Three Poems by Gareth Culshaw

WAITING AT THE BUS STOP WITH A GIRL I HAD NEVER SEEN

Her ears twitched as radar’s searching for Alien sounds.
I saw the make-up smudged over her vimto swigging lips.
She wore yesterday’s face. Spoke into her phone with a muted tongue.
The bus was late. Two dogs sniffed the air through a garden gate.
Swifts busied themselves with chicane moves below cirrus clouds.
I had my hands in my pockets like a golfer waiting their turn to putt.
She finished the call, put her phone back in her mouth.
Her eyes were the same as a mole’s when digging through soil.
I was going to ask her if everything was fine, but her stilettos made me weary. Perfume coughed from her chest.
Mascara kept the sunlight out of her eyes. The bus was late.
Cars filled the silence with brake sounds and arguing rubber.

I looked down the road for the bus nothing came by except
a pick-up truck full of fence panels. The driver had a beard
made from the death of someone he loves. She got up,
walked away from the stop. I bull-frowned. She had ballerina calves,
tennis player thighs and left me to watch the swifts above my head.
I never saw her again, that’s if you don’t count the day,
I watched a blackbird through my binoculars.


THE WIDOW

Her back rounds like the spine
of a dog that shits in the corner of a
field. Her hair is icicles of a marriage
that lasted half a century.

I watch her shuffle the earth below her feet. Fingernails antique
brown, her eyes stick out like
prolapsed hemorrhoids. The
wedding ring

tarnishes with each winter. The voice
she heard every morning from
the kitchen, the voice that cracked
with every drag, every can of stout

is out there somewhere, and she
aches for it to come back. But the
cross on the wall stays still.
And the church she visits hints at silence.


THE NEIGHBOUR WHO WAITS FOR HER HUSBAND TO RETURN HOME.

I noticed her walking in his shoes last week
carried Lidl bags that made her shoulders
budgie slouch. Her wedding ring is a coupling
to her husband’s hand. He went away on a train,
and left his return ticket in a woman’s mouth.
The family have been waiting to hear from him
ever since. He posts letters to his wife,
tells her he is velcroed to an island and awaits a boat
to pick him up. She replies via strimming the living
room and painting the garden hedge.
Someone said they saw him in the local Co-op.
He bought firelighters, whiskey and a pack
of digestives. She reads the letters to the church
congregation as they sit with Werther’s Originals.


At night, she dunks hobnobs into his cup of Tetley,
sees his creosote frown on the edge of the fading biscuit.
The dog sniffs the shed air before sitting
on a Woman’s Own magazine. She dips more hobnobs,
then with a golfer’s swing, throws the tea onto the lawn.
The dog watches with woolen sock eyebrows.
She goes to bed at midnight, lies on a Dunelm Mill quilt.
Shivers from the cold that feeds through open windows.
Holds his pillow as a Koala on a tree.


Gareth lives in Wales. He has two collections by FutureCycle, The Miner & A Bard’s View. He is a current student at Manchester Met. Follow him on Twitter at Culshawpoetry1 and on Instagram at culshawpoetry.

Five Poems by Lorelei Bacht

The Nature of this Beast

It was only my mind
Drawing stars on a cloth over your face,
Imagining constellations,
Thinking you my father,
Brother in arms of undertow –
Magnificent scarecrow
I made, but made no time, no space
To see the underside of you.

I was fascinated with your fascination
With me, the large flowers you patiently
Grew on the inside of my skin,
How you decorated the air
Around my messy hair,
Which you mistook for a forest –
How effortlessly you catapulted meaning
Onto whatever came out of my lips
And believed me a witch.

I don’t know what you want,
But I do not have it.


The Glass Ceiling

How long the night hours
Must have appeared to the lonely,
Suffocating fish.

Rice paper gills that rise and fall,
Tremble, tremble, tremble – no more.
An empty sock, the colour gone,
A toy too slippery to hold
The children’s attention.

My first impulse
Is to stay put; yours is to run.
Man must happen, after all,
No matter how brutal
Or inconsiderate the path
He has chosen.

He disregards warnings,
Drives without a helmet.
Whatever pulls him, he will fall
And insist on falling. He will
Claim to love it, and reinvent
Himself as the downbeat husband.

I’ll let him off the hook –
It’s just like in the books, until:
The car crash or the broken hand.
Then he will ask for help again,
From his official attendant.

All night, the fish claimed to resent
Moral judgement.

But perhaps,
With his last gasp,
He came to see
That it did not make any sense
To jump out of the tank.


And Here in the Still

There is no music soft
Enough to ease my pain
Sound of the rain
I am learning to feel
The contours of my own
Emptiness

Not yet aware of what awaits
Awake at half past two
Way too early to make
Life-changing decisions
I sit in bed vast expenses
Of nothing in my head

That I may be a bird
Or better yet a stone
Cease to feel abandon
Hope which was the shape
Of my prison now by the door
I notice half in disbelief
There never was a lock

No wheel to spin no narrative
To dream into being
Silence an unexpected gift
Underneath everything
Hiding in the minutes between
The loose flakes of my existence
Bursting open

Unaware of the subterranean
The slow but certain
Work of pain he marvels
At my timing if I did
Not explode then
Upon impact
Why shatter now like glass


House Arrest

ur lives suspended in a glass bottle:
No air, no other place to go at the weekend
But home, where all there is to do is care
For the children and avoid having each other.

We drink our morning coffee in slow sips,
Savouring the feeling of looking occupied,
Making small talk, failing to fill the minuscule
Spaces left around the dark matter of your affair.

Day after day, I work through my unrequited
Sentiments and learn not to care. You explain:
You deserve a life just like in the books;
It is not your fault that you have read them.

I discover my middle-aged husband to be a young
Victorian lady, reading forbidden novels in the barn,
Dreaming of romance, something else, while I am
Denied any choice, right, agency, desire.


The Chase Itself

In his armchair, I began to perceive
The radical asymmetry of courtship:
One wanted; the other one wanting –
A blank, a starting point of pure
Intentionality. What is a man, if not
A collision course, a catastrophe

Seeking to happen? And I, where it
Happens. Day after day, I will receive,
Entice, convince that I am the ocean,
Profess an unbounded taste for sailors,
Their pipes, greasy laughter, complete
Absence of personality. The sailor sails

The sea and that is it. For him: an eternal
Quest for a home, another home, yet
Another. He cannot sit at the table.
As for the fishwife: an understanding,
Barely audible at first, then increasingly
Loud, a cloud bursting open,

Rumble, grumble, roll of hailstorm
On the deck. Wisdom of the siren:

You can never win the game
Of incompletion.


Lorelei Bacht is a European poet living in Asia. She writes about ruins, real and imagined. Her recent work has appeared and/or is forthcoming in Visitant, Quail Bell, The Wondrous Real, Not Deer Magazine and Abridged. You can find her on Twitter @bachtlorelei. She is also on Instagram @lorelei.bacht.writer and @the.cheated.wife.writes.

Three Poems by Eleanor May Blackburn

Insects

we pushed dirt ridden fingers into scabby gammy knees together- who has the biggest grossest yellowest sore? It becomes a competition like that of bulldog that caused the injuries in the first place. We whisper in larger than hushed tones that we are in love, you are invited to my house for tea with chicken nuggets and sweetcorn and running up and down the stairs. I never understood your enthusiasm for putting the brightly coloured caterpillars inside the Tupperware until you could see the little beads of sweat standing out like antennae on their heads. But I said it was OK. You sharpened your finger and blamed it on the scissors. I don’t think it was enough. Next you drew a rectum in my planner that my Dad frowned at while you frowned at me in the street. Now you sell coke and probably wouldn’t remember me all that much. I wonder if you remember the caterpillars. I do


Proxemics

we snogged with syrupy cider stained mouths
threw bile up the side of a too-small tent
‘don’t touch her’
squished side by side in sweaty proximity
you- always sweatier
unexplainable toxic waste green
we tried that time to no avail
bodily fluids still mingled and seeped together
nervous anticipation stretching wide
over our so much smaller then frames
too much?
so much more than the first time
followed closely by the second
mud coloured blood trickling over kneecaps
captured in a picture sent around to others
with little relation to the event
a long time passed
longer than the horizon I lazily watch
with another
so different than I-
nothing broke
a pair of atoms smashed messily together
heavy with inevitability
skins was on somewhere nearby
cassie and sid reuiniting
the best generation
my parents somewhere above
snoring as is typical
it felt like I gained
not lost
I am unsure of what


Bare

he picked up a 3 quid bunch of wilting flowers from the flimsy hut by the side of the road. they swept away my resentment and turned me soft and lovely again, they died 2 days later. they were already dead. I am an ode to all things delicate and easy, the way the petal curls makes me creamy. the way you grunt in bed curls the downy hair between my thighs. I could curl away from you in the same manner but then you would know, a magician should not reveal their secrets; too soon anyway. the baby pink of the tulips match my peach fuzzed cheeks as you spend another hour glued to your phone.


roses are not the only thorns

I am told that flowers are beautiful/I am told that I am beautiful/by the men/therefore I know these things to be true/the words are ugly in my mouth as I try relentlessly to taste them/much like the blossom that does not appease but I steadily continue to chew


Eleanor is a 23 year old actor and writer from Sheffield. She is being published in the upcoming anthology: Globalisation: The sphere keeps spinning by Making Magic Happen Press. She loves moomins, Yorkshire pudding and Blink182. Follow her on Twitter at @EleanorMayBlac1 and on Instagram at @eleanormay_actor.

Time Has Its Hands on The Fire and The Frost by Kushal Poddar

The bird, I imagine,
Asks how long the bard’ll
Go on scrivening
About those stolen kisses he missed
As a young man.

From the street beneath
My veranda, a vagrant
Upturns his palms. Money?
No, he shows his scald.
Time has touched
Both the fire and the frost;
Does the man feel
The veins swelled with the pride
For his battle marks?

Almost spring, the bipolar wind
Inoculates two minds
I think with, and I think about
The bird of the morning
And the man without a home,
And those two minds fight
Against the starry starry night
And chasing crows inside.

Time feeds two serpents.
Some rumours of the summer
Lure you to open the curtains.
A flyer flies in. Don’t pick up.
I scream. We didn’t discover
Any vaccine for belief.


An author and a father, Kushal Poddar authored seven volumes of poetry. His works have been translated in ten languages. Find and follow him at amazon.com/author/kushalpoddar_thepoet and on Twitter at @Kushalpoe.

The Bedlam Scribe by Tuur Verheyde

A handful of verse is all
It takes, listened to
Leisurely rather than read
With silence or embarrassed
Mumbles—The house is
Loud and I hate the sound
Of my own voice;
My accent clogging due
To lack of use.
In my head I monologue
With fluency and grace,
No strain, just the occasional
Dutchism, here and there—
A handful of verse heard
In between flows of music
Without words is all
It takes to get the rhythm
Rolling, the scribbling,
The meaning and form
Fall upon the flow like
Levees and dams, there
To tame the current
And direct. Sometimes
The visions and the tale
Are with me from the start,
Sometimes they catch up
On the way while I saunter
Slavishly behind the sound
As it seeps of its own
Accord. The edit comes
Along too sometimes, snipping
And shaving on the move,
That or it waits for me
At the final stretch
Where the scribbling scuttles
Towards its uncertain
End.


Tuur Verheyde is a twenty-three year old Belgian poet. His work often discusses current events, progressive politics, spirituality and highbrow and popular culture as well as personal experiences and stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TuurVerheyde.

Two Poems by Elizabeth M. Castillo

Pedacitos

Content warning: this poem references body horror and blood.

Here, take my knife, careful with your tongue.
oh dear! Is there much blood? Don’t worry, I’ll mop it up
with my hair, see how the red blazes;
see how it suits me? You know I always wanted it like this.
And this ink, all this ink… Let me wring out your skin. Wait a sec,
I’ll get a pot to put it all in. Good lord, there’s a lot!
This’ll come in very handy, I’m always running out of pens.
I think I’ll write our story out with it (which version though?)
Oh, but I’ll put this one aside; the name of your mother.
That’s going in another poem. Wait, there’s something
here. A little bead. The scar from your vaccine,
just above that one that looks like a spider
(my least favourite of all). But I’ll make it into a pendant,
a keychain, perhaps? Along with your foreskin. Maybe a pair
of earrings? And these hands, like dinner plates, fingers flexed,
better suited to piano keys. I’ll wear one as a glove in winter,
and with the other I’ll tease myself by penning something
earnest, and heartfelt, in which I use words like always, and never.
And mine. Each eye will do nicely for the sun and the moon
in my picture book project, and your teeth, please forgive me,
I’ve added them to my own. They lend more bite to my rage-writing.
Such glorious canines! Here, hand me your nose, truly you’ll never guess
what I’ll do with that delicious slant! I plan to rest all my words
on top of it, like a schoolgirl’s lined page. See here, isn’t it neat, and tidier
this way? Organised, and punctual, and punctuated, just like you.
I’ll put both arms into my trilogy, and your legs will get a short fiction each. And these
toes, and ears, and scuffed elbows… I think they’re best suited for poetry.
What shall I do with this voice? I’ve put some water to boil,
no need to add sugar, that accent is thick enough, and

so sweet! I still can’t believe I had no memory of the gravel of it,
or the way your ‘r’s and ‘j’s just rolled into the pot- no, just the memory
of my name, and that devilish, defiant grin. Oh sod it! I’ve dropped some
hair- your sparse beard and thick eyebrows- right in!
Along with the ‘z’ at the end of my name.

What a pity it had to come to this, having to divide you, pick you apart.
Cut all 6 foot, ten years of you down to pedacitos and other spare parts.


On recovering from heartbreak

Just put on your shoes and push out the door. Just one step, just two step, remember? You’ve done this before. He’s very likely not thinking of you, ‘coz you’re clearly not the one. So best put on your shoes, Pet, and head out there for a run. When you get back, put on some makeup, and wind a pencil into your hair. Why not try that great outfit you’ve been waiting for an occasion to wear? And when it hurts, try breathing in. Then breathing out. Then in again once more. Look around: such precious faces! You know what: it’s them you’re doing this for. You tried your very hardest. And it was real, and fun… But now you must put it behind you, put on your shoes, and go run. Don’t you send him that message! And please don’t sing him that song, ‘coz in this mad mixup, you have the hill, you did nothing wrong. Yes, I know you feel foolish, sickly, hopeless, and small. But look: with just one-two step, you’ve picked yourself off the floor. Try to stop staring at pictures, he’s probably not thinking of you. You’d best switch off your phone apps and find something else to do. Go get out your toolbox, go learn that new skill. Don’t worry about his happiness. He’ll find some other cheap thrill. Slice up a bell pepper and put down the M&Ms. If you need to, pick up the phone and cry it out to your friends. Now, I know they all tell you that with time you’ll forget. But I’m not going to lie, sweets- this isn’t quite over just yet. Just look down at your heart. See? The damage is done. So just go put your shoes on and go for a run. Then wash off your mascara, drink some water and down your meds. Try take care of your body, and put it gently to bed. And when you wake in the morning don’t forget to salute the sun. ‘Coz it’s another day you got up, and are going for a run.


Elizabeth M. Castillo is a Paris-based, British-Mauritian poet, writer and language teacher. When not writing poetry, she can be found working on her webcomic, podcast, or writing a variety of different things under a variety of pen names. Follow her on Twitter at @EMCWritesPoetry and Instagram at @EMCWritesPoetry.

Under The Stars by Andrea Balingit

1896, Philippines

The girl stood in the middle of the sala. Everyone hushed and took their seats on the chairs that had been spread around the room, lining against the wall. The girl started to call in a low voice filled with sorrow. She raised her hands, her fingers trying to grasp the air. Her call rose, louder, sharper. Her dance became anguished and distraught, her toes tipping, her soles skipping a few inches as she tried to find someone she could no longer hold. Her face crumpled into despair when reality washed over her, and she made a gurgled cry as she vomited the pain that welled from her heart, twirling and twirling in the cacophony of emotion.

Maria tried to watch the girl, but she could only see the man across the room, who held a tray in his hand and offered refreshments to the guests. The man who chattered beside her in a hushed tone, who she vaguely remembered as a bachelor her mother had introduced to her earlier, faded from her senses. She was consumed by the man who was now slowly approaching where she sat, the voice of the girl a distant shrill against the loud drum of her heart.

Maria followed Manuel across the room, every stop, every pause, every murmur, every smile he gave that the guests didn’t return. They didn’t care.

But she did.

She never took her eyes off him, afraid that he would vanish from her sight. 

He was only three chairs before her. Two.

“No, thank you,” the man beside her waved away the tray.

Manuel offered his tray to her, “Señorita?” 

Maria started from the sudden applause around her, pulling her out from her reverie. She blinked and looked up. “Thank you,” Maria picked up a glass filled to the brim. 

Manuel smiled at her and bid her a pleasant evening. She returned the greeting in a shy whisper. If he had heard it or not, he didn’t show it and proceeded to the next chair. Maria sipped on her glass, the periphery of her vision trailing on the man.

The girl who had been performing in front disappeared into the shadows and was replaced by a sweet run of the harp. 

“May I have this dance?” The man beside her had stood up, along with everyone else in the room. His bronze hand hung in the air, open for her to take.

Maria saw her mother watching them across the room, a big smile on her face. She forced herself to smile as she took his hand, her empty glass falling into another servant’s tray. He led her to the middle of the room just as the piano joined the sweet beckon of the harp. Maria and the man bowed at each other. He pulled her in a respectful distance as he brought their clasped hands in the air. His other hand rested on her waist, and Maria laid her hand on the gentleman’s shoulder and their dance began. 

The man stared at her eyes, but she couldn’t meet his and stared at his hair, at his ear, at the blur of the audience behind him. She had learned dancing at a young age and had been told she was quite proficient, yet she felt herself stumbling along with him. She didn’t hold herself with grace and elegance like she had been taught. Her mind became occupied with the glimpses of her parents standing on the side—beaming and smiling at them, sighing in relief at someone else’s comment—as they traveled across the floor in this battle called courtship.

But it was only his battle. Everyone had approved of this man, whose name she could not remember. He was a son of a close friend of her father, perhaps a general, with a good family history befitting of her status as the eldest daughter of the town’s Gobernadorcillo. 

But he was not what her heart desired. 

She still could not meet his eyes as they made a slow turn. “You seem too silent tonight, Señorita.” 

“The night is too beautiful, Señor. I’m afraid my words would make it less.” The excuse spilled before she could even think.

They stopped turning and she Manuel over the gentleman’s shoulder. He stood nearly in the shadows, watching them.

Their eyes met. 

Maria wanted to pry herself away from her dance partner and flung herself to the man that watched them from afar. She wanted to be in his arms and wander in his eyes until she got lost.

The piano made a few steps and the dance ended. She bowed to her partner; her attention still pinned to Manuel who stood far away from them. 

But Manuel turned away and melted into the shadows.

“I must go somewhere, excuse me.” The words spilled in a rush, and she could barely get them out as she ran across the room, murmuring her excuses to the other guests, her other hand lifting her saya to keep herself from tumbling down.

She spilled onto the silence of the asotea, the candles on the pillars flickering idly. She ran across the pale tiled floor. She saw a shadow move on the wall, “Wait!”

The other parts of the house were barely lighted, but her footsteps were quick and sure, falling into the steps she had known by heart. She skipped down the stairs that led her to the zaguan where they stocked the harvests and carriages. The moon that spilled from the grilled windows guided her to the heavy double doors. She pushed them open and was welcomed by the cold night air of the garden.

She heaved his name. Manuel stood a few feet ahead of her. “Señorita, why are you here?” 

“Why didn’t you wait?” She said in between gasps.

“You must go back inside, your saya will get dirty.” She wanted to laugh; it was too late to worry about her skirt. “Your parents will be worried as well. It is inappropriate to be alone with a man without a chaperone.”

“You know my name.”

Manuel proceeded as though she had not spoken, “You must get back, Señor Hernandez will find you soon.”

“Who?”

“He was the esteemed Señor you were dancing with.”

Maria’s lips lifted into a shocked O. “I saw you watching us.”

“Yes, I apologize for abandoning my duties. It was a mi—”

“No,” Maria stepped forward. To her relief, Manuel did not move away. “No.” She didn’t know how to say that she wanted to dance with him instead of that Señor Hernandez. She didn’t know how to say she would rather have him instead of all the land, jewels, and status she would have if she married one of the principalia.  

She realized the silence had stretched between them as they gazed and drank each other in. Maria tried to form the words again, but she couldn’t. She didn’t know how, and she feared she might push him away further.

“Maria, you must go back inside.”

She saw the pain in his eyes. She saw the hesitation as he dropped the last word. She noticed little things she had never noticed from anyone before.

“Say my name again.” She had always loved the sound of her name in between his lips.

“Maria.” How sweet it was, like the ripened mangoes she had always loved. Like the coconut juice they drank fresh from the coconut husk during the summer.

“Tell me to go away again.”

He looked pained, and she basked on it. She stepped forward but he didn’t move. He didn’t utter the words.

“I will go if you say it again, Manuel.” 

Another step. 

He didn’t move. He stayed still, but his eyes were screaming. Panic? Horror? 

Whatever she was doing made her feel in control, made her feel like she owned herself. She no longer followed any rules or anyone’s words. She no longer had the urge to satisfy anyone. She knew what she was doing was outrageous, she knew she was going against the etiquettes that had been ingrained in her since she was a child. But it was bliss, an explosion of freedom she had never felt before, to finally do what she wanted to do.

“Say my name, Manuel.” She stood a few inches away from him.

“Maria,” his voice came out a ragged gasp and she felt stars burst inside her. 

“Do you want me to go?”

“No.” He didn’t even hesitate. 

And her heart leaped. She wanted to do many things, things she had never experienced, things that would bring shame to her family and destroy her virtue, things that were against the image of piety and purity that girls her age and status must exude. 

Instead, she offered her hand. “Dance with me.”

“I don’t know how.”

Maria inched closer and laced her fingers around his. She pulled his other hand to rest on her waist before she laid hers on his shoulder. “Follow my voice.” She taught him how their feet should move, “Hold on tight to me.” Back, forward, back, forward, until they fell into a synchronous rhythm, sweeping across the garden. The buzz of the cicadas became their music, the full moon their light, the stars their audience. “You’re getting it.” She grinned at him, but it fell away when she met his eyes. It was darker than before, but it seemed to twinkle like the stars around them.

“You’re very beautiful tonight, Maria.”

“Thank you,” she replied with a chuckle. “And you’re dashing tonight, Señor.” She pretended they were in the sala again, dancing for everyone to see, in a world where he was not a servant and she was not an heiress, a world where she did not have to sneak glances to catch a glimpse of him every time he passed by, a world where they did not have to talk in secret. A world where she and Manuel belonged to a society that would accept them and the love they shared. 

But the stars accepted them, and they danced and danced, lost in each other’s eyes. Lost in each other’s breath, in each other’s scent that mingled with the soil and the city’s humid air. And Maria realized that was enough, as long as they were together. As long they were we and not you and I. 

“Maria—”

“Don’t,” Maria begged, desperate not to break the enchantment they have put upon themselves. 

“We ca—”

“Please,” Maria leaned closer. His face was almost a shadow in the moonlight. Her sight was consumed by his eyes. The sparkle in them had flickered out sometime, and it had become sad, hopeless. His lips quivered, ajar, and she realized how close they were. She had never been this close to any man before. 

Maria laid her forehead on his shoulder, burying herself in darkness as they slowed into a sway that could lull her to a fever dream filled with him. “I want to stay like this forever,” she murmured against him. “I want to stay with you forever, under the stars. I don’t want anyone else.”—but you. I love you.

Maria bit back a sob. She couldn’t say the words because she was afraid. A part of her still sought her parents’ approval. She will always be torn between her parents’ happiness and her own happiness. If the words would be uttered, it would give her reason to hope, to believe that it would come to fruition, when she knew—they knew—that it was not possible. 

They stilled as the spell broke. Maria felt empty. She felt as though she was a spectator watching herself alone in the garden. She fell onto the grass, gazing into the darkness, alone with the stars that were her sole witness to the dream that she fulfilled but filled her with so much pain. 


Andrea Balingit is a Filipino student and writer from the Philippines. She’s currently trying her hand in reaching both local and international audiences through her written works. Follow her on Instagram at @cheeseislyf and on Twitter at @IamBUTTiful.

If I Had, I Would by Megha Nayar

This story was first published in Variety Pack magazine, Issue II.

If I had a functional womb, I would transfer the Calendar widget to the home screen of my phone. It would be one of my go-to icons. I would use it all the time, marking dates in red, yellow and green, apportioning each month into anticipation and action. I would insert tiny notes: expected start date, ovulation period, conception window, safe days for risky romps. I would feel both normal and special, like other women. 

If I had a functional womb, I would spend unhurried hours in the Personal Hygiene section at the supermarket. I would check out different types of sanitary napkins – some embossed with butterflies and smelling of roses, others gift-wrapped in mauve and purple like birthday presents. I would want to know the difference between the regular and the XL pads, the day-time ones and the all-nighters, the cottony-net covers and the insta-absorb ones. And though my friends tell me that napkins with belts became redundant after the arrival of self-adhesive pads, I would still buy one box of each kind, just so I know how they feel against my skin. Femininity is as much about feeling as it is about being, and I have not felt much in a long time. 

If I had a functional womb, I would crib about periods like all the ladies I know. I’d join the elaborate discussions my co-workers have in our restroom. I’d complain about the heaviness, the backaches, the dreaded cramps. I would pout and make faces and go tsk tsk tsk, but unlike them, my discomfort would be superficial. Inwardly I’d be happy to be uncomfortable, ecstatic even, because menstruation is the gateway to maternity, and maternity is a grief-sized hole in my heart. 

If I had a functional womb, the sight of my sister’s children would not give me pangs. I would grow my own babies. I think the first one would be a daughter. She would start out as a basic lump but quickly take on human form, sprouting little arms and legs and miniature fingers and toes. The first time I visit the doctor, she would give me a glimpse of my little girl in three dimensions and I’d watch her, mesmerised, like a wide-eyed child on her first visit to Disneyland. The doctor would prescribe a whole new lifestyle – fresh fruit, supplements, morning walks, yoga. No cigarettes now, she would warn me. I would nod vigorously, for once unbothered by her sanctimony. On the way out of the hospital parking, I would dump my lighter in the trash can without missing a beat. For that little girl, I would willingly surrender my sins. 

If I had a functional womb, I would have an altogether different life. I would need a bigger house and yard and washing machine. I would make peace with a smaller bank balance. I would use a different car: not the singleton’s hatchback but the harried mother’s pick-up truck. It would have tennis balls and school books sprawled across the backseat and a confection of used socks and candy wrappers on the floor. The insides of the car would smell of assorted kiddie fluids – sweat, phlegm, tears – instead of lemongrass and patchouli. My house would often, if not always, look ravaged. There would be 90-decibel tantrums and daily yell-fests. Food would be cooked, argued over, wasted. Toys would break, books would tear. There would be crying, sulking, reconciling. I would scold, then soothe. The days would be endless, the nights shrunken. I would be poor and cranky and exhausted. If the lives of other mothers are any indication, I would lose a lot of my former self – my hobbies buried, my friends adrift, my youth gone. 

And yet, I would relish all of it. I would pick the cacophony of motherhood over the white noise of my solitude in a heartbeat. 

If only I had a functional womb. 


Megha Nayar was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020 and the New Asian Writing Short Story Prize 2020. Her work has appeared in several magazines and is forthcoming in Bending Genres, Rejection Letters and Marias at Sampaguitas, among others. She tweets at @meghasnatter.

Three Poems by Shine Ballard

trapped

my fear, a fossil,
amberkept by the resin jar—

and its shaking sounds like salvor

a mind measured, regulated,
situated via moral plaza

subscription, prescripted, what’s
the difference? it’s all just

recovery


pass

   i toe toward
   her goingground
   the way one toes,
   intuitively,
   toward the bathroom
   in the midst of
   midnight’s lack of

     guidance


Poem (it is not anemia)

   it’s twelvetwentythree a.m. &,
   in the livingroom, i am—at rest, half
   sprawled on the couch, half on
   the ottoman. that question gnaws
   at my stuffs, about my mind—
   “You’re okay with just sitting
   around doing nothing?”
What
   if i am? What if i’ve no choice?
   My feet are cold. Exposed from
   beneath the counterpane, beneath
   the ceilingfan. Chilly digits. And my
   cheeks are burning with, stinging
   from an implicit indictment.

   Nature didn’t care. Why should you?


Shine Ballard, the fainéantmanqué, currently creates and resides on this plane(t). Follow him on Twitter at @xShine14.

Two Poems by Isabella Fiore

a short note on cravings

in the back of a cab
still thinking about you.
just watching your place fade
into the horizon makes me
want to turn around. we
shared enough wine to pretend
that we could be something.

who are you? one date and
suddenly i’m ready to move
in and raise our cats as adopted
siblings. this is movie magic
at the peak of madness.

we almost said i love you. that’s
basically relationship suicide
but both of us were so ready
it felt like we weren’t falling at all.
like we were already so in love
falling happened before we even
met.

why do they call it falling in love?
there’s an uncertainty associated
with the idea of a free-fall into
someone else. i never fell into you.
we slid together like puzzle pieces.
it felt like we were made to fit
together.

it’s almost indecent of me to love
you this hard. it’s only been one date.
one. not even. barely a couple hours.
i don’t even know your last name
or your star sign or who you wanted
to be when you grew up. who are
you?

i still miss you. you have my number
and text it daily and yet all i think
about is how much i need you
right here right now. come to
the back of the cab. let me think about you.


your fave girlie

being chill with you
kills me. i know we’re not
together but i think
we should be.

you are my favourite girl.
that is all i have to say.
something about your
energy makes me blush
like a loser and i can’t
get over that.

in three years we will have
an apartment together. i will
be in second year and you
will be in law school and we
will bake cookies all day long.

after we fuck i will open the
curtains a bit and let the sun
stream through the windows.
we will drink coffee in bed and
laugh about how hard it was to
get my top off.

don’t call me when the party’s
over. call me to pick you up
and i will try not to kill you as
i drive away like a hot mess.
i blame you for driving a mom
mini van, and you blame me for
never finishing my driving
lessons.

when i asked you out the first
time it was hella awkward. i
didn’t totally know what to say
and sometimes a mess, but i
really really think you are my
favourite girl. love can
i be yours?


isabella fiore (she/they) is a writer who chronicles her experiences t figuring out what it means to be a queer “woman” in her world. her publications include WEIGHT and TEEN-ZINE. when she is not writing, isabella can be found baking, napping, or wrapping herself in a blanket like a burrito. follow her on Instagram @isabella.fioreee.