Ripened mangoes, sliced watermelons

Discovering the girth of our throats

As our tongues paddle the depths of their fleshly rivers

We make sure to slurp on our elbows even when

Rivulets attempt to meander off.

We desire rock-hard abs and snatched waists

So will worship these murals of health

Even if we are not willing acolytes

We will crunch hard and swallow deep

Our bodies have to be cleansed of the fat

And paraded to the world,

Cathedrals of desire,

the Olympic flame.

David Agyei–Yeboah is a young artist from Accra, Ghana. His poetry, fiction and hybrids are published/forthcoming in The Lumiere Review, GUEST (from above/ground press), Ethel Zine & Micro Press, Afritondo Magazine, Ta Adesa, Tampered Press, and elsewhere. He was long-listed for The Totally Free Best of the Bottom Drawer Global Writing Prize 2021  from the Black Spring Press Group, UK. He was also shortlisted for Ursus Americanus, 2022 and was a finalist for Harbor Editions, 2022 (Small Harbor Publishing). He scarcely tweets @david_shaddai and posts mini covers on Instagram @davidshaddai. David is a dedicated fan of Frank Ocean, Asake, Gyakie and Oxlade.

i heard out of the corner

of my ear, my grapevine,

the tv guy droning on about

what the condemned

order for their last meal

before execution,

how thoroughly unpalatable

the statistics, like pre-chewed cardboard.

if it were i, i’d refuse to eat,

or else demand something

impossible to make and with

ingredients such as truffles,

requiring a world search,

or so deathly sweet — rows and rows

of death by chocolate

decadence and hot fudge,

that i’d bulimia

it back on the executioner,

or i’d order singing, stripping waiters

to bring me in my dinner.

why is food

the last thing of earth?

is it the christ deal, this last meal?

or is it because

we come bawling into

this world for food,

and that’s how we must go?

how can anyone eat,

knowing their destination is the hot seat?

and why is there

this primal, human need to murder,

to frenzy feed on empty greed?

then, i considered a message

from a lawyer to his friend,

that he was going to attend

a death penalty conference.

what can you say? some things you wish

not to contemplate.

so, i’ll have the happy meal, with fries,

and dish it up on a limoges plate.

Juley Harvey is a prize-winning poet who worked as a journalist in California and Colorado. She was recently featured at the Tall Grass Writers Guild Virtual Open Mic from Chicago. Her work has appeared in more than forty-five publications, including nine of the black-and-white series of Tall Grass Writers edited by Whitney Scott. Recently, she joined the Tall Grass Writers board of directors. She is a member of the Writers on the Brink writer’s group in Estes Park, led by award-winning Western author, Kevin Wolf.

When you were a little boy

You once got so mad that it bled

out of your nostrils

Leaving an enraged mess of molten magma

that would burn you as it flowed.

“Oh no!” Mama said, when she saw it

“You better clean that up!”

You looked at the boiling pools of lava

on the floor and cried

You tried to gather it all up,

but your hands were too small

and the pain was too great to contain

Your hot tears formed rock hard mounds

filled with thick greasy matter

You watched them in awe,

Suddenly realising what to do.

You scooped a lump of the mixture

into your hand, dipped it into the angry lava and swallowed it

lump by lump until it disappeared

Now you’re an adult and people whisper

when you walk by

How does he stay so calm?

Doesn’t anything make him mad?

But they don’t know that the anger

is still there leaking, simmering inside you

You don’t even know

Do you?

Lola Labinjo is a London-based writer, linguist, and educator whose work has appeared in Postcolonial text and Black Lives Anthology. She is a self-confessed recovering plantain addict who’s not really recovering at all!  When not writing, she can be found travelling, discovering, and creating. She can be found on Medium at Lola – Medium.

For a whole week they spoke habanero — and coconut pottery,

lime squeeze, bright mint walls with piggy pink trim, papaya

lintels and periwinkle roofs, yuba on a goatskin stretched

across a rum-barrel, delight in the bite of night midges,

and fermentation of everything:  mauby, pikliz, chicha, pulque.

They believed it was their real life, real language, real food:

primordial, liberating, and they wanted nothing else.

Back home, they stammered.

The language from that magical week

suddenly sounded dense and incoherent.

The food was too hot, too sour, too fierce.

Only upon resuming compliance with familiar

curfews and deadlines, the snipped words and matte

colors of the censor’s list, and flavors in identifiable

shapes, did they accomplish their important tasks.

And their first accomplishment was to abolish

everything carnivalesque and everyone

who reminded them such vivacity was possible.

For they preferred clarity to episodic joy,

assurance to memory, prim food and cautious words

to anything syncopated or too too



Let’s start over — before

there was a before,

year 0, 

the year after before

Christ and before anno Domini —

the Capsicum annuum growing on a shrub

outside Teotihuacan before

the fibula from Praeneste declares in Latin,

Manios me fhefhaked Numasioi, and before

Latin can reclassify chiltepín, the flea pepper,

as the potato pepper — before

Latin begets Spanish begets Latin America, before

the flea pepper seeds the jalapeño, bell, and cayenne.

When fiery seeds spit laughing

on La Calzada de los Muertos upon a dare

turned to a lick was still just a harmless lick,

and there was no one else to be.

The flaming seed grew to a flea.

Steven Ray Smith is the author of a two minute forty second night (FutureCycle Press, 2022). The book was shortlisted for the Steel Toe Book Award in 2020. His poetry has been published in Verse Daily, The Yale Review, Southwest Review, The Kenyon Review, Slice, Barrow Street, Poet Lore, The Hollins Critic and others. He is an assistant editor for THINK: A Journal of Poetry, Fiction, and Essays. More information about his work can be found at

FROM THE HOUSE OF COMMONS                     


            We must acknowledge the Irish are dense,

            superstitious; count on God for magic

            interventions: pots of gold, good crops,

            rents forgiven. One must admit it’s tragic,

            them shuffling to the work-house,

            with their pack of little monkeys, clinging.

            We’re the ones deprived of maids, drivers;

            we knew the Irish lack ambition; they can’t

            even stay alive.  

            ELLEN O’CONNOR A BABY DYING                  

            12/3/ 1848

            You will always be my babe, my sweet.

            I did not see us dying on the same day

            in the rain and starving, cold; I did try

            to keep you clothed and fed, there was

            no way to find sustenance. Or warmth.

            I know God will soon visit us, take us

            to a place of eternal rest, vast food.

            It’s not hard to go; I shall hold you, kiss

            your pale face.



            DAMNING THE GUARDIANS                              

            6/16/ 1847

            How dare they call themselves guardians;

            men who deny clean water to the poor.

            They should see hundreds of the decomposed,

            then be forced to say their names; and to pray

            they never see their own dead children laid

            next to rotting paupers, in the jaws of dogs

            and rats. And their ample wives afraid to starve,

            tossed in a ditch with the unloved.

            ENDLESS BURIALS                                               


            More deaths, less relief; the dearth of coffins

            and plots have shaken me to the core. Some are

            of the belief trap coffins give dignity

            to the dead. A hinged box, stuffed with two

            or three deceased, is brought to a pit, and bodies

            are fed into the earth; then re-used to increase efficient

            burial. Poor lads can build only so many each day,

            they are weak and scarcely fed.

            A FATHER’S CHOICE                                            


            A cat has little meat on it; when one is mad from hunger,

            anything will do. The father’s choice is brutal. Eat nothing

            or eat the poisoned cat. They knew the cruel lord’s men

            would soon be at the door to throw them out. It would

            have been human to dig them graves in the seized field,

            what more could they ask for: a place for their remains. 



            They are right, the farmers; they hear the fields’

            bleating, feel decay with their own hands, cracked

            and calloused, the smell of rot. They know yields

            are nil, the starving season has them backed against

            the wall. They’ve all been driven to madness.

            Food grown by the famished is laid waste or pilfered,

            shipped to the English who never miss meals.



            The widow cannot speak, is always at the mercy

            of such men who unearth small growings from her

            sparse plot, quite aware that she and five children

            will die in cold fall. She watches them dig raw

            potatoes out of her patch; praying it would yield

            something this time. Who loosed these thugs,

            marauding louts, on paupers who have little to nothing.

            A CONCERNED READER WRITES         


            His days were spent starving; his life was deemed

            extinct, a miserable creature. His fate was sealed,

            being Irish. Pat’s Ma had dreamed her boy would

            be safe and fed; not a plate of nettles for his last meal.

            He was sawed open by the coroner: who would eat

            what sheep eat? This man, a bag of bones clawed

            at dirt to loosen roots, having no meat.

            A READER DESPISES THE QUEEN        

            10/26/ 1850

            The Famine Queen is so pleased to eat our food, tons

            and tons of meat and butter; the Monarch’s

            not keen to see our cankered fields, the skin

            and bones our children are. We are not her

            kind, no fancy tea at four, we do not eat scones;

            or anything, having nothing to grow.



            Where do we go, our Ma dropping dead right

            in front of me eyes? She’s not a wretch or creature,

            she’s been a good mother. It might be a crime

            to hunt turnips, it’s food for us, not jewels

            or cattle, she would never steal from the rich,

            just root vegetables. How do we live

            without our Ma? Don’t ever split us; we’re one,

            not three, she made a vow.

Catherine Harnett is is poet and fiction author. She has published three books of poetry, and her work appears in numerous magazines and anthologies. Sheretired from the federal government and currently lives in Virginia with her daughter. Her short fiction has been published by the Hudson Review and a number of other magazines, including upstreet, the Wisconsin Review, Assisi and Storyscape. Her story, “Her Gorgeous Grief,” was chosen for inclusion in Writes of Passage: Coming-of-Age Stories and Memoirs from The Hudson Review, and was nominated for a Pushcart. She can be found at

Inspired by We Wanted More by Justin Torres



Our veritable stock-house bulged at the seams. My father would order prime cuts

of lamb, clams and mussels, saffron, soy sauce, and pickled ginger. Pastries from

miles away, baklava, croissant, linzer torte, black & whites, and rugelach.

He reinvented himself as a wholesale candy and tobacco dealer in Poughkeepsie.

If we wanted a Mars bar, he brought home a case. We have mouths full of

mercury. Two of my mother’s brothers, both dentists, filled our cavities.



There were four of us—David, Paul, Laurie Ellen, and me. We never went hungry

unless our father locked us in our rooms without dinner. If Mother failed to sneak

us a snack in her apron pocket, we ate toothpaste to fill our grumbling bellies.

We were always hungry, but food had nothing to do with it. We hungered

for a cease fire. For a cessation of screaming. For doors to close gently

rather than slam as my father left in a rage, spewing epithets like shrapnel.

We were hungry to be called our sacred names, given at birth.

Names never sullied by our father. When he called me cunt,

Shanah Leah could only do so much.

Leslie B. Neustadt is a retired attorney, poet, and collagist. The author of the book Bearing Fruit: A Poetic Journey, her work is inspired by the beauty and power of the natural world, mortal joys and struggles, and an unwavering commitment to human and civil rights. Her poems have been published in numerous anthologies and journals. She is artistic director of Women Writers and Artists Matrix, and a former board member of the International Women’s Writing Guild. She produces a bi-monthly workshop series for the Guild and has taught writing workshops in the Capital region of New York.

Emma stares at the mound of ice cream

you gave her, silver spoon dangling from

her index and thumb, an air of perplexity

on her small, square-cut face. She won’t

touch it until completely melted. She sits

on a metal chair in the patio. Her eyes

shift from the cup to a coiled garden hose.

You have told her again, with perfunctory

grace, she looks pretty. Your words slid

down her double-breasted suit.

She is your bodyguard, not your mistress.

Leave her alone. Her black hair, thick like

rope, has a luster of wax in sunshine.

Her features are sewn up, sealed, mute.

She guards both your body and the wealth

of which you are the symptom, the

cause, the result, the cherry on the pie.

Now you are crossing the emerald lawn

towards the main entrance like a knife

bisects the top floor of a wedding cake

its blade drowned in frosting.

Toti O’Brien is an Italian accordionist with an Irish last name. Born in Rome, living in Los Angeles, she is an artist, musician and dancer. She is the author of Other Maidens (BlazeVOX, 2020), An Alphabet of Birds (Moonrise Press, 2020), In Her Terms (Cholla Needles Press, 2021), Pages of a Broken Diary (Pski’s Porch, 2022) and Alter Alter (Elyssar Press, 2022). She can be found on Facebook at Toti O’Brien.

Chop the red onions small. Don’t worry about cilantro stems; you can throw them in. Roll the limes hard to release the juice. Sea salt if you have it.

And yet.

If you hold that impossible plumpness in your hand,
if you tickle that leathery peel with a paring knife and
press firmly with your thumbs — oh, don’t let up!

There are worlds in here.
There’s golden fire, a moon and a sunset both, a dusky pasture, a sweet sweet rain.
There’s a farmer in a hat, loading his cart for the walk to a town you will never see.

You’ll take one quick taste, but next you’re swooped low over the bowl.
The pieces slip, make a run for it, but you’re faster,
and soon you’re gnawing the stones, the skins. Another. There must be another.

Forgive us.

Jane Ward is a poet, healthcare communications worker, and sometime adjunct writing professor who is delighted to be included in this important issue. Jane has been published once before in Green Briar Review. She holds an MPhil in Irish Literature from Trinity College, Dublin and lives in Northwest New Jersey with her husband. They have four children. She can be found on instagram at janesays6.

My body lies down

in muck and mire,

taunts me with its needs—

food, water, a place

to rest.

My body walks,

talks to people

asks for fifty cents

or a dollar, for a bus ride

to some place where it

can eat and drink.

I no longer know where this body

came from, ghosts

and signs from God telling me

I must keep moving

or the loud ugly crowd

will close in.

Sometimes other bodies blur

on the sidewalk,

they are me, too, or

they would not be here,

would they—?

Where my body lies down

is not a created space.

Sleep comes quick and hard.

I wonder why I still wake up,

every morning pushing hunger

upon me.

I don’t think about

an ending.  Every moment

is the end.  Every minute

dies in a luckless line

of unfed breaths.

Yet in faded dreams

I can almost see

green lands where yams

and plantains and children grow strong,

even though I’ve never been there.

Yes, my body breathes

wherever it wanders,

sits or lies, but because

in this city I can barely

see the sky, I no longer know


Patrice Wilson is poetry editor at Decolonial Passage. She was born in Newark, NJ and has a PhD in English with concentrations in postcolonial theory and literature. She wrote a poetry thesis, “Between the Silence,” for her MA. She has three chapbooks with Finishing Line Press, and one full-length book, Hues of Darkness, Hues of Light, with eLectio Publishing. Her poetry has been published in several journals. Having been a professor and editor of the literary magazine at Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu, HI, where she lived for many years, she is now retired and resides in Mililani, HI.

When The Mannequin gets sad, she calls the lost children to her shop window. Carrying cardboard under their arms like teddy-bears, the lost children climb up onto their tippy-toes to reach the burglar bars. On empty stomachs, they slip The Mannequin the dreams they keep in discarded sweet wrappers. In exchange for their dreams, The Mannequin unbuckles her high-heels and throws them out the window onto the concrete where they land, a pile of bones. Sniffing glue out of Liqui Fruit juice boxes, the lost children stumble back out into the night, dreamless, in shoes they cannot walk in.

Starvation’s weekly planner

Yesterday, her wrists were as thin as serviette holders. Today, her skin is as thin as Rizla. Tomorrow, her spine will be as soft as a fishbone. On no particular day, her frame is carried off by the ants and their whispers.

Robyn Perros is a South African writer, researcher, and multimedia artist. She holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Rhodes University where she is currently a PhD scholar and Teaching Assistant. Her work has been exhibited/published/presented in multiple spaces such as the KwaZulu Natal Society of the Arts (KZNSA), Open Plan Studio (Durban), Theotherroom (Durban), Nature is Louder Literary Project (Makhanda), Symposium for Artistic Research in Analog Photography (Helsinki 2022), Institutions & Death 2022 conference (University of Bath, UK), Mahala, Zigzag, Isele Magazine, and Ons Klyntji zine. She is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Connecticut. Her PhD research is looking at online death practices in South Africa. She lives in Makhanda. She can be found on Tumblr at

The lemon is sour

from citric acid

in the sandy soil

the crowded branches

and the Mexican

that throws it into a

bushel basket

its face smashed into

those he got ripe with


The Mexican is sour

because he gets paid by the

bushel basket

and not the hour

his trailer is crowded

with the others

here for la pisca

already planning the trip to

North Carolina or Georgia

for the strawberries

until Christmas

when Ybor City calls them

to make cigars

paid by the box

Paul Smith writes poetry & fiction. He lives in Skokie, Illinois with his wife Flavia. Sometimes he performs poetry at an open mic in Chicago. He believes that brevity is the soul of something he read about once, and whatever that something is or was, it should be cut in half immediately.

As far as I know, we enslaved Joseph, Zebulon,

Cesar, Peg, her children Rose, Philis,

and her baby Philis. last was Joshua.  9 people,

1659-1808. Hard enough to admit,

and then

this summer, uncovered in the Phelps’ Barn—

stacks of receipts, bills of lading, “adventures”*

tied in six neat bundles. Signed Charles Phelps,

my 8th great grandmother Elizabeth’s only son,

who failed at law in Cambridge, ventured into

the export trade. One receipt reads

shipped in good order and condition

Phelps and Rand in ship called Great America

under master Jonathan W. in the harbour

of Boston and bound for Copenhagen

32 hogsheads of sugar weighing 15 tons 735 pounds.

Cane born of sweat, starvation, fingers sliced to shreds.

217,000 Africans in Cuba alone; few survived 7 years. 

Two crops a year, round-the-clock, sugar mills cannot stop.

By 1812, 600 U.S. ships sailed from Havana

with the sticky sweet, threading between

Napoleon’s dragoons, England’s navy

Every receipt stamped “citizen of United States”

to protect ships from seizure, sailors from capture.

Charles’ profit: $12.7 million in today’s dollars.

Untie another packet; receipts reveal

Georgia cotton, on the Rebecca.

What of the bent backs, families rent,

forced breeding, bruises?

No comments in his letters on the abolitionist

fervor bubbling in Boston. He worried about

his debts, cost of living, raising capital.

Records his 10 terms in the State Legislature,

wives who died, their 8 children. Says

he is “self-made.”

Not a nod to the lives whittled down

to sugar crystals, fingers that twisted

free each cotton boll, 200,000

to make a bale. No mention

of ships funneling millions of

Africans to plantations far from

the cool green of Hadley.

How the steel-blue Atlantic

laps against the unspoken

shores of our story.

Nancy L. Meyer (she/her) is a 2020 Pushcart nominee, avid cyclist, and grandmother of five from the unceded Raymatush Ohlone lands of San Francisco. Journals include: Gyroscope, BeZine, Book of Matches, Laurel Review, Colorado Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Sugar House Review, and Caesura, among others. Forthcoming writing will appear in International Human Rights Arts Festival, Outcast, and Kind of a Hurricane Press. She is published in eight anthologies, including Dang I Wish I Hadn’t Done That by Ageless Authors and Crossing Class by Wising Up Press.

The white children applaud and laugh 

When they catch you singing those songs of yours,

And they themselves recite some of the Spiritual verses

From when they found and heard you singing them before.

But their parents dislike how you all learned the songs

Of the Church, and then had to blacken them up,

So the music stops whenever they’re nearby in the big house,

And making their meals on an empty stomach 

Somehow feels even worse without the music of God or songs of hard luck. 

And after breakfast, when your apron and head rag

Have been disheveled by batter and sweat,

And your hunger and senses have been tempted to partake,

But you must always wait, they order you still for more; 

They tell you that you may eat after you dust off the parlor mirrors,

Knowing that in your present attire after a morning of household chores,

That the parlor mirrors are at their cruelest with their stares.

Matthew Johnson is a three-time Best of the Net Nominee and author of the poetry collection, Shadow Folks and Soul Songs (Kelsay Books), and a forthcoming title by NYQ Press. His poetry has appeared in Maudlin House, Roanoke Review, Northern New England Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, amongst others. A former sports journalist for USA Today College and the Daily Star (Oneonta, NY), he now lives in Greensboro, NC. Having earned his M.A. in English from UNC-Greensboro, he’s the managing editor of The Portrait of New England and poetry editor of The Twin Bill. He can be found on his website and on twitter @Matt_Johnson_D.

She had given up trying to stay away. It was a battle lost long before it had ever begun. Perhaps if it was anything else other than the kaleidoscope of colours in front of her, colours that tugged at her eyes and her heart and her soul, perhaps then. But no, here she was once again, face pressed to the glass, the beauty of the display on the other side making her almost shake with want.

“YOU! How many times have I told you not to come back here?!”

The voice startled her from her sugar-induced stupor, and she hurriedly wiped away the drool on her chin, rushing round the corner before the large baton, and its even larger wielder, caught up with her.

Amna had always had a sweet tooth, even as a child. Her father used to call her shazumami, after those tiny ants with the big heads that liked to drown themselves in sugar and were the bane of her mother’s existence.

So, it was no wonder that the perfection of the macaroon seemed to have her in a chokehold that would not let up. She wanted to taste one so badly. It was all she could think of. She woke up with it on her mind and went to bed with it still in her thoughts. It even followed her into her dreams, and the morning would find her once again sneaking uphill, past the run-down houses and porthole covered streets of her side of town, to the sprawling array of mansions on the other side of the rise.

The cafe that housed the objects of her desire was more glamorous than any building she’d ever entered. With its high arches and wooden panels, dim lights offsetting the pure white tablecloths covering the delicate tables, it evoked class and style. Walking amongst its bright flowers and shining crystal glassware, warping with the sunlight, was like walking into a whole new world. Not that she would ever truly know, having only seen it from the outside. No one would ever let her through the door.

“Where have you been, Amna?” her mother snapped the minute she walked into their house.

Amna blanched, trying to scoot past to the safety of her room. “Nowhere.”

Her mother grabbed her by the chin, squinting at her face. “You went to that shop again, didn’t you? Darling, you know we can’t afford any of the things they sell in that place. Why do you keep torturing yourself?”

Amna muttered something unsavoury, glaring at her feet, then hastily amended her expression when her mother frowned. Best not give her a reason to put me to work.

“I’d buy them for you if I could, you know I would.”

She did know. Her mother loved her, of course she did. As her only child Amna had a pride of place that no one could even come close to replicating. Mama would do anything for her. Would move mountains and burn cities if she had to. A macaroon was nothing in the face of that, even if she’d once had the audacity to call them “a waste of time”, laughing herself silly when Amna had almost expired on the spot.

She knew all this, so she only nodded to her mother and walked to her room, trying to get the bright colours of the little buggers to stop flashing in front of her eyes.


They came in a variety of eye-catching displays. Mint green, and mango yellow and cherry red, colours like strawberry pink and peppermint blue and lavender purple. There was even one in an off white colour the same shade as her mother’s old wedding dress, the one Amna had only ever seen when it was finally sold.

The names of the flavours on the tiny placards were even more exotic. Vanilla bean and chocolate hazelnut and something called pistachio. She did not know what eggnog was—or cappuccino or salted caramel—but she’d had cotton candy before, when there’d been a fair on the rise, and one of the sellers had taken pity on her wide eyes and wistful expression and offered her a small cloud on a stick. She’d never forgotten the bright pink colour of it and the way it had immediately melted in her mouth. So, she knew what cotton candy was like, and the macaroon on the furthest side of the display window labeled the same was the one she most wanted to try. Hidden in an alcove and seething with jealousy, she’d heard one of the wealthy patrons, a blogger of some sort, describing them once. The words a “crunchy exterior with a soft filling, made of buttercream”—or fruit apparently, or jam—had nearly sent her into raptures.

Amna had spent months staring at them whenever she had the chance, these little dimensions of colours and flavor, each with a story to share with her. She would fold herself into careful corners and vantage points where neither the cafe customers or employees could see her, and spend hours swaddled in a fantasy land where all she had to do was reach out — until a leaving customer inevitably spotted her and alerted the doorman, and she was angrily chased away.

So, it was a rather huge surprise a few weeks later, when instead of swatting at her with his stick the way he always did—like a particularly errant housefly—the doorman instead motioned her closer.

His eyes roved over her, or rather, her unbound hair. She’d worn it loose today instead of leaving it in its customary braids, wrapped several times around her head. Her hair was her crowning jewel, something both she and her mother were extremely proud of. Long and soft and silky, it was as black as the darkest night, rippling and shining like a waterfall and reaching all the way to her waist. It was a gift, Mama had said, passed down through generations from her Fulani ancestors to her, and Amna was pleased and honoured to carry on their legacy. She did not like the way this man was looking at her hair.

But she was curious, so she let him lead her to the alley behind the cafe and stood warily next to a garbage bin.

“Wait here sweet girl, eh?” he said, his eyes never leaving the cascade of her hair. There was a greed in there that made Amna uncomfortable.

He waited for her to nod before he slipped through the kitchen entrance, curling his large frame around the slightly opened door like a snake. The minute he was through, Amna took two steps back to the mouth of the alley, just in case.

When he returned some minutes later with extra company, he looked panicked for a moment before he spotted her. Scowling mightily in her direction, he said, “I told you to stay here.”

But Amna, refusing to answer, instead looked guardedly towards his companion. She was one of the waitresses of the cafe. Amna had seen her several times through the window carrying trays filled with tiny cakes and coffee mugs that hung on for dear life. She had a wig on her head that did nothing good for her sallow face. Amna wondered if perhaps she didn’t have any hair and suddenly felt bad.

“My God, it’s stunning!” the woman murmured, looking at Amna’s hair with the same hungry look as the man, like all her dreams had come true all at once. “Think of what we’ll get from this!”

The man nodded frantically.

The woman looked at Amna again, and probably noticing she was two seconds away from bolting, slipped smoothly to her knees, pasted on what she possibly thought was a kind smile, and held out her hand.

“My name is Maggie. I work part time at the salon down the way. And this is Chike,” she said sweetly, pointing at the man. “You have such lovely hair, love, won’t you let me feel it?”

Amna shuffled closer and let her run her thin fingers through her silky locks, pleased at the attention, but still wary.

“Chike tells me you like coming to see the macaroons. Is that true?”

Amna nodded shyly, her face filled with embarrassment. “I can’t afford them.”

“How would you like a whole macaroon to yourself then, just for you?” Maggie questioned, looking more than pleased with herself.

Amna looked up in shock. Her heart started an unsteady rhythm in her chest, and she felt suddenly weak. “You would do that, give me one for free? But why?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be for free of course. Nothing ever is. I want something in return.”

“What then?” Amna eagerly asked, already feeling the taste of her long-dreamt-of prize in her mouth, within reach at last.

Maggie gave a sharp smile and stroked a finger through Amna’s hair. “All in due time.”


When she walked through the door, her mother took one look at her and let out a wretched cry that shook the walls. “Oh Amna, how could you?!”

Amna lowered her eyes in shame, conscious of the tiny box with a single pink pastry hidden in her bag. She felt like a criminal on the execution platform, waiting for the swing of the axe.

“Why?” her mother asked tearfully. “What could possibly make you do such a thing?”

She shook her head and was momentarily stricken with the lack of weight attached to the motion. A sob caught in her throat. She had not wanted this, this ache in her chest that felt like it was choking her from the inside. She had only wanted a taste, had only wanted to be the person who could afford something she yearned for so dearly.

It’s just hair, she kept telling herself. It’ll grow back.

“I hope it was worth it,” her mother snarled, walking away.


It looked so delicate and tender, as if it would fall apart with the slightest of pressures, its perfect twin domes lovingly hugging the soft snowy filling between them.

Amna held it for a while, her back to the locked door as if something would come and snatch it from her hands, possessive in the way someone can be only of something they’ve owned for a short time and treasured for longer. She sat for a long time admiring the shape of it and its brilliant colour, cotton candy pink.

And then she raised it to her lips, holding it in one hand the way the cafe patrons did, and guided it into her mouth. Her teeth sank in, and she paused. At last.

A slight crunch followed the breaking of the crisp outer shell, followed by her teeth meeting the succulent middle—rich cream cheese filling Chike had said—a chewy texture that glided on her tongue and awakened her senses. It was both sweet and nutty and light as air. Amna felt like she was floating. She had never had anything so dreamy and decadent. So elegant. So ethereal.

She took another bite and moaned, eyes closing. After three full bites and nearly sobbing with pleasure as a result of them, she sought a fourth and met only her fingers.

Silence reigned in the room, and Amna suddenly felt empty. She spent a prolonged amount of time staring at the tiny box the macaroon had come in. When she finally moved to put it away, she instead caught her reflection in the small mirror on her pillow, fashioned by her mother’s own hands as a gift for her thirteenth birthday.

She picked it up and stared at herself for a long time. Then she started to cry.

Fatima Abdullahi is a Nigerian born writer, poet, and photographer with a
penchant for the dramatic. A graduate in mass communications and an animal
lover, she writes on heartfelt subjects including humanity, love, loss, and
depression. Her works have been published in Afristories and are
forthcoming in various publications, including Lunaris Review, The Shady Grove Literature, and The First Line Literary Journal. Find her on Instagram at @her_abstractions and on twitter at @ellisande_.

Every morning, as grandmother milked the cow while patting its ribs, my ten-year old brother, lanky with dark brown skin, held my tiny hand and walked us to the sugar cane fields. One day he hacked off a small piece of the cane for me to chew with a dull machete, the warm sweetness hurting my baby teeth. We ran around the stalks, digging into the dirt to bury treasures before the workers came. I remember my shoes, the leather dyed a raspberry red, were unbuckled, and so he hoisted me up on a wooden crate and fixed them for me and wiped the sugar stickiness off my cheeks with a spit-dampened bandana. This was the last time I saw him.

We had distant family near a place called New Orleans and a father with plans to kill us girls, so mama dug up the money she was hiding in a clay cup under the giant agave. She had sent my three older sisters one-by-one up north from Mexico, quietly, quickly, and we were the last to go. We got into the truck close to the border, where a stranger handed me a scratchy blanket. The bumps in the road felt like someone was kicking under the seat, but I knew we were taking a long trip and that I was supposed to be quiet for it.

For little girls, hours feel like weeks, but the truck stopped finally in a tiny dust-filled town. We stayed there to save money for the bus to New Orleans. The house we entered smelled of cinnamon and patchouli. We had some blankets spread out for us on the floor. In the evening, when everyone came back from working in the fields, after dinner was eaten and dishes washed, we sat around to watch I Love Lucy in English and eat blush-colored grapefruits and mangos the color of Mojave sunsets. Mama peeled the grapefruit for me, pulling the sections carefully away from the white fuzz. The sharp sweetness of the first juicy bite was replaced by a bitterness that lingered and stuck to the sides of my tongue. I preferred mangos when they became overripe, when the soft spots pooled with syrup that tasted like brown sugar.

My mother was quiet in her face only. I knew she had many sad thoughts swarming around inside her. It reminded me of the ants I once saw devouring a downed monarch butterfly. The bright orange, papery wings anchored to the dirt, becoming black and heavy with the weight of the colony gathering her up in morsels, pushing her towards the underground, a place which was foreign to her. How sad, I thought, to die in a place you’ve never seen before.

I remember hearing her crying at night. I heard her say to her sister before she left, “You know nothing. You know nothing until you’ve cut out two hearts that were once threaded together and burnt them over a pit. What would you know about loving a monster?” And I knew the monster was my father, but I didn’t know that love was involved at all.

Weeks, or maybe months, later she had saved enough money picking indigo grapes for us to take the bus to her cousin’s trailer. I was excited to go closer to the water, sad to leave behind the fruit cornucopia. I would be starting school as soon as we got there, and that also made me nervous as the only words I knew in English were Spice Girl lyrics and “Lucy! I’m home!”

We got our tickets at the station and a bag of chili-lime peanuts to share. We had many hours to talk about our new life in Louisiana. I had read about baby alligators that ate marshmallows, which I felt was a good place to start. My mother bent down to fix the straps of my sandals, much like my brother used to. I wondered then what was it that made boys like my brother and also made men like my father and why we had to leave both behind. I would ask her many years later, but for now we only spoke of baby alligators, wild banana trees, and all the gifts we might find in the dirt near our new home.  

Rosanna Rios-Spicer is a full-time nursing student, public health worker, and new mother living in California. She has spent the last few years exploring the role of geography, family history, and conflicting identities in her short fiction writing. She often draws from her experiences as a Chicana growing up in the Midwest.