understory quarterly winter 2021

understoryquarterly

Under the forest canopy and above the forest floor is a layer of vegetation called the understory. In this space you will find shade-tolerant trees, plants, ferns, mosses, and fungi in all stages of growth. The understory is a critical space for shelter, decomposition, and renewal of the forest and the soil.

:::understory::: is a (humble, new, experimental) quarterly zine rooted in the the values and practices of Healing Justice, Disability Justice, Transformative Justice, PIC Abolition, Environmental Justice, and Traditional East Asian Medicine.

With this zine we aim to create space for rest, dreaming, reflection, skill-sharing, and idea-cultivation. We welcome poetry, prose, photography, and artistic offerings from everyone and strive to center the offerings of historically marginalized people doing the work of forging the new world.

understory quarterly

winter 2021

1


Welcome to the understory.

Under Lake Shore Drive at Bryn Mawr there are mosaic murals on

the south and north sides of an underpass.

If you run your hand along the mural on the north side, you

might feel smooth ceramic half-spheres next to the sharp (careful!)

edges of mirror cut into parallelograms, trapezoids, and almost-squares

next to weather-smoothed tiles on which someone

painted a rainbow, milkweed flowers, or a bike. You might feel the

residue of rain water and bird shit. You might feel cement.

Walk toward the wind-whipped trees just off the lake, and look

back.

What you see is none of this and all of this. It shimmers.

In this inaugural edition of understory quarterly, you are invited

to hold each piece’s unique texture, witnessing each contributor’s

voice as expressed by their shared images and/or words.

Rooted in the the values and practices of Healing Justice, Disability

Justice, Transformative Justice, PIC Abolition, Environmental Justice,

and Traditional East Asian Medicine, understory quarterly is a

space for generative silence, imagining, dreaming, and voicing the

world in which we want to live.

This is a space for honoring a diversity of voices, strategies, tactics,

and ideas.

This is a space for complexity.

This is a space to take a breath, think, and feel.

Thank you for sharing this space with us.

-Tanuja Devi Jagernauth, Editor

2 Image credit: Tanuja Devi Jagernauth

3


The revolution will also be from the couch

It will be under weeks old bed sheets

Lingering smells of fire cider and lysol

Some days the only change will be underwear and the sun and

that will be enough

It will be non linear and nuerodivergent

It will be light an heat an touch sensitive

It will also be full of light an heat an dark and touch an aches

an screaming pain an laughter

And falling and not having to get up

And falling an being asked first before being helped up

The future will have laughter in every pocket

The future will have real pockets!

The future will not rename people who have already named

themselves

The future sometimes will shut down when overwhelmed an

not speak

The future sometimes will shut down when overwhelmed and

scream

4 Image credit: Chiara Galimberti

I seen it somewhere before - Rise 5


The future will embrace all its shapes regardless

The future will not smile just to be polite

The future will be captioned, will be signed, will be interpreted

The future will not claim interdependence an then shame people

for not knowing what their needs are

The future will be trauma informed an harm reductionist an it

will be that as a collective an interpersonally

The future will not just admit when they're wrong

The future will revel in it an bless the stars for the chance to

learn more

The future will learn in order to teach in order to learn in order

to teach in order to learn some more

The future has cute companion pups

The future has free canes & crutches & insulin & abuterol &

ventilators

The future will fidget and clap and repeat until acknowledged

The future will fidget and clap and repaet until acknowledged

I said

The future will fidget and clap and repeat until acknowledged

The future will be still

The future will be patient

The future will not allow urgency to harm its people

The future closes their eyes and rests and justifies nothing

The future has the answers because the present has the people

Disabled people and chronically ill people have been murdered

by their peers an the state through COVID an we will remember

6 I seen it somewhere before - Rise

I seen it somewhere before - Rise 7


Our ancestors will remember an they will carry us when all else

refuse an sometimes they will lay down with us an rest &

breathe & entangle fingers an wrists an wires an we will know

the surge of companionship deeper than any human touch

Isolation could never

8 I seen it somewhere before - Rise

Image credit: Tanuja Devi Jagernauth 9


Cold Moon Child

The hardest part about labor wasn't the pain.

The pain I could get through.

We can breathe through pain, we can stay present with pain, we can reach for others in

pain and pain can be comforted.

The hardest part was not giving up.

Giving up wasn't an option.

The hardest part was sustaining a certain level of focus and intensity. It's the

perseverance that a really great thing is coming despite thinking it's impossible.

I feel we are in a great labor.

We can get though the pain together, the disappointment. We must not lose our

intensity or fortitude to stay the course.

As they say, the only way out, is through.

10 Image credit: Sarah-Ji

Cold Moon Child - Emily Eckstrand 11


Let Me Dream

In my slumber, I am as sturdy as a tree.

Still.

In my subconscious, I grow roots in the darkness, underground.

I've loved you in other timelines.

And we meet

Here.

In my waking

I find myself a censor.

A loud red error button

Because of my love expression,

Doesn't fit in this dimension.

I remain a walking prisoner.

To the greatest parts of me

Etched on my bark

Unremovable.

Jump in my holes,

holistically.

Splash in my waters,

play

enjoy.

It's strange to try and own something like water,

Which is essentially life

And uncontainable but easily contained.

The water plays along and holds in jars.

For now.

Water is a need, know.

But it is only 73 percent of me,

The rest...

12 Image credit: Ally Almore

Jenna Anast 13


First time back at my parent's house for more than two days since I was 17

years old

Day in and day out

I remember

Who I was

Or who I am

It's hard to tell sometimes.

I see that young child

In a Cleopatra costume

Gold and snakes head to toe

Momma's red lipstick on

That made it hard to smile.

No language or history books present

To help understand the power of her garb.

And yet a deep sense of knowing,

They were royalty.

My religion is Change.

And therefore, my church is continuously in a new location.

The only requirement for my temple of worship is peace.

I didn't come here to research,

There is no grant for coming home

No essay to write

No where to submit my learnings,

And yet the knowledge is in front of me.

The person that I was/the person that I am,

Was created in love.

The one real law.

And there is no possible way to measure,

How special I am,

And how ordinary I am.

My new church is building,

And it’s stronger than ever.

--

But what do you do when your house of worship is burning down?

And every corner you turn, a new wall filled with flames.

My religion is Change.

I will adapt,

Somehow.

I will remember how to survive.

Somehow.

14 Jenna Anast

Jenna Anast 15


Why on earth we’re dancing

We are ​alivelivingbreathingandloving​ with linen

pears and pomegranates, lavender and rhyolite, imagine

for a moment how the wind would sing if it sang, but it does.

Take a moment instead to close your eyes and bring yourself

to simmer yes, the good soft mud of a good soft lake, a mountain

a wonderful mountain, beloved. The sun when the clouds burn off?

An old word spoken just so, ​beloved​. Oh

let me feed you ten thousand poems from the pockets (the pockets!)

of this good soft frock, there’s room enough in here for us both

and our ancestors, not to mention cotton on skin drapes the body

like a prayer I forgot I remember and friends, wherever I go they grow.

Put your hand here on my heart like this before it goes to seed.

Let your longing be divine. Believe me who believes in the god

of your voice, a holy and honey-dipped ingress to grace,

you will have what you sing into being and trees

(have you heard?) can make their own weather.

16 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Kristin Lueke 17


When you are depressed, make a quilt.

Rachel Wallis

When you find yourself in a morass of depression yet again, when you struggle to get out of bed or reply to

emails, or imagine a future when life might feel worth living again, you should make a quilt. It doesn’t have to be

a fancy quilt, and you don’t have to go out and buy new fabric or tools (although you can, obviously, if you’d like.)

Generally though, you should make a quilt from what you have on hand, whether that’s fabric or scraps, or old

jeans and button down shirts. Find a simple classic quilt block, and just start making it. Log cabin is perhaps the

easiest and best suited for this purpose. Although connected in the American imagination to the civil war and

Lincoln’s humble birthplace, the design can be found woven into the wrappings on mummified cats discovered

in pharoh’s tombs, and its sim

plicity belies endless variations in its construction and designs.

Cut your fabric into two inch strips. You can cut all of it, or some of it, or cut strips as you go - whatever feels

right to you. It doesn’t matter how long they are, they will all get used somehow. Start with a two by two inch

square in the center and start sewing strips to the sides of it and squaring them off. Don’t think too hard about

the colors you choose. Let your lizard brain decide for you as your hand touches each strip of fabric. It is either

right or wrong, and once you have chosen it, don’t second guess. Any number of small bad decisions will sink

into the overall rightness of a quilt and disappear completely. Don’t let that slow you down. Build your block out

into a spiral until it seems big enough and set it aside. Start another block.

You can quilt your quilt on a sewing machine, or by hand, or just tie it with yarn at intervals, it’s all ok. Carefully

plot a geometry that plays against the blocks and colors of your quilt, or just sew back and forth at intervals

in straight or wavy lines. Quilt it as closely or as loosely as you want (as long as it’s not more than a hand’s span

apart, or you’re asking for a lumpy quilt down the road). If the quilting looks off to you you can always add more.

More is somehow always the answer when it comes to quilting. As you sit at your sewing machine, or with the

quilt draped over your knees for stitching, think about the recipient of the quilt. Think about your relationship,

and stitch that love and care into every inch. Do this even if the quilt is for yourself.

Marvel as you square off and bind your quilt, how this long, disorganized, messy process suddenly becomes a

finished thing, seemingly overnight. Dawdle a bit with the hand stitched binding, feeling ready to be done but

also sad that your process is over. Sit with your quilt when it’s finished. Feel the textures, pull it over your lap

and appreciate its weight. Know that whatever else happened, or failed to happen, in the preceding months, you

made a thing - a real, tangible, usable thing that wasn’t in the world but is now. That you’ve joined generations

of people, women mostly, who have gathered together scraps, and rags, and other garbage, and have used their

hands to transform them into art, and warmth, and comfort. Sign your name on the back of the quilt, even if you

feel silly. You made a thing that will be here when you are gone, and you deserve to be remembered for it.

Fall into a rhythm of cutting, choosing, sewing, ironing, trimming, over and over again. You can move your iron

and cutting mat next to your sewing machine, but maybe don’t bother. Getting up and walking back and forth,

back and forth between the iron and the sewing machine will be good for you - it’s the most exercise you’ve had

in days or weeks. Leave some tv on in the background. Star Trek or Law and Order or ER. Something that you’ve

seen so many times you don’t have to look or listen, that will flow together into a comforting murmur and keep

you company as you work.

Stop when you feel done, or you need to eat, or you’ve worked for hours and are cold and a little bit disoriented

about how long you’ve been sewing and what time it is. It doesn’t matter how much time you work, but you

should try to work a little every day. If you can’t, be kind to yourself about it. But if you can, cut a few strips or

sew a block together before you go back to bed.

Keep plugging away at your quilt until your pile of blocks seems big enough, or until your pile of fabric is gone,

or until you have a person to give it to and you should probably finish it. You can’t really rush a quilt. They

develop in their own time, and they are finished when they are finished. It doesn’t really matter how big it becomes.

It could be a pillow or a table runner or a lap quilt or a king sized bed quilt. Any number of blocks is the

right number to make something. What’s important is the process. That each day you are making incremental

progress. When everything in your life has ground to a halt, and you feel like you’re sinking into the earth while

everyone around you is moving forward, you can look at your pile of blocks and know that you produced something,

that your hands added another small piece into something bigger than you.

When your quilt top tells you it’s done decide on the back. Don’t stress over it. Cut up an old sheet or piece

together your leftover fabric until you have a square that is big enough. No one will be looking at the front and

the back at the same time. It doesn’t matter if they go together. They can each sing their own song. Gather your

batting. Pre-cut cotton batting is easiest, and easy is what we’re going for here, but you can use an old wool blanket,

or rags, or newspaper, or gather and dry spanish moss from the trees around your house like the elder quilter

I knew in New Orleans did as a child to stuff her mother’s quilts. Baste your quilt. Walk around it as you pin or

sew and think about the fabric as you touch it. Think about how each piece came into your life, how the colors

18

Image credit: Rachel Wallis

19


To Give Uplight

Black-capped

banditry

leaves,

sticky sweetgum

cavities, cracked variegated

caching ardently, stashing

nuts, twigs,

brittle sunflower

seeds.

Wood pecked

incessantly, cypress

knees groan, uneasy

trunks lean, calico crowns creak,

pileated heavy.

Now

to fly like quilts unstitched,

give up all

the shit

that weighs you down

breathe

parabolic uplight

Sweet crescent

beaks, glistening rills, scratched deep,

fleshy, these Blackboy

peach cheeks, gorgets aflame.

Midnight tryst hibiscus lips, quivering

below a hellebore

midriff, hollyhock hips,

forgotten

stamen sweat drips,

bouquet spent.

Working fallow fields

dreams crack, behold

Sethe, Lorian, Slade

crepuscular sunrays,

they congregate.

shacks

dark

stars rise resolute

to constellate,

illuminate

the sharecroppers,

in prolapse still

Once burrowed

beneath Carolina willows

Brood X, undead now

hardened by flames, cicadas

desecrate the janitor’s

only wake, to mate, flex on death each day

erect wings, wafer-thin crumbling exuviae on a gold-foiled

Psalm 143 page.

No days off,

teakettle-teakettle

he calls

his sweet wren awake

to offer the nest,

this year,

cattail thatched,

cornbread crusted,

grateful-- yet tears glisten, knees shake

her eggs

he swears again,

will not break,

understoried

faith

like dogwoods,

in the shadows,

they will bloom safe.

We, the old growth,

preceding tree plantations,

hell-bent on Liberty,

Tranquility, Just Us, Black

woodrats unfettered snakeskins, peeling,

gnawing through

the common defense—

that noose

left to rot.

after Toni Morrison

20 Image credit: Rachel Wallis

Saleem Hue Penny 21


In the 24 Hours After You’re Gone

unexpectedly, I live out

my day in the wrong

direction. & the minutes don’t stop.

Try to eat

good, eat the pain away.

Pink ladies in plain yoghurt, spots of cinnamon

to season. The music I have not

been listening to

for months comes back to me. ​Carry Fire,​ Robert Plant

came back to me

like returning to dust,

comes back to me like the memories between us,

so trivial when we were living them.

The way you laughed,

head thrown back, hands clasped, in surrender to joy.

I have no idea

how to surrender

despite or which is why

life keeps grinding me back

back

back

to dust.

And the minutes

don’t stop. And the villains don’t stop.

influences anger.

Like stubbornness influences

stubbornness.

And your warm tenderness

influencing

the empty tenderness in my heart cold grief.

Fall asleep

face shrouded in hot tears.

But to the tenderness

of those

around me I say this is my grief,

let me hold it.

Hold on tighter,

warmer to the ones you love.

Between mournings,

I am the witness;

I am the cold day. My mother was right;

I am getting old enough

To pray.

Too old not to pray, for someone, something

somewhere higher

to hold my grief for me.

I think that anger

22 Belinda Munyeza

Belinda Munyeza 23


A spirituality of outsiders

leadership of impossibles

Of underdogs

Of soil microbia

Of Mycellia that destroy and birth

The gospel of badly behaved women

The gospel of refusing and casting out

The gospel of shouting and announcing whole-ness

In a world of particles

a mender

starry eyed with jugaad

With chalk paintings that blow or wash away

That rinse into me

I am a sinner

not lost

In the shadow of wings

On a road I have never been

from the breast of a god I have never seen

bewildered if I am awake or asleep

I persist

I survive

I continue

to follow the impulse of taking the hand of a familiar stranger

Breaking bread with an unknown neighbor

Catching the eye and smile of the sister I may never see again

24 Image credit: Sara Zalek

Amy Mall 25


What happens when the world ends

after-now is music · your heart drumming on fire and we move

like wind · the sky belongs with us here drink slowly and quick

tell me how you'd like to love me · after-now can be everything ·

the world we want possible ourselves our compass the sun burning

old pine · always ours after-now · i crave your vision sweet brokenwinged

god trellis i climb my way up you holding me here in your

gorgeous skin · tides moonstruck from within we are carried

toward that star-kissed shore · after-now we are dancing

26 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Kristin Lueke 27


BeeBee (they/she) is a Black, Biracial non-binary queer person. They have light brown skin, round

rosey cheeks, an oval-shaped face, and a dimple on their chin. BeeBee has a grown out undercut all

the way around her head, with a lot of long curly black hair sitting in a fluffy high ponytail on top of her

head. They have big brown eyes and thick eyebrows. Their nose is pierced with a blue flower on a

gold ring.

BeeBee is looking directly at the camera, in a selfie taken in their apartment in Pilsen, Chicago.

Her right eye shadow goes from green to purple. Their right eye goes from purple to green. They

used a blue eye shadow to emphasize their mustache and eyebrows. She looks tough and soft. Her

right hand rests under the left side of her chin. In the background there are several knick knacks

in the background including: a white lantern, a green plant, a white wall, a Gryfinndor gold and maroon

scarf, a purple candle, and a small standee of an orange dinosaur with a blue outline. BeeBee is

wearing a long black sleeve tee shirt. White text is imposed on the image. The text reads:

“The gender binary is violence, but y’all know that”

28 Image credit: Chiara Galimberti

BeeBee Cooper Browne 29


BeeBee is in their Feline Fine look from the previous photo. Now they are kneeling on the ground with

their feet underneath bright blue tight thighs to her right. She has casual ankle shoes that are also in

the same green-blue hue and their winter coat and fabulous wig. Their winter coat is zipped down to

BeeBee’s navel, revealing a black shirt underneath. BeeBee is roaring with queer joy and libration

at the camera, their mouth wide open and top teeth bared. You can see more of BeeBee’s makeup,

the half-tree branch on their right cheek reflects a similar one on her left. There are three dots in a column

underneath the tree branch on her left cheek. The ground beneath BeeBee is wet, yellow and

green grass. White snow on the ground just beyond BeeBee’s feet and extending to the top of the

photo.

BeeBee is feeling the energy of the sun among the trees in a park across the street from her

home. It’s winter in Chicago, and there’s snow on the ground, but not on the trees. The trees surround

BeeBee and a long pine branch is in the foreground. BeeBee is in the center looking beyond the

camera and into a reclaimed world, an ancestral plane of being. BeeBee is wearing a long, curly

blue-green wig. The wig falls below BeeBee’s shoulders and blends into her winter coat of the same

color. BeeBee is wearing a big red bow in her hair that lands at the middle of her head. BeeBee’s

fingers are lengthened with golden pieces, like rigidged triangle claws, elegant and fierce; they are

attached to her hand through small gold chains, meeting in the middle at a red pendant. The bottom

of BeeBee’s nose is black and the bridge of their nose is white. BeeBee’s hair and red bow cover

her left eye. They have thick black eyeliner on their right cheek. The lines form a half-tree branch

that diagonally crosses BeeBee’s cheek and curls into a vine with two leaves and a swirl to end

the branch. BeeBee’s hands are in a flourish around her face, the long golden fingers all pointing

towards their focus and determined gaze. They are “Feline Fine”.

30 BeeBee Cooper Browne

BeeBee Cooper Browne 31


BeeBee (with their naturally fluffy ponytail) is looking in the mirror in their bathroom. The walls,

bathroom sink, and cabinet mirror are white. On the tiny sink surface rest various items: face scrub,

makeup remover/cleanser, a beer bottle, lavender scissors, eyelash glue, a pink and green tube of

mascara, mouthwash, toothbrushes in an old Christkindlemarket molt wine mug, another face scrub.

BeeBee stands in front of the mirror holding a makeup palette in her left hand, and applies makeup

with their left index finger. Their face is seen in the mirror and her profile is closer to the camera.

Their nose is painted black and their nose bridge is painted white. There are three black lines on

her left cheek like as if a paw scraped them across the face. BeeBee is wearing a gold sequin and

shimmery halter dress with a black corset. They are wearing a mic and headset, listening to Pirate

Jenny by Nina Simone. They are rehearsing for a film shoot to lip sync for their life.

BeeBee (their naturally fluffy ponytail) looks shocked into the camera in this selfie. BeeBee is wearing

a green shirt and is standing in front of a brown wooden door. Their right hand has her fingers

pinched in a moment of precision. Their makeup includes a bold purple lip, black-painted nose,

and her nose bridge painted white. Her left eye features a pink eyeshadow with a purple crease,

white shadow on their bottom eyelid, cat-eye eyeliner and false lashes. BeeBee’s has an eyeline vine

growing across the right side of her face with two leaves in the middle of the branch and ending in

swirls on the bottom of her cheek. Their left eye features an orange eyeshadow with a purple crease,

white shadow on their bottom eyelid, cat-eye eyeliner and false lashes. The eyeliner on the left from

the bottom of a petal below BeeBee’s left eye. An eyeliner stem reaches down from cheek to chin,

interacting with a carefully placed column of dots. Their brown eyes are wide with wonder, “This is it.

I’m finding my groove.”

32 BeeBee Cooper Browne

BeeBee Cooper Browne 33


“The gender binary is violence, but y’all know that”

- By BeeBee Cooper Browne

In the mirror

looking directly at ​myself

For the first time.

For a long time.

My insecurity

rests under​ my skin

What gender waits to be explored

In the background​ of my mind...

Who am I, really?

Do I like to play?

Do I play a certain part?

Does every magnitude of my expression love the ​feeling

the energy of the sun​ ​among the trees

Can I stretch my mind to meet my own potential?

In the center ​of my being

I am reaching, ​looking beyond​ the binary

Into a reclaimed world,

An ancestral plane of being.

The wig falls

lengthened with golden pieces

thick black eyeliner

curls into a vine

Caught up in my​ Cat-eye

A stem reaches down from cheek to chin

Ending in swirls

Growing​ in a flourish around her face

Revealing ​the person who was already their

Roaring with queer joy and libration

underneath the tree branch

Surrounded by the love of

Earth, Water, Fire, Air

Guidance from a force

Pulling​ the ground just beyond​ reach

Their face is seen in the mirror

For the first time.

For a long time.

Gold sequin and shimmery

Black

Their life pinched

in a moment of precision

This is it.

My groove.

34 Image credit: Chiara Galimberti 35


This garden belongs to the children.

They are learning the names of plants,

and our stories of growing.

They water and sing,

water and sing.

This garden is kept by the elders

who know the plants as friends,

and write the story of each harvest:

Planting and pulling,

planting and pulling.

This garden is protected by our ancestors.

They whispered to the first seeds

and their lives are told in our songs:

Sung and still living,

sung and still living.

He asks to sew. “Please teach me, Mama.”

I blink in response. It was my great grandmother who taught me to sew. I was a child and I

wanted to create for play - a dress for a doll, a pillow for a teddy bear, a bracelet for a friend.

She never objected to my games but she did more than share lessons of needle and thread. I

sat on the cool linoleum of her kitchen floor, sticky from the summer humidity, while she spoke

of scraps, hand-me-downs, and poverty in rural Mississippi. I watched her nimble fingers and

never thought I would see the stories repeat. My hands haven’t forgotten what she taught me,

but I wish I had listened more closely to her stories. She was doing more than teaching me to

sew. She was teaching me to survive.

“Please teach me, Mama.”

Now I realize her stories are still here. They’re in my fingertips and finding me again through the

simple request of her great-great grandchild. I don’t need to remember the details to know the

lessons the stories imparted. She wanted me to continue learning and to never discount a

humble offering. As I pass on what she taught, her resilience will speak again, this time to a

future generation. She’s saying trust yourself, depend on the collective, and be an active part of

it because our survival is knitted together. We need to share our skills with one another as much

as we need to share our stamina.

He asks to sew. My seven year old.

He wants to play, to create pokemon characters, and costumes for his backyard adventures. I

want him to play, for as long as he can, but he will know the stories of perseverance too. I will

speak of them as I teach and I will trust that they will find their way into his fingertips. The

lineage of resilience will continue so that whatever he may face, he will know the power to

create, to share, and to sustain.

Yes, baby.

I will teach you.

I will teach you to sew.

36 After we burned down the schools and planted gardens - Atena O. Danner

He asks to sew - Brit Cooper Robinson 37


1 cm = 1 mile

for Ashish

You swallowed a fly

And kissed the sun

Before your wheelchair broke

When the day was over

You in my arms laughing

As we went back to the group home

You: a contoured map

Showing erosion over

An era

Me: a body of water

At midnight, perpetually

Without a moon

38 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Hilesh Patel 39


Beginning maths

If you were lucky enough to meet Satya over chai,

she would tell you how she followed a button to America

Popped off the robe of a maharaja, gold with roaring lion,

carried to winter in Chicago.

For Pushba, Satya was an immense room full of buttons:

Large sweater, small crisp white shirt, an evening dress blue

She would be overwhelmed by the menagerie, never

finding a match.

In India, the sisters were woven together

Two blue shirts two blue skirts pigtails

And graduation sashes, running past the train station

The quiet of sitting.

In America, they couldn’t find each other in the rain

The wet concrete in summer, the snow later

Would reclassify their paths toward each other

They had become unfastened.

On trips back, they would carry their old selves,

fastened buttons to winter coats, unassuming

Universes of remembering through O’Hare.

And back again through Customs.

These are the stories I hold: head nods and skin

That smells like pepper

This is before funerals and dispossession and the casualty

of mismatched dreams of the moon. burying myself

into Aunties who hold me as if I’ll slip away

into the wind.

My favorite smiles. Eating an apples with both of them,

Satya hugging my tiny shoulders, Pushba

saying “Once the buttons were British and

then they became American”

In Gujrati blue can sometimes be closer to green

But the first rule you learn in English is something means something else

40 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Hilesh Patel 41


Surface area

The taxis that leave O’Hare will take you to a holy land

On the perimeter of Ganesh’s tears and Jesus’ footprint

Neither the angels in Heaven above

nor the demons down under the earth

deny there is a slave ship that sails out of the Art Institute every Monday morning at 10 am

after the first patrons have paid.

This is Chicago, your father says

With bitter simplicity.

By evening we venture into the water

to be blessed, bathing ourselves in Lake Michigan

until the police come to take us away

42 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Hilesh Patel 43


Algebra

God is the last and least important of the order of operations

When you arrive at the border

Less than how and when you open your hands

44 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Hilesh Patel 45


Here are the simplest rules

{ (breath)

mouth open head on left shoulder, full weight against body heaviness

(warmth)

certainty

the full weight of a sleeping child

A system of warm air directed into the path of winter to catalyst an

early spring

the weight of the moon, ashed }

Volume

For Ashish

My little wing

My new and old moon

You are the fire the burns the sun

You are the volume of a chant in a Liverpool match

You are laughter in a still, dry

Cold room

{ the weight of a sixth grade history book containing the exact weight

of Matthew Shepard’s body when his mom first held him

the exact volume of Laquan McDonald’s laugh on the 27th day of

fourth grade

the weight of Jason Van Dyke’s two hands when he painted his

first self portrait the summer before fifth grade

the circumference of Aaron McKinney’s eyelid the month he spent

staring at a snowshoe hare when he was seven }

{ the median weight of a three-year old in Casper, Wyoming in

December 1979 and in Chicago, Illinois in 2000

76, ​25, 97, 16

Matthew ∩ Laquan

phantom limbs

phantom weight

deep breath heaviness

missing gravity in hands

Solve for force (six precise indentations on a green carpet under a

beige sofa) = exasperated teenage exhaustion (mass) times second

grade to eighth grade (acceleration)

24 breaths }

{ Matthew

Laquan }

:

somewhere in Wyoming

somewhere in Chicago

there is a picture, on a mantle, on

the fridge, in a frame. In a

mother or grandmother’s

hands. Of each of these

boys untouched.

46 Hilesh Patel

Hilesh Patel 47


When I saw Bree Newsome on that line

Spirit laid a hand on me:

“Be still, be still… Watch and listen…

How the world becomes bigger;

expands on the inhale,

right before the shout.”

I watched a Black woman rise

I watched a monument fall limp

By her anointed hand—

The sheer, audacious simplicity of it!

Her declaration of freedom, decision, dominion.

While I watched Bree Newsome’s divine work

I forgot that I was flesh

and burned white-hot

Sparks spilling out of the sides of my mouth

Her message changing me, charging me:

“I did it because I am free.”

48 Image credit: Heather Lynne

The Divine Audacity of Bree Newsome - Atena O. Danner 49


I,

open mouthed maw,

am alone in trees

surrounding city,

breast bones cracked carcass

body of a bird forgotten by the dogs

left to be leaf

filled to sink

into loam and a boredom

to be

object

that screams.

I,

infinite life span,

environment in its way.

ecology shapes the day. sun

light,

micro fauna,

their fruits

settle inside. and below,

a bone to grow, a sleeve to stretch.

what comes next?

another inch.

bright animal of a body

allowed to love at night.

wet nettle

polyp and medusa

in need of little more than to live for.

I,

allow my cells a selfhood,

the certainty of consumption.

closer to truth, as Brown Mountain

Lights

wet land orbs, aglow

in distant rolling.

pupa

bisects,

shows primordium,

cleaves into

cream filling

bureaucracy

of becoming.

Eclipse​ 1​*

(2024)

rhythms of hurt

& healing

after

during

before

comfort sits

where walls shift.

small experiments

moments

movements

to un

forgive

america

is real,

borders

of solemn,

america

there is more

to hemorrhage anyhow.

inside an onion, atop

every cut— divine

prolonged, committed

effort, applied pressures,

slick of green stops

bleeding.

bodies reduce

into dying

regions.

all debt.

inseparable pain

the moment

celibate truth—

won’t let go.

oh, how honest

recognition has failed fate

to eclipse​ is something done

an eclipse​ is something become

1*​

words lifted & adapted from an anonymous manifesto, published by a group in Carbondale, IL

which found itself in the 2017 Solar Eclipse’s path of totality. The original text can be found at

www.thenexteclipse.wordpress.com

50 Robin Reid Drake

Robin Reid Drake 51


To live outside the order of time

Is wanton and lawless

It’s not silence I fear, but enforcement

My seemingly endless song is a protective disguise

Cover from the aspersions of indignant typicals

Won’t pass for ‘normal,’ but oddball is safer than criminal

I cast waves out into the unmoving darkness

So I can swim in the wells between them

Stellaluna among affectionate, bewildered birds

I do not fear silence, but damage:

The glass and bones I break when I flail through a void

That my friends and neighbors don’t see; won’t see.

So it’s up to me. I echolocate to protect them,

though they sigh with irritation to hear it yet again:

Me, clicking and humming through their quiet rooms.

They don’t see, won’t see

How I happily sink into the velvet of silence

When I am safe from the surveillance of time

When I am safe to be as I am

I become like a tree fallen in the forest

Unperceived, and lost in stillness.

52 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Temporal Echolocation in the Void - Atena Danner 53


sick of it​ 1

the thing is,

I never ​wanted​ to turn

into possibility. I can

1

After “A Conversation with Joni Mitchell,” by David Wild, in Rolling Stone 1991

54 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Robin Reid Drake 55


continue into my eighties,

a legitimate older woman,

an open question,

the only artist

that made me recognize.

and further out​?

they're going to get me

anyway.

people get sick.

your​ name? ​your ​face?

what do ​you​ do?

I stretch.

I have

new name

new face,

flipped for every one

of those ​people.

people just weep for life

that grand theme—

where is my ?

where is my ?

where is my ?

off. he thought I was whole,

carving a place in the grain.

I don't know. Who can?

No no no

Oh, I remember.

people

were points of a word.

He didn't like seeing, how he

hated to notice.

not really like women,

kind of like business,

but more work.

And now the day ​becomes

burlesque, more

shocking at any certain point.

Decadence

ultimately ​isn't ​that hip.

Our rotten core can be more, after all. I mean,

poor thing,

I got rid of that one.

and for a while

I was women's song.

men began to notice.

calamitous,

feminine division.

there are no good

roles.

me?

I'll tell you

one thing. this guy

came up to me and said

you are the world​, and I

went ​ha​, I walked

56 Robin Reid Drake

Robin Reid Drake 57


58 Image credit: Heather Lynne

August Ox 59

To be read urgently from a lined paper, in deliberate scribblings.

The paper, creased from wear, is tense between the hands. Delight in pause, in reverie, and

image describing silence.

Make space for the body to respond.

Tossed awake to the sweaty nightmare doldrum of the

present, where the left eye tenses in a full circle

around the socket, twitches stirred

by attunement to the replicating wrongs –

The night clairvoyant scent of combusted history

halts in the tight clammy atmosphere.

The cage is set again and again, diurnally, overlooking,

over the shoulder, tongue –

The child stares at me, at the space between us

and our masks, and she squeals and she runs and she turns,

she squeals again, with repeated delight, and her mother says

she longs to be close to people, she longs to be close –

She grips the fence between our yards,

as if to say, I don’t know how to break it,

I want to break it. Ignited to bond, we make a rhythm

and attempt to climb it together –

In the prairie a good hour away from the city,

Kismet blurs into controlled burn exhaust over blue sky,

fresh ash blackens the earth, charcoal shapes of plants

xerox into thin air, the illusion that all is remains –


Those pinched shapes turn to dust across my palm, wind shadows

the brutal blows to throats of othered people, plants, and animals.

Those lives reimagining, reconvening, rehabilitating,

my horizon is just one small sliver, I note the trees left standing –

No more blinders for the fuckable. No more easy lays at all.

No more words leaving dry tongues lapping for rescue,

the luxurious tresses that were once hair have been cut crudely,

that dress so small and too precarious to be called an accessory –

I finger a flexible organ in my chest, as a piano,

brandish the wooden chair, knock its’ frame against narrow doorways.

Weasel noses the bones out of the garden again,

later it is dead too –

How can I ask, how to help, how can I possibly collect and dissect

myself when I can't hear my own language?

What is hear is garbled static and ringing, my naiveté is a lost key

branded on the lone figure in a mountain forest –

I want to scream with joy at the pinkish clouds, the golden light before sunset,

For soothing the mystery, for a divergent thought that pushes back,

A speck, to be flown in from the flock, the antithesis to the grimace

I faced just days before, or was it hours, or minutes –

Enter the wasteland exclaiming sorry not sorry,

just longing for something missing, the gentle pressing of a body,

Instead of horror, on horror, on horror, just as neat as a stack of sugars, in a box

at breakfast. Violent participles persisting –

replicating cells in a net, cast inward to the galaxy inside.

Her songs are plucked from that place –

The spidery tendril, repeating now, tugs at my eye,

at my nape, pulling me up, my chin folding down, my shoulders falling back,

it's reaching for you from inside of a thought bubble,

The hanging body speaks –

Mycelium brethren. To spore together,

to eject out of our very essence of wholeness, more of ourselves,

floating above the earth to land like the ash in perfect reproduction on the prairie,

to blow away again with the next strong wind –

Replenishing ourselves wherever we land, we settle.

In this story, instead of taking over, instead of killing

for our landing privileges, we offer our bodies as nutrition,

ask for asylum, our tracks disappearing –

Delight returns when the child can still see

the beauty in getting so close to a bird so as to brightly state

buk bukkkhaaa, buk buk bukkkhaaa, and enjoy

the soft coo in return, bukkaaaaa bukkaaaaa –

We danced the whole way home.

Supposing we never got there, supposing instead

we vanished and immediately transformed into

a whistle of particles spiraling up on the corner –

Smallness no measure for energy storage,

This child more powerful than a microSD,

60 August Ox

August Ox 61


October, 2019 (The Wrath of Earth)

Outside is unbearable

and inside,

we are parched and sticky.

Breathing has become sacred

and electricity has been too,

so without it,

bathing is sacred

and we have

to wash ourselves

with our sweat.

Writing too

is sacred

in this heat which brings

no new ideas

and all that’s left to do is nap.

All the dreams are about

sacred water

and all that heat

we create.

And oh, that sacred water,

who cares if you’re shaved?

If you can just be in the water

for breath

then you’ll be saved.

We were never meant

to make business out of breath,

62 Image credit: Erica Eckstrand

Belinda Munyeza 63


never meant

to make business out of earth,

Lay our hands on her,

dirty with politics

and leave on her

our fingerprints.

so that you and I could live like this.

What else is love?

What more is there?

And for all her love,

we have made her

unbearable.

I miss when she would cry

and I would be sick

for a few days.

But now I am willing

to burn for her wrath,

what else is love?

What more is there?

I walk

on the angry pavement,

gatekeeper of the pool,

thinking

about my new-found belief

in (my own)

vegetarianism

while the greens in our garden

burn

in the vengeance of the sun

And I plunge—which is sacred,

and hold the water in my lungs.

I think of all the people that are dying

for this wrath which they did not want or cause,

and all the places that are dying

64 Belinda Munyeza

Belinda Munyeza 65


66 Image Credit: Chiara Galimberti 67

an offering

by patricia nguyen

a meditation on the present.

soft whispers to rest in the midst of fires.

clenched muscles spasm,

yearning to break free from generational patterns.

adrenaline stoked,

coursing through the body.

heart rhythms mimic frozen states,

still enough to survive.

a simple request to fall,

release tension into the surfaces that protect us.

to feel safe enough to collapse

and let go.


Contributors

Jenna Anast

I am an artist and community organizer that operates with the

understanding that we have everything we need, and together, we can

create anything we can imagine.

No matter what stage of life I am in, I know that if I allow myself space to feel and grow, I can find liberation and

peace in the mud.

BeeBee Cooper Browne (they/she)

BeeBee is a producer and artistic creator in Chicago whose work explores multimedia protest extravaganzas.

They have survived 6 years in the Chicago non-profit theatre arts community as an administrator, playwright,

and producer. BB currently advocates for mental health through a co-created platform of comedy and community,

Dee N Bee, with Dionne Addai (IG: @_deenbee). She is also an organizer for Creators’ Thrift, an emerging

BIPOC and LBGTQIA+ centered mutual aid network for Chicago artists. Creators’ Thrift is dedicated to dismantling

white supremacy and colonialism within the arts by helping every artist reclaim their art and the process of

creating their art. IG: @beebeebecks; @_deenbee_; @creatorsthrift_chi

Atena O. Danner

I am Atena. I am a Black, queer, creative - a parent and an educator. I am commiting my energy into generative

work that imagines some optimism for repairing our children’s inheritance (or at least preparing us to do so). I

am an enemy of oppressive learning spaces, and am motivated by love for my people. My core values are authenticity,

creativity, and justice.

Robin Reid Drake

I am a white, queer & trans femme person. Abolitionist somatics, creative practices and ancestral work rooted in

a lineage of my creative, political and spiritual ancestors provide me with tools to mark new paths toward healing

for my personal lineages of violence. Emerging from lines of settlers in Southern Appalachia and Eastern North

Carolina, regions defined by remarkable landscapes and the atrocities they were/are scene & stage for, these practices

are also unequivocally environmentalist. I am thrilled by the space that understory promises and its gathering

of different lines of healing and visionary practitioners.

Emily Eckstrand

I am an artist, herbalist, integrative medicine worker, mother & I write.

Chiara Francesca Galimberti

Originally from Italy, and currently residing in Chicago, Chiara is an acupuncturist, organizer, artist, immigrant,

and queer former teen ma’ living with multiple disabilities. Their clinical focus is on mental health, trauma,

CPTSD, and queer/trans health

Kristin Lueke

I’m a poet and pile of tangled genes—Mestizo descent, second generation chingona. There are so many languages

I cannot speak, and so I turn to poems, where the language I have can live all the lives I’ll never know.

My work has always been in love with the world, even when I’ve struggled to be. Often, in those moments, the

words feel misshapen and half-finished, but sometimes, miraculously, they take shape greenly, fully flourished.

And in these moments, I feel the understory.

Heather Lynne

Heather Lynne is a kitchen witch who lives on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Belinda Munyeza (she/her)

I am a queer, Zimbabwean poet currently living in Navarra, Spain. My poems lately are focused on exploring the

ways in which identity, culture and lineage shape our existence in the world. They are also focused on figuring

out how to reclaim all of our lost selves and heal wounds; the personal ones, the collective ones, the ancestral

ones. I am currently working on my first poetry chapbook.

patricia nguyễn

I am a child of refugees. From this place of departure/knowing/unlearning, I create as an artist, educator, and organizer.

I have been exploring how trauma impacts the nervous system, breath, digestion, and muscle movement

to cultivate embodied spaces for healing and freedom. Delving into my family’s history of war, incarceration, and

forced migration I focus on its impacts on the body and how different modes of survival get locked into our body

memory. I hope my piece offers those who feel worn out/exhausted/burnt out by state violence, a way to love on

ourselves again, to return to the body as a site of memory, knowledge, and healing.

August Ox (they/them)

I am an interdisciplinary and queer artist. The desire to answer the call for the ::understory:: created this moment

of tension so fierce that it did start me dreaming the poem alive in the middle of the night, in the days following

the solstice around December 30, 2020. A thrust to immerse myself in the scent of knowing others are close in

around me. A fire burns in the cold night, the glow is on our faces. In the half moon cycle that followed my first

entry, this poem became a dialog between a friend and I, diurnally, which crafted this vessel. The smoke and heat

from the kiln has me feeling like I have digested the contents more fully, released the feelings through the images,

to be cross-examined, pulled apart and digested again. I have an intergenerational and intercultural mindset and

I want creative dialog with nature alongside other humans. I am an ally in the movement toward Transformative

and Restorative Justice. I am an active participant in forging a world that creates space to integrate our trauma,

heal, and reclaim our transformative and collective power. This is the only growth cycle worth pursuing.

Hilesh Patel

As a writer Hilesh works in both poetry and fiction and has been most recently investigating immigration, healing

and memory. In his professional life he works with and supports Chicago leaders. A member of The Chicago

ACT Collective, he helps build political artistic collaboration and dialogue across multiple communities.

Saleem Hue Penny (he/him/friend)

I am a Black ‘rural hip-hop blues’ poet with a vestibular disorder and single-sided deafness. Childhood in South

Carolina swamps, youth in North Carolina mountains, my growing heart swells for Southside Chicago. My

writing explores how young people of color traverse wild spaces and define freedom on their own terms. I often

punctuate my poetry with a drum machine, gouache, and birch bark. My understanding of Black ecopoetics is

constantly evolving and I’m humbled to build with the :::understory::: community. Let’s celebrate each other as

we offer our humble harvests. If we can’t connect IRL, do reach out on the web (hueart.org) or Instagram (@

huedotart).

Nerissa/Rise (they/them)

I am a queer genderfluid Black disabled femme writer, artist, doula, meditation facilitator and student affairs person

trying to remind myself everyday that there is space for us all. But I believe I prove it every day by learning,

being, breathing. I build trauma informed care, disability justice and wellness programs for social work students

by day, community based care work for my folk day and night; write, draw, an dream at all hours.

68 69


Brit Cooper Robinson (she/her)

I’m a recovering theatre practitioner and writer living in Chicago, Illinois, on the stolen land of the Kickapoo,

Peoria, Potawatomi, Miami, and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ peoples. The power of storytelling and the necessity of compassionate

witness drives my work as I seek personal and systemic change. I’m the co-producer of the storytelling

series Unearthing Our Fire and the co-deviser of the Folded Map Play.

Sarah-Ji

Sarah-Ji is a queer Korean mama, PIC abolitionist, and photographer who has been documenting freedom

struggles in Chicago since 2010. She organizes with Love & Protect and Chicago AfroSocialists and Socialists of

Color (Chi AfroSOC). She can often be found on a tiny beach singing to the lake or roaming the streets with her

camera. She lives in Rogers Park with her teenage daughter Cadence.

Rachel Wallis

I am a community taught artist and quilter. The work I do functions a little like fungi, in loose networks in communication

with each other over great distances and periods of time. I try and cross the lines between art and

craft and activism in my work and teaching, and hope that writing can do that as well.

Sara Zalek

I am a nature enthusiast and steward of the land. I believe in following the stories and cycles of nature to rethink

ways of living.

See you in Spring!

If you have feedback, questions,

and/or if you want to contribute your

poetry, prose, or photography to future issues,

please reach out to:

understoryquarterly@gmail.com

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