issue 32 poetry


by Diamond Forde

The Highs and Lows by Charles Adesanmi Adedeji


Alice realized she was fat all at once: when her youngest’s
infant-grip mitted into her folds, noticed how her nursed child
molded into its mountainous mother, cuddling too comfortable
in Alice’s pillowed arms—

2 at first, Alice felt fine with her fat—assumed her arms
had adapted to lift a child’s heft so that the two of them could
better hum brilliant in the milk hush, the infant fed & finally

3 then The Second Man slipped behind her in the pantry
while she was prepping supper, a purr burbling on low boil in
his potted throat. She wanted to grab an onion but his famished
hands massaged the flesh banded against her wrists, moved
down to her hips bouncing into him like rubber, & Alice
startled, new to how her body could whimsy wide at another
man’s wish

Alice stared at herself in the mirror. She comforted, assumed
her body’s expansive reactions were normal, a woman wonder
perhaps, or an acclimation to the adamant demands love
makes—she’d nary a mother to tell her—

2 But at church, Alice plunked down in her favorite pew
beside Deacon Snide’s wife (high-holy in her plum skirts, who
the church girls called Ma’am, instinctively reverent to the
wine-dark pooled in her eyes) & when Ma’am greeted Alice by
leaning her head on Alice’s shoulder, Alice felt fine till her
shoulder puckered like it meant to suck on Ma’am’s cherried

3 Then they both feared the movement: Alice jumped
back—Ma’am feathered in her hats—& the fat, at least a half
inch thick then, quickened to comfort. Ma’am wheezed like a
fluorescent bulb then changed pews, and Alice leaned back in
her booth trying to will her red meat back on the bone.

And despite her best efforts—despite diets and walks, midnights
in the bathroom mirror trying to smack the belly back until it
blushed, despite even the gazes scissoring through her in the
neighborhood—her fat grew: from summer to winter, from
avenue to street, through the whole damn breach of New
York—quiet invasion of malt shoppes, amphitheaters—past
dark-windowed offices with tinted chins tilted against the
sky—Alice went wide but never to her liking, flounced at the
world’s whim but never for her own.

Once, Alice ran errands out on Crosby, walked down the
print-littered sidewalk, coming up past art studios and cologne
shops, neared a young girl old enough to be her middle child.

2 The girl was fixed on a decade-old mink in the lamp-lit
window of an antique spot. A store so extravagant with dust, a
smear blurred where the brown girl’s nose mashed against the

3 Alice could tell the girl longed for the coat, but also
more: its lavish evenings, its diamond earrings, its long gloves
the color of a midnight merlot—who wouldn’t look at that coat
and burn

4 with star dreams? Alice kept hers folded in the
nightstand in her childhood home. A flimsy scrap, packed
beneath handfuls of hair pins & a hymnal past its prime, that
clipping of Paul Robeson Alice hid her bedside because she
loved how his low notes opened wide enough to swallow her.
His blanket-dark mouth. How she used to dream of the two of
them, canoeing together on the Nile or beached in Aruba,
camped beneath his voice’s soft smoke—

5 then the cotton came, and Alice’s star dreams blazed a
gold wound behind her eyes, which she saw looking at this girl,
somewhere beneath the child’s tattered toboggan or in her pretty
pink smile, an urge for wings

6 clapped through Alice’s shoulders, a muscle memory or
an old whim punched through her coat the way water splits
stone, fat unfettered and feathering, tendons wefted into wings,
stomach bellied and blimping into a hot air balloon—Alice
flew, yelped against the blue, then looked down, reached for the
small girl getting smaller, who was watching then, wide-eyed,
chin affixed in silent song

7 and when the girl reached back, hand already hardened
with hardship, to fingers twittering bird-like above her, what
wish pulsed palpable between them: for Alice to land? or to
drag that small child with her, the clouds unbuttoned, a bauble
of stars hitched finally to their heels.

Diamond Forde’s debut collection, Mother Body, is the winner of the 2019 Saturnalia Poetry  Prize. Forde has received numerous awards and prizes, including a Pink Poetry Prize, a Furious  Flower Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2022 Kate Tufts Discovery Award from Claremont Graduate University. A Callaloo, Tin House, and Ruth Lilly Dorothy Sargent  Rosenberg fellow, Forde’s work has appeared in Boston Review, Obsidian, Massachusetts  Review, and more. She serves as the interviews editor of Honey Literary, the fiction editor of  Nat. Brut, and she lives in Asheville with her partner and their dog, Oatmeal.

Charles Adesanmi Adedeji is a self-taught ballpoint pen artist with a focus on exploring mental health, Africanism, and being African in this new age.