Afterlife Afterthoughts

by Derek Hamilton

Growing up saturated in evangelical Christianity, I was always taught that heaven is a place of eternal perfection. I struggled to grasp that concept. I was repeatedly told it’s a place that with no sadness, pain, or fear. A place where all your worries are cast aside, and you simply bask in the glory of God.

I would imagine myself arriving in heaven only to be emotionally lobotomized and left to wander aimlessly through eternity. Meandering the empty streets paved with gold. Mindlessly applauding at the Pearly Gates with a dumb grin glued to my face. Fumbling through my pockets to find the keys to “the house my Father prepared for me” – eyes blank, drool running down my chin. To me, that sounds more like the eternity of torture.

Eventually I realized that it’s not the scenarios that are comforting in the ideology, it’s the false sense of certainty to know what will happen after death that’s so appealing. Over the last fifty years, science and technology has made advancements unlike anything we’ve ever seen in human history. Leaps and bounds. But even if you combine all the knowledge that we’ve accumulated from our entire species, nobody knows what happens on the other side.

I challenge you to devise a more selfish notion than the expectation of an afterlife. At this point, it’s not even an expectation – it’s an entitlement. Even if there is, I don’t think we would appreciate it enough to justify its existence. We take everything in the physical universe for granted, why do we deserve anything after it?

The uncertainty is scary. The emptiness can be overwhelming. But I’ve found that there’s freedom in NOT knowing.

I’ve always felt most human when I make mistakes. When I do something I regret. When I fuck up.

I don’t think we can be fully human without experiencing the negativity that the universe has to offer us at times. We can’t remove half of the emotional spectrum and expect the other half to remain unaffected. Something is lost by erasing deficiency for eternal perfection.

Failure is a universal truth. It’s rooted deep in the subconscious of the human collective. Ask any successful person what they did to succeed, and most of them will answer that they simply persisted.

You’re going to fail. That’s not an option, it’s a given. What matters is what you do in that moment of failure. Manage your mistakes. Learn from them. Turn dead ends into opportunities. Find the solutions in your adversity because it’s always going to be there.

But then again, what the fuck do I know?


Derek Hamilton is a writer, musician, voiceover talent, and self-proclaimed nerd from Northeast Ohio. He’s a Columbia College Chicago alumni, a published poet, and currently works as a streaming media producer. You can find more of his work at derekhamiltonedits.com

Time For Reaping

by Tianna G. Hansen

You spend time planting each seed delicately. Cup the earth around each pearl so it flourishes. Nourish and take care until you feel them blossom and burst forth blooms of brilliant color. Saplings respond to the way the moon moves, just as your body sways with tides of dappled waves. Stars drip from the sky like icicles. You are not destroyed; it is time to harvest. Reap what you have taken time to sow. Healing is a solo act. No one can witness the seed spread beneath the ground, only the moment it presses its softness through the surface toward the sun.

Open your mouth wide, consume rays which reach down to touch; feel the curl of grasping fingers. Roots have grown deep in the pit of your belly. Feel them sink deeper, embrace your bones. Climb through your ribcage like ivy in a warm, constricting hug. When it comes time, devour your harvest whole. Weep the juices, flush your system, and cleanse your body’s deepest grottos. Daybreak radiates each eclipse, soil moist and ready for the next planting — your newest cultivation.


Tianna G. Hansen has been writing her whole life. Her fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction have found homes in numerous mags, and she releasing her debut poetry collection ‘undone, still whole’ with APEP Publications this Beltane. She founded and is Editor-in-Chief of Rhythm & Bones Press/Lit Mag. Follow her work on Twitter @tiannag92 / IG @tgghansen24 / FB @tiannaghansen. More at CreativeTianna.com.

The Racist New Year’s Bang!

by River Rivers
(edited by Rachel Macklin)

Sometimes all it takes to drown out ignorance and hate is a loud bang–preferably the pyrotechnic kind. And this New Year’s Eve, I’d had a lot of that shit tossed my way thanks to social media. Some days it’s hard being Native, and this was one of them.

Moments ago, I’d muted my Twitter notifications and turned off my phone because earlier today, Elizabeth “I’m 1/1-billionth Native American” Warren decided to throw her hat in the ring for President. Naturally, it brought the trolls out of the woodwork, but these weren’t your run-of-the mill mudslingers. They used Native slurs and offensive jokes to attack her, without thinking of the damage it did to our community. In some twisted part of their hater brains, they thought ‘Injun’ and ‘Chief’ jokes were supporting us. I didn’t like her false claim of heritage, but the backlash from colonizers was a thousand times worse.

Fuck that, and fuck their Fauxahontas bullshit. I had to walk away and find peace or I’d explode.

I stared in silence at the darkened sky as fog rolled over the mountains’ silhouette beyond. A flashlight and lighter rested in my hands while the clock ticked toward midnight. In front of me sat a pyro’s dream of assorted fireworks–all illegal and therefore perfect for the task at hand. When the earth officially completed its lap around the sun, I’d light the fuckers up. Only a dazzling chemical combustion could cleanse me from life and the evening’s chaos.

I tried not to think about how much the trolls really got to me. They’re trolls: spewing hate is what they do and I shouldn’t pay any attention. But I’m Native, so I’m part of a long line of people who spent their lives putting up with ignorance. After centuries of this crap, your bullshit meter wears down until it’s impossible not to take things personally.

One troll showed his true colors with a burst of racist rants against Natives after I asked another colonizer not to say Injun. He tried to wriggle off the hook by white-splaining that his jokes were a jab at ignorant white people and stereotypes. “Of course I didn’t mean any offense to the Indigenous.” This from a guy whose bio read like bumper-sticker bingo for God and country. What a load of garbage. He was a man pretending to stand for something and was really sitting down for nothing. His hypocrisy stunk worse than the scent of sulfur coming from my fireworks display.

Other Natives tried to step in and educate him, but he didn’t care. He kept on white-splaining his excuses to us in the typical manner of someone doubling down on bad behavior. He even wrote a numbered list of Why He Was Right and We Were Wrong, which went something like this:

I don’t give a crap. (Obviously)
You don’t speak for all Native Americans. (No, but I am an actual Native telling you I’m offended)
Injun isn’t inherently offensive. (It’s an anglicized bastardization of Indian used to dehumanize Natives during colonization and enforce lazy white speak, so you tell me)
I didn’t tell anyone how to feel. (No, you threw out hate vomit and got pissed people called you on it)
I hope you feel stupid for posting a stupid comment. (…?)

I wanted to go off on him. I wanted to say he was promoting Pan-Indianism, ignoring tribal distinctions, and tokenizing the Natives who might agree with him. He was a classic example of the white Christian proverb: “How is that racist?”

But like many of my people who have come before me, I was too drained to keep up the fight. I didn’t choose to be the intolerance police and if I’m honest, there’s times when I resent the role. Let someone else educate the ignorant bastard.

So I stepped back and let other voices take the lead, and I wasn’t disappointed. They tore into his false claims with surgical precision, sharing personal experience and historical resources. Suddenly, the troll’s entitlement was on full display in a public forum, and time would make him irrelevant. In that moment, I saw hope. I saw the reflection of years to come and realized our voices would only grow louder, while those like his would fade into silence.

I also realized it was time to unplug and shift to positive things. I had a girl I liked coming over and a boatload of illegal fireworks that required my attention.

I flicked the lighter with my thumb and flame sparked in the night. I bent over and set fire to the first wick–a fine box of gunpowder aptly named Infinite Storm.

As I watched the wick burn, a sense of pride for my people rose inside me. The sky was the limit from here on out. We’re resilient and our souls know no boundary. In 2019, I would devote myself to writing my personal Indigenous experiences. That was my resolution.

With a massive crackle, the firework ignited in a cascade of glittering light and a shiver of excitement crept up my spine. My white friend’s family whooped and shouted as we rang in the new year, and I finally accepted I was exactly where I was meant to be.

When the initial white-hot lights disappeared, I lit another blast to keep them going, then another, until all twelve boxes were nothing but burned-out shells. And somewhere between the reverberating booms and radiant, color-soaked sky, I forgot about the trolls, the hate, and the constant white noise of intolerance. I focused on all the love I had to give the world.

This year was for me. Not for him.


River Rivers, is an emerging writer from Southern Oregon. He is a Modoc and Klamath American Indian. His most recent stories are currently featured in Literally Stories, TallTaleTv, Snow Leopard Publishing, the Drabble Dark Anthology, Paper Trains Literary Journal and Daedalus Magazine.

You can follow River Rivers on Twitter @Catch22Fiction and on instagram @riverrivers921.

A Meditation

by Toni de Bonneval

When I was six, I gave up on the God stuff. My sister and I sat, knees clutched. We looked out from the stoop of Dad’s summer cabin, through the clearing to the far side of the valley, to a crouch of blue hills. “Faith can move mountains,” the priest said in the drafty church in the valley. In the kitchen, Dad made scrambled eggs. We sat on the stoop.

“Move.” We were polite, a request. They didn’t. “Move,” this time not so polite. We waited, but the hills didn’t get up, didn’t galumph in all their blueness up the cleared swale from their place to ours.

“Breakfast, girls.” We stood. A final shout, a challenge, “Move.”

After breakfast we went out back to work on our hole to China. We didn’t really believe that. If China was just below us on the other side of the world then people were either standing on their heads or they’d be dropping off.

The still air encloses. The trees are motionless. I’m frightened when that happens. The nothingness. A young plant stirs, tosses its leaves in childish glee. The aspen giggles, while the white birch bows. The old oak doffs its topmost branch. The hemlock shrugs its dolor and observes. I close my eyes and hear the shush of tiptoes in the uncut grass.

Give thanks.


Toni de Bonneval earns a living writing institutional histories and enjoys living writing fiction and short non-fiction.

The Perfect Day

by John Taylor

The other day, I was invited to a very dear friend’s wedding. At 48, I don’t go to many weddings anymore, but seriously, I love weddings, and I don’t say that with any sense of irony or sarcasm or even humor. Weddings are awesome. Weddings are a terrific party. And more than that, weddings are one of the last bastions of ancient tradition in an American culture devoid of customs and a sense of connection to the past. I love the ceremony, the vows and the ritual that underlies every part of it. Weddings are the ultimate “uniter” (to get all George Bush on you) in a society that almost embraces its divisiveness; it uses traditions as old as human civilization to unite two different families, two sets of friends and two souls into one.

And you get to eat and drink on someone else’s dime.

It was, as all brides desire, The Perfect Day. The bridesmaids were perfectly beautiful in their perfectly tailored dresses. The Bride was perfectly gorgeous and glowed like a bride, while the groom, though admittedly bearing the pall of a man ready to blow chow, looked perfectly studly in his Ricky Ricardo tuxedo. The ceremony was perfect, as two people so obviously and madly in love with one another made their vows of devotion.

Love, you see, is a commitment to a person, while marriage is a commitment to a process. The promises we make in a wedding ceremony are our way of saying, “Look, I love you and you make me happy and I want to feel this way for the rest of my life, so here’s what I’m willing to do to make that happen.” So we make vows. We vow to honor, to cherish, to respect both our identities as individuals and as a couple. We commit not just to one another, but to a set of ideas that time has proven will help nurture a lasting relationship – one that prevails through sickness, poor times and the worst life has to offer, until freaking death.

And so, the perfect day continued. The food was perfect. The beef was perfectly beefy and the chicken was perfectly chickeny. The cake was perfectly delicious, the wine flowed perfectly and when “We Are Family” blared from the DJ’s speakers, everyone hit the dance floor in perfect unison. And when the bride and groom whisked away to their perfect honeymoon spot, they did so under a shower of perfectly spherical bubbles blown by the guests. It was…perfect.

I was solo that night, as my Beleaguered Wife drew the short straw when the babysitter flaked out an hour before the event. Though she left the porch light on, the inside was completely dark, so I stood at the entry and took off my shoes and socks so I would be quiet as I walked across the hardwood floors to the kitchen. No sooner had I started tip toeing than I stepped directly in a warm, mucoidal substance, the viscosity and soft-chunky texture of which could only be dog vomit. So as not to smear the Cocker Spaniel effluent all over the living room, I hopped on one foot across the floor towards the kitchen to get a rag. On my third hop, I landed directly on an up-turned 3×4 inch House Builder Barbie Block, shooting a searing, Roman crucifixion-style pain blast from my arch to my frontal lobe. In an effort not to wake the family, I lunged face-first into the couch and screamed into the pillow like the three-year-old girl who left the block so inopportunely placed in my path.

As my eyes started adjusting to the darkness, I could see that in fact the whole living room looked like Hurricane Katrina had landed at Toys r’ Us, so I decided not to risk the potential mine field to the kitchen. I took my shirt off, cleaned the bile and half-digested chunks of Hap-E-Hound Dog Food off my foot with it, and threw it in the general direction of the laundry room. Hey, that’s what washing machines are for.

I had taken a small, wrapped truffle from the wedding and was going to leave it on my three-year-old’s nightstand, because she just goes crazy-ass happy over that sort of thing, so I made my way down the hall to her room. The kids had been sick, because kids are sick EVERY DAY, so I could hear that the humidifier was running in their room. When I slowly opened the door, I was greeted by the putrescent smell of a diaper that my Beleaguered Wife had most probably forgotten to throw out in the sheer anarchy of trying to put two kids to bed. Combined with the warm, moist air of the humidifier, the smell showered on me like a fecal monsoon, and had I not developed an iron clad gag reflex through years of having a nurse as a wife (“You want to know the grossest thing I saw today??”), I would surely have joined the dog in downloading the entire contents of my stomach. Holding my breath, I quietly placed the truffle next to my daughter’s bed, grabbed the guilty diaper, threw it the hall bathroom and shut the door on it like so much radioactive waste. Note To Self: Take Morning Pee in Master Bath.

I opened the door to my room to find the wife dead asleep on the bed, the covers pulled over to her side. All the covers. My side was barren like the Sahara, her side was all cozy like..like..like when your wife takes all the damn covers. I slipped off my pants and crawled in, performing the timeless ritual of Repossessing My Fair Share of the Blankets Without Waking The Wife. Finally and safely ensconced, I curled up next to her and listened to her breathe for a while, my grown-up lullaby for the past ten years.

“I do,” I whispered, though I knew she was sleeping. “I do.”


John Taylor has been writing about wine since 2012, but his meanderings on life began way before that. Born and raised in San Diego, California, John moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to pursue dreams of screenwriting and filmmaking. John’s writing career started in earnest at this point with blogs, essays and short stories appearing in various publications. John began working full time in the wine industry in 2011, and is currently the Director of Consumer Sales for a winery based in Napa Valley. He’s a Certified Sommelier and WSET Level 2. In May of 2017, be completed his first full-length novel, The Flight of The Dolphin, and is currently at work on novel version of Pairs With: Life.