Curated by Chelsea Catherine and Gloria Muñoz
I went to my first Pride in 2016. The parade took place on Duval Street in Key West, where I had chosen to live after a divorce and rough coming out. Two of my friends were there with me, but one of them was flying to Tampa and needed to go to the airport. My other friend would drive him there, then return to me.
I camped out in Mary Ellen’s, a grilled cheese bar with old fashioneds and margaritas on tap. I sat in the corner to watch people with their friends, laughing and kissing and singing to music on the radio. I didn’t know anyone and didn’t yet feel comfortable talking to those who caught my eye, so I stayed in my seat, alone, for almost an hour. I felt two ways at once – so happy to finally be out and so incredibly lonely and unsure of what to do next.
For a long time, Pride reminded me of how lonely those first several years were after I came out. I believed that my sexuality was the origin of that feeling, and I attended festivals in different areas, trying to find some kind of peace about it. Then, during the pandemic, I spent three months without seeing a single other person. The isolation forced me to confront the real reason for my loneliness. It wasn’t because I am lesbian. It was a belief that I would never be good enough the way I was.
There are so many of us in the LGBTQ+ community who struggle to accept our innate worthiness. We are from all different ages, races and cultural backgrounds. Our histories and experiences vary greatly. When I came out, I never thought anyone else would know the pain I was experiencing. But part of being a human is understanding that you are never alone in your feelings. Someone on the other side of the world might be suffering in the same way. That shared experience, even if it is difficult, is powerful.
This year, Pride reminds me of our unity. It reminds me that we all have commonalities and that we all can relate to one another in some way. It reminds me that even when I feel completely alone, there is someone out there who has shared that feeling once and gotten through it, and in that way, the world to me now feels so full of hope.
– Chelsea Catherine, Guest Curator
. . .
. . .
Happy Pride from The Rookery!
We accept poetry, flash fiction, fiction, creative nonfiction, comics, visual
and hybrid writing. The Rookery welcomes writers to submit via our submission form here.
We are an inclusive creative writing series that is dedicated to holding space on the page
for voices that are often marginalized in publishing including people of color (BIPOC);
trans, queer, non-binary, LGBTQ+ people; people with disabilities; and people of all ages.
Send questions to Gloria Muñoz Editor & Curator The Rookery here.
By Sheree L. Greer
Listening to records. Drinking wine. Trying not to think about her. It would probably be easier if I weren’t listening to Santana. “Black Magic Woman.” That was my nickname for her, even though Aaliyah didn’t really like Santana, except for that “Smooth” song with Rob Thomas.
That should have been a sign.
Carlos Santana, the genius behind “Evil Ways” and “Oye Como Va.” Santana who blew up the spot at Woodstock in ’69 and took the Grammys by the short hairs in 2000, and her favorite song is some easy-listening, pop-cross-over bullshit that sounded more Matchbox Twenty than Mexican Jazz fusion?
Why were we together for two years again? Oh right. Love. She was the embodiment of love — big hair, bright eyes and the most beautifullest heart. She was generous and kind and smart and fine and sexy and love. She was love.
And it’s not just the Bordeaux talking.
It’s my full-bodied, heady heart going in, raising its voice in tandem. The wine is damn good, a deliciously silky vintage bottle of Chateau Lafleur. We were saving it for a special occasion. We should have drank it when we bought it.
Aaliyah and I went to Paris last summer to celebrate our one-year anniversary, and in a fit of spontaneity, we splurged half of our travel funds on an obscenely expensive bottle of wine. The idea was to open it on our honeymoon. The second night though, not the first night when you pass out across the rose-petals, the exhaustion from dancing the night away and smiling so hard you nearly crack your molars rendering you unconscious. We’d drink it the second night, after you wake up to each other for your first full day of marriage. You spend the day lavishing in being married, being official, finding ways to work the word “wife” into conversations with the server, the cab driver, the tour guide. We said on that second night, we’d take a bath together, Coltrane playing (my idea obviously), candles everywhere (Aaliyah’s idea), and the wine, the expensive, beautiful, special bottle of Chateau Lefleur at our side. We’d sip the wine between kisses and intimate touches. It would be exquisite. We saved the wine, fantasies of our wedding night playing in our heads as we played with each other’s fingers on the flight home. We were looking forward to our next year together, the year that felt like it would confirm what we already knew, that we were for each other.
When we got back to the States, broke but happy, we moved in together. By Valentine’s Day of year two, I wanted to fucking kill her.
Not kill her for real of course, but figuratively. But only because she had killed me first. You know, figuratively.
But wouldn’t it be cool if I were a ghost?
That is the Bordeaux talking. Because now I’m drunk. Lonely and drunk and angry and… what was I talking about?
Oh right. Ghosts. Did you see that Ghostbusters remake? The one with all women? I think women in jumpsuits are hot. You know who was hot? Sigourney Weaver when she got possessed by that ghost in the first Ghostbusters. Remember when she was all, “I want you inside me.” Aaliyah used to say that to me. Her voice all full and velvet. She’d lie next me, tracing my lips, my jawline, my throat. Her nails short but sharp. When I close my eyes and stand real still, I can feel her fingertips, her hands on my body. “I want you inside me.”
But then Sigourney got all scary. Her voice dropped all demon-like. “There is no Dana here. Only Zuul.” That shit gave me nightmares.
Zuul is a play on Erzulie, the West African spirit of love, beauty and dancing. She’s a spirit in Voodoo too. Black magic. Black magic woman. I never knew why she got such a bad rap though… always some seductress stealing hearts and crushing them, blood like wine running between their fingers, dripping down their arm and staining their good work pants.
Yes. I’ve spilled my wine.
Fuck it though. Fuck all of it. Fuck these pants. Fuck this story. Fuck this wine. Fuck reboots. Fuck everything. Especially love. Especially the kind of love that leaves you less bold than you used to be. Because that, my good friends, is what Aaliyah did. Fuck her.
We used to be fun. Spontaneous. We used to make out in public and sneak burgers and beers into the movie theatre. We used to take random trips abroad and come back broke. We used to paint rooms purple on a whim and make up songs in the shower. We used to call off work, for no reason at all, and spend the day watching Netflix, naked and drunk, sucking each other’s tongues in the seconds between the episodes. The shit was magic.
Fucking Magic. She was my Black Woman Magic. And I was hers.
Then, everything changed. We should have bought the wine when we drank it. We should never have left Paris. We should have quit our Montmartre and moved to our jobs. You know, live where the artists lived! We could have camped outside Richard Wright’s apartment and made a writing with our living! With our fucking living!
I’m drunk. I should stop. But I won’t. I won’t stop just because I’m making you uncomfortable. I won’t stop just because you want to be responsible. That’s what Aaliyah wanted. To be responsible.
She wanted to run credit reports and save for down payments. She wanted to alphabetize our books and have parties where people RSVP’d. And it came out of nowhere. This desire for gym memberships and mailing labels, placemats and area rugs, Saturdays at Bed, Bath, Beyond. I convinced myself that it was all slow death.
I bet you Zuul didn’t go to YouFit, and I bet you she ain’t have no mailing labels, names in gold script and roses in the corner. And I bet you she fucking loves Carlos Santana. His whole fucking catalog.
Remember card catalogs? Do they still make those? Probably not. But maybe? I should ask Aaliyah to check with the library at her work. She’d laugh. Throw her head back even. Then she’d look at me with that smirk, and I’d kiss that dimple in the left corner of her mouth. No. I can’t call her. I said I’d never call her again. And she meant it. Fucking jobs. Fucking responsibility.
I don’t like to blame Aaliyah’s job for changing her. I don’t like to say that going from independent, freelance writer to college professor made her different. But the shit’s true. She used to write haikus and villanelles. And her short stories? She made you forget you were reading, you’d be living in this other world, in this other life, this other body. Sure, she still writes, but… I don’t know. I feel like she’s afraid of something, about taking a risk on something that isn’t guaranteed, about moving forward with something that can either balm or bomb.
But she accused me of being the one who’s afraid. She said I was afraid of change and moving forward for real, and she said, and I quote, “sure, you want to get married, but do you want to have a marriage?” And I was all, what the fuck does that even mean?
I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts! But I might have been a little afraid of joint bank accounts and family insurance plans. And maybe I was scared of two-car garages and houses with bedrooms for the children she wanted to have. Maybe I was terrified by the way she could see things that weren’t there – a future, a life that was beyond the here and now. Her magic, then, was loving me now and loving me later, without question and sight unseen, our lives a poem or a story set in another world that didn’t quite exist yet — a world where we owned a home together and felt secure, in another life that we hadn’t finished building — a life where we enjoyed new journeys, new adventures, and a daughter who snapped back cute and confidently about where the apostrophe goes in her Mothers’ Day cards, and in another body that changes — rounder, softer, more sensitive to the touch, but still feels like home.
Shit. The wine’s gone. Everything is quiet. And lonely. And scary. We were both scared. Different monsters under the same bed. I wish Aaliyah was here. I wish we hadn’t spent the last year arguing and slowly killing each other. I wish we had joined forces, both of us, training to be ghostbusters or at least sharing with each other the secrets and spells of our own Black magic.
. . .
Sheree L. Greer is a writer, artist, teacher and publisher living in Tampa. In 2014, she founded The Kitchen Table Literary Arts Center to showcase and support the work of Black women and women of color writers. She is the author of two novels, Let the Lover Be and A Return to Arms; a short story collection, Once and Future Lovers; and a student writing guide, Stop Writing Wack Essays. She is a VONA/VOICES alum, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice grantee, Yaddo fellow and Ragdale Artist House Rubin Fellow. Her essay, “Bars” published in Fourth Genre Magazine, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and named in Best American Essays 2019. Her latest essay, “None of this is Bullshit” was published at The Rumpus.
The Birth of an Anomelie
By Mona Bethke
I was born in the whisper
of a man’s wish for a son
when my first cries echoed
from sterile white walls
words stole his dream
as my binary designation
was voiced, “it’s a girl”
his quest began to mold me
into the son he didn’t have
and the male name he’d chosen
was shifted to female with
the swift slip of a pen and vowel
I was born a girl
6 decades ago
when life was designed
by patriarchal ideas
I’ve been fighting identity
since first breath
fearing a father
who wanted a boy
raised his daughter like a boy
told his daughter
she had to marry a boy
would disown his daughter
if she wouldn’t love a boy
I was born a Negro girl
6 decades ago
when mulatto was still
a mixed child’s identifier
I’ve been fighting identity
since first breath
fearing a father
who hated his blackness
raised his daughter in a white world
told his daughter
she had to act white
would disown his daughter
if she embraced her blackness
luck of the draw
made XX chromosome
placed in pink blanket
lost male namesake
to carry on birthright
I write poems
to the black girl in me
that lives as the light
I write poems
to the white girl in me
that always wanted
to conform to fit
I write poems
to the girl in me
that bound her body
to fight puberty
I write poems
to the boy in me
that deeply craved
a father’s love
it feels like gravity forgot its job
because I’m still in limbo
still seeking a skin to fit into
still seeking a people to belong to. .
. . . .
Mona Bethke (The Poet Anomelie) is the product of an African American and German alliance. She has self-published eight poetry books, is a former University of Tampa professor and hosted poetry open mics in St. Petersburg for seven years. She lives in Clearwater with her cat Satchmo.
Her website is shatteredglasscs.com
The Lioness and the Goddess
By Silk Jazmyne
. . .
My Betroval Day was the day my love was kidnapped, and The Colossi Conflicts began. My father, mother, younger twin brothers and youngest sister were already in the banquet hall. I stood outside the door with my best friend and captain of my personal guard, Namu. I’d chosen a red tunic with gold embroidery, my sword hanging from my right hip. The gold hilt with an open griffin mouth. Namu’s tunic was black, a silver chain on her waist, daggers out of sight. The closed oak doors muffled the murmurs of conversations. My hands were moist, and I had to remind myself not to wipe them on my tunic.
The trumpets spoke up, silencing the crowd, then the drums began to chant.
“The eldest child of Queen Vaya and King Harun. First borne and heir to the throne, I present to all the Kween Apparent Princess Valkyrie of Ognahs.”
“Let’s do this,” I said to my friend as the doors swung open.
My parents’ hard work had paid off. The banquet hall looked magnificent. My gold boots pressed white roses into the onyx flooring. The material shining like my camping nights. The tables covered in red cloth that brushed the floor. Gold plates and cups in front of each guest. I smiled and nodded at family members, court members and military officers. When I reached the end of the white roses, the drums ceased. Namu took her seat at the end of the broad table before me next to her father, my father’s general and top war strategist.
My father stood up. “My heir,” he smiled. “My daughter is one of valor, courage and budding wisdom.” There were a few whistles and yells. “This is a celebration of her finding her twin soul, Princess Athene.” My love’s blush rose through her russet cheeks. It was such a rare thing as she was often calculated in public.
Sweat accumulated on my neck beneath the red silk ribbon that held my locked hair captive. Though an undercut eliminated the hair on the sides and back of my head, I still had more hair than anyone else. My family crest was the griffin but in battle I was referred to as The Lioness. My reddish golden hair could be spotted on any battlefield.
A gold griffin with a quill in one set of talons and a scimitar sword in the other, hung from my neck. It was as heavy as any full set of armor I’d ever worn. Around Athene’s neck was a black tungsten raven with a scroll in its mouth.
“Princess,” my father said to Athene. “You may approach your intended.”
The drums began again as I kneeled and bowed my head. I could hear her indigo dress brushing the floor, her footsteps hushed. She’d been a dancer her entire life, finding joy in the movement as I did while training or fighting. It was one of many things we’d had in common. The drums hushed as she stood above me.
“Leona. The Lioness. Valkyrie. Kween Apparent,” she announced over me. “These are the names and titles bestowed upon you over the years.” There was a pause before I felt a hand on the crown of my head. “I choose you and thus add wife to your list. You may rise and accept my gift of betrothal.” I lifted my eyes before standing to my full height. In her lifted shoes, my eyes reached her nose. She looked even more breathtaking. Her head shaved to the scalp, highlighted the prominent cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes that were dark and easy for me to get lost in. She reached behind her neck to remove the raven and I followed suit with my griffin pendant. I placed my griffin on her neck, then she placed her raven on mine. There was a pregnant pause before we shared a smile then a kiss that caused the entire hall to rupture into cheers and whistles.
“And now we feast to celebrate this joyous occasion,” my father boomed as the food began to appear at each table.
“Come along now,” Athene said to me, grabbing my hand. “I’m starved,” she laughed.
I smiled at my brothers who, with the other mages, used magic to place the food in front of all the guests.
The night seemed to go on forever in the way that only perfect nights can. There were delectable foods, wine and mead overflowing, the drummers playing music that was the heartbeat of the celebration. After the wine and mead had been consumed, the drummers traded places with the harpists. At the first strum, I extended my hand to Athene who took it and pressed against me.
“Are you enjoying tonight?” I asked her.
“Would I be smiling if I wasn’t?”
“Probably not,” I chuckled as I raised my eyes. “But I just wanted to make sure,” I added. “My parents taught me to never assume anything, especially in love. I had a tendency to not always say what’s on my mind,” I looked to the side.
“You’re safe,” she said using a slender finger to turn my head back to her. “You can always speak your truth to me, my love,” she smiled, and the world was gone around us. The music muted; the conversations hushed.
“I’ve been waiting for you my entire life,”
“Then you should have proposed after your naming day, I would have accepted the intendedship even if we were young.”
“I’ve been in love with you since that night.”
“So why did you wait until last year to send the courtship?”
“My vision,” she told me. “I was ready for you, but you weren’t ready for me, and Spirit told me that if I reached out before the appointed time, our paths would diverge and converge at a completely different time.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” she smiled. “Ahh Spirit,” I said. “May I kiss you?” I asked.
“I appreciate your asking,” she said.
“I appreciate you consenting,” I replied before touching my lips lightly to hers. I opened my eyes first and saw the smirk on her lips but before I could say anything else. The grip she had on my hand tightened like no other pressure I’d ever felt. Her eyes were clenched tight, eyebrows sinking low. “Athene?” She didn’t answer so I said her name sterner, gathering the attention of her mother.
The white-haired woman rushed over to us.
“She’s having a vision,” she said.
Then Athene’s eyes opened and were completely white.
“They’re coming,” a voice said. But it wasn’t the rich timbre that was hers.
“Spirit,” her mother replied. Then an explosion burst through the hall.
It threw all of us to the ground. My head knocking the onyx, blurring my vision with ringing in my ears. I could hear the shouts of my officers and the screams of the non-combat guests. Then there were clanging swords, I turned over to see a metal creature ready to bring down a hammer on me, but its head crumpled, and it fell over. I looked up to see Namu standing behind it. Her black leather gloves off exposing her glowing red hands. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. My mother was fighting hand to hand with someone in an orange tunic, my father with his short sword slashing away at enemies. I saw Athene laying in the middle of the mayhem, still unconscious.
I pulled my sword, hacking at the orange assailant that dared block my stride to get to her. That’s when a portal opened up next to her so I ran as fast as I could. She was blinking when my hands found her forearm, but the portal was already sucking her in. I was using all my strength, but she just kept slipping from me. I yelled and roared as my blood felt like it was setting on fire. My eyes of flames as my canines extended. I was reaching deep into my essence, but I wasn’t strong enough.
“I will find you,” I said as my eyes teared up. “I did it once, I’ll do it again.”
“I know,” she said and then she was gone.
. . .
Silk Jazmyne is a reading, writing, drinking student of life who loves narrative
in all its forms. She was born in New York and grew up all over as a Navy brat.
She received her B.S. in Communications at Florida International University and
her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa. Her work has appeared
both online and in print at Black Girl Nerds, Midnight & Indigo, African Writer Magazine
and in Ekphrastic Exhibition in Tandem: Back Forth. She’s an Account Coordinator at a
boutique advertising agency by day and a speculative fiction author by night who loves
the artistically strange. She currently lives and works in Florida.