Similar Differences

you’d walk to lectures or when afterward to church,
your toddler son in the angle of your arm,
she’d tell you to slow down a bit
and you’d tell her to pick up a bit, you had no time
and you’d turn to watch the watery salt breaking on her
forehead like the inside of a pot lid steaming
as she tried to keep herself by your side

today she says you should try to pick up with the
medications too. Come on faster, she says, you’re
wasting doctor’s time and you cannot tell her
your cane is not enough to support you though when you
make the signal she waits so you can lean on her
because she is still strong, because she is a
finished pottery and you are ice when the sun is age

Gabriel Etim writes from Nigeria. He has been previously published in Praxis Magazine.

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Family Knots

As in ties that bind, nests that cradle, nets that trap, connections we weave, places to untangle.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are approaching fast – those holidays made up to remind us of obligations and sell us things to acknowledge them. Or, less often, an opportunity to have a special moment of gratitude for a parent we’re on good terms with. One more way to gauge the depth of our relations, or the strength of our disguise. It’s a complicated thing, family.

Most every queer person I know has lost at least one member of their family of origin for the simple fact of being who they are. That truth of them – their intimate relationships and ways of being in the world. The truth that, were it a heterosexual truth, would be a source of praise and connection, and proof of belonging, but it’s not, so instead it is an eviction notice. A judgment day. A long silence. A conversation made up of the weather, and maybe sports, or gardening.

Blood is thicker than water. Family comes first. Respect your elders. Father knows best. I brought you into this world. It’s for your own good. How could you do this to me? Not while you’re living under my roof. This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.

The world is full of mythology about family. What it means, what is owed, and whether love or guilt or duty is the currency in play. I have seen all manner of ugly interactions between people who are in a family together, seen them fold it into their skins like scar tissue and keep going. Rubbing it quietly at holidays and family gatherings like an ache that lives near the bone. I’ve also seen great beauty and respect in families, seen honesty and vulnerability and trust and joy.

Like my own family, which has been a combination of DNA and circumstance and choices from the beginning. My mother and I, her mother and siblings, their circle of friends, all the partners any of us has ever taken (unless they opt out, or are abusive), siblings and cousins and neighbors and orphans and outlaws. I count my family as one of my greatest gifts, try to share it with friends whenever possible, work hard to keep lines of communication open, to grow together as adults.

It’s not like I make it easy for them. I am a queer loudmouth agitator. I am shameless and strange and a sex educator. I am happily fat and femme and working class and bearded and poly. I look folks right in the eye and talk about hard stuff, point out places that maybe don’t align with their highest truth, ask questions they maybe weren’t ready to ask themselves. Gently. It’s who I am in the world, and it’s at least partly how my family raised me. Who they are and how we were and how we are together help shape me, over and over. Give me examples to live up to, and places to push back against. Inspire me to find definitions for words that aren’t as universal as we thought. Give us all a chance to grow more.

Despite this, most of them have opted in to a genuine connection with me. When I talk to other queers about my family, I often see unshed tears, a tensing of the skin that I know hides a yearning. A disbelief smoothed into courtesy. The concept of a family that not only accepts, but also respects and loves me for exactly who I am and what I do is like a fairy tale. I am unbelievably lucky, and it breaks my heart. That this should be an exception of such magnitude. That my people have such a depth of hunger and loneliness and rejection that leaves us fractured like crystal. Shining and sharp-edged and fragile to a blow at unexpected angles.

I think this is part of why building family is so important to so many of us. Why we bond with friends and even ex-lovers so tightly. Why we join groups and teams and boards and churches and weave them into a net to sieve out the ones who feel familiar and interesting and safe. We are pack animals, alone in our own heads, in a world that wants us to be just like them, or invisible, or dead.

If family is the means by which we tie ourselves together, then knots are inevitable. Our paths cross and diverge and intertwine. We share space and language, memories and resources and names. Debt and gratitude and sorrow and passion. Loss and hope. Anger. Laughter. Love.

If knots are inevitable, then we must learn which ones weave us stronger, and which ones bind our roots. Sometimes those cords, sunk deep into our hearts and navels, need to be cut so we can grow. Sometimes they fray and need tending, careful stitches on intricate patchwork.

I am learning how to recognize family that is not just a noun, but also a verb. I have become unwilling to ignore the contradiction between loving me, but supporting politics or religion that would happily erase me. Diplomacy I will give freely, even kindness, but access is earned, just like respect. A family worth being a part of is worth the time and work, worth being patient and present and honest and kind. I don’t want the false safety of shallow waters, I want to dive deep. I want to be seen.

I cannot say what anyone else should do about family, but I do hope we can all find one that treasures us just as we are.

This is a reprint of work originally published in PQ Monthly.

Sossity Chiricuzio is a queer femme outlaw poet, a working class crip storyteller. What her friends’ parents often referred to as a bad influence, and possibly still do. A 2015 Lambda Fellow, she writes as activism, connection, and survival, and is found in places like Adrienne, NANO fiction, and Lunch Ticket. More info: http://sossitywrites.com.

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Stateside

On Mondays, we eat Chinese food and pray
for sleep to come fast and well. When it does

we drift off with bellies full of noodles instead
of fish eyes or cash, green that balls up inside

and makes me ill. When I was young I split
cookies with my tongue and swallowed the

thin slips of paper like penance, maybe for
the orange peel I opened like a rose, maybe for

the white wings of the takeout boxes that folded
up like swans. Wooden chopsticks, oil

drippings – I hungered for it all. Even the receipts
Peter Choy marked down by hand – out of pity

or love, I couldn’t tell. Now Peter lives above
the store and writes the fortunes by hand.

I keep the rice paper pinned above my bed,
all the ink I can’t read, strange as butterflies.

Strange as the lanterns that swim the ceilings
like rivers of fish. Strange as the old woman

at the factory years ago, winter in San Francisco,
with her basket of broken chips. The one I took

was as papery and round as the moon.
In the dim she grasped my hand and asked

Do you see now? Do you see?

Eliza Browning is a seventeen-year-old high school senior from Connecticut. She is the editor-in-chief of her school literary magazine, Sidetrax, and the founder of the Janus Review, an online publication aimed at promoting diversity in the arts and amplifying the voices of high school and college students. Her work has been recognized by Hollins University and College Xpress.

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Bennington

At the line where the land meets the sea there’s nothing,
not even a pocket of smoke for my fingers to latch on to.

I trace the edges of the skylight with my tongue,
try to fit in words for bird and space and bleed.

I can feel the time passing. Once on a mountain
in Vermont a boy picked up my dropped ski pole

and handed it to me. Once a girl who slept below
the shore of Lake Michigan sent me letters

postmarked St. Paul and Alberta. The trees form a fence
and surround us. Like Halley’s Comet they know the way,

are liable to circle around again until we get what’s
owed. In your father’s old shirt you are faultless,

unsure, and the first open mouth on yours has sold you
an unshakable force: it leaves you wanting more and

more of it. A goose cuts through the whiteness overhead.
The acrid smell of earth and tree-rot. In the leaf litter,

something tries to hide its own heartbeat.

Eliza Browning is a seventeen-year-old high school senior from Connecticut. She is the editor-in-chief of her school literary magazine, Sidetrax, and the founder of the Janus Review, an online publication aimed at promoting diversity in the arts and amplifying the voices of high school and college students. Her work has been recognized by Hollins University and College Xpress.

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In Western Mass

When you leave the rain starts up again.
Here’s the thing about despair – it just sits there, unblinking.

On the green Chinese rug in the living room.
In its own baby-sized coffin in the parlor.

In the kitchen with a coffee cup, army-green uniform,
watching the snow fall. Snowfall: an empty, quiet word.

A whisper of the things we long ago dreamed on.
Lying awake in a barren crib. Walking around the house,

counting your footsteps in each corner.
The silver purr of the radiator. I think of all the days behind us

rippling into history. In the spare room, lace curtains
at the window, eiderdown on the bed. White weddings.

Rocking chairs. Friends growing old and dying,
babies being born and starting again. Children asking,

What is life? The spinster of an aunt, all of twenty-six,
answering. Privation. Austerity. Loss.

Eliza Browning is a seventeen-year-old high school senior from Connecticut. She is the editor-in-chief of her school literary magazine, Sidetrax, and the founder of the Janus Review, an online publication aimed at promoting diversity in the arts and amplifying the voices of high school and college students. Her work has been recognized by Hollins University and College Xpress.

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Recognition

There were too many dogs in the room. The call came in from the hospital: her grandmother had passed.

Her mother must have gotten the call too; she dialed her right away. She wouldn’t ask.

Light moved into the room. Milo had nosed the door open to leave, and she had forgotten to turn off the light in the hall.

Bax stayed put, not approaching her hand, but not giving up yet. There was space up there on the bed. The apartment was cold and she cut his hair too early. Spring was not here. Besides, he liked it when he stretched long and she stretched long, and he placed his back against her leg and leaned into her. That way he could tell if she woke up and moved. He could tell if she had left.

In the place before he had to back against a crate’s enameled metal. Nothing around him was stable. The crate did not support him—he could feel the space he pressed into between the bars. He could smell the people when they left.

Her grandmother had dementia. Seven years of disappearing from herself. One of the first Christmases she told her family she was leaving for the West Coast by herself. One of the last she didn’t talk at all.

It was for the best, her mother said. It was time.

Jackie, who had been her grandmother’s dog, pressed into her body.

Her mother told her animals are conscious, they have memories. She said this before other people like her said it. Even now, they brought their dogs to the closet mirror together, and they watched how their dogs watched themselves. Milo was nearly eight, and had seen the mirror many times. He pressed his cold feeling nose into his cold unfeeling nose, and if he did this more than once, he could obscure his vision of himself.

She didn’t know who she was anymore, hadn’t for years, she said to her mother. Perhaps she could again, wherever she was. Her mother agreed, perhaps without agreeing, and said good night.

When she was little, her mother would come to her room before she slept, and they told stories back and forth about their dogs’ lives. Lady had three puppies they had never seen because she kept them in the closet. This closet had a portal—a door opened on the other end and Lady took her puppies anywhere, everywhere they desired.

Her mother took her to her favorite café sometimes, usually just one weekend a month. There they heated the chocolate so hot she had to wait ten minutes to start, else she’d be scalded. When she forgot and drank too early, besides the burn, she noticed that the milk felt thinner, closer to water.

Someday, she will take her son to a different café in a different state. He will want hot chocolate and she will order it for him, even though he’s really too young to drink it. She’ll wait at the other end of the café after paying, her son on her hip. He will be getting too heavy by then—she will jut her hip out and feel the muscle stretch over bone to hold him. When the barista hands her his drink, her son will bounce from excitement and she’ll almost drop the drink. She will hold it far out, in case he bounces again, so that the movement tips it onto her hand and not onto him.

They will choose the best table open and sit down. She will get his toys out so he doesn’t have the impression of waiting as his drink cools. He will drink the hot chocolate, and he will say he loves it, but will be unable to finish it. She will hold his stuffed dog as he drinks, so that she can hand it to him when he says he’s done. She will watch him play as she sips the rest of his drink. Her heart will ache.

Natalie Gerich Brabson is currently a student in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work was published in New World Writing, and was included in Go On Girl! Book Club’s Magajournal as the 2017 Unpublished Writer Awardee.

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How Little I Know of Death

I wrote the letter today. The one that holds
your son, his limp body, oh
no letter could buoy
the blue jammies he wore
in your beaten arms.

This letter holds
a few wild buttercups
I found with faint hope.
They will bend too. For a few
bright days they grew.

Deborah Bacharach is the author of After I Stop Lying (Cherry Grove Collections, 2015). Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Blue Mesa Review, Ilanot Review, Global Geneva, CALYX, and New Letters, among many others. Find out more about her at http://www.deborahbacharach.com.

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