Butterfly Bushes

Written by Niamh Kelly
Art by uello

The bright cones of emerging flowers
along the arching stems of summer lilac,
drape over the derelict ruins of old buildings.
The blossoms sway and waver in the air
like a kite trembling on a string,
visible from afar, contrasting purple petals against grey stone.
Roots searching deep into wall fissures
to maintain a hold on the vertical environment.
Laden with nectar, rich with sweetness,
A fragrant beacon promising ambrosia.
Each amethyst flower bejewelled
with the topaz of painted lady butterflies.

10 things I want to tell my younger self

Written by Jessica Liu
Art by Pixabay

10. Sunscreen. Three finger lengths. Every day. Rain or shine.

9. The easiest and tastiest sandwich recipe you’ll ever need: 2 slices of whole wheat bread, fig jam on the bottom, mayo on the top, turkey, brie, arugula, top with salt and pepper and enjoy. 

8. Don’t be afraid of being alone. In middle school and high school you are going to be spending a lot of time in the library during brunch and lunch. That’s okay. You’ll find your people eventually, and don’t let them go. Good friends are rare, and friendships can fade so easily. Put in the time and reach out to people you want to hang out with. Ask them to go on a walk, a picnic, grab boba and lunch, go thrifting, anything.

7. Prioritize academics, but don’t push yourself too hard. It’s not worth it to take 6 classes and burn out 5 weeks into the semester. Focus on learning the course material, not just passing, and don’t make school your entire personality, because that’s just pretentious and really annoying.

6. Phoebe’s a shitty friend and you need to stop letting her treat you like a doormat. 

5. Be kind to your body. Please. It’s your only forever home, so take care of it. It labors every day to help you run, walk, move, dance, laugh. Stop punishing it for not looking like something it was never meant to look like. It’s beautiful, so beautiful, and deserves more than Coke Zeros and midnights hunched over toilet bowls.

4. He hurt you, and you’re allowed to take all the time you need to let go. Healing should never be rushed, and honestly, I think it’s beautiful that you are able to care so deeply for another person, to open up wholly and vulnerably, choosing to trust them with your heart even if it means the possibility of them shattering it into ten thousand pieces.

3. Your parents aren’t perfect. They’re just people, and really, really flawed people at that. They love you, but sometimes don’t know how to. Forgive, but don’t forget. Love them, but never blindly.

2. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. No one in the world has hurt you like I have, and you didn’t deserve any of it. I wish I could take back my words, hurled at you in school bathroom mirrors. All those 2am’s you spent, falling asleep with muted sobs, and I kept silent through it all. 

1. I love you.

The Other Side

Written by Revika Sangamita
Art by Leire Unzueta

Perhaps I would’ve died sooner than the unfaithful plan of fate,
I’d give in to the blood of love and finally taste
the serenity in fears, crippling tears under my name.
A cry breaks a tear open and dreams brew in the sulking sky.
Now I dive deep in haste, with buffering dread trying to hide
nightmares of their own, I hear the white lies
turning in gray, freely breathing away.
This isn’t the place it used to be, things have changed.
“Wonders in ruins” is the new game.
And today, I am on the other side without a shame.
Oh today, I say I have lived with all my sake!

If These Walls Could Talk…

Written by Niamh Kelly
Art by Archie Binamira

Centuries of history form the foundations
Of buildings structured under expectations,
The rooves groaning under the weight.
The battles and debates fought, the speeches recited,
The revolutions fantasised about
entrenched into the ground, unmovable, unmissable.

Yet anecdotes are swept into crevices like crumbs
To be nibbled on by mice, too small to sustain larger lives by themselves.
But when thousands of lives converge briefly
And move out radially from the centre again,
Snippets of stories are carelessly tossed into the air, repelled by ears unwilling to hear,
drifting directionless like leaves in the wind,
Falling to the cobblestone paths to be crushed underfoot or blown into web-strewn corners.

Accumulating alongside dust until the windows are eased open,
Restored breaths telling tales from decades ago entwine with the freshening breeze,
Chasing away the stale and static deadened air,
Floating upwards to whisper softly to younger minds, “Look down, look around, look beneath!”
And the forgotten conversations are unearthed.

Birthday blues

Written by Jessica Liu
Art by Suzy Hazelwood

Today is my birthday: April 6. It is currently 3:02 pm as I am typing this. I am still on campus, sitting in front of the library on an uncomfortably hard plastic chair underneath an umbrella, one of the few places I can find that manages to shield me from the sizzling sun. Southern California is weird. Yesterday it was chilly, about 60 degrees, and today it’s 98. The weather really needs to make up its goddamn mind.

Anyways– I have always felt a sense of melancholy on my birthday. Ever since I could start remembering things, I really don’t think there’s ever been a birthday where I haven’t cried. I’m not sure why that is exactly, but I’ve sort of just accepted it.

Nostalgia is an emotion I have pretty often and it tends to hit exceptionally hard on my birthday. It’s a weird thing, to get one year older, to have grown a couple inches taller, a bit smarter (questionable), and a little more mature. I’ve always been someone who likes to look back in time, rather forward. Though it is probably untrue, I always feel like times were better in the past. I miss the days where I was young and ignorant, naively blissful, and innocently optimistic. As I’ve grown older, cynicism has hit me like a bowling ball. I worry that I am going to be that one nihilistic middle-aged lady that people cannot stand to be around because she’ll be a Debbie-downer. 

I have just turned 16, not at all close to becoming remotely middle-aged. But honestly speaking, I do think a pinch of cynicism is good, like cautionary pessimism, to protect my heart from unattainable expectations. Which brings me to my next point.

My expectations are far too high. I am extremely hard on myself, and push myself to overachieve and go above and beyond when it comes to anything, including celebrations and gifts for people that I care about. This in turn translates to also having steep expectations when it comes to others. I recently took a love language test, and surprise surprise, one of my love languages is gift giving. I really don’t want people to drop hundreds of dollars and buy me expensive gifts. What means the most to me is something thoughtful, perhaps something handmade or cooked, that shows that they care about me and have paid attention to what I like.

There still is something nice about your birthday, though. I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection lately. I think birthdays breed introspection. Today I woke up, thought wow, it’s been another year. What a crazy year. Not my best, not my worst, but one of growth. The COVID-19 pandemic took up half of the year, which I took advantage of to up my fashion game and complete my first semester of online university, filled with Zoom connection issues and frantic 11:58pm Canvas assignment submissions. So many people that started the year off with me aren’t around anymore, and I hope they’re doing well.

I met someone this year, for the first time in my life. He sort of fell into my lap because I was not in any way looking for someone. His birthday was late last year, and we celebrated it on a quiet night, smiling at each other in the playground of our local park. The first time we talked, he mentioned that his favorite baked dessert was chocolate lava cake, which I took a mental note of, as well as the fact that he always complained about his lactose intolerance. The night of his birthday, I called him out on a walk, and we had mini chocolate lava cakes in glass ramekins, and I reassured him that I had used dairy substitutes. Time seemed to slip through my fingers like the fine grains in the kiddie sandbox we dragged our feet through, and my mom was worriedly texting me, as it was 12am already. He walked me home, thanked me twice, and gave me a hug. At the time, nothing had ever meant more to me.

He’s graduating in a month. I haven’t talked to him in 16 weeks. And I wish him nothing but the best. Funny to think I used to believe he was the one. Sometimes I still do. And that’s okay. Life just doesn’t work out the way you want it to sometimes. I stared at his green online dot on Messenger this morning, wondering if that happy birthday text would come in. It never did.

I lost a lot of friends this year. I changed schools, which might have played a role of some sort, but I honestly saw it coming. The friends I lost were already drifting away, and this year I realized that I have been spending time with people who make me feel emptier than if I was just alone. So I’m learning to be okay with letting people go. It’s painful, but better than trying to force a connection when it’s not there.

I’m slowly becoming more excited to grow up, and for once I am looking towards the future with anticipation and cautious optimism. Losing people I cared about and depended on emotionally this year has made me realize that I really just have myself. That was scary, because I didn’t believe in myself or my capabilities. 

I threw myself into writing, using blank Google docs and the iPhone Notes app to jot down thoughts and emotions that had become too overwhelming to keep inside of me. The bottled-up words that spilled out prevented those feelings from leaking out of my eyes or in the form of a frustrated outburst.

This year was a journey. Rocky, dreamy, giddy, unpredictable, definitely not perfect, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Happy birthday to me.

Playing a Song on the Piano

Written by Miriam Fernandez
Art by Bryan Geraldo

Every time she played a chord of a song on the piano that had lived for years and years, the same piano that her parents had played together when they were younger, she would close her eyes and remember. 

She would remember the first time she saw the ocean. The place her family visited every year after, building sand castles and running happily. She would bring books sometimes, sitting in a chair as the sunset appeared. Picture after picture, videos and videos of times that appeared again in every note that she played on the piano. 

She would remember building a treehouse with her sister. It was a place filled with puzzles, pencils, pens, lots of journals, and plants–mostly roses, as her sister liked them the most. She and her sister would run to the treehouse after school ended, each trying to get there first. She knew she was faster, but she also knew that if she got there first, she wouldn’t be able to feel the warmth of the sunlight. She wouldn’t be able to close her eyes, wouldn’t feel the flowers and the leaves of the trees as they ran. So she would let her sister get there first and soon, she would be there too.

She would remember when her family left their home. She had grown up there, a house surrounded by many trees and other houses where she met her friends. On afternoons when she didn’t have homework, or at least didn’t want to do her homework, she would rest on a tree–her tree–and read. She would bring a pillow with her every time and sometimes she fell asleep. Peaceful. That’s how she felt there. And even though they left, she knew that it was her home, her tree. 

And she would remember the first time she played a song on the piano and the instruments she learned to play. And the movies she would watch with her family and when her family surprised her on her birthday. And then the notes would finish, the song would end, and she would open her eyes again, happy to have remembered everything.


Written by Jessica Liu
Art by John William Waterhouse

Persephone went with Hades willingly–that’s what people didn’t know.

Hades hadn’t kidnapped her. She chose to go. And she hated herself for it, but if she was presented with the choice again, she wouldn’t have changed a thing.

She still remembered the first conversation she had with him, complaining about her dad’s overprotective authoritarian parenting.

“Yeah, Zeus can really be a douche, sometimes,” Hades said.

Persephone laughed, a surprised cheery sound. She hadn’t heard anyone other than her mother be so blunt about her dad in a while. It was refreshing.

“That’s for sure,” Persephone looked at Hades. Like, really looked at him. 

No one had ever stared at Hades so intently before, and he felt self-conscious.

“Is- is my hair-” he raked his nails through his dark, curly hair, matted from his constant helmet-wearing.

Persephone laughed.

“Your hair’s fine,” she told him. “I just always thought your eyes were black.”

“Are they not?”

“No,” she decided. “They’re indigo. Almost purple. Like an iris, or a hyacinth.”

“Yeah, right,” he scoffed.

“I’m serious.”

“You’re full of shit,” his cheeks were burning. She could make the lord of the underworld blush. 

Time seemed to stand still when she was around him. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had asked her so many questions about herself. He asked her what her favorite fruit was. Pomegranate. What her favorite flowers were. Hyacinths and petunias. Her biggest pet peeve. Her mother chasing away all the men who came near her. 

As they were parting, Hades whispered, “Come on, Persephone. Meet me after the sun sets.”

So she waited until it was dark, and slipped on a dress far too light for the drafty cold night.

Her mother was still asleep. She told herself she’d be back before sunrise. She ran through the meadows where she’d lived her sheltered life, picking daisies and eating persimmons. It was later than she’d ever been out, and she was meeting a man she’d met only a few days prior. She should have been terrified. 

“Persephone,” Hades stepped out of the shadows. He had picked a narcissus, whose petals looked like watercolor splatters of mustard and ivory, and pinned it behind her ear. 

Oh, all the things she wanted them to be.

They made her giddy with hope, with possibility. They kept her up at night, when she was entertaining scenarios that only ever played out the way she wanted them to in her mind, in her dreams. 

So when he asked her to go to the Underworld with him, how could she say no?

“I’m scared,” she had said at first. 

“What are you scared of?”

“I’m supposed to be scared of you.”

“And are you?”

She was silent. And he didn’t make any attempt to reassure her, or convince her. He just stood there, quietly staring at her, with those unnerving midnight eyes. Was she? She should be. He was everything her mother had ever warned her about. 

“No,” she whispered.

He smiled, a light curve of his lips.

“Okay,” he said. “Then I don’t see what the problem is.”

He held out a calloused hand. Persephone took it, and they disappeared into the night. 

The underworld was much different than Persephone had imagined it. It wasn’t dark, it wasn’t fiery, and it didn’t look like a place of torture. But the occasional wails from souls reminded her that it was. She shuddered, and stepped a little closer to Hades. She was so glad she wasn’t mortal.

She followed Hades to his throne room. 

Persephone was falling. She never meant to. But she couldn’t help it. A little bit at first, and then all at once.

One day, Hades came into her room. Something was different, and she could tell. Words spilled from his mouth, and all the blood rushed to her ears, blocking out everything. 

“I’m so, so sorry,” he ended.

About what? Sorry about what? 

Persephone didn’t understand. She didn’t understand what was going on. Whatever “it’s not you, it’s me” bullshit he had said wasn’t making sense. And she definitely couldn’t see clearly with the blurry film that had formed, obstructing her vision.

How many girls had seen their reflection in those eyes? How many girls had he promised the underworld?

Her narcissus looked like a lie, was picked by a cheat, felt like goodbye and reeked of deceit. 

Her mother was already waiting for her back at home with a knowing smile. 

She knew that little girls were a dime a dozen, and a man would never stay. 

It was winter. All the wildflowers had wilted. Fuschia and violet daydreams faded into the umber of a distant palm tree. 

What was a first love if not ephemeral, to have lost it as quickly as it arrived, have it come and go when the seasons change?

She met him in October; he came with the autumn leaves. Left a chilly night in November, whispered goodbye like a winter breeze.

Her eyes were rivers. Her heart was glass. And nothing had ever hurt as bad.

All the things she wanted them to be.

Only a Pinky-Width Apart

Written by Gabriella Troy
Art by Viktoria Slowikowska

I only have one day with you
before you leave for Europe.
I won’t close my eyes for 24 hours–
you pinky-promised to do that too.

Your pinky is so tiny
I can’t believe you’re old enough
to travel alone;
it feels like just yesterday
I drove you to get strawberry ice cream
and you sat in the booster seat
on the passenger side
so you could get the best views
from the windshield
even though it was dripping with rain.

At least for today
you’re just my little sister.
I’m scared I won’t know you
when the leaves turn red
and you return to school–
the cool kid
who grew up over summer.

But just give me these 24 hours
and I’ll never let them go.
We’re driving to the waterfall
where I taught you to swim,
and the playground since
we still like to swing.
We’re walking down to your preschool
for sentimentality’s sake,
and maybe we’ll get ice cream again
since I can’t get enough
of your bright face.

This day won’t be bittersweet–
just my all-time favorite.
Even when you’re gone,
I’ll look in the mirror and smile
and I’ll see you smile back
all the way from Europe,
since you pinky-promised.

Writing as the Act of Doing: Kwame Daniels

Kwame Sound Daniels is a painter/poet who is based out of Maryland. Xe are an MFA candidate for Vermont College of Fine Arts. Xir first book is coming out August 2022 with Perennial Press. You can find xem pickling vegetables or learning plant medicine or hiking with xir dog.

O: When did you begin writing? 

Kwame Daniels: I began writing in middle school! I dictated fanfiction to my friend Sunshine in middle school while she wrote it down and when I developed into a mallgoth early in high school, having read my father’s collection of best American poetry from his college years, I began to write poetry. (I still have that collection with my favorite pages marked, even though the binding is in pieces now.) But I recently read over my high school poetry and I was obsessed with rhyming — what’s funny to me is now I can’t stand rhyming. I suppose I feel like it’s a marker of my youth. I’m not that person anymore, you know?

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

K: As for writing, I am deeply inspired by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova, Rae Armantrout, Robert Hayden, and Kwame Dawes. None of them motivated me to begin with (all those years back in middle school) but they keep me considering structure and language these days. I really try to learn from them. In terms of painting I’ve been very inspired by Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova, and Olga Rozanova for the past couple of years. Recently I’ve been looking into Secundino Hernandez and Helen Frankenthaler. I want to develop my abstraction beyond Suprematism (which I will always go back to but, you know, growth).

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

K: At the risk of sounding pretentious: Complicated, Sensory, Hungry.

I didn’t realize until I broke down my poetry for some people in a Discord that I’m in that my poetry actually has depth. I’m looking at it from my perspective and I was like “Oh damn! I pack a fuckton into that little sonnet.” So it’s more complicated than I thought. I’ll say “Sensory” because my work has been described as sensual, but also because tactility and other senses are very prominent in my work. I think “Hungry” because I am hungry, always hungry, for more growth, for more knowledge, for dialogue, for food. I’m a very restrictive person so I think my hunger comes out in my work. My work wants.

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

K: For a single poem, my creative process is simply the act of doing. I like to just write. I like how it flows from my fingertips, how each poem is an act of grace in concert with myself. For a planned manuscript, I like reading poetry books and philosophy books and getting inspired by concepts and how I can apply that to my obsessions. I like conceptualizing and planning it out. For painting, I like visualizing. I like imagining where shapes and colors go, moving them around like puzzle pieces in my mind, I like sketching it out with pastels in my book.

O: Your traditional artwork is captivating, complex, and dynamic. Where does your inspiration come from? 

K: Thank you! My inspiration comes from that which I love. The painting I showed you was inspired by a character from a book I love called The Hands of the Emperor and the painting is based around the emperor’s character, on his inability to touch things, on his restrictive life. I’ve painted my dog in cubist form twice. I painted a woman I was in love with a few times. I did a study on a Bacardi bottle (my favorite run and hard liquor in general). And I think I’ve come to paint my own feelings, which I’ve also come to love. This may seem silly but I like being passionate about passion.

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!) 

K: I wrote a chapbook for the Suffering the Silence We’re Still Here Grant. This is my most recent published collection, free and accessible to the public. https://www.sufferingthesilence.com/kwamedaniels

And then for my traditional art — there is a work I painted in 2019 I think, which was the painting I first started to feel intent with. I’ve made art since then that I like but this is probably my favorite. https://www.instagram.com/p/B1RgWpvltt6/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

O: Of course, we have to extend our congratulations on your new book coming out with Perennial Press! Could you briefly take us through your publishing journey—starting with how you decided that you wanted to publish with PP to where you are now?

K: I tend to look through a platform called submittable to be on the lookout for indie presses who are accepting manuscripts around the time I complete them. So many presses didn’t want my book! lol! But that’s standard, right? It’s very difficult to get published at all. And I was thrilled when Perennial Press wanted my book. I accepted because I scoped out their website — amplifying marginalized voices is a focus there. I am a marginalized voice. I felt that they would take good care of me, and they have. We worked on this book for a year. But, once I realized my work was publishable, I immediately wanted more. So I worked on another manuscript and another and I’ve been using the drive to have a dialogue with a reader as a reason to improve.

O: Your new book is “an exploration of the body in relation to spirituality, love, itself, and the outside world.” This sounds absolutely exquisite! Could you tell us more about this book (e.g. what inspired you to write it/how you choose this story to be the one you told, and how you found your voice)? 

K: I think I found my voice early on. Even when I was writing edgelord poetry as a teenager I sounded like myself. And I only sounded more me as I continued to write.  So this is a work spanning 2-3 years, my junior and senior semesters in college. At the time I was discovering that I could get serious about writing poetry, that people might actually want to read my work. So I developed mini-projects – the Odes to Things I Have a Difficult Relationship within the book coming out, for example. And I realized my mini-focuses have a narrative flow because they changed and grew as I did. I wanted to explore my connection to ancestry, I wanted to explore my connection to love. What does that mean for a black disabled mad agender lesbian? Not enough poetry by us out there.

O: You’re an Anaphora Arts Residency Fellow! Could you tell us a bit about this residency and how it’s impacted your writing? 

K: It was glorious, it truly was. Run by the wonderful Mahtem Shifferaw, by people of color, for people of color. A ten-day intensive of craft talks, workshops, lectures, poetry readings, peer discussion, and classes. Kwame Dawes was my workshop leader and he gave an incredible lecture on artists and their obsessions. Our obsessions can be anything but learn to recognize them and you can utilize it to further your work. My obsession is identity. Most of my work is about identity and embodiment. Once I actively recognized that, I directly started developing projects surrounding my identity. An amazing thing is that the poetry cohort from the residency still meets! We meet every month to discuss triumphs and how our lives are going and our ideas, and each one of us takes a turn in leading the others in a workshop. Learning how to lead workshops has me taking an analytical look at my approach to writing. I’m a lot more conscientious now about how I begin. And I’m in love with my community.

O: Clearly, you are a super dedicated and talented multi-disciplinary artist. What does it mean to you to be able to express yourself in multiple mediums, and how do you balance your creativity between both writing and making art? 

K: It’s kind of wonderful, actually, to have so many places for me to go. I can write a lyric essay, or a short story, or an aubade, or I can paint. It’s fun! It’s joyous that I can extend myself in such a way. I suppose I balance both by giving time to both. Prose writing in the morning, art in the afternoon, poetry at any other hour I feel like it. If I feel mentally exhausted by writing, I paint. If my fibromyalgia has made me too fatigued or too pained to paint, I write. I suppose the balance is about listening to my body. When it’s tired and/or hurting, I rest. When it’s energetic, I create.

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

K: Totally dive into your obsessions. You don’t have to marry them (my high school art teacher gave me great advice: Don’t get married to your art) but do right by them. Honor them. Honor yourself. Be in dialogue with your creativity. Feed it. Nourish it. Nourish yourself.

O: Do you have any other upcoming projects that we should look out for? K: Yes! Ethel Zine is publishing a hand-bound chapbook of mine – sonnets on the subject of anorexia – in June! And this isn’t officially announced yet, it’s still in the works, but I have another collection of poetry coming out in January 2023 with Atmosphere Press called the pause and the breath, a black trans answer to the American sonnet exploring the breadth of identity.

Thank you to Kwame for xir time answering all of our most pressing questions about xir inspirations and upcoming works! You can find out more about xe on xir Instagram.

That of a Man Who Kept a Wolf For a Dog

Written by Callie Cheng
Art by NEOSiAM 2021

Bark dog, bark!
Roll over! Sit! Fetch!
Now what do you do now? Boy, Hark!
What’s that now boy? You want to play catch?
Master is busy. Go be a good boy.
Bad dog! Bad!
Don’t you dare act so coy—
A muzzle and leash ought to keep you in, lad.
Sit doggy, sit! You sit, sit, sit, sit!
AH—! Oh, why you little wretch!
You’ll regret that boy—I’ll see to it.
You’ll learn respect, you barking bitch.
I’ve given you everything,
How dare you treat me so?
Consequences! Your actions—that’s what they’ll bring!
Now think about what you’ve done and oh—HO HO HO!