Alchemy Magazine Issue 48 • Spring 2022
Editors Nathan Addison Mikah Bale David Bolles Mel Ditmanson Kai Fetter Cae Marquez Cat North Xander Jacobsen Gregory Mitberg Adna Mohamed Nathan Nakonieczny Brooke Taylor Brandon Vaden
Senior Editor Contributing Editor Senior Editor, Lead Art Editor Senior Editor, Lead Layout Designer Senior Editor Contributing Editor, Managing Editor Contributing Editor, Layout Editor Contributing Editor, Managing Editor Contributing Editor, Layout Editor Contributing Editor Contributing Editor Senior Editor, Lead Layout Designer Contributing Editor
Special Thanks To Program of Reading, Writing and English Chris Rose, Dean Angela Wetzel, Administrative Assistant Bell Gellis Morais, Portuguese copy editing Sonja Olson, Russian copy editing Graphics and Printing Instructors Damien G Gilley Daniel Soucy Olivia Clark, Cover Design Megan Savage, Faculty Advisor
Creative Writing Instructors Jeff Alessandrelli Alison Apotheker Margot Blair Wendy Bourgeois Trevino Brings Plenty Ezra Carlsen Mia Caruso Matt Chelf Andrew Cohen Caitlin Dwyer Joseph Fitzgibbon Jessica Johnson Elizabeth Knight Theresa Love Cody Luff
Lara Messersmith-Glavin Elissa Minor Josha Nathan Thea Prieto Porter Raper Victoria Rau Justin Rigamonti Ron Ross Megan Savage Chrys Tobey Van Wheeler Melody Wilson Johnny Zackel George Zamzow
Copyright © 2022 by Portland Community College Portland Community College, PO Box 19000, Portland, Oregon, 97280-0990 Portland Community College reserves all rights to the materials contained herein for the contributor’s protection. On publication, all rights revert to the authors.
Contents Nonfiction Chainsaws and Proust Matt Tr u eh er z
This is Not an Epic Me rc i a K a n du ki ra
Faith Goes Down in the Tenth Marc o E t h er i dg e
Angel’s Reach Ev an J . M a ssey
Fiction The Family You Choose El i B r y a n
Remembrance Sud h a Ya dav
The Comfortless Me g a n Ri dg w ay
Tracking Dan i el M a nu el M e ndo z a
Reflective Waters Le e J a e so o k H o l o ube k
Straight on Through, and Other Ways to Travel Gravel Roads A b b i Re i c h e r s
Fear Not the Looming Dark B ran d o n Va de n
Newcomer Gre go r y M i t b erg
Pencil Sharpener Blades Cae M a rq u e z
Gods in the Gloom N at h a n A ddi so n
Graveyard Shift Chel se a T h o r n t o n
God of Only Pieces Chel se a T h o r n t o n
Poetry Silent Is the Flesh Iv an de M o n b r iso n
To Leor Isis Finn
Home, Defined Mar y E ver i t t
Island Hotel Toti O ’ B r i en
Wake Cai t ly n D w yer
No Hummingbirds Kai Fet t e r
Homesick Lai ne D err
I Haven’t Been on an Airplane Since the World Ended Di an el ly A n t i g ua
Wilting A b d u l mu ee d B alo g un
Mi Tierra My Land Dal i a C en t en o A g uil a r
The Beast and the Machine N ath a n Ty l e r Na ko nie cz ny
Black Magic We n dy B o u r g eo i s
Little Man Cy nt h i a M c C l o ud
Monologue of a Ghostess Cl ai re A n d e r so n
Perpetual Love R aqu e l B a rr i ento s
The Flame’s Furrows #13 and #19 Jos é Pe dro L e i te & R icha rd Si ma s
Cooling Waters Yol a n d a Wy so c k i Paper Doll Jam i e A z eve do
Poasttown Elementary Complicated Abandoned Alley A my Ho l l a n
Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga? Where am I, in what region, in what corner of this wounded earth? Sk y Yo u n g s
The Trail Awaits B rad C ro f t
Cloudburst A my Ho l l a n
Light at the End of the Tunnel Je n n i fer Pe n a f l or
Dugout Grace Dav id B o l l e s
Artwork Traveling Inwards 2 Traveling Inwards 5 Cri s t i n a I o r g a
Spiritual Journey R ob e r t a S p ei g h t
Sabbath Cat Mar y E ver i t t
Tribute to the Dodo Conn i e C o l t er
Hierarchy A n a Jov a n ov sk a
Instinct I She lb ey L ec o
Summertime A n a Jov a n ov sk a
Depression Anxiety Xi ao l i n J i a n g
Over the Edge Morde c h ay “ M oti ” Co he n
Jessica’s Memory C at N o r t h
Abstract Portrait 1.23.2022 H an n a W r i g h t
Abstract Portrait H an n a W r i g h t Brilliance Buddies For Eternity Car t er B o u c h er
Trans Beauty We s t i n Ra n z i n o Fly Me to the Moon Cy nt h i a Ya c h t ma n
Phoenix Pigeon Pe n g Q i
Ink Splotch C on n i e C o l t er
Sigh Tom i s l av Š i l i p eta r
Melancholia Tom i s l av Š i l i p eta r
Baroque Pop Tom i s l av Š i l i p eta r
The Infinity of Human Soul Ve ro n i c a Wi n t e rs
Instinct II She lb ey L ec o
Verstehen E m i ly R a n k i n
Typography 2022 Table of contents Gill Sans Nova Calluna
Titles & Author Names Titles: Gill Sans Author Names: Gill Sans MT
Body Text: Calluna Novel Sans Cyrillic
Footnotes & Pull Quotes: Calluna Alchemy’s 48th issue! For this publication, we chose Calluna to primarily consist of the body texts. Jos Buivenga was the designer of this font, and had the intention of striking a balance between the robustness of function and the refinement of typeface aesthetic qualities; making an excellent pick because of its modern serifs and its classic charm. Ivan De Monbrison’s Russian poem “Silent Is the Flesh’’ is also the first literary work displayed in Alchemy. However, the designers took a new approach for this piece, employing Novel Sans Cryllic, as it was a soft and elegant cyrillic font to fit with Calluna.
Editor’s Note Welcome to issue 48 of Alchemy, a literary journal curated by the students at Portland Community College, Sylvania. This year, we have had the unusual experience of creating the book that you hold in your hands without ever having worked in the same room together. Working on a collaborative piece remotely was challenging at times. Technology can be fickle, and not everyone is comfortable behind a camera; communication often suffers when we can’t see one another, and it can be difficult to express oneself when faced with these barriers. It’s a little like being in the dark – you really have to listen to what’s going on around you in order to find your way. When the call for submissions was made this year, we received more than 400 pieces of prose, poetry, art and photography from people all over the world. We wished we could have published every single one. We were able to narrow it down to a collection that we think reflects both the difficulty of navigating life while disconnected, and the power of other people—of community, friendship, and collaboration to tear down these barriers and illuminate our future. As a result, this issue reflects the transitional period from the pandemic into the unknown of life thereafter. No matter where you are in the world, one thing is certain: it’s hard to do it all alone. Without the guiding light of other people, it can be difficult to sit alone with our emotions and our struggles. The pieces that we chose all shine a light on different facets of the human experience in ways that we hope can help us feel more connected. This issue has been arranged as a three-act journey. Some of us call it a journey into the pensive dark, others a journey into the tenebrous experiences of the mind in a “bonkers” time. Some of us see a journey into shadowed gloom toward the glimmers of hope. Still others view it as a journey toward meaning-making, from the esoteric realms of the unconscious, through imagined history, and out again into myth. At its core, the issue touches on things not easily said, things we all carry inside. Each piece forms a connection with the next – every pairing of art and writing chosen so as to illuminate the connections between all of our stories. It is up to you how you choose to look at this issue of Alchemy, but we hope our intentions guide you well.
Traveling Inwards 2 2
C r i st i na I org a
Traveling Inwards 5 Spring 2022
Silent Is the Flesh Ivan de Mon b r is o n Мы сделаны из кусочков тишины вместе взятых. Гроб из плоти – это тело Оно содержит нас от рождения до смерти Но в небе Только одно облако осталось висеть На углу наклонного здания И кто в любой момент мог упасть
We are made of pieces of silence put together. The coffin of flesh is the body. It contains us from birth to death But in the sky There is only one cloud left hanging On the corner of a leaning building And who at any moment could fall
To Leor Isis Finn My mother waters plants like she seasons meals just right but heavily Her hands solid from carrying a family rain down on every inch of soil she comes across To me the water seems excessive But to the heartleaf philodendron that sits in the kitchen window it is just enough The leaves slowly unravel from the humidity of boiling water The roots travel through the moist dirt and bust through the bottom of the clay pot
Yo la n d a Wyso c k i
Spiritual Journey 8
Ro b er ta S peigh t
The Family You Choose El i Br yan Something changed, between when I was standing at the door under the beating sun and when I had stepped into the house, sweat cooling on my skin and a long hallway presenting itself to me. I still am not sure how I knew; maybe the air in the house had finally been able to warn me, but all notion that this wouldn’t be the last time I saw my dad was now gone. I thought maybe it was the house that told me. Something about his bedroom door made me feel stared down, as if the long hallway leading to it was an archery range that I was on the wrong side of. I accepted my mom’s strained offer of a hug, careful to flex my palms to avoid dirtying her cardigan. Her eyebrow was raised when she pulled away, so I let her inspect the dirt crusted into the grooves of my fingers. “I was with a client before I came, home is so out of the way that I figured I could just wash my hands here.” She nodded and stepped to the side to clear my path to the kitchen. She followed me and stood at the octagonal island. While I painstakingly scrubbed my hands I noticed that I had forgotten to put my wedding ring on after having it off for the day. The customary “How are you?” felt inappropriate, given the situation, so instead I asked, “How is he?” “Better today,” she said, “I’ve got him set up with a movie. He’s had some water today and a little bit of a protein shake.” “Good. That’s good, better than before.” I said, more to reassure myself than her. She didn’t let the silence hang long, “What are you working on right now?” She asked in reference to my having just come from my job. Even the thought of work, playing around in the dirt, made me feel lighter on my feet. I told her about the project I was working on; helping a friend of a friend redo the backyard of the house she had just moved into. She was interested in native plants, and a biodiverse garden, and she let me have as much creative freedom as I wanted. I leaned against the sink while I told her how, as close as it was to being my perfect sandbox, the client had a pretty tight budget, and I was going to be forced to cut some corners. Spring 2022
I tried not to let it sting when the only advice she had for me was, “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” She wasn’t anywhere near qualified to give actual insight, but it made me miss how my dad used to talk to me for hours about plants, asking me questions and then answering them with another question before my voice had time to catch up. He only really knew about the plants he’d learned about from me, but he always took such a genuine interest in my passions. He encouraged me to pursue my dream with full force, and my heart ached for one last heated conversation. Leaving my mom in the kitchen, I walked down the hall into the bedroom they shared. He smiled from his bed, a hospital bed adapted for end-of-life care, his slightly yellowed skin stretching over his hollowing face. I didn’t have many memories in that room, but it hadn’t changed much. Across from the bed, a small TV resting on the edge of a grand brown dresser played Ratatouille. “The TV is probably twice as old as this movie,” I said, laughing and looking over my shoulder. My dad let out an amused huff of air. There were pictures on the dresser of my many nieces and nephews, a few of my older sister and her husband, one of me and my younger sister Natalie when we were kids, He encouraged me to pursue probably about eight and twelve, and my dream with full force, one of me on my wedding day, hair and my heart ached for one pinned to my head and my smile last heated conversation. beaming into the lens. This is the way my mother chooses to see me, young and obedient like I was on my wedding day, where she controlled the venue and the ceremony, and the guest list. There were no pictures of my sons on the dresser. I went further into the room to finally greet my father, a ritualistic formality. “How are you feeling?” I said, already knowing the answer. His eyes did not veer off the cartoon as he opened the left side of his mouth to say, “Yeah.” Looking down at him made me uncomfortable; even after all these years, I still wasn’t used to not craning my neck to meet his eyes, a whole six feet, three inches off the ground. Seeing how skinny he was getting was a harsh reminder of how long it had been since he was the stubborn, broad-shouldered man that raised me. In the corner by the door, there was a chair that clearly belonged to the
dining room table, repurposed when my mom or another caretaker had found themselves in this exact situation. I dragged it toward the bed, taking secret pleasure in the disruptive grooves it made in the carpet. I sat next to him in silence for a while, shifting between paying very loose attention to the TV and looking at him. There were so many things I had thought of since I learned he was not long for this world, but in that moment, words escaped me. What are you supposed to say to someone when they’re dying, especially when they can’t really say anything back? Breaking the silence, I asked,“Can I give you a hug?” he looked away from the TV “Yeah.” I leaned over the bed rail and draped my arm lightly over his shoulder. I let my head come to rest on the pillow next to his. Closing my eyes, trying to conjure up the last time I got to really hug him, I started to squeeze where my hand rested on his shoulder. Almost instantly he cried out, a strangled, almost guttural sound that fought its way to escape from deep down in his core. I pulled away, my hand still very timidly resting on him. “Sorry dad, no squeezing huh.” It was more of a statement than a question, but I was glad when he answered anyway. “Yeah.” My eyes started to water. I had no idea the pillar I had made of him in my mind could crumble any more than it already had. My mom on the phone last week had repeated the diagnosis that the joints on the right side of his body had started to calcify, likely from a mix of old age and disuse. I have yet to come to terms with how unfair it is, that pain is one of the senses that hold on the tightest until the very end. I reached up and took the hand closest to me gently in mine, without asking, and he raised his left hand to his chest to indicate to me to hold that one instead. When I did, I felt his grip tighten around mine. I let my head drop when I heard the warning signal, creaking floorboards from behind me, indicating company. My mom entered the room, hovering a few steps away from the door as if assuring her method of escape. “It’s probably about time he went down for a nap, honey.” I took a deep breath, shaking my head and trying to ignore the way she babied a husband who was two years her senior. Spring 2022
“Just a minute,” I said, hoping that I didn’t have to add “alone, please” for her to understand my request. She left without saying anything more. I turned my full attention back to my father, feeling a sense of urgency that I had forgotten since entering the house that day. The corners of my mouth weighed down without my permission and I held onto his hand a little tighter. “You’re a good dad. You did a good job.” his eyes met mine again, and I recognized myself in his face. He squeezed my hand tighter, insistently his lips stretched out into a thin, faint smile, and he bared his teeth again to say “Yeah,” his eyes brighter, his voice more forceful. I closed my eyes to keep my composure before I brought my face to his hand and gave it a small kiss. I stood up, turned his bedside light out, and left the forcefield that encompassed his room. Walking past the kitchen, I admired a large framed black and white photo of my mom’s grandfather, Forest. He was standing with one foot on a recently chopped log, ax in hand. It brought me a little secret joy to imagine that he would be more like me than my mother had our lives overlapped. I took my seat in the living room, on a broken-in recliner about as old as I am. As I waited for someone to interrupt the sound of the Christian contemporary radio that played on a speaker somewhere in the depths of my mother’s house, I dipped my hand into the colorful glass bowl that sat on the side table and fished out one of the Dove chocolates it held. I turned the candy in my hands, wondering how old it was, if the candies were truly for anyone to take or if they were a test of manners. I ate it and folded the wrapper before putting it into my pocket. I heard the faucet run briefly in the kitchen, and moments later, my mom walked into the living room. In her hands were two mugs; she handed me one and took the other to her seat, a sage green chair opposite me. The chemical floral smell of cheap black tea stung my sinuses. “You’re lucky.” She said, clearly ready to move on from the small talk we had engaged in when I first arrived. “He’s feeling good today, he’s been in a lot more pain recently.” My heart ached for him—I knew he wasn’t on nearly enough painkillers.
“Have you been giving him the medicine the hospice nurse gave you?” I asked, already feeling her condescending tone leeching the energy out of my body. She clicked her tongue, “I give him a Tylenol when he needs it.” No, the answer to my question was no. We had had this fight in the hospital just short of a I had no idea the pillar I had made week before; she continuously of him in my mind could crumble complained about him being any more than it already had. “doped up,” to which my sister and I always asked, why does it matter? The only difference his mental state made was how high it allowed my mother to stand on her moral pedestal. That day I was alone, though, so I let my face communicate my disappointment and tried to move on. “Have you put any thought into the service?” There was nothing else to say, we had built a routine of not asking each other about our lives as of late, and sitting in that suffocating room, there was nothing I wanted more than to get some answers and leave. “I’m not going to do anything.” Her lips pressed together in a thin, mauve line. “A funeral is expensive, and I’m tired enough as it is without a big event to plan.” She said it flatly, like she was deciding to skip out on a birthday party, but the weight struck me in my chest and tugged downward, so much so that I had to use all of my muscles to stay upright. My focus turned internal, the realization that I would have to be the one to tell Natalie sank deeper into my skin. Mom wouldn’t be this kind again, if the news didn’t come to Natalie through me, it would come in the form of a cold text from my mother. She continued, “His funeral is for me, and I don’t want it. We haven’t been to any church long enough for them to know your dad before the stroke. I don’t want a preacher who didn’t know him to give a sermon at his funeral. It’s all just too much work for me; I’m tired enough as it is.” I felt like I was twenty-eight again, listening to her tell me why we wouldn’t be having a funeral for my grandfather. “He didn’t have many friends; it’s just for me,” she had said, and although I hadn’t been close to him, I still found it odd. I told myself it was her grief, she could do with it what she liked, but I still wished I could have taken my children to a celebration of his life, hoping that they would remember. She sat in front of me, though, trying to take my grief all for herself. Mourning someone who has not yet Spring 2022
died is a challenging task on its own, even without trying to wrestle the right to do so from a hen’s clutches. “We don’t have to do a big thing. We should at least just come together as a family, try to heal together a little bit.” I found myself begging, for the first time ever, to get my family all under one roof.“There doesn’t need to be a preacher; you don’t have to invite anyone you don’t wanna invite. We could all just say something from the heart.” She clicked her tongue and set her tea down on a side table next to her. She flicked her hands dismissively. “Maybe if you had been around more to help out the last eight years, I’d be more receptive to your input. It honestly feels a little disrespectful for you to come in here all of the sudden and act like you deserve a say on how things are done.” I let my eyes fall, bringing my mug up to my face in a feeble attempt to hide from her. I let the tea scald my tongue before setting the mug down. Taking a deep, stabilizing breath, I stood up. “We all lost dad eight years ago, in a way. For eight years, I have offered you help, tried to help you find solutions that worked better for you, but you just won’t let me. I won’t apologize for setting up boundaries with you and the rest of the family, and that’s no excuse to treat me like I abandoned you. His eyes met mine again, and I Refusing my help was a choice.” recognized myself in his face. She shook her head, her jaw seemingly locked shut. It was clear to me that she wasn’t going to engage me any further. “I should go. Thank you for inviting me today.” I heard the sound of dishes clanking together and being taken to the kitchen as I slipped my shoes on and let myself out of the front door. In the car on the way home, I allowed myself to release the tears building since I had seen my father for the first time that day. It wasn’t the first time I had cried while driving those roads. In fact, I look back now almost fondly on the memory of crying tears of frustration as my dad tried to teach me to drive stick. I took comfort in the stories that the rich countryside held. I decided to rip off the bandaid with my sister before I even got home, knowing that if I let myself sink into the comfort of my own bed for even a second, I would never get up. I stopped at her house on the way to mine, and accepted a freshly baked muffin and a hug that supported my
weight and recharged me in the way hugs are supposed to. I didn’t hold my breath around Natalie, I let my jaw unclench, and my lungs expand. I retold our mother’s words to her as gently and with as little embellishment as possible. Natalie stood strong, unwavering as I spoke to her, but tears fell freely from her eyes, and she embraced me as tenderly as if we were still children. As I watched her composure crumble, I felt myself harden, unconsciously preparing to protect her from any more harm. Neither of us cried while we talked about the blows our mother consistently dealt us or when the conversation turned, as it usually does these days, to memories of our dad when we were little. That night I lay on my comforting couch and let myself become one with the woven pillows that had taken me so much time to pick out. Tonight I am in the same place as I was then, the same blanket on my lap, only with the addition of the knowledge that my father has died. A text from my mother, “Sadly, your dad has passed away. I hope he is enjoying his new body in heaven.’’ Now the stagnant air of my mother’s house invades my own living room, the couch grows stale underneath me, and the wool blanket hardens and becomes chains, strapping me to the hard rock that is the earth without my dad. Grief hangs thick in the air, filling my mouth with a bitter taste like an unripe plum and swarming the front of my head like a cloud of locusts. Tonight all I can do is tread water above the murky lake that I have been thrown in, one I’ve been hiking towards for years but somehow never imagined I’d reach. I can accept the soup my youngest son has reheated for me and let him curl up on the couch next to me. In this moment, the easiest thing in the world is to tell him that I love him, to show him the love my mom stopped showing me a long time ago, and to hope that when I lie in my final moments, I am able to tell him how much I love him still. Tomorrow I will meet my sister. Together we will look for photos of my dad when he was young when he could race us down the sidewalk and shout so loud it woke the birds.
Home, Defined Mar y Ev er it t “Aren’t you glad to be home?” They mean San Diego, or the church lobby we’re lingering in, or the star-spangled dirt our feet are planted on. Spoken with so much enthusiasm. We loathe this statement. It’s not a question. A question implies a desire for response. The generous listening required for the truth, has not yet been found in those spaces. Merriam Webster offers multiple definitions of “home”. Generously, colorfully stuffed, simply outlined, like a California roll.
Sabbath Cat 16
Ma r y E ver itt
/`hōm/ Definition of home 1 : The place where one lives. “My house was in Phnom Penh, down the street from the Mermaid roundabout, our gate fringed with bougainvillea, gray metal basketball hoop structure, red and yellow earth-toned geometric tile texturing the courtyard, banana trees growing out of chicken shit shading the perimeter.” “Is this the house we’re sleeping in tonight? Our suitcases are ruffled, my clothes strewn across the floor as long as we’re there.” “The Honda Civic we’ve borrowed for the summer? We’ve traveled from church-to-church to coast-to-coast in it, my hair and snack remnants making their way into the cracks between the seats.” 2 : The place where a plant or animal is usually found. “Is home the airport we layover each return trip? I know the corridors of Taipei’s gates better than the grooves of my grandmother’s hands.” 3 : The place of one’s birth, residence, or citizenship. “My passport is the deep blue, gold eagle emblematic of privilege in any immigration line.” 4 : Those who live as a family in a house. “Home is where my brother lives. The sauce simmered for three hours on the stove, in his college apartment, his first condo, his first house. The Loc Lac and Ginger Chicken that his wife has fully embraced. Where you don’t perform. The closet in his guest room where I stored my unworn wedding dress.”
Definition of home 1 of an animal : to return by instinct to its territory after leaving it. “Years pass and the market has changed, the roads are developing, most of our people are gone, what remains of home? The smells of home, the thick humid air are still there.” “All the times he drove three hours without being asked, as I tried to build a life in Portland. How our cynicism quiets down, or bites aggressively. When you know the rules and how to move through society.” Synonyms for home The look in his eye when someone asks him where he’s from, he tells them his wife’s hometown. His ease dribbling a soccer ball. Sparring a punching bag at fifteen. Driving us to school on the motorcycle, dodging potholes. Laughing over a pool table. Monitoring the ribs in the smoker. Adjusting the coals on top of the hookah he brought back from Cairo at sixteen, as we filled my room with apple flavored plumes. The human thread weaving through a lifetime of fragmented memories.
Island Hotel To t i O ’Br ien The wall bent, dramatic and slow like an uprooted tree and yet holding, hugging tight the tiled dusty floor in spite of the crack, the deep wound. What a strange earthquake, both shy and unforgiving, catastrophic and somehow smooth as if finding mercy, yes, in a nook of its fiery core. Stopping a step from doom as if struck by sudden fatigue. The house stood, genuflected but whole, with long tears exposed. Mother sat in the kitchen, white bangs showering upon sagging jowls. She looked at the stained tablecloth, brushed her finger over a faint trace of needlepoint, hunting a fleeting shadow. The voice of the guest echoed through the astonished room as he rushed out towards the street, uttering his complaints about Mom’s shabby attire, the weather, the poor conversation and food, the dim winter light, the cold coffee, my god, now partially spilled.
Ja mie A zeved o Spring 2022
Chainsaws and Proust M a t t Tr u e h e r z At home, we would eat Subway sandwiches and play Xbox. We’d get Jamba Juice. Mango-a-go-go. I read Captain Underpants and bought Dickies at the mall. We swam in public pools with water slides and snack bars attached. Everything was ephemeral and vaguely positive; I was content in the way that only a naive sevenyear-old can be. Across the country in Maine, my grandparents lived in an alternate reality. They were gourmands, connoisseurs of fine art and literature, collectors of tenable stories, habits, and—more broadly—knowledge. Knowledge that always left them with something to say—the means to offer an opinion on most any subject. It’s easy to imagine our juxtaposition (these are not the habits of a seven-year-old) but our differences felt more deeply rooted. They acted with such conviction. Their ways conveyed a deep structure, some foundational reasoning they held tight that made no sense to me. They watched TV sometimes, but the BBC or films, maybe a documentary. And they covered the screen with a blanket when it was off, so they “didn’t have to look at it.” Reflexively, I hated their life. I didn’t want to participate, but at the same time, they were a mystery to me. Everything they did was strange and new; they lived in a way that I was unaware of completely. Dede and Grandfather (she is just Dede, he, just Grandfather) were as befuddled with me as I with them. Being well-educated, news savvy, and well-traveled, one might mistake them for WASPs, but they’re far from pretentious, closer to what my dad called “earthy-crunchy.” They’ve lived a mix of academic and rural life, holding their own in conversations on chainsaws and Proust. The first time I visited their house in Maine, I was fluent in flavorblasted Goldfish and skateboard videos. They were not down the street but across the country, so we weren’t close in the immediate sense. I loved them, I knew that—I was told so, and I believed I did, but that did not make me inherently comfortable. Ever stubborn, my contentment was hard-won. And that week in August of 2000, the generational buffer of my parents removed, I felt even further
away from them. I was scared to leave home, both frustrated and confused at the strange existence that had been inflicted upon me. I was signed up for a sun-rinsed week on the lake, but felt trapped in waves of family. ***
Tribute To The Dodo
Co n n ie Co lter
“Do you want me to come get you?” My dad said on the other end of the line. “No, I guess not. I’m not sure.” I replied with the voice of someone freshly consoled, sniffling and sheepishly embarrassed. I was confused at my grandparent’s life in this cobbled-together house. At home, everything was bigger and better: nicer. I knew my situation was temporary, I would be home before the end of the week, but I was at a loss for why they lived like this: books over TV, windows over AC, a dip in the lake over a bath. Why hang clothes on a line to dry them? Novelty? My dad’s offer to fly across the country—to rescue me from vacation—seemed genuine and likely was, but even then I had a faint idea of how ridiculous the prospect was. Across the country Spring 2022
was different than a sleep-over across town. I could endure my summer vacation of lobsters and canoes, the cold Atlantic ocean, and visits to these old people’s other old people friends. They’d take me out to ice cream and to scout out the local skatepark; I could “be a trouper.” My dad and I eventually said goodbye. Taking a beat, I flipped my purple LG cellphone shut and threw it into my suitcase. The bedroom door had swelled shut with humidity, effectively locking me away from all the fun. I pulled at the handle with the weight of my small body, and it eventually gave way, swinging on its hinges as I stepped off the faded celadon carpet and onto the hardwood that covered the rest of the house. An eclectic collection of patterned rugs were cleverly stretched into every odd corner, masking the patina of dropped objects, moved chairs, and other people’s footsteps. Thick wood planks jutted out of the wall, looming over the entire space and making a staircase to my grandparent’s lofted bedroom. The living room was flanked by a sprawling foyer that reached into a sunken, glass-encased study — a beautifully extraneous small side room with plants, rocks, an awkward table, a reclining yellow leather chair, and its separate ottoman where I found Grandfather sitting. Our plan was to take the canoe out on the lake, and I’d snuck yet another call home to my parents while changing into my swim trunks. Dede had started dinner in the kitchen, and it smelled nothing like my mom’s. She was chirping to Grandfather from behind the stove; I recognized some of the words but was hopeless piecing together any meaning from their conversation. I caught his eye as he called back to her. He was lit fantastically, sitting in the sunny glass room that felt like a terrarium for people, his long wispy hair sparkling in the diffused light. I crossed my fingers, pressed my thumbs together, and pulled my chin into my chest, intimidated. He turned, looked up at me, and cut a smile across his taut cheeks. “Ready?” He asked. I struggled to place his excitement: he wanted to cheer me up or was annoyed at my discontentment. If his smile wasn’t so clearly articulated by the lines dissecting his mug, it would have been just as evident in his clean blue eyes, alive with a mix of the joy that I imagine comes from having grandchildren and the worry that comes from being unsure of a kid’s next move.
“Yep,” I said, sporting an attempt at a smile and salty red eyes. “Shall we head down to the water there, Matty-Yahoo?” His academically inflected New England vernacular would have scared the shit out of me had it been attached to anyone else. We crossed the living room and passed Dede ardently at work on a chicken with bare hands. Salt flecked the linoleum counter like snow on a stop sign. Garlic, onions, and a dozen other ingredients I couldn’t identify were strewn about, adding to the fervor. She looked happy but solemn, barely shifting her gaze to flash half a smile. Apparently, dinner is serious business around here, I thought to myself, lifting my shoulders, widening my eyes, and pursing my lips into a circle to exhale a sardonically whispered “okay.” Past the kitchen was the porch, one of those charming but obvious new appendages added onto houses at one point or another—the kind that retains wood siding and windows on a wall now only dividing rooms, not inside from outside. This room was also encased ninety percent in glass, with Shall we head down a series of bay windows that looked out to the water there, over the lake and obnoxiously opened Matty-Yahoo? towards you, latching to small hardware store hooks screwed into the sloped ceiling. Overwhelmed and thoroughly along for the ride at this point, I followed Grandfather through two “outside doors.” One leading to the porch and one that actually led outside. Outside was a lawn of moss and mosquitos. A different kind of squirrel than we had at home was in a standoff with a bird around their feeder. The air was thick with a palpable saline quality; walking felt like wading through a hot spring. The sun was bright and high and peeked through the trees in beams that pulled my eyes tight to my face and wrinkled my nose into a frown. Wordlessly, we walked down the winding path to the dock, our bodies covered in a warm mist of humidity that I confused for sweat. We trekked over the mossy tree roots with bare feet, and I held my mind clenched, afraid of what the lake might hold. ***
“These are called ‘shan-te-rèl,’ they’re wonderful in France, and they pop up every so often out by the clothesline,” said Dede, pointing to a small bowl of mushrooms and cream. A modest spread filled the table, and I could see the roast chicken upside down in the windows that looked out over the lake during the day. “Has your mom ever made ‘shan-te-rèl’ Garlic, onions, and a dozen other for you? She certainly knows ingredients I couldn’t identify were what they are!” Adamant strewn about, adding to the fervor. about the correct French pronunciation, she made no concessions for me. Somewhere between bewildered and curiously excited, I met my grandma’s eye and gave a slow shake of my awkward length brown hair, its bangs shuffling on my round, sunburnt cheeks. “They’re . . . mush-roooooms?” “Yes, exactly. Go ahead, try some,” she continued on this didactic vein. “Yes, they’re really quite nice,” said Grandfather, offering his endorsement. “Mhm,” he continued with an encouraging nod. “I can’t have them anymore. I got tremendously ill once, so I don’t partake anymore. But they’re really, marvelously delicious. It was an allergy for me, we think. Like the shellfish! You know how I can’t do the shellfish—lobsters and such, as it were.” Somehow intrigued by the threat of becoming “tremendously ill,” I pushed the cuffs of my GAP hoodie up around my forearms until they were securely fastened to my elbows and brushed my kid hair out of my face once again. Dede lifted the delicate bowl across the table and landed it carefully in my clumsy hands. She looked on at me in anticipation with a warm smile under her short swooping salt and pepper hair that danced atop her head as she squeaked out an “oh, I do hope you can enjoy them!” With a ham-fisted grip of the lacy vintage silver, I dropped a few of what I’d come to know as “shun-trells” next to the chicken on my plate. With my grandparents as audience, intently watching my initiation into this new world of eating things that grew out over by the clothesline, in the mossy grass, in the air that carried salt in its weight, I took my first bite of chanterelle. It was saucy and plump, tender and giving, but my teeth eventually broke the flesh, resulting in a crunchy but chewy sensation that I had yet to experience. To
the song of crickets and the light of stars that seemed to belong to a different sky than the one I’d lived my life under heretofore, I let out a gap-toothed smile, brimming with half-chewed mushrooms—the first easy one of the trip. *** Soon after, I went home to the skatepark, the TV, back to adolescence, back to ephemera. I’d let myself enjoy a moment of my summer vacation between the second and third grades, but I didn’t feel the experience mark me. I flew back across the country, and life went on separately. They were always on the go, opting to visit us out west over hosting in Maine, so I didn’t make it back to their house on the lake for nearly two decades. Between these visits—the majority of my life—I was anything but an academic. My adolescence was not studded with literature; my French ended in the ninth grade. I certainly didn’t follow Grandfather’s footsteps to Yale. But I have, in retrospect, felt the osmosis that began on that day—a slow drip of culture piped across the country to me via postcards as art history lessons and eloquent emails as demonstrative prose. Sporadic phone calls and biannual stops on their jaunts across the country have served as landmarks, foundational memories that maintained enough distance to uphold an allure. Gravel stirred under the tires with a rhythm of pops and crunches as I drove down the small hill to their inset lot. I parked, opened the car door, and was thrust into a vivid memory that felt surreal: the familiar salty air, the perennial threat of mosquitos should you spend an extraneous moment outside, and the gingerly hobble of the freshly eightyBut I have, in retrospect, felt the two-year-old couple not osmosis that began on that day showing a bit of their age. —a slow drip of culture piped Chirping between themselves, across the country. they met me with “great big hugs” and kissed both of my cheeks “Muah!” so as to let me know I belonged to their troop. Arm in arm, we walked the stone path nestled between ferns to the front door. Inside, I felt the cobblestone foyer under my Spring 2022
jet-lagged feet as I shed my Birkenstocks and caught the yellow leather of the recliner on display in its terrarium as I sank into my own nostalgia. I swayed through the house of distant memories, tracing the kilim-clad floors with my eyes and ducking the stairs to find a throw blanket erected in a perfect rectangle that I knew disguised the television. I scanned the bookshelf that divided the kitchen and living rooms, dragging my fingers across a collection of Patricia Wells books on Provencal cooking. It felt like walking down a familiar street going the opposite direction. I’d like to think our conversations these days are slightly more balanced. I wouldn’t say we’re on the same page—I’m not on their level, but my grandparents and I can talk about things of mutual interest. We’ve graduated from mutual bewilderment. Usually, it goes something like this: “Have you read the excerpt from the recently published Proust that The New Yorker just put out?” I’d ask Grandfather, reaching far with the only Proust I’d ever read. “Why yes, I did!” He phrases things like that, why yes, it feels easy though, the agency over his words. “Really, it was quite interesting— I’d never read Proust in English before.” This wasn’t a humblebrag but merely a fact. I had clumsily proposed a conversation on the latest in recently unearthed French literature, and the distance between our levels of well-read left me with nothing to do but laugh. Though I’m almost always out of my depth, they carry out these conversations in earnest, and I love them for it. I sat on the porch with Dede, and she told me about the upsidedown trees on the surface of the lake. We drank martinis at noon, and she asked me if they tasted funny. Staring at me deadpan, she mused that something was off about them—her friend had made them better before. I smiled and sipped my towering glass of unadulterated vodka, sitting at the table I’d eaten chicken and chanterelles at twenty years ago. “They’re strong,” I said, “but I don’t mind.”
Wake Caitlin Dwyer My dad is drinking a margarita in the backyard. Young bushtits flicker, chatter like a telegraph button, by which I mean all the machinery of living, the bolts and jitters. Hum of the tongue on teeth. My dad is not talking about his uncle. He is talking about baseball. On his birthday they ate Dodger dogs and watched Sandy Koufax sling strikes. He is talking about his uncle and not his father. He talks about the blue of the batting helmets. Overhead, nimbus advance, phalanx of engine and air. A helmet, he tells us, the lapis color of mountain lakes. We are not talking about the weather, but about the Mars Rover and the sound of wind on Mars. We are talking about how Kepler’s rings belt out their space opera, heavy as hoop skirts in wire and whale-bone. I do not mention a video I saw, of a bar where people wore bumpers, bounced off each other as they drank. By the first beer they just wanted to lean across and grab hands. We do not mention death, just distance. We sit ten feet apart and lick salt from our thumbs amid the chirping of fledged birds. There will be no funeral. They will say mass in the empty cathedral where his uncle knelt each week. We eat carnitas and chips. Hot sauce oozes out cracks in the tender meat. There are extra onions. We are bright with the heat, red-cheeked and gleaming. Spring 2022
A n a Jova n ovsk a
No Hummingbirds Kai Fet t er I summon him, and so he descends. Huitzilopochtli emerges from the briars of his nest to roost his heavy body proudly atop his feeder and partake of its sweet nectar. The last time he visited, Dad was trying to get clean again. Back then, Dad would distract himself by cooking the hummingbird feed (¼ cup sugar for every 1 cup water, stir until boil) and watching Huitzilopochtli as he drinks. I welcome back the tiny sun god. My recent offering is accepted. He grants me safe passage away from this place with no hummingbirds.
Remembrance Sudha Ya d a v The light was fading. It was time to go. I remember holding my son’s hand as we walked to the car from the park. I remember his reluctance. Most of all, I remember the twilight. It’s falling. The way the light changed. It shifted around us; luminescent specks moved and changed colour amongst us. Then, I heard the ravens cry behind me. I turned back to see the flock take flight in a wave, rising from the redwoods and behind them loomed a crimson dusk. It had been a vivid scene: panoramic, kaleidoscopic. I was not the only one to take note. A man in my view had taken out his phone to capture the scene for perpetuity. When he lowered the phone, our eyes had met briefly. I felt less alone then. I sprinted with my son to the car. I shut the door and locked it. I reached across him, pulled and clasped his seatbelt in place. I held the steering wheel but did not start the ignition. I sat still watching the world awash by the light of a bleeding, dying sun. # It was back then, that my mother started counting days. Like many Indians, she follows the lunar calendar for traditions. With my father in the hospital, she began to refer to it as an oracle. She had noted a trend of his health dipping around the time of every new moon. She did not distrust the smiling, young physician who attended him – he was but an instrument of fate. Instead, she listened to brightly dressed astrologers in pixelated backdrops, beamed to her from her motherland, for her husband’s prognosis. My son would watch with her and in grave solemnity and solidarity. My husband spoke to me more than once about the influence on our son. I did nothing. I let it be. I had other things on my mind. What had started as a mild cold, tottered to a racking cough and galloped to pneumonia. My father had to be hospitalised. In those days I would drop my mother to the hospital in the morning with Alchemy 30
her prayer books and then head off to work. I would be back by lunch time to give her a break. My parents bore each other. It is true what they say, familiarity breeds contempt. They had long tired of each other and blamed each other silently for their unfulfilled lives. Each an island. Their children the bridges. My sister rebelled against this role. I took to it well; I was their first. She would call me at work, where I would pretend she was a customer: Mrs. Dawson. She adopted an accent reminiscent of our fifth grade English teacher. Why the charade? I had a prick for a boss. She would call from the car, on her hands free on her morning commute in LA. “How’s the old man?” “Complaining. Started with the food, then the nurses. Now, the doctor.” “Too brown for him?! It’s ironic. You know how many calls I get to audition as doctor.” “A doctor in the family! Won’t Baba be proud!” “Pride. I missed the boat on that one. You be the dutiful daughter. You are better at it. How’s Mom?” “She’s watching those astrologers on TV. Deep’s watching with her, it’s kinda weird.” My sister laughed and said, ”Stop stressing! You always fret over the little things.” “When are you coming?” I couldn’t help ask. “When Baba asks me She did not distrust the smiling, to,” she replied quietly. young physician who attended him, I missed her. My sister and father: he was but an instrument of fate two sides of the same coin. I was also beginning to miss my father. He was changing quickly. In a week he had become an older frail child. # My mother did not see it; they were the same age. She did not see a marked change, but more of the same. She saw he complained Spring 2022
more and rebelled more. His insolence was not childish but a result of a lifetime of male privilege. She said nothing to him. When I relieved her she would walk to the park close by. She would sit under the redwoods and have her packed lunch from home. She would return composed and bolstered for the rest of her time with him. It worked for a week. The second week onwards, she was enervated by the time I picked her up for home. Her barrage would last the entire ride and I would burn in embarrassment. She would only pause at the front door, in deference for her son-in-law. There are some couples who talk about everything. We are not one of them. There are silences between us, not like the chasm between my parents. Our silences are shallow, measured and acknowledged. We navigate them politely. So, I did not divulge any of these indelicacies to my husband. He was already under the strain of sharing the same roof as his motherin-law. Which meant my sister would get my festering lowdown the next morning. “Ouch! She said that. Poor Ma,” “Poor me!” “Yes. Poor you. Poor Ma. Poor nurses. The Poor physician...” “When are you coming to share this misery?!” My sister didn’t respond. “Baba is not improving,” I said flatly. “What are you saying?” “I am saying it’s the second week in the hospital. He isn’t getting any better.” “You said last time we spoke, he was stable,” “He is. It’s their age. Things can change fast, anytime.” “I will call you tomorrow,” “Wait!” I wanted to say something that would appeal to my sister. Instead, I said, “How many should I put you down for?” “5? How short are you?” “8. Five should be fine for the prick.” “5 coolers for Mrs. Dawson, it is,” she said, going back to character.
I then stood up from behind my cubicle and went to the board and wrote: Mrs. Dawson – 5. I felt the prick’s eyes on me, all the way back to my desk. # My son became yellow around that time. It’s funny I remember that of all things, but I do. I can’t really remember the doctor’s face or name. My mother still recounts entire conversations between the nursing staff and with very few embellishments. Sister Lopez was going through a break up. Sister There are silences between us, Jeanine needed a break from all not like the chasm this glorious hopeful Californian between my parents. weather. Sister Jeanine was quite a character, who preferred stark suffering with no embellishment whatsoever. It was disconcerting for my mother that she chose the nursing profession. I remember none of this. It’s the mustard yellow, I still see. I hadn’t caught on at first. My husband had taken charge of the school runs and I would see Deep briefly in the mornings. It was usually at the kitchen table having his cereal. It struck me on one of those days, this was exactly the same scene played out as the previous day and the day before. It was surreal. The passage of time marked only by glitches. An object slightly out of place from the previous act. A gesture played out a little earlier than before. A word not said. I asked my son, “Deepak, Are you wearing the same t-shirt?” He blushed and lied, “No.” I raised my eyebrow and he replied quietly, “Yes.” “Why?” “I have to wear it till the weekend. It’s the only yellow t-shirt I have!” “Why, yellow?” I asked, fearing the answer. “My horoscope says so,” he muttered. I closed my eyes and mustering all my patience, said, “Put it in the laundry when you are back from school. I will have it clean for the morning.” Spring 2022
He grinned with happiness. I stirred my black coffee. There was no more milk left after his cereal. Just as well, my tired mind didn’t need to cloud the caffeine. # Around the new moon, in my mother’s absence, my father in his new raspy voice asked me to call a lawyer. I did not understand him and thought he was accusing me of being a liar. I have always felt at fault around my parents. It’s a ridiculous notion, which I have never been able to unravel. I have carried this dark, cold, grimy stone within me since I was a child. This dark heirloom that my parents bestowed upon me, was to ensure I was an obedient daughter/wife/daughter-in-law/mother and upstanding student/immigrant/citizen. It only made me nervous and jittery. I heard my father hissing liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar. I broke down crying. I was sure I had lied, maimed, killed and was culpable. My father reeling in shock, held my quivering hand. He had never seen me cry even in childhood. I have carried this dark, Another effect of the heirloom was cold, grimy stone within me I had always concealed my true since I was a child. emotions from my parents. If it were not for my very normal sister, who wrenched every dark hidden secret from me. I would have been entirely dysfunctional and utterly alone. He patted my hand gently, till I calmed down. Then, he muttered –‘Lawyer’ again and this time I heard him. This utterance declaring his acknowledgement of his imminent demise should have broken me again, but my emotions were spent. I had not a tear left, I think I managed a sniff. Soon after, he rasped my sister’s name. It dawned on my father that his first born was wavering. He would have to call on the ungrateful, useless second one. Hopefully, she won’t collapse like this one.
When my mother entered the hospital room, she saw me teary eyed and my feeble father holding my hand. Her eyes misted up. If only his wife had borne him a son, he wouldn’t have to die surrounded by wailing women. # My father was the one with dust in his eyes, when his favourite walked through the door. My mother went straight into her arms. My son ran and hugged her legs. And I sat down in relief. The first thing my father, now breathing on his own, asked his estranged daughter was about her long drive. She laughed and kissed him on the forehead. She sent us home and stayed with him for the rest of the visiting time. My husband, equally thrilled to see his sister-in-law, gave us his blue agave bottle before heading upstairs. We sat on the porch and drank tequila in the moonlight. “I spoke to the doctor. There is still fluid in his lungs, but he is talking now,” she said. “If it wasn’t for his heart condition...” She nodded at my words, draining her glass. “Did you get the part?” I asked. “No,” she lied, smiling her way out of it. She gave me the once over and said, “You look like shit, by the way.” I chuckled. “This house! Tsk Tsk! Such an unholy mess!” she said, mimicking Mrs. Dawson’s accent. I howled with laughter at the tequila moon. # At the end of the week, my mother moved back to her house with my sister. Deep was inconsolable at the loss of his roommate. To ease his pain, his aunt had him sleepover the next week. Having the house to ourselves, my husband and I decided to call in sick and slept through the night. We made love at dawn, finding each other as the day broke. Spring 2022
# My father recovered, but he was never the same again after those two months. He did not garden anymore. My mother tried to take his place, but had not a He wanted to be surrounded by green thumb on her. So she had flesh and blood, by life. it flattened and put in a gazebo. A longing of hers. He thought it a frivolous expense, but did not object this time. He began to put his affairs in order. He wanted his wife to be taken care of. His grandson’s college tuition fund to be debt focused. He haggled with the insurance company. With the practicalities done and dusted, he still faced his mortality with apprehension. He could not turn to oracles like my mother. He did not care to hear disembodied divine voices. He wanted to be surrounded by flesh and blood, by life. He reached out to his friends, men who walked a similar path and drank the same whiskey. There were loud rambunctious evenings. He quickly tired of it, of them and himself. He closeted himself in his room for a few weeks. When my mother pried him loose from the bed, he emerged to plop himself in front of the TV. Then one day, on an ad break, as my sister passed before him, he was reminded of his unfulfilled duty. His second daughter remained unattached. They fought. A lot. She would take off to Los Angeles but her filial duty would make her turn back. I think the farthest she got was Bakersfield. The furthest he ventured was my mother’s gazebo where he spent his evenings playing with their grandson. # The next year, I had some good news: the prick fired me. He chose his bottom-line over my bottom. I was ecstatic. My sister hip-hip-hurrahed around the house; she was in a local theatrical production set in early 20th century England. That was the only good news that year.
My father’s health deteriorated. He visited the hospital often where they treated him like a child. He let them. My mother’s oracle became silent. She listened to his doctors keenly. She rarely left his side in his last days. In the end, he was not the father I knew or feared. Perhaps he never was. My sister decided to stay on after the funeral. She still lives in my father’s house with my mother. My mother remains robust and hearty; her grandson enough to sustain her faith in humanity in her old age. At dusk she wanders to the gazebo and sits in my father’s chair to catch the sun as he descends. # Those years are a blur to me. I put it down to being a parent, it quickens time. When I mentioned this to my sister she said, “You have always been the parent,” before sipping the commemorative whiskey. It’s true. It’s also true much of my life has been a blur to me. I don’t remember the same childhood as my sister. She recounts events that are a mystery to me. “That’s because we are very different individuals and we remember things differently,” she replies. We had the same parents. We lived together. “The first one is always difficult. You get it right for the second one,” she half-teases. “Thanks a lot. I screwed up Deep by not having another,” and gulped my whiskey. “Deep wasn’t your first. I was. Then Mom, when she hit menopause and Dad towards the end.” She sighs before pouring me another drink. “Start writing again. It will help,” she says. “To make sense of it all?” “No, I doubt that; if anyone ever could,” she pauses before saying “Just write to remember.” #
Homesick Lai ne D err with a mild pigeon-toed migraine she touches her sex wondering if blood so easily released ever returns home
S h elb ey Lec o
A my Hollan Spring 2022
I Haven’t Been on a Plane Since the World Ended D iann ely A nt ig u a That’s the sentence I overhear at Logan airport, where just a few moments ago my beloved kissed me for what will be the last time for a month. I miss you already, he texts not long after dropping me off at Terminal A and driving back home to New Hampshire, a state I didn’t imagine living in, just another brown girl in a crowd of white people—I might add here, reader, my beloved is white and when I hold his hand in public it feels like the gentlest fuck you. When the world ended, and came back, I decided to stay this time. I’ve decided to stay many times, but I’m surprised when I actually go through with the staying, as much as I am surprised when the woman next to me in the security check line comforts her restless baby sitting in the covered carriage and instead of a cry, a pathetic meow rises from underneath the blanket. There is no baby, just a cat, which at first feels like a metaphor for my life, but I’m not even a mother to a cat. I am a mother to this hunger. I am waiting for the smallest bag of cheese crackers to fill the unfillable hole. When I have waited my turn and heard the adequate amount of snaps and pops from opened cans, enough of the crinkle of plastic wrappers, the flight attendant hands out the tiny snacks, and I’m supposed to feel blessed as the little rhinestones on each of her manicured nails sends a whisper of light to my broken soul.
Then the layover in Salt Lake City leaves me crying in a bathroom stall for an hour because I can, because I have five hours to kill. The truth is I’m not used to feeling good or even just okay, and I’m frightened I’ll turn healthy and boring. I’m going away to write in the woods, and I’m still waiting for the nervous breakdown to catch me. I’m too prepared this time— I’ve stocked up on all the metaphorical toilet paper and hand sanitizer I can find. I’ve stolen all the baby wipes from the babies. There is nothing left to do but wait.
A n a Jova n ovsk a Spring 2022
The Comfortless Me gan R idg wa y In a window of yellow, soup scum light she sits in a late-night cafe and does not know the warmth which seeps from the dessert counter, though it drizzles its cinnamon serum rays down every wall. Soft and soft and
Light like browned butter, glowing around every waxy Other, double glazed. Light like a buttercup held to them but not to her, The Comfortless, surrounded by happy people who will not take off their coats because it has been raining all day. // Outside pedestrians resent a box junction. Headlights glare. The road grits her teeth. Inside the music is too loud. Abrasive bass, syncopated rhythm, caustic, singing, saying nothing. Outside it is raining. The pedestrians slouch and melt beneath the downfall. // Sweetness lingers around The Comfortless. She is not a girl who knows how to grieve. Because it has been raining all day, she is surrounded by happy people who shrug themselves further inside the necks of their winter coats, shoulders hunched against the warmth of a ceiling heater, faces scrunched, wrinkling and crinkling like leaves caught in the smoulder of an ageing garden fire. It must reach them. It does not reach her; the girl who does not know how to grieve. // Yellow, crosshatched ether which glistens, So many candlestick pedestrians Still and snuffed out in shades of traffic light green. // She is sitting with three empty chairs in a window of yellow, soup scum light where sweetness lingers around her. Artificial light. Artificial sweetness. Artificial girl holding grief with both hands like a paper cup. It is her grief. It is her paper cup.
// Asphalt firmament, unsleeping. Bitumen like celestial grit in your eye, Blinking through the rain and every
c a r.
Every minute here is a meadow. Inside the light is too bright. White light which gets in your eyes like dust, Like sand, Like an eyelash picking and choosing its splinter moments. // The Comfortless holds a paper cup with both hands and, taps her fingernails until she can feel them. Until she can think to herself, These are my fingernails. Until she can think to herself, I am sitting in a late-night cafe, the music is too loud, and I do not know how to grieve. // Ice cream does not melt behind the dessert counter. It melts on a young boy’s chin and dribbles, Between his fingers. He is distraught and disgusting, saccharine drooling. And he is grieving too. // Happy people sit close together. They look at one another instead of watching the box junction or the dark. The rain which has been falling all day. Happy people do not seem to notice when the music is too loud. The light is not an eyelash in their eye. They do not seem to notice every p a s s i n g c a r. // Outside slow walkers get in one another’s way. They wear their resentment for one another like the rain, that is to say, it is the only reason they catch the light. // Someone trips over her chair and the feeling is jagged. He is one of those waxy Others, wrapped in his winter coat, drizzled with resentment. He has just come in from the cold. Sorry, he says. He does not know from how far away he speaks until he hears himself echoed. Until he hears himself severed, barely there at all, saying, Sorry, voice a separation, utterance empty as a paper cup.
Sweetness lingers around The Comfortless. Without a coat to wrinkle into she is brittle; a girl who does not know how to grieve. All the warmth she is so vaguely aware of, cannot reach her. // The green man shivers. The yellow crosshatch in the road looks warm The green man trembles without a coat to wear. Does he grieve? And when and who and why? And does he know how? //
because he does not.
She looks down at her paper cup and reads the safety warning, tapping her fingernails until she can think These are my fingernails. This is my takeaway cup. ~ FULL OF FLAVOUR CAUTION CONTENTS MAY BE HOT 12/16OZ FULLY COMPOSTABLE ~ The Comfortless holds her drink like a buttercup which says that she does not like butter. Reading is easy she is thinking, one word and then another, but reading is not easy when the music is too loud, fuzzing and buzzing and rushing the way blood rushes in your ears.
Alex: Areet duck, yh he planned it all down to the wire. Jumped off that bridge on the A50. Police only told us today. I’m really fucked up as you can imagine haha Reading is easy she is thinking, one word and then another, one word on top of another, but reading is not easy when the words fuzz and buzz and rush, the way blood rushes in your ears.
// The green man shivers, lately, he has not been feeling like himself. Does the green man know how to grieve? Every minute here is a meadow. Inside it is warm. Outside the box junction is my unsleeping firmament. // The Comfortless counts to the beat of tinsel tittering hi-hats on the advice of a good friend who knows how to grieve. These are my fingernails - her lips make the shape of the words. One by one. One word on top of another. This is my takeaway cup. It is not enough to help her hold onto the plastic table. - God I’m tired - You’re always tired - You would be and all if you worked half as hard as me - I work hard - I didn’t say…
- But Mum… - But nothing you’ll get what you’re given now… - But I don’t like bock-lee - Aye well it’s broccoli or nothing -
She tries tuning in and out of other people’s conversations. Tries placing her hands flat on the table top and closing her eyes. She tries to repeat their words one by one. But none of it is enough to convince her that any of this is real. // Ice cream does not melt behind the dessert counter. Ice cream melts on the spoon which hovers before a girl who has forgotten she is eating ice cream. Who has forgotten how she feels about the meadow-sent girl sitting opposite her. A girl who can feel the warmth which circulates from a ceiling heater. The warmth which seeps, cinnamon serum drizzling down the walls and over her. And because she has forgotten how She feels about the cinnamon serum girl, The girl with the plastic spoon is choked and serrated. And she is grieving too. //
I am a girl with fingernails.
This is my paper cup.
I don’t know how to grieve.
// Outside the red man shivers. He knows resentment in the way pedestrians look at him. // Yesterday she lost her way in the supermarket and cried to a window of Yeo Valley and Elmlea. Today she is surrounded by happy people, wearing coats, who can stand to look at one another but not at the girl sitting still, bathed in yellow, soup scum light. She thinks that if even one of them were to look at her for just a moment she would either crumble or know healing in all its tender relief. She thinks her fate hangs from the ceiling by a thread, fraying every minute that goes by with her remaining unrecognised. // Outside the green man shivers. He knows resentment in the way tired drivers tap their steering wheels. The crosshatch firmament glows Like a hopscotch in the middle of the road. //
These are still my fingers. How long does a quick death last? The music is too loud.
Am I really as sad as I think I am or is this just the way I think I should feel? Does the green man know how to grieve? But yesterday I cried, and all the yoghurts watched. I am a liminal griever. This is my paper cup.
//Pedestrians resent the red man but They do not resent the red man as much as they resent each other For walking too slowly and, Hesitating. // Am I really as sad as I think I am? Am I really as sad as
I think I am. // Every minute here is a meadow. The green man shivers, the red man fades. The red man knows resentment and the green man has not been feeling right all week. One man shivers, he only knows resentment In the way he looks at happy people wearing warm winter coats. // Comfortless. The moment seems brittle to her now; the girl who does not know how to grieve. She is thinking about a boy she could have held in the palm of her hand and the tender girl she could have been. She is thinking about a comfortless boy whose head she wants to hold in her lap so that he might get just one more good night’s sleep.
X i aolin J iang
Tracking D aniel Man u el M e n d o z a Francisco Vacionueva’s apartment, like his body, was stripped bare. He stood in front of his apartment door staring happily at the cardboard box. Minutes earlier, he bathed himself so that there was not a single speck of dirt on his body. He wanted to smell as new as possible, not like a newborn baby, but as something that just rolled off the assembly line: clean and fresh as new plastic. It was several weeks ago that he’d given in to the restlessness that had come from being cooped up in his apartment. How was everybody else getting along? He’d said to himself countless times looking down at the deserted streets from the ninth floor of his living room window. He could still see the marquees of a few bars he’d frequented that advertised musical acts from months ago. The neon signs of restaurants lit up the downtown, however the tables inside were empty and not even the bums on the Stay vigilant! street were going in to ask for a cup of coffee. Stay safe! Francisco got through winter easy enough as the cold of the northern city was always too much for him anyway. But when winter passed, things began to grow unbearable. Spring is when the Division sent out the mass email: “For the safety of our employees, all offices will be closed indefinitely. Stay vigilant! Stay safe!” And that was the last he’d heard from them. From behind the cold glass of his apartment window, he watched the crabapple trees bloom their pink, red, and white flowers. He saw the robins with their deep orange chests taking in the sweet fragrance all around them. The scented air and sudden whinnies from the birds were missed by all who used to walk the downtown regularly. Once, he tried to go out in the late afternoon for a quiet walk in the park down the street. In a rush of ecstasy, he plugged in his electric shaver and trimmed his wild beard. The monotonous buzz of the shaver reminded him of the bustling mornings before work when the first thing he did was take his vitamins and put on a pot of coffee. Next, he put on deodorant, he put on his suit, all the while imagining the elevator down to the first floor. Who would he see? Old Mrs. Beams with her purse huddled close to her chest, or maybe Professor Andreasan on his way to the Spring 2022
city library to check out some books? He would breathe in the fresh air outside and walk at his leisure, not the usual hurried walk he’d grown accustomed to on his way to pick up necessities. He made his way as far as the elevator. Just as he approached the tall steel doors, something—in him or out of him, he wasn’t sure—halted his excitement. He looked up and down the dark line dividing the elevator doors. That thin line was daunting and cold. For a moment, he thought he could wait there for somebody else who was ready to go down to the first floor. But there would be no one. It was as if he was alone on the ninth floor; perhaps he was alone in the whole building. Francisco let out a big sigh. All of the built up optimism had been exhausted and he was anxious again. He turned and hurried back to his apartment looking about, all the while making sure he was not seen. And that’s when he started ordering things through the mail. It was because he couldn’t bring himself to go outside his apartment anymore unless it was absolutely necessary. If he could avoid it he would, and if he couldn’t avoid it, well, he would try as best he could to delay the inevitable. At first, it was his necessities as he’d come to call them: food, toiletries, maybe a bottle of cheap tequila if the mood struck. He could get all that delivered. Everyone delivered everything these days. His bills were paid online, all the new movies were now streaming, he even worked out a deal with All of the built up optimism the dry-cleaning man for weekly pick-ups and drop-offs. Then, had been exhausted and when there was nothing else to he was anxious again. order and the long hours looking out the window at nothing save the robins in their uninterrupted enjoyment of the crabapple blossoms, when everything became tedious, he ordered the things he’d always wanted but could never afford. A record player to play the newly purchased records, a Ninja blender to make margaritas, a back massager, a sex toy. He’d figured, what the hell? He wasn’t getting up to go to work every morning and he couldn’t go out. With every click of a purchase came a tracking number he could follow. It was a unique series of alpha-numeric digits he could enter into the shipping company’s app. With this tracking number he could view the weight and dimensions of the package.
He could use the number to follow the journey of his package from its origin city to his apartment door. Sometimes Francisco would order an item just to see it ship off from a place he never imagined going to in his whole life. A pine tree shaped coffee mug from Arkansas or a set of navy linen dinner napkins from Ireland—on clearance. In the morning, at lunch, and again when he sat down to dinner he’d check in with his items imagining the conversations that were had between the people that handled his package. They would talk about their kids and how they were growing up so fast. The handlers were made of tough stuff, real laborers who ate cold lunches and drove pick-up trucks. Having lived in the city, he’d never been in a truck. His first job in high school was as a dishwasher, then fry cook, and in college he was a porter before he got anything that related to his degree. He imagined their rigs smelling like fast food and cigarette smoke. He checked for updates while he was standing against his counter waiting for his coffee, on the toilet taking a crap, during commercials, and even while he was brushing his teeth. Sometimes the tracking showed no information at all — instead it had some short explanation about being behind due to weather or other restrictions. It was these items that gave Francisco the most anxiety. He’d toss and turn at night with images of a lone box left in a cold, dark warehouse or maybe it was on a deserted runway having fallen off the cart while employees were loading their shipments into the hull of a plane. He woke up in a panic cursing at the carelessness of his package’s handlers. How hard is it to see a package through the facility and on to its destination? “Idiots!” he’d say aloud in the darkness of his room, while he reached for the warm blue light that was his phone to check the delivery service for an update. If there wasn’t one, he’d lay in bed wondering where his package was and whimper. Was it damaged and forgotten in some delivery station? Or maybe, it was never sent. Maybe it was all a scam. These were the thoughts of Francisco Vacionueva as he laid in bed. But, when the app read “Out for Delivery” he experienced the greatest joy, a rush of excitement ran through his body, and his chest tingled and a smile covered his whole face. He stared out the window at the deserted street looking for the delivery service that Spring 2022
held his package. And when it seemed the truck was parked down the block, he put his eye to the peephole and waited. It was always when he least expected it, however, that he heard a firm knock at his door. He’d wait until the delivery person had enough time to walk to the elevator and that’s when he’d open the door to see the inconspicuous box. It was a brown box of normal size. It was always a brown box of normal size. Sometimes it was 16”x12”x12,” other times it was a little larger at 18”x18”x16,” Always dependable, and very few times a bit larger, but it always on time. was always a normal size. It was always inconspicuous. Days that it was stormy outside, it came covered in a thin plastic bag that warmed Francisco’s heart at the care the delivery service placed on his packages. They must know me, he thought, after all the packages he’d had coming nearly every day of the week. “Always dependable, always on time” was the motto of the delivery service and it made him smile to say it out loud in his apartment as he stared down at the simple, brown box. As soon as the package was opened and put in its proper place amongst the other things in his apartment, Francisco went to his computer and searched for some other thing. Some newer new thing that for a moment he thought would complete him. What he really loved was tracking the packages, however. Whatever it was didn’t matter as long it was trackable from its destination to his apartment door. Once he’d received a package that was just an empty brown box. It was a big, reinforced box, big enough for a refrigerator. He opened it up thinking it was the package he was tracking for that day and there was nothing in it except packing peanuts and a return label to another destination he’d never thought of before. Later, he’d received the actual package he was expecting and so forgot about the strange empty box he’d received earlier that afternoon. At some point, Francisco no longer had a place for these items. He really had no need for other items. Every wall in the small railroad style apartment room was filled with picture frames that still had the models of men, women, and families posing in warm sweaters or laughing outdoors. Sometimes, he’d walk up to the photos and converse with them about the latest updates from the news or the birds outside. There were wall clocks of every size, some
of them ticking away and some of them that still needed batteries. Wooden shelves were crowded with unread books and figurines, his cabinets were filled with unused plates, cups, tea pots, pans, and appliances that only did one thing. His closets housed jackets, shirts, pants, all of them unworn with their tags dangling from their sleeves and belt loops. There was stack upon stack of unopened boxes because Francisco had long given up opening them as they arrived. It was only when there were too many unopened boxes stacked all over his apartment so high that the labyrinth was just too difficult to navigate, he found a small open spot on the floor and leaned his head back against the wall and fell to sleep. By coincidence he’d had to send something back. It was a faulty headset he used for data engineering that was only delivering static. So, one morning he put it back in its original package, and left it by the door so the delivery service could pick it up. To his surprise— he’d never mailed a package before—later that day, he received a message on his phone indicating that he was given a tracking number for his sent package. Now he was the sender. He’d sent off a package of his own into the world. He could follow its journey to its final destination. And he did so, with much anticipation. And that’s when he had the realization that he could send all of his packages away. And so he did just that: he sent it all away. The picture frames and the clocks that crowded the wall were packaged and sent away. The staged photos in the frames, sadly, were sent, too. He bid each of them a sincere farewell, promising the happy families in the frames that he might one day see them again. The figurines on the shelves, the books on the shelves, and the shelves themselves, were sent away. The dinner plates, coffee cups, flatware, linen napkins, and appliances were all packaged securely and sent away. Soon, his walls were eggshell white again, his cabinets were empty again, and his appliances were all gone. He tracked it all in great anticipation. Francisco tossed and turned in bed because of fevered dreams that the items that he took so much care to pack into their inconspicuous brown boxes were lost somewhere. He reached for his phone and went straight to the shipping app to get some kind of update on their journey. But they’d arrived safely, each and every one of them. Always dependable, always on time he’d whisper as each package was updated as delivered. Spring 2022
Soon he was rummaging through his closet to ship old clothes and shoes. What use did he have for suits, sport coats, oxfords, and dress shoes, now that there were no offices to go to? After that he figured he would sell the curtains and window blinds. Had anyone dared go out onto the street and ...a great distraction glanced up toward Francisco’s apartment from the nothingness of windows, one would’ve thought it to be the world. home to a crazed, emaciated man. For he was up at all hours of the day running back and forth filling boxes with anything that could fit inside them. There were a few books and other things he’d never gotten much use out of that he could re-sell and ship off to a more appreciative owner. His TV and Xbox took more effort, but then he thought gaming had always been too much of a distraction. And after sending in his resignation, to which he received no response, he thought he should ship off the computer as well. Then there was his stove, then his couch, his tablet, anything as long as it was something he could track. It was all a distraction, a great distraction from the nothingness of the world. “No ideas but in things.” That was a quote from a literature anthology he packed up for donation and it resonated with him those last days in his apartment. Indeed, so much so, that he wrote it on the wall of his apartment. Nobody would have ever known, however, because he erased it immediately afterward. If there were no things, then there were no ideas, and vice versa. That insight became his mantra. Then there really was nothing. And nothing was what he wanted. His apartment, like his body, was now stripped bare—he’d sent off every article of clothing, every piece of furniture, every thing that ever came into his possession. Every single thing that he couldn’t return was sitting in the Salvation Army storage room off East 23rd Street. His lease was up and so, in a state of bliss, he climbed inside the cardboard box plush with packing peanuts and fell asleep. In the morning he, too, would be sent off to his final destination.
Over the Edge
M o rd ec h a y “Mo ti” Co h en
Reflective Waters Lee Ja esook Hol o u b e k Foot nudging the grainy sand, you wonder what the point of everything was. Coming to the river alone is the reason for this outing, yet that doesn’t stop solitude from pressing on you like the surrounding night’s darkness. Your loneliness has a mind of its own, infecting you when and wherever; although, in your current scenario it seemed appropriate. With wind chilling your naked body, you nudge the sand again. Maybe kicking it around enough will get you into the water. Being here, at the nearest swimming hole off the river, feels more pathetic than anything else ever could. “I just think doing things alone is so fulfilling!” you told your college friends earlier this week, who cloyingly agreed with your decision. You even added, “Being alone You were alone and with my thoughts is so healing.” it was painful. Lie after lie you spouted at them. You were alone and it was painful. Why did you lie? You knew the answer: if others believed you enjoyed being alone, your emotional avoidance would appear individualistic, not unhealthy. So, you made it seem like you chose that, that you wanted to be this way. It wasn’t being closed off: it was your new persona. The fact that you cared enough to maintain a fake image about seeming independent was laughable. So you laughed. You stood buck naked by the river and laughed. You aren’t sure how much time you spend standing there laughing, but the pain in your stomach, and shaking in your thighs tells you it is time to shut up. The pressure to follow through on your lonely new lie is starting to get to you, so once again you step towards the river. Inches from the water, you stop, close enough to feel the chill but far enough to stay dry. Do you really want to go in? It’s cold and dirty. You may have lied about your need for self-fulfillment, but you didn’t have to do anything. You flick yourself in the forehead for being so stubborn, the sting of the hit amplified by the cold. Who lies and goes through the trouble of reinforcing it with an action—furthermore, an
unnecessary, unwitnessed action? There’s no reason to be here, yet there is also every reason to be here. Committing to this new self was a goal though, you wanted to actually enjoy being alone. Therefore, you had to skinny dip into the river because what is more alone than being naked in public at night? You imagine the look on your friend’s faces when you tell them, what they will say: “Did you really?” “God, that must’ve been cold! You know it’s October, yeah?” “You’re even stupider than I thought! Good on you.” Maybe you won’t even tell them, just to keep the glow of their fake praise to yourself. Your friends are all kind-hearted literature or art majors; if they were to praise you it would probably be much more eloquent than what your mind made up. That isn’t the point of keeping fake praise to yourself though; if you make it up it seems you’re just that much more in control. Inhaling deeply, and exhaling even deeper, you step forward. The river water is cold and begins to numb your toes as you step further in. You are never one to dive in, to rip off the bandage. You take small steps, moving slowly, further and further away from the shore. Committing to anything is a challenge, even if the current commitment is as small as getting into a river. Keeping the same pace, you inch into the water. What will you even do out there? You won’t swim, that’s for sure. You are thankful that this area has no current, just a hole off the main river. With that fact in mind, you set the goal of floating. You will float in the water, it will be a treasured memory of the start of a series of lies to be a new person. You will float and think. As the water reaches your waist, you start to swim and think about the grade you got this morning on a midterm. It was a high B, but not an A. You scolded yourself. You felt like the stupidest smart person out there. Deep enough in the water that it reaches your chest, you kick and lift up your legs, floating on the surface. You aren’t too far out, but why go any further than you have to? A friend from class scraped past the same midterm with a failing grade, even though you had studied together. He cried. You didn’t tell him how badly you felt about your B after that.
It’s your second year at a state university, and as much as you want to say you love it, you’re not sure you do. As an education major, it should be easy to slip into the workforce post-graduation, but do you really want to “slip in”? You’ve always enjoyed creative endeavors, whether it’s making comics, or little doodles, but it’s not a real path. Despite that, you really want to be an artist. Unlike the idea of teaching, it excites you. The fact is you’re not talented or rich enough to have a career in it, so working in education is the safe second choice. Thinking about the future can be too overwhelming. In an effort to re-center, you think back to comforting your friend over his F. It was short lived as he was able to get a specialty retake, but the pain he felt seemed so real. You try to recall if you have ever felt so bad about a grade. Kicking the water to keep warm, you remember your lab score from your seventh grade science final. It got a D. You had never gotten below a B in your entire life and didn’t understand what the teacher meant when she said, “It’s wrong.” What was wrong with it? You needed to know but she never told you. You took the paper, and shredded it into the smallest bits possible before signing up for a do-over. Your immigrant parents could never know you got below passing. It was an old memory, but one impactful enough to stay with you through the years. Even now the thought scared you. If they ever saw it, their faces would crease. They wouldn’t verbalize their disappointment, but instead infuse it in your home, the air, and every single final that you would ever take again. Knowing this, you showed them your A-grade do-over and not the shredded D-grade original. After graduating high school you admitted to your parents that you had pretty much failed your seventh grade science final. Even telling them then made your face burn with indignity. They immediately laughed, and told you they never cared about your grades, they only wanted you to maintain your self-imposed goals. Their words echoing through your memory make you bitter; the pressure had never felt self-imposed. Instead, it felt that all the effort you had put into your academia was for the promise of a bright future, and now that it was the future, you wondered where
the brightness was. Maybe after college the brightness will appear, though you doubt it. It takes your teeth chattering to realize how cold the water is. Sucked into the past of your academics, your mind blanked on where you were. It feels ironic that a lie got you into the water only for an older lie to surface once in it. As you move to tread instead of float, the water swirls around you and air bubbles fight their way to the top. They continue to surface, and as your legs kick, more bubbles are made. It’s a bit mesmerizing, pulling you out of your past. If your lips weren’t turning blue you might actually enjoy staying out to float longer. Initially, thinking about things as abstract as grades, you took the area for granted. Now you look up and notice there aren’t many stars out. The ones that do show were reflected in the water, the current further out, blurring them until they join the river itself. The land ...gnawing anxiety tells you on the other side of the water is a blob they probably hate you. in the night, defined by the occasional streetlight and jagged tree; a horizon line separates the blank sky, and quietly rushing water. You almost wish you had brought friends so you could see this together. The people you call your friends are all newcomers to your life— met through the new term’s classes. You hadn’t met many people in your first year, and those you did become friends with, didn’t stick around. You consider your new group your friends and hope it is mutual, but gnawing anxiety tells you they probably hate you. Opting to ignore this ever-present anxiety, you begin to swim back to shore. You didn’t think there was wa current where you were floating, but there must’ve been –you were further out than you initially swam. Not very far, but by the time you labore yourself back to shore your lungs burn from exhaustion. While toweling off your shaking, goose-bump-covered body, you can’t help but feel a bit disgusted. It’s easy to forget you have a body underneath clothes, and being naked on a semi-open shore reminds you of it like nothing else. Your joints are too bony, the fat covering your hips too uneven. You don’t remember when you got hip dips, but they look foreign on your body. You have to shake yourself from spiraling into your thoughts again. It’s easy for you to get lost in your mind. You wring out the towel, and throw on your slightly sandy clothes as quickly as you can, the pressing cold urging you on.
Shoving the damp towel in your bag, you scramble to find the car keys hiding in the bottom. They always seem to be just out of reach, but you manage to grab them in your still cold fist.Toeing into flip-flops, you look at the keys and wonder when you grew up to be someone with so many keys on a keyring. They just serve as another reminder that you’re no longer a seventh-grader who just failed their science final but an adult. Something about your keyring in particular depresses you. Flipping through them, you recognize the key to your car, the front door, the mailbox, an old keychain from a friend long gone… you almost skip over the tiny key for a bike lock you never used, as well as the one for a lockbox you lost. What sits in your hand are just random things, but they all have a significant place in you life. When did everything get so complicated? Remembering once again how cold you are, you realize you shouldn’t be spending all this time on insignificant — but quite significant if you think about it — objects. Spiraling into your thoughts happens too quickly. It only takes a couple of seconds to forget where you are, and what you need to be doing. You head towards your car, which is parked in a lot reserved for this swimming hole. In the parking lot, you see another car. It had already been there when you’d arrived. The idea of someone being around was a major deterrent to skinny dipping, but you still went. Anyways, it is probably too dark to see anything. You wonder what somebody else might be doing here this late, maybe the same as you. Looking closer, you notice the other car is shaking back and forth slightly, and you can hear some noise. Your face flushes as you realize what’s happening and beeline to your car. Guess they didn’t even go to the river. Shaking hands struggled to unlock the door, you tell yourself it is the cold and not how self-conscious you feel. You toss your stuff in the backseat and hold back shivers, your face burning with shock and embarrassment. Just 50 or so feet away, some strangers are getting more action than you’ve had in what, over a year? You groan out of sheer shame. It’s hard to even think about, but ever since starting college, and all the adjustments that came with that, any form of relationship beyond platonic practically disappeared. In the gap year you took after high school it was easy to Alchemy 62
hook up with a stranger at various parties and house shows, but you haven’t put effort into that part of your life since then. In college, many issues you thought had been left behind surged back; including but not limited to an insecurity around mind, body, and relationships.You weren’t interested in sex if you couldn’t even look at your naked body without cringing. Trying to ignore the presence of what was going on in the other car, you turn the keys in the ignition while cranking the heat. The windows have fogged up from the low temperature, before you can leave you have to wait for them to clear. The sooner the better. You feel like you’re impeding on someone else’s intimacy, and it twists your stomach to shreds. Tugging at your hands with nervous energy you glance at the dash.the clock reads eleven-forty-one. You are used to staying up late as you work the night shift at a deli, but it’s still too late to be swimming. Distracting yourself, you think about your coworkers who are on shift tonight. While you got all riled up and went for a late night swim, they were in the kitchen working to get ready for tomorrow. You don’t feel too bad because you aren’t close with any of them, you’re even looking for other jobs. You hope because of your degree — while still a work in progress — you can work part-time in childhood education. Your parents wish you were working to become a professor instead, but it’s better than an artist. Anything would be better than an artist. You hate it when they would say that to each other like you couldn’t hear. Despite the windows still being foggy, you pull out of the parking lot. Leaving behind the embarrassment burned into your mind from the other car, you back out. It’s far past the time to head home. You aren’t really heading home though. As well as working your deli job, you house-sit for rich white families while they go on vacation. These past weeks, you’ve been staying in the Richardson family’s empty house, never knowing how to turn on the shower or where the right dish is. One consistency is they never have chopsticks. From the river, it’s a tenish minute drive back. If you speed you can make it back in 7. The idea of a warm shower in a big, clean bathroom gets you stepping on the gas through the twisting roads along the river. Racing through these backstreets as you were would make anyone else nauseous, but you had gotten used to them. The area is
unrecognizable through the season change. The leaves long since fallen from the trees but their barren trunks are still unfamiliar on the side of the road, especially in the dark. It feels like they are curling over you while driving; protecting or caging you in, you ...protecting or caging you aren’t sure. The leaves are both a guide to and a distraction from your in, you weren’t sure. final destination. Housesitting is easy money and pretty fun. The Richardsons are nice people, you like to pretend you’re an adopted cousin instead of the person they hired to keep the guest bedroom warm. You like walking where they walk, watching TV where they watch TV, eating where they eat. Instead of feeling insecure in yourself, you feel insecure while posing as someone else. It’s easy to think of this in the late nights staring at an unfamiliar ceiling on a mattress much nicer than your own. You wish you were on that mattress now, instead of damp in your barely warm—but now defogged—car. Although you enjoy the work, you wish you didn’t need extra jobs to cover your living expenses. Rent is hard enough, but when did groceries get so damn expensive? It’s depressing that instead of the bright future you thought was coming, you had student loans with bonus academic anxiety, as well as what you suspect is a superiority AND inferiority complex. In reality, you have all the loans, all the anxiety, and neither of the complexes. You are just an insecure person like everyone else. Insecure enough to remember something like the D you got on your seventh-grade science final. Getting closer to your destination, you look out for the driveway. It’s situated rather obscurely off the main road you’re on; you’ve missed it a couple of times driving back after a particularly late shift. Focusing on the street ahead, you make the turn, and drive up a hill to the lit-up house. They don’t have one of those fancy automated gates or anything, but they do have one helluva steep driveway. Revving your car more than you should, you make it to the top and stop. The dampness of your clothes, your body, are beginning to feel confining. You could fix this easily by going inside to change, but something keeps you sitting inside your still-running car. You should be exhausted by your impulsive decision to night swim, but instead pride grows in your chest. Tonight you accomplished something new: a step into a new self. Have you thought it through? No. Will Alchemy 64
you actually change into a radical new “self”? Probably not. But you have done something in a night of nothing. You finally park, and you let out a breath. You wonder if that 7thgrade science final and all the lies following it are why you are the way you are.
Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga? Where am I, in what region, in what corner of this wounded earth? S ky Yo u n gs
Mi Tierra My Land D al ia C en t eno Ag u i l a r It is here in this rich fertile land. You can scoop it up with your bare hands. The earth you will find soft and warm roasted by the sun, strong as the coffee beans melting in your cup. It is here your grandfather’ tragedy bloomed. They say he held her hand; as their eight child took her first breath his sweetheart took her last. Under the cooling sunset is where you will find her. Below many layers of concrete years, is your abuelita resting. A young girl’s gentle heart hardened. Your mother. Our coffee is not sweet like in America no… it is spicy and lingers on your lips throughout the day. It is here you will find wrinkled, toasted men under big sombreros. Tequila on their breath, singing to the ghost of their youth. It is here you will find women, many widows, not alone from death yet of a dying love. You will find them smoothing out the lines on their forehead imprinted by life, deep like the girth of a tree. With agave cream and spiced lips they lay down. Their faces shimmering in the moonlight. As old men serenade them from outside they sing tequila lullabies, dirt on their hands, brokenness in their eyes, a tragic sight. Your grandfather.
Ca t No r th
Straight on Through and Other Ways to Drive Gravel Roads A bbi R iec h er s The wind is always worse in the winter, screaming off the plains and crashing into the mountains with a ferocity that can move mountains of snow and tear shingles off the sides of houses. It comes in as a forewarning to the true storms, the warning of the towering wall of darkness that builds in the wide open sky. The wind is howling, but at three-seventeen in the morning Ari doesn’t really care. He can’t see past the lights on the porch anyway. His knuckles sting from the sharp cold as he raps them against the door frame. He hears movement within:one sharp bark from one of the dogs. Kurjak, probably he thinks, shifting on his feet and shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his Carhart, frowning at the surrounding darkness, trying to push away thoughts of guns and knives and blood. “Driving time?” Ari whips back around at the opening of the door and the sound of the voice. Ari bounces on the balls of his feet, curling his toes into the bottom of his boots and glancing at the two dogs lurking around Violet’s legs. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, think so. Unless you’re busy.” Violet raises an eyebrow at him, stepping back, and gesturing for him to follow her inside. Ari lets out a slow breath, thinks of the gun under his pillow, how he’d stared at it before walking over here, and how easy it would be to grab it, to press it to his head, and— “Not busy,” Violet says. “There’s coffee on; I’ll grab us some,” Kurjak is always the more hesitant of the two dogs, big and furry, and if it weren’t for the husky-blue eyes, Ari would swear he was a wolf. Luna, however, makes her affections blatantly obvious as she presses against his leg, tail thumping against every piece of furniture they pass as they walk into the kitchen after Violet. His arms itch, and Ari has to tamp down the urge to scratch at them.
He looks away from the knife block on Violet’s counter, turning his gaze up towards the white ceiling that they repainted last summer. “Decided on a cabinet color?” Violet asks him, and Ari knows it’s bullshit. She helped him pick out the color when they’d been at the hardware store three, or maybe four days ago. But it’s something to focus on besides the darkness. Besides the images of knives, and torn skin, someone screaming, and— “Yeah. Uh, yeah. White. The wood has got some yellow tint already, and so it’s white. White counters, too.” “Good,” Violet tells him. “Take this.” Ari drags his eyes back to her, to the harsh lines carved into the brown skin of her face that speak to a life far more full of weights and sorrows than anyone should have to bear. She never asks why he’s always looking to drive so early in the morning. They’ll just get in the truck, and she’ll drive until she finds a gravel road – and then drive down it as if the bumps from the road will shake off the ghosts clinging to their spines. He takes the thermos of hot coffee she’s handing him, ignores how it shakes in his unsteady hands. Ari lets out a slow She never asks why he’s always looking breath, thinks of the gun to drive into the night like he’s running under his pillow... for his life, but he never asks her why she’s always awake and willing to run with him. She is willing to, and he decides that’s the important part. “Need anything else for the truck?” he asks as she heads towards the back door, looking down at the thermos. Green and worn, banged up from where it’s been dropped on gravel too many times. He rubs his thumb over a chip in the paint, feels how the edges catch at his skin. He shoves the thought down, feeling Luna press up against his leg again with a plaintive whine. “No,” Violet tells him. “Still all packed up. You need anything?” He shakes his head, and she nods, stepping over to the back door and grabbing her jacket—black Carhartt just like his—and pulling it on. She snatches her thermos off the counter, shoves her wallet in the back pocket of her jeans.
The Trail Awaits
B ra d Cro f t
“Come on kids,” she tells the dogs, grabbing keys off the hook and shouldering open the back door as Kurjak and Luna twist and curl around her legs. “Any specific location requests?” she asks him as he steps out and she turns to lock the back door. The wind howls, buffeting against them and blowing loose, curly strands of Violet’s hair into her face. Ari feels it pull at the fringes of hair that stick out from under his beanie. Ari closes his eyes, then snaps them open again against the onslaught of images. some remembered, some half cooked up by the spiraling, dark path his mind is on. Bloody skin, neat red lines, knives scattered across the floor, digging deeper, deeper, deeper. The gun, cold metal, pressed against his temple, and suddenly the image shifts, changes like a kaleidoscope, and it’s a dusty building, and he can’t breathe, and warm red blood seeping through his gloves, and he needs to hurry, and he needs— “Ari,” Violet says, and he snaps his gaze back to hers, sees the exhaustion, the darkness mirrored in her eyes. “Gravel roads. Which one are we driving?”
Making a decision and pulling forward the name is like searching for the plug in a sink full of grey, dirty dishwater. “Up towards Skeleton Ridge,” Ari says. Violet nods, and the truck unlocks with a flash of lights. Kurjak and Luna pace the side of the truck, waiting for Violet to open the back door and let them in. Ari crosses around the front of the truck, pulling the door open and climbing into the cab. Kurjak and Luna leap into the back, circling around one another before finding their places and settling down. Kurjak drops his head on the center console to watch them both. Violet reaches back to scratch Kurjak’s ears, then she sticks the key in and starts the engine. The truck rumbles to life, and she shifts it into drive and pulls out onto the street. The streets of the tiny town are empty, quiet. If anyone else is up, it’s to tend animals, or fields. Not to drive to the mountains and disappear down a gravel road for a little while. Violet turns north onto the highway, and Ari closes his eyes, listens to the shifting of the dogs, Violet drumming her fingers against the steering wheel and the wind making the truck sway gently. Ari finds it easier to breathe as the tires eat up the road. The images stay the same though. The same memories. Sharp knives, jagged edges. Blood and perfect lines on skin. Dusty buildings, and screaming. Watching skin open up and seeing the tissue and fat underneath until blood wells up, and covers it like a poorly-kept secret. Ari scratches at his arm, and Violet catches his hand, threads their fingers together and squeezes. “Aren’t you ever going to ask me ...sees the exhaustion, the why I’m like this?” Ari asks, voice darkness mirrored in her eyes. whisper-quiet. “Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m always up to go with you?” Violet asks, flicking a glance at him. He can’t see anything beyond the glow of the dashboard lights, beyond the headlights lighting up the next section of highway. “It wouldn’t be fair to ask for something I’m not ready to give,” Violet whispers. Ari presses his free hand against his leg over where more parallel, perfectly lined scars sit – reminders of how he survived, and how many times he almost didn’t. Spring 2022
At five-forty-seven Violet starts slowing down, flicking on the turn signal and taking the exit on the right to loop up over the highway and head west, into the mountains. The road turns into dirt and gravel, and Violet rolls down the window as she slows down. The truck bumps and rumbles along, the engine a low growl against the crunch and crackle of the tires. Kurjack yawns, teeth flashing in the lights and lets out a low whine. Violet snorts, but keeps her eyes on the rough road that’s glowing like a bolt of silk in the headlights. “What, buddy? You tired of riding?” She asks, shifting to lean out the window to get a better look at the rocks she’s swinging around, easing the front tires into a dip in the road that jolts the truck as they drop onto it, swinging it wide to the left to dodge a huge, buried rock in the center of the road. Kurjak sighs, letting his head rest on the console again as Luna sits up, leaning forward to sniff at the new smells coming in from Violet’s window. It smells of dust, and pine, and ozone. The wind isn’t as bad here, but Ari can still hear it running through the trees, ripping at the needles and shaking the branches. The truck shakes slightly as Violet gets it over a rock, pressing on the gas to swing a hard right to avoid a deep pothole. The road twists and curves its way up the backside of the twelvemile long ridge, Violet working the truck around, and over, and through the rocks, and potholes, and mud, and snow patches, until finally the road crests out, crossing over the ridge to run back along the frontside for about two miles, a hundred feet below the summit. Violet pulls into the circle at the end, turns the truck, so the bed is facing out over the sharp drop to the valley below, that they can’t see in the darkness. The sun will rise from that direction in about an hour. Violet gets out, opens the door, and turns on their light-up collars before she lets the dogs go bounding out, criss-crossing the circle and the edge of the forest as they sniff. “Breakfast?” She asks, taking a drink of coffee. They walk around to the back of the truck. “Sure,” Ari says, waiting for her to open the truck topper and drop the tailgate. He hops up onto it, watching as she pulls the tubs
out from under the cot still set up in the bed of the truck, and pulls out the stove. Ari closes his eyes, listening to Violet make breakfast, breathing slowly, hoping the mountain air will wash the blood and bullets from his mind. “Eat,” Violet tells him, nudging his foot. “Thanks,” he says, taking the instant oatmeal she hands him. She nods, sliding up onto the tailgate next to him and taking a drink of her coffee. It’s quiet as they eat, and Ari tries to find comfort in the wind in the trees, Violet’s gentle “Aren’t you ever going to ask me presence. The sun gives why I’m like this?” Ari asks, warning of its rise as the sky voice whisper-quiet. slides from black, to indigo, slowly giving way to blue and lavender and pink. “It’ll be two years ago tomorrow,” Violet whispers, swinging her feet as they sit on the tailgate watching the sun start to paint the world around them in its golden light, poking at the instant oatmeal in the metal tin. Ari turns to look at her, frowning as she stares out over the valley. “Two years ago tomorrow my husband and two daughters were killed. That’s why I’m up. I don’t… I don’t ever really sleep. A drunk driver. And, um… You came over asking if you could borrow a hammer about two weeks after moving in. It was the four month anniversary, and I’d been planning on… I’d been planning on shooting myself. But you looked as fucked up as I did and… Well I thought we could help each other.” “So you decided that helping me start remodeling the house would help?” Ari asks her. Violet snorts. “We’re both still alive, aren’t we?” She asks. Ari lets out a slow breath. “Yeah. Still working on the house,” he says. Violet nods. “We were somewhere in Afghanistan. Can’t remember the name of the town but…” Ari lets out a slow breath, closing his eyes, and trying to steady the shaking of his hands. “You don’t have to tell me just because I told you,” she says. “That’s…, when I asked in the truck I didn’t mean that you had to tell me.” Spring 2022
“One of my squad mates got shot. We took cover in a nearby building, and I was trying to treat them while the others fought to get us out. Then the bombs started dropping, and I was the only one to manage to crawl out.” He hears Violet let out a slow breath, and when he opens his eyes to glance at Violet, she’s looking out at the sunrise. He drops his eyes to the dirt in front of them. “The more I drive,” Violet says, “I realize it’s just about figuring out what’s gonna fuck up your truck less. Are you gonna pop a tire driving over that rock, but save your axel? Can you make it through the puddle, or do you need to almost roll your car driving up, and around the puddle on the edge of the road. It’s all a matter of a problem and if it’s gonna kill you. You look at it, and say, Can I drive straight on through that, or do I have to find another way around? And the more I drive, the more I realize it’s a good metaphor for life. You look at the rock in the road in front of you, and you ask, can I drive straight on through it, or will I break an axle? And you just have to try to not break an axle.” “That makes survival sound easy.” “The idea is easy enough. Stay alive. It’s everything that comes after that’s tricky. But then you get to see sunrises like this. And maybe that makes it worth it.”
A my H o lla n
Fear Not the Looming Dark B r a n d o n Va d e n He often went to the pond when thinking or troubled. While it may have been long gone now, paved over to make room for a shopping mall, it still lived on in his memory. He went there now, for it seemed only appropriate. A little island in a roiling ocean of tumultuous ends, far from the rest of the world. A place between time, subject to only his emotions and thoughts. The waters were a murky abyss crashing up against the muddy banks from strong gusts of wind. Tall reeds lined the edges of the pond and a ways into its waters, stalks bending and dancing in the rain. Those reeds tickled the bottoms of his bare, wizened feet where he had perched himself on a waist high, concave wall. Made of square granite bricks, it had been built to retain the grass and dirt on this side of the pond, stopping it from sliding into the dark, turbulent waters below. An ancient, gnarled tree loomed over where he sat, protecting him from the worst of the nascent storm. With far stretching and crooked branches flush with green leaves, it looked like the tree was grasping for the sky and falling short. It danced with the wind, bending and groaning as the gusts rushed past it, boughs swaying in time with the eddies of the thunderstorm. And that storm howled its rage, wind whistling in his ears as it passed over the water and through the trees, trying its damndest to uproot the old oak. The sky was dark, night just around the corner, and the clouds dimmed what little illumination remained, leaving it in gloomy twilight. The sun peeked out from between the clouds before him, descended towards its eventual end upon the edge of the obscured horizon. The air was thick with humidity and rain, which viciously drummed down upon the old tree’s canopy, nearly invisible in the dim light. Droplets exploded in tiny detonations on the dark, murky waters of the pond, countless overlapping ripples cascading out from their tiny, inglorious deaths. So this is the end, then? Alchemy 76
Those same drops of water dripped off the trees’ leaves and onto the shoulders of his beaten bomber jacket and hood. Soaking through the fabric, they chilled him, leaving his ancient limbs numb with slowly encroaching cold and his skin clammy as he shivered in the merciless wind. The little stream across the way now gushed with water, white from its hurried passage, pouring buckets and buckets of itself into the pond. Melding with the dark waters, becoming one with the roiling waves that crashed The waters were a murky abyss, upon its banks, like the crashing up against the muddy banks memories that rapidly from strong gusts of wind. poured out of his skull. A bolt of electric blue-white crackled across the sky in a jagged, angry line overhead. Searing itself onto his eyelids. Gone in the second after it appeared, ephemeral as life itself. I tried so hard to hold on. For so long. The rumble of thunder followed in its wake a few moments later, reverberating through the ground and into his bone marrow. Like the chortling of some great giant, perhaps Death itself, laughing at its victory. Clinging to it all by my fingers, till they were bloody and raw. He’d long ago died. Had been drifting through life ever since. Desperately afraid of what he long knew only as death, avoiding it wherever he perceived it lurked. How ironic that it was the fear that kept me from ever truly living again. He peered into the pond, which was black in the dimming light, hoping he could catch a glimpse of the sunken car, of Her ghost. But there was only oblivion below those dark, rippling, swelling waters. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Sucking in as much air as his lungs could hold, he savored the smell of life’s quintessence: moist dirt and crisp, fresh oxygen and leafy verdure. It was a smell much preferable to the sharp antiseptic and lemon citrus of the hospital, something he had long ago gotten used to. The noise of howling wind and rustling leaves better than the shrill beeps of his heart monitor or the electric jolts of fire trying to revive his faltering, decrepit heart. Though, even here, he was still distantly aware of them.
He could feel as the mind around this little place of his faded, what was seconds in the real world just tenuous minutes here. The dark of night slowly ascended, its waters gradually rising to claim him once and for all, like they had with Her so long ago. He opened tired eyes and looked again into those umbral depths lapping violently against the muddy shore at the base of the wall. The reeds tickled his calloused soles, the wind howling as another brilliant bolt cracked across the sky overhead. Huh, he thought, a perplexed but relaxed smile forming on his lips. I can’t remember why I was so afraid. Gazing up at that storm-clouded sky, he exhaled slowly, breath puffing from his lips in a white cloud of warm vapor that was quickly pulled away into the storm, mingling till nothing was left. He savored the feeling of the rain on his face and the wind in his hair. That earthy loam of life and decay that perfused the air, and the roughness of the granite blocks on his fingertips. The clean taste of the drops of water upon his tongue and lips, the sound of the pond crashing at its banks and the rustling of the reeds and leaves. Enough stalling. His end was inevitable, and he would not cower before it any longer. If he was to go into the dark, he would face Death on his own two feet. Even if he had lived every moment up to this point in fear of it, he would not be slowly swallowed up by its black waters while buying as much pitiful time as he could. He pushed himself off from the top of the wall, dropping down into the muddy green shoots with a splash of water. The long blades brushed against his pant legs, and the wet dirt squelched between his toes as he walked into those swelling, stygian waters. I will not run any longer. It was freezing cold, yet comforting in its numbness, embracing him in its lack of feeling. His first step saw the storm calming around him, the water lapping gently at his shins. The aches and pangs of his frail and old form fading, the distant beeps and loud voices dissipating. With his second step, the water passed his knees and the waves ceased their crashing against the shore and granite blocks. The
memories of his struggles, of his hardships and worries, faded like a dream in the waking mind. The third, freezing liquid at his navel, saw the rain become little more than a light pattering on his shoulders. Next to go were his regrets and aspirations, his highest hopes and his darkest moments vanishing to that sweet oblivion. His fourth, the cold now up to his neck, caused the wind to stop its howling and the trees’ rustling to fall into silence. The mantle of his failures, of his inability to truly live, lifted from his shoulders. Then, after one last peal of thunder, he stepped fully into the dark and let it enclose around his head and mind, his thoughts ceasing with a gentle smile upon his lips.
Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Jen n ifer Pen a f lo r
The Beast and The Machine Natha n Ty ler Na ko n i e c z n y In times where broken thrones hung with no virtue, Where gods had been changed for blood and fire, Wellness of land in held hands of a few, Though the health of the age, only of ire. The Creature, It turned away on life, No machine would feel the ductile cog, That the beast had catered from yearly strife, It would rather sell Its brain to a dog. Long, high were the pines of everliving, Sweet deer on shrubs, It would like to watch feed, Sometimes with a smiling spirit giving, Whatever corn, or maple, or sap of weed. The young salamanders lightly sling, With webby feet and sticky forked toes, Laying eggs in warm pools in holy spring, Forgetting the unworthy winter woes. Ages did pass away like slipping dew, When It’s eyes felt likes of man, It frowned Always with plastic, or tin, or dirt slew, But few calm gentle forest beings, found. One night, of the wide and tall woods alive, A prime bear did rise from its dark abyss. The creature smiled, did not try to hide, The great sow, with cubs, took nothing but fish. But, Oh, Fish was A’plenty when on the road! Then with blight eyes and snarling brow It showed, A new sign by the river, fresh droved, “New Real Estate! Of dollars, bring a trove!”
The Beast stood shocked and oddly vexed, For when It had walked so long for peace, Perhaps slumber and of earthly respect, And these men gobble it whole with small ease. It roared, and it wranged, and it dug, Into the salty soil that would offer, If it so chose, with no fear for teeny bugs, The beast might then find a treasure proper. A sleeping fairy, abright with wishes, Only asking of one simple light thing, For all the spoils of all pillages, Just one soul could make that shiny bell ring. “Please tell me there’s an answer from here, That my life could spare, but save all nature, For with my time I would more than just queer, One act of selfless raise for all the stature.” The beast pled to the nymph. with quiet eyes, And wrinkly hands of brushed paper sand, She humbly spoke to the thing with cold cries, The soil guardian made one command. “Atop the tallest tree of this fair wood, A vulture flies, and nests with a gaunt greed, Two gross finches, as I have understood; Half of one is more than need. Slay this fiend.” Four sleepless nights did the beast then wander, Claws and limbs sliding silt from all lumber, No time of rest could the beast ponder, The engines from around were all thunder. Saws, and dozers, and hammers, and steel, Picks, and drills, and nails, and screws all charging, The forest around had no one’s appeal, The machine continued, always, barging. Spring 2022
Such drills into moist earth are not pretty. The grubs and worms from cut trees loudly scream, Their homes ripped from ground with not one pity, Some die in the mill and become shed beams. Great burns they would have, with gas and alight, The mighty trees had long stood unstopping Those that speak harm but suffer no good fright, Stripping men of their limbs, then go chopping. Easier done best with fuel, spade and fire, Whatever can’t be used, pack for charcoal. The best branches for holy gold church spires, The rest throw in the woodchipper ripe whole. It was lightning and showers when It saw, As the tree was near, and the bird was high, A strange and gutted mother bear paw, And cubs at the roots that surely would die. A cold slice of the beast said, with much hate, “Look, then, they’ll die anyway or starve, Just wrench that rock from yonder bent plate, Get them easier than bird, do you carve!” Rotten shell, the creature screamed aloud, “What voice inside me would speak such filth, I should see it without a darkened shroud, I would not harbor such thoughts of weird tilt!” The cubs were young, and if they died, should they, The beast swore to climb two hundred feet up, The killer of their mother It would slay, And the machine would be foul and stuck. The baby bears growled and softly bit, Again perched the tides of Id’s long lies. The beast climbed with legs intrepid, So high above the clouds, felt windy tides.
So long did It take, even to just reach, The gory paw It could see from a small height. In the hand though, was a bloodied sweet peach. The creature thanked her for her hard fight. Such was it told, if any care to hear, It was a peach of fine color and taste, Good to fill the empty gut from unclear, The beast let not a single drop go waste. The Machine was right and proudly turning, The animals began to choke from smoke, Great automatons with tunnels burning, Everything in sight, the fire would stoke. Not long would it take to reach the sharp nest, Of glass and fibers and plastic bag chips. When the fires began and burned the rest, The beast nearly fell from its swelling quips. So strong is the blood of old parent trees, They choke in their own juice when given heat, As is their natural way, the carbon pays fees, The demon flame rides wind, all foes beat. One small task, then It will be truly freed, The only thought that kept It climbing, That damn awful murderers beak see’d The soil fairies’ bells, now loudly chiming. A foul smelling thing, with inky slick plumes, A sharp toothy face, bloodied with sow bear, And two hundred dead finches it consumed, The Beast stood no fight, let alone one fair. It’s teeth were not nearly quite sharp enough, And the wind made balance very uneasy, It’s barefoot grip was rather short and rough, And the height and smoke made them both queasy.
The stone, The machine said to bring in hate, The only weapon that the Beast hoped, Might make a dent in a strong wing that great, And it may fall then, as could try to cope. Only options dead sold, and beaten now, The beast launched its rock into the bird. To describe it’s death, I know not of how, But when the great fiend fell, all around heard. Dead was the champion of the forest, The creature clung to branch to take a rest, Then a rumbling chirp was heard from the nest, Baby vultures, the thing saw, none could jest. Three tiny beaks, all big toothy and clean, Awaiting bloodied meat from mothers bile. The beast did not fight with spirit so mean, That infant chicks It would throw to the pile. They did not choose to be the unlucky, Children of killers are never to blame, Just because they earned from that plucky, Terrorous flying cutthroat slaughter dame. But, a soul for a soul was the true trade, The nymph was of strong word, to hers should keep, And the wish of the beast was one well paid. She queried, what should I give you, please speak. The beast looked down at the fire and smoke, It saw the home it once had all in flames, Then the cubs choking in it with their folk, And the vultures, who not yet got their names. Three hundred feet, in storm and fire with pride, The beast looked down, and with it’s mind high, knew that the climb down it would not survive, Yet Its mind returned to those that died.
Only one wish could not answer the heat, That the machine had charred all around, All those pesky modern wheels did mistreat, The sky was full of loud obnoxious pounds. “Make them go away. We will fix it now, Or never, but at least if we lose all, And we die of bitter fire and cloud, It would be our own lives we can loud call.” So it was done, by that kind light fairy. All the hammers were moved to their home, All woods burnt were left charred and scary, Cubs, vultures, and the beast were all alone. The last exchange was the breaking of wood, That told the beast it should freely now fall, So it did, and the young chicks understood, It did not want orphans to them called. There are no obituaries in stone, Only happy warm tunnels for beetles, And wasp larvae could burrow new home, And Its feet were covered in pine needles. One can hope that their dead ribs grow flowers, They can hope that they have many more hours, They can fill the time with needless powers, Or they can fall from ivory towers. Though, in that last glimpse before it’s kind end, A lovely thing it did see while labor beams, Three young bears, and one papa, with dead hand. The beast, at peace with itself, could live dreams.
Abstract Portait 1.23.2022
Ha n n a Wr igh t
This is Not an Epic Mercia Kandukira After the war, nothing stayed linear, not even the passed-down memories. Our story was fractured, and because it was fractured, nobody believed it, but I swear, we live in its aftermath. There’s no place safer than inside the skull for us. We are always waiting, shifting like shadows through life, invisible to a great extent, yet not invisible enough. We want to be seen and heard, yet we do not want to be observed, studied, and interviewed. To be asked who we are is perhaps the hardest question to answer, because we do not even know which part of the tree we fell from. We are the scattered twigs of the scattered branches which were trampled on during the struggle for our land and home. We ask ourselves, staring at mirror reflections, the question we cannot answer to save our lives. Who are we? This is the question Mbukamuna and I ask ourselves over long international phone calls. I am not sure about Mbukamuna, but I have trouble answering the question: who are you? I was raised by my father who is a Damara, and I didn’t know much about my mother’s side of things. For Ovaherero people, this question of who one is, demands more than just the blurting out of a name. The asker expects to hear a thorough genealogy starting from your parents down to the last ancestor who fell at Ohamakari. To answer the question is to perform an epic rooted in your birthplace, remembering the fallen valiant— and the refugee ancestors who carry in them the aftermath of the Ovaherero Genocide. This is not an epic. After the cannon ball hit the tree between 1904-1908, dismembered branches were scattered everywhere. Some dried up in the desert’s arms and under scantily shaded trees. The scent of their lives leaving summoned picky vultures, and scavengers who had grown a taste for dainty bits of human flesh, but not all were devoured, and that’s why I’m here. I’m turning rocks, running four fingers through the pebbly soil of my memories, searching for fragmented truths my mother told to complete the puzzle of our family history. Only a complete picture will put my bewilderment to rest. Spring 2022
It is the year 2022 and I am 33 until October. I call my younger sister, Mbukamuna from Binghamton, New York where I study writing. We talk about our mother who died two years before on a hot January morning in a rural hospital, in Namibia’s Outjo district. My mother knew pieces of our history, likely as large as the Pacific Plate itself. I only have the bits I ... I have trouble answering remember from inattentive listening. the question: who are you? I call Mbukamuna wishing I’d asked Mom more questions, listened more, been more present, but at least I have my sister, who’d spent a little more time with our mother since I’d been away. I want her to tell me every single word she remembers our mother saying. I want to hear about every sigh and every tear. I want to know about how our lineage got scattered after the resistance, because our mother told her. In our conversation, the name Karorineh comes up, and we establish it’s a corruption of the name “Caroline.” According to what Mbukamuna remembers our mother telling her, Caroline was our great, great grandmother who survived the Ovaherero Genocide in 1904, and would eventually beget our great grandmother Kaetekara, in the town of Usakos. We do not know Caroline’s original name, let alone her roots. Mbukamuna tells me Caroline “fled the gun” and lost her son in the pandemonium. We know this son as Kenaendo, the name means: he has no grave. After the talk with my sister, I lie down on my narrow bed as though on a stretcher, searching and searching my mind for more clues. I want to see Caroline’s face, but the name is so confusing that a face is hard to picture. I want to know what happened to Kenaendo, I want to know under what circumstances Kaetekara was born, and how she ended up in the village of Otjivero with a light skinned grandpa named Skepie. Could gunshots be heard when my great grandmother was born? If so, I want to feel the wetness of water breaking, and the pang of a baby diving headfirst into the earth’s man-made turmoil. This is how hard I imagine, because maybe if I squeeze enough, I’ll see the truth. After these conversations with my sister, I start having vivid dreams. One night I dream I am digging up the land behind a small house on what looks like a ranch I’d just acquired in Namibia. My aim is to make a garden and I unearth a corpse in the plowing
process. The dream world tells me the corpse is a foremother and I fall into a trance whereupon the spirit released from this corpse possesses me. My body trembles as the spirit settles in. In this dream I am receptive of this mother spirit I have unearthed. Hours after I am awake, I still see her smoky figure hovering above me in the night. It’s usually the dreams I remember that trouble me for analysis, and I only have guesses for who that foremother might be. ***** In another dream, more a scenario, that comes to my half sleeping mind at nine in the morning, I hold an exam script in my hand. I have a good grade despite getting the basics wrong. I couldn’t define the word “migration.” Everything in this dream is monochromatic like distance, like pastness, and for some reason my aunt Ndjesee is here, and she has a massive dictionary tucked under one armpit, and what seems to be an open history book in the other. She’s reading a part about a slave-owning black man named Scenário. The “a” has an accent and we attempt to pronounce this name, hardening the soft [c]. Our perspective changes as we realize that we are behind a hedge plant, behind a chain-link metal fence and are looking at a plantation house through a spot where the leaves are sparse. Scenário pops out of the plantation house with his cropped hair. Black and white people spill out of the house behind him and onto the lawn before us. As if coming towards us but then making a sharp left turn, a white man carrying a suitcase-shaped polythene bag with a black man’s torso enclosed in it comes into view. I notice the pectoral and abdominal muscles of the disembodied torso look defined like a tortoise’s shell; the black skin bled out. Then another white man comes out with the Could gunshots be heard when my exact same bag, and another great grandmother was born? and another, until they’re all headed up a hill, leaving the plantation house, followed by marching black legs — all men, bought from Scenário. I ask my aunt why they have torsos in the bags. “Are they samples?” I don’t get an answer from her. Perhaps I’m the inquisitive child who doesn’t get the answers. Who’s been taught basic things and not the deep things. Spring 2022
***** When my partner texts me, “Good morning sweetie!” that morning, I tell him thank goodness you texted. I tell him the dream about torsos, and he says: “Wild dream, yikes.” “I know, it was kind of disturbing,” I respond. “Me and others were reading from books and witnessing these events simultaneously…for me it’s a commentary on witnessing history through reading about it…if it makes any sense.” “It makes sense—interesting creative nonfiction paper playing with the concept of memory and sight.” “Maybe I should write it yes. The complexity here is that the memory isn’t mine since I haven’t witnessed it first-hand but extant memorabilia aka archived photos and human remains have a similar effect on the brain as witnessing an atrocity in real life.” “True, but that’s exactly the problem you take up: you witness the event but it’s not your memory.” “Right,” “This is also, of course, the basic problem with historical interpretation.” “Elaborate a little please.” “Well, history is always contested. A historian is almost always writing about something they didn’t see but was only described, and they are tasked with turning it into a narrative that, likely, no one at the time would have offered.” “Aaah, yeah. Thanks for telling me this. I had this thought briefly as I read Olusoga’s description in The Kaiser’s Holocaust, of the day the new German Governor arrived in Walvis Bay. He has a vivid scene, complete with sensory details that I credit to his imagination.” ***** Godless, motherless, and alone with a future containing what I’m not sure, I sit on my reading chair. I’m nine pages into How to Be Animal by Melanie Challenger. I’m crying for more reasons than I can articulate. When I feel my throat tired from the bulk of my emotions, I think of people to call. My mother comes to mind, but
she’s a different kind of asleep. She’s the one I’d have loved to talk to. She often had sleepless nights, and I was able to call and find her despite the six-hour time difference, and we would just talk. I don’t remember a time I called her because I was sad and wanted to vent, except maybe now. Her existence made me want to do so much more than I could do. Knowing I could return to Namibia, and she’d be there in Outjo, full of stories to tell gave me so much to look forward to. As I age, I see my mother’s likeness in myself. At least half my face looks like hers and perhaps half my sadness is hers too. I think of Uongasanee, my youngest brother whose name means collect one another and it makes me think of picking up sticks, like in that nursery rhyme Perhaps I’m the inquisitive child... I learned in an Omaruru who’s been taught basic things boarding school: One, two, and not the deep things. buckle my shoes; three, four knock on the door; five, six, pick up sticks; seven eight, lay them straight; nine ten, a big fat hen. In Uongasanee’s name I see a scattering of valuables; we each must collect and pile up together. His name feels like the only lingering message my mother had for the four children she’d brought into the world: “Gather one another.” Kenouho, Mbukamuna, Katuta and Uongasanee, these are our names in the order of our births. I’m the lookout for I’m the little one with eyes as my name, Kenouho dictates. Mukamuna’s name is rooted in the afterlife — “your breath is what sees the ancestors in the end.” Katuta is the shepherd for that’s what his name means, a guide, a protector. I think of my little brothers and sister all the time. Every single day, they occupy my mind even more than my need to be held together, when I feel like a mountain crumbling down because the things which should be solid are now molten.
H a n n a Wr igh t
Do you experience radical reversals of fortune? Do you often think of giving up your family? You could be a victim of
Never play with a Ouija board you said because you can’t know what entities you will call in. An object is not an entity; it is a symbol. I dressed like a funeral you said. Everyone was Satanic Panicking, and the rednecks drove slow in front of our house, hoping to catch a glimpse of you on your Harley. The primary object is the mother. The child’s relation to the object serves as a prototype. We had an altar. We wore pentagrams. We had a black madonna and she was you. In a psychic defense mechanism, the infant takes the mother into herself in order to eliminate suffering. She becomes the symbol of the mother, and her standard bearer. A dark mother gives birth to entities. The kids at school are scared of me. You said everyone here is stupid and you are an artist. She travels to the underworld. She inhabits the world of primordial instincts. Hungry enough she will eat her young, though she does bear gifts. Such as: I can talk to demons. I know my own mind. My aura sees game. I can transmute poison—if I drink it, you die.
Wendy Bou rgeo i s
Little Man Cynt h ia Mc C lou d If I squint across the school gym, I can transform into his past self the uniformed teen securing gear with his platoon, drown rustle of jackets with rumble of trucks, exchange rafters for girders under the span’s deck. Drawn up to his full six feet, he flexes powerful man arms before his body and the grown-up opponent he will defeat. He takes home $1,500 more than bragging rights from this afterschool job till Mom learns of his work, sends him here pencils custom-stamped with Cadet and his name he, like a beaming six-year-old, shows me at my desk.
C a r ter Bo u c h er
Buddies For Eternity Spring 2022
Newcomer Gre gor y Mit berg Welcome to the fencing hall. I am its hermit, every corner has a story, follow me and I will show you. These are the fencing strips, on them the fencers. The fencers’ uniforms are white-stained yellow, and gray-stained green. You can probably smell the sweat, but I stopped noticing years ago. They hold steel blades in their hands, you can tell the weapons are a near extension of the fencer. The weapons are thin metal with the grips curved to fit. Hold it as if it were a dove, not tight enough to crush it, but tight enough that it will never fly away. The fencing hall is always cold, yet never cool enough for when you are fencing. Passion is a fire, it burns hot no matter how cold the environment. The hall is open, it is massive, yet when you spend as much time as I have in this place, it feels small. The hall is a cacophony of rubber shoes squeaking on metal strips, steel blades screeching, and electronic buzzers ringing. There are few windows, we wouldn’t want more anyway; they tend to distract. The fluorescent sticks give off a bleached grey light, few notice it but all feel it. Over in that corner is a small set of lifting equipment in great condition, every article neatly placed by its caretaker, the ever clean Frenchman. Never leave a mess anywhere, otherwise, you will have to excuse the Frenchman’s French. Here are the changing rooms, men’s and women’s. After conditioning, the boys will hide inside their room. Cody, their coach, doesn’t mind it. Well, at least not much. He remembers being their age, the fierce joys, and the bottomless pits of training. Give them their time and they will blossom. To the left is the kitchen. An old sink, cupboards grayed with age, a microwave that barely works, and a fridge are all that stand there. Yes, it is clean, The Frenchman wouldn’t have it any other way, but it is not organized. Only a hermit or a prisoner could call this a kitchen to be proud of. Over here we come to the front door. Its glass was cleaned only yesterday. Many aspiring fencers have stepped through here, fewer aspirants have left; the chill of the building was too much for them.
Step outside and see the murals of fencers on the walls, the artist who drew them worked here as a coach many years ago. He wasn’t paid for the work, his only motivation, the art of the blade. You can see it in his art, the sharpness of the fencer’s face, his blade thrusting with deadly intent. I wish he was still around, he could always bring a smile to your face. Fencing is art, all fencers artists of a stripe. A fencer paints with their blade, plays music to the rhythm of their feet, and writes epics on the strip. It should then come as little surprise that many are in fact “traditional” artists. The best female fencer I ever knew, whose wedding to the Frenchman was in this building, Every corner has a story, would stencil anything you could follow me and I will show you. think of on your jacket. When fencing lost its call to her, she became a tattoo artist. From stabbing people with swords, to stabbing people with needles. She did not fall far from the tree. Back inside, to the ever-pervasive gray light. To your right is the “Lost and Found.” It is a black hole, never expect to find what you lost there. Aaron fancies anything left here to be his, don’t question him about it. He has to deal with Cody and the kids’ classes. Past the “Lost and Found” are the stairs to the observation area. Come on up I will show you around. I see you are curious about the two doors, one brings you to a storage room with a camera system from what must be the late 90’s. In all my time here I have never seen a soul use them. The other door is always locked. We call that room the bendover room, for there is a pipe that forces all but the shortest to bend over to enter. They locked it over ten years ago after they found two of my teammates pleasuring each other in it. After that, they tried renaming the room. It didn’t work. It is funny how those who spend most of their day simulating a duel to the death, find solace in each other. You notice it most after the grueling week-long, ten-hour-a-day camps. Where to next? Ah yes back down the stairs. Here is the front desk, the glass case on the right holds odd mementos such as medieval swords and medals from tournaments all over the world. The case on the left holds equipment for sale. Never buy from here, always use the internet. Spring 2022
On to the gym, that wall three-fourths the height of your average person separates the gym and the reception area. The wall is made of lockers with gray carpet and a bar on the back for observers. The lockers are for the fencers with gear, if you have the will you can earn one for yourself. The first locker in the line is for Robert Mattern. Robert is the former owner and founder. You might see him here late at night, his jacket stenciled with a silver-blue dragon. Despite being in his seventies, he is only consistently beaten by two people. Do you see the locker over there painted that ugly shade of blue? That is Jasper’s. Before he was a coach, he was an animator for Disney, he found fencing when trying to animate a sword fight. He is the oldest coach here, he enjoys teaching the adult beginners class. I once asked him why. He said, “It’s the only class where everyone always learns something.” Having dipped my toes into teaching the kids’ class, where you are happy if one kid a day learns something, I understand why he likes it. Here comes the Frenchmen now, his name is actually Pierre. He got his nickname because even after living and coaching here for fifteen years, he cannot pronounce the “H” sound. Head becomes Ed, “him” becomes “em” and so on. Fencing is art, all fencers Now look over at that locker, you artists of a stripe. see the stickers of long-forgotten boy bands and the yellowed jacket hanging from it? That is Aaron’s, it is the only mess you will see here, at least the only tolerated one. You will never see him here at night. Aaron was one of the best fencers in the world nearly ten years ago. He had a falling out with his mentor, Robert. I haven’t seen Aaron fence since, only coach. Now that I think about it, that was about the same time Robert stopped managing this place. Think you can find out what happened between them? Our final stop, the armory which sits under the viewing balcony, broken gear is set neatly here, this is also the Frenchman’s domain. I saw him and Robert’s daughter meet here ten years ago, they both had the same meticulous attention to detail. Both are organized, and both had the same passion for fencing and each other. If there is one fencer I would give anything to see perform once more it would be her. Will you have the same drive she did? The same want for the art of fencing? Your first time is a thrill, the second a mystery, and if you
are still here by the third you may understand why we give ourselves to this art. Just remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Here comes Jasper, are you ready to try it yourself?
Westin Ra n z in o
Pencil Sharpener Blades Cae Marqu ez Content Warning: Graphic imagery, sexual assault, and self-harm Soraya twirled her black and golden locks as her ears strained to listen as a couple of girls gossiped two tables away. In the throng of students sauntering in front of the school gates and making their way through the quads, Soraya noticed her best friend. Tyree rushed over and said, “Did they make up? Tell me now.” “Shush. I’m trying to find out. Hurry! hurry!” Soraya motioned for Tyree to sit down. Tyree hopped on the table next to Soraya, pretending to block her view of the group in question. She raised and lowered her eyebrows at Soraya until she saw her friend nod. A thin grin befell Tyree’s face and the two settled into their perch to eavesdrop. “Did she say he called her eighteen times?” Tyree whispered. “He’s so desperate. It’s gross.” “Honestly, why even take him back at this point? He’s all over every girl in that P.E. class.” Soraya placed a hand on Tyree’s forearm, “They didn’t just say Jamille—he went all the way with Jamille?” “No!” Tyree whispered loudly, “I didn’t hear it, hold on.” The two pressed closer together to listen. Soraya’s face dropped as the blood drained from her cheeks and she placed a hand on Tyree’s forearm. “Jamille. That bastard cheated on her with Jamille.” Tyree felt the piercing of painted black nails into her forearm as Soraya continued, “Fucking Jamille.” They silently walked to the first period. In class, they huddled at their lab table, exchanging disbelief and anger. When they walked to second period, Soraya became untethered, as she shouted over the thick of students’ voices booming in the hallways. Her hands spread wide and flailed as she vented. Her eyes darted from one unfortunate passerby to the next. Tyree attempted to direct Soraya’s attention unsuccessfully. Third period was Spanish class. Both girls decided to skip class and hide up on the roof of the concert hall. Tyree was the Teacher’s Assistant for Choir class and had keys to the building.
“Why do they make us take Spanish anyways? Everyone here is Mexican!” Soraya yelled as they routed towards the concert hall instead of the Language Arts classes. “You realize your last name is literally Pham?” Tyree chuckled. “Please, I’m half Mexican.” “But can’t speak any of it.” Soraya jabbed a finger at Tyree, “Yeah, and can you speak any Spanish?” “Puta.” Tyree whispered under her breath. Tyree led them up a staircase behind the stage in the dark concert hall. Old dust and curtain musk entered their noses. Soraya, the unfamiliar one, kept a light hand on Tyree’s back while her eyes rotated wildly in the darkness, searching for any beam of light. Her hesitant steps hit the metal in an uneven pattern, unsure if there would be a step below them or if they should step with faith to keep up with Tyree’s pace. A loud clunk sounded “He’s so desperate. and startled Soraya. Tyree already had her It’s gross.” eyes closed as she heaved against a metal door. Soraya attempted to look at the bright world through her mascaraladened lashes. The door opened to the vast white roof. Its smooth bright white floor curved seamlessly upwards into the walls that stood several feet higher than both teenagers. The roof was vacant and smelled of drywall when the wind wasn’t blowing. An alcove was the only space that offered shade. The same great oak that stood outside the school gates hung over the building just enough to cover the sun’s presence. They sat down in this single spot of shade, between a large canvas of stark white and endless blue above. After some rummaging in her backpack, Tyree pulled out her pencil case and emptied its contents. Tyree sighed and said, “I forgot to bring my lip balm. I don’t even know why I have this. I hate the taste of cherry Chapstick.” Soraya picked up the lime green pencil sharpener from the pile. “We haven’t done this together in a while. Do you do it at home anymore?” The shavings she emptied beside her swirled before being swept away in the breeze. Tyree lifted her hand in air quotes, “Not since I got my sense slapped back into me. You?” Spring 2022
“Can’t help myself.” Soraya kept her head down and noticed a twitch on the left side of her mouth. “Just hand me your eyeglass screwdriver, I can do it.” “You never remember—it’s too small. Use the file from my nail clippers—“ “I got it.” Soraya released the two blades, not longer than two fingers’ width. “Tissue.” Tyree handed her a tissue and they wiped the blades. “What do you even use this sharpener for? Where’s those colored pencils?” “Got taken away…again.” Tyree shot a grin and tapped her finger against the side of her forehead. She unscrewed the lid to her mechanical pencil and turned it upside down in her palm. Colored pieces of lead slid out from the casing and on her hand. “Is that colored lead? Where do you even get those!” “Someone from the previous English class left them earlier this week!” “So you just took them?” Tyree shrugged. Soraya looked back at the silver blade and continued, “So, I guess you don’t need this.” “I mean, I guess.” Tyree said as she lifted the sleeve of Soraya’s t-shirt to reveal scabbed streaks before asking, “Do you ever think of something in particular?” “Not really.” Soraya was looking down again, “I just want to dig deeper. You?” Tyree looked at the black eyeliner that flowed to a point just outside of Soraya’s eyes and the flushed cheeks of her friend’s face. “I like to control the pain…I guess.” “I wish I could cut Jamille. I’d like to control her pain! What does he even see in her?” Soraya shook a fist in the air. “What does Sasha see in him to take him back after all of that?” “Why Jamille of all people?” “And why not you.” Tyree sat, crossed-legged, as she pressed the dull edge of the razor blade into her fingertips to avoid the shocked stare of Soraya. “What makes you think I’d want that meathead? He doesn’t even have good taste. He just did her for those big ol’ mommy-milkers
she keeps flashing, asking everyone to come get ’em!” Tyree began to laugh, “Mommy-milkers?” Soraya joined in the laughter, “Yeah! No one likes itty-titties!” “That’s not true, and you know it!” Soraya dropped her head and her explosive voice fell to a hushed version of itself, “Yeah, only weirdos do. Why can’t that stupid meathead notice me instead?” Tyree’s smile evaporated from her face, “They don’t still take you to his house do they?” “What else are they going to do with me on the weekends? He’s the only family that will look after me.” “I get that he’s your godfather, but he’s a fucking creep. Why don’t you come to my house then? Ask your mom, we can say we’re studying and not up to anything bad.” Soraya nodded. She added even more softly, “Yeah, nothing bad.” Tyree’s hand instinctively reached for Soraya’s knee to comfort her, but Soraya flinched backwards with a look of fear filling her teary eyes. Tyree retreated her hand and asked, “What do you mean?” Soraya shook her head to rid the bubbling tears and replied, “Nothing, I was just repeating you.” “It’s not nothing. Does something bad happen? Soraya?” Tyree pressed her face closer to her friend’s. Soraya shook her head again, but this time with conviction, and smiled at Tyree, “It’s really nothing. Just like you said, he’s a creep. I’ll ask my mom if I can sleep over at your house from now on.” Tyree nodded with suspicion and returned to her center of gravity. Had they continued, maybe Tyree would’ve noticed the black nails now digging into her friend’s own arms or how her legs were pressing closed or her hunched posture inching forward. But Tyree didn’t notice any of those things, except the weight of the atmosphere under the cloudless sky. As the shifting of leaves bounced against each other and the brightness of the white floor surrounded them, silence fell between the two. “Control the pain, huh?” Soraya said. Tyree nodded with a faint smile on the edges of her mouth. With that, each took up their razor blade and entered their own bubble. Like two divers destined for similar locations, at similar speeds, Spring 2022
side by side, but separately. Multiple times, Tyree glanced over, subconsciously matching Soraya’s pace. However, Soraya had entered her bubble completely. White floors now surrounded her pale pink left bicep in a cloud of focus. Only the tempo of the blood pumping through her sounded off against her own inner voice alternating between “control the pain” and “dig deeper.” The sharp point of the blade crackled through her skin like watercolor ink bleeding onto wet paper. A single pinprick droplet of blood appeared on the edge of her arm. As she pulled inward towards herself, a dotted line appeared. Deeper. Soraya returned the blade to the beginning of the line and placed her index finger atop the blade. As she pulled again, her skin opened red like a knife running through taut Cherry Jell-O. She felt a twitch in her eye from the severed dermal. Control the pain. Back at the same starting point, she pressed down and drew along the same line. This time, as if she were cutting a risen dough in half, her skin opened further, only cherry red emerging along the seams. Deeper. The silver entered a pool of red. “Soraya!” Soraya’s hand was gripped, still holding the pencil sharpener blade. Pain began to radiate up through her fingers and she jerked away, unsuccessfully. Soraya looked up at Tyree’s plain unpainted face with ridges and wrinkles of worry. “Don’t just keep at it in one spot. You need to go down the road a little bit and just cut across the street a few times, man.” Tyree relinquished her hold on the thin wrist. “You get this psycho look on your face. What do you seriously think about?” “I don’t think about anything.” Her hesitant steps hit the metal “Jesus, you take everything so in an uneven pattern, unsure far. Just cut lightly across the if there would be a step below street, like a normal person.” Soraya nodded her head once and placed the wet silver on the fresh skin of her inner left wrist. The tip felt sharper on her nerves. She looked over and saw thin bars of red crossing over Tyree’s wrist. As she watched, Soraya noticed Tyree flinched at each poke, and
Fly Me To The Moon
C yn th ia Ya tc h ma n
noticed a repulsion of pain flash across Tyree’s face as she lightly dragged the rectangle of metal across her skin. The lightest of freckled red emerged to the surface before Tyree would place her thumb down on the wound, then repeated again. Soraya wondered why Tyree wasn’t entering the white void, why Tyree was even cutting at all. Pinching the far corner of the blade, Soraya allowed the one gram of metal to burn across her wrist. It bobbed up and over the protruding, yet protected, veins. Deeper. A new point on the pink, soft inner across the bumpy terrain. Control the pain. Soraya stared at the two faint lines crossing like an X on her wrist. She lifted the knee closest to Tyree upwards and dropped her arm between her legs. Placing the silver pinnacle in the middle of the X, she angled the blade closer to her skin and gripped it firmly. A burning seared its way along the razor’s edge, as she dragged upwards from her wrist to nearly halfway up her forearm. It was not as smooth of a ride as her upper arm had been, but lifting the sharp from inside her skin brought her back into the white room of silence. Seeing this foreign metal emerge from her closed, malleable skin was like pulling the wire string through a block of Spring 2022
clay; small and hardly noticeable until it comes out the other side, splitting the whole in half. Deeper. Two streams of red flowed around the back of her wrist and down her limp fingers. The blade remained on the surface near the beginning edge for a moment as Soraya savored the warm streams. When she pressed and pulled again, she felt more resistance and pierced nerves rioting against the foreign object. Control the pain. Her white room hugged in closer as she pulled harder. Most of the blade disappeared into her skin. She felt its firm edges against the exposed inside of her arm. Just the slightest deter left or right along her path, brought the stark reminder of its rigidness. Blood began to flow up, out, and down the red track. A small circle of darkening crimson began to pool on the inside of her sideways left shoe. Deeper. Again, she placed the dripping pinnacle of metal in the opaque red river, though not as close to her hand as before. Control the pain. Soraya clenched her jaw tight as she leaned in. Her slice upwards this time was enough to sever a bump of immense pressure and blood jetted out. Soon, it began to eject more rapidly as her body desperately tried to fill the canyon she created. Soraya’s entire hand and arm became bloody with a thin oval embossed through her skin. The spray of droplets alarmed Tyree. She jumped up and took hold of Soraya’s shoulders before noticing her soaked arm. Soraya’s eyes were glazed over, still in her white void, with a weakening, trembling smile across her pale face. Blood pulsed out and onto Tyree’s trembling, helping hands. She almost vomited from the warm, then suddenly cool splash. Soraya heard the underwater yells of someone up above. She felt the warmth on her right forearm, then wet cold skin on her right hand. Tyree was placing Soraya’s right hand on her upper left forearm, yelling at her to keep pressure on. Frantic and helpless, Tyree ran towards the door yelling, “Help!” Soraya lay motionless on the white floor, pumping uncontrollably from deep within her. A cold tingling sensation in her left fingertips arose. She had a lingering resentment of the nightmares that upwelled in her mind.
Her father speaking to her fourth-grade teacher in the middle of the basketball courts, about a story she wrote for class. The teacher flicking her hair and swaying her hip towards him, talking as if Soraya was not there. Him bragging on his novel in the works and gloating of her inherited “creative juices.” Sweat began to freeze Soraya’s outer layer, creating tiny mountain ranges along her entire body. Her aunt standing outside of her first childhood house. Her aunt leading the conversation to retrieve much yearned gossip. A white van pulling up with an enraged mother stomping towards her. The words, “Stay silent about what goes on in our house. I don’t dry my laundry in the front yard, do I?” She didn’t realize her eyes were shut, but she could feel a quickened breath flow in and out of her open mouth. She felt an inner calm and steady rhythm Soraya wondered why Tyree take over. Her godfather leaning against his wasn’t entering the white void yellowing pickup waiting for her outside of school. His cold dark rooms. The cherry-patterned white panties tossed aside. Cold black jeans soaked with red pressed against her skin. The white room’s edges began to turn black, slowly encroaching. A familiar voice filled the space around Soraya as her vision became a bubble of pure black. His deep voice brushing past her ears. I’m going deeper. Her eyes shutting closed, trying to hold back cold streaks. Are you in pain? Her clasped mouth against his chapped lips. Stay silent.
When “Virtual” is Real Peng Q i
Phoenix Peng Qi specializes in oil paintings that bear the mark of the digital age, generating virtual and photoelectric color effects that do not exist in the natural world, bringing new life to an ancient art by combining technology and traditional culture. This work reflects the influence of the digital network on people’s living environments, thinking modes, and artistic creation. Here “virtual reality” and “social reality” mingle.
Monologue of a Ghostess Claire Anderson I lurk in your house like a ghost I close your curtains and hijack your heater I blow sweat off your shoulders From behind you on your Peloton And watch your breastbone Fall up and down while you sleep. I love you from afar and I hope you know it I hope you wonder when you hiccup Who’s thinking about you And I just wanted you to know it’s me I try not to be creepy whenever possible I try to only haunt your bedroom when you’re not there I admit I sometimes fight the urge, To steal your towel when you shower And I do have a bad habit of Stealing your sheets when you’re not looking And wearing them like a wedding dress I can’t wear anymore, If only to drag its yellowing edges across your floor (Which needs vacuuming, by the way.)
I wish I could help you clean but I lost my hands a long time ago I think they were the first thing to go And the worst No more lines to tell me where to go But I found my way here without knowing your address And now we live together I guess You think I’m your grandma When I accidentally break a plate Or when you catch me and the kitten playing You tell me you love me (Me, your grandma) And I feel bad I wish you’d get a ouija Board I think I really want you to I would tell you I love you back And sign it, “From, your grandma.” The thing is, I can’t talk like Casper and I’m not even that friendly and I haven’t visited my parents in like a year I can’t remember how I died Because I only remember you.
Co n n ie Co lter
Perpetual Love Raquel Barrientos Your hands are wrinkled, and I play with the skin, Refusing to pay attention to the sermon. Your rings fascinate me And my favorite resembles Princess Diana’s engagement ring. I run my finger across each bump That intricately secures the gems that rest On your increasingly unsteady finger. I squirm in the church pew until You squeeze my hand as hard as I squeeze yours. It is authoritative, But with a hint of playfulness. We share a glance and smile As we listen to my mother’s voice in the nearby choir. We’re supposed to hold hands with others While we chant an ancient prayer, but instead I cling to your hand with both of my small ones. Yours is the only one worthy of my prayer.
Dugout Grace 114
Da vid B o lles
Gods in the Gloom Nathan Addison Krieger was dead. I slapped the side of my optics a second time. This new tracker was bulky. Obtrusive, but functional. Out here in the Gloom functionality is all that really matters. Even so, my partner’s ghost was still haunting the cranial firmware. Appearing in the optic as a green apparition, a holographic afterimage of a man who once called me friend, but there was nothing friendly about the phantom lurking in the corner of my vision. No, he stood there judging me. Damning me in his silence. Mouthing that same word over and over again… I slapped the side of the implant a third time. Something gave and his image vanished. “Sorry friend, karma isn’t any more real than you.” I mumbled as I stared about the Old World’s ruins. There was a need to make sure I was alone. Wishful thinking, I knew. No one is ever alone out here. Not in this place—not in the Gloom. When I was a child, the old-timers said the planet once turned. That the sun wouldn’t just hang over the horizon above the Glass Sea, out beyond the Badlands. That it would move and black places like the Gloom didn’t exist. And that somewhere in the void, past the shattered remains of the moon, there were even things called stars. Like little LEDs in the sky, and that no place was truly dark. Not for long, anyway. Sounds like fairy tales, as authentic as my former partner’s specter. Krieger had been haunting me for some time now. Not just in the optics, but in my dreams too. I’d wake up at night thinking I could still hear him pounding on that hatch. Begging me. Sobbing. So damn scared. When I got the courage, I finally went back. I just couldn’t waste such valuable tech. Who in their right mind would? Disturbing the dead is what we do. It’s who we are. So out goes my eye and in goes Krieger’s tracker. I think that’s when I first started seeing him. At Doc Benedict’s. Yeah, at Doc Benedict’s. The chop doc told me that this sort of technological phenomenon is temporary. Little more than a glitch, a momentary Spring 2022
aberration. Ultimately fading after a week or so as the equipment adjusts to its new user. Consoled me not to listen to the stories of trapped souls. Superstitions for the gullible and uneducated. The equipment just needed a little more time to get all the genetic memories squeezed out. Soon my old partner will be nothing but an unfortunate memory; just another one of my mistakes. He should have known better than to trust me. Idiot. So, like I was saying... Krieger was dead. … For about half a day now I had been tracking a paladin through the tangle. The ancient power armor and its crew of subordinates left Presidio around 04:00 and to my surprise headed west by southwest. Straight into the Gloom. Now, perhaps surprise is too strong a word? Amusement, maybe. For I’ve never accredited those fools with an abundance of intelligence. Human purists. Worshipers of some dead god that once lived in San Fan Bay. Obsessing over their cult of technology and hiding away in their mountain stronghold. Safe from Them while callously labeling us pariahs, or as Krieger mocked, “cyborg lepers.” “Fuck ‘em.” I grumbled as I double checked the safety on my rifle. What was purity anyways? Purity had never filled my belly. It wasn’t purity that kept me sucking air. The Gloom was surreal, another nightmarish Old World marvel. Something called a techno forest, a realm of silence and perpetual night. The air here was indescribably thick. An acrid stench permeated everything. Claustrophobically oppressive, even maddening, or so the more superstitious amongst us would say. The only source of light came Krieger had been haunting me from the dim pulsating glow for some time now. Not in the of the regens built into the optics, but in my dreams. ancient trees, archaic tech. The sun hadn’t shown in these woods for a few lifetimes now. Nothing lived out here. Nothing could live out here. Not while They were watching. They would tolerate no trespassers. With a reassuring glance at my radar, I quickly stepped out onto the path and activated the recollector inside my hand. An incomplete hologram of the paladin played out on the HUD. I watched as the lumbering armored hulk rolled by and disappeared
into the stygian shadows of this twilight realm. I counted eight passengers plus the pilot: nine lost souls. Nine men about to be butchered and ripped limb from limb. If they hadn’t been already. But to think they would travel in such a large group directly into the Gloom? Why The Gloom was surreal, chance it? Even with me ...something called a techno forest, scavin’ solo the risk was substantial. They had to a realm of silence and perpetual night. know this was beyond asinine, it was downright suicidal. None of them were coming back alive. Not a one of these dogs would ever see their families again. They’d kissed their children for the last time. They were going to die here, and the sunlight would never find their corpses. Not in the Gloom. Not while They watched. As my recollector’s scans were completing, I turned to catch a glimpse of Krieger’s ghost standing by the trees. His dead eyes judged me, and the malevolence emanating from the hologram was getting harder to dismiss. Maybe it was the Gloom screwing with me? Something about the air in this place was unsettling. I tried focusing on the results of the scan, but the slight movement of my tormentor’s lips continued to dominate my attention. I tried to ignore it. “What!? A full fuel cell?” I chuckled. I could almost hear him say the word... “For a return trip, no doubt. Krieger, these wretches are more fools than yo—” “MURD—” I violently slapped the tracker implant, and he was gone again. The silence of the Gloom screamed at me. I was beginning to lose it, and I knew it. He wasn’t here; he wasn’t any more real than a dream, or more like a nightmare for that matter. After all, I knew for certain... Krieger was dead. I pulled myself together and focused on my good fortune. Scans had shown a full fuel cell! While I have no love for trading with the denizens of that fortress-city, I have no qualms about picking their corpses clean either. Might even take a trophy for my trouble. After all, a paladin is valuable tech, and its parts would fetch a high price back at Colony. Not sure when avarice had become my bedfellow, Spring 2022
but the fuel alone would make this scavenger hunt more than worth it. I hastily secured my rifle to the maglocks on my back as I mentally steeled myself. Slaughter was inevitably coming. As many times as I’ve come across Their massacres in the Badlands, it’s never become a sight I’ve gotten used to. The brutal efficiency with how They deal out death is almost supernatural. The knees turn weak just thinking about it, because everyone knows that sooner or later, They will find you. “No one dies of old age anymore,” I muttered as I internally rerouted power to my limbs, “Isn’t that right, Krieger?” I tried leaving the morbid thought below me as I leapt up into the trees. This was going to be risky, and only a fool would approach what’s coming on foot. Unlike my old gullible partner—I was no man’s fool. I knew when to cut the dead weight. I knew when to close the hatch. … Within a klick, I was there. My tracker began picking up signs of a firefight well before I reached the location. Trace amounts of chemicals swam in the empty space between the trees, easily detectable. Specifically, those used in the construction of manmade munitions. Though the readings were…well, they were inconsistent. Whether due to interference or my aging tech, I couldn’t say. However, it was obvious from even the long-range scans that the paladin had engaged one or more hostiles. Them. I slowed my pace just as the air grew foul, cursed with that familiar coppery tang of blood. And predictable as clockwork, there those idiots were. Human remains and spent shell casings littered the forest floor. Their mangled bodies They were going to die here, and the made for a gruesome sunlight would never find their corpses. vista. I leapt to the final vantage point near the precipice of the small clearing and surveyed the aftermath of the carnage. I needed more info on what I was up against, so I fired up the tracker. Immediately, Krieger’s hologram appeared amongst the corpses. I cursed under my breath as I tried to ignore him. Not now! It was too much of a risk to bang on the optics. When it comes to detection you never really know with Them. Sight, thermal, the
slightest noise, movement, even your wretched heartbeat will betray you. Discipline and vigilance, it’s the only way. Listening to your intuition, that’s the best shot any of us have. At least that’s what Krieger used to say. A lot of good it did him. He was a fool for coming back to try and rescue me. A damn fool. A. Damn. Dead. Fool. The cybernetics detected no signs of life or movement. Many of the Presidio soldiers were completely torn into viscera while others were smashed into unrecognizable gore. The regens on the trees had already repaired the I slowed my pace just as the damage done to the trunks. air grew foul, cursed with that However, it was evident that familiar coppery tang of blood. extremely high temperatures were used to devastate the area, and the paladin was nowhere to be seen. Had it escaped? That seemed unlikely. Presidio fanatics rarely run from a fight, even against Them, and this was clearly Their handiwork. I engaged dampeners and soundlessly leapt down like a shadow, retrieving my rifle mid-fall. As I touched the ground, I knew something was wrong. Horribly wrong. Intuition, that fickle muse of my dead partner, was fucking with me again. I looked up to see Krieger’s avatar flickering rapidly, disappearing and reappearing at random. The unnerving sight of his translucent hologram, combined with the oozing, still-warm cadavers, painted a macabre scene. It was like watching a wraith stalk the charnel house floor, seeking its next grisly morsel; just hoping to find a victim. I forced myself to ignore my tormentor’s damning accusations. The silent stammering of the dead man’s mouth was beginning to damage my calm. I needed to focus. So I tried willing my attention to my recollector, using it to recreate the scene of the slaughter. An awful feeling of dread began to breed in my thoughts. Nothing here made sense. Information was missing. Blotted out. A problem with my firmware? It was as if these men had been obliterated by some invisible force. An intangible Thing wreaking unimaginable physical trauma. Some of the soldiers, and the entire paladin, were reduced to ash and molten slag in an instant. The heat was so intense that the doomed didn’t even have time to scream from the pain. Lasers? I had never seen an energy-based weapon system capable of this amount of devastation. It was as if they Spring 2022
were just…unmade; willed out of existence. A sickly chill began creeping down my spine as I realized that whatever had done this wasn’t being detected by the recollector. There was no holographic evidence of what had massacred these men. And all the while I could feel Krieger’s odious gaze boring into my skull. Was I losing my mind? Wait… how did I miss THAT?! I froze. Across the clearing I could make out the silhouette of a structure. I stared hard at it. The building’s design was like nothing I had seen. Its faintly shimmering metal stood out in contrast with the foliage of the Gloom. A prewar bunker? No, some kind of monument, surely. Is this what the paladin had come to investigate, to secure? I directed my tracker at the edifice but received no information. Nil. It was as if it didn’t exist, or its alloys were undetectable. A technological wonder maybe? Something hidden in this forest for centuries, something from the Old World. Had this been anywhere other than the site of a horrendous butchering or had Krieger’s rapidly flickering afterimage not been dancing all around the building, then I might have been in awe. But something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. Krieger’s image froze. His eyes locked onto mine as he silently mouthed that damnable word and then disappeared. “Help… Me…” gurgled a voice from behind. NO! I instantly snapped around to confront the source. There on the ground, one of the soldiers was still barely alive, the majority of his body completely crushed and vaguely perceptible. NO! NO! NO! I had checked. I had scanned for heartbeats. There was nothing alive in this grove! Nothing! This was a trap. They were too proficient at killing to leave anything breathing. This was intentional. A survivor left to call out for help. How was this happening?! How did I miss this?! I wheeled about with my rifle at the ready, rapidly checking every angle at a speed which only a cyborg could hope to obtain. All at once my sensory equipment just kicked in. Proximity alerts. Internal alarms. All of them began screaming at me in a cacophony of distress. Panic. Warnings glared as my HUD turned a dangerous red. The adrenaline suppressor was barely able to restrain my
pulse and my heart threatened to evict itself from my chest. Fear. Unimaginable terror laid claim to my mind. Where were They?! How many?! What direction?! I didn’t understand what had gone wrong. Had the tracker failed? Was there something wrong with my implants!? This can’t be happening! This was impossible! But a sudden realization cut through the haze of my confusion. I turned. There was Krieger, standing adjacent to the structure. He mouthed it again, but this time I heard it clear as a gunshot. Clear as the sound of that hatch slamming shut. “MURDERER!” The world exploded into action. The shadows of the forest were eclipsed in a brilliant bloody light. Stunned. It disoriented my HUB, draining my internal battery. My body lurched from the attack as electric feedback wracked my firmware. It was my extremities that were the first to betray me. My grip seizured. My rifle barked. The weapon maddingly emptying its angry retort into the air. What was happening? The ground began to I froze. Across the clearing quake and to my unending horror I could make out the the structure stood up, unfurling silhouette of a structure. gargantuan metallic limbs. The legs of the abomination crashed effortlessly through the trees of the Gloom. Smashing them aside as if they were mere matchsticks, like a monstrous child at play. The sound accompanying it all was deafening. Terrible. The technological abomination continued to rise, partially disappearing into the umbra of the treetops; taking with it any hope left in me. Becoming a mountain of metal and death perched in judgment of my greedy trespass. A pure and perfect artificial god of destruction. There, dominating its grotesque head, was a massive, singular, baleful eye. With a crimson gaze the machine focused the entirety of its genocide on the human insect beneath it. …but how? With my battery and will equally depleted, the rifle slipped from my grasp. No... The gun’s clatter was drowned out by the high-pitched whine of the inevitable. Wait… Spring 2022
I wanted to scream. To run. Please, no. But it was too late. The colossus’ massive weapon began preparing for my undoing. I looked on with despondency. Why? As if in response to the question, Krieger’s malfunctioning hologram solidified before me, staring into my soul with the hate of hell itself. And as a mirthless grin cracked across his lifeless face, I knew without a doubt what had happened. Krieger was dead, and now so was I.
To m i s l av Š ilipeta r
Graveyard Shift Chelsea Thornton They called Jack Boyd a body snatcher. He preferred the term resurrectionist. Of course, he never actually resurrected anyone. No one comes back from the dead. There had been rumors, sure, but Jack didn’t buy into the superstitions that had been spreading throughout London. With his wooden spade reposed on his shoulder, Jack crept through the cemetery, wading through a layer of dense fog that lay over the ground and swirled like smoke around his feet with every step. Only a sliver of the moon was visible, a shard of white in the black sky, piercing through low, heavy clouds. The graveyard was exactly the way he liked it. Dark. He peered up at the watchtower. It was made of grey stone and resembled a castle turret. It hadn’t been used in some time, but it was still there. Lording over the dead. When he arrived at the freshest grave in the yard, he checked the headstone. It read Craig Whiley, 30 November 1798 to 3 August 1832. The poor bloke had been stabbed in the kidney. Repeatedly, from what Jack had heard. But other than the ruined kidney, the cadaver would be a perfect specimen for the medical school. In return for brass, of course. Taking his wooden spade—wood was quieter than metal— he began to dig. He scooped dirt and dropped it in heaps beside the grave. It was a recent burial, so the ground was soft and easy to move. Jack needed a break after several minutes and leaned against his spade. He peered down at his dirty, calloused hands. It wasn’t honest work, but it was work. Looking up, he took in the sight of the bell that was hanging on a hook and was connected to a rope that disappeared into the ground of Whiley’s grave. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and when he gazed around the cemetery, he could make out the bells that were placed beside other headstones and were suspended just above the blanket of fog. He had never once heard a bell ring in that place. Spring 2022
He had, however, noticed an alarming increase in the number of mortsafes. The people had grown wary of resurrectionists, and many families had burdened themselves with the costs of installing mortsafes around their loved one’s graves: heavy cages made of iron rods, plates, and padlocks. It didn’t look like protection from the outside, but like they were trying to keep the dead imprisoned below ground. With the rumors abound, perhaps some of them were. Mr. Whiley hadn’t been lucky enough to have a family who cared like that. But that worked out well for Jack. Back at digging, he began to notice the way the fog rolled in thicker than before. It obscured the ground and made it difficult for him to see the progress of his work. He wiped beads of sweat off his brow with the back of his hand and kicked at the mist. It briefly whirled into the air like a miniature cyclone before settling right back down over the disturbed earth. He huffed. The way the fog hovered directly over the grave ...he took in the sight of the without barely a sign of interference as his spade moved in and out would bell ... connected to a rope that disappeared into the have made him think it was some mystical phenomenon. If he believed ground of Whiley’s grave. in that sort of thing. He didn’t. Jack started to hum, an attempt to settle his indignation. The tune was an old chant he had heard from monks at the monastery he had once visited when he was a young man. That had been nearly a decade ago, but the hymn had stuck with him. A deep timbre reverberated in his chest every time he repeated it, calming his nerves even while he was digging up corpses in the dark and the mist and the quiet. But then it wasn’t so quiet anymore. The resonance grew deeper, the vibrations in his chest stronger. He stopped humming. But he could still feel it. Crouching nearly a meter down into the earth, Jack fell perfectly still. The tremor in his chest intensified as he peered over the lip of the grave—like it was a mouth that wanted to swallow him whole. The fog was in the air now. An impenetrable white wall all around him. Bare, slender branches reached out at him like desperate, gnarled arms.
Then he heard it. A bell. His heart pounded, like his ribs were a mortsafe and it was trying to break free. The bell continued to ring somewhere in the distance. Then there was another. And another. The tintinnabulation grew closer until the entire cemetery was filled with the chimes of the dead. Clambering out of the grave, Jack dropped his spade in the hole he had dug. He didn’t turn back for it; it belonged to Whiley now. He only cared about getting the hell out of there, running in the direction he had come. Behind him, more sounds joined in with the clinking and clanging of bells. It started out as a squeal, a creaking of metal. Then it was moaning, groaning, roaring. He had never heard iron break. But he did that night. When he looked over his shoulder, he could see the torn, jagged remnants of the iron cages sticking up out of the fog like shattered bones. He swore he saw a hand. He didn’t look behind him again as he fled the cemetery. He passed back by the watchtower, and it alone was left to lay witness to revenants rising from their graves as Jack escaped through the iron gates and out onto the streets. During his career as a resurrectionist, no one ever caught Jack Boyd snatching bodies. Because he never stepped foot in another graveyard after that night. Of course, Jack still had to earn a living. And selling bodies was all he knew. So, Jack found other ways.
To misla v Š ilipeta r
The God of Only Pieces Chelsea Thornton We were lacuna. The ones missing pieces of ourselves. Our neighbor, a young woman named Lettie, was missing an earlobe— not the entire ear, just the lobule. Jeremiah, Lettie’s brother, had lost a chunk of flesh from the middle finger on his left hand. The exposed bone had yellowed with time. Mr. Henderson from down the street, his entire right kneecap was just gone. Richard, my husband, we were pretty sure a sliver of his temporal lobe had been taken—his short-term memory was absolute shit. And me? I was missing a molar. That’s it. Just a molar. We all had missing puzzle pieces, chips in our concrete foundation, splinters in our woodwork. They were gaps in our souls, reflected in our physical bodies. Many claimed that the lacuna were not whole, not even human, but we were as whole and human as we could possibly be. In some ways, we were more than human. Just as human as the rest of them, but…better. Because those pieces we had lost were a part of something bigger. The ocean sang its song of rolling, crashing waves every night, and we woke to claim its seafoam left on the banks in the mornings. The coral reef snakes shed their And me? I was missing a molar. casings and left them for us on That’s it. Just a molar. the beaches. Comets journeying over us were a normal occurrence, and we collected the stardust that rained down like glitter. Cuttlefish gifted us their bones that we plucked from the white sand. Bits of the world gave up parts of themselves to be lacuna. We wanted to be like them, so we became like them. We didn’t get to choose what we gave, but those of us who wanted to be a part of something that could only be described as otherworldly, were taken from. It picked us apart like buried treasure, digging out our most precious jewels. Whatever it needed, it took. And we brought the rest. We gathered all these things, these puzzle pieces, these chips, these splinters. Together in the forest, we assembled to share all the fragments of our souls and of the very soul of the universe. The
universe had given us its skin, its blood, its bones. We joined it all together with our own, forged them into something new, something different. Its very own soul. It didn’t happen overnight. It had taken time, a lot of time, and a lot of our pieces. But when we had finally finished, when that new soul was finally complete, we had created something that even the universe couldn’t have dreamed of. The soul we fashioned and shaped in that forest came alive. It contained bits of all of us. Lettie’s earlobe, Jeremiah’s flesh, Mr. Henderson’s kneecap, Richard’s brain matter, my molar. Its muscles, its fat, were made of seafoam. Its skin was the skin of snakes. Its bones were the bones of cuttlefish. And its eyes were made of stardust. It lived there, in the forest, for a time. Like a god. I suppose that’s what it was—the lacuna god, the god of all the voids in the world, no matter how big or small. It certainly reigned like a god, lording over all lacuna, ruling us from the place it could not leave. But it wanted to leave. It was bound to the forest where we had assembled it, secured by the gaps in tree bark and fallen leaves. They were the final ingredients, tethered to its soul so it could never leave us. We had created it, after all. It came from us. It was bound to us as much as the forest. We loved it, cherished it, worshiped it. We could never let it leave. But oh, how it wished to leave. It asked more of us, beseeched us for more of our blood, craved more of our bone, demanded more of our flesh. It took more and more, and we gave it more and more without question. Because we adored it, revered it. It was us, and we were it. Then it grew angry. Because it could not leave. Because we would not let it leave. Because we could not let it leave. We didn’t know where its anger came from. Its skin was the skin of snakes. Its Some of us thought it may bones were the bones of cuttlefish. have come from Jeremiah, some of us assumed it was And its eyes were made of stardust from Mr. Henderson, some of us were convinced it was the snakes. But that did not matter. We were not giving it enough puzzle pieces and chips and splinters. It wished to leave to take these things itself. It would have ripped apart the ocean, tore through the cosmos, razed the world, ravaged every living creature for their blood and bones and flesh. Alchemy 128
So we destroyed it. Killed it. We killed our god. Its ruins are still out there, in the forest by the ocean. Confined to a charred circle left behind by our slaughter. If you happened upon it, you might find small pieces of human remains, and might wonder how cuttlefish bones ended up there. But you’d be none the wiser. Whenever I think about it, I tongue the empty space where my molar once was. It’s out there too, buried beneath the forgotten remains of the god of only pieces.
To m i s l a v Š ilipeta r Spring 2022
The Infinity of Human Soul
Vero n ic a Win ter s
Faith Goes Down in the Tenth Marco Ether idge My childhood faith was battered in the eighth year of my existence. The first two blows fell in quick succession, a wicked leftright combo that came out of nowhere. Left blinking and bloodied, my poor faith staggered about until a tenth-round knockout ended it. The memory of that dreadful fall remains painful to recall, and yet more painful to talk about. It was my childish innocence that dealt the first harsh blow. An accidental discovery smashed into and unmasked a portion of my faith better left mysterious. Without wanting to, I discovered that I was not hard-wired to heaven’s switchboard. It was like this: I believed what the adults told me, a mistake a wiser child would not make. Imagine me: the world’s shortest biblical literalist and the adults as The Word. Safe within the confines of Saint John’s Lutheran, the good scions of Chicago’s German immigrants labored amongst the children. Herr Becker and his cohort dispensed The Word and I believed. If belief wandered, a ruler applied to a doubting child’s palm brought it to heel. The Lord hears our prayers, transmitted to Him—these were not gender-neutral times—through small hands clasped above cramped wooden desks. My teachers said it was so and I believed. If what the adults said proved false, the fault lay with me, rather than them. Their words took shape in my young mind. I imagined a giant and complex prayer switchboard. Colored wires ran from this massive apparatus, one wire for each praying child. Then came the day when I opened my prayerful hands and realized that they were empty. There was no wire. Without that solid connection, how could The Lord hear our earthly clamoring? I was left literally empty-handed. My parents dumped me into the next round of the fray, even if their actions were unintentional. No, that’s not quite fair. They merely drove away. I was left alone, unknowing and unready for what was to come. Spring 2022
In the days of my youth, two-week summer camps were a staple and safeguard of parental sanity. Sons and daughters were packed off to camp, where they learned to make moccasins and fall out of unstable canoes. The parents, meanwhile, wallowed in peace, quiet, and uninterrupted cocktails imbibed amongst other temporarily liberated adults. My parent’s notions of thrift came into play when choosing such things as summer camps. My father liked to get the best bang for his buck. And so it came to pass that my mother and father sent me to a Christian Science summer camp. No matter that we were good Lutherans. My parents were non-denominational when it came to saving a buck. The Christian Science camp was cheap, so the deal was struck. I stood beside my appointed camp counselor, watching the diminishing trail of dust that marked my parent’s retreating car. The cloud of dust blew off on a gentle breeze, leaving loneliness in its wake. Then the counselor took me by the hand. She led me on an orientation tour. My little suitcase banged against my knee as I scuttled along beside her. The Christian Science camp, whose real name I blocked from memory years ago, had all that a summer camp required. A shimmering lake mirrored a ring of tall trees. Canoes skimmed across the water under a blue sky adorned with white clouds. Clapboard cabins rose from the shadows under the trees. Just back from the shore of the lake, at the center of the camp, the trees opened to form a sheltered glade. The open space was bordered by rows of plank benches. A large firepit marked the center of the earthen circle. I did not know it yet, but this circle of hardpacked earth, illuminated I imagined a giant and complex by flames, would become prayer switchboard. my arena. The first day and night of that fateful summer camp are a blur in my memory. Most of the other campers knew each other or were connected by an interwoven network of older siblings. I was the stranger, the stray. Some kids were nice to me, and some were mean, but all of them gave me a wary eye. I was the unknown, a kid who might explode without warning. The budding young Christian Scientists did not wish to go down with me.
While there were no explosions, there was fire. That first Saturday night, flames leaped into the dark sky above the bonfire circle. Campers filled the plank benches, their expectant faces flickering orange and red in the firelight. I was crammed in with the others. Kids were packed shoulder to shoulder along the benches, but those on either side of me maintained the slightest gap as if the mere touch of my shoulder or knee might prove contagious. An adult leader stepped into the The cloud of dust blew off circle. He made a little speech about on a gentle breeze, leaving how this year would be the best loneliness in its wake. camp ever. Then everyone began singing. It wasn’t a regular campfire song, and I didn’t know the words, so I hummed along and made mumbly noises. Maybe they didn’t know Kumbaya or the one about Michael rowing his boat. I just needed to try harder and then maybe I could fit in. The singing rang to a close. Standing in front of the crackling fire, the adult leader raised his hand. He said it was time for testimonials and asked who would be the first. My confused brain chewed on the word testimonial. I looked around the ring of flamelit faces, searching for some explanation. Then a boy stood up. As he began to speak, I learned what a testimonial was, and wished I were a million miles away. His voice filled the entire circle, strong enough to reach the last row of benches. He spoke of a dying sister, of family prayers to The Lord, and how those prayers were answered, and his sister saved. He used the word faith, and it rang like a warning bell. This was not a faith I knew. The boy sat down. I saw other kids lean over to pat him on the back or shoulder. Before I could make sense of what was going on, a girl rose to her feet, hand raised. The adult nodded and the girl’s voice filled the night. And so it went, one kid after another. They testified of cancers cured and infected cuts healed. Their voices filled the circle of firelight, a litany of ailments and injuries overcome by the sword of their faith. I saw the blade of their conviction, a gleaming thing with sharp, clean edges. And I saw my own faith, as weak and powerless as an empty water pistol. Spring 2022
After an eternity, the testimonials came to an end. There was a closing prayer, and then we were herded off to our bunks. For the remaining days of that horrible camp, I became a small creature scuttling about the feet of giants. I was sure I would be found out, and then cast out. I was not worthy. As I crept about the camp, always in the background, I dreaded what was to come. Had my parents already joined this new faith? Were they preparing me for some great change? I would never go to Saint John’s again, never see my schoolmates. If I got sick, there would be no doctor. The only cure would be my prayers and the prayers of my parents. Their faith was as weak as my own. My father didn’t even go to church. There would be no cure for me. I was as good as dead. Time is slow to pass for a frightened child but pass it does. The day came, my parents arrived, and I was walking to our old car with my little suitcase banging against my knee. I sat in the backseat on the long ride home, my head swirling in a sea of questions. How was camp? Did you make any new friends? Were you homesick? I waited for the big announcement, but it never came. That was when the realization came to me, right there in the backseat, the hot vinyl sticking to my thighs. Nothing was going to change. My parents had no idea what had happened to me. I was going home, but my wounded faith had been left behind to haunt the ashes of that terrible bonfire. This second punch struck hard, but my shredded faith was not yet finished. There comes a point in a lopsided contest where we might avert our eyes. Perhaps we look away out of sympathy, or simply because we have witnessed enough. But no matter how painful to watch, or dreadful to talk about, the final scene is waiting. It will not be denied. This, then, is the scene: A tiny bedroom that was once a back porch. Model airplanes I did not know it yet, but this circle hang from the plank of hard-packed earth, illuminated by ceiling, hovering above a child’s bed. In the deep flames, would become my arena. darkness of midnight, a ten-year-old boy kneels at the bedside. His elbows rest on the
mattress and his hands are clasped in front of his face. He does not care that there are no wires to carry his prayers to heaven’s switchboard. In the quiet darkness he prays, again and again, and his prayer is a simple one: Please don’t let them get divorced, please don’t let them get divorced. The boy’s prayers went unanswered. The inevitable came to pass. The world shattered and then began slowly to remake itself. And the boy’s faith did not emerge into that new world. It did not survive. The wind swirls, the pages of the calendar flutter away stage left. Unlike his faith, the Nothing was going to change. boy did survive. He grew My parents had no idea what had to be a man. He suffered happened to me. the trials and tribulations common to all human beings. He tasted life’s sweetest moments, learned to savor them for what they are. He struggled, succeeded, failed, and struggled again. He lived a life. The boy’s faith went down in the tenth round. That much is true, and that is the way of it. Many things fall beside our path. But grown to a man, he did not remain faithless. A new faith grew in him, a lasting faith in the goodness of small things. He sensed divinity in the scent of new-mown grass, the ozone smell of summer rain on hot asphalt. He saw the miraculous in swift-flowing water, or a shaft of sunlight breaking through dark storm clouds. He heard sanctity in the laughter of a child, and the holiness of his lover’s breath in the night. Faith went down, but that ending sparked a new story. The tale of that life goes on, and the man’s faith in the goodness of his life goes on as well. His ending is not yet written.
The Flame’s Furrows #13 and #19 José Pedro Leite , translated by Ric hard Simas Os Sulcos do Lume 13 Entre as mãos um gato uma cadeira de lume uma cidade de seiva as mulheres sempre se sentam no centro das têmporas Não vão de glícínias há muito cortadas escrevem cartas e mordem o desejo e a língua na pausa do correio Sobre o dorso do dia estendem perene a agilidade do pássaro e no olhar sustentam da magnólia a liquida e imóvel transcendência Da morte em redor tecem oclusas grinaldas de sombra que os homens raro encontram e no luto cultivam para dentro da lentidão dos lenços silentes pavios de seda
No vidro dos flancos cingida seara e linho fecundo as habita a mais vertiginosa noite e em seu ventre abrigam a intimidade e o brilho da casa No cântaro dos ombros vestem num mesmo tempo e incêndio e o recato E nos lábios como se a voz um sino de pedra uma taça antiquíssima vertem o vinho e o recolhido magma do mar E quando partem devastados os campos idênticas aos navios no vento branco semeiam a intempérie e a mais longa sílaba de sal e o clamor das águas fecham sobre a ainda cintilante memória do trigo
Two poems from The Invention of Summer
The Flame’s Furrows 13 A cat between hands a chair of flame a city of sap women they always sit in the middle of the forehead They don’t notice wisteria cut long ago they write letters In the glass of hips and chew on desire girdled grains and fertile linen and the tongue during the mail break inhabit them the dizziest night On the day’s backbone and shelter the house’s intimacy and shimmer they forever extend in its belly the bird’s agility and keep in view Fire and modesty the magnolia’s are worn together liquid and motionless transcendence in the shoulders’ vessel From surrounding death that men rarely encounter and in the struggle cultivate from within silent wicks of silk
And on lips as if the voice a chime of stone a very ancient cup pours the wine and the gathered sea-magma And when they leave the fields ruined just like ships in pale wind sow a storm and the longest salt syllable and the sea clamors they close over the yet scintillating memory of wheat
Os sulcos do lume 19 Fende as árvores erguidas Erosiona os ombros e a cúpula das mãos Despe no dorso os fragmentos da luz Descarna as aves Preenche de seiva os fatigados membros Anuncia o sol e a morte Do crepúsculo aos lábios leva o cálice dificílimo Quebra os dentes na ruína do mundo Pode o dia ser lento como uma lâmina ou um arado de pedra pesado com um fruto escorredio como um peixe salgado como um sexo Pode instituir nas horas uma varanda de lume Ser intransponível ilha de bronze Fundar-te até à altura do rosto uma coluna de neve Só a luz se mantém a mesma Sob o outono sepultar o amor dividida em gomos e as palavras consentidas trincada como um fruto Só o Verão instala na morte gastas as mesmas repetidas rosas Já perdeste a conta aos espinhos Prometes e sabes que não poderás cumprir Será este o último poema Depois o coração a casa Abres a porta contra o peso do sal do mundo e lá fora nítido como os percorridos pés indemne o som do mar
The Flame’s Furrows 19 Split the towering trees Erode shoulders and the cup of hands Strip fragments of light on the torso Skin birds Fill tired body parts with sap Acclaim sun and death From daybreak raise the difficult chalice to the lips Crack teeth on the world’s ruins The day can be slow as a blade or a stone plow heavy as a fruit slippery as a fish salty as genitals A balcony of flame can form in hours Be an insurmountable island of bronze Build a column of snow as high as your face Only light stays the same Bury love under autumn split in segments and words agreed on cracked like fruit Only summer installs in death the same repeated roses withered you already lost count of the fishbones You promise and know that you will be unable This will be the last poem Afterwards the heart the house You open the door against the salt-weight of the world and there outside distinct like a travelled body unharmed the ocean sound
Angels’ Reach Evan J. Massey Outside of the crib we rented, a heron had posted up in a shallow puddle. The bird, its feathers soiled with filth, had a broken wing. My Ma and my cousins warned me not to go near “the thing.” Said I was crazy for approaching a wild animal. I knew it was a heron given the italicized “S” in its neck, its pencil-thin legs balancing a plumage the size of a football in a calm and collected configuration. “Its wing is half hanging off of its body,” I said as if it’d been struck by a speeding vehicle or had been shot by some ungrateful human being. As I drew close, the heron appeared sick and anorectic, like it hadn’t eaten in days, its dirt-coated body disheveled and defiled. I wondered how long it had been there and if anyone else had noticed, but ignored the flightless bird. I’d watched videos online of distressed animals seeking our help; birds lifted by a hand after squeezing their heads through gaps in a fence, a bird desperately pursuing a woman and her dog for Flightless a sip of water. So I ask, reader, had the heron chosen us? Had my services been called upon? I dialed the wildlife hotline in Nags Head. Reached a representative on the fourth attempt. I instructed the gentleman on the other line, who seemed too calm about the situation, that the heron, with its obviously shattered wing, had been standing in a puddle on the side of the road for days now. He said someone would come. He said not to worry. How could I not? The poor bird reminded me of myself. For hours, I’d sat with my shoulder dislocated, my right arm painfully dangling from my clavicle. After phoning the doctor and waiting another hour and a half, he reset my limb by shoving the bottom of my shoulder blade up, while asking me if I’d had a girlfriend. “It’s best to think about love in times of pain.” However, I don’t think the doctor ever uttered that phrase. In the morning, looking pitiful in that puddle, the heron was still there, and I’d crept close and recognized the life in its eyes slowly dimming. I’d called the hotline once more. Two days later, it was gone. I’d learned that in Celtic traditions, the heron stands for freedom, persistence, longevity, along with stillness, patience, and deep meditation. Herons are said to be divine
messengers. According to Celtic lore, herons are kin to gods. Rhiannon, born at the first Moon Rise, is known as the Divine Queen of Faeries and is associated with fertility, wisdom, magic, beauty, artistic inspiration, and the goddess manifests as a gorgeous young woman adorned in gold, steering a glowing horse, with singing birds fluttering around her; the singing birds awaken spirits and grant sleep to mortals. Celts believed the heron was an incarnation of Rhiannon. According to Jacqueline Durban, a hedge-priestess, herons serve as guardians of the space between life and death. In her blog, Durban explains, “I was reflecting Instinct II S h elb ey Lec o deeply on reclaiming the dark aspect of the goddess Rhiannon at the time and had found three dead baby birds who had sadly been knocked out of their nest in the local village when the gutters were cleaned. They had been left on the pavement and, as small birds are companions of Rhiannon, I saw this finding as a message about her connection to death, rather than just being the Love Goddess that she is often portrayed as. I decided to gather up the dead babies and take them to the river where I released them into the quickly running water as a blessing on their journey” (2015). I thought about my heron’s journey. I still contemplate how that bird arrived in a puddle in close proximity to where I’d slept. Perhaps Rhiannon placed the handicapped heron in my life. Perhaps her aim was to deliver a message by virtue of the heron. It’s all a Poor bird mystery. But just thinking about broken wings leads me to remember playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, cruising the beach, blasting Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” on my virtual radio. I’d serenade the simulated, bikini-clad women strutting up and down the sidewalks whenever the iconic chorus lifted like “take these broken wings / and learn to fly again / learn to live so free / and when we hear the voices sing / the book of love will open up Spring 2022
and let us in / take these broken wings.” The song played on a radio station named Emotion 98.3, which featured power ballads dj’ed by Fernando Martinez (Frank Chavez) and Lionel Makepeace (Steve Stratton). I remember Fernando’s seductive Latin voice gently spilling out from the TV and Lionel’s philosopher tone exclaiming speculative lessons on love, “I think we all know love comes from the heart, and passion is a spiritual connection between two beautiful people, not a cheap handjob in a seedy massage parlor. I never have, I never will. I’d rather dream of someone special” (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories). I met a woman on Bumble some days after the heron was rescued or disappeared. We met at a bar 40 minutes away. During the 40-minute drive, I listened to the birds and the whispers of the waves caressing themselves. I’d thought about the heron and the woman. She was all the more beautiful in person; her golden hair shone like the sun over her ice-blue eyes which peered over her pointed Scandinavian nose. She attended college nearby and was vacationing in the Outer Banks with her friend for Thanksgiving. We had drinks and shot darts. She asked me about the wild mustangs and if I’d seen them. I hadn’t. I’d mentioned the heron. But her heart was set on the horses. She insisted we search for them. “We could take my truck,” I said. We never took my truck. We never feasted our eyes on any horses—at least didn’t. I never had the chance to watch them fly through the sand, yet, on the way back, I imagined the horses Journey sprinting alongside my truck, traversing and trampling through the dunes. I hadn’t known that the wild Spanish mustangs had been living wild in the Outer Banks for hundreds of years, digging for freshwater, treading from island to island in pursuit of fresh pastures. I once met a Danish girl on Chatroulette, an online chat room that pairs you with random users via live feeds; you never know with whom you’ll lock eyes when you click “Next.” We had somehow miraculously missed all of the masturbators and clickbait when we found each other. Her appearance was analogous to Avril Lavine. She spoke with a heavy Danish accent, and we’d talk for hours about Denmark’s men’s soccer team and her favorite destinations in Copenhagen. I’d tell her that I’d fly over the Atlantic for her. She’d smile and confess that she’d always wanted to come to America. Once, I naively exclaimed that I would marry her so she
could. We’d lost touch, though I had once spammed the “next” button one day trying to find her again. I wonder if she knew anything about Gerhard Heilmann, a self-taught Danish ornithologist, and artist who studied the evolution of birds and once wrote, “[i]f angels had any reality, they would be very clumsy and awkward flyers with a slow and heavy flight, lacking as they are in aerodynamic shape; you only have to think of a flying swan for comparison. They would not be able to Watch them fly catch up with even the most miserable aeroplane or rise to the outer rim of the Earth’s sleeve of air [. . .] the high thin air up there would hardly be able to support them. From this, we may conclude, that the other World can be no further away than the reach of the flight of angels, in which case a radio connection could easily replace them” (470-471). Heilmann continues his commentary on art and science by stating, “[f]rom the outset, I was aware, that the presently covered piece of evolutionary history had to be presented in a particularly lucid way. I have therefore continuously worked towards lending artful form and content to the scientific results, attempting not only in drawings but also in words to create images in the mind of the reader, as images are more easily perceived and remembered, and have deeper and more lasting effects” (470-471). During WW1, Heilmann, in a letter received by R.W. Shufeldt, wrote that he had retreated to the Danish coastline and built a wooden one-room house that included a glass skylight. The extent of Heilmann’s and Shufeldt’s friendship is not well-known. Though, ten years earlier, fellow ornithologist R.W. Shufeldt published a book that completely ignored the anatomy of birds and was titled, The Negro, A Menace to American Civilization, in which he claimed, “Lynchings, in spite of everything, will continue to occur in the United States of America just so long as there is a negro left here alive, and there is a white woman living for him to assault.” Though, and rather reluctantly, being a Black man, I return to Heilmann’s letter, in which he recorded how he could watch many birds fly overhead as he painted. His hut’s position on the shore of the fjord made for ideal studying and observation, and it was there, in June of 1916, while neighboring Germany warred with the rest of the world, Heilmann could hear from behind his shack the breathtaking concerts of birds. I wished I Spring 2022
had kept an image of the heron. The broken wing. I wished I’d snapped a photo before never seeing it again, and I could have sketched it like Heilmann; its broken wing held so delicately close to its body. There is beauty in what is broken. There is art in imperfect anatomy. I hope you are well, old friend. I hope, wherever you are, that your wing is well, and the fish are plentiful, and the silver water is serene beneath your feet.
Works Cited Durban, Jacqueline. “An Intimate Journey with Heron.” Radicalhoneybee, blogspot.com, April 20, 2015, https:// radicalhoneybee.blogspot.com/search?q=rhiannon. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, Rockstar Games, October 31, 2006. Heilmann, Gerhard. Universet og Traditionen, Lindhardt & Ringhof, 1940. Shufeldt, R.W. The Negro, A Menace to American Civilization, R.G. Badger, 1907.
Wilting Abdulmueed Balogun One day, I’ll write about the flowers like we own them: Noor Hindi I don’t know how this is going to end. It’s started already, war thirsty for fresh blood. Doubts come enmassed like convoys of wild flies lured by the spell of light, juggernauts crippling settlements of hope and peace. I don’t know, brother, if one day, I will behold my moribund dreams flowering into dandelions. Trust me, sister, your kind words tonight, will go a long way in reviving my wilting hope.
Verstehen seeks to capture the ways in which synesthesia works in the mind.
Because of my synesthesia, I have the ability to 'see' sound...These pieces were created in front of a live audience in a performance which incorporated sound and electronics. E mily Ra n k in
Nathan Addison Nathan Addison is certainly a human being. Not to be confused with a deranged opossum, locked in a basement, and screaming at the old typewriter it found. Though we can understand how the two might be confused. Nathan enjoys storytelling in all its majestic forms. He hails from Portland, OR, and is very much so in a scandalous relationship with the rain. A father, a writer, a lover of crows, and oh-so neurodivergent…but most definitely not an opossum…very human, with bones even! Dalia Centeno Aguilar Dalia Centeno Aguilar is working towards their General Studies Associate’s Degree. This is their first time taking a poetry class and they have learned so much! They have always been attracted to anything related to the Arts. They enjoy writing and drawing. This is their first time submitting a poem and it was a thrill to get published! When they first came to PCC they just wanted to get my GED, they never imagined how far they would come. They are proud to be a student at Portland Community College. Claire Mar ie Ander son Claire Marie Anderson is an Art History student and writer from Houston, TX. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Sheepshead Review, The Decadent Review, The Magazine, and Unfortunately Literary Magazine, among other publications. She serves as Fiction Editor for Landing Zone Magazine. Diannely Antigua Diannely Antigua is a Dominican American poet and educator, born and raised in Massachusetts. Her debut collection Ugly Music (YesYes Books, 2019) was the winner of the Pamet River Prize and a 2020 Whiting Award. She received her MFA at NYU and is the recipient of fellowships from CantoMundo, Community of Writers, and the Fine Arts Work Center Summer Program. Her poems can be found in Poetry Magazine, American Poetry Review, Washington Square Review, and elsewhere. She resides in Portsmouth, NH where she is the Poet Laureate. Jamie Azevedo Jamie Azevedo is a visual artist who lives in Savannah, Georgia. She is a published artist whose work has been shown in galleries in the US and Europe. She creates to start a conversation with the viewer about empathy, compassion, and a knowledge that we affect each other and our world deeply, and hopefully meaningfully. Abdulmueed Balogun Abdulmueed Balogun is a Nigerian poet & a second year student at the University of Ibadan, studying Biomedical Laboratory Science. He is a 2021 HUES Foundation Scholar & edits poetry for The Global Youth Review. He was longlisted for the 2021 Erbacce Prize, finished as a Finalist in the 2021 Wingless Dreamer Book of Black Poetry Contest, and won the 2021 Annual Kreative Diadem Poetry Contest. Find his work in: Decolonial Passage, Watershed Review, The Westchester Review, Short Vine, and elsewhere. He loves you deeply and you know it. He tweets from: AbdmueedA
Raquel Barr ientos Raquel Barrientos is a Texas A&M International University graduate with a BA in History and EnZlish. During their time at TAMIU they took a Creative Nonfiction Writing class, where they found an interest in writing about their personal experiences, influencing work such as “Perpetual Love,” a poem about going to church with their grandma. They are fluent in English and Spanish and the experiences they’ve had living in a bilingual household tie deeply into their writing. Their interests outside of writing include reading, cooking, and spending time with their black cat named Tamal. David Bolles David Bolles is a PCC student working on his second degree and is pursuing a STEM field. He has a passion for writing and photography and often submits work to contests and magazines in both areas. Having served on the editorial staff for both Letter & Line and Alchemy, he wishes to continue to do some of this type of work going forward. Clarence Car ter Bouc her Artist, Writer and Musician, blind in one eye, the other eye has glaucoma, field and contrast loss. Clarence has nerve damage from a car wreck. Boucher has been in numerous books and magazines including The New York Art Review, Who’s Who in Art, and About the Author. Richard C. Owen publishes his children’s books. His poetry has been published in numerous publications and anthologies. He won the International Golden Poet award. Wendy Bourgeois Wendy Bourgeois lives, writes, and teaches in Portland Oregon. She is the author of many poems and essays, including the book The Devil Says Maybe I Like it. Eli Br yan “The Family You Choose” was written by Eli Bryan, a 17 year old high school junior, in creative writing: fiction taught by professor Van Wheeler. There it was recommended to be submitted to the annual spring literary magazine. Eli has taken, and enjoyed, a few writing classes at PCC now and is considering pursuing a career in creative writing in the future. Olivia Clark My name is Olivia Clark and I am a recent graduate from PCC and OSU. I have an Associates degree in Graphic Design at Portland Community College and a Bachelors in Art History at Oregon State University. I’ve always had a passion for art and I thrive in creative environments.
Mordec hay “Moti” Cohen Mordechay “Moti” Cohen is an Israeli artist based in Tel Aviv. They have been painting for more than three decades. As an expressionist artist, they work spontaneously with almost no preliminary sketches or external stimulations. Their paintings are a window to their subconscious. Most notable were their exhibitions in the first Israeli Biennale in Haifa (1978); the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2001, group exhibition: “Local Pictures”); Alter & Gil Gallery, Los Angeles (2004, solo exhibition); Gallery 88 – Strömstad, Sweden (2010, solo exhibition). Connie Colter Connie Colter: I am a sculptor and painter attending PCC with a studio in Gladstone, Oregon. My work witnesses the courage of individual humans and their innate defiance towards being reduced by societal, cultural, and economic forces. Brad Croft Brad Croft is a 16-year-old photographer from Los Angeles. They submitted the piece “The Trail Awaits.” It was taken in Crystal Cove State Park with their Samsung NX30. Ivan de Mondr ison Ivan de Monbrison is a poet and artist living in Paris. Born in 1969 and affected by various types of mental disorders, he has published some poems in the past. Laine Derr Laine Derr holds an MFA from Northern Arizona University and has published interviews with Carl Phillips, Ross Gay, Ted Kooser, and Robert Pinsky. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming from Antithesis, ZYZZYVA, Portland Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Caitlin Dwyer Caitlin is a writer, storyteller, poet and multimedia journalist. Her essays braid reflection, observation, journalistic interviews, and scholarly research, all in search of intimate, human portraits. In her poetry, she explores mythology and motherhood. She studied journalism at the University of Hong Kong and creative writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop. Marco Ether idge Marco Etheridge is a writer of prose, an occasional playwright, and a parttime poet. He lives and writes in Vienna, Austria. His work has been featured in reviews and journals across Canada, Australia, the UK, and the USA. Notable recent credits include TIMBER Journal, Concho River Review, Glassworks Magazine, and Longshot Island, amongst many others. Marco’s volume of collected stories, “Orphaned Lies,” is available worldwide.
Mar y Ever itt Mary Everitt explores intersections in behavioral neuroscience, culture, beauty, family, connection and belonging through mixed art forms. Through their studies in humanities and intercultural communication, in their life growing up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and working as a massage therapist. They play with questions of constructing and deconstructing identity. They are pursuing a transfer degree to complete their studies in Arts and Letters at PSU. Kai Fetter Kai Fetter is a student at PCC and part of the class working on Alchemy. He had a very positive experience working on Letter & Line last term and is excited to read more submissions and receive more feedback for his works. Isis Finn Isis is a student at PCC studying Child and Family Services. At PCC she has studied writing, reading, and history. Although she has been writing since childhood, this is her first publication. Amy Hollan Amy Hollan (she/hers) is a visual artist, business and creative coach and consultant, and Creative Director of the Southern Tier Center for Emerging Artists (STCEA), an accessible + affirming online art space and creative community based in the historic Chautauqua Lake region of Western New York. To learn more, visit www.amyhollan.com. Lee Jaesook Holoubek Lee Jaesook Holoubek is a youth creative spending time at PCC to build an art portfolio and gain life experience. Their piece “Reflective Waters” is a short story surrounding a character searching for meaning and the mental struggles that come with that. Learn more about the writer on their website: https://leejaesookart.weebly.com/ Cr istina Iorga I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Printmaking, as well as a Master of Arts degree in Printmaking from University of Iowa. I graduated from University of Iowa in 2009 Magna Cum Laude. Later on I received my BFA in Fine Art from The University of Fine Arts in Bucharest Romania. I also created illustrations for two books that were later published in Romania. Xiaolin Jiang After a lifetime of art adjacent creative endeavors, Xiaolin Jiang began to pursue a career in art after trying to learn how to process and heal from a traumatic event a few years ago in her home in China. Xiaolin seeks to combine her diverse background with her keen eye for details, using primarily water-based materials. Xiaolin hopes to communicate her inner self to the world through her visual language while sharing the healing journey she has taken with others and shedding light on societal issues applicable to people across cultures.
Ana Jovanovska Ana Jovanovska was born in 1991 in Macedonia. She holds an MFA in the Graphic Art Field. Her practice is rooted in deep observation and reaction to the current times and spaces, affected by the moralizing of traditions and a sense of urgency in the discourse of contemporaneity. She has had many awards and recognitions, authored several books, zines, and other publications. Has had 12 independent, and has more than 200 group exhibitions around the world. Instagram: https://instagram.com/anajovanovska/ Mercia Kandukira Mercia Kandukira was born in Omaruru, Namibia where she obtained her B. Ed at the University of Namibia. As a Fulbright scholar, Mercia obtained her MA in English Creative Writing at Binghamton State University of New York where she is now pursuing a doctoral degree in English. Mercia was awarded the 2021, “Global Memories of German Colonialism Fellowship” which was offered by the University of Hamburg. Mercia’s Creative Nonfiction, has appeared in Windmill: the Hofstra Journal of Literature and Art. Her Short Fiction is forthcoming in Praxis: Journal of Gender and Cultural Critiques. Shelbey Leco Growing up in Southeast Louisiana, outside of New Orleans, Shelbey was always inspired by nature and art. She was raised among a lineage of natural storytellers on both sides of her family. As a young adult, Shelbey explored this through storytelling ethnography. She studied at the University of New Orleans where she obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Urban Society with disciplines in: education, english, and anthropology. She enjoys traveling, art, and exploring new places. José Pedro Leite José Pedro Leite: Contemporary Portuguese writer, José Pedro Leite is the author of 10 poetry collections. A translator and editor, Leite was born in the northern city of Porto. Trained in law and a secondary school teacher for a short time, he is a singular figure in a generation of prolific young Portuguese writers. A Invenção do Verão (The Invention of Summer) was published in 2019 and his recent, Asensor de Sombras was the 2021 winner of the prestigious Prémio Literário Natália Correia. Evan J. Massey Evan J. Massey is an African American, US Army veteran who served his country in Afghanistan. His work can be found or forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Bat City Review, The Pinch, Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, Quarterly West, and various others. He holds an MFA from Virginia Tech and teaches Upper School English at The Rivers School. He can be found at evanjmassey.com.
Cae Marquez Cae Marquez is currently a PCC student transferring to PSU Fall 2022 pursuing Language Arts. After a decade of hospitality management, Cae is debuting as an author in this issue with her piece “Pencil Sharpener Blades.” Cae can be found wandering the beautiful streets of Downtown Portland bouncing between coffee shops, food stalls, book stores, art galleries, and dogs. Cynthia McCloud Cynthia McCloud earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College. A print journalist for 25 years, she now teaches English Language Arts to academically at-risk teenagers at a quasimilitary residential school. The essay she generated as a 2016 Creative Nonfiction “Writing Away the Stigma Fellow” appears on The Washington Post’s Inspired Life blog. Her recent work includes a poem titled “A Good Death” in Issue 2 of Shift: A Journal of Literary Oddities, produced by Ringling College of Art and Design, and an essay titled “Life Lessons” published in Summer 2020 by Change Seven magazine. She lives in West Virginia. Daniel Manuel Mendoza Daniel Manuel Mendoza is a writer living in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. His influences are Gloria Anzaldua, Emily Dickinson, and Cortazar. Gregor y Mitberg Gregory Mitberg is a PCC student who contributed the fiction prose piece “Newcomer”, having been an avid fencer for 20 years. Currently he is finishing his associates degree from PCC. Nathan Tyler Nakonieczny Nathan Tyler Nakonieczny is a human writer, living on the planet earth. He is capable of spelling the entire alphabet, and has a basic understanding of the English language. Cat Nor th Cat North is a writer and illustrator who was born in some hospital in some city. She has resided in Portland, Oregon since 2007. Toti O’Br ien Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She is the author of Other Maidens (BlazeVOX, 2020), An Alphabet of Birds (Moonrise Press, 2020), In Her Terms (Cholla Needles Press, 2021), Pages of a Broken Diary (Psky’s Porch, 2022) and Alter Alter (Elyssar Press, 2022). Jennifer Penaflor Jennifer Penaflor is a visual storyteller from California, wanting to share her perspective of the world. Using a camera lens to brighten and magnify life’s moments. To learn more, visit https://www.instagram.com/mely_belly79/
Peng Qi Peng Qi is an associate professor and fine artist from China. He has distinguished himself through his unique ability to generate virtual and photoelectric color effects on painting that do not exist in natural world, bringing new life to ancient art by combining technology and traditional culture. Follow Instagram: @pengqiart Westin Ranzino I am Westin Ranzino. I spend quite a bit producing different types of art. My favorite mediums are watercolor, markers, and writing. I also make digital pieces. I am disabled and queer so I try my best to include a diverse assortment of characters, terms, and outlooks on life. I receive enjoyment from crating art for others, especially people’s pets. Megan Ridgway Megan Ridgway is a young writer living and working in Glasgow. Experimenting with hybridity of form and genre her work aims to explore themes of trauma-recovery, feminism, gender and sexuality. Emily Rankin Emily Rankin attended university in Texas, where she received a BFA in 2011. Her body of work deals with the intuitive messages of dreaming and subconscious exploration, and has appeared in publications like Gasher, Metonym, Black Fox, and Rattle. She is currently based in New Mexico. www.eerankinart.com Abbi Riec her s My name is Abbi Riechers. I am a Muslim woman from Oregon. I am a PCC student and will transfer to OSU Cascades in Fall 2022. I love creative writing, hiking, camping, and being outside. Tomislav Šilipetar Tomislav Šilipetar was born in Zagreb, Croatia. In 2014 he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in the class of Igor Rončević-Painting Department. In 2015, he became a member of HDLU. He is the winner of the Rector’s Award for excellence in 2013. The paintings are mostly made in acrylic, and the themes vary from solitude and isolation to the very existence of human existence in the society that condemns. In 2016 he gained the status of an independent artist. Ric hard Simas Richard Simas is a free–lance writer with a background in literature, music, and the performing arts. His publications appear in contemporary art and literary reviews in Europe and in North America with awards from the Journey Prize anthology, the Fiddlehead Review Fiction competition, and a Camões Institute prize. His recent early readers’ book, The Mystery of the Portuguese Waltzes, is published by Running the Goat Books in Newfoundland, Canada.
Rober ta Speight I started drawing at the young age of nine and after 20 years I returned to my first love, Art. I get great joy from seeing other people’s faces light up when they view my art. My purpose is that when I create a piece it speaks to the viewer in a way that relates to their heart and soul. I’m a wife, and mother and have 7 grandkids. I enjoy writing and creating and boating. Chelsea Thornton Chelsea Thornton is a writer from Texas. She is a reader for The Forge Literary Magazine, an MS warrior, and a tea addict. Her short fiction has been published in Maudlin House, Bewildering Stories, Idle Ink, Crow & Cross Keys, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @chelseactually or online at chelseathornton.com. Matt Trueherz Matt Trueherz is currently pursuing a degree in nonfiction writing at Portland State University. His writing centers mostly around food and can be found in the pages of Portland Monthly, Willamette Week, and TASTE. Brandon Vaden Brandon Vaden is currently a student at PCC and aspiring writer (also currently working on Alchemy). He has not much else to say on that, though he has been told that he needs to write more, so here he is writing more. He has now written more, and he hopes you have a nice day. Veronica Winter s Veronica Winters, MFA, is a contemporary Russian-American portrait artist, instructor, curator and book author who explores a powerful connection that exists between humans and the Universe through her figurative oil paintings and colored pencil drawings. Symbolic and influenced by classical artistic traditions, Winters’ work serves as a tool—for herself and her viewers alike—to experience the healing potential of painting. The artist is nationally recognized for her colored pencil drawing with the publication of the art instruction books titled The Colored Pencil Manual and How to Color Like an Artist by Dover Publications, NY. Veronica Winters’ art gallery and studio is located in Naples, Florida. Hanna Wr ight Hanna Marie Dean Wright is a self-taught folk artist residing in Keavy, Kentucky. She uses her experiences from growing up in rural South-Eastern Kentucky, teaching special education classes, and living with obsessive compulsive disorder to inspire her unique works of art. Hanna Wright uses bold lines and bright colors to create abstract figures with relatable and at times deeply emotional expressions. Hanna was born in Barbourville, Kenucky on April 15th, 1993. Hanna graduated from the University of the Cumberlands in 2015 with degrees in Special Education Behavioral Disabilities and Elementary Education.
Yolanda Wysoc ki Yolanda Wysocki’s work has mostly been in counseling, social services and life coaching. Although retired from that career, their focus these days is on living a creative life including writing creative non-fiction and continuing with photography; pet-sitting, exploring new places and meditation. Who knows what next! Cynthia Yatc hman Cynthia Yatchman is a Seattle based artist and art instructor. A former ceramicist, she received her B.F.A. in painting (UW). She switched from 3D to 2D and has remained there ever since. She works primarily on paintings, prints and collages. Her art is housed in numerous public and private collections. She has exhibited on both coasts, extensively in the Northwest, including shows at Seattle University, SPU, Shoreline Community College, the Tacoma and Seattle Convention Centers and the Pacific Science Center. She is a member of the Seattle Print Art Association and COCA (Center of Contemporary Art). Sudha Yadav Sudha Yadav’s first collection Siddhartha Street was published in April of this year. She hails from the French colonial town of Puducherry, India. Her family moved to the shores of Arabia in her childhood and she grew up in the distant dunes. An MBA, she lived the corporate life for 12 years whilst writing as a freelance columnist. She now pursues short fiction. Sudha, resides in a charming neighbourhood in Chennai, in Southern India with a precocious daughter and husband. Sky Youngs Sky is a Two-Spirit Inter-Tribal Native student who has served PCC and the Inter-Tribal community as the Native Nations Club Coordinator. Sky also wrote and presented the City Council Proclamation speech on behalf of MMIW/R (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Relatives), sharing personal struggles of homelessness, exploitation and generational trauma. Creative and professional writing are a lifelong affinity and passion. Alongside a calling for writing, Sky is carrying on Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as a STEM Major.