Olive Amdur

New to Liberty: A Conversation with DeMisty D. Bellinger


DeMisty D. Ballinger
One of the best things about interviewing the poet, professor, and novelist DeMisty D. Bellinger, Ph.D., is how she drops a book recommendation into every answer. Another is the transparent manner in which she speaks of her work: her writing is so intentional that the scenes and characters seem to crawl inside the reader and live there. Once seen, the characters in Bellinger’s debut novel cannot be unseen. Released on April 19, 2022, by Unnamed Press, New to Liberty tells the stories of Sissily, Nella, and Greta, three lives sewn together by Dust Bowl-era Kansas, tragedy, and their own longings. Amy Reardon and DeMisty Bellinger spoke via phone and discussed whose experience gets centered in literature, how to give voice to the unvoiced, and Bellinger’s desire to write from questions to figure out how the world works.

New to Liberty: A Conversation with DeMisty D. Bellinger

Landscape with Cheetah Going Seventy in the Serengeti


That’s what that russet brushstroke is
below the skyline—her spots
lost in the open plains. That’s hunger 
that blurs her. We cannot see
what she is chasing, but we can
imagine it. Zebra. Gazelle. Impala.
Antelope. The eyes of the animal 
large in its sockets. I like that lone 
acacia tree back there—it has this
bonsai spirit to it. This calm. 
And the trio of almost imperceivable 
stars in the upper corner, those light
pink grains, which remind me we are 
also traveling quick around the sun—
957 times faster than this cheetah,
not to mention the speed of the sun 
inside the Milky Way, and the Milky Way
through cold, dark, soundless space—
1.3 million mph, last time I checked.
Astronomers and physicists did
the math for us, but little did they know
what it would do to human minds 
or hearts—mine is going 
pretty fast now, just thinking about 
our velocity, our spiraling out.
Here, place your palm against it. 
Over my sticker that says Visitor

Landscape with Cheetah Going Seventy in the Serengeti




The mind works like a solar system, an interplanetary medium to keep things running smoothly. Moses speaks in a memorized whisper, his voice soft, like the warm towel he places on her forehead. 

Hawa closes her eyes, drifts with the sensation of rocks pounding palm nuts open, small fingers reaching inside for kernels. They are teenagers again, and he is her caring boyfriend who brings her palm kernels for snacks when she lies sick with malaria. She heals and they celebrate with dance: the small of her back supported by his palms as she melts into a ballet fondu. They dance under the palm tree, pretend they are ballet partners at school, performers onstage. If only things were that simple again. 


The Birthday


Translated by JULIA SANCHES 


At the end-of-year meeting, the teacher had informed me that Izadi needed to take up a sport, “discover the strength she had inside her,” “meet people,” “socialize,” “work on her independence.” The teacher said these things and other things, just as he did at the end of every school year. I pretended to be surprised, but I knew all of that already. Usually, I was on top of her, and I figured that was a good thing, or maybe I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure. In any case, Izadi was special, and that was the price to pay for raising her with principles. I wanted to enjoy her company as much as possible—after all, I’d wanted to have her so badly. Before Izadi, I’d never taken care of anyone, at least not for such a long period of time, and it was more complicated than I’d thought it would be, much more complicated than just loving someone. Weekends, holidays, every single day… I took care of everything as if it were a lesson plan. I was tired; maybe that was why our relationship had deteriorated. So that summer I signed Izadi up for kayaking lessons even though she didn’t want them. 

The Birthday

Oh, My Nana




It was raining nonstop, and the flowing stream of rainwater collected anything it met along the dirt track. As if this apocalyptic scene weren’t savage enough for God, the rain brought with it thunderstorms and gales that threatened to uproot the streetlamp and thin cypress trees dotting the neighborhood.

It was freezing cold, and my grandmother crouched in a corner of the house near the dakhoon, which no one had lit, shivering under her black woollen shawl. From time to time, she muttered, “Oh, Mary, mother of Jesus, protect us!” 

Oh, My Nana



Translated by AMIKA FENDI 


“Let’s see if he’s working now. Yes, there he is.”

Ayed heard these sentences inside the shawarma shop where he worked on Calle Elvira. As he turned around, he recalled what had been uttered just previously, in the middle of the evening rush: “Assalamu alikun, Ayed!”

“Wa ‘alaykum as-Salam. How are you, Tony?” he answered in Arabic.

Antonio, Ayed’s friend, was an amicable young man who joked quite a lot in a manner that erred on the sexual side. He also was learning Fuṣḥa at one of the many language centers in Granada. Ayed liked him for his good nature and because he was Ayed’s umbilical cord to the happenings in Granada’s nightlife. Often Tony came accompanied by one girl, or several—for the most part, tourists—to say hi to Ayed at his workplace. He would then ask him, before throwing him a knowing wink, to join them after his shift. So, Ayed was puzzled when he saw that Antonio’s escort was a lanky, short guy. The guy’s face was smeared with an obvious awkwardness, camouflaged under a half smile. The young man greeted Ayed with a nod and said, “How’re you doing?”


April 2022 Poetry Feature

New work from our contributors: ARVIND KRISHNA MEHROTRA, DAVID LEHMAN, and MATT DONOVAN.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra  |  “The Walk”

David Lehman  |  “Just a Couple of Mugs”

Matt Donovan  |  “Portrait of America as a Philadelphia Derringer Abraham Lincoln Assassination Box Set Replica”


The Walk
By Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

In a tree hollow like a cave mouth,
in which you and your partner
selfied yourselves, is a trash bag
oozing trash juice.

April 2022 Poetry Feature

The Healing Nature of Truth: An Interview with Brionne Janae


Brionne Janae headshot
In conversation, they go by Breezy. When Michael Mercurio and Brionne Janae spoke via Zoom, Breezy was at home in Brooklyn, and Michael was in Northampton, Massachusetts. Though Michael had known Breezy’s work for several years through their publications in Ploughshares, Waxwing, Frontier Poetry Review, The Sun, The Rumpus, and The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, they hadn’t met until they worked together on a program for the Tell It Slant Poetry Festival, cohosted by the Faraday Publishing Company and Black Writers Read. Here, they talk about musicality, authenticity, and the importance of bringing voice to what might be left unsaid. (Please note this interview discusses childhood sexual abuse and trauma.)

The Healing Nature of Truth: An Interview with Brionne Janae