They Made Me by Maria Picone

go to the darkened room to perform my trauma,

no warning, threatening to expel me if I refused.

 

feel small, a tiny mote of protest swirling in a vast

maelstrom, arms bound by this mandatory evaluation.

 

risk my scholarship on a one-afternoon “fitness” test

a run without screaming, a gauntlet without swords

 

present myself red eyes bound hands to the bored

professional who took one look, said “You’re probably fine.”

 

This is not a big deal.

 

pull my bones from the wash cycle, proclaiming

I was normal, then I was not. Okay.

Picone Headshot

Maria S. Picone has an MFA from Goddard College. She’s interested in hybrid and experimental forms as well as free verse. Her hobbies are learning languages, looking at cats on the internet, and painting. Her poetry appears in Mineral Lit Mag, Ariel Chart, and Eleventh Transmission: 45 Poems of Protest. Her Twitter is @mspicone, and her website is mariaspicone.com.

Roaches by Kristin Ryan

Its clawed hands scrape along the inside of my skull until all I can hear is jagged humming. It doesn’t matter that I have a book coming out, a husband who loves me, or that I haven’t purged in eight years. When the humming becomes unbearable, I calmly tell my husband I want to die over breakfast. 

  ***

I watch from the ceiling. Two lovers sobbing, one restraining the other on the floor. Dirty, dirty, I’m dirty, the woman howls as she tries to claw at her arms, tries to lunge toward the bathroom to rid herself of what she cannot name. 

  ***

In the backyard, he pressed my five-year-old spine up against the fence. I felt cool air for the first time. Dead grass clung to my dress. Wasps hummed in my ears. My bare feet burned when I ran from the house, the lie propelling me forward.

  ***

Children often mistake hands for roaches and other bugs when recalling memories, Bree gently tells me in her office. 

  ***

I wanted to pretend it / was a dream, but / every morning I choke / on weeds. // Choke on sunlight / and fences, the / hum of wasps / splinters in my back. // The bathroom, / where the nightlight flickered. / The tub full of soap scum and dirt. // A shadow, more cool air, / roach in my underwear. / I start peeing behind bookshelves, / avoid bathrooms, / take short showers. // For a decade, I purge behind dumpsters, / in cars, and fields / until there’s blood, until there’s bone.

  ***

 Think of it more as resting. You’re sick, and you need to rest a while, the psychiatrist says.

The nurse passes out used crayons, explains how coloring is a coping skill we can use once we’re released instead of killing ourselves. 

  ***

In the den, I change clothes behind the couch, hurry up, hurry up nightgown over leggings; he can’t see me the sound of cartoons crashing in the background. 

While I was crying in her office, Bree said: most predators have cartoons on to distract children. Most likely he was trying to groom you. 

No, no. I should have been smarter. I should have known. 

You were a child. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t. 

***

I’m given Risperdal, the kind that melts slowly under the tongue. I wrap myself in a thin, white blanket. I stare at my reflection in the glass, fighting sleep. Later, the nurse finds me covered in sweat, thrashing as she stands over my bed. You kept shouting stop. 

By morning, I sit on my bed and weep, too afraid to move. My parents come to visit. They don’t know why I’m crying, or why I’m here. My husband comes to visit. I tell him the thoughts and memories keep getting worse, and I don’t know what to do. He takes my hand and cries.

20200521_154723

Kristin Ryan is a poet working towards healing, and full sleeves of tattoos. She is a recipient of the Nancy D. Hargrove Editor’s Prize in Poetry, and her work has been nominated for Best New Poets and Best of the Net. Her poems have been featured in Glass, Jabberwock Review, Milk and Beans, and SWWIM Everyday among others. She holds an MFA from Ashland University and works in the mental health field. Her full length poetry collection, MORNING, WITH BANDAGES is forthcoming from Bone & Ink Press.

TRANSLATING MY WORRIES INTO SOMETHING MORE PALATABLE by Charlotte Akello

Mother asks if I can go and stay with my uncle,

I know widows swallow responsibilities that their husbands died from and sometimes their eyes hold death/but they know they are the only hope;

I want to tell her no/I want to tell her guys are not being trusted/that sometimes blood becomes the thing that takes life from you

I crawl out of my skin and put my thoughts into words (in my notebook that stays under my bed)

What’s the world without a mother/how not to show a man that you love him/how do we cut blood ties/how to deal with men who come in the night/synonym for uncle/how to kill a man who touches you in places mother warned you about/how to fake my own death or make it real.

I don’t want to go…

IMG_20200608_200409_2

Charlotte Akello is a Ugandan poet and writer. She was shortlisted for Babishai Haiku poetry award in 2017, Writivism award for fiction in 2018 and Brigitte Poirson poetry award in April, 2019. She has been published in print in Odokonyero by Writivism, Wondering and wandering of hearts by Femrite, Streetlights at noon eclipse by Lantern meet of poets. Her works have also appeared online in Kalahari Review, Praxis magazine and writer’s space Africa among others. She is currently a student of medicine and surgery at Makerere University, Uganda and blogs at charlotteakello.wordpress.com

Guillotine Blues by Avra Margariti

I read once that Catherine Howard, Queen of England practiced her imminent execution by placing her head on a chopping block. She was just eighteen years old. It reminded me of how I would practice my own death throughout my childhood: stand on the edges of tall buildings, see how many pills I could fit like marshmallows in my mouth, call it an accident when I cut my fingers on sharp objects.

Years later, I learned that King Charles I wore two heavy, layered shirts during his public beheading. He didn’t want to shiver, he said, lest the spectators think he was afraid. I looked down at my arms, the long shirtsleeves hiding all unhealthy practices-turned-habits. I rolled up my sleeves and let the cool air nip at my skin, let myself shiver.

IMG_7734 (2)

Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Forge Literary, Longleaf Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and other venues. Avra won the 2019 Bacopa Literary Review prize for fiction. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.

In Patient by H.E. Casson

These metal beds 

On either side

Up, up they rise

And here I lie

 

Tucked in with arms 

Crossed in an X

 

The floor is cold

It cools my back

I count, I track

The seconds tick

 

I hope I’ll soon 

Be done with this

 

The hospital

My second home

I’m home alone

I hum along

(I know this song)

I fall asleep

I’m hidden here

 

Between these beds

unnamed

H. E. Casson is a writer, a Torontonian, and an all-around-somewhat-okay human. Their words have recently been published by Malarkey Books, Lunate, Taco Bell Quarterly, Terse, and Writers Resist. Their SSRI of choice is Cipralex, though their anxiety prefers Ativan.

A Room Full of Shadows by Praise Osawaru

some mornings you wake to a stamp of silence

in the air, swaying in tune with your heartbeat.

 

you are paralyzed in your dreams

& you are a breathless wanderer, in reality,

 

trying to convince yourself that you’re not just

occupying space in the world.

 

you stare into the mirror in your room

& your reflection tells you that you have a condition—

 

that you suffer from the invisible illness.

maybe that’s why your feet leave no prints

 

or maybe the wind erases them as you go.

you compose an affirmation for yourself

 

or maybe it’s a mantra, you do not know.

it goes: i am alive! i am not dead! see me, world!

 

you say the words over and over again

till your mouth registers the verses.

 

yet you feel like a ghost hung up in cobwebs

in a room full of shadows.

CYMERA_20200616_140008

Praise Osawaru is a Nigerian writer, (performance) poet, & wannabe entrepreneur studying at the University of Benin, Nigeria. His works have appeared/forthcoming in African Writer, Kreative Diadem, Ibua Journal, Ngiga Review, Perhappened Magazine, Praxis Magazine & elsewhere. He was longlisted for African Writers Award 2019 and shortlisted in the 2019 Kreative Diadem Creative Writing Contest. He’s openly a film fanatic & overall art enthusiast/lover. Say hello on Instagram/Twitter: @wordsmithpraise

Maybe Tomorrow by Olakitan Aladesuyi

Maybe tomorrow, I will tell you how it feels to carry the sea in my veins

and fight, daily, to not drown.

maybe tomorrow we will discuss over a bottle of beer,

laugh about it like it wasn’t just yesterday I had to

keep the knives to keep me from running my skin with a blade

maybe I will gist about the boy who chased freedom into a bottle of sniper;

I, who had to throw out leftover sniper

because it called me with the promise of freedom

maybe tomorrow my mouth will find the words to paint the thick darkness of my dreams.

maybe my arms will gain the strength to fall, to drop it all and sail away.

my body, floating like a boat at sea.

say a prayer for this lost coffin;

send some flowers to ease the journey.

Olakitan_Aladesuyi_writer_headshot

Olakitan works as a software developer/data analyst by day and a writer at odd hours. Her works have appeared in Agbowó Art, Watershed Review, Prairie Schooner, Memento and others. Sometimes, she tweets here: @kitanbelles.

Three Poems by Lamont B. Steptoe

(untitled)

 

write

with a broken heart

write

wounded

write

with your tears

write with your fears

write

with your hope

write

with the diamonds

of separation

turn pain into blues

someday

there will be good news…

 

(untitled)

 

do you

know what it’s like

to come under

mortar fire?

do you know

what it’s like

to pray

between the pauses

of the firing and detonations?

do you know

what it’s like

to think this may be your last

day or hour or minute or second?

do you know what it’s like?

do you know what it’s like?

 

Dusk Is A Purple Heart

 

from blueness

above blueness

crossing

jagged foam

to verdant green

tropical water world

where the wind

is a bloody cloth

where songs are sung

by machine guns

where songs are sung

by machine guns

where sun and moon

are ambushed

where dusk

is a purple heart

and Buddha is thrown

from helicopters

uttering haikus…

unnamed

Lamont B. Steptoe is a poet / photographer / publisher born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the winner of an American Book Award and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. Steptoe is a father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, founder of Whirlwind Press and graduate of Temple University.

 

Good Riddance by Ibrahim Williams

She told me Dan had become distant after he witnessed her psychotic episode. Her voice was tired, and her eyes were ringed in black circles. Toni and Dan were love birds until last week when he saw his girlfriend act up in public. He must have been embarrassed; I quite understand. But wasn’t love an affair of accommodation – in sickness, and mental health?

 

That morning when I pushed open her door, she was tucked inside her favorite pink duvet, awake. It was visible, the dried tears on her sad face. Her hair was mangled into hysterical puffs like each hairline was in revolt. I moved closer. She broke into a weak smile which I returned by sinking into the space by her side.

 

“How are you, sis? Were you able to sleep?” I asked. And though I knew the answer to my question, I stared down at her waiting anyway. She smiled again. Behind her was a gift pack; it was pink, and it revealed a piece of silk fabric peeping out.

 

“Do you want me to call him?”

“No, please!”

“What if he…”

She turned her back at me.

 

All this was before Toni went in search of suicide by jumping off the roof. I’m her twin! Doesn’t she understand that I, too, love her? I thought of all the moments we’ve shared together – the laughs around the house, the cries from our weekend movie nights, and the many silly times we got into trouble together.

 

As the ambulance dashed towards the Lagos traffic, blaring its siren in order to maneuver through the fleet of cars, I looked at Toni for the first time. And somehow, my anger dissipated. The sight of her body, strapped and immobile, sank my heart in a river of fear. I watched helplessly as she held on to life with difficult breaths aided by a dingy oxygen mask. It was hard for me to understand why. Could it be that her love for Dan was so much that the thought of losing him became…? No! It shouldn’t be. A breakup doesn’t mean the end of the world, or…am I being insensitive? Was it triggered by her… I thought it best not to be the judge of my sister.

 

Now that I stand by Toni’s wheelchair at the exit point of the hospital, the breeze blows playfully around us as we hold each other’s gaze with broad smiles. I watch as she reaches into her fancy bag, drawing out a silk pink scarf. She tosses it in the air.

 

“Moni,” she called. “That is Dan, good riddance”.

A+ Gallery_9

Ibrahim Williams, 24, is a Nigerian writer, satirist, and a literary advocate for mental health. He teaches the English language and currently studies it as a postgraduate student at the University of Lagos. Though blessed with the ability to play football, he is caught in a shambolic love affair with Arsenal FC. Find him @purplepicks.wordpress.com/ or @ibn_williams on Instagram.

WANTING AWAY by Jerry Chiemeke

You are lying on the floor, five inches away from the mattress. It’s no cooler down on this rug, but you are not exactly in search of lower temperatures. Curled on the 6 × 4 and breathing slowly is probably all the warmth you need, possibly the one thing that matters now…but maybe you are not out for comfort in these moonless hours.

You want space to mull over, to stare your soul’s emptiness in the eye, to brood over your disillusionment without the distraction of loving arms.

Surfing YouTube puts both your battery and your mobile data under pressure, and googling your favourite musician has long become an unexciting pastime. You don’t entertain the thought of praying either; for one, you can’t help but feel that it’s an easy pathway to sleep, and in any case, you took a shot at that option hours ago, but you felt no better. You can’t blame Him though, He’s a pretty busy Being, deserving of some real slack, even when your tears soak the communion railings, even when your knees sink into the tiles.

It gets to you, looking spoilt for choice one moment and left with nothing the next. It gets to you, being overlooked again and again, no significant additions on the last Google search of your name. It gets to you, populating your blood stream with blue and yellow pills just to boost stubbornly deficient serotonin levels.

You wonder if the tight shutting of eyes and quick gulping of water is even of any use: the disco hall segment of your life ended with your early 20s and the sound of bluesy guitars make up the soundtrack for your hours now.

You’re exhausted; of trying so hard to be funny in person to correct notions of you from people who couldn’t be bothered, of having to explain why communication is a real chore for you, of making her see that when you say nothing it’s not because you’re getting drawn to someone else, of dealing with “why so melancholic?” inquiries and “I just wanted to check on you” platitudes.

You are done with trying to make yourself understood or likeable, and you have come to terms with the fact that nobody’s going to love you right, that a hundred soothing text messages will never be enough, that God himself would have to come down if the pile of broken pieces that is yourself stands any chance of ever being put together.

You’ve run out of tickets to the pity party, and you just want to be away, this version of “away” being more of a feeling than a place, that fever pitch desire to swim across planets and watch your body float from the sidelines. Colourful photos from birthdays of acquaintances on your Instagram page are unable to cancel out the greyscale that is your default hue, and you know for sure that the ceasefire from the wars in your head has run its course.

95383797_10217931080528827_435211187882295296_n

Jerry Chiemeke is a columnist, culture critic and lawyer. His works have appeared in The Inlandia Journal, The Johannesburg Review of Books, The Guardian, Honey & Lime, Bone and Ink Press and Agbowo, among others. A lover of long walks and alternative rock music, Jerry lives in Lagos, Nigeria where he is working on a novel. He is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Reviews, and he was shortlisted for the 2019 Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction.