Being Brown with Breasts

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. 


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 

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

Photo by Simon Hurry

fuzzy bee on purple flower

When Bees Used to Do This

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

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?
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

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
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

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.

I Stand With You by Hayley Fife

Multiplicity Commons No. 7

I Stand with You

by Hayley Fife

Growing up, I never imagined I would have to post #BLM to help fight for my Black friends. As an 18-year-old member of Generation Z, I didn’t think that in my lifetime, we would still be fighting for equal rights. I haven’t participated in a protest. I still live with my mom and she doesn’t want me going, although she supports the movement. But as much as I can, I’ve been sharing photos, links, and messages of support on social media. I try to talk about Black Lives Matter as much as possible in classes and with friends and family. I vote.

When George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, my heart broke for the Black community. I felt ashamed to know that they felt unsafe around white people, especially around police, who should make us feel safe. I’m even more ashamed that so many of these officers keep getting away with murder. When I think about my Black friends getting pulled over, it scares me. I worry about their safety, about them getting yelled at, about being thrown out of their car simply because they’re Black. Seeing police on video hurting innocent people shines a light on the injustice going on under our noses. Real change needs to happen very soon. It needs to happen now.

Sometimes I want to scream about it. The pain Black people feel is real. The hurt they are expressing is real. The fear in their body is real. How dare people say BLM is for publicity, as if Black people choose to be killed. Police are “blue” 40 hours a week; Black people are targets 24/7, 365 days a year. My Black friends carry fear around like it’s normal. But it’s not normal to fear for your life when getting pulled over. When the men in blue kneel on the necks of innocent men you love—Black fathers, husbands, brothers, sons—in the street while their actions are recorded. They kneel on your rights. Shoot up your houses while you’re sleeping. Throw tear gas into your peaceful protests.

Do all cops act this way? No. But the ones that do get away with it.

I’m not Black, but I stand with you.

About the Writer

Hayley Fife is an 18-year-old college student at Bay Path University majoring in forensic psychology. She has always had an interest in writing—and in social justice. She fully supports the BLM movement because “all lives don’t matter until Black lives do, too.”

Holding Vigil for George Floyd by Cindy Stewart

Multiplicity Commons No. 6

Holding Vigil for George Floyd

by Cindy Stewart

Holding Vigil for George Floyd by Cindy Steward

Under a nine-foot bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the

Pacifist Memorial in Sherborn, Massachusetts

Eight middle-aged women                  held space for the

life of George Floyd.

When he cried out for his mama as his

neck was being crushed          we were

beckoned. He was our

son. In silent vigil we stood at the

edge of the street                                 and held

pictures of his face no longer gracing our earth.

We held him in our

hearts as we                            held every other

Black person who has lost their

one precious life.                    We circled the

Victims of Violence stone and spoke

words to the universe of the

injustice of his death and of our         having to hold

vigil for a senseless loss, once again.

Through our fury                                we wept.

About the Writer

Cindy Stewart works with adults with special needs at The Life Experience School. She is the mother of three amazing adult children and a student in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at Bay Path University. Cindy lives and writes on a small farm outside Boston.

Multiplicity Commons No. 5


by Kamil Czyz

Flight by Kamil Czyz

Cop’s knee on his neck,
phones bore witness while he pleaded,
but we stood back,
obeying the badge.
Believing the pledge.

The next day,
unyielding, unmovable rage.
We overflowed streets with fury
and fire,
a pageant of soot and angst,
a sacrifice of torched cars and golden buildings
to cleanse the shame.
Glittering posts, photos of unintended violence,
unquenchable wrath.

Then, washing lines blossom,
a unison of face masks and angry t-shirts
whispering in the wind, quiet.

About the Writer

Kamil Czyz was born and raised in Olsztyn, Poland and now lives and writes in Gdańsk. His poetry has been published in Coffin Bell Journal, with forthcoming work to appear in Chitro Magazine and The Dead Mule.

Speaking Up, Finally by Susan Barry-Schulz

Multiplicity Commons No. 4

Speaking Up, Finally

by Susan Barry-Schulz

Speaking Up, Finally by Susan Barry-Schulz

I am by no means an expert on racial justice issues. I grew up in a mostly white town and moved to another mostly white town in the Hudson Valley region of New York State with my husband and our newborn daughter 25 years ago. Not long ago I would have considered myself a “nice” person who “treats everyone the same” and left it at that. Coming of age in the northern suburbs of Buffalo in the 1970s and 80s, I was socialized to avoid any discussions that could cause discomfort or tension. But in recent years I have found myself belatedly driven to answer this question: What does it really mean to be white in America?

There are many people much smarter than I am who have long pointed out that the key to making real progress on the problem of racism in this country lies in the willingness of white people to honestly consider and acknowledge the answer to that question. I don’t know why it took me so long to ask it.

After reading Debby Irving’s Waking Up White, I continued to explore the concept of whiteness as a racial identity in America by reading books on race theory and racism, including Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me. I listened to podcasts such as Scene on Radio’s Seeing White and attended lectures by speakers directly addressing these issues. But as a poet myself, I found it just as important to read literature and poetry by people of color. Which writers are included in our school curriculums? Whose voices are we not hearing? How do we challenge the ideas of what is considered literature? Who makes these decisions?

As I read, listened, and reflected, it became more and more apparent to me that our nation’s past and current policies have a direct impact on opportunities for equal access to loans, housing, healthcare, fair pay, education, criminal justice, and representation in the arts—all rights and benefits that I, a white person in America, have had the privilege of taking for granted. Until now. It has been painful to recognize the ways in which I, through silence and inaction, have been complicit in the systemic racism that persists in this country and that continues to hold all of us back from reaching our full potential as a society. There is, however, no progress to be made, no benefit to anyone in centering my discomfort.

At the Democratic National Convention in August, Kamala Harris said, “Years from now, when this moment has passed, our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us, ‘Where were you when the stakes were so high?’ And we will tell them, not just how we felt, but what we did.”

I am hoping I can do better and the first thing I must do is to speak up. Even—especially—when it is uncomfortable.

About the Writer

Susan Barry-Schulz is a poet and licensed physical therapist. Her poetry has appeared in The Five-Two, The Wild Word, SWWIM, Shooter Literary Magazine, Barrelhouse online, South Florida Poetry Journal, The New Verse News, Panoply, and elsewhere. She is a member of the Hudson Valley Writer’s Center and lives in a lake neighborhood in Putnam County, New York with her husband and one or more of her three adult children. It all depends.

Black Lives Matter: Two Poems

Multiplicity Commons No. 3

It Took One Week

by Ramon Jimenez

It only took a week for people
to come out of quarantine into the streets of Seattle
mustering the will to face baton beatings
and gas blasting through the nighttime sky.

Police officers armed to the teeth
with military grade artillery,
and a confused National Guard
stalking every corner of downtown.

Useless against the rage of 400 years.

The local news stations of Kiro, Komo, and King 5
Replayed only the images of looting and rioting,
more focused on storefronts
than Black and Brown lives lost in broad daylight.

Even the mayor was spellbound.
Taking a knee
Giving out a couple of hugs
her lovely liberal city
burning before us all.

About the Writer

Ramon Jimenez is a writer and educator who resides in Seattle, Washington. Originally from Inglewood, California, he now teaches language arts and runs a summer youth poetry program. He writes poetry that focuses on immigration, culture, and travel, and is interested in exploring locations and how they connect to memories.

Crying for Water City by Amy Stonestrom

Multiplicity Commons No. 2

Crying for Water City

by Amy Stonestrom

Crying for Water City by Amy Stonestrom

A strong gust of wind rattles the windows and shakes the house with such force that I wonder if I need to gather my chicks and hurry to the basement.

Then nothing. All is calm.

Minutes later I jolt in my chair at the sound of firecrackers pop, pop, popping in our front yard. Firecrackers? It’s only late May. From the next room I hear my son’s deep, calm voice.

“The tree fell.”

“The tree?” I’m envisioning the small flowering crab with the skinny trunk. Fine, I think.

“Mom, the tree fell,” my son says again, and now we’re both rushing to the front door. There it is, lying almost at our feet. Our enormous red maple, Acer rubrum, split in two. One half stands upright, the other half covers the yard. The top of the canopy lies just short of our living room window.

Last fall, the blaze of the collective foliage was so beautiful it caused an ache just behind my rib cage. I feel the same ache now, knowing I will never again witness this display.

Split in half.

Just like each one of us right now.

Drew says what I am thinking: “It’s because of the protests and riots.”

Red has survived countless blizzards, spring storms, and straight-line winds but it would not stand while Minneapolis fell.

We now live 20 miles from downtown, separated by one state line and two great rivers. Today, I long for our old neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul. We still call them home, will always call them home. The Twin Cities. Conjoined but not identical.

Each time I close my eyes, I hear Mr. Floyd cry out beneath the unyielding knee. I see the burned-out buildings, the supremacist instigators. I taste the justified anger.

The land of ten thousand lakes, now a waterfall of tears.  

Drew and I walk carefully among the fallen branches. I want to cradle each newly opened bud in my cupped hands. Together we approach the gaping wound in the trunk, previously hidden from view. Giant ants climb through the oozing sickness. Disease and decay found their way to the center while we weren’t looking. Or maybe we choose not to see it. I step closer and gag from the stench. I wonder if we could have stopped this destruction had we treated the wound sooner.

Split in half.

Just like each one of us right now.

About the Writer

Amy Stonestrom’s essays have appeared in Brevity, Superstition Review, Defunkt, Storm Cellar Quarterly, Parhelion and others. Her work has won awards from the National League of American Pen Women and Street Light Magazine’s memoir/essay contest. Currently an MFA candidate in Bay Path University’s creative nonfiction program. You can find her at