the painter

Written by Nicole Mousicos
Art by Tom Balabaud


I’m dreaming of you, again. 

If only I could paint with my eyes closed, if only I could paint in my dreams. Thrumming a heartbeat with serenity, your form comes at me etched in velvet, blurred at the edges, igniting a wild ecstasy in the veins. I feel I can touch you. Yet, your body dissolves like sand between my fingers. What are you, to live beyond my sight? Your laughter bubbles in my chest, and I wake smiling. I wake alone. 

You sleep peacefully on-one-side. One-arm-tucked-beneath-the-other, one-arm-around-pillow, one-arm-around-me. I doubt you are as deep a sleeper as you think. We often move together, and you smile every time I kiss your forehead. 

The nights are colder. The warping seasons, the sharper cuts to the wind. The bed is colder, I wake alone. 


This room is boundless in its silence. The easel is turned upward, your beautiful face against the sky. My thighs cramped minutes ago, yet I stay, palette against my right forearm, merciless, at work. The minutes thump against the wooden floor. Time ticks above and the sunlight sears, illuminating the speckles of dust like loose ashes. It is easy to forget that the world exists. I must remind myself of what it was that was here before you. Truthfully, not much. 


There is your mother, shy of forty, calling me sir, please, my daughter, her portrait. She must think I am a man. There is your father, shy of fifty, clearing his throat, taking my hand lightly. He must think I am a woman. And I see you, flashes of blue and silver, eyes like pale moss. The most beautiful painting I have ever seen. 

And I take their money, breathless, senseless, half-in-love, quarter-mad, one-eighth-too-lucky, one-eighth-too-terrified-to-move. 


I have learnt very little. I know even less now. I sat in front of the canvas for years and I wore the poor fucker down. You asked, swiftly, about pencils and watercolours, oils and brushes, perspective and easel and canvas. I couldn’t tell you much. I asked you about poetry, and with a grin like dynamite, you simply showed me. 

I remember you, behind the walls of a castle, betwixt a maze. Wonder in your eyes, pulling me at the hand, boundless in ambition. I caught your pale-white and hardened fingers, bejewelled in silver. I remember you in white, teardrops falling from the sky, as it snowed along the markets. You hate the coldness in my hands, I can’t help it. I drew your spine in one sitting, did I ever tell you? I planned our fates along birthmarks and freckles, where you’d drag me from both feet; I coloured your skin in blushes and smeared hot red curses for your lips. I needed your neck, again. I needed to be buried in it. 

In swarms of green, laps of trees and the melodies caught in your throat, I burned you alive. Nothing would ever be good enough, a perfectionist’s curse. At the mercy of the canvas, I remember you, scarred, stammering, speaking-slowly then saying-nothing-at-all, silence. Then, the paintbrush in your hand, urging me to finish.


I wake, alone. The distance between us is palpable. I wake up soaked in your colours. I don’t paint. I have to paint, to paint, to remember. Choked on sobs, forced eyelids open, I’m dreaming of you, again. 

The American Tourist

Written by Winona Wardell
Art by Winona Wardell

I am embarrassed to be an American tourist. I do not want to be seen as similar to the representation of the United States. The representation that caused an Austrian boy to ask me “Have you ever been to a gun wedding in Las Vegas?” I looked at him, waiting for him to laugh. “I saw it on YouTube!” I try to not shrink into the wall behind me. 

Assimilating to the culture of the place that I am in has always been important to me. Standing out as the person with too many bags, a camera around their neck, and a fanny pack around their waist has always embarrassed me. This meant that when I traveled to Italy this summer I worried about my image immensely. I even started wearing dresses, more makeup, tanning, and walking faster. The things I see the graceful Italian women do. Although some things feel impossible, how can someone wear pants in 100 degree heat? It feels like an elite club and I am desperately trying to get in. I want to feel like I belong in a place that everyone admires on postcards, that contains both architecture wonders, and geographical beauties. A place filled with deeply rooted traditions dating back to the medieval period, and world class food. Yet somehow I always seem to stick out. 

In the beginning of my trip, fitting into Italian culture felt like a test, and as a person who can’t say no, I was up for the challenge. But as the trip progressed I was tired of feeling like I was being judged all the time, and the worst part was that I knew no one was judging me. The Italians didn’t care about some American girl, when I was one in millions. So I gave up on “the Italian look” and I carried around the camera I had bought just for this trip, and more importantly, I wore shorts. I learned that cultures are different and that’s part of the appeal to travel. I don’t have to become like another culture to appreciate and respect it.

Two Leave, One Stays

Written by Winona Wardwell
Art by Alleksana

The first leaves quietly. She departs in the humid summer heat, equal parts excited to begin a new adventure and terrified to leave an old one. I oversleep and almost miss our goodbye. She knocks on my door and I let her in, still in my pajamas. I set out her favorite pastries all cut in half, the ones from the overpriced store down the street. “You didn’t have to,” she says with a smile on her face. I just smile in return. I rub my eyes, and wish I was not so tired. I ask about her packing, I make fun of her for packing too much. She hands me a hat of hers that I have always loved, a strange parting gift. I want to explain to her how much I will miss her, or how secretly I am mad that she is leaving me behind, but I don’t say it. That has never been our kind of friendship. We don’t know how to say goodbye, we settle for an awkward hug, our arms hang loosely around eachothers’ abdomen, we were never the type to hug. “See you in a year,” I say. She nods, her face unreadable. The day she leaves is bright, a few clouds in the sky, a good beach day. I wish I had invited her to the beach just one more time. Instead, I watch her walk down my driveway, like I have watched her do hundreds of times before and I know a year is a short time in comparison to a life but for some reason it feels like we are saying goodbye forever.

The second leaves loudly, just as the summer starts to fade into a peaceful quiet fall, as school starts, and the college students filter back into the city. For weeks she frets on what to pack, what she has to buy, and what will happen. I arrange a picnic on a hill, and we watch the sunset and try to find the words that describe how we feel. The evening is perfect, and again I find myself wishing we had done this more. We sit on the hill too long, past when the families leave, and soon only teenagers are left, playing music loudly from their cars.  I tell her a lot of things I wish I had been brave enough to tell the first. She reassures me as she has always done, yet there is an uneasiness in her tone that I hadn’t sensed before. I can read the second better than the first. She is nervous, and I don’t know what to tell her. I have no advice to give, I feel like I have fallen short as a friend. We leave the hill when all we can hear are crickets and the mosquitoes start biting our legs. Our goodbye is long and drawn out. She hugs me tightly, squeezing my shoulders. She reminds me not to forget about her, I scoff, “Of course not, I love you.” Displays of affection were always easy with her. “See you in four months,” I say, before turning and walking away. 

Now fall is approaching. I watch the seasons change and the city settle into a quiet rhythm as I always have. I try to resist change, yet slowly I fall into a new pattern without two friends that I once thought I could live without. There it is somewhat disheartening that the world moves on, this concept has always been hard for me to grasp, it seems like slow movement, and then one takes a moment for granted and just like that everything changes. What was once is not anymore.

Weeding Out the Weak

Written by Gabriella Troy
Art by Washarapol D BinYo Jundang

Energy pulsates through the vicinity in
lightning-quick streaks, with promises
of minty fresh lungs and
shots from out of the darkness.

Something wet trickles down,
heightening the senses,
inching through a knot of tiny legs and
infinite little particles.

The moisture pools,
the stolen molecules thrum in anticipation
of the vacuum that sucks suddenly
against gravity, toward the electrifying warmth.

Something is crumbling away, microscopically thorough.
Blue seeps through the shock of awareness:
this energy is brighter, more powerful,
tugging all greedy little fingers.

Yet two fingers tug hardest,
and the others wither away
with distant hope, not promised
such a successful surge.

What once crumbled has given way,
and life stabs into the cerulean light:
the earth births a king–
a tyrant, a weed.

save the snake

Written by Jules Descoteaux
Art by cottonbro

suck the poison out the wound
then spit it on the hissing snake
until it slithers away. another

snake emerges from the bush.
someone, somewhere, sinks
teeth into flesh that doesn’t
belong to them. marks of the flesh
become marks of the blood and

convert to poison sooner than
it can be drawn out, yet we still try
even despite previous offenses,
to save you, the other serpent–

yet i am the one with your blood
slicked venom on my breath, slithering
as i smile: warping and white. my
tongue stings behind our teeth.

Universe #29

Written by Terra Ungson
Art by Katrin Korfmann

I don’t recall when I first realized that I was myself, but I remember that she was my first memory. Her cry was my first breath; she looked at the sky and I knew what light was—and I was not light.

Over the years, she climbed trees, chased dreams, and forged friendships under the sun while my fists clutched at branches and my back scorched beneath its torrid heat. My form ached to stretch in fields and rest beneath streetlights. My limbs longed to reach for her, hoping that she would recognize me.

In another universe, we would have been sisters. But these circumstances never changed our ways. I wonder if she would recognize me now without sound, nor depth, nor color. What have I become if not merely an echo or ripple? Maybe somehow she would see the smoke and for a moment, remember what we were. Maybe then she would be able to understand a piece of me, or at least the version of me in this universe. But she is too cautious about starting a fire.

I’ve been trying to recall what it feels like to touch something—the sting of a fresh cut, the itch of a healing wound, the regret of a picked scab. Her light, though, is well nurtured, and she will never know these agonies. She will only feel the comfort of balms and bandages; her cries will be soothed by lullabies and popsicles.
Every part of her that pulses or throbs is left for me to feast on, and although I find it agonizing to be pulled in by her presence, I only ache because I am refused her touch. In this universe, she is loved—and I am only meant to watch.

Red Ring

Written by Anna Conway
Art by Sam K Clem

Snapping the cider can
rings the fondness
Of life back after waiting in your
University dorm for a text
Or a call
Or a flyer put through your
Door to send your senses alight with
The raging lights of the night
The flash from someone’s phone
The battery-powered globes and
Strobes that peel at your retinas
One after the other until the only
thing you can see is
The flesh of your palms scraped with
Envy as the boy who said he likes you
Pulls the lips off of another girl with
His teeth
Your nostrils, red raw from coke
sending your synapses into
A frenzy and a girl pull you into
Examine the red rings on your body
Drunken devils in the inferno of
A cheap uni dorm, their shadows
Dance and disappear as quickly as the
Fever piques and calms as you’re left waiting
For the smell of an open bottle of mouthwash
To bring you to life again

While I Await a Lover, I Can Love Bok Choy

Written by Aida Safiyah
Art by Holly Warburton

I did not love myself for a very long time. The pandemic became a vacuum in which I was distilled in this state of resentment and dissatisfaction and recurring reminders of past traumatic experiences. Even now, two years later, I feel I’ve yet to sober up from the shock of it all.

The days were uniform, and I had to confront the two decades of suffering that were haunting me—or die. At some point, I was at the bottom of an abyss now permanently seared in my memory, and the most important question was then presented to me as I laid paralyzed — to pull myself up anew, or to succumb to the destructive hate I had unknowingly grown comfortable with?

I’m choosing the former. Not ‘chose’, because it is a choice I have to actively make day after day. Sometimes I become hesitant, and the temptation of comfortable negativity would be so enticing, but I would sigh and think about the life I want to build and remind myself of this line from a poem by Warsan Shire —

I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love, you won’t be able to see beyond it.

So I had learned the necessity of loving myself in my early adulthood. Nothing original. ‘Learned to love myself’ instead of ‘learning to love myself’ because I’ve decided that loving myself is not necessary. Yes, it was, but no longer now. Now I understand that I, and my life, have value. On the days I love myself, I’m grateful I possess so-and-so qualities, and it adds to the value that I have. On the days I loathe myself and feel like a worthless sewer rat, still, my life has value. Whether I love myself or not does not matter anymore because I understand my life has value regardless. Yes, axes of oppression and discrimination and generational hardship and the way things simply are—that largely made me the hateful person I was—still exist to this moment, but changing my perspective from “I’m a horrible person” to the more somatic and escapable “I feel horrible” has liberated my mind greatly.

I have zero interest in being in a relationship.

I perfectly understand wanting one. But to me, it’s just like any other endeavour, which would either happen as a silent surprise, bulldoze its way through my life, or gradually be built by my own decisions. I have so many other wants, I want to be an educator, and share what little—but fascinating—that I’ve learnt in life. I want to love the Earth at places I haven’t been. I’ve only experienced Malaysian shophouses with beautifully haphazard interiors and I’ve only breathed Malaysian petrichor, and yet I am so in love, still, so surely the world outside can offer more love. I crave those experiences too, in my dreams, daydreams, in my decision-makings, just like how I dream of a proverbial apple of my eye.

I understand the concept of having your person, but chance reigns over all of life. ‘Right person, right time’ is a simplified observation of how randomness dictates a lot in life. So within these parameters of chance, and with the power that I have, will I ever befriend someone who would understand love the way I do? Someone who would understand that ‘you complete me’ and ‘you complement me and in our parallel, complete solitudes, I choose to accompany yours for a long, long time’ are different, and someone who would also want the latter? I’ve been in love, of course, and the light that floods in when you look at a maybe-lover is absolutely breath-taking, but I’m yet to assign that light more value than the illumination I receive when I’ve read a transformative piece of poetry. Or when I laugh with my friends. Love is still love. Light is still light. Of course I’d enjoy having my person, but it’s not so I could be given chocolates or flowers or suffocatingly be categorized under the mundane and gendered label of ‘girlfriend’, but rather, to have someone who would grow with me as I deconstruct and unlearn all that has weighted my existence, and learn what would grant me lightness. Someone who would sit with me in attentive silence as I ask them, What are the current state of your hands?

I sometimes mourn the childhood years in which I should have learned about love in the world. As far as I remember, even my admiration of my surroundings as a child were scientific and calculative. As if rambutans, too, would dislike the ‘me’ I had to offer, and inevitably turn away. Now, I find love in the crunch of leaves under the soles of my cheap sneakers as I take a walk. I find love in observing catastrophically messy families in restaurants late at night. I find love in the colours and scents of watermelons and mangoes, and how they grow from the Earth, and they taste so different from each other. The world is very human and I love all that is human, even the ‘uglier’ parts. Of course, I’m not saying that loving a person is the same as loving the ocean or loving bok choy. What I’m saying is, while I await the appearance of a lover, I can love the many ways I can understand the sea. The many ways I can cook bok choy. And love it very much.

I’ve decided I’m a lover, and alive, and I’m steadfast in my understanding of how love is elemental. Open arms from a grandmother, from a friend, from the Earth, from someone’s eyes — they all feel equally loving. When the chest opens up, it all feels gloriously the same. As if this common denominator love that underlies all forms of love is something undeniable, ever-reliable, and belongs to you. Belongs to me. It does. I’ve decided to befriend this patience and wonder that makes life worth living.

On Seeing Some People You Thought You Recognized

Written by Niamh Kelly
Art by tookapic

We wane to invisible amongst a crowd of thousands.
Our faces blur in the swift-pouring rain,
voices unheard through the constant cacophony.

We disappear like stage magicians.
One-way-mirror- eyes, we can gaze out but you cannot look in.
Low drifting city smog would obscure your line of sight.

We dissipate between pools of streetlight as the evening darkens.
Slipping through the gap of dusk and dawn.
Leaving only fleeting reflections on puddles to remain.

We vanish when heads turn towards us.
Transforming into a stray thought, so soon forgotten.
A gossamer impression that dissolves with a direct stare.

We are an echo, never the sound.

chanterelles against the loveless world

Written by Michelle Rochniak
Art by Michael Reichelt

you will be plucked from the forest one day: arid wind
slicing your stem.
you will bleed water;
the greedy air will swipe this, too.
you will gasp from the grass, waiting for a warm hand
or even fire,
but no one comes.
it’s just you and the air,
destined to create a stiff, stale stem.
what’s an abandoned fungus to do?
your limbless siblings are five feet away.

what if we had branches, you muse—
distracting yourself from the thrashing breeze.
I wonder if the trees would talk to us more.
maybe we would know more of their words;
maybe they would love us.
what do you think?
you call out to the sky.
no one answers.