Fairgrounds: A Feature with Lambda Literary

Founded in 1991, Lambda Literary believes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer literature is fundamental to the preservation of our culture, and that LGBTQ lives are affirmed when our stories are written, published, and read.

A kind of purring, outside the sill
in a bright morning, so bright
it’s as though something in the sky tore apart.

Still, the mourning doves. Always erroneous
birds of the Sonoran Desert.
As a child, I believed my grandmother
placed them in mesquite, bougainvillea,
acacia, for me. Outside my guest sill,

in the white lie, the bright morning of childhood.
Somebody loved me enough to plant
birds that rumpled the air into murmurs,
a constant there, there. She is gone,
and they are otherwise known

as rain doves. This morning, I woke in her
old neighborhood, the birds in their proper
places. A super bloom year, from so much
rain—the saguaros alight in grief flowers
so large they erase themselves.

we (are) cross. we nevernorms. we wear senses immense. we move in our own service. we’re

curious. we’re an inconvenience. we (are) cross. we accuse our wiser incisors. remove scum. we

amuse our own inner oceans. we croon coarse verses. we scissor arm in arm scream cream romance

in our asses. come as screw are. no-nouns. we are one. we are unwon. we are we. co-nouns. sew-

nouns. riven seams. remove names. uncover us as our coarse resonance courses an enormous ease

swoons us. we curve ever nearer. warm unman on warm unman.emissions raw viscera. no sires.

no mares. we reconceive sex. so we can move across a ruinous universe.

When the Pope resigned they sent black smoke up chimneys,
into the pixels of my Grandmother’s big screen TV.
I came home to her weeping, to: The world is ending,
the devil is coming, and it’s because of gay marriage.

I would have laughed, but it was my birthday.
I said: Some of my best friends are gay.

I didn’t say: I hold hands with girls in side-street Boston
restaurants with my head on a 360 degree swivel.
I didn’t say: I like the way their shampoo tastes,
holding doors, splitting checks, sharing jackets.
I did climb the stairs to strip the red dress I’d worn to impress a boy
with long eyelashes, soft hands, pink polo shirts.

I did return to eat my birthday soup. No cake,
because she knew I was starving myself for him.
I wanted to become so light that he could lift me,
become ribs that could fit in a sample size dress
for a wedding that wouldn’t start a little apocalypse,
for a marriage that wouldn’t make her weep.

She died the next year and he never loved me.
I wish I’d stayed at the table, asked for cake,
understood my shrinking was the hell. I wish I showed her
just how shampoo and hands and jackets created worlds.
I should have filled myself up and let her see me
when the smoke cleared, when the ash fell, when I sparked.

I study the brown water on the screen as it merges onto Waugh. Tan slicks drain from Woodlands driveways where my father ensconces himself, as mezcal into waters the color of Pastry War margarita mix. But the loblollies’ unnatural green, the yards exploding with weeds: this is what Houston was made for, mosquitoes exponentiating atop mailboxes, alligators squatting in cul-de-sacs. White houses differentially flooded from above are the rise and fall of an EKG. My city’s unzoned heart, beating. My own four hundred leagues away.

The inches the water climbs the driveway, the Menil Collection’s post anticipating destruction, classmates fording the Rice University rapids on Bissonnet, blood pumping into the bodies of ten million new mosquitoes: I hover up here with the news helicopters watching it all. Buffalo Bayou wriggles itself into new banks. The bayou’s fresh brown paint seeps through the dented walls of warehouse where those I love drink and make art— Barbee Manshun, the Jenner House, She Works Flexible, El Rincón
Social, Beta Theater, Dykon Fagatron, Super Happy Fun Land
— I name them all, a dirge of protection for the city I love and can’t save, for my own fascia still stuck in the Ashby High Rise’s unbuilt windows, the building’s teeth on the NIMBY’s yard signs in my old neighborhood, the water creeping up the turn-of-the-century redbrick. Friends tie down psych-ward inpatients and bear them upstairs on cross-beam stretchers; Braes Bayou reclaims three floors of the hospital. I call loved ones and whisper reassurances like calm waves, useless, while the rain fuzzes through the speakers. I wish my city would come together like a Rothko, but it’s more of a Close, two million dissonant shades that only seem from afar to blend into a single image. Those I love smear into the places we made until all I can see is the water’s bruise, Houston’s blood still rising. I am not drowning.

Part of me still believes each word a gem-
stone a glyph a rune

home from another eight hours this life
a dumpster

who am I to pretend I was reborn
from the moon kingdom

that I lived in an argent palace & deserve
more than minimum wage

okay it’s 6 p.m. I will disco-nap for six more
let my tired bones bramble

in asterisms until I wake from a past
life where my tears briolette

from a sailor’s dream but it’s midnight the lewk
procured from a sample sale

the torso refracting the creature clothed
in sequins myself in a hybrid

in the backseat alone headed off to nightlife
popping a Klonopin

kat’s eye kubic zirkonia karat the bitter weight
of gold beneath my tongue

this calm like a weatherless green screen
on the raptured nightly news

like some days I think is it enough to pretend there
is a silver crystal

behind my ribs when I order vodka tonic someone
says cute top I know

this world is safe with queer misfits in yellow
lipstick and creepers

my joints are crystalline my shoes uncomfortable
but when the bodies

fill I join them in an unlit room a mirror on each wall
this thing I treasure

is neighborhooding in the hobnob to minimal beats
leaving my apartment in secret

masquerading solo w/ benzos & ethanol & a little water
in my morganite gut

I impersonate a goddess from a book I don’t remember
pulling cumulus

down my arms waving in rhythm the cold sweat of A/C
this jewel this dark stroll

me dancing in the company of acquaintances who say hi
kiss cheek call me my name

I know what it’s like to drag yourself out of bed what it’s like
to try to become someone whole.

July Westhale, Wryly T. McCutchen, Jennifer Cox-Shah, Kenan Ince, JD Scott

July Westhale is the award-winning author of Via Negativa, Trailer Trash (selected for the 2016 Kore Press Book Prize), The Cavalcade, and Occasionally Accurate Science. Her most recent poetry can be found in The National Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, CALYX, The Indianapolis Review, Vinyl, Tupelo Quarterly, RHINO, Lunch Ticket, and Quarterly West. Her essays have been nominated for Best American Essays and have appeared in McSweeney’s, Autostraddle, and The Huffington Post. She is also a staff writer at The Establishment. She was the 2018 University of Arizona Poetry Center Fellow and is the 2019 Writer-in-Residence at Alley Cat Books.

Wryly T. McCutchen is a quadruple scorpio, hybrid writer, performer, and community educator. In 2018 they were a Lambda Literary Fellow in poetry. Their work has appeared in Foglifter, Tiferet Journal, and Nat. Brut. They hold a dual genre MFA from Antioch University. My Ugly and Other Love Snarls (University of Hell Press) is their debut poetry collection.

Jennifer Cox-Shah is ready to slip into her second Chicago summer and lives with her wife and dog (who may actually be a fox or a cat but TBD). She earned her Master’s in Literature and Creative Writing at Harvard University and was a 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow at the Retreat for Emerging Voices. She has been published in Emerge: 2018 Lambda Anthology, freeze frame fiction, Microchondria III: Short Stories Collected by the Harvard Book Store, The Passed Note, The A3 Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Pocket Change Magazine, and Streetlight Magazine.

Kenan Ince is a queer, Turkish-American mathematician, poet, and organizer from Texas living on occupied Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute territory (so-called Salt Lake City). Their work was featured in The Missouri Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Word Riot, and the anthology Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America, among others. They are the recipient of scholarships to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and Lambda Literary Writers’ Retreat and winner of the Utah Pride Center’s Poetry and Prose Contest.

JD Scott is the most recent winner of the Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize, which will result in a debut short story collection published by Lake Forest College and distributed by Northwestern University. Scott’s debut poetry collection, Mask for Mask, is also forthcoming from New Rivers Press. Scott’s work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. Accolades include being awarded a Lambda Emerging LGBTQ Voices fellowship, attending the Poetry Foundation’s inaugural Poetry Incubator, and being awarded residencies at the Millay Colony, the Edward F. Albee Foundation, and Writers at the Eyrie.


Hailey Brown

Hailey Brown is a freelance illustrator born and raised in mid-Michigan. With a Bachelor’s of Science in Zoology, she spent years formerly working as a field biologist. Moving across country to the East Coast, she also moved from science to art and graduated the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Hailey works as a freelance colorist and illustrator for a wide assortment of clientele including comic anthologies, fantasy authors, and Dynamite Entertainment.

First Featured In: No. 15, spring 2020

The Identity Issue

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