Category: Virtual Public Workshops

Counting Coconut Blessings

by Sowmya Swaminathan

If you eat lady’s fingers, you will be incredible at solving math problems. There’s obviously no scientific research to prove this because this is a juicy myth that originated in India, specifically in our southern communities that have historically valued logic and rational thought, and have fervently passed on this tasty myth across generations.

I wonder what mythical qualities our other foods have. What is a vegetable that I need to hunt down to be good at say, arts or humanities? Is it perhaps coconut, which is not even a vegetable in the first place? Wikipedia calls it a fruit but it feels wrong to box up a superfood inside a restrictive label.

Every afternoon this year, my mother has woken up to grate and grind up a coconut to extract its milk. She then adds cardamom and jaggery to it and allows the mixture to be its glorious self for a few hours. The coconut milk dissolves the hard as nails jaggery till it gives up and floats around without a fight.
I drink this liquid every evening, hoping against hope that it will be a balm for my shriveled insides. I pray that it rights whatever went abysmally wrong with my wounded gut. I pray that this white substance brings emotional moisture to my hardened spirit. I pray that it brings back my fight. I pray that it makes me hard as nails again.

It is nuts that it took a pandemic for me to put my faith back into this magical object when it has humbly and mutely been a part of my life for so long.

My mother has added grated coconut to nearly every meal she has made in my living memory. Every guest who crossed our homely threshold on a festive occasion has never gone home empty handed. We made sure it was filled to the brim with coconuts. I have smashed coconuts into the skull of a man-child who mercilessly ghosted me in my 20s. Oh, wait — that one must have happened in a dream. My father broke a coconut shell open outside a Ganesha temple on the day I became a topper in my grade 12 math exam.

It’s now time to rewrite our juicy myths.

Kettle Steam Promise (& other poems)

by Victoria Ruiz

Tennessee, 1918
two trains collide head-on
in The Great Trainwreck.

How to account for the hurry,
visibility- fathers boarding for work
metal  clam-latched lunch boxes just filled-
mothers at home, making chamomile tea as the kettle blows.

Goodbyes last as long as they are remembered.

Wreck into me like that-
hungry and packed.
Miss the warnings tracked
in protocol.

Take me off radar with the thrust
only an engine could give.

We are either moving toward or away
from our next destination in fury or
reticent sorrow.

Be the fever that splurges nearly too late.
Be the platform runner catching the express-
in opposite direction.

Somewhere, a conductor pulls the horn
in kettle steam promise that we will
arrive just in time.

 

Suburban Aisles

This is suburbia.
White and divided
aggregate salt brined winter
roads bowed in neighborhood
plots engineered
to spill rain into gutter.

The place window boxes adorn closed
homes and driveways tilt
and hedges grow
and lawns are mowed
and we seed the grass
and we water
the grass
and the mail comes predictable

by noon.

It is Saturday, we are searching
for screws through bins and boxes
of interior and exterior
screws.

I break to where the flowers live in recycled
trays- olfactory paths swept
in scent and growth.
We pay dearly to be reminded
of love in this way.

We make due with longevity
and promise in separate aisles
as we search and we screw
in a garden made from the love
that we’ve found along the salted
and divided highways home.

 

Takotsubo Heart

There are so many drab houses on my block-
tentacle vines and road cracks.
I am out of love poems. Today,

the sky is purging its line first with rain secondly,
snow. Spring is 118 days away. I am

remembering the time you held my hand, traced my thumb.
First date- blindness is a skill tracing damp in the bones.

How to let the sun blind you opposable and fertile.

I am octopus and takotsubo heart-
inkblot gone mad.

Apartment 13M

by Vanessa-Renee Mical

The number thirteen is supposed to be unlucky. Maybe it is. In our apartment, 13M, when I learned that “M” was the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, it seemed accurate to me, growing up constantly reminded that we were twice as unlucky. But maybe there is just as much magic in a curse as in a wish upon a star. Maybe they are the same, depending on how much time you allow yourself to look at them. And maybe, if you have already been spinning out of control, when the world turns upside down, it lands you safely back upon your feet.

By the time I got home on election night, I was inconsolable, and you were the last person I wanted to see. At that point, we weren’t speaking, tired of using each other as props to claw our way out of our own mental illnesses. I was sure that I never wanted to speak to you again. It had been so many years since 13M. But there you were, watching the election returns on my couch with Chris, my brother and roommate, and there wasn’t time to say much before Donald Trump took the stage to declare victory. We couldn’t have known at the time that although this moment would be a ripple that would tear through other families, it would be the thing that would bring us back together. And by the time the morning light hit my face, after fitful hours of crying because my country had betrayed me, you held me again, just like the first time after I exited your womb.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, of course. Before I came home on election night, I was with two of my best friends from childhood. We were filled with champagne and confidence, ready to celebrate the first woman elected president together. As sure as I was then that I was never going to speak to you again, I would have sworn that these women, my chosen family, would be in my life forever. I called them my soulmates. Their kids called me auntie. So much can change in four years.

The cracks were small at first, after all they both voted for Hillary. Both claimed to be feminists. But they are white and privileged, and soon to expose a couple of things to me, about how someone like Trump doesn’t win an election without a million tiny excuses that lead the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The truth is, they probably revealed themselves sooner, but I just wasn’t paying attention. Before long, it would be crystal clear that they either didn’t really believe Black lives mattered, at least not to the extent that would require any real sacrifice on their part, or would be perfectly fine letting their husband’s argue that All Lives Mattered for contrarian’s sake. They were just “asking questions”, after all. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t handle a little healthy debate? It shouldn’t have surprised me, as it did, that they would also excuse violence at the hands of these men. That they would stop calling me, texting me, until it felt like we never knew each other at all. That I would quickly come to believe it is better this way, for how long can you surround yourself with toxicity before it starts to penetrate and metastasize your last healthy cells.

Friendship lost is a grief that I am still struggling to understand. It hurts worse than any heartbreak from an old lover. But the further I get from them, the closer I get to you. The time that I spent texting them is time I now get to text you. I thought I would be marching in the streets with them, but instead, the marches helped me find my way back to you. You have been right about so much. You saw all of the things I didn’t see coming. You tried to warn me. I am sorry that it took so long for me to listen. As the world falls apart around us, we forged a path for ourselves out of the ashes. I am no longer ashamed to be just like you, Mom. I see now that it is what has helped me survive. And now, together, we begin to march on.

HAVING NIGHTS WITH YOU (& other poems)

by Vanessa DeWolf

We meet in our dimly lit bathroom
two full bladders, two empty glasses
orange bathroom not primed—-> 6 layers of orange latex over that green-gray —-> brushes rinsed 2am, year 2000
the moon hovers over our quiet pale __________________________ I could be waiting
nudity, shoulders point-touch, naked, the sound ________ for the day, on my back
of running water & spiraling bar-soap in hands. _______ heat off you & your rumble
Clean towels from laundry
IF I BAKE AN APPLE TART TOMORROW ______the bedroom more on my mind than yours
To eat an apple tart with you _____________________ when you cross your hands on my crown
look over forks/mouth the ________________________ and mine softly rest on the sheet↩︎
tart apples/space between us ____________________ then on side of your chest-rhythm __________ I could get lost
maple leaf/mountain now snow-peaked ______________________________________________________ in dreaming [sigh]
and piles of soft fallen yellow———underfoot __________________________________________in bed/sinking in & down
You swallow your last bite long after my devouring
Then the television-lights-screens all dark _______________________________ >TO HAVE ANOTHER NIGHT WITH YOU <
In bed a fleeting of my orphan state and your fatherless one /bittersweet mixture of once-were-children/two bodies
here next to you like a fading bedsheet-stain——————————————> SALTY, PERMANENT, SPILLING, HISTORICAL
& non-alkaline/// I close my eyes/// WHOLE ROMANESCO———————> Fractal green cauliflower! I’m roasting
vegetable dinner ___________________________________________________________ > MY LEFT HAND RESTS ON YOUR RIGHT HIP
________________________________________________________________________________ ANOTHER NIGHT WITH YOU <

 

 

VERISIMILITUDE IS NOT A PLACE TO HIDE

We are taking photographs on a trip. It’s okay we think, we’ve done this before.  We’ll use our phones, keep that kind of distance, be tourists. We are anonymous and the place is famous, so every inch is both in our imagination and out there. /// She’s been in and out of here all her life.  A feather or a shell she carries.  The kind of carapace that prevents it from being a symbol, it’s a storage unit or some unavoidable bitter smell, the sweetness all evaporated. And how far away is it for her? /// Impressive cupolas and gingerbread details in a blue, so blue sky. Shutterless. Sprocketless. Not a single –click-advances our film.  We are the smartphone duet of poses and posing distracted by the task of framing. /// She is in unfortunate clothing, a size too small, too tight, digging in.  Her mascara is precise, eyeliner hides her wings. The bite.  She is unphotogenic because she does not want to be accidental background.  /// You can’t tell on this kind of day where danger might be. Danger doesn’t even know it’s dangerous. /// She’s holding in her flab with the strength of her jaw.  She is trying to breathe. /// We are lost. She is lost. /// We drop one phone, shatter screen.  We drop the phone as we escape, as we notice basements & attics, as the rise of secrets—————-actual living that causes us to run. We’ve been recognized. We, fugitives, are most afraid of recognition. /// Not guns, but phone pings + GPS identifications and this. .  . this pale blue sky in victorian town, demolishes from its symbol & our imagination. /// We were named too truly.

The Reluctant Informant

by t. jahan

Alvi sat in front of his typewriter. Calls for prayer travelled into his office through the wooden window that never seemed to shut. He had dealt with his correspondence for the day. His staff were left to their own devices writing editorials and sifting through submissions of poetry and short stories that seemed to grow in number. Political events were often left to the bigger newspapers. They got their information right from the source: government officials and local politicians. But Alvi knew there would be no one reporting on what he had witnessed on the train tracks—the rice smuggling and bargaining.

What would be the right thing to do? He contemplated and watched a dusty spider circle itself on a window pane. To report the truth. But what was the truth? Where did the rice come from? Where was the train going?

Alvi leaned back into his chair, craving tobacco. It had been weeks since his lips had tasted some. He shivered as the craving creeped into his body and the reminder of justice and One-ness continued to sound in the crowded streets.

How could he find out what was happening on the train? Was it all innocent? Or simply the way things are done? As corrupt as it may be, it may be foolish to disturb the status quo.

He looked around the office with a cynical aura. What started off as a curious venture, now became a means to roll out tacky advertisements. Tapping his foot, he finally decided to give Ahilan a call. Ahilan had given his office number before leaving the other night. Perhaps out of courtesy, Alvi thought, as he extracted the slip of paper from his wallet. But, Alvi reasoned, to take the offer and call was a consequence that Ahilan should be well aware of.

Alvi closed his office door and looked out the window. He saw rikshaw drivers taking a smoke break. Hawkers were selling fried lentil pancakes, re-using the oil from the morning; puffed rice shook against jute baskets. Distinct smells of betel leaves and standing rainwater wafted into his office. He inhaled, picked up the receiver, started ringing the numbers clockwise, and waited for the wheel to return to zero.

“Afternoon, Ahilan Azad speaking,” a deep voice spoke.

Alvi replied quickly, “Hello Bhaiya, assalamu-alaikum. Kabir’s father, Alvi.”

“Oh!” Ahilan said in surprise.

Upon comprehension, Ahilan followed with the Islamic response.

“Is this a good time? Hope I’m not disturbing you,” Alvi said, a small plea in his voice.

“Well…”

Ahilan looked at his desk littered with various letters from those of higher ranks. His life had become much more administrative following the war and found that he would never see the end. Admitting this to himself, he bargained that this call would set him behind on things that were already far, far behind.

“For you, I have time,” he continued after putting his thoughts in order.

Alvi shifted in his seat with excitement. “Well, Brother, I find that I should report on what I saw. You remember, of course, that night I came late for dinner. Those men, those policemen, they were clearly taking bribes to let the train pass.”

Ahilan’s forehead wrinkled in resistance but he chose silence. His role was not yet clear.

Alvi thought aloud, “I would need to know where that train was going. Hmm, it would be hard to track that record. Certainly, not on schedule. Tell me, Brother, could we find out which policemen patrol the area by the track?”

Ahilan was at a loss for words. What Alvi wanted may imply Ahilan as obstructing whatever the situation might be. He fiddled with a gold pen an army-mate gifted him before being transferred to another district.

The army and the police were united in that they held force and power. It was a strange and necessary relationship that Ahilan found he must navigate because with power comes struggles, comes testing, comes exercise.

Alvi nudged, “Well, Brother? Is it possible?”

Should Ahilan concede, perhaps Alvi would leave him be. It may also end up catalyzing the journalist.

Regardless, Ahilan would have to leave behind footprints to gain the intelligence.

Ahilan did not always have a hesitant disposition when it came to policemen, or any authority figure. It had often gotten him in trouble when he was a scrappy village kid wanting to follow in his brother’s struggle for freedom.

The reluctant informant trembled out his answer, “Ji, Brother. It is possible.” To this Alvi expressed his relief and excitement with a laugh as if tickled.

They initiated goodbyes soon after. Ahilan heard an explosive click in the phone indicating a momentary pause in their connection. He slowly laid the receiver carefully into its place and dazed at the numbers running clockwise.

Shadows (& other poems)

by T’challa Williams

Nobody likes darkness. It’s the one place you cannot see;
cannot easily balance, because your senses are jilted.

My senses are always jilted.

Always picking up on broken hearts, and broken minds.

I can smell rage before approach as if I were a pheromone,

flaring my nostrils and making my blood simmer.

But I’m not angry. The person next to me is. All the world is

cloaked in emotion and my entire nervous system is exposed

on my flesh.

Breathing with the depressed,

suffocating with the anxious.

But in darkness, I am draped in acceptance.

Each curve of density hugs my disproportions and celebrates

my fluff. My voice takes center stage and bellows in the emptiness

searching for a wall to fight.

My smile is wide and there are no eyes commenting in

facial contortions about my missing tooth.

I am beautiful in darkness.

A confident goddess, walking barefoot on the world’s emotions.

Spitting in the eyes of pity

I feed my power encased in the unknown;

embraced by knowledge unmeasured

I am truly a treasure

Breastplate of opulence

Radiant as the sun

My soul shines in shadows; applauded by what so many fear

Yet I hold dear

Loving all that I encompass, In this unforeseeable night

A confidence plight

Only visible

In the absence of light.

 

 

Green

I’d rather be seen in green,

Than dead,

in red!

Not puke green,

but Emerald City green

Not green with envy,

but I can Oscar the grouch!

I ain’t no slouch, more like

Kermit Thee Frog here,

on the scene

Mean, lean,

injustice fighting machine

Advocate of the feminine

And most likely, one of your favorite friends

I don’t wanna get in between your goals and things

I’m green like nature in spring

Full of life and seeds and rare breeds

I be,

growing and stretching

Catching lessons,

But, you c

Can catch these hands

If you betray me on my land

I love unmeasured, but will slaughter and untether

Abusers, users and constant accusers

I am green and keen like the Incredible Hulk

I am Bruce Banner,

trying to get home

Silence.

by TSMorrow

SMACK and then the subsequent whisper. The hard contact of palm to face, she flinches, neck snapped to the left and a cry. I can feel her pain, no tears but the sound of flesh meeting resistance and the realization of ‘again.’

“O, God.” I step towards her with outstretched arms for comfort and to intervene but she spins towards me and vehemently whispers, “Get back, GO!”

“But Mom.”

Her head snapped back as he yanked her silver silky coils. She reached for the doorframe with one hand and cupped the base of her neck with the other.

Her eyes tightly closed, she bit her lip so hard I could see the raggedy impression left by the bottom ridges.

I had been told to “go” and I knew what that meant: to go, to leave it be, go back to my room—stay safe.

But Mom.

Like wood splintering, his fists a sharp blade inflicting cuts.

Crack

Slap

Smack

Hit

Strike

But I ignore the sounds intently listening for my mother’s soft alto voice—not a groan, a whimper or stir.

“Mom”

“Mom!”

Silence.

I retreat into the hallway and feel the cool floor beneath my feet—I’m surprised by the touch.

Silence.

Silence still it was deafening, hollow. Then the left foot recoils, the right leg kicks, my arms swing out, my chest expanding, breath heavy as I sprint—running toward the absence of sound—the gap between my mother and I and directly into the storm.

Fly

by Rhema

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, she became a butterfly.
Just when she felt like this was all she’d ever be, she began soaring the skies.
The beauty in every phase of her transformation, though not at that time understood, the butterfly she’s become now demanded it.
Flying from flower to flower in all of her glory, reaping the beauty of what she’s become she now understands it.
There’s a process to growing… a process to becoming what it is that you’re meant to be.
That sometimes right at the brink of it… just when you think it’s the end… that’s when you begin to live.

Let Go

by Rhema

She laid on his chest as he stroked her hair. They lay bare in contentment as the sun began to rise, sleep looming over them. He’d be shortly snoring but she … she would lie awake soaking in the feeling of his big arms wrapped around the small of her back. The beating of his heart crashing against her ears as his harsh breathing slows to a steady rest. She’d soak in this moment as it could be their last, of him holding her as if he meant it. The sweet nothings he whispered in the heat of it. The taste of sincerity on his lips with each stroke promising that this time won’t be their last. That this time they will make it work, and forget about their foolish past. But of course she knew better. The peaceful look on his face as he sleeps, while stroking his beard she’ll wonder how can such a handsome man be a grade ‘A’ ass? She’ll lay there in satisfaction for a few. May even drift off after a while, dreaming of a day where he’s actually hers. She’ll awake eventually. Kiss him goodbye and be on her way … with that memory holding on until they should meet again. Becoming faint with each day that passes … until it’s only but a whisper telling her to let go.

In the Distance

by Sarah Marie

In the distance, when the sun meets the horizon on a painting that someone took in a drink and draw class, she (she was a she) learned about simple distinctions which are part of modernity.

Gloria was alone that evening wanting to separate herself from the rows of brownstones in her new found freeing life. At 26 or 36 she was alone before that in her kitchen doing bare essentials questioning when she should get dressed.

Listening to a song about an old lover who ditched her while owning an orange scarf and the woman counting her espresso clouds while her plane took off.

Her teddy bear stood at the end of a long white island with too many cabinets. It appeared candid and intellectual a guy with many experiences.

Her calves ached from not being cared for in a bit and she decided to push herself to make some meaning.

A guy with a four leaf clover in his hand was next to her as well as a woman from Parsons. She wasn’t parsimonious. He wasn’t getting lucky. She bought more glasses of wine. They did their contrived sunset.

They breathed in the rules and mannerisms of the game.

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