The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Beauty by Christina Chiu


This selection, chosen by guest curator Heather Leigh, is from Beauty by Christina Chiu, released by SFWP in 2020. 

Content note: Beauty contains graphic depictions of consensual sexual encounters.

          It’s the big day. It’s a three-hour trip to Cambridge. I’m driving solo—not a great combination when you’re feeling exhausted. Alex is going with Jeff via limo. Toby’s supposed to come with me, but he wakes feeling sick. I touch his forehead, again, and find it cool to the touch. “I’m just tired,” he says, rolling away from me.

            “You want to stay home?”  

            He doesn’t respond.

            “Um, okay.” Way things have been going, I half expect him to come chasing after me as soon I hit the bottom landing of the steps. When he doesn’t, I gather sketches I’ve started in anticipation of school. Technically, they seem fine, yet, something doesn’t feel “right.” At least I’ll have time to think about them during the ride. Upstairs, it’s quiet. I don’t want to baby Toby, and yet, I don’t feel right about leaving him home alone. Just as I’m headed into the garage, I get an idea. “Toby?”

            He moans.

            “Why don’t you stop by Amanda’s later? I’ll call Connie. Maybe you can have lunch there?”

            “No, don’t,” he says. “I’m fine, okay? I just want to sleep. I’ll text Amanda later.”

            “Call me, then, okay?” The University’s parent lounge and resources fair—whatever that is—starts at 1 PM, and the official “Welcome” is set for three. If I get back on the road right away, I can be home by dinner. I get into the car and spread my sketches on the passenger seat beside me. The idea I want to develop in school is a high-end line of clothes specifically geared toward older women. The target audience would be between the ages of 50 and 70. Modern. Classy. Clean, elegant lines. With special emphasis on material—sweat-wicking “silk” for the Spring/summer Collection; thermal itch-free “wool” for the Fall/winter—and spectacularly sexy fit, with firm, Spanx-like support built into each particular garment, and tailored to each specific individual. Flat abs. A shapely waistline. A generous lift at both the bosom and buttocks.

            No more sucking in. No more turkey waddle nor hiding behind layers.

            Finally 50. The New Modern Woman.


Christina Chiu is the author of Troublemaker and Other Saints. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, The New Guard Literary Review, Washington Square, The MacGuffin, and elsewhere. Troublemaker won the Asian American Literary Award and was chosen for the Alternate Section of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Chiu received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia. She is a founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, and has worked in the fashion industry as a shoe designer.

Heather Leigh is a queer, disabled writer and editor who has been working within Chicago’s publishing world for more than twenty years, editing poetry for the likes of Curbside Splendor and reading prose and poetry for Uncanny Magazine. She has recently began to focus on her own publication goals between semesters teaching English, writing, reading, and journalism at various midwestern community colleges. She is a three-time SAFTA fellowship recipient, a multiple resident of Firefly Farms, and most recently had a speculative horror story published in Bloodlet, an anthology by CultureCult Press. She lives in Chicago with a retired cage-fighting poet, two rescue cats names after Buffy watchers, enjoying life with the family that caught her by surprise.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Magical Realism & Cultural Context”: A Writers Workshop

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “Magical Realism & Cultural Context,” a workshop led by Jessica Reidy on August 11, 2021 from 6-7:30PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress (password: safta).

This workshop will challenge the idea of magical realism as something imagined within reality with Marquez’s assertion that “surrealism runs through the streets,” and invite students to consider various cultural perspectives on what is real, which include magic or spiritual phenomena as inseparable from reality. The format of this workshop will be part lecture, and part generative. In the lecture, we will examine works by Rajko Đjuríc, Edwidge Danticat, and Joy Harjo as examples of the magic and the mundane coexisting, and we will examine the cultural elements of the story that inform these specific realities.

The second part of the workshop will be focused on generating material through writing prompts that guide students to writing their own magical realism, incorporating their sense of heritage, place, and cosmology into their work. The goal of this workshop is to free up ideas around what is real and what is magical, allowing students to access all forms of their and their characters’ lived experiences, and create a holistic narrative.

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations to Jessica via Venmo @jezminavonthiele or PayPal at jessica.s.reidy@gmail.com .

Jessica Reidy (she/they) is a writer and educator with works in Narrative Magazine as Story of the Week, Prairie Schooner, The Kenyon Review online, RomArchive, and other publications. She is the winner of the Nancy Thorp Poetry Prize, the Penelope Nivens Award for Creative Nonfiction, and the Glenna Luschei Prize, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart and Best of the Net. She is a co-host of Romanistan podcast alongside Paulina Verminski, a celebration of Roma, rebels, and roots. Under the name Jezmina Von Thiele, she is a dancer, healer, artist, art model, and fortune teller, dealing in tarot, palmistry, and tea leaves. She tells fortunes in her mixed Roma/Sinti family’s tradition. She is a queer witch, and can be found at jessicareidy.com and jezminavonthiele.com

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Beauty by Christina Chiu


This selection, chosen by guest curator Heather Leigh, is from Beauty by Christina Chiu, released by SFWP in 2020. 

Content note: Beauty contains graphic depictions of consensual sexual encounters.

          I arrange for the sitter to arrive by 3 pm, telling her when she arrives that I’ll be home by 9 or 10 pm. There’s a new Star Wars Lego set in the closet. I give it to the sitter, then prepare dinner and run an early bath. When Alex is in his PJs and building the fighter plane, I shower and get ready even though I’m still not certain for what.

            The first thing I try on is a white Theory dress. It makes me look fat. The second is a Helmet Lang jersey dress, but that makes me look frumpy. Finally, I step into what I originally planned to wear to the wedding, a form-fitting, black Herve Leger dress with white piping. But this, too, looks wrong. How could I have possibly considered this dress for the wedding? I wonder now. I walk the dog, give the sitter my cell phone number, along with my permission for Alex to watch TV if things get hairy. Then, I drive straight to The Westchester mall and valet the car at Neiman Marcus.

            Everything seems quieter the moment I step inside. The marble floors. The clear glass counters displaying jewelry and makeup. I ride the escalator up a floor to the apparel section, being careful to avoid the Jeff Jones Collection. Today, there’s a sale. Even Helmet Lang has a rack. My hand is drawn to a tight-fitting black dress: compressed twill, sleeveless, and with the sexiest, yet most elegant back ever. In the fitting room, I try it on. The salesperson zips me up. It’s like skin. I feel my old self coming back. I smooth my hands down the front, turn to check the rear view from over my shoulder, then turn again to check the other side. The body is still there after all.

            “Wow,” she says.

            “How much?”

            “$268.80. Down from $448.”

            “I love it.” I hand her the credit card and my old dress.

            “You’ll wear it out?”

            “Hell, yeah,” I say.

            When she’s gone to the register, I take off my wedding ring and drop it into my change purse. Tonight, I’m not a wife or mother. I’m me. I call the Japanese salon in town to ask if my hairdresser can squeeze me in. He says yes—he’s had a cancellation!—but only if I arrive within the hour. “I’m there,” I say.

            The sales clerk returns with my receipt and a scissor to cut away the tags. I stop next at the shoe department and immediately gravitate toward a Jimmy Choo sandal. It’s made of snake-embossed leather with black contrast piping and a 4” metallic heel. The design and detail, the sheer craftmanship, makes these more—much, much more—than just a pair of shoes. As Armani once said, “To create something exceptional, your mindset must be relentlessly focused on the smallest detail.” Here is proof of it. Something like awe fills my chest. This is the power of beauty. It’s my size. I slip the one shoe onto my foot, and, oh, yes. I’m in love. In the full-length mirror, I see a transformation of myself back into the person I once was.

             “How much?”

            “$925.”

            Ouch.

            “This is the last pair,” the salesman says.

            How to justify? Well, I did save more than two hundred on the dress. Besides, I don’t have a pair of sandals like these. And I’m Jeff Jones’s wife. I need to be presentable. I can’t be looking like a mismatched FOB. “I’ll take them,” I say, handing over the card.

            I go 70 mph on the Bronx River Parkway, and arrive at the hair salon with minutes to spare. My hairdresser is a man named Morita.

            His clients refer him to as “the Magnificent.” He wears a long, neat ponytail down his back and sunglasses perched on top of his head. He assesses my hair critically—the way a designer might examine the seams of a coat—and asks what I’d like. It’s been almost a year and a half since my last trim. “Long layers?” I say, which is vague, considering the many kinds of layering techniques. Then, glancing over at the dye-job next to me with plastic wrap around her head, I add, “Highlights.”

            He sets to work, lightening the hair, then cutting while we talk about our kids. I tell him honestly about Alex: not only about how tough it has been, but how clueless my husband is about the situation. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” I say, as he paints and foils the side of my head. “It’s like the real me got lost.” I try not to cry because it’s not Japanese to lose control, but, my mind snags against the prenup and the many other injustices, and the assistant needs to give me a Kleenex. I feel mortified that I may have embarrassed Morita, and yet, I confide that nothing I do, nothing I endure, will ever be enough to prove my love to Jeff. “I’m done trying,” I explain, and once I say it—once it’s out there—it becomes obvious. I’m not in love with Jeff, anymore.

            An hour and a half after he starts, Morita’s angling a hand-held mirror behind me so that I can see the back of my head as well as the front. My normally long, flat hair falls in what seems like waves. The highlights are subtle, but they brighten my entire face. I’m free.

            I smile, and the person in the mirror radiates pure love back at me. “Okaerinasai,” he says, nodding with reverence. “Welcome back.”


Christina Chiu is the author of Troublemaker and Other Saints. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, The New Guard Literary Review, Washington Square, The MacGuffin, and elsewhere. Troublemaker won the Asian American Literary Award and was chosen for the Alternate Section of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Chiu received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia. She is a founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, and has worked in the fashion industry as a shoe designer.

Heather Leigh is a queer, disabled writer and editor who has been working within Chicago’s publishing world for more than twenty years, editing poetry for the likes of Curbside Splendor and reading prose and poetry for Uncanny Magazine. She has recently began to focus on her own publication goals between semesters teaching English, writing, reading, and journalism at various midwestern community colleges. She is a three-time SAFTA fellowship recipient, a multiple resident of Firefly Farms, and most recently had a speculative horror story published in Bloodlet, an anthology by CultureCult Press. She lives in Chicago with a retired cage-fighting poet, two rescue cats names after Buffy watchers, enjoying life with the family that caught her by surprise.

Lyric Essentials: Alina Stefanescu Reads Alice Notley

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week writer and editor Alina Stefanescu has joined us to discuss the poetry of Alice Notley, the complicated nature of being human, and questions evoked by the poetry we consume. We hope you enjoy as much as we did, and, as always, thank you for tuning in.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: I’m absolutely in love with Alice Notley’s work! What was your first experience with her writing? 

Alina Stefanescu: I can’t recall my first experience with Alice Notley but I can say that she slam-dunked me this year, after reading Cedar Sigo’s Guard the Mysteries (Wave Books), a stunning book, a constellation of a book, built around tributes to his literary influences, including Joanne Kryger.  It struck me that Sigo selected Alice Notley’s poem, “The Fortune-Teller,” as his favorite tribute to Kryger. Notley is often invoked as a New York school poet, but what Notley does in this elegiac poem for her friend is to evade those markings. Notley ends the poem by placing Kryger in the school of “b. 1934,” a birth-year which Sigo suspects was “the only marker Joanne could trust.” 

The school of being born in 1934: the school of that year rather than the school of the movement of the moment. This radical re-visioning, this way in which Notley saw her friend apart from the crowds, and insisted on locating her within her own instance–it made me ravenous, it opened a room in my mind – the Room with Notley- a room without which I can’t imagine this pandemic. I felt as if Notley had given a template for how she wants to be remembered, which is something we often do when memorializing others, as Joseph Brodsky wrote in an essay whose title I can’t remember. How do I want to be remembered, and how do our poems hide these palimpsests? One encounters the urge to reckon with that…

Alina Stefanescu reads the work of Alice Notley

AH: Alice Notley was writing in the 1960s, which adds such a deeper layer of interest to her writing—her work is provocative, the antithesis of what was expected of women at the time. For you, as a poet and writer active decades later, do you find yourself channeling similar kinds of energy when approaching particular topics?

AS: What does independence signify in an ecology of fellow humans? I think Alice Notley asks this. What’s the distance between reverence and worship?: another question Notley brings close. Any statue becomes a hot-spot for nostalgia. The hero’s looking back illuminates a reactionary golden age, a time when heroism was possible. I see that with Confederate statue demons in Birmingham, Alabama, where I live. What is my personal relationship to, and with, that? How am I implicated in these memorials? No lies, no obfuscations: just write.   

Who am I in your mouth, and why does your mouth matter? What are you allowed to make me? These are questions that don’t disappear.

During this pandemic, I’ve struggled, like many, to balance the accelerated performance of motherhood with the discipline of writing life, and the social guilt that comes with expressing this. The appalled caesura on people’s faces if one dares to say: yes, it is hell to have to choose between my life and theirs, it is sick to live in a culture where motherhood is put on a pedestal so high that we are set in stone, afraid to say, “I have never wanted to be a monument to self-sacrifice.” That’s not how I want my kids to remember me. The mom who gives up her life for her kids is a terrible legacy, a perpetual guilt-machine for the kids we leave behind. Notley’s tangles and cord-bloods and shattering syntax encourage me to write despite the impossibilities, to write and to write and maybe to spite the grotesqueness of capitalist realism. 

We’re all a little broken, despite the cultural impetus to selfie ourselves otherwise. “Poetry comes out of all the places where you break,” Notley has said, and it’s okay to study those spaces, to devise new forms to hold the fragments, to see oneself whole in the busted shards of a mirror. Our souls aren’t binaries, we don’t live in positive vs.  negativity boxes (though sometimes we hide in them because the pressure to perform reductive emotional binaries is continuous). Look, there’s a billion-dollar industry devoted to making us happy, or making us look happy, or teaching us how to say happy so hard that it hurts. It’s okay to be dense, layered, complicated, atonal, atypical, banal, ungrateful and blessed in the same breath. It’s okay to write raw bones, to invoke the moon, to make love and weep in the hot ashes of the wreck.

AH: Why did you choose these two poems specifically? What drew you to them? 

AS: As Good As Anything” is a sort of soothesay, a balm over the mind worn raw by contests, by competition, by delusions of scarcity as they play out in publishing, by not wanting to give a damn and yet, measuring myself in precisely in those millimeters of hot damnation, only to convene in my complicities, which is a long way of saying that Notley reminds me, at the end: it is the poem that is rock-like. It is the poem that deserves my attention, my tenderness, my loyalty, all my damns laid at the foot of that rock. 

As for “A Baby Is Born Out of An Owl’s Forehead,” I give Cedar Sigo all the credit for the gift of this poem in my life. While researching Sigo’s work for a review essay, I found his  “Daydream of Darkness” , a piece which reconfigures the essay form as an image, a visual illustration, the doodle of bats, spiders, polar bears and flowers, a daydream enacted or seeking form. “I do not want to walk right into the making,” Sigo writes, “I want to wander around in the underworld if it has, in fact, been left open.” And then he mentions this poem by Alice Notley, who said the form of her poem, “A baby is born out of an owl’s forehead,” came from the effort to reinhabit her 1972 postpartum- depression body.  Words and images not only evoke the world, but also, to quote Sigo, “provoke our agency to deal in past and future time.” To quote Notley, in this line that still takes my break away:

Of his birth and my painful un-birth

I choose both.

To know what I know of the world after the body is broken by this American capitalist enterprise known as “m/otherhood”, where pain is privatized and exhaustion is stigmatized and the pedestal keeps changing the model of performance, I choose both. And I choose to write about both. And I choose the discomfort it brings to the table where we might prefer not to discuss these worn, trodden, ever-gory things.

AH: What have you been up to lately? Do you have any exciting news you’d like to share (life, writing, anything!)? 

AS: Thank you for asking this, even though I’m never sure how to answer it: whether to plug the forthcoming book or mention the fascinating thing that holds my mind at the moment, which is to say, the thing I am writing, the thing I can’t stop imagining and seeking in patches of time between events. Sometimes I talk about these things on twitter. Sometimes I blog about them. Mostly I marvel at the editors, publishers, readers, peers, and collaborators who have let me be part of this world, and whose generosity blows my mind. 


Alice Notley is an American poet often associated with the New York School. Born in California but New York-bound as a student at Barnard, she then received her MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop in fiction. She is known for her use of hybridity and bending genres to evoke how breaking the traditional rules is a reflection of the inner and cultural self. The author of over forty poetry collections, her work has received global attention.

Find her work in Poetry.

Read her poem “Woman in Front of Poster of Herself.”

Discover her voice a recent interview.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her partner and several intense mammals. Recent books include a creative nonfiction chapbook, Ribald (Bull City Press Inch Series, Nov. 2020). Her poetry collection, dor, won the Wandering Aengus Press Prize and is forthcoming in July 2021. Alina’s writing can be found (or is forthcoming) in diverse journals, including Prairie Schooner, North American Review, World Literature Today, Pleiades, FLOCK, Southern Humanities Review, Crab Creek Review, and others. She serves as Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes, Poetry Editor for Random Sample Review, Poetry Reviewer for Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Co-Director of PEN America’s Birmingham Chapter.

Find Alina online at her website.

Preorder dor here.

Read Alina’s poem “Poem for the Black Bird” at Poetry.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Barren Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press, and reads for EX/POST Magazine. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Beauty by Christina Chiu


This selection, chosen by guest curator Heather Leigh, is from Beauty by Christina Chiu, released by SFWP in 2020. 

Content note: Beauty contains graphic depictions of consensual sexual encounters.

            My mind swarms with a mishmash of random, nagging thoughts. Call Georgie about Ma’s birthday gift. Add “sugar” to the shopping list. Ask that new mom in the playgroup for the name of her pediatric allergist. Call the tree company to test the towering Oak hovering directly above Alex’s bedroom.

            There’s something inside me, something important I need to say right now, if only I could figure out what it is. Only three years ago, I was an aspiring designer fresh out of grad school. I combed through fashion collections, reading up on various designers and working straight through the night, testing fabrics, cutting, pinning, and sewing. Often, I’d still be there to watch the sanitation trucks do their early morning pick-ups. I poured over drawings with friends, savoring delicious cups of coffee while taking turns commenting on our work. We gossiped about lovers and partners, talked about books and movies, and discussed life—what it was, and what it possibly could be—as if we were at the beginning and it would last forever.

            But, then, Jeff and I moved out to a house in the suburbs. “A boy needs space enough to throw a football,” Jeff said.

            “You don’t even like football.” I wasn’t happy. I was just beginning to get some “new designer” attention in the industry. But, I didn’t say anything. What could I say? My belly grew larger and more bloated each day. Suddenly, I was fat and ugly. Something to be hidden away, and in truth, I was okay with hiding. I had a secret. The pregnancy occurred around the time I messed up taking the pill. It was only one exchange with Rick compared to the many I had with Jeff, so chances were Jeff was the father, but I didn’t know for certain. Maybe Jeff sensed it, somehow, or maybe he fell into his old patterns. He started to look elsewhere. He came home reeking of sex and Coco Mademoiselle.

            Fashion is a small industry. Everyone knew, which made me feel all the more helpless and ashamed. Everything here, everything that’s yours is mine, Dad used to say.

            So, this is what I understood: Everything that was mine was Jeff’s; everything that was Jeff’s was not mine. I had signed the prenup. Even still, one of the tabloids doctored a photo of me dressed in one of Jeff’s “Empress” gowns. The heading read: “Down with the Dowager.” The article described me as controlling and “money grubbing.” It said I married Jeff for social stature and to get a leg up in the fashion industry.

            I kissed Jeff at Helena’s party four years ago. Now, despite everything, I could never live it down.


Christina Chiu is the author of Troublemaker and Other Saints. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, The New Guard Literary Review, Washington Square, The MacGuffin, and elsewhere. Troublemaker won the Asian American Literary Award and was chosen for the Alternate Section of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Chiu received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia. She is a founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, and has worked in the fashion industry as a shoe designer.

Heather Leigh is a queer, disabled writer and editor who has been working within Chicago’s publishing world for more than twenty years, editing poetry for the likes of Curbside Splendor and reading prose and poetry for Uncanny Magazine. She has recently began to focus on her own publication goals between semesters teaching English, writing, reading, and journalism at various midwestern community colleges. She is a three-time SAFTA fellowship recipient, a multiple resident of Firefly Farms, and most recently had a speculative horror story published in Bloodlet, an anthology by CultureCult Press. She lives in Chicago with a retired cage-fighting poet, two rescue cats names after Buffy watchers, enjoying life with the family that caught her by surprise.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Beauty by Christina Chiu


This selection, chosen by guest curator Heather Leigh, is from Beauty by Christina Chiu, released by SFWP in 2020. 

Content note: Beauty contains graphic depictions of consensual sexual encounters.

            I’m about to knock on the neighbor’s door when Jeff finally appears. He gets in, starts the car, and we drive in silence all the way to Hyannis. When we get to the bus depot, he asks me to wait, he needs to talk, but I shove the door open and get out. I tug my suitcase from the back seat. “Amy,” he calls, rushing around to my side of the car. “Please. I’m sorry, okay?”

            “Yeah, whatever,” I say, marching toward the station, dragging the suitcase behind me.

            “I love you.”

            Three small words. Is he kidding me? In a movie, this would be the part when two quarreling lovers run into each other’s arms. I turn to face Jeff straight on.

            “I do,” he says, crossing his arms over his chest. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to be that guy who needs the girl who doesn’t need him.”

            Heat rushes to my face. I feel sunburnt, even on the inside. “You know me, remember?” he says.

            “Well, you don’t know me.”

            “I do,” he insists. “I do.”

            “Really? Well, then go back and get my fucking ring back.” I tug the suitcase into the bus depot where I buy my ticket. He waits as I board, trying to hug me, but I push past him. He waits to wave me off, but I shut my eyes until we’re moving at a steady, even clip. I spend both legs of the trip home—bus and train—replaying everything in my mind. It’s pure, unadulterated torture. I don’t want to ever see him again, and yet, maybe I’m going to die if I don’t. My eyes are swollen practically shut from crying. I don’t arrive at Georgie’s until 10 PM. Ma’s back from her cruise, so I put on my sunglasses and hope she’s already asleep. All I want is a shower, a shot of NyQuil, and a bed.

            As soon as I walk into Georgie’s apartment, I know something’s wrong. Ma and Georgie are sitting together at the kitchen table, each with a mug of Chinese tea. Ma’s wearing a silk nighty with butterflies that someone younger might pass off as an evening dress. She’s got a dour look on her face like maybe her boyfriend broke up with her. Or maybe something’s up with Dad?

            “What’s going on?” I ask.

            Ma and Georgie exchange glances.

           “What?” I insist.

            Ma holds out a ring box, hand delivered from Tiffany’s, with a small card attached.

            “Maybe you should tell us,” Georgie says.

            I open the card. It says: I can do better than that—J.

            Damn right, you will, I think. No one’s ever going to treat me like that again.

            “You look terrible,” Georgie says, a line usually reserved for Ma.

            “Ni ku shen me?” Ma asks. What’s the crying about?

            “It’s just an apology of sorts,” I say, taking the box. “Just a guy I’m dating, that’s all.”

            “The boy just now at this Cape Cod?” Ma asks.

            “Friend,” I correct, worried that if Ma ever meets Jeff, she’ll automatically judge him for being so much older than me.

            “He wasn’t nice?” Ma asks.

            “A total jerk,” I say, unwrapping the baby blue paper, removing it from the box, and prying the lid open. The cushion is white silk.

            Set inside it, a diamond ring. Rectangular-shaped. Framed by small diamond chips.

            Ma gasps.

            “Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks like an engagement ring,” Georgie states.

            “Like, duh.”

           Georgie frowns.

            Ma stares at it, then back at me. “What have you done?” she accuses.

            “Are you asking if I prostituted myself for a diamond ring so that I can scare off nice Chinese boys?” I ask, angrily, snapping the box shut. “Because that could be true.”

            Ma strikes me across the face, catching me totally off guard. The last time she slapped me was in high school. I press my stinging cheek. “I know it’s hard to believe that someone might actually want to marry me,” I say, grabbing the phone from the stand and locking myself in the bathroom.

            Jeff picks up on the first ring.

            “This is not funny,” I say, sitting on the toilet.

           “I didn’t intend it to be,” he replies.

            “You made me feel like shit. Like trash.”

            “I screwed up, okay? You’re dealing with a hopelessly screwed up person. You have me in knots, I’m scared.”

            I sigh. “I miss you. Why do I miss you?”

           He chuckles. “Have you tried it on?”

            I remove it from the box and slip it onto my finger. “It’s beautiful.”

           “Then marry me,” he says.

            “I never imagined I’d be proposed to over the phone while I’m sitting on the john.”

            “Well, you are. If it’s not romantic enough for you, we can see what we get out of the bubble gum machine.”

            “Do I have to come up for another week if I say yes?”

            “Absolutely. In fact, the dues have gone up to three weeks.”

           “Then, yes,” I sigh. “Yes.”


Christina Chiu is the author of Troublemaker and Other Saints. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, The New Guard Literary Review, Washington Square, The MacGuffin, and elsewhere. Troublemaker won the Asian American Literary Award and was chosen for the Alternate Section of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Chiu received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia. She is a founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, and has worked in the fashion industry as a shoe designer.

Heather Leigh is a queer, disabled writer and editor who has been working within Chicago’s publishing world for more than twenty years, editing poetry for the likes of Curbside Splendor and reading prose and poetry for Uncanny Magazine. She has recently began to focus on her own publication goals between semesters teaching English, writing, reading, and journalism at various midwestern community colleges. She is a three-time SAFTA fellowship recipient, a multiple resident of Firefly Farms, and most recently had a speculative horror story published in Bloodlet, an anthology by CultureCult Press. She lives in Chicago with a retired cage-fighting poet, two rescue cats names after Buffy watchers, enjoying life with the family that caught her by surprise.

Call for Application: Graphic Design Internship

Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit publishing collective founded in 2000 that hosts a variety of literary journals and published chapbooks, full-length collections, and literary anthologies in both print and digital formats, Sundress also publishes the annual Best of the Net Anthology, celebrating the best work published online, and the Gone Dark Archives, preserving online journals that have reached the end of their run.

The graphic design internship position will run from September 15, 2021 to March 15, 2022. The graphic design intern will assist with creating promotional graphics, digital flyers, logos, social media images, and brochures, etc. Responsibilities may also include designing the interior and exterior of e-books, formatting manuscripts, and/or designing and editing promotional materials. Applicants must be self-motivated and be able to work on a strict deadline.

Preferred qualifications include:

  • Familiarity with Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and/or Illustrator
  • Graphic design or visual art experience
  • Knowledge of contemporary literature a plus

Applicants are welcome to telecommunicare and tehrefore are not restricted to living in the Knoxville area.

While this is an unpaid intership, all interns will gain real-worl experience in the designing books and promotional materials for a nationally recognized press while creating a portfolio of work for future employment opportunities.

To apply, please send a resume and a brief cover letter detailing your interest in the position by September 1, 2021 to the Executive Director, Erin Elizabeth Smith at erin@sundresspublications.com.

For more information, visit our website.

Sundress Reads: Review of The Death Spiral

How do reflections of a past humanity co-exist with the present, or grow into our future? Author and professor Sara Giragosian asks this question between the lines of her poetry collection, The Death Spiral (Black Lawrence Press, 2020). By evoking visceral convergences, repetitions, and breakdowns of organic matter, Girgosian situates America in the Anthropocene—not just as a space of mass extinction and climate change, but also as a point of political upheaval, colonialization, and cultural erasure.

Nomadically waltzing between seedpods, crosswinds, rock membranes and raptors (both extinct and living), The Death Spiral recognizes the Paleolithic and present as migratory states rather than time periods. In this malleable temporality, love and death become ingesting and ingested things that creep into us all, causing us to ask of our surroundings, “If there are cracks in the world where spirits pass through, slow this scene—let me live in the still / when you hover in mid-air to drink the honeysuckle in.” You will find this stillness at the closure of the collection, after forming a truer understanding of the fossilized and forgotten—the echoes of national mistakes Giragosian amplifies with words that rip and free.

The Death Spiral is divided into three sections, each with its own balance of urgency and upliftment. In the first section, “Emergency Procedures,” Girgosian brings awareness to the exile of the Yup’ik (the earth’s first climate refugees), the deep traces of systematic racism present in the US Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, and her great-grandmother’s story as a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. Amongst these considerations, Giragosian presents family history as a victim to colonialism, terror as a person with favorites, and God as a force as “anonymous / and intimate as a nurse who can deliver pain / or take it away.” In this open-faced recognition of cruelty and fear, Girgosian reminds us that “Nature is neither cruel nor moral, / but she’s irrepressible / as a kink in the nervous system”. The presentation of this ambivalent yet unstoppable natural force feels like the modem by which we are told to trace our truest form of history with tactile diligence, remapping the ancestral land that has been too often erased. It is a triumphant, if pained, call for justice.

The second section, “To Kingdom Come”, makes its presence known with the gentle propositional poem “Origins.” Here, the first line theorizes, “suppose we / were intimate / before the Bang / all of us / you and me / and the cosmos / cramped in at a point / finer than an atom.” The connectivity of a collective comes to the forefront, making us aware of the ways our dreams, movements, and actions pulse out a vibration we are capable of feeling with humble acuteness. Traversing dark and dirty energy to travel through towns including Terlingua Texas, Beacon New York, and the Rio Grande, Giragosian encompasses the experiences of immigrant families facing a “wild-eyed” America “rehearsing his blunt sand trap quiz.”

This presentation of a restrictive, nationalistic consciousness contrast the moments of connectivity Giragosian proposes at the beginning of this section. By doing so, Giragosian shifts between first, second, third person plural perspectives, as well as the anonymity of a character called E., in order to dare exclusionists to “private tour your way around my mind / too gaslighted by Sparkle the Racist, Boo Boo the Homophobe, and Frisky the Sexist / to be any good to you now.” The multiplicity of perspectives allows readers to hold an orbital view of American discrimination at the same time that Giragosian asserts connectivity as a source of understanding and love. Ultimately it is the hopeful message of connection that makes headway through the title poem, “The Death Spiral”. Here, Giragosian evokes the courtship ritual of eagles to propose, “Suppose that to marry is to defy death / talon to talon, / to promise to learn together the art / of freefalling as mutual deference.” The feeling of interlocking talons—another instance of deep connection—is not just a plummeting force in this poem, but a mutual respect with the power to fall upwards. By spotlighting this action, Giragosian suggests a similar move for our communities—an activism which freefalls with mutual deference.

Thus, in the final section, “Father Absence,” The Death Spiral  takes a step past connectivity to ingestion—embrace. Here, Giragosian writes of a sort of decomposition in which nature fits into humanity, and vice versa. She writes to a T-Rex stillborn to say, “And when your ghost squirms / in my spleen, I know the foreboding’s inbred.” Backcountry situates in a human “I” narrator with gill slits, bat bones resembling a grandmother’s hand, and memories are either from a former life as a Galapagos Marine Iguana, or as the detritus of organic matter. What Giragosian accomplishes in her final section, and throughout The Death Spiral as a whole, is a sensation that our history, pain, deaths, memories, and mistakes are all shared, traceable, organic matter. In writing The Death Spiral, Sara Giragosian illustrates the past that we, as a community, must recognize as traceable, breathing, and still waiting for honest representation.

The Death Spiral is available at Black Lawrence Press


Hannah Olsson holds a double BA in Cinema and Creative Writing English from the University of Iowa. During her time in Iowa, Hannah was the president of The Translate Iowa Project and its publication boundless, a magazine devoted to publishing translated poetry, drama, and prose. Her work, both in English and Swedish, has been featured in boundless, earthwords magazine, InkLit Mag, and the University of Iowa’s Ten-Minute Play Festival.

Project Bookshelf: Hannah Olsson

I think it’s funny how much books can reflect someone’s current life. Right now, for example, my bookshelf looks like something modest but growing—something in transition. It reflects almost exactly the way I feel right now in my extended stay hotel, waiting for my new apartment lease to start in Portsmouth, Virginia after my recent move from Iowa City, Iowa. Since my partner and I couldn’t fit much in the place we’re living at the moment, the books I brought are a strange, miscellaneous collection of college booksThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz or the Norse saga Poetic Edda—and my most recent reads, such as Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book Mister Impossible, or K.M. Szpara’s First, Become Ashes.

The mix adds up to a collection of books tied to my degree, books I’m currently reading, and books that I carry around because they’re simply narratives that I feel ground me during this exciting time of changes and new surroundings. In this way, this miniature shelf I have at the moment really reflects the way my massive bookshelf usually looks like in its usual place near my bedside: partly filled with favorites, partly filled with new reads, and definitely filled with all the books I’ve read as class assignments in the past.

A lot of these books I’ve read already, and most likely will not read again. I’ve never really been one to reread books; instead, I usually go back to a book only to glance through the most memorable parts, like one often looks back on fond (or maybe even not-so-fond) moments in their life. Though I never fully reread them, I do think I’ve always struggled giving away books because they hold those kinds of personal memories that you can look back on—not just memories of what happened on the page, but also memories from what was happening in my life at the moment I was reading that page for the first time.

The few books I reread from time to time are tied closest to my Cinema and Creative Writing degree. These textbooks are what I cling onto just in case I ever forget how to write a logline for a script, hold a camera, or study a Norse poem. Not featured, for example, are several of the thickest film theory books I own, works like The Cult Film Reader or Eric Schaefer’s Bold! Daring! Shocking! True: A History of Exploitation Films. These books feel like lasting examples of the work I put into my double BA. They also stand as information I always feel I can look at in a different perspective.

While this list of books covers most of the genres and reading that I’ve done recently, I don’t think that it’s possible to get the true look at my bookshelf without including my best friend Caroline’s bookshelf. I say this because for the past year I’ve basically read any and all of the books she’s recommended (she has phenomenal taste when it comes to YA). These books include Maggie Stiefvater, but also Leah Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, and a series that Caroline and I realized we both loved as children (a start to any good friendship), Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society. I think it’s important to recognize Caroline’s bookshelf because, though I often want reading to be such an individual, unique, personal experience, I have since found through my degrees that reading can also become something globally transformative; so long as we feel the bravery to discuss, contemplate, study, and admire books together.

On this subject, I think I need to also add the self-published books on my shelf that I’ve either read or helped publish. These are magazines like the two boundless publications I currently have on my shelf (as the former president, I have always have multiple copies floating around me like a cloud). This also includes the cowboy poetry book Hooftracks written by my once-horse-instructor, now-friend, Tom Sharpe, the self-published Blue, Black by Caroline, and the un-pictured but current read: a YA fiction manuscript centered around the Mafia and written by another close friend, Annie. All of these books are the ones closest to my heart because they’re about the process of writing; these books, though in varying stages of the writing process and covering a variety of genres, all stand the same in the way they hold voices of the loved ones closest to me. These books, in combination with all the other reading on my shelf, work to help me write, understand, and grow during this exciting new chapter in my own life.


Hannah Olsson holds a double BA in Cinema and Creative Writing English from the University of Iowa. During her time in Iowa, Olsson was the president of The Translate Iowa Project and its publication boundless, a magazine devoted to publishing translated poetry, drama, and prose. Her work, both in English and Swedish, has been featured in boundless, earthwords magazine, Inklit Mag, and the University of Iowa’s Ten-Minute Play Festival, among others.

Nominations Are Now Open for 2021 Best of the Net Anthology

Nominations are now open for Best of the Net, an awards-based anthology designed to grant a platform to a diverse and growing collection of writers and publishers who are building an online literary landscape that seeks to break free of traditional publishing.

In addition to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, for the first time, we will also be accepting art nominations!

Nominations must have originally been published online between July 1st, 2020, and June 30th, 2021. See guidelines for more details on eligibility. Submissions must be received between July 1st and September 30th, 2021.

See the full submission guidelines here.

To submit, please use the following forms:

Poetry submission form
Fiction submission form
Nonfiction submission form
Art submission form

This year’s judges are Mai Der Vang (poetry), Amber Sparks (fiction), Krys Malcolm Belc (nonfiction), and Rhonda Lott (art).

Asian woman with black glasses and long black hair and navy blouse, viewed from waist up, standing in grassy field with sunset in horizon.

Mai Der Vang is the author of Yellow Rain (Graywolf Press, 2021), and Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, she served as a Visiting Writer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry, Tin House, and The American Poetry Review, among other journals and anthologies. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Mai Der also co-edited How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology with the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. A Kundiman fellow, Mai Der has completed residencies at Civitella Ranieri and Hedgebrook. Born and raised in Fresno, California, she earned degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State.

White woman with shoulder-length blonde hair standing in front of bookshelf with both hands on hips, wearing navy cardigan, cream blouse, and orange pants

Amber Sparks is the author of four collections of short fiction, including And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges and The Unfinished World, and her fiction and essays have appeared in American Short Fiction, The Paris Review, Tin House, Granta, The Cut, and elsewhere. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, daughter, and two cats.

White man with shaved hair and beard and gray glasses smiling directly at camera in front of white background

Krys Malcolm Belc is the author of the memoir The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood (Counterpoint) and the flash nonfiction chapbook In Transit (The Cupboard Pamphlet.) His work has been featured in Granta, Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction (Rose Metal Press), Wigleaf Top 50, and Best of the Net 2018. Krys lives in Philadelphia with his partner and their three young children and works as an educator in a pediatric hospital.

White woman with dark hair and glasses smiling slightly at camera, wearing an off-the-shoulder navy blouse and large necklace with silver leaf

Rhonda Lott is an artist, code developer, and writer based in Knoxville, Tennessee. As a lifelong lover of the arts and sciences, she holds a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Illinois at Springfield and a doctorate in creative writing from Texas Tech University. Her poetry has appeared in the Southern Humanities Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Whiskey Island Magazine, among others. She has contributed cover art to Best of the Net for twelve years.