Published November 2020 / Launched February 2021
“It’s no small feat to make a magazine,” Nicole texted me in early November. I had spent the previous hour badgering her with questions about everything from font size and colour swatches to the correct wording of an email to our printer. She graciously answered every one before telling me the best way to learn is to just do it. She’s right. So, this issue is me doing it.
It’s hard to believe you’re reading these words printed on a page bound up in a book in your hands because, let me tell you, this issue was a marathon. First of all, global pandemic aside, we received
a record number of submissions: over 1000! As incredible as this number is, the experience was truly a double-edged sword because it made the selection process so tough.
Secondly, some of you may know that my co-editor, Nicole Haldoupis, published her debut fiction collection, Tiny Ruins, in October! Hurrah! This meant Nicole took a leave from untethered during issue 5.2 production as publishing a book is a time- and mind consuming task. To be honest, I didn’t realize just how much work Nicole consistently did for untethered over the past six years until she couldn’t do it. From social media, layout, design and the many small finicky things in between, I took on a lot of completely new roles. I
went through a steep learning curve (we’re talking a vertical wall), but I’m pretty pleased with the results and I hope you are, too.
That’s not to say I didn’t have help. I am beyond grateful for speedy, thoughtful readers, Stephanie Barnes and Abbey Dobbin, without whom I would not have been able to wade through the 1000+
submissions we received, and for the steadfast presence and patience of past-untethered contributor and copy-editor extraordinaire, Elena Bentley, who, without exaggeration, edited and proofed this entire
issue! Elena, I sincerely couldn’t have done this without you.
If you find this issue is a bit different, I hope you do so in a pleasing way. untethered has always been a way for me to connect with the larger literary community – something that’s only been amplified during this pandemic. It has given me purpose in a precarious time. I am immeasurably thankful to all the issue 5.2 contributors for their beautiful words, hard work and patience. I’m not going to say anything about the pieces contained between these covers. I’ll let them speak for themselves, and for untethered’s new beginnings.
God forbid God forgive
A. N. Higgins
Home from the party, I sit on the floor and think of mistakes I have made. Wind chime of my keys on the counter. I was a girl all those nights in my grandmother’s kitchen, red glow of the midnight Madonna slabs of butter melting into porous white bread, chip packets burned in the fire. God was always forbidding things. Forgiving things, too. I walked to town past the mother-and-baby home ghost girls pressing fingers against stone walls, too pretty for their own good. My mother saying, are you being good? In my grandmother’s greenhouse tiny tomatoes grew. I wouldn’t take them from her outstretched palm refused to touch them to my lips, break the taut flesh with my teeth. My cousin tried to lift a kitten with her mouth like she’d seen its mother do – the only thing she ever did wrong. I couldn’t climb trees, didn’t know which berries were poisonous, which ones to spin with sugar press into jam, blood-thick and red on the spoon. Instead I burned tree-scented candles, pulled tarot cards from the deck, cut girls out of paper and called them my friends. I am done with all of that. If I turn the oven on to make a pizza I might burn the house down, God forbid God forgive me. God peers through the skylight to see me sprawled on the tile, coat on and head bowed burning my fingers on the toasted night.
Black T-Shirt, A Little Faded (excerpt)
2021 (3/3) I’d forgotten your middle name and the shape of your jaw; and then, there you were at my door, wearing the same black t-shirt. A little faded, my lipstick no longer on your arm. Three years had gone like sand. It was an early summer evening, and you brought cornflowers. My daughter was six months old. Not yours. Not by a longshot. You were awkward about the flowers because they’re a lover’s gesture, but you remembered that I often miss the flower kiosks in Moscow. If you were a Russian man, you could hand me roses in the street without blinking. You are not a Russian man. We made a fire and ate in the kitchen. We had lettuce from my garden and mussels from the truck that parks in the village every morning. We sucked lemon juice from our fingers. I was hungry from breastfeeding. The Atlantic breaks on black rocks at the end of my road. You told me that when you drove up, you could see its spray above the dunes. Come outside with me, I said, I have to bring in the laundry. I put the baby in her basket and left her on the lawn. She liked to look up at the sheets moving in the wind. I never let her out of my sight; my house borders the forest, and there are predators beyond the first line of trees. We closed the doors and most of the windows, stuck cardboard to the glass. The baby slept through the storm while we kept watch into the darkest part of the night. The air was heavy with salt. It tangled my hair into one dark curl. When I woke before the sun, we were lying on top of the quilt. I fed the baby and brought her back to my bed, hoping she would fall asleep. But she was restless, so you picked her up and told me to sleep. I didn’t; instead, I watched you walk in the faint morning light with her, saying something I couldn’t hear. The nonsense people say to babies that aren’t theirs. You were still wearing that black t-shirt, a little faded. Your cornflowers were the bluest thing in my house. Coffee, I said, which meant that I would make coffee. While I ground the beans, you asked me if it was difficult. I said, I’ve never wanted a father for her. You said, that’s not what I mean. You asked if I missed work, and I said I’ve already gone back part time – and I work from home. You said I was lucky, and I said why, and you said because. I said I didn’t know anything about your life anymore, and you said yes. Yes, you do. Later, after dawn, we walked over the dunes and onto the beach, our skin rubbed by sea air. If I hadn’t had the baby, I would have left my clothes under a rock and you would have followed me into the ocean. Or, maybe not. Babies aren’t the reason for everything. We inspected the storm-washed beach where hundreds of dark glass fragments had been left on the sand. Worn down overtime, the edges were no longer sharp. They were green and brown, and some were still coded with manufacturer’s numbers. You put several of them in your pockets. What will you do with them, I said. I’m going to make something, you said. We were quiet that day. In the evening, we played my Judee Sill record and you drank the Sangiovese that had been in my wine rack for more than a year. I pretended to be drunk with you and we retold our old stories until we had washed the salt sting out of them. You talked about that day three and a half years ago when we went on a forest walk that you had mapped. You told me that you knew we were lost about three kilometres in. I laughed so hard I fell off the sofa because it hadn’t occurred to me that you didn’t know where the hell we were. You told me you weren’t afraid of walking in circles in the forest forever. You were afraid of my disapproval. But, I said, you got us out of the forest. Yes, you said, but what if I hadn’t. We slept in my bed again, not far apart but not close either, under the quilt that you fought during the night. I wondered if you could see, under my clothes, how the baby had changed me. The window was open, the ocean was quiet and I could hear the forest. It was restless with creatures who could run without disturbing a leaf or breaking a blade of grass, and they called and moaned for each other. I wondered if they had been separated by the storm. Coyote, you said, and kicked off the quilt. I didn’t know if you were awake or asleep. It might be a panther, I said. Then I fell asleep and dreamed of big cats prowling the coast. You left when the cornflowers died. You washed our breakfast dishes and stood outside with my baby at the edge of the forest. I could see that you had become friends. She was a good listener. You weren’t a good talker, though I could see your jaw moving in profile from my window. You don’t wear lipstick anymore, you said. I do, I said, but she’s always touching my face. While you drove away, I remembered the future. Or maybe it was the past by then. An autumn weekend in Québec City when we walked until late at night, until nearly morning, from bar to bar, drunk at sunrise. And an early winter morning when you quietly opened the door to our room. You lay down beside me and I smelled frozen pine on your clothes.
My mother waits for mourning doves, their wooe wooe wooe almost in the air. Holding seeds in one hand, ready to let them fly, she peers down with catfish eyes. Her third eye reveals none she knows. No bajra or jowar in this heap, just seeds with no names. I peel mangoes in the kitchen and watch snow fall. They’re never ripe. I can taste the disappointment on her lips.
Remember Girls (excerpt)
This is for the girls. For all the ones who’ve come before. They’ve cleared the ground as best they could: bent, newly brushed with a wing. This is for the women: tender, awake before all others. They’ve filled the basin with water, cupped it fondly with a hand. This is for those still coming, the grandmothers. Yes: it’s still necessary to write about grandmothers. They are still girls after all. This is a gift to the endlessly gifted: the boys who will be men. To you I offer these words. I know I’ve been angry with you. I find I still am. You’ve confused what was left out in fresh air as an offering. Now: I give permission. Consent your fingers all over this page. Fondle, stroke. Hold it up to the light. See there—between the lines? That’s where we live. The space among feet, grazed with a wing. The O that holds water when we thirst. The song in her old wrinkled skin. Remember girls Remember sluts Remember women in skin-tight ________ * You look. Stare our bodies over. You speak. I feel your breath, crude like gravel, inhaled. Remember our eyes, but especially our ears. Remember when you asked me: just what are you? Remember all those who try and guess. Remember skin tone. Remember mine? All the old words I remember thinking I would never forget. When I lose [pruh-nuhn-see-ey-shuh] I lose a part of myself____________________________________ * Remember first blood is fire-engine red. I joined the ranks of [emergent]cies. I felt too young, exposed; a smear on wooden veneer floors. Oxidized to a shy brown we learned to avert our eyes from. A solitary drop or two fallen effortlessly from my interior. I imagined in horror: the lip of me over-filled, mutinous. I was eleven and shook when the first spotting of blood made my gut clench. It’s never relaxed since. I was a shy girl. I was known as the affectionate one, the cuddler. Men spanning generations passed me lap to lap. When my dad turned his head to look at women in the street, I thought his neck would snap. When my dad turned his head to look at women in the street, he would comment under his breath. When my dad turned his head to look at women in the street, I caught myself thinking: that could be me __________________________________________________________ * You look. Stare our bodies over. You speak. I feel the stink of your breath. I remember grade ten art class, Judith and Holofernes. I was a shy girl. I was known as the quiet one, the nerdy one. I remember Judith’s face. I tore it out of the book. I carried it with me. Not as heavy as a headless man’s body, but close. I kept Judith’s frown of determination hidden in my chest. I kept the vision of blood in a spray to remind me of death. Remember that even such a large man can be suppressed___________________________ * Remember when seeing blood was a sigh of relief. I saved the clots just to see them flow down a drain. Red silk scraps from the cut of November. Remember the smell. Rotted iron and the mud of my skin. Remember when I bled through panties, jeans, and then the seat of the car? It made patterns etched into metal found later, during an era there are no categories for yet. Like cave art, we survive on symbols. Metaphors and analogies. Remember being on all-fours. Climbing out of the trees? Remember God? Remember sluts. I walked into the clinic one morning; the small line of protestors could legally damn me from across the street. I hardly noticed them. This was 2002, Vancouver, Canada. I was a lucky west-coast girl. The myth of this place [any place] was [is] of course, equality. The doctors were kind, worked efficiently. Even my boyfriend went with me. They offered him a view, a kidney-shaped pan of gore. He was brave, a sweet feminist boy. But the look on his face was enough to tell me: consider yourself lucky they never suggested a look_________________________ * Remember the hand grenade. Our body as weapon (that’s an easy one). As instrument (even easier). As muscle that runs in good sensible shoes (easiest). Remember skin-tight, skin taut over the drum of my heart. Tight membranes that keep out light, boiled clean, de-feathered. The rib cage exposed. The body as errant cavity with a crying liver and a heart that nags. Remember being broke and how there was nothing to sell? The goods of myself fractioned into math too obscure to undo. I was a shy woman. I was known as the heart-breaker, the shifter. Meaning inscribed to every palm-clenched bundle of fat, every petal of cellulite. We cover our bellies in front of the men we let inside of us. Shame has a memory like some grotesque string of cabin flies. Leaves residue on my skin_____________ * Remember mothers? Remember her hand on my face and the sharpness. Oh! The sting-ray palms! I rejected my mother in a classic kind-of-way. I took the dislike of my father and turned it to hate. Scalded by Windex toxic fumes. Calcium plumes of bleach powder. The handle, the caulking, the ninety-degree angle where floor meets wall; the middle ground where words go to die. Remember thinking I was still a girl in their eyes? Passed from lap to lap, never asked. I planted myself into the heart of a stone. For safe-keeping. Skin-tight to remember when I come from. Skin-tight! My grandmother shouted. Don’t forget our history! She sewed me mini-skirts and blamed my slouch for tits that coned and stayed bounce-less. She lived the Eastern knife-edge of letting-go. Taut over neglected landscapes and the brown skin of my mother. Remember how it felt when nearly everyone had family to run to? The comfort in blood took on new meaning. Me and the other immigrant girls understood one another. Made it home before we were told. The idea of pocket-money, dime-candy, or love outside our rank, these might be the ways of our neighbors but not us; we nodded our assent. We were the first in our families for new world rites of passage. We had no old breast to rest our heads. The way one word forms with another, the way one culture bleeds into the other. The way forgiveness welds within the family; new limbs to call our own__________________ *
The spring the aspen got bronze leaf, her parents’ screams split in threes. Red bark stripped from root. Her joints swelled with spores and mud. Her throat closed as she swallowed singed leaves. With windows shut, she lowered her mother into the tub, and tied her ankles and feet. The tulips never punctured the front lawn. Her father let the soil bleach in the sun. Under the waning moon, she sheared her nails to the quick, and buried the shards in dirt.
Sex Work Studies Syllabus is Void
filled with dates i have missed, like the last bus home, or fingers on my skin when i was fifteen and genderqueer and needed to go west – to keep secrets in wounds and fall back to strange arms, taste so many flavours of sugary sweat. if i suck hard enough will i taste your ichor? if you tell me one thing will you have to kill me? i want to know the man behind the hundred-dollar bill. sometimes there are three that leave my little A-cup tender, body on fire, throat dry for weeks. ruin-rinse-repeat is how i learn to be a woman. all materiality comes unglued as my nephew chuckles when he learns that i am no longer his uncle and says that it’s okay because he has another one. as flesh integrates breast, new tenant / old home. as i set up the barricade and dismantle it. growth is a process that has a problem with endings –
This issue includes new work by: Hilary Ball, Vannessa Barnier, Moni Brar, Ellen Chang-Richardson, Megan Cole, Triny Finlay, Katherine FitzHywel, Gabriela Halas, A.N. Higgins, Bashar Lulu Jabbour, DazeJefferies, Margo LaPierre, Mike Madill, Deirdre Maultsaid, Khashayar Mohammadi, Sarah Ng, Michael Russell, Rachel Shabalin, Gillian Turnbull, Miriam Vaswani, Elizabeth Vondrak and Jade Wallace.
Artwork by Shreya Shruti.
You can watch the virtual launch of this issue, featuring readings from thirteen other Vol. 5.2 contributors below!