by Brittany Adames

Yesterday, like Honey

There is not enough room for sadness, here.

Not even our arms pulped with each other can

make God limitless. Do you remember this?

Abuela’s hands, wired with freckle & bone &

time, how she waved in a way that meant

the strawberries have begun to rot. I understood,

then. I know who God is. I know how to

remember death in its final form before

asking, Can you help me? Can you fucking

                                               help me?

The casket drifts upwards. A memory lives  

long enough to cradle us to sleep

before answering to the bend itself. Yes,

we remade this world to learn to devastate

again. Not even the yellows frothing our mouths

can make us shadowless. God listens—our

drawls so languid it almost sounds like a song.

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Brittany Adames is a Dominican-American writer. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and featured in Vagabond City, Blue Marble Review, Rust+Moth, TRACK//FOUR, and elsewhere. She graduated with a degree in Writing, Literature, Publishing from Emerson College.

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by Liv Ryan

The Day Begins with Garbage Trucks

the day begins with garbage trucks
the flapping mouth of a door
chops unlicked

like always, you get up before me
tongue click of closing

              a hallway brings you to its hinges
              time moves in strangled vibrations
              a new season’s slippery hold
              bite of morning gives to bathwater warm

your body on the left side
stretching the sheet drum tight
smack of sex
out the window, a car glides
shadow pooling
liquid in the cracks

the girl in me grows uneasy
begins to glimpse the things I could only sense with a turned back
I feel the dark put its fingers on me
hear the kitchen’s whine
ticking pulse
a trap working his wire jaws

wake to find I’d spread onto the empty side
the worst dream is the one I have over and over:
my throat filling with silt, organs erupting
splintering bone

              a secret shame (but not my greatest)
              is that every diary becomes a food log

                                          another: I smelled your shirt once you’d left
                                          milky, clean, and a color

in thick afternoon
I stumbled through a dusty flea market
and touched every ring in its velvet tomb
the owner, getting edgy
in an attempt to close
              for $20 you can get one that you love
              and one that fits

nothing can satisfy both
alone with night’s metronome
I held the mug to my chest
gasped at the animal warmth,
if I close my eyes, a fitful red palm
I kept it there till it went cold

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An emerging writer, Liv Ryan’s work has appeared in the Academy of American PoetsPoints in Case, and Refinery29. In 2018 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets' College and University prize. She lives and works in New York City.

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by Brian Chander Wiora

Egg Salad

One day you may be asked,

if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good,

then why is there evil in the world?

Then, someone may add that, as a child,

you do not realize you are also watching

your parents grow up with you. Outside,

the slow shadow of evening turns on the city lights

in one swift motion, as you consider

whether nothing is the absence

of being, or another form of being

we cannot see. You will enter

a linoleum restaurant with plaid chairs,

the customers pretending to read the menu.

Do they see the same colors that you see,

or is what they call red, you call blue?

The waitress makes dream circles

with a wet dish rag. Because of this motion,

the table is dry, which leaves you to wonder

if water itself is wet. She approaches your table

with her pad of thin paper and worn out pen,

to ask what you want. How do you know

what you want, when there is so much desire

in this world? Do you want tuna on toast

or do you want to want it? Maybe

you shouldn’t have taken that philosophy class.

Maybe you should close your eyes, and order

the first thing your finger lands on.

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 Brian Chander Wiora is an Indian-American poet from Dallas, Texas. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Literary Review, The McNeese Review, The Florida Review, Gulf Stream Magazine, and other places. He graduated with an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University in 2020, where he received the Creative Writing Teaching Fellowship.

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by Daien Guo

Chamber Music

The first year we played the Beethoven Ghost Trio. The second year we played the Archduke. The third year you graduated, and I studied abroad. The fourth year you lingered in my brain like a tumor. We never kissed. We never hooked up. It was college of course. Maybe other people were having a lot of sex, but all I felt was pain.

You were not handsome. Your face was broad and opaque with prominent cheekbones. You often tucked a pencil behind your right ear. You had terrible posture. You were slightly chubby. To offset how exquisitely you played the cello, you were always late and sometimes you didn’t show up at all. Fed up with your truancy, I once wrote you an indignant email in which I threatened to cut off your nose and make you drown in your own blood. I did not know how to flirt. Maybe I went a little nuts.

Your mother came to our first performance at the end of the fall semester. She was an anesthesiologist from New Jersey and drove up four hours just for you. She sat in the back row holding a camcorder, which must have been deeply humiliating. I complimented her on her Burberry jacket.

“All Koreans wear Burberry,” you muttered dismissively.

She invited all of us to dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant downtown, though this was easily a ruse for her to spend more time with you. She gazed at you in the candlelight over the thick white tablecloth. Suddenly I saw you through her eyes. I saw you as a boy with a mop of coarse black hair—though now, it was spiky with clamorous red highlights—carting around a cello twice the size of your torso to the endless merry-go-round of lessons and orchestra rehearsals and competitions. Maybe that was the moment I started to fall for you.  

“Music is just a hobby,” your mother chided over dessert.

If you heard her, you didn’t show it. You plowed through your crème brûlée with grim determination and then ordered an espresso.

Sometimes the Archduke comes on the radio when I’m driving my grey Subaru Outback. I think of you when the air is cold, cold like the January day when you said to me, “I like you, but…” I used to analyze the words you said after that, churning them over and over in my brain like numbered balls rattling inside a bingo cage. Now I’m old enough to know they didn’t matter.

I hope you never went to medical school. I hope you still play the cello sometimes. I hope you are financially secure and have health insurance. I can’t picture you with a family, but I hope you are not lonely. I hope I never see you. I hope I never Google your name. I hope you have not kept those unfortunate highlights in your hair.    

I also think of you when I see my old college friends. We laugh, drink wine, complain about sleep-training our kids, and play showtunes badly on the piano. They remind me that college was real, the younger me was real and you—you must have been real too.

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Daien Guo is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She has previously published her writing in Little Patuxent Review, 3Elements Literary Review, Bethesda Magazine Online, Columbia Journal of Asian Law, and Merlyn’s Pen.

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by TJ Acena

Be Someone Else

“Is school good?” My grandmother asks.

“Yes,” I say. It’s hard to meet her slack gaze, so I keep returning to the wallpaper of the dining hall. The alternating thick stripes of dingy white and forest green are meant to give this space a dignified air but it looks like a fence. Her smile is slightly crooked. There are untouched domes of puréed food on her plastic plate.

“Are you hungry?” I ask.

She begins to cry again, “Where is Marcy?”

The puréed domes are odorless. “She’ll be back real soon.” The radio is playing Christian rock but it doesn’t mask the silence around us. Everything feels lonely here; turned in on itself.

Rituals are what my grandmother remembers now. Not the names of the aides in blue scrubs who clean and dress her each day but the presence of her daughter, my aunt Marcy, at every meal. But today it’s me with her.

My grandmother uses her left hand to wipe the tears from her face with her terrycloth bib; though she can still move the right side of her body she stopped using that arm after the stroke.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she says. “I thought I was lost.”

Dionisia was an eater.

When I visited Seattle as a child she would spend the day cooking adobo, pancit, or lumpia for the family. We’d take trips to the International District for dim sum, loading our table with steaming plates of dumplings from the carts, or walk down to Broadway and order bags of greasy burgers and fries from Dick’s Drive In.

But now she won’t pick up her fork.

“Is school good?” She remembers that I started college, but not that I finished. A picture of her at my graduation—two years ago—sits on her nightstand.

 “Yes,” I say, because she’ll ask again in a few minutes.

“That’s good.”

Her history is secondhand to me.

Both my grandparents were exceptionally taciturn about their lives before they came to America. I know my grandmother lived through the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Her family was wealthy and eventually aligned itself with Marcos. She immigrated to America with my grandfather, a man below her station—according to my aunt Marcy. They had two children, fostered dozens more, and went to church every Sunday until he died.

They did not teach their children Ilocano.

After we buried her husband, my grandmother never spoke of him again. Marcy sold their house on Capitol Hill and moved my grandmother in with her on Mercer Island. There, Grandma spent her days grazing on the contents of the fridge between tending to her transplanted roses and watching daytime TV. After her first stroke my aunt Marcy had to bring her here.

I offer her gelatinous water, thickened with cornstarch so she can swallow it.

“Where is Marcy?” She gestures out to the hall, “Go get her.” She is crying again. My explanation forgotten, the trauma of being lost repeats.

“Marcy’s not here right now. But I’m here,” I say. Trying to convince us both I am a suitable replacement.

I was entrusted with house sitting and visiting my grandmother three times a day while my aunt is away for the weekend; the facility is a 10-minute walk from her house. But when the alarm went off at 6:00 am I rolled over and went back to sleep.

I tried to slink in unnoticed for lunch but one of the aides caught me and pulled me aside. She had also come here from the Philippines and when she spoke it was soft and familial, “Your grandmother has been crying since breakfast.” It was a warning, not a scolding, but I took it as one anyway.

“Thank you,” I said. Eyes down.

My aunt’s dedication to her mother garners her much respect in the facility. She visits at almost every meal and knows the names of every aide and their children. She brings huge bags of candy and fortune cookies for them, small tokens to acknowledge the grueling, intimate, and low-paying work they do. A retired city manager, she is the dutiful first-generation daughter who works hard to repay the sacrifices of her immigrant parents. These aides, mostly women, mostly immigrants themselves, respect that.

I am the second-generation screw-up.

I took out thousands in student loans to get a degree in creative writing, which I do not think I am very good at. I just quit my first fulltime job, selling 1-800 numbers to businesses, just because it made me depressed. I cry almost every day over a man who didn’t want to be with me. I am constantly struggling to keep my darkest impulses in check but I’m guarded with my family. I speak in generalities about my feelings and fears so that I do not worry them.

When I walked in the dining hall Grandma’s wheelchair was parked at one of the huge plastic tables; her body slumped to the side. She looked up at me; her eyes wide and brimming with tears, her mouth hanging open. I stretched my face into a clownish smile and tried not to cry, too.

Across the table from my grandmother an elderly Indian woman calls out to me. She gestures around the room while speaking in what I guess is Hindi. She is wearing a bright pink sari that clashes with the stark uniformity of the room. Though I don’t understand what she says I listen carefully and nod. When she finishes her proclamation a satisfied smile forms on her face and she turns her attention back to the uneaten food on her tray. The other residents eat soundlessly. The aides move from person to person, encouraging, admonishing, or just feeding them distractedly while watching the muted TV. In all the times I’ve visited with my aunt, I’ve rarely seen other families here as well.

“Is school good?”


She smiles back as best she can, “That’s good.”

My education is the only subject I’ve ever talked to my grandmother about over the last few years, but she’s never asked about what I write and I’ve never offered to show her.

I am frustrated with how the aides avoid my grandmother and I and then it hits me. She is my family. This is my responsibility.

Slowly I scrape some puréed meat into the spoon like I have seen Marcy do dozens of times and bring it to her mouth. She accepts my offering, some of it dribbles out of her mouth and I wipe it away with a napkin.

I have never provided for someone in such an essential way before.

It hurts.

My grandmother is still crying a little, I can’t tell if it’s from relief or residual fear.

“I thought I was lost,” she says again and now I understand that she really means forgotten. “You’re so good to me.”

“It’s nothing,” I say. And saying that feels like nothing. It feels wholly inadequate when I imagine her sitting alone here this morning. How do you explain to someone who cannot remember how you have failed them?

After she loses interest in the tasteless turkey paste I serve her some cake moistened in milk. She likes this. She’s always had a sweet tooth. We have that in common. If she had her way they would only serve her cake. I would let them. I would not deny her anything now.

“Is school good?”


“School is important. So you can get far.”

The piece of wet cake in my spoon plops back onto the plate. “What?”

My grandmother locks eyes with me, “Education is important. So you can get far. So you can be someone else.”

We understand so little about each other and there isn’t time to fill in the history. All I know that I am responsible for her. And she knows that she is responsible for me.

I put my hand on her arm; the flesh is soft and loose around the bone, “I will make you proud,” I say.

She leans in, “Where is Marcy?”

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TJ Acena is a writer and freelance arts journalist living in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Hello Mr., Pacifica Literary Review, and is forthcoming in Dispatches from Anarres, a collection of short fiction in tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin. His arts journalism has appeared in The Portland Mercury, The Oregonian, and American Theatre Magazine.

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