Melisa Malvin-Middleton
McKenzie Chinn
Tanaka Mhishi
Ace Boggess
Courtney Leigh
Carlos Franco-Ruiz
Krista Sarraf
Ashwini Bhasi
Margaret Yapp
Elizabeth Davidson
Farryl Last



Melisa Malvin-Middleton


And it was good
enough to dig.
I test the soil
under metal’s scrape,
checking the softness, feeling earth
grind under my nails.
One inch. Two.
How far
must I go to release you?

Each week of creation
bound you to me:
five was a joy,
six a relief,
but on the seventh, I did not recline.
There once was your heartbeat there.

And with my eyes aslant
I let you slide out of the jar
into your hole at the base of a pine;
into the depths
of this opening
I have dug
(that keeps you secure)
in the family plot,

unlike a drain
that leads to the sea.

McKenzie Chinn


my royalty is ground energy
moving up from the earth
through soles of my feet and
shining out the top of my head,

a searchlight

a halo
i crown myself
i am holy

i crown myself in having been beckoned into the world by my mother
i crown myself in the crisp air of this very day, Chicago, December

i crown myself beyond the male gaze and beyond white tears,
beyond police and bombs and capitalism,
i crown myself beyond fear

i crown myself with my own black life,
with the persistence of matter over antimatter,
i crown myself by breathing
i crown myself with resistance

inside me somewhere is a seed
it is buried near here
the seed is a searchlight scouring the dark
the seed searches for you
the seed is a crown

i look for other crowns
they float invisible
atop our heads,
atop your head, but
only if you know
it’s already there

::: you are crowned, behave accordingly :::

i crown myself with my own open hand

i crown myself

i crown myself

i crown

Tanaka Mhishi


The guy who is going to play me on stage
has a voice that only speaks in major key,
so when he talks my mind throws up
the words accident, soliloquy, arpeggio.

I am sitting under blanket
that has not been cleaned
since I brought it back from India.

on the sofabed
that has not been cleaned
since I was raped.

I keep sandwiching my feelings
in between statistics.
He keeps calling me mate
to make me feel like we are colleagues,
like this is the sort of thing people talk about
on weekday mornings in February

(I know all about what can happen
on a weekday morning in February.)

I keep thinking that there’s so much dust everywhere,
so many Chinese takeaway boxes.
Whenever I answer him
my voice is only sharps and flats.

Ace Boggess

                              —Stephen Dobyns, "Bead Curtain"


There’s a bug on my window:
lean centimeter, spaceship-shaped,
burnt orange, studded with turquoise beads.
Antennae stripe from its neck,
each like high-test line off a fisherman’s pole.
Perhaps a carnie from the flea circus—
stilt-walker, flair-panted clown—
a holiday bauble evolved to walk.
I watch two minutes, ten. It doesn’t fly off;
it crawls, as I do this morning,
my kidney struck by a railroad spike,
sinuses weeping, heartrate upbeat
like an angry drummer cursing the slow parade.
Life can be painful, & waking the worst,
except today, this scrap of being tells me
I still have much to see. I’ll not
be around to welcome each new thing
when the next’s already queued,
awaiting its turn to dazzle me with colors,
disco lights, & sounds of dancing
I won’t hear echoing elsewhere on the tiles.

Courtney Leigh



i was born on a glass floor atop a cavernous gas chamber that dug deep into the earth—
“here is where you will move in the world, here is where you will die,” my mother said
parting her body from mine.

i opened slowly, to abstain from cracking the glass
below—i watched the gas in my first years swirling in its own neon cosmos
it electrified every pulse within me.

when i could walk, i did & i became scared of my own feet.
the first step put a crack into the glass enough for a slow echo of gas to be released—
i was stunned for hours which felt like days. i taped the crack & let it continue to leak.

visitors started coming—they never entered the chamber, but waited outside with clipboards
& spectacles to study my movements. they kept saying, “you should be dead by now”
& i thought i was dead already.

they released a red rubber ball into the chamber—the pity ball stared at me like one blood
shot eye looking to menace. i wandered the chamber for days contemplating the red rubber ball,
its smooth-looking grip, its enticing eye.

the itching curiosity gnawed my skin—i just had to look into the eye. “you win!” i shouted
to the man notes outside as they drooled with horny anticipation. i picked up the ball
& bounced it hard against the wall—my own skull

cracked within the chamber—a fault line spread across the floor. i was caught
between the two sides: one begging for death, the other gasping for breath. the spectators released
their jaws from their palms & noted my dissent-to-dissolution.

Carlos Franco-Ruiz






Artist statement:

These images are from a series I am currently working on through printmaking. This series revolves around the idea of the "Dream house", coming from migrant parents who left their country to find opportunity in the US, I have always been interested in the idea of "home" and how we carry this notion with us everywhere we go. 

Krista Sarraf


rape statistic


“50 actual facts about rape”

legislative norm

exotic animals
egyptian royalty


drink or rape
drink or rage
rape or

1 in 5

rape or
                  boys will be boys
who are you?

my joints ache
my back aches

50 actual facts about rape

54 percent

belt buckle
white knuckle

Ashwini Bhasi


“If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself,
and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, 
I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter
 to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family,
 I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”
— Attorney AP Singh in defense of those
 who gang raped and murdered
 Jyoti Singh


A woman is the black earth of your fields—you shred         
          wildflowers and weeds, burn left over straw
to control pests and disease.

She is what you proudly fence off with bamboo sticks,                   
          where you let your crops bloom, where you may watch
the summer heat and rain

merge and flow into brown puddles that look as comforting
          as the lukewarm tea you sip silently from your stainless
steel cup. A woman is hard earth you meticulously

plow in clockwise circles with various clod sizes,
          carve out ridges, bring insides to the outside, and flood it
till it’s soft and ready for replanting again.

She is black earth that still remains in the rim
          of your hands after you washed them clean
at the end of a hard day’s work.        

Now you will dig into each fingernail,           
          and use other fingernails
to scrape her out.


Margaret Yapp


what the sky shows us
dark by five now
what the feeling of that
warning that sorry that whatever

you need it to be over
this new winter

what the fast drive home from work
what the talk and fast cry to yourself over
and over learn not to care
if anyone sees fast loud
what the windows
down in the freezing

what the fast drive with three helicopters

what the lots of water and coffee
big metal tins of hot food

what the figure out how
to bring hot drinks to
big groups of people
mourning death
because that is all you can do

what the death

what the funeral
what the funerals
what the every day feels
like a funeral

what the fear
fear fear fear over fear
what the I am sorry
I am so sorry
I am so so

Elizabeth Davidson


I stand in front of a canvas,
cast a distorted shadow,
draw myself in segments—
counting freckles in spilling
change from suns past
their zenith, copper asphalt
broken by a soft shift of aging
sheet—I save the heart
for last. Sketch it
between undefined breasts,
paint it the color of brick houses,
tie it to the torso with arteries
like fibrous roots tangled in clay.

Farryl Last


The first time we were happy.

Children, really; winter birds
took refuge in the ilex.

There were signs: my mother’s garden
grew well.

Memory of a waterlogged moon, of
body stringent in metallic dark.

Don’t pretend there weren’t.
Berries soft-skinned on the dirt;
there were signs:

Memory of rebuilding.
Labor of rebuilding.
The body’s loneliness.

To think, the earth is sleeping.
The violets wild in their fields.

Issue 21 Contributors


Ashwini Bhasi lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and writes poems to make sense of the mind-body connection of trauma and chronic pain, life in India, and the duality of her experiences as a genomic data analyst and poet. Her work has appeared in The Feminist WireDriftwoodPressEunoia Review, and Cyclamens and Swords. A poem she wrote in response to the 2016 presidential election recently won the Yellow Chair Review’s Rock the Chair challenge. 

Ace Boggess is the author of two books of poetry: The Prisoners (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014) and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled (Highwire Press, 2003). Forthcoming are his novel, A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing), and a third poetry collection, Ultra-Deep Field (Brick Road). His writing has appeared in Harvard ReviewMid-American ReviewRATTLERiver Styx, and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia. 

McKenzie Chinn lives in Chicago and has performed her poetry as part of the city’s long-running, curated show-case Salonathon and in The Inconvenience’s The Fly Honey Show. Her work has appeared in Voicemail Poems. She also wrote, produced, and appears in the independent feature film Olympia, currently in post-production.

Elizabeth Davidson currently resides in southern Ohio and is an MFA candidate at Lindenwood University. Her work has most recently appeared in Vagabond CityApeiron ReviewBy&By Poetry, and Tamsen

Carlos Franco-Ruiz (°1987, Managua, Nicaragua) is an artist who mainly works with painting. He graduated with his Bachelors in Fine Art from the University of Miami. In 2013, he moved to Uruguay and continues to follow his passion for painting where he recently had a group exhibition "La Mirada del otro" at Museo Del Azulejo to showcase his latest body of work. Currently lives and works in Sauce, Uruguay.  

Farryl Last is a 2015 MFA graduate from Hunter College. She has developed and taught undergraduate courses and works in the field of study abroad. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Maine ReviewEntropyHOUNDHermeneutic ChaosWord Riot, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others. She once lived in Mantua, Italy, and taught English there. Follow her on Twitter @FarrylLast.

Courtney Leigh is The Bowhunter of White Stag Publishing. Her chapbook the unrequited <3<3 of red riding hood & her lycan lover waspublished by Dancing Girl Press, & her poems were most recently published in Alyss LitHermeneutic Chaos & are forthcoming in Menacing Hedge & Yellow Chair Review.

Melisa Malvin-Middleton is a Los Angeles poet, playwright, and musician who teaches writing at California State University, Northridge and College of the Canyons. Her poetry has appeared in Silver Birch PressThe Ofi Press, and Clear Poetry among others, while her plays have been performed by Fresh Produce’d and Savage Players. In 2017, her chapbook Hover the Bones (Yak Press) will be released. For more information visit:

Tanaka Mhishi is a poet, playwright and performer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Words DanceBlack Heart Magazine and the Rialto among other publications, and on stage at various venues in London and the southeast of England. Much of his work wrestles with trauma; most of the time it wins. For more details visit 

Krista Sarraf holds a Master’s in English from James Madison University and teaches writing at University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and Seton Hill University. She is the founding director of the youth literacy nonprofit Write Local and editor of the organization’s literary magazine, Voices. She lives in Latrobe, Pennsylvania with her husband.  

Margaret Yapp is a nasty woman from Iowa. She currently lives and works in Minneapolis. Her poems and essays have appeared in TheTishman ReviewMidwestern GothicDriftward Press, and elsewhere.