The following piece is the poetry winner of F(r)iction’s Spring 2023 literary contest.

for Ba (Dec. 10, 1927 – Aug. 22, 2021)

Though it’s hard to take them 
through a grocery store – or 

on a plane – or even ride
them into a conference

panel – or across your cubicle, second
home which is sometimes your first

– horses 

are an excellent emotional		support animal.

          Watch their ears as you prattle on – attunement as if your mouth were a prairie opening– 
          as if your tongue were the grass of their fondest memories. In the 90s, as we traveled hills 
          of Kashmir on horseback, an army lathi jangled. The horse, sensitive. My father’s horse: 
          sensed. Horse reared & swept forth, as if it could suddenly fly, nostrils 

as wings. After flying, it clattered on
          the mountainside, my father –

sensitive to the rock next 
          to his head, sensitive 
to what memories he might

have missed in mountains

                          to come, sensitive to this new desire
for sensation. In 2007, my grandfather burbled, a lack

of oxygen to his brain. I stroked his face as if it were

wet rock, whispered into his sensitive ears, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Perhaps these sounds reminded him of his own 	     mouth, morning
                                                                              mala japa. His burbling

receded. Some years later, I discovered in truly old
Vedic rituals, priests used to repeat Shanti before 

sacrificing horses. Horses are 	         sensitive, you
know, and must be calmed before slaughter. Rituals

today must not be too sensitive. My Dada

survived. Until four years later when
he died. Two weeks ago, I asked

my father how

my 93-year-old Ba
            is. “Ghoda 

jevi,” he says. Today,
we are all the horses

crossing rituals as if they were 	    nations – or 
loved ones – we could visit with visas – with

visas – we too could somehow 	        visit.

A Review of Santa Tarantula by Jordan Pérez

Published on February 1, 2024 by University of Notre Dame Press.

Upon discovering Jordan Pérez’s award-winning poem “Santa Tarantula,” my immediate instinct was to share it with every poetry-enthusiast I know. Pérez’s command of hypnotic alliteration and masterful weaving of technical language from the fields of arachnology, religion, and capital punishment create a haunting statement on womanhood. Her debut collection, Santa Tarantula, mirrors the themes encapsulated in its eponymous poem: the connection between women and the natural world; the oppression that occurs in Biblical narratives, patriarchal governments, and intimate relationships; and the urgent need to dismantle the legacy of silence.

Divided into three sections—”Smallmouth,” “Dissent,” and “Gospel”—Santa Tarantula guides readers on a journey of healing alongside the speaker’s search for autonomy and self-love. In the collection’s opening poem, “Smallmouth,” Pérez asserts that what is left unsaid “demands to be / known.” This becomes the central motif of Santa Tarantula, urging readers to confront uncomfortable realities. Pérez’s award-winning poem “Deadgirl” does this brilliantly through the speaker’s observation of how a brown mushroom sprouting from the soil looks like the knee of a dead girl. The rain comes and mushrooms sprout everywhere, impossible to ignore, but eventually, the mushrooms disintegrate back into the earth. Indeed, the dark underbelly haunting this collection is the way violence committed against girls is suppressed. The speaker is left with lingering silence and feels dangerously unsafe in her own girlhood, “the [same] way [she] couldn’t be sure / which house in the neighborhood held the man // who touched little girls, and so in every house / is the man who touches little girls.” The omnipresence of femicide and sexual abuse is spine-chilling and heartbreaking, yet real—this tangled web of suppressed cultural and generational trauma is the reality Pérez “demands to be / known.”

With these wounds left unhealed, the collection moves into Part II: Dissent. Women align themselves with hissing tarantulas as they warp an ode to a Cuban government that sends dissidents and marginalized citizens to work camps. Biblical women start finding ways to escape their objectified existence as fruit, “swell[ed] with sugar, / [resting] heavy in [the] unloved palms” of their God. Women starve, left empty not only due to lack of food, but by the lack of justice. However, a woman’s desire to quell her hunger does not come without consequence; in “Santa Tarantula,” women ally themselves with the tarantula once again, and both are exalted to sainthood: “Praise / the tarantula woman still alive at forty.” But sainthood rarely comes with respect during one’s lifetime: the speaker swiftly shifts from praising tarantulas to a bone-chilling directive for men who long to domesticate them: “This is how you kill a tarantula. / Cover her, and hope to God she suffocates.” Reading this line for the first time felt like a punch to the gut, and a painful reminder that women are always in danger. However, Pérez leaves a glimmer of hope in the final line: if the tarantula survives, its assailant will face consequences. Still, the speaker persists, and the final poems in this section consider different ways women successfully voice their dissent, like taking communion with open eyes.

This hope bleed into the collection’s final section, Gospel. In addition to extending the Biblical allusions, the word “gospel” urges us to think about what truths need to be shared, or even worshipped. Though an undercurrent of danger remains bubbling beneath the surface of this section, the poems overall are lighter in tone, carrying the radical power of healing, love, and freedom. In “Asymptote,” the speaker’s mother reminds her that the body is a temple, but all the speaker can think of is when “a man / is burning [a temple] in the news.” Despite this, when a man asks the speaker how she can be touched after everything she’s been through, she poignantly asserts, “I refuse / to die having not been pressed to someone / else’s heart, having not come into the fullness of myself, / having not said this is my blood. This, my body. Saying no / or yes, and liking it.” Pérez’s masterful use of enjambment in this section amplifies the speaker’s longing for autonomy: whether she refuses or accepts to be touched, the choice is hers, and hers alone.

The speaker also finds power in herself in the ghazal “I Was Named for the River of Blessings.” The ghazal, a musical form that often contemplates love, spirituality, and loss, is one of my favorite forms of poetry. Pérez chooses the words “halleluiah” and variations of the word “name” as refrains to contemplate the speaker’s origin, struggles with gendered violence, and desire to sing hymns of her female loved ones. The last couplet of a ghazal typically includes a name, usually that of the poet. Instead of explicitly providing a name, Pérez links the speaker’s growth to the Jordan River—a symbol of freedom to the Israelites escaping slavery in Egypt, and the site of many Biblical miracles and baptisms: “Bigger than I am, he touches each growing blackberry, naming / even the greenest ones. Oh, river of blessings. Oh, halleluiah, halleluiah.” These lines gorgeously portray the pure joy of healing, as the speaker experiences a symbolic baptism and flourishing rebirth.

There is much more to write about Pérez’s incredible debut, like her precise execution of form, including a subversive mixed-up sestina, a haunting reverse diminishing verse, poignant prose poems; her feminist reinterpretation of Biblical stories; and her recurring references to insect and reptilian eggs to represent the simultaneous fragility and regenerative power of womanhood. My only wish is that there were more poems in this collection exploring how the legacy of Cuban labor camps lives on in survivors, or that the poems already exploring this were more seamlessly woven into the collection. As with any themed collection, many poems explored the same motif using different forms and language, so it’s natural for the lasting impression to feel like a blended collage. Because Pérez compellingly links predominant narratives (such as those from the Bible) to the intimate struggles of women, I found myself longing for the specter of cultural trauma to linger more in my final impression of Santa Tarantula. Poems like “Mixed-Up Sestina,” “O God of Cuba,” and “Dissent,” which explore the haunting impact of an unjust government on its subjects, were some of Perez’s strongest, adding more nuance to Santa Tarantula’s project to weave a web between historical and personal traumas.

Overall, what most impressed me about Santa Tarantula is its unflinching honesty and urgency to shake its readers out of complacency. It’s a collection that not only conveys the importance of looking at the dark history humanity pushes into the shadows, but also compels us to imagine possibilities for rebirth that are grounded in radical compassion. I am surprised that Santa Tarantula is Pérez’s debut; her poetic finesse, unique use of language, and thought-provoking metaphors make this debut a poignant and unforgettable exploration of societal injustices and the resilience required to overcome them. I will never forget these poems, and I am so excited to follow Pérez’s career as a poet.

Three Poems

Daughters of Ma-ao grew like stalks of rice, best left to fester in pools of rainwater. Tsoy will only pluck them out, when they begin to gourd on the dirt. Flies feed on the mud burying their bulbs into the plants whose roots blister. Stalks can also thrive in the heat, swollen, until the sun…

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Behind the Masks: A Community Feature with Yellow Medicine Review

Yellow Medicine Review showcases the works of Indigenous writers and artists, both emerging and renowned. The journal takes its name from the Yellow Medicine River running through southwest Minnesota, a place where all peoples—Indigenous and settler alike—came together to dig for the root of a medicinal plant that grew along the riverbank. It brought healing. Such is the spirit of Yellow Medicine Review. Each issue is guest edited by a different Indigenous writer, and submissions come strictly from an Indigenous perspective. It is a journal created by Indigenous peoples and not a journal about Indigenous peoples, so that authentic and contemporary voices replace harmful stereotypes and misconceptions.

by Travis Hedge Coke

Admonish and relish little cobbled quayside
The home pleasant locus of Iroquoian costume

The warrior of social disintegration
still standing as her old people walk abroad, 
may be used to a relaxing politics gist

Inexorably annexed from Zapotecan culture
we see “Spanish-style” grow in-line and have
complicated feelings about what that means,
standing still as the old people walk abroad,
maybe used to a black sapote, red sapote, marmalade sapote

Mami Americana, Mammy in Cuba, Mama from Buenos Aires to Santa Fe 
to Santa Fe to Santa Fe

There are at least three Santa Fe in Colombia
Holy faith wherever you look, in a conquered land 
Where clothes become costumes
Where we are consumed
A reduction

Half the world in five stanzas and marmalade trees.

John the Revelator in a Gas Mask
by Diane Glancy

        from Beaded Mask
        seed beads, deer hide, ermine, and ribbons on Iraqi gas mask 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.
        lent by the Tweed Museum
        Naomi Bebo, Ho-Chunk and Menominee
        one of 15 featured works in a 2022 exhibit, “Air,” to protest pollution 
        Utah Museum of Fine Arts
        Salt Lake City, Utah

The gas mask was for the smoke from burning oil fields. He tells her. 
They set their own fields on fire in defiance.
And the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke— 
when day was night, and night was without moon and stars.

She travels through pokeweed for the relic of an old war. 
Her headlight steady.
She drives her needle through small holes in the beads. 
She finds the tunnels she ties with thread.
She remembers the beaver. The badger. The wolf.
The thick lakes and forest of the north woods.
She knows distant fires spread remnants of ash on the road.
She beads the gas mask white as frost on sycamores with sparse floral pattern— 
a vine and leaves.

The State of Indigeneity 2022
by January Rogers

Men don’t like to get forgotten 
Women, expect it
the illusion of noise
is created, it’s easy
to fake it
what makes
a generation
devoid of apathy/compassion 
Children left unchallenged 
unable to focus
without ambition

Big Auntie Energy 
is where I live
this love
is why I write
look at me
in protected stance
arms spread apart like wings
for you, you don’t even know... 
layers of boundaries built
to move in freedom
within them
the lack of distraction
becomes your legacy
not forced responses
to questions so stupid
so putrid
yes stupid

Journey as achievement
blind to the binaries of Sexes 
characteristics still exist, but different 
show me an Uncle
who didn’t evolve
from Knowledge
and Instincts to support
good Women around him
and the Children

bring me into circles
of creative beings
who listen
committed to connections 
at all costs
no sacrififice, no such thing 
but constant Investment

who cares
who, really cares
find us in the middle 
of roads hoisting signs 
high above us 
Give it ALL back

Damn that thing
that makes activism
and those who practice it,
perhaps we need to wait
just a while more
for politics to truly
intersect with influence, and influence 
becomes a
of change

Big Cosmic Energies
on the move 
simultaneous urgings 
of keep up, and wait
and if we get forgotten 
in the end, we’ll dust off
our stories
because our voices 
didn’t get the attention 
our egos won’t feel
the sting of insult 
because of it

it means
we’ve moved on
the kids
will be
what they be the state of Indigeneity 
will be, we
are here briefly
as men and women and all others 
are healing
from life to goddamn life
we are here witnessing, participating 
in the fluidity
of our times.


Just outside of Chinatown, the stylist holds my hair in his hands and calls to his assistant. “Help me!” She runs over and sticks her fingers into the dye-free floppy strands. “It’s hard to hold!” he exclaims. “It’s so healthy!” she nods. “It is sooo healthy!” he returns. “We never see hair this healthy,” the assistant speaks into the now-falling tresses…

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Three Poems

Reopening In a blue light, the woman is still. She is water recuperating after the kind of storm that again and again unfolds its violence and gives way to the drop of a stone. One morning, she is on the precipice of the small town where she sewed the hem of a too-long skirt: dusted…

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Three Poems

Self-Portrait as Twice-Exorcised Child Should’ve known the demon wouldn’t leave so easy. Perched on the dresser it wears shadow, won’t let me see it directly, just claws and fangs, pale tongue like a serpent reaching for the floor. It tries to confuse me. “They said of Agatho that for three years he kept a stone…

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At My Gynecologist, the Ghost Gloves Go into the Garbage and the Too-Green Girls Become a Little Less Green

You are here because you are supposed to be. Every year.Black hand to brown thigh. Wide jellied curling wand set and ready against you. Noting your age, 23, she says, So, you’ve never had sex before?Push.Hiss-Hurt-Holler.Good, Click-Crack-Crank. Wait until you’re married. Stretch. Stab. Sting. Just breathe, it’ll be over soon, the nurse coos, but if you breathe, you…

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Three Poems

What you really need right now is that hong shao rou recipe.Not the one in the Times your bougie budsMartha Stewarted the shit out ofblowing half their take homes at the Ferry Building. No, the one you need is the one your Ma sharedthat time you fought in New May Wahthat time she showed youthe difference between dark and…

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Her Lost Village

The following piece is the poetry winner of F(r)iction’s Fall 2021 literary contest

splinters her weathered skin,
plums rotting under the sun. Colors

on her skin fissure into roots,
sweetness, dormant in her veins eroding into dirt.

Gabled roofs wrangle her hands as
they become limp, harvested into

withered seeds and chipped in the wind.
Chopsticks and brushstroke fracture, fashioning

into lifelines sprawled like limbs, crooked paths;
the cobblestones fork into diverging omens, slashed

with concrete roads and creases in her palm. The Yangtze River spills into roots, flooding
porcelain bowls, suffocating the plums— sour yet sweet, buried

like proverbs in the dirt.

Three Poems

Self-Portrait as Mutant We fear the fidgeting of GMOs, spider DNA in the corn, crab DNA in the goat milk. One by one our genes are ticking off and on, dazzling broken Christmas lights, deciding: green eyes for this baby, an extra rib for that one. Magic powers, a maybe. Born with mutations you might not see,…

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Letters from Afghanistan: A feature from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project

Imagine you have a story to tell. It’s a story about hope, loss, tragedy, and courage. It’s your story. Now imagine trying to write this story having grown up in a country where education was denied to you, where telling your story has been criminalized. And then picture writing it in a second language. The…

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