Weekly Write: “Hypnagogia” by Mireya Vela


In 1981, I desperately want a Sea Wee doll. In the commercials, a delicate girl plays in a bubble filled bathtub while her mom kneels alongside her. I want that. I want to be in a bathtub and feel the safety of the water and the tickle of bubbles while my mermaid dolls floats in a sponge lily pad, and my mom lovingly hovers. I’m eight years old. I want my nudity to stop being the dirty thing it has become. I want to be safe.

“What would you do if you got one?” mom asks.

“I’d kiss that person and give them a big hug,” I say. This is unusual for me. I don’t like to be touched.

“Really?” she says. Her voice is creeping.


“Are you sure?” she says.

Her words are like a sharp grab and I feel unsteady.

“Yes,” I say.

On Christmas Eve, I open a gift with the doll in it. It’s from my father’s youngest brother whose persistent stare terrifies me. I don’t touch him or thank him. Instead, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling that I just bartered something. It feels sickening.


My dad’s youngest brother hates me into my twenties.

Standing on the church steps for wedding photos, I see the angry veins on his face. I’m a bridesmaid at my brother’s wedding. I’m wearing a red strapless dress that makes me feel vulnerable and naked. Over the dress, I’m wearing old shame like a threadbare coat.

He’s a pastor and has just married my brother to his new bride.

I hear the photographer tell us to smile. He’s posed us while the pastor watches. The happy couple are at the center while the bridesmaids flank from above and the sides.

“Mireya,” the pastor’s voice booms over the shuffle of dresses.

“You’re up high right now. I bet you really like that,” he says, “But don’t for one second think you are better than anyone here.”

I’ve cried throughout the ceremony. It feels like I’m losing my brother. I turn to the pastor’s voice but I keep my gaze at his shoes. I imagine the robes flapping, his teeth long and perspiring—the froth forming at the corners of his mouth. I look up and he is simply glaring at me. But in my imagination, he’s trying to consume me.


He is arrested in 2006. To evade police he drives from his home in Sunland to his mother’s house in El Monte—next door to the house where I grew up. The newspaper headlines read “Pastor and Son Arrested on Charges of Child Molestation”.

After the arrest I realize that in his mind, I somehow twisted his lust. I was a 2 year old or a 6 year old or a 10 year old with the power to move him away from god. He’d molested the girls in his church. He’d molested the girls in our family into their teens.


As an adult, when I wake up from nightmares, I take quick stock of my surroundings. My biggest fear at that moment of wakeful confusion is that I will open my eyes and see the beige door to my room at my mother’s house. I look for the windows and sense the tightness of the air. It always takes me a moment to realize I’m safe. I reach for my husband. If I’m able to touch him, my alarm diffuses. If he’s not there, I listen for the sounds of his feet upstairs.

That moment, when I am stuck between awareness and the pull of the dream, I’m terrified. I wouldn’t relive my childhood for anything in the world. My creativity is born in the imagination, a space that is so much like hynagogia, it’s likely the two are married. I am working to accept this space in my mind where ideas both good and bad float like butterflies. I don’t own that space. It’s where all artists go. It’s where girls sit in bathtubs with mermaid dolls imagining safety and a mother who watches over her.

That moment between the creations of the imagination and the awakeness of reality, that’s where I’m stuck for him as well. That’s where I live. I’m not alone there. It’s also a place for pastors.


Mireya Vela is a recent graduate from Antioch University’s MFA writing program. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, children and animals. “Hypnagogia” is soon to be published  in “Vestiges of Courage” published by The Nasiona.





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Weekly Write: “Blue” by Katie Karnehm-Esh


I think of the soft blue sweatsuit you were wearing that warm day in May. Then I think of the way you stared through the bars of the crib, and us. You must be a teenager by now; do you still sleep in a crib? I have a photo of you in my office that one of the students took—do you remember the boy with the red hair?—as I clipped your fingernails through the bars. I can’t look at it very often, and I am grateful that in this photo I cannot see your face. Sometimes my heart still twists up when I think of you, lying on your side staring into a dark tiled room, making occasional noises in neither English nor Mandarin.

Did you know I thought you were a boy the whole afternoon? Blame it on the bowl haircut or the blue sweatsuit. After two weeks in China, I should have known so many of you become androgynous in the orphanage. But I knew the gender of the tiny girl in pink who grinned and stole food. We brought snacks for all the children, and she grabbed the largest hoard. Everyone but you and the infants had a stash, curled their bodies around their plastic-wrapped food. Midway through washing our hands, the water stopped. The German nurse told us the director often turns off the water, that at mealtimes the workers put out food and let the children fend for themselves. Fewer diapers this way. We thought of this when they served us a private cafeteria feast. So much broccoli and pork. So many noodles choking in our throats. The German nurse said, “Eat. If you get upset. I can’t come back to help them.”

I picked you up to help you eat the smashed bananas. The nurses said you would choke and throw up if you ate; they said you only ate milk. I offered a spoonful, slow. Then another, praying it wouldn’t make you sick later.

After I picked you up, there was no reason to put you down. They told me later you were nine years old, but I could not believe you were more than five. You were stiff and quiet in my arms, sometimes seizing into fast shallow breaths. It’s OK, I would tell you, rocking back and forth. We swayed down the green-gray hallway, stopping in the bathroom where two children sat on the floor in a shower stall. One kept laughing and laughing as the water gurgled. The other sat as silent as you. “They protect each other,” one of the nurses told me. The tiny pink grinning girl ran up to me and demanded more snacks. When you started to hyperventilate again, I patted your back. Your spine was like the ridges of a rock wall.

When the German nurse told us we had twenty more minutes, and went back to checking vital signs and bruises, I stepped outside into the courtyard with you. You blinked; so much green and sun. The guard dog in the courtyard barked at us, asking who are you? We walked over to answer. He stared at us from behind a circular fence surrounding a tall tree, and you stared back at him, that furry black thing. Then you leaned your head on my shoulder and sighed.

Something inside me didn’t so much crack as give way. I looked at the white van we’d ridden in from Shenyang, and thought about our flight on Sunday, your crib in the big tiled room, the bananas the workers said you couldn’t eat. If I made a run for the van with you, the German nurse could never come back to feed you.

When she said it was time to go, she didn’t seem angry that it took me a long time to walk you back to your crib and lay you down. You stared out into the room, like you had when I found you. I don’t know what I said. Maybe nothing. I speak English after all. This was not the right place to say I love you or I’ll come back because maybe lying is worse than never having been here. So I whispered goodbye; it’s OK; goodbye; it’s OK while I put you back in your bed and walked away.

Did you know that for months afterwards, I sent emails to check on you? I asked as casually as I could, in a way that someone who is voluntarily childless and in a bad marriage will ask after a child thousands of miles away in an orphanage that does not give up children or feed them. You would never be coming home with me. So when I prayed, it was that you had food. That you had green afternoons and sunshine and a dog barking hello! And that sometimes, when someone rubbed your back and clipped your fingernails and told you it was OK, this would feel like a happy, reoccurring dream you couldn’t quite place.


Katie Karnehm-Esh’s background is in creative nonfiction and poetry, with a Ph.D in creative writing from the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Her writing has been published in Whale Road Review, Barren Magazine, The Cresset, The Other Journal, and Windhover. Additionally, she writes a monthly blog for Annesley Writers Forum. Her writing often centers around holistic health, travel, and faith as well as social justice, and she welcomes the opportunity to learn from fellow writers.




“Like”, “Share”, and comment on this poem to nominate it for the Annual Swimming with Elephants Publications 2019 Anthology.

Click here check out Parade: Swimming with Elephants Publications Anthology 2018 available for only $10.95.