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poetry

Under a Calm Wave, Not Killing Myself by Sola Damon

Under a Calm Wave, Not Killing Myself | Sola Damon

My mother always threatened me not to have sex, but killing myself is something she never forbade. I’m sitting in a café in Collioure, France, when this realization blindsides me. It’s a strange omission considering her father killed himself and that suicide can result from a concoction of circumstances, including genetics. 

The café walls are lined with wooden picture frames. Mediterranean seaside memories I absorb while enamored with the act of living. I’m drafting my first assignment at a writing retreat with the following prompt: Write about something you’ve never told anyone.

 It’s dangerous territory. 

Thoughts about ending my life have weighed on me since I was six years old. I’ve never told anyone about my dreams where I hear a voice underwater telling me to swim deeper and farther from shore. But I find the courage to share from the edge of this particular sea with a disclaimer: I am not suicidal.

The line between ending my life and it ending naturally is not a blurry one for me. I’m bursting with so much happiness. Like the kind I see in the paintings inside this café, filled with pastels of people frozen in their seaside holidays. Or like the man sitting outside drinking a glass of beer, a poodle at his feet, and a book with dog-eared pages. I imagine the book smells like an old book shop or a green wooden kiosk from along the Seine. The poodle stretches next to a glass water bowl with edges dimpled like a pie crust. The man is so content he might actually levitate. I know that feeling. But that’s not what keeps me hiding my history of suicidal dreams and thoughts. It’s because the thoughts act as shovels, digging up dangerous dirt. Family dirt. 

Looking back at the paintings, I wonder if contentment comes from embracing only the parts of our lives we choose to put inside picture frames. Like the ones my father passed down to me. Thick mahogany frames holding West Indian maps of where we lived when I was a child, and pictures of his parents— the only grandparents I’ve ever known. His framable memories strike a disturbing opposition to my mother’s past. Her parents only ever existed in dark descriptions. Sadly, to my knowledge, nothing about my mother’s past is framable.  

But she has reasons for her infectious unhappiness. Her father’s suicide leaked into my life in slow moldy drips. He shot himself in the head with his policeman’s service revolver when my mother was sixteen, one month into her teenage pregnancy. The newspaper article said his wife, my maternal grandmother, had filed for divorce that day. 

On the other hand, my father was older and, from what society would call a “good family,” dutifully married his teenage bride. She was the oldest of nine from the other side of the hedges. Her mother was callous and miserable. I recall her cheekbones so high and sharp she looked like a skeleton wrapped in industrial strength nylons from a plastic egg. But that memory faded, gratefully, when my father moved us to a simple cement house in the Caribbean. 

From the age of five, my life sat on the edge of a peaceful sea that looked like a vat of melted emeralds and sapphires. But it was juxtaposed with my mother’s desperate anger. She shouted at my father in ways that created insecurity, sending me to imagine a different world with my father’s books and the maps in those wooden frames. Or down a path to the beach, hiding from the uncertainty indoors. I registered memories like an intake clerk as if I knew I would need them later. Like the feeling of saltwater burning my sinuses, and watching my father’s blue eyes underwater, framed in a black rubber diving mask. 

Now, in Collioure, as I watch the man with his dog and his book on a Mediterranean promenade, I wonder if my father would have traveled farther without children and the required marriage. Maybe have taken a book to a café in a small coastal town and read it with a glass of beer. He could have gone to all the places on the maps in those wooden frames that, as a child, hypnotized me with their symbols. I thought they could tell the future. I believed the maps were filled with places where the air had no anger, and the people were full of love and care. They were imaginary and invisible but so real to me that if I’d thrown flour around the room, I’m sure their outlines would have appeared.  

Maybe my mother also stared at my father’s maps and wondered how to get to those places. But I doubt it. Perhaps she wanted to end her life like her father. I doubt that too. What I never doubted was that she loved me, albeit in a dysfunctional way that wove inadequacy, instability, and a massive lack of self-esteem into the fibers of my being. As the anchor that tied my parents to the life they were stuck in, I can pinpoint my first desire to leave this world when I realized they were miserable because they were saddled with me. 

When I was old enough to move out, I put new maps on my own walls and hung some of the old ones my father gave me. They allowed me to picture the future and keep tabs on the past where my guilt thrived. They’ve helped me learn that my parents’ unhappiness was never my fault. They had the power to change their course, anchored or not. Staring at what I’ve chosen to frame helps me contemplate the unframable. It allows me to write the truth.  

The dreams always started in the acacia bushes, where I dodged thorns and goat dung, sneaking down to the clear blue water in front of our house. I would pick limes and let the skins burn my lips before walking into the sea with no footprints. A voice underwater would tell me I could swim out towards the blurry void and stay forever, or return to the island. The water calmed me so entirely that I fought to stay in the dream when I woke, to stay immersed in the waters I still see on the maps. I didn’t want to be stuck in the limitations of a body. I didn’t want to be present. I was obsessed with finding a different future, even if it meant drowning myself to get there. 

Even when I couldn’t sleep, I imagined that I was underwater, looking out into the blue. I pictured my straw blonde hair drifting in an apparition around my head, looking up to watch the underside of the calm waves rolling onto the sand. They would recede and wash the shore, again and again. I think about that dream now when I can’t fall asleep, forty-five years later.   

My parents long broke from each other and somehow still remained stuck in different places, anchored by different things. But I’m grateful that they gave me the means to return to that same sea whenever I choose. I swim into the same blue water now in my much older body, sinking and squinting into the same void. I find a strange solace in knowing I can hand myself over if I swim far enough. As if I will cross some watery membrane into a new world like my mother’s father did, and others I’ve lost who took their lives. They chose to step inside the picture frames forever. 

Unlike them, I would rather find the parts of me I’ve left behind living in all the places I’ve visited on those maps in the wooden frames—where I can emerge from beneath a calm wave and enjoy walking up onto wet sugary sand. Maybe to another café in Collioure. Or to places where hummingbirds slurp hibiscus flowers as the sun sets into the sea at the edge of the earth—to all the places I haven’t had my fill of yet.  

As for the thoughts and dreams, I believe death will release me into the blue void when I least expect it, and it’s something for which I choose to wait. I observe my memories of the dreams by writing them down now in places like this café. I look through the blurry membrane on paper, watching it separate this world from the next, confident in my choice to remain in this one. 

 

About the Author:

Sola Damon is the pseudonym for a recovering trial lawyer with four unfinished novels in her bottom drawer. She also writes personal essays and poetry, most recently, “Love, Naturally” and “Evolution,” appearing in the Penumbra Literary Review (Spring 2022). She is the author of Namaste at Home: Positive Thinking and Meditation During a Freakin’ Pandemic. She splits her time between South Florida, Laguna Beach, California, and her childhood home in the West Indies, where she’s polishing off those novels for publication.

Categories
poetry

For Me–Desideratum by Amy S. Lerman

For Me–Desideratum | Amy S. Lerman

 

I carry it like an Epipen, this phrase that’s zippered
into my purse pocket, a graduate class residual
extracted only when no transliteration or alternate 
diction works. What patience these two, gray-blue 
words have evinced, sentenced at times to years 
of dormancy, like the too-heavy-to use crystal 
goblets we keep in their original box, plus
such pedestrian cohabitants—
ChapStick, pennies, tampons, crumpled receipts—
and few travel opportunities. I cannot recall 
their last application, perhaps a library wing dedication 
when the college president wore a hard hat, held
an oversized, gold shovel, or our first meeting 
new neighbors, her French accent, my sycophancy.

How unexpected now—amid potato salad, ankle-
spiraling mosquitoes, the great bend of the Arkansas 
river—to unzip here, release in my in-laws’ backyard. 

I am a mother untucking her child, readying 
words, as my husband’s mother produces
a shoebox housing flashlights, Gatorade, granola bars, 
all the emergency supplies they will keep 
while my father-in-law details the delivery, 
how a huge crane lowered the bunker’s six tons 
next to his linoleum shed. This storm shelter so enthuses
them, they wave us in, demonstrate how they will sit
facing each other, and I understand, can feel

the winds’ momentum merging cold and heat, blowing 
them to take cover, vortexing, my breaths are so quick 
and noisy, I can’t calm them, the words rising
spiraling and burning up my esophagus, and I can’t stop 
them, me, sound the sirens, here they go—

“Beton arme,” I scream, that memorized phrase meaning
“reinforced concrete,” so validating, perspiring my neck,
leaving me winded, and I long for my French teacher,
someone to compliment my accent, but as I turn 
to my relatives, they say nothing, just slightly nod at me
and stay seated, seeking refuge in their new purchase.

About the Author:

Amy S. Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, so all three landscapes figure prominently into her writing. She is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College, and her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Willawaw Journal, Stonecoast Review, Broad River Review, Radar Poetry, Rattle, Slippery Elm, and other publications. Her poem, “Why Is It?” was the inaugural winner of the Art Young Memorial Award for Poetry.

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poetry

Statistically Speaking by Emdash AKA Emily Lu Gao

Statistically Speaking | Emdash AKA Emily Lu Gao

 

About the Author:


Emdash AKA Emily Lu Gao hopes you try free 24/7 resources like NYC Wellness Line  and The Trevor Project if you need any support. (She has used both personally.) Emdash is a multi-genre writer, poet, and teacher. She is also the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Her writing is propagated from Spoken Word Poetry and Ethnic Studies, primarily grappling with queerness, mental health & healing. Publishing wise, her poems can be found in The Agave Review, Curious Publishing and Queer Rain. Currently she is a Poetry MFA candidate at Rutgers University-Newark. She splits her time between NJ and SoCal. When not writing, she is likely snackin’, rescheduling therapy, or telling one too many jokes.  You can send platypus GIFs to her on IG @emdashh or Twitter @emdashwrites. (she/they)

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poetry

Your Name by Tamara Nasution

Your Name | Tamara Nasution

The perfect three-syllable word in a sensual
              curve of six alphabets: azalea, chakra,
tundra. It means nothing in your language and
              everything in mine. No equivalences

in the widely-spoken tongue; your name brings
              to mind you, and you only. Its diction
pronounced like a song or harmonious reading
              of the Psalm; a prayer I have recited

like a lifelong acquaintance. Incandescent lights
              of colored shreds of glass give your name
all the shades of electromagnetic waves—
              softly tinted with the music played by

the mermaids. It rhymes with aurora, euphoria,
              enigma: a hypothetical utopia dreamed
by your father. Your name is a keyword to a
              world unexplored; a riposte to my lasting pleas.

 

About the Author:

Tamara was born and raised in small town in Indonesia. She has been writing since her preteen years and has several pieces of her works selected for publication, including for a poem contest organized by the ASEAN. Her writings are mostly derived from her personal experiences; she often writes about what it is like to be queer among a heteronormative society.

When she’s not writing, Tamara works full-time in a nonprofit focusing on children. She is passionate about humanitarian aids and climate change adaptation. You can catch more of her on her social medias: Instagram @kappaca and Twitter @sacredswamp

Categories
poetry

Mass in Harlem by Stelios Mormoris

Mass in Harlem | Stelios Mormoris

I heard the news in a taxi cab
so I went straight to mass
in Harlem, where you were born,

Margarita Zitis, before the war.
By 116th Street, I knew you were 
dead, but could see you shopping

across the median on Broadway,
a figment covered in rhinestones, 
shaking your thin gold bracelets, 

preening your black onyx ring  
while I processed neon flatlines
in the cold silver tray of winter sky.

I prayed to God to not blackout,
attached a white rose to my lapel
while the chaplain explained black

power in an even tone worthy of
the erudite-to-illiterate equal
in this assembly, each loud word

shirring the sheen on the slack silk
of the black immaculate robes, 
matte on satin, each ivory lace 

collar fettered with starch,
tight around the raging throats,
a parody of pretty. I was a white

man drowning in sartorial finery,
down a sluice of pure evasion
so I tried to find the striations

of pain in the lo hymns of earnest
voices singing black is a color.
I let the sermons wash me, tried 

on guilt’s tight vest, remembered
you’d refer to negroes in code
as the passing light of moons.

I listened to kids’ mulled chatter 
outside about old bitches on crack
in the flicker of windows.

The day Aretha broke the static 
on our AM radio you reminded me 
roses are in fact not black but 

that black skin absorbs the sin
of derision—that our negro mailman,
Arthur, could be fierce enemy 

or dear friend so be kind. In the same 
pew a black woman’s slight hand 
squeezed mine on the word ‘Lord’

as she channeled me through prayer 
as if navigating a dark hallway, 
finding calm in Leviticus’ brooding 

long passages, smelling your racist
homilies like loaves of warm bread.
I paid homage to a theatre of votives.

I felt guilty I didn’t feel guilty.
I bathed in the amethyst blue glass
of the high apse pooling sunlight

and relaxed, rode the adagios’ swell
as the worshipers rose and praised
the Lord, as I put the white rose 

in my pocket to leave on your grave—
the congregation a happy medley
of gold fillings, pearl hairpins, and

white proud teeth, you dancing
among them, scrolls of gold leaf
unraveling off the candlesticks,

this one heaving, reverberate body
of souls all exalting me in unison
because everyone knew I was trying.

 

About the Author:

Native of Boston and Martha’s Vineyard, MA., Stelios Mormoris is the CEO of SCENT BEAUTY, Inc. Citizen of Greece and the U.S., Stelios was raised in New York and spent most of his adult life living in Paris. He received his undergraduate degree in architecture from Princeton, and M.B.A. from INSEAD [Institut d’Européen d’Administration et des Affaires] in Fontainebleau, France.

His work has been published in High Shelf Press, Humana Obscura, Midwest Poetry Review, Nassau Literary Review, SouthRoad, Spillway, Sugar House Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and other literary journals. His debut book of poetry titled “The Oculus” is forthcoming by Tupelo Press in September 2022.

Categories
poetry

7-poetry

Issue #7 ~ Spring 2022
Poetry

Mass in Harlem by Stelios Mormoris

I heard the news in a taxi cab
so I went straight to mass
in Harlem, where you were born,

Margarita Zitis, before the war.
By 116th Street, I knew you were 
dead, but could see you shopping

across the median on Broadway…

Read More

Statistically Speaking by Emdash,
AKA Emily Lu Gao

Read More

Your Name by Tamara Nasution

The perfect three-syllable word in a sensual
              curve of six alphabets: azalea, chakra,
tundra. It means nothing in your language and
              everything in mine….

Read More

For Me–Desideratum by Amy S. Lerman

I carry it like an Epipen, this phrase that’s zippered
into my purse pocket, a graduate class residual
extracted only when no transliteration or alternate 
diction works. What patience these two, gray-blue 
words have evinced, sentenced at times to years 
of dormancy, like the too-heavy-to use crystal… 

Read More

Categories
poetry

Declarations of Hunger by Reed Smith

Declarations of Hunger | Reed Smith

                        after A. E. Backus

He paints a bird and a snake. 
                        It is midday 
in a field. One glistens cruelly. One tries not
to give itself away.

The fractal swath of deliverance
glitters in the ocean’s current. 

Wind hammers inside the echo chamber’s hood.

Wings, like dusty Sanskrit, blur. 

They tangle in a whisper.
A heron becomes a wren. A rock becomes a weed. 
The grass shakes its sequined blades.

Declarations of hunger have been made. 

 

About the Author:

Reed Smith’s debut book of poetry, Declarations of Hunger, is forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press. Originally from Texas, he went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and currently cares for Covid patients in nursing homes near Miami, Florida.

Categories
poetry

Felis Ellipses by Jack Phillips

Felis Ellipses | Jack Phillips

Cat tracks make ellipses on snow like a poem when they stop the silence goes deeper. Funny that Felis Rufus slinks up frozen creek beds passing unseen and that our un-bobcat-like stomp and skitter finds around each bend her spoor. We take our prompts from native snow-poems seeking to or wanting to believe that we can move trackless make art that begins to vanish on the making; write inside-out verses deeply arising from this place that stiffly takes our feet. We will never become native here, never bones and blood by this land woven and flow. Only by longing do we belong by wildnesses here our souls awakened become the creatures that once we were by the ephemeral traces we make.

 

About the Author:

Jack Phillips is a naturalist, poet, nature writer, and founder of The Naturalist School, a nonprofit organization devoted to poetic wildness and the consilience of creativity and ecology.  He is author of The Bur Oak Manifesto: Seeking Nature and Planting Trees in the Great Plains and co-editor of Natural Treasures of the Great Plains: an Ecological Perspective (with Paul Johnsgard and Tom Lynch). His poetry has appeared in Wild Roof, Flora Fiction, EcoTheo, The Closed Eye Open, Canary: a Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis, and THE POET.  He lives in the Missouri River watershed of eastern Nebraska.

Categories
poetry

A Question of Ownership by Ellen June Wright

A Question of Ownership | Ellen June Wright

Apostrophe I

If I say you’re mine 
as in I own you, 
I want to own you, 
to possess you—
is that love or 
something darker?

Apostrophe II

If when you die 
you leave everything behind 
did you ever really own anything 
or did all those things own you 
until they were done with you?

Apostrophe III

When a man owns another man 
enslaves him for life and his children 
and his children’s children 
is that a type of twisted love? 

Is obsession with the other 
with the dark stranger 
the sinewy foreigner passion?

If you’re compelled to mix 
your bloodline 
with your black slaves’ 
bloodline 
are you owned for eternity?

When you sell your child 
are you selling a part 
of yourself you will 
never get back?

If I am yours 
and we are bound together 
when will it ever end? 

 

About the Author:

Ellen June Wright was born in England of West Indian parents and immigrated to the United States as a child. She taught high-school language arts in New Jersey for three decades before retiring. She has consulted on guides for three PBS poetry series. Her work was selected as The Missouri Review’s Poem of the Week in June 2021. She was a finalist in the Gulf Stream 2020 summer poetry contest and is a founding member of Poets of Color virtual poetry workshop and recently received four 2021 Pushcart Prize Nominations for poetry.

Categories
poetry

What They Carried With Them by Ellen June Wright

What They Carried With Them | Ellen June Wright

They carried everything one can bring 
             when one can bring nothing.

They carried everything they knew:
             languages and dialects, songs mothers taught them

as babes and early blues sang as prisoners of war,
             memories of their home’s terrain: mountains

and valleys, grasslands and vast lands,
             recipes for how to cook everything

they had ever eaten—recipes locked inside 
             of how to prepare these peas, that rice grain.

How to stew this meat and for how many hours.
             What they brought with them was everything

they were—not material. They brought their culture.
             The part that mattered: religions and mathematics

and knowledge of healing locked inside plant and bark,
             knowledge of the stars, memories of love and family,

children and grandchildren, parents left behind
             homes they would never see again.

What they brought with them was everything
             that one can carry when one is in fetters

the seeds of children to be born in exile.
             What they brought with them was everything

that one can bring when one can bring nothing
             but one’s genius for survival.

 

About the Author:

Ellen June Wright was born in England of West Indian parents and immigrated to the United States as a child. She taught high-school language arts in New Jersey for three decades before retiring. She has consulted on guides for three PBS poetry series. Her work was selected as The Missouri Review’s Poem of the Week in June 2021. She was a finalist in the Gulf Stream 2020 summer poetry contest and is a founding member of Poets of Color virtual poetry workshop and recently received four 2021 Pushcart Prize Nominations for poetry.