I’m at the Los Angeles County Jail, also known as the Twin Towers. The right hand of my wristwatch clicks, as I wait for the loudspeaker to spit out my family name. Just a few hours ago I woke up naked on my living room floor, panicking at the buzzing sound of my phone. I knew whatever it was was going to make me relive something regrettable I said or did. I only remember Christmas lights spinning, the smell of holiday spiced rum, and my fists pounding cement. My head now felt like Christmas lights barely flickering like they were left on until June. Maybe there’s a lesson here I wonder as I look around me. This correctional facility waiting room is crammed with bloodlines begging to become corrected. There are so many children here accompanied by their mothers all visiting their fathers and sons. Generations lost to an unforgiving system. My head aches as the children run around like a stampede as they impatiently wait to see their parents. Their mothers tugging at them and giving them slight reprimands to calm down. Nobody wants to do anything to call attention to themselves in the presence of so many police officers and sheriffs. To the left of me sits a man in a sweater, he looks like the kind of father I saw on television. My dad was one of those parents that only come around on the holidays or birthdays, if you’re lucky. This man wears glasses that have read bedtime stories. He leans over to me, looking away from his book. He begins to tell me a story that I don’t ask for but I listen anyway. He tells me how his son shattered the mirror of his girlfriend’s young face and left behind only beautiful shards of stained glass and a broken bedside clock that no longer ticks. They were in some cheap motel in the desert. He was a rehab runaway and schizophrenic. It wasn’t until someone complained about the smell of overripe flesh that the housekeepers found him next to her body. He was still pressed against her like pages of an unopened motel bible—I can’t help but wonder if they could smell his regret over the rot. Some stories are better saved for the news I think and hope my face isn’t showing too much horror. The man says his son shouldn’t be here and my head decides to take a break from pounding. I overhear other people sharing their stories of what brought them here. What brought them to this room a few days before Christmas. I imagine what it must be like to sit in a cold concrete box, no family, no real food, just alone with your thoughts. The Father’s voice tightens like a clergy collar when he asks why I am here. I tell him that my dad snubbed out the butt of his cigarette on my sister’s ashtray eyelid. He calls him a bad man. I think to myself, at least he didn’t snuff out a life. My last name echoes overhead so loud, even I am embarrassed by it. I wish the man well. I don’t yet know the impact that that story will have on me. All of the hours I will dedicate to searching for him and for her, only to find the same sad story over and over. All of the tears these families must have shed at the same sad story of the man who kills the woman over and over. I enter the phonebooth where I see my father behind scratched plexiglass, with nothing but time in the world. Yes bad. Yes a man. Who played Candyland cross-legged on the living room floor and they don’t know that you always let me win. I feel a sense of gratitude pass though my body and for a split second I am not morning the father I wished I had. I may have never had a bedtime story read to me but I still turned out somewhat functioning. The headache is back to remind me why I am here. That we are all capable of so many bad choices. We are all only ever one bad decision away from being locked behind cold concrete on Christmas Day.
“Google Isn’t Your Friend” by Rachel Walters
when you type why your crush
isn’t texting you back”
into its search bar
so you can spiral on Reddit
and spend what’s left of your self-esteem
like they are hieroglyphics
We are all linguists
studying a dying language
How many hearts
will it take until
I love myself
“Smoke” by Rachel Aurino
Foreign smoke slithers down my throat
Filling my lungs with regret, inhale
Tainting my thoughts with shit, exhale.
Beating too fast, too hard, too hot
With each pound in my heart there’s a tear in my thoughts.
Focus on your breathing, please no cheating,
Foreign thoughts don’t stop competing.
Reality fades away
Waking up the hairs that crawl down my spine,
Setting a trap in my own mind,
Waiting to get caught.
Breath through the pain
Just keep counting, I need to stay sane
Whoever thought of box breathing has never met my brain.
1, 2, 3, 4…
Inhale, just once more.
Catching my breath, now harder than before.
But baby who’s really to blame, you signed up for this war.
“The Butterfly” by Nicholas Ethan Alonso
All things that kept me amused, slowly seemed to fade away with the pluck of a guitar
I just look out of my window.
See the blinds to my right sway with nature’s undying breath.
That undying breath calling me.
Appealing to my weakened self.
I move my hand to caress the barrier.
I catch a glimpse of myself through the window.
My face resets
I sink slowly back to my chair.
I see the blue butterflies pass left to right.
I keep staring with bloody eyes.
They’re all too pretty.
It burns but I can’t look away.
Then my neighbor comes out to throw trash outside and they disappear.
All gone so fast that it didn’t register.
Ah forget it.
I smoke another cigarette and wait.
“VIVA LA RAZA” by Naomi Iglesias
Ran away and we can now be free
Free of bullets, deaths, and stealings,
Free of all the pain and suffering
Finally able to live the dream but
We’re surrounded by thousands of screams
“GO HOME YOU’RE NOT WELCOMED HERE”
Who’s going to tell them we were here first
Who’s going to tell them our roles were reversed
Children taken from their homes kicking and screaming
Forced to say goodbye wishing they were dreaming
In cages cold as they lie on the cement floor
Their faces stained with streaks of tears
Women raped and beaten
Their hope is weakened
Day by day going insane
Treated in ways that are inhumane
Guards stand still with no expression
I wonder aren’t they tired of oppression
We try to fight but always fall short
My people getting killed while on their hustle
All this anger for lack of a green card
We work hard but some die trying
Our names line the streets of L.A
We want to be equals but we might never see that day
“To miss the forest” by Mica Mantilla Rehder
There’s something to be said for moss,
that green that creeps between old rocks;
It settles gently on the ground
and softens all that it surrounds.
There’s something to be said for dirt,
that clay that clings onto your shirt;
It taints your shoes and fills your hair,
and paints your footprints on the stairs.
There’s something to be said for sweat,
that drop that seeps below your neck;
It tastes of salt and endless days,
and cools you from the noon sun’s rays.
There’s something to be said for time
that makes and breaks all by design;
It ends each night so you can see
the sky you’ve missed beyond the trees.
“The Impermanence of $500 When It’s Freezing” by Maggie Quinlan
It was cold out, even for the northeast. It was a certain cold that could reach beyond your
jackets and gloves. It broke the barrier of your skin and made fists around your bones, slowly
constricting its grasp until your skeleton flash froze. Its harrowing presence unrelenting and
The interior of her car was not much warmer. If not for the proximity of our own bodies,
the cramped cabin of the vehicle, the lukewarm air that blasted from the vents, I would have
ventured to call us freezing. Lights blurred past the passenger window, and I pressed my face
closer. I exhaled a hot gust of air onto the glass, and with a gloved finger carefully traced a
“hello” in the condensation. I settled back into my seat and waited for a response.
“Mother fucking piece of shit!” she yelled, and then banged three times on the dashboard
directly above the radio. “He said the heat worked in this damn thing!” and now she firmly
grasped the lip between dash and radio, seemingly trying to shake the heater into existence.
“Mom,” I said, but she wouldn’t hear me.
“I told him I got a kid. Kids need to stay warm. They are small little growing bodies, I
said. They need to stay warm,” she put a cigarette in her mouth, and spoke around it. “What kind
of animal sells a single mother a car with no heat?” She tried once, twice, three times to light it
with gloved fingers.
“Sweetheart, could you?” I relented. Grabbed the small zippo from her, and removed my
own glove. Once, twice, and the glow of the small flame illuminated her face. She looked tired,
and much older than she was.
“I swear you can’t find an honest person anywhere. Everyone is so self serving.” Drag.
“Nobody wants to help. Even for a struggling single mother. I mean, can you believe that horse
shit?” Drag. “He saw you when we bought the car. He heard me say how cold you get! Didn’t
he??” Deep Drag. Window crack. I watch as sparks bounce on the pavement behind us.
It always awed me how she could use me for her own best interest. I was an asset. Social
“Yeah, mom. I heard it.” She continued on, but I was unfocused. My back further
clenched itself against the cold. I retraced my “hello.” I could hear her thoughts spilling out of
her with an ever increasing urgency. She kept taking one hand off the wheel, in harmony with a
repeated sniffling, to run the back of it across her nose. I shrank away from her. I shut my eyes
tight, and breathed deeply for a moment. Then it came to me.
“Why don’t we turn on the radio?” I asked, halting her rant. She looked at me while a
smile played around the edges of her lips.
“Excellent idea,” she said slowly, as if she were sounding out the words. My mother
clicked a button and christmas music crackled through the speakers.
“Don’t you just love Christmas time?” She turned to me, baring her teeth. In my head I
thought about chimpanzees, and their canine filled grins.
“I do,” I whisper, but it was still November. I pray quietly to myself. The cold was
wrapping its arms around me like an untrustworthy friend.“That was Donny Hathaway with “This Christmas” folks,” the overly enthused radio host
clarifies, “Now it’s time for a holiday treat. We know the holiday season can be a stressful time
for all, and we would like to take a little bit of your stress away. How would you like to be $500
richer? Caller 95 will be! 1-800-WPLJ. Caller 95 at 1-800-WPLJ.”
My mother squeals in delight. I sigh in relief, and my back starts to unclench itself.
“Sweetheart, get my cell! Did you hear that number?” I knew that number by heart. “Ok,
you got it? Hand me the phone.”
I watched as she called, hung up, redialed. Called, hung up, redialed. There was a level of
focus that did not often see in her eyes, and I sat transfixed, slowly feeling the cold seep away
from my back and belly, down my arms and legs, to be held in my fingers and toes. I lived
eternally in this ritual. In my mothers uncanny ability and affinity for winning contests, I found
devotion. For me, it was like watching God.
It was only a few more busy signals before she gushed.
“I WON?! I WON!! Baby, did you hear that?! We won!!!” I couldn’t help but beam at
her now, and soon gush right alongside her. “Ahhhhhhh! Okay okay, yes. Got it. Ahhhh thank
She snapped her phone shut, and looked over at me with her own beam, giving her
shoulders a little shrug. She was a movie star. She turned her attention back to the road, and I
watched as the lights of passing cars flashed through her eyes. She flipped her blinker on, the car
slowed, and I was thrown from my reverie.
“Wait. Where are we going?” My mother smiled.
“We just won $500! How about a treat to celebrate… Hot chocolate??”
“Mom, noo. I’m so cold. Can’t we just go home? Please
“You can stay in the car if you’d like. I’ll just be a moment.” She turned into a desolate
gas station, threw the car in park, cut the engine.
“I’ll be right back,” she said, and swiftly kissed me on the head.
I watched her run toward the glowing building, arms straight and fists clenched, fighting
the cold that I could feel settling back around me. There was a man smoking outside the shop.
She must have said something to him, because he turned his head and nodded. I turned my own
head to see my hello had nearly vanished. I traced it again and again, the letters bloating under
A bell chimed, and my mother stepped back out into the cold. The smoking man was no
longer there. She turned her head this way and that, as if she were checking for cars before
crossing the street. She went left instead of walking straight towards me. I watched her round the
building until she was no longer in view.
“Hello? HELLO!” I forced my eyes open. A police officer rapped on my window, and
past him I could see the gas station clerk looking on with concern. Outside the sky had changed, showing off a twilight color that always preceded dawn. I looked about the body of our car. I was
alone. I looked back out at the officer, who motioned for me to get out of the car. I did, and the
muscles of my back constricted around my spine, a foreign pain coming to settle in my body.
Snow was falling as he led me towards his car. As I settled into the back seat, streetlight caught
the frost that encased the entirety of my mothers car. From the passenger window, frozen in
perpetuity, a glacial hello.
“Seattle” by Leroy Simpkins
It’s been three days on this miserable Greyhound bus, the only relief comes when
we stop in some unknown town, the type that youthful residents dream of one day
escaping. But they did offer a chance to inhale fresh air, and head to the nearest
alcohol refueling station. Stop by stop our group of lost souls would frantically seek to
calm the lonely chaos brewing within. When will this end, I thought, hopelessly trying to convince myself there was actual purpose to my journey. Finally, in the far distance I
could see the space needle, almost there. Another town, another nightmare. I’d
managed to save a couple hundred dollars, a rarity for me. First stop, the nearest liquor
store. There she was, sitting on the cold concrete. “Do you have a cigarette”? She
inquired. “No, but if you show me around, I’ll buy you some” The useless chatter went
on, and the more I drank the less patience I had Finally I asked “why in the hell are
you out here like this” She looked at me and said “I’m a junkie, a heroin addict.” I’d
never seen anyone shoot up before, so I challenged her to prove it. Give me twenty
bucks and wait right here. Here we go I thought, but I was in deep, so I took the
chance. A few moments later she returned. We rented a room and the hell I was in got
even hotter. She became my infatuation, the combination of the drugs and her flesh
consumed my every moment. Eventually I moved on, I couldn’t die that way. I haven’t
seen her in twenty years, but I still can’t forget that day we met.
“Night Time” by Kinsey Kanshige
“He sits at night
unable to sleep
On the rooftop
With an AR-15
is what they said
“The Big Fight”
is what is insinuated
it shall come
Eruption of chaos
It has begun
So he sleeps
the rooftop man
his wednesday plan
And in eight hours
He will rise
He goes downstairs
For a big surprise
Everyone is peaceful
At least on the news
The counts are not done
But there are a lot of Blues
A sigh of relief
is audibly heard
Everyone is safe
You too could hear the birds”
“A Flicker in the Frost” by Keaton Kim
Dark and cold
Life dried up
My home has always been
It’s sad and grey
But there isn’t a day
I leave this dark prison
But there’s a speck of light
It burns so bright
flowers follow wherever she goes
Like a flower I follow
She picks me I swallow
Her up from the ground below
I grasp the light
I hold it tight
For the light is all I have
But the light hates the darkness
Despite how I think it shines
brighter amidst it
I love the light
try to make things bright
But my light is going out
I love the light
But it’s just not right
So I let my light go
(But not without placing
fruit seeds so she’ll come
back to me when it snows)
In sorrow I weep
Tears fill the river Styx
And mourn the light I lost
But I’ll wait for the day
Air cold and grey when
my love will come back to the frost