Welter is a literary magazine run by the undergraduate students at the University of Baltimore.
There was a naughty boy And a naughty boy was he, For nothing would he do But scribble poetry-He took An ink stand In his hand And a pen Big as ten In the other, And away In a pother He ran.... John Keats, “Song About Myself ” Welter, an annual literary journal, is published by the School of Communications Design at the University of Baltimore 1420 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201. Editor-in-Chief: Amanda Stiltner Poetry Editor: Kerrin Smith Fiction Editor: Annie Stevenson Nonfiction Editor: Kayla Cordes Comics & Arts Editor: Gary Sieck Layout & Design: Anastasia Baranovskaya Gary Sieck Associate Editors: Lawanda Johnson Michael Haberman Michael Smith David Smith Ronnita Warren Ron Williams The Editors thank President Robert L. Bogomolny, Kendra Kopelke. “Lips” cover image is courtesy of Gary Sieck. Address inquiries to the University of Baltimore, care of Welter. Visit http://welter.ubalt.edu for guidelines. Printed in the U.S.A. ©2012 University of Baltimore School of Communications Design. welter Dear Readers, We love squirrels. And sometimes, squirrels get hit by cars. And sometimes, cars get hit by trains. And sometimes, trains of thought take us far, far away from our pathetic lives. And sometimes not. Making Welter can get a little squirrelly at times. So we end up having these constant pissing contests between two polarized schools of thought. It’s either, Welter should be serious, very serious; that it’s a place of sex, depression, and suicide. Or it’s like, Welter shouldn’t be that serious, as if a hundred squirrels could type for a hundred years and they would have Welter 2011. You might be able to catch it when you’re flipping through. Just hold on to yourself for another second while we get through this last bit of self-indulgence. We promise, you’re almost to the good stuff. We just really want you to know that empty-minded decisions were cast aside in order to create greatness. face of the sun and join the canons of the heavens themselves is immortalized within these pages. We searched for words. We searched for transcendence; understanding, meaning, and stuff like that, or something. Wait, what? The Editors The futile pursuit of perfection, our mild quest to reach out and touch the welter contents Yvonne Battle-Felton / Nine / 14 / fiction Matthew Falk / Nihilist Kitsch / 26 Lowell Silverstein / The Heroâ€™s Journey / 7 Amanda Stiltner / The Train Ride / 20 Abby Higgs / At the Table / 28 Kayla Cordes / A Voice / 33 / nonfiction Jeffrey F. Barken / Draft Dodger / 51 Genevieve Anakwe-Charles /The Land of My Ancestors / 62 Kohahvah Zauditu / Brushstrokes / 73 Mark Belisle / War Drum / 107 Melissa Chichester / My Grandmotherâ€™s Wake / 37 Anastasia Baranovskaya / Before I was Born / 45 Michelle Junot / Obituaries / 57 Nairobi Collins / Townies / 67 Catherine Maire / Heaps of Wings / 112 Jasc / Me / 6 / comics & arts Eli Dillard / A Heart-Shaped Face / 77 Jenna Myers / Christmas Gift / 83 Mitchell Tropin / The Semi-Pro From Champagne / 90 Judith Krummeck / That July Day / 98 Karen Levy / My Name / 111 Christopher Warman / Childhood Friends / 36 Jennifer L. Singer / Fry Bread / 43 Jordan Van Horn / Untitled / 60 G. J. Sieck / The Crossing / 80 David Smith / Untitled / 86 Eleanor Leonne Bennett / Untitled / 70 Nathan Dennies / Always and Forever / 118 Victoria Wambui / A Notable Departure / 125 Annie Stevenson / Grand Central / 105 Evan M. Lopez / Untitled / 106 Abby Logsdon / Peabody Library / 123 / poetry Christopher Douglass / Packing. For the End of the World / 10 Joe Darden Obi / I Want to Mount a Poem / 11 Julie Fisher / Rake / 13 welter contents Steve Matanle / Insomnia/ 18 Cindy Rinne / Bamboo / 19 Mary Mays / Joy Ride/ 24 Katherine Cottle / 5:45 A.M. / 87 Kina Viola / Sunbather / 88 Christopher Warman / Ruminations / 89 Wendy Hoffman / Birthday / 93 Mary Azrael / From Little Squares: 31 days in October / 94 Danielle Donaldson / The Fallen / 95 Larry Eby / The Merchant/ 96 Virginia Crawford / Sister / 97 m.i.c.s.m.i.f. / The Old Man in Court Room C/ 25 Carol Bindel / How to Accept the Gift / 32 Kerrin Smith / Night / 36 Leilani Jones/ Strange Fruit/ 41 Abdu Ali Eaton / Untitled / 43 Madame Sadie Rae Sunshine / Brain Storm / 44 Rachael Wooley/ Brilliance / 48 Ron Kipling Williams / Hurricanes / 49 Drew Robinson/ Sunday Evening / 56 Dave K. / this is a song about lactose intolerance / 27 Timothy Galligan / The Dialect of Deep Water / 101 Jessica Morey-Collins / Sum Ephemeral / 102 Patricia Dearing / Atalanta / 103 Alyse Clepper / November / 109 Lauren Beck / Lost / 114 Nikia Chaney / Ripping Letters / 104 Kendra Kopelke / January 14, 2012, 8 a.m./ 110 Mychael Zulauf / the first path: empty sky / 115 LaSchelle Ross / Who Am I? Who Am I? / 116 Natalie Shaw / Masked / 121 Michael Habermann / New Wave Poem / 120 Pantea Amin Tofangchi /Cartoon Time / 55 Jonas Kyle-Sidell / Take the Night / 61 Ronnita Warren / Shades of Truth/ 65 Megan Stolz / The Smallest of Screws/ 64 Barbara DeCesare / The Bolder Currencies / 71 Shirley Brewer /All That Remains / 72 Saralyn Lyons / Standard Issue / 78 Lawanda Johnson / Take a Risk / 79 Tabitha Surface / Your Belt / 122 Cyntia Riegler / Snow Angels / 124 welter 6 The Hero’s Journey (Modeled using Joseph Campbell’s monomyth pattern from The Hero with a Thousand Faces) The Call to Adventure The Hero starts out as just a normal, white, upper-middle-class American boy, growing up in the ‘80s. Then one day he watches Star Wars. He watches The NeverEnding Story. He watches Superman. He watches He-Man. He watches everything there is to watch, where a normal boy suddenly finds out he’s the special chosen one with a destiny and the power and responsibility to defeat the evil and save the world. And the Hero knows he’s special too. Refusal of the Call The Hero knows he’s special and has a chosen his destiny to have power and responsibility, but he also knows that right now he’s just a little kid. He counts the abs on his He-Man action figure and knows that he won’t be able to fulfill his destiny until he has at least that many abs. He does a lot of sit-ups as part of his Hulk Hogan workout routine, but his little kid belly remains one soft undifferentiated mass. The Hero begins to doubt. Supernatural Aid Doubting his specialness, the Hero asks his Dad what’s going to happen when he grows up. His Dad says things like “You can be anything you want to be, if you just believe in yourself,” and “God has a plan for you.” The Hero’s faith in his specialness is restored. The Crossing of the First Threshold The Hero’s Mom takes him to his first day of kindergarten, and the Hero breaks down in tears while clutching his Mom’s leg and begging her not to leave him. His new Teacher coaxes him away from his Mom with Transformers toys, and he becomes so distracted that he doesn’t notice his Mom leaving. When the Hero realizes she is gone, he begins to cry again. Belly of the Whale In first grade, the Son of the Teacher is in the Hero’s class. The Son of the Teacher torments the Hero daily. At recess, the Son takes the Hero’s Star Wars action figures from him, and when the Hero tries to get them back, the Son bites the Hero on the stomach hard enough to leave a mark that lasts several days. Like Luke Skywalker trapped in the Death Star’s trash compactor, the Hero knows he needs to get out of this perilous situation. The Hero complains to the Teacher, but this does nothing to stop her Son from biting the Hero again a few days later. 7 Lowell Silverstein The Meeting with the Goddess In second grade, the Hero has a crush on a Girl in his class. As Link with Princess Zelda, he wants to win her heart, but he doesn’t know how; so he asks his Mom for advice. She tells him to give her a gift. The Hero gives the Girl the Berenstain Bears Mama Bear Toy from a McDonald’s Happy Meal as a token of his affection. She does not thank him. The entire class chants that the Hero and the Girl are sitting in a tree, and she runs from the room. In his head, the Hero can hear Link saying: “Well excuse me, Princess.” Link never gave up, and neither does the Hero. He knows he will win the Girl’s heart one day. But he is so ashamed of his rejection by the Girl and the taunts by his classmates that he barely speaks to the Girl anymore after second grade. Woman as Temptress In seventh grade history class, the Hero sits behind the Second Girl. Just as Cyclops was led to neglect his duties as leader of the X-Men by the wiles of the Goblin Queen, the Hero finds himself unable to pay attention to the lesson because he is busy peering past the Second Girl’s arms at her recently-developed breasts, the largest of any girl in the class. Still, the Hero focuses enough attention on his classes to graduate with a solid B average. Atonement with the Father After the Hero graduates from high school, he decides he no longer believes in God. He never mentions this to his Dad, fearing it would cause his Dad to disown him. When the Hero 8 goes off to college and moves into his dorm room, he receives a letter from his Dad. It is full of the same sort of encouragement his Dad would give him when he was a boy. Towards the end, the letter mentions that his Dad knows the Hero no longer believes in God. “That’s okay,” the letter says. “You might not believe in God, but He believes in you.” The Ultimate Boon Like Indiana Jones finding the Ark of the Covenant, the Hero gets a job as a Document Analyst. He has no idea what a Document Analyst is, but he is glad to have a steady paycheck. On his first day of work, the Hero finds out that Document Analysts remove staples from pieces of paper that have been stapled together so that they can be digitally scanned, and then staple the pages back together after the scanning. After one day of unstapling and restapling, the Hero gets in his car and cries. He calls his Mom and tells her he feels his soul being crushed, and he is thinking about quitting. The Hero’s Mom urges him to give it a week at least. Refusal of the Return After a week of removing and replacing staples, the Hero is transferred to scanning the papers, which he finds slightly less soul-crushing. Like Frodo in Minas Tirith, the Hero becomes complacent. In the back of his mind, the Hero remembers something about specialness, and destiny, and being chosen to save the world from evil, and being able to be anything he wants to be; he feels a tug in his heart. But if he scans enough papers, he starts to forget, and the tug starts to weaken. Freedom to Live Eventually, the Hero moves on to other more fulfilling jobs. He dates. He writes. He learns to play guitar. He forms lasting, supportive friendships. He grows up. Like Buffy Summers looking out over the great pit that was once the Hellmouth, the Hero realizes that he is free from the burden of being special and having a destiny. He may have certain powers and responsibilities, but not to defeat evil and save the world. He has the power to make his friends laugh and the responsibility to take care of his girlfriend when she is sick. He has the power to earn a solid income and the responsibility to pay his bills. He has the same powers and responsibilities everyone has, because life is not a comic book, and no one is Superman. And the Hero is okay with that. Most of the time. 9 Packing. For the End of the World Christopher Douglass Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack thoughts into the corners of the mind like sardines. Pack the greatest emotions love, hate, anger Remember them like the back of your hand. Stay cool. Breathe. The end is near. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack. Stay cool. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack memories of birthdays, Halloweens, first kisses, Pack the blessings of a lifetime. Say goodbye to your worldly possessions. And the vessel that is not you. Walk to the sun. Fulfilled. Stay cool. Breathe. The end is near. long nights, hard times, good times, in between times, the first suck, fuck, nibble into the realms of the mind never seen like babies crammed in wombs ready to burst from heaven. Stay cool. Breathe. The end is near. Pack. Pack. Pack. Pack. 10 I Want to Mount a Poem Jo Darden-Obi i want to mount a poem and hang it on the rivers of eternity where posterity can see it and remind us who we said we would be: as for me, a dancing flowered lace angel-oak frothy drama of seamless golden cream as for you, the better self that you dream i want to mount the internal destiny of rhyme and flame sweet metered madness that creeps up and slaps down i want to hang a fire on the main line of humanity call up every marginalized character in history’s walk of shame channel up the mysteries of martyrs and canes like the smoke that rose up in spite of the chains i need to mount a poem in your brain freak you out with words that don’t make sense for the life of you that burp and hurt inside of you like something fake you ate turn you upside down and question your old harangue on everythang then resonate, postulate until you get your answers straight create a couplet to catheterize pain ellipsis yusef calypso ‘trane blues is the muse for my words no shame in that 11 i am wearied from articulate specifics my faith is in hanging heuristics i may never be able to teach you to write to connect and combine or to undermine fragments but i might be able to ignite a hierarchy of truth that is innate inside you incite metaphors of peace to wrack war in the space of your mind that deals with puns honey, it will not forsake you. the poem i nail to the most inextricable prisons of your brain can’t wait. it is now- right now there is a poem behind you it will remind you what you already know about love science obscurity fear it’s right here right now right hear i wanna mount a poem in your hand i wanna mount a poem in your heart i wanna mount a poem somewhere that matters right here, right now it’s the only way the only way to convey anything. 12 Rake Julie Fisher If I give you my poem will you peel back the skin of your breastbone and lay it there for safe keeping? Whiskey, leather and cigarettes are my undoing. I write of your fingers. Words well under my tongue. They spill out of my mouth like small, dark spiders their little legs trailing silk and leaving tattoos of my thoughts. I wait for lime green tendrils to unfurl from my moist and earthy places. I am just a skittering thing. Tiny eyes ambering at the edge of the clearing. When I wonder about you I wake up. My flesh bursting like feathers. I open. Fling myself upward spiral and arch through my desire like bird play. My swoon on paper, looks simple. Careful my talons are sharpened. 13 Nine Yvonne Battle-Felton There are ten cracks in the sidewalk between Riley’s stoop and the corner that she isn’t allowed to cross anyway. Ten opportunities, each requiring careful consideration, to break her mother’s back. The first cracks are easy. Riley forgives her mother for forcing her go to bed early last night, for making her miss “Fat Albert” and for making her eat what Corrine claimed was spaghetti. Everyone knows that Corrine can’t cook. Riley steps, on this hot summer’s day, from one baking slab of concrete to the next, the trinkets on her patent leather shoes clinking. Riley stops. Her foot rests, dangling, waiting as she contemplates the next crack. The thin whine of car horns wafts on breezes from Vine Street, bringing the world that much closer to 20th Street where boys on bicycles whiz by. They race up wooden ramps over plastic milk crates, Evil Keneviling through the air. Riley watches girls with braided pony tails jumping Double Dutch, their pink sneakers springing then slapping the pavement in rhythm. The girls, most of them older than Riley, watch one another. Still, as if on cue, one boy then another sails through the air, and the girls turn their heads in unison in the general direction of where they imagine the boy will land. They smile to no one in 14 particular. Only Lilith, the ropes whishing over her lean frame, brown body twisting, slender neck taut, gazes into the eyes of the boy who risked it all, for her, before gazing into the eyes of the next one. No one watches Riley. As Riley considers forgiving her mother for buying rice cakes instead of Doritos, poor Corrine’s fate becomes less certain. By crack seven, it relies solely on the rationalizations of a nine-yearold. By crack ten, if she squints, Riley can almost see inside the open door of Griffin’s, the corner store. At Griffin’s, you can get an iced cold can of Coke, two sticky green Now and Laters and a bag of chips, maybe even the Gold Nips Riley likes, without spending a dime. All you have to do, according to the neighborhood girls and a few of the boys, is let Mr. Jameson stand a little too close and brush his hairy arms on your naked neck, maybe let him blow hot air along the fresh scrubbed skin beneath your chin. For an ice cold Coke on a day like today, Riley just might risk being nice to Mr. Jameson, especially if it means the Gold Nips. Without realizing it, Riley has planted herself on the curb. Across the street, the stoops are littered with clear bottles and brown bags. Worn sneakers drape telephone lines. The walls of abandoned row homes are covered with faded graffiti. Riley is tempted by all of this. Somehow, Riley’s mother is to blame. Corrine had warned her daughters about winos and dope fiends hiding in alleys waiting for little girls and making them do God-knows-what or selling them, as slaves maybe, to faraway lands. Riley wasn’t sure she believed her though. After all, this was the same woman who had told her about Santa Claus. “Riley!” her mother trills. Riley’s mother has spent years cultivating what she hopes is a superior tone that sounds, to the untrained ear, like, “Riley, I would appreciate your coming over here right now, please.” But that translates to her children as, “Get your ass over here now!” It does. Riley shudders the way she imagines good girls do, turns and runs home. Right foot, then left, right, left. She steps on all ten cracks. An hour later, Riley stands perched on the red concrete stoop in front of her home and twirls a complete circle before putting both hands on her fleshy hips. “I said, I can’t play with y’all right now,” she repeats, glowering at her big sister and her sister’s friends gathered around the bottom of the steps. “I’m all dressed up.” Riley doesn’t want any scuffs on her tight, crimson patent leather shoes, or any stains on her soft red and white striped summer dress with its strawberry-shaped pockets and the big papery, strawberry-shaped bow along the back. Riley’s father is on his way to pick her and Lilith up for the weekend. Lilith and her friends exchange glances and skip across the street. You know you’re too old to be skipping, Riley wants to say. But, she knows better. Her sister rarely invites her to play with her friends, so although Riley knows she won’t be invited again, Riley doesn’t want to make Lilith mad, just in case. And it’s so easy to make Lilith mad these days. Like today, Lilith refused to talk to their father on the phone. She stood, long arms crossed before her slender frame, dark eyes staring blankly, lips pursed. She wouldn’t say a word. When he asked if his baby girl had missed him, she let the phone slip between her delicate fingers, leaving it to dangle inches from the floor. Her answer had been footsteps shuffling across the worn carpet. Their mother should have made her answer him, Riley thought. Corrine should have slapped Lilith across the face for sucking her teeth and rolling her eyes at their father, even if he couldn’t see her do it. But Corrine shook her head, her gold earrings swaying and gave the phone to Riley. They didn’t talk long. Since she can’t play hopscotch with Lilith and her friends or jacks with her own friends up the street, Riley entertains herself by tilting her head this way and that as the ribbons her mother tied around her lone pony tail kiss the back of her neck. She practices rolling her eyes and her neck in one fluid motion the way Lilith does. She has mastered the look of irritation, eyes tightly closed, lips puckered and one corner of her mouth slightly raised. This is the same look she reserves for indignation, impatience and indulgence. Lilith makes it look effortless. Riley glances across the street. No sign of her sister. Lilith’s 15 friends are unraveling thin ropes for Double Dutch. From her perch, Riley searches the identical concrete stoops of the houses on either side of hers. Each brightly painted door leads to an identical brick row house, each one indistinguishable from the next. But, Riley knows well enough what goes on behind each door. Kids talk. Sliding the thick soles of her shiny shoes along the pavement, Riley strolls to the curb. Her underarms begin to tingle. If Lilith isn’t around when their father pulls up, he’ll go looking for her. Lilith is his favorite, but he doesn’t know anything about her. He doesn’t know much about Riley either. He doesn’t know their friends, what they like to do, what they’re afraid of. He won’t find Lilith. Eventually, he will give up. Annoyed, he will leave. Riley will be left behind. Panic seeps through Riley’s skin as she considers where Lilith could be. She could be sitting just behind the wooden fence across the street, letting that curly haired, hazel-eyed boy touch her again. So many of the panels are missing that Riley should be able to catch a glimpse of a shoulder, a slice of thigh. That’s how she caught Lilith last time. Riley thinks about telling their mother. But, she can’t mention that boy without confessing what she already knows. She’ll get in trouble along with Lilith for not telling in the first place. Riley paces the length of the block, elm-lined corner to elm-lined corner. The tingle beneath her arms spreads. Sticky with perspiration, she counts the steps from her house to the 16 corner and back. Her heart beats faster as she recognizes Lilith’s boyfriend walking towards Tiffany and Lauren. Without slowing his stride, he shrugs, glances at Riley and continues walking down the street. “Damn,” Riley thinks. “I’m telling,” she decides. There’s no other choice but to walk in the house and say, “Corrine,” because that’s what she always calls her mother when she imagines these conversations. “Corrine, something just ain’t right.” “Momma?” Riley calls to her mother from the hallway. “Why don’t you come over sometime tonight?” Corrine says into the telephone. “Is that daddy?” Riley asks. At bedtime, when she and Lilith will talk about their day in the room they share, Riley will imitate the look on Corrine’s face. She will snap her head to glare over her shoulder at Lilith, she will squint her eyes, her nose and her lips as if Lilith just farted. Riley will settle back into her squishy mattress wondering if she should go to the bathroom again, and Lilith will turn back towards the wall, wiping the tears from her eyes. For now, Riley sits, right foot snug beneath her left thigh, collapsed on the steps pressing her pretty, paper bow to the concrete. She had changed her mind about telling on Lilith. With that one look, Corrine had again become the enemy. By the time Tiffany and Lauren finish practicing turning Double Dutch, Lilith ambles up the block, slim legs wobbling, gingerly cradling four cans of soda in the swell of her blouse. Silently, Lilith hands Riley a wet can of grape soda, setting two cans at the bottom of the steps and clutching the last one between her trembling hands. Riley watches her rub the sweat from the can, up, then down, up, then down, with minute, even strokes. “Where’d you get these?” Licking her thin, cracked lips, Lilith pops open her can and looking into her sister’s eyes, she tips it on its end. Lilith tilts her head to watch the liquid sizzle to the pavement. She stands, tiny feet rooted to the concrete, mesmerized by the pools of purple collecting between the cracks. Riley watches Tiffany and Lauren steal glances at the unopened cans; she watches as they wrap up their jump ropes. Sweat trickles down Riley’s spine. Lilith’s friends turn to walk away. “So, that’s how it’s gonna be,” Riley thinks cracking her knuckles. “Leave them be,” Lilith says, knowing Riley well enough to know she can’t take on both girls in a fair fight. “That’s just another way we’re different,” Riley thinks. “I never plan to fight fair.” Instead of running across the street, Riley pretends to be content with rolling the empty can back and forth between her once shiny shoes. Riley’s stomach bubbles; she has no taste for patience. “Riley, he isn’t coming, is he?” Lilith asks. Riley stands on the bottom of her red concrete steps, one hand anchored within Lilith’s, as both girls watch a line of ants follow the trail of grape soda. With a sigh, Riley gathers a soda can in each chubby fist. She shakes the cans until her arms ache. Gripping the cans tightly, she imagines they are the sweaty necks of sweet little girls and of the men who like them. “No,” she whispers, mindless of the foam bursting as she snaps the tabs. As tiny pale splashes of purple stain the rims of her white socks, she continues, “You need to be more careful of the company you keep.” She doesn’t say if she means Tiffany and Lauren, the fast boy, Mr. Jameson, her father or all of them. She knows by the slope of Lilith’s shoulders that she doesn’t have to. 17 Insomnia Steve Matanle At 3 a.m. I envy everyone who is sleeping. All those hours they don’t have to exist! All those hours they don’t have to think about, don’t have to listen to uncertainty between each / heart / beat. Everything I know about sleep I learned from staying awake until my parents fell asleep and the house was quiet, and finally night itself would fall asleep, like a blind dog. 18 Bamboo Cindy Rinne I see her walking on a path of knives and straws longing for a hot meal. She stands before layers of bamboo trunk, strong and cold. Slick leaves point in different directions circling above her head. Under the diamond star veil she searches for the Milky Way. I see her hidden black as bamboo shadows in the orange 1985 Dodge Colt. She carries her life in this car: pillows, blankets, a gray shoe box, and her Grandmotherâ€™s 1940s dresses. Oil stained road holds the weight of her transparent cage fused together by metal lines. Glasses gleam. Pen is ready. I see her pick up words off the floor and tie them to her hair so she wonâ€™t forget. Children laugh. Dogs bark. Her interior monologue protected by tears as she prays through the night. She wonders how to continue. Only three dollars left. 19 The Train Ride Amanda Stiltner It was on a whim, the first time my cousin, Rachel, and I talked about backpacking through Europe. I agreed, thinking it would be one of those things we talked about doing every time we saw each other, but never took any action to make it happen “Oh yeah, we need to plan our Europe trip soon! Next time though. Next time.” It’s not that I didn’t want to do it, but all I could see flashing through my mind was a newspaper headline reporting our disappearance. Rachel was serious though, and I worked two jobs to save up my money, while Rachel was hard at work planning our itinerary. It wasn’t until after we booked our flight that she proposed we traverse from country to country by train. musical of the same name, we probably would have known that. Three days pass in Paris before we are to embark on the first leg of our train adventure. As we arrive at the Paris train station, I find it has about as much appeal as a McDonald’s bathroom. “It’s called a EuroRail pass.” She explained it was an unlimited pass to anywhere in Europe accessible by train. “And it’s cheap!” This is smart of us, I thought to myself sarcastically, I’ve never even been on a train in America. I was reluctant but Rachel assured me it was the easiest way to get around. I let her call the shots. I’m scared of her. The first leg of our trip takes us to Paris. It’s dirty and expensive, and we booked our hostel near the Moulin Rouge. It’s not until we get there that we learn it’s in a district of Paris heavily populated with prostitutes. Had our research in to the Moulin Rouge surpassed more than watching the enchanting 20 We are scheduled to depart Paris at 11:00pm for a grueling 14 hour trip until we reach Venice, Italy the next day. As we walk on to the crowded platform, we are greeted by a clunky old train; dirty and rusty and my home for the next 14 hours. They shuttle us aboard, like a herd of cattle and as we travel down the narrow corridor to our cabin, I’m finding I need to hold my head back and up to be able to breathe properly. Rachel and I reach our cabin to find a small, 8X8 room, with platforms lying horizontally and attached to the wall, three on each side. No matter which “bed” you choose, there isn’t enough room between them to be able to sit up, so we are forced to lye for the next 14 hours in a cabin with four strangers (all male) who don’t speak any English and are wearing far too much cologne. The train embarks and the lights go off in the cabin. As I close my eyes and try to picture myself anywhere but where I am, I fight back tears. I’ve never wanted to be home so badly in my life. I hear Rachel from the platform under me, I replied with a pathetic whimper, since it was all I could muster. After a moment, she responds. “This sucks.” “Amanda.” she says. “I know” I replied “let’s go get a Snickers bar.” That night I had a wonderful dream that the train crashed and Rachel and I ran to Venice in the fresh open air. I couldn’t help but let out a nervous laugh. Our stay in Venice was brief, yet we made the decision to take a day trip, by train of course, to Verona. I note how much nicer the Venice train station is than the one in Paris. We board the clean and modern train to find quite a different set-up than we were used to; the train car had a main walkway going through the center of the car, while benches, which faced each other and had a table in between, flanked both sides. Rachel and I took a seat on one of the benches and rested our things on the table. As we sat there waiting to embark, an elderly Italian couple sat on the bench adjacent to us. I looked around to find a completely empty train car, but we just nodded and smiled and they returned the sentiment. As Rachel and I chatted, the couple seemed intrigued that we were speaking English. “Are you from America?” the woman asked in very broken English. with us, and we lean our heads in closer, hoping it will help us understand her better. In the midst of it all, we caught her asking if we would like a drink. Rachel and I looked at each other, wondering what our parents would think if they knew we were taking food offers from strangers on trains. We shrugged our shoulders and accepted her offer. I assumed by asking us for a drink, she meant going to the dining car and bringing us back a soda, until she proceeded to remove four Heinekens from her bag, pop them all open and hand them to us. As we pulled in to the Verona train station, our new drinking buddies offered us up some sandwiches as well, but we declined. “It’s 10 a.m.” I thought to myself “I love Italy”. We replied in Italian to try to show we weren’t completely ignorant Americans. It should be noted, I only know four words in Italian; si, which is yes; grazie, which is thanks; vino, which is wine; and fromaggio, which is cheese. I should probably know more, but my small Italian vocabulary has gotten me everything I’ve wanted thus far. She begins to strike up a conversation Rachel and I kept busy while in Verona, completely forgetting to eat-a rarity for us. As we arrive at the train station to head back to Venice, we are greeted with the marvelous and familiar smells of old grease and ketchup. A McDonalds, which we seemed to have missed on our way out this morning, has appeared, like a vision, in the corner of the station. We had just enough time to order two #1’s and a Coke before running to catch the next train. We sit and open our glorious food and we don’t speak. We just eat. Within minutes we polished off our burgers and fries like a couple of rapid dogs. I suddenly became aware of our surroundings; it was around 5 o’clock, and the train was crowded with commuters on their way home from work. I looked around to find everyone in the immediate vicinity staring with disgust at what they had just witnessed. At that moment 21 we were solidifying any stereotypes Europeans may have about fat Americans who stuff their faces with fast food. I realize I’m okay with that, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The next couple of train rides included some interesting characters; Venice to Rome included an old Italian man snort in my face, then yell at me in his native tongue; Rome to Sorrento included another sandwich offer, a sexual proposition by two seedy French men, and a two hour delay on the tracks due to mechanical failure; and Sorrento back to Rome entertained us with a random musical number preformed by eight Italian business men, and a homeless gypsy boy with an accordion swiping money from me on the platform. And then it was time to go home. Our last train ride would take us from Rome to Paris, with a stopover in Milan to switch trains. We boarded our first leg, a roughly 8 hour ride, late in the night and settled in to get some sleep before our stop. I awoke with a start in the middle of the night to a banging on our cabin door. Still half asleep, I opened it to find the conductor standing in front of me. “Out, last stop.” He barked. friendly woman behind the ticket counter assures us that there is a train heading to Milan arriving in about an hour, and if we sit tight, she will get us on that train. It would get us to Milan around 7:30, a half hour too late for us to catch our train from Milan to Paris, which departs at 7 a.m. We wait, not having much a choice, and cross our fingers that by some stroke of luck, we can catch our connecting train. We board in Bologna, and head to Milan, and I toss and turn worrying about catching our next train. Upon arrival, we find that all the hoping and praying we did didn’t pay off, and our train to Paris already departed. Before we panic, we walk to the ticket booth and tell them our situation. “When is the next train to Paris?” I ask. She explains that the next train is at 11 a.m., but it’s sold out. “And after that?” I ask. Not until 11 p.m. tonight. It didn’t seem like we were on the train for that long, but I woke up Rachel and we gathered our things and departed. The platform was empty. The clock above the door to the train station tells me it’s 4 a.m. and I struggle to figure out where we are and what has happened while half asleep. I walk up to the ticket booth and explain our situation, only to find out we boarded the wrong train in Rome and are now in Bologna. The 22 My heart sank and Rachel immediately broke out the international cell phone her parents bought her for emergencies. While she cried to her mom on the phone, I became determined to resolve the situation and get us back to Paris in time to catch our flight. “Rachel, your mom can’t help us, get off the phone so we can try to figure this out.” “You just need to calm down Amanda!” she shouted at me through tears and slobber. I had had it. The fatigue of dealing with the same company for the last three weeks, combined with the pressure of the situation caused me to break. I marched up to the ticket counter. She informed me she could squeeze me in, but it would be standing only, and she could only fit one. I immediately felt guilty as I looked over at Rachel, scared and panicking, still on the phone. I can’t leave her here. She’s family, plus her mother would kill me. I walked up to her, and in the calmest voice I could muster, explained the situation between gritted teeth “Rachel, I got myself on the next train, and if you don’t get off the god damn phone, I will leave you here to sell yourself on the streets of Milan.” “That’s fine” I said “she can figure her own way home.” “I need to get on that morning train.” I proclaimed. After arriving in Paris, I departed the train and the station that day knowing I would never have to experience another train in Europe again. The feeling was bittersweet, and as I reflected on our experiences in my head, both good and bad, Rachel’s voice interrupted my thoughts “next time, we’re taking planes.” She looked at me, told her mother she had to go, and hung up. We sweet talked the ticket woman to get us both on the train, with the condition that we stand. It didn’t occur to us that this was a 13 hour ride; we just celebrated our victory by buying ourselves a Snickers bar and Italian scarves. The first six hours weren’t too bad, but as we rode further in to the mountains of France, more passengers began to board with ski gear. The more gear that boarded, the more I found myself standing in a small space between two of the train cars, wedged between backpacks and skis. By hour 11, our legs and feet fatigued from standing, the train had emptied out enough to allow us to sit. We slept. 23 Joy Ride Mary Mays She is propped beside the cracked passenger widow. Locks of sunlit blond traverse her tattooed shoulder. I spend second glance seconds searching for a single honey hued freckle lost inside a sheath of pale and try not to notice how the fluttering of an eyelash becomes the stretch of a spiderâ€™s legs. She wraps her troubles around me like the bending of loverâ€™s armsâˆ’ shifts one thigh over the other the same way highway drivers change lanes, then change their minds, then change lanes again. A pressing left palm stroke against smear of mascara and saline watercolor brushes a cheek blotted with the blush of long ago affairs, and I ask her where she wants me to go. 24 The Old Man in Court Room C m.i.c.s.m.i.f The rain banged down on the court like a gavel Yo nerves like yo lawyers cheap threads start to unravel This is not the first time the district has seen you If you show contrition maybe you won’t be in trouble Though This is not a logical conclusion Cause you caused the witness for the prosecution a contusion Suc-ka you shoulda thought smarter Cause if you hit him any harder It woulda been a manslaughter Sitting in court watching yo trial and it hit me This is real life no tuning out like T.V. You couldn’t spin a one eighty judge gave you three sixty Your family ambles out the courtroom limply Crying in a chorus their sorrow sounds like a symphony One less cell in the B.C.D.C will be empty Cause you got six prior charges in the past quarter century All D.U.I.’s Why you gotta drink and drive? You 77 now and I’m surprised you still alive Judge said you was a menace to society and “oh lawd” The bitch just compared Father Time to “O Dawg” I watched them shackle your withered wrists together I bet you hoped the worse part about today would be the weather… 25 Nihilist Kitsch Matthew Falk Ick, I think I’m ill. Is it this gin? I sigh, I lisp, I stink. This grim shindig is indistinct. I’m nibbling insipid ziti in squid ink, figs, grits, Thin Mints. Sting is singing; I’m cringing with misgivings. Miss Lilli flits in, flirts in mink, lifts miniskirt. Christi, grinning, sticks six-inch pins in Phil, inciting shrill twitching. Wild Bill is biting Gil. (This is his first picnic.) Still, Gil is chill, thinks Wild Bill kind. Biff, tripping, sits picking his zits. Willis fights Irving; Irving whips Willis. Rick is tickling this Irish-Finnish girl’s ticklish midriff. Liz, in string bikini, kicks Rick’s shin. Rick spits milk, rips his shirt. Sick Mick is giving his victims inimic pills, which kill. This irks Iris. Big Jim is imbibing pints, which disinhibit him. (His piss is pinkish.) Nick’s schtick is high-fiving whilst finding pi’s digits in his mind. If Sir Sphinx tricks his twin sis, his sis will hiss. This Swiss chick with gingivitis films this blind kid digging pits with sticks. Dwight is filching this clinic’s wrist splints. Gigi frisks Dwight, indicts him in Hindi. Cindi climbs this birch, clips this finch’s wings. Dirk is pickling dill, hiding nightlights in his fists, fixing things with shims. With his fish-finder, Mr. Mills finds fish, which Mrs. Mills will grill. (Mr. Mills is British: Fish with chips will fit his bill.) Isis’s ibis jilts djinns. Mindi’s dimwit chimp flings shit (it’s his instinct), which hits Mrs. Mills’s fifth child. I split. It is spring. Finis. 26 this is a song about lactose intolerance Dave K. a woman sits alone sits, i said, waiting. soon she will stand up leave the stall wash her hands flick a loose ribbon of toilet paper into the trash and sit again still sitting at her desk accomplishing about as much as when she stands up takes the elevator takes the bus takes a seat in a bar with strange acquaintances drinking apple martini after apple martini after apple martini after apple martini after apple martini after apple martini. but for now sheâ€™s in the only place she can be. and thereâ€™s nothing like a good long sit. 27 At the Table Abby Higgs My dad had pulled pork in his mouth. As he chewed his cheeks tightened, his mouth opened, just a crack, revealing brown meat shreds dangling in loose stalactites from his upper teeth. His eyes glazed over. Whenever my dad ate, he seemed to be lost in thought. with five boys. I spent an afternoon in Earlham Woods getting high, climbing trees, learning to tree-jump, shotgun-smoke and sing Blues Traveler lyrics with such vivacissimo that we lost track of time. Officer Morrow, the school policeman, caught us ducking around cars in the school parking lot just before the final bell rang, trying to sneak back to our lockers. Across the table, my mother cocked her head to one side, studying the food. Was everything there? Had she forgotten the crescent rolls? I pushed peas around with my fork, rolled them to the rim of my plate, let them spin back down and hurtle into the mountain range of mashed potatoes I’d made. I was 21, far too old to be playing with my food, but I couldn’t help it; I found it comforting. I was about to tell my parents about Judy, and I wasn’t sure how to start. Should I tell them I was pregnant, that the father was some random guy I’d just met at Ball State, then soften the news by saying it was all a lie - ha, ha! - I’d simply found my biological mother online? “What are you kids doing?” Officer Morrow approached us in policeman fashion, swaggering, gnashing on gum. He was nearly seven feet tall; his forehead was a vast tundra of interrogating lines, his torso was as thick as a barrel and when he spoke, he sounded hollow. “Nothing,” I said, standing erect and suspect. My bloodshot eyes were level with Officer Morrow’s abdomen. I kept my head down and saw that his large black shoes looked like penguin feet, tapping on the pavement. I giggled. I’d never been this up close and personal with Officer Morrow before. “Pavement,” I said, snickering. My friend, Andy, threw his pipe under a Corolla. I let the peas on my plate rest, looked at my folks at the table and mustered a smile. Then I sat my fork down. In high school, my dinner table confessions had become almost ritualistic. 28 As a high school freshman, I’d been caught ditching school “Nothing, Abby?” I cringed at the sound of my name from Morrow’s hollow keg of a chest. Morrow and my family attended the same Baptist church. Andy and the others shot me a skeptical glare when Morrow referred to me by name, as if I were some informant for the school’s D.A.R.E. squad, smoking pot with the baddies only to retrieve vital information on whose locker had the stuff. I looked at the boys helplessly, as if to say, What? I’m as bad as y’all. Before I had a chance to answer, a stout woman approached us, her ratted hair clinging to her scalp like a frightened cat. “I found this,” she said, handing Officer Morrow the pipe. “He threw it.” She pointed at Andy. “I saw it all from my bus.” We were going to be suspended. Officer Morrow gave me one night to tell my parents on my own. “Tomorrow”, he said, gnashing his gum, the school will notify them about the details, i.e. the pot and paraphernalia. “You’d better ‘fess up tonight, Abby.” beans. A year after the ditching/weed/Blues Traveler incident, I was caught dealing acid in school. Over a bowl of chicken and rice, I confessed that I was in trouble with Officer Morrow again but left out telling them I might be expelled for good from Richmond High. Over macaroni casserole, I admitted to “borrowing” the 1985 Mustang I was supposed to be learning to drive one afternoon. What I failed to mention at the table was that I’d made mud circles with it around Dad’s alfalfa field; that it was stuck there, and if they’d just turn around to look out the back window, they could see its front rosy-red fender poking through the crabgrass. Every dinner table confession was a half-assed attempt to lessen the blow to my parents by neglecting specific, but major, details that were going to be revealed soon enough. After admitting to stealing the Mustang, it took my dad five minutes to realize it was still missing. When he finally asked where it was, I blushed and waved my fork in the direction of his largest crop field. No, the faux-pregnancy schtick wasn’t going to work. I just sighed and put my fork down. That night, I’d sat at the kitchen table playing with my food, feeling terribly ill. Quietly, I put my fork down, let out a deep apprehensive sigh, and told my parents that I’d been caught ditching school and was probably going to be suspended. My mother cried. My dad sat quietly, seemingly deep in thought until he announced that I was grounded: No more soccer conditioning after school, no television for a month. I omitted the part about the weed. They found that out, like Morrow promised, a day later, when the school made them sign documents as my legal guardians stating I’d been caught with illicit substances on school grounds. Then it was no Driver’s Ed. for a year; I would have to wait until I was seventeen to crash my first car. I was good at neglecting details when I had to spill the Sure enough, this move was equivalent to a couple of hushing gavel taps in a courtroom. The kitchen grew quiet. Mom and Dad looked at me. They waited and blinked, blinked, blinked. I knew I ought to do this the right way. Just be honest, and, for once, not omit any major details because the major details 29 were all I had. I spoke evenly and avoided eye contact. I said, “I know I ought to do this the right way, be honest, and, for once, not omit any major details because the major details are all I have.” I made a triangle with my fingers. My parents didn’t speak. My dad rolled his eyes. My mom squinted. Were they thinking I’d been kicked out of Ball State? Perhaps I had succeeded in lowering my parents’ expectations so effectively that this particular dinner table confession would require no more reaction than the news that I’d left my toothbrush at school. “Well,” my dad said. “Go on.” “I don’t know,” I said. “I was bored.” I pulled a ripped sheet of lined paper from my pocket. On it, I’d scribbled my confirmation code: 2429. “Here.” I handed the slip to my mom. “The website gave me this.” More silence. My mother looked at the paper, scratched her head and then she sat, stiff, staring at the slip. Her face was motionless, locked in concern; her right hand shook a bit, like everyone’s does when they’re completely still, focused on a pertinent piece of paper in their hand. “Her name is Judy,” I added. Methodically, I began to tell my story. “There’s a lady online who might be my biological mother. I was messing around on Ellen’s computer and she just popped up. Seriously, I was looking for platform boots.” I continued, “Do I really think she’s my mom? No.” I sent home my response with a fist on the table. “Swear to God.” My parents stared at me. I stared at the crescent rolls on the table. My dad spoke first. “Don’t swear to God,” he said. I looked down at my lap. Dad took another bite, and looked out the window. I knew I had upset them both. Mom’s eyes grew damp. There was nothing that made me feel more helpless than seeing my mom cry; or worse, trying not to cry. Though I had told the entire truth, I felt miserable. I crushed a roll in my hand beneath the table; watched as the dogs lapped up the crumbs. Should’ve waited, I thought. Should’ve made sure the site was legit. “Dickson,” my dad said. “Judy Dickson.” “What?” I asked. “How did you go from looking for shoes to finding your biological mother?” my mom asked. 30 “When we signed your adoption papers,” he continued, “the social worker turned around and I, you know, snuck a peek at your file. I saw her signature. Judy Dickson.” I stared at Dad, dumbfounded. He smiled a crooked smile and swallowed his food. 31 How to Accept the Gift Carol Bindel The twins, boredom and depression, hold hands and skip along your river path say, Here we are! We will ride your back for a while. Through daily steps, slept-through, sleepless times of fever, lassitude, pain: physical, emotional, spiritualthe common bonds, the common dividesyou stretch, long, heavy, fragile, balanced on the rim of somewhere else like a leaf on the edge at the waterfall, no turning back, no escape, no pill that will clear the ills and murk, and you must turn and say to your specific, aching, encasing muscles and skin, What kind of pain, exactly? Sharp, achy, smooth and continuous, pulsing, weepy? And you must explore the weight that covers you like a lead body suit 32 that you cannot unzip and shed, And you must find an inner cauldron where you will hold that excess heat, chill, and constancy, and say, This too, this too, and in that container the thought of unbearable becomes unrecognizable, (Of course. You bear your life as given as long as breath comes, and fair is only a summer event in small towns with a Ferris wheel and a big tent.) And you will find beauty, joy and delight, finally, anyway, in the flavors of light in days and nights, in faces, shoulders, thighs of all who help you rise, and bathe, who bring their whirlwind and their own honest misery, reverence, laughter and fear, tears and the carrying of the twins and all, And finally you turn with an eager shout, Yes! A Voice Kayla Cordes I was an inconvenience to this young mother. She wanted to sleep around, do drugs and party; I was the only thing stopping her. Then, she was tall, had long blonde hair and bright blue eyes with the figure all the men wanted. She knew that and she gave it to them. That is why she isn’t sure who my father is, but being young and “sexy” was her excuse. After giving birth to me, her figure changed and so did her bubbly personality. She became a mother and to her, that was not okay. I was born and since there was no clue who my father was, her current boyfriend gave me his last name, Cordes. After about 11 months of life, I began to be passed around from my mother to my grandparents, Mom and Pop. Sometimes it was days, weeks, then it became months. The length of time with my grandparents depended on my mother’s mood and most times her mood was bad; so I paid for it. My grandparents lived in Baltimore City and my mother bounced around between counties depending on who her friends and boyfriends were at the time. My grandparents didn’t like the lifestyle she was living and wanted to have custody of me. They tried to bring up the idea of custody to make it seem like they were helping her, but as usual she became defensive and that’s when the abuse started. No one could have me, let alone see me. She couldn’t keep me from seeing Mom and Pop in general because she knew my grandparents wouldn’t let that happen, so the weekends were the best she could do. From about the age of four to eight the visitations were shortened to weekends only and when I came home I had to tell my mother every detail of every conversation and action that happened at Mom and Pop’s house. If I refused to tell her, she would hit me or my things would be thrown in the trash. I wanted to tell Mom and Pop what was going on but I was too afraid I would get hurt, or worse, if my mother found out. Whenever she picked me up at the end of the weekend, Mom and Pop would always send me home with food and a new toy. My favorites were Barbies and baby dolls. Barbie was who I wanted to look like, beautiful skin without a bruise in site, perfect figure because Barbie was never hungry and always smiling because Barbie was always happy. I loved baby dolls because I would treat them the way I wished my mother would treat me, the way Mom and Pop treated me; loving, caring and cherished. Those items never made it to my bedroom because once I got into my mother’s car, she would stab my toys with scissors or knives and tell me “If you keep this up, you wont have anything. I buy you toys, stop making them feel bad for you Kayla. I swear you will never see them again if you don’t start listening to me.” Then she would throw them out the window while driving or make me throw them into the trash when we made it home. The only toy I managed to keep was my bear pillow, Beary, that I still have to this day. I put it into the very bottom of my over night 33 bag when I left Mom and Pop’s and then hid it under my other pillows when I wasn’t home so she couldn’t throw him away. I slept with Beary every night and pretended he was a messenger between my grandparents and me. Whatever I told Beary, he would relay the message to Mom and Pop. I was so afraid I would never see Mom and Pop again. I was happy with them, protected and cared for. But my grandparents didn’t have custody of me so I had to live with weekend visitations. Whenever my mother came, Pop would always tell me: “Be strong Kayla, Pop isn’t going to let anything happen to you. I promise I am going to bring you home with me and you will never have to go back.” Of course I would start crying, I was a child and I was afraid. I held on to those words each and every day. My mother was not the best of parents and I knew she wasn’t ever going to try to be one either. Common sense didn’t exist in her mind. Especially when it came to whom she brought into my life. Yeah, she slept around but she also had several marriages; one in particular that changed my life forever. She married a man named Scott Mitchell when I was seven then after a few months had my baby sister Faith. He had several children with other women and had been in jail for drugs before. I hadn’t found out until I was older that she married him even after finding out he molested and raped his other children. One night my mother wanted to go out with my Aunt Ginger and left Faith and I with Scott. After she left, I watched him place duct tape over the eye hole of our front door. I didn’t 34 know what was coming but I had a feeling it wasn’t good. We had dinner, then he told me after bath time I could watch a movie before bed. Bath time consisted of him washing me, even though I was seven going on eight and had been taking baths alone for a few years. Then we went to the living room and he had a box full of tapes out and told me to pick one. I did. The first scene was a cartoon of some ants walking around but then it turned into a group of people having sex. He told me I had to finish watching the whole thing before bedtime. I sat in silence with my knees tucked under my chin squeezing my eyes closed as hard as I could but the tears escaped anyway. The movie was over and I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth when I found women’s red panties lying on the sink. He told me to put them on, but I didn’t. I ran to my room and shut the door. I fell asleep for what seemed like a minute and I heard my door open. I squeezed Beary the whole time. I heard my mother’s drunken voice come into the apartment and Scott ran out of my room, trying to fix his pants after leaving me with his evidence on my legs. The following morning I told my mother what happened but she told me I was dreaming and that Scott would never do that. So that’s what I told myself. I never mentioned it again until I was sixteen, when my cousin came out to the family that Scott had done the same thing to him. We both took Scott to court and he got 20 years for me and 15 for my cousin. Scott is currently in a Maryland prison, I don’t know the name of it because I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know how close or far away he is. Knowing he is in Maryland is scary enough. Among other things, there are certain basic things mothers do for their children like protect them from danger, care for them and teach them. She couldn’t even do a basic thing like feeding her child. When I was born, the story goes, I died for about two minutes because I was so undernourished. My grandmother would always throw this into my mother’s face when ever she tried to say I was perfectly fine living with her. This was a trend with my mother. In the few years that I spent with her from about the age of six-eight, I had to eat whatever I could get her to give me or I waited all week until Mom and Pop came to pick me up. My breakfasts were usually an egg and a mini water jug, kind of like the little colored Huggie drinks you get as a kid but I could only drink water. A typical lunch was a cheese sandwich, which was two slices of bread and one slice of cheese. Dinner usually was something frozen and tossed in the microwave or I was in trouble for something and didn’t get to eat dinner at all. At my old elementary school, there were shelves outside our classrooms to put our lunch boxes; I didn’t have a lunch box. My mother didn’t think I should bring lunch to school for reasons I still don’t know. When it was about an hour before lunchtime, I would ask to go to the bathroom. When my teacher gave me the pass I would walk out of the classroom and snag a lunch box off the shelf, take it to the bathroom and eat as fast as I could. I was starving. I felt bad for stealing lunches but I didn’t want to tell anyone I was hungry so my mother wouldn’t get in trouble. One day, I became brave and brought another kid’s lunchbox to the cafeteria to eat with my class. It was my lucky day. Inside the lunch box was a peanut butter sandwich, a blue and purple Capri Sun, a pudding cup, a banana and a TastyKake. I was almost finished when my teacher, Mr. Silver, and a very unhappy girl came up to me and asked for the lunch box. My friend Mckenzie tried heroically to defend me but we both knew it wasn’t my lunch box and knew I was in big trouble. Before Mr. Silver could finish yelling at me, Mckenzie kept poking me with her elbow and told me to look at the cafeteria entrance. Afraid it was my mother, I tried to wipe the tears off my face before turning around. Finally, when I turned to look, my heart jumped. It wasn’t my mother; it was Pop. I knew at that moment I would never have to be hungry again. This was the day I had been waiting for my whole life. I ran past the confused teacher and crying student straight into Pop’s arms. He picked me up and swung me around while telling me “everything was gonna be okay”. I believed him. When we walked out of the building I saw my grandma in the car with tears in her eyes and a jacket for me in her hand. I ran to her so fast I almost tripped over my own feet. All of my things were in the car; Beary, my Barbie blanket and my small basket of clothes were all packed and ready to go. Pop told me that our next stop was Happy Day Diner to fill my belly and then the mall to buy me some new clothes. Mom turned to me to help fix my seatbelt and said I was never going back there. I never did. That was probably the best day of my life. 35 Night Kerrin Smith I am tired, but I canâ€™t sleep yet. I have things to dostring to be tied in knots and gory horror movies to be watched. I am tired, but I must be busy. I must keep fraying my skin with thread. I must keep listening to this movie. I must think of a thousand compulsions before I wake up, forgetting that Iâ€™ve slept. I stretch a hole in the window blinds; this is five-thirty and a watery sunrise. I begin again. So much time now, to do so many little things. 36 My Grandmother’s Wake Melissa Chichester I walk down the aisle toward the front of St. Anne’s Catholic Church, unaware that behind me my husband and sister want me to wait for them. Roses, peace lilies and assorted houseplants adorn the altar in decorative baskets and curled, satin ribbon. Some of them have glass statues peeking up from blades of green and soft, floral petals. I look up at the crucifix that hangs from the ceiling. Jesus has carved abs and his skin is unrealistically light. For my entire life, I have been waiting for this cross to fall onto the altar during mass. It looks so heavy, Jesus Christ suspended in the air. My legs feel far away from my body and I am far ahead of my husband. He calls for me to wait, but I keep walking. I just want to get there, to see her. My shoes are heavy and the thumps resonate like a cane of an angry person beating the ground. There is already a small crowd surrounding the bronze coffin. I am surprised by how expensive it looks, lined with silky cream fabric. This coffin might be the most extravagant thing my grandmother has ever owned. It is supposed to be a quiet and dignified family hour before the wake, but there are children crawling over the kneeler next to the coffin with their loud parents standing supportively behind them, flamboyant and unashamed of their grief. A path clears for me to greet her, my grandmother who passed away five days earlier. It is unraveling, more intimate than accidentally seeing her naked, to see her without lipstick. She isn’t wearing lipstick. She isn’t wearing lipstick. My heartbeat ripples loudly in my ears and I want to run to the church entrance where her hot pink lipstick sits next to the programs. Irma Josephine Soumis, they say above her photo. I want to grab a stick and paint her face the way she did, a thick slab of wax way over the lip line and onto the skin below her nose. I hate seeing a faint mustache instead of all that hot pink. She would hate that I noticed and feel embarrassed. Immediately, I feel sorry for even thinking it and my arms tingle and burn with heat. Someone is hugging me; it is my aunt, my father’s youngest sister, Marie. She is crying and smiling. I just now notice that I am crying too and wonder if the mascara I worked so hard to apply just right is running all over my face. I thought my tears had already run out. All I can focus on is her mouth. Gramma’s lips are thinner than I thought they were. I am paralyzed by this and watch her, getting lost in the space and distance between us. For a moment it is just us, and it feels like she will wake up and hug me and tell me I am beautiful and “look so good” in the exaggerated tone she always spoke in. I need her to wake up. I need to see her again. I was so close. I feel like Veda Sultanfuss in My Girl. I want to scream about Gramma’s lipstick the way Veda does about Thomas J’s glasses. He can’t see without his glasses. She can’t kiss me without her lipstick. 37 She looks good, though. We are wearing the same color, a rich burgundy wine. I am mortified that I am dressed in the same shade as...a corpse. I hate that word. I hate that she is dead. There is so much anger inside of me that I don’t know where to put it. I could rest it at the feet of the Virgin Mary and ask her to pray for me, but I am too stubborn for that. Melissa, I hear. I don’t know who is saying my name. There are too many people surrounding this coffin, and they are comfortable with it. Gramma’s hands are folded, resting on a furry, leopard-print stole. A brown rosary snakes around her forearm and wrist; the cross rests on the top of her hand. I already know she is cold, so when Uncle Bobby presses his hand against her forehead and says this out loud, I want to yell at him and everyone around me, to tell them they are fools for even suggesting she could be another temperature. But, I don’t do this. Knowing when not to say a word is a quality my mother blessed me with. Because of her, I am civilized and know when to draw a line between wasted breaths. A big crucifix lies underneath Gramma’s palms. She gave me a crucifix once, and it hangs near the telephone in my parents’ home. It is heavy, the base black with outlying sterling. A skull and crossbones rests at the feet of Jesus, and although I once asked a priest what this meant, the reason escapes me. I saw the same crucifix hanging in a display at Ellis Island, where Gramma’s parents traveled through from Italy to begin their 38 new lives in America in the early 1920s. I like to think that there is a connection between the one in New York and the one hanging by the telephone in my tiny Michigan town. I wonder if my crucifix is from Italy, like the one behind the glass. Although my grandmother looks beautiful, I am superficial and angry that she is dressed so plainly. I want her to be dressed in something elegant and silky and glamorous, something like the draped, fuchsia dress that she wore to my wedding. I am mad that she is wearing black pants instead of a skirt. Uncle Bobby explains that the shirt is new, something she purchased on a trip to Minneapolis. I am angry again, mad that she didn’t get to wear this shirt out to dinner or to see one of her grandchildren play basketball. Uncle Bobby says it cost just thirteen dollars. More people are arriving now. I sit down in the first wooden pew and bury my face into my scarf, pressing the hot burning tears back into my eyes with the soft, warm fabric. Someone rubs my back with sweeping motions, lulling me into a drowsy haze. My body burns with heat and my legs tingle. I am confused, expecting to feel differently about this loss. The confusion is profound and gnawing; something points and laughs but I don’t know who or what. Auntie Frances would call this the devil. She always warns us that the devil is lurking in every nook, waiting to tempt us into a bad decision, but I don’t live my life this way. Noise builds as more and more people enter the church. Before this day, I was unsure of just how many of us there are, but the obituary reads “34 grandchildren; 20 greatgrandchildren”, and nobody knows if that is accurate or a low estimate. When I married my husband, Alan, this clan measured around eighty, sweeping “a small family wedding” into the dustbin before names were set in ink. We do everything together: eat, laugh, sing, cry and mourn. We do this sitting on each other’s laps, hugging, gripping onto the newest baby and stroking their soft cheeks and pinching their earlobes. We sit through holidays without eating at tables and instead eat crammed into hallways, again sitting on each other’s laps or on the floor. We go wherever will hold us, as an overwhelming heap of limbs, breaths, and voices. While some have tried to get out by moving across state lines and grabbing ahold of a life bigger than this family, the ribbons never get cut and we all remain as one solitary diamond shimmering in the mine, waiting to get detonated by sentient circumstances. Because of this intensity, I once worried about finding a husband, a life partner, a person to fall in love with and enjoy for our entire lives. Now my gem is sitting beside me; he is the one rubbing my back with his flat palms. The fire burning inside of my throat wants to pull away, but the fibers of my nerves are dull and lack strength. I have no reason to pull away, because I love this man and have for ten years now. I just want my grandmother back, because I was so close. We were both so close to seeing her just five days ago. I raise my head and pull myself out of the scarf, no longer able to see the side door of the church or even across the aisle to the other pews, because there are people standing everywhere, crying with their arms flailing in the air before they grasp onto each other in tight hugs. Looking forward, I spot my father standing next to the coffin. He is just a few feet in front of me and turned to the side, gazing at his mother. There are tears in his eyes and the rims are red; his hand rests on the back of my sister, Molly. She doesn’t wear emotion well and never knows which shelf to rest it on, so she hides it in the back and crams it in tight until the contents spill forward at once. Here though, the doors don’t shut so easily and tears spring forth. Watching them makes me shrivel and curl up, the fire turning to smoke and ash. What about me, Dad? I need you too. Hug me, love me, and make this go away. But he knows I have Alan to fix this wound, and I let him do whatever it is he has to do right now, because we are like each other. Even though his soul is shredded inside, he will refuse comfort and push through the prick of every tiny thorn, not caring if he bleeds. Guilt visits again; I am happy it isn’t my father in that coffin. He had a heart attack in July, an event that made it into Auntie Frances’ annual Christmas letter. My limbs need motion, so I stand and move ahead the few steps it takes to reach my sister. My brother has finally arrived; I leave my husband in his company and wrap my arms around Molly for a quick hug. We stand before Gramma and hold hands like two little girls instead of the grown women that we are; 39 I know we are both wishing for childhood again, days of sharing a bedroom and staying up all night whispering and giggling under the covers, trying to hide those late nights from our parents. “You both have a lot of your grandma in you,” my dad says. Molly nods. I wonder what this means but don’t dare ask in the buzzing church- the crying is building and so is the laughing. I hope that he means we have a great capacity to love. That is what she needs us to carry. That is what I need to carry. 40 Strange Fruit Leilani Jones Strange Fruit? Strange Fruit…Strange Fruit? There is nothing strange about my people, before the origin of Planned Parenthood my people were fruitful. Strange Fruit (hmph), my people always have been and continue to be beautiful, different shades and hues from the beige, butter scotch, caramel, toffee, hazelnut, ebony, and purplish blue. Every weight, age, variation of complexion, mixture of hair texture, gender, country of origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, educational make up, natural abilities to move in sync with every beat since we were all blessed with rhythm, clearly descendants from heaven and earth’s first people. Strange Fruit…there’s nothing strange about W.E.B. DuBois and the talented tenth, this man had an entrepreneurial mind and ideas to preserve the state of our people. Strange Fruit…they clearly don’t know our name, that man was more concerned with black men becoming leaders of their race by continuing their education, writing books and being directly involved in social change. Being the head of the NAACP, labeled the father of Pan-Africanism, even Mary McLeod Bethune with the future of our people she was definitely intuned. Unable to list all of her accomplishments here are just a few if they are new to you be sure to look up at least one or two: founded and was president of the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls (now Bethune-Cookman College). President of the National Association of Colored Women, Director of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration. Key influence of the National Council of Negro Women. Vice-president of the NAACP. This woman was clearly a woman concerned with her people and wanted for them nothing less than a better future. Strange Fruit (hmph) my people, my women, are women desired...but they used to call us jezebel and sapphire. We as black women were supposedly nothing more than taboo, what every woman wanted to be and if every man could have, he would have at least two. We are strange fruit but people do everything to look like us, pay for the same features they used to make fun of, they tan to have our tone, get nose jobs and disfigure their bones, wear padded panties because they lack that round, rotund, hypnotizing sway that for us just comes so naturally, they imitate our walk, talk, style, music and dress. Strange Fruit? My people are what they want to be, look in the mirror and wish they’d see. They imitate our men, wish they could be strong and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders while being constantly pulled down and discouraged while trying to provide for family, wish they could have that baritone rumble vibrate through their chest cavity to announce 41 they’ve entered a room, those chiseled facial features that clearly display that our men mean business and aren’t to be fucked with particularly when protecting their women and children. Strange Fruit? Try anointed fruit, God appointed fruit, of God with hair like wool, eyes like fire and feet like bronze because my people were made in God’s image fruit, Nanny’s to even white children fruit, Fathers not by blood but by choice to their children fruit, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, educators, doctors, military officials, scientists, innovators, cultivators, artisans, musicians, you name it we’ve done it fruit. Unbreakable, renewable, never consumable, stars that shine so bright their glory is irrefutable fruit. I truly appreciate Billie Holiday and what her thought provoking song and the message Strange Fruit was meant to portray, my only problem is that today, the masses of my people still only see each other in this way. Our current generation hanging themselves, rather than properly displaying themselves and older generation wanting nothing to do with them, walking by with noses turned up as if appalled by the stench or mere sight of them. So today I challenge you to pull up a stranger and remind them that they are not strange fruit but beautiful, delectable, enjoyable, handsome, palatable, the most desired with endless possibilities of full bloom and by that I mean leadership fruit. Dedicated to: My Beautiful Fruit…Today’s Youth 07/19/11 8:12pm 42 Untitled Abdu Ali Eaton The still painting, leaping for light, hustles the apple. Fry Bread, Jennifer L. Singer 43 Brain Storm Madame Sadie Rae Sunshine From breaches in the western wall, the dayâ€™s last rays of light flood in through curls of smoke spread out over the room like rumpled sheets of satin. Camped out at ground zero, here, amidst the dancing dunes of soot and dust, the one breath of freshness is the sweet suspense of imminent success. Geysers of light, enlightened erupt from the epic crevasse where emotion meets cognition, wherein the captive finds his freedom, where the space between is fat with vibrations of color and sound. And with every cubic centimeter of every passing moment 44 so fertile with uncharted musicality, the purveyors venture valiantly onward, ever-seeking the empyreal elevation. Before I Was Born Anastasia Baranovskaya “There was no sex in the Soviet Union,” my mom would constantly repeat when unveiling another story of herself and her numerous female classmates. secret. I was attracted to my mom’s phenomenal ability to talk to me as if I was a friend, not her seventeen year old daughter. Every time, she would draw me into the grown up world with her meticulous descriptions. No wonder her favorite Russian saying was, “Say yes shew, but put into his mouth!” During my university years that I spent in Russia, my mom liked to give me a tea portion of the times of her youth, telling me about the time before I was born. We would sit in our tidy and tiny kitchen, a favorite hangout spot of any Russian family. She would tell me how they went to the only restaurant in the city where you could also dance, and my dad would get mad if mom danced with somebody else. One time he even threw a tantrum, and mom, being an independent girl, left home. My dad followed her all the way to her house, just to make sure she got there safe. Or how my parents liked to travel and go out partying almost every weekend which was uncommon for young soviet couples who tended to get married and have kids without da