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.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Ruby – LL McGlynn

No matter what she said, or what solution she came up with, he blew it off, as if nothing she could say would ever make sense. Her comments were not logical to him, the rational one, and nothing she could say would ever help the situation not even in the smallest way, which is exactly how she felt. Bent over the counter, hands outstretched, gripping the sink, she felt his piranha chew through her at incredible speed. She closed in on it. Close enough to smell last night’s left-overs. Grey is many things, but it is not a state of mind. Once one falls victim to it, the whole house is all sixes and sevens.

Hence, it began… again. That feeling of uselessness wrapping ‘round and ‘round that kept everything nice and tight. The empty greyness of which she now accommodates, speaks quietly to her in a gnawing tone of resentment. It helps itself to a little piece of her each day, until she is no one, and yet anyone, who is not Ruby. It happens to all of us at some point. For Alice, it was the day when she caught a glimpse of it in the bedroom mirror. A mangy, wet sponge had usurped the perfectly formed peach that once resided there.

The grey is not a color, like the bright red Santa sack that fills her socket. It isn’t even purgatory which would be a welcome reprieve right about now. No, the grey is not any of those things. It is merely a scene from an old classic film, black and white, where their mouths move but nothing comes out. But it will all be ok, because just as the lamb was taken to the cold, stainless-steel table and offered up on Mt Moriah, the sun came out.

McGlynn is a Visual Artist and Writer, currently living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario. She is a graduate of History from Western University, and a Fine Art Honours graduate with distinction from the University of Waterloo. As an emerging Artist, McGlynn challenges her studio and writing practice by pushing beyond the comfort zone, and to accept what the work is destined to become. She enjoys collaborative projects such as her recent obsession, MOTUS.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: walk these streets at night and know the truth – Evelyn Benvie

load your lipstick in a gatling gun
to get ready for the night

the sidewalk cracks are too wide for stilettos
and too deep for anything else

wear fishnets to trawl the river, sift and dredge
the filth at the bottom and the scum at the top

and you, panting as you run
seeking shelter on a rainy night and finding only

reaching hands and open legs
inviting you to places you don’t want to go

the city at night is no longer beautiful
or maybe it never was

Evelyn Benvie is the wooly jumper in a family of black sheep. Both a cynic and a romantic at heart, she writes diverse, queer-positive fiction and poetry that have been published online and in print. Her first novella, Something to Celebrate, was recently published by Mischief Corner Books. Find out more at or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: The Gift- aj forrester

Like a raft I float
on vicious waves
with what you gave;

you stole.

Made me less
made me more.
You gave confusion and shame.


The gift remains:
in me, I found
Like fire hardens steel,
nightmares burn my heart,

my brain.

I strain;
I’d give it back, though,
if I could;
this gift you shoved
down my throat.

Amanda J. Forrester received her MFA from the University of Tampa. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Azahares Spanish Language Literary Magazine, Pink Panther Magazine, Collective Unrest, Trailer Park Quarterly, and other anthologies and journals. Follow her @ajforrester75

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Rubber Gloves – Taylor Warner

Today I stumbled over a page in my journal
that read:

“One day I will write about
your rubber gloves
And how each time they entered me
They delivered desperate hope
And how every time they exited me
They took with them a piece of my soul
I thought I’d never get back.”

Well, here I am,
speaking my truths,
moving the words etched in memories
from my brain
to my mouth
in hopes that the pain of you will float away
with the words as they are spoken aloud,
lost syllables in the wind

So, here are the words
I choose to move on from you with:

I do not hate you
I pity you
I am not angry
I am sorrowful

I do not wish I never met you
For I would have never grown

Because I never believed in love
until I met you
And I never believed in the devil
until you put your hands on me

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: Double Dip – kkc

I told old man in the white uniform with cherry stains on it
that I didn’t want his flavor he was about to scoop.
So he scooped it anyway.

His words to me were
” little girl, you will taste what I dish out”

Shoved cone in my face
Salty tears slid down landing on his confection
Told me keep taking more
I gagged on bitter taste which violated my throat

Peddler pushed harder
“Eat every last drop, do not stop”

Wiped off my face full of stickiness
Ran from that place
Told whoever would listen
They laughed and said
” next time you should order a pizza”

Anger marched me back to vendor man
It was I that pushed his head into his
cold frozen cart
and ordered
“You will taste what I dish out!”

Kimberly Cunningham has published three books, “Undefined,” “Sprinkles on Top,” and “Smooth Rough Edges,” in addition to 28 published pieces of work. It is her belief that each one should teach one. Find her at

There Is Strength in Our Stories: 37: perpetual victim – Katharine Love

be quiet. be quiet.
i told you –

be quiet!

you are weird. you are ugly. you are strange.
be normal. be pretty. be happy.

always be nice. always say thank- you, even if you
aren’t grateful, especially if you aren’t grateful.

take it – you deserve it – you are a feral thing.
don’t act like an animal. act like a good girl.

act like a good girl.

marry well. marry wealth. marry a man.
money is important. power is important. love is irrelevant.

he yells? so did mine.
he hits? so did mine.

you deserve to be choked –
you are making me mad –
you did this to me –
i should die if I’m lying.

i have friends, you don’t.
i am right, you aren’t.

be like me – perpetual victim.

Katharine Love is a psychotherapist and poet. Her poems have been featured in several anthologies. Katharine has just finished her first book, a memoir called ‘The Lesbian Chronicles’.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Poem for RJ – Bina Ruchi Perino

You smile, emerald pepper in hand, and you shrink me
into a single consonant, a controlled identity, the Beta.

B — her throat is the steel kettle on your electric stovetop,
simmering and boiling and compressed — she is trapped
in a Stockholm prison, where you peel apart her threads.
July is a blister, a heatwave dancing over asphalt, and B
says no until the word is a sound without meaning.
She swallows, eyes closed, mouth seared to numbness.

You buy B a subscription to National Geographic to hold
her down, another reason to be grateful dressed in a selfless

narrative, and the summer salt sits on her tongue when
the solstice weans into autumn. November, she drops

the magazines at your door, she’s itching at the throat you
forced yourself inside. B, she’s weaving her threads back

together. You know she won’t say anything, that B is
simmering and boiling and compressed — I am trapped.

Bina Ruchi Perino is a post-baccalaureate student at the University of North Texas, seeking a Bachelor of Arts in English, Creative Writing. She lives in Denton with her dog Maya. Her work has appeared in The North Texas Review, The Nassau Review, Sonder Midwest, Royal Rose, and other places. She is a survivor of sexual assault.