There Is Strength in Our Stories: You Stole Nothing – Taylor Warner

There’s a few things I’d like to know
As I seem to have missed something
Since when does opening your apartment door
Mean opening your legs?
Since when does comforting someone
Mean they can make themselves comfortable
Inside of you?
As if my body has a doormat that reads:
Permission to Enter
I want to know when my voice became nothing but noise
You can just muffle out with your own moans
When did I lose the property rights
To my own body?
You know, I’ve told myself so many lies
And I’ve drank myself blind
To the point that I questioned if this happened at all
Because my heart was trying to make excuses for you
Convincing me it was my fault, to shake it off and move on
But nothing is more real than remembering how it feels
To be treated like you are a mere body
Like your heartbeat doesn’t exist at all
And I know you think you stole something from me that dark evening
But let me tell you with one million percent certainty
You turned woman into warrior
You made me smarter and love harder
You may have broken my spirit
You may have ripped more than my clothes
But you lost this war
Because my soul is still whole.

You stole nothing at all.

Taylor was born a Texan but now roams the world writing her truths and finding peace in the small things. Taylor began writing poetry at the early age of 8 and her words have been the one constant in her life through everything. Taylor writes her truths. The raw, the beautiful, the obscene. She hopes to heal others through her stories as she heals herself. You can find more of her @commasandcuriosity.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Crushed Petals – Kelly Glover

Women are silent flowers
Prettiest when quiet
We do not wilt
When they crush our petals
Strip our leaves

Our divine feminine roots
Remain and regenerate
Exquisite thorns sharpen

We are walking targets
With bullseye breasts
Shot with shame
From the moment of fertility

The blood of life
Natural as breath
Yet taboo table talk

Be a beauty, wear lipstick
Just not that particular shade
Of sunburnt whore

Look nice, paint your nails
But not the same dark red
That will stain his sheets
When he’s had his way with you

Why don’t we report our rapes
Our assaults
Our complaints
Flowers don’t speak
When bees steal their pollen

As the last blooms are spent
A new season buds
We are flooded
Drowning in courage and confidence

Flowers look best in a bouquet
The more we gather
The more beautiful we become
Holding up each other
By our weakest branches

The blooms are getting louder
As the shame falls away
The roses have found their voices
Briars surround all our choices

Kelly Glover is a single mother of three living in her hometown of Greensboro, NC. Her poetry and prose deal with the darker aspects of life that everyone goes through, but few are willing to talk about. Her first book of poetry, “The Light of My Dark” is available on Amazon. Kelly’s work can also be found in various online literary journals and anthologies.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Phoenix – Nikki Marrone

I was told to wait,
For a man to come my way.
The one who would wear the crown,
And ride the golden mare.
Whose stare would have me enamoured for a lifetime.
A man so great I would prostrate myself on an altar of “love.”
Devote myself to deities of death and destruction.
Find joy in the cleansing fire of chaos and crumbling brick of derelict foundations.
They never stopped to warn me of false prophets.
Those who never learnt the difference between taking and giving.
Who think no means convince me.
Who take your reluctance for lack of conviction.
They soothe salt-licked wounds at the fire inside of you.
Abuse the privilege of your kindness,
While you learn the mantras of their madness.
Map scar to scar;
Until their songs of sadness,
Become the lullabies that soothe your own neurosis.
You will try to tame them.
Be the eye in the centre of the storm,
Or the milk in their veins.
But you are no antidote
No cleansing liquid
You are nothing but matter but what matters most is you.

So do not worship at the feet of those that kick you down.
Stand upon your ankles and wait for you to stand.
Do not seek comfort from the hands that hurt you.
That stained you black and blue.
Instead rise from the ashes of your grave
To be reborn,
Like leaves burnt bare for the fallen.
Striped back like the bones in shattered ribcages,
Air torn straight from the lungs,
Drowning on dry land.
Because you are not weak for needing trigger warnings.
Not damaged.
Not broken.
Not used.
Not a victim.

You do not stay for the ones who love you,
If you no longer love yourself.

Nikki Marrone is a poet, photographer, artist and traveller. When she’s not wandering around the world documenting her adventures, she splits her time between performing, running events and workshop leading. She is the winner of multiple Poetry Slams and has featured at various spoken word nights and festivals around the world.  Her work has taken her to some amazing places and she has been involved in some great projects.

Sneak Peak of Heretics, Lovers, and Madmen: The Color of Our Rights: A Reproductive Rights Collaboration

Are you following Heretics, Lovers, and Madmen?

I will wear red
for my sisters whose health is at risk
for my sisters who have been raped
for my sisters who have been battered
for my sisters who are already struggling
to feed hungry children
for my sisters who need to finish
middle school
high school
grad school
for my sisters who are just not prepared

I will wear crimson
for their lifeblood
that will spill in back alleys
that will stain
wire hangers
knitting needles
other unsterilized implements
that become their only choice
in a country that questions
their ability
their very right
to decide

Christine E. Ray


I have been seeing colors of all hues in my mind lately.

I walk down my street and notice the full bloom of the flowers.

Yellow daffodils.

Pink sunsets.

The rain brought growth and vitality.

Green grass.

My stomach turns as I am pulled from my spring daydream. Clouds are forming. My colors change.

Red of the blood down her thighs

Silver of the hanger of old

Dark grey shadows

Peeled white paint on a dirty van

Purple bruises from unskilled hands

How quickly we forget what our warrior women went through. The fight has lost its color. Now all black and white. They can’t see in hues and block out truth.

I am a child in an orphanage. You scream my promise of a good home when I am unwanted. You tell me I will be saved by pro hands. I saw babies unwanted piled up like trash in a storage unit. Don’t tell me about choice being wrong. I am a choice no one made. A ball dropped that no one caught. I am witness to what happens when no one cares in person. Stand behind your pulpit and up on your goddamn soap box and tell a soldier that was in the trench of state child care what the options are. No one came for us. No one cuddled us on couches while they flipped through picture books with our faces in them. No one saved the smiles from the children as they slid off of their faces and hit the dirt. Many of my brothers and sisters in discard are dead now. Lost to a system you preach as an option. I watched the trash children we became. I brushed the hair of those lucky enough to be put up on the block as “New Mommy and New Daddy” walked the line. “Remember little one smile big and try to hide the sadness in your eyes. They will love you this time.” We would stand like puppies in the window and pray for salvation. Our prayers would go unanswered. People shop for children like they shop for cars. I had my tires kicked a million times only to be left on the lot. I have the bruises to show for it. Unwanted throw away children become dangerous adults, or pretty young corpses.

Cover yours eyes to the hues of color in this argument and the only colors we will see are those that run in the streets.

I didn’t know where to post this and now I am crying and pissed off and need to hand this to someone.

Jack Neece


Your body is obscene, cover it
Uncover it and give it to me
Or I’ll cry “Frigid!” “Dyke!”
You are responsible for my anger.
Look at what you did!
If only you had listened.
Then I would hate you, slut, for giving me
What I want.

– Erin L. King


False ownership
This is strangely annoying.
when you see arrogance in
someone who doesn’t own a thing
Can’t conjure a thing out of thin air
let alone a human being.
You are just the renter here. You don’t own shit.
you are born from this womb
which cradles your existence for months
a sliver away from called a being
Nothing but a pulsating existence in a foreign body
Sometimes the body treats it like an infection
to keep away the contamination
self-purging, an act of reclamation
Sometimes it accepts
cups its own palm
supports you, carries it to term
Its the body,
the arrangement
the unsaid understanding
a solemn promise
between the body and its identity
Your existence is slowly molded
like a ball of sagging clay on the potter wheel
morphed and molded
to be called a human being
You don’t own the womb.
You definitely don’t own our bodies.
You break the arrangement
just like to possess the things
Let me clear this
for the sake of your understanding
the body is not for your taking
There is a thin line between
The choices we make and your wanting.

Megha Sood 


She used to walk with a sparkle, gliding through the halls like the wind just blew her in. But what do you know about what it does to carry a reminder of the moment, of why your thighs scream at the sight of a man? To be ripped open, seed planted to bear his blighted fruit.

Her death was declared the moment you sold her womb to the devil. You man, with your flag drawn, throwing your words like they mean something. My body was not made to conquer!

Jamie Lynn Martin


her mama told her / your body is a temple girl / don’t defile it or give it away / she smoked and she drank to that / but when the boys mishandled her and something grew in her belly / she cried out loud / like a throttled nightingale / where is your justice? / the fires were lit / she anointed with shame / who better to be the brand bearer? / The rapists never knew her name / their child / their doing / sorry you can’t use that as an excuse / there are no reliefs for women who are abused / you should want to cradle your rapists child / here, give me the umbilical chord / let it sound in the dark / no succor here for survivors of incest and rape / lest men not control the uterus / oh lord heaven forbid / she burns with shame / they chant in unison / blood blood / we own your ovaries and private parts / the rape is divided / once and then again / when the law did not defend her / such is the pyre of women / born to defend their shame / inherited over generations / will it ever stop?

Candice Louisa Daquin


My knee jerk reaction is to start swinging blindly, hoping to connect with something old, red-faced, white, and male. As I raise my opened claws, exposing the softest flesh of my pink outstretched palms, I realize that this plays directly into the hands of the predator. I am not a predator, but I have spent my whole life sensing the shadows that pass o’er, discerning their threat levels, dodging them, knowing how they hunt, and how they think.

I am Mouse, master of disguises; now you see me, now you don’t.

I remember who I am and retreat to the safety of the thicket, just as the shadow swoops down, knowing they got me where they want me, and now they’re gonna eat me. I do not accept that I am on the menu today, Mr. Eagle; nor will I any other day. I will claw my way from your throat beast. Know that I will bite back until the beat has abandoned my chest and my body is made of sunshine and moonlight.

When Source asked would you rather be a Top Predator or Smart Prey, you chose your lot Mr. Eagle. You failed to remember that sustainability is not found in rumbling through jungles roaring fear me and eating everything in sight. You will be left starving. Left to rot, your ribcage will become our homes until they turn to fertile soil that makes way for generations to gather, feasting on your fallen kind’s sweet meats. We be small, but we be mighty.

Susan Conway

It was the white-hot sun, glaring down at me, pressing its warmth against the fresh, purple bruises I’d hidden beneath my clothes. It was the silvery-blue moonlight and occasional yellowed headlights that lit my room at night while I laid awake and waiting. It was the way his voice slid like black ice down my spine, the scent of cigarettes and beer on his breath, making the blood moving through my veins turn cold, freezing me from the inside out. That was the fear. That was the hatred. That was what awaited me. Every day, and every night. Where was justice then?

What about the countless other young girls experiencing the same fate? What of the ones forced to carry the children of their abusers? The ones that now have a government choosing for them how they use their bodies? What of the ones with no money, no assistance, and no means to survive on their own — newborn infant in their weary arms with crimson blood dripping down their legs? Where was the help when they starved or froze to death on the streets? What can we do when we have no rights over our own bodies no matter where we go?

Sarah Doughty


My heart is a rainbow of colors

Loves with no restraint

“Tame that sinful heart” they say, because it loves both women and men

“Your body is a temple” they say.

But what they really mean, is that it’s a church, white washed and filled with stories of how women began pain

My innocence was never hues of pastel, it was a currency to be exchanged for a worthy husband, who’d tame what my father couldn’t … So I gave it away

The red of my blood as it stained my school pants, was tangible proof that I now was another sinful woman that had to learn her place

The green of the grass I laid My head upon, left imprints on my summer clothes and instead of wondering what fields I graced with my dreams, you demanded to know why I laid in public with such lack of propriety

When My body bloomed suddenly, my clothes all became sins, and the hate from school teachers spewed over my young physique … Making stains of dark spit and vile on my white uniform

The shadows now darken so many neon souls, who simply want control of the vessel they inhabit, who refuse to bow to archaic laws

The inky black of evil, threatens to infect the world we are building for our future daughters and sons…

They spew their hate and condemn what they will never understand

But the sun will shine again

We will fight for it

Tooth and nail

You’ve taken enough

Your power will run its course

We refuse to go on living in the shadows of your consent

Let your flag fly

Let freedom ring

Jesica Nordase


Raised in a green, faraway land where
women lack power over our bodies,
All while stepping on fertile soils,
Left to be watered by the hand of an oppressor.
No voiced cries, no souls to heal anymore;
Just vacant shells left behind to pick up the pieces of what was once called a woman.
No resistance to stop the invasion either —
Just compliance to carry appointed commands.
A woman should always know her place in the world, His world. A Man’s world.
Makes it easier to endure.
Problem solved, right? So I thought.

As a teen, I witnessed so many injustices:
Sex, unprotected by foolish teenagers.
Rape, hushed just so a community never faced shame brought in without consent.
Victims blamed, the easiest outcome to digest.
The solution, girls forced to marry their rapist, only to restore honor to the family…
Problem solved, right? So I was told.

Eight dollars and fifty cents, the American dollar equivalent of a problem solved.
A pill handed to girls by desperate mothers in the family bathroom.
No doctor. No care. No precautions.
“Just go to sleep. It will go away overnight.”
That overnight hell comes and goes, leaving scars, with no elixir to kill the pain of a physical and emotional trauma
Of waking up in a puddle of her own crimson blood.
But that’s okay. It’s never talked about again. It’s over.
Problem solved, right? So I heard.

But now I’m here.
A red, white, and blue flag held high above my head, giving me a sense of protection.
Of ‘I am home.’
A humongous sign, “The land of the free,” brought tears to my eyes while walking through Customs.
“Welcome to the United States of America, Miss,”
he told me as he handed me the passport that carried so much pain I wanted to forget.
I was free. I am free.
My body is safe now.
I am my own woman.
Problem solved, right? So I hoped.

But where the hell am I?
Am I in a country where rights are protected,
Where voices are heard,
Where strength and free will is celebrated?
Or am I in a third-world country again?
I woke up confused that morning.
With two girls I needed to get ready for school.
Two girls I had been lying to, apparently.
Telling them they have rights.
That they’re strong.
That they are lucky they were born here and not overseas.
Problem solved, right? Or so I thought.

I woke up confused that morning.
Reading a law that condemns a rape victim to carry her abuser’s child.
Forcing women to resort to unsafe solutions, any means in order to take away a pain that they didn’t deserve.
I woke up confused that morning.
Wondering, why was a law, regarding a woman’s body, made by misogynistic Men?
Someone, please, wake me from this nightmare, calm my heart, and assure me that this is not a world my daughters are being raised in.
What’s the solution? I wonder.

Saide Harb-Ranero


My body will not be affected
By decisions of men in legislatures
I do not spill crimson every month.

My body will not be affected
By men carrying knives and ligatures
I cannot be raped.

My body will not be affected
By men who decide women need not study
I already have a college degree.

My body will not be affected
By men who declare I can’t work
My husband pays all the bills.

So they relaxed their bodies
In willful blindness.
They laughed at sisters
Who marched on the streets.

They joined the men in calling them whores.
And said their sons were worth more.
Then came laws that forced darkness
Faces forced behind cloaks of bleakness.

The marchers were murdered
The voices silenced.
Dance outlawed, music banned.
Writers fled, poets quietened.

Memories of the Taliban
Became realities again.
In lands that had assumed
Never again.

-Quatrina Hosain


More than Wage Inequality- Nightly News- a May week in 2019

“Missouri restricts abortion rights! Alabama has already made it illegal.”

“I choose life!”

No, you choose a ball of cells with no heartbeat-technically as alive as an amoeba, over a woman.

“A 19 yr old pregnant woman was murdered by 2, a mother and daughter. They opened her belly, cut out her unborn baby to raise as their own.”

Was she a container the prize was in to toss into a dumpster?

“US pregnancy rates are down! so low we can’t replace the population! The reason: most significant, the drop in teen pregnancy.”
Fewer humans would allow some of the one million species in the verge of extinction because of human depredation of the planet
a chance to

choose life.

In the midwest, fine American women hired an Ivy League-educated woman physician to remove the entire genitalia from a 6 yr old girl.
No anesthetic, grandmother, mother held the little girl down.

Sewn-shut breeding machines
in the name of one version of God.
Lawyers and legislators debate whether to call it “child abuse” or “freedom of religion”

to justify doing nothing.

Historically women underwent hysterectomies for everything from depression to
back pain to
a hang nail.
I ask you.
If a man complains of headaches, will you cut off his balls?

We march.
We are loud.
Yet the juggernaut blunders forward.
Back to a place where it’s encouraged to grab pussy because “they love it!”
Let me grab you by the balls.

“Le plus ça change, le plus que c’est la même chose.”

I am a woman of an age where society deems me invisible and irrelevant. My gray hairs, my wrinkled skin.
A woman friend messaged me recently, “at our age the light begins to dim.” Sure, talk yourself into it.

My light BLAZES because
I am just getting started so

Rachael Ikins


I don’t know what color to wear
For the child of rape forced to accept
Her mother’s rapist as Father
For that mother forced to put her daughter
Into the hands of her rapist
For the grieving mother mourning a miscarried child
And under investigation for possible homicide
For the child of incest
Life-long symbol of a family’s shame
For the doctor who must make a judgment call
On a woman’s life or a doomed fetus and
Facing 99 years if a court disagrees
No, I don’t know the right color to wear
Black of grief?
Rage red?
What color is fear?
Perhaps Gold for resolve that
These horrors must not come to pass

Robert Wertzler

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Dear G—River Stillwood

April 23, 2017

Dear G—,

Six months ago today you came for Sunday dinner at my home, drugged and sexually assaulted me. You continue to deny it, to tell everyone I “came on to you,” “it was mutual,” but you and I both know the truth.

The police know, too. They know the drug was not in the wine you brought and left behind, but in the salad dressing – the already open, salty bottle of Zesty Italian accompanying the bitter green salad you’d made – the only thing besides your bowl you took home with you when you left.

Good news for you. It looks like you’re going to get away it. A problem with detecting date rape drugs, (especially oily, salty GHB), is that they metabolize very quickly, usually in 4-12 hours. They only show up in the urine during or shortly after consumption. That’s why it was long gone by the time I realized what you’d done. It was more than 20 hours after you’d drugged me when medical staff at the hospital performed the rape kit. I’d gone to the bathroom three times by then.

Because date rape drugs are metabolized so quickly, less than 4% consumed stays intact in the body long enough to end up in hair. Yet, some did show up in my hair – not enough to be “forensically conclusive” – but enough to show you drugged me. Everyone knows I don’t use drugs – social or prescription. The only way the drug got into my hair is because you gave it to me.

Unfortunately for me, it looks like I will be one of the 987 out of every 1000 sexual assault victims who never gets to face her perpetrator in court or deliver a Victim’s Statement. Therefore, I’m writing this letter to you. There are some things I’d like you to know and the half-year anniversary seemed like the best opportunity to tell you.

First, foremost, and very clearly, I want you to know that I know fully and completely that you drugged and sexually assaulted me. With unmitigated cowardice, malice, and dehumanizing intent, you drugged me and you sexually assaulted me.

I was out for 10 hours. Not the one or two hours you told the Sheriff’s Department. Or the “maybe three or four” you told our friends. Ten hours. My internet service provider proved it. I logged off when you arrived four minutes after noon and I logged back just as you were leaving at 11:37 PM Sunday night.

The detective said you likely have somnophilia (a rare condition where you can only maintain an erection when your partner is unconscious. “Sleeping beauty syndrome,” it’s more commonly called) or you’re a psychopath. While only you know which (and psychiatrists debate if there is even a meaningful separation between them), you and I know this to be true.

You, however, have convinced yourself that drugging and sexually assaulting women is a kindness, at best, a harmless dalliance, at worst. From the meticulous way you went about it – from spiking the dressing, to assaulting me, to posing me for hours naked from thighs to shoulders while you fondled yourself and drank wine in the recliner (I do remember some things), to washing my body and redressing me when you finished, to putting our Sunday dinner away, to doing the dishes, to waiting until I’d awakened and peed out the evidence and then collecting the salad dressing before you left — it is highly unlikely that I am the first woman you’ve drugged and assaulted. Even the police and crime lab officers assured me of that.

You suggested before you left that I took pleasure in your sexual manipulations — “You enjoyed yourself tonight,” you said – as though a physical response from me made what you did okay. To that I say two things:

1. I am lesbian. I was drugged. Never would I have had a sexual encounter with you if I had not been drugged. Never.
2. Human bodies are made to respond to stimulus. Had you put a match to my arm it would have hurt, my skin would have reddened and blistered, and I would have been no more able to yell “Stop!” or get away from you than I was when you were performing unwanted, uninvited oral sex on me (another unforgettable snippet).

Don’t for a second confuse my body’s natural response to stimulation with any indication that I wanted you to assault me or that it was not a horrendous act of violence.

And you didn’t just assault my body. You assaulted my mind, my soul. Quite literally, you took me from being my own person and objectified me to the point that I was nothing more than a living, breathing, warm-bodied blowup doll. I could not say “no,” I could not move away, I was in and out of consciousness, could barely think. If you had wanted to slice and dice me and fry me up for an after dinner snack, there is literally nothing I could have done to have prevented it.

G—, what you did was not harmless. In fact, it’s was an act of such a cowardly violence, it was such an intimate betrayal, it wrought such destruction, that I will never be the same because of it.

Here are the effects your assault has had on me:

I don’t trust anyone anymore. I mean no one.

No one except law enforcement has been in my house since the assault. No one is allowed inside.

I rarely go outside. I don’t want you to see me when you drive by – and you drive by so often. I don’t want you to know if I’m home or away, what I’m doing, how long or short my hair is or how much weight I have gained or lost. Nothing.

Inside the house is no picnic, either. Not once since the assault have I sat or spent time in the living room. Or dining room. I spend as little time as possible in the kitchen and wash dishes only when I run out of clean ones. Every time I stand at the sink, I see is you calmly, carefully washing away the evidence while I lie unconscious and exposed on the living room floor. And I wonder, what the hell were you thinking as you washed up? For the life of me, I can’t imagine.

Until you assaulted me, I believed that I could take care of myself. When you drugged me, in my home, without my realizing I was in danger, that I needed to protect myself, you took that essential piece from me – that rock solid core of self-agency – and smashed it to smithereens. I now know at a cellular level that danger can come from anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and that I cannot protect myself from it.

I keep a gun with me now, always. Even in the shower. If danger comes again, I will not be the only one hurt.

I no longer love life the way I did until you assaulted me. I do not want to die. I am not suicidal. But that wide, embracing enthusiasm that you so liked about me, that optimistic energy and elan, that wide open engagement with happiness that you always applauded … Gone.

My faith in humanity is destroyed. Until your assault, I believed the vast majority of people are good, that goodness itself was both a natural law and a sort of insurance against harm: If I was good to others, they, and life, would be good to me. I now understand that goodness is a force so weak it doesn’t take abject desperation to crush it. It readily collapses under the weight of selfish want.

You have turned my rich spiritual landscape into a cold, barren desert. I no longer believe in God, Buddha Nature, or The Universal Source. There was no “reason for this to happen.” You aren’t better for having assaulted me. I’m not better for having been assaulted. There are no valuable lessons to be learned.

G—, I picture you reading this and smugly thinking that what I gained from your assault, then, was clearer vision. That you brought me closer to some essential knowledge of “how things really are.” To that I say my illusions were not yours to take, nor is any clarity gained yours to claim, any more than were my body, mind and soul yours to take six months ago.

It feels very unlikely that I will recover much of who I was before your assault. But you’ve taken 10 hours, much of my personal agency and dignity and what I valued about myself. I’ve given you a few more hours today with this letter. You will get no more of me, ever, except this:

I hope one day you meet a fully loaded logging truck, on a curve, in your lane. Or Karma’s equivalent of that. While I no longer believe in Karma, G—, you do, and one of us has to be right. In this case, I’m hoping it’s you.

I am a survivor. A writer. A lesbian. A sufferer of PTSD. G—’s assault was two and a half years ago. The rape kit still has not been processed. G— continues to drive by my house regularly. Soon, I am moving out of state.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Beneath the Layered Makeup – Rachael Ikins

The July day I turned 8,
we piled into my mom’s green Plymouth, drove to town from camp. Errands.

She parked in front of the butcher shop. Worn stone steps,
doorbell jingled, our feet creaked across a board floor. A man who looked like
Santa’s brother greeted us. Stained
apron tied over his belly,
straw hat, rimless glasses perched on a nose’s redness
underlined with a silver mustache smile.

He said, “How are you, little lady?”
“I am 8 today.” I said.
He reached overhead to choose from the forest of upside-down sausages
and waxed cheeses that dangled from the rafters to cut down a bologna.
Slapped it on the butcher
block, carved a slice, presented to me on tissue.

The scents of spice and dust, his aftershave and cured meats…
My mom collected white paper packages tied with string. Sweat-frosted glass hid cold cuts, liverwurst, other succulent secrets.

We walked next door to the 5 & 10. Penny candy, cheap toys, precious gems
in rings that turned your finger green by bed time, underwear, office supplies,
home goods and paper-dolls. When we were older, a friend and I filled paper
sacks–rock candy, dots, licorice whips and fireballs. A whole bag for a nickel. Meandering home along the lake as the waves chuckled, our gasps, fireballs exploding on our tongues.

We hurried past the doctor’s and dentist’s offices, their stacks of Norman Rockwell
magazines, places smelling of fear and disinfectant, that shared a foyer with the liquor store. Sometimes my mother took me into its dark depths as she chose bottles that chimed in their paper bag. The man behind that counter smelled of gin. At 8 I knew it a familiar smell from dinners, but not its name. I suspected he was a vampire.

As we grew older, my friends and I watched movies in the theater next door on main street. Chewing-gum-cobbled floor, ugly ladies selling popcorn and a giant who patrolled the aisles with a police-sized flashlight, ready to yank a kid out by the collar if she or he had sneakers up on a seat-back. Older teens sat in the last rows, slouched down, making out.
My small town at the head of a lake, tourist attraction,
wore makeup all summer long, summers we idled at our camp,
10 miles away.

Hikes, skinny-dipping, and fires on the beach, crawdads studied in buckets of water released come evening. Lullaby the water fall, whispers of cow-scented wind slipping down the cliffs with screech owl voices through night windows, cooled our bunks.

Lake licking beach stones beneath my bedroom. Canoe trips and rowboat races trailed by a school of carp.

The summer I turned 8, the butcher gifted me a bologna slice. My dad gave me a fishing rod and my grandfather, my own dinghy.

The spa built over the edge-of-town trailer park, not even an architect’s wet-dream.
My school, not the renovated sprawl that rivals a posh airport’s luxury.

The Esso station near my grandparents’ house where Frank made sure my mom had gas during the shortage to drive a sick child daily to the city for care. Boarded up.

The library hasn’t changed much.
I could borrow as many books as I could carry. You’d be surprised how many a kid can carry. Starved for stories, I stayed in the station wagon while she grabbed a few things from Roy’s Red and White, unable to stop myself from plunging into Dr. Seuss, Peter Pan, later, Catcher in the Rye, Nancy Drew, Mark Twain, stunned blinking when my mom knocked on the window to ask me to unlock the car.

I chewed my bologna the summer I turned 8, while we ambled past the drugstore, red and purple colored bottles in the window, $3 record albums, the hardware where you could buy jewelry from a shriveled lady, cigarette permanently screwed in the corner of her lipstick, collectibles in a glass case and tools, nails, screws or have paint mixed, to our car parked in shade of the theater marquee.

Nobody knew that a boy in my class, later it turned out to have been many boys, knelt, bent over in the locked men’s bathroom of that theater. A half block from two churches.
Choking and crying.

The big man with the flashlight.
No relation of Santa’s, and a child will do what he has to when a brush-cut giant and pale blue eyes promises,
“I will kill your mother
if you tell.”


Rachael Ikins is a 2016/18 Pushcart, 2013/18 CNY Book Award, 2018 Independent Book Award winner, prize winning author/artist with 9 books. Syracuse University grad, member CNY branch NLAPW, and Associate Editor of Clare Songbirds Publishing House, Auburn, NY. Her new memoir Eating the Sun a love story narrative punctuated by poetry and garden recipes available 4/2019 at Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: a night’s expectation – quinn hsu

when they told you people would love
you for who you are
you never expected

a love for you as squirmingly as
your tongue against the mirror
shards of porcelain hemming it in

a love as fast and bitingly as
a bear trap’s chrome jaws
tearing at you desperately

until all that’s left is
a cavern for ruinous words
so you pull it open

and someday
you’ll figure out the secret to peeling
yourself inside out

but today you only reveal
a writhing tongue and
your own set of enamel jaws

but what else did you expect?

quinn is a transmasculine nonbinary artist who hopes to reach others by telling his experiences through the filter of pictures and poems. his work speaks openly about sexual assault and mental health as well as their interconnectivity, in hopes that others who are going through the same experiences feel they are not alone in their thoughts, and so that those who are not going through them may understand and empathize more.