Can you believe Sister Spit is only 15 days away?! Us either! Rounding out our GLOW Sister Spit features is Dena Rod!
Dena Rod is a writer, editor, and poet based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dena works to illuminate their diasporic experiences of Iranian American heritage and queer identity, combating negative stereotypes of their intersections in the mainstream media. Their poetry and creative nonfiction essays have appeared in the newly released My Shadow is My Skin: Voices From the Iranian Diaspora anthology, Endangered Species, Enduring Values: An Anthology of San Francisco Area Writers and Artists of Color, Forum Literary Magazine, Beyond Bloodlines (funded in part by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts), Argot Magazine, and Imagoes: a Queer Anthology. Catch them on Twitter @alightningrod & at denarod.com
Why do you write? What compels you to write?
No matter how many times I've told myself I'm not a writer, despite my best attempts at resisting an artist's path somehow it always bubbles forth in the most unexpected ways. I've tried to ignore my creative instincts for too long and have decided to embrace the truths that are waiting to escape layers of my own suppression. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to my artistic practice but that's why it's called practice: you have to put in the minutes and hours on the page before going anywhere else.
What upcoming writing projects are you working on?
My project most close to completion is a poetry manuscript that writes into my imagined ancestry that has been lost to me as a result of migration called Scattered Arils. I also have a YA fantasy novel simmering on the back burner about a Iranian American girl named Asal who learns she can travel through time by walking through fire. Also on the horizon is a collection of creative nonfiction essays about my life growing up queer and Iranian American in the diaspora.
Describe your work in five words:
shimmering, decadent, lush, packed splendor
What are some of your artistic influences/inspirations?
It's hard to make a definitive list of my influences, since there are so many. Tracing these threads I find the first inspiration is Audre Lorde; I wrote my MA thesis on her biomythography, Zami, and Homi Bhabha's theory of the "Third Space of Enunciation." Post-colonial theory was my first foray in disrupting Western narratives that are commonly prevalent in the English literary canon and this has molded my artistic perspective immensely in ways that I'm still discovering as a creative writer (rather than an academic one). I find myself inspired by lives and legacies of my Iranian poet foremothers, Simin Behbahani (touted as the lionness of Iran), and Forough Farrokhzad who wrote against blood spilled by their governments and revolutions.
I'm also incredibly influenced by the magical girl genre in anime (like Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura), the fantastical stories I read as a child like Harry Potter and The Golden Compass; stories of extraordinary children who are thrust into a destiny they don't quite want but still forge ahead. I didn't necessarily see myself in these stories growing up but they were a comfort against the world I actually inhabited. I want to write the type of stories I needed when I was young.
Asal in Fire (excerpt)
The familiar warmth began to envelope Asal as she stepped into the fire. Flames licked at her boot and she took a deep breath to ground herself through her leg, pressing firmly into the earth. As she stood there in the night air, Asal let go of the intention of direction, drawing energy from the crackling all around her.
Asal didn't want to think of a specific moment in time or space, this time letting the flames guide her to where she would end up. She felt the pull behind her sternum, the telltale sign that her surroundings were dissolving around her. The flames rose up higher around her body, enveloping her senses but never ever burning her. She could feel the smoke around her eyes but they didn't sink into delicate surface, spilling over the glossy protection spell she cast.
Asal closed her eyes, her body spinning through the fire. She continued spinning and spinning with no dizziness ringing up throughout her body. Soon the flames dissipated and Asal was spit out into a clearing not unlike the one she just came from with oak and maple leaves strewn on the ground. She landed at the roots of a gnarled tree and her hands broke her fall. Swearing viciously as she got back to standing, Asal looked up and saw the woman in the purple cloak that had haunted her dreams.
"Good you've arrived," she said matter-of-factly. Asal looked at the woman and she couldn't believe that she was seeing the heart shaped face that would appear nightly to her, beckoning her to walk through fire. The woman barely looked at Asal before she started walking away from her. "Follow me."
"Ugh, don't I even get a hello?" Asal scoffed as she stood up from the ground, brushing leaves off the rump of her jeans. The stars were bright here as well but she couldn't make out any familiar constellation. "And my mom says I have terrible manners."
"You're insolent as ever, I see. Here I was hoping your attitude would have improved since our last meeting," she replied sternly over her shoulder. Her long black hair fell down her shoulders in big glossy waves and her purple cloak was made from brocade that depicted scenes from Ferdowsi's Sohrab and Rostam. Asal recognized the images from her baba's copy of The Shahnameh.
"When did we meet before?" Asal asked, trying not to trip on her wobbly feet. Just because she wasn't dizzy, didn't mean she wasn't a bit off kilter from her inter-dimensional fire transport.
The woman's brown eyes creased in irritation. "I'm honestly not sure if you're just stupid or deliberately obtuse."
As Asal tried to follow the woman whom she had met only in dreams, she found herself drawn into the fabric of the cloak, lost in the embroidery. The embroidered scene came alive before her eyes and Asal felt her eyes widen as she was hypnotized by the swaying stitches. Before she knew it, Asal reached out to touch one cluster of gilded flowers and then the woman snapped her fingers.
"Ach, shaytoon." The insult Asal's mom often used struck her from her hypnosis. "Get it together. Such an unfocused mind, no wonder you have trouble traveling where you need to be."
"It's not my fault," Asal retorted, rubbing her eyes. "This only the second time I've tried to travel somewhere on purpose."
The woman sighed. Her arched brows furrowed over dark brown eyes that were lined with exhaustion. "We have much work to do."
"Where are we? And who are you?" Asal asked, following the woman into the copse of poplar trees that had followed the oak and maple leaves they were leaving. They appeared to be in a forest that defied the laws of nature and biology, with trees in various stages of blossoming and bearing fruit. Other trees lay bare as if they were in winter and as Asal walked from one tree to another, it was as if an entire year of seasons had passed from one tree to the next.
"You should know by now to not worry about things such as location," the woman replied, her tone even and measured. "A more accurate descriptor would be 'when'. The ancestors have told me your time is not mine," she said as she glanced askance at Asal's Sailor Moon pajamas.
Asal folded her arms over her chest. "No shit. That still doesn't tell me why I need to be here."
The woman whirled around and slapped Asal across the face. Stunned, Asal stopped in her tracks.
"Let me be clear. I do not wish your presence in my realm, nor do I wish my realm ceasing to exist. It is only by necessity that I am taking you under my supervision in order to prevent the chaos of the very fabric of my world from being unwoven. Do you understand?"
Asal nodded, despite the pressure of tears behind her eyes. She swallowed past the lump that just appeared in her throat.
"Good. Now follow me."
Without another word, Asal followed the strange woman into the woods. It was clear to Asal that she was not in her own time or world even. She was in another realm; somewhere Asal would define as a Eurocentric mythological based realm, what with dragons and princesses. But she wasn't about to tell Miss Slaps-a-lot about that.
They couldn't have been walking through the woods for more than ten minutes when the mysterious woman (who still hadn't told Asal her name yet) stopped abruptly in her tracks. Holding her lantern high, she pressed her fingers to Asal's lips and made eye contact with her. Asal understood that she was to keep quiet and still. Soon she heard the reason why.
She heard the slithering over desiccated leaves before she saw the creature. A mass of fur and scales appeared and the woman pushed Asal against the nearest tree. Asal was thankful for the sweet smell emanating from the blossoms and could smell the sour sweat of the creature as it slowly passed them. Her heart pounded in her throat furiously and they stood still until the creature passed the clearing.
"What was that?" Asal whispered.
"A davia," the woman responded, her eyes still cautiously monitoring the clearing. "A bloodthirsty creature, preternatural. Its favorite food is emotional energy. The more fear it evokes in its victim, the more satisfaction and strength it gains."
Asal thought of the girls in her high school, the tall, blonde ones that tittered while their boyfriends shoved social outcasts into lockers. Once as Asal walked past them in the school hallways, one of the girls grabbed her by her upper arm. Without saying anything, Mallory's blue eyes lingered over Asal's eyebrows, black eyeshadow blended into the crease of her eyes, and the sparkling lip gloss she wore. A clear attempt at intimidation, Asal literally shrugged her arm off and she could feel where Mallory's nails had dig into her flesh.
"We have those where I come from too," Asal stated matter of factly.
The woman raised her eyebrow. "I believe the coast is clear. Let us proceed forward."
After walking through the forest of dead and growing trees, they came across a rushing river, dividing the land into two coasts. The woman started walking into the current, and she beckoned to Asal who paused on shore.
"What are you doing?" Asal said, crossing her arms around her chest.
"Do you trust me?" the woman asked, seeming exasperated, the set of her jaw line suggesting that if Asal didn't there would be a problem. She didn't reveal much more.
"I-I" Asal stammered. The truth of the matter was, no. She didn't know what to trust anymore. She was walking through fires, seeing characters from old children's tales her parents told her, dizzying around the possibilities of what was real and what was fantasy. Asal didn't trust her own mind anymore, because it was showing her visions and fairies. After all, she could still be in a dream, sleeping in her own bed.
But the way the woman urgently held Asal's gaze as her purple velvet cloak swirled around her in the river's current made Asal soften, just a bit. After all, who gets velvet wet on purpose if the stakes aren't high? Asal's mom would kill her if she ever got her velvet clothing wet, ruining the pile of the fibers.
"I guess," Asal said, acquiescing taking the woman's hand. She crept into the water, frigid on her toes as the current began to rush past. After months of dreams, she might as well see where the woman would take her.