This is the second installment of our new literary project which features original works of poetry and prose from up-and-coming LGBTQ writers in our community. It was published in our May/June 2022 issue.
BY: CHRYSTAL HOGAN
Zealots, threatening with the eternal
Heaven, Hell, the unknown of what’s to come.
Forever focused on the here-after.
But what about the here-now? The truth we know today?
A cold winter day –
Rain, grief, despair,
The death of my dreams, of trees, of my father,
Moments of loneliness and moments of sorrow –
This is the hell of now.
A warm spring day –
Sun, blossoms, hope,
New life, new dreams, renewed love
Moments of laughter and moments of silence.
This is the heaven of today.
We make our own. Our today. Our Now.
Our own heaven and hell,
Our own salvation, damnation
Today we know our own truth. We own our known truth.
We know our now.
Dedication to a Dead Bird in Summer
BY: WILLIAM SMYTHE
You’re baking on the hot concrete sidewalk.
Your eyes are glassy. Your neck is twisted.
I find a magnolia leaf, lift you up,
carry your pungent body, all bloated,
and drop you off on the hillside, right by
the train tracks that run past my parent’s home.
I place you in some tangle of bushes,
a coffin of rail ties, a mound of loam,
marking the grave of a brave bird, though dumb.
The glass was clear. It wasn’t his fault, they say.
No, no, it was never his fault, I know.
Our young hero was flying fine today.
I step away with my keening complete.
And wipe the dirt from off my feet. I sing
the song of the bird. I sing the song for
the earth. And I sing. I just keep singing.
Flowers on the Plateau
BY: MOTH MOTH MOTH
I was on the verge of quitting. To finish, and cast out of my life beakers and labs and empty enclosures. To cast out the disappointment of spending so many years swirling DNA and inseminating elephant after elephant, only to produce another Eldritch horror in formaldehyde for the collection. After a night of too much coffee and stimulants I once thought I witnessed one of those sad artifacts blink and move its foot beneath its trunk as though to suckle. Real elephants don’t do that.
Half-cloned baby mammoths floating in tanks don’t either.
I wish we could bury them. With gravestones etched with proper names. Petunia and Zippy lie here, rather than No. 176 and No. 310. It sucks when your vital organs never develop.
Then there are the ones who live and die on the table. Never to crack an eye open. The close calls feel more an affront to nature than the ones born dead. A spark of life. Sparks are all there is. No flame. No real life. No naps in the sun.
There was a morning though. A special morning.
My Italian stallion boyfriend broke up with me over dinner the previous night. He said there was no more warmth in me.
It hurt spectacularly to clutch a pillow and scream into it an hour later. I am so empty because I did not know where life was any longer. When I folded my ribs and parted my lungs there was only empty wet darkness in my chest.
I gotta stop playing mad scientist. Go teach kindergarten.
“Last one.” I said eating oatmeal before the sun came up. “Last time,” I said, brushing the masticated oats from my yellowing teeth. “No notice,” I said, boarding the train.
The absolution of humans is only comical.
Green and khaki scrubs flew about like laundry in a hurricane. Masks and tarps. The animal experts all grim. The scientists oddly giddy.
I never want to see another half-formed pink mass of flesh with fur. More proof that god does not live within us.
“Doctor Ike, she is ready.”
I sighed, and looked on as the midwives surrounded Endora. Endora had given birth to no viable offspring. This would be the last time we put her through it. After today she and I would be free. I hope we both find the handsome Italian husbands we deserve.
For a moment I imagined myself and Endora relaxing and sipping mojitos together on a beach.
Through my scratched glasses I counted the flicking lights above just as I have done a hundred times before.
Screams from Endora. This stinks. And literally always stinks. Birth is a carnal and muddy business.
A wet sloppy sound.
Rush of scrubs. Weight thumping atop a metal table. Most assuredly, dead weight.
But then another sound.
I joined the midwives. Most of them are a generation younger than I. At least we have colorful hair in common, a generational bleed as red as my head. They were feathery, and usually did not work here long.
I heard another wheeze.
Before me was a body too small to have once been the progeny of giants. From pale weak lips, however, came more little wheezes. Blood and fluid, of course.
But there was also breath.
An underweight mass of flesh and brown fur. With eyes blind as the dark of space. Her trunk seemed too big for her. But she lived and moved.
And I did not resign.
Endora not only showed signs of irritation at the calf, she distanced herself from it.
I knew this was liable to happen. She had not given birth to a baby elephant with all the sounds and smells and textures of a baby elephant.
This was a mammoth. A child from backwards in time. The baby didn’t smell like anything on this planet outside of the fossil record.
To me, the baby mammoth smelled like blood, but also soil, and maybe like a fuzzy dog in a way. A wicked part of me wondered if our human genetic memory had us in the room salivating.
That night I slept in the barn with her, blanketed against the winter chills by her fur.
Elephants, and as it turns out mammoths, are blind when they are born.
She stood so still. Only swaying a little in her doziness. That trunk, no bigger around than my bicep, tapped on my knee caps and gripped at my boots. Her trunk sniffled at my jaw and not so gingerly tugged on my long red hair, freshly dyed with candy-colored red. The edges of her trunk were so much like a child’s singular hand, waving in a dark room.
Flower became everyone’s baby except for Endora or any of the other elephants on the compound. Flower probably annoyed them too much.
Still small, but growing fast. Her head became knobbier and more pronounced. Wicked smart. No morsel ever safe in a pocket or bag. A lover of peanut butter and baths.
Throughout the day you would see her kick up and run across her enclosure. A belt of nature’s trumpet as she did.
There were no medical defects when she was born. Just skinny and strange. And lonely in the world.
At a year old she dwarfed me and any elephant of that age. Thick chocolate brown fur made her look both imposing and comical at the same time.
I’m a person of science. The humanities were never quite my thing. Theology even less so.
But nights when Flower and I are hanging out alone, I lean against her giant form, watch my fingers as they disappear and reappear through the waves of brown. How could anything once that small breathe so big now? That trunk always caressing or lapping against me from between two tusks that could gore the hell out of anything they bump into. When we get caught up staring at one another, in her oceanic brown eyes I can only see evidence of god. Science, of course. But mostly god, and luck, and destiny.
When Flower’s first siblings were born, beneath my delight and pride, I heard the tick of the clock. Progress means progress.
No time in my life has been so happy as when I had to highstep through the crowd of fuzzy masses to feed and test everyone. To call each by a name of their own. To come to know that Flower’s trunk touch is a far cry from Pepper’s. How, unlike the others, Lockley barely touches or explores anything, instead looking so intently at whatever has caught his eye. A cast of characters for a new world. We hadn’t had to order formaldehyde in such a long time.
The aircraft were military grade. Leftovers from some war our country prepared for and then never orchestrated. Three huge sky rippers like what used to fly through the atmosphere.
Each of them carries a family of mammoths. Each will have their own geographical start to promote better genetic diversity. Only one of the aircraft had my family in it.
This is where Flower and I would say our goodbyes. I was forewarned, long before the days of viable fetuses, that attachments could put this project in jeopardy. I cannot bring a mammoth home after all. Flower and her family have a mission apart from me. They will help save us all from a burning planet.
To turn the tundra green once again. Our dream. Our destiny beyond the sum of our parts.
Between Flower’s tusks We held on for ages. It was never supposed to be this hard. Endora doesn’t know what she missed.
Flower was always calm and happy. Even strapped into a metal monster that would fly her through the sky and to her kingdom to reclaim, she swayed and her eyes twinkled. She knows things I’ll never know. She knows me better than anyone. If those big brown eyes are not here to see me, will I be seen at all?
There was no way that Bean could understand the finality of our moment. Her happy eyes watched me as I untangled myself and then began to move away. I didn’t leave her eyes until the last moment.
My most lonesome days came after.
I’ve kissed a hundred handsome Italian guys. Dyed my hair every shade of red until there was no hair anymore. My knees suck. I’ve taught all the classes. Written all the books.
I’m an old fart now. 40 years ago I was hollow and idealistic. Now I’m full and cynical. The youth talk of engineering our future. I’m going to resign myself to doing as I please. No more saving the world with fluids and fetuses.
My legs cracked when I stood and left the shuttle.
A crisp breeze lapped my cheek. I cracked my knuckles, knowing they would hurt soon.
Vehicles, then walking, then a compound, and then a rover of sorts. I refused lunch. Too close for a nervous stomach.
We pulled up to a series of placid plateaus. Verdant green and yellow scrub. Oxygen. Movement. A wound healing.
A horn sounds from some of the others. A call to the herd on this side of the tundra.
There was stillness and silence for long moments. I leaned on the side of our rocky rover for support. Eyes straining to see into the distance.
As though coded into a game, the herd appeared. A parade of brown, gray, and ivory white.
“Remarkable right? Birth rates have stayed steady the past 20 years.”
The herd was a wall of flesh and sparkling eyes.
I limped and lumbered out to the field. Away from the plucky young feather scientists. Back toward earth itself.
“Flower?” My little voice filled nothing in the wilderness. Old cords vibrating against chill air.
“Floooooooower?!” I cupped my hands around my mouth and called to the herd. Turned heads and flicking ears. But no sign that I am any different to them than any other human.
Then the pack parted. And a mammoth smaller than the rest came forward from the middle of the pack. Bean’s chocolate brown hair was as vibrant as ever. Fur and tusks and long eyelashes shining in the tundra sun.
We met each other again. Her trunk traced my shoulders and head. She looked for my hair, but instead found my hand. Those smart godly eyes never left me. I melted between her tusks again.
From all around, I felt warmth. I smelled the smell of the ancient steppe. I felt the grazing touches of a hundred Mammoths around me. I drifted. And I was carried away by my family.