Daniel Elder – Nailed Magazine https://nailedmagazine.com Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:00:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.13 Ben by Tyler Mendelsohn https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/ben-by-tyler-mendelsohn/ Fri, 17 Jan 2020 01:18:51 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=17928 Personal essay by Tyler Mendelsohn +++ In the late 1800’s and early 1990’s, 97 Orchard Street was home to many of the Eastern European Jewish immigrants who came to the Lower East Side of New York. Now, no one living lives there. When I went on a tour of what is called The Tenement Museum, […]

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Personal essay by Tyler Mendelsohn


In the late 1800’s and early 1990’s, 97 Orchard Street was home to many of the Eastern European Jewish immigrants who came to the Lower East Side of New York. Now, no one living lives there.

When I went on a tour of what is called The Tenement Museum, I couldn’t shake the sense that someone else was in the building. Our tour group were the only people there. The only people who are ever there anymore are tour groups. Before it was turned it into a museum, the building had been vacant for 53 years. In 1988, it was turned into The Tenement Museum—it was the perfect venue because the apartments had been untouched since its tenants were forced out.

The guides describe tenants’ lives based on research. I was in the apartment of an Orthodox Jewish family from Lithuania. They ran an at-home sweatshop. I kept trying to put myself back in time. Being in the room didn’t immediately transport me; there is an enormous gap in life experience, culture, perception.

Small details stuck out to me—like how there’s a window in the center of the unit, between the kitchen and the main living area. The tour guide explained that this was to reflect natural light from the one window that faced outside. Otherwise there was very little in the way of light.


My paternal grandfather’s immigration certificate hangs on the wall of my parents’ house. He died before I was born. The only real details I know about him are: he came from Poland; he spoke seven languages; my dad seems to have been afraid of him.

The certificate in the bathroom says he came to Brooklyn, but I wondered if 97 Orchard Street was similar to his building. After the museum visit, I told my dad about the tour. He said his father actually came first to the Lower East Side in the early 1900’s.

It’s possible he lived in that same building. It’s possible I crossed paths with the ghost of my grandfather, whose blood is mine but whose life I can barely fathom.


My paternal grandfather’s name was Ben.

In Scotland, the word “ben” means the inner room of a parlor. The tour guide at 97 Orchard Street kept telling us to gather in the parlor. It was one of few times I’ve ever heard that word spoken.

In Hebrew, Ben means “son of”. It forms part of surnames, for example: Abraham ben David, meaning Abraham, son of David. Ben is a small part of something larger and the necessary connector.


I recently read a book called The Girl in the Green Sweater by a Holocaust survivor, Krystyna Chiger. Her family ultimately survived by hiding in a sewer. They were from Lvov (now Lviv), which was part of Poland but became Russian territory during the war. They were among the only Jewish families in their entire city who survived.

I was talking to my dad about the book—how upsetting it was, how the Chiger family’s country of origin changed while they were underground—and he casually mentioned that Ben was also from Lvov. I was stunned by the connection.

I had the haunting thought: if Ben hadn’t left Poland, he likely would have been killed. My dad wouldn’t exist, my sisters wouldn’t exist, I wouldn’t exist. I hadn’t thought about it exactly like that before.

I remember learning about the Holocaust in elementary school. It felt so far away.

If Ben had been killed, our family lineage would be forever changed. My mom would be living an entirely different life. All because Ben never left Poland.


Throughout the tour of 97 Orchard Street, I wondered: were we encouraged to make connections to the present?

On Ellis Island—where Ben would have entered America—people considered “healthy” were held and questioned for two to five hours. They were sent off then to uncertain lives, but they were sent off. Eugenics influenced immigration policy; anyone who had a disability or who was deemed mentally or physically sick was detained and sent back.

Two-thirds of the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island were from Europe, and over time became white in America. But not all of them—the Emergency Quota act of 1921, only a few years after Ben came to America, allowed in a higher quota of Northern and Western European immigrants than Eastern and Southern European immigrants. Americans saw Northern and Western European immigrants as having “similar values” to Americans (read: they were considered more white).

This is one reason why, in 1935, 97 Orchard Street shut down. New codes were put in place to protect tenants from unlivable conditions; the owner refused to adhere to them. Our tour guide said this was in part because American attitudes towards Eastern and Southern European immigrants–who made up the majority of 97 Orchard Street tenants–were worsening.

Today, thousands of immigrants are detained indefinitely at the border and separated from their children, who are kept in cages. Children held by ICE have been left to die through neglect of medical care. Thousands are deported. These are non-white immigrants. I looked at a map showing country of origin for immigrants detained by ICE in 2018; the president speaks most loudly and violently about Latinx and Muslim immigrants, and while the largest number of people detained are from Latin American countries, those held by ICE are immigrants of color from all over the world.. American immigration policies have always upheld the power structure.

Ben didn’t have an easy life by any means, but he was given a chance at life.


In the apartment we toured, there was an iron, an artifact from the family’s life. People passed it around the room to see how it felt to hold it in their hands.

There was an opening, almost like a little door, at the top. This used to be where people—maybe Ben, but probably his mother—put hot coals. Without the coals inside, the iron felt oddly cold. It was the beginning of September and still hot outside. Even more so in the un-air-conditioned apartment.

I was the last to be handed the iron. While the guide was still talking, I tried to quietly pass it toward the front of the room. Everyone was distracted. Eventually I gave up, and stood for the rest of the tour with the iron in my hands. It was heavy. You had to be very careful with it. I held onto the iron tightly, afraid of breaking a connection to the past.


Header image courtesy of Joshua Zirschky. To view his Photographer Feature, go here.

Tyler Mendelsohn is a writer and editor living in Baltimore, MD. Their creative writing, essays and book reviews have been featured or are forthcoming in publications such as 3:AM Magazine, The Establishment, Little Patuxent Review, JMWW, BmoreArt, Baltimore Fishbowl, and Queen Mob’s Tea House. Their book Laurel was published in August 2019 by Ink Press Productions. Tyler lives in a Baltimore rowhome with their partner Trish and cat Cosmo. Some of their favorite activities are playing the drums, petting cats, and eating snacks.

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Missed Abortion by Katie Sinback https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/missed-abortion-by-katie-sinback/ Thu, 24 Oct 2019 12:00:15 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=17828 Personal Essay by Katie Sinback ***                     First, I spot the sign: Warning: Graphic Images Ahead. The sign is a reverse-psychology lure planted by the anti-choice group whose national college tour has landed on my campus. I know what is coming, that I should change course […]

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Personal Essay by Katie Sinback


                    First, I spot the sign: Warning: Graphic Images Ahead. The sign is a reverse-psychology lure planted by the anti-choice group whose national college tour has landed on my campus. I know what is coming, that I should change course and give a wide berth to the signs and the glum-faced men who flank them. But this past week has wrung me out, has introduced a new form of loss into my emotional landscape, a loss that propels me forward. Not bravery exactly, nor self-flagellation, but some intersection of the two. A need to witness, to test what is left of me in this afterwards state. I don’t alter course. I look.

          Huge pictures of gaunt Holocaust victims; their corpses in a careless pile loom beside images of bloody tissue purporting to be aborted embryos. I blink. Before last week, I would have felt outraged at the images for obvious reasons: abortion and the Holocaust are not the same. These images are intended to provoke and upset those who have had abortions and who may need this procedure in the future. The images violate people who lost their lives in the Holocaust and the privacy of the women who did have abortions and trusted that the contents of their uteruses would be disposed of with dignity and care, not photographed and sent on a tour of horror. Before last week my outrage was theoretical, but today I feel a dark hollow in the pit of my gut, a tingle in my hands, a directionless panic. Although my situation is different than women who seek abortions, I feel a kinship with them. Never have I felt more certain that a woman should not be forced to be the vessel for an unwanted pregnancy.


              Missed abortion, the doctor had said at my appointment last week, during what was supposed to be a routine round of pregnancy tests. Technically the term is missed abortion. A miscarriage that should have happened around the eighth week when the doctor estimates my embryo stopped growing, but which, for whatever reason, did not. Do you still feel pregnant?  she asked. &nbsp           Nauseous, tired?

          I nodded, feeling like an impostor. I had been impersonating a pregnant woman for the last two weeks because my body didn’t get the signal that my embryo was dead. Embryo. The word snagged in my spinning mind.  Since the positive pregnancy test, I had monitored the passing weeks, the milestones, anticipating the moment that embryo became fetus, that fetus became baby. Even in the excitement over the pregnancy, I had insisted on calling the being growing in me by its scientific name. An attempt to distance myself from potential disaster. But my tactics had failed me. As I lay in the darkened room, the breath was sucked from my lungs. I felt the sensation of falling.  I struggled to assemble words in my dry mouth. I didn’t even know this could happen, I said.

          Miscarriages conjure images of women gripping their stomachs, eyes wide with horror, before they rush into a bathroom and unleash a primal scream. But my miscarriage happened quietly. Cell division halting, a pulse flickering to stillness. A secret my body kept from me.

          Layered on top of the betrayal I felt, the betrayal of my body’s failure to sustain life, was embarrassment. My uterus was thirteen-year-old me at a school dance. I asked Carl to dance. Then Tony. I wheedled. Come on, it’ll be fun. No big deal, just as friends, I said, as tears bubbled in my eyes. Tony took pity on me and shuffled to the dance floor, sure to keep his arms straight as posts while we lumbered through the slow song. And I can’t fight this feeling anymore. I convinced myself that Tony’s acquiescence meant he liked me. He like-liked me and I hefted an unrequited crush around for a week until his nice guy ran out. I don’t like you like that. Leave me alone.  My uterus and me: two pathetic girls who couldn’t take a hint.

          The doctor warned that I could not wait for the miscarriage to happen naturally. I would need a D and C—dilation and curettage—as soon as possible due to the large amount of vascular tissue in my uterus. She said there might be other complications. Words flurried around me: molar pregnancy, missed abortion, cancer. I felt overwhelmed with the desire to have this dead embryo out of me immediately. For my stomach and breasts, the parts of my body that had started to swell and grow soft and tender, to contract and return to their pre-pregnancy state. For the nausea that lodged in the back of my throat whenever I went too long without eating to settle. To be vacant. To be free. To be not-pregnant now that the hope of my pregnancy was dead.     Mercifully, they could fit me in for a D and C the next morning.


              Do you want silence or distraction?, the nurse asks after I swallow a dose of Ativan and extra-strength Ibuprofen. I lay on the table, my feet in stirrups, my husband beside me, a shadow outlined by the surgical light above.

         Distraction, I say.

          The nurse asks me about my turquoise boots that both she and the doctor performing the D and C admired during our initial pre-procedure conversation. They had warned me to keep an eye out for passing blood clots larger than eggs, advised using the thickest maxi-pad I could find.  As the Ativan kicks in I tell the nurse I am a writer, a novelist, and feel a small surge of pride when she is impressed. Maybe I will be one of those writers who muses that her stories are her children. I am not done with creation. The nurse perfectly interweaves questions about my writing with warnings of This will hurt, You’ll feel some cramping here, and other advisories to brace myself while the doctor works between my legs, first dilating my cervix, then scraping away the remnants of my placenta and embryo.

          The Ativan erases most of the procedure, but I remember wrenching cramps, a metallic chill pinching my insides, in a dim room with my husband tightly gripping one hand and the nurse talking to me while holding the other. I remember tears leaking down the sides of my face, feeling glad that I had worn glasses instead of my usual contact lenses because things were already foggy and I didn’t need another layer smudging my vision. Even as I wanted to escape the room, burn past the moment into my non-pregnant future, the cramps kept me anchored and from spiraling into thoughts of what the doctor was removing from me. Images of bloody tissue.  My embryo, my baby. I remember the concern in the doctor’s fashionably bespectacled eyes, her assurances. You will have a child. This is not the end. Her kindness. I remember feeling frustrated that in my altered state I didn’t sound very smart in how I spoke about my writing. When the nurse spoke of her interest in penning a memoir, my answer was a slurred athletic shoe ad. You should totally do it. Just start writing. Just do it!  


           Between moments of awe at all the blood that is still left in me, at the parade of blood-soaked maxi pads that I stuff into the garbage can and which give our bathroom a coppery, sweet smell, I take stabs at normality. I crawl into downward dog. I take a puff of pot. I smoke cigarettes on our front porch, relishing the burn in my lungs. I return to work. I let my mind wander to the future that I am not living, the future where I am still pregnant and gleefully spreading the news to my friends. Then I scold myself for wallowing. I am tender with myself.  I am cruel. I wonder when our lives will return to any sense of normality, how this experience will integrate into who I am and who I was before the words “missed abortion” entered my vocabulary.

          The term sounds so flippant, so careless—Just another missed abortion, darling—like  the frivolous straw women conjured by the anti-choice contingent. The men who darken my path during my lunchtime walk, who stand guard beside the hideous posters with untaken pamphlets drooping from their hands, are part of this mob that takes refuge in false equivalencies and thinly veiled hunger for control over women’s bodies. I wish I could save up all my maxi-pads and toilet bowls full of clots of my failed pregnancy to hurl at their signs, slap one of the young men in the face with a soaked pad, bring him into the complicated, bloody reality of true life.

          Ma’am, one of them thrusts a pamphlet at me as I walk by.  I don’t stop.

          Later in the week I will see young women circling the men in silent protest. I will see hastily penned signs listing resources for women traumatized by the images staked into the edge of the lawn where the anti-abortion group has planted itself for the week. I will feel flickers of hope mixed with my anger. Hope for the women who are taking care of each other, speaking up against this form of violence against women. Women who should not have to suffer the agony of being a vessel for an unwanted child, for a wanted child with severe life-ending abnormalities, for a nonviable embryo. I will mourn my child-to-be-that-never-was. I will bleed.


Header image courtesy of Erik Jones. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Katherine Sinback’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, daCunha, Gravel, Foliate Oak, Clackamas Literary Review, The Equalizer, The Hunger Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, trampset, and Oyster River Pages,among other publications.  Her zine Crudbucket was featured in the Multnomah County Library “Zinesters Talking” series and was included in the Alien She exhibit at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.  Born and raised in Virginia, Katherine lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. She blogs at ktcrud.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter @kt_sinback.


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“you’ll never know what your mother went through” by KB https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/youll-never-know-what-your-mother-went-through-by-nia-kb/ Mon, 30 Sep 2019 12:00:50 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=17794 Personal Essay by KB   -after Sarah Manguso +++ I only know I come from you because there are pictures. Some of B holding me like he believed I was his; some with others looking happy—all evidence that you and me existed alongside each other. You sat in the hospital bed, looking like you’d just […]

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Personal Essay by KB

  -after Sarah Manguso


  1. I only know I come from you because there are pictures. Some of B holding me like he believed I was his; some with others looking happy—all evidence that you and me existed alongside each other. You sat in the hospital bed, looking like you’d just birthed a child; Granny was there and somehow always has been. Somehow you never was, but at least I know those were taken before pictures could be doctored.
  2. In September after exhausting all other possibilities, I called & asked Granny for rent money. She gave it so willingly and you helped her set up the transfer account. I never think to ask you because I’ve come to learn that it’s not your role—caring for me.
  3. You asked me, after you had gotten a husband, if I wanted to stay with you. Eleven years after I didn’t have a choice. I’m glad I didn’t say yes. I’m glad I never gave an answer.
  4. Merriam-Webster defines mother as a woman in relation to her child or children. My therapist defines me as a person that mothers all of their partners. I offer selves that I never owned—a name, a tongue, a moment of time—to a partner in efforts to cosplay intimacy. And who are you when you leave your partner motherless? My partner leaves their clothes in my car and a bomb explodes.
  5. My partner kisses me and I wonder why funerals are always during the day. Her ability to kiss me is a processional & I don’t know if that’s what mothering is, but I appreciate her ability to receive me. My partner speaks in long-term, though I can only compute today and tomorrow. My partner didn’t need to be mothered anymore, so they left.
  6. I almost had a partner, but then they didn’t know how to be mothered. I almost had a partner that had a mother that did just fine. I almost had a partner that was a mother so my role was unclear and uncomfortable for both of us. She only came home mourning; never flourishing, only disappointed because I wasn’t a daughter.
  7. I didn’t want to be too tender with my new partner so we slept without touching to the sound of cicadas. She only came home to me. She only came home to a failed mother.
  8. For years I wondered, the way cicadas wander in their wings for sound, why my siblings were kept. Why when I look at you & see no traces of me I see a whole bloodline shrunk down to a question mark. I can’t forgive you, my only direct lineage, for everything I tell people about my birth dad. I can’t forgive for everything I know about him being imagined.
  9. I told everyone my dad was a plumber. My dad was a good man; blue collar, always bringing home the bills and hugging me when he got home real late. My dad was a good Christian man that just was stuck in traffic when it was time for a PTA meeting. My dad was a barber. My dad was a technician. My dad was a—
  10. I almost called you mother once.
  11. I almost met up with you at that coffee shop to exchange traumas like cicadas exchange their bodies with the wind. I almost believed in you. I almost let you tell me that we are the same because of our pain and you heal the best when you cry with your mother I almost let you—
  12. It’s true; I’ll never know what it must be like to give up your firstborn child, but I can imagine it being like them never calling you mother. Or a donation to their crowdfunding efforts every couple times a year. Or a facebook post with your husband that says “2 beautiful kids,” conveniently leaving out the 3rd. Or a text to them saying “I love you” & not knowing why they love you back.


Header image courtesy of Tim Okamura. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

KB [they/them] is a Black queer nonbinary poet, editor, and educator currently based in Austin, TX. They’ve received residency invitations from the Vermont Studio Center, Lambda Literary, The Hurston/Wright Foundation, The Watering Hole, Winter Tangerine, and UTSA’s African American Literatures and Cultures Institute. Their poetry appears in The Cincinnati Review, The Matador Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, NAILED magazine, The Shade Journal, Sappho’s Torque, and other pretty places. Follow them on twitter, instagram, or facebook.


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Puppyelectric by Cori Bratby-Rudd https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/puppyelectric-by-cori-bratby-rudd/ Wed, 21 Aug 2019 12:00:22 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=17718 Personal Essay by Cori Bratby-Rudd +++ I want Indian food, urgently, intensely, the cream of the tikka masala, the flaked fluffed naan, and so I order it because I remember desperation and I refuse to feel it again. I don’t just order it, I order it delivered and I feel something like royalty, for wanting […]

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Personal Essay by Cori Bratby-Rudd


I want Indian food, urgently, intensely, the cream of the tikka masala, the flaked fluffed naan, and so I order it because I remember desperation and I refuse to feel it again. I don’t just order it, I order it delivered and I feel something like royalty, for wanting something and then for having it. Strange to want and then get, as though desires can actually happen for someone like me.


I remember weighing less than I did in middle school. I remember hunger, the kind that aches, the kind where you can’t even remember your stomach hurts because it’s eating itself, the kind where you cannot remember anything at all.


When I want food now, I give it to myself. Indulge for the years of not indulging.


Three weeks ago, I wanted a dog and so I got one. I wanted a dog and now, as I wait for my food delivery to arrive, I sit and watch as Viva develops this strange mouth twitch, like a coke addict coming down, jaw opening and closing, eyes staring at me without seeing anything at all, drool on her chin. I hold her and think, “This looks like some sort of weird face-only seizure.” Then, twenty minutes later, she shakes again. Then again. Then again.


The next day: twenty-eight seizures and counting. One full body. A two-pound little thing in electric shock. I mourn for her focal mouth slant shaking drool. I mourn for her health. My wants change as I change over the day. Over the hour. Today I want my dog to stand without falling, today I want to know she is not in pain. Shit and coccidia on the bed, in my hair. This is being a parent. This: hugging, clutching a little being as their bladder empties and then not moving away—instead squeezing tighter as the piss soaks my pajamas. I want. I want. I want her to live. This week I have learned about the violent ways a body shakes, about the way to put cold water under armpits, about comforting when I feel deeply afraid.


Today, I am not hungry. There is leftover Indian food in the fridge and my baby on Valium next to my thigh. I check for breath, my hand on her pink stomach, her movement a small hope: maybe that was the last one.


As a baby, I too had a seizure. My mother watched as my baby arms, my baby legs twitch-jerked in an inhuman spasm. My mother held me. My mother froze. Shaking baby in frozen arms. Some stranger took the baby, took me, throwing me in a tub of ice. My mother’s frozen arms still outstretched, from a baby in motion, a mother, a mother terrified.


I lived, so maybe Viva will too.


If I step outside the moment of the seizure, I watch my body circling, caving this flailing thing, my thing. Examine my other dog licking himself on our gray beanbag chair, unaware, playing with my lost hair tie. Examine my wife, sleeping in the other room, as it is my shift. Zooming out, zooming out there is someone at a Whole Foods stuffing two slices of cheese pizza into the single slice boxes, getting a shoplifted two-for-one deal. Someone somewhere is delivering Sparkletts water, up the third flight of no-elevator stairs. Someone else somewhere else is petting a healthy puppy, a puppy that will grow old. A puppy she will yell at for scratching her.


I wish my puppy would scratch me. Please get off the bed and eat something, play, scratch me!


Just now Diana came out and put my hand on her boob and asked, “Want to have sex?” and I just felt like tapping tapping tapping my foot. I wonder, how does one have sex with a seizured dog? With a dog who could seizure at any moment? Someone somewhere is having sex with their girlfriend and neither of them even know the definition of epilepsy.


Back here, Viva and I on the red couch, rocking, rocking. Isn’t it funny, that we named her Viva? Isn’t it funny that we named her life?


If I take a moment to see what is happening, step outside of my cooing voice, my hands begin to shake.


Did you know, epilepsy would be a gift at this point? Did you know the definition of a cluster seizure? Did you know my puppy is going to die?


I want to know if vets can do autopsies on dogs. I want to know why. I want it to stop. I want something to blame.


She is not dead yet. The internet says to give hope and remind her she is loved and so we take her for a walk for the first time. For the first time. As in, she was too young to even go for walks. We try to reframe our thinking: we named her Viva because she is going to live.


In the kitchen, Diana grills chicken, wearing only an apron, trying to get Viva to eat something, anything. I am sulking, still in bed, the covers to my neck as Diana reminds me, “She has to know that life is worth living.” I hear the spray of the olive oil on the stovetop and our dog’s head does not lift, but her chest still rises. I get up, slug into the kitchen, I reheat naan and tikka masala, I drink my fifth my sixth glass of wine. I want to throw the bottle at the wall. I want to throw something. I want to squeeze the glass so hard that it shatters, shards in my palm, bits that clatter on the floor, the sweet sound of foreseen disaster.


Another seizure.


Did you know, today I fed my dog water through a syringe and I felt cruel not because I pried her open as she cried but because I was preventing her from dying. Because I was extending her painful life another day. Another fifteen convulsions.


When I sleep, even my dreams are seizures. There is no such thing as distraction.


When it is my break, I try to masturbate and just as I am about to cum the vibrator dies and I once again want to throw something, anything. I remind myself, how silly, if there is one thing I have learned thus far it’s that electricity betrays us here.


We have taken to alternative healing measures. Specifically, we have placed 17 assorted crystals and a lavender essential oil diffuser around Viva’s bean bag chair. We have also created an altar, complete with a healing candle from the House of Intuition. We are considering taking her to acupuncture.


Another seizure. One minute, thirty-four seconds, focal.


I have begun to forget what her personality used to be like, before the sleeping and the seizures. I decide to watch old videos of her to jog my memory. I want to remember her as she is, not as in how she is sick. Cuddler, she was the cuddler, remember? She couldn’t get up on the couch by herself so we set up a system of pillows, like a dog ladder. She was the one who I bought a green collar for because I refused to let Diana gender her. She was the one who liked to sleep on top of my head, in the crease of my neck.  She was the one who cried when left alone.


I love her the way my mother once told me, “I couldn’t love you more if I had birthed you.” I love her the way a child loves an older sibling. I love her like someone who buys a large-ass portrait of their pet and hangs it confidently, centerfold on the wall. I love her the way you fall for someone who reminded you to love again. I love her the way any non-psychopath loves a thirteen week old puppy.


Another seizure. Twenty-three seconds, focal.


Does she know who I am? When my grandfather was dying of Alzheimer’s he used to keep little namecards in his pocket. A picture of me with my name on the back. My grandfather forgot who I was. As I hold Viva, I wonder if she has forgotten me too.


Another seizure. Forty-seven seconds, full body. Involuntary urination.


I have lost hope this seizure will be the last one. Isn’t it strange to think that a little brain damage is the best-case scenario?


Another seizure. Twelve seconds, focal.


Have you ever heard a puppy scream?


Another seizure. Thirty-three seconds, focal. Shot of valium.


At what age is death cruel? At what point is living cruel?


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


A call from the vet: unless you want to pay thousands of dollars, we will need to put her down by end of day.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.




Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


Another seizure.


A 14-week-old puppy, motionless. No more seizures. No more anything.


Header image courtesy of Aleah Chapin. To view her artist feature, go here.

Cori Bratby-Rudd is a queer LA-based writer and co-founder of Influx Collectiv(e)’s Queer Poetry Reading Series. She graduated Cum Laude from UCLA’s Gender Studies department, and received her MFA in Creative Writing from California Institute of the Arts. She has been published in Ms. Magazine, The Gordian Review, Califragile, PANK Magazine, Entropy, Crab Fat Magazine, among others. She won the Editorial Choice Award for her research paper in Audeamus Academic Journal and was nominated as one of Lambda Literary’s 2018 Emerging Writers. Her manuscript Dis/owned is a semi-finalist for YesYes Book’s 2019 Pamet River Prize. You can find her at coribratbyrudd.com.


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A Boy Called Moose by Santi Elijah Holley https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/a-boy-called-moose-by-santi-elijah-holley/ Mon, 22 Jul 2019 12:00:23 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=17683 Personal Essay by Santi Elijah Holley +++ Venus had been in labor for over 24 hours. This was her first birth, and it was proving to be an exhausting experience. She had moved to Portland, Oregon only six months ago, in February 1999, in part because she didn’t trust the hospitals in Chicago. She had […]

The post A Boy Called Moose by Santi Elijah Holley appeared first on Nailed Magazine.


Personal Essay by Santi Elijah Holley


Venus had been in labor for over 24 hours. This was her first birth, and it was proving to be an exhausting experience. She had moved to Portland, Oregon only six months ago, in February 1999, in part because she didn’t trust the hospitals in Chicago. She had also come to be near her mother, Donna, who had moved to Portland the year before. With her mother by her side, at Northeast Portland’s Providence Hospital, after a painfully long delivery, Venus Hayes welcomed her first child, on August 2, 1999.

          While the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon flickered on the television screen above her hospital bed, Venus considered her new son.

          “His hair was sticking up on edge. He was just so odd looking,” she remembers. “I looked at the television screen, and I looked at him, and I was like, ‘Bullwinkle T. Moose.’ And it kinda just stuck. Everyone called him ‘Moose’ after that.”

          The boy would come to introduce himself to others exclusively as Moose, and he was addressed as Moose by family and friends. His coaches and teachers knew him as Moose. But officially, on his certificate of birth, his name was Quanice Derrick Hayes, and that’s the name that would be filed on his death certificate, 17 years later, after being fatally shot by Portland Police, three miles from the hospital where he was born.


I’d heard about the shooting the day it happened, Thursday, February 9, 2017, but details were scarce. All we were told in news outlets was that a person suspected of armed robbery was shot dead by the police, near Northeast 82nd Avenue, at 9:20 that morning. Nothing more was known about the suspect, except that he had allegedly stolen a man’s food benefits card two hours earlier, and he was also suspected of prowling cars in the neighborhood near Northeast 82nd and Halsey. Why he was shot was still unknown, as was his identity. The identity of the officer who fired the fatal shots was also unknown. A handgun, thought to belong to the suspect, was found near the scene, but it was unclear whether the suspect fired any shots or pointed the gun at the officers. There was no cellphone footage, no body cams. All we knew was someone was dead.

          More details began to emerge the next day. The officer who fired the shots was Andrew Hearst, an officer with the Portland Police for seven years. The suspect was a 17-year-old African American boy named Quanice Hayes (pronounced Qua-niss). The handgun found at the scene turned out to be a replica.

          Local newspapers printed what appeared to be a mugshot of Quanice, without providing context or explanation. In the photo he has almost-chin-length dreadlocks, and a drowsy look in his eyes. He isn’t looking at the camera, but at something to the left of the room, as though he isn’t at all concerned about having his booking photo taken. He doesn’t look ashamed or angry. He looks like a typical bored kid, waiting until he can get back to whatever he was doing before he’d been interrupted.

          Quanice’s death came after the country had already endured and condemned the killings of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling, among others. Each new police-involved death brought fresh outrage, more calls for reform, more marches, more protests from protesters, more commentaries from commentators. By the end of 2016 it felt like the nation was suffering from police shooting fatigue.

          In Portland we watched all of these deaths happen from a distance. Though commonly branded by national media as “the whitest city in America,” with a black population stubbornly lingering near 6%, Portland is also considered a progressive paradise, where people encourage each other’s eccentricities and live their lives in relative safety. But on the morning of February 9, 2017, we learned that not even Portland is immune to the epidemic afflicting the rest of the country.

          Quanice wasn’t yet eighteen; not old enough to be considered an adult, yet old enough to be killed by the arm of the state. He was shot only a few miles from where I lived, where I’d probably at that moment been in bed, thinking about breakfast or work. The media began to publish more photos of Quanice, provided by his family, in the days following his death. In one photo, he appears to be sitting on a school bus, wearing a backpack, affecting a model’s pose. In another photo, a selfie, he and his younger brother are framed by an opened window, both of them with a shy smile.

          Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County chief deputy district attorney Don Rees stated that the investigation would take at least four to six weeks. After the investigation was complete, a grand jury would be asked to decide if Officer Hearst was justified in shooting Quanice. Four to six weeks was a long time. Enough time for the public to grow bored and move on to something else.

          During a public vigil on the Saturday night following the shooting, Quanice’s mother Venus delivered a prepared statement to the press: “Quanice’s personality was magnetic,” she said, as her family gathered around her and wept. “He was the person you liked and remembered the moment you met him…The oldest of five children, Quanice was the love of my life. Quanice was idolized by his siblings and adored by his family. We are all struggling to find sense in his death and are mourning the loss of a life taken too soon.”

          I reached out to Venus online, asking if she would be open to speaking with me about her son. Three days later she wrote back and said she was willing to meet me. We exchanged phone numbers and arranged a time to meet. On the morning of March 20, I drove out to Venus’s home in Southeast Portland.


Venus Hayes was raised by her mother Donna in the Henry Horner Homes, an infamous public housing project in Chicago’s West Side, plagued by gang violence and crushing poverty. The first phase of Henry Horner’s seven-year demolition began in 2001, two years after Venus relocated to Oregon.

          Venus was six months pregnant with her first child when she moved to Portland. She and Quanice’s father had been friends since childhood, and grew up together in Henry Horner, but he stayed behind while Venus moved across the country to be near her mother. The first few years of Quanice’s life were nomadic, as Venus shepherded her son across the country, staying with relatives in Mississippi, New Mexico, Denver, California, and Las Vegas, before finally returning to Oregon for good in 2004.

          Quanice was an intelligent young boy, and his precociousness would often set him apart. He would come home after trying to play with kids his age and complain to Venus: “They don’t understand me, Mom.”

          Venus gave birth to her second child, a girl, Nevaeh, in 2006, followed in 2013 by Adonis “Donny,” then Prince the year after that.

          I learned all of this while seated in Venus’s living room, alongside Donna, Adonis, and Prince. On my visit that first morning, I’d explained to Venus my intention in speaking with them. I wasn’t a beat reporter; I wasn’t seeking clues or nosing around crime scenes in pursuit of anything regarding the case, which was still under investigation. I honestly didn’t know what I was looking for. Perhaps I’d thought that if people could only get to know Quanice’s life, who he was before he became a statistic, it would be less likely we would forget him.

          Venus went into a room and came out a moment later, carrying a cardboard shoebox. She placed the box on the dining room table and took out a handful of photographs: Quanice as a toddler, Quanice as an adolescent, goofing for the camera.

          “This is what gets lost,” she said, as she filed through the photos. “This is what people don’t understand. Quanice was just a boy.”

          When he was nine years old, Venus told me, Quanice joined a crew of older boys who practiced the new “Jerkin’” dance style. Calling themselves the Bedrock Boyz, the boys competed in the NW Jerk Fest, hosted by the all-ages venue Backspace, in Portland’s Old Town, on November 28, 2009. Venus filmed the competition on her cellphone, but she was heartbroken to discover she’d since lost the video.

          Later that week, I scoured the Internet, trying out different combinations of words: “backspace” and “jerk dance contest,” “bedrock boyz” and “moose.” Finally I found two videos on YouTube, captioned “NW JerkFest,” posted by WeRJerkVids. I played the first video, filmed on somebody’s phone, wondering if this was even the same event, and then, near the 40-second mark, the camera turns and focuses on a boy, younger than the others, dancing solo in a circle of mostly teenage spectators. I wasn’t certain this was Quanice. His hair was shorter, but he had the same dark complexion, big ears, and quietly determined look in his eyes I’d seen in the photos. Though he stood a full head shorter than the other dancers, the boy—wearing white pants and a black-and-silver T-shirt—goes just as hard as his teammates, if not more so. What he lacked in technical skill he made up for with enthusiasm and energy. The second video showed the last few seconds of his dance. He does a handstand, hops around on one foot, and does a few quick spins, before sinking back into the crowd of spectators.

          I emailed Venus links to the two videos. “Is this Moose?” I asked.

          She wrote back the next day. “I can’t believe you found this,” she said. “That was moose the 1st lil boy that danced he had on the white pants. Thank you so much for finding this!”

          The Bedrock Boyz defeated the competing Rip City Jerks, winning 500 dollars. Backspace closed four years later, in 2013. The only thing that remains of what was possibly Quanice’s proudest moment are a couple of shaky cellphone videos, filmed in a place that no longer exists.


Shortly after the birth of her fourth child, Prince, Venus and her family moved to Ontario, Oregon, a six-hour drive southeast from Portland. Ontario is a small, desert town, immediately west of the Idaho border. The Hayes family relocated there in 2014, so Venus could pursue a prospective job as a corrections officer at Snake River Correctional Institution, a medium security prison.

          Quanice had a difficult time adjusting to his new surroundings. There isn’t much by way of entertainment, and if an African American family was a rare sight in Portland, it was a complete oddity in Ontario. But Quanice found ways to keep himself occupied. He developed a crush on a Hispanic girl in town, and in an attempt to impress her, he’d put on a nice suit and accompany her family to Catholic Mass.

          He was also scouted, doggedly, for the local basketball team. Quanice recognized their eagerness to recruit him as an opportunity.

          “Moose was the star of the team before he even got on the team,” Venus said. “They would send me dinner, take us out to eat, everything, trying to get Moose to play for their team. And he was like, ‘Mom, just hold it down. I’m gonna play for them, I’m just holding out, to see what they gonna give us.’”

          Quanice did eventually join the team, but his stint wasn’t long. Snake River soon learned about Venus’s DUII conviction the year before, which she’d neglected to mention on her application, and she lost the job. Venus was upset, but her children were not disappointed to leave Ontario and return to Portland. Back in the city, Quanice continued to pursue sports. He wasn’t discriminatory about which sport he played. He liked them all.

          “Basketball was his favorite, but Moose played everything,” Venus said. “Soccer, football. He even told me he was on a rugby team. I was like, ‘Who plays rugby?’”

          His passion for sports, however, got in the way of his education at Centennial High School. His grades began to slip, and soon he was cutting classes altogether. Some of his coaches would try to work with him, to get his grades up so he could remain enrolled in school. Other coaches would cover for him, send Venus gifts or packages, whatever they could to convince her not to pull Quanice from the team. But over time his behavior had become too erratic.

          After an argument with a teacher, he walked out of class, and then got into a fight with another student. Enough was enough. Quanice was finally kicked off the basketball team. He wasn’t the same after that. He would often stay away from home for short stints of time, sleeping on friends’ couches or God knows where. He would disappear for longer stretches of time, until he stopped coming home altogether. His name was added to Oregon State Police’s clearinghouse for missing persons.

          Quanice didn’t resurface until November 4, 2016. Responding to reports that two people had broken out the window of a car, Officers Gregory Adrian and Stephanie Hudson arrived at Southeast 148th Avenue, at 12:45pm, and found Quanice and another teen male sitting inside a car that belonged to neither of them. While questioning the two teens, the officers discovered a replica black handgun in a backpack. Quanice and the other boy were arrested for unlawful entry of a vehicle. They were handcuffed and taken in for mugshots and fingerprinting.

          In his report after the arrest, Officer Adrian wrote, “I told both of them that the toy gun looked real and may get them killed if they carried it or pointed it at someone.”




I was 13 when I was caught stealing CDs from Tower Records in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I wasn’t in any particular need. I probably could’ve paid for the CDs with whatever money I’d earned doing household chores for my mother, or whatever birthday money I’d saved. I just didn’t want to pay. When I was caught by the secret shopper, they called the police, and I was handcuffed behind my back, as though I were some kind of immediate danger to the public. I was put into the backseat of the cruiser, handcuffs digging into my bony wrists. I was driven to the police station, fingerprinted, and charged. They called my mother.

          She was furious. She couldn’t believe she’d raised a son who would be so foolish. I wept bitterly as she drove me home from the police station, asking how I could be so selfish. I was embarrassed, I’d embarrassed my mother, and I’d brought shame to our family. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me now. I thought my life was over.

          A fine was paid, community service hours were completed, and the charges were wiped from my record. That was that. I cried my tears, asked my mother’s forgiveness, did my community service, and lived another day.

          I think about that moment in my life when I think about Quanice. Shoplifting CDs from Tower Records is not the same as playing with toy guns, of course, but when it comes down to it, is it really so different? We were teenage boys being foolish. We were teenage boys who knew better. We were teenage boys raised by single mothers who wore themselves out chasing after us, trying their best to keep us out of trouble without any help from anyone. Sometimes they lose sight of us. Sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days. But they never think that they might lose us forever.


On the evening of March 21, after hearing two days of testimony, a grand jury decided not to pursue criminal charges against Officer Hearst. At a hastily arranged press conference the next morning, Venus stood in front of the Portland City Building, joined by family, friends, supporters, and lawyers, and delivered a short statement.

          “Quanice was on his knees when he was shot in the head and in the chest,” Venus began, before going off-script. “I think that’s important, when anybody wants to say that he was this dangerous robber, which is irrelevant at this point, because he’s not here to stick up for himself.”

          I was at the press conference that morning. There were about two dozen onlookers, in addition to the assembled media. The group Don’t Shoot Portland—led by local activist Teressa Raiford—wore masks made from paper printouts, bearing the faces of African Americans shot by police, while holding banners advertising their organization. There were a few video journalists, who film demonstrations on their smartphones with running commentary and upload them to YouTube. And there was yet another contingent of young white men dressed in black, whose contribution consisted of standing apart from everyone else and hurling epithets at the workers coming and going from the City Building.

          “I would like the community to stand with us, with me and my family,” Venus said in her concluding remarks. “Obviously the D.A.’s office is not for us, so I would like a higher authority to help us do an investigation, so we can learn the truth about what happened to my baby.”

          In all the noise from the onlookers and video journalists and protestors, Venus’s words were all but drowned out.

          A memorial for Quanice was held two days later, on the afternoon of March 24, at Northeast Portland’s Philadelphia Missionary Baptist Church. It was a grey, overcast afternoon, and we lined up along the sidewalk to enter the church one at a time. Aside from the immediate Hayes family and friends, the majority of guests filing into the church were white—many of them under 30 years old, wearing hooded sweatshirts, or cutoff jeans, or carrying bicycle helmets under their arm. Many of these visitors had likely never been in a church like this before, or any kind of church at all.

          Quanice himself had never attended this church. The Hayes family were not members of any particular church, and this one was miles away from Venus’s home. The memorial was held here at Philadelphia Missionary only because they offered it to the Hayes family. A plain-looking building on a quiet residential street corner, Philadelphia Missionary is not a large or flashy church. The approximately 300 people crowded inside on this Friday afternoon made for possibly the church’s largest ever attendance. It was almost certainly the most amount of white people the church had ever seen. In addition to the many people filling out the pews or standing along the walls, almost a dozen reporters and news anchors and photographers created a media phalanx in back, aiming their cameras at the front of the church, where, just below the small stage, sat a cream-colored casket.

          Venus and her family sat in the front pews. Terrence Hayes, Quanice’s cousin, delivered the eulogy, which was less a eulogy than a plea for black kids to take seriously the threats against their lives.

          “Young men, young women—they ain’t playing with yall lives. Don’t look at this casket and just think, ‘We lost Moose,’” Terrence said, while pointing toward his cousin’s closed casket. “This is the reality of the war on some of yalls lives. And some of yall still playing with these people.”

          After the service ended, we filed back outside, where it had begun to rain. Despite the rain, a group of 50 protestors went into the street and blocked what little traffic there was on the intersection. They unfurled their banners and held their signs aloft. Teresa Raiford initiated a call-and-response chant, in which she would command, “Say his name!” with the others responding, “Quanice Hayes!” Many of the people standing in the street, getting soaked by the rain, mispronounced Quanice’s name, shouting, “Qua-nees Hayes,” over and over and over, until it occurred to me that, whatever their motivation or reason for attending this memorial service, it was not to pay their respects.

          Five days after the memorial, on March 29, at 1:30pm, a group of 60 demonstrators briefly blocked downtown traffic, and disrupted a City Council meeting at the Portland Building. They chanted Quanice’s name and held up their fists. Police and pedestrians scuffled with the protestors. Six people were arrested. By 3:30, the protest had broken up.




I drove to Venus’s home twice more, each time for about an hour. Adonis and Prince had begun to recognize me and seemed to enjoy my visits. Adonis wanted to show me that he and I owned the same style shoes: black Adidas Sambas. Prince climbed onto my lap. Venus folded laundry while Adonis and Prince took turns running up to her and whispering in her ear or hugging her or asking for a cookie. After all that had happened in the last month-and-a-half, Venus was still, at the end of the day, a mother, and she still had two young boys, a daughter, and an infant to care for. She didn’t stop being a mother once Quanice had died.

          Venus told me she had tried to keep Adonis and Prince from learning the circumstances surrounding their big brother’s death, but they’d found out anyway. And now, at four and three years old, Adonis and Prince had already learned to fear the sight of a uniformed police officer.

          “They’ve really, really changed. Donny yells, he has nightmares,” Venus said. “They can’t even see the police without being like, ‘Mommy, mommy, there go the police. Is that the one?’”

          Since the grand jury’s decision not to indict, people had begun to abandon her. People who said they’d stick with the family now didn’t return her phone calls. Lawyers disappeared. Reporters stopped calling. Not even two months had passed since Quanice’s death, and already folks were moving on. He had been buried less than a week, but he had long been buried by local apathy. Or perhaps Quanice just had the misfortune of being shot and killed by the police when national outrage at these events had subsided, replaced with a general and less-specific political outrage. But while the nation’s attention is diverted, black men, women, and children continue to die.

          I thanked Venus again for making the time to speak with me. I said goodbye to her and Adonis and Prince. I walked down the street to my car, then drove away and headed west down Southeast Division Street. I pulled onto the freeway in time for rush-hour traffic, and inched along with thousands of other Portlanders, heading back to their families, looking forward to sitting down and having dinner with their loved ones. The sun began its descent behind the West Hills, as the sky turned purple and orange over the Portland skyline. It was the beginning of spring. I never saw Venus again.


Header image courtesy of Ervin A. Johnson. To view his artist feature, go here.

Santi Elijah Holley is a freelance journalist and essayist with work in Tin House, The Atlantic, VICE, Atlas Obscura, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the 2017 Oregon Literary Fellowship for nonfiction, and his work has been cited by the 2018 Best American Essays anthology. He is currently working on a book about American folk music and British ballad traditions for Bloomsbury Academic’s 33 1/3 book series. Follow him on Twitter at @SantiHolley.


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By the Skin of Our Teeth by Sadie Fuchswild https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/by-the-skin-of-our-teeth-by-sadie-fuchswild/ Mon, 27 May 2019 12:00:34 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=17566 Personal Essay by Sadie Fuchswild +++           It was a gruesome tableau. Mom had been gifted another sun conure as a companion for the one she already kept; but, both having been raised in captivity, the birds didn’t take kindly to vying for food and sharing a single perch in their […]

The post By the Skin of Our Teeth by Sadie Fuchswild appeared first on Nailed Magazine.


Personal Essay by Sadie Fuchswild


          It was a gruesome tableau. Mom had been gifted another sun conure as a companion for the one she already kept; but, both having been raised in captivity, the birds didn’t take kindly to vying for food and sharing a single perch in their small cage. We woke one morning to them both at the bottom of the cage with their smooth, black beaks severed from their bodies, blood pooled around them and crusted over their ROYGBIV feathers. The parrots’ colors always reminded me of the Lisa Frank garbage that my friends had and that I coveted, but now it was something else; the moment became a prism that separated experience into a spectrum that my eyes hadn’t yet developed the capacity to see.

          I talked at Dad through the newspaper, telling him I saw on “Animal Planet” that some turtles bite each others’ necks while they’re mating and did he think that that’s what happened to the birds?

          He lowered the paper and finally looked at me and said, “Makes sense to me. Animal behavior…” His voice trailing off, mind elsewhere.

          He kept the paper between his pointer and thumb unless he took a drag from a cigarette and left the one side flapping in the breeze for what felt like an eternity as the smoke drifted into my tiny lungs. Flicking on his zippo with a single gesture, he leaned over and set fire to one of the longest frays on the hem of my cut-off jeans, letting it burn as long as he could before it touched my skin, extinguishing the flame with one quick breath. I yowled with delight.

          My feet continued to dangle under the porch swing. I sat in the silence for a moment more before summoning the courage again, “Um, Dad?”


          “Mrs. Willis said in science that people are animals. Like, part of the animal kingdom. Did you know that?”


          He was a hillbilly scientist, a cosmopolitan redneck— or perhaps, a chivalrous berserker? Am I making any sense? I’m trying to tell you that he was a knot of contradictions that I thought I could tie up in a bow. Everyone probably thought we were a disaster together, but I felt like I had discovered a whole new color.

          His friends called him Frosty, which I took to mean “Frosty the Snowman,” but I moved in with him anyway. Turns out he was a drug dealer, but only pot and only enough to get through medical school. He laughed easily and lived hard. On his left bicep, a tattoo: “Mama Didn’t Love Me,” in a banner flown over an anatomical heart—a heart not quite on his sleeve, but just underneath it and sometimes seeing some daylight.

          Once, at a bachelor party, his friend shot him in the chin with a BB gun and he held a rag to it to stop the bleeding, and as the stripper bounced up and down in his lap, he cursed his luck and blessed his stars.

          So, I guess what I’m saying is: he was the same kind of bad as me. Too smart, or too dumb—bad news bears or a breath of fresh air, depending on who you ask and what they’re into. He was a mountain kid, like me—just a different mountain. We were cut from the same cloth when they were skimping on fabric. We ate our dinner out of pots with our feet up on the table, overgrown orphans who had never really had anyone to show them to sit and eat properly. We drank out of jars because that’s what we had, not because our favorite brunch place served mimosas out of them.

          He often found himself holding my hair back as I threw up from trying to go tête-à-tête, stroking my back and just telling me to “get it all out.”  I almost made it, too—it was just one bourbon neat too many and then I was pissing in the doorway of an empty storefront as a woman walked past wearing flip flops that splashed the golden tributaries all over her bare legs and feet. Me, too pissed to feel shitty about it.

          I emerged from the doorway with renewed vigor and snakes in my hair and picked a fight with him because he ate an entire pint of raspberries I had bought with my food stamps that afternoon and I hadn’t even gotten a mealy one that had been crushed on the bottom. His oceanic, diazepam-blue eyes staring back at me with all that hurt made me want to throw up again. Two a.m., standing six feet away from each other, wondering who this other person we had each shackled ourselves to really was and why it hurts so much if this is what all those pretty songs are about.

          For a brief moment, I thought that we could band together in our own tiny gang, wreaking havoc wherever our boots touched the ground. An archipelago of lonely, volatile isles bobbing in an infinite sea of drudgery and senseless, abject suffering.

          But we didn’t come from careful people, and it’s hard to make a whole shape of a thing when you’re so used to taking your own side.

          Our future together shone bright as sunlight reflecting off the edge of a razorblade—a stunning, glimmering thing to behold, filled with potential for so much pain if held with just enough pressure between an index finger and a thumb.

          You could probably say that we had some shit to work through.

          Still, during long drives between the coast and the mountains, my thighs sticking to the bench seat of the truck as I slid over to get closer to him between shifting gears, I found myself thinking that this is probably, maybe, what love is like.


          My brother knocked on the door and came inside. As he spoke to me, trying to calm me, I peered through the shutters made by the spaces between my fingers.

          I sat slumped over the toilet, sobbing. This was not out of the realm of the ordinary for me, this relentless crying. I often cried so hard I couldn’t breathe, the force of my fear so great that it took over every mechanism of my child body. I shook like a rattle filled with seeds of terror.

          He sat next to me with a pen and a notebook and said, “Tell me everything you’re afraid of,” and began to render images of my monsters—vampires, ghosts, zombies—practice for the scarier stuff of adult life, like death, longing, and insatiable hunger. He drew each of them, giving form to my fears and making it so that they might loom less large in my imagination.

          When he was finished drawing, he held my hand and we knelt down in the backyard with our knees in the mud and placed the drawings in a shoebox, sealing it with duct tape. Zach dug a shallow hole in the red clay of the Carolina foothills, the earth I walked barefoot in every day, with a primary-colored Fisher Price shovel from a sandbox set. Then he buried the ballast ceremoniously. We stood over its resting place, joining hands and humming our protection spells. We danced.

          I believed in my brother’s magic—the power to cast away things that haunt you, to bind the heavy and the dark to a place that can hold it, to transfigure loneliness into solitude. I still might believe in it, if I believe in anything. Otherwise, I might find myself having to believe in something else, like the benevolence of bureaucracy or the logic of the free market.


                      At our worst, I lie along the edge of the bathtub. Frost is readying the implements with care—we have no autoclave, only the singe of alcohol and a lighter.

          A foreign object, lodged in my mouth. A piece of metal with which I adorn my body, only for it to reject my endless attempts to tame it, cultivate it. The unnaturalness of it all—my appearance, my desires. Like the technology of this brave new world, I go to great pains to make the surfaces of my body and my spirit smooth to the touch, resistant to relative motion, masking the unsung labor that made it possible. I pluck my eyebrows, I shave my legs, I comb my hair. I get degrees, I get jobs, I tell people I love them when I really just mean, “Goodnight.”

          I entrust him with the task of getting it out of the inside of my mouth with what we think will be a few careful incisions with a razorblade dipped in cocaine. It makes sense at the time, as many things do. He has done plenty of surgery on mice in the lab—I’m not worried. But I also don’t have insurance, so I don’t have the luxury of worry. It is this, or:

  1. A few thousand dollars in medical bills
  2. The metal could migrate out of my face eventually, permanently disfiguring me.
  3. Risk a potentially worse infection that could travel to my brain and give me encephalitis or meningitis—I learn this from him, Ph.D of Brains.

          He spreads out everything he needs along the lip of the sink and I am peering into the corners of the ceiling that have been colonized by mildew. “Ready?” he is asking as he pulls a headlamp down over his forehead and shines it directly in my eye. The doctor is in session. I nod, I sit up, and do a line off Jupiter’s Travels, scraping up the excess with my finger and rubbing it into my gums. I take a swig of whiskey and swish it around my mouth like Listerine, to disinfect, and then swallow, for courage.

          Actual hours go by. A bump here, a bump there. He still hasn’t fished it out. Hours of spitting my blood into the sink, the red of it swirling against the milky-white porcelain, emblematic of how the act we are engaging is violent, destructive, and nurturing in the same instant. I tell myself that he is caring for me. But I am high as a kite and sauced at once, what do I know? Why should I care?

          He kneels beside the tub, looking at me from behind the headlamp, brow-furrowed and looking older than I ever remembered him looking even though he was in a band when I was born. He could be my father, but it’s so cliché I try not to even think about that. I’m not that girl—this is different, somehow.

          He is probably wondering, why doesn’t she care that this is happening?

          But, I also don’t really know.

          I don’t ask him.

          I slide back down, chicken-skinned against the cold tile and with cocaine teeth rattling inside my skull and my jaw chattering like a wind-up toy trying to wrest itself from me. He seems to be waiting for a cue from me to keep going, for me to choose this once more.

          We are too deep in it now—why would I let him leave the job unfinished, like another one of his electrical projects, his motorcycles, any one of the cars on blocks on the street in front of our house, the bathroom tiles, or the entire basketball court’s worth of concrete that he has yet to break up and pave the driveway with?

          I quiet my brain, steady my jaw, and tell him, “Keep cutting, you pussy. What are you waiting for?” I open my mouth wide enough to accommodate a scalpel and whatever blunt object he is using to hold down my tongue. I am complacent again as I swallow his fingers.

          A few more minutes of his face, scowling inches away from mine.

          A few more cuts, deep but short.

          Giving up, he is quiet and wraps everything soiled by my fluids in a towel and washes his hands in the kitchen sink, the one not covered with bloody prints, and re-enters the room with them raised over his head like he’s finally been caught. I can tell I wore him out and that he’s distressed in an unsympathetic way as he rubs the back of his head and neck, making the hair that he styles with a trucker hat stand at attention, in the way that I like that suggests that we’ve been in bed. He turns his back to me, and yet I am grateful— grateful to not make a butcher of a lover any longer than I already have. I emerge from the bath with a bit of a wobble as I take the scalpel left in the sink in my own hand and turn my lip inside-out in the cloudy mirror, plunging an unwashed finger into the jagged wound, numb to the touch, to estimate where I should start incising again, without him.

          Teeth stained, eyes bloodshot, gums white, lips blue, I cough down my sleeve between cuts and don’t kiss him on the mouth for weeks.


          At this spot along the river, I saw herds of people come and go. Lonely people, or of course, pairs. The other twenty-somethings back in the city were probably busy teeming in bars and feeling up comparably attractive strangers, but I identified too much with my own suffering to be an object of desire.

          One evening, another young woman came through the trees to the site next to mine.  She was travelling light, parked her pickup at the top of the hill and walked down with her tent, two boxes in her arms, and bottle of Jack Daniels in her elbow ditch. She did not introduce herself to me until around eleven p.m. in the glow of my raging fire as I sat writing down my thoughts about the past few months, her curly hair falling all around her in a Joplin-esque composition. I never caught her name, but she told me she had come to bury her cat and looked as though she had been sobbing, her eyes puffy and red.

          She had come with the stiff husk of a cat and a revolver, but she had forgotten to bring a shovel in the swell of her grief. I sensed she had something heavier than a cat weighing on her conscience and asked if she was okay. She replied that she was, as much as anyone really is, and that it helped her to be here, continuing to explain that, in honesty, she gets ideas and had come out here with the Jack and the gun to follow through, but that my presence had stopped her. I was quiet for several moments before I told her that I would help her bury the cat in the morning with the shovel I use to turn over my fire at night.

          She lowered her gaze, and made semi-circles in the sand with her boot flexed en pointe like a ballet dancer, like the one inside a jewelry box I had as a kid. Surrounded by cheap purple felt, the ballerina spun and spun until something got caught in the wind-up mechanism—Captain Crunch wreckage? Fruit Roll-up stick?—and the hollow, tinny, slow music stopped forever. It was just a vessel from then on, with a mirror where I could investigate my ever-growing collection of freckles, my mangled teeth, and the mystery between my legs.

          “You must think I’m terribly strange, coming out here like this and talking to you about this stuff,” she said, dropping me back into the present.

          “I’m not quite sure I think anything’s strange. Perhaps you should try to get some rest,” I suggested to her.

          I didn’t get any sleep that night myself, listening for a gunshot, my frequency tuned to death, disaster, tragedy. But all there was, was me and a night, the trees scrawled against the sky like manic calligraphy, way out here where the dark was so dark and the stars so bright that it felt like night was actually happening; an event all its own, though I was just a spectator.

          The next morning, I woke up and walked through the overgrown path to her site, which was sandier than mine as it was farther down the bank. She had already packed and left, but a glance around revealed she had tried to bury the cat by digging a hole under a tree with her bare hands a few feet away from where the soil met the river’s edge. The grave was shallow and the corpse’s fur was already exposed by the wind, tufts of it kicking around the site, so I grabbed my shovel and finished the job. I carved a heart into the tree above it with my pocket knife, in case the girl ever came back and couldn’t remember where she’d laid it to rest. Burial rites aren’t for our dead, anyway.

          In the evening, after a day of pondering a girl, a cat, and a gun, I cooked a sausage in my pot, washed it in the river, and put it right back next to the spatula. I ate the meat right off the fork, squatting on flat feet for balance since I’d had to burn the bigger log I’d been using as a bench, and wearing a band of elastic from a pair of underwear around my head that I’d fashioned into a strap for my headlamp when it broke a few nights prior.

A girl.

A cat.

A gun.

A girl. A cat. A gun.

A riddle I might spend the rest of my life trying to solve.


Header image courtesy of Mickalene Thomas. View her artist feature, go here.

Sadie Fuchswild is a writer and musician from the Carolinas who lives in Portland, Oregon.  She was once described as “chaotic neutral,” by a friend, no less.


The post By the Skin of Our Teeth by Sadie Fuchswild appeared first on Nailed Magazine.

How I Know Bruce Springsteen Wants To Get Fisted by Jaz Papadopoulos https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/how-i-know-bruce-springsteen-wants-to-get-fisted-by-jaz-papadopoulos/ Mon, 13 May 2019 12:00:47 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=17537 Personal Essay by Jaz Papadopoulos +++ 1. Usually, my nails are short and scabbed. Sometimes I chew them, nervous. I scrape them along the ridges of my incisors, spitting out grime of mysterious origin, tasting all the places I’ve been, all the things I’ve grabbed. Splinters of memory come out in my teeth as I […]

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Personal Essay by Jaz Papadopoulos


1. Usually, my nails are short and scabbed. Sometimes I chew them, nervous. I scrape them along the ridges of my incisors, spitting out grime of mysterious origin, tasting all the places I’ve been, all the things I’ve grabbed. Splinters of memory come out in my teeth as I pass the time with my hands in my mouth.

2. My mom had nails. She still has nails. We look similar, me and my mom. When I look at my hands, I see hers. Especially when I’m nervous, and my nail beds become sore, bloody, puffed up mounds. When I was a kid, my mom had scabs all around her nails.

3. Excoriation disorder: a mental illness related to obsessive compulsive disorder, characterized by chronic skin-picking. I see people do it all the time. Especially women. I remember watching my mom pick and bite around her fingernails, digging in at the top corner of the nail and peeling back towards herself. The pain becomes more acute the closer to the knuckle you get. I didn’t understand why she did it, but now I do it, too. I do it all the time.

4. In Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, the main character pares the skin off the soles of her feet. She especially does this at slumber parties, coping with the tragedy of girlhood. I devoured these scenes with simultaneous voracity and nausea.

5. The summer I turned 26, I decided to grow out my nails. I associate dead-tissue-growing with mourning. I was in mourning, perhaps preemptively, because the person I was in love with was sick, and I feared the worst. The last time I saw them was in the hospital.

          My nails were filthy, sporting at least a week’s growth and more than their fair share of dirt. I hadn’t showered in over a week. I was wearing a ridiculous outfit, trying to both lift the mood and escape the heat wave: black shorts fitted with spikes up the crotch? Walking to the hospital doors felt too-slow, laborious. My limbs were burdened with worry, and swung with the same weighted cadence as they do in dreams where you need to run or fight, but you just can’t get your limbs to do it fast enough.

6. Pinching the nails is one of the first things I learned to do in Wilderness First Aid. Check capillary refill. It indicates blood flow: You pinch someone’s fingertip, the nail goes pale, and then when you let go, the colour should promptly return. If not, you know blood flow is restricted. A saturated nail shows you’re still alive.

7. I felt extremely out of place in that hospital. I compulsively tried to clean my nails with the corner of my Visitor tag, scouring my memory for the best stories to tell about what I had been up to since my last visit. I made promises—big promises, promises that I kept, but they don’t remember.

8. After this visit, I imagined I would grow my nails as long as I could and I would get a manicure. A shellac manicure, where they put your hands under a heat lamp, and the nail polish gets really hard and doesn’t chip for weeks. That’s the problem with manicures, they chip. You pay to have this thing done, and as soon as you reach for your wallet to pay, you smudge the polish and it was all a waste. Why would anyone invest in anything so fragile? But this time would be different. This time, I was in mourning. This time, it would be shellac.

9. Femme-flagging is a code worn on the fingertip. It touches everything we touch, a mediator between us and the physical world.

          Flagging, borne of 1970s gay male culture, was a way to find others like you without outing yourself to the world. A handkerchief worn around the wrist or hanging out of a back pocket. Left for top, right for bottom, two choices reinforcing the inescapability of the binary even in gay subculture. Different colours meant different activities: grey for bondage, navy for anal, light blue for oral. Cue Bruce Springsteen’s album art for Born in the USA, where he accidentally told the world he wanted to get fisted with a red bandana in his back right pocket.

          Femme flagging is a flicker of the hand that catches the eye. Two nails painted off-colour, a code only other femmes know. Maybe two nails cut short on the dominant hand: Fucking fingers. Freedom fingers.

          In classic fashion, flagging nails were co-opted by the mainstream and “accent nails” were in.

10. Dry, brittle nails that frequently crack or split have been linked to thyroid disease. Whenever I go through a phase of nail painting, the top layers of my nails begin to peel off. I keep getting tested for thyroid disease, but the tests always come back negative.

11. How to protect nails:

          Apply a nail hardener.


          Soak the fingertips in castor oil.

          I rub salve all over my body, homemade with roses from the Peloponnese. I soak in olive oil baths while watching Netflix comedies. I grow my nails.

12. The summer I turned 26, I didn’t know about freedom fingers yet. I was afraid of what my nails would do to my sex life. Queers are cut away from so much of society because of how we fuck, but if we’re not fucking, then what?

13. I’ve since learned there are lots of solutions to this dilemma. One of them is wearing gloves and stuffing the fingertips with cotton balls. The friend who taught me this really loves nail fashion. They have four full size Rubbermaid containers full of nail polish, all impeccably organized. They have never paid for a manicure, but their nails are always perfect.

14. When I look down at my hands, the flesh in front of me, I imagine a ghostly overlay of my mother’s hands. I used to lay in her bed on weekend mornings while she slept in. I would hold her hands and look at her nails. I would sneak into her bedroom to do this. I would run my own small finger pads over the crests of her nails, which were impossibly smooth and clean. The scene lives in my memory in the aesthetic of an idealized, movie-version of heaven—women in white dresses drifting through pillowy white clouds, all french tips and soft focus and golden light.

15. I would get a shellac manicure, I thought, and get my long nails cut and filed to a point. Talons. I thought of condors, giant vultures who mate for life and scavenge the dead. I thought of Harpies, hybrid, hated bird-women from Crete who guard the underworld. Greek high femmes. My kin.

          Condors seem like mythical creatures to me. With a wingspan of over three metres, they are the largest flying birds in the Western Hemisphere, making them inherently romantic. They often live past 50. The world’s oldest documented condor died at 100 in Algeria.

          When I think of condors, I think of Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep. Mainstream stories tell that he rides across the sky each dusk pulling the blanket of night behind him. I imagine that when a condor dies, it keeps soaring across the sky, just behind Morpheus’ blanket. Its widow soars too, but on the earthly side of the blanket.  The two will continue to soar together, until the mortal bird inevitably returns to the ground and forgets.

16. My full-grown fingers. My basketball fingers, my piano fingers. Adults had so many names for my hands, but none of them told me, “You will love well.”

17. My mom’s hands on a pillow. I would touch them with my own little fingers, and from my first-person perspective it would look like a baby animal and a mama animal piling their paws. The creases on her knuckles were elephant knees. Elephants, the wisest, most caring animals. Newborns walk right underneath their mothers, cushioned from the wider world. My mother’s knuckles were knobby, wider than the rest of her fingers, elephant legs that I could maneuver my tiny body between. This is what my fingers look like now, too. When I think about it now, I’m still holding my breath, touching her hands while she’s sleeping, trying not to wake her. Just wanting to get close to her, reaching to be closer and closer, slowly becoming too old to be close the way kids can be. My little fingers lightly brushing her ancient hands. She was probably in her thirties then, not ancient at all—just the thing that I had known the longest in the whole world.

18. My lover’s hands, the one in the hospital, can only be described as “lithe.” They had worked on farms for years, but their hands maintained this willowy quality. I felt like they could ease their whole hand into me, show me how delicately they could hold me.

19. In my personal myth about condors, the real reason the mortal condor forgets its beloved dead is because it gets thirsty, lands, and drinks from the River Lethe.

20. When fantasizing what a person might be like during sex, I look at their hands.

21. Three days before my planned manicure, I am driving someone to the airport. She is visiting her fiancé in prison. It makes me think about all the days I went to visit the hospital, thinking how the hell is this going to work, promising to move to their city, trying to envision a life together with one foot already toeing towards, “Visiting hours are over.”

          I pick her up at the prison and drop her off at the airport. As I lift her luggage out of my backseat gasp! my thumbnail snaps off. Fuck. Three days away from getting my shiny, tough, unbreakable manicure.

          It takes me all day to decide what to do. The anxiety is impossible to manage, especially without reverting to nail-biting. I look at my nails, I think about my mom. I think about the hospital. I wonder about the future of my sex life. The world is an airless void without gravity, tilted by vertigo, unbearable pressure freezing my lungs in place.

          I could just get my nails done anyway—who even looks at thumbs? I could cut the other thumbnail to match, and maybe it would look edgy. I could wait another month and grow it back—but could I go on with this mourning ritual for another month? It has become so important, my nails, my shellac, and in that one moment gasp! all the power I feel evaporates.

22. I cut off all my nails into my parents’ bathroom wastebasket. I tried to make it into a ritual about letting go. Letting go of excess, of the dead parts of myself, of old stories that I didn’t need. It didn’t really work.

          In retrospect, I could have sung one of those woo woo songs that make anything into a ritual, but revised to be about nail-cutting:

                    trim it all away, spirit
          trim it all away
          if it doesn’t serve us, spirit
          trim it all away

I felt silly, trying to find vindication on the bathroom floor next to my parents’ trash can. But hell, I was trying. As an old friend says, blessed be your best. This was the best I had.

23. My mom’s hands. Her movie-heaven-hands, elephant-knee-hands.

24. My lover’s hands, their long-distance-runner-hands.

25. My hands. My blessed-be-your-best-hands, trying-not-to-pick-hands, waiting-room-hands.

26. You will love well.


Header image courtesy of Joshua Zirschky. To view his Photographer Feature, go here.

Jaz Papadopoulos is an interdisciplinary artist working in experimental writing, installation, and video. They are interested in diaspora, bodies, place, memory, grief and ritual. A graduate of the Cartae Open school, Jaz is also a 2018 Lambda Literary fellow, and a current MFA student at the University of British Columbia. Jaz lives on Coast Salish land. Follow their work at tzazart.com or vimeo.com/jazpapadopoulos


The post How I Know Bruce Springsteen Wants To Get Fisted by Jaz Papadopoulos appeared first on Nailed Magazine.

Emerging, Retreating by Barrak Alzaid https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/emerging-retreating-by-barrak-alzaid/ Tue, 30 Apr 2019 00:36:42 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=17502 Personal Essay by Barrak Alzaid + + +                     The lines on my bare palms were perplexed by their exclusion, aching to be adorned. My fingertips, stretched to their limits, could barely reach each other as I lay them flat against my steaming mug of chai […]

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Personal Essay by Barrak Alzaid

+ + +

                    The lines on my bare palms were perplexed by their exclusion, aching to be adorned. My fingertips, stretched to their limits, could barely reach each other as I lay them flat against my steaming mug of chai haleeb. I held them there, willing the heat to darken them. Held them there until the heat seared a hole straight through me. I stared at the swirls of powdered cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger that darkened as they absorbed the milky tea. My grandmother sat across from me at the kitchen table casually dipping thick crispy baqsam into her chai haleeb. I dipped my baqsam, but held it too long and my hands grew tender. The biscuit dropped into my glass and soaked all the way through, crumbling into a slurry. Umma’s henna seemed to radiate in a protective aura from her palms to the tips of her fingers. Even across the table the ochre red staining her palms smelled like wet sand after a spring rain, evoking plump desert truffles.

          “Hah Braytch?”

          She rolled my nickname across her lips, the grain of her voice cracking from sleep. Her limpid brown eyes held mine, then winked, jiggling the flat gold flower pierced into the crook of her nose, which jumped and caught the kitchen’s fluorescent light.

          That evening I held her by her elbow to steady her as she shifted down the hall to the bathroom. We passed by a cabinet and she rummaged through it and pulled a nugget of clay wrapped in thin black cloth, scraps from old thobes she wore around the house. She opened the bathroom door with her free hand, then sat on the closed toilet, all the while rolling the paste in her hand, loosening it with the warmth from her body. I lifted myself onto a stool and slid closer until my knees touched hers. I noticed the Barbies were missing from my basket of bath toys. Mama told me earlier that Baba was giving them to my cousin Saja, but I’d forgotten until just now.

          “Bismillah,” Ummah’s prayer interrupted my thoughts.

          I held my palms out, and she cupped them around the small balls of clay. She wrapped my hands into warm bundles and tightened the knot around each wrist, holding the concoction in place. Her eyes crinkled with care, and she smiled an easy smile.

          “Sleep with it tonight, and tomorrow it will be nice and strong.”

          The fibers grew moist.

          My heart hungered and beat faster. I wanted everything that henna could give me: the flurry of dancing girls folding over, bouncing in rhythm to national day oprettes, long hair bouncing over their shoulders as they tipped their heads to the right, to the left. I wanted the shock of red that flashed when girls clapped their silly playground games. The whirl and echo of movement in my mind grew frenetic until it mimicked the nightmarish heffalumps and woozles of Winnie the Pooh. In my fantasies I was always the only boy. What if all the other boys, those preoccupied with rough games and football, turned their laughter and taunts to me?

          I found the knot with my teeth and tore into it, squeezing out bits of henna that dripped on the ceramic tile. I tugged harder until Ummah laid her fingers on the swathes of fabric and peeled the layers off with the same care she had used to apply them.


                    I waddled over to the cabinet of red plastic-clad VHS cassettes and pulled one off the shelf. The case snapped open and I inhaled the sweet and sour plastic scent of the black cartridge, thumbed the tiny button on the side to lift the guard panel revealing the shiny tape stretched across the length of it. The panel snapped into place and I pressed it into the VCR. The grainy images on the large television screen fuzzed into view and I fast forwarded past fast food commercials for Hungry Bunny, Caesar’s Pizza, Pizza Italia.

          And then: flashes of tan colored flesh flew across the screen.

          I lifted my finger, hit rewind, and stretched out on the carpeted floor. I propped my chin up on a pillow and lay flat on my stomach, legs splayed. I stretched towards my plastic toy Sword of Omens and shouted along with Lion-O during the opening credits, “Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats, ho!” His cartoon sword doubled in size each time he called out, magnifying its power. Mine just roared with an electronic hum.

          Wavy scarlet hair framed a heart-shaped face, his caramel fur coat rippled with taut muscles. His skin-tight leotard revealed every curve of fantastic furry flesh as he rolled away from Mumm-Ra to recover the Sword of Omens from the tar pit. Lion-O held the short sword up and called out again, but this time its power is stifled and Mumm-Ra cackled, “It’s useless, boy!”

          They battled hand-to-hand and toss tree trunks at each other until Mumm-Ra pinned Lion-O down on his back.

          I gripped my plastic Sword of Omens and my pelvis rubbed against a million textured fibers on the low pile carpet. Electric pulses pressed against each nerve ending, a million fast forward buttons that my clever, carnal body absorbed and delivered back to me in a loop of rising pleasure.

          I squirmed, and pulses moved from a deep spot in my belly to the tip of my head. They shattered into a boundless spray behind my eyes, and surged again a few seconds later. Every muscle tightened and relaxed in an instant.



          The orgasm in a young boy is strikingly similar, physiologically speaking, to orgasm in an adolescent or adult. Except for ejaculation, we have the same gradual physiologic changes speeding their way across our bodies. The body finds its rhythm edging against a stimulus, with throbs and thrusts from the pelvis building tension and tightness in the muscles of the abdomen, the hips, the back. We reach an apex and a sudden release of convulsions and contractions wipes away all trace of our reaction.


          I stared at my awkward pimply body in the mirror. Each day I documented the hairs cropping up across my body, so different from the even fur covering the faces and chests of my peers. I coveted their hair, which spurred those fleeting sensations of childhood. I couldn’t stare at the boys in my classes, so I adopted a more academic approach to recover those sensations. The shelf of Childcraft encyclopedias in Mama’s office ranged in title from ‘The Green Kingdom’ to ‘Your Body’ and those familiar tugs pulled at my insides when I grazed over the hairy patches on the watercolor illustrations of growing boys and read about their bodies.

          I started folding a selfish wish in with nightly prayers calling on Allah to protect each member of my family.

          “Bismillah al rahman al raheem.”

          My teeth clicked together and my lips silently called up to heaven.

          I prayed for a hairy chest.

          Each morning at school a row of teenage boys elbowed and kneed each other. This shapeless horde crammed itself onto two wooden benches at the top of the stairs, their snickers and jeers punctured the route to my locker. Any time I walked by, I prayed they’d just ignore me. Sometimes if Aziz and Marzouq, childhood friends, were among the fray, I’d feel bold enough to lock eyes with them and nod, hoping with a great deal of ambivalence that they’d invite me in. I had grown apart from them towards the end of Middle School, and our time was relegated to sporadic walks around the courtyard at lunch or the very occasional video game night at one of their houses. Never with the larger group.

          First period was Science and Technology and a smaller part of the horde always scrambled to Mr. Coughlin’s desktop computer to play a motorbike racing game. At the start of the semester I had made a few attempts but my scores were never high enough to warrant fighting for a coveted spot, so I usually sipped chocolate milk at my desk and doodled until Mr. Coughlin called attendance. Today Aziz grabbed me by the shoulder and walked me over to the looming computer tucked in the back of the room. He pulled up a black webpage and dozens of pop-up banners flew at us. The air felt heavy even as the chilly air conditioner blasted dusty cold air, drawing goosebumps from our skin.

          Each click of the mouse revealed another pair of breasts, pursed lips, lace panties. It was weird seeing women with hair down there, and I felt all the guys around me trying to look without looking too intently. I was relieved when a black banner covered the images with looping gold script that read “Porn Pass.”

          The horde was muted until someone muttered,“Bro, how’d you get this?”

          “Easy man, I took my mom’s credit card and bought the password. My cousin showed me.”

          I had never seen anything like it, had no idea that my computer was capable of accessing anything beyond gamefaqs.com for walkthroughs of the latest Super Nintendo and N64 games. The furthest I stretched the net was for multiplayer matches of Command and Conquer or after-school mIRC chat sessions with friends.

          We stood shoulder to shoulder facing the screen. Elbows crooked at our sides, we fidgeted, scratched at the lint in our pockets. Aziz crunched loudly at an apple. Flecks of saliva spurted from his mouth and I wiped them from my arm. The men on screen rippled and sweated. I twirled my pencil around my fingers and pressed the sharpened tip against my palm until a tiny prick loosed a bead of blood. “Bro,” Aziz said, “I get pictures from girls on mIRC, but this is way better.”

          More news. I needed to dig into this part of the chat client when I got home.

          The bell rang and the first six bars of the national anthem trumpeted from the classroom speakers. We implored Aziz, “Bro!” “Yalla!” “Give us the password!” I had no idea how they’d get away with it. I’d been to a few of their houses and their bulky desktops were all in common areas of their homes. I was the only one in this bunch with a computer in his bedroom.


          Late at night on the weekend, with Baba out and the rest of the house asleep, squeaky quacks and electronic whirrs signaled my entry to the net. I logged on to mIRC with my username, brocky85, and searched out the sex chat groups. #gaykuwait. Nothing. Too specific. #gayarab and #gaymuslim had a handful of users that kept popping in and out, too few for chat. I finally settled on #gaysex and scanned the usernames in the sidebar.

          A few guys pinged me, and I began refashioning myself closer to the image of Lion-O tucked in my mind. Tall, hairy chested. Nice lips. I lost myself in the monitor’s pixels. The only thing I felt was a hard ridge pressing against my pajama pants.

          I cycled through endless “Age/Sex/Location?” as new chat windows opened. Usernames and text in black, blue text came up as actions, red from spam bots.

          A new user, q80gay caught my eye.

          I typed out: /msg q80gay

          A private chat window opened.

          q80gay rubs brocky85’s hairy chest

          brocky85 kisses q80gay’s nipples

          A spot on my pajama pants grew damp and I felt myself brimming over. I entered the Gold Star password in a new browser window, searched ‘gay hairy men,’ and waited for images to load. Pixels lined up, row after row. I flicked through several screens, checking their progress while the cotton fibers around my crotch dried up. At last, a picture filled my screen and I hurried to pull my pants down and welcome him into my fantasy.

          The door snapped shut downstairs: Baba lumbering in from diwaniya. For other boys my age it was a rite of passage to regularly join their fathers in the smoky camel hair tents camped out in the desert or in their yards, playing backgammon and card games, news droning on in the corner, endless tiny stikanat of tea. Baba used to invite me when I was a kid, but I never appreciated the gesture, and these days pangs of resentment twinged in my gut.

          Honestly, I don’t have time for it anyhow. Maybe during Ramadan I can ask him. I clicked open another browser window.

          Modems were connected to phone lines, and ours wasn’t any different. The image of a guy grabbing his partner’s erect penis stopped loading. Baba must have lifted the phone off its cradle.

          I pumped as fast as I could, trying to race Baba, who would be bounding up the stairs two steps at a time, the hem of his long white dishdasha clutched in his fist. The nerves in my back prickled and my groin quivered. I spat in my hand to cool my chafing shaft.

          Nails scratched up and down my door, Baba’s version of a knock. It was always less of a request and more a signal of his imminent entry. Luckily, I’d minimized the windows just as the door cracked open.

          “Hah Barrak, what you doing. It’s very late, one o’clock in the morning.” Clipped, declarative sentences.

          I’d never tested the sight line from the doorway to the computer screen and I made a mental note to shift my monitor around so that its back faced the doorway.

          “Khalas Baba, I’m going to bed.”

          I pressed command-Q, thinking it would shut down Internet Explorer. I should have just turned off the monitor, Baba didn’t know how computers worked and he wouldn’t have noticed if the CPU motor continued humming. One by one, each seamy window leaped from the sidebar, flashed on screen and snapped shut. Shoulders, torsos, chests, nipples, asses. All covered in luscious man fur.

          Cotton fibers clung to the tip of my shaft. I winced.

          The screen dimmed and turned black and I saw his hands clench and unclench, his thumb folded over his fingers as he snapped each dry knuckle.

          I scrambled to account for this and stave off his tirade. “Baba I was confused about puberty, this came up accidentally. Like in the encyclopedia books on Mama’s shelves.”

          “Barrak.” He growled, rolling the r’s in my name in that tone that held a million threats and invectives. The scent of stale cardamom coffee laced the narrow space between us. “Bas, khalas! Enough! You go to sleep now.”

          “Baba! Please!” I whined, scrambling to shift his disgusted glare back to any sort of neutral void. He shifted away from me and towards my door.

          “Baba I’m sorry, I won’t look at it again.”

          He lifted his palms toward me as though he was commanding me from a distance. “My friend gave us this internet, and the government is watching everything. They know if you see these things.” Of course he was most worried about what anyone else would say or think, if they were to find out.

          I crawled into bed and started my negotiations, familiar to every Muslim kid who tallied the points that would land us into heaven. No more internet for a week, maybe five days. Or just until day after tomorrow. I lay back in bed and my monitor’s slick black surface gleamed in the dark, reflecting my bedside lamp. I imagined a set of eyes peering through the glass, monitoring my fantasies, and I prayed for God to protect me.

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Header image courtesy of Aleah Chapin. To view her artist feature, go here.

Barrak Alzaid (@barrakstar on social media) is a writer and artist with extensive experience in curating contemporary art and performance. His current project, Fabulous at Five, is a memoir that relates his queer coming of age amidst an Arab and Muslim upbringing. It is a story of family fracture, reconciliation, and finding true love in the most unexpected of places: his home country. He is a founding member of the artist collective GCC whose work examines the Arab Gulf region’s transformations and shifting systems of power. They have exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at MoMA Ps1, The Whitney Biennial, Sultan Gallery Kuwait, Berlin Biennale IX, Sharjah Art Foundation, among others. From 2009 to 2014 he was managing editor of the ArteEast Quarterly, a digital publication focused on the Middle East, North Africa, and the diaspora. His work has been published in Jadaliyya, Ibraaz, among others. In 2011 he co-edited the online publication ‘For Lives Undone: Gaza Summons its Writers to Speak’ and curated an accompanying reading series at Columbia University and the Nuyorican Poets Café. His article, ‘Fatwas and Fags: Violence and the Discursive Production of Abject Bodies’ is available in The Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. In 2018 he was a member of the fiction cohort at the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices. He lives in Chiang Mai with his husband and their dog Starbuck.


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Latency Period: Summer Blues https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/latency-period-summer-blues/ Fri, 28 Jul 2017 09:00:50 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=16571 Our monthly column “Latency Period” is made up of reflections on the gaps in our lives–whether between life and death, between perception and reality, or between one human being and another–and trying to bridge those gaps with words. Written by Daniel Elder, for NAILED. + + + Summertime. The sun is shining. The grass is green. […]

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Our monthly column “Latency Period” is made up of reflections on the gaps in our lives–whether between life and death, between perception and reality, or between one human being and another–and trying to bridge those gaps with words. Written by Daniel Elder, for NAILED.

+ + +

Summertime. The sun is shining. The grass is green. The sky is blue. You know the drill.

I hide in my basement, where it’s significantly cooler. Sun filters in faded and diluted through windows that only come partway above ground level. It’s shadowy all day. I feel safer down there, wearing a hoodie and drinking hot tea.

Mostly I spend summer waiting for winter, and the autumnal bridge we cross to get to it. I think I’ve felt this way about summer for years, but when I lived in New York City it was easy to forget about the summer doldrums by throwing myself into my then-favorite pastime: hedonism. Drink and drugs and staying up to see the sunrise were a fine way to keep the blues at bay. The centrifugal force of the city itself seemed to push darkness to the edges.

At work, the air conditioner vents down right above my head. I guess it’s better than being outside in the blistering heat, but really none of this is ideal. Fake air, hot sun. Between tasks, I shop for cardigans online. I imagine myself swaddled once again in cozy thick fabrics in front of a fireplace.

Studies show that a significant number of people suffer from summertime depression. It may very well be biological, rooted in the brain. All this light, screwing with my melatonin production. Ten years ago I got a molecule tattooed into my forearm, an indole ring. Indole is a common structure to all tryptamines, and when I chose it I was thinking mostly of serotonin and the tryptamine psychedelics. Now, on lazy summer days hiding in my basement I trace my fingers over the molecule’s geometry and I think about melatonin and the cloud pressing in on my brain.

That’s what it feels like. While so many of you bask in the sun, I’m in a cloud, and when the mornings are cloudy, I am filled with light.

I do the summer things, I do. I get out on my bicycle. I ride to the bluffs and I sit in the shade and I watch the world do its colorful thing. I have fun, even as sweat prickles all over my body. I go along for the hike to the waterfall. I climb among the trees. I glory in it all. And I look so happy. I’m predisposed to smiling, it’s just my way. But I swear that all of this is very hard.

What does it feel like? Like a perpetual hangover. A hangover I can’t control by not drinking, because it’s nothing I do to myself. It’s sun and heat and time working me over. My body gets out of bed but my soul stays there, and I need to expend a massive amount of energy to keep the two of them together. I heft my soul over my shoulder and carry it around, half-dragging it as I move through my day. It’s a wonder I can focus on anything at all.

Portland had a brutal winter thisyear – the cloudiest, rainiest in 75 years. At one point, something like thirty days elapsed without the sun peeking through. It’s good to see it again, but does it have to be so ever-present? Such a tyrant, that sun. A big flaming ball of should. You should go outside, you should frolic, you should, you should, you should.

You should feel happy!

I will, don’t worry. The rain will come. It can’t stay sunny all the time.

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Header image courtesy of Anne Nawrocka. To view her photo essay, “Sleepless Curbsides,” go here.


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Latency Period: Animal Encounters https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/latency-period-animal-encounters/ Mon, 29 May 2017 09:00:53 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=16379   Our monthly column “Latency Period” is made up of reflections on the gaps in our lives–whether between life and death, between perception and reality, or between one human being and another–and trying to bridge those gaps with words. Written by Daniel Elder, for NAILED. + + + Summer 2015 There was much I wished to […]

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Our monthly column “Latency Period” is made up of reflections on the gaps in our lives–whether between life and death, between perception and reality, or between one human being and another–and trying to bridge those gaps with words. Written by Daniel Elder, for NAILED.

+ + +

Summer 2015

There was much I wished to see in Peru, sites I’d dreamed about for years and years. Ruins, mountains, cities. As the trip approached, though, I found myself staring at pictures of Andean condors all the time. I grew fascinated by their majestic bodies, their ugly wrinkled heads, and the distinguished white collars separating the two. I wanted, more than anything else, to witness one in flight.

Until that summer, I’d never felt too connected to birds. Most of my avian exposure came in the form of pigeons—rats with wings. Now as I prepared to leave New York, I had feathers and wings on my mind. I was the baby bird of my famly, yes, and I was finally leaving the nest. There was that. And then there was the most recent ayahuasca ceremony I’d sat in, during which I’d sprouted a pair of wings and flown high in the sky, spiraling. As I did, I heard a sweet sister’s voice in the room open up, singing about feathers, flight, freedom.

I landed in Cuzco, acclimated to the altitude, and left on a five-day trek through the Salkantay pass to Machu Picchu. I saw two condors immediately. They appeared day one of the trek, as we cooled beside a glacial lake, glistening every shade of blue and green beneath the snow capped mountains. The condors circled once, twice, then disappeared over a ridge. A thrill stitched through me, stayed with me all through the rest of the trek, like they still circled inside me. Two winged silhouettes.

I needed to get closer.

Three weeks later I arrived in Arequipa. They call it the White City, built as it is from volcanic stone hewn from the three latent volcanoes surrounding it. Mountains were behind me, though. I signed on to a three-day trek down into nearby Colca Canyon. My Lonely Planet told me the canyon was the condor-lover’s Mecca.

At five in the morning, before bringing us to the path we took into the canyon, the van brought my group to the vista known as Cruz del Condor. Here, the guides told us, we would see condors in all their majesty. The lookout point was famous; just below it lived a family of the regal birds. They came out early every morning to soar and hover and feed.

Our van was one of the first to arrive but within a half hour the entire outcropping was swarmed. I couldn’t take more than a few steps without bumping into someone or having to excuse myself while squeezing through. Languages from all over the world bandied back and forth, the Americans always the loudest. Everywhere I turned, there were selfie sticks.

A gasp erupted from the crowd. I jostled my way towards a good vantage point along the edge. There they were: one, two, three, and then a fourth condor. So close I could make out every ripple in every feather. Their beady vulture eyes, their wrinkled bald heads, their talons sharp enough to tear flesh from bone.

They hovered as if by magic. I remembered the book I’d leafed through at an Arequipa coffeeshop: The exceptionally aerodynamic Andean condor can drop off a ledge and soar for two hundred miles before flapping its wings even once. I watched the birds ride unseen currents, then dive towards prey in the canyon far below and out of sight.

I have pictures of these condors. In the pictures all you see is sky, mountains, birds. They are incredible photos, especially because they don’t capture the hundreds of camera clicks and running commentaries. They’ve been cropped so iPhones hoisted high on poles don’t appear in the frame. They don’t convey the sense that Cruz del Condor is some cross between discount admission day at the zoo and an Apple Store’s grand opening in a national park.

Peruvian vendors camped out just above the vista with all their wares spread out: tapestries, jewelry, art, selfie sticks.

Beside me, a tour guide for a different company spoke to one of his customers, who expressed amazement that the condors could be depended upon to come out every morning like this. The guide explained that the condors wouldn’t, really, if not for local members of the tourist bureau who traveled to the bottom of the ravine and threw freshly dead carrion to lure out the birds.

Two mornings later we were mid-way through Colca Canyon. Miguel, our guide, had attached a tinny Bluetooth speaker to his backpack’s shoulder strap. He blasted bachata as we ambled through the sparse, ruddy scenery. I was sour. I drifted farther and farther behind the group. At one of our rest stops, I excused myself to piss behind a hay-color bush.  When the group continued on I lagged behind on purpose, sitting on a sun-bleached log in the middle of the shrub-dotted arroyo, taking a breather. The group disappeared around the next big turn.

Now I was alone. Just me, the desert, and the brutal sun overhead. I closed my eyes, breathed, meditated. I tried to slow down. I’d been moving forward at breakneck speed for weeks. Now the trip was over. I’d return home soon—to an entirely new home. I had no clue what I’d find there, aside from a crash back into reality after the dream of this trip.

I opened my eyes a few minutes later. Panned my vision left and right. Not a soul in sight. I felt a little woozy from sitting with my eyes closed and then opening them to let in so much bright summer sun. I knew I should get back to the group before they got too far ahead.

Something flickered in my upper peripheral vision. I craned my neck, shielding my eyes to see what was overhead.

A lone bird circled above the canyon, hovering as casually as a yawn. Even from this distance, each feather was distinct, like fingers spread evenly apart. In her movement, there was a potent stillness. She was a condor, calm in her power and patient in her hunger. A scavenger omen circling the canyon, circling me. A harbinger of some kind of death. I let go of time and watched her instead, watched her long flight until she disappeared beyond one of the canyon walls. Alone again.


Summer, 1989

I’m six or seven years old. I’m sitting up in bed. All is dark except for the thin, persistent crack of light crawling underneath the bedroom door; the dining room light falls down across the hallway that connects the apartment’s three bedrooms, and lands where it can taunt me. I hear the din of the TV, and occasionally see the shadows of my sisters’ legs as they pass by my door. I hear my mother’s voice.

Sisters’ legs. Mother’s voice. My family.

It’s past my bedtime, but I’ve been sitting up like this ever since Mommy kissed me on the forehead and wished me good night. The many faces of my nightly stuffed animal soap opera sit arrayed at my feet: tigers and walruses, birds and bears, a seal named Sheala, and a white puppy with a red collar who is my favorite. He gets to star as the villain in most of my epic after-dark sagas.

I don’t have it in me to write an animal story tonight. No tales of derring-do, no rescuing the seal from the pup, no underground (under-the-comforter) lairs and plans to take over the world (bed). I’m too shaken. I sit up against the headboard, drawing my knees up to my chest, staring at the yellow bar of light under the door, focusing on the sounds beyond: mother, sister, cathode-ray.

Anything to forget the chimpanzee’s face.

Earlier, we all watched a movie together. In the movie, two scientists work at a military testing facility that experiments on chimpanzees, putting them in flight simulators. It’s all a sinister front; the chimps are exposed to fatal doses of radiation, such as nuclear bombing pilots might encounter. Cold War cinema.

During a daring escape in the end, a chimp named Goliath sacrifices himself for the freedom of his fellow monkeys, becoming trapped in the testing chamber. There, he is bombarded by lethal doses of radiation. Goliath reaches out, his face twisted in agony. His fingers slide down the thick leaded glass window of the lab as he dies.

Goliath. I can’t get his face out of my mind. And with it comes the rough smell of hay.

Earlier this summer, my father took my sisters and me on a vacation through Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. In Wyoming, we stayed at a dude ranch for a week. We were each assigned a horse. Mine was named Shorty. He was the runt of the bunch. The other horses liked to bully Shorty. As the ranchers pointed out, he had the bite marks on his ass to prove it.

I was skinny and brainy and the locker room at school was weird.

I loved Shorty.

Even when I lost my focus and allowed my legs to bounce too freely against his sides and kicked him into a gallop that tore us ahead of the rest of the group, and I was barely saved from slipping off the saddle and dashing my head on the rocks under his hooves, I loved him.

I was a city boy. We lived in an apartment six flights up in the sky. Wildlife for me consisted of neurotic squirrels, shabby pigeons, and our wise Red Abyssinian cat, Swissie.

Shorty was a real animal.

Sitting up in bed in the dark, the pained face of Goliath gives way to Shorty’s long wise muzzle. His wide eyes. His smell. The scars on his rump. All of him comes flooding back to me.

Goliath’s face and Shorty’s, flickering back and forth.

Shorty beneath my body, between my legs.

Goliath’s fingertips sliding down the glass.

Leaving Wyoming, I thought my four-legged friend and I would be reunited someday. I thought about him all summer long.

Paralyzed, a dim awareness blooms throughout my torso, my arms, my knees hugged so tightly to my chest. Awareness of what, though? It’s something impenetrable, unknowable, vast, stretching out all around me and yet unable to be touched. I know, somehow, that it will always be there. Waiting. Until one day like Shorty and Goliath…

My body tightening, I trace my thoughts like constellations. From one to the next, and then the line draws itself straight into me.

I’ve been alone in my room long enough now that my eyes have adjusted to the darkness. They seize now upon any glint of light they find, grateful for the blessing of the dining room glow writhing under the crack in the door.

A shortness of breath. Trembling hands. And over again, an insistence in the beat of my heart: No, no, no. I don’t want that. I don’t want that.


Winter, 2017

Bicycling home from writing class, I hung a left onto Skidmore St. and headed west. The street was dark, silent, and rainy. My jeans clung to my legs. Rain dripped down through the slits of my helmet to wet my hair. I was soaked and smiling. I felt relief. I’d been so constricted lately, so serious, so morose. I’d caught my body folding inwards often, and whenever I sat down to write I could feel a clench in my mind to go along with my body’s rigidity. Thanks to class and to companions, tonight felt different.

The street ahead was dead empty. I leaned back off my handlebars and stretched my arms overhead, expanding, then settled them out at my sides with my palms upturned. Raindrops pooled in my hands as I cycled slowly down the middle of the road. I was in no rush.

A shape materialized under a streetlight, loping down the sidewalk towards me.

There’s a dog, I thought.

The distance between us closed some.

That’s not a dog. That’s a coyote.

She looked shaggy but lithe, and she seemed to pad and float all at once. Her body and head moved at different rhythms; her body undulated, wavelike, while her head bobbed left and right, her eyes taking in the street ahead of her until they met mine and locked. Some unseen wire drew taut between us.

I stopped pedaling, coasting forward on momentum, sitting straight up, hands still out in a Jesus Christ pose. Time stretched like an accordion. Even as the distance between us shrunk, I felt as if some greater camera zoomed out on our frame. The coyote stopped padding down the sidewalk and stood still as stone, her body angled towards the street. She watched me, frozen. Not like a deer in headlights or any other anxious, fretful animal. There was strength in her shoulders, sureness in her head and her jaw. Her mouth hung slightly open. Mine did, too.

I felt pierced.

Rain fell, time slowed, and we drew perpendicular, never breaking eye contact. As I pulled up level with her, a shiver ran through me. There should be some ceremony in our breaking eye contact, I thought, but in the end it just came down to physics. I passed her, looked forward, leaned forward, gripped my handlebars and pedaled once again. I didn’t look back. But I could feel eyes on me.

The feeling persisted, and followed me home. Followed me inside. Into the kitchen, into the shower. I carried it with me as I brushed my teeth. I felt it beside me as I crawled into bed. My cat curled up in a ball on top of the quilt, right up against my chest. I looked around my bedroom. We were certainly alone, but there was no shaking it: we were not two, but three. My head sank into the pillow and I buried my fingers in the cat’s soft fur, wondering. I felt stiff.

There was tension in my body. A hardening from head to toe, as if I’d armored myself against something, instinctively. But I didn’t need protection. I understood that. I didn’t feel haunted. It was more a visitation. A lingering kiss. I willed myself to relax, to welcome whatever it was that lay with us in the bed. After all, it clearly wasn’t going anywhere. When I closed my eyes to sleep and to dream, I felt two eyes lining up with mine. The distance between us diminished. Looseness and levity spiraled through my muscles and my mind. Would it still be here in the morning? I couldn’t know. I slept. I dreamed. I unfurled.

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Header image courtesy of Pierre Schmidt. To view his Artist Feature, go here.


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