystical incense in two teaspoons of
apricot juice mixed with olive oil
a vapor emitted out of bamboo.
Hunched over a small stool, baggy clothes hang
like notes in a crowd of tourists.
Valleys litter his body, sucked in cheekbones
yearning to be flooded.
Oak burnt skin, circles around his eyes
like bark patterns
swaying with the wind
back and forth in waves
to rock the hull of a sheng in melody
taming his hunger like sheep.
With his songs, sifting sand into
a story of home
in intakes of air, a haunting melody
His sheng, a kaleidoscope into his past
sunset through a prism, reflects into ink on sheet music
notes blotted in each mark on his skin.
He stares into the distance
shifting his fingers and hands
singing to balmy bushes
they rustle in response.
The song of Wuzikaimen
oscillates twisted silk,
against serrated ridges in bamboo whisk.
Jeremy Hsiao is a sophomore in the Creative Writing conservatory at the California School of the Arts. His work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Apprentice Writer and the Young Poets Network. He is also a journalist for multiple online outlets.
by nicholas reiner
Ted L. Nancy wrote to Mars, Inc.
asking them to combine
Starburst and Skittles
and call the new creation “Startles.”
The world is changing:
I marvel at the ways
touch screens work. My dad died
without ever sending an email.
If I were to bring him back
and hand him my iPhone
which app would he tap first?
Maybe he’d open Sigalert
check traffic on the 405. Or Shazam
because the word sounds cool.
My mom gave the four of us some Startles
when she sat us on the carpet
to tell us he was gone.
When a green one dropped to the floor
my baby brother reached both hands
down from my mom’s lap—
cooed, drool dripping down
his mouth the way the words
daddy’s not coming back
hung from hers.
Nicholas Reiner is a Latino poet, sports writer, and chess expert from Southern California. His work appears in Spillway, Aquifer, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, B O D Y, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Zócalo Public Square, and Connotation Press. He holds degrees from Stanford University and the University of California, Irvine, where he completed an MFA. He is Director of Communications for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and he lives in Santa Monica, CA with his wife and daughter.
by andrés sanchez
To you, My Future Lover
One day, I will tell you of my shame,
of how she broke me down.
How my body, thirsty for her love,
led to nights of lonely drinking.
I will tell you how Medusa,
turned my feelings into stone.
How her eyes where only true,
in the dark of our bedroom.
One day, I will tell you about
the morning headaches.
About the times I drank
myself raw enough to believe in suicide.
How I almost took a blade to my wrists
and an unforgiving rope to my neck.
I will tell you how I was too erased from life
to even be seduced by death.
You, will probably look at me
with judgement and uncertainty.
Will question your pursuit of me,
and may want to run back to comfort.
One day, I will tell you how many times
while staring me in the eyes
her tongue denied me in company.
How after three years together,
her answer was still, No one.
I will tell you about the no one I became.
How days and nights blended together.
How knuckles against drywall
made blood drip without pain and
the scar left as a reminder.
One day, I will tell you how I drank until
my tears tasted of her favorite red wine and
blackouts were the only time
my heart stopped wanting her.
I will tell you of pain so deep,
it’s taken years to return back to myself.
I will tell you of my last winter in a basement,
full of moving boxes and regrets.
One day, I will tell you the reasons
I stay away from lovers and their idea of love.
I will tell you the whole story,
it will make you scared for my broken.
You won’t know what to do with my pieces.
I will tell you why I stopped praying for lovers,
and instead began to pray
for the healing of my shame.
Andrés Sánchez is a native of Mexico City and grew up in Southern California and Las Vegas, NV. Andrés has been actively sharing their poetry in the Los Angeles area for the last three years. They are currently a participant of the Community Literature Initiative Program where they are working toward the development of a manuscript for their first poetry book. Andrés likes traveling, taking photos, and craft beer.
by cristian velasco
He maneuvered within the labyrinth of maize crops with nothing but the gale of the night and a solitary star for company. A devious ground-protruding root disrupted a step in his walk which provoked a late night serving of soil with just a pinch of potent fertilizer. Up on his feet, he could not remember which way he was going or which way he had come. Come to think of it, he could not recall what had happened prior, or why he walked through the corn field during the pinnacle of night. In all directions, the grassland seemed to extend as far as the eyes went, as well as the darkness devouring it. The only thing visible from the immense field was the church, an ivory tower penetrating the blackened sky. A sense of urgency erupted in the form of an indistinguishable silhouette hiding behind the stalks and leaves.
Cristian woke while the sun was still young in the horizon and the bitter taste of morning breath still lingered in his palate. He’d like to believe it was from the mouthful of manure in his dream. Similarly, he could still hear the rustling of the crops as he brushed his teeth and clothed to go into town. Calling it a “town” would be stretching the truth. Soledad much rather resembled cultivating fields sprinkled with some 150 people, some homes, small business and a church in the center. He dressed in a red and black plaid shirt, blue jeans and khaki colored boots and was off.
He lived on the frontier: a dirt road dividing acres upon acres of produce yielding land accompanied by two cottages. One cottage belonging to the beloved father of the church, Angel, and the other to Cristian. The destination was about a mile westward from his cottage while eastward sought uncultivated fields for countless miles. The vegetation tended to be more vivid and vibrant this time of the year, but the overcast sky this early morning engulfed all life with a grayish hue. Sediments of rock and dirt cracked under his boots and scraped the stroll all the way to town. He enjoyed these tranquil walks between the fields, the rejuvenating herbal aromas caused by dew and the symmetrical scenery. These moments of natural beauty were perhaps the only valuable traits of Soledad.
Just as the deteriorating homes, his fondness of this place diminished each day. The strenuous work of picking fruits and vegetables in the insufferable heat took its toll. Just at the age of 20, he was inflicted with frequent pains to the back from the countless hours spent hunched over the crops. Work was seasonal which meant the flow of income was scarce for a portion of any given year. One day, feeling that 7 years was an adequate amount of time, he asked for a raise. The foreman obliged and incremented his pay from $2.25 to $2.34 “That’s what they think of me,” he thought. “They can’t even give me a dime.”
The church was an immaculate white tower that seemed to amicably shake hands with the sky. When contrasted with the rest of Soledad, the church was Cinderella and the remaining shacks were the ugly stepsisters. The town was so desolate and lackluster that flies, cockroaches and rats would think twice about infesting the place. The only thing that infested the town were the cow pies that always reminded no matter where one went, a lump of dung always seemed to be at arm’s length. Likewise, the townsfolk never left their homes without the Bible firmly grasped in one hand as if by some miraculous occurrence, the author would manifest in Soledad and hold a weekly book club and singing.
Cristian entered the general store, gestured good day to the proprietor and eagerly went to the periodicals. His nimble fingers flew across the pages until getting to the section titled Employment Classified Ads. Before Cristian could scour the newspaper for job openings, the deep-toned ringing of the church bells announced the end of Sunday mass, and the beginning of his torment. Pious and unrelenting, the townsfolk took every opportunity to lecture those like him about the dangers of not attending church and upholding the word of God. To the townsfolk, they were heretics and the greatest offenders in the eyes of God. The growing possibility of emigrating, along with the loathing for the town, resulted in Cristian’s sabbatical from all things religion. This of course did not resonate well with the people of Soledad. They displayed apathy and shunned his presence when in town. Even Festus, the local dunce who was convinced by the youth that brown cows produced chocolate tasting milk, was held in higher regards because he attended mass. While he frequented town gathers and other celebrations to make a fool of himself, Cristian was secluded in his cottage pondering the move to San Francisco for the fisheries or to the ranching work in Salinas. As Cristian grew older and the need for food, water and shelter became an ever so present threat, his stern religious upbringing was shot down, severed and now occupied the same place as the mulch. “God didn’t put this food on the table,” he would frequently say. “I did!” Not wanting to cross swords with a devotee firmly standing on a soapbox while delivering a spiel about judgment, Cristian placed a dime on the counter and scurried out and back the way he came like a rat with the tail between its legs.
The dirt road began to subside and gave way to a picture of the cottages at the horizon: Angel’s to the right and Cristian’s to the left; both dilapidated by the neighboring crops and soil brought on by strong currents of moving air. Getting closer, he could see the outline of a man incrementing in size. “Oh shit,” he thought with a disapproving gesture. “It’s Angel.” Angel stood there on the edge where the dirt road ended and the field began on the side of Cristian’s cottage. He sported his debonair attire: a white button up shirt with a black tie, khaki colored dress pants and well shined monk shoes. One hand raised in the air waving to Cristian and the other by his side holding a tome.
“Cristian, my boy!” he announced from afar. “Where have you been?”
“Please not today,” Cristian murmured under his breath at the sight of the Bible in Angel’s hand. As he continued to near him, he lowered his head trying to avoid eye-contact. It was all in vain. Angel, just like Soledad is, were too pious for their own good. His attempt to zip past Angel was thwarted by an amicable handshake.
“How are you in the year of our Lord 1933 child? Where have you been the entire day? You look a bit flustered. What’s got you shook on this Sunday?” Angel always spoke this way: referring to others as “child”, “son” or “daughter” even though he wasn’t much older than the flock who would scurry through the plains to hear him reverberate the word of God. Angel spoke quickly and tended to unnecessarily accent and extend the ends of sentences. His hair, parted and combed to the side, complimented his infectious smile. His overwhelming optimism and persistence were always a nuisance to Cristian.
“Nowhere, Father Angel. Just admiring the scenery,” Cristian responded while walking past Angel towards the sanctuary of his cottage.
“Now hold on son!” Angel proclaimed. “Where’s the fire!” His congregation usually thought him to be quick to anger, but this was due to his time devoted in preaching passionately. “This is the town of Soledad; unless you’re attending mass, there ain’t much you can do!” He said this with admiration as he held up the Bible. It became apparent to him of Cristian’s loathing for all talk of religion. “Why don’t you attend church, my son? The clergy want to deliver your soul from the Lake of Fire!”
“I don’t need the church,” said Cristian with a certain reverence of his own. “The church didn’t die for my sins. I don’t owe it anything,” These words precipitated Angel’s face to gesture from content to sternness.
“You know Cristian,” Angel’s voice softened while he stared at the sun waning in the sky. “There was a time where I too was hesitant of my religion.” Cristian was intrigued by Angel’s honesty. “After my mother’s passing, I was mad at God for taking her away. I was mad at Soledad for quickly forgetting her. I was mad at myself for not doing all that I could have,” In recalling his mother’s departure, Angel tried to conceal his tears. “I reserved myself in my home just like you have done so much these days. The Lord then blessed me with the insight to realize that we are susceptible to malicious spirits and specters in the face of adversity that deter us from the path of the righteous,” Cristian looked hard at Angel, trying hard to comprehend and care for what he was saying. Angel opened the Bible and began to read an excerpt. “Tell me Cristian, God forbid, if today was your last day on earth, do you think you would join our Lord in heaven?”
“Uh,” Cristian’s voice staggered with each word. “I don’t know. I hope to be.” Angel reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black booklet and handed it to Cristian.
“You don’t have the patience for faith today, but perhaps you will in the future, my son,” he said, speaking from the heart. “You close your door, but He still waits with open arms.” Cristian took the small pocket sized Bible and opened the screen door to his cottage; leaving Angel outside.
Cristian threw the small black booklet into a cardboard box on the floor near his bookcase. The top shelf of the bookcase had volumes of Hubbard, McCarthy and Chboski while the box contained torn papers, useless notebooks, old newspapers and books he considered of the same quality.
Cristian Velasco Attending Fullerton College as an English Major, hopes to write or teach as an occupation, favorite sport is soccer and loves to watch movies.
by julian babad
Walton, September 3rd
I saw a ghost in the garden last night, and I’m not sure I mean that as a metaphor. She was walking – gliding – between the fig trees and the southern hedges. I can understand taking a stroll (except for being private property). It was a warm night. Stale breeze. The moon was just bright enough to make her white gown luminous in the way headlights catch vacant billboards on the highway. Perfect weather for a ghost, now that I think of it. Plus, the plants have all but petrified since I dismissed Nina, which added to the Poe-esque nature of the scene (my imagination embellishes with curling fog and lightning. Silly, I know). Why am I bothered by her? Well, because though I recoil at the cliché, I swear I’ve seen her before – as an advertisement model or a bank teller or a busker downtown – who knows. Most haunting was that she stopped right before the dry wall-fountain and looked directly at me. I don’t know how she could’ve seen me – I was peeking through the curtains of father’s old study with the lights out. But her gaze was direct. Piercing. And… Sad, maybe? She was beautiful. I am flying to Reno in the morning for the dreaded legal circus with Adolfo and the estate. But when I return I will watch for her again.
Luna, September 2nd
I just saw a man and he saw me, too. I have grown so accustomed to feeling only confusion – to being only lost – it was a shock to even feel shock, to know that I could. The endless dark and soil melted back into the old grounds – I don’t how long it’s been since the last time, or in what order to put the memories – but it was still the grove, still Fall. Always Fall, never Spring. Through the smears of material I saw the man (maybe not “saw”, but “felt”). Space is compressed when I try and focus on things: he was far, but also very close. He was watching me. I could see each wrinkle of his intense fascination. He could see me. I don’t know why that frightened me so, but I hurried back through the hedges, here once more. Was the hall not abandoned? My wits are jumbled by this. This was the first face I’ve seen that was not blotched by ethereal mist; this was the first pair of eyes to meet mine as I am now. And those eyes reminded me of… Who? I must see him again.
Walton, September 5th
Forgive my penmanship. Writing fast. Still jet-lagged and in a bit of a state. Meeting was fine. Adolfo did his job. Blah – please sign here – blah. But I saw her again! This time I was ready: I was waiting in the sitting room because I could easily see through the French doors (I think father stopped midway through converting that area to a conservatory) and I could rush outside if need be. Good timing, because three-quarters past midnight I saw her again – a little further this time, maybe sixty yards from the tree line – in that same flowing white gown. I stood there for a good two minutes, stupefied, mesmerized. Running outside, being careful to keep my distance, I called out to her. She was surprised, and I got my first good look at her face: pale skin, petite features, and big sad eyes like a movie star from the 20s. I was stunned – couldn’t recall the last time I saw someone that beautiful in the flesh (if she’s even corporeal). Her name is Luna. I tried getting closer, but I think I scared her; she just ran into the forest, soundlessly. I pursued, but it’s just too dark and dense to traverse at night. What an idiot I was to try and approach her! I am devising a more subtle plan.
Luna, September 5th
I am obsessed with this watcher – this man in the hall. He emerged to try and speak to me. “Who are you?” he said. I told him aloud, but it made me weak. Embarrassing as this is to admit, I was also panicked to be seen, fully, as I am now. It’s not proper. And he is handsome (in a way), but his eyes still reminded me of him – whoever “him” is… The memories only settle when left alone, like gnats at a market. I have felt this ache of something unfulfilled for so long, and I am beginning to suspect this man is the key to freedom from this suffering. Maybe this mystery is God’s way of answering my prayers.
To Luna, the apparition in the gardens,
I am sorry for my actions last night; I didn’t mean to startle you. My name is Walton – I’ve seen you walking the grounds twice and only now am having the good sense to leave a note. How did you know I was up in the study? I think you’re very pretty. Are you a ghost?
Please do not apologize, I had no good reason to be frightened. I knew you were up in the study because I sensed you in there. Do I know you? Are you the master of the house? So much has changed – I thought this place was abandoned. I am sorry for disturbing you; I will trespass no further, if you wish.
P.S. Thank you. I think you’re very handsome yourself.
Dear Luna, I was amazed (and a little disturbed) to find your letter on my nightstand – how did you do that? I was also pleased! Most females do not care for correspondence with me. My father was the owner of the estate, but he hasn’t lived here since falling ill. I suppose, as of four days ago, I am the “master of the house,” as you say – though I’m only staying here for the season. Maybe you’ve seen me? When I was a boy I used to sneak into that study and father would beat me whenever he found out. I like the view of the grounds from up there. May I ask: where is it you go, out in those woods? Are you alright?
Most sincerely, Walton
P.S. I’ve given it some more thought and have come to the conclusion that you are in fact the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met.
P.P.S. You never answered my question! Are you a ghost?
I think I may be. Please don’t be frightened. I haven’t talked with someone for so long, and I enjoy you, Walton. I don’t know where I go – places are difficult.
I think you are definitely a ghost, and I am not frightened. I always knew ghosts were real, ever since I saw one as a child. My brother would tease me terribly, but I would leave notes (much like this one!) all throughout the house, hoping someone from the other side would write back. Perhaps this is rude to ask, but how did you die? Why can you communicate with me and not others?
Walton, I wish I knew. I have been steeped in torment and starved of answers all this time. If I am being honest, I think you hold the key. Your… Presence is ever so familiar to me. Maybe it was me who you saw when you were a boy. I’ve walked these grounds for an eternity, it feels. In some way, you’re special, Walton. Tell me more about your childhood; did you see many ghosts? I’m sorry to hear about your father.
My Dear Luna,
Just the one, I’m afraid – but not for lack of trying! I thought it would be easier in a place like this, where there’s so much lore and mystery, but I was rarely here. I’m sure you saw Oskar (that’s my brother) loads of times – he spent practically every day here, with tutors and trainers and private coaches. My childhood wasn’t nearly as interesting. Father sent me off to boarding schools and private programs whenever possible. You didn’t have to be a genius to know my father didn’t think much of me. Still, I wish he were here. I’ve always had other people to tell me what to do, but now they’re all gone. But that’s neither here nor there, and I just had a wonderful idea! I’ll go through the old library and see if I can’t dig up some old pictures of me when I was a boy, you’ll love them!
My dear, sweet Walton,
Thank you for sharing your poetry with me; you really are quite a passionate writer. And your anecdote amused me – I have always wanted to go to Europe (I guess it’s too late for that). I do have a confession, though. In the bliss of these last weeks I have felt too happy to admit that this… This wonderful connection between us, it cannot last. Before Fall fades into Winter, so do I fade from this world. I don’t know where I go or when – which autumn, which eon – I’ll return. Please believe me when I say you have made me happier than I ever was in life. I wish I had answers, for you and myself. I am so sorry, my dear Walton. I want to be with you, but I won’t worsen the pain of leaving any more than I have. I love you.
Walton, October 16th
Why me? Whatever gods and spirits that be: why me? My brother was the smart one – he could understand the difficult books and speak to the grown-ups and hide where I couldn’t find him… “Do what you’re told,” father said, “You’re not good for anything else”. He’s right, I’m not equipped for this! I have been a lost dog, weeping and wailing night and day, praying for a miracle. What a curse is love!
First I tried looking for her in the woods. I found a thicket with a small, obelisk-like capstone. The soil beneath the foliage was disturbed and blanketed by papers – at least sixty journal pages, all penned by Luna. My letters were there, too. That’s where she’s buried. Yes, I considered exhuming her, but that felt wrong. Instead, I went to the library to see father’s private collection of family history. All the manuscripts were packed away – most in boxes, some in bags, none of it organized. I spent hours in there, combing through histories without rhyme or reason before I found it: a photocopy of a newspaper editorial from decades ago. It was a rumor, dramatized. Apparently the heir to this estate was a young man named Arthur, who was chained to his father’s obligations. But Arthur fell in love with a maid of the house (I think you can guess her name), and they plotted to elope. Supposedly, the father found out and had Luna killed, burying her out in the woods. Thus, a dynasty preserved. I was horrified and ashamed of this heritage, marred by bloodshed and greed. I took Nina aside (I rehired her so the gardens would be beautiful for Luna) and asked if she knew about this. She did not, but believed it wholly. “This house is filled with spirits,” she said, “Your father forbade us from even discussing the secret rooms and passageways lest the demons learn where to find him”. Funny, all these years and I never knew father and I shared a belief in spiritualism.
Afterwards, I waited for Luna. I wasn’t sure whether or not to tell her what I’d learned, so I asked: “What if you knew how you died? What if you had finality?”. She was silent for a long while, probably fighting to stay material, before saying, “I met the soul of an orphan once. He had drowned in a stream. When I helped him find it, he faded away into whatever comes next.” “Summerland,” I said. She was on the verge of tears – I could tell she wanted that more than anything. I didn’t tell her then, but I promised I would make her happy. Now, I am in anguish. If I tell her, she goes. If I don’t, what kind of a lover am I? Is there no course that ends with beyond agony? I will ask her to meet me on the night the murder occurred; everything I’ve found in my research of the paranormal tells me that the magic which binds her to this plane will be strongest then. Perhaps there is a way…
Walton, October 20th
I saw Luna for our final meeting. It was last night – the anniversary of her death. She looked more solid than ever before; I could even caress and kiss her soft, beautiful flesh and look into her deep, emerald eyes. I told her the story of her passing and we both held each other and wept. She said she remembered and was grateful, but also that she understood: I have Arthur’s eyes – his spirit is mine. I’ve never been able to discern my past lives, but it all makes sense now: the disconnect with my father, my bond with Luna… When father wrote Oskar out of the will because of his habits, or when he expressed animosity towards me, or when he feared the supernatural, it was so the pieces of the past could fall into place. History was rhyming with itself. I did the right thing, telling her. Luna has left me one last letter before she crosses over. I don’t think my heart can take writing about this anymore.
Walton, my love,
I fear I have traded one heartache for another. You have given me peace, the greatest gift I could ever receive, but you have also taken my heart, and I will be leaving it with you when I go. I see now that your soul has circled back around for me, drawn by fate. How can I bear to lose you again, my love? Perhaps it’s my turn to wait. I will bear this, even for another million years, if it means being with you. You will remember, won’t you? Find me, Walton.
Love forever, Luna
Walton, October 22nd
To the authorities,
I don’t expect you to understand why I have done this. Know that it was done not out of despair or suffering, but out of love. This is not a retreat from my existence – the opposite. I am confronting the dark, head-on, to be united with the other half of my soul. All my life I have struggled to find a purpose and a companion, and in death I have both. If I ever lacked courage, nobility, or compassion in life, my debts are now paid in full. We were, she and I, crafted – destined – to be together, and my affection transcends the grave. So like the crumbling of a dam I will aid the universe in correcting itself – in making things right. The estate now falls to my brother, who has been far better groomed for this responsibility than I ever was. And if my father were here, I think he would understand. I think, for once, he’d be proud of me. See you soon, dad. And to my beloved: so begins our eternity. It won’t be nearly long enough.
Sincerely, Walton Hardcastle
Oskar Hardcastle, November 3rd
Dear Margaret Epstein (no, I will not address you by your stage name),
I am going to graciously forgive you for the offensively aggressive tone of your last letter, as I’m sure you didn’t mean to threaten me, of all people. I must have misunderstood – you weren’t implying something as stupid as blackmail, were you? Remind me: who is in possession of a dozen or so letters and journal entries written in your handwriting, “Luna”? And which of us can now afford a whole gaggle of lawyers at no inconvenience? Really, you should be thanking me – try what we did without knowledge of my brother’s weaknesses, or the family history, or those secret passageways. Two-hundred grand [see enclosed] was my very generous offer (no, that number doesn’t go up because he grabbed your tits) and if you don’t like it, then I’ll change it to zero and see to it that not even Madame Hirsch at the community theater will take you back. Which reminds me: “melodramatic prose”? That’s rich coming from Ms. ‘I met the soul of an orphan once’ – Jesus, you almost blew the whole thing.
Now let’s get this straight. He’s a half-brother, sweetheart, and it’s not murder if he does it to himself, and it’s not stealing if it was mine to begin with. If that doesn’t help you sleep at night, just know that you’ve helped rid the world of another awkward, unaware, eternally-starry-eyed, ever-pubescent man-flower. All Romantics deserve what’s coming to them. Remember that. Best wishes,
– Oskar, your humble benefactor.
Julian Babad is a student writer, filmmaker, musician, and game designer. Beyond working-toward graduation as a double major in Film and Psychology for Spring, 2019, Julian spends his time developing personal projects within several disciplines, including video editing, music production, screenwriting, and programming.
by duha maher baulsi
It was Mid- July; the hottest month of the year. The recollections of the call to prayer going off rang through my memories as I rushed to finish up what I had in my hands. I tried to gulp down water in time. Once the sound of prayer stopped, I put down what was left. That was it. No more food or water for the next 17 hours. Today marked the first day of Ramadan.
I was lucky enough not to have to start fasting for Ramadan while school was in session, or else I would have fallen asleep in class–or worse–been very tempted to eat all the chocolate chip cookies and bags of hot Cheetos the other students would have munched on during lunch. Worst of all, I might have even been tempted to drink some cool and refreshing water during all the humidity. But lucky me, it was my day off and I had spent the majority of it sleeping; which is what most people usually do during Ramadan to help with the passing of time. I had received messages from my friends asking me to go out and eat with them, which I refused for obvious reasons. I was too exhausted because I hadn’t eaten all day. I got the same reaction that every Muslim is tired of hearing, “Oh my god, I feel bad for you”.
To non- Muslims, this may sound miserable; no food or water as long as the sun is up for a whole month. I’m not going to lie, it’s really not that great, but it’s also not that bad either. It’s a joyous month for us to both grow in spirituality and to have amazing late night family meals. Ramadan meals aren’t like normal meals, as mothers not only cook enough food to feed an entire country, but they cook special dishes made just for The Holy Month. Much to most non-muslim’s surprise, the main thing that I struggle with isn’t the fasting from food itself, but the patience it takes to do it right. We don’t only fast from food and water, but from other behaviors as well. For example, you’re not allowed to curse–and if you do–it’s considered as breaking your fast. So, for someone who has no patience, this may be one of the hardest things to do.
I’ve gotten used to fasting by now, I’m even okay with missing breakfast. I was about to head to work, but made a quick stop to my bathroom to brush my teeth a few times before leaving. One of the perks of fasting: bad breath. Yeah, I know. Gross right? I didn’t want to be talking to my customers at work with my breath stinking. Before starting my car, I had to say a few prayers to myself: “Please god, give me patience as I drive to get to work.”
Then I took a deep breath, slowly pulled out of my driveway, and hit the road. I was soon met with a car in front of me who seemed like a new driver.
“Are you serious?! Dude come on! The sign says 50 miles per hour and you’re going 20. Why are these people even allowed to drive?”
I had started to tailgate the driver until a lane opened up next to me, which I signaled to merge into. I pressed on the gas pedal to speed up into the lane, and looked over through my left window to shake my head while looking at the passenger.
“You little shi-” I caught myself. I had almost broken my fast. As I sped away, I shouted to myself in the car, “Oh Lord, give me patience!”
I finally made it to work, where I was scheduled to come in at 5:30PM. What’s the first thing I did? Went straight to my breaker, Jennifer, and told her to give me a break at 8:50PM so I can finally eat and drink.
“Why can’t I send you to your lunch break at 7?” Jennifer asked.
“There’s no point. I can’t eat until 8:57. I’m fasting” I replied to her.
“Fasting? What’s that? She asked.
Oh great. This was the millionth person I had to give a speech to on what fasting is. I then proceeded to tell her what fasting was and what I could and couldn’t do.
With the same shocked expression I had seen many times before, she asked, “Wait. You can’t really drink water or eat? How do you do that?”
“Nope can’t do any of that. Honestly, don’t know. It’s really not that bad.”
“But not even water ?”
No, idiot, I just said I couldn’t drink anything. “Nope no water either.”
“Oh my god. That sucks! Okay I’ll give you your break at 8:50”
Working in a restaurant during Ramadan really does test your patience. The smell of pasta gets my stomach growling the entire time. It was exhausting, running around carrying heavy trays of food to tables, only to then look at how delicious the entrees looked. At one point, I ran some food to a table in Bianco. The way the glazed chicken breast sat on top of the creamy pasta started causing me to salivate as I passed it out to the customer.
He chuckled, “Finally, I’m starving! The last time I ate was about a couple of hours ago!”
Oh yeah? I haven’t eaten or drank anything for the past 12 hours. Who’s really hungry here?
“Enjoy sir!” I replied with the fakest laugh and smile and walked away.
The growls from my stomach started to get louder and louder as time passed, to the point where my coworkers could hear it. I quickly covered my stomach with my arm and walked away as if that would stop the obnoxious sounds it was making. I checked the time. Okay, cool. I had approximately 1 hour, 36 minutes, and 2 seconds left until I could eat. Yeah. Muslims get desperate at times when it comes to calculating how much time they have left before they could eat.
An hour passed, and there was no sign of Jennifer. Then 2 hours passed. Still, no sign of Jennifer. By now, we were finally closed.
Wow, I pretty much fasted over the duration needed.
Was this the first time it happened? No, not really. I’ve gotten a break an hour before sunset in the past and what a waste it was. There was literally no point in taking it at that time since I couldn’t eat anyway.
As I got off work and headed home, all I could think about was the feast I was going to arrive to. Seasoned rice with grilled chicken placed on top and sprinkled with roasted almonds. Sides of rolled and stuffed grape leaves with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice poured on top. Next to that would be the piles of squash stuffed with seasoned rice, meat, and tomatoes sitting inside a tomato soup mix. All surrounded with sides of salads tossed in vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Man, I couldn’t wait to be stuffed.
I pulled up into the driveway quickly, rushed to get inside of the house, and went straight to the dinner table. There, in front of me, an empty table.
Oh well, I guess mom put the rest of the food in the fridge, I convinced myself. So I hurried over to the fridge, gripped onto the handle tightly, and swung the door open with a bright smile. Again, nothing but ingredients. Slowly, that smile began to disappear as I frantically looked around the fridge in search of some food being stored behind other things–but no–there was no food.
You have to be kidding me.
I was over everything. I wasn’t hungry anymore and just went straight to bed.
Ramadan was finally coming to an end. The next day, we would be celebrating our holy holiday, Eid Al Fitir. Everyone was making their preparations to celebrate by shopping for Eid outfits, but what was I most excited about, you ask? I could finally eat my 2 pounds of mac and cheese and bags of hot Cheetos at 2 in the afternoon if I wanted to. Also, I could cuss out dumb drivers without having to censor myself.
Many people might ask, “So what is the purpose of Ramadan anyway?”
Well, let me ask you this: how many times do we put our hands towards our mouths on a daily basis? A lot, right? By stopping ourselves from eating and drinking for the day, we start to feel hungry and thirsty and pay attention to the pains of that. We are able to empathize with those who can’t even get the chance to break their fast because they simply don’t have the means to do so.
Believe it or not, Muslims don’t fast just for fun–we do it for a purpose. Throughout Ramadan, we are reminded of some of our faith’s most important principles: discipline, self-control, gratefulness, and most of all–patience.
A few days later, after Ramadan
I took in everything I learned throughout Ramadan and began to apply it to my daily life. You could say that I’ve become a peaceful angel….
“Oh my god, you little shit! Why are you on the road, you can’t even fucking drive!
Duha Maher Nabulsi is a full time Arab-American student and part time waitress who aspires to become an academic counselor and college level professor. One of her lifetime goals is to teach abroad.
by heather oxley
They say that when Icarus was born, he ran before he could walk. Pudgy legs and a bright grin, he hopped and skipped, always going too far, too fast for fear of stopping. He ran and ran and ran, always too afraid to be left behind, too afraid to fall, to slow down.
They say that when Icarus was a young boy, he fell in love with the color blue. The blue of his mother’s eyes, the blue in the wildflowers outside his house, the blue of wonderful, expensive clothes, the untouched dye that stained his fingers for consequence of his curiosity. But most of all, he fell in love with the blue of the sky. The pure blue stretching everywhere and just out of reach. He would climb the trees, the sturdy and withered branches, until he was perched on the very top, his hand outstretched. A flash of earth brown against a blue he almost thought he could touch.
They say that one day, Icarus fell from that tree. Arms outstretched like wings, too shocked, too afraid, too in awe to think of screaming. When he hit the ground, the hand that had stretched for the blue blue blue sky laid awkwardly at his side. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t feel anything except of the warmth of the sun, soft and calming and burning as a caress. He could only stare up at the blue of the sky, and the brilliant gold of the sun.
They say that after that day, Icarus wanted too much. He stayed, locked away in his room, studying and crafting and testing. A young man with a desperate need to fly, to run, to touch that alluring sky. He was ambitious; an open flame of want. Every day, he would lounge outside until his skin burnt, until his arm grew tired of reaching for the sky, until he began to learn to fly before he learned how to walk.
They say that Icarus fell in love with the sun. For how could he love anything else? How could he dream of loving something as tame, as soft and mundane as humans? No touch, neither feminine nor masculine, could compare to that sky. To the passionate caress of the sun. To the winds that coaxed his arms up, up, up, until he felt nothing but heat and weightlessness.
They say that Icarus had to be descended from a god, for who else could fly like the birds up above, as free and sure? For who could love the sun and shun the earth? His wings were magnificent; glistening and attractive, fit for the boy who loved with all of his being. The sun’s warmth seemed to reach for him that day; a promise for the love that Icarus already possessed. A love that, unbeknownst to those on the ground, was pure and curious and longing and needing. For how could Apollo resist the man who lived so viciously that he learned to run before he could walk?
They say that for a shining moment, Icarus was with his beloved. Finally within reach, Apollo cradled him close; the man who burned as he did. The two, together, blazed. Icarus lost in his blue sky and Apollo shining gold, gold, brilliant gold.
They say that Icarus was up there for years.
They say that it was only a moment.
They say that Icarus spent his entire life in his lover’s arms, bending the laws of time because how could such simple rules apply to them? Icarus and his burning, blinding, intense love, and Apollo with the human who was too much like a star to let go of.
They say that Icarus was never meant to fly that high. Even with a bird’s wings, even with a bright grin and a love as big as the sky. Icarus was, fatally, human. And Apollo could not hold him close forever. So, as inevitable as running and climbing so foolishly, so ambitiously, Icarus fell.
They say that when Icarus left Apollo, the sun died. Black grief consumed the world as the lovers parted. But just as it seemed simply a moment while Icarus and Apollo were together, the sun’s lifetime of grief lasted only minutes for those below.
They say that Icarus was a shooting star against the dark sky. A smudge of charred black against a sun coming to terms with its loss. That by the time the sky was a brilliant, shining, Icarus blue, the young man with a bird’s wings was broken on the ground with a smile on his face.
They say that Apollo still grieves. Stills hides and dies for a lifetime to remember the love he had. For even though gods are loathe to lose their hearts to humans, they say that Icarus wasn’t fully human. Who could love that viciously? Live that foolishly?
They say to beware of Icarus’ fate. To clip your wings and stay on the ground, away from the blue and gold, away from tempting warmth and passion for fear of being consumed.
They forget that even Icarus was afraid of falling.
They forget, time and time again, that Icarus did the impossible. He fell in love with a god and a god fell in love with him.
They say that Icarus is a cautionary tale.
They are wrong.
heather oxley is a second year student at Fullerton College. A hopeful foreign language major, she spends her days in the library desperately catching up on work. After classes though, she reads, writes, or games and forgets about the cup of tea she made earlier.
by olivia lee
In Flesh and Bone Remain
There is a creature living beneath the floorboards. It breathes, it exhales its perfumed breath through the cracks in the floorboards, smelling of rose water and flour and cold cream. Like a lady’s hands. Soft, pliable, delicate. Working their way through the woodworks, winding their way up the stairs and slipping silently under the crack in the doorway of each and every child. Whispering, beckoning. Comforting. All children know of it, all know to fear the cold and stay in bed. All tuck their little heads beneath their quilts and lie still, quivering until daybreak and a mother’s kiss comes to chase the night away.
And so it goes, day after day. But it waits.
Each day the scent grows stronger, takes shape, becomes palpable, like a living thing. Some nights children reach out in the darkness and feel its touch in sudden bouts of warmth. Heat that peels the blankets from clammy skin and flannel and leaves them sticky and flat-backed on the sheets. Heat that persuades. Heat like the palms of a lady’s hands.
Only the coolness of the ground can bring relief. And so now the children clamber, from cribs and beds and mattresses, down ladders and bed-posts, down to the floor where they press their faces to the hollow boards and gasp at the aching coldness. And so they arrange themselves in any number of comfortable patterns, where the breathing is the easiest. They press their faces to the boards, breathing its breath up through the cracks to envelop like talcum-powder smoke. Then swallowing in, greedily, hungrily. Children shake as if in a nightmare, so terribly alone, cold on the floorboards.
Breathing slows. Blood congeals. The children twitch and a song emerges from beneath the floor, quiet in the stillness–
“From the stars you fell to me,
It’s been too long, it’s much too late,
You came to me in flesh and bone,
And now in flesh remai–”
But the voice stops, its song strangled away in its throat. Dawn has thrown its condemning rays across the floor, illuminating the rumpled blankets and soft toys and other odds and ends strewn across the bed. The child stirs in its sleep, blinks once, then twice. The eyes open and the head comes up expectantly, nods. The safety of a parent waits. Children crawl or toddle or flee into the hallway to the arms of a parent and the butter-bright glow of the breakfast table.
Is it gone? Perhaps. The memories have begun to dissolve into nothing, and the children forget the hands, the coldness, the song. Roses and cold cream, the unbearable swelter. All are replaced by a parent’s embrace or the jingle of a school bell. But the clock ticks. The hours wax full, the sun dips away under its canopy of trees. The faucet runs. And already the room fills with the smell of rose water and flour and cold cream.
Already it smells of a lady’s hands.
Olivia Lee is a sophomore in the Creative Writing Conservatory at California School of the Arts, San Gabriel Valley. She is an editor for the school’s literary magazine and a staff writer and cartoonist for its newspaper club. Her writing has been recognized nationally by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. As a poetry advocate, she has led a poetry workshop for elementary and middle school students at the Arcadia Public Library. When she is not writing, she creates and illustrates characters from her stories.
by olivia lee
The Muse was there. She came the way she always did, curving frame outlined against the light of the window overlooking the city. The veins of her chamber pulsed rhythmically, reaching like vines from a balcony in a Veronian tableau, pulling and pressing against the membranous tissue of her cocoon. Deep inside, the cells beat with life, stretching and glowing translucent with the weight of its contents as the Muse grew within. First came the sloping curvature of the forehead; the butterfly lace of her eyelashes; then the diaphanous wisping of hair. Veins pumped strange fluids in and out of the multitudinous ducts and passageways that snaked over and beneath the Muse’s feet—even in utero, those were the most beautiful feet he had ever seen.
And now the Muse grew faster and faster, bones molding and shifting at astonishing rates, tendons climbing and linking and seeking in the dimness like ivy leaves. Then all at once she broke through, tearing at the crinkling edges as if it were only paper. A sea of creased and crumpled atrocities spilled out upon the oiled wooden floors of the room, each bearing the torso and limbs of a different woman. These were the abandoned ones, the paintings half-attempting at the beauty of the Muse. There was no gauzing of salt spray, no winsome clam-shell edged in pink, only bodies and streaming light and the pre-possessing Muse in all her splendor.
She paused for a minute, stepping lightly from the crumpled remains of the uterus, sweeping olive ripples of cloth falling in hypnotic drapes against the small of her back, parting to reveal a swaying backdrop of faded yellow, not unlike the rusted ochre of mud lining Venetian riverbanks in the fall, and yet not a step from austerity. Behind her, dust motes wavered in the folds of her gown, illuminated by the shafts of light filtering in from the windows behind her. Her silk-slippered feet padded softly like a cat over the crushed limbs littering the floor. The unfinished masses amidst her toes seethed at Leonardo’s feet, clutching at his robes. He spurned them, kicked them aside, and then they lay still as the Muse crept closer and closer, stretching out her milky white fingers towards Leonardo’s face, and her lips spread slowly into an inscrutable smile belying a secret or perhaps a revelation. In that smile, Leonardo saw intelligence, he saw the mingling of equal minds—
The wooden door to his study was perched open, supported by a frail willow of a boy with a comical nest of curls. Leonardo looked about his study, peering at the chalk still in his hand. He yanked at a paper, flipped it over. It was another one of them—a torso, a face, but no mouth. Leonardo raised his hand to the boy and he bobbed out of sight, the door closing behind him.
Salai knew it too, that he’d been drawing again, and shuffled off for more paper. His master had been confined in his study the past few days and was burning through paper the way a rich man would. Maybe in the past he’d been in a position to indulge, but for the time being that was extravagant. Still, he was only an apprentice and the duty of an apprentice was to prep the master’s paper and the pigments until somehow, someday, he earned the right to actually put chalk to paper and draw.
Leonardo tossed the chalk and watched it hide away in the shadows of a stack of notebooks. The faces of a thousand wordless women stared back at him from their papers, murmuring. Not one of them he recognized. Not one of them was the Muse, and yet again it seemed he’d failed at capturing her likeness. And he’d been refusing the requests of numerous esteemed families, asking to paint their portraits, but now Leonardo could not bear to look upon another twittering noblewoman. When he saw the Muse, he did not see layers upon layers of velvet and pearls and finery, but some other pigment whose properties remained unknown. This frustrated him, and once in a rage he’d strewn paint across her canvas and marred her half-drawn face. He paid his penance in chalk some hours after and drew her a halo.
After a moment of contemplation, Leonardo found himself taking out the canvas again. There she was—that oval face, that gossamer veil, but no smile. She had slept for months and that was evident in the angry slashes of vermilion at her neck, now crusted and flaking. Leonardo picked up a brush, gathered a set of paints, looked in the mirror. The Muse nodded.
The garden was small, walled on all sides by ageing limestone and marble, and in the corner was an apple tree. At the foot of the tree was a rabbit, all brush and cottontail in the glow of the dawn. The sun rose high in light of the first morning and this, Leonardo thought, was truly the Garden itself, complete with its Adam and all of its creatures. And here was its Eve, hung with olive robes and lacy veil, the feminine counterpart for the helpless artist. She smiled at him again—that peculiar smile—but touched her neck, which weeped rivulets of crimson. It dripped onto the skin of her pearly chest and he wiped it away with a cloth, and the skin knit together and healed itself. The Muse cupped her hands together and drew out a string of silver light, criss-crossing a constellation, forming it into a glowing mask in the likeness of Leonardo’s face. The artist opened his hands to her and she placed a single star in his palm, with which he began to crush into a pigment.
Up above in the sky the sun swiveled out of view and was replaced by a pendant moon, which shed swaths of color upon the leaves of the apple tree. A large black wolf bounded over the wall of the garden and took chase with the rabbit. They began to circle the tree in infinite continuum, neither gaining nor losing position as they chased. Leonardo understood their inner workings and watched as they rounded the trunk, with each revelation exposing a little bit more of their insides, first a bit of skin, then a sheet of muscle; a rib; a skeleton. And each time they circled the sun rose again in the overarching sky, illuminating once but not twice the vast tapestry of planets filtering through the apple tree leaves. Leonardo pinched the intricate networking of light together, stretching and cross hatching the outline of the Muse’s face. Somewhere behind him the rabbit caved to the wolf and both collapsed into a heap of bones, and around them fell clumps of fruit. Flies swarmed about them and grew drunk on their juices, before lifting off in great buzzing clouds among the weeds. The apple tree shriveled and died and the carpet of grass grew brittle and gray, until the only life left in the garden was Leonardo, the stars, and the Muse with her phantasmagoric smile.
Salai knocked on the door. Unnecessary, he knew, but it had been months since his master had come out from his study and he could have counted on his fingers how many times he’d actually seen the man. Commissions had been backing up by the dozen, and frankly they stressed him out beyond belief.
“Sir, they’re asking for you.”
The door to the study creaked open.
“Sir, your pigments—”
Leonardo lifted his head and squinted up at the door. That boy again? He directed his gaze towards his canvas. Now the reddening streaks from before had disappeared and the face of his beloved Muse was revealed in its entirety, from the delicacy of her intertwined fingers to the smoothness of her skin. Those eyes still bore the sentience of before and that smile, it hid the same enigmatical silence of the garden. Salai knocked again and Leonardo rose to answer the door, but not before encountering an odd apparition in the corner of his eye. Startled, he sat down again, but upon seeing the mirror he touched at his robes, then the wispy tufts of hair. A feeling started with his eyes, crinkling the skin around the frame of his nose and slowly drawing down to his lips, before looking into the eyes of the one opposite to him. He saw intelligence, knowledge, personality, and it moved him to part his lips in a smile.
And the Muse smiled back.
Olivia Lee is a sophomore in the Creative Writing Conservatory at California School of the Arts, San Gabriel Valley. She is an editor for the school’s literary magazine and a staff writer and cartoonist for its newspaper club. Her writing has been recognized nationally by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. As a poetry advocate, she has led a poetry workshop for elementary and middle school students at the Arcadia Public Library. When she is not writing, she creates and illustrates characters from her stories.