Category Archives: Forum Magazine

The show will go on!

There are no buts about  it–there will be a Spring 2020 issue of Forum (though, possibly with a small delay). We will continue to keep you updated as we learn more.

AND we are still accepting submissions for the Diego Rivera contest. If your are finding more time on your hands, or even  an extra bit of inspiration to explore the themes in the artist’s legendary mural, go here to learn more about how you can participate.

The deadline is Monday, April 6th, 2020.


Fiction Piece: “What the Night Brings”

What the Night Brings


     She had fit herself into the corner, back against the wall. Blanket stuffed into her mouth to stop any sounds that might escape her. Anything could set them off. The tiniest whimper would bring on the snarling and the snapping of their big jaws. She was so, so tired.

     It always started the same, the noises weren’t loud. There was hissing and the  swishing sounds of large bodies trying to move around in a small space. Then the noises got angrier and angrier – growling and snorting, the click-clack of clawed feet digging into the wooden floor. They only wanted one thing, and that was her.

She stared into the blackness at the space where she knew the window must be, praying for a bit of light that would let her know she had made it through, she had survived.

     Finally, when the black turned to gray, and then a lighter gray, she leaned her head against the wall and slept.

     She woke to her mother calling from downstairs and she zombie-walked into the bathroom, into her clothes and downstairs to breakfast, where her mother said, “Juliet, not again! You were up all night, weren’t you? I… I just don’t know what to do with you anymore. For the last time, there are no crocodiles under your bed.”

     But then she was always saying that. And she wouldn’t let Juliet sleep with the light on in her room.

     Daddy had talked on and on about how they lived in California and there are no crocodiles in California and shown her maps and books and just kept on talking and talking. Finally, he had given her a small teddy bear and showed her the secret pocket where he had put a flashlight, and said, “Don’t tell your mother.” 

     But that was stupid because you had to get out of the bed to shine the flashlight under the bed and the minute you stepped off the bed the crocodiles would eat you.

    So the crocodiles were still there. Not every single night. And she thought maybe they were thinking about moving to somebody else’s house. But then they started again, quietly at first, the hissing, then the snarling and growling, and they were the loudest they’d ever been, and she covered her head with the blanket.

     The next morning when she woke up the sun was shining brightly through the window.  There was a different feeling in the house. It was so quiet. She listened, and then she heard a strange noise. 

     She went downstairs and found Daddy with his head on the kitchen table, crying, huge sobs shaking his body. And she said, “Daddy?” And he said, “She’s gone. She’s gone.” He took a big swallow from the bottle on the table. 

     She went upstairs to see if it was true and found the drawers where her mother’s clothes were kept hanging open and empty. 

     She went back downstairs and her father hadn’t moved. She went into the living room and turned on the TV. She ate a banana and potato chips for dinner and at 8 o’clock she went upstairs and went to bed. She didn’t have any trouble falling asleep.  She knew the crocodiles were gone forever. They had gotten what they came for.


Written By: Barbara Hodder Toohey

About the Author: Barbara Hodder Toohey hates coffee. This puzzles people, and they worry…is it a subversive thing? You can find out by sharing a pot of tea. Find her scribbling away in cafes, workshops, classes. That woman in the corner with a mug of tea, a notebook and pen, that’s her.

Poetry Piece: “If My Vagina Could Speak”

If My Vagina could Speak

She would tell me that she is the “mouth” of my heart.

She would say I have fed her rotted filth masquerading as food, for longer than I want to admit.

She might ask me, beg even, if I could sample my lovers first, if I could at the very least chew the invaders before I swallow. 

But I have always been the fastest eater at the table,

My world has always been an eat or be eaten- “who’s it gonna be?” world. 

If my vagina could speak.

But she’s mute most of the time,

Except when red dribbles from her lips,

Marbling into water,

Or when she’s so hungry she drools what becomes a waterfall of insatiable lust.

If she could speak I wonder if she would declare that we stand on opposite sides of the picket fence,

Calling me a traitor to myself,

If I gave her the power to speak would she speak on behalf of who I am or would she shame me,

Asking me if I remember all the ways I forgot she was a part of me,

And if I remember all the times I blamed her for the hijackings that took place simply because she existed.

 Because she would be right, 

And she would be wrong. 

If my vagina could speak,

We would laugh about that time she shot a menstrual cup onto the floor,

Spit it out and said “fuck this- I CAN’T BREATHE”-

And we would laugh about the time she convinced my urethra to pee in the middle of the kitchen,

And I’d tell her she was an asshole for drying up like some sort of sahara desert that one time-

And she would call me an asshole for falling asleep that time I masturbated.

If my vagina could speak

She would apologize for existing in the first place,

And I’d tell her that I love that she’s here with me,

And that it’s the fault of people who don’t understand no,

And it’s my fault sometimes for wanting to feel anything but—

Sshe would tell me she took what I gave, has carried what I did not-

And she would tell me that the burden of femalehood should not be as heavy a load,

And I’d say “but it is. Because you and I both exist.”

And we would both say our sorries-

If my vagina could speak she would ask me if I trusted her.

And I’d say we need another round of tequila for that conversation.


Written By: Christine Alicea

About the Author: I am a Queer Latinx Jersey transplant living in the bay area. I am majoring in education with an inclusion of queer studies. I am practicing the idea of becoming an Oasis for my community as well as telling people how they make me feel. We only have today.


Poetry Piece: “Close Your Eyes”

Close Your Eyes


Machine guns gleam and jackboots click

Vacant eyes blink back tears

Tiny prisoners caged for slaughter

Welcome to America, welcome to your new home


Vacant eyes blink back tears

Under flood lights blinding bright

Welcome to your cell, welcome to your new home

Piles of children spilt on concrete


Floodlights blinding, never ceasing

Turn the cameras off, there’s blood on the floor

Madmen chuckle and mop the concrete

A child’s eyes roll back into his head


Turn the cameras off, there’s blood on the floor

Two monsters come and take a girl away

A child’s eyes roll back into his head

Someone whispers nothing’s real here, nobody exists


Two monsters came and took a girl away

Everyone shuts their eyes and tries to pretend

The monsters cackle, screaming nothing’s real here, you don’t exist

The air is rank with piss and fear, everyone frozen, no one can move


Shut your eyes and try to pretend

Nothing’s real here, no one exists

The air is rank with piss and fear, everyone frozen, no one can move

Welcome to America, this is your new home


Written By: Chris Lukens

About the Author: Chris Lukens lives and writes in San Francisco. You can often find him prowling the streets of the Mission, burrito in hand, on his way to the Roxie or trying to remember where he parked his bicycle.

Poetry Piece: “Escuintles”



Have you met the dogs

In the De Young Museum?

You can see them

Behind glass


In the Mesoamerica 

Room; it’s almost like

A pet shop.


Olmec, I think, they’re 

Like chihuahuas
But plump, 

The color of dust.


My favorite

Is scratching 

At his fleas.


Another is lounging

Just like every lazy

Dog you’ve ever seen

On a hot, hot day.


But this fellow’s been 

Lounging since before Cortes 

Came, maybe long before.


Study their faces. 

I swear you can see 

Which ones lick 

And which ones bite.


Written By: Jason Szydlik

About the Author: Jason Szydlik studied poetry at City College.

Poetry Piece: “Unforeseen”



The poison apple provides ample rest

for Snow’s strength to return

and certain vision to coalesce.


The prince’s kiss, electrifies; yet 

what seals the deal is 

her awakened personal power.


From glass case made for her slumber 

she rises and strides to the cottage

alight with wattage disallowed before her nap.


Trailing her; seven skipping dwarfs

their gentle maid is back!

one brow knit prince 

why does he not lead this pack?

and… a new order of the day

her business case will soon be made!


After sumptuous sup’ prepared by Doc

all gather round the board to talk of Snow’s broad new vision –

deep distress over climate calls her to make haste!


She builds her case: no more mining in their future,

out of the forest they’ll move to the plains

build a wind farm, ‘Heigh, ho’, above the winged things


Venture capital, in princely sums, their dinner guest supplies.

Guided by Ms. White, minority CEO, 

SW7, their newly founded enterprise provides 

clean green energy for a conscious kingdom, 

and perhaps,

one day, a queen…

but that’s still unforeseen.


Written By: Claire Heinzelman

About the Author: Claire Heinzelman is enjoying retirement from serial careers of (reverse order) music education, advocacy training for families of children with special needs and corporate finance. To the untrained eye, this progression may not make sense; nonetheless, each chapter has provided a different lens through which to observe life and attempt to capture it on the page.

Fiction Piece: “Dear Hearts and Gentle People”

Dear Hearts and Gentle People

     He watched his girlfriend from across the room as she laughed with her friends and nearly spilt her ridiculously expensive cocktail on the table. Her clumsiness made them laugh even louder, and the hair she had tucked behind her ear moments before found its way back to the frame of her face. They locked eyes briefly and she smiled wildly at him before turning her attention back to her friends. He watched her for a few more moments taking in the slip of her face, the fullness of her mouth, and how her hands danced along to her voice. He wrapped this image around the back of his brain, trusting that this moment would live on in his memory. It had been a while since they had gone out together like this. He was alive seeing this side to her. She was always effortlessly the life of the party and everyone was swept into her warming atmosphere. His heart swelled with all those feelings he had for her and their old meanings. He scanned the rest of the bar from his corner. It was filled with twenty-somethings starting the beginnings of their lives and a few scattered thirty-somethings chasing after that lost irresponsibility. They were a part of that group now too. She came to him and begged him to dance with her. She fell into his arms and swayed to the song that played during their first date. He clung to the lie that she was in this moment.


     They had gone back to their apartment before it got too late. He watched her get ready for bed from the bathroom doorway, the light bursting into the bitterness of their frigid bedroom behind him. She draped herself over the sink and slowly picked at her hair. As she removed her makeup the creases on her face were now more apparent under the bright florescent lighting. She sharply hummed along to a dated song about meanness and love, kicking off her heels to the chorus and exposing her dry cracked feet. She bent down to remove her Spanx which forced an awkwardly bent posture and made the protruding pouch even more noticeable. And as she dropped the little black dress from her shoulders the now freed folds of her stomach enveloped each other. In this brief moment of nakedness her stretch marks shone in the light, long scars shimmering across the entirety of her mounding body which had become so distorted from the flawless figure she had all those years ago. He recognized the bleak reality he had been sharing his life with and longed for the embrace of that stranger who had deceived him. He hardly wondered how he had changed in her eyes, but knew that her thoughts weren’t any more kind.

     She turned to him with her now pale, deflated lips and rapidly mouthed, “You know my cousin Sarah recently got engaged. She was showing off her ring at the party earlier. Honestly I thought the thing was hideous. At least she’s happy with it though.”

     He didn’t say anything but laughed off her remark about the ugly ring. He knew what she was hinting at and loved her as much as he could love another person, but the permanency of marriage horrified him. His stomach still flipped endlessly when he turned away to undress in the darkness of their bedroom. In his absence she froze at the sight of her reflection in the mirror, humming the song about meanness and love. The remainder of their nightly routine was painfully mechanical and constant. Over the narrow sink they flossed before brushing their teeth together. She stayed in the bathroom to remove tonsil stones with a cotton swab as he got into bed. He briefly watched shows she had no interest in while gouging at his toe to remove an ingrown nail. She brushed again to wash the rot out of her mouth but he’d still taste that metal whenever they kiss. When she brushed too far over her tongue she would loudly retch and he would recoil at her awful human failings. He rubbed his eyes to the sound of wasted running water and hoped her melatonin would take quickly for once. Otherwise she’d spend the rest of the night asking about all the reasons why he loved her. After her nightly purging ritual she came to bed with a full glass of water, which she’d loudly gulp throughout the night. He turned his show off before she came in and started skimming random articles across the internet. She read her Kindle beside him and periodically cleared out the post nasal drip from burning the back of her throat. Persistent little hm hmms inched him further into resentment and he begged to someone in the night to help him out of this nightmare. Sometimes she showed him lines that interested her from the books she read and then he would tell her every time that it sure was something because he never cared. He could never focus long enough to finish reading a page.

     As the prolonged silence filled the boundaries of their bedroom she turned to him again and asked, “Remember when we used to talk about all the traveling we would do? I miss when we used to talk about stuff like that.” She paused. “That’s what people talk about when they’re in love and have no responsibilities.”

     He knew she wanted to be who they were before this distance had come between them. At one point he wanted this too and remembered, “I said I would just go somewhere because I was tired of being stuck in life. I would ask you to come with me if you wanted and you always said okay.”

     She closed her eyes and murmured, “It would be nice to go somewhere with you.”

     He laughed at those not-so-old memories. “But what kind of answer is okay to something like that?”

     “Because I felt that things would always be okay with you. Good or bad, it would be alright. We would be okay.” She snuggled further under the covers, blindly placing her Kindle on the nightstand. She turned over and went to sleep.

     Synthetic hormones had taken her into another dreamless night, despite the coldness of the room. His knees snapped has he moved and every joint within him groaned. He wondered when they had grown so far apart while staring at the ceiling, the shadows splashing between the corners from the quiet street traffic rolling by. The heat of their bodies slowly filling the room and drowning them together. The world outside was moving past them and they lay there dying. He felt that his very being was unraveling from the tips of his throbbing toes and when he turned over he could see that same turmoil in the back of her head. This familiar dread kept him company as the hour rolled into another. He only left the bed when he could hear her eating her own teeth between deep choking snores.


     He couldn’t talk on the phone in his office anymore because she had woken up one night and found him. They both knew what was happening but for some reason nothing happened because of it. He admired her commitment to failure. The empty expression she had in that moment clung to him as he walked through their apartment and out to the small balcony hanging off their living room. When he stepped outside he felt the oddly cold spring air whip his face as he checked the missed messages from the girl. He called her immediately, his heart beating to a new rhythm.

     “Hey you…,” she quietly rasped with the electrical song of her voice slipping in and out of his ears, “I didn’t think I was going to hear from you today. You’re always so busy working!”

     He apologized and she began to talk about her day, which was the highlight of his. Her wrist was wrapped again and it was difficult to take notes. The slenderness of her frame resulted in its structural defect and made her joints prone to frequent sprains. He imagined her going to her classes in the flimsy flowing clothes she wore, revealing the secrets of her unblemished body. Her distinctive smile greeting the world as her silken hair would catch warmth of the sun. She enthusiastically talked about her new academic path and joked about how she’d definitely stick with it because she was running out of fields to change her major for the fifth time. For a brief moment he was hit by that same feeling of anticipation he had felt over a decade before and he fell in love with her again.

     “Well now that I have your full attention, I lost my shirt and I have no idea where it went.” She sweetly sang. “Oh no, now I’m losing my pants too! Can you come and help me find them?”

     He gripped his phone. “I’m not going to be able to come over tonight, but you know we should go somewhere together.” His heart skipped a beat. “Just you and me.”

     Her voice caught itself in her throat.“Why would you say something like that?” She couldn’t contain her shock at his perceived insult.

     “Because that’s what people talk about when they’re in love.” And something within him broke.

     In his head he could see her rotating her jaw to click it out of relief. “I brought up wanting to be serious months ago. You told me that casual is all that you wanted, nothing more, and I accepted that. I was okay with us.”

     His heart tumbled and he remembered. “I’m sorry.”

     “All that matters is that we have fun together, right? …Why did you have to bring this up now?” The prolonged silence had found its way back again into his life, broken by the frustration in her sigh. “I should go. It’s late and I have a paper that I need to finish in the morning. We’ll talk again when it’s not so busy.”

     He wasn’t bothered by this lie. “I just want things to be okay.” He hung up the phone, the shame burning inside him for the hurt he was responsible for. He hadn’t understood what he was doing or why for a while now.

     He stood there as the air bit at his face, the breeze carrying the benign sounds of people going somewhere while he stagnated. The staining dread filling inside him as he heavily made his way through the apartment, fearful of the life he had built for himself, and into the bed he shared with his girlfriend. A newfound emptiness expanded into the center of his consciousness, slowly humming along with the eating of teeth and deep choking snores. His heart beat to the rhythm of his throbbing ingrown nail and reverberated along with the symphony of his continual discomfort. And at the chorus of it he thought to himself, dear god this can’t be it.


Written By: Adriana Hernandez

About the Author: Adriana Hernandez grew up in San Francisco and currently volunteers as a TA at CCSF. She had recently transferred to SF State to study creative writing.

Fiction Piece: “The Back Bedroom”

The Back Bedroom

Alyssa lay back on that crummy couch as if it were the lushest lounge in town. She lit the joint, and inhaled, as if it were some divine dope-of-the gods from a warmer, kinder climate. I loved watching her smoke, particularly when she was dressed for bed, her luscious mouth sucking in the thrill, breasts pushing, midriff tightening, eyes half-closing. It was something like a contact high for me, I myself didn’t have to smoke anything, didn’t have to say anything. 

But after that lovely moment or two, she did.  And it was unexpected.

“I think Meadow stole some of my pot,” she said. Meadow was our latest roommate, renting the rear bedroom. Arguably the cutest of the girls who’d occupied that space. But she was pretty quiet, paid her rent on time, and hadn’t had any guys overnighting, yet. 

“We know Meadow smokes,” I said, “but what makes you think it’s yours?”

“Because it smells like mine.”

“A lot of dope smells like yours,” I said. “And why shouldn’t it, if it’s good shit?” 

“Why are you trying to defend her?” Uh-oh. This was some other kind of shit, the kind  I never smelled in time and often found myself stepping into. 

“I’m not trying to defend Meadow,” I said.  “I like Meadow —“ 

”I know you like Meadow —“ 

”— but I’m trying to defend you against your own paranoia.” I looked at her intent, and said, “Let me have a hit of that stuff.” If I was gonna get kicked, I wanted to deaden the impact. 

I took a hit. Alyssa took another. But this time she was quicker to the commentary:

“I noticed that my bureau drawer was open, when I got home from work..” I wasn’t about to point out that Alyssa never shut her drawers properly. She was basically a slob. The slob who loved me. And said so. I always felt guilty that I couldn’t say it. Even when I was doing it. 

“Look,” I exhaled, “I’ll just go take a look in her room, she won’t be back for another hour.” Alyssa stayed on the couch, puffing, with a sour look on her beautiful face. 

Meadow’s room looked like what you’d think a room of a girl named Meadow would look like. Little hippie nicknacks, little bitty books about Zen, some kind of shrine, everything neater and brighter than in Alyssa’s room. I did a quick examination of what was immediately visible. But my mission allowed me to peek into Meadow’s chest of drawers, where I found not what Alyssa might be looking for, but what I might have been looking for:  the mysteries of unknown female underwear, a stack of twin-cupped bras, a pile of brief pastel panties. Did she choose a different color for each day of the week? 

I ambled back to the living room. “No sign of crime,” I announced, with some kind of smile. 

“Why do you look that way?,” Alyssa interrogated. I didn’t know what I looked like, or why. Was it the pot? The panties? “And how did you know where to look in her room? You’ve been in there before, haven’t you?” 

“Well, sure, maybe, she is our roommate.” I didn’t tell Alyssa that Meadow and I had exchanged massages one weekend, when Alyssa had been showing her visiting parents around the city. But nothing else happened. Meadow was cool that way. 

“I think we should think about getting our own place,” Alyssa said. She was still toking on the joint, but It sounded like a pretty sober proclamation. “It’ll cost us more money, but we need to think about making more money, and about the future.” A future with steady jobs, no roommates, no other girlfriends, and an approaching end to Alyssa’s wedding bell blues.

I’d heard this song before. 


Written By: Jeff Kaliss

About the Author: Jeff Kaliss has been studying creative writing and music at City College following the completion of an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. At City, he’s appeared in Forum in various genres, read at Lit Night, and hosted the Poetry for the People Podcast.

POETRY: “your two big toes”

your two big toes

the gate’s frame heaves and hoes
depending on the season
in winter, snug and resistant
like a pill bug
rolled up tight, looking
to tuck to a soft
warm side rib
then in summer
blooming loose, an open
laughing game
can’t catch
my running smile
but love, me
I am all the rooted
so why sit scrubby
tending distant
threads, measuring
stilted gulls
over lumbering water

Written By: Lisa Graves

POETRY: “Celia”


I feel very connected with you,
as I am writing this
but also reading this
for the first time,
just like you.
And you,
will you be cared for
by Iaia, as I was, as a little girl in Rio,
where my crazy flower of a momma
left my father, the man in the television,
left him helpless to put order in our hearts?
Are you holding my hand?
How do you feel when you read
how much I care about your caring about me?
Iaia was from Bahia, the warm womb of Brazil,
and she came with Candomblé,
the river on which the African saints
had sailed westward, in slave ships, in dark days.
Iaia cooked us cozido and pirão
and delighted with us in our girlish dancing.
Luiz Gonzaga Malheiros,
my esteemed father,
could never be a mama.
So he sat himself at a worn wooden desk
to prove the inexistence of God.
Maria de Gloria, in her separate sticky room in Copacabana,
missing the mothering of me, did auditions for death.
Neither Luiz nor Maria succeeded.
And in between them,
I began to hear the music,
the breath of the waves,
the clamoring coro of the sidewalks.
And my way started to compose itself.
I bloomed, and learned to be plucked,
and tested my browned and blonded body
by quickening its head, with smoke and colors.
Sometimes I saw what mommy saw,
and was glad and sad to see it.

Daddy sent me away, to the Disneyland of the North,
where I learned to order greasy food with hard consonants.
But I remembered to sing.
And I found America yearning towards my dipthongs,
seeking my salt-watered musical memories,
wanting curing from my dear dead Iaia.
Are you listening now, as I sing choro and bossa?
Have you married me, and made a mother of me?
And now, are we world enough?

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

About the Author: Jeff Kaliss has been studying creative writing and music at City College following the completion of an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. At City, he’s appeared in Forum in various genres, read at Lit Night, and hosted the Poetry for the People Podcast.