We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest, Break Poetry Open, by talented poets Robin Gow, Jessica Nguyen, Danny McLaren, and Uma Menon.
We hope you’ll enjoy these editors’ picks as much as we did.
i had a dream they took out my uterus & handed it to me.
my uterus was an ornate vase & i asked, “what am i supposed to do with this?” the doctor shrugged he was in a suit & tie & had lavender gloves he suggested i use it to collect something. i stuck my hand in deep to see if there was already anything in there, found a ring i lost maybe four years ago & i wondered how it got there. silver claddagh waiting scraping up against the glass lining of the vase. it had something to do with hope, i think a uterus does even if you take it out & discover it’s a shoe box or an urn or a vase. i tried other items, starting with buttons, snipping them off all my clothes so that i would have more. clear buttons, black buttons, brown buttons, red buttons, all of them inside the vase, i thought they might transform, i thought that might be the point of the strange object but nothing happened. i slept holding the vase & imagining what it was like inside me what kind of objects it hungered for. i talked to it, i told the vase that i was sorry this was how everything had to happen. i bought flowers after flowers to let sprout from the vase’s mouth: lilies, carnations, roses & i’d keep asking the uterus, “are you happy?” but the vase wouldn’t respond. emptying out the greenish stem-water left over from the flowers i stuck my hand in again only this time i felt an ache in my chest as i did, a kind of phantom connection, a hand under skin. i wept, it was something about hope for something; a hand searching under skin for lost objects, the ring like a kind of opening for beetles or other insects to crawl through. i was scared it might always be like this if i kept the thing around. i had to break it. no, not in the driveway or the street, a push from the counter in the kitchen where all glasses & plates will eventually shatter. the pieces on the floor like teeth of an unknown monster. i apologized to the uterus as i cleaned up its pieces. i took a bowl from the cupboard & began filling it with buttons out of habit or maybe some kind of hope. from the buttons grew the stems of flowers, only the stems.
Robin Gow’s poetry has recently been published in POETRY, The Gateway Review, and tilde. He is a graduate student at Adelphi University pursing an MFA in Creative Writing. He is the Editor at Large for Village of Crickets, Social Media Coordinator for Oyster River Pages and interns for Porkbelly Press. He is an out and proud bisexual transgender man passionate about LGBT issues. He loves poetry that lilts in and out of reality, and his queerness is also the central axis of his work.
perks of a half-deaf wallflower
one. it’s so much easier to sleep lying in bed, on my “good ear” – whether it’s thunderstorms or my partner’s snoring, I am able to slip past silently through the night no baby can wake this baby up. everyone envies my mornings since they see no traces of dark circles under my eyes they’d ask, “what’s your secret?” who knew that my disability could be a celebrity-level beauty hack?
two. the drill fire alarm comes in—oh wait, that’s not a perk.
two. I can pretend to not hear you and use my deafness as a legitimate excuse. – this especially works when I am not particularly fond of you. this also works when I am not paying attention to something that I should’ve been paying attention to “oh, sorry. what’s that? I couldn’t quite hear you the first time. can you repeat what you said? thanks.” (smirks) I swear it’s the truth sometimes. . three. during trials and interviews, “we can’t hire you because you—” oops, that’s not a perk either. . three. I got extra time on my ACT tests. didn’t think that having my time limit doubled would help me on this kind of standardized testing, since only one of the four of the subjects required listening to begin with… but I did get a small private room to myself with no pencil scratching and people breathing . four. I got the same ACT score as my last one. and I wasn’t even given the extra time last— wow, I need to stop. what is the definition of self-actualization again? . four. I am everybody’s right hand person. the ones who’ve passed my friendship test re the ones who remembered to walk on my left. you can tell who the strangers are – they are the ones who I dance tango with as I quickly sashay to get to their right side. . five. walking into every classroom I wore an fm unit like a prop, which consisted of a hearing aid for me and a microphone for the teacher to speak into, which means having to blow my cover as I approach
now, I could expect the spotlight to be on me – yes, the star actor who deserved an oscar for passing as a full hearing person, coming up on stage to deliver her speech: “I’d like to thank lip-reading and body language – I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today without them.”
all confused eyes would be on me, sometimes awkward silence, but mostly attention to the quiet girl sitting in the front because isn’t that what being half-deaf means? getting all the special attention?
six. I can find my teachers easily when I need them. it’s great because if the teacher rushes out of the classroom, I always know where they go.
one time, the bell rang and it was the quickest I’ve seen a teacher leaving the room (I can understand his urge, though) the problem was that he was wearing my microphone so I had to chase him down. and of course, I thought it’d be cool to spy on what he was doing through my hearing aid. so, I did.
and what I first heard seconds in was the sound of of a stream, which lasted for…. a while. then, a toilet flushing.
Jessica Nguyen/Nguyễn Thị Mai Nhi is a world traveler, activist, and writer. Though having lived in the U.S. for most of her life, she hops from one country to the next in hopes of discovering pieces of home to fill her Asian American soul. Known to be a soft-spoken person in the real world, she often channels her feelings through her writing as she finds written words to be just as powerful as when they’re spoken. Jessica plans to publish her own chapbook, “softly, I speak” in the near future. To learn more about her current projects, please visit her website at byjessicanguyen.com or follow her @byjessicanguyen on social media.
Do you ever wonder if your gender sparks joy? If it fits you like a glove, if you love the way the words sound in your mouth or leave your lips, How it feels to say ‘they’ with your own tongue And know better than anyone else how to say your own name?
Does your gender excite you? Does it hum in your veins, electric, ignited, Keep you up at night, tossing from panicked to delighted, thinking what if I’m a boy? or what if I’m nothing at all?
But ‘nothing’ seems scary. My gender isn’t scary. Sure, it’s loud, and it’s big, It takes up too many seats on the bus, makes the up-tight man on the left of me scoot over one.
But it’s dynamic, and powerful, and strong. It repels close-minded like a magnet, And pulls kind and ‘knowledgeable about feminist theory’ my way.
It’s ‘too many beers on a Saturday night’ euphoric, It spills across my clothes when I’m not careful, Or, on some days, when I try really hard to make it seen.
My gender beats in my chest when I run, or while I wrestle into my binder. Constricting my chest with freedom, just to look a little more me.
My gender kisses me goodnight, and greets me with the sunrise, And marks up my skin with ‘I love you.’
Do you ever wonder if your gender sparks joy? If you feel ‘just right’ with the words you choose to use To tell others who you are? Maybe you should Because it feels damn good.
Danny is a queer and non-binary writer who uses they/them pronouns. They are an undergraduate student studying Gender Studies, and beginning to dabble in queer, anti-racist, and anti-colonial theory. They have an interest in exploring themes related to equity, resistance, and intersectionality in their work, and often write about their gender, sexuality, and mental health through these lenses. They can be found on twitter at @dannymclrn.
shopping for a necklace
Uma Menon is a fifteen-year-old student and writer from Winter Park, Florida. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Huffington Post, The Rumpus, and National Poetry Quarterly, Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature, and the Cincinnati Review, among others. Her first chapbook was published in 2019 (Zoetic Press); she also received the 2019 Lee Bennett Hopkins Award in Poetry.
For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices want to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like… the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill Press.