an open space for youth writing & mental health discussion
an open space for youth writing & mental health discussion
you’ll be told to caress the smirks between bloodied rivers
before you’re allowed to touch your own hips like a lover;
honeysuckle blossom, lie across ruptured statues, sighing
velvet euphonies like a newborn lake and pour into him;
but, on an eve of sweet macabre, the wary moon will sing
a spare mockingbird’s ballad; now they’ll teach you to beat
against yourself until there’s a Starry Night Over the Rhône
plastered on broken flesh; second coatings lick beauty with
a sugared tongue and they’ll say “garden like God himself”
but you know God is a loose pomegranate seed sort of lady,
birth swimming in Her endless pupils and spilling like wine
atop our salvers;
she leans back into the void,
wet hair plastered to the curve
of her u-shaped spine, eyelids
seared into her pupils. her only
company is it, the agony buried
deep in her skull. it throbs like a
lover; it hurts like a friend. she clutches
her head and claws it out / hurls it into the abyss.
My eyes are sunbleached;
when my mother isn’t looking,
I stare directly into the sun,
because I refuse to deny something
so searingly bold of what it begs for
reborn at high noon, I’m
draped in warmth,
something organic and so utterly human.
that night, sparks flew
the pages breathe in perfume,
as her fingertips soak through
the edges of paper, interlocking
smudged words incited to be read
sharp stings on my tongue
and a mouth full of blood
her lips moving softly with words
coldness seeps from the pages
as she pencils within the margins,
yet another life she has forgotten
I. strike a match against swollen flesh, inhale
there is something melodic about the way she sips lethargies like wine : sanctimony & sorrow & serendipity never did go hand in hand but tonight you spread them on your body with burning fingers. there is something holy about her flushed fervor, her knotted forehead. you tell yourself you've won the lottery, claimed tickets at the gate of hell, and is this is this a fever dream? amongst dissonance, ebony sheets taste of the forbidden, rasp at your bare collarbones, paw at curled toes at ungodly hours. there is a certain something that keeps you alive at night, perspiring & praying. it is her. it is her.
stark white marble walls
stare back at me blankly
the paint’s peeling off
and is crumbling down
(it settles in the corners).
the air smells of faith.
beads of sweat line my forehead
(i wipe them away with the back of my hand)
and happy tears line
my mother’s dark eyelashes.
(she doesn’t wipe them away)
1 / you remember when you would drink levity mixed with gatorade and juice boxes
2 / and when curiosity would fizz with carbonated fountain sodas [free refills; try sprite mixed with cola]
3 / and you dedicate your vigils to warding off boredom and desperation [and god forbid you’ll ever drink black coffee]
4 / if you have enough of anything, the taste evaporates on your tongue
5 / you hope that existence has a long shelf life; that living won’t grow stale
Inquires the capricious heart to the voice of reason:
I gaze at dazzling dreams dancing on clouds, promising possibility,
Saturated with the hope of love and passion,
Humming to me, sweet as stardust,
But I am shackled to the dead, silent earth
Like a fallen angel forever separated from the light.
Why must you torture me so?
the man at our door talks of showers.
his gray lips foam sudsy white and steam
billows blue with every syllable
dir-ty. got-none. could-ya?
in my mind, melting droplets
rim his forehead like lace.
i think of how he’d wear them like a crown.
i think, probably drugs.
caverns stretch between my limbs / my limbs that hug the covers for comfort. /
they crawl deep, entrenched in my humidity / I can smell fatigued satisfaction after a day averagely spent on my breath. / my foot, with its awkward angles and veins that arch whenever and wherever they feel, fumbles with the sides of blank fabric, / twisting it with feigned deliberation and murmuring thanks for its life kept secret. / my thighs and calves prickly masses, / they wrestle with missing curves and stubborn caverns of their own. /
“We’re almost out of popsicles.” My daughter, Cassie, rooted languidly through the freezer.
I wiped sweat from my forehead and flipped through the mail, the paper going damp and soft in my hands. “I’ll get some the next time I go out.”
The crackle of a wrapper and the thud of her footstep responded for her.
She paused at the bottom of the stairs, gaze bored and diffuse. “What.”
“Any flavor you want?”
“Just get whatever.”
[Content warning: domestic abuse/violence]
Lalita does not know where the babies disappear to.
Amma is pregnant again. Her faded cotton sari rustles against the skin of her swollen stomach, and the glass bangles she wears have clearly become too tight on her arms. Lalita watches her as she eats her rice in the kitchen. She doesn’t know if this baby will die too, like the past two--they were twins, Amma told her--did. Her grandmother says people go to Heaven when they die if they are good. Lalita hopes she’ll go to Heaven someday too, a heaven filled with sweetmeats, fried fish and chicken curry.
summer is / lime-green cement &
a fading three-point line. cracks
crawl across the court & / morning fog
smears the creaking swings / gossamer /
ghostlike / a shroud / for childhood
haunts but / you are not a child / anymore.
dribble / once, twice / crossover.
fly through the footwork / euro
step & repeat / again & again
until / your muscles memorize the
steps like / a poetry recitation /
flitting from one line / to the
next / word for word / flawless /
because good is not good enough
because you are not good enough
but god / do you try-- / euro
step & repeat / again & again.
observe as the boys in your class bristle when you refuse to believe each and every one of their words. you are starting to have your own thoughts and opinions, as you understand the power of your voice; read their texts saying “not to publicly go against” what they say and think about playing hopscotch in the yard during recess. think about the goal as you remember the numbered squares in elementary school and the way you could just jump without falling. hesitate to have a different point of view and utter the words of dissent that they don’t want to hear. ponder the question of if you should speak or stay silent.
[Content warning: depression, disordered eating.]
She didn’t like paint. She didn’t like how the colored pigments stuck to her skin and dried on her ripped jeans in sticky hard lumps. It’s like another layer of skin, she would say to me and I would agree cringing at the thought. The last thing I needed was another shell suffocating me.
Perhaps it was our mutual hatred for colored resin that brought us together, or maybe the fact that both of us needed a partner to navigate the stormy waters of freshman year. Whichever it was, it didn’t matter. What mattered was she was like me.
“If you keep swallowing watermelon seeds, one day a watermelon will grow inside your stomach.”
Her mother’s voice was stern and followed by an urging frown, her dark eyebrows arched downwards and over her eyes, her forehead covered with wrinkles. The girl was only five then, and her small hands could barely hold up the heavy watermelon slice, red juice seeping out of the fruit and dripping down her hands and onto the blanket. The beach was crowded but they had their own little spot near the rocks, far enough from the splash of the waves but close enough to hear them crashing again and again against the yellow sand.
I believe in lies. They are: aconitum, blue like my hair, creeping into my words; oleander, an innocent pink, slithering from under my tongue; dark purple belladonna flourishing in my promises. Poison blooms, all of them.
A whiff of apricots. Delicate flowers poised on the poison bush. Vibrant blossoms in palms, and passing by chapped lips.
It happens suddenly- at once. A gag reflex, last lunch passing by flushed lips. Air disappears, vanishes into thin-
there’s a raging fire going on inside of my own head, so forgive me for not staying positive. by Anoushka Kumar (15, India)*
you are content. you can't remember the last time you were whole/it's like you break yourself into sizable bits/digestible/you tell yourself/breathe in, out/rinse, swallow & repeat/ dinner sits heavy in your stomach. it was stale chicken, sterilised under flickering tubelights of family dinners you wished were less lively. they are more often than you would like, followed by shrivelled cards, in the back back back of your wardrobe. the games wardrobe, it was called, as if they weren't stewing there, neglected and misused. do you remember that feeling?—of being elated, transfixed by the simple beauty of a board game that hadn't been played yet? they are birthday presents from companions who you have forgotten to call, still frames in your mind.
:: a portrait of my mother
mother dresses in white satin, she presses
her thin lips together and dabs
with pale handkerchief, smiles with rouge-
stained cheeks, and yet reveals nothing--
a portrait of relentless tenderness.
mother teaches me to walk
with feet pointed inward as a bird
on earth before taking flight.
she walks this earth, too—tender,
imagining roses across the sky, falling.
2020// I (Gen. 1)
Sometimes I can’t believe how far I’ve come.
You really only have the time to look back over your shoulder at what you left behind
when you’re not scared of what’s ahead.
I wouldn’t say I’m lucky to not be worried about putting food on my daughter’s plate
and instead about what private educational institution I should put my son in
so his son will be able to ruminate on how to cultivate his stock portfolio
instead of reminiscing about the ones who couldn't keep up.
imagine this: a bond, a connection, a
sweet, sugary rope tying you together
like two matching silly bandz bracelets
signing friendship matrimony. twinning
crop tops & photo posts, reserved lunch
spots & group roles, unspoken code;
trespassed secrets, temperately wild;
bold & free. imagine this: sugar turned
sour candy, rosy links rusting on the cold
cafeteria floor. strangers turned friends,
friends into sisters, then strangers again.
A woman and a girl sat on the porch of a white house. The girl stared at her old shoes while the woman watched the cars pass Madison Street before disappearing at the curve. They were quiet and sad, and so they were speechless.
Outside it was still wet from the morning rain. Chipmunks and squirrels were buried in logs; birds hid within the black leaves of the trees and sang to each other; even the mosquitoes were avoiding the rest of the world. A pond on the other side of the street rippled from the sudden leap of a fish. The air was taken by the smell of pine needles and lily pads and petrichor.
A train broke the silence. As the whistle faded the woman checked her watch and then checked it again as if the time had cheated her.
Maybe she would be busy in the back of the shop, organizing the mugs that Brentwood’s Coffee offered to frequent customers. One after the other, carefully stacking them in their designated spots. The bell on the door would chime suddenly, breaking her out of her reverie. She would startle, almost dropping the coffee mug (but not quite because that would be cliché), and turn quickly to see who it was. She wouldn’t observe anything too specific about the man; perhaps a glimpse of green eyes or the small imperfections in his sweater.
coal cracks into diamonds.
search deep within your crevices and mine
all that is black and impure to be harvested as
our garish garnishes
until the walls of your pericardium are pinkish and raw.
probe your weaknesses and gouge them out
Joy: a feeling of great pleasure or happiness. Alternatively: a chemical reaction. Alternatively: a necessary survival instinct. Also: yellow stains on glaring white teeth, gregarious roaring in a public place, the tickle that runs down your hand when you enter somewhere great.
Depression: feelings of severe despondency and dejection. Alternatively: a chemical reaction. Alternatively: a necessary survival instinct. Seen in: written-journals collecting dust, a letter never sent, the drop in my heart when I realize I no longer love.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.