New poetry by Nicolette Hylan-King
I’m sorry, but this office was
never intended for lactation.
This is a firm, not a farm.
You’re an editor, not a dairy cow.
The plexiglass walls were meant
to spread natural light,
not to shield leaking breasts.
The law requires me to hand you this key
to a private space downstairs
where you can do whatever it is you need to do,
but please, spare us the details.
This office was built for production,
Why are you back so soon, anyhow?
Doesn’t HR offer maternity leave?
And no, you can’t work from home
two days a week.
That wouldn’t be fair to your colleagues
who didn’t just push a human being
out of their bodies,
now would it?
I’m glad you understand.
It’s nothing personal, really.
We’re all family here.
Mediocre Professional of the Year
I want to be known for professional
Dashing for the door at 4:58 sharp,
not apologizing for delayed responses
unflapped when quarterly earnings
hit record lows.
And when I am named Mediocre Professional of the Year,
please, keep the plaque.
I like my walls clear
like my headspace.
New poem by Linda M. Crate
i am angry
that all these years later
i still remember and think about
what you’ve done,
of how everyone thinks you’re a good man
despite the fact i know you’re not;
you tried to force yourself
when we were but kids—
& later in college when i thought i was
finally recovering from the trauma of not being
able to trust anyone,
you found me;
and you smirked at me saying,
“i bet you don’t remember me”
knowing full well that i did as i froze unable
to move or speak
eyes wide in horror as i saw you
someone i thought i would never have to see
they say you’re a good man,
but i know better;
any time someone says a person is a good man
i don’t trust them because good men are introduced
by their character not everyone assuring one another
the other person means no harm—
i don’t know why people deny there are predators
it’s as if they don’t want to more closely examine
their friends and kin.
New creative non-fiction by Aurora Dimitre
When I was a little girl, I wore almost exclusively dresses. I’m sure a big part of this was that it’s easier to help a child go to the bathroom if you don’t have to deal with pants, because I’m talking little, like, between the ages of two and seven, but I was also into it. I did wear my baseball caps backward(1), and I still do, but I wore dresses. Then I had my ‘tomboy stage.’ Boy’s clothes: t-shirts, jeans, the ‘Jim coat’, which was just a letterman-style jacket that my dad got in high school that had ‘JIM’ stitched on the front. In high school, I moved to skinny jeans(2), stuck with t-shirts.
Then college came around. I’ll skip freshman year, because that was more of the same of high school(3), but starting sophomore year, I started going back to dresses. Part of it was that I started going to thrift stores more, mostly for flannels(4), and there was just so much weird shit in there. My system was literally if it confused me in any way, I bought it. The best example of this was a… cardigan? I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was roughly a cardigan made out of snow fence. That’s what it reminded me of. I bought it because it was weird.
With the weird things at thrift stores, though, I would find a lot of dresses and skirts. And so I started buying them—I have been blessed with a body that’s pretty tall and a weight distribution that’s pretty forgiving; even at my heaviest of being around a hundred and seventy pounds, small and medium shirts fit fine—everything goes straight to the thighs. As well as this, I’ve never been bothered by wearing short dresses.
And so this was weird for me, right—I went from wearing literally zero make-up in high school(5), wearing skinny jeans and Homestuck shirts every day(6), to dresses and skirts and a full face. I never got into contouring, never even touched liquid foundation, but I would wear powder, blush, eyeshadow and eyeliner, lipstick, mascara—every day. If I left the dorm or the house, I would put on makeup. I still had a sort of grungey look to this—especially at the start, I would layer and layer and layer, and I always wore my Docs(7)–but it was a lot more feminine than I was used to.
And this isn’t necessarily a problem. At this point in my life I am back to jeans and band shirts(8), but plenty of people enjoy getting dressed up and putting on makeup and everything. I still buy dresses at thrift stores even though I never fucking wear them anymore(9). The thing is, I’ve never exactly been feminine.
Even when I was wearing dresses and makeup every day, I have a lot more in common personality-wise with my father than my mother. Oh, sure, my junk bleeds every month and I had a One Direction phase(10), but I remember a conversation I had with a fellow English major in one of our creative writing classes. We were talking about writing from the point of view of male characters. She was talking about how she had trouble with it. I’ve never had problems with this—in fact, the majority of my point of view characters are male—and I mentioned this. She paused, looked at me, and said, “Well, yeah, but you’re… pretty much a dude.”
This was kind of fun to the girl sitting there in a pink dress, but I did kind of agree. I’m not saying that I’m a major bro, you know, more masculine than feminine, mostly I think it means that I’m way out of touch with my emotions, but it did get me thinking, a little. At the core, people are people. I get along with guys and girls—at my job, which is currently as a counter attendant at a local pizza place, there is an overwhelming dude presence, as is usually the case with pizza places, for some reason. Especially when you look at the young people—there is one other young woman under the age of forty at this place. Lots of dudes. I didn’t walk in there, see all the dudes, and go a) Oh no, too many guys, there are too many men here, I can’t deal with this, or b) Gonna fuck them(11), or really even think about it at all. And I’m not saying that everyone thinks like this, so binary—I’m sure that’s not true. I tend to have the opposite assumption—that everyone thinks like I do. I think everyone tends to have this assumption that their way of thinking is the common one, because your way of thinking is the one that makes sense to you.
But I see these posts, right. And I know that the internet amplifies things that nobody really thinks. I know that all of these women drawing these sharp lines between themselves and dudes are… probably not like this in real life. Part of it is the tendency to overexaggerate online—especially on places like Twitter, where you kind of need to overexaggerate to keep it short. Another part of it, I’m sure, is a want to be part of the crowd. Being a part of the crowd is something that was instilled in me not to do from a young age(12), but it does kind of bother me that either these people are really incapable of seeing the opposite gender as human, or like, how many terrible people are they around all the time? Maybe it’s because I live in North Dakota, where nobody lives, so all the people around are like—oh God, a person, I can’t be awful or they’ll leave and I won’t see another person for weeks, but none of the guys I know are awful because they’re guys. Do I know some awful dudes? Yes. He would also be awful if he was a woman.
A couple weekends ago, I got stormed in at my boyfriend’s dorm room. I was there for two nights. On one of the nights, he was playing video games, and he was talking over the headset with some of his friends. And I know that there’s this big feeling, this big… almost fear of young guys, in this case all in their early twenties, talking over headset(13). And it was… I mean, it was fine. It was nice. They knew I was there, I talked a little bit, they were communicating about what was happening in the game. One of them got progressively drunker as the night went on, but no awful drunk man hatespeech came out. They were just—they were just people. They were people playing a video game together. And I know that there are traits seen as more masculine and more feminine. Being super into cars is more masculine. Sewing is more feminine. Video games are masculine. Journaling is feminine. Emotions are feminine and being more closed off is masculine, except the boyfriend is more in touch with his and I’m pretty helpless when it comes to the emotional sphere, and that’s because at the end of the day, people are people, and vaginas and penises don’t really, you know, dictate your personality.
At the core of it, masculinity and femininity is something that’s socially ingrained in us. You dress your little girl in a dress. And there’s nothing wrong with this, until she starts getting to the age when she can be like, “Yo, Mom, get me out of this dress, I don’t want to be in this dress.” But what it does do is make people think that there is this inherent difference in people, when at the core of it, people are people. And when it comes to writing characters and things like that—if you write the person first(14), you can write anything.
(1) There is a home video we own, cryptically titled ‘MO VACATION’ in my dad’s scrawly awful handwriting, that has about a three year old Aurora in a backwards baseball cap.
(2) In all colors—high school, for me, was 2011-2015, so, yes, I had bright pink skinny jeans. Bright purple skinny jeans. Green. Aqua-blue. Red. Checkered black-and-gray.
(3) Except that the number of Nirvana shirts I owned just fucking skyrocketed.
(4) To complement the Nirvana shirts, I’ve talked about this in my grunge essay.
(5) No matter how much I wanted to be emo, I didn’t start wearing eyeliner until college.
(6) Fight me.
(7) I…still always wear my Docs. Different pair of Docs, though, the Docs I had in college died.
(8) Even men’s jeans a lot of the time—I don’t think I even know my women’s pant size.
(9) Skirts I do wear. You can wear those with band shirts.
(10) Brief, it was brief, I promise it was brief.
(11) Okay, one of them, I did fuck a delivery driver, and he’s my boyfriend now, so I continue to fuck one of them.
(12) Seven years old, “Another Brick in the Wall” music video, kids walking into the meat grinder, you get the gist.
(13) Though this was PlayStation, not X-Box, maybe that’s why.
(14) Keeping in mind how they’ve been brought up based on their gender and how that inherent person would be either affirmed or crushed by these social implications and rules.
New poem by Tara Menon
You’re hurting because the boy
didn’t say much to you.
The dinner was just a pretense.
We all knew you’d be sizing each other up,
you, an Indian-American,
and he, an Indian who’d become Americanized.
Sparks didn’t fly,
though you and he had every reason
to like each other.
You’re smart, charming, and friendly,
and he’s handsome, sweet, and reserved.
He shouldn’t have remained tongue-tied.
Ten minutes was all it took
for me to know the evening wasn’t going anywhere.
Jane Austen warned me
about the perils of match-making in Emma,
but I didn’t listen to her authoritative voice.
She knew men and women so well
and human nature hasn’t changed three centuries later
in any of the continents.
She’s still highly regarded,
the spinster writer, who was engaged
for less than twenty-four hours.
Like Emma, I’ve brought myself
a notch or two down in self-esteem,
and I need to make amends to you, my Harriet.
You are not really like that fictional Harriet Smith,
but a bright, promising young woman.
I just hope you never lose that confidence
that you wear so well.
As for me, perhaps I should retire from this business,
but I’ll try once more for your sake.
New poem by Teresa G. Stankiewicz
She screams in the deep still night.
Her pain grips her in a suffocating hold.
She is lonely, emptiness is all around her.
She feels like a tiny moth left out in the dark. She can’t attempt the light.
It looks like a round moon drawing her closer, closer in a hypnotizing trance.
Still she is motionless.
I must get up. I must reach my wings and flutter.
Still she is motionless.
I can see others fall to the ground. Do we all?
A new story by Gargi Mehra
The problem with suicide, Mrs. Gupta decided, was the utter lack of a convenient time to plan and commit the act. One or other of her grandchildren always had their teeth sunk deep into the holidays, exams or illness. And even she considered it bad form to off herself in the middle of a family vacation.
On their first day in Scotland, her entire family had slipped on their walking shoes and strolled through the cobbled streets of Fort William. Mrs. Gupta ambled behind her daughter Priya and son-in-law Vijay, who pushed the pram carrying their two-year-old son, while their older daughter Myra hopped and skipped her way beside them.
The day had ended on a pleasant note, but Priya insisted they visit the zoo some time on their trip. She foisted upon her mother a series of navy brochures parading something called the Blair Drummond Safari. The glossy photos promised an abundance of peacocks, alligators, and most worryingly, a close view of lions.
Mrs. Gupta pleaded with them to let her be. She promised to stay behind and look after the baby, while the three of them enjoyed their travails.
Priya laughed away the idea.
That night Mrs. Gupta jolted awake from feverish dreams of predators tearing apart her family.
Indian tourists found Scotland achingly beautiful, but she found it miserable. The drive through the winding roads that curved between vicious mountains covered in shrubbery left her heart sinking. For the first time she missed her husband. He would have taken the entire tour off her hands. When he set his foot down, Priya listened.
The drive through the country filled with Glens and Bens did not gladden her heart. Priya kept turning back to point things out to her mother. Myra sat at the edge of her seat, her nose pressed to the glass, marveling at every feature of the landscape that crossed her line of vision.
A sea of clouds accompanied them on their journey, as they drove along the edge of the lake. The blue waters of the Loch Lomond stretched out on one side.
“It’s one of the largest lakes in the UK, Ma!”
This failed to excite Mrs. Gupta, sending her into tizzies of alarm instead. She pursed her lips, missing the roar of her husband that would have shut her daughter down and exchanged the lions in her future with warm cups of tea and a bottle of pills.
They drove for what seemed like hours. Even Vijay’s arms were drooping. Mrs. Gupta wondered if she might have prevailed upon him to turn around and head back to their resort, but the resolve writ large on her daughter’s face stilled her tongue.
A large signboard proclaiming their destination consumed the horizon. A thundering rose in Mrs. Gupta’s heart as they drove through the gate. They continued up a concrete pathway that wound through the park, a carpet of greenery flanking them on either side. The baby had woken up and was now bouncing on Priya’s lap, making war cries. Mrs. Gupta just wished she wouldn’t.
They drove deeper into the zoo, stuck behind a number of chartered buses ferrying schoolchildren and their teachers.
Vijay said, “Look! Lions, up ahead! On the right!”
Mrs. Gupta’s insides turned to ice. She couldn’t see them, but she desired nothing more than to crawl into one of those huge buses the size of a house. What else could protect her from the canines of the king of the jungle up close?
The baby jumped on his mother’s lap using it as a trampoline. Myra too was banging her hand on the glass window. “Mamma look! There’s a lion prowling around on the grass!”
Mrs. Gupta wished she would stop her banging. She wished the toddler would stop his bouncing, and she longed for Vijay to conclude his monologue on the eating habits of lions. Did he really believe that they never hunted prey when their stomachs were full?
Terror gripped her heart as she watched the lion cut across the track and press its muzzle to the window.
She covered her ears as its claws screeched down the window and the door of the car. They all let loose blood-curdling shrieks.
Only the baby’s delight shot up. Mrs. Gupta couldn’t be sure what he was saying but it sounded like “Party, party!”
She felt a sudden uncontrollable urge to laugh. But the next instant, the glass window shattered. The lion stuck his head through the window. Myra, pinned to her seat, issued a silent scream but Mrs. Gupta had no time to notice that as she watched her hand disappear into the lion’s mouth. Its blatant greed appalled her. Where would she find another gold bangle like the one he was chomping on right now?
The pain rose in her chest. The world turned black before her eyes.
Cool drops of water splashed on her face.
Mrs. Gupta blinked, and found the space before her filled with a light blue. This must be heaven, but the hard wood poking into her back was hell.
“Are you ok, Ma?”
She sat up with a jerk. They were somewhere in the middle of the park. The landscape appeared free of those infernal lions.
“What happened? Did I have a heart attack?”
Priya laughed. “No, Ma! You just fainted! I don’t even know why! You missed the lion marking his territory around the cars in front of us!”
This puzzled Mrs. Gupta. “How does a lion mark his territory?”
Priya laughed even harder. “By urinating around it! Oh, Ma! The lion sprinted so far away. The buses ahead had moved, and we did too.”
The last time Mr. Gupta called his wife to his deathbed, he had said, “Don’t keep talking about suicide, Urmila. It is even a sin in some religions.”
She folded her hands in prayer, and touched them to her forehead.
don’t die press is delighted to present our second e-chapbook, The Anger Poems by Katherine Davis. Click to read The Anger Poems free now!
Can survival itself be a manifesto? Can the expression of anger and pain be a form of resistance? In The Anger Poems, Katherine Davis wields words as weapons to strike back at oppression, affirming her own mind and body and battling on behalf of all women-identified people. The Anger Poems by Katherine Davis, Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee
From The Anger Poems:
I emerge from the maze with a string fastened to my navel,
Pulled to a newly born brain, monstrously electrified, not by kite
And lightning, but by gut instinct, maternal writing, vindication
Of rights never before spoken. Let me wander from spring
Fields to polar ice caps. I pick at purpose like tightened fingers
Around an enemy’s throat. Black and blue, my mark: I settle
For livid wounds, screwy prints which no lawman could decipher.
A new essay by Miriam Edelson
I am normally a somewhat shy individual, not in the habit of discussing my private life with the world. But who would have thought that at age 60 I would have an orgasm that shook my world? Not me. I had experienced a drought in that department for over thirty years. And then I smoked some pot, got together with my life partner of twenty years, and Bob’s your uncle. Enhanced libido and a lovely sexual response. What a great discovery!
It happened while we were on a canoe trip in the remote and beautiful Quetico Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario. One’s senses are already piqued when canoeing and camping, the wilderness providing a delicious edge to everything. A little bit of pot thrown into the mix added a keener sensuality: the clear water felt silkier on my skin and the trees appeared greener, their canopy more majestic.
This was before pot became legal in Canada, but at that point I certainly wasn’t going to let a small legal matter stand in the way of a good orgasm. We returned home and got high from time to time, put on some sensual Latin music and went to bed. I began to enjoy sex more than I had in a long, long time.
I remember talking to my older sister at some point during the demise of my first marriage. I must have complained about the lack of romance I was feeling then after ten years at it. She pointed out to me that it was hard to feel romantic when you were busily cleaning hair from the bathtub drain and otherwise keeping everything going smoothly. I just figured sex would continue to simmer on a permanent back burner.
It didn’t help that I’d been on a variety of anti-depressants for over thirty years. They are known to dampen libido and sexual response and though I’d tried various remedies, nothing until marijuana had upped the ante for me. It was only now that I was rediscovering myself as a sexual being, with greater interest in pursuing an active sex life with my partner. It goes without saying, perhaps, that he was pleased by this surprising turn of events.
Then pot was legalized and I was able to get a prescription for CBD oil both for anxiety and one laced with a small amount of THC as a sleep aid. I tried them, very tentatively. Both seemed to help the respective issues for which they were sought. My psychiatrist suggested that I only use very small amounts of the THC product, as there isn’t full research yet on its impact on the other drugs I must take.
I heed his caution and continue to use small amounts of pot from time to time. I now enjoy sex with my partner a great deal. I’m a bit like the lyric in Bruce Cockburn’s song, “Mama just wants to barrelhouse all night long.” Well, perhaps that an exaggeration. But you get the point.
So that’s my happy story. I tell it partly to suggest to people who must take antidepressants and other psychotropic medications that marijuana may be worth discussing with your care provider. It’s no replacement for a patient and generous lover, but can certainly add some spice. I can’t believe now that I waited thirty years for another orgasm to shake my world!
New piece by Connie Woodring.
My very first memory. I was three years old, playing in the sandbox with other kids.
In a flash, a boy hit me in my face with his metal shovel (no plastic in those days.)
It was my first sight of blood, my blood.
I still have the scar on my right eyebrow.
At a very young age I was introduced to the Old Maids card game. The picture of the ugly old white lady who never married scared the bejeesus out of me. I swore I would do everything in my power to not end up like that! It wasn’t until much later in life that I asked whoever was listening, Why isn’t there a card game called “Happy Black Bachelor?”
Even though my grandmother was an atheist, she and other relatives insisted I go to Sunday School and church. I dutifully obeyed and read the Bible from cover to cover the summer of my seventh year. It meant nothing to me, and I couldn’t pronounce all the names with letters of more than eight. However, one thing stuck with me. Eve was the cause of humanity’s downfall and was responsible for making all women suffer in childbirth. Unconsciously, I, being female, determined I was a horrid being and could never redeem myself.
In 5th grade the classroom bully regularly pushed me around into swings and seesaws.
I told me mother. She boldly ordered, “Push him back!”
I did push him, except it was into traffic, and he narrowly escaped severe injury.
However, he never bothered me again.
In 6th grade another class bully (who was always nice to me) got throttled by our teacher.
We horrified classmates listened as he was pushed into iron coat hooks in the cloak room.
He screamed and was smacked.
When he and our teacher came out of the torture chamber, we sat silently staring straight ahead.
No one ever talked about this incident, but we never saw that class bully again.
As a geometry student in high school, I was ordered to leave the room by Mr. B——. “Woodring, you can leave by the door or by the window!” The window was three stories high.
My crime: I couldn’t understand a geometry concept and asked for help. Years later, feminists bemoaned the fact that females are under-represented in math and science fields.
Like the 6th grade classroom experience, all students looked straight ahead and didn’t say anything to me after class.
When I was a psychiatric social worker at a state hospital, I was attacked by a male teenage patient.
I was in a bathroom stall.
I heard the outer door open but no sound.
When I opened the door, this patient lunged at me, putting his hands around my throat.
I always dreamt that if this were ever to happen, I wouldn’t be able to scream.
However, I found my very loud voice, and the boy ran out.
I reported this incident and made a formal complaint, indicating that in my professional opinion such a patient should not have been granted open ward privileges.
The response from the superintendent was, “Are you sure you didn’t provoke the attack?”
My ex-husband stereotypically did not like my mother.
On the last occasion that she visited us he blew a hole in the living room wall with his double-barrel shot gun.
His response, “Oh! I was just cleaning it. I thought it was unloaded.”
My mother and I never spoke of this incident, but I read the fear in her eyes.
He always threatened to kill me if I ever left him.
A year later I divorced him, considering it would be better to be shot by him than to live the rest of my life as a dumbified and mummified wife.
An American white woman friend of mine dated a black man. Her next-door Nazi neighbor who had a portion of Mein Kampf tattooed on his bald head came to her door one day and threatened, “Get rid of your n— or watch him hang from my oak tree!” She obeyed.
On 9/11 a colleague came into my office at the end of a most horrendous day.
She was smiling, and so I asked, “Didn’t you hear about what happened?”
Her answer, “Oh, yes. That’s why I’m so glad! Today is the Rapture when all the sinners will die, and I will be going to heaven—probably tonight!”
Since she wasn’t an Islamic terrorist, I realized I had just had an encounter with a born-again.
At a ripe old age, I died and went to heaven, although I have no idea how that happened. In spite of reading the Bible, I believed in God until I was 19. It was then that I took a sociology of religion course in college and never looked back.
Now I am quite bored as I listen to God’s incessant poetry: “I Blessed America,” “I Work in Mysterious Ways,” “I am a Jealous God and There are No Other gods Before Me.”
I amuse myself diagnosing God: insecure megalomaniac, misogynist, sociopath, Extreme Patriarchitis.
I long for the day when a non-gendered being of some sort will emerge to never want to rule the universe.
Only then will I be able to finally go to sleep.
New poem by Elinor Clark
Oh strange, spiky plant.
Though stunted, you still stretch upwards,
Desperately digging in roots.
But with each growth remember the tub that you’re held in.
Nowhere to go.
Thick, plastic looking skin
Inflicted with some serious malady.
Will scare anyone away.
Put the spikes up.
Pretend that’s what you want.