Volume 1, Issue 2

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Volume 1, Issue 2

Vol. 1, ISS. 2
2
the St. Sebastian Review
a queer Christian literary magazine
Vol. 1 Iss. 2 First Day of Autumn, 2011
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CONTENTS
Autumn 2011
Cover
St. Sebastian Sheltered by Swans
{Grant Hanna}
Editor’s Note
6
A Last Minute List of Instructions For
Brendan on a Theme of Departure
{David-Glen Smith}
7
The Boy’s Room
{Michael J. Berntsen}
8
Worrying
{Eleanor Bennett}
10
Witness
{Lori Lamothe}
11
an excerpt from Bagoas
{Stephen Mead}
12
The Mystic in a Rage of Verse
{James Robison}
13
an excerpt from Christmas Morning
{J.D. Isip}
14
Sleep Anywhere
{Eleanor Bennett}
16
The Water Ghost
{Henry Alley}
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Contributors
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The St. Sebastian Review is an LGBTQ Christian literary magazine,
founded to give voice to a community often disenfranchised and
unheard.
We exist as a forum within and from which LGBTQ Christians of
any denomination can engage both critically and compassionately
the culture in which they find themselves.
We are purveyors of fine poetry, fiction, nonfiction essays, and
visual art from among the LGBTQ Christian community and its
allies.
Carolyn E.M. Gibney, Editor
The St. Sebastian Review is published bi-annually, on the first day of Spring and the first day of Autumn. Manuscripts
of poetry and prose, and submissions of visual art accepted via email to [email protected] Details:
http://www.stsebastianreview.com/Submissions.html. Copyright © 2011 the St. Sebastian Review.
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Editor’s Note This coming Sunday, I'll be attending a service at a local UCC church called "Drag Queen
Gospel Brunch." I know; I'd never heard of such a thing either. From what I hear, the
morning will begin with a service in which the pastor, a straight woman, delivers her sermon
dressed in drag. This will be followed by a mocktail-infused brunch in the church basement,
and crescendo back up to the sanctuary where Serenity Jones, a drag queen member of the
congregation, will lead us in rousing choruses of gospel numbers.
When I learned about this event, it occurred to me that it had been a long time since I'd
really wanted – as in, decorated the date on my calendar with several different-colored
Sharpies – to attend anything happening at a church.
Often, going to church is just hard. Rather than being the sacred, joyful experience I believe
church is supposed to be, services end up hurting my feelings, highlighting instead some of
the painful rifts I've experienced as a queer who grew up Christian.
A few years ago, I was at a Rufus Wainwright concert in Central Park. About three-quarters
of the way through his (marvelous) set, it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Even so, I
didn't see anyone leave, not even after he'd played what he said would be his last song.
Drenched as we were, we wanted an encore.
It didn't take much yelling and clapping to get the man back on stage. He returned, in true
Rufus fashion, dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, and started to play Leonard Cohen's
"Hallelujah."
In the rain, we stood there singing. On my left were a couple of young men who looked like
they could've been Abercrombie models holding on to each other tightly. On my right was
an older gay couple with their arms entwined, huddled under a Hello Kitty umbrella.
And there in the dark, in the downpour, in the middle of Central Park, listening to the
soaring voice of Rufus Wainwright joined with all of our voices, lifted upward in an earnest
but firm "Hallelujah," the thought struck me deeply for the first time: "How could God be
displeased with this?"
I remember that moment sometimes, when I'm downhearted about the state of my
relationship with my family, or feel my muscles tense at the thought of going anywhere near
a church. How could God not love something so vulnerably beautiful as all the queers
singing "Hallelujah"? How could he not love the likes of Serenity Jones, dressed in her
Sunday best, leading sad, discouraged people like me in the great old gospel songs, leading
me, in fact, back to the church that I came from, and of which, God help me, I will always
be a part.
Carolyn E.M. Gibney
Editor
First day of Autumn, 2011
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A Last Minute List of Instructions For Brendan on a Theme of Departure
Afterwards, son:
when silence fills
every room of the old house.
Trim back excess wicks
of the kitchen candles.
Wash out one off-white
sheet for me to wear
as a shroud, with hands clasping
a blank book and a milkweed branch—
supplies for long wintery days
as I sink into my final bedding
of shrub land and grey prairie,
as I listen to field mice
furiously burrow overhead,
making their nests in horse tail grass,
and tall razor weeds.
Finally, fold up these words. Carefully rend
the paper into multiple scraps.
Release them into a scattering flock of syllables,
into random words trembling
across the brief horizon line,
the thin new division
that now lingers heavily, yet
temporarily between you and me.
David-Glen Smith
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The Boy’s Room
T
he carpet quaked beneath the Reverend’s heavy footsteps as he
followed Mrs. Hebert to her son’s room. He tapped upon the Clean
Up After Your Dog and Men’s Restroom signs on the door, making a
metallic ring that thundered in Mrs. Hebert’s ear.
“You allow him to possess stolen paraphernalia?” asked the Reverend.
“Tim thinks they’re funny,” she responded.
The Reverend’s eyebrows rose into his hair. “I suggest your husband fix
his sense of humor. Theses signs clearly allude to the queer lifestyle. The dog
sign bespeaks of the homoerotic obsession with the sphincter. And pretending
his bedroom is a male lavatory is simply obscene, not to mention very
dangerous.”
Opening the door, the Reverend immediately looked down, shook his
head, and slightly hissed, “What I don’t see are any clothes on the floor.
Telling.”
“He’s always been a neat boy.”
“Extremely telling.”
Boys who enjoy
Mrs. Hebert’s eyes twitched. As the Reverend
aggressive female
stalked every inch of the boy’s room, her left hand
music often
folded a small note pad into itself. Its pages began to
empathize with
disintegrate from the pool of sweat gathering in her
unfulfilled,
palm.
feminine desires.
“Usually, when a young man only has
He needs to listen
Superheroes on his walls, he does so because it’s a safe
to healthier artists.
way to fantasize about men. These posters have to go,”
he said, staring into Batman’s blank eyes. “Wall
decorations are indeed the most difficult because you
shouldn’t revert to cars, guns, and pin-ups. Even movie
or music posters are problematic. I’d suggest 3-D art or reprints of safe, classic
art. Something architectural, like Escher’s ‘Relativity’ perhaps.”
Mrs. Hebert relaxed her left hand to take notes.
The Reverend sat down at the desk and began clicking through the files
in the boy’s green laptop. He pulled out earphones from his coat pocket and
plugged them in. Several minutes passed without any words, merely faint
groans from the Reverend’s throat. Mrs. Hebert’s heart gradually followed the
rhythm of the keyboard’s quick, harsh chatter.
As the Reverend twisted the chair to look at her, it screeched, prompting
Mrs. Hebert to stand at attention. “Your son downloads mostly female
musicians. I’m not familiar with Sleater-Kinney, but Dig Me Out must be a
reference to analingus. Boys who enjoy aggressive female music often
empathize with unfulfilled, feminine desires. He needs to listen to healthier
artists. I suggest the classics. Tchaikovsky, Barber, Schubert, and the like.”
He paused to lick his lips. “Now, the lack of pornography suggests that
he worries about anyone discovering his sexual preference. Most heterosexual
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teenagers proudly display the debauched images they acquire. Homosexual
gays, however, are like thieving locusts. They never forget to cover their
indecorous tracks.”
“We once found him sneaking a video from Tim’s porn collection if that
helps.”
“Tim has a porn collection?” The question reverberated through the
entire house.
“Oh. Oh dear. I mean I . . . uh . . . he . . . Oh my.”
“Listen, Mrs. Hebert, because this statistic will shock you. Ninety-three
percent of children whose parents own salacious materials become sexually
voracious by the age of twelve. Even if your husband’s vulgar collection is
purely heterosexual, your son could still enjoy fifty percent of what he sees. If
Tim has mostly lesbianic videos, your son might not enjoy what he sees, but put
two and two together and realize if women can have fornicative relations
without a man then men could have coital intercourse without a female. You
must ask your husband to discard his lewd materials immediately.”
She nodded.
“Good. Now, let’s discuss how to gay-proof your kitchen and living
room. I think you’re really going to love my recommendations. To be honest,
Mrs. Hebert, you should’ve called me years ago.”
Michael J. Berntsen
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Worrying Eleanor Bennett
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Witness
Normally, Inquisitorial tribunals were supposed to hear witness testimony
against the accused and base any verdict upon such testimony, but in this case
the only witness called was the accused herself.. . In the end, Cauchon would
convict her on the cross-dressing charge.
—Joan of Arc, a brief biography
The voices always stood off to one side
and when I turned to look at the light head on
it swerved out of vision at the last second, blinding.
You say I’m mad because I cut my hair short,
wore amour into battle—yet the king before
believed he was made of glass, had iron rods
sewn into his clothes so he wouldn’t break.
You want me to kneel before you and dial
the precise combination for femininity—
drape my virginity in white, ravel out my hair
and let you climb until you reach satisfaction.
Listen: before the next feast you will burn
my body three times, sweep my bones
into a sack and hold it under running water.
Listen: tomorrow lightning will tattoo its image
across the executioner’s chest. In every dream
you will wander lost in a landscape of nightmare.
Lori Lathome
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from Bagoas
Now we are dissolute.
Now evaporative spirits rain up,
and how shall I find you?
Look. Snow is falling,
its wet feathers prayers
of spring, and I was only sleeping,
some seer in fever, but what
do these words mean
when your arms are so close,
when this tent has their heat,
and outside there's just the heavens?
Come, my lord, the men have struck water
and I must say nothing
of all that I dreamed.
Stephen Mead
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The Mystic in a Rage of Verse
She refuses to discover anatomy in the whorls
of a jonquil. She is a force on the beach writing,
a demiurge ablaze and browned
in August heat, making the cosmos not aright, but again.
I am about repudiation of the void, she says, an opening of ends.
With me all is weaponized and I refute haze to
cast hard lines of light. The waters are a complete gray, she says,
beneath my fishing osprey. My forests I name blue and the shark will
say, “This eye is stone, this flesh scours. I kill.”
Lavender moths will drop as leaves or rise
on gusts of steam, a target on each wing.
I am not who am, but emulate in scars of black on white
the asterisks in the snowbright sand, tracks of His passing texts.
I give what will suffice. I’ll caulk fissures between
sense and non, do violence to the link of event and consequence.
Abide nothing but the photo-real, hear nothing but the tape transcribed.
The green grasshopper, black locust,
these machines will still tick and clatter
in my pastures by a stream still made iodine
by His sunset. I’ll report in the terms of a contract litigated and signed:
Is.
But to absent yourself entirely, (she says) is to be already dead.
I must say what nobody yet knows, even me.
James Robison
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from Christmas Morning
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Wallace Stevens
I
Satisfaction of skin, uncovered, uncaring, glowing, and white
As the souls of Saints who rose hours before to scurry
Across hard tar and streetlights, in the pungent morning mists—
Touched with aromas of coffee and skin and fresh cut pine—
And a calloused hand raised toward heaven, on his pillow,
Scatter all thoughts of divine intervention or power of prayer.
He dreams in pieces, like frames of a film: a baby cries
And, behind his eyes, he sees the sound wake the world,
And, then, there are kings, then cows, then angels, then carols and lights
Strung through green pine trees and Charlie Brown’s sad jazz
That takes Charlie and his thoughts to Bethlehem—
Jazz like life, caught between birth and death, joy and grief.
A morning’s mind, caught between birth and death, joy and grief,
As the sound of the street, the hum of cars, December’s cool steel air
Invading the natural and warm spaces of sleep—he wakes.

VI
Heaven, they say, has no winter or want
Or sleepy, mornings-after with cream in our coffee—
There, it is always summer, always warm
Always the temperature of contentment, a languid
Flow of good after good, like pissing in a pool.
It is, they say, like returning to our mothers’ wombs
And, in that, it is delightful, like a dream—
Dreams, though, end at dawn, run quickly from memory.
Heaven does not end, but is, and ever shall be
A realm of clouds too supple and translucent
To hold Ella Fitzgerald’s happy, heavy voice up
Or keep Billie Holiday’s head from falling through cirrus.
Heaven, with perfect gold streets and high arcing cedars
Would be a crass backdrop to Charlie Brown and his tree
Or Christmas morning with a man and a man in sheets.

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VIII
He hears, “Hark! The herald angels sing, Christ
Is born…” Suddenly, the morning and their bodies are covered
By release, the warm and shiny bells of children’s voices outside
Bundled in scarlet wool scarves, singing…
We exist between moments, he thinks, moments
Of wonder at a winter black sky and a Star,
Of kisses that taste both sweet and uncertain,
Of Christmas mornings, all mornings, of trees and lovers—
Birds sing to us at night, the moon
Assures us that lonely is eternal, but friendly,
We trace a Hand in each touch
Of smooth pebbles at the river, or a dog’s loving tongue,
And the question of God, of purpose, of us
Dissipates in the wake of an embrace, a baby
With her head sunk in the cleft of your shoulder, asleep.
J.D. Isip
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Sleep Anywhere Eleanor Bennett
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The Water Ghost
Y
ou feel you have the right idea. A dead woman now, sober at last,
you go back to the small place in your past like the ghost of Emily
did in her own in Our Town. Your son, legally blind since birth, is
twenty-five now, and you from the perspective of death are watching
yourself walking down the steps into this summer home on the
water, a house which you are planning to sell. This is a middle moment back
then. You have not yet quite taken hold of your life, but you soon will. The
whole place is ensconced in darkness, and as if to compensate for your
uncertainty, your son immediately takes off his coat and starts playing at the old
piano—in the moonlight, which is flashing up from the bay. There is no comfort
he needs now (although you can think of many instances in the past when he did),
because his lover—another man—will soon be arriving and they will be sleeping
together under your roof for the first time. The child who was so bald-faced, who
was so ragged in his gestures, is moving on ahead as well. There is a quiet
severance going on as he plays, and you, as the person you were then, turn on the
electric lights for your sake, which causes all the furniture to jump into view (it is
cast-off, higher-end Salvation Army stuff, worthy of a summer home). Meanwhile
Jason, your son, is perfectly easy, and even knows—and has said so—that it is
high tide tonight. This is the moment you revisit as a ghost—as in the story, “The
Water Ghost,” which you used to read to him from Ghosts, Ghosts, Ghosts when he
was a child—perhaps his favorite story—this ghost, this you, carries and trails
water with her wherever she goes. Seaweed is in her hands. The ocean has
saturated her garments. She is so sodden she can give onlookers pneumonia, and
although you do not do that, your grief feels so spectacular that you emit tracks of
tears at every corner of your chosen recollected life.
Someone is at the door of the summer home—your niece who has brought
down a harp on a kind of trial basis. She has brought it from many miles off,
knowing of your emerging interest. It is called a Gothic harp and has nineteen
strings. Suddenly Jason’s, your son’s, music has stopped, and you consider how,
as the ghost, that fifteen years from now, you could and will have your own
special vocation—you will sit in operating rooms and change the very pulse of
other human beings. In paper hat and light-blue clinical gown, you will feel the
notes of the harp sounding in your body—notes which will heal others, as they lie
there under surgery. It is called entrainment. The Dutch scientist back in the
seventeenth century was right—what he had discovered when he put two
swinging pendulums side by side and they coordinated themselves is true also of
music and a beating heart; the notes reorder the circulation. In this sense, even
Handel can work magic on human tissue, on pulse, causing an eventual and real
resurrection of the body. But now in this summer home, watching yourself at the
brink of your career, you know that this apex of achievement will not be enough
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to keep you alive. The niece leaves and your son’s lover soon arrives in her stead,
and suddenly you observe yourself alone at that window and you pattern out
within you all the loneliness that comes from having a son who will be happy
sleeping with a forest ranger lover, that comes from having comforted a child who
depended entirely on you for many years but is now flying, or getting ready to fly,
like a spirit out of the summer home, which will soon be sold.
But here you are at that waterfront window looking at the high tide, as you
revisit in memory a classroom, fifteen years earlier. That is, you watch yourself
remembering, in that moonlight scene, with Jason having finished at the piano,
back to another moment. You’re with Jason again, and he’s ten years old and
crying. Even though he’s been through this many times before—a first day at
school—he’s forgotten he’s different than the
rest. He’s unsighted, as they would say in those
days, and he will have to follow what goes on
during each subject very, very slowly. He’s
In this sense, even Handel can
realizing this again, after the summer. He’s
work magic on human tissue, on
crying, and you comfort him, as his mother,
pulse, causing an eventual and
and your hands are strong. You say, “You’ll go
real resurrection of the body.
back to the Lighthouse for the Blind and they
will help. I’ll drive you myself after work.” You
say this, because your husband, Bill, is no good
at compassion right now. He’s busy advancing a cartoon corner in syndicated
papers, and it is becoming quite the thing. It’s called "Don’t Even Go There".
The classroom is filled with the smell of old books, some of them on faraway
shelves, each volume a different color in a binding that was popular many years
prior—bumpy, as though it were gooseflesh. You comfort Jason and you feel
superior, just to relieve the moment of seeing tears coming from your son’s
blinded eyes. Superior because you’re there and your husband isn’t—a sliver of
emotion which becomes like a needle of chastisement later, because you will start
drinking, beginning with yellow bottles of wine which have Beethoven on the
label, when you decide to change jobs at last and become the woman you
intended to be. Then you will start dressing in green. Even your nightdress will
be that color. You will feel gauzy and you will go back to college, eventually to a
special school for harpists in Montana, and you will learn to play, starting with a
lake as your audience and later patients and eventually even corpses. At first, the
notes will help you get through recollected moments of pain like this—with the
autumnal light coming through the windows of the classroom, with the teacher
conspicuously absent, because she wants to give you time alone with the child she
could not console during regular hours. But Jason will find his way at last. Will
eventually end up working at a state library, translating the classics into Braille.
He will be all genie-like energy and even have his own rock band on the side,
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playing wildly at the piano. He will even be able to make people bob up and
down to “I Love You Like a Ball and Chain.”
So you have come back now as the water ghost of a woman who jumped
from a bridge fifteen years later, at the height of her career as a harp therapist.
She was sent to drug and alcohol treatment in a green nightdress in northern
nighttime Seattle. She was mad as any bedlam beggar, and they all threatened
her in that particular wing of the hospital with sending her to an institution.
Because at last she could not endure memories like this one at the summer home.
She could not be contained in her hospital room, she insisted on playing her
harp. Where was her harp? She—you—called Jason and told him to come and
get you—and it was after midnight. You even called your husband who had taken
to permanently convalescing in a nursing home in the south of the city. His
cartoon column had gone all to smash, and he’d taken up day carpentry and had
wanted to come back into your lives just when all went to smash again when he
fell brutally from a ladder. He had gone right into a hawthorn tree.
So here you are in a room in what they call Treatment with a capital “T,”
and the attendant brings in a half-filled glass and a pill, but you refuse it, tip
everything over in fact, and are suddenly out the door of the hospital. Attendants
are running after you like bats out of hell, but you manage to elude them once
you are out on to the street. You find the main thoroughfare with its random, lit
cars. You instinctively turn south, and are aware, only then, with the rushing of
the traffic, that you are in your green nightdress. The bridge faces you up
ahead—so very high. It has the watchtowers, and the special green signals that
belong to those spans that divide in half for the passing of the tall-masted boats.
You lean on the railing and consider. Consider how you spent fifteen years
rebuilding your life after that moment of losing Jason and gaining a harp in your
summer home but you have lost everything now, because you drank over all those
accumulated moments you did not want to revisit and so you sky-dive down in
your emerald nightdress, and, crashing below the water, become a water-ghost.
Who returns to that summer home anyway. Jason’s lover is talking
loudly—a broad-faced, narrow-hipped man from Idaho—and you let them laugh
together in the bedroom while you watch yourself go to the picture window
fronting the cove, and, as though serenading the cove, pluck a few strings of the
newly arrived harp in the moonlight—utterly tuneless, for you know nothing yet
of the instrument at this point—and advance, darkly, to that second at the railing
of the bridge fifteen years from now, knowing that the only way to redeem
yourself is to revisit instances like this, asking for forgiveness, and hoping through
some kind of process which parallels the Dutch scientist's pendulums, that the
resurrected people of your memory will sense your heartbeat and allow their own,
if for only a moment, to go into accord.
Henry Alley
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Contributors
Henry Alley is Professor Emeritus of Literature at the University of Oregon. His most
recent novel, Precincts of Light, was published last year by Inkwater Press. He holds an
MFA in fiction and a Ph.D. in prose fiction from Cornell.
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a photographer and artist who has won contests
with National Geographic, The Woodland Trust, The World Photography Organisation,
Winston’s Wish, Papworth Trust, Mencap, Big Issue, Wrexham Science, Fennel and Fern,
and Nature's Best Photography. She is the youngest artist to be displayed in Charnwood
Art's Vision 09 Exhibition and New Mill's Artlounge Dark Colours Exhibition.
Michael J. Berntsen is a Ph.D. graduate student at the University of Louisiana at
Lafayette, where he teaches Literature and Creative Writing.
Grant Hanna is an illustrator and known homosexual living on Boston's North Shore.
In "St. Sebastian Sheltered by Swans" he attempts to visually address the ambivalence
of being a gay person of faith by incorporating two black swans (a species which forms
lifelong male homosexual pairs) into the traditional iconography of St. Sebastian. To
explore his work further please visit www.granthanna.com.
J.D. Isip's
poetry has appeared in DASH Literary Journal, Loch Raven Review, Diverse
Voices Quarterly, and Thirty First Bird Review. His play, WISER, was published in the
anthology In Uniform from Slash Books. He is a doctoral student and English Teaching
Assistant at Texas A&M University – Commerce.
Lori Lamothe has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, CALYX, Seattle Review,
Blackbird and other magazines. Her chapbook, Camera Obscura, was published by
Finishing Line Press.
Stephen Mead is a published artist, writer, and maker of short collage films. His
latest project, a collaboration with composer Kevin MacLeod, is entitled "Whispers of
Arias," a two-volume CD set of narrative poems sung to music. (“Bagoas” is part of
“Whispers of Arias,” and can be heard at http://soundcloud.com/stephenmeadart.)
James Robison has published many stories in The New Yorker, won a Whiting Grant
for his short fiction, and a Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and
Letters for his first novel, The Illustrator, brought out by Bloomsbury in the U.K. He
taught for eight years at the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program, and
was the 2011 Visiting Artist at The University of Southern Mississippi.
David-Glen Smith’s work has appeared in various magazines including: Assaracus
(forthcoming Jan. 2012), The Centrifugal Eye, ffrrfr, Houston Literary Review, Lady Jane
Miscellany, Louisville Review, Mid-America Review, Saltwater Quarterly, Slant, and The
Write Room. In addition, a recent print anthology titled Ganymede - Unfinished accepted
two of his poems. Recently, he and his partner welcomed a baby boy into their lives.
For more information visit: http://davidglensmith.blogspot.com/.
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