Tell me when the ocean will begin

1 / Rip Tide: A Prelude
Figure 1. “Anatomical figures on a cliff by the sea, their heads illuminated by light. Line engraving and etching by B. Probst.” 1735. Wellcome Museum.

The light in the room is a dim, dark blue. Shadowy people crowd around the bed where I am lying naked on my side, but they are without definition: a busy, blurry hoard.

I don’t feel my skin. I’m not aware that I am crying, though I have been almost continuously since the morning before, when my midwife said that if I went home, my baby would die.

Raising the mask to my mouth, I try hard to fill my lungs even as my body involuntarily compresses and tightens. Then, I have to let the mask fall away since the rubber around its edges only allows air to pass into my body, not out.

Raise to inhale, lower to exhale. Repeat and repeat and repeat. But there’s no change. The pain of the tide rippling through me — electric, uncontrolled — doesn’t recede with the inhalation of the gas. My work becomes still heavier: in addition to the waves engulfing me, I can’t quite catch my breath.

I get my movements mixed up and exhale into the mask and it is as though I am trying to add air to an already full chamber — it goes nowhere, or backwards down my throat. It cannot leave my mouth. In those moments I’m drowning and, though the medium is my own breath, I feel I’m deep in black water.

There are stories so ordinary and widespread that they quietly permeate every human life. They are tales we learn passively, through mention and missive, of water and floods, fire and disaster, of disease and illness and death.

The stories’ cultural commonality makes fear of what they portend rarer than it probably should be, until one or more of their subjects comes into lived life and reinstructs in human smallness.

Wildfire in Northern California is one such teacher, as, every year now, we must live through fire season with bags packed, always ready to evacuate. Flooded streets and subways, buildings that give way in the night — these happenings remind us that we are not in control. That technology and systems fail. That safety is an illusion.

Childbirth, too, can renew this old human awareness of frailty, of our passing nature. I know this from recent experience.

2 / Cyclical Torrent: thirteen months earlier
Figure 2. “The War in Egypt: hoisting invalids on board a hospital ship. Wood engraving.” Date unknown. Wellcome Museum.

In May of 2020, my grandmother — my last living grandparent — died. When my spouse, David, and I showed up at her assisted living complex in Troy, Michigan, there was still snow on the ground. The cold loss I felt came from more than just my grandmother’s absence. The Detroit suburb itself felt bereft — the streets wide and slick, the landscape brown and untended. If I had been from there, I probably would have recognized this as spring, but it was bleaker than any California winter I’d experienced.

Stepping inside her apartment, we found half a cup of coffee, the shower full of cheap shampoos, the fridge still stocked with Tupperware containers of food that no one was going to eat. Our task was to sort through the small mountains of paper and dollar-store jewelry that she had accumulated during her eight decades.

Our work began right away. We sifted through her belongings, placing most things into black garbage bags to be donated, and saving some others — old photos and letters, a notebook containing simple accounting of her monthly bills calculated randomly across its pages, and hand-embroidered handkerchiefs.

Grief and the sorting of her possessions tired us. When we went to prepare for bed that first night, David pulled down the left side of the covers and found that someone — probably my cousin or uncle — had pulled the blanket up over a large brown spot on the sheets. A strong body smell — of perfume, stale laundry, excrement — wafted up from the bed.

This must have been where she had had her stroke and soiled the sheets before falling to the floor. I felt my throat close, and my eyes burn as they filled. She had been alone for hours.

We searched for but couldn’t find replacement sheets. Even if we had found them, the problem would have remained: the stain had soaked through to the mattress. There was nothing to be done, and nowhere else to sleep. David covered the stain back over with the blanket and, pulling me into his side, told me he would sleep there.

That moment conjured the old realization: now she’s gone, my time for knowing her has run out. But the writer and physician Atul Gawande suggests that we ask questions of our dead. That there is more to be discovered, even when the person can no longer physically answer back. Though he means the questions to be asked in the form of autopsy, postmortem inquiry can also be extended to the emotional and ethereal, to things we cannot see.

So, I asked questions of my grandmother’s life there, as we sifted through the remnants of it, and I continued to query after returning home, as I was forced to add others to the group of addressees.

My dead haven’t all died. In the months after my grandmother’s rainy funeral, my birth family fell apart. Fights erupted over differences that had long been there, unconfronted: views on Trump, Black Lives Matter, vaccines, and the pandemic. Siblings blocked other siblings on social media. My mother stopped speaking to me. Though I’m the middle of nine children, and this should mean always being part of a group, I found myself quite suddenly and shockingly alone. It was the final razing of an already shaky structure.

Querying my grandmother and her life brought a still resolve about my future that I hadn’t previously had. Though she had dealt with the alcoholism, abuse, and neglect of family members, worked in a factory for years, and lost my grandfather a decade and a half before her own death, my grandmother had always been ready with a quick, unoffending joke. She regularly drove her friends and grandchildren around town. When she dressed up for her Bingo group’s Halloween party, she chose a cow costume and won the contest. In short, she didn’t wait for others to change before living and loving her life. I didn’t want to wait anymore either. The point, I began to see as the losses accumulated behind me, was to make the choice to take a chance.

So, back home in California, with the awareness of my gutted family life ever present, I made an appointment with my obstetrician to get my IUD removed. Two days after my doctor pulled out the little copper T and set it, still a little bloody, on the blue-papered tray, I got pregnant.

3 / The Present Flood
Figure 3. “Geography: eroded rocks in the sea. Coloured wood engraving.” C. Whymper. Wellcome Collection.

Just after my child was born, I thought that the sadness I was experiencing was due to the way the birth had gone. Low amniotic fluid. Fetal intolerance of labor. Stress and stress and stress. My baby was taken out of my body with a knife and swept to a see-through bassinet for inspection. It was a full ten minutes before I saw my child’s face. When they* were finally placed on my chest, I was too shaky from the drugs flowing into my system through the epidural catheter in my spine to hold on to their tiny body.

I don’t remember being taken back to the room where I would have given birth, and I don’t remember breastfeeding them there for the first time, though there is a photo with a timestamp showing that this happened. This forgetting is a common source of sadness after C-section, and for a while it was mine, too.

At home, my body healed both too quickly and too slowly. My belly was gone and too soon, to the outside world, I must have looked quite like the person I’d been before.

But the line where I was cut open still stood up red and shiny right beneath the place where I zipped my pants. The adhesive from the tape that had held catheters, monitors, and IV in place sat in persistent patches across my body, blackened with lint from my sweats and t-shirts.

Each day in the shower, my grief was Homer’s wine-dark sea, spreading to the limits of the bathroom.

During my first attempts to pick open the knot of my sadness, I thought these quick bodily changes and my absence of memories of our birth were the reasons my heart was broken, despite my healthy baby. But as I gathered up the days between my various presents and the static, murky “then,” my understanding of exactly what I felt I had lost was changed. My child’s difficult birth drew out the many other deaths in my life — the many people and relationships that I couldn’t resurrect. It brought to my awareness the very small amount of control I had over the family I had brought into existence by creating my child. I could not mend my first family with the birth of a second. I had not bought myself safety, but greater than ever vulnerability.

With them napping on my chest, their head close to mine, their tongue working inside their mouth and smiles flashing across their dreaming face, I realize again and again that they will die. That this is the reality of what I have made — that they are something that will live briefly, hopefully beyond the span of my own life, and then die, as we all will.

If I tried to protect my child from all risk, they would grow up fearful, and I knew from experience that fear inhibits love and the ability to engage with the world in joy. We are not safer when we are afraid. The fear itself offers no protection.

4 / Coda: Without Inventing a Life Preserver
Figure 4. “An écorché seal: five figures showing the musculature of the body, with details of the muscles of the face.” Lithograph by C. Berjeau, 1872. Wellcome Collection.

In her poem, “Diving into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich has her speaker intone: “there is no one / to tell me when the ocean / will begin.” When I first read this poem aloud to myself sometime in 2016 while taking a poetry class just because, I hadn’t yet lost my brother-in-law to overdose, my graduate school mentor to heart attack, my grandmother to stroke. My family, though troublesome to me, still felt like a coherent whole. And so, I didn’t quite understand what “the wreck” might be, or why an experienced diver would need someone else to tell them where their medium of travel — the water — began.

I know now that the water is engulfing sadness. The boat ladder from which the speaker must descend is the bridge between the “normal” world, calm and unaware of that which lies beneath, and the other. The wreck is the thing lost — the source of grief — drawing the mind like a circling explorer, again and again. The equipment is insufficient because you can never, no matter how many times you’ve made the trip, be prepared for what you’ll find below.

I was lucky: My expedition wasn’t doomed from the start as some birth adventurers find theirs to be. But there is still no one to tell me when the next ocean will rise up and swallow me whole. You might call it postpartum depression. But that doesn’t help me understand what this period of life is or means.

Grief is one of the skeletal structures of life, always there but not felt until something breaks. As I labored that late spring night, I wore my grandmother’s earrings. In that dark passage, I met her— myself engaged in birthing and she in dying — both of us knowing that this was the end of life as we had known it.

It is not a hormonal condition to grapple with the glimmering mortality of love and life.

My story is not the one I thought I would tell, of pushing my baby out and pulling them up onto my chest. I never had control over the process. That was taken the moment I learned my baby might not survive. But I know, even before that, I had only the illusion of it. That is one point of the common tales of destruction and loss — to remind of frailty and vulnerability. Another is just to tell of the endings that visit us all. I am grateful to share a beginning, though difficult, with my child.

I birthed my baby as ports birth ships — with the help of a large crew. We don’t know yet the voyage we’ve begun, though that horizon, always, looms.

*My spouse and I refer to our child using they/them pronouns.

SARAH HOENICKE FLORES studied creative writing (BA) at Mills College in Oakland, California, and journalism (MJ) at UC Berkeley. They are now working on their PhD in Comparative Literature at UC Irvine. They write about many different subjects — from inequities in the maternal healthcare system to Jesus Christ’s Instagram account — for a range of publications, including the New York Times, Literary Hub, and many others.

Life Changes in an Instant


On 6th June 2015 I came to Bangalore. On 10th June 2015 M and I sat in the same classroom for the first time. On 23rd November 2019 afternoon with a little help from M I confirmed I am queer. On 23rd November 2020 we met for lunch and talked about her impending marriage while the sun burnt bright. Perhaps the brightness stopped her from looking into my eyes when she said how much she loves him and how great it feels, this socially sanctioned love business. The café caramel sundae is an ice cream that I blame for inducing queerness in my veins. It is the coffee, yes the deep dark rich coffee which makes me feel heady and wants to live a little more than I have been made to believe I am allowed. That ice cream tastes of liberation with the roasted cashews which I tasted on your tongue. Since then I have always spared some an extra moment of thought because when I taste those cashews I taste you, I taste that afternoon, the afternoon of my queerness and your continuous denial of it.

M, have you ever stood under the bright scorching sun for a very long time? The same kind I stood under when I waited for you outside Coconut Grove holding the chocolate coated biscuits wrapped in golden paper just for you. Standing in the bright sun for a really long time makes your vision momentarily blurred when you walk indoors. Blurred patches of black, red and purple swirl in front of my eyes as I wondered if it was going to be an afternoon of blurred lines. The drinks made us tipsy and our hands accidentally touched while we searched for poetry among the bookshelves of Blossoms. We kept chancing upon the same books, wanting to read the same blurb at the same time. I wanted to hurl myself miles away but stayed rooted to the ground.

Later in the evening we sat under bright yellow lights. I had just tasted the bitterness of the coffee at the back of your tongue. You took pictures of me because the light deepened the brown of my eyes. But you didn’t meet my eyes; I guess lasting eye contact was not for phases. You asked “How are you feeling?” I said, very asexual, still asexual. Once again you asked me to just wait for the right person to come along. Oh M, the right and the wrong people had come and gone. But my heart, oh my heart, stayed frozen, denied to beat while I stewed under your simmering gaze and lingering touch. I had wanted for my heart to skip a beat, feel breathless and goosebumps. I had none. I could be buying vegetables, making my bed, chatting with the sales man or having sex; it was all the same for me. The same when I kissed M, D who came before M and ABCs that have come after. It’s all the same, it always been the same. I had exhausted my explanations. M, your continuous denial was the force that pushed me to continuously accept. That evenings and, many evenings after that when we hurriedly dressed ourselves because your roommate could knock at any moment, I said out loud I am asexual. You gave me a long look and excused yourself.

We left when the sun had set. I reached for your hand, one last time. You gripped it tightly. We walked till the parking lot in silence. I wanted to look at you but it was sufficiently dark and our eyes couldn’t meet. You asked me one last time, are you okay? I said, “Yeah sure! Enjoy the biscuits; hopefully the chocolate has not all melted due to the heat”.


In 2015 I came to Bangalore. I finally had a home of my choosing. I knew no one in the city and prized my anonymity of just existing without scrutiny. Bangalore came with its canopied roads starching far off into the distance. I got what I had always wanted, hoped and prayed for- a clean slate, a fresh start. I was Priyanka and for the first time I could be who I wanted to be. The possibilities were endless and then I was hit by my queerness and M’s continuous reminder that it was just a phase.

Now, when I walk down the same long winding partially canopied roads, there is a cacophony of, “You are queer” on loop. Moments like these, my barely held together self is in grave danger of scattering on the roads. In an odd way, the city is reflects my interiority; while I am perilously close to spilling over, the city is already spilling over in every direction. My home in Jayanagar and some ruins in MG Road next to a sparkling Starbucks gives an inkling of the city I glimpsed when I occasionally visited, before finally settling down in this city. But it was quickly demolished. Concrete hurriedly pored over and the old parts kept getting replaced with new, shiny and gleaming parts. This city doesn’t know what was supposed to be and why does that resonate?

Enlarged, well lit closets often create the mirage of freedom. I am sitting in a locked room staring at the door. Taking in the stunned silence, the smallness of my metaphorical closet starts to close in on me. I share a poem on my instagram stories which goes as End of love should be big event/It should involve hiring a hall. M responds to that message; just want to let you know I wouldn’t ever stop loving you. I respond, I know that and I believe you. There is a cruel charm to this story; I shudder at what would have happened if the afternoon of 23rd November 2019 had turned out differently. Would I have continued the lead the straightjacketed life? Every time I think of kissing the razor blade of your collarbones I remind myself, the ones that entice also leave with a warm gush of blood.


M, it is grossly unfair and unjust, to leave me drowning in the sludge of queerness. I know you have said your apologies and I said it’s alright. You tinged me with queerness and I accepted it ; every time I reach for my favourite ice cream to drown the weight of living you are there in every bite, that afternoon is there in every bite. How much of what I love do I have to give up, to forget?

The fag end of Sunday and I am standing on the highway staring at the sky watching shadow of the half-moon peeping out. The sky is a sharp blue preparing for sunset. Slowly the sky swirls into an innocent yellow which has lost its capacity to scorch and burn. The yellow merges into the lovechild of orange and pink. My sister picks up the phone to capture the sunset. The dark green of the trees became black silhouettes on the screen against the setting sun, quietly shadowing the sky willing to lose its colour for a while. I lower the car window and let the wind smack against my face. The lingering winter chill reminds me of swiftly changing seasons. The queerness runs in my veins and the shadows of cost linger while the sky turns a pitch black.

Joan Didion, in The Year of Magical Thinking wrote Life changes fast/Life changes in the instant/ You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. I sat down to café caramel sundae and life as I knew it changed. My life was suddenly marked by absence. The presence of queerness marked the absence of M. The presence of asexuality marked the absence of sexual desire. My absences were also my certainties. Life changed fast. I had a closet to maintain, identities to explore and reassess the business of living and loving. I spent many nights wishing queerness was a piece of clothing that I could wear when I wished and folded away neatly in the closet hidden from plain view. But queerness was my skin; sewn into the very fabric who I was and with options to peel it away like paper. My body is the only body I will ever inhabit and it is queer. I am queer.

PRIYANKA is a law student living in Bangalore. An ardent reader of prose and poetry, she has keen interest in social justice and human rights movement. She is a queer person and aspires to be a human rights lawyer.

The Black Stones of Regret

You drop the children at the sitter and hurry to your car, their protests grating in your ears like bad brakes. You tell yourself you have the right to a bit of private life; this isn’t the Dark Ages, you know, women pining for knights in shining armor. You’re taking the afternoon off, to hell with diapers and soap.

It’s springtime in Santa Clara and the apricot, pear, and cherry orchards are ablaze in their pinks and whites. Traffic on Prunedale is sparse, Silicon Valley light-years away. The station wagon you drive, a ’64 Olds, is the size of a hay barn.

Nick’s fuzzy-fuzzy slips to the floor from the mattress in back. He’ll wail for it all afternoon; should you turn around? Well, he does have his bottle. Bruce’s lunch pail is open on the floor, leftover cookie disintegrating, juice can rattling. Earlier he complained about his preschool teacher; seems she didn’t care for his drawing of a pony on purple grass. Purple, she said, is wrong for a meadow. Why’s it wrong, he asked you. Purple’s not wrong, you wanted to say but didn’t. American teachers, who knows what they think.

You find yourself touching your hair, your cheek: you’re still among the living—and stylishly dressed for your afternoon; none of the women you are about to join would guess you sewed your Coco Chanel look-alike while the boys slept. A blues singer on the radio is a motherless child a long way from home. Your own song, equally as sad, is a country a long way from home, a refrain that goes, You’ll never be mine again. Never my love. Words of regret roll in the mouth like pebbles.

The Olds will be a pain to park. Your husband bought it used, the safest thing around, he said, so what if it’s a few years old? Some weekends the whole family camps in the monstrosity, the dog sleeping underneath the car. The afternoon with Lawyers’ Wives, Inc., will make up for Bradley’s idea of family time.

They’ll serve Danish and coffee. The pastry will be sickeningly sweet and the coffee a mockery of what you used to imbibe at Weise & Monski, where you translated letters to clients in England and France, described fish pumps, sewage pumps, oil pumps, flipped through dictionaries for the names of pump parts. Herr Olle, proud of his language skills, liked to dictate in French. You and Annfried corrected his malapropisms, giggling behind his back, Herr Olle pretending not to notice. Everyone in the office—the department bosses, the engineers, and “the girls,” translators all: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, although Brigitte handled mostly German correspondence—everyone drank one cup of coffee twice a day during the rigidly-scheduled 15-minute mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks. At lunch the chef of the Kantine scooped noodles onto employees’ plates with his bare hands, likewise the salad greens. You used to mutter under your breath to co-workers, but it would not have occurred to you to raise the matter with the men who run things. Bosses don’t mingle with cafeteria eaters; the Herren partake in the dining room. In California, though the coffee is lousy, you don’t have to put up with the server’s hands in your food.

 At the meeting you’ll refrain from alluding to your past, the bread and pastries of those years; you quite understand why television Nazis get laughs from your in-laws. Thank God Brad’s dad and stepmother live fifteen hundred miles away and show up only once every three years or so. But there’s that figure of speech your husband uses on you, German Boots. Today you’ll try to minimize your inflection. Say vegetables for me, someone said last time, I love the way you pronounce your vees. You wish you could eradicate your accent, your past, your existence in another country, that sense of being left out. If only a woman was in your life: a cousin, sister, grandmother or aunt. The longing for female companionship eats on you even here, among the well-meaning ladies. In another time, friendship existed: Annfried, in France with you as au pair and later as co-translator at Weise & Monski; Nancy, an American high-school senior from Detroit, here for the summer, who would return the following year to study at a German university; Isolde on that cruise down the Rhine where you and Brad first glimpsed each other; your cousin in Neibsheim, a few years younger and named after you. These women live in your mind as your country, your birthplace, your mother, your longing for love.

Your mother died at forty-two, which stopped the insistent wheedling of her cancer yet did not silence it, for you, too, take it as a given that you will live in a body wracked with pain. Impending doom is your family story. Your mother’s line, Just you wait till your father comes home: Do you use it on your children when you’re tired or cross? If you could say to them it’s nothing but a woman’s fantasy, the Law of the Father translated into something else. Laws are inaccurate perceptions, interpretations that don’t go by the book, there’s no such thing as a father with capital F, there is only this guy remembering his hurting. Your dad the baker, away at war and prison camp the first eight years of your life: your idea of a father was your mother’s idea, a hand-me-down fantasy of the male as persecutor, judge, and executioner, a man to whom one says, Father forgive me for I have sinned, a creature who would unite in himself all the kings, knights, gods of all the family stories and fairy tales, the Übermensch, the prince and redeemer. At the Eastern front, a stranger in a foreign country, he maimed and killed his fellow humans for their perceived inhumanity. And then to come home to Father forgive me! If you could tell your children their father, too, is an ordinary mortal, a man who has suffered, who’s been defeated, who wants to be loved for a change. As a child you could not love your dad, and now that part of your life its gone for good. From your mother you learned to withhold love; your mother likely learned from hers. Is it possible to write out your sorrow, look at yourself from a distance?

A branch of Lawyers’ Wives works with delinquent girls. You signed up some months ago. Since then, some of you have traveled weekly to Juvenile Hall, where you stand beside a teenager cutting into fabric pinned to a pattern. You sit next to her at a sewing machine and demonstrate how to insert the reel beneath the slide plate, guide the thread from spool to threading points, adjust the tension of pressure foot, regulate stitch length. You work slowly, deliberately, with gestures that are easy to copy. Now you try it, you say to the young woman.

She is a girl with black eyes, a child of color. Her foot experiments with the pedal, accelerates, slows down. The machine stitches at uneven speeds, careens forward in jumps, coughs into almost-halts, but eventually begins to hum along, basting a neckline here, joining sleeve to armhole there.

I’ve never made anything for myself, the girl says, too hesitant to allow astonishment into her voice. I didn’t know I could do this. 

What’s your name, you ask. 

Amina, she says. 

Amina, what a lovely name. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

My brother’s been drafted, she says, tears dripping on green-and-blue paisley. He’s leaving for ’Nam in a week. I won’t be there to say good-bye to him. I’m so scared! She continues to rattle away at the sewing.

You nod, you glance at the young woman, a child yet, a girl of fourteen or fifteen. You want to tell of airplanes that terrify, toddlerhood disrupted by air-raid sirens, weeds cooked into soup.

Amina, you say, putting your arm around her shoulders, I know what it’s like to be scared. The girl continues to sew, snuffling down on her work, making sure the fabric scoots along beneath the pressure foot.

Touching is against regulations, the hall supervisor tells you. When you violate the rules, you’re only hurting the girls. 

You stare at her mouth, thin lips pressed together. The mouth can shape itself so lovingly; surely it shapes itself even for her? 

And today, listening to the drone of minutes read at the meeting, it occurs to you that you should have protested at the German pump-manufacturing company, raised your voice to the chef or else to Herr Weise or Herr Monski. You and Annfried should have lodged a complaint. But girls don’t complain to authority figures. German individuals do not complain. Their fear of passion. Their deference to authority. Everyone is an authority in his field, even a cook dishing out noodles with his bare hands. 

But this is America. This is California, the trendsetter state. It’s time you opened your mouth. At the meeting of Lawyers’ Wives you complain. In Juvenile Hall the girls don’t get to sew except with our supervision. The machines, half a dozen of them, go unused until we get there once a week. By the third week Amina has gone home or been transferred, the half-done dress and remnants still in her cubby hole. Before Amina you worked with Debbie and Ruth and Maria and it’s always the same. None of the girls finishes what you helped her begin. You’re agitated now, you practically shout at the women in their coffee cups.    

There’s only so much we can do, the president says, a woman in high heels and matching accessories, groomed and exquisitely coiffed. 

You slink down in your seat. It’s hopeless.You’re unaccustomed to standing up for yourself. You think of your babies, driven from the womb into your arms like rag dolls. For this you drag them to the sitter?

On the way to the sitter’s housing tract you interrogate yourself. Why did you marry a lawyer? To hitch yourself to a mouth that does the talking for you?

He wasn’t a lawyer when I married him. I am trying to find my way in the world.

Why did you decide on California? To escape some cook in some cafeteria?

It got me a ticket into middle class. Bradley got things too. We both chose this. 

Someday you’ll have to take a closer look.

Your fear of water. Mother gave up on life early on but her fears have become your own. How often you fantasize about death, about loss, about dying! King Tut, the boy king of Egyptian antiquity, played at funeral all his life. All sixteen years of it.

The voyage from Amsterdam to New York, the stroll across deck. On the fourth day you wondered why the ship wasn’t making any headway. Waves heaved and lapped, but the Nieuw Amsterdam rocked in place. You imagined a shipwreck, and you unable to swim. The ocean appeared to becalm. The many small teeth below seemed to be at rest. Yet the ocean, mother of all, would swallow you alive. The future—marriage, love, sex—would slip beneath the waves.

I am going to sign up for swim classes, you decide as you exit the car at the sitter’s. Gonna learn how to swim. Presently you scoop the kids into the Olds and roar off. Nick, rolling around on the mattress in back, gropes for his fuzzy-wuzzy. A pony, says Bruce, will I have a pony someday? What does pony-grass look like? Safely home in your three-bedroom bungalow you groan with relief.

In the kitchen with an American cookbook you chop celery and onion for a tuna-noodle casserole, but the children are restless. Hungry. You should feed them right now; why wait for the man of the house? To build a tale for him: look at the good wife, how she nurtures and feeds—myths passed from mother to daughter? Wait ‘til your dad comes home, you burst out. I’m sick of it, get out of my face.

I want to be hugged myself, sink into lullaby arms, return to the mother country. I am a daughter unloved. Mutti, my mother! Where has she gone?

EDITH COOK worked as translator before immigrating and marrying in California, where she functioned as administrator in her husband’s law office and they raised three boys. She has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including two Historically Black Universities in Tennessee. in Wyoming she has been a recipient of the Wyoming Arts Council’s Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines, both in hard copy and online. Her poetry chapbook, A Slip of the Tongue, was published by Graham Press in California. From 2011 to 2017 she wrote weekly newspaper columns for Wyoming’s two main newspapers. Visit her at

Our Favorite Writing Prompts

It’s that time of year when the weather is changing, the world is being quarantined and folks are looking for new sources of inspiration and solace. Check out some of Inklette’s favorite writing prompts below to spark your creativity!


You’re sitting across the table from a character from your current work in progress. How do you start the conversation? What do you talk about? Are they talkative or reticent, joyous or subdued? Do they answer questions freely? What do they ask you? What do they notice about the world?

(Best done in a walkable place)

Pick a number between 1 and 10. Start walking, and when you reach an intersection, flip a coin. Heads, you go right; tails, you go left. Do this for as many times as the number you picked in the beginning. Write a short story set in the location that you end up in.


Choose an object near you or in front of you. Do each of these for five minutes: Ask questions to the object. Describe the object in as much detail as possible. Write the origin story of the object. Write a first-person narrative from the point of view of the object. Draw associations with the object– what else does it look like, what does it remind you of, what does it make you think– and talk about it without naming the object, using metaphors or similes. 


Make a list of topics you would never write about, followed by a list of words you would never use. Then, write a poem on one of those topics and use as many of those words as you can.


Choose any letter from A-Z. Write the first stanza without using the letter you chose. Now choose a second letter. Write the second stanza without using the second letter as well as the first letter you chose. Keep going for 5-6 stanzas in the same way.

Best Books We Ever Received As Gifts

Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate (if any), November and December are often filled with gift-shopping trip after gift-shopping trip. While we all like that special feeling we get when we give someone a gift they adore, it’s no secret that spending hours at the mall is exhausting, time-consuming, and, quite frankly, expensive. However, the Inklette team has compiled a list of the best books we’ve ever received as gifts to remind everybody what the holiday shopping season is about (and, if you’re unsure what gift to get your book-loving friend/family member/significant other, look no further).

The Hat-Stand Union by Caroline Bird


51xPRiL2IeL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Those who know me know that I like obscure contemporary poetry (how much people are willing to let me ramble on about it is a different story). My parents gave me this volume of poetry by British poet and playwright Caroline Bird for Christmas when I was about thirteen or fourteen and just starting to become seriously interested in creative writing. Reading poems that covered a bizarre range of topics — from King Arthur to Chekov to suburban life — helped me understand that I had the agency to write about what I found inspiring, rather than what people told me to write about. Even now, in my final year of my undergraduate, I still have The Hat-Stand Union on my shelf and pull it out from time to time when I need inspiration. 

— Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


9780345804327_lI received this novel as a gift from one of my aunts in college, and it’s travelled with me as I’ve moved from one coast to the other, and back again. It was my first introduction to the author, Colson Whitehead, who is a brilliant Black writer living in NYC, and who is also one of my earliest inspirations for the style of writing life I want to achieve. The novel itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. It’s a fascinating depiction that turns the real-life Underground Railroad into a collection of underground trains, safe houses, and secret routes. It’s one of those books that I’ll always have on my bookshelf, and which consistently reminds me to return to Whitehead’s other works to see what other challenges he has in store.

— Naomi Day, Blog Editor

The Professor and The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder


9780099521341.jpgThis book was gifted to me by Trivarna Hariharan, the former editor-in-chief of Inklette Magazine. I had never heard of Ogawa’s work before and hadn’t read prose that felt so light, so porous. I think Ogawa’s work best reminds me of the kind of cinematic language of Ritesh Batra’s films such as The Lunchbox (2013) and Photograph (2019). But this book, in particular, read like that thin line between myth and realism even though the materiality of its story felt like a weight, even a burden at times I had to accept, learn how to carry. Since then, I have read Ogawa’s other works but somehow The Housekeeper and The Professor is one I keep coming back to, because it also incorporates and disguises behind the porosity and poetics of literary language a stunning mathematical language as well as logic, and if you read the book you’ll perfectly understand the role these two levels and anatomies of language play. 

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor


9780316133999_l (1).jpgI believe my sister gave me this book a few years ago (for Christmas or my birthday I can’t remember, they both fall in December so they tend to blur together. Both my sister and I are avid readers, so we often gift each other books, but this particular book was definitely one of my favorites.Though it took a while for me to actually open the book, once I began reading it I devoured it. The book is magical, poetic, and wonderfully poetic (I have several notes on my phone filled with pulled quotes from the novels that I use to inspire me, and I used an excerpt from the first book for an erasure assignment I was given in college). The author’s gift for world-building made me eager to get the next books in the trilogy and finish them just as quickly, and I can’t wait until I’ve forgotten enough of the series to reread it—Taylor truly knows how to wield a plot twist, and I can’t wait to experience the shock and delight of piecing the tale together all over again. 

— Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting


9780486834368_l.jpgAlthough I’ve given lots of books as gifts, I’ve never been gifted a book (other than the ones I personally requested from my parents when I was a kid). Maybe people just don’t know what to gift me because they don’t know what’s already in my collection; I don’t know. My brother, though, frequently gifts books to my 6-year-old daughter. So far, one of her favorites has been The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I avoided reading it when I was a kid because I hated the movie. I read it to my daughter, and we both loved it. My brother is a research scientist, so he often sends her science-y books. Another fun one he gifted her was The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, trans. By Michael Henry Heim). Although I think my daughter needs to age a bit before she can truly appreciate it, I loved The Number Devil.

— Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems by Eunice de Souza



Until the third year of my undergraduate degree, a lot of my poetry reading was either limited to canon, or to snippets and fragments I had read online. Reading Eunice de Souza’s work was formative for me as a poet and as a literature student not only because of the cultural similarities or her engagements with feminism, but because she spoke of the everyday with an almost unfounded sense of ease. There was this comfort in her navigation of language I hadn’t read before, which is what made her work all the more appealing – that poetry could be soft, simple, and yet impactful. 


— Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff, please visit the Masthead page here.

Indigenous Voices

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Having celebrated Canada Day and the 4th of July earlier this month, many people in North America may be feeling more patriotic than usual. However, it is of utmost importance during these days of national celebration to acknowledge and pay respect to the voices of those who rightfully claim first ownership of these lands. Here are some provocative, humourous, heartbreaking, and, above all, relevant works by Indigenous writers that you should definitely put on your summer reading list!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 
Novel, Sherman Alexie 


“I draw because words are too unpredictable.

I draw because words are too limited.

If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.

But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.

If I draw a cartoon of a flower, then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it and say, “That’s a flower.”

So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me. I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.

That’s the only way I can become rich and famous.” 


Junior, an aspiring cartoonist, has mixed feelings about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. As he decides to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school, one where the only other Indigenous presence is the school mascot.

Talking to the Diaspora 
Poetry, Lee Maracle


“Some sons are trees


Quiet mist magic memory oddly named sequoia

General somebody or other who killed us

killed his own

killed worlds

then came to rest a crest on this man-tree”

                                          -from ‘Archer’s Body’ 


The second collection of poetry by one of Canada’s most prominent contemporary authors features a look at diaspora and identity that is both intimate and larger than the individual experience.

They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School 
Memoir, Janet Rogers


“I read somewhere that everyone is born with the potential for success, and it is only through life’s experiences that we develop or destroy that potential. For many Aboriginal people, our most vulnerable and impressionable years, our childhood years, were spent at residential schools. Our mental, emotional and spiritual growth was extremely stunted because of the way we were treated there. You have to tell our story like it is, don’t hold back or make it seem like it wasn’t as bad as it actually was. People have to know and believe what happened to us.”

A defining part of Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars’ childhood was spent as a student in a church-run residential school. This honest and evocative memoir details her time at St. Joseph’s Mission, as well as how it has affected her and her family over generations. As Sellars discusses trauma, diapora, and healing, she makes it apparent that it is only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we, as a society, can begin to properly address them.

Islands of Decolonial Love 
Short Stories, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 


“bringing up trauma from my life made therapy-lady cry, especially if it was “aboriginal” themed. she said “aboriginal” a lot, and i knew she was trying to be respectful so i planned on letting it slide until the breaking point and then i was going to let her have it in one spiralling long manifesto. therapy-lady liked to compare my life to refugees from war-torn countries who hid their kids in closets when airplanes flew over their houses. this was her limit of understanding on colonized intimacy. she wasn’t completely wrong, and while she tried to convince me none of us had to hide our kids anymore, we both knew that wasn’t exactly true. i knew what every ndn knows: that vulnerability, forgiveness and acceptance were privileges. she made the assumption of a white person: they were readily available to all like the fresh produce at the grocery store.”

Simpson’s debut collection of short stories explores the lives of contemporary Indigenous peoples and communities, especially those of her own Nishnaabeg nation.

Heartbreaking, absurd, and real, these stories aim to capture all aspects of what it means to be Indigenous in a world that has been taken from Indigenous people.

Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization and the Politics of Intervention
Ethnography, Jaskiran Dhillon


“The persistent sensation of being hunted, of monitored movement, of freedom being truncated through institutional caging is central to the daily reality of being an Indigenous youth in Saskatoon. It is not an anomaly. It is not the fictitious creation of a youthful imagination on overdrive. Through their existence as Indigenous youth, these young people constitute a direct threat to an already existing settler social order.” 

Dhillon’s ethnography sharply examines the indigenous-state government of Saskatoon, Canada’s strategy of dispossession and the state’s failure to uphold human and political rights of the indigenous community. We learn that indigenous alliances meant to help indigenous women, lack representation for whom they are advocating: indigenous women. Dhillon, who grew up on Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatchewan, details the state’s refusal to look for missing indigenous women and its failure to include indigenous participation in what they deem to be a community in need of reform. Are Canada’s state advocacy organizations merely visible tokens for what they consider invisible problems in their own country?

To read staff bios, please visit our Masthead page here.

Pride: A Reading Collection

Although the spirit of queer pride should last 365 days a year, today marks the last Friday of Pride month 2019. Here are the top picks of LGBTQ+ literature or works of literature written by LGBTQ+ writers to last you all until June 2020.

Links to buy books mentioned below through Amazon can be accessed by clicking on the titles.

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden


I found this book at a time when I was just beginning to come to terms with my queerness and it helped normalize being gay for me. While this love story between two girls takes place in the 1980s, the nuanced character development and intricacies of the love explored helped me realize that being all forms of love deserve to exist not solely defined by their political status.

– Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

Tin Man by Sarah Winman


I read Tin Man on the recommendation of a friend, unaware of the storyline or the synopsis. The story I encountered was perhaps one of the most emotionally poignant ones I had read. Tin Man depicts love and sexuality beyond the cardboard boxes we put them in and touches upon art, friendship, and desire by freeing these from their socially gendered labels. It’s a warm, gradual narrative on sadness and nostalgia, and the transformative potential of love.

-Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

Interpretive Work by Elizabeth Bradfield


While the poems in this collection often deal with the conflicts of history, politics, culture, and family, hope and beauty win out for the view of the future. Her poems cross boundaries into the vulnerable to reveal how loving someone can help you love the world.It’s published by Artoi Books, which is an imprint of Red Hen Press (Arktoi Books publishes literary poetry by lesbian writers).

-Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

Sea-Witch: Vol. 1 (May She Lay Us Waste) by Never Angeline Nørth (formerly Moss Angel (formerly Sara June Woods))


I think Sea-Witch was revolutionary for me: a work centered around transsexuality, a genre-fluid/genre-defying and literature-altering book, Never Angeline Nørth’s book is about a girl monster, a witch-god, about their origin stories and journeys and narratives. I don’t know how to summarize this book but I do know that this book will change the way you look at and critique texts, and I believe it is a great introduction, both in terms of form and content (as much as I despise considering those as the two components of a text), to what the category of LGBTQ+ literature is and can be. Sea-Witch helped me come to terms with my still-developing notion of what my own sexuality is and what it means to me. The book sounds tumultuous but that is the beauty, that is its defiance, and that is what motivates me to make peace with my tumultuous sexuality.

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood


Christopher Isherwood was one of the first queer authors I came across during my English studies, and his stories opened up new perspectives to regard the world I’d grown up in. In my private Isherwood collection, A Single Man still stands out most remarkably. An artistically crafted story about seclusion and otherness, it tells the tragic end of a curtained love in a homophobic society that grants no (public) closure for the bereaved. But more powerfully, Isherwood’s insight into a single day of a grieving man revealed to me the beauty of two men in love – physically and emotionally. Reading A Single Man, you’ll certainly be touched by the despair that travels from the first to the last page. But I also hope that you’ll be ignited – to make reality better.

– Stela Dujakovic, Prose Editor

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell


Look Garth Greenwell up on Youtube and listen to him read aloud from his work before you read this novel. He was trained as poet before turning to prose, and his history shows in his work: every sentence has a rhythm that demands to be read aloud. That isn’t to say that the ideas of his work don’t matter, but auditory beauty is a nice way to ease yourself into the story that is ultimately devastating. The story follows an American professor teaching in Bulgaria, who pays a young man named Mitko for sex and comes back to him again and again. The driving question of the novel is whether Mitko really has a connection with the narrator, or if it’s all just loneliness making infatuation feel like love. I’m not gay, I’ve never been to Bulgaria, and the world of illicit sexuality described in the book is something I’ve never experienced. Which might have been part of why I liked it so much: much of the power of fiction is to show you what you’ve never known or seen. But even more powerful is the universality of the book. Wondering if your love is real or not is something that every romantically-inclined person has felt, no matter who you are or who you love.

– John S. Osler III, Prose Editor

To view staff bios and learn more about our staff, check out our Masthead page here.