"Roach" & "Love Letter to My Organs"

Alana Dunlop


In my 21st year, I watched exterminators with their aerosol
cans douse every corner of my apartment in a thick white foam.
“This is a reckoning,” I told my roommate.
If the roaches come back then
there’s something in us that
attracts them, makes them hungry.

While the apartment became a chemical ocean with
frothy sea foam, noxious and curling up the walls,
my roommate and I waited in the empty unit upstairs.
The floor was shiny wood and the bathtub had no trace
of hair. A clean slate.
We opened all the doors, checking every room and
making remarks about the crisp sterility of the spotless fridge,
the kitchen tile, the windows which peered over the building next door.
“It’s bigger than ours,” said my roommate,
but it was colder and we shivered
in our socked feet.
I was using the bathroom in this bare apartment when
a roach crawled across my knee.
I flicked it. Maybe I carried it in on my shoes,
maybe it was inside me the
whole time,
like the spider that crawled out
of my sister’s old wound.
My roommate crushed the bathroom roach under her foot.
Then she pulled back the shower curtain
exposing a cockroach causeway, a
satellite of tiny brown things writhing on
innocent new tile.
The screams birthed themselves from my open mouth.

Love Letter to My Organs

I laugh and my mouth almost falls slack
threatening to choke up the food I just chewed:
I live in 5 feet and 5 inches of longing.
I make frozen dinners and the warming sputter of the
microwave feels like someone is placing a blanket
around my shoulders,
whispering poems to my organs.
I have to touch the dark, I have to
teach it to read and to sew and
to pump its legs on the swing.
         You              can’t get          away from               the child to raise.
My mother believes everything is cruel except
giving and giving and giving.
         I       gave.

Sometimes I jolt up at night with a
pain in my stomach, the
teeth of a dog growling and
barking at the base of my throat.
It’s not my period, I have to check to make sure, 
it’s just
a reminder from          my               insides
         my   own             infant of an abdomen who I will never get to see
         she               chants          of longing, of wanting, of breaking into my skin with
ruby-red cuticles soaked from dye, from       die
                     from            saving me forever.
I can never see the dark pink of my organs.
I just have to trust everything works; tap on my chest three times
body morse code for          thank you.
For                     how many times did you almost stop?
           For          how many more?
My lungs are speckled horses,
the ones I used to trace from anatomical drawings,
name them      sturdy          and              strong.
I introduce them to sea-water and joint-smoke and
the limited air in gas station washrooms or crowded bars or
             a bedroom with          heat from the radiator            trickling in.
It is              cruel to be raised on    giving and to have       nothing.
         To leave                   no            room for                           empty space.
Organs squished and christened. I know how my             body feels.

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Both poems by Alana Dunlop are propelled inwards by speakers that are not afraid to delve into the disturbing, uncanny, and sometimes gross parts of the world and the self. The poems unapologetically investigate both the body's vulnerability and its strength as a barrier between these external and internal ecosystems.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

Alana Dunlop is a writer, self-proclaimed Montrealer (raised in Ontario), and a Libra (with a Leo moon). Her creative work has appeared in Open Book Magazine and PACE Magazine, and her poetry chapbook Another Language to Lie In is available on Amazon. Though writing is her preferred art form, Alana is also into documentary film-making and photography.

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Additional reading


Sicilian Blue