Winter 2022

When the theme of Return was selected for this issue, it seemed hopeful in a way that feels a bit naïve now, truth be told. Quaint. Maybe we should have knocked on wood—maybe we made the grievous mistake of calling it a comeback. And now, it’s been here for years. We said what we all say when we really miss home—we’ll be back there soon. It will be waiting for us. It will be just like we remember. Knock. Knock. Knock. We fancied ourselves little Dorothys waking up—It wasn’t a dream. It was a place. And you, and you, and you, and you were there. It is with a humble breed of somber we realized a sad truth: Packaged delicately within every return, nestled impossibly in tissue, is a loss, sterling in its gravity. A darling little absence of some kind. Turns out, you’ve got to lose it before you get it back. Go figure. And when you get it back, if you get it back, when you come back—well, the house just feels different. We hoped for return, but never asked ourselves the obvious question—To what?

Our writers, thankfully, provided the answer in their parcels sent our way. These pages are haunted with things that leave and come back different: Fathers, countries, children, friends, eyes, homes, baby teeth, and ghosts—lots of ghosts. If return had a mascot, it’d be a sheet with eyeholes. Allison S. Kingsley puts it best: “Can a place ever really be anything other than what it once was?” Turns out, the question, when asked, answers itself. Thank you, writers, for your gifts and guidance.

An eager and intrepid editorial team, some new and some returning, gave the shape to what you see here, raising their voices in a chorus only slightly muffled by masks. We didn’t see each other’s full faces until the very last meeting, during some deliciously cautious and socially distanced brownie eating. But with voices and eyes we built bonds around the work we offer here that became a different and just as vital form of knowing and community-building. Thank you team, for all of it.

And so, in lieu of return, Reader, we imagine return. Sometimes, on our foggier days, we mistake it in the distance like a mirage. Is that it? Are we there yet? Sometimes we just hope for it. Big, big, deep, hope. Long waits with little anchors. We’ll be home as soon as we can. Promise promise. As if by repetition, we can conjure it real. Belief, and disbelief.

Sometimes all we have is hope.

But always that’s enough, for now.

Till next time.





Liz Ulin - The Children's Department

Holden Wright - Sapphic Saints


Creative Nonfiction

Allison S. Kingsley  - I Hear You







V. Batyko - Milk Teeth

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach - Week 34: Cantaloupe

Gabrielle Griot: Torch Song

Samantha Blysse Haviland - Pineapples in December

AE Hines - Ghost Story

Sonya Lara - Small and Feathered

Neha Maqsood - you see that?

Anne Marie Wells - Not Meant for Catacombs

Margaret Ezra Zhang - The Two Times I Loved You Most in LA


Editor: Michael Hurley

Editorial Assistants: Alyssa Arce, Autumn Bolte, Sarah Castle, Angelica Garcia, Alayna Hester, Whitney Hopson, Allie Johnston, JP Legarte, Meghan Lyons, Cedric Nowatzyk, Danielle Rhody, Lauryn Smith, Hannah Stewart, Macks Topinka, Tracy Tran


  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.