They built an ark for us, they said, ushered us in as a swelling mass of bodies, our flesh rent and curdled amongst others of our flesh, our brown flowing with blood and feces and made liquid. They said, an ark— for those of you who could make it across the habitat of dangerous amphibians, you’ll see mermaid husks, dried out impaled on the ruins of Atlantis, you’ll see a bright sustained, red sun peaking over the horizon, waves licked with foam; an ark that will carry you to lush, green new worlds, that will float across the sea.

Such were arks built for us.

It’s 8am and they are still raging. The clatter of the promise of the new world beating a strange arpeggio in rhythm to a riot. A grocery store cart on fire, lit by a stack of Alpha Flight comic books and worn mattresses; a dance on top of a mail truck, buildings— once towers that housed telemarketers and people eating salad on their lunch break, towers that served as a safe, comforting space— a cocoon— for law makers and bill collectors— rain sheets of glass, the windows sliding off these wonders of architecture in a glorious cascade. And of the bill collectors themselves? Without their vast halls, there is nothing for them. They pirouette vulnerably in the city center, kneeling on the stoops of the monuments they themselves once guarded— at least ideologically— in more prosperous times— times that, at least for them, lacked uncertainty. Now, they are led by their ties like chattel, by masked women carrying shotguns and cattle prods, some adorned with the swaddled, breast-wrapped body of a baby. Someone’s made a tank out of rusting Whole Food’s dumpsters, affixed a pneumatic pump-triggered launcher and armed it with Molotov cocktails made from discarded Belgian import beer bottles.

Someone’s made a throne out of a bunch of milkcrates and cardboard boxes. Sitting on the throne is a woman who, a week ago, was begging for change in front of the Comcast building. Her sign reads “Will write think piece for food”. Her skin is black. She is wearing crystal and spiked Christian Louboutin heels. They worship her; she may not be a goddess but at least, for now, she is the king.

A vinyl sign floats by in the quickly whipping wind. “JUSTICE!” it reads, though I can’t make out who for; surely, it was any one of the unarmed men killed a few months ago by police. I squint to make it out, but the horizon takes it, and all I can think about is how much that sign had to cost with FedEx/Kinko’s rising printing rates, and it’s at least 10 feet long and two colors and there’s pictures. This isn’t a riot, though, this is the promise of the ark; this is the new wonderland that they gave us, made real. The wonderland we dreamed up when we ate sugar sandwiches and flicked roaches off the kitchen table; the wonderland that danced in our subconscious when we bent coat hangers into antennae and patched up our couches with duct tape. Or at least, this is the beginning, the dawn, the spark.

“Look, we didn’t ask for it,” I told him. A round of shots burst outside of our window. I peak out. A pay telephone is finding itself launched into a Korean corner store. “We did everything right. We walked down the streets, en masse, with our hands up. We held our bus passes aloft, wore gray clothing, tied our shoes, pulled our pants up. We were totally complicit. We tried it.”

He sits on the edge of the bed in our crumbling room in our crumbling row home. He is hunched over and crying and afraid. I walk away from the window over to him and touch his skin, gingerly, rub my brown fingers into his mealy, white hands as I have done hundreds of times before. He looks back at me with those soft eyes. I can’t help but stare into them. They are deep wells. I’m reminded when we first met, on some queer dating app, probably BearHunter or Masc4Masc, when everyone had smart phones and the world was navigable by finger touch, when autonomy seemed to float down like consciousness on a stream— the ark.

The seeds were planted then, we just couldn’t see it. We slowly let a few politicians step out of darkness and into the glorious light of an MSNBC news van. We gave them the spotlight with our reblogs and our “LOLs” and so those politicians joined up with their best buds, the corporations, and the real world— planet earth, burgeoning apiary wrought with oak and diamonds in ravenous salty lake, a sphere suspended in space in real life— became the stage where real live human beings, black ones, became the bargaining chips for electoral campaign residue. Mayors, state senators, presidents, comptrollers. The zealots slipped into the seams of the system, soon outnumbering the even tempered and mild mannered, the would-be people’s politicians, still careerists all, who sat back eating grapes and getting their feet washed while the world turned to ash, who never spoke up or got angry for fear of losing an election, for fear of losing their already spine-wilted constituency.

I tear myself away from his gaze; I must be strong, can’t handle his crying, and I go into a stack of papers. I read with a rasp choking on barbed saliva; trembling: “And thereby granting executive power to any law enforcement agency under any circumstances in instances of perceived criminality wherein the property or personhood of other persons, including incorporated entities, are threatened. Unless the assailant is showing extreme complicity, all executive actions undertaken by law enforcement on behalf of said property or persons, including incorporated entities, will be upheld and protected by writ of federal law.” And it’s too much for him. He falls into a ball on the floor, crying, tearing at the paper. I go to lift him up. I remember how we all made our way then; we didn’t rebel, we just walked with our eyes lowered and our hands constantly up, we stopped carrying devices that looked like guns— cell phones, pencils, packs of incense. We stopped laughing in public theaters, stopped trying to apply for jobs we knew we were qualified for— lawyer, stenographer, nursing floor manager, comic book writer— and we shuffled, thinned out the timbre of our voices and cut the auxiliary cords on the stereos in the faded brown Fords we drove to and from work. A mass of black skin in gray suits, heaving, respectable, settling into our seats, entering buildings with our backpacks already opened, spread eagle and waiting patiently while all others feasted. And yeah, there were so-called allies, white men and women who marched through the city with their hands up too. They coasted, hands up and bright orange rubber messenger bags swinging in the neon kissed afternoon, all in solidarity they said, on their way to their 9 to 5s, on their commutes to the hipster coffee shop/bean bag emporium. Some even wore our pale gray suits; post-modern Patty Hearsts clip-clopping down hallways on their way to turn off our lights. Eventually, we faded out of fashion from over-saturation; gray suits lined the racks at Urban Outfitters sharing shelf-space with hot pink keffiyeh scarves and Che Guevara t-shirts.

But one of us, then another of us, and another, were killed; perhaps we took too long to get our train tickets ready for the conductor? Perhaps after a long shift at the diner we gave a little sass to an overly aggressive customer? Perhaps we jaywalked ahead of the yellow light, jogging across the street as cars rolled to a stop, a momentary pause in genuflecting, suspended in traffic like a moth in amber. In that very moment, before our death, we are in control, fully free. (and of the ark?)


Now, the streets are alive with fire. Everything is burning. The night before, I lay swept in his thick heavy arms, cradled by him, asleep in his wonderful weight. We lit a candle and let our awkward playlist simmer: Godspeed You Black Emperor, Daft Punk, FKA Twigs, Moor Mother Goddess, Barry Manilow, Art Ensemble of Chicago; those old songs, before everything was digitized, approved, and kept behind gates, music from the time when album covers had artwork, when albums had covers, when albums… We talked in hushed tones about what all these killings meant. I was blunt with him. It wasn’t enough that the love we shared was the most forbidden kind. We had to work towards something. He let out a sigh. He usually let me do the talking and that night was no different. He just sighed and squeezed me harder, as if he were trying to get inside of my skin to get to my heart. He kissed my forehead and fell asleep.

I lift him up, my knees wobbling, the roar of footsteps outside of our door, the smash and clatter of a falling dynasty in our hallway. Some body thrusts against our door maniacally. The rage of centuries on the ark, centuries on the slave block, centuries traipsing through the social assistance lines is tearing at the fabric of our reality and the only thing that is stopping it from ripping is the shoddy masonry I’d sent a polite letter to our landlord about, two hinges that have been WD-40’d into a new shade of rust.

The door crashes into shards.

At least twenty men stand before us. I thought their eyes would be aflame, skin caked in blood. They are not. They are haggard, yes, a dark conglomerate of beings barely shifting in the dust strewn light. They have machetes and guns and vacuum hoses and X-Box controllers wrapped up as nunchaku. Some are carrying Ziplock bags of blond hair, others have necklaces of white thumbs, some are wearing Burberry scarves and Tom Ford ascots like equal symbols of warrior-hood. They look at my partner and snarl. They lunge forward, grabbing at our limbs. A loud bang, sharp and deliberate. Am I hit? Is he? I sink to my knees, slipping out of his hands and the sea of men parts before us. A woman appears. She is short, squatty, cherubic and carrying a bop gun made of springs, hydraulic pumps and canola oil, firing nails and bobby pins; her satchel tucked at her breast filled with sage ash. Her hair is a tangled mesh of dreads, her ears pierced with a wooden ankh. A burst of dusty street lamp light refracts wildly off of her crystal Louboutin heels. The men slowly pile out of the room, then tear back out into the streets, ahowl.

The night is fresh and suddenly clear. The short woman with the dreads smells sweetly of ozone. She lowers her weapon, inspects the room and leaves. I watch from the window as she ambles up the street. Occasionally she fires her weapon, controlled bursts in the air, disappearing down the avenue, covered under a swirl of trash, lost amidst the wails, guiding flaming motorcycles into the pharmacy, pulling Asian children out of the rubble, safe guarding the rest of the world from the death throes of revenge. I don’t know her, but at that moment I’m sure that’s all she’s ever done, on the ark, in the swamps by the master’s house, at funerals for drug dealers, on the internet, and in the streets, begging for change on the steps of the place where she once wrote elegiac think-pieces every time one of us died. I rub my fingers through my boyfriend’s shaggy brown hair, down across his chubby cheeks and think, yes, she still does this guarding now, in the promised and pristine garden of the wonderland.

Book searching while black can be a traumatic experience. Throw in gay and it can make your casual trip to Barnes N Noble an experience so dire, you feel like you’re a starving black orphan tucked into the back of a young adult dystopian novel, scrounging for crumbs at the bazaar while these Harrison Ford clones saunter through the stacks picking out spec-fic and fantasy with abandon. No, for QPOC interested in reading compelling, otherworldly, righteous sci-fi and spec-fic written by one of our own, featuring us as lead characters, this little adventure (choosing a book) can be nothing short of a nightmare. Thankfully, a lot of thoughtful and intriguing fiction is coming out this year from writer’s in the African diaspora that I’m anticipating giddily: T. Geronimo Johnson’s “Welcome to Braggsville”, Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” and James Hannaham’s “Delicious Foods” for starters. But while those stories will fill a certain desire for me to read weirdish, darkly comic, transcendent black penned spec-fic that doesn’t support a monolithic view of black life quite well, none of them are specifically science fiction. Enter Jennifer Marie Brissett’s impossible-to-put-down debut novel, “Elysium”.

The slender, beautiful, Philip K. Dick award nominated “Elysium” from Aqueduct Press is a neatly packaged, whirlwind of a tale, awash in dreamy, nuanced emotion and bristling with imagination. Told in twisting, anti-synchronous swaths of poetic prose, the story revolves around humanity’s interaction with a violent race of roach-like aliens who’ve bio-nuked earth with a strange dust. The story dives through the shared memory of many characters, the core of whom share names, personalities, and lineages. The ultimate twist of this story is hard to discuss without revealing it, so I won’t. But Brissett doesn’t shy away from introducing a world where LGBTQ characters are given dynamic, rangy voices, where gender is melted away, remolded, and shaped again.

The story starts off introducing Adrienne, a woman struggling in her relationship with her husband, Antoine. While Antoine seems aloof, perhaps busy but ultimately frustrated with married life, Adrienne seems lost and incapable of escaping some kind of palpable dread. She’s having visions, lapses of memory and bursts of images of other memories pop into her head, memories she’s not sure she’s supposed to have. As I read these pages, my heart sank, not for fear that alas, poor Adrienne is unloved by her dear husband, but because perhaps I’d stumbled into a paltry romance instead of a science fiction thriller. Yet, suddenly the narrative is interrupted by a staticky computer program rendered in retro-futurist cyber text, breaking up the monotony of the everyday-ness of Adrienne’s previous life, and transporting her, and us, the reader, into the body of…someone else? A doppelganger? A possible future-past? It’s entirely unclear at this point, although things start to coagulate fairly quickly. And just as they do, as the reader realizes they’re experiencing a folding of the multiverse, we’re transported into the lives of young women abused by a dark cult.

The “whoa, she went there!” weirdness that Brissett wields in this novel is a breath of ozone laced, dusty air. It’s harsh in moments, but completely lucid and elegiac in others. Brissett’s skill as a writer is in her ability to mine sci-fi tropes for what lies at their diamond-like core. She’s not overtly concerned with bogging down the narrative in newspeak or having us trudge through page after page of diplomacy and bureaucracy with characters verbally expositing about the ins and outs of their inhabited universe. No, Brissett gets to the point, but still finds the space to build a world so tremendously intricate that it can be seen as nothing short of monumental. When she isn’t filling the pages with wayward graffiti artists locked in a subterranean existence, aliens that flicker in-between fourth dimensional space, or sci-fi weaponry rent from underground ’90s comics, she’s telling us a story about our deep connections to each other. “Elysium” spiritually connecting in ways “Cloud Atlas” or “Life of Pi” perhaps tried to be, but without actually telling us so, by trusting the reader and allowing the characters to discover that connected kind of humanity, echoing the mythic work of Samuel Delany in the process, ultimately helping us, the reader, find that same feeling.

Furthering the essentiality of this work is Brissett’s use of African-American protagonists. There are black women and men, gay and straight and transgender, doing impossible things here, saving the day, struggling and working towards a better, livable world. While the book doesn’t stray away from a racial identity, that very same identity doesn’t overshadow the story. And after things spiral away from us, then back again, we’re left with an ending that is not only satisfying, but absolutely thrilling in every single way. If you’re a fan of any kind of science fiction— hard sci-fi, fantasy, mythic, superhero, supernatural, historical fiction, time travel, Orwellian/dystopian– read “Elysium” and like a beckoning to it’s namesake Greek concept of the afterlife, release and be transported there.

Did you know? Alex has written most of our event descriptions, and perhaps famously, our HERALD. We like his reviews too.

And suddenly, my Facebook wall is inundated with the strange, twisted images of super-hero mego toys pouring hot cooking oil on top of each other, bare-assed pissing on the sides of buildings and sneaking obvious peeks at each others junk, or, innocuously enough, doing their fucking laundry. And by inundated I mean like, 3 people, but still that’s a lot, especially in this day and age when every tag is a reminder that something dumb, regretful, or over-analyzed is happening, and it’s all unfolding on your precious, precious wall. But it’s not just the irksome practice of the, “oh, let me tag everyone I think might be kinda down with this” (it’s not that irksome and kind of sweet, actually… aw, you’re thinking of me! Thanks, assorted boos!) as much as it is the sort of sad reality that folks not into your particular niche of nerdom just fucking don’t get it, maaaaan!

In this particular case, the gangs all here: Spider-Man, Thor, Batman. It’s a veritable who’s who of mainstream superdom, all of them blistering with sinewy plastic model toy muscles and precisely carved renditions of their respective actor’s chiseled, handsome faces. It’s just that in “Superheroes in Real Life” by Edy Hardjo (or whatever it’s called), the point of parody seems to be uncomfortably off the mark.

Let me explain. I don’t think super-heroes are beyond reproach. In fact, the idea of the super-hero, and the universes they inhabit, with peril at every turn and with it’s strange and fantastical burst of science fiction whimsy, is in and of itself, a parody. It’s a playful rendering of the idea of stoic leadership in the face of inscrutable demands of every day life. Many writers have played within the seams of this concept– hyperreality married with nuke weilding, dragonlaced, alien mutant imbued fantasy. I mean, the first superhero ever, Superman, was an avatar that deftly embodied everything we, the struggling masses, seemed to ceaselessly endure: poverty, abuse, restriction and corruption by power. And through the lens of the super-hero– a fantastic, satirical take on modernity and it’s flawed relationship with our humanity– generations have been able to eke out a vision of the world they’d rather see. So, to me, blatant, unnuanced mockeries of super-heroes miss the mark, painfully.

Is the attempt at satire in Hardjo’s work about the juxtapositioning? Is it an homage to the wonders of play, of the pre-pubescent mind discovering itself? Does it work as an attempt at uncovering mainstream comic movies lack of gender and sexual orientation equality while perpetuating a staid stereotype of uber-masculinity? It’s unclear. I can concede an interest in the work can be made more prescient if the attempt is to satirize the mostly unfun movie universes; those are mainly fascist junk, the modern day take on Rambo and Diehard, and they clearly deserve to be skewered. But since there’s so much ingrained and intrinsic to the characters from the source material– the comics themselves– it becomes dangerously close to pedantic nihilism, cutting and mean spirited for the sake of it’s own self. In short, the comic books are already parodying themselves, playfully and with genuine fervor. In DAREDEVIL, the main character has “come out of the closet” as a superhero, and his everyday life has flipped in many bizarre ways because of it. MULTIVERSITY, penned by legendary meta-fiction writer Grant Morisson, is tackling the exact things I think Hardjo is trying to make light of. It’s a series featuring multiple universes, where sometimes Batman is an infant robot, where talking Tigers leap from the page (quite literally), and each universe exist in the other universes, but only in the form of a comic book! In SHE-HULK, the titular heroine’s adventures come mostly from her desperately clinging to an unusual law firm she’s started as a result of not wanting to carry on as a corporate stooge– imagine a 7 foot tall green superhero showing up in court to defend Dr. Doom’s son; yes, dearlings, hijinks ensue. And this is to say nothing of the constant fourth wall demolishing in DEADPOOL, or the sublimely hysterical, yet still heartfelt and genuine character study taking place in SINISTER SIX, where b-list villains are center stage as they navigate their way through the wonders of the Marvel Universe.

“The Secret Life of Super-heroes” (or whatever it’s fucking called!) is interesting visually. It’s definitely fun to see Spider-Man and his amazing friends taking a selfie while the Hulk tries to peel a xenomorph off of his face. But I think this exhibit is more “Meet the Feebles” than it is “Galaxyquest”. Where the former is an unnecessary, vicious send-up by an outsider trying to shock, essentially parodying a parody (the Muppets), the latter is a sweet, endearing piece of satire that stands on it’s own, with a burgeoning narrative and a willingness to admit that there is power and the ability to dream, dare, and do within the source material (Star Trek). Frankly, if one were to read an actual super hero comic– any one of them– they’d see that the everyday lives of superheros (where Batgirl is constantly losing and checking her phone, riding the subway to school and hanging out with her weird as fuck friends) aren’t so secret after all.

Thanks Alex. You can see more photos from the series in question here on Our cover image is directly pulled from the same place.

“They’re coming,” Casper thought. A sad, beautiful beach, lit up by the sun reflecting on sand. Casper runs his feet under the cool water, the foam licking in between his toes in gracious laps. He stares up at the big, round orange hole in the clear sky. “They’re coming and I’m not ready.”

Malik is standing in front of him.


“Move, you’re blocking the sun.” Casper puts his hand up to Malik’s boney chest, gently pushes him to the side. He breathes deeply and welcomes the sun’s rays deep into his chest. Malik hits the beach facedown beside Casper with a desperate thud.

“I’m bored,” he huffs. “Take me somewhere.”

Instinctively, Casper reaches over and gently rubs Malik’s side, down to his stomach, stopping at the wire of a black thong, slowly working his finger under Malik’s bathing suit. Casper’s still staring at the sun. “Where do you want to go?”

A phone rings. A seagull lands on a rock just a few feet away, fluffs its wings. It turns on its spindly bird feet and raises its beak at the two men, lets out a squawk, lets out a stream of white birdshit.

“Hello?” Malik picks Casper’s meaty hand off of his crotch, flings it and then rolls over on his side. Hmmph. The sun is a bright, distant citrus dream. It looks like it’s a tangle of string, interwoven corona in a constantly moving sphere. Casper taps Malik on the side, points towards it like “look”, but Malik doesn’t look. Malik just sulks. Casper’s on the phone, “Yes, what’s up? Where are you guys? No. No. We’re on the beach.”

And then the sun disappears. A wave of purple and black washes over the beach, folding into a final, gestating grey. With a chill squeaking up his spine, Malik turns towards Casper and buries his face in Casper’s shoulder. The seagull launches into the air and is lost in a flock of them. “Who’s that?”

“Yeah?” Casper sits up. The synergistic grey and then a cloud or two, the fading sun; so sudden. “We were just about to leave.”


On Roa, they made crystal sieves and mined the gelding stone. There was a great dance before they sent the men into the mines, they shook shackles and metal plaques and tied up ghosts in rituals and burned cages. They went to the highest mountains and started their shambolic soul dance at the peak, spinning and twirling there until sky reached its purple climax.

Little volcanic fissures in Roa’s surface sprayed a fine mist and they sent their men into them, one by one, towards their birthright.

“Roth. Get up.” Ragolos looked into the bamboo tent. His son was sleeping on a bed of grass. “Get up. It’s time.”

Young Roth without protest gathered at the edge of a long path. Saba was there with him, three boys down. They looked at each other. Saba was trembling, his upper lip bouncing furiously into his lower teeth.

Roth closed his eyes and tried to imagine he and Saba, running across quiet plains and chasing Mupquat Bugs, tying twine to their enormous tails and then sailing through the meadow with them as Roa’s two suns beat down on their bare skins. Roth tried to remember sneaking into the Novatt Temples and stealing small, sacred jewels, angering the monks who chased them with sticks. As Saba’s simpering got louder, the memory of Roth fighting back a horde of boys tossing rocks at the two of them swelled in his mind. The larger boy, Staen, put down his rocks, walked up to Saba, grabbed his grass-woven shirt and shoved Saba into the dirt. When Roth stepped in front of Saba to defend his friend, Staen and the other boys beat him to a pulp. One punch lifted Roth off of his feet and into the air sending Roth falling backward and landing on the rocky ground lifelessly. Roth’s vision was coated with wetness, a fish lens haze, but he could see, right before passing out, the feet of his friend Saba treading through the grass, getting smaller and smaller and disappearing over the horizon.

Staen was in the line of boys. He was smirking as usual, fighting to withhold a laugh. They all stood there, naked, their tar black bodies exposed. On one side of them, a line of chanting warriors; on the other a line of humble, broken bodied men from the mines; in front of them, the monks and praetors and scholars walked slowly, deliberately, casting flowers and lighting incense as they moved down the path. Women of the village looked on out of the windows of their huts, their day in the fields or on the hunting grounds or cleaning the vast libraries and sanitoriums and monuments on hold.

“Boys!” the praetor announced. “Today, you will walk through the mist! You will walk through the mist and emerge a warrior, a miner, or a monk! Today, you will be shown your destiny!”

A roar from the crowd. Birds lifted to the sky. All of the naked male children in a hushed silence tensed up. And behind the monks in front of them, a guyser of red mist shot up! And with this the crowd silenced.

“Come!” shouted the praetor, raising his skinny arms through voluminous robes. “Come and meet your destiny!”

And as the monks parted, the boys walked down the line and into the mist. Soon they would emerge with the distinguishing marks that chose their fate. Inside the mist, Roth felt searing heat. A soft glistening rain coated his body. The boys screamed! Their bodies racked with pain, then spiraling into ecstasy, and fading into numbness. When the mist subsided, Roth collapsed on the forest floor. His eyes slowly opened. There was Saba, his back torn into shreds, protruding with the wings of a warrior. Staen was curled up in a ball; his fingers long and pointy, skin etched with the elegant, esoteric design of the tattoo of a monk.

And then Roth saw his father’s boot. He followed up the length of the man’s torso until he met his father’s eyes. A solitary tear had escaped and rolled down the man’s cheek.

“Come, my son.”

But behind his father was a slowly burning light, a bright star expanding, just reaching over his father’s shoulder. As it grew larger, winds ripped through the village. Naked young men, now christened warriors and miners and monks, scattered, as rain poured violently into the atmosphere. Trees bent, houses unthatched, monks clutching their precious parchments ran for safety, crying to the heavens, their sacred ritual desecrated by some unforeseen force. And then emerging with a sonic boom from the light, a large vessel appeared! It was made of a strange platinum. It moved through space like liquid. It seemed like hours, but only minutes had elapsed as it hovered over Roth and his father, trapping them there in its path with an intense magnetism.

A hatch opened. Out strode a man in a tight, blue and black suit that seemed to swim over his body. His skin, that rippled over his taut, muscular frame, was a ripe purple. His hair was a long, flowing mane of starburst strands, glowing with a fire the people of Roa had never seen. And he spoke.

“Roth F’_iiosf of Roa!” he commanded.

Roth’s father held the boy tightly, his tears turning to firey determination. “What do you want with my son?” he screamed out in exasperation. “My family has suffered enough disappointment today!”

“Roth F’_iiosf of Roa! I am The Destroyer. You have walked through that mist! Rise and take your place with the true champions of this universe. For Roth F’_iiosf of Roa is no more. Now, there is only Black Mage of the Galactic Legion!”

Roth pulled away from behind his father. As the wind and light swirled around them, the boy took a step. He looked at his father; the man’s sad, crumpled and tattered face sunken and desperate for light. The sagging, tar pitched skin. The eyes etched on both sides with the three, tell-tell hatchmarks of a miner. And he took another step towards the Destroyer. And he remembered tying twine to Muquat Bugs. And he said, sadly, to his father, “I don’t want to be a miner.” And he took another step, then more, and followed the Destroyer into the vessel and disappeared into the black, shapeless void of space.


There’s a bar Rob and Chris are sitting at. Its long, rickety bar stools seem to spill out of the large windows of the place and onto the street. They’re facing the television and talking over dance beats. It’s easy to ignore the monotonous Robin Thicke remixes, Chris thinks suddenly, when your excessively handsome friend Rob is unloading a fresh batch of college football stories in that wide, cavernous cadence of his.

“I was the best arm coach had, but he had me playing tight end,” Rob explains, thudding his beer on the counter in subtle protest. “Like, yeah, I was the biggest motherfucker with any kind of skill set he ever recruited, but damn man, I never wanted to play tight end! Got caught on a slant route with no protection—“

“No protection?” Malik has his caramel arms around Rob’s thick, black ex-football neck. “Sounds like my kind of game.”

“There you are!” Rob stands up, almost out of some strange courtesy, lets Malik steal his seat in the suddenly crowding bar. “Where ya’ll been?”

Casper is adjusting his belt, fumbling with his wallet. He pushes his glasses back onto his face twice before even reaching the guys at the bar.

“It’s not that kind of party,” Chris informs Malik. “We were discussing slant routes. Again.” Chris is wearing another striped polo shirt, drinking another Manhattan.

“Child please, I’d rather hear about any kind of route than about some ridiculous star war or green goblet for the thirtieth time,” Malik confides.

“Are you two together?” Chris asks, almost scandalously. Malik looks over at doughy, strange Casper, awkwardly shaking Rob’s mammoth hand. Casper, pushing up his glasses again, tiny hairs peaking out of his overworn Green Lantern t-shirt— in Malik’s mind they are piling into Casper’s Puegot, then they’re wandering some dingy comic book store and Casper’s talking to the guy at the counter about rare masks, and then they’re at Subway, the green and yellow blending synergistically with the smell of rancid banana peppers and dim lighting until Malik’s ready and nauseous. But they’re also in a tent on a moss covered rock, and they’re in a forest; they’re on the beach under a peach colored sun.

“No,” Malik says, a lilt of sadness or reflection in this voice. “No, we’re not,” he reaffirms, stronger this time and with a hint of sass.

“Oh.” Chris is a wise and average fool. His shoes are white New Balances, but, as Malik puts it when they’re all in the hotel room, his bank account is, essentially, black and gold Prada, to say nothing of Dolce and Gabana.

“Don’t worry about what shoes I’m wearing,” Chris says, taking off his cross-trainers. He holds up one of them, models it. Rob let’s out a roaring laugh. Malik clamps his nose with his fingers, tries to make for the door. Inevitably, Chris’s musty shoe ends up following Malik around the room. Casper sits nervously at the edge of the bed, fiddling with the remote, muttering under his breath.

Rob tries to make contact: “Cas. Cas!” Everything in the room stops. They’re all looking at Casper. “What are you doing, dude?”

“I’m trying to…it’s the television.” Casper explains. “It’s the television. Apparently, you need to be a Shi’ar tech sergeant of the Imperial court if you’re going to figure out how to work this thing.” They’re all looking at each other. Rob turns back to Casper.

“We didn’t come out this way to look at TV, man.” Rob walks over to his fidgety friend, puts his hand on Casper’s shoulder, then works the thick, mealy flesh of it underneath the shirt . “Let’s get loose.”

Casper runs out of the room, nearly knocking Chris into a nightstand. Casper beats on the elevator buttons, they all light up but the elevator doesn’t come in time. He sinks to the floor and covers his face with his hands. Malik gingerly walks over to him, stands there, mustering great patience. Casper looks up through a thin veil of tears. Malik is holding his hand out towards him.

“Come on,” Malik says, softly, sternly. “Let’s go back.”


A small, blue light flashed on.

A man with metallic skin is standing in the middle of a vast control room.

“Ion-1.” And the rest of the lights sparked to life, a trail or whirring electrons sweeping over the room. “Commence cryobirth. Stage 2.” Rising from the floor, an array of sleep champers, nearly twenty of them. Each one slowly opened in a cloud of frozen mist. Beings emerged from slumber, some gasping tasting the sterile air of the cryochamber, others feeling no real effect at all. Red Star was one of them, his hair cascading away from him as he flexed his awakening muscles.

“Fucking balls, mate,” said Spike. He was a tiny man, still covered in dirt and raw unkempt hair. “What a trip, eh?”

The being next to him, roguish, nearly 8 feet tall, with green, cratered skin, groaned, pulled himself out of the sleep casket.

“Aw, dreaming about those Crabgirls in the Nebulaar Sector again, Grok?” Spike quipped.

“*@***@*@****@@@*,” the large, green man countered.

“Crikey, Ion-1, we’re asleep in these stupid metal trashcans for god knows how long and you can’t find time to fix the bloody translators? I don’t know how you were picked to be a part of this ragtag outfit if you can’t do your one bloody fucking job, you pooz!”

“Ion-1 was chosen the same way we all were, Spike.” Void was standing in front of her, still groggy, still submerged comrade. As she spoke, her skin was coated with the living pixels and nano-bytes that make up her outer nervous system.

“He was chosen by the Light,” Red Star interrupted. That seemed to shut up the diminutive Spike. “Ion-1, forget the translators for now. We have a more pressing matter. Before we left the last quadrant, I felt a surge in energy. Can you play back all significant electroscans in the last three sleep cycles.”

“Christ, can we all get some clothes on before you start in with all the Star Trek shit, mate? I’m freezing me bloody arse off here!”

Red Star looked at him, first quizzically, then, after looking around the room, nodded. “Fine. All members of the Galactic Legion, convene in the chamber of darkness. Now.”

A robot, bent and distended, it’s sockets and circuitry exposed, lifted off of the gymnasium floor. It rose with a quirky unease, bracing itself on the wall behind it. From it’s hand, a shaft of solid, hard light, a photon, appeared. It roared to life moving impossibly fast, it’s sabre of light ripping through the atmosphere. It was sent hurtling back, smashing into pieces. Roth landed two feet in front of it, cupped his fist into his open palm, and bowed.

The door to the gym slid open, startling him. A women covered in ever changing pixels glided into in.

“Roth.” She surveyed the heaps of metal and scrap that decorated the gym floor. “You’ve been in here since we awoke from cryosleep. Why? What purpose does it serve trashing battle-bots in such a way?”

Roth, nearly breathless, closed his eyes, let the calming hand of his father wash over him. He was chasing Muquat Bugs. He turned to look at Void.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“There is nothing in the cosmos beyond my understanding, young one.” She looked intently at Roth, her eyes tracing his body as if he were merely a blueprint of himself. “Yet…” She spoke quieter, softer. “Yet, I feel that you are an enigma that can’t be solved with any postulate known to even my eternal databanks.”

“I don’t know. I guess I can’t just…” He moved closer to Void. He reached out his hand to touch her face. She didn’t flinch or twitch or make any movement to show that Roth had breached her personal space. So he touched her.

“What is this ritual, human?”

“How alone are you?” he asked. He could feel a slight burn as Void’s skin on his emitted a stinging warmth.

A red light flashed and the chimes of an alarm fell about them.

“Come, it is time.” Said Void, gliding across the gym floor again. When she looked back at him, her eyes seemed to have a sweet sadness to them breaking through their usual, medicinal stare, though he could have imagined it.

A large star map floated above the table. All 20 members of the Galactic Legion were assembled. They sat in front of their symbol, crude runes depicting each of their talents. Glassbird sat before crystal wings. Phaser sat before a swirling black hole. The Destroyer, a hardened menanced visage slightly cracked when Roth entered the chamber. And Red Star sat at the head of the long table, in front of a swirling, pulsing red, red sun.

“My friends, my greatest comrades,” he began.

“Here we go,” Spike mumbled, nudging Roth in the kidney.

“I’ve troubling news. It seems as if The Vanq have found their way to this sector.” A murmur gently trickled through the assembly. “I know, the Vanq even gives me pause. They are led by the dark lord, Apox, the demon who found the accursed Dark and with it rose through many hells to be birthed on this universe. His is a vast, dark evil. At his employ are some of the sickest mercenaries from the darkest galaxies. The Iduwanda, galactic pirates from Xon. Cyx the Unicorn Killer and his tribe of cannibal mercenaries. Dragon Deth, the beast wranglers from LV-21.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know all about these tossers,” Spike spat out, leaning back in his chair, his grimy boots planted on the table. “But what makes this so special, eh? Why the bloody Christ are we worried about these arseholes now? We put them in stasis before, we’ll put them in stasis again.”

“I’ll field this one, sir.” Ion-1 stood, proceeded to the center of the table, typing furiously on the touchscreen. “If we’re mapping the power surge that Red Star, our incorrigible leader, felt right before the last sleep cycle, and if we’re to believe that these are Apox and his forces using power heretofore unknown to them to traverse the stars, we can find out exactly where they are going.”

And with the touch of another button, the star map whirled and disappeared. Animated pixels rose in its place and coalesced into the shape of a small sphere. Enhancing, it was revealed to be a small, blue planet with nebulous clouds circling it’s stratosphere.

“They’re headed for earth,” Spike whispered.

“Not that shithole,” Grok protested through his gravely voice.

Something about the blue sphere hypnotized Roth. He stared intently at it. It was not unlike Roa in its appearance. The stories Spike told of it were entertaining, but mostly seemed to make the young man sad. He asked, “What makes Earth so special?”

“Not earth Not earth Not earth not earth not earth not earth” Spike was shaking his head, his eyes protruding dangerously out of their sockets.

“Earth is the nexus of the universe,” Void offered. “The prophecy of the Light. It ends on earth.”A silence etched over the room. “It all ends on earth.”

Red Star lowered his eyes. His hair swam to life. He stood up, mouth agape. And a large explosion blew a hole in the roof. The Galactic Legion looked up, almost in unison; the could see out into space! The explosion had ripped through the hull, tore down the hallways of the ship, and penetrated to the chamber of darkness. A swarm of armor clad mercenaries with advanced weaponry spilled into the room. They were covered in a strange slime.

Glassbird flew into action, her mighty wings ripping through her enemies bodies, striking down three of them. A large hand grabbed her face and, with all it’s might, flung her into the chamber walls. He was a snarling beast of a man, made of black soot. Steam and smoke rose from his eyes. Lava filled his mouth. Two creatures with the features of bees stepped out from behind him, raised the long prods they held in their hands and fired them at the still dazed Glassbird, sending an intense shock through her crystalline body. In seconds, the electricity spiraled through Glassbird in a near atomic flash, shattering her.

“No!”, Spike yelled. As the horde descended on the Legion, many of them being taken down by surprise, Spike jumped up on the table, leaped in the air. Two waves of electricity escaped from the bee creatures pods, one of them hit Grok who was being held down by space mercenaries. Another hit Red Star who had managed to tangle up a few mercs in his powerful, heat charged hair. He exploded, steam rising off of him. His costume was tattered but he remained practically unharmed, as the lifeless bodies of the mercenaries dropped to the floor. Grok was not so fortunate. His hollowed out husk turned to ash before their eyes. Spike leaped from the table. Two large, bony, sharp pegs grew out of his palms. He yelled in pain, but in mid air bounced off of the back of a mercenary and sent himself hurtling straight for the large man made of black soot.

“AAAPOOOXXX! DIE YOU BLOODY POOF!” he screamed, and wedge the pegs in his eyes. Apox stammered. His men were being cut down, now that the Legion had regathered and regrouped. For all his vast cosmic power, to be felled by a scruffy turd of a man from Earth? With a wave of his hand, he smacked Spike off of him, sending him hurtling through the air.

“Crikey, this is gonna hurt,” he whimpered. But before he impacted with the wall, possibly splattering across it, his spine already irreparably damaged by Apox’s blow, Void appeared in mid-air, teleporting him away.

“We’ve got to get that bastard out of here!” Spike yelled. “I put two charges on those spikes, no telling what kinda damage it’ll do mixed with all of that demon power!”

“Your request is inarticulate.” Void said, laying down here friend a few feet from the battle. “But I know what must be done.” And she teleported away.

Apox, still with Spike’s pegs submerged into his eyes, stood over Roth. He smelled of acid and shit and brimstone. Roth’s fists were bloody and caked with the pulp of dead and dying space pirates, of mercenaries from gutter regions of the universe. He’d at one time fought a Fan’gor Beast with just a stick and a stone, saving a village on some backwater planetoid from being devoured. He’d fought a gang of Angel Mob, fallen ones who attempted to gain control of heaven mafia style, all by himself in the slums of Cowanchee, the former prison asteroid turned space colony. But before him was Apox. The large creature leaped into the air and hurtled down towards Roth. Roth jumped. He didn’t know what to do. Aim for the eyes? Try to drive Spike’s spikes further into his head? He had an eighth of a second to do it. As the two met each other, there in the chamber of Darkness, a light flashed. Roth rolled right through the light and crashed into the meeting table. Red Star emerged into the room. They could see a similar light appear in space. Void was outside, holding Apox in her arms, floating away from their ship. A voice sounded in Roth’s head.

“We are never alone.” It echoed, sounding like Voids.

And then, in the black of space, amongst debris and craggy asteroids, an explosion that trailed like a falling star.


“What do you mean, they’re coming?” Chris snickers from the backseat of Casper’s Peugot , biting his quivering lower lip. “Who’s coming?” He can barely whisper the words without painfully fighting back a laugh.

Casper looks in the rear-view mirror, adjusts it, eying Chris. His stuffy green and white polo shirt, strangely combed and stiff blond hair, dangerously jaundiced skin, over-dyed Old Navy jeans shorts and dreadful white tennis shoes—“I’ve got bad feet,” Chris had said the other night when Malik was making fun of his “boring guy” uniform at Olive Garden the night before. “You’ve got bad everything, hon,” Malik reminded him, tossing a grape tomato at Chris, laughing. Always laughing.

Then Casper looks out and into the parking lot. A bird shitting on the curb impressed a bum so much, the bum stands up pointing and guffawing in barely contained delight, knocking over paper bags of glass bottles into the gutter.

A static hung in the air. Casper can feel it rise up and through his fingers somehow. Right? Can’t he feel it? Sitting there in the 711 parking lot, he grips the steering wheel, watches a newspaper swiftly levitate into the air and swirl around the dancing bum. He shuts his eyes and tightens his grip. “Come on, come on” he whispers, waits. There’s a sucked out silence, nothing.

When the door opens its like a wall of sound crumbling into the front seat. Malik and Rob are on the tail end of a bad joke. “I told him, I’m not paying for it. Those items were flawed.”

“But Malik, you put them on, wore them outside and everything? They can’t resell underwear after they’ve been all over your areas, man,” Rob informs him through a light chuckle. They fall into their respective seats, Malik settling into the front, gleefully sipping a slurpee, almost willfully oblivious to any emotion Casper could be conjuring; Rob in back careful not to let his leg slide too far over to Chris’s side, to touch the man’s denim protected skin, to brush up against his hairy knees. Before Rob could spiral into a sad trance of guilt, into the dark dread that arises when he’s near Chris, that strange doe eyed look as Chris’s lumpy body lay there as softly as it could ­after Rob had fucked him that night two years ago, a look that turned dry and somber with confusion when Rob, through a barrage of small talk and excuses, got up and put his clothes on and left— Rob looks over at Chris’s face now and sees another kind of confusion. He mouths, “what now?” at Chris who, wide-eyed, just shakes his head.

Cutting through Malik’s impassioned, complaint filled anecdote of retail horror, Rob asks, “Casper, you alright?” They’re already on the road. There’s a hushed, still blossoming twilight peaking over the horizon.

Is the air thick with electricity?

Malik shifts in his seat. He finally looks over to Casper, wordlessly pleads for his friend to say, “yes, yes, I’m fine.”

“And this is my Green Lantern collection.” They were in his room in his tiny apartment in University City. “You’ve got John Stewart,” Casper said, picking up a small, green clad figurine. “And this is Guy Gardener. This is Kilowog.” Before him, on this tiny IKEA dresser, stretched various miniatures of the entire Green Lantern Corps. There were red ones and yellow ones and orange ones, too. And posters of star-crossed barbarians in dragon-skin loin cloths, of men in long flowing capes and armed to the teeth with an irrational amount of guns.

“No, nothing.” Malik looked for a place to sit and found a corner of the bed that wasn’t smothered in paraphernalia. “It’s just not what I’m used to.”

“Oh.” Casper said, his once assured voice turning more delicate as the conversation started to turn. “What exactly are you used to?”

“I don’t know,” Malik replied. He cleared another section of the bed. Casper almost gasped as a pile of comics tumbled onto the floor. “Here. Sit.”

A year later, they are going 85, then 95 miles an hour on the turnpike, flying recklessly around small surburban towns and making wild turns onto one way streets.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Chris is a mess of nerves in the backseat. Rob is panicking and yelling for Casper to calm down. Malik has his eyes closed and he’s muttering something under his breath. Casper drives.

“Do something, motherfucker!” Chris screams at Rob. His face has twisted into a maze of frowning skin. “You’re always on about your great physical prowess, about how fucking brilliant you were on the goddamn field! When it comes right down to it, you’re a scared little faggot, just like the rest of us. Aren’t you? Aren’t you?!?!”

Rob sat there in stunned silence as buildings whiz by, as stoplights beg for that Peugot to stop. The road beneath them shrinks as their vehicle plunges into the oncoming night. 100mph, but nothing was happening for Rob, except the slow motion, distorted admonishing contortions of Chris. For this moment in time, Rob finally sees the man as a man. What is this person like? Is Chris just a shopping trip to Target every Tuesday? A man DVR’ing “Judge Judy” and “Young and the Restless”? Is Chris just a man sitting at a bar, laughing at bad jokes and hoping for a Lady Gaga song? He didn’t know. Rob reaches out and slaps Chris in the face.

Malik unbuckles his seatbelt. He turns to Chris, and, with thin wrists, wrenches the man’s grip from the steering wheel. The car swerves into a guard rail, flips over a ditch and rams, upside down, into a light pole. The wheels don’t even spin.

Malik’s eyes clogged with haze. He can smell the acidic aroma of iron and blood. Lights are flashing? Everything is black and white and upside down. He can see two figures walk towards him. Their boots are heavy, their walk is locked in and measured. They’re speaking in tongues so strange they sound metallic. The lights turn into a single, burning, sphere. It’s a white vortex cutting through the black night. Wind whips and everything around him trickles away as bits of a sand castle floating off into the hurricaning sea.

“They’re here,” Malik thinks. Whispers? Malik thinks he reaches out to casually tap Casper on his shoulder. He knows somewhere in his soul that he can’t move, but he reaches anyway. “They’ve finally come.”

The following was performed at the 3rd annual ROCKERS BBQ weekend. Consider it a part of our episode, the SPACE INVADERS :: Gentrification x Community issue of our Journal of Speculative Vision & Critical Liberation Technologies. Video by Kaos Blac. Feature image by House of Hayes.

So, I opened a customer’s check book, and inside, there was a pamphlet about god. My boyfriend had visited me at work, kissed me on the cheek and dashed off to an adventure on his own. It made my day. I think the three-top sitting at D4 saw this. After I dropped the food at their table, they asked me to pray with them. I declined. Fortunately, as the note they’d written on their check said, “God cares. Even for sinners such as you” . In a saner, more just universe (one with leprechauns in the Senate, one with were-dragon ballerinas as Septa train operators, one with talking lucky squirrels that spin acid jazz and jungle dub plates at barmitzphas), I would bring them back their change mixed in with shredded pieces of the Jesus pamphlet. I’d leave them a note as well. This is what it would say:

“The grid shapes us, molds us, makes us uniformly square. The binary assault on our senses has dulled us. We are trapped, thinking that our sexuality stems from some kind of intrinsic pre-determined genetic code, or that it can even be unlearned. We are all existing on levels of love, on a cosmic string that stretches across and over galaxies like electrical wires. When I lay down and kiss my boyfriend at night, I’m crossing the streams of countless eons of information, of pre-cybernetic memory, the ancient kind of memory that tells me that “I exist”. So, no matter what you write *now* on this little receipt, I’m giving you, in return, a sort of inter-dimensional banjee girl effect. I am kissing your son and husband passionately, deeply on the mouth, even now, just by writing this. I do appreciate your prayers, because I recognize that it is essential to humanity to create stories and dreams that explain the science of the world, that reassures us of our place, even as granular as it is, within the multiverse, but I also recognize that just as essential is our notion to be connected in grander ways to each other, that our holes are there for traversal and transmission and communication, and that we are portals, always and forever. So, yes, I am eternally in need of God, but only so much that god is creation and sex and fervor and life.“

(And yes, I could write all of this in-between serving customers and waiting on my other tables; sure, i’m *that* good. Plus, I keep a cache of “verbal beat down” tucked into my brain for just such occasions so it was all a matter of channeling, really)

Even in this reality, where ever “this reality” currently is, where we danced on top of DHL trucks at bonfires. Where we filled our baskets with the cosmic dawn, with the tools of the culling, marched over the horizon and struck a blow at the sun. Even here we are flying things, vast and unicorn, radiating in free effervescent thought chroma, bursts of the burgeoning universe lilting over radiant nebula, cloud and ash. We are baristas and shamans at the desks of the apparitions, the waitstaff in white gloves on the yachts of freedom ghosts with our time cards stamped until eternity.

My hands are gold and steel, wrapped up time machines. I push the button and black goo pours out in delicious crema. I stare at it as it coalesces into a filthy golden ring, a soul sapping halo of procured anti-vitamins, a sun-sucking ember extracted from a plant three thousand miles, one hundred leather straps on the back, an ocean of dead black bodies buried at sea, away. And then I pour it into the cup.

“Hello?” The pregnant white woman is holding her purse, her lips curled up in a half crescent of desire and thirst. She sees my black skin first, ignores the beading droplets of sweat coagulating on my brow. I think of the nights where we set fire to a rib shack, where we etched “death to gentrifiers” on the windows of the newest Wendy’s on Lancaster avenue, where we pricked our ankles on barbed wire and left bloody DNA tattoos on the walls of art museums. I think of the night sky opening up, afterglow sparking, ebullient rush of the wind, the party doors swinging wide and androgynous avatars announcing to the world, this is the land of the freaks and warriors and we’re taking things back, we’re busting out, we’re clearing this world, swollen on the fruit, still starved for the meat.

I wrote so many things down in those days, on the back of Spider-Man comic books, on napkins and napkin holders, on pieces of trash stuck and corroding on the side of the curb. I wrote of taking the artifacts out of the glass cases and putting them back into the ground- the sacred ground. I wrote of the ground.

“I’ll be with you in a moment,” I say, as I stir the pure brown down into the creamy liquid mass of the white white milk. Ah, an easy metaphor, I think, a clear and beautiful piece of hyperbole, consisting of the life blood of yuppiedom. I can set this thing on the counter, watch its pale beige swirl inundate the glass, cascade over the clear, nameless, not-there ice cubes, as it turns into the perfect mix of the people of the planet, of the people of Philadelphia, this great city of love, of understanding.

But this isn’t an 11th grade essay or a melting pot narrative. I’m standing behind a counter with a uniform on, the blackest beacon in a white universe, easily Google-able, so simple it is to Yelp my non- name: the star artist in this cappuccino and iced americano crazed continuum is ______. You can type my form into the entry for the café, it’s simple, and they will know who you are talking about. It’s not like we’re standing in a bodega in South Philadelphia or a five and dime in Kensington or a donut shop under the L at Girard. We’re here where the encroaching horizon of academia clashes with the shrinking border of hunger and death pangs. It’s real simple: I’m the black guy that works there.

“Are you ready for me?” she asks, as I stand staring her into her crisp blue eyes. She held her smart phone, tethered to her hand like a cyborg arm connected with nano machines. I could not tell where she ended and the iPhone began.

She is not ready to order. She is just there.

And so they all list into being, like a star-studded wikipage unraveling, falling into life and birthed in a line. They all want something from me, every inch of my black body, all that I can muster for them. They want everything except my story. A cop. A minister. A priest. A man in a Duke Lacrosse t shirt. An elderly woman with a tripod cane. A seeing eye dog. A boy in ripped jeans with a handlebar mustache. Another cop. A man with a souvenir paint brush from Milan. A woman wearing a dress made of kente cloth. A punk rocker.

I sat on the stoop outside of the café, watching children play in a puddle, the water rising and falling with their every excited splash. A police car came tearing through the intersection, slowed down when it passed the kids, rolled it’s window down. A white man in the back seat peered out plaintively, shook his head at the children then mouthed something to the cop driving and the squad car sped on.

When I’m emptying the trash, I am still a super-hero flying through the air, talking to dwarf stars and dreaming in quasars. When I’m picking up used napkins off of tables, I’m still a griot mystic, weaving light constructs from tiny threads of reality. When I’m making your coffee…

I saw the pregnant white woman on the 34 trolley. She got on at 36th street. I could feel the air sucked out of of the car from the vacuum created by the many men and women rising to give up their seat. I felt the searing heat of x-ray eyes, as the air got thinner, hotter, at 40th street station, where a black woman with three kids, weighed down with grocery bags got on. The look of disdain from the same passengers was hot enough to bake vampire flesh. I kept reading my comic book, stitched into my aisle seat.

When we reached 48th street, the sea of color had dispersed. The swirling yellow and porcelain white, the garish garments and cargo pants and Birkenstocks had disappeared. The announcer stopped announcing the street numbers. There was just us: monolithic, vast, black, and unicorn.


Men are in the village. Tall men, healthy, but not like the last men who planted wooden stakes or tied orange ribbons to bushes in the nearby fields – not white men. Their skin was like ours a bit, their rubber suits pipe lightning down their arms and legs and their chests shine brighter than moons. They are here to see Hatim.

“There.” Nairobi points to the hut that shakes in the barely there breeze, that sheds sticks and coarse grass from its roof. “This is where he is.” Nairobi, as ever, willing to sate the curiosity of outsiders, guides them down the narrow pathway connecting our houses. The men stomp past those of us aroused from slumber, past sick men lying without mercy on the dusty earth floor, past women who have huddled several small children as close to their breasts as they can, scolding any who dare to venture into the path to touch the glowing garments of these men.

Nairobi stops ten feet from the door of the small hut where Hatim is sleeping; even he, the crier, pauses. The men look back at him for a second, then at each other, until the one in front nods, signaling all three to continue moving.

We saw their vessel erupt out of the sky, just appear in the stillness of the night. Nasir and I, we sat by the river and listened to wild cats hissing and jostling on the other side, to things swimming underneath the water and imagined a strange world calling to us. We imagined that the world under the river’s surface was vast and filled with creeping and crawling things, with scaly demons whose bites were worse than a piranha’s, that they were spawn from the souls of the dead bodies we sometimes saw float down from the some nearby city. Until the ship announced itself with a roar, we had not thought of anything more terrifying, more loud. It fell into the atmosphere and hovered over the ground. The air got thick and felt wet. My skin felt like it was being stung by mosquitos and ticks as the machine hummed and whirred. We ran back as fast as we could, yelled at the elders, and when they would not believe us, we hit under our mats and clutched sticks and waited.

They flash lights into the hut, checking machines and pushing buttons on their arms. When the third one pulls out his gun, a collective moan rips through the village. These men who look like us, they have come to murder us all! The elders tell of such things, when evil men come and burn down homes and kill all of the men, leaving the survivors to long walks through the jungle for a hundred days, some dying along the way.

The man with the gun lifts a finger to his lips as the other two went in. Was this happening? And why our village? We were of no consequence to the rebels, my father had told, because we had nothing they wanted, no resources we could be forced to mine or leave our land for. I believed him, until strange men started showing up and so many of us started disappearing.

The men rush from the hut, barking. One of them is carrying Hatim, who is limp and barely dressed and foaming at the mouth. Their boots move so quickly that dust billows into clouds. I cannot make out what they are saying, but they are frantic. Their voices are mechanical and wiry and muffled by the strange devices emanating out of their ears, eyes, mouths. They run until they are far off into the distant fields, by the river, until we can no longer follow the trace of the glow of their suits, until all the light that’s left is from the stars in the sky.

We strain to see where they have disappeared over the horizon. Nothing. Then, a bright white explosion peels outward from the direction of the river, accompanied by a thundering that knocks the weaker of us to the ground, including the hut that housed Hatim until he was taken by the strange men. The gravity around us increases and presses into us as something shoots out over our heads. The ship! When it passes seconds later, we find pieces of the hut’s thatched roof scattered for yards. Hatim had grown sicker and sicker and spent his days in that hut; some of us envied him that he did not have to tend to the goats or hunt wild boar or carry crumbling clay pots of dirty water in the radiant sun. Only Djinji, the man who can make sweet liquids from plants that can pass through a body and kick out that body’s demons, was allowed to enter.

“I am sorry,” he told Hatim’s mother after a month of trying to care for him. “There’s nothing I can do. The ancestors are all that’s with him now.” Hatim’s mother sank to her knees, cradled her son in her arms, sobbing violently. As Nasir and his brother tore her away, she had run off into the forest never to be seen again. I am remembering this when Nasir puts his hand on my shoulder. I am reminded that I am in the village, that tomorrow I will take the goats far up north to pasture and that I will carry my longest stick in case a tiger shows himself, starved and bold and insistent on a feast.


I miss his wiry fingers on my cold flesh. I miss calling out to him from the bathroom with soap in my eyes. I miss sitting on the couch reading bad romance novels while he made appliances dance to his will, the kitchen echoing a determined clang and rattle, wondrous alien scents whisking out to greet my nose. I miss even the tiny ridges of his forehead that canyoned up every time he got nervous or angry.

And he was often angry. Or bruised, broken up in some way. He’d be on the fire escape landing, tapping on my window with bloody knuckles, gasping.

“What the fuck, Hatim?” I’d scream. He’d put a long finger to his lips and motion to open up the window. I’d let him in, and, in a quiet rasp again: “What the fuck, Hatim?”

A ubiquitous “they” were always after him. Goons in glowing red costumes or thugs carrying scepters crafted from bones of rare sea life and imbued with black magic, anti-spies in grey suits with machine gun boots, or weaponized wood nymphs with telekinetic mollusks for their brains. I never saw any of them, only heard glimpses of stories, only saw strange lacerations and wounds cut into his body in ways I didn’t know the human body could be cut. I only saw the artifacts and memorabilia, usually some small exploding thing I’d have to pry out of his elbow with a hot pair of scissors. “No! No we can’t go to the hospital. They will find me there.”

My apartment is cold, too small, and poorly ventilated, but sometimes, even on the most wintry nights, I keep the window open in my room and just pile on the blankets my aunts have given me over the past few Christmases and huddle in front of an old space heater. I leave the window open so that the dust from the heater can circulate and rise out, and also I leave it open for him. Tonight, I hope he returns.

The cold gets unbearable, so I go into the living room and watch Jay Leno squeak out tired anecdotes at some beauty obsessed starlet and try, to no avail, to stay awake. I think that through the haze of a dream, I can see his length emerging in front of me. He is all arms and legs, springy and powerful. “Kevin.” His voice is reverberating in heavenly tones and it sounds like bells falling on concrete. “Kevin.” I’m dreaming that I can hear him, that he’s surrounded by low floating clouds and cosmic rainbows, until I feel something hot grip my arm. With a start, I’m up. He is standing before me.

“Kevin, I have come to you.”

“My arm.” His grip is inescapable, the more I try to pry myself away, the more taut his grasp becomes. “It’s fucking burning, Hatim.”

“I am sorry.” Slowly, he lets me go. Hatim looks at his hands wide-eyed, turning them over in shock. There’s a strange glow to them, a crisp orange light that I’ve never seen before. I feel guilty for having cursed and reach out to stretch and wrest myself out of sleep.

“That‘s new,” I say, pointing to his pulsing hands.

“I should not have come!” he exclaims, backing away. When he starts toward the window, I‘m suddenly panicked. I may lose him again to coyness. I reach out for him; his skin is taut, woodlike. I notice finally that he’s not wearing a shirt, just the leather pants he begged me to buy for him at that goth store in Fishtown – no shoes, nothing. His hair is spikey, and his eyes flash in a swirling aura-like array of color. I’m afraid, but I’m tethered to him, lost in his mystery.

“I should not have come. I am sorry.”

He is outlined by a slow, growing light hovering just beyond the invisible barrier of the window. His eyes slowly dim; now he is more normal than I have ever seen him, standing there, looking at his hands, whispering to himself, “I should not have come.” As the light increases, a large ship appears in the alleyway, just hovering there at my apartment window. There’s a deep hum that I can feel in my stomach that seems to roil through the building’s walls. It’s barely audible, I simply feel it. Then, nothing. Hatim puts a flared fingertip to his lips that, in the darkness of my apartment, looks like a pixie flitting in space. My ears pop, as glass shatters, raining down into the room. Shards fall onto our bodies, tearing through our flesh, mostly just bouncing off of his. I fall to my knees in agony. Dark clad mercenaries on wires rip through every window, smash down my apartment door, kick over my furniture, all while screaming in eerie robotic timbre. Without warning, I’m wrapped in one of my aunts’ blankets and pushed to the floor. Through a sliver, I can see boots stomp by or bodies fall to the floor; I can hear things breaking and blowing up, all in a cacophony like a rave in a casino beset with fireworks. There’s a two second silence, and suddenly the ground beneath me disappears. I can’t see anything, as the blanket has grown tighter around my body. Is someone carrying me? Hatim? I try to call out to him, but I grow faint. There’s nothing there, just the vastness of the current around me that increases exponentially as I drop. It feels like I’ve been drugged. I shut my eyes and Hatim’s blurry visage ricochets in my head again, until it all dissolves into blackness.

When I awake, it’s broad daylight and I’m on a beach. A seagull has been poking at my dried-out lips. It stands before me with a piece of my skin in its mouth. I am barely able to move, so I let him have his lunch in peace in the high, beaming warmth of the sun. The beach stretches far, but not wide. A steep craggy hill is only a few yards behind me. I crawl towards it and sit against the rocks, waiting for the relentless sun to smash into the abyss of the sea.


I am Hatim Muzambo. I am the pilot of this ship. I am the ever light being of Earth, I am the Star Sparkle of the universe, the lamp of God, traversing the ghost-strewn path of the cosmos. I am the lightning avatar, the creeping hot death of heat, the burning bright light of the cold of Pluto surrounded in the gate Nebula. I came to you as Horus. I came to you as Ahkenaton. I came to you as Vishnu. I came to you in parabolic visions and far-flung tales of the mystics. I came to you with my arms open and eyes blind, with my heart rendered into fragments as big and wide as the heavens itself. I gave you the sweet nectar of the rain, the cooling breeze, the Amazon. I, Hatim Muzambo, whose great grey ship sits aloft clouds, hovers amongst the innermost regions of your dreamscape, baring down on nightmares and shifting those dark, ominous clouds into the gutters of all reality, whose legions are armed and amassing, poised and sharp-willed and righteous and baring the artillery of love, whose love is laser and light, I! With a horde, a fleet of gods whose vessels’ afterburners dot the sky, whose souls streak auras and whose eyes, alit and flashing, race across galaxy after galaxy, whose very light is simply a star. I am the pilot of this ship, the master of this, the sword and the pen; I am why men fight wars, why love tears apart kings, and why princes die valiantly or vainly in wanton massacre. I am why there are dug-out pits filled with dead bodies after the revolution. I am why there are landfills and choking pelicans stricken with mutating disease or choking on their own bile or strangled by plastic six- pack lids. I am why there are roses growing on West Philadelphia sidewalks, why these roses’ thorns push through dried cement and still flower, are trampled on and fed exhaust and hate; yet, I am why this, the rose, still rises and flowers. I am the ghostking, I am the nebula, I am the abandoned parking lot littered with mattresses and glass and caskets. I am that great, seeking, raging, god king, berdache. When they came for you in black masks, with their batons held high, when they knocked on your door at midnight and called out for your sons, for your daughters, for your souls, I and I alone, I, whose lonesome army descended upon them and did so smite them, who blew up buildings for you. Who poisoned their water, who sent locusts, who burned the bush. I, who built the mountains, who found your lover cold and naked and who fed and clothed them, who sent the butterflies. I, who would paint Rothko’s on the side of a train, when you are sleeping, I am the pilot of this great ship. I am rising, I am a star. Buddha, Texaco, America, cosmic, nova, nuclear, unicorn, Microsoft, pixel, gravity, I am rising, I am a star.

If you ever see Alex Smith’s name on a flier, do yourself a favor and go listen to him read. It was Eighteen’s great pleasure to hear him read this piece at the first Laser Life, and it is a further pleasure to see its recent printing in Apiary Magazine‘s fifth installment, which can be found for free around the city here.