I love to watch the time pass by Its waters run a single course Unseen to the naked eye Unheard its lustrous melody A river with no end or source A boy who sits upon the shore Watches the river run as well Speaks of nature and its lore And of the light behind a door Of hallowed heaven and rav’nous hell “I do not speak of Gods,” I say As he turns round with knowing glance. “Better to live from day to day Believing I make my own way Than think my life is purely chance.” “Can you deny the human soul? Do you so think,” says the young man, “That you can have complete control Or ever try to truly hold That which is not within your hands?” Long I sat and long I thought Tears streaming through my nervous hands In my doubt and distress fraught In this web so eas’ly caught By this beaming not-yet-man And he left me to cerebrate “Is all just purely as it seems, Or is all life simply fate Do I exist to only sate A great creator’s waking dreams?”
The boy had wandered to a bridge, And as I watched I rose to yell. His balance had become unhinged And, standing infirm ‘pon the fringe, Off its precipitous side he fell. He fell and I struck forth in full Into the raging, angry foam, My chest pressing like a hull, Hoping that I still might pull His body from impending gloam. Still deeper yet I waded in, For his death I could not abide, And my soul then stirred within, As he slipped into my skin, And we walked to the farther side.
Dark, cold, unmovable, could our personification remove our blame? Spitting, like jellied fire, data falls in cold chunks. Deliberate results caused by our interaction, our ignorance of the path between “A” and “B” makes an evil for us to see. Caressed into the folds of our lives, we rarely open our eyes to what we allow to thrive. Facilitated by our ability to, in our image, create, we have diminishing limits to what we can make. Crafted in brimstone of knowledge that is higher, we tend to give the benefit of our doubt to the wealthiest buyer.
But, in our condemnation of circumstances oh so dire, we become, among ourselves, the biggest liars. Is it enough to say that our creation has merely the ability to save the day? Is it not, in the same way, capable of making a coffin in which all of us can lay? Whose is it to make the claim, that all of this is ours—it’s tame? Aren’t these words that change the game, if their opposites turn out to be the same? We who create should be weary, because what is destructive is not always scary. Christened in our new found knowledge, we are ordaining a fresh college. Like an empowered dictator, soon we’ll have created something than ourselves even greater. For now, though, we’ve taken to yelling at our cars, making, in our misguided realities, deep, calloused scars We’ve taken to throwing our remotes at T.V. sets that haven’t even the capacity to cope. We’ve taken to loving phones, kissing glass screens, and holding broadcast sounds as shared moans. From start to finish, we’ve developed among ourselves a fetish. We’ve developed an attachment to objects, we’ve started preferring ourselves the subjects.
But, what we like to ignore, is that we haven’t made it yet to that far shore. Our creations are created, and they are, within our realms, seated. They are nothing short of our visions, and, once brought into fruition, who is it that clarifies them—mere suppositions? It might be a little more than frightening to consider, that we all are, in this gamble for guilt, competing for the highest bidder. Without even knowing it, we are high rollers in a game full of losers. A simple game of wins and losses, the players don’t even realize what they’ve let escape their ivory towers. It might be too much, though, to paint a picture of an ignorance that domineers so. No, it is something much more sinister, because, as is easily seen, our desire to escape our own consequences has caused our minds to blister. Boils of contempt, ooze with our heart’s foulest scent. The busted wounds of a conscience laden with guilt, have in false pretenses our dreams built. I cannot deny, though, that there is some merit in letting our creations, our mind, inherit. But, denying the pain of our actions making a claim, and, instead, placing in our creations the blame, is something played in an evil game.
The two of us met behind the building with the lopsided cross, sharing thoughts on things til our shadows grew long and touched, over and beyond the chain link fence. You called me a tumbleweed, so I thought of you as wind. As you weren’t content to blow in one direction, but all over and back again. Now bleary-eyed, I still remember the breaking point. Well after we crossed that line, Several lines… written in chalk. An energy infectious, I felt our surge in sync. Beside ourselves, beyond ourselves. A cosmic climax, ending in a deep bellied yawn. Then waking up in a cold sweat, To find out you had gone.
I could see the sun beginning to break over the horizon as I sat in the residential backyard of an acquaintance of mine. I would not call her a friend, and I found that, as I looked at the circle of people around me, I could only remember the names of a select few, maybe from classes. God, class. It was dawn, I hadn’t slept a wink, and the biggest test of my life was in a mere three hours. What was I doing here with these nameless faces? I hurried to gather my things to leave when some guy—Sean, I think—said, “Hey, it’s your turn.” He held between his index finger and his thumb, a thin, white, cylindrical object that was burning at one end. The object was so foreign due of the length of time since I had seen it last, but I knew what it was. I looked at Sean… I took the joint from him… I raised it to my mouth… and I inhaled. *** Darkness completely enveloped me, and I found myself in a different world. Where I stood was not residential but in fact wild. Monstrous trees surrounded me and the ground beneath my feet was made of loose sharp rock. Naturally I began to panic. I searched for any clue that would lead me to an exit or a reason why I was in this dark wood. I slipped on the steep slope and broke the heel of my twohundred dollar pumps. “Dammit… Where am I?” I cried out to the darkness. A voice answered, “Don’t you recognize where you are, Tiffany?” I was surprised to realize that the voice that spoke was a familiar one. “Dr. Wranovix?” I asked the bodiless voice. The friendly figure of my English professor stepped from the shadows, and relief overwhelmed me. I ran to her, crying, and embraced her. “Do not cry, Tiffany,” she said, as we began to walk, descending the slope. “You are about to go on a journey. A journey similar to one we have studied. Which journey does this seem like to you?” I looked around, and it all became clear to me. I stopped in my tracks. I was only able to utter a single word. “Dante.” “Very good!” exclaimed Dr. Wranovix, smiling. “You remember the wood where Dante woke up? You are in it! I am here to guide you along the way into your Hell. You have waivered off your path, Tiffany, and you must see where you are headed if you continue down this treacherous route. The places we will visit are the parts of Hell that only pertain to you and that Dante skipped over in his Inferno. Are you
ready?” She looked at me with a warm smile, and I knew that I was about to see the darkest corners of my soul. We traveled further down the mountain and came to a door inscribed with the infamous, dark words depicted by Dante. We passed through these evil doors to find ourselves in a narrow hallway. There were dim light bulbs hanging from the ceiling intermittently so it was not too difficult to see. As we walked down the infinite hallway, I could see that there were hundreds of doors along the walls. Each door was a different size but all were the color of fresh blood. I must have looked confused because Dr. Wranovix answered the question that was pressing on my mind before I could ask it. “Dante chose not to put this hallway in his epic. He had to journey into every level of Hell, while we will just be seeing what Hell would mean for you. Each of these doors opens only for the person for whom it was made. What lies behind your door are the places in Hell where you may end up if you do not change your ways. You must learn from this experience and go back to life renewed. If you do not, then you will be doomed to spend eternity here.” We walked for what already seemed like an eternity when we finally stopped at one door. Upon the blood red door was a placard that read, “Here Will Reside Forever the Soul of Tiffany Corkran.” I shook at the sight of the door, but I knew in my heart that I had the power to change my fate. I turned the knob, and we stepped through, into darkness. *** When my eyes adjusted to the near pitch black of the next room, I could see thousands of souls walking aimlessly around the room, which I noticed was covered in dust. Dust floated around in the air and carpeted the ground with a good six inches. I saw that the souls were carrying huge objects upon their backs, and some were dragging objects along with chains connected to their ankles. “What have these souls done in life to deserve this contrapasso, Dr. Wranovix?” I inquired. “Are they allowed to rest or must they carry that weight forever?” “They can rest if they choose,” she quickly answered. “However, if they stop to rest, they will turn into dust. These poor souls did not pay any regard to their responsibilities in their lifetime. They chose to procrastinate with frivolous activities before finishing what was most important. They are forced to carry upon their backs what they wasted precious time on instead of doing their work first. Look around and see if you recognize anyone you know.” I looked around the room and spotted a boat and a jet-ski being dragged before I saw the person I knew was carrying the burden. I
walked up to the poor soul and was dismayed to find the person I was expecting. My father walked around, bent double for he was also carrying a large sack upon his back. “Dad, it’s me, Tiffany. I hate to ask, but how are you?” He looked up surprised to see me. For a moment I thought he was going to yell at me for being in Hell, but he looked so tired he could barely speak. “I’m a fool. Why did I care about waxing the boats in the wintertime? I should have spent more time with your mother instead of going out drinking every weekend. I never gave her the love and attention I should have and now look where I am.” He began to sob and stopped walking for a second. In that second he stopped, he and his possessions crumbled into dust right before my eyes. I was shocked and I could not move my feet. I jumped when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to Dr. Wranovix and cried. “It’s ok, dear,” she said, attempting to console me. “I am sorry you had to see that happen, but we must move forward.” I nodded, and we made our way to the door across the room that I had not noticed before. It was a darker color than the door before and significantly larger. When we stepped through the door I was surprised to be showered with light. However, the light was artificial and reminded me of the bright lights in hospitals. The light was so bright that I could hardly see for blinking. When I finally regained sight, I was shocked to see in front of me… Myself. *** I had entered a maze of mirrors. Just like the ones at the carnivals. Though I could see souls—the maze was filled with them—all I could see in the mirrors was my own reflection and no one else’s. I noticed that most of the souls here were women, and they were all crying. However, instead of tears, they cried blood. They all were nicely dressed, but their clothes were dingy and torn. Their hair was in complete disarray, and the makeup on their faces smeared and mixed with the blood pouring from their eyes. Each soul was staring at the mirrors, clawing at what I assumed was her own reflection. It was a terrifying sight, but Dr. Wranovix calmly looked at me and asked, as if reviewing me for my final exam, “Can you tell what these souls did wrong in life by evaluating their contrapasso?” I pondered the question for a moment before I answered, “These souls are forced to look at themselves forever, trapped in this labyrinth of mirrors. I think that in life they were so fixated on their appearances that they lost sight of their inner beauty. They cared so much about what other people thought of them, so now in their afterlife each only sees her own reflection and is essentially alone. Right?”
She smiled back at me and told me I was absolutely correct. I had a feeling that I was going to see someone else I knew here. We continued through the maze, Dr. Wranovix leading the way, when sure enough I saw my mother curled on the floor crying and petting the mirror in front of her. I ran to her side and attempted to hug her, but I could not touch her. I tried again to embrace my crying mother, but my arms grasped only air. Once more, I attempted contact by trying to brush her hair with my fingers, but there was nothing there to touch. She could not see me or feel my presence by her side; she could only see the mirror, her only companion for all eternity. I felt a tug on my sleeve, and I was led into the final chamber. *** I was overwhelmed by the stench of burning, rotting flesh as I stepped through the black door, which was the entrance to the next space. The room was filled with a sinister red light similar to the lighting in shady bars. We walked along a narrow pathway, for most of the ground was covered in red hot needles. All the souls in this room were laid on their backs on top of the burning pins. I noticed that many souls were clawing at their skin causing huge gashes where blood gushed out of their bodies. I was completely disgusted already when Dr. Wranovix called my attention to the souls’ skin. I looked closer at a particular soul and noticed that there were bugs crawling underneath his skin. Disgusted, I looked away, and spoke to Dr. Wranovix. “This reminds me of what some drug addicts go through when they are freaking out. For instance, don’t meth addicts sometimes think there are bugs crawling under their skin? Is this room for souls that in life they abused drugs?” “Good job, Tiffany. I can see that you are learning quickly,” she replied. “Dr. Wranovix… I have a question though. I can see how the other levels pertained to my life. Sometimes I can care too much about my looks, and I know I procrastinate all the time. But I’m not a drug addict. I used to smoke marijuana, and I did earlier tonight—which was a mistake— but I am not addicted to it. And I certainly have never even thought about doing meth. What am I doing here?” Dr. Wranovix smiled as she answered my question. “This is a warning for you, Tiffany. If you were to pick up smoking again, you will get distracted from what is most important: your education. Also, while your judgment is impaired you may make some bad choices. This place could be in store for you if you do not keep your focus in school in order to have a good future. You are a good student and a good person; you must make the right choices. There is someone here you know that did
not take the right path and squandered away her education for a life of drugs. Go talk to her.” She pointed to the right where I saw a young girl I could hardly recognize. “Asia?” My old friend from high school looked up at me, and the look on her face changed from agonizing pain to feigned happiness. “Hey, girl!” Asia exclaimed as she tried to sit up, but it was too painful for her to hold herself up. “Aggghhh…. How are you? Being nerdy at school I bet.” “Uh, yep. I’m trying to get straight A’s this year.” “Well, I’m doing great. We party all the time down here. It’s a blast. You should come down sometime, instead of doing your stupid homework. Don’t you want to be cool, Tiffany?!” She began to laugh uncontrollably as she ripped her skin open with her nails, and I could see hundreds of bugs crawling out of the open wound, up into her mouth, stifling her laughs. I backed away from her, and turned to Dr. Wranovix. “Can I go home now? I have a test to study for.” Dr. Wranovix smiled as she led me to the white door at the end of the pathway, where I could see a gentle light emitting from the space between the door and the ground. She said to me sweetly, “I think you’ve studied enough. I do believe you are ready.” She opened the door, and before me I saw a surprisingly comforting sight. She sat me down at my desk, I got out a pen, and I began my final exam.
Courage is the ability to overcome or conquer challenges in the face of adversity. Over the course of time, however, the definition has taken on many different forms. In Homer’s The Odyssey, courage is expressed as being unafraid of death and searching for every opportunity to display bravery. Odysseus is on a long journey home, but he is impeded along the way by a multitude of dangerous monsters and gods bent towards his destruction. Odysseus makes the best of each encounter, adding to his ever-growing catalog of triumphs. Centuries later, Virgil writes The Aeneid in which Aeneas must be courageous and leave his home for an unknown future. Courage to Virgil is the ability to face the unknown, no matter how frightening it may be. Finally, in Dante’s Inferno, courage becomes a more internalized battle. Rather than fighting wars and monsters as in The Odyssey, Dante the Pilgrim must face his inner demons as he travels down to the deepest circles of hell. Throughout the span of Western tradition, courage has gradually evolved from an outward display of brawn and bravado into a fight within one’s own soul. In The Odyssey by Homer, the character Odysseus is a clever, strong, and glory-seeking hero. On his way home from war, Odysseus angers Poseidon, who tries to delay Odysseus’s homecoming as long as possible. For twenty years Odysseus is thrown about from island to island encountering dangerous beasts, mystic women, and even travels into the Land of the Dead. Though Odysseus does miss his family throughout his ordeal, yearning to be a father to the son he barely knew, Odysseus revels in the adventures he experiences. Odysseus says to Kalypso before he leaves her island, “If some god batters me far out on the wine-blue water, I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit inside me, for already I have suffered much and done much hard work on the waves and in the fighting. So let this adventure follow” (Homer, Book V, Lines 221-224). Odysseus is courageous because he never turns down a chance for adventure, even up against powerful adversaries and the chance of death. However, what would the point be if Odysseus escaped from the cave of Polyphemos, the Cyclops, and no one knew about it? Odysseus wants his name to be known, which is evident as he calls out after defeating the man-eating giant, “If any mortal man asks you… tell him that you were blinded by Odysseus, sacker of cities. Laertes is his father, and he makes his home in Ithaka” (Homer, Book IX, Line 502505). Before there was any belief in reward or punishment after death, people believed that the way to live on was to make a name on earth.
Homer’s idea of courage is based around a blatant display of bravery and strong pride. As centuries pass, values change. Virgil writes about a voyage in The Aeneid in which the hero, Aeneas, must travel unknown waters and lands searching for a new home. Though, like Odysseus, Aeneas faces physical obstacles along his journey, the courage that Aeneas must have is courage within his heart. He must part with the home he has always known and loved to found a new city in a foreign land. Aeneas tells Dido, “According to my wishes, first of all, I should look after Troy…Priam’s great hall should stand again… But it is the rich Italian land Apollo tells me I must make for: Italy named by his oracles” (Virgil, Book IV, Lines 471-478). If it were up to Aeneas, he would stay with his wife and father in Troy, but he must stay diligent and continue through with his responsibilities. Virgil valued the virtue of responsibility over personal gain, which reflects the values of the time, when pride in one’s country was more important that pride in the self. Aeneas has courage because he puts his own needs aside to obtain the good for all his people. Virgil’s Aeneid is another step in the evolution of values from an outward bravery and pride to inner courage. In Dante’s Inferno, the courage that Dante the Pilgrim musters is the courage to face the sins of his own soul. By the time Dante wrote his Inferno, much had changed in Western civilization. Instead of paganism and polytheism exhibited in The Odyssey and The Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno is based around Christianity, the religion widely accepted in Dante’s time. The change in religion also triggered a shift in moral values. For example, in the prior works much emphasis was put upon personal glory, though more in Homer’s than in Virgil’s. Homer’s definition of courage would have been frowned upon due to the significance of personal gain. Odysseus is actually placed in one of the deepest circles of Hell, according to Dante. As Dante ventures through Hell, his own sinful nature comes through in each circle as he relates to the punished. While Dante is traveling through the fifth circle of Hell containing the wrathful, he becomes angry and scorns the sinner, Filippo Argenti, “May you weep and wail, stuck here in this place forever, you damned soul” (Dante, Canto VIII, Lines 37-38). However, even here when he displays the sin of wrathfulness, Dante the Pilgrim begins to learn from the sinners and begins to change within himself. Rather than pitying the sinners for the contrapasso they endure, he realizes that they truly deserve their punishments. This realization of mortality may be the most fearsome monster of all, for if Dante the Pilgrim continues upon the road of darkness, the road of sin, he may very well end up in the Hell he sees before him. Dante values the
courage it takes to look within one’s own soul and to change one’s life course for the better. Many writers through history, like Homer, Virgil, and Dante, have had their own opinions on what it really means to have courage. The definition of courage has progressed from a flashy demonstration of strength, wit, and everlasting glory to the ability to evaluate one’s life and soul and admit one’s flaws. First, Homer’s Odysseus lives for adventure and exhibits stereotypical bravery. Then, Virgil’s Aeneas must defeat his internal demons before he can defeat his exterior adversaries. Finally, Dante the Pilgrim must take a look at his own sins and change his path before it is too late. Each requires a different form of courage that reflects the values of the culture at the time. Yet, no matter what the circumstances, all must extract every ounce of courage within their being in order to defeat their specific adversities.
There was darkness, and there was storm. But the storm was only there through sound, for the darkness was more powerful. Wind that once rustled now ripped. Trees that once stood firm now snapped. Fire that once warmed now crackled all around, burning without discrimination. Cries were drowned in the noise, as their sources were drowned in the waters. Light came only as a taunt. Mockery of the sun, it showed darkness in its flash. Quiet in their homes, men huddled for warmth, no longer thinking themselves gods. They cowered, weak without their heaters, walls, and roofs. The few that were left all thought of how few they were. The many that were dead were all helpless to console them. Hardly was there a group of four that was still four or even three or two. They abandoned hope for despair, mourning not the dead but the ones the dead left behind. And then there was no more. Silence rebuked the storm. The darkness fled as the moon broke through the clouds. The men uncurled, slowly, one by one and walked in the moonlight. Tattered clothes matched tattered buildings. Bleeding bodies matched bleeding hearts. A young man bent down to drink from a clear pool of water and for the first time beheld the stars.
White, shiny, hard stubs sprouting from the grinning slob-covered gums, Babbling lips the near exhausted bodies and expressions on the vacant Faces of family, friends, people gathered into a church singing To the scripture verses, close the casket, final words and prayers and moans.
The operator Smiles stare back in the darkness You will be alone
I opened my mouth to tell you And my gum came out instead. I pretended not to notice, but you, distracted by the damage to your loafers looked at me with your annoyed face, and the words died in my throat. The news would never change. But would you look at your bearer of bad news the same? Your blended expression of joy, desire, and exasperation would be minus the most important emotion. I butchered my carefully planned delivery and comprehension melted your face. Howling your grief into my body your knees crashed against the blue linoleum clawing my back as if you could find him inside me.
Allow me to show you how deep my love goes Let me show you that I can be sweet as a rose Baby your love just makes me so high That this the type of love that I cannot deny Even though sometimes you make my blood boil with your antics The way you love me and touch me make my heart frantic My passion and burning desire for you is never ending I hope you appreciate all of the affection and love to you I’m spreading I’m taking this opportunity to show how I feel about you I know for certain our love will always and forever be true Let’s continue to be there through each other’s highs and lows But for now let me show you how deep my love goes
they talk and they type but idk if they no what their doing. it’s gray. like the screens of her iPad and his TI-89 Plus, the task is pixelated it’s jumbled it’s confused it’s too open they can’t think for themselves. their minds are empty. so they search and they search and they search. but idk if they even know how. and still they’re Word Doc is empty. because they don’t see black and white, only gray. so they decide to open their minds and a new Word Doc to clear they’re pixelated perception of a perfectly pixelated educational system. they decide too search online to open their minds to new ideas, but idk if they can. thats gray area for the technologically dependent, their page is empty.
their minds are empty, having no direction and depending on free thinking. its pixelated. and gray. n still they search. idk when they will open up, or when our educational system will open up to let go of the empty, thoughtless standardizations determining the content of our education. i don’t know when course materials will become less pixelated, causing students to have to search for the purpose of education. That should not be gray
area. All that should be gray are the spines of twenty books, open in a classroom of students thoughtfully discussing its content. We should not search for answers on Google to fill our empty, impressionable minds. Those thoughts are jumbled, pixelated, and not ours. Then there are those who say, “But, idk.” But you do. Rid yourselves of “idk” and “I can’t.” Clear the grey, pixelated areas of your mind, and open up to ideas that are not empty and are your own. Trust yourself, and search.
The taste of you makes me tingle You fulfill me in so many ways My friends say you are no good for me But I can’t stay away I crave you daily You are my drug of choice Without you I am miserable A real bitch, especially in the mornings But when we get together I am completely And I mean completely SATISFIED I love you, Coke-a-cola.
Alert with apprehension; he feels Fate wind through his antlers, to whisper in his ear. On the other side of the mountain, a girl, bubbling with excitement, revs her engine. It’s Halloween night and Rocky Horror Picture Show awaits. A company of three departs for adventure. Sprinting at breakneck speed, avoiding shots that splinter trees, he's blind, tuned only to the sounds of his hunter. She will later say, “It’s like he appeared from nowhere.” Swerving to avoid him as he ran into the road. She headed toward the mountain’s edge. The Buck escaped with his life, the girl turned her truck away from the mountainside, and into hell. Momentum ejected the back seating row, and a passenger nestled into his safety belt, over the cliff. The girl, bathed in blood and oil, is cut from the car by another with a broken leg. She and her surviving companion will see the symphony of this day play in their minds like ER reruns.
Grant told me to write it down. I remember the scene quite well. It was in the parlor, with the fire going;; that cliché cold winter’s night that decorates the pages of many a novel. He was in dad’s old chair, the big red one right in front of the fire. He looked thoughtfully into the flames, hypnotized and pensive. He was with us for that night and that night only. Then he had to move on. He was running and we couldn’t tie him down. He had to fly, and be free, and roam, and that was what alienated him from us. I couldn’t change his mind and neither could anybody else. Once his mind was made up, it was made up. That was the way Grant was, ever since we were kids. He told me to write it down. I was his brother and it was the last thing I could do for him; it was the only thing I could do. Grant told me to write it down. The words poured out of his mouth and I could feel them move my hand across the paper. I wrote but I didn’t look down. If I looked down, I might’ve looked up again to find that he had vanished. If I looked down I might’ve never seen my brother again. Still he sat there like a beacon holding us all in place: my father, my mother, and me. Dad was in a wheelchair and had been since the war. He talked funny and didn’t use his right side. He just sat and stared at his son, worried that, at any moment, he might get up and leave again. But Grant stayed there, talking to us, telling me to write it down. Ma stood behind Grant as he spoke. She tried to put her hand on his shoulder but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She just stood there, behind the chair. She looked upon her son and tears formed in her eyes. I couldn’t look at her. I had to focus on Grant. I had to drill my eyes into him so that he would stay and not float away. I wanted to go and comfort my mother, but I couldn’t. Grant had us all under a spell. His absence had readied us for this moment. Now we could do nothing but take in his presence, hang on his every word and get drunk off of it, and at last Ma started crying. Grant kept going. I kept writing. It was getting late and the rain started coming down, a cold rain that froze the plants and covered them in ice. My hand and my heart ached from the words, but Grant kept on, and so did I. Ma had gone to sit down, and she wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. We could all hear the rain, and it was quiet at first. It got louder and then the wind showed up and blew it all over the place. Water hit the windows in giant droplets and made a sound like something solid was hitting the glass. The sound rang in my ears and it was hard to hear
Grant’s words. I thought the glass was going to explode and cover us in scratches. I had to force myself to rationalize the feeling away. Grant needed me. He needed me to write everything down. Ma regained her composure and went into the kitchen to go make some tea. Dad was still silent. He was in a dark corner of the room, watching everything, watching us and the windows, watching the door, watching the shadows dance on the carpet. The fire crackled and sparks rode the heat up through the chimney. Grant slumped in his chair and stopped speaking. I laid down my pen and massaged my hand. The rain and the fire became the only sources of sound. The three of us sat in silence. I looked at what I had written. It was barely legible, and there was so much of it. The words were bunched together and overlapped in some places. The lines were cramped and the meaning of it all was difficult to comprehend. I then realized that a lot of what Grant had said was gibberish. I held my head in my hands. The teapot whistled. Grant started up again. I did too. Everyone had some tea except for Grant. The warmth from the drink surged through my body and gave me the push I longed for. My hand quivered with every letter I penned. I couldn’t stop. Grant’s words echoed throughout the room. Each new sound that pushed forth from his lips was punctuated like the ticks of a clock. It was nearly autonomous. His eyelids drooped but he spoke with vigor and resolve. The house made settling noises and the rain came down. The wind outside made the trees sway and bend, as if the intensity of Grant’s voice commanded it. There was a tempest outside, and it was Grant’s tempest. His words filled the air and condensed into tangible little droplets of thought that rained down upon us. Each time they hit we felt the cold sting of his words. And I wrote them down. We pressed on through the night. Sleep knew not to tempt us, and we were as sentinels on night watch. There were pages and pages of it now. There were heaps of papers strewn about every which way, all filled with words. The underside of my hand was blackened with ink, and my fingertips were tender. The fire was dying down. Ma began to stoke the smoldering logs and sparks and smoke shot up into the air. Dad still sat in the corner, watching. At times I forgot he was there at all. Grant did not let up. He assaulted us with his words, urging me on, forcing me to write. I wanted to cry but I had to focus. I had to be vigilant. I couldn’t let my brother down. Then it stopped. Grant stopped. I stopped.
I looked at my brother with weary eyes. He got up from his chair and moved toward the door. Ma sat motionless at the table, and watched him walk past. She tried to reach for him but her exhaustion crippled her. She buried her face in her handkerchief and let out a few sobs before she fell silent again. Then I heard dad. “Where you goin’?” Grant stopped, but he didn’t turn around. “I said where are you goin’?” Dad wheeled himself over to where Ma was sitting and took her hand. He looked at me, then at Grant. He tilted his head. That was a signal of his. That was how he told us he had something real important to say. “Why do you insist on runnin’?” Grant didn’t answer. He stared straight at the door, as if he could drill a hole in it with his gaze and dash right through it. “Why don’t you stay? Face ‘em. Be a man. Have some honor, some sense. Stop soilin’ the family name.” Silence. After a moment, Grant turned to look at my father. Our father. He looked at him a long time while he thought up what to say next. Then he said it: “Shut up. Just shut up. You don’t know anything. You never did. You fought all those battles like a blind man stumbling in the dark, following a voice you thought you knew but doubted all the time. You told me all those lies about how to become a man and change the world and make a name for myself and you were wrong. You didn’t change anything. You were never a man. You’re still not a man. You can’t be anything now. Look at you. I don’t believe you exist. I won’t believe it. You can’t tell me. You can’t tell anybody. You’re not anybody, you’re a nobody.” Ma was sobbing and tears rolled down her face as she held my father’s hand in a death-grip. Dad sat there and listened. Grant’s deluge thundered on.
“Let me tell you something, old man. Let me tell you about honor. Do you want to talk about honor? Do you want to talk about glory? Do you want to talk about fame? I know why you fought. For God and Country and Honor and Fame. I don’t buy that first half. God and Country isn’t your style. See those medals on the mantel? I can burn ‘em all. I can set fire to all of ‘em and where will your honor be? What proof will you have of the men you killed? Why would you even go on living when all you did was kill and take and make for yourself? You disgust me.” Grant walked over to where I was sitting and took a handful of the papers I had covered in words. He waved them in Dad’s face. “You see these? These are words. You know what honor is? It’s a word. You can’t do anything with it.” Grant walked over to the fireplace, tore up the pages, and threw them into the fire. Ma was crying profusely, with much shame for the child to whom she had so freely given life. The paper turned to ash in the fireplace, and the example was made. Honor burned, with the other words. I watched my work go up in smoke, and I had no strength for words any longer. I looked at my father, still sitting like a fortress, absorbing the abuse. Grant started for the door. Dad leaned forward in his wheelchair and reached out for his son as he passed. He lost his balance and fell, with a thump, to the floor. Ma’s sobs filled the air. The house was heavy with sorrow. My father looked up at his son, the thing which he had begotten. Grant looked at him, bent down, picked him up, and slung him over his back. He gently sat dad back in his wheelchair, got down on his knees, and wept. Dad closed his eyes and cried with him. Ma hugged them both, and I sat in a stupor. Grant was the first to rise. “I have to go. They’ll be here soon. I have to leave. I have to go.” Dad reached for him again, but my brother had gone. The door was left open, and the rain fell. Cold wind entered the house. Ma closed the door and came and kissed me on the forehead. She wheeled Dad into the next room and I could hear their whispers pierce the air. The fire was nearly dead, and in the fading light I read the words that Grant had told me to write:
“hatred malice contempt greed vengeance death hypocrisy seduction usury fraud ignorance want pain sorrow suffering desire depression evil lies cheating scandal foolishness darkness loneliness…”
Trying to decipher the words hurt my eyes and forced me to blink. Among the words I felt uneasy. I looked at the logs, struggling to stay alight. I took the papers and stood at the fireplace. One by one, I burned them. I watched them blacken and fade, and I watched the words dissipate from existence.
I burned hatred and greed and darkness and evil.
I burned ignorance and want and pain.
I burned suffering and sadness and depression.
Then I came upon the last page, a scrap of paper which bore a single word. I swallowed and held the paper gingerly in my hands. I traced the letters with my fingers. I felt the coldness of the word. I felt what this word had done to my brother, and what it meant for him. I sensed the power in the word, and I knew that Grant could not stand it. So I let the paper fall into the flames. I watched the fire eat away at it, and then it was gone.
I watched my brother’s fear burn away.
A flawless mango dream, sucked into reality and maggot infested to wither in the fantasy that got you here in the first place. A paper doll, soaked in syrup and liquor, rolled in thoughtless, and burned into the roach that devoured the decayed possibility of your life.
I walk for days on my forefather’s grave because I am afraid of the repercussions if I act. I smell the scent of blood burned into my ancestors back from the hand of a master whose only dominion over you is the fact that he is white and you are black. I hear the cries of the poor black girl that is not allowed to cry while one white man after another ravage her as she was only born for them to rip away the pure existence of her innocence. Master upon master, it depends on which auction block. Which nigga is the strongest? Which nigga won’t talk back? Which nigga woman is barren so he won’t have to pull out? I walk for days on my forefather’s grave because I am afraid of the repercussions if I act. I smell the scent of piss in alleys, in corridors, in cracks. Barely enough food to survive and your kids keep talking back. I see your struggles and trial and still I don’t stand up for my black sisters and brothers ones I am united within Christ. But I always have a smart remark about how that hoochie mama or wanna be playa acts. Never an encouraging word, only a put down. I know the only strike you have against you is the fact that you are black. I watch my family and friends live and die off of crack. I notice that almost every black woman or girl carries a heavy load on her back and every black man or boy always have to fight.
I walk for days on my forefather’s grave because I am afraid of the repercussions if I act. I am a prodigy of Martin Luther King Jr. I am a descendent of Rosa Parks. I have the life lines of Harriett Tubman. Yet, I am afraid to claim their hearts. I am strong like Brother Malcolm, fast like Muhammad Ali, I have the Nile running through my veins, but fear still takes over me. I walk for days on my forefather’s grave because I am afraid of the repercussions if I act. My mind wanders in circles, my vision is sporadically blurred I recall images of slavery, segregation, hatred, and lynching. I am literally placed in disbelief. I see hell paced in front of me on a rusty platter, no food, nothing to drink, on a ship with thousands shackled right next to me dripping the same blood that I drip, thinking the same things that I think, smelling the feces and urine that comes out of me, of them, of we. I think of the families that were left behind and the ones that tried to escape but were shot dead on a dime. I walk for days on my forefather’s grave because I am afraid of the repercussions if I act. I have lived, I have died, I have lived, I have died, and I AM A SOUL LOST.
What does it mean to be a part of Earth, to die and then experience rebirth? We go through so much effort to exist; embalm ourselves, determined to resist forever, never changing, in the ground, never to be cycled back around. But there’s a reason for the way things are, and maybe we have gone a bit too far, holding ourselves apart from natural laws, above those who have feathers, petals, claws. For life, I think that we should pay death’s fee, at last setting our worn out bodies free to decompose, become another breath, contributing to life after our death.
It always seemed like magic. The hot comb trudging through tangled, coarse hair, to appear smooth and silky.
The sizzle and pain paled against the miracle of pressed hair. The naps emerged from the damaging heat and strong hands, transformed. No longer coiled and bouncy, their natural composition redesigned to graze my brown shoulders like a white girl’s. My sister and I, too young to understand what "good hair" was , or if we had it. Heard the enchantress raise thanks that at least “all this hair ain’t nappy”. We loved to wrap ourselves in our still warm tresses before our heads were snatched back into proper position by the all-powerful magician. Rubbing the burns on my scalp with cool hands My sister whispered, "This smells awful." The acrid scent of burning hair and grease rose from my young strands to settle in my clothes. I giggled and cringed as my laughter encouraged contact with the red hot magic wand.
White rose petal fell As I walked to forever But fall came early.
My mother, who would lie face down in the cotton fields right outside the big house, her little legs like matchsticks all burned up from running away and kicking things she didn't understand. Her mother, the Delta's uncrowned duchess, turned a page without licking her finger and watched the clock for bridge. Above her ears, my mother overheard the black children stomping on cotton bales. Always she made sure to get dirt on her dress and face. Hidden, my mother picked all the sticks and leaves from a cotton boll, but still it was filthy. In this place where she could not be seen, my mother waited to be noticed. Near but unreachable, her father, a bronzed god six feet tall, stood squinting for insects.
Dance in madness, steep your steps in ecstasy; Drink deep of me, bleed thick with liquid symphony; For I am the God Dionysus, all pleasure lies in me. Lose yourself in mischief, set flame to that you hate; Loose your darkest wishes, tear at your restraint; For, lo, I am the God Loki, and I can free your fate. Wreathe your form in shadow, slink quiet in the breeze; Siphon her life into you, steal each shudder as you breathe; See me, the Goddess Morrigan, in every heart you squeeze. Seek serenity in silence, find peace in psychic lies; Sink into whisper and vision, sing an ether lullaby; Feel me, the God Morpheus, sleeping in your sighs. Drown your soul in sorrow, cut each sin into your skin; Sense the pulse of desperation, and the entropy within; I am the Goddess Ereshkigal, and your pain is mine to end. Stay the beating of your heart, still the wandering of your mind; Fill your flesh with novelty, and let each whim entwine; Know me, the Angel Lucifer, and know that you are mine.
Having you is like having the child, I never conceived, but how is that possible when a child of mines already has three. Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, but you’re the man, I like to wonder how much I have to give before you come up with a plan. My baby needs me, but I can’t feed him plus three, so I should put you on child support for being a baby and a baby daddy.
Gun sparked the race and left Time deaf Words sprinted from smiling mouths While focused eyes stayed in place Years of looks from one fortunate stare Kisses heart shaped with a solid push Crease linked fingers cemented Palms refused to cross the distance apart Present moments panicked the impressive Heads nodded and voices cheered, “Go, Ahead.”
One plus one happily created none Night laid certainty in their overlap Affinity drew their mouths to seek Poisonous sweat found mortals deceased Exposed heart, no chest, deep breaths Hours devoted to a week’s worth of pep Edging light crammed stomachs with alarm Embraces enemy ticked numbers in red Hush voices panted, “Go On.” Two singles bred no double She, his slouched side jabbed with rigid finger nail He, knotty mass, grew to grind underneath her collarbone Hunched backs, cramped necks, trampled heads Conflicted roots sprouted buds of isolation Tangled bands unraveled to loose ends Corners narrowed to cracks pinching arched spines Darkness crept over top as to fasten a tight lid Baggy, full rimmed eyes strained up Sagged stutters wilted from droopy lips Whimpering voices asked, “Go, Stay?”
Extended necks surrender to be crunched With no sight, eyes searched Lungs exhaled the burn of empty Breath crafted the muscles of fire Gritty dark lashes singed hair and tissue Teepee hands stretched tight, trembling for rest Scabbed flesh coiled with sticky black thread Death pinned Sleep with his pinkie tip Only soggy moans seeped through cracks As the heavy box collapsed flat And crushed its content to dust
Sleep soundly, small one And dream lovely dreams And we will go climbing Up silver moonbeams We'll ford silver rivers And wade silver streams Of moon and star water That glitters and gleams
So when you see silver In your father's hair Just smile, and remember the moon For though he be older And more worn by care His love, it will only have grown
Then out of the fountains We'll climb to the mountains The moon-peaks with silvery snow The views we'll admire As higher and higher The two of us steadily go Not one single care Will follow us there No matter how old we may grow
And someday when you have a son of your own You'll take him to all of the places you've known You'll show him the silver All over the moon And when will this happen? Too quickly, too soon. Bear this, too, in mind, For it's true for all time: That all of the silver On moon and on earth Cannot start to measure How much you are worth.
And when it is time To welcome the sun With his rays so cheery and warm Then down we will come Silver moon left behind And before us, a bright golden morn
Lying on the couch because the night before had him going heave, ho all night next to the cool, smooth porcelain even though he proved over and over that it was, in fact, not bottomlessbut it was his only friend that listened, consoled, and collected all of those (unfortunately multiple) bits and pieces of misery that spewed forth in release.
Black and white thinking aides your thought You can’t help it, For it is the way you were taught. Your thought resides on a two way street, All or Nothing Drive, Where simple and average often meet. Misunderstanding forms BW views, For others’ thoughts differ, Cheerful, full of colors and hues. Nothing extraordinary crosses your mind. Just because kisses, hugs... Let me slow down, that’s way out of your line.
Your thoughts leave no ground for possibilities, With unchanging beliefs, It limits life balance probabilities.
You get angry when your views are opposed But when I speak Your brain says “Sorry We’re Closed”.
All I ask is to listen with a clear head When it’s your turn to respond Please consider colorfully of what was said.
There I sat, patiently awaiting paradise. I settled in my chair and happily thought that it was far more comfortable than the chairs Jesus had left for the other people. It had been a fairly long wait, but it was nearing its end. To my left there were only two more people, comfortably sitting. To my right stood one man, too wicked for a chair, and a long line extending backwards with standing people dispersed among the sitting. Over the time I had to wait, I had figured out the system, which Jesus used to decide chairs and standing. Standing were those who didn’t believe. The man next to me was weak in look and didn’t speak. Surely not a criminal, but hell-bound no less. Those in chairs of spikes were those who knowingly sinned. Their taste of punishment couldn’t wait. And of course, those in comfortable chairs were being prepared for reward after such a terrible life with the wicked. Blessed be God for granting me mercy! Shaking with fear and crying, the man standing to the right of me whispered, “What if I get sent to hell?” He turned to look at me, groveling for a merciful answer, but I was above lying. I sighed and said, “Then you should have lived a better life. God is just. You will get what you deserve.” He turned away and gagged as the man two seats in front of me was lifted from view to the glorious throne of God. The chairs moved forward, and finally I was close enough to hear the booming voice of God. “Wicked sinner! Where were you when I needed you? When I needed food I starved! When I needed drink I stayed thirsty! When I was naked no clothes was I given! What have you to say?” “Wretched God!” I heard to my great shock. “My life I wasted for you! I spent hours helping people, but You can’t remember! How many happinesses I could have had and still been damned! Waste for You!” “Oh my son,” God said sadly. The man to my left was brought up his face confident and unflinching. Once again I heard, “Wicked sinner! Where were you when I needed you? When I needed food I starved! When I needed drink I
stayed thirsty! When I was naked no clothes was I given! What have you to say?” “Lord, never would I leave you in the cold! Never hungry! Never thirsty!” “What of thy brothers!” At this I heard the man’s tone change. “Them? Scum of the Earth! For those damned pigs you wanted me to suffer and to serve! Why?! Wise and holy God! You don’t know slime from loving servant. Damn you and all the years I wasted on you!” “Oh my son,” God said sadly. I truly felt bad for this one. He had been like I had: trying to live a just life in a world of heathens. But somewhere he had forgotten to love the least of his brothers. I sighed. It was sad, but God was not to be gainsaid, for in him there is wisdom in him there is truth. And if God says to throw your life away for those pigs, one must obey. I smiled as my chair began to rise. Paradise here I come, I thought. God faced me as I came up, but all I could determine was a blinding light. “Wicked sinner! Where were you when I needed you? When I needed food I starved! When I needed drink I stayed thirsty! When I was naked no clothes was I given! What have you to say?” My mouth gaped. “Lord, I fed you, I clothed you, I gave you drink! What more did I ever do with my life?” “You clothed me in rags, and you fed me with ashes, and you gave me to drink my own tears. When I was lonely, a wraith came to visit. When I was cold my body was warmed, but my heart was chilled. No love did you ever deliver into the world and now no love can you feel.” “You hypocrite! Liar! You promised me heaven, and it is mine! But you take it away. Who are you to command? Thief! I hate you!” “Oh my son.” I raged and swore and laughed at his pain over me. A single tear ran down his cheek into a bowl, held close to his heart. I sunk my teeth into my own arm and tore at my flesh, watching the pain it caused him. “Curse you!” I screamed repeatedly as I began to sink down. As I was lowered, another was raised to judgement. The heathen fool who didn’t even get a chair. “A God damn chair is my reward! It’s all You ever give!”
I heard to my delight, “Wicked sinner! Where were you when I needed you? When I needed food I starved! When I needed drink I stayed thirsty! When I was naked no clothes was I given! What have you to say?” “Join me!” I screamed to him. The standing man fell to his knees and cried. “Oh Lord! Self absorbed was I. When others needed help I turned away to my own fancies. Send me from your sight Lord I am not worthy, but know that before I go, I am sorry and plead you not to pain any more over me!” I laughed uproariously. “To hell, filth!” The Lord exclaimed in a very different tone than I had hoped to hear. “Welcome home, my son!” The man cried blessing and thanking the Lord and began to ascend. My swearing even to myself paused for a second, and my jaw fell wide open. For a second I deemed this righteous and was sorry myself, but it soon passed. “Damn you! Damn you! What filth lives in heaven! What stench You Yourself are! Wise fool!” Grandpa shut the book and sat quietly for a minute. I mustered up the courage to ask, “Grandpa?” “Yes?” “Do you believe in that?” The old man mused for a second and then said, “I don’t believe it happened if that’s what you mean. No one’s come back from the dead to make the narrative. And I don’t believe that’s how it works, but I do believe it.
Just a regular Sunday morning Seated Sharp in dress With my best ribbons Time to stand The choir in accord The ladies in brimming hats in the front rows Hands waving Feet stomping Heads nodding Rhythmically submissive to the hymns I’d clap and try to understand the excitement Of the adults A sharp pinch on the arm if I wasn’t enthused. And then, she screamed Almost like the roar of a meek lion From somewhere in the back I wanted to look To peek through the crowds To see where the sound had arisen But I’d be reprimanded. I stood up straighter Trying not to think of it. Why was she louder than everyone else? But, the scream shattered my eardrums again Almost petrifying Nothing, I had ever heard Mother had always told me to be quiet. Then, it happened. She began to howl Loud as thunder.
My mother pretended to be deaf. Then, I saw her. Shoes left somewhere behind Pressed golden suit now unkempt Black hair whipping past like a horse’s tail in the wind Sprinting up a nearby aisle My eyes following her every flailing movement Bawling like she was being beaten. Hollering like she was being hunted. Plummeting like she was being pushed. Right on the altar. Right in front of everyone. Right under God.
At 10 years old, I sat on the side that cool, sunny fall day watching at the other children befriended, They laughed, screamed, and ran around. I was the flat basketball. Cast aside and forgotten. I began to slip away; each second growing deeper into my own world. Until the twirling took over my body, like the spinning of a top. Faster and faster I went then, loss of control. The heavy gray rock I held, came alive flying from my small fingers with tremendous force as if it escaped a slingshot. It hit. Her eyes stared me down as I began to shrivel up. Twenty-two eyes were on me then as mine looked at my schoolgirl saddle oxfords. My body stiffened tears streamed, dirt turned to mud on my face, and I was called out, “What are you doing, what were you thinking?” They laughed and pointed. I stood aside, I was told “just sit and watch.” I disobeyed that sunlit day. They returned to their games. No eyes on me now, again I am Alone.
Saks and Juicy jeer flocks of homeless nobodies. “This is Paradise?” Schools of fish teach me about hidden, handsome homes. How lucky they are! Palm branches dance in sync with the shake, shake, shaking of loose luau hips. Like ants on their Hills, we climbed, struggling but, finally, atop. Hawaiian sunset Hovers, exploring the reef. Brief, sweet memory.
I pulled tight on the laces of my right boot. It was new and it bore into the sides of my feet. I had saved up a while for these new boots. I bought them on a Monday. Now it was finally Saturday. I hate the workweek. I hate my job, but now it’s Saturday, and Saturdays are for hunting. As I finished knotting the boot, I looked down at its beautiful camouflage. The seams were hardly visible above the rubber line. I glanced over to my wall, where my trophy would hang. I already had a plaque picked out. I’ve shot one big deer before. It was on a Tuesday. I had just gotten fired for incompetence, whatever that means, and me and my friends decided to take a weeklong hunting trip. Well, after one day of no luck, it was about noon-thirty on the second, and I got sight of this deer. I aimed, fired, and down it went. We took it back to my house and put it in the skinning shed. I was going to skin it, but we got to partying, and by the time I woke up it was Thursday. I went to the shed and saw the door lying in the yard, a trail of blood, and some mashed down grass. I guess a bear, or Bigfoot, or whatever mythical creature you believe in drug my deer off. I stood up and brushed of my camo-jacket. It doesn’t matter. What I shoot today will be way bigger. I looked at the plaque;; I’d have to buy a bigger one. The deer I’ll shoot today will take up the whole wall. Forty points, a couple thousand pounds, ten-feet tall, that was today’s aim. I shut the door behind me, walked to my truck, and drove to the best hunting spot in town, my neighbor’s farm. I got out, loaded my rifle, and began walking through the wheat. I had been walking nearly an hour and was down to my last sixpack when I saw the deer I had been waiting for. I saw him run at the sight of me. I followed him with my gun and fired. He moved a little too quick, but from the sound, I knew I hit something. There had been an explosion behind the deer, but I didn’t know what I’d hit. I walked up closer and saw Jacob Smith, my neighbor, only he had no head. “I killed him,” I whispered frantically to myself. I stood shocked for a second, and then I heard Mrs. Smith coming. I ran as fast
as I could, but I tripped on a hole and rolled down into a ditch. I hid, shaking violently. I hoped she wouldn’t see. “Get out!” I heard. She had a gun, and I didn’t want to hurt another person, so I put my gun down and got out. “Why are you hunting on our land?” she asked. What a question! Not ten yards away, her husband stood dead, head blown all over the ground, and she wanted to know why I was hunting here! I cried a bit and my pants became as wet as if I’d jumped in a lake. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” “I ought to shoot you,” she said. I cringed and cried some more. She was going to fire! I was going to die! I killed someone! Then suddenly the racing of my mind was stopped like a dog running into a glass door. “That was my best scarecrow you blew the head off of!”
The warmth in the pit of your stomach, an injured lung, or throat, or something that could not endure the heat of hugs, my face against yours, dancing close the thrill of being intimate - we could have kissed and casual - we didn't.
And for only a minute or three hours the warmth fills you up like wholeness discovered and you think: This is what they feel at church. So your religion is Absolut.
With time - and you know this the warmth tastes of battery acid and dies like the gods who came before it. And the acquaintances that fingertip through your life that pull your strings and sleep in the corners of your house they can't make you warm again.
Some people look for God or something warm and they may find both. I just want something to fill me up.
Balloons popped, Or maybe it was a firecracker, A cacophony of loudness and misunderstandings That tore through the air, And they fell. Jenny bled glitter and confetti, A pep rally explosion In her veins And Alex’s head spilled over, Leaving math equations And last night’s winning football score On the floor. Three girls slumped over The cafeteria tables And all of their gossip came pouring out But no one heard any of it. When they cleaned it up, They swept and mopped and wiped and scrubbed Graduation plans from the walls And visions of dances from the floors Like nothing ever happened --And nothing ever did.