Cover and above photographs by Renna Khuner-Haber
Table of Contents: Safe at Last, Dana Kresel
Untitled on Couch, Rachel Berger
Shabbat Morning with a Lover, Gabriella Theisen
Untitled, Renna Khuner-Haber
Pregnant Thoughts, Liati Mayk
Sunday Afternoons, Joanna Sloame
Defiance, Jonah Meyerhoff
Odd Things About Smiling, Joshua Schwartz
He, Alisha Kaplan
Brem-Sunshine Ketubah, Alisa Brem
AndrĂŠs D.S. Wilson
Havdallah, Batya Weinstock
NY/Jlem/DC, Alexandra Polsky
If I Forget Thee, New Orleans, Daniel Swartz
The Ophir Lookout,
The Search for an Answer, Shoshi Rosenbaum
Untitled, Alisha Kaplan
Untitled, Yael Simmons
Memorial on the Danube, Jen Abrams
Brother, Aaron Rotenberg
A Sonnet for Mr. Elliot, Shai Silverman
Handle Like Eggs, Shira Schindel
Falling, Alisha Kaplan
Please Donâ€™t Touch, Alisa Brem
A Song of Ascents, Adam Katz
Tryptich, Rachel Berger
Untitled, Sarah Weiss
All I Saw Was Tail Lights, Miriam Manber
You Need to be Shook, Gabriella Theisen
Your Check in the Mail, Rachel Trager
Untitled (Akko), Jonah Meyerhoff
Safe at Last by Dana Kressel, GS/JTS ‘09
Alexandra Polsky, CC ‘08 Editor-in-Chief Rachel Trager, CC ‘08 Literary Editor Alisa Brem, CC ‘08 Layout Editor Chanel Dubofsky, Columbia/Barnard Hillel Tzedek Coordinator
Staff advisor Editorial Assistants: Aaron Rotenberg, GS/JTS ‘09 Justin Fine, GS/JTS ‘11 Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11
a project of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, is a literary magazine committed to the expression of Jewish experience through the publication of creative writing and art. This is now our second issue, and as we continue and expand this project, we encourage you to contact us with any feedback by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. avanim and Columbia/Barnard Hillel acknowledge the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation whose generous support has made this publication possible.
From the Editor: Credit must be given where credit is due. In my introduction to the previous issue of this magazine, I explained the source of the title ‘Avanim’: words on the wall at the entrance to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, WET SAND AND SMALL STONES LAID OUT IN THE SUN TO DRY (ALL MIXED TOGETHER). I wrote how the words seemed mysteriously placed there, with no credit or source. A number of coincidences led me to learn recently that Lawrence Weiner, a native New Yorker, is the artist who placed those words on the wall in the Israel Museum. Weiner’s work is most often simple words printed on walls: BITS & PIECES PUT TOGETHER TO PRESENT A SEMBLANCE OF A WHOLE, or A CUP OF SEA WATER POURED UPON THE FLOOR, or A SQUARE REMOVAL FROM A RUG IN USE. While these lines can perhaps be read simply as unfinished poems printed large on the wall, it is Weiner’s own “Declaration of Intent,” created in 1968, which explains the full power of his work: 1. THE ARTIST MAY CONSTRUCT THE PIECE. 2. THE PIECE MAY BE FABRICATED. 3. THE PIECE NEED NOT BE BUILT. EACH BEING EQUAL AND CONSISTENT WITH THE INTENT OF THE ARTIST THE DECISION AS TO CONDITION RESTS WITH THE RECEIVER UPON THE OCCASION OF RECEIVERSHIP.
What Weiner means to say here is this: that it does not matter if a given piece of art physically exists, and the extent to which it is fabricated is determined by the viewer. The artist’s role is simply to present a relationship between objects, a written description being sufficient. What faith Weiner has in the viewer. That he shares his act of creation with strangers, that he trusts others with the privilege of fabricating his own works, that he allows us to enter into his creative process along with him—what an honor. His philosophy could not be more fitting for our magazine. So in this issue we, too, present you with images, written and visual, however formed or unformed, and we now welcome you to enter into our creative processes—our dialogues between the individual and the communal, the holy and the profane—to feel and imagine, digest and visualize. Like Weiner’s work, that this magazine is read and reacted to is as important as its being created in the first place. Our art is in your hands. Best wishes, Alexandra Polsky Editor-in-Chief
Shabbat Morning With a Lover
First he like a tree stands pale and rigid in a flood of light next into the crowd, clumsily eager, pushes— crowding the paper torah with his hands waving (sweaty then the makeshift exhausting
Gabriella Theisen, GS/ JTS ‘08
shul moans easily a dark bellied laugh, our rituals crude, childish tongued where two old ladies sit, sour, frowning.)
“You are not here” I know this, You are terribly speechless for the knowing of You hurts. as I push aside strangely his hand Flipping naked in my burning seat
Liati Mayk, PhD Program, JTS
6 Pregnant Thoughts
Jonah Meyerhoff, GS/ JTS â€˜10
He “That’s the beauty of the world,” I say. He stares at me with eyes distant or vacant, I’m not sure. I know he thinks speech taints silence. I don’t understand and seeing this he says, “No, that’s not the way it goes.” He pauses. “Deep lament is beautiful. Pain is an ugly whore. It prostitutes me.” “Kill it,” I say. “Kill it.” I don’t know why I said that. “Don’t be obscene.” He walks to the corner store to buy milk. They’re out. Who’s ever out of milk? He buys a beer instead. Heading home, he tries to skip, but ends up running, fast. “A bullet,” he thinks. “I’m a bullet.” The house looks empty. It’s dull, with its mowed lawn and topiary. There’s no room for him, like the trees that cannot grow. He lies on the grass and the grass sighs beneath the burden. He sighs and the neighbors frown. Smiling at the spinning clouds, for a second he thinks he sees an angel. He wakes up at 3:00 in the morning, covered with snowflakes, cool and pristine. His devil lies beside him, provocative and repulsive. “Give in,” the devil coos. “It’s heavenly.”
“Remember the time we made a house out of that cardboard box?” I ask. “Ya, it rained and the roof caved in.” “Let’s make another.” In my bedroom, we build another, drawing fake windows which nobody can open because we don’t want anyone to be able to see in. Inside the box, he and I sit for hours, pressed against each other. I listen to him breathe and watch the sweat on his temple out of the corner of my eye. With barely enough room for our cramped legs, the new Radiohead playing in the background, and the smell of cardboard mixed with the nagchampa incense burning on my windowsill, he lets himself cry.
Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11
“You’re beautiful,” I tell him. His face turns toward the street. “Like a sepia branch.” “Branches become paper and chairs,” he replies. “Chairs are beautiful.” “Shut up.” Now we sit in weighted silence. The deep wound grows cold and scabs. He picks at it with his delicate finger and blood surfaces. A drop trickles across his arm.
Hatikva, 2006 De l’espoir rien ne reste qu’un mur dans l’ouest Où le chant est profond et il casse le monde. De notre naufrage asseché, nous faisons des gestes Aux eaux qui coulent des seaux et inondent Nos mains. Un homme du monde aux genoux craquants, J’y mis mon reve dans une fissure assoiffée. J’entend des cris de « meshiakh maintenant ! » De la Montagne d’Oliviers, aux tombes dorées. Mais pendant ce temps à quoi pense-elle? Aux chansons? A la piscine, j’imagine, où elle nage sourdement Par déla des espoirs ratés. Pense-elle à moi ? Son amant grave qui l’adore comme la Torah.
Andrés D.S. Wilson, GSAS ‘08
Es-tu ma meshiakh blanche et azure? Peut-etre l’amour est l’espoir le plus pur.
Of hope nothing rests but a wall in the west-Where the song is deep and it cracks the world. From our dry shipwreck we do the gestures Like water flowing from pitchers, immersing Our hands. A man of the world with shaking knees, Who placed a dream within a thirsty crevice. I hear the cries of “moshiach now!” From the Mount of Olives to the gilded tombs. But during all this, what’s on her mind, songs? I imagine her, at the pool, deafly swimming, So far from crushed hopes. Does she think of me? Her grave lover who adores her like the Torah. Are you my messiah, white and azure? Maybe love is the hope the most pure.
Batya Weinstock , GS/ JTS â€˜10
NY/Jlem/DC I. I have never seen white in this place, save for the first hour after snowfall, before gray descends heavily. I have never seen stone here, gently cut or gently placed or gently laid with meaning. It is all too quickly installed: instantly permanent. Perhaps this whole place is a monument to our greatness; perhaps nothing is quiet. But concrete turns to dust more quickly than does stone. What will they be thinking when they find this in a thousand years? II. And here, the stone is wrought with finger oil, gone over with tears on a rag. Gone over, filled in with papers, left and revisited. This is what we find after a thousand years: a city gently adorned with wounds. Once you took some notes from the Wall (like vomiting—movement in the wrong direction). I was angry at first, but you showed them to me, and I wanted to laugh at the words, at the yearning to be heard by Ears that don’t exist. They call it ‘of Gold’; I see nothing gold here, only white, sometimes soft pink in the evenings. And prayers for dew leave no room for reflecting pools or majesty.
Alexandra Polsky, CC ‘08
Eichah yashvah badad, ha’ir rabati am; haytah k’almanah. Rabati bagoyim, sarati… III. We sit in this city of ratios and lines-of-sight. Midnight dew gathers on our idle skin. We rest on marble stairs under a night sky, and a tall man sits behind us in a white chair, glowing in his temple. This, columned and marbled, is our Parthenon, and we are like children. We turn to look at the mirror spread in front of us, a pool of perfect dew, and the smooth white tower beyond it for yet another man, disturbing the night: symmetrical, half real, piercing the stars and descending into the earth. What will they be thinking when they find this in a thousand years? The sky and ground leak cold air from identical wounds, and I answer, white stone like this should be older.
Rachel Berger, Social Work â€˜08
12 Untitled on Couch
Renna Khuner-Haber, GS/ JTS â€˜09
Sunday Afternoons I sat charmed by her foreign voice, the sun bearing down on the beige room, illuminating magical columns of spellbound dust particles that warmed my feet. The wooden chairs, the coffee table, the china cabinetâ€”only proving to be independent objects by the shapes of the shadows they cast on the foggy carpet. She sat on the sofa the color of corduroy in her usual place where the cushions had sunk into themselves in expectation of her arrival. The so small, so colorless woman folded into the taupe cushions, the old lady whose stories seemed to seep from each fold in her face, and were held in the sags of skin that hung from her upper arms. I closed my eyes and let her tumbling English words wash over me, transporting me to the Muscovite winters and Polish death camps of her youth. Her words wrapped my head in a gauzy swath of tongue trills and wavering tinges of her thick speech. My eyelids began to droop as I struggled to keep listening, my mother prompting her to tell again of how she tricked the school authorities into thinking she was sixteen so she could enter university early. And though I always fell asleep she would kiss my keppi and her words would continue to swim circles around my ears.
Joanna Sloame, CC â€˜09
And when the stroke had erased English from her palette, my poor Russian could only make out muy mush, muy mush My husband, my husband. And her hypnotic words, loosened from their tethered/fervent hold over me, cracked and splintered into the broken sounds of a broken woman. Her sallow hand clung to mine with a feverish desire to connect to someone alive and vital, and I felt her faint pulse as she slipped into sleep as I told her of my grown-up life these days.
Odd Things About Smiling
Josh Schwartz, GS/ JTS ‘08
I am in my bathroom at home, the one I share with my brother. Before me, spread out like an altar, lies my sink and counter space. The surfaces are white, and I think Formica, the type, which makes it so you can never quite clean off all the little beard hairs, which drives your latent OCD nuts. Beneath the sink and beside the drawers is a small cabinet, one used to keeping things we no longer use. In it, lie scattered, impractical cups from my childhood. They have holes on the side and the bottom and a spout, and they all have faces.
I am in the bath, and I am six years old. I do my best to palpate the shampoo into my improbable hair, and my father brings the cup to the side of the tub. As soon as he fills the yellow cup with slightly-too-hot water, it descends in streams through the bottom holes of the vessel. They continue to descend, in rivulets down my face, carrying away the lovingly applied shampoo from my head and hair. The commercials tell you that it is ok to laugh and giggle and open your eyes wide to the miracle of cranial laundering. But they lie. Even when the “safe” shampoo gets in your eyes, it stings. My father brings the green cup to the side of the tub, the one with a hole where his mouth should be. As soon as it fills with water, the clear liquid flows in a constant, giving stream. My eyes sting and tear, but I persist in smiling nonetheless, marveling at its pure gift. Above the sink and counters and beside my memories is the mirror. Its galvanized surface is pockmarked with age, like an unlucky teenager, but it still reflects well enough, especially when my brother and I remember to wash the enormous thing before Shabbat. To me, in this house, the bathroom mirror is not merely a tool for hygiene and general upkeep; it is a co-conspirator, an ally, a confidante. All throughout
my life, it has silently supported all my poor decisions. It has been nine years since my flirtation with hair gel in the seventh grade, but the mirror has never brought up my attempt to wish my unimaginable hair into an attractive force of follicle might. I would be cool when I left the room, and the mirror let me believe most things. I think that when we were younger, more things had faces. Girls and boys are swaddled in blankets, cocooned by their stuffed animals and dolls. I had a collection of many, many actions figures. We could also see faces - partners in conversation, playmates - amidst most things we found surrounding us. Trees were always old men or young dryads; the gnarls of branches or smoothness of bark or roughness of bark could so easily be reorganized by any number of senses. (Are all children synaesthetic and then later forget?) Seeing faces everywhere, it’s no wonder kids are always smiling or crying or both. Mirrors are a stage, a nexus with the other world. I, like most young men eagerly exploring my power before myself, frantically wailed about to songs I loved, made muscles, critiqued my body. I performed before myself, bereft of childhood’s ubiquitous audience. Often, I would also simply stand and smile, my eyes shifting like sand in the hourglass. Sometimes, they would join in, but at other times my face felt like dusk, slowly fading, painfully beautiful. Tentative at best. Sometimes, I have been hit by the strange urge to have a cold sore at all times, to be forced to smile so it hurts a little. I rejoiced before myself in my childhood home, and the mirror tried to give me my face as a gift. I smiled, but I had nowhere to put it.
Alisa Brem, CC â€˜08
Daniel Swartz, CC â€˜11
If I Forget Thee, New Orleans
מצפה אופיר מצפה אופיר
The Ophir Lookour
תשע בבוקר,מלא אור בפסגת מצפה אופיר מסתכלים מלמעלה לכנרת וקדימה לטבריה מרגישים חמסיני חורף של הצפון והמזרח זוכרים את שנביאנו אמר ”סיר נפוח אני רואה ופניו מפני צפונה “ויאמר ה‘ אלי מצפון תפתח הרעה על כל יושבי הארץ אויבי הצפון הרסו אותנו לאלפי שנים אבל אחרי שבוע ביוני הפסיקו עדי עד ועכשיו האדמה משגשגת ואין פחד בעיני החקלאים ,פעם היו שם אויבי הצפון,מצפה אופיר .עכשיו כלניות וחרדל במקומם
Jonah Liben, GS/ JTS, ‘11
Full of light, 9 in the morning At the height of Ophir Lookout. Looking from above at the Kineret and forward toward Tveria Feeling the winter’s [version of the] hot, dry winds of the North and East Remembering our prophet’s words: “A steaming pot, I see, Tipped over from the North. And the Lord said to me: From the North shall disaster break loose upon all the inhabitants of the land.” Enemies from the North destroyed us for thousands of years But after a Week in June they ceased forever And now the land flourishes And there is no fear in the eyes of the farmers On Ophir Lookout, where there once lay the enemies of the North, Now are filled with Anemones and Mustard Seeds in their place.
The Search for an Answer
Shoshi Rosenbaum, BC/ JTS ‘09
Excerpts from a play
I am alone and inconsolable. Yet…not outwardly. Despite it all, I remain calm. How do I feel? How should I feel? No. How can I feel? I feel…as if I am in mourning. Yet, there is nobody for whom I can mourn; my loved ones are still living. This doesn’t matter, though. It can’t, because the capacity in which they are alive is forever altered—for them probably, but surely for me. What is death, anyway? Although it is in death’s absence, my pain at this moment is one of the most profound loss and confusion. There is no such thing as preparedness; and here I am, experiencing this ultimate shock, but it’s without death’s actualization. What will be accomplished if I rip my clothing? There is no room here to bless the judge of truth, for God has only sent mixed messages. And I wonder, God, is it selfish to beg for some sort of consistency? Had You not asked my husband to kill my only child… even if You had just let him sacrifice my beloved son…I could be angry at You. I could be furious with my husband, too. I would miss my son because of his physical absence. But he is still here, and I miss him more than I would if he were dead! I woke up one morning to see that my husband and son had gone, and it was at that moment I knew for certain that it would be the last time I’d see my son. I ran after them, calling, screaming, crying, but they were too far away to hear. The sand scorched my feet, and eventually I had to return home. I should have kept running. Surely this whole fiasco is my fault. For the next five days, I couldn’t eat or sleep. I cannot even begin to describe the thoughts that were running through my head.
On the sixth day, my loved ones returned, yet they were not the same people who left home nearly a week ago. They walked together, yet they did not speak to one another. I doubt they will ever speak again. My husband informed me, in that matter-offact tone I detest, that he had been instructed by God to sacrifice my only son, the one I love so dearly. Yet at the last second, an angel prevented him from completing the task. Clearly my husband cares more for God than he does for me if he would dare do something so abominable to my one and only son! And now my son will not speak at all, to me, to his father, to anyone. I am entirely alone, because I cannot even turn to God. I blame God wholeheartedly for the horrible request. Both God and humans have free will. We’re made in God’s image, after all. Even if God were merely testing my husband, it was an awful, unfair test, and God, in infinite wisdom, should have foreseen these terrible consequences. I also blame my husband because he should not have listened to God. I won’t deny that God has done some wonderful things for humanity, but why does God seem filled with insecurities? I’m the one who should be insecure, and I am, because I’m human. Why should God need Abraham to prove how much he cares? We left our home and followed God to an unknown land; is that not sufficient proof? My husband and I converted many people for this God—they stopped worshipping idols because of us! And so I ask, God, is this how You repay us?
Alisha Kaplan, BC â€˜11
Jen Abrams, GS/ JTS â€˜09
Memorial on the Danube
A Sonnet for Mr. Eliot
Shai Silverman, GS/JTS ‘11
We are the hollow men, said the great one I live in the gray area, extreme I’m a man of extremes, greater than suns Extremes, broken dreams, blue jeans with ripped seams I’m a man of extremes, whiter than moons Darker than nothing that surrounds the stars My mind is a duel, takes place at high noon. The bullets of war, they fly from afar But you, my love, are my bullet-proof vest You surround me in you, comforting me You moderate me, my sorrow, your jest So let us be free, and we’ll see what we’ll see Let’s fill ourselves up, hollow men no more I’m a man of extremes, and you shake my core.
Falling As he continues to dress the plants, he can feel the lingering tingle from her warm touch. Although he is holding flowers, his hand feels empty. “How much longer?” he asks no one. “It is too quiet.” The mammoths shuffle nearby and the birds sing. Adam shivers in the early afternoon sun.
Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11
She runs through the gardens and feels the wind blowing through her fingers. Curiosity about everything overwhelms her. All the fruits of the trees, the creatures on the earth and the shapes and shadows in the skies fill her gaze. For a moment Eve wonders if Elokim is watching her. She knows He won’t call out to her as he does to Adam. She pauses and wonders why; then, with her delicate hand she picks a crisp blade of grass and she eats it, savoring the strange taste.
Adam walks among the shrubbery and trees, bending down every so often to pull a blade of grass. He holds the green strip between his thumb and finger, gives it a slight tug and then closes his hand over it, making a fist. Adam squints up at the sun to see how far it has moved. “It must be stuck,” he says aloud. “I’ll have to tell my Master to fix that.” However, he knows that it’s not stuck. A creature approaches Eve, its face bearing a peculiar expression that appears to be a grin and a grimace at the same time. He coils around her legs and says only to her, “You are beautiful.”
“No,” she objects, and she tries to straighten her smile, to cool her blush. “A goddess,” he hisses. “How are you a creeping thing that creeps on the earth and that speaks?” The snake tells her about the fruit. He tells her what happens. With devilish words, he tempts her. “I can take you to the tree,” he says, sliding up her body to whisper in her ear. “You can taste the fruit as well.” Eve, intrigued, thrilled, unaware, follows him. “She is going to sin,” Adam thinks, unable to push away a terrible feeling he has never had before. His head heavy with conflicting thoughts, he lies down on the soft earth, cushioned by the blades of grass and herbs. He wants to trust her. Looking at the wilted piece of grass in his hand, he asks, “What can I do? Can it be that I am helpless to stop it?” Animals scurry around him. “I am nothing without her.” He stares searchingly at the separate skies above him. “Oh God. He knows.” The snake curves from side to side. Eve follows in his path. They reach the great tree. Upon seeing the tree, Eve recoils. She pictures Adam’s face. “It’s alright, nothing will happen. A queen of the universe cannot die. A queen, so close to the Gods, cannot be harmed by knowledge. In fact, you should know. Knowledge is your right.”
He goes on with his eloquent words and Eve is bound by them. The only other voice she has heard is Adam’s. The snake’s voice is different. It is deep and uncanny. It reminds her of the black bottom of the waters where her reflection disappears into darkness. The fruit shines like gold and hangs like a drop of dew on a grape vine. Eve’s fingers tingle as she thinks about lightly running them along the fruit’s smooth, hard peel. Without her noticing, her hand has reached up within an inch of the fruit’s leaves. Giggling, she grabs it and brings it toward her nose, breathing in its fragrance. It smells like ambrosia, sweet like wine, yet cool like the water that rose from the pregnant earth. A hunger unlike any she has ever felt shakes her and she bites the fruit, feeling rapturous and alive.
“No, if he does not eat the fruit, I shall die and he shall live, with another Eve. I shall be alone without him. I would rather die with him.” He sees her approaching. As she comes close to him, he breathes in her ambrosial scent and places the garland on her wild locks. Eve speaks of the tree. Adam sees how her words float empty in the still air and he loves her. “Become a God like me,” she pleads, ecstatic and beautiful. “Join me.” Sighing, he takes the cold fruit from her hand. To be with her and dead is far better than life, than God. His right hand raises the fruit to his lips and with his left, he takes her hand in his.
Adam’s hands twist in his lap and pull at the herbs. Longing to hold her hand, he picks rosemary and hibiscus and weaves a garland for her long, dark tresses. He is left with one choice. “I, too, must sin.”
Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11
In the midst of her joy, she remembers Adam. “Do I share the fruit with him? We can be equal. But it feels good not to be inferior. The plants and trees grow but do not move. The animals and creatures grow and move but do not think rationally. Man grows, moves and thinks rationally. Yet I am not Man. Where do I belong in the chain?” She hadn’t even known how she had felt before; she hadn’t the words or the knowledge of how to express it. The snake slides away, unnoticed, his grimace smiling widely.
A Song of Ascents I
Adam Katz, CC â€˜08
I am human and so I feel I feel and so I wonder I wonder and so I imagine I imagine and so I hope I hope and so I will I will and so I experiment I experiment and so I transgress I transgress and so I experiment I experiment and so I learn I learn and so I change I change and so I am human I am human and so I feel I feel and so I love I love and so I hurt I hurt and so I heal I heal and so I learn I learn and so I change I change and so I am human II He is the bridge and the verse He is the bridge and the refrain He is the bridge and the highway He is the bridge and the lane He is the bridge and the lane He is the bridge and the foot
He is the bridge and the mallet He is the bridge and the wood He is the bridge and the wood He is the bridge and the saw He is the bridge and the suspension He is the bridge and the draw He is the bridge and the draw He is the bridge and the river He is the bridge and the splash He is the bridge and the shiver
III He is the drawbridge and the bell He is the tollbridge and the toll He is the footbridge and the stumble He is the horsebridge and the foal He is the drawbridge and the captain He is the capt and the unbound He is the unbound and the published He is the published and the unrenowned He is the suspension bridge and the disbelief He is the belief and the starry doubt He is this redoubt and this fief We are within him, with him roundabout
Sarah Weiss, CC â€˜10
You Need to be Shook “And yer whole world’s a-slammin’ and bangin’.” -Bob Dylan The road that you’re walking just doesn’t feel right, you’re walking with sore eyes and lost sight of why you’re here, and where you’re going and if this walking stick will lead you through. The people are swarming, just making you sick like a dog being forced to do all kinds of tricks while he’s tied up real tight to a pole, his neck in a rope, his feet in a hole while the owner’s inside drinking liquor in a glass and sweating on a woman who can’t even ask him to leave her alone. Your insides are twisting, feel like you’re ready to choke, the concept of relationships’ brittle and broke. There’s nothing you can touch, nothing you can feel, your stomach’s empty even after a meal that you bought at the corner grocery store, a turkey sandwich for $7.94, though you won’t drop a dime in that poor lady’s cup, she’s going to spend it on meaningless stuff, like drugs, isn’t that right? Your vision is lacking, you need to be shook, but you don’t know just where you’re supposed to look, so you walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, trying to get your mind to start ticking. You make it half-way before turnin’ back thinkin’; You’d rather be outside with the wind. Out on the street there’s a canvas on display, entitled “An Artist’s Mental Landscape in May,” it’s colors are gray and a strange sort of pink, and the jack-knife in your pocket is starting to sing in your hand, “Take me out. Slit a hole through the middle of his life” but you don’t, though you are desperate to crawl inside one of those mountains in there.
Gabriella Theisen, GS/ JTS ‘08
You’re no artist, you know, but you’re fingers got this twitch like your body’s been in a grave, and your head in a ditch, like you’re waiting for your head to grow like a seed that will sprout open, telling exactly what you need. Your vision is lacking, you need to be shook, you want to feel something, know how to look. At the park you watch children with sugary faces, and their Mama beside, taking them places they haven’t yet seen, haven’t yet felt, and for some reason your skin feels like it’s starting to melt into a puddle right in front of their strollers.
Your vision is lacking, you need to be shook, to be carried away to some bubbling brook where you can hear your grandfather’s voice and the whispers of sages. But you are too busy, too proud, propped up on ten different stages; you’re a mom to your mom and mom to your man, and the room’s curling in, like the muscles in your throat, you feel like a machine controlled by a remote version of the self you thought you knew. Till your hat blew right off, the carpet pulled from your toes, and there’s holes in the ozone, everybody knows there’s not enough water goin’ around to drink, but you still feel like pouring through that kitchen sink right into to the gutter. ‘Cause you can’t deduct from what’s right from what’s wrong from what’s social construct, and political song. Yup, there’s a whole place out there, earth’s gown shriveling and reeling, but hardly enough healing, and you rub and you scrub to rinse that dirty feeling from your hands. You slap yourself in the face, go to a synagogue to pray, call for the rain gods to wash you away, then think for a second how your mom might be proud, stand for a minute, lip a few words out loud, but that hum in your voice says you just don’t care, you can’t slap on meaning if it just isn’t there making your heart hear something, making your heart see something, making your heart feel something, other than how you like eating matzo ball soup. You’re still on this road wearing two different shoes, one a high heel, the other a worn boot and it’s like you’re busy trying to please everyone. Your vision is lacking you need to be shook, you want to find something that will tell you where to look, though this sort of thing doesn’t just spring in your face. It’s not on the billboards, or in the cash that you’ve got, or told by some old guy watching cars pass by from his lawn chair on the street while he’s drinking gin and playing a banjo. Nope. Your vision is lacking you need to be shook, you need something exceptional, something to unhook that tune from your song, that cookie in that jar—at least that’s what I think, and I’m not tryin’ to say I know much; but you can find it at central park watching the sun come up.
Jonah Meyerhoff, GS/ JTS â€˜10
28 Untitled (Akko)
Yael Simmons, BC â€˜11
When we are no longer old enough to jump from garbage can to garbage can, sifting for crumbs and chocolate, Passovertime will be upon us. Our red hands will tear open papers, tear through drawers, squeeze romance from fading lifetimes of jots and scribbles. We won’t find each other in the discarded sheets, instead at the bottom of our piles we will be faced with the angel of the holiday. Pushing through the battered radio of the Corolla, he will doll out 3 minute packages of shaking Brit-pop that we used to sing driving to the subway. You and I were born in the same portraits, in the same beige living room with the same grandmothers tucking us in, locking us out, boiling us eggs and stirring more salt into the water. We lined up our holes in the walls to make mean-looking, snarling faces. We made tea from backyard mint, for sabbath from streetwide bicycle stealing. We tore through parks and ladies hearts with the rain quickly turning to snow.
I ran all along the street, overturning trashcans in the middle of the night, mothers howling at the fading sliver of moon. I dove through dumpsters, pushing aside snoring bums and glittering wrappers of chocolate coins. I tore out the pages of old phone books and sat on them until I was tall enough to see your face flushed and giddy underneath the seder table.
Aaron Rotenberg, GS/JTS ‘09
They said it would be the same in every generation, that the wicked son would leave without asking any questions. The simple son would stay at the table just long enough to catch a fragment of the answer to his pulsating questions: Why do I stay? here in this frozen porch? on this hill of thorns? with the fathers of my friends? With roofs that don’t let in the rain? with walls that don’t let in the wind? with grandfather couches creaking warnings in their joints? Where is the stick to beat the goat? to bite the dog? to slaughter the angel of death? Where are my 4 mothers? my 3 fathers? my 11 brothers? Where are they in all these volumes of dusty books with razor-sharp pages?
Handle Like Eggs Vivian: My mother! My mother is, she is... a disaster.
Shira Schindel, CC ‘11
In the spring semester of my tenth grade year my mother showed up to parent teacher conferences in stilettos and a shimmery slip dress, drunk. Vodka was a staple in our apartment, along with cat food and scotch tape. We were always running low on things like milk, cereal, and toilet paper. Mother used to hang up drippy school projects over the marble fireplace, and macaroni art was known to be used as a coffee table centerpiece, next to the delivery of fresh cut flowers. Mother explained that guests don’t see the fridge, so why display there? No one else saw the fridge much either, it was pretty useless. A+ papers or tests with 100% were immediately turned over to the doorman, who then posted them near the mailboxes in the lobby for 24 hours – a deal reached after two hours of negotiations with the residents’ board. Mother was proud of all I did, but she never could manage to learn what I needed.
On the first day of first grade my teacher, Ms. Kimberly, sent us home with a list of supplies. I proudly brought home my first homework assignment to show mom what I was supposed to bring to school the next day. Mom glanced at the list and smiled at me. She told me she’d find all I needed, and then she passed out. She would later regale how she woke later that night with the list still in her hand. She ran out the door in her bathrobe waving that yellow piece of paper with urgency to the nearest 24-hour drugstore. They had everything, except the scotch tape. Ever since, there has been a supply of scotch tape delivered bi-weekly with the flowers. Gene, the Fiona’s Floral delivery man, still, eleven years later, emphasizes as he hands over each delivery and the scotch tape for Ms. Valerie. The year I entered high school Gene’s nephew, Paul began classes at the local college. It was around then that Paul started bringing me deliveries of a different sort of scotch.
My mother has never seen the produce isle of a supermarket. Maybe she picked up the phrase that time Henry took us all to the circus for their six month anniversary. Henry adored my mother. Mother hated the circus, and soon hated Henry as well. There are a lot of delicate things at the circus; maybe one crate had a bold print large enough to read without the prescription glasses that she never wears. Maybe, in a bout of poetic profusion, the box company replaced the usual ‘handle with care’ to ‘handle like eggs.’ I remember she tried cracking an egg once, remnants of a grocery run Henry had made just before he left. The egg ended up in the cat’s dish, and she didn’t order sunny side up from the take-out cafe downstairs for a week. The cat got sick that night. I thought about these memories when I sat down, after the tenth grade parent teacher conferences. Handle like eggs. Handle like eggs? What did she mean!? She is very delicate, very sensitive, don’t be con-sherned, just handle like eh-gz, she slurred right in front of me. Dr. Sartrini had invited me to sit in on the conference, so that we could discuss with my mother a summer program he wished to help me apply for to study art in France. In the three weeks I spent in France last summer I didn’t call my mother once. She had only let me go because she couldn’t stand the silent treatment I gave her around the house. She sent me a package there, in France; she sent me an umbrella and some scotch tape. It was raining the day I got it. My mother is (laugh), she is (sigh), irreplaceable.
Alisa Brem, CC ‘08
Please Don’t Touch
Rachel Berger, Social Work â€˜08
All I Saw Was Tail Lights
Miriam Manber, BC ‘09
There’s something about a last time. It might be the smell of it. But when you know a collision might be your last, You floor it and look straight into the headlights And ignore the bleating of millions of horns, Relishing the smell of burning rubber. Four wheels, eighteen wheels, As many wheels as you can take, Spinning up against each other and Clawing, tearing, twisting your mettle Until you watch him drive away. Then slowly, as the stench of the dribbling gasoline overwhelms, You strike a match. By the time he’s turned around, you’ve taken your show on the road.
Your Check in the Mail The lights go out again, and again. Against the black sky, they flicker and flut-
silver box with wheels and he chats with the navy businessmen who rest their
ter and I am left tapping along the cold streets with my cane. I am left, once
leather briefcases against the cart’s dirty black wheels. His English is poor, heav-
ily accented, but jolly. And I want to tell him, there’s no happy slave and you
I’ve been old since childhood and so I believe I have a right to act as I feel. I know what works and what doesn’t. I know what gets a person killed.
thrown forward like soldiers’ guns. I throw my cane against their knees, so they buckle and fall.
in suits grab their little hands, saying “Shhh shhh…she’s had a hard life. She’s crazy.”
Rachel Trager, CC ‘08
bulb and you run you run so fast. My stomach aches from his coffee. My gastric juices bubble. “You hurt the one person who understands,” I tell his blurry face before the sun rises. Until
“Mommy, she tripped us,” they scream from the floor. They point to the “old
five, I am the only one on that street, and he knows what I want, a cup of coffee no milk no sugar, but every time he makes me say it, and every time he looks away. Like the rest of them, who don’t know, but who say they know, because they shoved a check in the mail and someone showed up on the corner where I slouched with the coffee and my writhing stomach and said, “Please, ma’am,
I remember the way the light streamed through the bunkers’ wooden shafts.
we want to hear your story.” They turn on the camera and fluorescent light
My chin wedged between another person’s armpit, my legs intertwined in a
pins me to the dark alley, where the bricks are grimy purple, not red as I wanted
little girl’s thinning hair, I was still sensitive to that light. Scraping our legs
to imagine. They crumple a tissue into my hand and say, “Tell us everything,
against the hard wood of our beds, we left our dreams and readjusted to our
anything. September 1939. May 1945. Everything, anything.”
And I tell them, “Your city is a slum even if you don’t hang your laundry out to
In the darkness, this city is grotesque. There are nineteen million people who huddle into subway cars, groins against thighs and groan. They want space, just a little more space, to put another rug, a pair of rotting sandals, new and old cashmere sweaters, and the pretty picture someone’s defected grandkid made. They want space like they want sustenance, like they’d force themselves to the middle-back of the soup line to get more grains, more vegetable slosh than
dry like they used to, along the street where one person collapsed and the other’s jaw lay gaping, soaking in the morning residue from trash left out for weeks and weeks. Disgusting how you people think you live after death, where you people start anew by walking the streets with your painted cheeks, your clicking heels, only in the sunlight. The city that never sleeps snores though it is nudged consistently throughout the night.”
liquid, and something rather than nothing. Because of them, there were days
When my next check comes in the mail, I will ask one of your stupid children
I was left with an empty bowl and some bloody black coffee. “Drink up,” the
with the name David to buy me a pair of sunglasses. Then I will be able to go to
guard snarled, tapping his same-sized shoes, that bastard. After the war, I found
the interviews during the day, at a time that works better for the staff.
out he was a Jew and I killed his family while sleep-walking the city streets. I want to ask the guy on the corner what he puts in the coffee. He sits in his
way, an opening in the fence. You need to make your veins into conductors so that when the electricity shoots through them, they make you bright like a light
When the darkness descends, little boys charge along my toes, their chests
lady,” the crippled figure who creeps along the streets until dawn.
won’t ever be able to survive on what they give you. You need to find another