Spring 2021 Contributing Artist Statements

B. Tyler Lee

“About 10 years ago, when I was in my early 30s, my mother mentioned in passing that my grand-grandmother, Nana, had “liked girls.” Though my mother would entertain no further conversation on the topic, this revelation solved some long-standing puzzles—including the mystery of Catherine, Nana’s “good friend.” Catherine and Nana ran a thread store and taught needlepoint classes together, but I’d never understood what made Catherine’s friendship sacred and why our family still kept (and cherished) many pillows and tapestries that Catherine had made. Why hadn’t Catherine’s family kept them? Though I doubt I’ll ever get confirmation of this, the only plausible explanation is that Catherine and Nana were “family” in the only way two women in the 1960s could be. 

At the time I learned this story, I was also still in the closet. Several years passed before I came out to my family, after I left my husband because I could no longer contain my queerness. When I finally did, I thought often about Nana and the world she built for herself in Fort Worth, Texas—the miniature life inside her life that allowed her to be who she was. What would I have done in another era? How would my children see me if I’d never lived in the fullness of my identity? For that matter, how do they see me now? 

My short story in this issue is from the perspective of a girl slowly beginning to recognize that her mother is a lesbian, and it’s set in the era between Nana’s adulthood and my own. I wanted to think about what it would be like to view your mother with garden-variety childhood/teenage judgment while also implicitly understanding she’s holding in something more, some fundamental part of herself—bearing witness to her secret love and grief. 

Much of my work centers on the intersection of queerness, food, and motherhood. I’m finishing a poetry manuscript on these themes, and several poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Hunger, HAD (Hobart After Dark), Blue Mesa Review, Qwerty Literary Magazine, SWWIM Every Day, Jet Fuel Review, and more. “Undersong” is my only piece directly inspired by Nana, though. She’s been dead for over forty years—since I was an infant—but I hope her miniature life was enough.”