Upon Finding Dead Birds

by Melissa Wray

Poised beak
smooth throat
no song.
Forever
mid-grasp—
celebrate
wholeness
within
our slow decay.

 


 

Melissa Wray‘s work has been published in Big Scream, Big Hammer, Napalm Health Spa, Display, and Voices. She is grateful to her mentor and dear friend, former Grand Rapids Poet Laureate David Cope for guiding and encouraging her poetic efforts throughout the last decade. This poem also appeared in Big Scream.

Black Lives Don’t Matter

by Yasmin Alemayehu

We beg to learn the history that shaped our ancestry, but “enslaved” and “runaways” are the only words that run through our textbooks

We try to find the leaders that shaped our past but the only name to ever come up is Dr. King, with a hint of Rosa Parks and a dash of Malcolm X

the outcome of untaught, unspoken, and the unknown past lurks within the minds of our young ones

As if slavery was our only history
As if segregation was our only past
As if prions and ghettos were our only home

As if we represented nothing more than captured property that the white man brought home

We scream “Black Lives Matters” and watch people ignore, insisting that we are simply using the “race card” and nothing more

Begging to be acknowledged, begging to be seen, begging to be heard

We scream “Black Lives Matters,” as we see Emmett Till, Trevon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, as we see ourselves

Where our history shaped the future
Where our stereotypes from the past created our present
Where our melanin creates a story that follows the idea of danger
Where our melanin is associated with words of “thug” and “drug dealer”
Where our melanin gives justification as to why

Our thoughts
Our voice
Our lives

Don’t matter

 


 

Yasmin Alemayehu is a first-generation American Somali. She currently attending GRCC but will be transferring to Grand Valley in the fall to continue pursuing Elementary Education. She writes poetry to be able to examine social problems.

Stillborn in a High School Restroom

by Jessica Blandford

Drip, Drip—water slips from the sink
spout, splashing the mirror
she cries from the end stall
A fringed shawl balled up in her mouth

Tap, Tap—a willow pressing inward
between fissures of smoky glass
through the glimmering light of dawn
A mother labors on

She cries out, the baby crowns, a toilet—
for a nursery, in her guts the pressure builds
too silent, she wipes her tears
and thinks, daddy can’t find out

she holds him against her breast
a purple cord around his neck,
swaddled in yesterday’s apple blossom dress
Johnny I’ll name him, and the night gives nothing back

 


 

Jessica Blandford graduated from Queen’s University of Charlotte with an MFA in Creative Writing. She worked on the editorial committee of the QU Magazine and is a testing proctor at Grand Rapids Community College. All of the time she doesn’t spend writing is spent with her daughter.

Canopy View

by Natalie Mouw

High in the maple tree
swaying with the leaves
above the ground.
In the crisp air of winter
there are no leaves blocking my view;
I can see for miles in countless directions.
I cherish the quiet evenings, mornings, moments,
gazing down on the hushed world
from my silent perch.
Spring comes in on tiptoe,
slowly, it approaches.
Arms overflowing with warmth to melt the ice.
Silent sprouts are sent up from the ground
to brave the cool, crisp, air.
The summer brings leaves
to enclose me in their vibrant green light.
They build me a fortress of solitude.
Autumn is a whirlpool of a thousand shades,
of purple, red, orange, and yellow.
The piles of leaves laying
at the roots of the tree,
pull me from my tree top perch
to play with them.

 


 

Natalie Mouw loves to write everything from poetry to novels, and she hopes to be a writer when she grows up. She is a tenth grader at Forest Hills Eastern and can be found playing outside with her siblings, curled up with a good book, or climbing trees in her back yard— one of the many places she finds inspiration for her poetry.

Hands

by Brenna Nickel

When I look at my hands, I see rigid edges,
Skin overlapped, ugly deformities.
I wish I could be normal, my eyes holding grudges,
Nails shortened, revealing my insecurities.

When I look at my hands, I recognize permanent fears,
Skin discoloration, veins bulge throughout.
I wish it wasn’t so painful, my eyes swell with tears,
Fingers damaged, filling my head with doubt.

When I look at my hands, I uncover disappointment,
Self-esteem shattered, childhood nightmare.
I wish I could stop this, sign up for another appointment,
Sharing stories, wanting more to be aware.

When I look at my hands, I hold many burdens,
Sharp pain, blood drips darker.
I wish I was in control, but the addiction worsens,
Seeking pleasure, salvation gets harder.

When I look at my hands, I feel very foolish,
Every day, anxiety sets in, tightening these chains,
I wish to conquer this, without standing fruitless,
Wanting freedom, hopeful for change.

 


 

Brenna Nickel lives in Caledonia, Michigan and attends Grand Rapids Community College. She writes poetry mainly to share her own experiences and to express the lessons she’s learned with others.

Absence

by Margaret Rose

From glossy pages the words bombard me-
SMOOTH SKIN IS ALWAS IN
EFF RTLESS FROM EVERY ANGLE
VISIBLE SCARS, MEET VISIBLE RESL TS
AND…THEY M KE YOU A LITTLE TALLER
FEELS LIKE NOTHING, DOES EVE YTHING
BOLD, BOOST D COLOR
P MP UP THE VOLUME
HAIR COLOR EMER ENCY
I AM NOT A GIR I AM POSION
ENHANCE YOUR LUMINOSIT
-and everything is said in an absence.

 


 

Margaret Rose is currently a senior attending Aquinas College. Earlier this year, she studied in County Galway, Ireland. She is studying English writing, music, and Irish studies. The poem “Absence” was written as part of an ekphrastic project she did with Anna Rose for the class Artists and Writers in Collaboration. Margaret completed the written pieces in the project, while Anna completed the visual art pieces. The project’s focus was on beauty representations and expectations as depicted in women’s style magazines.

A Good Read

by Alaina Hefferen

Out of all the books in the world
you are my favorite read.

Your edges are torn
some pages are missing
the language is illegible at times.

I like your inconsistent plot
for mine is equally unfinished.

 


 

Alaina Hefferen is enrolled at Grand Valley State University and is originally from the east side of Michigan in the city Shelby Township. Her poem is about the appreciation of the imperfections of people and embracing the unknown that is ahead.

Evelyn Hugo Steals My Heart

I just finished listening to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid on audiobook. I’ve been traveling through her story for the past week and a half while driving and am finally done. I absolutely loved this book, even the embarrassing moment when my husband was in the car with me as a sex scene came on.

I loved this story so much more than I ever expected to — I rarely read romance and have very low expectations when it comes to anything whose title includes the words “Seven Husbands.” But I tried it on a friend’s recommendation (thanks, Mei Ling!) and cannot believe how much I loved it.

Without spoiling too much, I’ll summarize it as a story about a movie star — Evelyn Hugo — whose career started in Hollywood in the 1950s and whose fame and love life were legendary.

Her story moved me to tears numerous times: in heartbreak, loss, and the achingly tragic decision to keep her sexuality a secret. Having only recently learned that I, myself, am bi- or pansexual, I haven’t read, watched, or learned much about LGBTQ+ history. I love Grace & FrankieRENT, and Kinky Boots, but beyond these glimpses into what life was like for queer people in decades past, I haven’t much considered how hard and absolutely unkind society was to those who were different, mostly because I’ve been too caught up in how society still discriminates against queer people.

This story, then, was the first time I fell in love with characters whose full queerness had to be stifled. And the best part of the book is that it is first and foremost a love story, as well as a story about friendship and family. The fact that some of the characters are queer is secondary to the main plot and overall importance of the story. And I love the book for that reason so much. Normalizing queerness is so important. The “point” of this novel isn’t to wave a rainbow flag (although there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course); it’s to simply be a good book.

My biggest takeaway from this book is to value my fucking time. I already live, or strive to anyway, with wild abandon, aware of how precious every moment and day is. But this book reminded me that lovepassion, and pleasure are absolutely the most important things I live for. Of course changing the world and shaping politics and caring about others and the planet and being a good role model and having fun and and and… are all important too. They’re what gives my life meaning. They’re what connects me to my community. But if I were given only a day or two to live, I would want to spend every single fucking moment with my husband.

I happen to be one of the lucky ones; we’re almost six years in, and we love each other more than ever. Like, we loooooove each other. We’re hot for each other, and we’re proud of it. We spend so much time together every day and never get sick of each other. We’re passionate and sincere and in love. We don’t fight and haven’t had any arguments beyond getting annoyed about something stupid in probably over a year. And there isn’t a recipe to it. We aren’t somehow better than other people or anything. We just care A LOT about us. We’re hella compatible and we’re both aware of the imminence of death someday so we just refuse to fuck around.

And this book reminded me that every single day with the person I love is precious. Either one of us could get in a car accident any day. Or a serious illness. Or or or. And that’s terrifying, but it’s also sobering.

I don’t believe in an afterlife of any kind. If there’s anything “next” or if reincarnation is a thing, I won’t be me anymore. My consciousness is tied to my physical brain. My memories and emotions and “nurture” and perception and sheer existence are all dependent on my meat sack continuing to operate at full capacity. Sooooo my time is so important. And spending my time specifically with my best friend, my partner, my love is what I care most about. I have Evelyn Hugo (and Taylor Jenkins Reid) to thank for that much-needed reminder.


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is available from online booksellers and your local bookstore. Read it. Seriously. It’s so good. You’ll cry and laugh and rejoice and remember to live and love and be. A much-deserved (even if no one truly “deserves” anything) five stars.

“Yes Means Yes” teaches me to fight for healthy, shame-free sex

4 stars: “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape”, a book of essays collected by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti //

A number of these essays are amazing and helped me change my thinking and take on even more feminist, inclusive, and egalitarian views. This book takes on rape culture, sex work, misogyny, queerness, porn, sex education, consent, masturbation, the myth of sexual purity, and process-oriented virginity.

“Killing Misogyny” by Cristina Meztli Tzintzún goes into explicit detail about how even forward-thinking, “outwardly feminist” people can privately exploit the women in their lives; sadly, women are often encouraged to keep these instances quiet to “protect” the “good” men, instead of holding those people accountable.

Too many times in radical left circles, we uphold the image of the man who transforms himself from being hypermasculine and self-destructive to being hypermasculine and revolutionary, but fail to extend this same image to the scores of heroic, deserving womyn who have transformed themselves from victims of a life of subjugation and violence into radical, self-loving feminists who use these personal struggles as a catalyst to create radical social change… I believe we can tear down the walls of silence that maintain structures of misogyny and create safe spaces that are maintained through deliberate action, praxis, and love. [bold emphasis added]

“Who’re You Calling a Whore?: A Conversation with Three Sex Workers on Sexuality, Empowerment, and the Industry” is an amazing interview. In particular, I loved the sections that:

  • examined how sex workers also “commodify men”: (“I remember looking at guys in strip clubs and seeing dollar signs in place of their heads… You stop seeing men in the clubs as people — they are money in my pocket or not. I hate it when people assume that the only people commodified in sex work are the workers.”)
  • discussed how in an ideal world, clients would be polyamorous and have enthusiastic permission to sleep with / get a lap dance from / date etc. sex workers
  • how sex work can be empowering or exploitative (or both), and how this makes it similar to any other profession: (“An exploited woman is one who is not comfortable in her line of work, does not enjoy what she is doing, and is only doing it out of desperation, coercion, or because it seemed like the only way to make “easy money.” This feeling can be experienced by workers in any profession: ambulance chasers, attorneys, doctors, salespeople, et cetera.” However, because the stigma is much greater for a sex worker, an exploited woman would be… relegated to deal with feelings of shame and social rejection in silence.”)
  • the three women interviewed discussed being “particular and choosy” about what types of work they do and even what kinds of acts they will or will not perform or which clients they will be with

Another article, “An Immodest Proposal,” blew me away in its wholesome, gloriously-healthy dreams of how we could learn about and learn to engage in sex as young people if we only taught a different narrative than the current “It’ll hurt the first time” / “Save it for someone you love” / “Don’t have too many partners or you’ll be called a slut” bullshit teens are fed. This article made me a steadfast, vocal advocate for empowering sex ed for teens and young adults; I hope young people can enjoy good, honest, healthy, happy, communicative sex when / if they become ready. Women and girls have desires, and they are wonderful! Understanding them and learning to celebrate them is CRUCIAL to breaking down the patriarchal, religious, and oppressive cultural mores that I and so many others were raised under.

“Real Sex Education” by Cara Kulwicki also discusses how to teach teens about sex; my favorite section mandates that sex education doesn’t have to be graphic or “porn” to be qualitative:

“Letting teens know that women usually achieve orgasm through rubbing of the clitoris, whether with fingers, mouth, object, or penis, isn’t the same as screening an instructional video on giving good cunnilingus. It’s not the same as writing down the names of sex-toy shops on the blackboard or handing out diagrams of cool and exciting coital positions. And teaching that lubricants reduce pain and increase safety and pleasure during many kinds of sex should be thought of not as performance advice, but on par with vital lessons about condom use.

Real sex education… [teaches] that pleasure is an important part of any sexual relationship. It’s about teaching that there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel sexual pleasure and seeking it out, so long as it is done safely and responsibly. It’s about teaching comfort with one’s body and a lack of shame over desires, and that there is more to sex for all people than sticking penises inside of vaginas. Real sex education teaches how to go about making intelligent, safe choices, rather than just stating choices available… And I believe that teaching teens to make smart choices about sex must involve teaching them that having sex, partnered or alone, can be a smart choice.”

“A Woman’s Worth” by Javacia N. Harris dives deep into the realm of media, cultural expectations, and how women are wrongly judged for their “sexual value” rather than who they are (which can totally include their sexuality IF they want it to!). We need to take hard stands against content that demeans women, and we also need to “find ways to build ourselves up individually in the meantime” while we’re waiting for (and creating) art that empowers and celebrates women.

“Sex Worth Fighting For” by Anastasia Higginbotham looks at self-defense and encourages women to fight tooth-nail-and-voice against unwanted sexual advances, regardless of environment, company, or whether or not the advances are coming from someone you know or love. We can’t just envision a world where rape doesn’t exist; we have to combat it in our own lives and stand up for ourselves at all possible moments:

“We can learn to fight for sex on our own terms. Literally. With strong words, conviction, and certainty, with hands, elbows, knees, feet, and a “NO” so mean it chills the blood.”

This essay doesn’t victim-blame; encouraging women to stand up for themselves doesn’t mean that those who have been assaulted somehow failed, but it does demonstrate that we can RUN the very second that we feel uncomfortable, disrespected, or violated. I know that my own assault from someone I was dating is sticky because I didn’t ever vocally say no, and I didn’t leave. Instead, I froze up (which is an article of its own) and just mentally checked out, thinking that if I just let it happen, it would end soon. Had I read this article before that night, I might have been mentally prepared to say, Fuck it, fuck being polite, THIS IS NOT HAPPENING, and left with no explanations. I’ll never know for sure. But I do know that we need to say SCREW the societal expectation that women are supposed to be polite and smooth things over and take what’s coming for them. We are better than that, and good sex is worth fighting for.

“The Process-Oriented Virgin” by Hanne Blank is another of my favorite essays. It explores the notion that some people are redefining what constitutes the “loss” of their virginity; while I myself prefer to think about things in terms of sexual experiences rather than “losing virginity”, this essay is really important. Blank explains how some are discounting any sexual experiences where they didn’t orgasm or didn’t initiate or didn’t enjoy the encounter, etc. etc. The point is that these people are reclaiming what it means to become sexually active and are eradicating the notion that OTHER PEOPLE are the ones who decide when you “lose” your virginity; instead, she advocates for a new “cultural constant” that allows each person to subjectively decide when they have experienced sex. This is especially important for queer people, who don’t necessarily ever have penis-in-vagina intercourse, but who obviously still have sex — which they define and interpret. Enacting this definitive change “would change sexuality, gender roles, and maybe the world.”

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in dismantling gender roles, sex, and rape culture. I gave it four stars simply because I skipped a number of the essays and actively disagree with one, but I still think it’s an amazing collection and am a better person having read it.