Seeking Gravity’s Center


Carla’s office at Salon Beyond is a dark alcove of damp towels and a drain perpetually clogged with hair. After seven years of looking down, she’s learned the geography of foreheads. Her fingers know the topography of scalps. From her lather-worn hangnails she sucks dots of blood. Eight stylists rent chairs in the narrow space upfront by the windows. They almost never share their tips.

“You’ve been here a long time,” clients notice.

She’s saving to finish up cosmetology school, pay for her state license, rent her own chair.

“You must really love it,” the women say.

Truth: she doesn’t know what else to do.

The men who come in–and there are quite a few–she is sure, come to be touched. Moaners and sighers and silent smilers. She learns to curve her body just so, to avoid their open eyes, their flushed cheeks aching toward her breast as she leans to adjust the hot water. “This better?” she asks.

Truth: they are the ones who leave her tips.

Some nights Carla dreams of hairs looped and twisted around her fingers. She pulls at them and flails her hands to flick them away. They wrap tighter, grow thicker. Blood pounds beneath her fingernails.

She wakes. On her phone she searches for videos of men doing things in high-def slow-mo: skateboarding, skiing, boxing, big-wave surfing. She learns the lingo to find their captured pain: wipeout, fail, knockout, bail, bite, eat, slam. She watches ankles falter, wrists bend terrible angles. A punch lands. Spit flies. Eyes roll. A body skips like a rock down the face of a wave. There’s beauty in the way men twist and turn, the way they seek gravity’s center before they sense it’s hopeless. Carla waits until they realize. She taps pause. She holds them in the blink of awful knowing. She hits play. In slow motion, she watches them fall.

Jennifer Audette lives in Vermont. Her short fiction has appeared in The Front Porch Journal, Tin House’s Open Bar, Stoneboat, Crack the Spine, and Fiction Fix. Her review of Ben Lerner’s 2014 novel 10:04 is at Fiction Writers Review. Contact her at


Clicking on the Moon


Our front balcony faces the Gulf of Thailand, and on evenings when the moon is full or nearly so, we love to watch it rising over the sea, its luminous presence marked by those great basaltic plains once mistaken for seas. The moon is naturally the subject of countless iPhone pictures that I share on social media. In a network driven by mutual admiration, getting those likes from friends and acquaintances is now essential to the rituals of picture taking.

My memories of the moonlight I snapped a few nights ago are tied not only to the appearance of the moon, but also to what was going on when I took that picture. As it happens, my wife and I were enjoying a penne with spinach sauce. I remarked on the moon, and as we watched it, we held hands briefly. The moon that night also brought to mind memories of a much earlier time when my father and I would stand together observing those more distant moons.


When I look at my moon picture now, I recall the feeling of the wash of moonlight over air and water, and the presence of my wife beside me. For dozens of other moon pictures, unlike birthday or work-related ones, I have no recollections of the occasion of my taking them. While writing this essay helps preserve my personal memories, it’s possible that my clicking at the scenery around me might be diminishing or even erasing them.

In a recent psychological experiment, people touring a museum who were asked to photograph certain exhibits had trouble remembering them, whereas the exhibits that they didn’t photograph were surprisingly easier to remember. Another set of experiments has revealed the extent to which people rely on machines to relieve themselves of the burden of memory. Humans are willing to forget information if they believe it is available online, remembering where it can be found rather than the information itself. It’s sad enough to find memories of friends and distant places dimmed by age, without having to deal with technology ruining them further.

Not so long ago, the link between photographs and memories was celebrated simply and effectively. We sat around the fireside with our families, thumbing through those vintage photo albums with their wrinkled plastic sheets, remarking on a stooped grandfather’s piercing eyes, or admiring those glimpses of a daughter playing in the tub with her faded rubber ducky. Today, our kids, now grown up, show little interest in those family albums, offering only a brief nod and maybe an “uh-huh” while snap-chatting their friends about something far more interesting. The nostalgic world of physical photo albums is now an attic curiosity, like those fraying wedding saris and locks of forgotten hair. What the world offers us instead is the vast ocean of online repositories where we drop our little snapshots, hoping that our memories won’t face death by a thousand clicks.

All is not lost, however, in that sea. When I uploaded my moon shots that night to the Cloud, the system knew not only when and where they were taken, based on information available on my phone, but also the fact that the moon was involved, along with moonlight and the sea. My wife, leaning in on one of the shots, was accurately identified.  Realizing that some of my moon photos were taken in quick succession, Google Photos stitched them together into an animation, which I duly shared on Facebook. I also shared various digitally enhanced versions, including one that resembled an oil color. And I got those likes.

The systems we are tethered to are in possession of numerous potentially memory-jogging bits of information. The weather on the eve of the moon shot was lovely, reflected partly by the temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and wind velocity. Earlier that day, my calendar had thoughtfully reminded me that it was the birthday of an 87-year-old aunt in India. The powers that be must also realize by now that when I take my moon shots, my wife and I are often seated together at dinner, sometimes in the company of friends, on a balcony at a considerable height above the sea. My wife’s emotional state might also be inferred from her facial expressions. My mood would be easy to discover from my tweets (some of which are already entirely predictable).

In the near future, systems will be able to assemble such information and generate verbal summaries of our photos, explaining what was happening at the time. These summaries will include rich descriptions of image content. Today, photo captioning algorithms can provide not only tags, but can also describe entities and scenes (which is especially helpful to the visually impaired). These descriptions are generated using natural language processing from information found in pre-existing image captions as well as from online textual content related to objects and scenes found in the photograph. Taken together, these smarts may help resurrect, from their synaptic slumber, personal memories associated with a picture.

While technology may help our personal memories, they are not as cool, for sharing, as pictures. Even though a digital photo today is the result of a complex computational reinvention of the scene, it is still understood as a view of reality, and as such, on an equal footing with experience. After all, no matter how much it may be staged or edited, a photo must resemble the scene from which it was mechanically generated. In the language of semiotics, photographs are signs that are inherently iconic and indexical. Those characteristics, in turn, allow us to conveniently forget that a moon shot is entirely different from the moon that we view through our native visual system. As Susan Sontag observed forty years ago in On Photography, “Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.”

Future technological innovations may continue to warp our definition of what is real and personal. We are already reeling from the disruptive impact of social network algorithms and search tools deciding on which collective events we should focus on.  When fully programmable cameras become commercially viable, algorithms worn on our face and body will decide when and where and how to take photographs, choosing and framing those experiences for us. From the buzzing confusion of images, shots with features that are popular across users, or that fit with a machine’s deep fantasies, will likely be preferred. And once virtual reality truly takes hold in online gaming and entertainment, almost all of the visual experiences we savor will have been selected by machines that capture and render them based on their own perspectives. By then, we will be used to living mind-bogglingly virtual lives.

In his 1922 essay Photography and the New God, the photographer Paul Strand wrote about the need to humanize the machine, “lest it in turn dehumanize us.” Nearly a century later, the direction we’re heading as a species seems to involve ceding key cognitive functions over to intelligent mechanical appendages whom we attend to more than each other. Some of our most treasured moments are now bits of electronic information, ghostly images desperately craving for attention. But unlike us, they have a chance to persist way into the future.

Just as we get that eerie feeling watching archival footage of Tolstoy or Tagore, anthropologists and historians of the future may wonder as they interpret our personal photos.  It behooves us to try and provide an honest and human-centered telling, mediated by technology, of what they were originally about. After all, it was we who were present, like our ancestors before us, observing the moon on an enchanting evening.

Inderjeet Mani is a writer and specialist in AI and computational linguistics. His books include The Imagined Moment, and his work has also been published in 3:AM Magazine, Aeon, Apple Valley Review, Areo Magazine, Babel Magazine, Drunken Boat, Eclectica, New World Writing, Nimrod, Short Fiction Journal, Slow Trains, Storgy, Unsung Stories, Word Riot, and other venues. On Twitter, he is @InderjeetMani, and his website is

My Brilliant Blackout


Forty years ago, I was an aspiring twenty-two-year-old oboist, recently released from four years of music conservatory, eking out a living as a waitress at an Upper West Side restaurant in New York City. For some reason, the manager had promoted me to bartender on Sundays. He knew I played music and perhaps this was his attempt to push me onto some sort of stage or in this case, a bar. But I wasn’t quite ready for the spot light. While I mixed martinis with the most inept pour imaginable, customers stared at me all day long. Arms flailed, beckoning to me like insane snakes, with a need to satisfy an endless urge for an afternoon buzz. But mostly it was those hot lights, crowning my head with a heat only Edison bulbs could produce.

Steven walked into the bar the Sunday before the blackout. I’d not seen him since our time at the Tanglewood Music Festival, a few years before. After downing several mimosas, he began a wistful reminiscence about our heady summer of yore and our current unrealized professional dreams. Eventually, throwing me a hangdog look, he confessed that he was playing piano for a show around the corner at the Promenade Theatre starring the actor Dick Shawn. This work was not up to what he aspired to, being a classical pianist and all. Yet, I detected a sliver of bravado in his tone.

Just as I was beginning to hate him, Steven offered me a free ticket to the show. I feigned ignorance. “Who the hell is Dick Shawn?”

“He’s an actor.”

“Never heard of him.”

“He was in the movie called It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”

I played dumb. “Huh?”

Steven rolled his eyes. “Look. I can get you in. Do you wanna go or not?”

“Yeah, sure.”

That Wednesday evening, I entered the theatre to find the stage floor covered with enormous heaps of crumpled newspaper. As the 8pm hour came and went, I began to wonder, where was “The Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World”? Suddenly, Dick Shawn popped up from underneath the newspapers, scaring the devil out of everyone. He’d been hiding under front-page headlines the whole time. Shortly into the second act, 9:36pm to be exact, the theatre went black. Within a few seconds an emergency spot came on, aimed toward Dick who’d continued with a stream of consciousness soliloquy. I assumed this was all part of the show, but five minutes into Dick’s Hamlet moment, an usher ran into the hall and yelled, “Blackout! Everybody out of the theatre!”

When 200 plus people run inside a theatre, all headed toward an ever-diminishing door opening, it goes badly. I held back as a few bodies hit the ground, stepped over – not exactly trampled, but close. When I finally breached Broadway and a blast of almost 100-degree heat, the surreal quality of the night pushed into my dilated pupils. Traffic had stopped dead and headlight beams gave off the only available shaft of light down the swing of Broadway, at knee level. And the noise: Cars braying. People screaming or crying, while standing, walking, running, pointing, shrugging. Sirens at a distance, perhaps approaching, but nowhere near.

A roar of humanity swallowed me yet I sensed an internal calm. I’d just stumbled into an environment that reflected the way I saw myself: invisible. I was more than 50 blocks away from my apartment in Chelsea and considered how to get home. A bus, though a long trip for sure, seemed plausible. I crossed the street to the southbound side of Broadway and idled at a bus stop, along with other hopeful riders. But then I looked back across the street in front of the Promenade and noticed a northbound bus, jammed beyond capacity.

I began the long walk downtown.  Looters scampered about, pushed through the crowds and broke glass storefronts with handy trashcans. Somewhere between Lincoln Center and The Coliseum I felt a rough hand, like a claw, at the back of my neck as my gold chain was ripped off. I stopped suddenly, and, with a blind sense of the theft, slipped my fingers to my throat to feel the fresh absence of metal, not quite believing I’d lost this thin, sweet treasure.

Down past Madison Square Garden the crowds began to thin out. As I neared my apartment, it occurred to me that I didn’t have any candles at home. On an impulse I stepped into a Spanish restaurant. Through the window, I’d noticed votive candles glowing on tabletops, the kind in bulbous burgundy vases wrapped in white plastic mesh.

Suddenly I was in a foreign country. Couples pressed close and I smelled something I couldn’t identify at the time: the musk of love. With no jukebox to play Spanish love songs, men and women made their own music with a throb of murmured confidences. They seemed to take advantage of a night whose air hung heavy and with no place to go but into another’s arms.

There was my mark. I sidled past the bar crowd and made my way to the empty table. With my back to the vase, and glancing up to the ceiling, I reached behind to grab it. Then a man stepped in front of me, blocking all nonchalant momentum. He smiled. I froze – maybe caught – I wasn’t certain. He gestured like a bull fighter whipping a red cape, inviting me to join him at the bar. I assumed he was in charge, maybe the manager, so I gave in and perched on a stool. As he settled in beside me, the candles lined up across the bar surface gave his face a sinister, Vincent Price sneer.

This was lighting in which I could be myself; vaguely seen but not known, present yet without pressure for performance. My eyes adjusted to the man who’d taken my hand and began to caress each of my fingers.  His beard looked at least two days old, with sweat gliding around each and every hair on his chin. I liked his eyes; maybe medium blue, or light brown, hard to tell. He stood thin and tall in the torso. Somewhere at the V slice of his half-unbuttoned shirt, some spare, wiry chest hairs appeared. And his arms, poking out of pushed-up shirtsleeves, showed plump veins worthy of an injection. I slunk down into my seat, forgot about being a third-rate thief or even an aspiring oboist and began to love the heavy darkness of the room.

Six apricot sours, four blows of coke and many tongue-filled kisses later, I succumbed to my own personal blackout, sensing pleasure through his salty mouth and experienced hands. His desire for me felt pure and badly needed – all in the comfort of the shadows. Then, I felt the brush of his breath at my ear as he whispered to me in an incomprehensible dialect that I could only guess as encouragement: “Take it. Take that candle. It’s yours – my gift to you. Run, my little tiger, and light yourself up.”

The part about getting home eludes me, just that I woke naked in bed, alone. Damp sheets stung my abraded cheek – collateral damage from the man’s rough beard – his face now a pawn of memory. Morning was about to breach, yet the lit wick still threw red into the corners of the room. My oboe lay on the desk, mostly invisible. But its silver keys sparkled in the candle light. I turned on my side, looked out the window and waited for the sun to take over and render the candle impotent. Finally, light saturated the space and I could clearly see my oboe, just where I’d left it the day before. And I thought of one thing. Not Steven and his phony gig or Dick Shawn and all the news that’s fit to print. Not even the drunks on a Sunday afternoon. I thought only of my Spaniard – the perfect stranger who, on July 13, 1977, encouraged me to unfurl the coil of uncertainty wrapped around my mind and to forget about what I wasn’t. I began to dream about what I now knew I’d eventually become: a musician. My blackout was woozy, wet and smelly. And utterly hopeful.

Marcia Butler is the debut author of the nationally acclaimed memoir, The Skin Above My Knee. She was a professional oboist for twenty-five years until her retirement in 2008. During her musical career, she performed as a principal oboist and soloist on the most renowned of New York and international stages, with many high-profile musicians and orchestras – including pianist Andre Watts, and composer and pianist Keith Jarrett. Marcia was a 2015 recipient of a Writer-in-Residence through Aspen Words and the Catto Shaw Foundation. She lives in New York City.

Against Metaphor


It’s Tuesday, 12:27AM. The palm trees bend over backward to let the wind sweep past their stalks. There is an ocean of rain seeping in from under the front door. Outside my window, a tree topples over onto its side. The wind weaves through its naked roots. While the wind howls and the rain pounds at my door, I crave the steam that emanates off a warm bowl. The fluidity of vapor, sweet as breath and just as quick to dart away, glazes over my intentions. The clouds’ furrowed brow hangs low enough for me to cover its face with my palms. I am a few sharp words and a stretched lapel away from condensation. I take in a shallow breath.

I’ve been in bed since 10:30PM, hoping that if I gave myself a wider window of opportunity to fall asleep, I’d be on my way to a slightly less bruised expectation of morning. Nevertheless, I’m still wide awake. Here in my dorm room in Tokyo, sleeplessness clings to me like a stray dog that followed me home off the street. I never asked for it, but for whatever reason, it took a liking to me. Now, it won’t leave my side. Whenever I try to fall asleep, it nudges its cold nose under the covers with me. I might as well feed it while it’s here. I throw off my blanket and pull on a pair of leggings and a sweatshirt. I head out to clear my head at the only place that’s still open in my residential nook of Shinjuku: the sento, or the bath house.

The sento glows with the kind of heat only a well-cared for home emanates. A television hung over a small table hums the NHK network. The sound of running water babbles through two noren-covered entrances. Before I enter the bath, I undress and head to the showers to wash myself. I pass an elderly woman on her way back to the changing rooms. She smiles and strides past me, wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around her head. So good, so far, I think to myself. At least the other women are still smiling, so I haven’t muddled the customary practices.

Unlike restaurants in Tokyo, where old men have turned adjacent counter seats to face me and watch me eat, all the other women in the sento are enjoying their own experience. The middle-aged woman to the left of me scrubs under her arms. Meanwhile, another girl I think I recognize from the university pushes her back up against the jets. I take care to properly clean my body, then step into the steaming water. While I settle in against the bar jutting out from the center of the pool, a woman painted with red imprints from apparently full elastic-supported clothing leans against the jets behind me. Her left hand holds on to the bar just centimeters away from my cheek. It stays there for the entire time I spend in the bath. I’ll take this proximity over an old man’s sustained stare any day.

I admit that I feel more comfortable sharing the bath with all of the other women, rather than bathing by myself. Taking a bath on my own never felt quite as satisfying as the physical relationship I share in the sento. This, of course, is not a new concept in Japan. Here, “skinship” (skin + kinship) is as much of a health benefit as the water of the baths, itself. In the United States, where I grew up, this idea attaches itself almost exclusively to the relationship between a mother and her newborn child. What about the relationship between myself and my own body? Haven’t I fought through enough beauty standards and patriarchal preferences? My existence is pluralistic. It’s time I respect myself by confronting my progressions.

In the bath, I look at the body of the woman next to me. Then, I look at mine. The same red elastic marks span across my chest. Her skin wrinkles in the same places that mine folds. Not a single woman in this place has perfectly groomed hair or a belly as flat as a board. Perhaps in a society where the distinctions between sex and gender could be less rigid, bodies would move comfortably and without unnecessary embarrassments. Since that is not the society we live in today, my choices limit to a space that makes concessions to appearances. Books and films and so the people I intertwine with tell me that my self separates from the shell of my body. Before I “blossomed into a young woman,” my naïve flesh longed to disengage. I discarded my body as a home. Placed into metaphor and kept at a distance from my self, my body metamorphoses. I call my body a “temple” or sometimes, a “dump,” compartmentalizing my flesh and mind. My self has no immediate reality. I do not ground into my own body. I’m sick and tired of binaries that restrict me. I want to clearly assess my form and movements.

I think about another phrase I hear and repeat just as often: “You are more than just a body.” In an effort to throw off objectification, I separate from my body. Where I step away from sexual objectification, I cast my body away entirely. I tell myself I am more, that the self is its own environment. This more elevates itself above my body. I objectify my own ecology. If I continue to treat my body like a shell, my self can never really be tangible. I will continue to let others act as sieves for my memory. I will hold my empathetic potential and emotional intelligence at a distance.

This storm reminds me that I am wild and undisciplined (like everyone else). I bark when I can speak. The mottled sounds fling out from underneath my nails and pores. I lunge when I can stand still. But, my wildness is not a weakness. It is content within the form of my body. This form guides me. Without my body, I could have no self. The storm is also a form, but I deceive myself with romance and drama by not centering myself within its context. To live in metaphor is to deceive myself. My body is not rain, nor wind. It is muscle and sweat. My stomach is not a tumultuous whirlpool of fear or anticipation. It is acid and tissue. My palms are not curtains. They are sinew and flesh. I align my back against the plane of honesty.

In the morning, I call my mama. She advises me to actively level myself during this storm. The drama of the wind and rain is almost too romantic to resist, but it is a deceiving setting. Mama warns me against seeking out any sweeping emotional declarations, tonight. She tells me that honesty rests at 2pm on a Thursday, mulling under a thin veil of sweat and the taste of coffee in the corners of lips.

So, I turn my face to the window and listen to the wind and rain. They are exactly what they appear to be. They are not the currents of romance and drama come to sweep me away. It would be wrong for me to project a larger symbolic meaning onto their being. If I can focus on hearing my own breath and feeling the curve of my spine, then I can hear the honesty that permeates this setting. I lay on my back with my palms against the floor. I never fall too deeply asleep. The small of my back gently planes in parallel to the carpet.

Lora Maslenitsyna studies Humanities at Soka University of America. Her writing has been published by Litro Magazine and The Commonline Journal, as well as other zines. Her translations have been featured by ODALISQUE Magazine.










Jerrod Schwarz is an MFA graduate of the University of Tampa. He is also the managing poetry editor of Driftwood Press. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Cultured Vultures, HOOT, The Fem, and many others. His first small collection titled The Crop was published by Rinky Dink Press in 2016.

From the Cover of the Village Voice’s Queer Issue

by Isabella David


It was the summer of 2008 when I posed for the cover of The Village Voice’s Queer Issue. Gay marriage would not be legalized in the state of New York for another three years. Not even a decade ago, but it was a different time. Even though gay marriage wasn’t legal, I felt that living in a big city exempted me from worrying about narrow-minded provincialism.

I didn’t realize provincialism is a state of mind not an actual state of the union.

I thought I didn’t need to compute how the law or how some small-minded people still felt about gay marriage when I agreed to pose for the cover. What I computed was the honor it would be to pose for an iconic paper like the Voice—a paper I hoped one day to write for, although that’s fast becoming more of a pipe dream due to budget cuts than the idea of a chubby, pasty theater actress like myself modeling.

Not least of all, I computed how talented the crew for the shoot was: Virginia Bradley regularly styles for Vogue. Nikola Tamindzic, our photographer, had been recently profiled in The New York Times. I happily agreed to his concept, involving me and the beautiful Julia Standefer, clasping each other in an almost passionate embrace.

What I didn’t compute was any negative consequences that shoot might mean for my career, not least of which was the effect the heat would have on me. It was my very first official modeling gig. Julia was an old pro and radiated coolness, her makeup pearlescent throughout the shoot.

Me on the other hand?

At one point, I literally collapsed from the 95 degree heat. It didn’t help that the statuesque Julia was so much taller, I had to wear 5 inch heels under a long, black wool John Galliano gown in order for my lips to parallel her lips. She stood barefoot in the photographer’s living room. A mattress stood on end, providing our backdrop.

I could sense her discomfort, and we had to stop periodically to let her exhale and relax. The concept was cinematic in scope, different from a regular modeling shoot. It was part of why I’d been selected. At that point, I’d been a crazy New York city theater actress for two years. I didn’t see anything too wildly difficult in holding a lovely Julia close to me, pretending passion.  I’d played drug addicts, housewives, victims of abuse, even murderers. I’d played a lot of parts that weren’t me, and what with the glamorous gown I had on, apart from the heat, I was having a lot of fun playing this one.

However, when we took individual shots, I found it challenging to look into the camera without flinching.  Julia on the other hand sent the crew into ohs and ahs of admiration when she posed. She simply stood there, yet there was so much more to it: she radiated confidence, ease, glamor, beauty, innocence. It was a lesson to me: there was an art to modeling. The evening ended with shots on the street in another Galliano get-up. When I didn’t have to look at the camera, I was happily lost in the character I’d created. When asked to look into the lens, I resembled a deer in headlights. All in all, it was a very satisfying night: I learned a lot and made several new friends.

A month later the cover came out. I probably broke several laws, emptying one of those ubiquitous, red Village bins that pepper New York. The image Nikola crafted showed all of the character-building with none of the painful 5 hours of labor that had gone into creating it. (At one point we had to break, so the hair stylist could run to the bodega for orange juice. I’d fainted from the combination of the heat and the sheer heaviness of that wool gown.) I was blown away by the artistry of illusion and by the team effort that went into one picture. To say I am proud of that image is to understate it.

Naturally, it took pride of place in my burgeoning “book”—model speak for the book of 9×12  pictures models used to carry around with them before iPads started taking over.

I don’t have to tell you that I’m not a lesbian, because my sexual orientation shouldn’t matter in the context of character-acting, but it did. I fell in love with my husband all over again when I found out he’d experienced 15 minutes of fame in the ‘90s, working as a peer counselor who went around to high schools talking about gay rights. Later when he was interviewed for the “straight athletes” chapter in Jocks: True Stories of America’s Gay Athletes by Dan Woog, Woog marveled that my husband never once prefaced a comment with “not that I’m gay.” The excuse is an apology. And what is there to apologize for? What does a person’s sexual orientation matter or say about their worth as a human being? Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

And when it’s a matter of art, shouldn’t it matter even less? Obviously, this is still not the case, as many people objected to Matt Bomer being cast as Christian Grey. Why, because a BDSM-obsessed billionaire turned Prince Charming is a realistic concept to begin with? It’s about the character you’re playing.

Personally, I thought The Voice cover was beautiful, powerful, and expressed sapphic love in a sweet, respectful and unusually non-exploitative fashion. I didn’t realize yet my concept of the New York modeling world was tinted with the lens of the New York theater scene. I didn’t see myself as a commodity, branding herself with a carefully crafted image, but as an artist trying to learn and experience as much as she could. I didn’t realize clients would see the image as provocative, and I still wonder why they did, when so many modeling shots feature half-naked bodies or heavily pouting expressions. Julia and I were fully clothed in couture, gazing at each other, not even quite kissing.

In fact, when one bridal designer reached the picture in my book, her reaction could be described as nothing less than apoplectic. Her eyes widened with almost comic horror, bulging out of her head, and then she shut my book with a snap, practically shoving it into my stomach and asked me to leave the casting.

I remember as I stumbled out of the hotel room, I saw all around me long, white gowns lovingly laid out on the beds and couches of the suite. I remember thinking they were the mirror opposite of the long black gown I wore in that shot she’d found so offensive. And I remember wondering why was heterosexual love sanctified and homosexual love treated as less than worthy?

It made me see marriage as a sort of benediction of hypocrisy. I won’t say I made a Dax Shepherd/ Kristin Bell/ Angelina Jolie/ Brad Pitt level promise never to marry until gay marriage was legal, but I did feel as if I’d seen the curtain pulled back on the other side of the 40 billion dollar wedding industry in a time when gay marriage was universally illegal, and what I saw was a lot less pretty and sweet than that cover that had so offended.

Needless to say I did not get that job. I’m sad to admit I thought about removing the picture from my portfolio, but ultimately, I decided I didn’t want to work with people who viewed art or sexuality through a distorted lens of their own neuroses.

When I married my husband four years later, I chose a white dress, but it was short and plain and only cost a couple hundred dollars. I could wear it again and again and planned to. Best of all, we got married at city hall.

There were plenty of gay couples in attendance that day, waiting in line with us. I thought back to that hot night in the Lower East Side when I stood for five hours in a black wool gown, and I thought of how I had unwittingly been standing for more than a modeling shot. I had stood up for the world I want to live in, where sexual orientation is just a choice and doesn’t define a person.

Best of all, I’m glad to see times are changing, how differently that picture is already viewed. In fact, even the conservative wedding industry is showing signs of change: this season’s Say Yes to the Dress included several episodes with same-sex brides, shopping together.

Sometimes I can’t believe how much has changed from the bad old days when my husband had his life threatened for daring to speak up for gay rights to only eight years ago when I lost work for posing for the Queer Issue to now when in a lot of mainstream media orientation is viewed more like a couture touch for a character: something to put on or take off, depending on the sweet soul’s choice of the individual person.

There’s still a long way to go as has been shown by the recent ridiculous bathroom controversy, as ridiculous as finding an image of two women hugging offensive, not to mention any individual who agrees with Donald Trump. Still, I think the strides that have been made in less than a decade are inspiring.




Isabella David is an actor and author of The Voices of Women, shortlisted for the 2015 International Venture Award. She’s also an editor at Easy Street—a books and culture off-shoot of The Lascaux Review. Other work has appeared in Tampa Review, 100 Word Story, Adbusters, Hello Giggles, and elsewhere. When not working on her first novel, she mothers a menagerie of animals and children, who are all almost (as in not at all) potty-trained.




Artist’s Statement: 

Changing the format of a poem from visual (reading) to visual (video) and auditory (spoken word) stretched my imagination and forced me to rely on intuition, friends, and my theatre training. My poetry writing tends to start with a small idea or phrase, and then goes onwards with no clear direction in mind, mixing metaphors, and ending eventually when there is not much steam left to go on. In my everyday life, I tend to have more direction with the same result- stopping when I run out of steam. In this case, I had already completed this step because the poem, which acted as the foundation, was already written. The small idea, identity and identifiers/labels, had coal thrown on its fire, and the steam powered it on for 5 pages. I finished the poem, reflected on its exploration of how one identity for an entire person is minimizing because people are inherently intersectional–“i am at the intersection of all my identities”–and set the poem to rest. So, how did I find a way to further explore a piece that I felt was finished?

In a class I’m currently taking, we spend a lot of time discussing media as a form of performance, and how this type of performance, in a Warholian way, either is or is not a reflection of our truth. So, my first idea was to film myself looking in the mirror in order to turn a private moment of performance public. Publicizing intimacy normalizes it, and allows an audience to feel personally understood. Next I thought of writing my identity labels on my body. Originally I wanted them to circle my neck like a noose, and then up onto my face like a tool of asphyxiation. However, I ultimately decided against that idea because of simple practicality and the worry of breaking out even more–maybe “vain” should have been a title in that list. In any case, I now had a new idea to further my work: the inability to change how others perceive you visually i.e. based on skin color, acne, etc.

With this idea in mind, I mapped out what the camera would be showing the audience for each beat of the poem, bringing out images in the poem more clearly and concretely. Once I had planned each beat, I knew I could not do this project myself. I am not a drawing artist, and I couldn’t pan around my own body. I reached out to 2 friends of mine who do have these talents, and they were extremely helpful, doing their best to help me achieve my vision. The process mirrored my theatre work, meaning that it was collaborative. I gave Ray a lot of liberty to draw the pictures however she wanted, which ended up with a beautiful result going down my spine. The filming went a similar way. Jen apologized for her shaky hands and not getting the timing exactly right, but I assured her that all small flaws could be embraced because the poem is not about being perfect, but rather about falling apart at the seams. The video both adds to this idea, but also contrasts it: showing me free of labels in the end, no longer dictated by the text of the poem. The last shot is very similar to the first because the text mirrors itself, but at the end the “i” words do not make me blink because I am controlling my own identity and what you see of me when.

The audio experience of the poem–my harsh assonance and stabbing pronunciations, contrasted with the Chopin piece–are used to further the contrast of the visual with the text. My voice reflects the uncontrollable spiral of self-doubt and the overwhelming power of others’ impressions. However, self-doubt is often internal. The most seemingly stable, happy person can be torn apart internally. And that is the function of the song- to reflect the external performance of someone struggling to come to terms with their identities’ intersections.


Jamie Lowenstein is a poet and actor based in New York City currently at Pace University in its International Performance Ensemble. He’s interested in diverse stories, especially within the queer community.




Science claims the bilingual to be of two characters, of two people.  The shift doesn’t happen consciously, at least not that I’ve noticed; however, I am certain that I do not express myself in the same way between the two languages.  That means my voice changes, my vocabulary varies, and the rate at which I speak fluctuates.  And then something occurs to me, perhaps the shift indicates something more sinister happening inside of me –after all, my late paternal grandmother was schizophrenic.  I worry –in both languages.


Saying that I always knew I’d marry someone who didn’t speak my native tongue would be presumptuous, it would indicate that I have some soothsaying gene and somehow seized or, at least, pre-determined my destiny.  And it was sort of like that, actually.  From early on, even before I even understood the concept of languages, I created my own sounds –tucked in the back of my childhood closet.  Peeking out from the closet to admire my all white canopy bed, I pretended to be a defiant princess hiding from her parents, my stuffed animals –my servants and friends with whom I spoke.  No alphabet or any real pattern to my language, but it was not from this world –that much I knew.  And when I first heard words like South America and Africa and Europe, I was certain I was conjuring an ancestor –if not from my heritage, from any number of them.


My husband has heard this story several times, but never in my native tongue.  It’s much less fantastical in his language, but I paint him a picture that satisfies the rules of his language while mine are ignored.   I am so aware of how it sounds when I speak it.  And I know there are details that are tossed aside or poorly articulated, whereas others go unnoticed.  How strange to talk about childhood in a language with which I was not born speaking.

Being married in a second language means other things, things I might not share with my husband.  Things like I can really tune out of a conversation much easier –I daydream often during movies or in small talk at gatherings that are in his language.

Things like I can pretend to not understand, as in that word is not part of my second-language vocabulary, so I can get him to speak to me more often because he’s quite reserved.

Things like I can challenge his use of his own language by referring to grammar rules and thus discuss the nuances between our languages but I really mean us.

Things like I can laugh at the strangeness of idioms that are equally as strange as those in my own language, but I secretly think his are more absurd.

Things like I hate arguing in his language because I get all flustered and things never come out they way I want them, too –it’s hard enough to argue in one’s native tongue.

But there are cooler things that happen.  Like I have sex in a second language, we have taboo conversations right in front of other people who don’t speak his native tongue, and we talk about art and life in his language which makes it all sound quixotic.

My life in a second language isn’t any stranger than anyone else’s –of that I’m quite certain.  Those who teeter between the two begin to notice slight changes that snowball into other things, beasts perhaps.  Like many times I cannot recall a word in my own language and to compensate, I covert the second-language word into a word that suits my language.  Sometimes this works, but when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work.  Like when I hear myself speaking my native-tongue I become self-conscious.  I can feel and hear each and every saliva string.  Like sometimes I’m not sure in which language I responded or in which language I was listening –yes, that is real.  Like I feel more natural speaking in my second-language to animals and children.  It’s like my language isn’t made for soft things.  Like I use my first language when I want to feel more me or conjure some ancestors with whom I haven’t spoken to in a while.  And when I need comfort from so many years removed from my country.

I remember important words like bones, blood, all types of illnesses in his language because life.

It’s not easy to navigate dreams under the influence of two languages, I choose silent dreams.

My cat speaks his language and doesn’t respond to mine.

I talk to myself in both languages.

Learning a third language is influenced by my second language more than my native tongue.

My third language accent is affected by the second language.

When I see someone that needs help, I use my first language to facilitate the situation.

I still don’t know some basic words in my husband’s language and verb conjugation is a real struggle.

The flexibility of my husband’s language makes life easy.

When I fill out forms in my native language, some of his language creeps in there.

So what happens when I try to be nostalgic in his language when I’d prefer mine?  I adapt.  And because of this I become a better writer.  No, not a better in the grammatical sense or even the publishing sense, but I have more fun with language.  Because I don’t take it so seriously, I see the humor in life, in words, in playing with words.  I might say something like the house of my mother instead of my mother’s house; it rolls around and takes it’s time to make a point and I like that.  I might say the way in which my father looked at me rather than how he looked at me; the reader gets to take a small journey through his eyes rather than feel my experience.  These small nuances elevate my ideas of language, of me, of my art.  And I am in awe of the process.  It’s like becoming a child all over again.  Where I sit beneath my canopy bed and wait for the night’s coming so I can watch the shadows play on the walls that are covered with rosebudded-paper; I am for sleep, I have sleep, I am full of sleep.





jacklyn janeksela is a wolf and a raven, a cluster of stars, &  a direct descent of the divine feminine.  jacklyn janeksela can be found @ Thought CatalogLuna MagazineTalking BookThree Point PressDumDum MagazineVisceral BrooklynAnti-Heroin ChicPublic PoolReality Hands, Mannequin HausVelvet-TailRequited Journal, The Feminist WireWord For/WordLiterary Orphans,& Lavender Review.  she is in a post-punk band called the velblouds. her baby @ femalefilet.  more art @ artmugre & a clip.  her first book, fitting a witch//hexing the stitch, will be born in 2017 (The Operating System).  she is an energy.  find her @ hermetic hare for herbal astrological readings. 

Swiping Left on the Hangout: A Conversation with Felix Bernstein



“I wonder if one person out of 8,000,000 is thinking of me.”—Frank O’Hara


For decades, experimental poetry, underground performance, and the art world have made for the (un)likeliest of bedfellows, even if the power imbalance becomes increasingly discomfiting. In his manifold creative practice, Felix Bernstein has traversed these intersecting spheres lustily; slicing through the various, porous borders of the cultural continent in an attempt to lay bare the psychosexual strictures on contemporary aesthetic production. In this conversation, we found ourselves continually returning to formats—from the social media feed to the personal essay to the “About Me” section of dating apps—as the pride and the pitfalls of our generation’s libidinal economy.

—Joseph Pomp 


Joseph Pomp: What I find compelling about your writing is that the distance between you the critic and your subjects is often fluctuating. At times, you offer very insider-y takes on certain sub-subcultures, and other times you step back and do some big-picture diagnosing.


Felix Bernstein: I tend to distance myself from the pool of references around me, until I get pent up and write about it. Mostly this is out of anxiety and impatience, but I think it has allowed me to link up with people who hate the artists or art institutions I’m discussing, and even with people who hate me. Sometimes this is because people like to read anything flippant: it’s clickbait. The click-baited might not be a sustained readership, but it was the most immediate readership I got. Then there are cynics playing the “game” in New York, who have competing interests with institutions or wanted to protect themselves from critique. And also some of the people I’ve critiqued get excited to be enraged—so they can seem iconoclastic on Twitter, and so on.


JP: Are you mourning for a pre-Internet viewing culture? In this vertiginous climate, do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?


FB: I’m not in mourning, at all. My optimism is that I still desire and, to a certain extent, seek out, and get surprised by, stuff. I’m not surprised by anything theoretically determined to be “better than,” i.e., less neoliberal, more queer, more mutable, more radical, more avant-garde, more relation, more anti-relational/cruel. A kind of tragic irony is that the tastemakers and people boosting artists in theory or writing listicles online don’t really believe that they can be surprised by anything anymore. They are lying; they see tastemaking as a job, or a way to inevitably promote themselves, or keep up with appearances. The same goes with those who “hate” everything, which is simply the reverse mode of taste-making. As Baudrillard had it, “Reversibility has nothing to do with reciprocity.”


JP: So do you think there’s a danger in continually putting the present down, especially through the lens of the past?


FB: Yes, but also, putting it down in favor of the future. I’m constantly asked, or seeing panels about, the future of poetry and art, film and video, and art and digital processes, as well as on the topic of millennial, gay, and queer, because people feel run down by their disciplinary bureaucracies. They think holding yet another symposium will help. The idea that suddenly queer, gay, poetry, art, film, and performance are being “commodified” depends on an ahistorical fallacy about untainted origins—it’s a very tricky question, but the answer implied is, “things are becoming more commercial, we have to come up with alternatives to mainstream, really fast,” which is a market-driven mode of thought. These symposiums feed off of the labor of outliers—the queer-art-academic-critical-party is so monotonous, it requires unpaid interns, emerging artists, and struggling students, to continually throw some idiosyncratic jouissance to the gallery or panel, and then be discarded.


And with all critical evaluation and comparative analysis of the present art there is the danger of what might best be called aesthetic decisionism—the sort of mythical, grand, allegorical proclamations about paradigms that Foucault made all the time. But there’s also the farce of the compulsory claim that artists today are the “new” version of past icons: “This novelist is the James Joyce (or Artaud or Schneemann, etc.) of today.” This is the Vice blurbing industry. There is also the problem of what is effectively transgressive in a suburban high school does not so much matter in the art world. Or what is replicated by the formal charisma of “Joyce” or “Schneemann” today is not the same as it was then… as when Lena Dunham writes that a radical queer poet is “that weird girl in high school who was always writing in her diary.” Often this comparison arises, since high school presents the fantasy of belonging to a clique and table, or else being different as a brand (the loner who wears hot topic; the one who critiques the hot-topic anarchist for being a poser; or the one like me, who critiques the critic of hot topic for their claims of exemption from complicity), so there is a continual inclusivity.  Chris Campanioni’s treatment of names and cliques in his writing (see The Death of Art) really tackles the ironies inherent in these problems, which are really hard to confront, because often disheartening. Extending, however ridiculously, the high school metaphor; just as the same mall has a shirt for the jock, cheerleader, hipster, and loner; so too Amazon recommends books by an “experimental artist,” “experimental cultural critic,” “experimental poet,” with indifference to micro-distinctions…. or the fact that in these worlds we all hate each other.


JP: Academia also sometimes engenders these types of facile, trans-historical comparisons. Do you see that a result of its territorial nature?


FB: I think it comes from an impulse to try to be the mythmaker—to seem as prophetic as William Blake, even though you are merely his biographer (to seem as dangerous as Jack Smith even though you are merely performing for an MFA board of esteemed critics…or perhaps, on a Bravo TV show). The myth-making poets are making ontological proclamations, but if you’re a cultural critic, you can’t really do that, but you can have a hand in changing the canon. It’s such an impotent and limited thing to be a critic in the sense that any change to the canon is going to be ephemeral, and few dissertations will sell well (if they even make it to publication). I’m confused by the desire to convert one’s niche into a Renaissance portfolio. Everyone on Tinder is a dilettante, which is the sort of sensibility that the liberal arts college produces. People aren’t satisfied with what they’re doing, or rather they always want to do more. People have a hard time accepting a vocation, or a disciplinary constraint. Hybridity, a fetish of today’s marketplace, is a way around that. But it is its own disciplinary constraint. I think I am constrained by it, for sure.


JP: Would you say that there’s something campy about this conception of hybridity?


FB: There’s something, not necessarily campy, but annoying about it. I’ve annoyed people, too, by doing similar stuff—writing critically about a museum and then performing in a museum.


JP: It seems like the dilettantism propagated by social media comes from those networks’ obsession with celebrity.  Everyone is striving for some glimmer of fame.


FB: Yes, but there’s also a striving for recognition of having good taste. I remember when “liking” Fight Club or Pulp Fiction on Facebook signified that. It was enough. I like to be alone, but in public, like going to the movies. It’s hard to really be alone on social media. Though, sometimes my YouTube videos get only 200 views but that’s not really alone. The other way in which people try to cash in on the fabrication of persona at the level of social media is to treat themselves as readymade objects. Showing up to events as a club kid is increasingly being considered art. Curators are sometimes like club promoters; they just want people to show up.


JP: Like Klaus Biesenbach and MoMA PS1 …


FB: Right, but everyone also attempts to think they are better, which they might be, but the traps are all laid out for you, no matter what, if you are a museum curator. Thanks to this particular marketplace, there are people who are recognized and are in good standing as artists who have made maybe one work. And I think it’s the MFA mentality, because sometimes people in MFA programs make one video, or write one poem, and otherwise just spend three years making sure everyone likes it. Every inch you go forward as an artist, you have to check that everyone’s okay with it. I imagine this is what it would be like to be in an overpriced kindergarten, all the ambitious prodding and observation from authority figures. Same with PhD programs, a million apologias before arriving at an appropriate, airtight thesis—“To be or not to be” becoming, “What else should I say, All apologies,” / “What else should I write, I don’t have the right,” so you have all the Kurt Cobain self-flagellation without any of the grunge and beauty.


On the flip side, are those who go full speed ahead, run before they can walk, which is attractive but they can “run out” of steam fast, or else get stigmatized for, paradoxically, having “too much” vision. But the inch-by-inch mode is very odd to me, as a hysteric. I need to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I also find being critiqued in private continually until you feel you can go public, because now you are exempt from critique (you have affiliated with just the right cultural critics) is a trap. It’s like having the blurbs for your book coming from so many institutional heavyweights that one can’t really comment, without feeling like they are trespassing an institutional sanction.


JP: That’s the price one pays for taking a very academic approach to art making. To zoom out a bit, how much do you think academia, or a degree, matters to artists? You suggest that the contemporary, perfunctory “artist’s statement…only appears to be counter-academic,” as if there are hidden, sublimated, allegiances therein (“The Irreproachable Essay,” Texte Zur Kunst, Fall 2016).


FB: The artist’s statement is ubiquitous to every bureaucratic facet of the arts and humanities. Even just using Tinder, you have to prove that you can write about yourself.  Why is that valued so highly? I don’t know. People want to move away from standardized testing, and they think the most radical thing you could do is this humanistic recuperation of—the multitalented. This comes with all the dilemmas outlined in Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child. This epistemologically aware notion of the self (as cultural juggler) is something you need to display to get into college, but now you need it in the art world too. Nowadays, obviously there’s a turn against this kind of personal statement. A hip gallery won’t even have one. And that’s another reason for the turn to poetry, because people think poetry diffuses formal rigidity. This is a fantasy, and inevitably a letdown as Ben Lerner suggests in The Hatred of Poetry.


JP: Considering that art schools now offer MFA degrees in New Genres, which uncannily include writing, as if that is an emerging, promising ‘new’ medium, do you think the art world’s appropriation of poetry is in any way affecting poets?


FB: I think that the emulation of any form, as presented by a professor who is looking over your shoulder, is tricky. For instance, if you watch a crumby old tape of a Jack Smith performance you might attempt to imitate the “ephemeral” retro nature in a way that suits the pre-approved look of what you are seeing. Or you try and make something for the PS1 Book Fair that looks like an ephemeral zine. It’s always when the ephemeral is grasped that the canon is doing its work, and this is very easy to do with poetry and performance, a double take; which I think Broodthaers satirized when he turned Mallarmé into an austere art object, with the words blacked out. This is the issue now, fetishizing something for being obscure at the very moment that it’s no longer obscure, for instance, clicking fetish on Pornhub. But what happens when you receive your fetish under the label “fetish,” is you are just buying hardware, the whips and chains not the psychic danger. This is similar to what it might mean to buy an overpriced chapbook. James Franco can collect all the props, the degrees, the small press publications, but he will never appear psychically tormented. Broodthaers was very conscious of how the museum was archiving all of these things and by now it’s commonplace to critique this sort of approach. But it remains an interesting and important critique to consider the limitations of the platforms we all use. What can’t you post on Instagram (and not just porn), what can’t be consumed in that way? Even a video over one minute is hard to disseminate over apps, which trim how durational a vision can be—and it’s why people no longer have the patience to go to avant-garde films. Even the people I studied “experimental” film with don’t watch film anymore, unless pressed to do so by some sort of event or retrospective, or by peer pressure. However, this is an injunction to enjoy someone’s fetish, i.e., a screening of the B-side of a random experimental artist (when the audience doesn’t even know the A-side).


JP: Right, people are so overwhelmed by the onslaught of short attention-span media at this moment that they have all but abandoned their aesthetic criteria of judgment.


FB: The other problem is that, at the level of the gallery, to suddenly flip and show a James Benning film, forces the work to be read as interesting only by nature of its opposition to social media. It becomes the tortoise. And just another tab to scroll through, much like watching films on Ubuweb. The point being, you can walk in and out; take a picture; leave. Taking a picture of a picture is the best way to file the labor of decipherment away for later. On the other hand, taking a picture of the person taking a picture of the picture, like what we are doing now, can be a cogent way of deciphering, but has only a very transient merit—since it feeds off of the futility of its own perspectival impotence, its complicity with the act of consumption it attempts to outdo.



Joseph Pomp is a cultural critic whose writings on international film have appeared in edited volumes and publications including The Brooklyn Rail, Film Quarterly, and Senses of Cinema. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature and Critical Media Practice at Harvard University.


Felix Bernstein is a writer, performer, and video artist, as well as the author of Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry (Insert Blanc Press, 2015) and a collection of poems, Burn Book (Nightboat Books, 2016). His opera Bieber Bathos Elegy, in collaboration with Gabe Rubin, premiered at the Whitney Museum in January 2016. His book on contemporary queer avant-gardes, written with philosopher Kyoo Lee, is forthcoming.

American Ground


American Ground

On the 4th of July, half of faces are concealed by flags,
for, on most days, we are only this much American.
In New York, tourists are in awe of our disturbed aesthetic:

young teens in a park coaxing smoke from their mouths,
a man not watching his child in a playground, long enough
for there to no longer be a child, but in its place, a vacancy

on ground, surrounded by other children, American enough
to almost be his & for this, we’re so close but, yet, quite foreign
from another. Yes, the distance between us is what makes us

American. It’s a patriotic form of surrender, to sing an anthem
we’ve learned until we pack the little we actually own, & flee.


American Ground

“I want to be human above the body”
-Terrance Hayes

After light, when the morning fog swells the streets of Oxford,
before the city wakes with noise, tourists recalling false histories,
I am in the dim light of a tavern, with a glass of translucent blood.

I often do not pray; bleed into the morning air with only faith.
I know that the dead are collected in the shade of our bodies,
that there’s a kind of mark, left behind where we once resided.

I see the dead I once knew, surrounding the shadow that trails me.
The dead knows their kind. We have a different scent to us,
& it burns the eyes, what we carry; resembling arrogance,

a whiff of flesh attached to the human that invents loneliness
as a tactic for becoming a god & aren’t we always so far from it?

Some talk to the sky when asking for forgiveness. I ride American-
Airlines back home, hearing nothing but rushed wind on the outside.


Nkosi Nkululeko, the 2016 NYC Youth Poet Laureate, is a Callaloo Fellow. He has been nominated for the American Voices Award, Independent Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize. His work is currently published in No Token, Rose Red Review, Hobart, and elsewhere. He lives in Harlem, New York. You can reach Nkosi at