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The Antidote

Arsenika would like to thank the following people for their support on Patreon. You make this magazine possible!

Arsenika
Ranjan

Phosphora
Kate Dollarhyde

Nitrogena
Rose Lemberg, Margaret Wack, Erin Hartshorn, Aoi Fukuyama, T. Jane Berry, Dave, Mel G. Cabral

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White Bread Mother

My white bread mother is sliced thin.
She sidles from room to room on feet of soft crust.
Sometimes I don’t hear her when she approaches;
I am reading something, I look up and
there she is, staring at me
with her blank preformed face.

I wanted a whole-wheat mother,
mouth-full and nourishing,
who wears bandannas, smells like a bakery.
Or a ciabatta mother drizzled in oil, soaked in herbs,
with a red lipstick mouth like a slice of tomato.
Or a pretzel mother, chewy and salty,
who talks loud and laughs louder.

Even a banana-bread mother,
almost too sweet and rounded on the edges,
making the best of all things overripe and not apologizing.
(Some people like banana bread the best.)

There are days I want to push her in the oven,
toast her to ashes.
I’d pick out crumbs and
scatter them underfoot.
I’d pull off pieces and
feed her to the ducks.

Then I could have a duck mother,
greasy and dripping and savory-sweet,
ready to carry me home over the water.

Originally published in Illumen, Spring 2016.

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the devil riding your back

ten years old when the ocean spat beasts and they
walked the world with strides the size of cities and i hid
i coward-cowered from the noise of it and the dark
until they crouched into mountains and slept left us
shaken shabby in their footprints, peering out.

fire and rubble and everyone died. i
grew up. we built houses, went to school,
wore swimsuits, got haircuts, grew old.

when i was a young girl vital,
unstooped, no concrete dust in my hair,
on my skin, no glass underfoot,
no dry shale taste, i was face-up,
i was raw strong, i sang, i belted.
now i’m hours under the writing desk
staying very, very still, with muffling
curtains, with scythe smile ghosts i’m
holding onto clock face hands to weather
hydraulic hammers, the kick and the sway,
the ground’s grand betrayal, the city
and the beast’s heel pinching like a mouth,
our bodies, teeth ground together so i

became so small a mote a molecule. i lived
the innocuous life i soft-stepped i folded down
and down, careful, prepared, precise.

everyone knows that the mountains are dead and i know that
they’re alive drool and blood and fire deep inside inhale ten years
exhale twenty i am ready the taste of grit under my tongue didn’t
fade the gaze on the nape of my neck never left me alone ever
since they were dead i am grown and this time i’ll be ready.

Originally published in Liminality: A Magazine of Speculative Poetry, Autumn 2014.

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Speaking Language

I am not speaking English now.
The lightest word will alter our trajectory.
The slightest touch, and another marvel
of translation blows itself to feathers,
to pieces of paper fluttering in a cracked wall.
I am trying to tell you. Listen to the faucet.
Hear what I look like. Imagine

the dark-haired phrase you fell in love with
during a sixth grade picnic. Now give her
eloquent eyes, a slender body, a new name.
Her syllables roll over your tongue,
skate over breaking ice. Words do that well.
White grains, small grains,
long grains scattering on linoleum. What
language looks like: a woman unafraid to eat.

The lake is breaking. Underwater
swims a long black fish, a sleek diver.
She is not speaking English now.
She sends meanings to the surface
in white bubbles, in pearls. They roll
up the sides of your face, in laughter.
They break against the glass.

You say she is that kind of woman. You slur
the night with her. She leaves behind
no letter, no predictions. You have not heard
the diction of her face for weeks. She has
given voice to me. And I am not speaking
English. Listen harder. Tell me
what I look like, once you’ve looked away.

Originally published in Poetry Northwest.

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Poison-Pen Letters

Mary Oliver’s “The Uses of Sorrow” opens with the parenthetical “(in my sleep I dreamed this poem)“—I could say the same for Arsenika: the magazine grew out of a literal dream that then became steadily more concrete.

Issue 0 collects a range of poetry and prose to give a guideline for what Arsenika is looking for: words that shine and shimmer; emotional arcs that leave you breathless with the punches they deliver. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for humor or lightness; it’s more of a know-it-when-you-see-it quality, an element of otherworldliness that lingers after you’ve finished reading the piece.

Our flash fiction for this quarter includes the gorgeous piece “Letter From an Artist to a Thousand Future Versions of Her Wife” by JY Yang, a meditation on loss and longing across the whole of space; and “Not an Ocean, But the Sea” by Nino Cipri, a lighter piece that nonetheless conveys a vast sense of wonder even in the space of a single apartment.

We feature four poems in this issue: “The devil riding your back” by Nicasio AndrĂ©s Reed takes us across earth-shattering moments, whereas “Speaking Language” by Betsy Aoki offers a quieter resistance. “Jupiter of Jupiter” by Lora Gray takes us again to space and its majesty, while “White Bread Mother” by Kate Lechler brings us back to earth with its clear yet haunting imagery.

I’m starting Arsenika small, just a handful of poems and a couple pieces of flash fiction each issue, funded out-of-pocket by my one-person team. In time, I hope to grow the magazine so that we can pay pro rates for fiction and poetry. You can help us reach our goals by subscribing to our (http://patreon.com/arsenika)[Patreon] or (http://arsenika.ink/support)[making a one-time donation]. Back issues are also (http://arsenika.ink/archives/issues/)[available for purchase] in ePub, mobi, and PDF formats.

Welcome to Arsenika. We hope you enjoy your stay.

S. Qiouyi Lu's signature
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Not an Ocean, But the Sea

Nadia found the ocean behind the Swedish assholes’ couch during her weekly cleaning. She had followed a small trail of sand grains to the eastern wall with the vacuum, and when she’d moved the couch to clean underneath it, there was an ocean, snuggled right up to the wall. A fresh wind blew off it, stirring the curtains: the smell of salt and mud.

The Swedish assholes’ stupid cat jumped up on the couch that Nadia had moved and stared down at the ocean like he could see beneath the surface: the fish, the plankton, the sharks and all. His tail twitched.

Nadia had dubbed these particular clients “the Swedish assholes” for many reasons, most prominently because they insisted she use their vacuum. Their vacuum was an awful, rattling thing, with a hose that connected directly to air vents installed in the walls of their high-rise. It was nearly impossible to reach every corner of the apartment. But they’d had it mail-ordered from a Swedish design company and insisted it was better than hers, which had been purchased from a cousin’s appliance store and was kept in perfect working order.

The ocean behind the couch, she thought, had probably not been ordered from Ikea or Electrolux.

Nadia cleaned houses because the money was decent, and she could do it alone. She was forty-eight, Ukrainian, had never been very beautiful, and had outlived most of her family. She was proud of all those things. She was not a woman given to romance or fancy.

“Shoo,” Nadia said to the cat. He bent his ears back and glared, and didn’t move until she waved the vacuum’s upholstery attachment at him. Nadia moved the couch back into place and continued vacuuming. There was much left to clean in the Swedish assholes’ apartment. She hadn’t even started on the kitchen, where the many chrome gadgets were always splattered with sauces. God save her from rich people who wanted to cook like Ina Garten.

Nadia mostly forgot about the incident until the next week, when she again had to move the couch to vacuum. This process repeated itself for several months. Nadia would see the sand first, then catch the smell, and remember: of course, the Swedish assholes had the ocean under their couch.

The day that changed, as things must always change, was not very different than the preceding ones. Not unseasonably cold, nor warm. She was still divorced, childless, and an immigrant that lived in an enclave of other immigrants, who understood the true value of things.

Was her back bothering Nadia that day? Yes, but not as much as her knees, her knees were her real problem. All that time spent scrubbing floors, all kinds of floors, tile and linoleum and bamboo and one man who had furnished his children’s playroom with a floor made of pennies. It was ghastly, a nightmare to clean, and she had Abraham Lincoln’s face permanently embedded in her knees now, from that floor.

If we are seeking to place blame for what happened that day, perhaps it should lie on the penny floor. Maybe we can blame the verdigris that crept over Lincoln’s features, and the bright, bloody smell of that room.

On the day, Nadia arrived at the Swedish assholes’ apartment at her normal time. Nadia dropped her purse, then her bucket of cleaning supplies, and then her coat. The stupid cat watched her from the kitchen counter where he was surely forbidden to sit, and she watched him back. Then she strode into the living room, hauled the couch away from the eastern wall, and stared down at the small ocean that hid beneath it.

It looked like the Black Sea, she decided. Not the sea of her memories with its dirty colored sand, and overly tanned men leering at young bikini-clad girls; but the sea of her dreams, with dark water that contained shipwrecks and other unknowable things.

Nadia shed her clothes, placing them on the back of the couch: the old, stained jeans, the cheap and scratchy T-shirt that was emblazoned with the name of the cleaning company; her threadbare bra; her soft panties with the torn lace at the hem. Then she stood at the lip of the sea, of her sea, and dipped into it a toe. She knew that the best way to get into cold water was not to hesitate, not to shriek and to fumble, but to steadily allow oneself to be submerged.

Rather than sinking in, however, the sea rose to meet Nadia, spilling out over the stingy inches of sand that formed its beach, lazily spreading across the floor of the Swedish assholes’ 14th floor apartment. It quickly submerged the mohair rugs and the lower bookshelves, the white lacquer coffee table with its collection of fashion and design magazines. It rose higher than the air vents of the awful vacuum, and salty water quickly began leaking down the pipes. Wavelets lapped against the cream-colored walls.

As for Nadia, she placidly watched the water rise to her ankles, and then her knees. When it was just about thigh-height, she took three deep breaths, and then dove in.

The cat had leapt up onto the couch, perching on Nadia’s clothes. He watched the water with the same fascination he had shown months earlier, but no real concern. Instead, he raised a paw as if to swat at something just under the surface. Then he brought it to his mouth and licked it instead, as if that was what he had meant to do in the first place.

Originally published in The Deadline, 2015.

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Letter From an Artist to a Thousand Future Versions of Her Wife

My dearest Anatolia:

Before you left this world, you asked me to celebrate the dissolution of your body. And I have. Are you proud of me? It has been seventy-two days since you left Earth. Fifteen since we were told the ansibles don’t work. Fifteen days to mourn broken promises. Fifteen days to realize that without instantaneous transmissions across the gulfs of space, your voice and mind are lost to me forever. You are not dead, my dearest, but it feels like you are. I have held ceremonies and read poetry and lit candles with friends and family. Your belongings we gave to the needy, your flesh we fed to lions and eagles. Tomorrow, I distribute your bones.

I have been putting this off, but people keep asking, and I am the last of the ship-folk’s kin not to have held a bone-wishing ceremony. So I must. There’ll be a luncheon at the old church where took our vows, attended by all our family and friends, and I’ll give your bones away. You didn’t leave a list of who gets what, so I’ve made one up.

But my ceremony won’t be like the other bone-wishings, grim and dreary and spartan. I have been to those, and they left a bad taste in my mouth, like ashes and charcoal. I refuse to give your bones away in little boxes, for them to sit on shelves and gather dust. What a terrible waste that would be.

So I’ve taken your bones, my love, and made them functional and beautiful. I’ve strung them up and wrapped them in velvet and platinum and precious stones. They served you well in this lifetime and they will continue to serve your loved ones well. I have made spoons of your scapulas and a dinner bowl from your skull, I have threaded your teeth into a bracelet for your youngest grand-niece.

Your vertebra, strung with pearls, will make a fine necklace for your sister, so she can carry the weight of your bones around her neck. Your ribcage, adorned with lace and sequins, shall grace the lobby of the institution, so that all the scientists passing by will never forget their founder.

If I could imagine you reading this, I’d imagine you laughing and saying something like “This is why I married an artist,” in whatever passes for laughing and speaking in your version of existence. But I’ll never know the truth.

I’m not good at math, never was, so your sister explained how this letter will work. I hope I’ve got this right: Radio transmissions travel at the speed of light. But your ship is headed to the edge of our galaxy in jumps a thousand light-years apart. Your first stop will be in the vicinity of Delta Orionis, and it’ll take my letter a thousand years to get there. But that’s okay, because each stop will be a little more than a thousand years long, because the hydrogen fuel takes that much time to gather, because you ship-folk can afford to wait, immortal as you are in a bunch of ones and zeros created out of brain patterns. Then your ship will jump another thousand light-years, while my letter continues outwards at the mere speed of light. We’ll be leapfrogging our way across the universe: Ship, letter, ship, letter, ship. Over and over again.

So this could be the first time you’re listening to this. Or the seventieth. Or the thousandth, far past the edge of the Milky Way.

I feel like I should be writing to a thousand different Anatolias, all the Anatolias of the future, but I don’t know any of them. I don’t know what wonders the universe will peel back before you, and how that new awe will change you. By the time you’ve gotten this I’d have been dead for hundreds of years. And it’s only the beginning. At a hundred thousand years I will have been nothing but a tiny blip, an organic aberration in the long path of your life. I’ve remained flesh-bound and heavy while you sprint light through the heavens, having shed your blood and bones.

How much does the iron in your blood and the calcium in your bones remember of the heart of the star in which they were born? And if they can forget that terrible, magnificent heat and light, what hope do I have of being more than an unremarkable footnote to you?

I’ve been thinking of that beach in Seattle, the place where we first made love on the soft sand, the waves murmuring at our feet as pleasure took us, over and over again. In my memory I held your sweat-glazed body and kissed it while you pointed to the glittering night sky and talked about the birth and life and death of stars over scales of time I couldn’t grasp. You talked about how our galaxy would merge with the Andromeda in a hundred billion years, described in glowing terms the spectacular light show that those around to witness it would see.

A hundred billion years. I could not even imagine what the planet would look like in one of those billions. What humanity’s children would look like. All I saw were strange, distant flickers in the sky.

At that moment I knew that I would lose you, long before the idea of mindships were proposed, long before you tried convincing me that ansible technology would keep us in contact in jump-space, long before the ashen-faced project director told the auditorium full of relatives, “We can still track their progress, but send/receive is not working”. Way back then, on the beach, I already knew you would one day slip from my grasp.

After all, you were the brilliant professor with her gaze forever tilted to the heavens, and I was only the silly little girl with her feet anchored to the sand.

Science is about taking risks, you once said. So is love, I countered.

I have saved your right femur for myself. It’s not that I treasure it more than the two hundred and five other bones you left behind. But I looked at it and I saw a flute, thin and hollow and metal tipped, and where I saw flute I saw endless potential. A way, my love, that the remnants of your earthbound existence can bring me joy. Your grand-nieces, in your family’s grand tradition of being brighter than suns, are building their own radio-transmitter to send messages to big Aunt Anatolia. When it is done, we will bring it to that Seattle beach, together with the flute I have made your bones. And there I shall play. I shall send your boneflute song soaring over the bowl of the sky, out to the edge of the Milky Way, where in a hundred thousand years it will whistle past you, gentle as a butterfly’s whisper over a forest.

Originally published in Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, June 2015.

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Jupiter of Jupiter

Two seconds shy of
seven days,
clockwork heart capricious,
you haven’t spoken
since February or Ganymede.
Remember neverwhen?
Sol bursting
over Io,
you opened your lips
and breathed
would-be human memory
pearl bright
rolling past your tongue
oxygen the flavor of
Brunei,
Zambia,
Brazil.
Synapses kindle
and I watch.

Quiver.

Sever.

Now
Mundus Iovialis unwinds
behind your eyes.
A gasp.
1614
Simon Marius sputtering in the dark
between Forever Sleep
and trajectory,
between earth and Jupiter,
between your left eye
and the gears of your jaw.

Three kisses.
Four.
And still, you do not see me
hovering bone bright
beside you.

Originally published in Strange Horizons on June 6, 2016.