“Breakfast” – Kate Shaw

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The views expressed in the texts do not necessarily represent the views of the artist.

 

She sipped her coffee soundlessly. It had always struck me, how little noise she could make over breakfast these days if left unprovoked. Her fork never plunged all the way through a waffle to clink! the plate, her knife never scraped or dinged! the fork. She drank her coffee, and the mug didn’t make a sound when placed back on the cork coaster.

“What time will you be home from work tonight?”

A guffaw during silent worship is more acceptable than words over breakfast with her. Startled eyes flashed at mine from over the orange juice. A silent sip. A hiss of a word, “Eight.”

I nodded, castigated. She deposited her dishes in the sink with a clank! that resounded as she exited the kitchen. There was shuffling in the den as she gathered her things, and soon the door closed behind her.

“Yes, this is Amadeo’s? I’ve got a reservation for tonight under Polowski. P-O-L…Exactly. I need to cancel.”

 

these words by Kate Shaw were inspired by the work of Kevin Calixte

“f e t u s” – Jo-Ann Zhou

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The views expressed in the texts do not necessarily represent the views of the artist.

The pounding was growing louder and louder, like the thump thump thump of an insipid beat on a dancefloor. It was closing in around her, pressing on her back, her temples, her chest. Breathing became difficult as the air around her thinned. Her body ached from exhaustion, as the walls—thick with red grime—loomed closer and closer.

“You’ll never make your way out.” The taunt seemed to come from all sides, echoing inside the dark sickly warm space.

“FIGHT BACK!” the voice inside her insisted.

“You won’t amount to anything substantial. You don’t have what it takes to make it out there.” The call reverberated, cutting through the hot dense air, ringing in her ears. It filled her heart with dread, punctuated by that incessant thump thump thump that echoed deep in her chest.

Maybe her captor was right, she thought. Maybe she was in safer in here, in these familiar red walls.

“NO! FIGHT BACK!”

She took a breath of precious, scarce air and reached out with her fists, hoping to face her tormentor, but her hands were met by thick red clots punctuated by a sweet metallic smell that was engulfing her nostrils.

“You clearly aren’t trying hard enough. You could do so much better than this. What is wrong with you?”

The little voice inside her head considered this. Was this true? Was she not trying hard enough?

“No,” she thought. She needed to get to the other side of the walls that were closing in around her; she needed to see her tormentor. “I will find a way out.”

Blindly, struggling through the darkness and the tightening space, she reached up above her, thrusting through the red mucous to grab hold of the wet spongy walls. The thumping continued to crescendo, reaching a feverish pitch that vibrated through her core as she hoisted herself up. The walls contracted, forcing her back, but she pushed upwards again, and the sheer effort of the movement was taxing with so little oxygen. Finally, her head pierced the pulpy membrane, bursting forward into a rush of cold fresh air.

As her shoulders, then arms emerged from the hole, she opened her eyes and looked out, ready to face her captor. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the light, and when they focused she saw her at last—an anxious gaunt face covered in blood glancing at her through a single pane of reflective glass.

 

these words by Jo-Ann Zhou were inspired by the work of Kevin Calixte

“Unplugged” – Josh Elyea

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When I was a child, my father would rake leaves in the front yard and when the pile was big enough, he’d pick me up and throw me (almost callously) into them. My father was wild in his younger days; he rode a motorcycle and played bass in an underground funk band. He settled down though, when he married my mother. He had a daughter, and found work as a cashier in a record store of dubious structural integrity but impeccable cultural acumen.

He killed himself when he was sixty-one.

***

There’s something slyly atavistic about the way the leaves, dried out now since they’ve fallen, feel against my hands as I rustle them gently. From behind the mountain, a small line of smoke stretches thin across the setting sun. Smoke signals at sunset, he says.

We’re quiet after that, for a long time. Uma Thurman had it right; you know you’ve found someone really special when you can just shut the fuck up and sit comfortably in silence, if only for a minute. Silence is a rare thing, and people don’t bother to make time for it anymore. How could they? There’s too many distractions, too many addictions. Screens everywhere, and sitcoms and internet dating websites, reality TV shows and political debate shows and the horrid, overwhelming cascade of contemporary pop music. There’s education and employment, no alternatives, and you’re left to choose between an outdated, meritocratic institution or the dreaded 9-5, an existence that’s so alarmingly mundane it’s turned an entire generation into alcoholics, assholes who waste their weekends on outrageously priced booze and horrific hangovers so as to forget that they owe their time, their lives, to companies who speak only in terms of profit. There’s internet pornography, advertisements and an endless supply of empty entertainment, assailing our senses and undermining our character, our concentration and our connections.

It’s all a joke, a joke with a vicious punch line that relies on the inherent irony of a situation whereby the most connected civilization in the history of humanity is destined to die alone, each and every one of us connected to the internet and nothing else. Where in this hilarious chaos can one be expected to sit and think on the endless potential of the universe, or even the endless potential of the self? I look again to the man beside me, and I tell him I’m afraid that not even the autumn leaves can save me from my vices, from my addictions both good and evil.

Don’t worry, he says. We’ll take refuge in the wilderness.

Don’t worry, he says. Once you’re unplugged, everything will be alright.

these words by Josh Elyea were inspired by the work of Daphne Boyer

Taisha Cayard in Dialogue with Audre Lorde, “But What Can I Learn From You”

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This poem by Taisha Cayard was inspired by Audre Lorde’s “But What Can You Teach My Daughter,” published in Lorde’s 1978 collection, The Black Unicorn 

On Sisterhood and Solidarity: “All the Things I Never Got to Say,” by Fiona Williams

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The views expressed in the texts do not necessarily represent the views of the artist.

 

There aren’t enough words in the English language to sufficiently express what you mean to me.
I’m going to try anyway.

I should have told you that your smile is my favourite thing in the world. That the memory of your radiance is what keeps me warm during these cold winter nights.

I should have told you that a hug was all I needed. Instead, you gave me your heart and you gave it to me so fully. You also bought me chocolates.

I should have told you that I never meant to cry during our dinner. You didn’t even question it; you helped me wipe away the tears.

I should have told you that your 2 a.m. phone call saved my life. That the patience and selflessness you have shown me, I will never find in someone else.

I should have told you that I think I found my soulmate. Your intelligence keeps me in awe, and your kindness keeps me afloat.

I should have told you that I worry now that you’re not around. I worry you’ll settle for less than you deserve because even if I could gift you the universe, somehow it still wouldn’t be enough.

I should have told you that you look like Home to me. You look like Salvation. You look like Shelter. You look like Safety.

What I should have told all the incredible women who have helped me become the woman I am today:

Thank you.

I love you.

I couldn’t have done it without you.

 

these words by Fiona Williams were inspired by the art of Sonia Alins Miguel

On Looking and Being Seen: “For Young Girls,” by Eileen Mary Holowka

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Content Warning: Depression and creepy insect stories

Maggie used to write stories in the attic. That was back when she was a child, when she wasn’t allowed to leave the house and instead spent family gatherings curled up in strangers’ jackets on her parents’ bed. She would rub her face into them and try to find a home in each of the different scents: winter smokers, damp lavender, a flooded basement. She would rifle through the pockets, stroking keys to guess where they belonged and reading crumpled receipts.

These days she had trouble writing. There were too many parties to attend and they always took days to get over. She still rubbed up against strangers’ jackets but it never gave her the same joy. These days, the smells were too familiar and all new possibilities seemed to end with every touch.

Sometimes Maggie went home with the jackets. She liked the homes and the jackets more than the people inside them, but they were her only excuse in. Most of the time they would have sex and some of the time she would bleed after. It was a symptom of some condition she hadn’t been able to diagnose. It became a kind of performance art piece, bleeding onto other people’s beds. They were never appreciative of her art.

Maggie built sets. Mock kitchens with only three walls and trees with trapdoors. It was a dream job on the way to what she hoped could one day be economically sustainable. She moved around theatres invisibly, in all-black outfits that doubled as formal wear, and spent rehearsal breaks hiding in the wings watching the actors bicker like they were in a play.

The best part about casual sex was locking herself in the strangers’ bathrooms, before she had let them down with her leaking uterus, to go through their cupboards. She loved the belongings and rituals of others, finding out where they kept their extra toilet paper or whether they Q-tipped their ears. She never took anything or moved it out of place, just looked. She figured it would make her a better artist, or make her like that particular stranger better. She tried to imagine what a future in their home would look like, but it was always better the less she knew.

The doctors kept telling her there was nothing wrong, but they scheduled her an ultrasound anyways. The technician pressed down on Maggie’s full bladder while they both watched the screen. Maggie eagerly looked for something, a cyst or a tumour, as if it were a fetus. But there was nothing there, not even a child, to explain her problems. She walked out of the hospital past husbands and their swelling wives and felt more infertile than she’d ever felt in her life.

Her journey home was slow and heavy, despite or because of her emptiness. Even the trees were barren, she noticed. Autumn made her want to call her ex. She touched her phone, but it turned off as soon as she tapped his name. She had no idea where the bus stop was without Google and it took her an hour to walk home. It was dark and damp, and she looked into the lit-up windows of other people’s houses with longing. She called him later that week, several times until she got past his voicemail. When he heard her voice, he paused, and hung up.

The printed ultrasound results came the same day. Everything was fine, but sounded deadly. She read the paper aloud to Anne over Skype. Apparently there is fluid in my cul-de-sac. Did you know you had a cul-de-sac in your uterus?

That explains your pain, Anne replied. Cars keep getting stuck.

Imagine the tiny little houses.

Little moms and dads.

God, even my diseases are domestic.

Maggie liked her parents and visited them often. They would cook her more food than she could eat and fill her full of enough tea to make her bus ride home unbearable. They tried to get her to clean her toys out of the attic, but instead she just hid in the back and watched spiders build webs around her Barbies. She didn’t have the heart to throw them out, nor the desire to clean them, so she just watched instead.

The attic was full of garbage treasures: VHS tapes of dance recitals and episodes of I Love Lucy; Mom’s broken mint green typewriter; her grandmother’s wedding photos. Maggie’s dollhouse sat in the corner near the window, covered in mud from where the roofers had gone wild. She used to imagine herself as the prettiest doll and would dress and undress her mock self for hours. Doll Maggie had always been intelligent and composed. She went to parties, her face always painted into a smile.

Maggie was scared to touch her doll self, even to save her from the wreckage of shingle bits. She had never intended to stop playing, but eventually everyone else did and the lonely, imaginative Saturdays became guilty pleasures, with an emphasis on the guilt. She knew that when she grew up she would call herself Margaret. She just didn’t know when that growing up would come.

As a child, she was good at being seen and not heard. She could never keep up with her family’s political conversations and figured she must not have any opinions. She told her father her theory and he laughed her down. She decided to drop that opinion as well.

Maggie brought a man home to her parents once. He was tall and professional and liked to put her down. She could see the confusion in her mother’s eyes, as she placed the plate in front of the man like some kind of offering. She could tell her mother would rather throw it in his face, but was trying to treat her daughter like a woman. Maggie would have preferred to be chastised like a child and she felt like one as she made eye contact with her mother and shrugged.

His name was Douglas. He always told her she was a good listener, but mostly he was just a good talker. He was a writer and told Maggie she should be a writer too and that he could edit her work if she liked, because it could use some editing. He called her Margaret, said it was a good writer’s name. It sounded so good in his mouth that she felt obligated to keep kissing him. She adored him and he adored her, except when he didn’t.

So I just googled it, Maggie texted Anne, and it says the cul-de-sac is also called “Pouch of Douglas” cuz of some guy named Douglas who “discovered” it I guess.

OF COURSE.

Even my insides belong to dudes.

Dudes named Douglas. Had to be a Douglas.

It’s always a Douglas.

The last time Maggie and Anne Skyped, the internet began cutting out in the middle of their chat about depression. Anne’s comforting words fractured into alien xylophone fragments and Maggie broke down laughing.

She hadn’t always been so sad. She read that birth control could be making her this way, but the doctor said that was just part of the deal. So she stayed on the meds and took selfies instead. Except they never looked beautiful or poetic enough, like Anne’s. Instead they were unnerving, lacking the adequate amount of performance for the camera.

Early in her career, Maggie had tried acting. She was excellent when she had to play a quiet school girl, but unconvincing when she tried the role of a confident lesbian. She realized she was only good at performing herself, her own intimacy, and went back to facilitating the public intimacy of others instead.

During her long distance relationships, Maggie always watched herself on the screen, instead of her lover. Her own tiny image was too distracting. Her long-distance self was cold and hard and contained behind glass. These days, she was somewhat softer. At least, she leaked.

She rarely brought men home but, after watching an episode of Sex and the City, the idea of having sex next to the open window appealed to her. It wasn’t the lovemaking that made it so enticing, but the idea that the neighbours might be watching, thinking of her as some sort of Samantha sex-goddess and wishing for her life.

As a teenager, Maggie had worked in her father’s office building where she’d spend the morning filing papers and the afternoons staring into the windows of the apartment building across the street. She’d map out the tenants’ rituals: the old lady’s lunchtime smoke, the child’s after-school milk and cookies, the perfectly trimmed bachelor’s quick change into evening clothes. She always hoped she might catch them looking back her way, but the window was likely reflective.

On one of her dates, she took a guy to an art gallery, but ended up coming down with diarrhea. He gave up on her after she spent too long in the washroom, and sent her some sort of inflammatory text about her thighs, or ass or something. It was her gut saving her, she realized, because after she recovered she stumbled into a Nan Goldin exhibit she knew he would have ruined. She spent two hours in the room, gazing at other people’s wounds, and crying. She went home knowing she should write down her thoughts, but ended up in bed instead, with an old recording of Judy Garland covering Singing in the Rain playing in the background on her parents’ passed-down wedding gift television set.

The next date was even more hopeless. She spent hours preparing, trimming her pubic hair into the toilet with safety scissors and wondering if other girls had better methods. However, as soon as she met him, she knew it was over. His profile picture beard was gone and he kept calling her Meg. She smiled and pushed through it, walking 16 km across the city with him until she finally came up with an excuse to leave. She went home and watched Rear Window on loop until she fell asleep.

Most nights before bed, she would scroll through Facebook, Twitter, /r/Relationships, and YouTube to watch the lives of others. Sometimes she would comment, but normally she just acted as a witness, eager to see a glimmer of emotion, something beyond herself. In the mornings she scrolled through Instagram, pretending that what she saw were just static portraits, but inevitably identifying with and reading into every one.

One night, an ant crawled into her ear while she was sleeping. At first she thought the crunchy popping sound was some kind of air bubble, but she was unable to pop it. She fished around for awhile before deciding to look in the mirror. Its tiny black legs were just visible as they reached around for a way out. She stared in icy panic, suddenly wishing for her mother or a roommate who could pull it out of her. The responsibility of the task ran over her like spilled milk, mundane but devastating, as she forced her trembling fingers towards his tiny body, burning her eyes open so she wouldn’t lose him.

Afterward, he crawled around her fingers and she watched with a kind of respect, understanding now that he had wanted to be there even less than she’d wanted him to. She put the ant on the windowsill and crawled back into her bed. Her room was yellows, blues, and beige and smelled of her home. On the walls hung postcards and letters from her friends. It was kind of lovely, she realized, this place entirely her own.

The next day, the subway was stalled due to a suicide. She took out a notebook and began sketching the man sitting across from her. She sketched his pale face and sunken features, shaping them into a story. He looked on the verge of breakdown, as though he had just suffered some great loss. She ripped out the page and passed it to him, a gesture of friendship, empathy, or just mutual boredom.

He took the picture from her and squinted at it, shaking his head.

What’s this? he asked.

A drawing I did of you, just now, Maggie answered, smiling.

This isn’t me, he said, and the subway started again.

 

these words by Eileen Mary Holowka were inspired by the art of Marcin Wolski

New Poetry: “Espionage,” by Pete Gibbon

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CW: sexual assault


Like anyone else, I spent time & energy imagining how 007 I could be.

Like anyone else, taught on reflex to look both ways before crossing
my street

but that’s where our shared experience ends. No daily business ends
of martini goggles for me. No living through exits—lucky for them if it

never happens; also guilty. Also, odds are good
it will happen again, so

memorize that hotkey. No inept guard. No

Paintball Mode. Nights, stacked with antagonists. Every human. Every are. Seems
badass
except with no agency at all. Not like how wrestling’s fake, either. More like

when it’s dark, we’re walking home together & I flip off a car of strangers being rude
she’s not impressed. That’s a grimace. That’s a grimace because

she’s an operative with no security. Raised a spy but treated as an eavesdropper.
More like her opposite of FIGHT isn’t FLIGHT. It’s raped.


these words by Pete Gibbon were inspired by
the art of Pasha Bumazhniy