Field Notes & Family with Christyn Refuerzo

Christyn Refuerzo (she/her) is a Filipino-American writer from the Bay Area, though currently based in New York. Her work can be found in Potted Purple, The Creative Zine, and The Weight Journal. When she’s not writing or studying, she can be found with a cup of coffee or tea, listening to music and reading. Follow her on Twitter @christynr412

O: When did you begin writing? 

Christyn Refuerzo: I can’t  remember exactly what age I began writing, but I do remember being in elementary school writing these short, little poems. Back then, it was fairly intermittent – journaling or jotting down poetry whenever I felt like it. And for a long time, I wrote for myself. From writing novels “just for fun” to short stories to pass the time on long flights, I’ve always had something to say, a story to tell. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I realized I wanted to be a writer. Something more than just a hobby – that year, my passion (or love affair) grew into a “marriage” with the craft. Something to nurture, to love, to keep at, no matter what. 

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

C: Barbara Jane Reyes published a poetry collection titled Letters to a Young Brown Girl in 2020 and the titular poem in particular struck a chord with me. Though I have been writing for a much longer time, reading a poem that had someone like me (a Filipino girl) as the central focus changed my perspective. It reminds me of where I come from, my Philippine roots and culture, and that it is a story worth telling. The entire collection in general also has this audaciousness which I adore. She writes without fear. I highly recommend checking out her work and the rest of her poetry.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

C: Fluid, because I always want my work and style to grow and change. I think one of my greatest writing fears is staying stagnant because even though it might be reliable, it does not leave room for something better. Complex, because as a writer, I feel that it is my job to dive beyond the surface and explore the why of it all. And finally, I would describe my work as honest. In every piece I write, whether it is fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, there is a shard of my heart in there. 

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

C: Those little moments of that’s it. Whether it be an expansive description of the setting in a story to just a single word, that single moment of aha is just glorious. There are a lot of quotes about soulmates that go something like, I wasn’t even looking when I found you. That exact sentiment is what I feel when I find the right word or phrase or piece to my writing. Most of the time, when these little moments come to me, I’m in the shower, or with friends, which I think makes it just that much more magical (and cool!). 

O: What does writing mean to you? 

C: If you asked me this question a few years ago (maybe 15-year-old me), I would’ve said that writing used to be an escape for me. While that has not entirely changed, writing has shifted from something I did to immerse myself in a completely made-up world to something deeper.

Writing has become a place where I can be true. Truly vulnerable, truly honest, truly myself. As a person and in my day-to-day life, there are moments where I hold myself back from doing or saying something merely because there is a part of me that says, You’re not close like that. A little barrier goes up and I stop myself from doing something. When I write, I can say what I want to say. I can write my every thought, raw and unfiltered, on a piece of paper and no one will expect me to clean it up. It can just be there, in all of its chaotic glory – and maybe someone would find it beautiful. Even if I don’t.

O: How do you write courageously? 

C: I don’t hold back. As I mentioned, I tend to hold back in other parts of my life, but I try my hardest in my writing not to do that. Because, in writing, words can be changed. The perspective can shift. In that first draft, no one can judge you. No one has to see that first draft. You do not owe it to anyone to show it to them. Keep that first draft sacred. Just let go and write. (To be completely honest, even now, I struggle with writing courageously but it is a process and all processes require growing pains to get to that moment of flourishing. And I learn something new every time I have another “growing pain.” It makes me better.)

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

C: My studies were entirely online so around the height of the pandemic, I used writing as an escape (as I mentioned previously). Because of that, I began to write consistently. I created a routine where I would write a certain time every night with a cup of green tea. I would change rooms when I started to write my stories, to signal to my brain that this is no longer “homework.” While I’ve slipped on this routine since going off to college, I think that the discipline is there and is something that can happen again (as shown by my writing almost daily during my winter break!).  

O: Your work is striking, enchanting, and solemn. Where does your inspiration come from? 

C: Thank you! Naturally, I’m inspired by life. Little moments here and there. You know, I just took a sociology class where I was tasked to observe various places on campus, study various interactions, and use it as “data” for my final hypothesis that proved an established sociological theory. I was always a naturally curious (read: nosy) person so by completing these “field notes” week by week helped me hone my people-watching skills further. I got to study different people, the way they act with their friends versus their significant others, etc.

However, these observations help me flesh out the complexities of the root of my most recent inspiration – my culture and my family. I am Filipino-American and there are stories my parents have shared with me over the years about their parents and their parents. (There are stories that I am interested in writing that I have experienced myself, but those are projects for another time ;).) Still, these stories, while rooted in memory, deviate enough from what actually happened that I can classify it as fiction, which has helped. Also knowing just a fragment of the memory helps tell a fictional story and not a memoir, which calls for a completely different set of rules. And of course, there is a fear of “getting it just right,” but as my parents always say, “It means you care.” And these stories are the ones that tend to be the closest to my heart.

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

C: I would like to say that I love all of my work equally, but… a work that changed my life was actually a poem. Even though I don’t write that much poetry anymore, this piece was the first I had written inspired by my culture. It is called “i see and remember the sampaguita,” and it was published in The WEIGHT Journal in October of 2021. I remember I originally wrote it for The Adroit Journal’s poetry prize in 2021, submitted it, but alas, I got rejected. But it was for the best since I submitted it (minutes after I got the rejection email) to The WEIGHT and they said yes!

I wrote the piece after the rise in Asian-American hate attacks in 2021 and I wanted to use my pen to make some noise. Something simple, something that was my voice and my voice alone. I started with my mom’s favorite flower, the sampaguita – a white-colored jasmine, native to the Philippines. From there, I was able to write just a fragment of what I felt at the time and still feel now. My favorite line from the piece is, “the white that’s on my mind is not of western beauty, not like it always is – it’s the sampaguita flower, jasmine. roots in the east—stark white, fragrant, rising sun.” It communicates exactly how I felt – that for once, I wasn’t thinking about wanting to be white. I was thinking about where I come from. Where my family is from. And how beautiful that truly is.

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

C: I’ll give you a bit of technical advice and a bit of emotional advice.

Firstly, whenever you’re revising, always begin a new document with each draft. I’ve had two professors (whose writing styles were vastly different) who have told me this and as someone who does this: it works! It honestly feels like a new story is being told every time I start a new draft, which is really important, because it also allows for yourself to change the work and not be adhered to the same rules as the past draft. Every draft is different. They all offer something to that final piece. Whether you only keep a single line from draft 3 or an entire paragraph, it is just another puzzle added to the piece.

Secondly, write for yourself. I am currently studying creative writing at college, which means that it can be hard to separate academia from recreation. Still, writing for yourself reminds you of your roots/beginnings – the little version of you that started writing for whatever reason. It keeps not only the work fresh but it also keeps you in that ever-changing “marriage” (as put it earlier) with writing.

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

C: Honestly, I do not since I am currently writing yet another story, submitting some previous work to some journals, and doing some line-edits for SeaGlass Literary (check them out!). (My Pinterest also has some special sneak peeks into new drafts since that’s where I keep my writing moodboards.) In the meantime, please read some of my previously published work and check my social media for updates. I can’t wait to see what is coming next! 

Thank you to Christyn for sitting down and chatting with us about everything from inspiration to courage in writing to favorite works! Find out more about her through her websiteTwitter, and Pinterest.



Written by Gabriella Troy
Art by Muffin Creatives

In the end we’re only dirt.
We cake each other’s arms
with smears of tears and promises,
with little scars that no one sees
but no one forgets.

This earth is a tether, and forever
I’ll tidy your distraction and detritus,
roll my eyes and make you breakfast;
you’ll hug me when I lose heart,
hate me just a smidgen and weave stories
to fill my silence.

You’ve seeped into my flesh
and I’m a ring of freckles upon yours,
but our love isn’t quite symbiotic.
You’re a condition of my survival
and I’m the benefactor of your success.

After our dreams have blossomed and withered
and our ashes are scattered together
on the wind, we’ll tangle in the skin
of another and dirty their beginning
with the science of liability.

o, winter

Written by Jules Descoteaux
Art by Maria Orlova

winter tucks us under his blanket again
with hot cocoa & extra pillows. i am not
his biggest fan, yet i thank him, tell him
i like the way the marshmallows float &
the way tree branches bend under his luminescent weight.
he smiles back at me & tells me he likes the
way his cool breath reddens my cheeks &
the clothes we layer in attempts at warmth. i know
what he means because i feel it too. i am fond
of the sweaters & blankets. i am fond of cloudy exhales
smoking out my mouth. i am fond of fireplace-warmth despite
not being fond of winter himself. however each year
he gets a little more bearable, a little more beautiful.
his falling snow becomes a blanket of polar perfection,
freckling the windows & my hair with snowflakes. his smile
draws warmth into it from the air. his ice teeth shimmer
in what little sun there is. every candied word shows itself
in the air. it’s a Hallmark movie ending when i look over things
i used to view as decay– barren trees & no sunlight,
lonesome red & white & gray all over–and find only
new life–icicle teeth happily calling me friend & family
as though he’s dotted my windows for years wherever i’ve gone.
winter stays out from under the blanket but smiles
so i know he’s warm. he watches us sip our cocoa & asks, is it good?
people have told me it can be too bitter, or i am too cold, but i think
warmth is subjective & the sweetness is too.
i smile back & say,
o, winter, it’s amazing & so are you.

A Fireside Winter

Written by Niamh Kelly
Art by David J. Boozer

The snowflakes danced in the chilled breeze
And I gazed out of the window at them.
The glass glaze between the winter air and fireside warmth
Was a barrier separating elements
And prevented the meeting of oppositions.

Cold hands gloved outside,
Afterwards inside, held a distance from the log burning flames.
The raw redness slowly fades
And fingers twitch as feeling returns
To every limb’s extremities.

As visitors are welcomed,
The opened door allows sneaking drafts to enter.
The entrance is shut again and the fire chases out
The coldness of each breath and the room.
So I looked out the window.

Pushing Boundaries with Micah Dawanyi

Micah Dawanyi is a 2x published author, artist, and master’s student based in Broward County, Florida. Once an athlete, Dawanyi was forced to give up his dream of playing sports after suffering from a life-threatening heart complication. After retiring, Dawanyi earned his first national coaching license at 16 and launched a private training business, also becoming the youngest licensed coach in his region’s history. In 2020, Dawanyi made the transition from sports to the creative arts after releasing his first book, and he hasn’t looked back since.

O: When did you begin writing? 

Micah Dawanyi: In elementary school. At that time I was just writing out school assignments, but language arts was one of my favorite classes by far. My 4th grade teacher taught me how to write and structure narratives, and I remember being really intrigued by the process of storytelling- especially in fiction. It was like you could let your brain throw up on the paper. I loved it.

In high school I got into playwriting- I remember this one instance where I was tasked with rewriting Romeo & Juliet as a comedy. Sounds crazy, I know, but I think the purpose of that assignment was just to stretch my creativity. I always loved writing in different genres and different styles, and college was when I started drafting my first book.

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin drawing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

M: Definitely- the person that comes to mind is Ryan Coogler. Most people know him as the director of Marvel’s Black Panther movies, but I was always fascinated by his screenwriting abilities. I don’t make films, but I always connected with his process of bringing writing to life through visuals, and also using art to touch on important issues in society. When I first started writing, I would draw out my concepts so I’d have visual themes to reflect in my work. I imagine as a screenwriter, there’s probably a similar process of interweaving text with visual concepts. But overall, I’m just really inspired by how powerful Ryan Coogler’s stories are. The storylines are always very well thought out; it’s never just “oh, this would be kinda cool.” He always embeds these introspective themes in his stories, and I try to do the same with my work as well.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

M: Direct, enlightening, and refreshing. Direct because my work cuts right to the point. I don’t try to use fancy words to sound smarter than I actually am, and when I tell stories, I try to make it as easy as possible for the audience to follow along. Personally, I get really turned off by books where I have to work too hard to figure out what’s going on. So for me, it’s important to be direct. 

I chose the words enlightening and authentic because I also try to take a unique approach with my writing. I pull from my experiences, but I try to tell stories with concepts that aren’t used very often. My new book is about what the danger of emotional suppression looks like in young adults, and I tied this concept into the greater theme of mental health stigmas. But I intentionally chose to make the book a fiction, instead of a self-help non fiction where I could have perhaps found myself “preaching” at people. I think the educational side of my brain is always seeking to inform, and the artistic side of my brain is always seeking to inform in a creative way.

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

M: Probably finishing an illustration for a book. That’s when I’m like, “okay, so this is really happening now. I’m really going forward with this.” Because I write all the time, but I’m such a perfectionist and over-thinker, so 90 percent of my ideas get thrown away. But once I finish an illustration, whether it’s for an official cover art or just the themes I want to use in my writing, something feels very official… like things are solidified, if that makes sense. From that point on, I’m committed to the idea that’s been floating around in my head, because now I have a visual representation for it.

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

M: The pandemic gave me more free time. I used to do everything in-person, whether that be school or work, or other activities. But my schedule switched to a hybrid schedule, which gave me a lot more spare time. The arts (to me) exist in this other-wordly portal or dimension where you can get sucked in creatively. And sometimes there’s not much time for that if you’re busy with real-world responsibilities. But with more free time during the pandemic, I found myself with the time to get sucked into the arts. I’d find myself writing or drawing for hours and hours, losing track of the time and the outside world. But it was kind of nice in a way. I think I’ve been able to be more efficient and more prolific with my work, cranking out projects quicker than I perhaps would have without the pandemic.

O: Your work is vulnerable, informative, and hard-hitting. Where does your inspiration come from? 

M:  It honestly depends. If we’re talking about tangible things, I’d say world issues, music, films, conversations with my friends, and of course, things that I experience. But inspiration is so random. I can find it in the strangest of places. Early last year, I tripped when I was getting out of my car, and that little, seemingly insignificant moment inspired a short story that I wrote later in the year. Maybe the beauty of inspiration is that it’s so random, and you can find it anywhere in your life.

I also think of some of my best ideas in the shower, funny enough. That’s like my place of clarity. There’s this running joke that people use their shower time to sing and basically perform concerts, which is hilarious, but for me I just spend a lot of time thinking. I’m not sure why, but that’s just what works for me.

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

M: Definitely my latest book ‘Battle Scars & Blossoms.‘ I think it’s my most creatively-daring piece yet, probably because it’s fiction. I created this fictional ecosystem with a young college student on a very specific life journey, and I used that setting to tie in mental health awareness, which was important to me. I also broke the 4th wall through the way in which the main character narrates the story. I think I just pushed a lot of creative boundaries with that book, and that’s something I’m always looking to do as an artist. Even more special than that, the intent behind the writing process has been met by responses that have honestly blown my mind. I’ve gotten messages from people talking about how the book has encouraged them to open up and work through their personal struggles, and that’s just an incredibly rewarding feeling as an artist. That my work could ignite such thought and action in others.

O: As mental health is important to your work, how has this theme played a role in your life?

M: It’s personal for me. There are several people in my close circle that have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, and I’ve watched them wrestle through their lives with these great psychological tolls weighing on them. They’re still able to enjoy their lives in many ways, but there’s no hiding from the mental health challenges. The challenges are real and show up in so many different ways. But even on a smaller scale, I’ve seen so many examples of what can happen when you neglect your mental health. In my own life, that neglect led me through this long period of emotional confusion, where I didn’t really know how to process difficult feelings. And so much of life is about what you do with difficult feelings. So for me, mental health isn’t some trend to follow because it’s starting to become popular. It’s a theme that has followed me everywhere, in every season of my life.

O: What is one thing that you want your audience to take away from your writing?

M: It would honestly depend on the book or writing piece. But speaking generally, I just want my audience to look at the themes in my writing, whether that be mental health or social injustice, and think about how these issues influence their personal lives and general society. I want my writing to provoke thought, and conversations, and hopefully positive actions.

O: How is your writing process different when working on longer projects compared to smaller projects?

M: Longer projects take more time to plan. You have to be much more meticulous with a project like a book, because the idea has to be something that will survive the length of 50, 100, 200, 300 pages. I’ve had so many ideas that I’ve tried to make books out of, and when I went to write, after a few pages, I was out of things to say. You have to be so much more analytical with a longer project, making sure to outline and find a rhythm to the writing. Maybe it’s the same as making an 18 track album as opposed to a 4-song EP, or a 10 minute YouTube video as opposed to a full-length film.

O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

M: Don’t be afraid to push boundaries. So many dimensions of our lives exist within the scope of some sort of limitation. The most obvious example I can think of is rubrics for school assignments. I’ve never had an assignment that was completely, 100 percent up to me. But with your personal art, that’s exactly the case. You can do what you want. It’s 100 percent up to you. So be brave, be weird, and push all of the creative boundaries possible. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

M: Not anything coming soon, if I’m being completely honest. I’ve learned not to be in a rush to move to future projects because I don’t want to burn myself out by thinking that I always need to be productive. Right now I’m in a season of living, and finding inspiration in my everyday life. I’m sure that another project will arise from this season of life, and I’ll be sure to announce that when the time comes. But I have plenty of projects that are currently out for people to check out.

Everybody give a hand to Micah for his time answering all of our most pressing questions about writing and illustration! You can find out more about him on his website and Instagram.

Farewell Nineteen

Written by Keri Stewart
Art by NEOSiAM 2021

  1. she no longer exists, existing not in her past self.
  2. her death sprouts closed-lip demises with the mere exhale of her final breath.
  3. forget crisp-cut eulogies for they will not follow her current image.
  4. formaldehyde solution clings to her pre-mortem apologies.
  5. she deconstructs the oblivious nature of other-preservation, conserving her inner strength for ethical, selfish deeds.
  6. during her autopsy, she surgically replaces her silent-movie organs with unruly eager-expressing one’s stitched and sewn in irreplaceable individualism. 
  7. she attends a funeral, and in the casket: her mirrored body mocks stillness symphonies and the time-crunching nerves of crackling rubber skin.
  8. medley of dissected dislocation otherworldly shrieks of her transformation.
  9. from larvae to far-fetched feathered crow, she emerges.
  10. unbound from botanical interpersonalizations that could weepy wilt her surplus of self.
  11. cliff jumping in adrenaline resolution, a body resurrected by the axe of candor.
  12. escaping the womb in a coat of vernix caseosa, not with a cry but with a strident step.
  13. the undead ditz of dancing towards self-preservation for body and mind.
  14. rejoicing in the massacre of her previous self as she lets the blood climb up her legs like a hungry cat and pleading child.
  15. black widow killer dressing in the revival of survival, heels clicking on cracked tiles.
  16. painting her face with the ashes of her past self, a skin enveloped in the particle grips of burned-away foolishness. 
  17. mansion smirking in the mirror because the case of her past self remains cold.
  18. her revival sprouts second chances with the mere inhale of her first breath.
  19. she no longer exists, only in metamorphic versions of herself.

Swimming Lessons

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Alyssasie B

My grandmother sent me a message out of the blue on a Tuesday morning. I opened the message to see her in a big floppy beach hat and a vintage style bathing suit. A black bandage-like dress of a bathing suit. She stands on a hotel room balcony that faces the beach. Her hand is on her hip and she smiles. She tells me that she wants to start living her life because she is over 65. I reread the message at least five times, chuckling to myself and remembering all the distress she had once caused me over swimming. 

My grandmother has instilled the fear of every moving thing into her children and grandchildren. From riding in airplanes to swimming in the ocean, my grandmother made my aunts, my mother and myself believe we would be harmed or killed in some way. 

“You’ll drown.”

“Boats sink.”

“There are robbers, rapists, and murdered out here.”

“Sometimes it’s better to smile at men than to tell them no. It could save you.”

This was especially extended to being in water or swimming. The summer I turned six, my father, who has been a lifeguard for many years, decided it was time for me to learn to swim. I was extremely excited because I had never been to a pool or the beach and I had never owned a bathing suit. I wanted all three, just not in that order. My brother purchased a two piece yellow, floral bathing suit. At the time, I still had an “outie” belly button that stuck out like a sore thumb. My mother told me to try the bathing suit on in the bathroom. There was a long mirror in the bathroom, hanging vertically on the door. I twirled like a fashion model. “I love it,” I ran to my mother. In my mind, I had no choice but to love it because it was my only option. It could have been neon green paisley or plaid and I would have thought it was beautiful. 

“…She shouldn’t have that on,” my grandmother puckered her lips and shook her head, “cover her up.”

My mother shook her head, “it’s a bathing suit and she is a child.”

My mother and grandmother would continue to go back and forth about me wearing the bathing suit while I eagerly awaited the next morning. My father would retrieve me and take me to the pool. I laid in bed thinking about this magical place. I had only ever seen pools and beaches in films or when we drove past public city pools. I never paid much attention except to the fact that they were crowded with children splashing. I couldn’t wait to be one of those children splashing and dunking my head underwater. I wanted to become one with the water. I would become a fish or a mermaid that could tell my underwater adventures to anyone that would listen.

The morning came and I was up at the crack of dawn. My father arrived and I had a toothy grin with my new bathing suit on. He surveyed the outfit and frowned at my mother. 

She snubbed her nose, “Don’t start.” 

Before leaving, she positioned us for a photo. A moment frozen in time between my father and I. Me in my bathing suit and my father in a white tank top. I grinned from ear to ear.

The pool was filled with buzzing excitement. There was a makeshift concession stand coming out of the recreation center building. The smell of hotdogs  and melting ice cream filled the air. The sun beamed on my shoulders and there were so many kids splashing and playing. My father warned me to stay close by, in the shallow end of the pool. I made some new friends who had been swimming what seemed like their entire lives. I dipped my toes in the water, waiting for the day it would be my turn. 

After a few arguments with my grandmother and a change of attire, I realized that day would never come. I went to the pool. I dipped some toes in the water but I did not learn to swim. My father couldn’t finish teaching me to swim and my underwater dreams soon ended. The closest I got to swimming after that summer was getting color changing, mermaid tailed barbie dolls for Christmas. 

Years later, I found myself at an amusement park on a family “bonding” trip. My two younger cousins eagerly awaited going to the water park. They had never seen a pool or beach or even a lake, except on television. On the way to the park, my aunts stopped at a local target to purchase bathing suits for them. They asked me, “ have you been on the water slides?”

“Yes,” I smiled.

My youngest cousin, cheeks rosy, clasped her hands, “Can you go? Can we go with you?”

“…,” I looked to my grandmother, who was engaged in conversation with my mother. “…Yes but to the kiddie slides because they are smaller.” I tried to say it confidently and forget my memories of my discontinued swimming lesson with my father. My cousins and I waited all day until it was finally our turn for the big moment- my cousin would see the pool, the slides, and the tropical beach replica at the park. “Go ahead,” my mother said, “y’all have fun.” She smiled.

We ran to the shallow kiddie pool. My cousin was distracted by a pool shower in the shape of a turtle, but I told her we could get in the pool first and then go to the showers and slides. We finally reached the gold at the end of the rainbow. My cousin clung to me and my youngest cousin ran up to where the water met the “sand.”

“HEEY!” A voice bellowed like God as the burning bush.

“HEEEY! Don’t go in there. You’re gonna drown!! Get away from there.”

My face began to turn red because I recognized that southern drawl. I recognized the cadence. I recognized the false urgency. It was my grandmother.

My youngest cousin was engrossed with excitement. She couldn’t hear or see anything but the water. She already had her big toe in the water. She took a deep breath as she was about to enter the pool. This was her chance- the moment she had been waiting for. My grandmother came to the pool screaming about drowning and not going in, until other children began to gasp and run for their parents. A little boy grabbed his father tightly, who was laying in the water with his son. She continued to scream until we moved away from the pool. As we sadly walked away, she tapped my shoulder. “…Y’all was about to go home to glory, to meet Jesus. That water was up to that man’s neck.” The water was so shallow that toddlers, I assumed maybe two-three years old, were sitting and standing in the water. When they stood it touched the top of their ankles. While sitting, the water covered their legs.

I didn’t respond: I walked quietly away. My cousins returned to their mothers and I wandered to another part of the water park. My grandmother had given the “approval” for me to venture to the water slides. In her mind, the slide was different from that of the pool. I was older and she thought the few times I went to the pool with my dad, I actually learned to swim. Standing in front of the colorful slides and what mimicked an aquatic animal themed beach, I sullenly watched other children run and play. Children younger than my cousins were happily splashing about in the water. I decided not to get on any slides because I felt like my cousins were missing out. I returned to our group, and we walked silently to another section of the amusement park. We stayed until nightfall. 

On the ride home back to Maryland from my grandmother’s home state of Virginia, I would learn that my grandmother was a product of the Jim Crow south. Grandmother started recalling aspects of her childhood, which included the limitations on recreational activities, like swimming. She was born in a small town called Blackstone. See, a lot of Blacks didn’t swim because they couldn’t. If there wasn’t a law regulating public pools, white Americans were putting harmful chemicals in “Blacks only” pools to potentially maim Black people. Public swimming facilities for Black Americans were haunted with racial epithets and a lack of funding for those pools. Pools terrified my grandmother for more than fear of drowning. 

In her youth, Black people didn’t swim, and neither did we. I’m sure there are many more reasons that influenced her decision. Racism had subtly affected my life before I even fully acknowledged it. My grandmother held and still holds a lot of fear about many things because of her young life. She has avoided driving a car. She has avoided traveling, unless in a car driven by someone else.

Her internal distress would become a hindrance to us as we grew. Because of her paranoia of our bodies being ogled, of us potentially drowning and experiencing racial violence, my grandmother had a say in every decision and activity in our young lives. I am an adult now, and I think about that moment at the amusement park. I think about the young me in the yellow bathing suit. I think about all the factors that led to that moment.

Before my grandmother texted me, I made the decision to take adult swimming lessons. I never laugh at jokes about Black people not knowing how to swim because of the history and culture of swimming. I want to pick up where little me left off because she deserves to fulfill her underwater dreams. I deserve to enjoy an aspect of daily life without racism or sexism interfering with my existence. I deserve to just… be.

So my grandmother has finally gone to the beach, and now I will finally learn to swim.

On the Power of Words Left Unsaid: Saoirse

Saoirse’s name and passion are the same: freedom. As an exophonic writer, their academic interests revolve around linguistic power dynamics, especially in connection to the land. They are always trying to write poetry that breaks the English language into articulating its own colonial violence. They work full-time as a freelance editor and serve as the Editor for Emerging Voices in Poetry at Oyster River Pages. They find excitement in travel, comfort in a good cup of coffee, and love in their newly adopted puppy, Malaika. 

O: When did you begin writing? 

Saoirse: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write in some form or another but it was around the age of eleven or twelve that I began taking writing seriously. I had this silly dream of being a published novelist. But then, my English teacher turned me on to writing poetry and introduced me to contemporary poets. That’s when I began truly valuing my writing as a process, rather than as a means to the goal of publication. That was also when I began truly paying attention to my craft and genuinely began focusing on becoming better as a writer.

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

S: I have been lucky enough to have some amazing writing teachers over the years. Drs. Kimberly Andrews and James Hall both exposed me to ideas and writers that indelibly marked my own work. I have been in awe of the works of Natalie Diaz, Naomi Shihab Nye, Gulzar, Akhil Katyal, Tishani Doshi, Ocean Vuong, and many others! I often find myself turning to a book of poetry for inspiration when I’m stuck – on the page or in real life.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

S: I’m gonna cheat: Work in Progress

My work isn’t done yet and it likely never will be. I’m embracing that life and learning is a process, not a destination.

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

S: It’s a cliche but nothing beats that “EUREKA” moment, when you make that connection that’s been evading you and everything just clicks perfectly into place. It’s the euphoria of an achievement combined with the satisfaction of scratching an elusive itch. Those moments are few and far between but they are rewarding beyond measure. 

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

S: Well, at the beginning of this pandemic, in May 2020, I was writing my very last as an undergrad student. And I got a call from the Indian embassy saying that I will be airlifted from the US in five days. I finished finals, packed what I could in one suitcase, and repatriated. Moving countries, especially given it was not a particularly voluntary choice, changed my relationship to both the language(s) I was using, and the ideas I was expressing. It also meant adjusting to new rhythms, new surroundings, and family-but-no-longer-familiar people. It changed everything. 

O: Your work is vulnerable, unique, and captivating. Where does your inspiration come from? 

S: Life. The people I meet, the experiences I have, the books I read. I try to capture the voice of that person in the corner of the room at a party. The lone dissenting opinion in the weekly review meeting at work. I imagine what that quiet voice would say if it had not been cut off. As a queer writer, expressing transgressive truths through pregnant silences and building not-quite-homes in liminality is often the goal of my poems. 

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

S: I don’t know that I have a favorite. But the one I reflect on the most is Duplex, which was completed in a Brooklyn Poets workshop and also published by them. This poem took several years, multiple continents, and excessive experimentation to truly come into its own. The form it eventually took, the Duplex (a uniquely American combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues poem), hadn’t even been created when I first started writing this poem. I struggled to find a container for this poem. It rejected any home I tried for it, just as its speaker does. But when I discovered the Duplex, I immediately asked Dr. Jericho Brown to share the rules of the form with me, and he very kindly did.

O: Your pieces seem to center around the yearning for connection. How has writing helped you express this emotion?

S: I’ve never thought of my work in that way before. Thank you for introducing that perspective! I have never really consciously set out to explore a desire for connection but now that you’ve brought it up, I do see that thread weaving through some of my poetry. I’m gonna have to think on that. 

O: There are many unique characteristics to your poems, whether that is the use of blank space or the stanza breaks. What is your process for determining how a poem will look and how it will express your message?

S: Every poem is different. But silences are extremely important to me. I often start a poem with the silences, whether that is in a stanza break, or a caesura, or an enjambment, and then build the rest of the poem around it. Negative space as a technique has a long history of use in visual art and I think poetry is particularly conducive to its use. What do we communicate via what we leave unsaid? Which realities is language incapable of capturing authentically? Who’s articulate silences are we ignoring? These are the questions that keep me up at night. 

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

S: Just write. Don’t worry too much about who will read it and what they will think. Those are important questions, but for later. When you’re just starting out, just write. Read voraciously, maximize your surface area for serendipity, and write. Just that. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? S: I have been writing (and struggling) with a suite of poems for quite some time. I’ll certainly let you know when it’s finally out there. In the meantime, I am starting a new Learning in Public initiative and in that vein, my newsletter, Caffeinated, launches at the beginning of 2023. Do subscribe!

Thank you to Saoirse for sitting down and chatting with us about everything from eureka moments to the pandemic to advice! Find out more about them through their website, Instagram, Twitter, and Mastagon.

Bleeding Heart Dove

Written by Keri Stewart
Art by David Clode

bipedal fools
bare candied crimson
atop hill-crested chests.

rustled reds acquaint peers
in full blossom,
ripened to maroon flight.

bleeding heart dove
soars shared waters
with pigeon-plucked birds.

flower feathers taint
in communication commotion,
ruffled from falling.

bleeding heart dove
solitude soars mundanity,
the insanity of passage.

centerfold cherries
rot heavenly-white plumage.
a canvas struck crimson.

bipedal fool
displays claret hues,
naive to eventual aches.

Seirenes Secrets

Written by Ari Chattoo
Art by Hans

my god,
won’t you swallow me whole?
i am nothing less than devastated by the fecundity of my love for you.
distance spans between us like an untraveled continent
and yet
if you asked,
i would crack myself open like persephone’s pomegranate
sweetly offered up on a silver platter.
i would take glorious honor in watching you feast
on my deepest, darkest truths.
do away with my mere mortal desires as i drip down your chin.
consume me.
i want to drown in your deluge,
be held under the water until my lungs are filled,
in the exact same way that my heart is.
take all this love that lives beneath my clavicles,
spin me into fragile sugar floss,
let me be the lemon drop that you pluck so gracefully between thumb and forefinger.
watch me crumble.