Welcome, Miah Jeffra!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Miah Jeffra, author of the short story collection The Violence Almanac, which will be published in 2021.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

Miah Jeffra is author of The First Church of What’s Happening (Nomadic 2017), The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic! (Sibling Rivalry 2020), and co-editor, with Arisa White and Monique Mero, of the anthology Home is Where You Queer Your Heart (Foglifter 2020). Awards include the New Millennium Prize, the Sidney Lanier Fiction Prize, The Atticus Review Creative Nonfiction Prize, the Alice Judson Hayes Fellowship, Lambda Literary Fellowship for nonfiction, and 2019 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Anthology. The Violence Almanac (Black Lawrence 2021) was a finalist for the St. Lawrence, Prairie Schooner, Many Voices Project, Robert C. Jones and Santa Fe Writers Book Awards. Miah is founding editor of queer literary collaborative, Foglifter Press.

On Writing The Violence Almanac

The Violence Almanac is an empathy project aiming to embrace our animal selves, in all its manifestations. Using techniques of ethnography and docufiction, the collection is my attempt at a portrait of California—a vastly diverse, complicated, hyper-mediated place that is just as much its myth as it is not. 

I moved to California—Los Angeles specifically—from the mountains of North Carolina to attend grad school. Upon arriving I was immediately struck by the overwhelming nature. Everything was bigger—the mountains, the waves of the ocean, the expanses of desert and prairie land. And, everything seemed volatile, with the drought, the Santa Ana winds, the wildfires, the mudslides, the shaking earth. My initial impression was that California’s landscape, while beautiful, was violent. 

Later, I began making connections between this dynamic nature and human behavior. Much like a proto-pagan devotee, I likened certain occurrences and characteristics of nature with human behavioral traits, even identities. I would list examples here, but I don’t want to spoil the book. Essentially, like so many poets that came before me, I am marveling over how much we humans indeed are nature we fight against, and that when we resist the truth, when we hoodwink ourselves into believing the cosmic duality of human and nature, that is when we issue forth shards of violence. In the resistance of the truth. In this book, I try to love us all, in the midst of the violence.

“Coffee Spilled”

The café is a worn, warm storefront on a stretch of street in the deep pocket of change, that used to be deemed unseemly with its whiff of raw fish heads and burnt pinto beans, with its car horns yelling across corners, with its hand-painted signs above doors, with its paint cracking, that used to be bedroom quiet in the darkest part of night, that used to be a haven for whispered drug deals. But now the drug deals are done inside, and the whispers are of lovers making deals, and the street narrowed, and our eyes widened.

The story goes like this: coffee spills. The woman who ordered the coffee is, by all accounts, lovely. She wears a sundress that drapes on her body modestly, but with terrific suggestion that her body is under this cotton floral print, and has the potential to do things. And now, the coffee that has spilled seeps into that cotton right on her breasts, where you now can see the outline of them, the bottom curve where they bulb on her chest. The coffee is very hot. Everyone in the café knows this because the woman, incongruous with her pixie haircut, her soft, round cheeks, her glossy pink lips, her linen lace-up Espadrilles, screeches out a nasty, nasally “Fuck!” She bends forward, pulls on the top of her dress. She says it again. “Fuck!” She looks wildly at the barista, a young man with a trimmed beard and a very thin, low-cut v-neck that flaunts his chest hair, this man who has stumbled against the counter and lost control of the freshly poured coffee that has spilled onto the pixie woman’s sundress, and she says, “Fuck. You!”

There is another woman in the café. She is, to most, still considered young. Her daughter, with thin mousy brown hair identical to her mother’s, sits across from her, and sees her mother’s light blue eyes widen, watches her mother swing her head towards the pixie woman, who is still pulling the dress away from her chest in an awkward bend of her body. She says, “Excuse me. There is a child present.” The daughter watches her mother’s lips involuntarily tug towards her nose, and she might even call it a snarl, like that of a dog. Her mother was not a dog. She was usually calculated and muted, as if the animal instinct were rubbed out of her with sandpaper, and all that was left was a bone-smooth polish, her buffed fingernails reflecting little boxes of the window-light. The girl was too young to know of her mother’s disappointments, all the lovers who had left, including her father, a schoolteacher who thought he wanted a child of his own—to practice his years of accrued insight—but who then realized he taught in a classroom because it was window-parenting, and that he more enjoyed a life that was outside looking in. The mother often envisions that the men leave because of the daughter, but then shakes her head violently to push the thought away. Yet it sits inside her, quietly breathing into the corners of whatever is left of her dreams. The mother packs up, rips out her keys, mumbling words like ‘crass’ and ‘young’ and ‘bitch’, leaps out of the chair, and says, “Come on, Sabrina,” then glares at the pixie woman—whom she notices has awkwardly knelt down in front of her daughter—and storms out of the shop. Sabrina grabs her mother’s half-drunk coffee and follows out the door. “Mom, you forgot your coffee.“

The mother swings around, and pulls hard on Sabrina’s arm, “Come on!” The coffee spills onto the sidewalk. The force of the anger, the energy that brews in the mother’s body and releases in the seethe of the command, and the grip of the fingers on flesh, is so pointed, so specific, that it travels into the girl, red finger-wide bruises bloom under her skin. The shock of the energy, the pain of its force, goes through Sabrina, the look of her mother’s fury superimposed onto her memory like the atomic bomb silhouettes blasted onto concrete walls. That memory will eclipse so many others, even of more profound events, and will reveal itself several times in her adulthood, most often as she makes love to men she has grown fond of, and worries they will leave. It is in the heaviness of sex that the memory will emerge, as if from deep water—the image of her mother’s small tight face, the grit of her mouth, the grip of her hand—and with that Sabrina will transmit the force of the memory onto her lover—his face flushed, damp with sweat—through her fingernails, pressing deeper into his chest, and pulling down, until a small line of blood blooms from his skin, and his eyes open and widen with the instinct of terror. Stay with me, she thinks.

But there is another story here, the one that is less often written. It is where the young hairy-chested barista, once he has realized his mistake, that the bottom of the coffee cup has nicked the edge of the counter and the coffee sails into the air, once he sees the pixie woman clutching the stained cotton of her sundress, before her shock coalesces into the ball of fury that releases into that very audible “fuck”, that he looks at her with so much sorrow, a blue cold that spreads out from his heart, across his chest, that wants to wrap itself around the pixie woman, to shroud her in the apology that could cool the red hot of the spilled liquid, and the white hot of her anger. 

There is the moment where the pixie woman, after she has screamed her shock and anger in the form of that “fuck,” after she turns to the angry mutterings of the mousy-haired mother and notices the 10 year-old daughter staring out, eyes widened, sees the innocence of the girl and recognizes her painful desire to preserve it, something identical to shame, that she lowers herself down, level to Sabrina and says, “I’m so sorry, honey,” but this is only after the mother has already grabbed her and rushed out the door. 

And that instant the mother sees how her fingers have violated her daughter’s flesh, much the way her once rigid and now fractured hopes have violated the precious little love that she still allows herself to feel, she becomes frightened for her daughter, the fear she will live in a world of little kindness, a world full of injury, and suddenly wraps her arms around Sabrina, picks her up with a strength that can only be summoned with the emotions of survival: either fear or love, but one can never see the difference in such small apertures, and Sabrina feels an instant of weightlessness, the burn of her mother’s fingers forgotten in the cooling of her embrace.

And, finally, the tears of Sabrina, already falling as she punctures the lover’s chest with her fingernails, the simultaneity of the anger and love raking his body, the urge to hurt and to hold, collapsed. And what of her lover? Which intent of hers does he understand first? Her fury, or her love? When his eyes widen in the violence, does he spread outward, or does he tighten into a hot white ball? And maybe, in this moment, Sabrina thinks if only stories of forgiveness wrote themselves as urgently as stories of anger. What would that mean for us all?