I. Work Dreamscape

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Håkon Grimstad


Odes swabbed from my cheek, shifting between my toes, pressed up against glass so that it smudges:

  1. Work Dreamscape

WHILE present at a virtual meeting sent through an email link, which has dozens online where only 3 speak, I crave violences: (1. melty, creamy convenience store chocolate, caramel, nougat licked and sucked from salty palm creases, under dirty nails, off the inside of a crinkly, ripped wrapper nearly forgotten in the center cup-holder, all swaddled tightly in the plasticky ambiance of a very hot car. 2. Prominent purple bruises on blanched breasts distinctly shaped as individual splayed fingers round the ruddy areola. Surfacing, tender, early the next morning, hidden beneath a 27-hours-lived-in top until much later, well after leaving the subletted walk-up East Village studio [near the spindly, fruitless trees adorned year-round with blue Christmas lights woven through their branches]. 3. Limited-fund liquidation to fuck off to the Balkans without notice, rub sweet almond oils on unprotected skin (a frightening shade evolutionarily meant for locations where opportunities for Vitamin-D-synthesis are scarce), dip toes in the Adriatic, and imagine the eastern Italian coast that’s just out of my eyeshot, skin burning in hot sand. 4. Carcinoma, and a sense of safety/accomplishment, and clogged nephrons, and a spectrum of personal relationships and high A1C be damned–) bc who can bear to plan beyond the next complex 96 links of 15 mins?

Bones of a Teenage Saint Are in Ohio

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by marek kizer on Unsplash

cw: reference to sexual abuse


“Lord, our God, you graciously chose St. Dymphna as patroness of those afflicted with mental and nervous disorders. She is thus an inspiration and a symbol of charity to the thousands who ask her intercession.

“Please grant, Lord, through the prayers of this pure youthful martyr, relief and consolation to all suffering such trials, and especially those for whom we pray: [Here mention those for whom you wish to pray].

“We beg you, Lord, to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna on our behalf. Grant all those for whom we pray patience in their sufferings and resignation to your divine will. Please fill them with hope, and grant them the relief and cure they so much desire.

“We ask this through Christ our Lord who suffered agony in the garden. Amen.”

Saint Dymphna Prayer, found on Catholic.org 
https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=177

In Catholic iconography, Saint Dymphna is casually gorgeous. Often depicted wearing a rosewood babushka with white lilies cradled in her arms, or occasionally a small medieval crown alluding to her noble lineage, she has the delicacy of an old-Hollywood beauty, always wreathed in a bright halo. Dymphna is blonde, a type like a Tuesday Weld, a Dorothy Malone, an Ann-Margaret. Dymphna is startlingly pretty, upsettingly pretty. Her complexion is warm and luxurious: golden and rosy and peachy cream pressed against a whole rolling field of the lilies she holds to her chest or flanked wide by a sapphire sky of dazzling stars. One could easily forget, based on these artistic depictions, that her father beheaded her by sword when she was 15 years old for refusing to fuck him. One could be forgiven for forgetting or not guessing that she was a teenage sexual abuse and murder victim. She probably did not look like Tuesday Weld, but it wouldn’t matter if she did, because she was 15 and beheaded. God. Today, you can pray to her bones, relics, in the National Shrine of St. Dymphna in Massillon, Ohio, the patron saint of those affected by nervous disorders.

Cimetière de Montparnasse

Written by Anne Marie Ward


On a wet April afternoon in the South of Paris, Sartre’s and de Beauvoir’s tombstone was speckled with kisses instead of moss or lichen blooms. Little pink and red open mouths with the odd deep purple hue, mostly around Sartre. Existentialism groupies. A bouquet of multicolor spray roses with tiny tight buds lay on the front slab. This grave and many others had rocks and shells and Métro ticket stubs languishing in the bad weather. Was it predicted to rain that day? Had the weather app mentioned it as I departed that morning from the hideous youth hostel near Bastille? Oh, but what a cinematic atmosphere–this serious amount of rain and deep overcastness– contrasting with the designed greenery. My head filled with dreamy notions, like I was graveside with a black trench coat and umbrella next to a perfect pile of dirt in a Hollywood movie.

Then, I was next to Sontag’s grave, the hood of my raincoat at the top of my vision, exposed sections of hair sticking to my cold cheeks as the rain oscillated wildly between a drizzle and a torrent. I clutched the laminated cemetery map that hung on rings by the entrances. A big slab of obsidian marble with a gold serif font: 

SUSAN SONTAG

1933-2004

Her stone was dusted in a dense, sodden layer of tiny flowers and pollen and filaments, all the debris trees shed in the spring when they are trying desperately to start something new. A single, soaked letter pinned to the grave with tiny rocks, of blue ink and faintly lined paper that looked like it was torn from a journal. It thanked Sontag for her essay, “On Photography,” in sprawling half-script. Sontag had made this woman’s life brighter, better, even after death. My eyes welled up from the poignancy; I just couldn’t take it.

III. My Financial Advisor Trips

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Gary Fultz on Unsplash


Buy non-USDA-certified-but-still-organic blue heaven/heavenly blue morning glory seeds on the internet. Expert advice from the comments and reviews: Yes, these are those seeds, the ones googled; soak these untreated seeds in a water bowl overnight to increase bioavailability. These saturated seeds should help treat the cruel mystery of cluster headaches, which victims say is like a cattle prod through the orbital, a thunderclap behind dewy eyelashes, and past the shadows of veins. One’s head becomes sweet, soft bark of a peachtree charred by lightning at storm break, again and again. Or also maybe use the seeds as a psychic antihistamine to expand your “consciousness,”– a full-body prayer honoring attempted decades of kneecapped research while condemning succeeded decades of lousy research, first. Try not to eye-roll protectively. Unbutton the cynicism and peel it off, and even if it gets stuck around the shoulders, be gentle. This woo-woo is overlaid on a goofily earnest wish to look at cells stained violet on a slide and understand what they mean when held to the light: To release some emotional swelling, ennui, curb the chronic vibrant fantasies of banging one’s forehead against the nearest hard surface–that punctuate one’s waking hours– until bone breaks through. Where are the blue blooms? The heavenly blues? Teardrop seeds nestled tiny in a palm, shifting in the creases. Soon—watch satiny purple trumpets and satiny white trumpets briskly climb lattice, speeding rapidly,  delicately vined, only to shy their faces away when the early sun rises too high. 

Fembot

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Victoria Strukovskaya on Unsplash


Spironolactone, 50mg, taken once daily 

A heart failure medication, which also helps suppress male hormones.

An anti-androgen, anti-androgen, anti-androgen: an interesting side effect that can be manipulated. Antiandrogenic activity that can be used to treat hormonal acne in women. It has also been known to make breasts swell and tender, to make body hair thinner and head hair thicker.

I was prescribed 50 mgs to help with my hormonal acne, the painful, deep acne that forms in a beard pattern on my cheeks and chin.

I imagined it turned me into some kind of fembot, a hyper feminized being, some modern incarnation of an ancient fertility goddess, a statue portraying previous incarnations dug up in the hot earth of the Southern Levant. Some kind of creature with clear skin and wide hips and tender breasts like a walking flower in bloom.

I was assigned female at birth, and suddenly, I would become a hyper-realized idea of my gender and sex; this is what I imagined as I researched the prescription.

II. a. Final 6 months in the ICU

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash


(Imagine they/you lost the bet—[through some bad luck on a genetics x  environment x lifestyle x lack of healthcare roulette, your kidneys get fucked by IgA proteins and immunity]—then are struck w/ the contradiction of a persistently rising fever after a significant brain bleed [from high blood pressure from fucked kidneys] after one weekly dialysis sesh: your body attempts to protect you, kill invaders climbing the walls. It begins to pull out its own bricks, a hyper reaction of shivering and sweating, like a cassette frantically spitting out its tape—denaturing its proteins, I mean—and hospital-grade ice blankets cost like $10,000 in intensive care to force the fever down, like taking a $10,000 pencil and trying to re-spool the cassette’s tapes before it is lost. Chilled lobes and systems on ice as manual reset, chased by drug-induced coma that lasts days/weeks/months longer than the doctors can explain… All of this, to preserve your life in increments of the next 15 x the next 15. Avoid multiple systems’ failure as cause-of-death typed on their copy of/your official certificate, tucked in a binder for your adult daughter to find as she goes through old paperwork before a move.)

Intrauterine Dream

Written by Anne Marie Ward


“Beautiful uterus!” The ultrasound tech trilled, eyebrows raised high. The monitor showed that it is triangular, with no scarring, no sign of the occasional variance of rabbit ears or heart shape.

A heart-shaped uterus sounds lovely, poetic, like a biological valentine with hormone-laced trim tucked inside a corporeal mailbox. Rabbit ears sound cute, bunny-esque, a sweet little animal curled up and tucked in a soft pink den pulsing with gentle sleep–but these anomalies are not compatible with IUD insertion, the ultrasound tech explained. My inverted triangle-shaped womb works for IUDs. 

That was one of the concerns:  Maybe my uterus wasn’t a good fit for Paraguard. After I came back for my 6-week post-insertion checkup, they found it halfway out of my cervix. I had to schedule reinsertion with an ultrasound guide; they had to make sure I was anatomically compatible with the device. That’s why the ultrasound tech was commenting. 

///

“Oh dear,” the OBGYN, Dr. X,  peered past the speculum, “Yep… I see it coming through the cervix.” Forceps suddenly in hand, she pulled the IUD the rest of the way out. “You’ll have to come back for an ultrasound insertion… and we’ll have to do a pregnancy test. Right now. Um, we need to make sure you’re not pregnant. Right now.” Her voice had the stilted flatness of stifled alarm. “Wait here, the nurse will be back for a urine sample.”

“You really didn’t feel anything?” The very pregnant nurse asked incredulously with a thick Eastern-European accent. 

I shook my head as she handed me the urine cup and escorted me to the bathroom. My limbs were sparkling with anxiety, little insect bites all over the surface of my skin, and my heart was beating in my hands and ears, tears welling in my eyes. 

“Oh, bad luck! Normally when an IUD expels you feel bad cramping. Don’t worry, it probably just happened! It will be okay. It will be okay…”

Urine collected, I sat rattling my leg in the chair. I called my boyfriend, a tear running down my cheek, “Hey, what’s up, gorgeous?” We might have a big problem. Phone pressed to one cheek, I collapsed my head into my other hand, falling inward. “It will be okay; we’ll work through it. I’m here for you.” He was doing his best to be supportive and reassuring, but I still felt alone. Alone with my body which suddenly reminded me it was ultimately out of my control. I was bitter that he would never feel this particular alienation from himself, even though I know that these realities are not what we choose. He didn’t have procedures and medicine and follow-ups to keep his life on track, in this way. I was so frustrated and resentful.  I bit my lip and squeezed my eyes shut as hard as possible, thinking of the last six weeks and all the years to come.

///

The first IUD insertion was unexpected. I went for my annual checkup and pap smear, but also to get my hormonal implant removed from my arm. It expired this year. It was a dystopian little device, a tiny rod the width of a lollipop stick, that they inserted under the skin of my arm close to my armpit. It would continuously release hormones to prevent pregnancy. It was convenient: set-it-and-forget-it for three years. However, it had seriously messed with my periods–making them super long, close together, but also sometimes short and sporadic—very irregular. My hormonal acne on my jawline also got worse. Huge, swollen, painful cysts popped up on my chin, pulsing like they had their own cardiovascular system. It wasn’t the best for me, but I liked the convenience and efficacy of it. I also knew a handful of other women who got it inserted and had no side effects. 

“Since you’re getting the Nexplanon implant removed today, did you have in mind what you wanted to do for birth control now?” Dr. X tried to distract me while she cut the device out of my arm. I explained that I wanted to do the copper IUD. I wanted something that was long-term and didn’t require maintenance, and since the hormonal implant had given me annoying and inconvenient side effects, I thought I would do the non-hormonal IUD, as it also lasted the longest. I assumed that I would have to come back for insertion. However, they were ready to do it immediately.

They prepped me for insertion following my checkup and pap smear. “Don’t tell your boyfriend about the IUD strings,” the nurse advised, “while you should periodically check in the shower to make sure they are still there and haven’t seemed to move, if you tell your boyfriend about them, he might get paranoid and think that he can feel them. It’s better to avoid the trouble.”

Dr. X said aloud everything she was doing as she was doing it: “I’m using the speculum to open up your cervix. I’m using this swab to clean and sanitize the area. You’re going to feel some cramping as the device goes in; that’s normal. Please relax your muscles and wiggle your toes. Breathe.”

The pain radiated through my pelvis and down my thighs, sizzling like something electric. Sweat gathered on my forehead, my butt, the backs of my said sizzling thighs. All my muscles clenched, despite me trying to relax them. I found that I was holding my breath; I needed to breathe. The pressure in my abdomen made me afraid I was going to lose control of my bowels on the exam table, as the cramping in my lower stomach made me think of a large laxative dose hitting me suddenly and urgently and excruciatingly. 

“Are you okay?” Dr. X studied my face, my color, my eyes, worried I was on the verge of passing out. I nodded, happy that my mother would be driving me home, though. Yes.

She nodded. “You’ll need to come back in six weeks for a follow-up. In the meantime, You might feel some bad cramping for the next few days. Take a Tylenol and maybe use a heating pad. Okay? Schedule the follow-up with reception, and I will see you in six weeks! You did really great today!”

///

All the turmoil for nothing, the scariest ten minutes of my personal past five years, but I wasn’t pregnant. The Eastern-European nurse burst into the room suddenly, as I rocked nervously in my chair, to tell me the news. “Not pregnant!” I let out a huge breath of relief. Oh, thank goodness. I walked to the front desk receptionist feeling buoyant but fragile, a bubble landing on an extended fingertip. Voice shaky, I told the receptionist, Dr. X wants me to have an ultrasound-guided IUD insertion ASAP, with whatever doctor is available next available. I got an appointment with Dr. Y for the beginning of the following week. My bladder did not have to be full for this ultrasound, the receptionist informed me, sounding far away, fading.

///

Can I get one of those snapshots of my beautiful triangular uterus?  Like people get of their fetuses? As if fetuses don’t look like found-footage of cryptids roaming the isolated southern Appalachians, or intelligent but hostile extraterrestrial life leaked to online forums. I didn’t think this with animosity, just a little humor, because human bodies are just so, so weird.

The tech laughed at my silly request, but I was only half kidding. I would love a grainy pic of my womb to hang on my fridge next to coupons for my beloved herbal teas and last year’s Christmas cards. It’s not a self portrait I would normally get to see; there is something surreal about seeing my own internal cogs, my wiring exposed. 

She squirted more jelly on my belly and took a look at my ovaries. The right one is much smaller than the left, making it hard to find–”Just natural variation, assured the tech as I got dressed later after the whole procedure was over. 

But now she said, “I’ll get Dr. Y and the nurse and let her know we are ready for the insertion. It should be much better this time around!”


Rainbows at the Ends of my Worlds

Written by Anne Marie Ward


I.

Angel, his name for a little pearly iridescent bong with lime trim, has rainbows of various light shiny pinks, purples, greens, yellows that ripple across her surface like an oil slick on wet blacktop as she’s passed over by my dear, dear friend’s extended arm–through smoke and slipping light–as my dear friend seems surprisingly-incredibly distressed when I casually blurt in the midst of this bong exchange that I’m considering fleeing to Moldova to learn Romanian and Russian on the government’s white-savior-obsessed dime and avoid death behind a double-monitored desk but, suppose, also ultimately implicitly avoid some life with those who love me because oh does it hurt so deeply to care for us mortals, as he hands her casually to me, unafraid I will shatter her with an unsteady grip too tight, intrusive ball lollipop cracking between molars flashes on the project screen of my closed eyelids, as surely all this he knows with dropped mouth and wide eyes and brows furrowed,

II.

Recovered Memory From Early Development: As the orange sun sets in the evenings and rises in the mornings, for certain moments the light angles through the faux-crystal chandelier of our foyer and hits the wall behind the steps between the slots of the banister, and creates a fish-shaped rainbow. Watch on the fifth step up above the landing, little one, a little lifetime ago of a particular forgotten little rainbow, a trick of the light that you adored and tried to grasp on the wall, tracing ethereal fins, fleeting scales, though you knew to be futile, after all, suddenly remembering from your childhood home.

III.

Sticky Sweet Sickly rainbow of a sleepless night, greeny-yellowy-bluey tie-dye splotches dilating and constricting behind dark lids, forever, forever, forever, forever, for hour after hour after ever after, in the purple dark that leads to purple circles under red eyes that snap open to reveal the inverse splotches, yellow, red, and white moving like a kaleidoscope screensaver in the absence.

IV. 

Angry, angry, angry at Port Authority at quitting time on a Friday before a long weekend in long lines that collide into each other, entangling. Pigeon with oil-spill rainbows glinting in the curve of her neck struts and rocks on by like fucking audacity incarnate.

Creation Myth: Thoughts on Boticelli’s Birth of Venus

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash


Classical art occupies negligible real estate in my brain, but lately, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus pops in my mind, like a burst flashbulb. Though true Italian Renaissance icons, both Botticelli and his painting, my search engine had to correct me and let me know his name was spelled with two Ts. Yet, despite this, of course,  I know something of the image: nude, fully-grown goddess, of love, clutching her pale breasts and golden tresses as she stands on her pink scallop shell, surrounded by deities of the wind and springtime.

Venus: goddess of love, goddess of sex, goddess of pleasure and beauty, too. But Venus was born from her father’s castrated penis; when the severed organ mixed with seafoam and she came up onto the sands of Cyprus. Botticelli neglects this imagery of red blood in his blue water, and her golden hair reveals no glint of the violence she inherited. 

What else is she the goddess of, then, in the realities of love for summer after a plague, in the flourishing and rebirth we hope for? She’s the goddess of jealous lovers, for sure. She’s the goddess of bruised thighs and hickies, of breakup haircuts after quarantine relationships. 

Goddess of bodega condoms and IUDs. She’s the goddess of lichen sclerosis and STIs and endometriosis and ovarian cysts and vulvodynia caused by trauma. She’s the goddess of girl dicks, of genitalia beyond the binary, and purple strap-on dildos and vibrators and plugs. 

Her altar is a nipple barbell with little rhinestones on the end, the period-sex towel covered in stains and water-based lube, and the inside of a lover’s hot cheek. Of asking, “Is this okay? Does that feel good?”

Lipstick Kisses

Written by Anne Marie Ward


After, together, reflecting:
I realized I had never kissed anyone wearing lipstick before, yet. I had worn lipstick and kissed so many times. I would mark dates’ lips, cheekbones, chin clefts, hip bones, and nose tips with the richly colored waxy parenthetical sets of my parted mouth. Lipstick blotted fresh, just before they arrive —  post-outfit-change and post-post-legs-exfoliation, a slew of dating rituals preceding my mouth. I’d touch it up just before they had a chance to lean-in, ideally, always wondering — 

—  had they, though? Kissed a date who wore lipstick before? Maybe they had? Kissed someone wearing lipstick? Most of it would come off beforehand — wiped off with a tissue or napkin.  Or smudged around a burrito’s tortilla or on the rim of a Diet Coke. Which surprised me.  

They turn to look at me, “you don’t mind that I wore my makeup, right? Or my feminine clothes? I didn’t wanna turn you off.” “Not at all…not at all! Never!” I offer like a gentle hand, and I sincerely mean.

Before: 
We hunch in front of little mirrors at the dining table. Lipsticks in hand, bullets twirled up, they turn to me and ask if I normally define my —what was it called, again? Pointing to their top lip, they lean in to see their reflection. “Cupid’s bow?” I recall. With a quick twang, the snap of a taut string, a sudden sting, a phrase is recovered from deep memory. It is recovered from the five hundred thousand perfumed pages of beauty mags in mailboxes and supermarkets and waiting rooms, some hidden away in the top bunks of Christian summer camps. “Yes, Cupid’s bow!” they nod, as they paint over their Cupid’s bow with ‘Opinionated’ in a deep purply red. Their top lip now a vibrant curve, like Pinot noir splashing roundly in the bend of a wine glass after a high, fast pour. Then they look over, away from their reflection, decanting again, breathing like red wine in the open air,  and see what I do with mine.

During: 
I take my thumbnail and run it down my ‘philtrum’; I had forgotten that particular indent’s name until they compliment mine… how they enjoyed my particular version of the mark where the sides of the face merge in utero. Fusion. Completion.

Continuing the art: 
Scraping some extra lipstick with my nail, I perfect the schmear, really defining the bow and going over the groove a second time gingerly with my middle finger. I study the shade at the corners of my mouth and check my teeth. A shade called “Tannins” I tell them. “Tannins?” they are puzzled. “Yeah,” I respond,  “like those acids in red wines or maybe also acorns or definitely cranberry juice — the ones that make my mouth feel cottony dry and lips a little tingly.” This name made sense for the bright, bright red… Hmm, tannins give wines their body, in young wines that haven’t softened with age, the internet says. I thought I had grabbed ‘Toast’ from the bathroom earlier, which I liked a little better on me. It was a little more orangey and less stark against my skin. Continuing to paint our faces, I recommend tips, and they giggle about the weird sensation of pulling false lashes from one’s eyelid. 

No precedent: 
Makeup was new-ish, for them. I had a decade-long amateur career in trying to look fuckable, but was trying to learn how to make myself look and feel good for myself. I had mumbled many frustrated ‘fuck’s in my time as eyeliner smeared the wrong way or eyeshadow sprinkled below the eyes. We look at our finished reflections, the shimmery shades on the facets of our cheeks, brow bones, and the bridges of our noses. 

Then, they ask: 
“so, you want to move to the couch?” Subliminal signals from touches are raising body hair. Coyly, softy, we touch each other’s hands and arms before leaning in for a kiss. Fingers in hair and on the nape of the neck, their rougher cheek against my chin with tender hormonal acne and concealer.  We lean back into blue fake velvet cushions, before pulling away and seeing blotted Tannins spread thin all over. In the hour after, I see ‘Opinionated’  in its waxy, shiny glory smeared illegibly over my own face in the bathroom mirror, fading with a makeup wipe before a shared shower. Gone.

It was definitely the first time they had kissed anyone while their lips were painted with the word Opinionated. They felt pretty and happy, and euphoric. Euphoria tinkled like windchimes in nail beds, in the pulse that throbs in the bend of crossed ankle, in a hot face.

All of it: 
As sudden and intense as cramp, but a rush of pleasure instead of a stab of pain. I hope I never hurt them. I hope they never hurt me. How can another person make me feel this way? I didn’t know someone could change the coding of my brain — how thoughts form and nerves fire and hormones flow.

Later:
“Should I get a condom?”

 “Yes”: 
Slight rustle, crinkle, tear of foil —