When we first started Feminine Inquiry, some months ago, we had a fledgling artistic section called “The Weekly Inquiry” which has since disappeared from our navigation menu and thus from our lives. At its creation, “The Weekly Inquiry” attempted to be a regularly updated stream of creative content published strictly online. However, we simply didn’t get enough submissions (though we did publish an excellent one by artist Whitney Hill) and our fledgling section turned bleak and skeleton like. We all still loved the idea though and spent a lot of time thinking of ways we could bring this creative content back to Feminine Inquiry’s blog. In such Speak Up was born! From the ashes of The Weekly Inquiry (which has since become a regularly delivered newsletter you should check out) a phoenix of pure creative energy has emerged.
Speak Up is simple enough, every issue we release a prompt: an idea, abstract concept, single word, or worldly event. Then we ask outside writers, you the readers, and some of our staff members, to respond creatively to the prompt, writing a short piece (a poem or a paragraph) on the prompt. We collect those together and publish them here for your reading pleasure.
Interested in contributing to our next issue? Here’s the prompt: Spring OR New Beginnings: looking for stories of new beginnings, fresh awakenings, revelations of the highest, lowest, or most basic level possible. What’s it mean to spring forward, and what does it mean when things don’t? We’re looking for short, flash-fiction pieces, pieces of poetry, art, comics, personal anecdotes, or what have you. Send all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Speak Up! issue 2.”
For our first issue, we asked our staff members, and a select few outside writers, to, in honor of Valentines day, write us something related to the theme of romance and relationships: things gone right, things gone wrong, relationships that fizzle, pop, wilt, or simply trudge along. This is what they responded with:
Jourden V. Sander, Editor-In-Chief:
An open letter to my friend before Valentine’s Day:
I’ve called out your shit before, but I think, I’ll do it some more, and remind you how your unbearable charm (while it disarms) also harms and hurts the people you draw in—the people you bamboozle and pin!—you bring them in and root under the skin, and drawing your knife, you –slowly—carve who you want them to be until they are completely hollow, you follow, and burrow inside them.
You present yourself as cute and bite-sized but really you need to be cut in pieces to be swallowed: you’re never content with the content that people call themselves, and change them, you decide; you’d change them until they died.
And they didn’t stand a chance against your charm, you’re never unarmed: you’d calculate and collide, and soon he’d confide in you his love and
Maybe, it’s because the charm people see is like the car wreck on the highway people slow down to take in—beautiful, rare, and an interesting detour from a boring morning drive—
Maybe, it’s because the charm people see is the car, and after you crash into them, they survived and were fine, but no longer truly alive.
Lauren Ferguson, Lead Writer:
My hair was red when I met you. It was alive and passionate and so were we. The dye leaked all over my shirts, my pillows, and your skin.
My hair was pink when I told you I loved you. In the midst of a thousand people, we found each other in the crowd. You always said it was easy to spot me because of my hair.
My hair was orange when we celebrated our anniversary. It was ugly. It was a mistake. I couldn’t wait to strip it out. I did not feel beautiful.
My hair was green when I saw you looking at her. She still smiled, and I did not. I was sad, yet you couldn’t see past the green.
My hair was blue when I left you. The dye wouldn’t wash out of my hair, but it didn’t matter. I was addicted to the color.
I had to bleach it many, many times, but my hair is white again.
Frances Molina, Editor & Blog Writer:
I can admit. I hesitate when people ask me how we got together. Because the truth is that I took you from someone else. It sounds bad. But I can admit it was delicious. I’ve always loved the chase, the hunger, the biting lust in my belly, the want for something just out of reach. I wouldn’t let you kiss me for a week until you left her. And then it was blissful. We must have kissed for hours in front of my house, wrapped up in shadows and exhaustion and keen satisfaction.
We passed some weeks apart. You drove three hours just to kiss me on New Year’s Eve and you left three days later. And then when we came back to each other, we settled into routine. We made plans for every weekend and every free moment in between. Just to see each other, just to sleep together. And I can admit it that I started to feel bored and then afraid of that boredom and what it would mean. I didn’t want to leave you but I felt something pulling me away. I was caught in between. I felt like the only girl in the world who would spit in the face of kindness and push away something nice and certain for some kind of faceless oblivion. I told you these things and you said you felt the same. I was so happy I cried.
We are working together now. We are trying our best. We can see each other clearly, without any smoke in our eyes. I want to be with you because it’s been two years since I haven’t taken a man into my life just to crush him out on the bottom of my shoe. I want to be with you because you don’t want anything from me but permission to make me happy. I want to be with you because your mouth is always soft. I want to be with you because I miss your hands all over me when you’re not around. I want to be with you because it’s nothing I’ve ever done before.
I can admit that.
Cole Bubenik, Managing Editor:
This really happened:
I was with the boy and things were good. Then there was the incident with the steak knife at midnight, and one thing led to another, and nothing was left except a thick sheet of milky gray hanging over our two bodies like a dense and heavy fog.
We did not break up. We stayed together to save on rent and because we were already too old and pathetic and lonely to find new loves. We let the sheet sneer over us, keeping us up at night with its mindless flapping and snickering. The boy, having had enough, got a stepladder, and the steak knife from the kitchen, and vowed to rip the thing to shreds. I tried to stop him but he wouldn’t listen. He climbed to the top but couldn’t reach, and so the stepladder was put on top of a box. When that didn’t work he continued stacking: cardboard boxes, books, planks of fresh cut wood, old magazines, CD cases, stuffed animals tore near the head, trash can lids, white envelopes, blankets, love letters, quilts, electricity bills, recycled bottles, beer cans, and feather boas create a monument of junk teetering in our front yard.
The boy, more determined than ever, gripped the steak knife in his teeth and climbed, disappearing behind the sheet and attacking it from above: stabbing and kicking violently, sobbing and screaming, until the tower broke and the junk came tumbling down like a meteor shower pecking holes in the lawn. When the dust settled I looked for the boy but I could not find him. Deep in the craters of the lawn, bits of gray were mixed with fragments of now-sparkling junk. Up above, in the center of the sheet of gray, now littered with holes the size of distant stars, was a crawling lump the size of the boy I used to know. And at first glance the lump seemed noble and passionate, but watching from below as it twisted and contorted, as it writhed in desperation against the tattered haze of gray, I found it strange and cold and altogether sad.
Aza Pace, Poetry Editor:
You Will Miss Her
The katydids whine and fizz
In a chorus of ten thousand
Sibyls. It swells and then
Sinks, while a lamp-eyed tree frog
Raises a shocking din at the window,
And we peer out at the little prophet.
A familiar scream rings
Through the trees, and we quiver
In the kitchen with old, animal nerves.
You, who have never heard her before,
Pull me close, “What is that?”
While the house folds this inverted zoo
Around our ears, and I whisper,
Even the katydids know
It is not the right moment
To kiss you, and in the city
You will remember me only
As the one who introduced you
To the bobcat.
Streets will rumble white noise
Nothing like katydids,
And you will feel very still
Without the forest.
And there will be no one
To cry out your future,
Unless an odd cricket wanders in.
But she will be blind,
And you might not believe her.
Sarah Neal, Assistant Managing Editor:
To truly understand someone
To thoroughly abandon yourself
Thumping heart in tandem with theirs
Is the game
You’ll waltz with them
You’ll touch and breathe them in
Feel their hungers and wishes flushing upon yours
But will you empty yourself?
Will you make blank your soul and welcome them in?
I’ve dumped ashes at the feet of men, you cry
Let them drown in them
For I’ve brazenly bared my bleeding heart to men
And not once had they let me in
Not once have I felt the pressure of together
The ticking of Us in the quiet of Them
You cry of defeat but never triumph
You writhe underneath your creased sheets
Where he had been where she had been where they had been
Eyes fixed toward the accursed sky
You pluck at the carpet where you lie
But you won’t play the game
We made our own music
Me and him
Barefoot and bundled, we exhaled a lullaby
In the haze of our night, I heard them rustle
I heard them rattle and screech and holler
I heard them fighting to reach each other
Their notes banged together
A blazing symphony emerged, quiet and defeated
To the ticking of Us in the quiet of Them
Kelsey Williams, Blog editor:
One day I was bragging to Del about texting this cute boy and then Del told me he loved me. Not directly, but in his way. If I have ever met another person who is worse about talking about their emotions than me, it’s Del. Which made our respective confessions of love so tragic. His came first.
“When you feel like you just need to be with someone, you want that to happen right away,” is how it started.
“I don’t think this could ever work,” is how I ended it.
My heart showed its true colors later that night when I cried harder then I have ever cried up until then and since.
My confession came too late. It came after he dated this guy named Pen and I dated this guy named Mick, and then we dated each other, and everything was warped. I moved to Austin and then there was no us. For two years I would weep and tell him I loved him. I love you, I love you, I love you. The first time I was ever able to say those three words with absolute conviction. I love you, I love you.
Del’s love taught me to speak.
Amaya Alejandra, Art Director:
Tracking high Magic,
When your waves grew tired.
At the second hour,
Tigers eyes wander and wonder,
In which nest did she leave her stripes.
Carrot cake dreams,
Terrified by sleep,
Cigarette lips all the sweeter.
Woven by trenches,
Casting shadows in a world of meaning.
The sublime terror,
Of uncontrollable bliss,
By and bye passing through.
Perception paves the weight.
Nathan Moore, Guest Writer
The Loudest Band in Minneapolis
Whenever I think about the time I spent working at the paper, my thoughts always come back to Laura. To her, there was no humor in performing punk rock in Minneapolis. In the early days, most of what they played was either sped up rock standards or covers from The Sonics or The Stooges. And Laura would lean forward as far as her boots would let her and scream at the top of her lungs while the band blasted a barrage of power chords with the intent to shatter the windows of whatever shitty bar they were fronting that evening. However loud the band played, she was louder, if not vocally then physically. She climbed up on amps, sprayed mouthfuls of beer into the crowd, smashed the instruments of her bandmates, and beat the hell out of anyone who had the goddamn nerve to get in her way.
I was spending most of my time getting chewed up and spit out; my uncle owned the paper, and almost everyone on the staff knew by the first week that the only reason I had that job was because I was related to him. It was in this saliva covered state that my boyfriend James dragged me to a dive to see “the loudest band he’d ever heard.”
The dive smelled like half a dozen kinds of bodily fluids had soaked into the floorboards. We ordered a couple of drinks and milled around, staying mostly sober because we didn’t trust the mason jars they were served in. The tables had been pushed off to the sides of the room, naïvely leaving room to dance, and at the back wall was a small stage that was lit by what looked like a couple of those big workshop lamps that you can buy at hardware stores. We were among two dozen: angry mods, alcoholics who spent more time at the bar than not, and draft dodgers who stopped by for the evening on their way up to Canada. “How’d you even find this place?”
“I was walking back from a gig at Harry’s when I heard them playing from the street.”
“And they’re good?”
“The amps were so hot I could barely make out what they were playing.”
He had a starry look in his eyes, but I was apprehensive. James had been talking about them all week, but he also listened to Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman with the same vigor that he did Frank Sintra and Stan Getz.
The band came in through the front and without anything more than a nod to the bartender began to set up. Aside from the drummer who was far too clean, they looked like any other rock band you might find floating around the anemic Minneapolis circuit.
The ceilings of the bar were only about nine or ten feet high, and standing there elevated on the stage, there was something unquestionably comical about how serious they stood there with their heads almost brushing the ceiling. Gripping the microphone in both hands, the singer leaded forward and said: “We’re the Fig Warts.”
But once they started playing the size of the stage only served to amplify them, especially the singer. There were moments where the swirl of distortion and feedback and manic percussion became sonic ecstasy, nothing more than pure sound, where there air around us rippled and warped, where you could feel the sound, and feel your eardrums shattering. The set was only half an hour long, and only once about two thirds of the way through did it slow down from its manic pace. The guitarist turned down the volume, and delivered a wandering, busy solo while she lay on the stage, knees raised, smoking a cigarette.
Ears ringing, we went up to them after the show.
“I dug your set,” I told her as she was helping the drummer take apart his kit.
“Yo Cooper,” she called over to the skeletal guitarist, “take a whiff of this fucking faggot.”
“And look. He brought his boyfriend with him. Did you dig the set too?”
“Don’t forget to take a piss in the tip jar.”
She shoved past me, hopped on a barstool, and began arguing with the bartender about how much he owed them. James grabbed my arm and dragged us into the street where a light snow was beginning to fall.
As we kicked back through the gray slush of last week’s storm, he ranted about how rude she was, but I was in love. Their sound had been something impossible, something big. Within a week, James was over them, had moved on to the next thing, but my ears were still ringing, and I dragged him back to their next show at another seedy bar two weeks later. He grumbled about the sadism I experienced at the paper leaking into the rest of my life, and stood there with his arms crossed throughout the set. But this time when she called me a “fucking faggot” there was touch of endearment in her voice, the third time she laughed when I threw a hand full of change into the tip jar, and the fourth time I learned her name: “Laura.”