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If You Can't be Free
by Leslie Ortega

Do kids still learn how to skip? 

Are their hands being taught cursive? Looping 




Sweat prints on thin paper. 

Remnants of curiosity 

of needs 

a voice. 


Some days I take the bus to work and I see my dad’s face on every driver, 

my aunt’s face on every woman with bleached hands;

A tray of cleaning supplies nestled on the ridges of the rubber floor.


“If you can’t be free, remain a mystery” 


I heard about Billie Holiday’s death on the radio, 

(something about an NPR special dedication to her) 

how her lungs failed her; how the government killed her.


Free yourself of the “oh well” 

Shedding paper layers. The demon of evaporation, 

smells like the exhaust cloud at the exit. 


Leslie Ortega (she/her) is a Chicanx artist born and raised in Anaheim, CA. Her work captures the small things that are often hidden in her culture growing up in a Mexican household. She likes to play around with various mediums like poetry, painting, sketching, and recycling items into art. Currently, she is tending to her recent obsession of fungi to study Botany in hopes of becoming a Mycologist. You can find all her art, cooking, and knowledge sharing on her Instagram @leslieburps.

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