Daughter

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.

Gia Bharadwaj is a dedicated young writer hoping to share her work with others. To enrich her craft over the summer, she was selected from a large pool of applicants to participate in GrubStreet’s YAWP Fellowship for emerging teen writers. Her poetry has previously been published in the Blue Marble Review. 
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Between the Lines

One
The violin is in your hands, pale as the tao we shared, stuck to the soles of    our teeth

It is at your side, with the shiny brown varnish, the moment we share:  surreal

Like the one picnic, red and white cloth between our legs, day cotton.                 golden sunshine streaked

on cheeks flush with first love’s embarrassment and shine like your music

Except our cheeks are white now, Snow White’s dove circling

As I watch you from the third seat on the left 50 feet above the life stage

a forgotten shadow

A stranger once again, like two years ago

 

 

Two
You start singing with your bow, the black air pooling and stuffy,

spotlight on your freckles, tiny stars painted on the sky that is your face, tanned

I remember. You have 7 freckles, three on your hooked nose,         Imperfectly flawless

The notes on the page floating off in your fervor and concentrated effort

 

 

Three
The music starts slow and cautious, the space between your body and my flowered bosom

Your eyes mixed with dusk and honey, the dawn of something new: perhaps

You smiled, a sideways C, flattened, even when I put on shades, my mask in tints

But you peeled off the pain and anguish floating to the surface, vulnerable

You were connected to me in thick strands and blood

Perhaps I should’ve disappeared, my weight crushing your will to live weightless

Even when I screamed in the war for redemption, numbness spreading in the blotched lake

Your index finger digs into the string born,                                                            Dark and dissonant chords ascending upwards as if there is no time left to waste

You stayed, hugging me close, a bear hug on my torso’s curve

Even when I thought my arms too thick

My skin too pale and oily

And my hair not straight enough like the pretty ones

Feeling returned to my body, yours

Mind stronger than will

Shielding me from the wailing gale on our house, intruders

From the bottomless abyss so carefully chosen lest I slip

That fragment my mind into pieces you sewed together

Again and again

 

Four
You play the fourth movement, the mist and uncertainty fading with new phrases

Reaching the climax of our story, my head resting on your beating chest

The melody tugging at the fated strings that ties the mask to the melted face

This is the piece that we call ours, our relationship’s course in an arch
And paper thrown

Sitting on the long piano seat, the keys gleaming with promise, salty perspiration mixed with dry paint

Not marred with me hurting you, love our white lie, teeth out

My secret in your electric gaze on mine, straining for truth in the lie

Of course I’ll never kiss and tell, watching you now, my throat condensing in waves

Crescendos and fortes outlined on the faded linen sheets,

The energy rising and falling with moving notes gliding across silver strings

Rough and shallow, destined to flow and run out,

And move us in the moment of passion we call lover’s curse

Yet we persevered, a foolish youth’s dream

It was an illusion in the heat

 

Finale
Every piece has a beginning, middle, and end I think

Your hand catching the stream of tears from my eyes,

Free and drowned

There is silence in tone, a space where I once fit perfectly

And when you bow, a tear trickles down your frosted cheek that I once kissed

Alas I had long left the auditorium and your heart in between the notes and bars

Behind your smooth mask of apathy, fist in heart

You smile and it’s done, as fast as it started like the end of a movement

The end of us, the word sounds weird and

We are strangers once again

Passing shadows in the moonlight as our witness

The symphony ends, the moment gone with the spotlight

 

Jacqueline Wu is a writer from Long Island, New York. She is a contributor and editor of the acclaimed magazine, Cinnabar. She has also won several art/writing competitions, previously recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She is forthcoming in Body without Organs and Remington Review, among other publications, and she hopes to be able to continue to inspire through her work.

 

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To Linger

When I called my mother from the settling dark of the cold November night, she was unprepared for the news. She rushed down forty floors of cold apartment steel with the tiny shovel and gloves in her hands, ran across the cold dead rubber of the playground floor in her purple rain boots. All I could do was point with shaking eyes and strained fingers at the cold box in the kudzu. I remember my cold fingers all but digging through my shirt, watching my mother trudge over the undergrowth like she had done every night for over a year, bending over to push apart the bushes like she had done every autumn night. The dead leaves crunched under her feet.

 

I remember being sent to wash my hands- wash the scent of deteriorating mammal from my pores. I remember looking into my own eyes and telling myself over and over, this was bound to happen, this was bound to happen. When I returned, my mother was holding a small, stiff bundle wrapped in a red blanket. And as she lowered the cold form into the hoary ground, the tears finally burst from my eyes- I crumpled in front of the small hole, unable to form words but begging his name over and over in the small prison of my clenched hands.

 

His name was Mang-gae. I named him on a malingering summer evening, crisp and clean as the first bite of an apple. I named him for a wrinkled, ugly traditional rice-cake- didn’t the orange kitten look a lot like a rice-cake, rounded and scrunched up? I named him for longevity-the ugliest names will go the longest. I named him first. Out of the litter of five, he was the first to venture out into the open air, buttery and clean and yet infused with the limber grip of summer. He hissed at me as he ate snacks from my hand- then came back for more. I recall that one evening he swiped at me and left a bloody gash on my left palm, but was forgiven with the slightest brush of his whiskers against my mosquito-bitten calf the next day. I loved him as one would love a younger brother- complaining yet with a ferocity impossible to hide.

 

When he was named, it was as if he sprung up from a bed of identical kittens as a fully grown tiger- his face popped out at me like a flashlight from the box his family lived in. I learned his features. The pink nose, the high forehead, the delicate stripes on the back of his head. I learned his habits- the quirk of the tail when he was pleased, the negligent hiss when he pretended to turn his back on me. My father would watch him jump in and out of the same cardboard box for hours on end, almost purring with him when he settled down. I squatted in front of his closed eyes, wishing every day to speak to him.

 

Sometimes these days, I wonder what a year meant in the life of a fun-sized ginger cat. Was it an expanse of time he didn’t dare to encompass with a single flick of his paw? Or did the year he spent with us fly past like his baby-faced meow? I suppose I never will know. But if Mang-gae asked me the same question, asked me my bulksome human opinion on our shared year in broken yowls and hisses, I would tell him it meant more than any bond I had ever shared, whispering sweet nothings to him as if he had never left. Every summer night I spent with him seemed rosy with the remnants of the evening sun, but now I know that light was never the verdant vermilion of a summer day but his blooming warmth leaning against my hand. To look into the eyes of a creature unable to speak and enjoy its company was unbelievably precious, precious beyond conversational frippery and dated gestures. He changed my world solely with his acknowledgment of its existence.

 

To be able to look at a feather and think of someone who won’t be able to remark on it- to look at a torn sleeve and automatically see the night it ripped play out in front of your eyes. To trace an old scar on your finger, so faint you can barely see it, and forgive the claw that ripped it a thousand times over. To wonder if the small furry mind thinks the same. To wonder out loud to a bare grave, wonder if the hours I spent with you meant the same to you and know the answer before the tears hit the earth. To indulge in the vivacity of a living being during its short tenure on earth. To see it flown, escaped from its shallow prison of clay. I pushed my feet against the ground and begged the name that now meant nothing but a wrinkled, cheap rice-cake. Why had I ever named you for longevity? The dirt kept settling over the red blanket, over and over and over.

 

When my mother prompted me to say a few words for you, I could not. How could I ever let fly in a few words a bond that had never been expressed in words? Sobbing, I stammered out a generic prayer. I wish for you to be happy, I wish you all the things I could never give you, I wish for you to live in a haven with all the small things that make you happy- pureed cat snacks, inexpensive neon toys, cardboard boxes rimmed with cheap yellow tape and God knows what else. Certain things can only be said in words, clumsy and awkward. Some nights I have wanted to call after you, wherever you live now in the clouds. Most nights I did not know what to call, and now I think I may understand. You were many things- none of them spoken, many of them simply felt. And when I leave as you took flight, I should like to linger as you did- not as a broken call malingering in the kudzu, but as the fading light of a summer day, inexpressible in words yet blooming in syllables of faint touch.

 

 
Min Lee is a sophomore at St Georges School in Rhode Island. She enjoys reading fiction and creative nonfictions. Her interest in the field of neuroscience will lead her to pursue the study in college.
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declutter.

200%.

It’s a steaming mid-July day. The moving company is supposed to arrive in a few hours, but we still haven’t packed all our belongings. The morning flies past as my sister and I scurry through the jumble while our parents work their way through every corner of the house. I cover the vintage dishes in bubble wrap while my twin tapes the boxes with please-don’t-throw signs. The moving truck arrives, and we skip lunch. I watch the frustration rise as the huffs of my parents and the puffs of the movers’ ring across the tiny house. Tension mounts as the clock ticks closer and closer to 6 pm, the time when the house needs to be entirely cleared and when we need to be out of the house. It’s 5 pm, and all the big furniture has moved to the new house. I circle around empty rooms I once labeled as my bedroom. It’s a strange feeling because the space is much more open but the air still feels tight. I am soothing my cat in the master bedroom when I hear my mom cry out from the backyard. I soon realize that we have less than twenty minutes left to clear the entire backyard, the shed, and the garage, which never came into our minds to clean before. We grab as much as we can and drag them into the house. We build a Pisa tower with cans of paint, rolls of paper half-gnawed by rats, and branches once transformed into magic wands in sixth grade. While we stuff them into the remaining plastic bags, I feel adrenaline rush through my veins as I give quick glances at my watch. It’s 5:55, and the front door swings open. It’s the new owners of the house. They’re early, and they look mad that we aren’t out of the house yet. By 5:58, one of them, a man, throws a tantrum, yelling in a language I do not recognize, while kicking our boxes almost out the door. At 6:00, we are out of the house, but the boxes of junk are still sitting on the driveway. I feel I am in the center of attention as the man and my mom continue to shout, each in their world of defense. But all I feel is the shame upon the tower of junk we drag out of the house in front of the entire neighborhood. It is at that moment that I feel the rich flavor of humiliation.

 

For my whole life, I have lived in absolute disarray, in ways both physical and psychological. However long I live in a particular house, it is only a matter of a few weeks when cleaning becomes the mission of Hercules scrubbing the Augean stables. Laundry stretches across beds, plastic bags cover kitchen floors, uneaten food occupies the fridge, and impossibility settles upon the carpeted closets to be vacuumed inside. I am Atlas crushed by the weight of possessions. It’s not that I am entirely underprivileged, but luck always finds a way to slip by me, mockingly brushing past my life. Family matters get worse and worse until arguments become a weekend ritual. While financial problems and conflicts build-up, self-confidence plummets. No matter how many times I make wishes while blowing candle after candle on birthdays, nothing changes. Life has become a continuous cycle of clutter. Time chases me down, while clicking submit buttons at 11:59pm’s, rushing back and forth to meetings and pointless destinations, to-do lists are now a Sisyphean struggle. I am a maximalist.

 

180%.

Quarantine is helping me change that. I catch onto the Gen Z trend of reorganizing bedrooms to fight off boredom. At the same time, my mom introduces me to the world of “minimalism,” and with it comes a series of nagging to clean my room. And so it begins. A journey towards emptiness. 

I embark on a 1000 item challenge. First, the decade-old desk hutches, then the roll of flyers picked up from volunteering, booklets from university fairs, artworks from kindergarten, and dried-out pens leave the house one after another. Shelves and drawers are emptied until I can finally clear the dust off them. For weeks, I move from room to room, peeking into every furniture, poking at every binder, bag, and box, wondering what I can get rid of. It is in these moments that I feel a surge of triumph rushing through. I partake in a game of no wins, competing against my maximal self. Instead of searching for gold coins and treasure chests, I search for trash. As I progress further, I no longer spend time looking for things and where I’ve left them. Frantic runs to the lost-and-found during after-school hours, and passing of missing water bottle sketches are reduced to a minimum. By getting rid of things, I find more value in everything I possess.

 

170%.

A warning pops up, ‘Are you sure you want to remove them?’

“Yes.”

Remove. Remove. Remove. 

Satisfaction bubbles up as my fingers work their way through the phone, removing every

app I haven’t used in the past month. I’m getting better at this thing, this endeavor of

emptying.

Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe.

I feel less chaos in my inbox. I set a time limit for notifications.

Delete. Delete. De-

My fingers pause mid-air. I zoom into the picture, and I see my mom laughing, from three years ago. A rare picture of her. I find myself smiling until my mouth becomes a counterpart of my mom’s. I decide to keep the valuable ones.

 

140%.

I am determined to dive deeper into minimalism. I wish to leave behind as little waste as possible. However, it’s not an easy choice for a maximalist, and I realize that it must be a task of joined forces, involving the entire family. While I give up my unconditional obsession with cute stationeries, mom makes wipes out of old cloth. Dad makes trivets out of leftover wood while my sister ceases to order food. Checkouts at groceries become a polite series of no thank-you’s to plastic bags. When we decide to abandon the use of shampoo, I begin to wonder if minimalism has brought me a lifestyle backward in time. I feel like I’m fighting the currents of modern society. But it feels good. Good to be doing good for the earth.

 

110%.

I watch my possessions, leaving me one by one. Some move on for the better. Unused craft supplies, almost-new clothes, and childhood books are donated. My heart drums the loudest when they get sent to people in need, to people who have recently settled into the country. In the face of the current pandemic, I see a pattern of selfishness among people, stocking up their unnecessary needs, driven by public psychology. And I want to advise them, declutter.

 

100%.

I sit in front of the windows of the master bedroom, watching the late afternoon sunlight flooding in. Instead of squeezing in through furniture and possessions, light fills the entirety of the room, where my cat bathes. It’s my favorite time, the romantic period of the day, and a newly acquired luxury. I realize that home has become a space containing meaning. Time runs at a slower pace these days. In truth, I am nowhere close to the end, nowhere close to being a minimalist. But more than ever, I find myself living the moment. I tend to see the big picture more often. I no longer try to pursue perfection but, instead, find satisfaction within my weaknesses unique to myself.

 

There is beauty in being decluttered, beauty in emptiness, beauty in finding the internal beauty. Most importantly, I feel so light. It’s still the same old life, even plainer than ever, but I see it in a new light. I now wish to live a life where I fill the emptiness with “me.”

 

Grace Hur is currently a junior attending Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School. She loves to voice herself through many mediums, her favorite being Instagram. She calls herself a passionate writer and a student leader but in truth, she’s just a typical teenage girl with a terrible sense of direction.

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Roots

i.

uncle used to climb mountains.

he was a lion: the king who emerged

from unnatural mountains composed

only of gunpowder and the orders

of one man against another.

his skin is a map composed of ghosts

and places and ancient stories-

it is older with this knowledge,

but the strong golden of his hands

still holds remnants of the old summer’s striking sun.

ii.

grandmother was a pearl right out of the sea

when she stepped onto the land of the free.

grandmother sowed the seeds of the most beautiful

flowers. she planted them in crevices where light

was a stranger; she wove them in her hair.

i carry grandmother’s flowers, i keep the seeds in my heart.

i know she watches me by the sea where she stepped.

iii.

my father runs through smoke. through the dusk

he dodges ghosts and the cruel tongue of fire-

and leaves; a hero to the glass children and their mother.

father made castles out of autumn leaves and music out

of thunder.

father finds light in the dark: he chases the sun as

he carries me on his strong back.

i feel him as he holds his kind hands out- i

think of father’s golden heart.

he echoes grandmother. they both plant flowers

in the core of dark soil; a new beginning.

iv.

the canyon that is my skeleton,

the pang of my copper heart

preserved against the tough rock of my rib.

it is a song for them.

Katherine loves to write because it serves as both entertainment and a learning outlet for her. She currently serves as the editor of her school’s newspaper and literary magazine. Katherine’s writing focuses on her family, her favorite places, and anything else she finds interesting. Her favorite form of storytelling is poetry because she loves to experiment with all of its different styles. When she’s not writing, Katherine is either watercolor painting or reading a good book.

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Elegy

 

A rosy infant once crawled upon a barren Earth,

tread a well-worn path of hackneyed poetry;

yet preserved in that nebulous memory

was a lone amber honeysuckle

by a motionless pond in a verdant carpet meadow

where the eternal thought of Spring

is timelessly encapsulated in stale air.

 

A silver toddler once traversed the gilded threads of this Earth,

balanced on a precarious tightrope

weaving fine gossamer webs

and slippery satin miracles

and a trail of ashen snowdrops bloomed in her wake;

 

A milky girl once walked this Earth

and sugared cherub hands close by plucked stars from the night:

twisted them into wistful notes

strung into a honeyed lamentation on the lyre

more intoxicating than love itself.

 

In memory of her

they brewed a pungent weedy tea;

In memory of her they grew a swollen peach;

In memory of her

they hung a twisting diamond shard,

suspended it beside the quarter moon

and called it their masterpiece–

and so it seized the light at a scintillating crescent angle

and yet it was

a little too sharp, a little too adamantine

whose reflection will never be quite right;

not for an effervescent being.

 

There once was an earthly girl glowed just a little too bright

so they burned her down, like a brilliant star,

with the tip of a searing flame

and ignited her soul,

and it caught aflame;

a white, warm light that was a sea of milk-threads–

woven into the frangible tapestry

of a tangible life.

 

There once was a phantom girl who was the dangling pear

on the branch of the dreamy willow

that exists in the poem only

a fragile image given too much power;

then one day she was stripped raw,

smoldered in molasses sunlight

submerged in incandescent dew: silent pleas that might have

fractured heretic hearts

if only their timbre wasn’t a silver-lined metaphor.

 

Time moved like a ghost

And in their remorse

they plucked a delicate plum for her

and it was wonderful in Spring–in the idyllic garden they made–

but when Summer came,

it was singed white cheeks

and charred pale lips, preserved forever in amber:

 

There once was a girl released into a cruel world by eager hands

when all she knew was love and caress–

so she never could have lived past Spring

not even in the poem: but instead

surrendered to the first stroke of Summer sun

in that transcendent way

of melting stars like butter

or withering skin like prunes

and lost youth like love

 

So when the tidal wave came just for her

(the rosy infant, the silver toddler, the milky girl)

she was not afraid,

felt nothing at all when she leapt off the crumbling surface of this barren Earth:

caught her soul of light in a guileless Mother Sea embrace

that swathed her in a starry quilt

and shuttled her home at last.

 

In the epilogue, we can only ever dwell on younger days

the flimsy, flinty promise of a brighter day

that lingers in still air like the perfumed sizzle of Spring:

exists in a memory, or was it the poem?

 

In the afterlife, it was an eternal dream from which she never could wake,

in which little honeysuckles grew, amber and lonely;

when the weathered Maker and the rosy-lipped Doll

and everyone who once

crawled tread walked this bitter barren Earth

could whisper pretty things and sing lush songs

about a girl who burned–forever.

 

Avery Lin is a 10th grade student and Balanchine ballet dancer. She lives in New York City with her mom and her younger brother. In her free time, she enjoys creative writing, watching the Noggin channel and staying up late reading all kinds of fantasy.

Art by Saki Onoe

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Piano Player Fingers

My mother said that Janet had piano player fingers: each segment arcing into the next, flexing in unison because that is how the human body is supposed to work. But the first thing I remember about Janet’s fingers is how she stuck them too close to my face and I, a teething toddler, promptly chomped down on them. A baby’s gums does nothing but coat everything in the slime of innocence, but she hollered for Mom anyway.

Janet gave up piano when she hit seventh grade because basketball was all the rage. Mom dragged me to all her games where my feet dangled as I saw on the bleachers. And when the people stepping over us to find seats stepped on my white sneakers, she would console me with those lemon drops she always kept in her purse when I knew that Janet liked basketball—she’d come home at seven from after-school practices, sweaty and beaming and starving—but I wondered if she started dribbling because she was sick of etudes and sonatinas, or if it was because she liked the way the ball arced into the hoop, a motion as natural as the way her fingers used to dance over the ivories.

The summer before Janet’s freshman year, we moved and sold the piano. My mom cried when she sold the piano; Janet cried when she said goodbye to her friends. And I sat, squashed in the backseat between Janet and her basketball shoes, glad that we were moving. I was sick of spending Saturday afternoons at the court with her.  In reality, I had nothing better to do. Janet had been going to sleepovers since she was five, while I had made a grand total of five friends in the twelve years that I had been alive. Some tangled organ inside of me sang that if we were moving, it meant that Janet wouldn’t have any friends either and so maybe, just maybe, she’d be my friend.

Seventh grade premonitions don’t come true. I learned that the day Janet strutted into high school and made it onto the varsity cheerleading squad freshman year. She dyed the ends of her hair platinum blonde and swiped mascara over her eyelashes as soon as Mom left the house in the mornings, sliding me the piece of toast with the most peanut butter as a peace offering. Or a bribe.

The high school didn’t play basketball or soccer or volleyball—they played lacrosse and waved pom poms at football games. Janet shot right up there on the social ladder, skipping rungs and accepting hands that boosted her up. Mom made me go with her to Janet’s first cheerleading performance. A couple of my new friends had sisters on the squad as well, so I sat with them, starry-eyed over the football players and watching as the cheerleaders flipped and danced and contorted themselves in perfect coordination: a red and white being of undulating limbs and high ponytails, high off of the attention fixated upon them.

That was the first and last time Mom saw Janet execute a perfect backflip: arcing through the stuffy gym air and landing, shoes squeaking against the varnished wood, without a wobble. Over sweet and sour chicken that night, she told Janet that she had found out that a retired concert pianist lived two blocks away and that he was willing to give lessons and let her practice on his piano.

“Such a waste of your lovely fingers—they’re so talented! And all those flips and tricks—what if you injure your fingers?”

I smirked. All of Janet’s friends were on the cheerleading squad, and if Mom made her quit, she wouldn’t even have time to kiss that football player she liked goodbye. The ladder would be wrenched out from right under her, and she’d hurtle down back into the masses and would no longer be perfect Janet.

 I saw Janet’s nails dig into her palms under the table. She went to bed early that night, but our new house had thin walls, and I could hear the whisper of the pom poms as they cut through the air, over and over again.

 But the next week, she came home from school, having traded her pom poms for a deck of cards.

“They’re vintage,” she told Mom when she huffed in disapproval at her eldest shuffling yellowing cards over the table,“like all those plates you like so much.”

I found out from my friend Bethany, whose brother was dating one of Janet’s cheerleader friends, that Janet was now playing poker at lunch and making a killing. When I came home from school, I’d find cards dancing as she made them vanish with a flick of her fingers and reappear in her other hand.

 Perfect arcs, still, and I envied her ability to make things flow just right. The diamonds soared through the air and landed in her other hand in a rapid burst of plastic-coated paper slapping each other, as if pulled by some invisible string. I wished that I could do that.

 She offered to teach me how to shuffle one Friday afternoon before her weekly piano lesson, but I was going to the movies with Andrew. He had shyly asked me out on Wednesday, during those last few precious moments of lunch. I left her offer untouched and instead asked can you lend me lip gloss.

 She put down her cards, the queen of hearts on top, looking at me solemnly, and led me upstairs where she rummaged through the back of her closet and gave me four different tubes of lip gloss to choose from. She covered their labels and named them for me: “tastes like raspberries, will get you into trouble at school, makes you look kissable and the one mom doesn’t mind.” I grabbed “makes you look kissable” but nothing happened in the dark cinema except for a lot of crying scenes. That was my last date with Andrew.

 Mom still thought that Janet was set on the trajectory towards Carnegie Hall.

 When she asked me for a favor, I couldn’t say no. I wanted to be the magnanimous sibling who helped their crying sister. The one who would climb into my window at three in the morning, mascara running and a deck of cards, creased and stained, sticking out of the pocket of her ripped jeans. I wanted that moral superiority to dangle over her stupid French-braided head. She asked me for money, and I handed it to her wordlessly. All one hundred and twenty dollars of my babysitting money for the family next door who always wanted me to come over and be such a good influence on little Izzy. Janet’s hand stayed outstretched, as if she expected more, but the moment that I opened my mouth to tell her that the wad of tens and twenties was it, she yanked me into a hug.

 She smelled like cigarette smoke and the girls’ locker room and cheap deodorant, so I held my breath until she let go of me and whispered in my ear. 

“You’re the best sister. Thank you so much, I swear I’ll pay you back. Please don’t tell Mom, thank you so much, good luck with your algebra test tomorrow.” 

She said that like a prayer. The mantra followed her to the window.

 Downstairs the next morning, I was greeted by my mother and a police officer who tipped his hat at me politely but I did not see him—I only saw my mother’s red-rimmed eyes and raspberry nose and the papers in front of her. I did not see Janet anywhere near.

 “Did you know anything about this?” Mom’s voice was switchblade soft, and I wasn’t fooled by her splotchy face anymore.

  She jabbed a blood-red finger onto the top document, and I leaned in and saw a mugshot with my sister’s eyes wide and not entirely focused and looking so young—nothing like the piano player, three-point shooter, card trickster that dwelled in the pictures on the mantelpiece. 

 “She asked us to contact you, miss, but as part of our policy we don’t contact minors. We called your mother when we picked her and some other teens up for illegal gambling. Turns out she was running quite a prolific business and was getting involved with some local gangs.” 

 Something heavy and sticky began bubbling up in my stomach, and for a second, I thought it might be the “makes you look kissable” lip gloss, but I knew it wasn’t that when I turned to my mother and said “piano player fingers, huh.”

Yong-Yu is a Taiwanese teenager who has lived in Malaysia for all her life. Her current favorite self-descriptive adjective is “culturally-confused.” She had been previously published in The Heritage Review and the bitter fruit review. In her spare time, she can be found binging Doctor Who, playing the flute, or lazing around the house.

Art by: Tao Tiva

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Mikrokosmos

I.

It was not a girl but a universe imploding 

on the thirteenth of April. 

Beneath the crushing gravity 

of her own weight, no one knew 

her fuel had been depleted 

as she conversed through the school halls, 

the convulsing core of life 

and light. After all, stars glitter 

on our retinas              millions of years 

after their deaths.

 

Ghost stars. Plato

wrote of humanity as a microcosm

which reflected meaning into the stars; 

thus it was a galaxy that unhinged 

when the girl shook too 

many white pills into 

her trembling youth: small, harmless, ovular, 

and expired. A star collapsed 

and the light 

flickered from the little girl’s eyes

 

although she was but a small screw 

lodged between the clockworks of the universe;

earth but a pebble in orbit ad infinitum¹

 

Adam Smith 

said as supply overcomes demand,

an object’s value plummets— 

But I say

the girl 

was a universe

as those around her

deemed it so.

 

II.

I gagged on your name

fed from strangers’ hands. Today I utter it

the speakers

are heavier once they crackle off, and the silence undulates i

palpable long after the moment of silence. I try  

and conjure your face

as you sink to the challenger deep:

 

_________________________________

¹ A Latin phrase meaning “to infinity” or “forevermore”

 

eloi eloi lama sabachthani²? Your skin is

swirled cookies-n-cream, black contrails

that dare anyone to try

and stop you. 

 

Funny 

 

how it’s only

after your hurt stopped

that I feel your presence.

 

Ariel Kim is a seventeen-year-old artist and writer. Through The Incandescent Review, she hopes to empower adolescents to express their honest, unapologetic identities as heirs to an uncertain world. Ariel’s work appears in or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, The National Poetry Quarterly, and The Apprentice Writer, among others. She is a finalist in the Virginia B. Ball Creative Writing Competition, a three-time runner-up for the New York Times Summer Reading Contest, and a double National Scholastic Medalist.

 

Art by Elaine Zhang 

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Two Poems by Nathan Lee

the king’s road

i don’t want this poem
to ache. i want to think

about that dusk as tenderness
instead of something with       teeth.

let me just tell you
about the asphalt, the white sycamores,
the silver car engines singing a river of light.

i was standing on the sidewalk,
breath dripping onto the dark earth, thinking

about the red scrapes of road burn
on tanned thighs.       how a car crash

ing into a boy will
smash his head and
snap       his spine into match

sticks, maple leaves, so many scars like
tire tracks smeared on concrete.

but
there was the cool evening breeze

and someone’s golden lab, his limbs joyfully askew,
is chasing his ratty tennis ball near the edge

of the road. that’s
this road going nowhere,

this road leading my body home, this road shattering
into a tunnel with a prism of color       at the end.

ignore
the bitter taste of       gasoline. i’ll tell you instead

how summer lingered in the air thick

enough to bite.

how through
the slender green pines across the street

i watched the sun paint
a watercolor goodnight.

Worm Moon

Imagine this: the stars
in your rearview mirror
are closer than they appear.
In the spring dusk,
the ripe apricot moon
kisses the asphalt.

Those stars, that moon,
the same bright fires
that lit up the night
when we tore ourselves
from the water of history. Now,

nothing is real but
the wind in your lungs
from the open windows,
the lilac freeway speeding by.

You grasp your breath in your palms
as it hums a holy melody;
your heart a bass beat
through the radio. Tell me again

how memories are anything
but half-remembered stories;
how love is the opposite of forgetting.

And oh, to be hand-in-hand and balancing
on the tender edge of desire.

Tonight, you sit in your car and let
the songs you loved back in middle school
blast out the open windows.

Tell me how you can still sing along.

Nathan Lee is an emerging transgender poet. He is currently a high school senior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California. His work is forthcoming in Polyphony Lit and Lambda Literary’s collection Writing Out of the Closet and has been published in Celebrate Creativity, a local anthology.

Visual Art by: Johnson Anthony

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Two Poems By Caroline Coleman

graduation

It’s summer now so the call of the trains
bounding in the distance is closer
and the loudspeaker of the neighborhood pool
drifts through my window in between dusty sun.
She comes to me, railroad irises, 9:30 air,
cigarette clouds shirking their celestial duties.
Her fingertips are wise where I am not,
but here she is, flush with hairpins and lips tangled.
Flyswatter dreams and basement couches
mark the precipice of our staged world;
stage left: she cut her window screen and rained
stage right: the subway blues, always running,
always late. They say all the world’s a stage,
but all the world’s a macabre diorama of
my childhood fantasies, home address laced
in tongues and her, hitched in outer space:
fleeing lines and a cast party queen.
I turn the light on and the fan sings spoiled,
so I keep and devour in the dark.
There’s a two-year warranty on the corpse
that keeps screaming the family dynamic
hearse. Keep me in mind at the fork in the road,
toss a coin in my sullen ear, say something
to smother these early morning fears of perpetuity.
The tracks in the woods are silent, but
you can hear her departure in the birdsong:
the wicked echo in the bones of the station,
our lonesome whistles in harmony;
you can hear it like an audition tape acting
as stitches, like the shrieks of a fallen dancer,
like the syncopated footsteps of the mailman
in his last throes of communication,
his final steps leaking from his honeyed throat
in perfect cordial dial tones.

party portraits

the honeyed rising fills the shutters in between measures
reaching us in our huddled gasping bedroom

stately shouts creep from the basement roughly
every hour or so, dancing with the kitchen timer

the thermostat grows jealous and forms hardwood volcanoes
my tears simmer on igneous cheeks and run back groundward

we play three-story merry-go-round on the railings
all sorts of vocal leaping into non-stick pans

the martyr is praying in the bathroom
later she will shotgun a beer in canonized ecstasy

but for now she asks god to pierce the holy clock hands
and shorten the pendulum so her beloved swings back faster

the nighttime zephyr uncurls all the windows
and whistles from the very heart of the matter

the house never fully sleeps nor fully swings
the door handles and sock drawers rattle into jitterbugs

while the clown in the attic composes a symphony
all in minor, locked out of the dance hall

or having misplaced the entrance for a tin of lemon squares
and the bodyguard for the soft-spoken summer spiders

there are no eyes here which see the color of rage
but just because it hibernates doesn’t mean it sleeps

still, we make merry, and I officiate in full gusts
the light of the morning too much for the feeble instrument

I call them out one by one to be wed on the porch
and in the meantime, the pancakes burn

a spell of damning truth, what can be understood and not said
and the reverse, and drive, and park, and forbearing neutral

all leading towards the endless conversation home
to swim for land or call a taxi? finish the sentence or jump the fence?

I murmur damp soliloquies into the shoulder of your sweater
unraveling the harness that keeps your name etched in mountains

and forging bronze apologies for mere identity theft
the arterial jailers fell upon their knees for forgiveness

which comes only after bottling the rest for later and much coaxing
the silver-laned queen drives her fur coat home

and sleeps upside down, toppled by worldliness
she knew every language except opening and closing

it is her birthday, which comes every other century
and with much paunch and circumference

she stands atop the rails and sees a tongue slinking
thick with turpentine and a thousand never-closing eyes

it cuts corners and divests lonely maidens of their wits
fast and painless as a hailstorm, musical as the belly of a snake

I am ears to the ground as the grass sings envy
drinking songs to the birds passed out in the bath

where does intimacy live if not here?
some country greenhouse lane, strolling 12 bar blues

you: in women’s clothing, me: a coroner
the windows shut with molasses and still frostbitten

party portraits bathed in dawn, pennies for the erratic painter
sparrow song for the sunken half-full mugs

they towed her car on her 17th birthday and now she wanders
the backstreets looking for candles to blow out

my bedroom is a pale anemic impression of the real thing
I’m a parlor dweller I guess, refusing pearls left and right

in between changing the record I hear the neighbors whispering
but my friends are floating countertop, sweeping the races

and now the record is spinning conquered heartbreak
well—it’s unreleased, this conquering

but I can march and form garden gnome ranks any old day
today is the hole in time’s second-hand pockets

the secret to spinning and keeping balance
to sit round robin and not demur, to chew and mean it

even if it requires a little manual loosening
twenty-dollar bills and terra incognita time of morning

I want to see my love taken apart so I can build for once
see how he works, see what ticks in him and why

he cancels lunch and walks too quickly and shows early
and maybe with the operating table bare I’ll see

what went wrong, and why my heart no longer beats in his jaws
the discord like a dead bee in a soda can

after they leave I hear my mother’s breathing again
from the middle-class freeway down the hall

my brow has gathered icicles overnight
to be melted with the intensity of her moderation

knowing what the headstone says doesn’t help with the dying
but the ambiguity elbow greases my strung-out reflection

the clocks are out on strike but there’s a sneaking
into my rusted liver via the closet door

there’s a suspicious lack of blood on the floor
but punchy bluntness litter the depth of every angle

every unused rich kid soapbox obstructing the exit
the backstage pass like the upstairs at a party

party’s got to end, like the failings of the decade
the shot glass is still warring with the highball

and the roads all look the same down here
mid-morning hinges on goodwill regardless of intention

I’ll remember their sleeping faces in celluloid for as long
as eyes read between the grain and find breakfast

I can see summer from the window facing the street
and spring with it, on bicycle, going out for the day

at the latest possible sunset, she’ll go home to mother
with bruises peaching her howled mouth

and make up excuses for why the sky is so green this year
and why the flowers two-step to jazz drizzles

whittle my prospects in a cradle downstream
for someone’s more loving hands with longer fingers

better for reaching heart-itches in the subcutaneous
do the seven rivers of hell really slink upstream?

and do I? I want to be better at cooking breakfast for two
and seeing the sun for each ray, infinite in an inconvenient direction

so even when I’m scrubbing ceaselessly and skipping lunch
my house holds more river water than I have to give

and was built on top of words laced the old-fashioned way
with more whole hands than fingers can count

Caroline Coleman is a student and writer in the DC area, interested primarily in poetry, theatre, and film. She has also published work in Haloscope Magazine.

Visual Art by: Cherry Guo

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