understory quarterly winter 2021

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.

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.


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understory quarterly

winter 2021


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


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


4 Image credit: Chiara Galimberti

I seen it somewhere before - Rise 5

6 I seen it somewhere before - Rise

I seen it somewhere before - Rise 7

8 I seen it somewhere before - Rise

Image credit: Tanuja Devi Jagernauth 9

10 Image credit: Sarah-Ji

Cold Moon Child - Emily Eckstrand 11

12 Image credit: Ally Almore

Jenna Anast 13

14 Jenna Anast

Jenna Anast 15

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.

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

make you feel, and where they are going when they leave your hands.


Image credit: Rachel Wallis


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.

20 Image credit: Rachel Wallis 21

22 Belinda Munyeza

Belinda Munyeza 23

24 Image credit: Sara Zalek

Amy Mall 25

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


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

34 35

Image credit: Chiara Galimberti

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

He asks to sew - Brit Cooper Robinson 37

38 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Hilesh Patel 39

40 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Hilesh Patel 41

42 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Hilesh Patel 43

44 45

Image credit: Heather Lynne

Hilesh Patel

46 Hilesh Patel

Hilesh Patel 47

48 Image credit: Heather Lynne

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

50 Robin Reid Drake

Robin Reid Drake 51

52 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Temporal Echolocation in the Void - Atena Danner 53

54 Image credit: Heather Lynne

Robin Reid Drake 55

56 Robin Reid Drake

Robin Reid Drake 57

58 Image credit: Heather Lynne

August Ox 59

60 August Ox

August Ox 61

62 Image credit: Erica Eckstrand

Belinda Munyeza 63

64 Belinda Munyeza

Belinda Munyeza 65

66 Image Credit: Chiara Galimberti 67


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 (@


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 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:



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