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Community Project | Kani Aniegboka

Community Project

When people urinate together, it foams.

Igbo Proverb


I sat across the room from the smallish man whose ears vomited hair. He spoke for a long time without getting to the point. It was the norm I’d learned since I began to sit in these meetings—the old men must go through many proverbs and anecdotes. Proverbs are the oil with which Igbo people eat words. Tradition or not, I was not pleased with being held hostage in the living room of our house.

It had been three months since my father’s burial, and I thought the meetings with relatives I didn’t know had ended, but here we were yet again. Was the old man here, like the others before him, to stake claim of my father’s property? My father’s younger brother had already commissioned himself custodian of everything, so there was nothing left for my vulture extended family to devour. Perhaps, this one was here to take me away and raise me like some uncle had proposed just a month ago. Of course, my mother had steered the uncle off with a polite “No thank you,” but I turned to her now, smiling at the old man’s speech, and wondered if she’d be able to say no again.

I barely knew this old man. The only things remarkable about him were, (a) his bald head with hair trimmings at the edges like a Roman emperor’s wreath; (b) that he held a PhD in something, a sign of significant intelligence, according to everyone except my father; and (c) by the time I was 10 years old I was taller than him. Besides this information, I didn’t know who he was. Did calling him uncle mean he was my father’s brother? No, I was told. My mother had unsuccessfully tried to explain his connection to our family. It was one of those blood ties that weave into oblivion. I always lost interest when the family tree had more than two branches. Everyone referred to the man by his initials, so we called him Uncle TFC. Even after his death many years later, his obituary bore TFC, as if he never had a given name.

Uncle TFC had called our house just a few days before and said he was coming to deliver an important announcement that required my presence. My mother invited a handful of our close relatives, as was customary in such cases. She need not have bothered because Uncle TFC arrived with an army of distant relatives to witness his crucial declaration. After he received the offering of kola nuts and a bottle of Schnapps that my mother presented to the group, Uncle TFC addressed the crowd. 

There were more people squeezed into our living room than we had space to accommodate. Most were standing, even though we brought in chairs with torn upholstery that visitors were not meant to see. Relatives, many of whom I’d never seen before, crammed the room to the point that I felt there would not be enough air to go around. Even though the door to the balcony was thrown open and the window blinds were drawn, the whirling ceiling fan was powerless to alleviate the heat, which stuck to our skin like snail slime. Only the bottle of Schnapps on the living room table seemed to have any space to itself. One of the men unscrewed it and poured a cork-full of the clear liquid on our tiled floor, a libation to the ancestors, who everyone believed also crowded the living room. 

I should have been one of the people standing since I was only fourteen and the youngest in the room, but I was the center of attention, as I had been at many such meetings since my father died nine months ago. It took six months to plan his funeral and another three months of mourning, at which time I wore only all-white outfits, even to school functions. Uncle TFC’s visit coincided with the end of my mourning period. I sat on the brown threadbare three-seater couch, squeezed between my mother and two aunts. My eyes were fixed on the green bottle of Schnapps, and I half-listened to Osita Osadebe’s highlife floating through the open windows from the megaphones of the record shop down the street. Ten minutes into the meeting, the bottle was already half empty, and the liquid danced every time someone picked it up and poured from it. 

Uncle TFC wound a tale outlining the genealogy of our family, as far back as was verifiably impossible, spiced with flashbacks of exploits he shared with my father when they were children. He told tales of how our great-grandfather came to settle in our village and became prosperous even though he had no family. The crowd “Hmm’d” and “Ah’d,” moved by the sentimental memories or pretended to be so they didn’t appear lost or ignorant. In contrast, my mother leaned forward in rapt attention like she was in church, and the man was preaching the gospel. I wanted to tap her, to remind her of her promise never to let anyone take me away, even if custom demanded that I needed to be raised by a father figure. But to talk to her at this point, even to whisper, would be considered an insult to the elder who was speaking.

The man’s stories reminded me of a story my father told us of his childhood. At Christmastime, my father’s family, one of the few wealthy enough to kill a goat for the celebration, would make goat stew for lunch. After lunch, he and his brothers would refuse to wash their hands so they could stick their fingers, stinking of goat meat, under their friends' noses when they later went out to play. The friends, smelling the stench, would realize how good my father had it. An equivalent of showing up to a party wearing a limited edition of next season’s top fashion, I guessed. My father’s rounded stomach would bounce up and down as he laughed at the memory, wiping tears from his eyes, even though he had told us the story enough times that we could retell it word for word. Something told me Uncle TFC was one of the children whose faces were smothered by my father’s unwashed hands. 

Uncle TFC concluded his stories by telling the enwrapped audience how my grandfather, whose philanthropy was legendary, took over the responsibility of paying for his education and that of his siblings after his own father passed away when they were still young. I had heard stories of other people my grandfather did such things for. With a few more parables and anecdotes—most of which I didn’t understand—Uncle TFC finally cleared his throat and looked at me, and I knew he was about to deliver the message that brought him to our house. 

He stood on the tip of his toes, stretched to his almost five feet height, forefinger pointed to the ceiling like a fire and brimstone preacher, and announced, “Every good deed deserves a reward. It is now my turn to repay the generosity your grandfather showed me,” his voice booming. 

Then he turned to speak directly to my grandfather’s monochrome picture hanging on the faded blue wall behind me. “I promise to take up the responsibility of paying for Kanayochukwu’s schooling from now till he is done with his education, and also—,” he paused to let the applause that interrupted him die down, “I will give him a stipend of one thousand Naira monthly, until the end of his studies.” 

With that, he whisked out the first cheque and waved it like the Nigerian flag during a parade. A rousing ovation, accompanied by flashes from a camera I didn’t know was hidden in the crowd, resounded. Relief pooled at my feet, but I was still a little skeptical. There could be more. The man was still standing, swaying like a roly-poly doll.

My aunt, the one sandwiching me on the couch, waddled to her feet and did a 360-degree dance with arms raised. “Praiseeeeeeee the Lord!” she sang, and the crowd responded, “Hallelujah,” like they were in an evangelical crusade, followed by another round of applause. It wasn’t clear if the second applause was for God or still for Uncle TFC. 

When the commotion finally died, Uncle TFC sat down, and I allowed myself to relax into the chair. Perhaps, this was just it. Perhaps, I had finally met a well-meaning uncle. One who was not out to rip everything away from us. My mother sighed, relieved as I was, stood and gave a short speech. She offered prayers of financial multiplication for Uncle TFC, protection from evil, and a declaration that someone will do for him and his unborn generations as he has done for us. The speech was surpassed in warmth only by the film of tears that made her eyes glitter. Every time her voice broke, she wrung her hand to regain her composure, and it cut me like the thin edge of a sharp blade. I silently railed, first, at my father for dying and putting her in a position where she felt she needed the help of strangers to take care of us, and then at my mother for acting as if she had just won the lottery. 

After my mother spoke, a self-appointed representative of my father’s extended family, admonished my mother for speaking before the men there to represent the family had a chance to speak, then also made a speech. He raised a toast from the now three-quarters-empty bottle of Schnapps and praised the strong ties of our family. He stressed that in Igbo culture, raising children was the job of ora—the village always took care of its own. 

“That is why we refer to children as Umu anyi, and wives as Nwunye anyi,” he said, looking around like he dispensed wisdom and deserved a round of applause like TFC had been getting all afternoon. When he got none, he barked at the crowd like they were errant children, “It would not change now that it is our turn.” He was finally rewarded with applause. 

Another uncle, even further removed from us than TFC, felt the need to cross the room, lay his hand on my mother’s shoulder, and say, 

“Stop crying,” although she was not. “All these men are now your husband, and Kanayo,” he said, turning to me, “They are your fathers.” 

I wanted to tell him not to be ridiculous, but I’d learned to use only my inner voice in the meetings since I was told that if I insulted an elder, I would have to buy a cow to appease them. 

A few other men spoke, each claiming some relationship or another, each repeating what had already been said, just changing the proverb that accompanied the message. At that point, I sincerely expected the event to air on the evening news. 


After the theatrics that day, the cheque Uncle TFC waved around was the only one I ever got from him. He never paid for a single term of my schooling. In fact, that meeting was the last time I saw him until he died about ten years later—I didn’t attend the funeral. Not one person from the horde of applauding witnesses ever asked if the promises made were being kept. Perhaps the fear that the enquirer may be solicited to chip in kept them mute. Or maybe they knew it was all for show and would have been surprised if someone suggested they make good on their promise.

The principle that raising a child was the community’s responsibility, as held by the Igbo society, had been passed down from generation to generation. It was once taken literally in the old days that when a man dies, his next of kin inherits, along with his property, his wife and children. In some cases, this may involve marrying the dead man’s wife, and on rare occasions, the male child was taken from the woman to be raised by an uncle, as someone had casually suggested in my case. While this must have been crushing for the children, it is the belief of the Igbo patriarchal society that a male child has to be raised under the mentorship and protection of a male member of the family. The overarching idea is that children are the extension of the community, belong to the community, and, therefore is the community’s responsibility to raise. It is often said in Igbo idioms that everything is easier when done together, and I figure that raising children is no exception. 

Although the way this community responsibility was carried out in the highly patriarchal Igbo society had plenty to be criticized, in principle, the objective that society takes care of its members was propitious. Unfortunately, the idea of the community's responsibility towards the family of the deceased, like chewing gum wearing out its sweet taste, has remained in language but not in essence. It has become a phrase used as a conversation filler or a tool to dispossess widows of their property in the name of using the resources to raise their children.

In the end, the promise of community care that Uncle TFC offered was as hollow as the empty bottle of Schnapps that sat on our living room table after the crowd dispersed. 

Kani Aniegboka

Kani is an MFA student at the University of New Mexico, a 2022 Tin House Workshop participant and the non-fiction editor at Blue Mesa Review. He’s currently working on his first memoir that explores his experience growing up as an only son in a patriarchal society with strict definitions of gender roles and expectations of manhood.

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In Spring Valley | DW McKinney

In Spring Valley

Spring Valley was made of the leftovers, the parts upturned and cast aside when the cities around it had formed. Here the fast-food joints were interchangeable and served the same sloppy food combinations. Retail stores declared bankruptcy, were replaced by a facsimile, then reappeared years later as if this suburb was a transitory place that revitalized stores from the edge of death until they were well enough to thrive in the real world beyond.

The punishing summer sun beamed its unrelenting spotlight on us. Pedestrians lumbered, all glistening languid limbs, down the valley’s shade-parched streets. Everything felt less-than in that heat; never quite what anyone needed it to be. The wear and tear of everyday life tarnished the outside of everything. The streets were greasy and uneven. Crowdedness was prevalent. Apartments cropped up in lots too small for the buildings that loomed there. The houses, jammed close together, were rundown and grimy. 

We lived on Dictionary Hill, Spring Valley’s protruding heart. The name was deceptive: it was more like a small mountain than a hill. Cars jerked and wheezed as they struggled upward on its winding roads. Canyons cut through it, creating a maze of neighborhoods. No one who had a choice walked up the hill; and if you did like I always had to, drivers passed by with a pitying smile. The view from the hill’s peak made Spring Valley look like a somewhat respectable, glimmering nation.

Our house sat atop a curved driveway in the middle of a sharp, sloped road. Barren earth and rock formed our front and backyards, so we found our respite inside, scattered across the split level of our home. In the summers, when wildfires crept up the nearby mountains, the distant smoke waved to us like a flag in warning. We watched from our balcony as the smoke plumed into the sky well into the evening only to awaken the next morning to a twin plume on another mountain. We prayed the fires would not engulf our neighborhood. The one time that a brush fire raced up the canyon behind our home, the air boiled and the dry scrub popped and blackened as red-orange flames crawled closer to us.

When the smoke cleared we set our gazes to the Sweetwater Reservoir in the distance. The wind plucked gentle waves upon its surface. The short green grass stirred in the whipping breeze. Birds cruised and dipped overhead. It was always quiet. Looking at that unremarkable blue lake, we could imagine we were someplace more inviting. With Tijuana on the horizon, a trail of lights in the far distance that winked at us, beckoning our escape at night, it almost felt possible that we were anywhere else but in that valley.

DW McKinney

DW McKinney is a writer and editor based in Nevada. A 2024 Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellow, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford American, Los Angeles Review of Books, Ecotone, The Normal School, and TriQuarterly. A comics reviewer for Publishers Weekly, she is also a nonfiction editor for Shenandoah. Say hello at

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I Buy Earrings | Allison Field Bell

I Buy Earrings

I buy earrings and think this will be the last time I have to buy earrings because now I have mustard earrings and I didn’t have mustard earrings to go with all the new mustard clothing I bought because mustard is my new favorite color and now that I have mustard earrings I won’t need to ever buy earrings again. It’s been a week. I realize I need red earrings. I have a red shirt and a pair of red pants and a dress with a red belt and no red earrings. I also need the metal hoops with the prickly pears welded into them and the hundred-dollar rainbow earrings beaded by my friend back in California.

But how to explain manic buying to someone who hasn’t manic bought? Or to someone who is not and has never been manic? How to explain that rush as you click through web pages and Etsy stores. How to explain the sight of the fat envelope on the porch, the way those small cardboard boxes feel in your hands, delicate but grainy. How to explain how it is to get mail when you live across the country from your family and there’s a pandemic and you haven’t made many friends in this new place where you’ve just moved with your partner who, let’s be honest, doesn’t really like you that much anyway. And you could stop buying earrings. But it’s riding that edge of stopping but still going that really does it for you. Like the pleasure of being on the cusp of an orgasm. You think you want that release and when you do, sure it’s great (you get earrings!) but really it’s the edge that’s the most exciting. 

My partner does not love or understand my earring habit. He’s right not to love it. I am in grad school and don’t make enough money to support the habit. The earrings go on credit cards. And my debt is growing. My partner doesn’t notice when I wear new earrings. He doesn’t notice the hoops with the prickly pears or the new red clay ones or the mustard ones. Sometimes I wonder if this is just a man failing to notice fashion or if he doesn’t really look at me much. Either way, it prompts me to buy more earrings. Why not? No one notices or cares. 

Earrings have become my signature. I wear big earrings because I have long hair and if I didn’t wear big earrings they would disappear into my hair. I wear earrings when I teach since my students can’t see half my face because of my mask. I used to wear earrings to distinguish myself when I bartended. It’s about personality. Now people gift me earrings. Gold snakes. Clay succulents. Heavy silver lightning bolts. People know I buy earrings, so now they know what to buy me. I have made myself easier to shop for. I have made myself easier to love.

But it wasn’t always earrings. In the past, it’s been Shakespeare and Jane Austen films. In the past, it’s been framing all my photography professionally to create a show I never exhibited. In the past, it’s been collecting Marxist books that I didn’t ever read but someday, I thought, I might just. I didn’t even have my ears pierced until I was sixteen. I only got them pierced because my mother wouldn’t let me get my nose pierced until I pierced my ears. She thought it would deter me. I almost passed out with the ear piercing. I wore tiny studs for a long time. My ears looked alien to me—like they belonged to some other person. But I sort of liked it too. Like my body could surprise me. I remember looking in the mirror for a long time, studying the small black studs in my ears in wonder. It is the same feeling I get any time I get a new tattoo: the surprise of misrecognizing my body. Maybe that’s why I get tattoos. And piercings. Adornments. To change the body. 

Earrings are a coping mechanism. Six months after I started new medication for my brain, I gained thirty pounds. I am a small woman, and thirty pounds is a lot. My face changed shape. My body changed shape. I bought earrings instead of throwing up. I bought earrings instead of starving myself.  Once a therapist asked me why I threw up. I told her because the patriarchy because my brain chemistry. Because because because. She said, No. She said, you threw up because it worked. It helped. You threw up to survive. I buy earrings because it works. I buy earrings because it helps. I buy earrings to survive.       

Allison Field Bell

Allison Field Bell is originally from northern California but has spent most of her adult life in the desert. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Prose at the University of Utah, and she has an MFA in Fiction from New Mexico State University. Her prose appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, New Orleans Review, West Branch, Epiphany, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Pinch, and elsewhere. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, RHINO Poetry, Palette Poetry, The Greensboro Review, Nimrod International Journal, and elsewhere. Find her at

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I am King | Dayna Copeland

I am King

I eat the strawberry Pop-Tart in the driver’s seat of my car. The one with frosting and little flecks of sharp sprinkles that slice the roof of my mouth. I will use the carbs for a pump. 

I feel my thighs quake and ripple through my army green leggings, check the silhouette of my ass in the reflective glass as I walk through the lobby of the rec center. I have always had girth but now it is intentional. A glimmer of afternoon sun slices through a high-hung window, catches me in the retina and for a moment I feel like an android or perhaps something bionic. I imagine that I am part machine.

I hike the slipping waistband up over my fleshy haunch, cover iridescent gashes on my left hip where my belly once swelled to hold my baby and the skin stretched too fast. The signs of life, of new life, but a decade ago. The divots of skin prove the possibility, power once borne from this body. I stumble, a subtle limp where the muscles in my spine pull my pelvis into a rotation, the scoliosis of middle age that tips the plates on the bar. I am in charge of it, though. The strength I fortify, now. I build myself in the more perfect image. I am not simply a tool of reproduction, an artifact of female youth, yet aging and decrepit. The scars that sear my uterus shut bear no limitation to my force of will. I am not done.

The sugar hits just as the air conditioner slams me with frigid, blessed air. Cross the threshold. Prickles in my fingers. I drive the carbs to my heart by pumping my legs rhythmically at the leg press machine, the squat rack. Nicki Minaj spits raps and the televisions reflect in meta, in meta, in meta, in mirrors, infinitum– they all project Fox News.

Tucker Carlson reports once again. The American Dream is in danger. Our children are in danger. Another school shooting I can do nothing about. It’s the Fentanyl. It’s the black people. It’s the working mothers. Fuck Fox News. I use the rage. 

Deadlifts, walking lunges, sumo squats, hip thrusts, hyperextensions, monster walks. Kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells– they all hit the floor and I pound my chest. In this space, I have Power. I make Power. I am Power. I pull sweet, pink drink between my teeth. Hiss to acknowledge the burn like it is some anesthetizing elixir earned in battle. I am not done here. I will finish when I have moved thousands of pounds of plates. When I know I have become stronger for it. Warmth from my depths roils to the surface, skin flushed, red. Song changes, System of a Down. I feel it. Hair standing on end. Here, I am not in danger. Here, I am the danger. 

And in light of that, I will keep coming back. Today and tomorrow and the day after, I will throw iron. I will propel heavy things through the air. I will hurt myself. Purse my lips, cinch the sharp angles of my jaw till the muscles under the skin bubble and nerves in my head short circuit. I will allow myself to look as angry as I never dare to feel. I feel it. Helpless to stop it. I will hurt myself before you can. I will force the world to move around the wide width of my frame– the body I have molded into granite, immovable perfection. Try to move me. You’ll lose. Helpless to stop it. I will not quit. I will hurt myself. Helpless to stop it. 

The world does not change for the better. A baby cut straight out of my guts, glorious and gory, thrust into the best country in the world, the violence of America. The love of a mother, not enough, you let them shoot it up. And I am powerless to stop it, but here– here, I bolster the machine of my body.

Dayna Copeland

Dayna Copeland writes experimental and narrative non-fiction from the perspective of a person stuck somewhere between poverty and privilege. Dayna seeks to offer a window into the humanity of the female experience beyond the pursuit of partnership or child-bearing. An Alum of the Tin House Summer Workshop in 2022 and a graduate of writing programs at Yale and Florida State University, she writes about the woman's pursuit of legacy, purpose, honor, and spirituality. She spent the last year caring for her son with cancer, editing for Identity Theory Magazine, and writing her memoir. She also teaches elementary art. Twitter: @DaynaECopeland Instagram: @DaynaCopeland

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