Melting red, white, and blue popsicle

Why I Won’t Be With You on the 4th of July

Posted Posted in Blog

By John Grey

“Why I Won’t Be With You on the 4th of July” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


On the one side there is my love
and on the other, your living arrangements.
My romantic soul is fully intact
and willing to take on all comers
but if a heart can be susceptible to allergens
then your family is more than enough
cat hair, pollen and ragweed 
to give it the most virulent of hives.
Your mother criticizes my supposed lack of ambition.
Your father looks down on me 
like I’m something to be squashed, not embraced.
I’m sure your brother hates me. 
And, though your younger sister sympathizes,
she keeps going on at me 
about my lack of any tattoos.
Even your grandmother, when she’s in residence,
is like this crackly-voiced PA system
continually announcing how short men’s hair was
back in her day.
So while I appreciate you inviting me over
for this year’s patriotic activities,
all I can say is –

the roads are bad,     more rain is forecast,
I don’t want to leave my sick mother all alone
at this time of year,     a cousin just died,
I’ve contracted food poisoning
etc etc etc

Just remember, these are not excuses 
borne of lack of affection,
they’re regrets based on past experience
and the knowledge that, though you love 
your family dearly, that love is not transferable.
Remember, not all holidays are a time
to step away from the rigors, the ordeals,
the vicissitudes of life. 
Some are a continuation. 

Writer’s Commentary

“Why I Won’t Be With You on 4th of July” is typical of any number of my poems in that it does not refer to a specific incident or even a particular set of characters. It is more of a mish-mash of awkward situations I have found myself in at various times of my life and the people behind that awkwardness.

I have had enough experience over the years with “meeting the folks” to inspire a hundred poems. Some have been hospitable. Others cold and uninviting. Even with the former, I’ve found suddenly being plunked down for evaluation amid a bunch of strangers, no matter how welcoming they try to be, can still be nerve-wracking.

So in this poem, I attempt to capture a little of the trepidation by exaggerating my reactions and embellishing the family’s traits. For myself, the reference to allergens is only too real. “Cat hair,” especially in my childhood, was my nemesis. And the bit about “how short men’s hair was back in her day” is only too real. As for the choice of July 4th, it seemed the perfect holiday for what I wanted to say in the poem, a time of joy and celebration with the potential to be just the opposite.

As for the form, I try to both write and construct my work with getting my point across in mind. The language is commonplace, conversational, with a twist here and there, and in keeping with the subject matter. And I look for a balance as well. Two thirds of the poem is accumulated detail and the rest an appropriate, but not too didactic, summation. I liken it to a gymnast nailing the ending of their routine.  

I try to be careful with punctuation. Even if I don’t always adhere to the grammar rulebook, I place my commas, periods, etc. in a way that complements how I wish the work to be read. Even the indented lines have a purpose. In this case, unlike the rest of the poem, they’re words as I could have actually spoken them. Plus, there’s a run-on quality to them so that one line leads into the other. This is unlike the more normal sentences which call for a pause after every one.  

By the way, though this poem is called “Why I Won’t Be With You At 4th of July,” in the spirit of protesting too much, chances are that the narrator, who may or may not be myself, will not actually repeat any of this to his romantic other, and will be with her and family at July 4th after all. 


John Grey is an Australian poet and U.S. resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review, and Qwerty, he has work upcoming in West Trade Review, Willard and Maple, and Connecticut River Review.

Image by Belle Deesse

Red seats at a diner counter with checkerboard flooring in the background

The Kid at the Counter

Posted Posted in Blog

By Nicole Lutrell

“The Kid at the Counter” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


There are people in this town who know me as the kid at the counter. The kid sitting at the counter of the diner late at night. Crayons or toys in front of me. 

I was there because my mom was a waitress. Childcare was expensive, or not available. We had to eat. So she would take me with her, parking me at the counter where she could keep an eye on me.

Many wouldn’t consider this an ideal childhood. But what else could we do? Single parenthood is no joke; sometimes you have to go with the least bad option. And to be honest, being the kid at the counter wasn’t bad. It was, in fact, pretty cool. I got to eat burgers any night I wanted. I also, to this day, make the best eggs you will ever eat in your life.

Sitting at a diner counter, you meet people. As I was a child, and one trained not to speak to my elders, I mostly listened. I heard stories of the people who take their meals at diners. I listened, as I colored, to men who sat with their coffee for hours, bullshitting with friends. I heard them tell stories about the wars they’d been in. Too many of them had been in wars. I heard them talk about their kids, their grandkids. How their sister was doing down south. How their brother was going to move them to Florida pretty soon here. I heard about football games, old and new.

The stories weren’t as important as what I was learning. I was learning to listen. To have a perception of the world outside of myself.

When writing came to me, like a friend from a past life, diners became my most common writing spot. I was still at the counter, scribbling out my stories and journal entries. This is how I spent much of my teenage years. 

I always knew I was going to be a writer. But the same thing happened to me in my twenties that happens to everyone. Things I knew for sure weren’t true anymore. And no matter what I did, where I was, I felt alone. I said I was still a writer. But I wasn’t writing. 

It wasn’t until I stumbled into a coffee shop on Main Street that those gears started moving again. I wanted to give this whole writing thing one more shot. So I made a date with myself. I sat at a booth in the corner, with a mechanical pencil and a marble-covered notebook.

Sitting alone, I waited. It didn’t look much like the diners I’d grown up in. But the smell, that was the same. Coffee sitting on burners. Cooking eggs and oil. When I closed my eyes, I was back at the counter. And the stories came back, settling around me. Much like the old men of my youth, they had never left. They were just waiting for me to come back. 

Writer’s Commentary

Before Covid-19 hit, I wrote in cafés as frequently as possible. Those are always my most productive writing sessions and what I’m looking forward to getting back to the most. For now, I usually write at home. I try to keep it to my office. Though, to be honest, I love using ambient videos on YouTube. Things like coffee shop background noises or “work with me” sort of videos. It gives me an alone-but-not-alone feel.  When we’re able to go to cafés and diners again, I’ll return to my habit of writing ‘sketches’ of people while I’m sipping my coffee. In public, I am a horrible spy! It’s astounding how people just do not consider who might be listening to them. But being a spy does tend to put me in situations where people tell me their stories. An elderly man once spent an entire hour just telling me stories about his experience in Vietnam. Some of the stories were horrible, hard to hear. But it was such a blessing to be trusted with them. He told me that he hadn’t even shared some of these with his family. I was blown away. 

It’s interesting; the person who taught me to listen to stories doesn’t really understand my writing. I honestly don’t think my mother, God bless her, has ever read anything I wrote.


Nicole Lutrell is still known in her hometown as the “kid at the counter.” She was raised in diners and restaurants while her mom worked, which was better for her than most people would realize. A speculative fiction writer, Lutrell writes about dragons, ghosts, and spaceships. She also writes nonfiction about growing up in a small Western Pennsylvania steel town. She can be found at her blog, Paper Beats World, on Twitter @NicoleCLuttrell, and on Patreon

Photo by R. Mac Wheeler

Raven on branch

Calamity: Three Poems

Posted Posted in Blog

By Melekwe Anthony

“Calamity: Three Poems” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


CALAMITY

RUM RUM the grounds shake
Not a quake, not a dream. The riders are coming.
Listen. Listen to the drumming of stables racing 
Through cuttings of drizzle and storm. Closer 
And faster, they come for Father. The devil who
Accused kings of deeds unsaid. The careless one who
Sired me and pointed the ravens this way. A feast of 
Bones and ash they will meet. No flesh escapes Alexander.
So run I run testing fate. Run I run leaving the devil to his scribble.
Run I run till the sun finds me wet, soiled and fugitive.
The smoke of home is speck in the dew. 
Home is no more.

Nightmare

Black, the shadow that sings. 
Dizzy and dreamy, I wake up six minutes past midnight
To a crackling at my window. Shapeless figures hovering
In the moonlight, humming Birds of Winter Crawl. I pull the 
Blanket to my freezing abouts. This is not a dream.
I know that song. My dead grandmother’s voice. Careful taps at the glass 
And I haste for the night light. Out of power. 
The shadows are floating closer and becoming manlike. Ears, neck and what
Looks like a sharpened pencil of a head. I try calling Daddy! But nothing sounds. 
No word from my mouth despite my screaming. They are
Touching my window now. I can hear them. I must be seeing them too
Because an arm slowly manifests from the dark shapes. Wrinkles and freckles, 
It stretches for my bed. For me. 
This is not Grandma.

The Chase

Father and Mum went swimming
In beautiful pea-green swimsuits,
They called themselves honey and said 
They were enjoying their money,
Our money. But left me ashore to watch
Ashore. Safe ashore, squinting to see them swimming farther 
Afar, away. Maybe they were doing that thing again. 
That thing they don’t talk about when I’m near. 
I shake my head, laughing at how little they think me.
A flying bird breezes over my head and I look.
Only one of them is on the water now. I wait. I wait.
A pounding in my chest. Water in my eyes when I hear splashing.
It’s Daddy coming back without mummy. I can’t swim.
Why won’t he dive in to bring her out? My mummy.
Something behind him. It’s faster than mummy. 
Following Daddy. Oh no. Run Daddy run.
No, don’t run. Swim. I can’t look.

Writer’s Commentary

It is hard being a boy of six and worse to admire a painful man you should call Father. When being different is weakness and being right with yourself is punished. How does a boy grow up to love a man who has caused him many tears? Shamed “naked” before his juniors and laughed at by his peers. Does this boy not wish crocodiles and tragedy on this being? Has he not dreamt many times of calamity? But what pushed me to write these three poems was expression, the need to tell my paper the truth behind all the smiles and respectful silence. Each of these poems was deliberately written with each word crafted to explain, fit the true expression. Edgar Allen Poe was a great help in their crafting. Like all writers, I hope readers can relate, rethink, and react to parental upbringing and the horrors of silence.


Melekwe Anthony was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He is currently studying journalism at University of Nigeria, where he is also a student union executive. In 2018, Anthony began his writing career and joined “The Writers Community,” a community of poets and journalists at the university. In 2019, Melekwe was named Associate Editor for The Warriors Bulletin and has gone on to publish his poetry in numerous magazines in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Photo by Amarnath Tade

bright pink hair dryer

To the Girl in the Plus-Sized Dress

Posted Posted in Blog

By Aly Bloom

“To the Girl in the Plus-Sized Dress” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


It will happen suddenly, and about a year too late. You will step out of the shower and dry your hair with the hair dryer, which you rarely do, and you will start to wonder if his girlfriend has to do this every day. Her hair is so long, after all, and she never styles it, never pulls it back, just leaves it hanging down straight. It will strike you as ironic, again, how he grew out his hair so he could cut it all off and donate it, and then chose a girl with hair down to her hips. She did not know him when he had long hair, but you did. 

The usual thoughts will come then, some old, some new, bouncing around in your head like particles.

You would look a lot like her, if your hair were a few inches longer and your body a few inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter. 

She claimed they’d been dating for over a year, but you know that they were broken up in August. And you know he took her back. She wore him down and won him a second time when you, for all your tears and trying, couldn’t even do it once. 

He said you were friends, “good friends,” but made it clear you would never be more. He just “couldn’t reciprocate” your feelings, and you thought you knew why. Didn’t he say he wouldn’t date coworkers? But then he chose her, in front of you, instead of you. You were wrong about his reason. He just wouldn’t date you. 

And that’s the moment when it happens. Two particles bump together in your brain, one hot, one cold, and at once you realize that your hair dries faster when you hold your head upside down and that he is not your friend. You lift up your head, put the dryer down. A friend would not treat you this way. Maybe you were once his friend, maybe you were not. Maybe you lied when you told yourself that you could be “just friends” without hoping for more. Maybe it’s a lie that he was ever your friend at all. 

You mourn for the girl who, almost exactly one year ago, sat at a table in a plus-sized dress, with short sleeves to hide her arms and Spanx underneath to hide everything else, the thick blue material both fancy and frumpy. She bought it as an emergency the day before because nothing in her closet fit anymore, and she wore it while she watched her world fall apart. You remember how she spent more time in the bathroom than the ballroom, how she was left out of the professional photos because she couldn’t bear to watch them dancing. You remember how her heart cracked when she saw them holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes. How her breath faltered when she noticed someone missing from the bouquet toss. And you wish you could tell her that it won’t be a big moment, when it happens. It won’t be the next time she sees him, or the first time someone mentions his new relationship. It won’t be the first time he and his girlfriend break up, or the second time they get together, or all the times in between when she, the girl who wasn’t chosen, scours their social media, analyzing Instagram posts and Venmo transactions, living their lives instead of her own. It won’t be when she meets someone else, or the first time he kisses her, even though she still fits into the plus-sized dress. She’s surprised, almost startled, that he likes the body she has struggled to like for years, the body she is only now learning to accept. 

No, it will be on a Wednesday afternoon, and the snow on the ground will be tough and dirty, and she’ll be checking the time on her phone because she’s running late for a doctor’s appointment, and she’ll notice again that her hair is dry, and she’ll remember that he is not her friend, and she’ll realize that maybe, finally, she is okay. 

Writer’s Commentary

I wrote most of this essay in a notebook, on my way to the doctor’s appointment that I mentioned. It just seemed so revolutionary to me, this idea that a boy I’d been obsessing over for such a long time no longer mattered, and that the moment I recognized this came on a regular Wednesday afternoon. I immediately began writing in second person, and I didn’t even consider how unusual that might be for a reader. For me, it felt like the most natural way to tell this story.

Using second person makes this story about my life into something universal. Anybody who reads this story could assume that they are the “you” that it’s being directed to. However, I actually found the use of second person to be deeply intimate. I’ve written a lot about the fallout of this particular relationship, and most of my writing has been about or directed at the boy. He was the “you” in all of my writing up until now. This time, I directed my writing at myself. It was as though I went back in time to the night my heart was broken. I felt like I could be the comfort I so desperately needed. 

This is the first time in years that I’ve centered myself in my work. I didn’t think I’d be able to do that again while still fitting into a plus-sized dress. For me, that’s the most revolutionary thing of all.


Aly Bloom is a teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2015 with a double major in Modern Languages (French and Russian) and English (with an emphasis in creative writing). She has returned to writing during quarantine and is excited to begin sharing her work with others again. Her work was most recently published in the nineteenth issue of Bending Genres.

Hand reach toward sunlight over water

Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday

Posted Posted in Blog

By Craig Finlay

“Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


When Job was bent and decrepit,
his back crooked and legs unsteady
he found himself again ruined.

He turned not to the Lord, expecting
the Lord saw and knew, the Lord allowed
suffering. Locusts ate his crops, disease felled
his goats, his servants made off with his gold

And Job calmly made his way a-shuffle
his legs widest at the knee, to the market
where he sat, head down, hand up, fingernails 
growing long. 

He looks like withered olive branch, a woman said
and he did and few there helped him
for they remembered his cruelties, how he beat
his servants, his daughters, starved them and the livestock
for years, exclaiming this was his will, enacting
a trauma none else remembered. 
He had beat them more when, having ceased 
to beat them, their praise was insufficient 

No matter, this time. Job perceived his patience.
And so he scavenged scraps from the rubbish,
nosed alongside the dogs in search of bread crusts.
Gradually he grew filthy, his clothes fell from him,
he crawled more than walked. A following of strays
developed, trotting along after him, yelping for scraps.

He did not beat them, in the heat and shimmer of the holy sun,
not caring that they only loved him for his gifts.
Finally, content to love something for needing him at all. 

Cabinet

Lying on your back, 
you pressed your fingers
into the notch 
right below your ribs.
You thought your bones 
were arranged 
like a cabinet. 
And then that shift
in the night’s spread of leaves 
that you mistook for a cold front.
You held your arm high
and straight 
like reaching out to God 
just to feel the earth 
try to reclaim some part of you.
Gravity—learning what it means 
to be subject to gravity. 
A sense that someday 
it will pull you deeper. 
Not just beneath the bed
or the house beneath that
or into the Earth, even.
Into something else,
something you can’t say
you ever knew you’d miss. 

Writer’s Commentary

“Job Finds Divinity in the Everyday”

I often find myself thinking about what happened to mythological persons later in their lives. Job is one I’ve thought about more than most. The story is one of the more disturbing in its implications. God and Satan get into an argument over why this guy Job is so good, with Satan claiming Job will behave well only because God will punish him if he’s not. So God decides to let Satan just ruin Job’s entire life to prove Satan wrong. Along the way we learn that suffering is a path to God, who should be feared.  

Growing up nonreligious, I always thought it was strange that this story was so celebrated. And I wondered, too, what kind of long-term effects that kind of trauma had on Job, who realized God’s love was shown to him in the form of immense and seemingly pointless suffering. So, in this poem I sought to imagine Job in old age, having lived a life enacting the same cruelties visited upon him by God. Abuse is something we learn. Children who are abused tend to become abusers. Having pain inflicted on us forces us to learn various coping mechanisms, none of them healthy. This poem is a portrait of a man who was tortured at the whim of someone infinitely more powerful than he was, and the aftermath of that experience.

“Cabinet”

One of the things I love about poetry is how everyone can take their own meaning from a poem. I wasn’t sure what this poem was “about” while I was writing it. I was just thinking about how, when I was a child, I would hold my arm straight up in bed. I think a lot of people did this and I was wondering why. I decided to write about it as a way of discovering how we interact with the world. Like how I used to hang upside down off the couch and let the blood rush to my head. Most of us used to do that, probably. And most of us had a moment where we pulled ourselves up off the couch or the bed and that was the last time. We never did it again. And I think that’s what the poem became “about” as I was writing it. 

Then, one of my friends read it and asked if I’d written it about her. I’ve written a few poems to or about her, so it was a fair question. I said I hadn’t and asked why she thought so. She reminded me that she suffers from a chronic pain issue that manifests in her joints. That, and I wrote the poem to an unnamed “you.” And that’s something great about poetry. Poems can be so deeply personal to so many different people, and for such different reasons.


Craig Finlay is a poet and librarian currently living in rural Oklahoma. His poems have appeared or will be appearing in numerous publications, most recently The Ilanot Review, Little Patuxent Review, Levee Magazine, and After Happy Hour Review. His debut collection, The Very Small Mammoths of Wrangel Island, is forthcoming from Urban Farmhouse Press.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin

koi fishes on surface of water

Wonder in Austin’s Backyard

Posted Posted in Blog

By Mollie Gordon

“Wonder in Austin’s Backyard” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


I’ve long thought I had some sort of gift with children, like how others are blessed with a green thumb. Show me any kid, ages 6 – 16, and I can likely find some way to make them smile. I guess that’s why some people become teachers and others become gardeners. But the very etymology of the word “kinder-garten” would suggest that one needs to be both.

With Austin I feel I am neither. Other kids tell me what chaos they want to provoke in the day’s short-lived liberty, but Austin asks me what I want and makes me choose. He is impossible to get out the door because he is a tyrant about his shoelaces. If we leave and he feels I did a poor job of tying them, he’ll send us back home and make me try again. He has a generally sullen disposition, an unusual degree of inferiority for a five-year-old, and an unwillingness to ever say, “I love you.”

I know it’s selfish, but it means a lot to me when the kids I’m working with show me affection. Kids are prodigious judges of character, like dogs or some therapists. Not yet actors on the world’s stage, they generally say what they feel because there is little to gain from lying about it. So a kid liking you has to say something about who you are. Or maybe they like you because of the extra cookie you allowed them that day.

Austin shows me no affection. He treats me as an old person might treat the aide who cleans the toilets at the senior center. A possible commonality: “We both like the color green!” I try. 

“Girls should like pink,” he says.

Austin is already developing very cemented ideas of gender that I try to interrogate as often as I can. I used to call him a budding misogynist in my mind, but more recently I’ve recognized the error in that label. He has merely learned firm expectations of gender from adults that he challenges once in a while in the form of a stuffed rainbow unicorn. Austin tells me the unicorn is a boy. A spark of hope—I have to find some way for us to connect. All olive summer into amber fall, I search for my way in. 

And then, as often happens, I stumble upon it. He is obsessed with nature, and it translates into every aspect of our time together. He draws pictures for class of his deceased pet fish (named “Bluefish” for apparent reasons), drags me along on nature walks for “fresh air,” and insists we watch underwater cameras when he earns five minutes of phone time. These cams show giant squid, eels, spiny lobsters, and other creatures. Austin has plastic replicas of the creatures littered all over the apartment.

Austin’s other obsession is all things spooky, something I don’t share with him but that ties in remarkably well with his devotion to nature. Most kids would find a recording of a diver coming face to face with a moray eel terrifying, but he is no less afraid of this than he is of Slimer from Ghostbusters (his personal favorite). He speaks candidly about the death of Bluefish, whose ghost he believes to inhabit the backyard. Life and death reside in him like old friends.

In this light, Austin’s particular fascination with marine animals makes sense. They are in the depths below us, and many of them lead dangerous lives. The koi fish in his backyard, though, live like scaly kings. He likes to watch them after tiring himself out on the trampoline. He observes them keenly for up to 30 minutes at a time, never bored, and he retains his observations in a mental diary. The other day, he remarked to me that the koi were closer to the surface than usual and asked me why, always playing the detective.

“Well, what do you think?” I’ve found the best thing to do when encountered with “why” is to flip it. It ignites a child’s imagination and also spares me a lot of guesswork. When I asked him to explain the koi’s movements, he “hypothesized”—a word I taught him—that it was a little after lunchtime and they were straining to uncover any last bites of food. His evidence? Fish food gliding along the surface like autumn leaves on a lake. The fish open their mouths and wait for the food to travel by current to them.

As soon as he’s answered one of his own questions, observation prompts him to ask another. There are only two black fish, while all the others are dappled white and orange like neon paint splattered on pure marble. “Why?” Now he wants to touch them, but his mommy told him not to. “Why?” 

My careful evasion of Austin’s inquiries was put to the test three days ago when we built a snail habitat out of the acorns, twigs, and leaves we gathered on our daily nature walk. After construction was complete, we crept out into his backyard to search for snails to occupy this new residence. The backyard is a pulsing paradise, a little Forest of Arden. Bees and mosquitoes and cicadas produce a collective hum. No snails though: we only come upon abandoned snail shells, hollow with absence. Austin collects these in a gap in the stone wall, saving them for something he doesn’t know yet.

I find a snail that is definitely alive. It’s holding on firmly to the wall with its sticky secreted mucus; Austin urges me to remove it gently. I pull too hard and something cracks a little. When I turn the snail over in my hand its tentacles and eyes are missing. I feel something akin to shock or shame, or both. He sees only that it’s not moving.

“Is it alive or not?”

How do I answer? Telling him the truth would soil me in his eyes forever. I say I think so, but it might just be a little shy. We should give it some space and, um, check in on it later. 

I feel similarly inept when Austin spies something foreign and says: “What is that?” 

“A leaf?” I suggest feebly. 

He bends over it like a restless storm cloud. “It’s a bug,” he declares. 

“Sure, it’s a bug.” 

“What kind of bug?” he says.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know!” 

Realizing I’m not getting out of it this time, I say it might be a cicada. My thumb isn’t green, neither are my eyes. I wasn’t raised to be cognizant of the natural world—this five-year-old probably knows more of it than I do.

Whatever this insect is, Austin is scared of it. Vampires and zombies are no issue, but this nameless creature, probably dead, possibly living, makes him cover his eyes. I say we should go back inside. I butchered a snail; he found something that actually scared him. We’ve had enough of nature for one day.

On our way back upstairs we run into Anna, the unit owner, who is carrying a torn sheet of printer paper with a bee balancing on it. This bee, she says, just stung her, and now is dying. She explains to Austin why she is dying and why the bee is a “she.” The women do all the hard work tending and protecting their hives, and for this they must die. Anna hurries past us out into the yard, so her bee can pass away under the October sky.

Even after we have washed our hands and sat down on the rug amidst the plastic sea creatures, Austin, who has forgotten the dying bee entirely, can’t stop thinking about the cicada. “I keep seeing it in my mind! It won’t go away!” 

All too familiar with intrusive thoughts, I promise him that the image will fade eventually. To distract him I begin to talk about my misadventures in nature when I was his age, the grubs I used to dig up and the spiders I nurtured and the humongous rock outside my elementary school, which also happens to be his school. I used to climb that rock just like he does now. These stories surprise him, I can tell. Gears are turning behind his caramel eyes. He asks me what’s next. I say lunch. He urges a dance party. Lunch, I say again. He suggests a “compromise,” another word I taught him.

“Okay,” I say. “That I can do.”

Writer’s Commentary

“Wonder in Austin’s Backyard” began as one of four short nature essays I wrote, collectively labeled “Moments in Nature Chronicled by a Convalescing Brooklynite.” This was a semester-long project for my After Nature writing workshop at Sarah Lawrence College, taught by Kate Zambreno. My initial material came from a journal I had been keeping during quarantine. When I shared this with Kate, she observed that I was circling around specific figures—one being the boy, Austin, in this essay—and their relationships with the natural world. I combed through my entries for my notes on Austin; I was also still working with him during the writing process, which was incredibly helpful.

I knew that I wanted to center this essay around a specific image. While I was writing I observed that I kept coming back to the snail shell that was such a rich object: a place of life and destruction, home and hard truths. I also thought of Austin himself as somewhat lost in his shell, which posed challenges initially to shaping him as a character, as I was still struggling to grasp his essence myself. In earlier drafts I went so far as to label Austin a misogynist for his preconceived notions about gender that irritated me; it was only through discussing this with Kate that I recognized the harm in slapping such a label on him, and the need for more compassion towards this influenceable little boy. The frustration in an educator/student relationship can be sizable, but I do believe that compassion is the only way through that, and this is what I tried to lead with in this piece.


Mollie Gordon (she/her/hers) is a queer writer, educator, and theatre-maker. Her plays have been produced by The Bechdel Group and Sarah Lawrence College, and more of her work is slated to be published in the coming months. She will graduate next year with a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence. Read more about Mollie on her website or follow her on Instagram @molliecgordon.

Photo by Rebecca Campbell

boulder

Being Brown with Breasts

Posted Posted in Blog

By Rishita Acharya

“Being Brown with Breasts” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 

Poet

A poet is Sisyphus with a boulder
Words are nothing but bullets made of plastic

Words are something more than just plastic
Ginsberg, Manto, Chugtai were put on trial

A poem can carry the seed of an idea 
A poem is a spine I write into my tongue

I write to save my soul. Save my tongue
I write for you and me to spin some sun

One day the poet will sell all the sun
To keep picking up the pen in defiance

The peak is the moment of victory in defiance
A poet is Sisyphus with a boulder

Foetal Anatomy Survey

Does my chest count as a witness to
my mother’s sob buried in it on the nights
her heart was a sky scratched red
with the sun burning down into the ground
With its memory lost like milk teeth
this country I am a daughter in
will curdle into white chunks
if the scream of the pink oceans
of every mother’s womb is let out
If the gates of the dams,
of every household are left open
Where our questions are drowned 
in a bowl of milk like they would have
drowned us if our mother’s mother
didn’t fly across the milky way to 
Save

Il est interdit d’interdire

You snap the bones 
of our slogans
bury them
in Saffron soil.
Wash our wall graffitis
with tear gas and
Paint propaganda, Paint
them bright yellow with achhe din.

Why does an artist scare you? 

You break into our libraries, 
send our tongues to jail.
You make our nibs stand
with guns pointed at their temples,
watch them break but 
they will not bend.

Why does a student scare you? 

This poem is a plastic gun it wants to believe
Our slogans are seeds
they sprout from the grave you make for them
We have enough blood in our veins to repaint
every graffiti and our nibs may break but 
the splattered ink will land like an echo
Until we have a world where 
forbidding is forbidden.

Why does love scare you? 

Writer’s Commentary:

Each poem is a deep dive within myself as much as it is an attempt to digest this strange, ugly-beautiful world. The language of poetry allows me to examine that which is forbidden to me. When I think of us, those who strive to glimmer on the peripheries of a power-laden center—we womxn, queer, people of colour (and so on), and those who live on the dangerous intersectionality of such peripheries—I think there are caves in our hearts, but boulders guard their mouths. These caves are spaces of unexamined, prohibited power and possibilities. These caves are dangerous because they are us: deep-throated, unknown, and always threatening to swallow their surroundings. And poetry is my attempt at cracking, pushing these boulders, letting in some light into these cavernous depths.

I imagine that my poems are formed like fold mountains. The tectonic plate of what is happening in my life, beyond the borders of myself, collides with the plate of what I am reading at that point of time. This is true for the poems “Poet” and “Il est interdit d’interdire.” I wrote these in early 2020, deeply disturbed by the nationwide protests in my country against the infamous Citizen Amendment Act and the government’s attempts at curbing them. 

Coincidentally, I was also studying the rise of literary theory and the student protests of 1984 in France that raised the slogan Il est interdit d’interdire, which translates to “it is forbidden to forbid.” This is what inspired the title and content of my poem of the same name. The crackdowns on students and artists by authoritarian governments is their attempt to spread fear, to set an example, and show that tear gas and batons subdue tongues, hands, and spines. There is a forgetting, too, that the body remembers. And in India, intolerance is on rise. I dread reading and watching the news because of the hate speech that is constantly spouted. 

Around this time, I also came across a phenomenal collection of poetry, The Tradition, by Jericho Brown. His poems are stories of survival and grit, and this is how “Poet” was born.

I was inspired by the form of his poem “Duplex” because it allowed me to create so many layers of meaning within my poem. As a poet, I often swing between moments of hope and moments of despair. This is reflected throughout my poetry, but the form of “Duplex” allowed me to capture that ambiguity very well. I was reminded of the uselessness of our words against the charges of sedition and obscenity, tear gas sprays, bullets, and water cannons. Helpless, I wrote, “Words are nothing but bullets made of plastic.” The poem “Il est interdit; interdire” also has a line “This poem is a plastic gun it wants to believe.” And yet, I think we always undermine the power of words that contain truth. No wonder that, historically, authoritarian regimes have always been terrified of free speech and writers. Similarly, access to education and books has been denied to women or minority castes. 

I feel I can never share my work with my extended family or relatives steeped in patriarchal mindset because feminist, pro-LGBTQ, and liberal content is seen as moral degradation and deviation from traditional values. I have felt that my content is on trial too. The irony is, at moments, I have been the biggest censor of my own work. The sexism and homophobia I internalized growing up led me to call my work unworthy, disrespectful, immoral. So, each poem is an attempt to “save my soul,” to write what I feel honestly about myself and the society.

I use the symbol of Sisyphus in “Poet” to write about poets who write to expose the weaknesses, problems of society. This is not a one-time task. You can’t write once and consider your job done. As poets, we have to pick up the pen again and again. It is not that the world has suddenly metamorphosed into a horrible place. With every generation, new challenges arrive. One generation of writers passes on the baton of resistance to the next. I have been inspired by the grit of authors like Allen Ginsberg, Sadat Hasan Manto, and Ismat Chugtai. Chugtai was so radical that her story “Lihaaf,” which talked about lesbianism and female desires as early as 1942, caused her to face the obscenity trial like her fellow and contemporary writer Manto. I also wanted to give the myth of Sisyphus a spin. A poet carrying this boulder doesn’t have to be seen as a curse. There are moments of victory; at the summit of the mountain, Sisyphus is victorious, he defeats fate, if only momentarily (I was also influenced by Camus at that point). These thoughts are reflected at the end of the poem, “The peak is the moment of victory in defiance.”

I believe poetry and protest go hand in hand. But while I am writing, I am not conscious that “oh, I am going to protest! This is my resistance against what tries to kill me.” I write these poems because I don’t know how else to survive.

Some poems are too personal, like “Foetal Anatomy Survey,” but I still share them because I believe that they may help someone out there feel less alone. Somewhere, a girl will read this and find strength – if someone else has made it, I will, too. I strongly agree with Audre Lorde’s words that “poetry is not luxury.” Black womxn poet-artists inspire me. I am a huge fan of Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez, Lucille Clifton, and Amanda Gorman. Adrienne Rich is another poet who has soothed my soul on many hard days. The poem “Foetal Anatomy Survey” comes from a place of agony and anger. When I think of the trauma and oppression that my mother and her mother have survived, it makes my blood boil. I think this is reflected in the imagery of the poem. But both have taught me that despair and bitterness is never an option. It is sickening to realise that in many states of India, like Rajasthan (the one I come from), Haryana, and Punjab, female foetuses are aborted because there is a preference for male children. Dowry practices further add to the belief that girls are a burden. Even after the ban on sex selection, many clinics continue to illegally conduct foetal anatomy surveys and female foeticides. I am aware of my privilege of being alive, pursuing academics and my passion. And this privilege of voice, this stage I am speaking from, so you can hear our stories, is built from the blood and bones of my sisters and mothers.


Rishita Acharya (she/her) is a student and spoken word artist pursuing a Master’s in English Literature. Her poetry is like her small hometown in Rajasthan, India—simple, growing, but always connected to its roots. You can write to her to rave about poets and poetry at risharockstar@gmail.com.

Photo by Simon Hurry

fuzzy bee on purple flower

When Bees Used to Do This

Posted Posted in Blog

By K. James D’Agostino

“When Bees Used to Do This” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


A pink-flowering tree concealed a beehive, given away by the swarm’s constant drone. Along the way home from school, I’d duck into the muddy creek bed to stay clear. This was the creek where my cousin caught a snake in a lunchbox and brought it home; I opened it to peek, and Dad hauled me away. After rain, the creek would be a roaring violence, a brown crash washing out old mud for new. Afterward, the creek bed would not resemble itself, though I could never say how. 

I’ll feel this again decades later, walking that same way home I once walked, when I might stop at a familiar mound of grass and ask my brother beside me, Did there used to be a tree here? and he might just shrug. Like I might ask him when was the last time he saw a beehive and he may answer, I’m not sure I ever have. But we have, I know. Like I might now ask my cousin if he remembers that one time with the snake in the lunchbox, and he might answer, Did that happen? in his basement where he has hand-built two-meter glass squares to house the six reticulated pythons he adores. He can forget how things began, but life remembers: from that moment, the boxes got bigger and more expensive, the snakes more dangerous, but it follows a steady course. He might say, That sounds like me. The snakes of now have pushed out of his memory the snakes of then.

These days I grow milkweed and count monarch caterpillars in the garden. They ask me, Do you remember how many butterflies there used to be? God, they used to be everywhere! And I don’t. Not at first. But they point at the bark on nearby trees and remind me: Yellow, furry caterpillars all over the trees near your childhood home, hundreds and thousands of them, so many cocoons they lined the house’s wood paneling with silk. I recall enough to say, I tried to raise them in a bottle every year. They always died. And I, using cotton swabs to pollinate flowers by hand, ask, Do you remember when bees used to do this? They say, No. We did see a bee today. Just one bee, so peaceful in its patient murmur, so yellow and heavy, that we can’t seem to remember. We have lost that world. We have lost even the memory of that world.

Writer’s Commentary

The second issue of Reckoning, a literary journal, begins with an essay by Michael J. DeLuca: “On Having a Kid in the Climate Apocalypse.” It’s powerful. Among his many thoughts, DeLuca notes declining animal populations, and laments that his newborn child might never see salamanders or living coral. I was thinking about that notion a lot at the time, asking myself: what did I know when I was young that our children never will?

A farming co-op nearby was offering beekeeping classes and my wife and I were talking very seriously about bees. It came up that she’d never seen a beehive before and didn’t know what they sound like. I realized it had been a long time since I’d come across one myself. How long had it been? When was the last time I just, simply, passed by a beehive in a tree somewhere?

This question unlocked memories that I… had not exactly forgotten, but had just never taken the time to remember. Once I remembered the beehive, the tree, the creek, all kinds of memories came back, the associations, the people, like scenes added on the front of stories that I knew very well. This all collided with the environmental question I’d been belaboring. I realized that it’s not only the next generation losing these things, but us ourselves, who are already failing to remember them. I tried to discuss it with my wife, but it was too abstract for me to really verbalize, so I ended up writing it instead.

The structure of my essay wasn’t accidental. In my first draft I tried to relate my memories and associations in a way that captured how fast they’d returned to me. It was messy and incoherent, but I liked its indirect abstraction; it was, after all, about my memories more than my thoughts. That first draft was overly long, so lost the sharp pang I’d hoped to achieve. To revise, I set myself a limit of 400 words, which is a much stricter limit than I usually impose. I had to chop off roughly half of that first draft and minimize sentences down to only their most essential concepts, but I did achieve a satisfactory draft of exactly 400 words. To finish, I gave myself back a few extra words so that I could linger in the final sentence longer, wanting to dwell in the solastalgia.

Environmental themes slip into my writing a lot, but with this essay I wanted to strike it deliberately. This essay carries a different feeling than other environmental writing I’ve done, besides just melancholy or even bitterness. This essay, I think, might be my attempt to tell a reader to engage mindfully in remembering, similar to the way that I accidentally managed to remember. It may be an attempt to say: you have lost something, and you don’t remember what you have lost, and you should care about that.


K. James D’Agostino (they/them) is an author and poet, and an editorial assistant for the Ninth Letter literary journal. They have a BA from the University of Houston and are currently an MFA candidate at the University of Illinois. Their most recent work has been published in The Gravity of The Thing and the KAIROS Literary Magazine. Follow them on Twitter @KJRussell_write.

Photo by Jenna Lee

This Doorbell Is a Riot Anthem by Fareh Malik

Multiplicity Commons No. 9

Posted Posted in Blog, Multiplicity Commons

This Doorbell Is a Protest Anthem

by Fareh Malik

This Doorbell Is a Riot Anthem by Fareh Malik

Don’t the windchimes sound like
shattering windows?
This fireplace is
a car ablaze in the street,
every wall hanging, a picket sign.
The carpet is still wet from
hoses and blood,
K-9 slobber and tear gas, incense, condensation.
You ask them,
When did this stop being your home?
But
was it ever yours?

I am “of color,” as they say, not Black.
I don’t know what it means to be Black today.
I do know my friends’ fears shouldn’t be
laid in caskets
with their brothers and sisters.
Brothers and sisters who marched
through the hallways and cities they built.

I know that weak knees make it hard to stand up when
we’ve had the comfort of sitting.

I know we lay our heads in shelters that stand
a million reparation cheques tall,
Slavery sweat pours forth from our taps.

I know
you have been left standing at the gate
for far, far too long.
Go, my friends.
Go give them something
that they can’t ignore.


About the Writer

Fareh Malik is an emerging spoken word poet and BIPOC writer whose work explores the intersection of mental health and social racialization. He has been published in several anthologies and literary journals. This piece will be included in Fareh’s forthcoming book, Streams That Lead Somewhere.


What Comes Up When You Think of Breonna Taylor

Multiplicity Commons No. 8

Posted Posted in Blog, Multiplicity Commons

What Comes Up When You Think About Breonna Taylor?

a collaborative poem created by
Erin Binney, Jennifer Laurenza, Aprell May, Jasmin Rivas,
Amy Stonestrom, & Erin Sadler

Black and brown bodies hunted down.

A book that changed my life: 
War Against All Puerto Ricans
the King of the Towels
tortured
in an island prison called La Princesa.

Crying at the
injustice    grief     pain    devastation.
Chalk, blue dress, innocent sleeper.

They protested.

To no avail.

We need to change the system
change abuse
stop systemic racism.

I  protested!

I wrote about her
life taken
her story withheld.

We protested.

Heavy heart
How did this happen?

We know how it happened.

We need to change the system
change abuse
stop systemic racism.

Black lives matter.

What Comes Up When You Think of Breonna Taylor

About the Writers

This collaborative poem was created by six Bay Path MFA students in response to a creative prompt given by student Jasmin Rivas.

Erin Binney is a Sagittarius, an INFJ, a 1 on the Enneagram, and a firm believer that people are complex beings who shouldn’t be put into boxes. She writes about family history.

Jennifer Laurenza is a practicing psychotherapist who writes for self-preservation and creative expression. She specializes in LGBTQ mental health, and is an advocate for the LGBTQ community and other marginalized populations.

Aprell May is completing her final year in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Bay Path University. She is interning at the Springfield Library and Museums in collaboration with a collector to reimagine the Native American Hall and to manifest a living community exhibit.

Jasmin Rivas is an after-school program administrator, yoga instructor, and poet in the community she grew up in. She is a social justice warrior whose intention is to write stories that help people heal.

Amy Stonestrom writes about family, religion, and politics. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Storm Cellar Quarterly, Barnstorm Journal, Superstition Review, and others. You can find her at amystonestrom.com.

Erin Sadler is a licensed psychologist who specializes in working with people who have been diagnosed with cancer. She writes to forge connections that inspire, heal, and unite people.