Avoid the loopies; if a nearly naked man
begins bathing himself in milk by the folding origami doors,
run. Or if a ravenous lady bites into your shoulder
for a mere morsel. Or if a man with RDA (resting drunk attitude) and
a skullet, enveloped in a power puff bathrobe,
describes his tumultuous love life
with the most unneeded details.
Or if a guy playing air guitar in a cascading cream ball gown
offers you a lollipop from deep in the flounces around his crotch, say no.
Or if a man cleanly removes his shirt and begins slathering himself
in slickening lotion. Avoid all eye contact.
They’ll just start talking to you more.
Ignore the irrational, irritating teens,
infesting the back of the bus
like the stench of bubblegum vape and piss,
chucking half-open bottles of neon Gatorade at passersby,
tip-tapping random folks like woodpeckers
on a tree. And if they profusely repeat
“Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday,”
when you know in fact it is not your birthday, or when
they chuck bouncy balls at you, and even
though it shouldn’t be unbearable, you have the urge to punch them.
Instead, flip them off and run, knowing full well
they are much older and much stronger.
Don’t be a dick. If a triple sweatered old lady
heaves herself onto the bus, and lurches towards your seat,
freighted with torn pink plastic bags
bearing broken bok choy and broccoli,
then you must stand. Especially,
if the bus is like a can of stewed tomatoes,
all mushed together, practically red sauce.
Or if a life-sapped mother trails by
clinging to a stroller, a boiling tea kettle of sorts
delicately adorned with lavishly looping leaves
and inside a ceaseless screeching,
then quickly make way.
Plow through piles of people rushing in
like ants to the nest before rain.
Dodging elbows, backpacks
and deafening debates
as you hurdle to the shit decorated sidewalk
shout ‘Thank You!’ to the driver.
This is non-negotiable.
Stuck in an endless loop
of bathrobes, tossed gatorade and screeching,
this simple courtesy might do them some
This isn’t a poem. I’ve never written a poem before. You’re crazy.
This is a duck, a mallard man with a beetle for a head. You’re holding him, this
Fowl fellow with a yellow beak, as one might hold a hoagie, ready to bite, and
You complain about his lyricism? You’re crazy. Your brain is on strike, protesting
Working conditions, a little tiny thousand-neuron black lung march
With little tiny thousand-neuron National Guardsmen on their way to break it up.
The tiny working man has thrown off his tiny chains and extended his tiny
Still-raw hands in tiny kindness, and you critique his verse? You’re crazy.
Your stomach’s in your fingers and that is why you’re holding this avian American,
Thumbs salivating, because through feral eyes this is all just
A hoagie with mayo and mustard.
William Bittner is a high school junior from Birmingham, Alabama. He enjoys writing absurdist and natural poetry, essays, and short stories. He has received several awards from the Alabama Writers’ Forum.
Visual art by Samantha Su
Eric Pak is a 17-year-old Korean-American living in Thailand. He has lived in diverse countries around the world and aims to share his experiences through his writing. His works have previously been published in K’in Literary Journal, The Paper Crane Journal, and The Cathartic Literary Magazine.
The ceiling smelled like old lace and the sigh of a dying star. Hovering there, I peered at the nun who glowered at me the same way an ancient, grizzled tiger eyes a young hyena. I threw my head back and cackled with the lubricated mirth of my cynical father’s lauder. My gaze travels to the lush forest of palms and cedars on my desk. Beneath their foliage of entwined fingertips and toes, a meticulously groomed garden of doorknobs, seashells, and Abbey Roads overthrows its gardeners and cracks beneath the pressure of a violet spotlight. A city, bedecked in the afternoon-kissed tears of ancient pearls, rises from tangled vines. The gates at Babylon Fall to children with water pistols and all around them, the baseball stadium erupts in a chorus of that forgotten anthem of constellations exchanging words in passing. The crowd departs, babbling beneath the sea of dried rose petal confetti. They return to homes of spun sugar and formaldehyde. They fill their goblets with diet pineapple juice and something from an angel-shaped bottle. Everyone is more palatable when they are sedated, and I am no different.
Caroline Adams is an eighteen-year-old high school student living in New Jersey and going to school in New York City. She’s studied creative writing at Columbia University over the summer of her sophomore year and is currently finishing her senior year at Loyola School.
Visual Art by Yuga
Jeannie Kim is a high school junior from Chicago with a love for poetry, reading, and playing the flute. She is a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards gold medalist, and her writing has also been recognized by the Genius Olympiad and the It’s All Write Teen Writing Contest. In her free time, she is usually editing submissions as an editor for Polyphony Lit or listening to music.
Art by Saki
i. Night on the Galactic Railroad — Miyazawa Kenji
grandfather is rushed to the hospital
as I wait for him to awaken
I sit on a leather stool beside a window overlooking
a soulless city of iridescent noise and raucous cars
on my phone, I read the book—
the kanji are simple, easy for one like me who speaks
its themes of death,
the endless sky,
and liberation of true heaven
make me whisper to my unconscious grandfather, fresh from a stroke,
“this book reminded me of you.”
ii. Naomi — Tanizaki Jun’ichirō
we know with some degree of certainty that
he will die
within the next few days
and I go out to a nearby mall
and buy a book— Naomi, Naomi, Naomi!
it is disgustingly raunchy
borders on the pathologically inappropriate
the English translation, though, is lyrical
yet still so hilarious.
I can nonetheless tell how badly
its salaryman protagonist would love
to live again
to begin again
to love again
I tell grandfather over his
in the ICU,
“you would be so disappointed if you knew
I was reading this.”
he’s brain-dead, he won’t care what I read
iii. Dogra Magra — Yumeno Kyūsaku
once his body has died with his brain
I return to the grotesque, surrealist comforts
of eclectic creatures like Yumeno
reading it online on my phone during his
fluorescent, Sprite-filled funeral with
hopelessly slow internet
through my tears, barely comprehending complex kanji
and incomplete, aberrant
sentences that repeat in
presenting its message of parlous life and rebirth, the insanity of
being alive and being dead and being in the womb
that motivate me to lean against a
stretcher-like thing, not quite a coffin
and screech ugly, incomprehensible sounds to match Yumeno’s
meaningless, yet so unbelievably integral, onomatopoeia
before the memory sprints away and
all I know is the silver-scarred dust you
return to the womb
now I remember what to say
“in another life,” I tell you, “we’ll meet again.”
CA Russegger is a high school student from OB Montessori. CA loves visual art, writing, history, and literature very much, and spends all day with these things. Can be found with many, many stacks of books of many, many genres—Shakespeare is always a guilty pleasure.
Visual Art by: Dawn Jooste
Japanese square watermelons glisten in edges
a perfectly rounded cube, never sharp enough to draw blood
but shaved into beauty, enough corners to stay in place.
I wonder what came first, did an abnormal watermelon
happen to grow into a square that happened to be the shape of its cage
or did the cage halt the fruit’s breath
just early enough to fill
I am quiet at first glance, five foot two, a fan of sweet earl grey tea,
a thin girl who likes to cook, Asian, a writer, not necessarily
in that order, but then again, who decides this order?
Did I grow into a stereotype because that was all that was expected
of me in the country that once deemed me
unassimilable, then exceptional
A dirty carrier of the kung flu, spit on and cursed at then scrubbed clean
of color on a Washington performance report
in the same breath
in a matter of weeks
When I am
white wiped of color, am I catered enough for you?
Does my neutralness signal lack of trauma
and does that sit well with you?
Will washing me colorless ease the white guilt that you so despise?
Or did I grow up with autonomy,
rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”,
as Asian as whoever I want to be?
Hanbok trailing in watercolor silk and silver threads
Midnight squid ink yielding thick Korean calligraphy
Bullet-paced bargaining at traditional Sijangs
Red hot rice cakes coated in Gochujang on winter nights
I look back at Seoul with my almond eyes
when it calls out to me, hands outstretched,
and know that I fit yet another mold here,
one that I am learning to describe. Forgive me, the privilege
of fitting in makes it hard to see what exactly you fit into.
and because of the way both halves of my life
have carved cages that seem to meld into my body
I may fit the part, but only by my will
is what I repeat to set myself free.
Elina is a highschool junior from Seoul, South Korea. She attends Phillips Academy and is a graduate of the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. She is the executive poetry editor for The Qualia Review and loves to draw in her free time.
Visual Art by: Woohyung “Garfield” Jung
my mother is cursed. she sprouted from evil roots, gnarled and marred by the sour sting of expired love.
when her tendril emerged from wicked soil she was all bones, disjointed, already a skeleton.
leaf and leaf grew between paper cut parents, their verbal scissors poised to sever every smile.
she was five when she split her skull on the couch corner. hairline fractures blossomed with her stolen screams.
no blood, no telltale thorn, no silent sign of something. only a pain she forgot as swift as her mind shattered.
her branches were born from nothing, a lucid stalk scarred and sallow. the bark scratched like her fathers hands,
calloused and cracked and freshly rotten. every edge seemed wrong, too much like a memory.
she choked on sun, on this dewy fear of growing too cruel. her bike leapt over crumbling asphalt and her foot fell apart.
she didn’t realize for two days. the ache felt mute, dull, all too small to mean a piece of her was broken.
wearing her cast, toes sticking out the front how she hated, she still rode her bike into the wilting sun each night.
her stem ascended when foot touched frozen plane, a tangle of bloodstained vine. she never bloomed.
now she stumbles over her road blocked dreams. her palms kiss clouds. she tastes her own spoiled history.
steady as red ribbons, she laces her child with venom. poisoned daughter poisons family. she waters another cypress tree.
she is absolutely cursed. cursed to a life she has watched unfold. one shriveled, withered, ready to crumple.
she is a life sick mother. she is lonely. she screams until her throat is raw and her lungs weep and breath becomes a gift.
she still has not flowered. so far from the earth that gave her life, she feels it splintering her evergreen skin.
and unraveled from wish corpses and rusted hearts, dressed in fool’s gold, locked inside another woman’s mirror,
my mother believes she’s a lovely ghost.