Categories
Creative Writing

Last Night Dishes

Poetry by Zara Rahman

Graphics by Rakshitha Raghunandan

Last Night Dishes

swirling in a cooking pot,
tinted broth and lemon wedge bones
corrode into corpses
it was the making of marble memories
sharpening knives under stove light
cutting ripe tomatoes
peeling the emerald cucumbers
our charcoal-skinned moon-eyed faces
have been here once
and will feel the burst of
citrus again
our chamber bellies will dictate
when we awake
lineage says meal prep needs a
walnut-wrinkled brain
to create food for thought
worth cooking about
so know when the sun blooms
dawn calls on to the garden vegetables to
stand out
when everything becomes sour
midnight meals
will no longer stop
us from eating the night away
and will leave us to scrub the sins
of what is left
so we roll up our sleeves
discard the skeletons rotting from our midnight feast
and do the dishes


Heads versus Apples

I once almost ate a crescent-curved bulging maggot.
it was squirming and tunneling into the browning flesh of an apple
trying to escape my picket-fenced teeth
fated to damn its wretched body to denture and apple orchard hell.


Ha! Grandma exclaims,
I once almost stepped on a bloody bloated head
he wasn’t squirming; however, the maggots were tunneling
they feasted early dinner on mo(u)rning flesh before heaven took him home
before a rickshaw swerved him into swamp gutters
before the military returned to claim their prize on a sharpened stick
I was just a teenager
when bhai called me to pick out
bulging maggots
from the bullet hole hotels in his shoulder
I had to help since
the doctors died to become dimples in the crescent moon
so I had to mix curries on a wooden stove just like the one right here
and my eyes leaked just like they do now and

Alright alright Grandma, I get what you mean
heads beat apples;
maggots belong in hell


Where’s Your Homework?

Alien abducted for special occasions
Bird poop splattered math equations
Cyborg robots burned the pages
Dentist appointment lasted ages
Excuses? I never make them!
Fishing bait for catching lunch
Gusty wind took away the bunch
Haunting ghost possessed my work
Indian elephants went berserk
Jumped out of a plane with a parachute
Kid in class screamed, “There’s a substitute!”
Lilac flowers wilted all over
My magic genie had a hangover
Neptune’s planet gave me a cold
Octopus inked it bold
Parisian snails slid across my notes
Quest for elongate anecdotes
Ripe tomatoes needed plucking
Snakes wrapped around my wrists, restricting
Trees broke promise to sprout answers
Urban metal, diverting dancers
Volcanic eruption swallowed report
Weekends are too short
X-ray declared writer’s block
Yeah I was busy with all sorts!
Zero correct from A to Z, cut short?
I hope my teacher believes me

Categories
Creative Writing

The Dark Burden

By Frances Allison Dumont

Age 17

I walked off the L train one day after school, drained but talking to a close male friend. My friend Alix, a 5’7, brown-skinned man, was going on about some girls he was interested in. On our way to get sandwiches from the corner store, he said, “Black b- words are just too loud and ghetto.” I was a little taken aback because I’m a black girl. However, I wouldn’t typically be described as loud and ghetto. 

“Do you think I act that way?” I turned to him and asked. I already knew what he was going to say, but I wanted him to see the fault in generalizing a whole group of women.  

“No, you’re different,” he replied. Now I knew the point he was going to make after calling me different. However, I still wanted him to specify what he meant by that. 

“What do you mean different?” I asked with curiosity in my voice. 

“Well, you’re not like those really black girls, you know the dark- skin ratchet ones at school, you’re like caramel and classy,” he replied. 

I was weirded out by this statement because he had to mention the color of their skin as if it was negative, but I wasn’t shocked that he would say something like that. As he has made it known that he preferred tan Latinas, he fails to realize they have a similar narrative that black girls do. I proceed to point out that fact to him, but he denies it having anything to do with colorism. This was nothing new to me because the school that we attended was majority black and Hispanic. The difference between how the black girls were treated vs. the treatment of the Hispanic girls was noticeable. The black girls were always side-eyed and just regarded as entertainment to the student body. 

I then had a flashback moment where I remembered a conversation I had with a male friend at the youth group. I recalled asking him why so many black guys our age care about how light a woman is. He told me that many dark guys go for a fairer complexion so that the baby could be light-skinned. Also, some guys just think light-skin girls are naturally cuter. I then felt that it made sense that it was less of an issue with women but more of a self-hatred thing for many black men. My mind then snapped back to the real-time conversation I was having. 

“Would you like if someone thought of your beautiful mother or cousins like that just because they’re dark, I bet you wouldn’t,” I replied. 

Before he could answer, the cook calls out that our chopped cheese sandwiches were ready. I immediately remembered how hungry I was once the delightful smell of ground beef with cheese and jalapeños hit my nose. We then collected our sandwiches and walked towards the bus stop across the street. 

“You’re right, but it’s true for a lot of black girls. Ask most guys, and they’ll tell you the same thing,” he replied defensively. 

“Look, you can like what you like. But there’s no need to put down women who don’t fit your preference, especially since you’re judging them on the shade of black that their skin is. Also, stop referring to black girls as the b-word. That’s really disrespectful,” I replied sternly. He looked a bit amused but also a little hurt by how bluntly I called him out on his colorism, but I knew he was still going to think the same way. However, I was still a little disappointed in him, mostly because I thought he was more mature and raised better than that.

 He conceded by saying, “Alright, alright, I get that I shouldn’t generalize. I see your point, especially since I’d be tight if it was the other way around,” he responded. Satisfied with his answer, I pulled out the strawberry sour power straws that I bought and began to eat them and just hoped that the bus would come faster because it was getting quite late. We then started a new conversation about our schools’ mediocre social and academic environment. After what felt like forever, our bus had come, and we were on our way to our homes.

Categories
Creative Writing

Land of Love

Land of Love

By Sanjana Sunilkumar

Clutch my hands and don’t let go,
Feel my breath and make me glow
Push my hair behind my ear,
And let me know, are we the perfect pair?

I see a world through your hazel eyes
Do tell me, is it paradise?
Looking at you, my heart feels light,
As you wrap me up in this hug so tight.

You make me blush, you make me warm,
As you touch my face with your tender palm.
I just can’t say how I feel right now,
So, is this what they call as love?

Buried in your tight embrace,
Is really when I find solace
The world is nothing when I have you,
And the whole of me is just for you.

Oh look, the stars are smiling,
And look, the trees are dancing!
Come let’s flee to the land of love,
Under the sea, to the land of love.

Sanjana is a 14-year-old South Indian girl who is a passionate poet and loves writing cliffhangers.

Categories
Creative Writing

Stripped Skin

Stripped Skin

by Safiya Khan

my black sisters and brothers cannot strip out of their skin
and peel it off like a bodycon suit

they cannot lift their blackness off
the way I can lift my hijab
put it in my drawer and
disassociate from all the stereotypes about my faith.

thrown into the cauldron,
they have no choice but to fight the war,
not just the battle.

their allies can come and leave fleetingly,
but they must remain.

so I dig a hole in the ground,
step with both feet in it,
pat the dirt dry around me,
and root my place in the plight along with them.

just as I stand up for myself,
I will stand up for all
forever and always.

Categories
Creative Writing

Sit Still, Look Pretty

Sit Still, Look Pretty- Flash Fiction

By Yasmine Bolden

“Yes. Yes, yes yes,” Lillian said.

Snap, snap, snap, encouraged the camera. “Just hold it. Yes. Beautiful.” Lillian changed the camera angle, then crouched, then stood again. Shift, shift, shift.

Cate sat rooted to her seat, limbs seemingly tangled up in a wild rose bush. A stray breeze brushed against her still form. Cate’s lips pressed together as she imagined ice hands rushing over her body and freezing her blood in place. Her spine quivered.

“Gorgeous, lovely! Just be a bit stiller, dear.” The compliments sprinkled across Cate’s flushed face like a humid afternoon summer drizzle, welcoming warming praise. “Tilt your head to the left for me now. Throw your shoulders back.”

Cate obeyed. 

“And now to the right again. Further.”

Cate did. Her lower left rib throbbed. “Maybe candids? I have choreography that I like.”
Lillian peered at her from above the camera as if Cate had suggested they both run naked and willy nilly around the garden. “Why? I’m almost done, be patient.”

“Why don’t you be beautiful?” Cate pouted. She paused and then curled her knees to her chest. “I want to dance.”

Lillian marched over, arms swinging. “That’s not your job, get up.” 

Cate narrowed her eyes but did not move, still at last.
“Get. Up.” Lillian’s eyes flashed. She grabbed Cate’s arm, fingers constricting around already aching skin. Bruises burst into violent violet and rosy blooms beneath her touch.  

The garden stirred.

*

*

“Beautiful,” Cate whispered. 

Lillian screamed. The rose bush rushed forward and twisted around her like several jagged organic slanted halos, unraveling from its loose frame around Cate. 

“What do I do?” Lillian cried, her head whipping around in all directions as she stumbled back a few steps. Not a single bird fled from fright, almost as if Lillian had never shrieked at all. Lillian twisted her limbs to avoid the bush’s thorns, but elbows aren’t made to bend backwards and arms can only rotate but so far until bones and flesh protest. Her shoulder popped. Lillian ground her teeth together as the branches closed in.

Fit,” Cate advised, tilting your head. “You’re not very practiced, are you?”

A thorn bit into her shoulder. Blood beaded up around the wound but did not roll or fall or move. Back-biting branches devoured Lillian’s legs and explored her back. Their thorns anchored themselves solidly in the skin between her shoulder blades, rooting her to the spot. A thorn slashed the back of her hand, finding a thick vein and tearing in. Still, the blood did not sail or drip.

“Like watercolors,” Cate breathed, eyes like a child’s. “You’re so stunning. I see what you meant.” 

Lillian dropped her camera. Her chest heaved and she braced against the inevitable sound of crashing and death. It never came. The bush had closed a fist around the camera only a breath away from Lillian’s hand, forever out of reach. The metal crunched under the grip. 

“Help me, it hurts,” Lillian croaked. She remained perfectly still. Maybe the plants would forget she was alive this way. Maybe they’d leave her alone. Maybe-

Rose buds tickled her earlobes. Thorns followed.

“I did,” Cate said. “Do you not like it? This is what you wanted.”

Lillian snapped her free arm towards Cate, reaching for the model’s shoulder, but Cate spun away and punctuated her turns with an arabesque. Her arms slowly extended. Lillian’s mind filled in the blanks- she could almost see Cate’s waist hugged by a tutu and bedazzled with music like an ornate tidal wave.
Branches of the bush, hungry, found Lillian’s neck. She could still breathe, although for every rib she had, a branch was finding new ways to hold and handle and hurt her. Blood sat like jewels across her body. Who knew how extensive the crimson beauty was beneath the fabric of her floral dress?

The garden’s laugh rang out like ice. Lillian shivered in the little way she still could.

Cate giggled as she, Balanchinesque wild thing, bounded away. 

Categories
Arts Creative Writing

Mela

Samina Parveen is a teen spoken-word poet from India. Below is one of her poems on body shaming.

Midnight eyes mirror the truth,
Dusky brown skin echoes the bitterness
Echos reciprocate the four walls
Adjectives accustomed to the hearing eardrum
Fat, large, obese, big, thick.
eyes drenched in saline droplets
The blurry eye looked towards the hip line

Stomach growled like an acidic monster
Calming the hunger, I gasped in the smell of water
That feeling of having water on an empty stomach
Trying to suppress my hunger
For a perfect body?
Torturing myself to get that
Hourglass shape

Rage quickened my blood
Throwing away those pills, supplements
Moving away from the Scale weight
I stared at the mirror
And my body
Why do I torture it?
To look pretty?
Gazing at midnight eye I mirrored the truth
I want to beautiful, not pretty

Below you can also find her two spoken-word poems. (Both provide closed captions.)

Categories
Creative Writing

Asian Representation in the Media

The movie theater was always my favorite place in the world. Growing up, I would long for the days where I could fill my popcorn bucket up to the brim, settle in the red leather seats, and be transported to another world for two and a half hours. I developed a strong adoration for films like Tangled, Mamma Mia, the original Star Wars trilogy, Mean Girls, and the entirety of the MCU. Now, these films vary in genre and theme, but the one similarity between these movies is that the cast is predominantly white. Whenever I stared at the big screen, I never saw myself looking back at me.

My name is Sophia Delrosario, and I am a 16-year old, first-generation Filipina-American. My culture has shaped me into who I am, whether it be growing up watching teleseryes (soap dramas), eating sinigang (savory/sour stew) and halo-halo (mixed dessert), line dancing, and performing tinikling (a traditional Filipino folk dance with bamboo poles) in elaborate costumes. I embrace my nationality with pride and love, and long for the day where someone that looks like me is portrayed largely in mainstream media. Even Asians in general, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and all other ethnicities and nationalities that fall under the Asian category, aren’t popularized as much as Caucasians.

While I agree that we are coming close to breaking the glass ceiling with the rise of K-Pop and K-Dramas, the 2020 Academy Award for Best Picture going to Parasite by Bong Joon-Ho, and movies like Crazy Rich Asians, it isn’t enough. In fact, the only TV show that comes to mind with the majority of the cast being of Asian descent is Fresh Off the Boat, and that’s it. Asian-Americans are usually reduced to side characters, such as Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy and Tina Cohen-Chang from Glee, and are often subjected to stereotyping. The last TV show I binged was Gilmore Girls. I noticed how Lane Kim was, no surprise, the quirky sidekick that wore glasses, and her mother, Mrs. Kim, was a simple-dressing Christian with extremely strict rules and expected her daughter to marry a Korean doctor. The issue of Asian stereotyping is common throughout Hollywood productions, and it is nowhere near accurate. Every single one of us is different – and we’re not all pale with jet black hair and slim eyes either, a majority of South Asians have a darker skin tone and larger facial features. Not all Asians play piano or some other musical instrument, nor do they get consistent A-pluses, nor do they all work in nail salons and deserve to be ridiculed for their poor English. These generalizations take the diversity and boldness and distinctiveness of each and every Asian, and muddle them into one ideal person, silencing our unique selves.

In addition to Asians being underrepresented in the media and entertainment, there is also the larger, more highlighted issue of Eurocentric beauty standards. For years in history, the preferred look for women centered around traits commonly found in white girls, such as pale skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, and having an above average height and a slimmer figure. It’s unrealistic to strive for a physical appearance that most people cannot obtain, and detrimental to people’s self esteem. People of all cultures, races, and ethnicities, whether you be white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or other, should embrace themselves and their beauty fully, regardless of beauty standards. Girls should be able to see representations that look like them on social media platforms like Instagram, where models portray themselves as the perfect girl. They’re the ultimate goal, with expensive articles of clothing, clear skin, a flat stomach, an hourglass figure, and a perfect, happy, sunshine lifestyle. Influencers and models do an incredibly convincing job of conveying the message that average girls need to look this way and live this. However, it’s unreasonable to long for an influencer’s exact lifestyle and appearance. Although being inspired by their clothes and trends is acceptable, it should only be to a certain extent – when it gets to the point that it causes girls to feel overly insecure, that’s where I feel we must draw the line.

My dream is to see a Filipina Disney Princess on the big screen one day. The magic of Disney films inspired me as a child, and even today, to see my dream come true would be like Fairy Godmother waving her wand, and granting my wish. I’d love to see a teenage girl with long, thick, black hair, someone shorter and chubbier, with brown eyes and a stubby nose, dressed in cultural garb and eating an abundance of mangoes. She’d go on an adventure, and a little Filipina girl in the movie theater, like me all those years ago, would look up with wide eyes, filled with inspiration, happiness, and hope. She’d finally see herself staring back at her, and experience the beautiful feeling that she belongs.


Written by Sophia Delrosario.

*Originally published in May 2020

Categories
Creative Writing

Sri Lanka

I squint toward the rows of tea plants that stretched for miles. I was standing on a small peak that overlooked hundreds of tea plantations. The sun was burning harshly against my thin cotton kameez and I shifted uncomfortably as I waited for my younger siblings and parents to join me. It was definitely not my choice to wear a salwar kameez- the long cotton dress worn with loose fitting pants by many women of South Asian cultures, but my mom wanted me to embrace my heritage while visiting her native country. Although it was hotter than I was accustomed to in New Jersey, there was a heavy breeze that came with being in the mountainous ranges of Sri Lanka’s Uva province.

The fertile lands were filled with the small green leaves that would be handpicked for the Lipton tea company. These tea leaves would eventually be exported to the homes of tea drinkers around the world while creating job opportunities for millions of impoverished Sri Lankans. I smiled as I saw little green dots walk along the tea plant rows, colorful women toiling hard in the fields with coconut leaf woven baskets on their backs.

I swiftly lifted my dress as my sandals sank into the moist mud. When I reached my family, my dad was speaking to a young woman who couldn’t have been much older than me. She had beautiful dark skin that was worn like leather, despite her young age. Her basket was filled to the top with the small tea leaves that surrounded us. Her darker complexion implied that she was a working woman- a stigma that was very prominent in Sri Lanka. As a darker skinned girl, growing up in an Asian family, I sympathized with her. She too had probably been told that she was too dark and that “no one would marry a dark girl.” Yet she had so many challenges that I did not, slaving in a plantation for little with no opportunity for an education.

I couldn’t understand their conversation and the words seemed foreign and guttural. I tried to follow, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t comprehend. Not speaking either Tamil or Sinhala had its disadvantages, as I always felt a disconnect to my country and to my family. I had never had a full conversation with my grandparents before they passed, and I always needed someone to translate. Being a vocal student and active member of my community made me accustomed to using my words, and whenever I was in Sri Lanka I was stripped of this. I realized that when in Sri Lanka, I was robbed of using my voice just as she was robbed of opportunity.

I snapped out of my thoughts just in time- my dad and the woman were staring at me, waiting for a response. I looked to my dad, my eyes pleading for help.

“She asked you what you want to be when you grow up.” said my father.

My goals seemed little and insignificant, but I replied with my fresh American accent. “I want to be a journalist. I want to tell people’s stories and change the world. I want to help others and bring a voice to those who lost theirs.”

It was in the moment of realizing that in Sri Lanka I was unable to fully express myself that I realized I wanted to be a bridge between communities.

The woman nervously laughed. I knew it. She hadn’t understood. My dad smiled and told her I wanted to be a big time writer in America.

“When you become a writer,” she started, “Come back and write about us. We only make 500 rupees but the men make 1500,” she finished, referring to some of the male tea pluckers behind her and the harsh pay wage gap in Sri Lanka.

And so, one day, I will.


Written by Mariyum Rizwan. Originally published in June 2020.