Three poems in Noble/Gas Quarterly

Noble/Gas Quarterly published three of my poems today in their 203.4 issue. I’m honored to be included with so many other great writers.

Application to NASA” is a retelling of my previous poem “On that one-way trip to Mars.” It’s my way of calling NASA out for its height restrictions, of blaming my bone disorder from keeping me from the stars (even though I didn’t actually major in a STEM field or take any path to flight school). These poems are my version of reckoning with the limitations my body and imperfect bones place on me.

I am rotting log of wood” uses natural imagery from forests and trees as another way to understand my body. Trees are often seen as strong, immovable — but cut inside and you’ll see rings with more information. Tree rings show times of drought, temperature, moisture in the atmosphere, and growth the tree endured. I’ve always felt a connection and respect for trees. So I used an extended metaphor of a rotting log of wood as my cartilage-deficient body in a forest full of able-bodies.

Harriet Tubman was disabled” tries to do justice to the amazing Harriet Tubman. Not only did she lead over 300 slaves to freedom, but she did so with a traumatic head injury. This is something we don’t learn when reading history books about her story. I actively work to keep disabled/chronic/invisible illness voices from being erased. This poem is one of my attempts.

Read the full 203.4 issue here.

Another scifi poem blasts into the publishing world

Today, Calamus Journal published my poem “The martian comes to me” in their second issue.

I’m always honored when my poems are accepted for publication in new journals. When a literary journal is just starting up, it’s a magical time. There’s so much possibility, so much slush pile to read through, so much that could go wrong.

When an editor (really, a person who truly believes in literature/poetry/voices/sharing writing, really, just a person) decides to start up a lit mag, it’s no small feat. I’m always impressed by new lit mags starting up and thriving, trying to make themselves heard and create a strong space for good writing, or even failing. It’s an impressive accomplishment to create a lit mag — so thank you, Eric Cline and Trevor Richardson, for sharing your new literary magic with me.

This poem was a fun reflection on transportation, and what another lifeform might think of our messy traffic and the ways we get around.

🚄 It starts on a subway in Paris.

🚌 Moves to a bus in Chile.

🚢 Sinks into depths in a German submarine.

✈️ Takes off in an American airplane.

🚀 All for the martian to find the method of commuting that reminds her most of her spaceship. To find out more about transportation and herself.

You can read the poem here.

My book is on sale for the holiday weekend

Bottlecapsule 2015-2016 Anthology
Bottlecapsule 2015-2016 Anthology

Bottlecap Press, the publisher of my book “On that one-way trip to Mars,” has a 2015-2016 anthology available for a limited time only (through Monday)!

The anthology features new and old work from several Bottlecap Press authors, plus letters from all of us to the readers. It’s a great way to sample tons of Bottlecap Press authors at once!

I’m honored to be included with these great writers. Make sure to get your copy this weekend before this amazing anthology goes away.

Bottlecap Press is also having a holiday sale through Monday. All books are 20% offincluding mine for $9.60! Books make a great gift, so consider buying some for the readers in your life.

‘On that one-way trip to Mars’ reviewed in Vagabond City Lit!

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I’m heading to Mars right now. I’ve left orbit. This amazing review from Bethany Mary has blasted me off the planet!

Bethany reviewed “On that one-way trip to Mars” in Vagabond City Lit, calling it warm and chilling, covering human emotion and the expanse of the solar system.

She gets the pain I was trying so hard to express somehow, some way.

Neck braces constrict like halos just a little too low. Spines curve so much it is hard to balance.

She is spot on in her assessment that my poems suggest “it is self-centered to believe that we are not sometimes alien.”

That can make being different, being born with skeletal dysplasia, having chronic pain easier to swallow, sometimes. To know that we’re probably not the only ones in this universe, our pain isn’t the only thing going on in the world, there are others beside ourselves.

Haven’t we learned already that we are not the center of the universe? This little poetry book reminds us of that.

Thank you for your beautiful, thoughtful review, Bethany. It means the world and Mars and all of the stars to me.

Read the full review here.

‘How to feel beautiful’ in The Deaf Poets Society

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My poem “How to feel beautiful” was published today in The Deaf Poets Society. It’s a reflection on chronic pain.

This poem rejects the notion that we have to be pretty above all else. Beauty is a feeling. When you’re in constant pain, sometimes it’s hard to smile, get out of bed, go to work, deal with other people. But this is something those with chronic pain and disabled people do every single day.

Tell yourself you’re beautiful
so you start feeling it.

That is why the poem ends in space, outside the world. It ends in our blood and the stars. Because even with chronic pain, even if you are blind or deaf, even if you are an amputee, even if you are neurodivergent, even if you feel like all your spoons are full and spent, even then

your blood is still
made up of iron from ancient stars.

Thanks for reading.

‘Wonder Women’ published in Paper Darts!

Wonder Women characters by Marlena Chertock. Illustrated by Meghan Murphy.

My short story “Wonder Women” was published in Paper Darts! They’ve been a goal publication of mine for years. I’ve been reading Paper Darts since college, when I fell in love with their short, weird fiction and rad art.

The editors worked with me to help shape “Wonder Women” into a stronger story. They suggested cuts, moving paragraphs around, and Meghan Murphy even illustrated it beautifully! I’m so grateful for their feedback, and for publishing me.

“Wonder Women” is a story about two girls who love comic books and comic-conventions, or cons. Nishka and Morgan are geeks, and are proud of it.

One, or both characters, is queer, or just beginning to explore that part of their identities. They argue about their “ships” in Ms. Marvel, try to avoid the crowds on the Metro, and pluck their chin hairs. They dress up as their favorite characters and call out street harassers.

Hope you enjoy!

‘As we ran in the backyard’ in Wordgathering

A more lyrical poem than I typically write was published in the September 2016 issue of Wordgathering.

Wordgathering is a journal of disability poetry and literature. It publishes amazing work from disabled writers — and I’m proud and humbled to be included in this issue.

The poem describes being stung by a bee — but even worse than that, stepping on a buried bee’s nest and getting multiple stings. And trying to run away with shorter legs “like a caterpillar.”

The journal publishes audio of poems, so you can also listen to it that way.

‘Ode to my physical therapist’ in Words Dance

ode to my physical therapist on Words Dance

I’ve been writing a lot about the body, chronic pain, and the strange ways pain is invisible but still felt.

Today, Words Dance published one of my new body poems, “Ode to my physical therapist.” They called me a “lovely badass” when they sent the acceptance note — and I’ve never been more gushy. I hope I live up to that title!

I recently finished a several-month round of physical therapy. It was grueling, difficult, and necessary. I gained methods of focusing on my core. I learned that my back and hip muscles were very weak, and how to strengthen them. The poem focuses on a specific technique my PT tried with me, called spinal traction. While my pain is still around (that lingering bastard), the techniques I learned in PT have helped me try to manage it.

For more background on my back pain, you can read about what inspired “Body remembers,” which was published in May in The Fem.

Thanks for reading.

Book Blastoff Party! 🚀

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My book launch party is this Friday, July 15, at Walls of Books in Washington, D.C.

If you’re in the D.C. area, be sure to come out for a night of reading and space exploration. I’m celebrating my first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars from Bottlecap Press!

There will be drinks, snacks, and readings from several local writers! And the book will be available for purchase or you can always buy it online.

In addition to hearing poems from my new book, we’re being graced with several amazing local writers! I’m so excited to be reading with them.

  • Tara Campbell is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi. With a B.A. in English and an M.A. in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power. Previous publication credits include stories in Barrelhouse, Punchnel’s, Toasted Cake Podcast, Luna Station Quarterly, SciFi Romance Quarterly, Masters Review and Queen Mob’s Teahouse.
  • Meg Eden’s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Lit.
  • Grace Pasco is an Asian-American spoken-word poet from Silver Spring, Md. She writes poetry to translate emotions, package experiences, and … to play! You can reach her at gspasco@gmail.com. Her work has been published with Inkstain Press, The Passed Note, Lost Tower Publications, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Algebra of Owls, and The Opus Journal. Find her on Instagram at thisgirlgrace.
  • Virgil Saunders is a Maryland native with a mind for investigating language, literature, and how both influence and express culture. Though an obsessive writer since childhood, she found her creative home at the University of Maryland’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. There, she started The Writer’s Bloc, a publication dedicated to local arts and literature. Virgil has been published in The Voices Project, BLACKBERRY: a magazine, with pending publication coming in Loud Zoo.

The bones that inspired ‘Skeleton Sheriff’

Moonsick Magazine

When I first heard StoryCorp’s “A Grave Responsibility” episode, I was immediately heartbroken and inspired. In the episode, forensic scientist Dr. Lori Baker describes identifying the bodies of immigrants who died while trying to cross into the United States.

She talks about a skull on a sheriff’s desk, with pens in the eyes. I knew I had to write the story behind the skull — why and how did it get there, was the sheriff just a mean man who wanted to show off his power, or was it a reminder of our mortality and the lives he was put in place to protect? It was in this headspace that “Skeleton Sheriff” was born. It was published in Moonsick Magazine in March.

As a journalism major and someone who wants to remain informed, I’ve been reading articles and opinion columns on illegal and legal immigration, the detention centers that immigrants and their children are held in, and the often terrible ways they’re treated.

The United States is not united at all on how we should treat migrants and immigrants, this varied group of people who are escaping gang violence in Central American countries, war in Syria, or trying to give a better life to their children.

I wondered if the skull had belonged to one of these illegal immigrants who attempted to cross the border. I wondered about what borders mean and how we so clearly create separations between ourselves and keep others out. I thought about the family that person’s skull belonged to — if they knew if s/he had died, or if they still held hope that they might make it and create a new life.

While writing, I worried about appropriating someone else’s story. I worried that I was becoming yet another white privileged writer who was giving voice to those who already had their own and could speak for themselves. Though I’m not Mexican and never had to cross the border into America, my ancestors were victims of the Holocaust and some of them escaped Poland and Russia to travel to Ellis Island. A border crossing of their own. That’s how I came to be born and live in America. This is not to say that these histories are equivalent. They are rich and diverse.

While I still worry about this, and hope that I did justice in the piece, I believe that as writers we’re able to enter into other spaces, ideas, dreams, minds, and bodies and write from them. This dreaming in another’s shoes is how I’m able to learn more about them and myself, and attempt to write a version of truth. This is not a truth — this is fiction. But I recognize that fiction can and does have power, and representation is so important.

Borders and crossings have always been a part of humanity’s history. And they will continue to be important, with increasing unrest and violence in the world. Even when the events of the world become dimmer, people often retain a sense of hope in trying to get to other places where they might survive and have a better life.

I hope “Skeleton Sheriff” was able to encompass some of the thoughts and complexities of borders and living in a border town. I hope you enjoy reading the story.