A LC H E M Y
Alchemy Magazine of Literature and Art Volume 46 - 2020
Special Thanks To: Division of English and World Languages Julie Kopet, Dean Cherie Maas-Anderson, Administrative Assistant Tami Allison, Administrative Assistant
Creative Writing Instructors
Editors Jack Mitchell
Ethan Slayton Alex De La Cruz Alexa Raines Gretchen Miner Lauri Chambers Melissa Powers
Jeff Alessandrelli Wendy Bourgeois Mia Caruso Andrew Cohen Matt Chelf Chris Cottrell Cody Luff Victoria Rau
Ron Ross Megan Savage James Sauve Ann Selby Chrys Tobey W. Vandoren Wheeler
Graphics and Printing Instructors John Bohls Nathan Savage Debbie Schwing Daniel Soucy Chrisann Kim, Cover Design W. Vandoren Wheeler, Faculty Advisor
Portland Community College
Copyright ÂŠ 2020 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 contributorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s protection, on publication, all rights reserved in the authors.
C O L O P H O N This is Alchemyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s forty-sixth year running, and no matter what catastrophe arises around us, the show goes on. The letters still race to their places, the commas still run through quick changes, the indents and line breaks change the set scene by scene. The shapes of the sigils may shift but the tales are all spun with consistent artifice and enchantment. But, of course, without further ado, our cast. Table of Contents
Tw Cen MT Front Matter
Davis & Davis Sans Titles
Circe Rounded Author Names
Perpetua Body Text
Baskerville We hope beyond hope that you are entertained, enthralled, and inspired. We hope you remember that you are not alone, and should you take up your pens, those mightiest of swords, and join us as we battle nothingness and loneliness, and unleash our voices into a tumultuous, and often beautiful, world. 5
T A B L E
C O N T E N T S
Poetry Annie Earnshaw
Anne Marie Wells
To See or Not to See
In the Neighborhood
Jerrice J. Babtiste
History in My Bones The World is a Clementine... Lecturing on Robert Lowell Wave Away Disembodied The Storm Old Tin Cup Ode to the Vericose Vein Bound are Three
Sedna in the Water
Vertebrae Virtual April 6
Fiction Beck in the Headlights Alexa Raines 17
Vigil Jai Milx 83
The Great Orange Destiny Machine Ethan Slayton 21
Small Despidida David Van Develder 85
Eyes of the Mind Christian Barrigan 41 Feel the Ashes Feng Gooi 44 Salsa Alex De La Cruz 50 Yellow Umbrella Melissa Powers 59 The Dog Star of Ebonyi Laura Saint Martin 65 Carrying the Water Kesha Ajoshe-Fisher 71 7
Non-Fiction This is Not the New Normal Gretchen Miner
Dreams of a Black Girl Adriana Zamichieli
Treat Yoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Self Right Gretchen Miner
Art Real Deal Ethan Lee 13
Untitled #2 Kateryna Bortsova
Bouqet #2 Stephen Ostrowski 14
Collage Daniel Ciochina
Through the Looking Glass Sarah Deckro
A Veil Asi Yakovovich
Early One Morning at the Lake JW Goossen
Too Many Desert Highways Dave Sims
Coffee Stains Whitney Weisenberg
Angel Wings Asi Yakovovich 16 Ferocity Stephen Ostrowski 27 A Galaxy Asi Yakovovich 28 Untitled #1 Kateryna Bortsova 32 Someplace to Sleep Tonight Danielle Klebes 38
Untitled #1 &#2 Paula Destefanis
Make Sure to Keep a Pandemic Journal Ariandne Blayde 40
Untitled #1 & 2 Guliherme Bergamini
Post Holiday Ronald Walker 43
Slow Dance Whitney Weisenberg
Dappled Light Eleanor Murphy
Untitled #3 Guliherme Bergamini
Th i s | i s | n o t
Th e | N e w Normal G r e t c h e n | M i n e r |
This. Is. Not. The New Normal. I want to scream every time I hear the phrase “The New Normal”. Nothing is normal about right now. It is most definitely not soothing to prescribe normalcy to this situation we are in. Everything is shifting with each new revelation, whether scientific or fear-based. We are in constant flux every few hours. Fuck. Every few minutes. We don’t even know what sources to trust or where to get adequate information to survive. Or stay employed, or insured, or sane… There is nothing normal about this. There is nothing even constant, or consistent. In this pandemic. There’s all these phrases that have been on repeat. In these trying times….or some iteration of that platitude. We’re all in this together. Screw that! This has put the world’s largest magnifying glass on the fact that we are all having incredibly disparate experiences currently. Some are working 24/7. Some are at home 24/7. Some are at risk 24/7. Some are so used to being alone and fending for themselves that there is less risk. But there is fear. And as far as together goes, we don’t even all have toilet paper. Who the hell would have thought people would be so selfish as to hoard what you need when you shit? Don’t even get me started on how health insurance is connected to your job when unemployment is at an all-time high in this country. All these ideas about the collective experience have driven me to pay more attention to the specific words we use to communicate. How words impact us, the power they have, and how we can best communicate with each other. While it is crucial to reach out, it is as important what we say as it is how we say it. Empathy is as important as it is challenging. To that effect, I’ve come up with a brief list of words that may be best to avoid, think strongly about, or fully lean into with the current situation in mind. Words not to use: 10
should, normal, normalize, shame
I cried for the first time today. The first time since we began this isolatory process called Social Distancing. Aggressive Social Distancing. It’s been two weeks. For me, my husband Hal, and our 13 year old dog. I am tuned in to the fact I am well positioned to “weather this storm”. We live in a house where we can work from home, do remote schooling and I regularly buy food and supplies so we have a few weeks on hand at most moments. We were out of toilet paper but thankfully that was rectified quickly at our neighborhood store. Grateful doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about all of that. But there are other emotions right now. Yesterday was anger. Today is an overwhelming sadness that started at 2:30 in the morning as I activated my ocean/wave sounds sleep cast to drown out the fearsome thoughts clouding my mind and pushing the possibility of sleep further out into the morning, if at all. Why didn’t those neighbors, who are usually so respectful, move so close to us as we walked our dog and attempted to back away as quickly as we were able to right then. Did that woman really need to take her trash out while we were picking up our dog’s poop, unable to move out of the way? Even on the off chance the answer is “yes” she had plenty of room to provide us the six feet of social distancing we all need and deserve. I want not to be mad at her and respect that we are all cooped up and likely not thinking clearly right now but I’m pissed because it was so avoidable. As was our other neighbor approaching us within the six-foot bubble outside his apartment driveway as we were trying to walk past, quickly, on the sidewalk. He even mentioned, “Oh, are you guys being safe?” so he was aware, just didn’t give a fuck. This isn’t about him. This is for all of us. And it’s not.
Use caution with: fear, judgement, anger Perhaps incorporate these words instead: Structure, routine, coping, strategy, emotion, feeling, valid In the case of “should” I’m referring primarily to suggestions of what we “should” be doing with all this time “we” have now, not the ever important edict we should wash our hands more frequently, and other public health proclamations. Please follow those!
“Oh, are you guys being safe?”
It’s worth noting that people could use an extra dose of compassion as we face new challenges each day. Empathy isn’t always accessible- as we struggle to secure our own oxygen masks on this flight, but let’s strive for this whenever possible. Now is the time to give others the benefit of the doubt, and respond in kind with our own actions. It’s important to realize that we aren’t all in the same collective boat, and not everyone is just dealing with new experiences staying at home, or working from home. Some of us have lost jobs, some of us are unsure if we’ll have a job or business to return to, and there are varying levels of health and insurance concerns that should be honored when communicating with your fellow humans (i.e., not everyone is able to pick up a new language, disinfect their house, produce enough PPE for your local hospital on your own, or be another form of sideline superheroes). It may take all of ones wherewithal to just not freak the fuck out.
That. Hard. I don’t mean to be dismissive here. Social Distancing, especially the aggressive variety, is hard and has many challenges that are different for each of us. What is not that hard is the six foot parameter he could have observed in that instance. I suppose it’s also not that hard to get some damn sleep. Yet here I was, listless in my bed, ruminating on these neighbor grievances. I began to inhale, count to four, exhale, count to four.... Scan my body parts for equal consideration and determination. Count backwards from 1000. Rinse and repeat. Don’t think about the fact that your ankle is causing so much pain right now that you can barely climb stairs. Forget that you’re unable to do those five minute dance parties to Jill Scott and Lizzo that are giving you life. Honor that thought, and let it go... I had already done some of my own “moderate social distancing” for the past few months while I focused on a proposal for a book I’ve been writing. I’d say it prepared me well for this but it also made the crash that much more intense. In some ways I haven’t gotten together with friends in months, not just weeks, outside of a few phone calls and visits. Even Hal had three weeks of business trips during this time, so it was just me and our needy, food demotivated dog. I was fortunate enough to join him for weekends in Nashville and Vegas where we caught a show at the Bluebird, ate many incantations of hot and fried chicken and saw both a water performance of Cirque du Soleil, from the “splash zone” and a moving performance by Sarah McLachlan. There was also the ever present cloud of sleep deprivation from early morning flights and weeks of nonstop writing. Those trips seem like a lifetime ago, and they really were, in another, pre-quarantine world. I mean, watching people hug, or just touch, on TV feels extremely awkward right now.
I spent some time working for a consulting firm that specialized in change management. We would work with organizations to identify their current, or present state, determine what their ideal future state was, and address key factors that needed to happen to move them from point A to point B. The world is in a present state crisis and there is collective discord on what course is best effective to move us forward. Add to that an unlimited amount of unknowns on what our future state will or should look like. This is causing some unprecedented levels of anxiety amongst all of us. The breath that gives us life is the same entity we avoid like the plague as it could possibly kill us or make us intolerably ill. Which begs the questions... What is a healthy level of fear? What is a healthy amount of stress? How long must I fear touch? This cannot be The New Normal.
My Bones Annie
E a r n s h a w (Art by Ethan Lee)
Pick away my ribs and break off my sternum, fetch the mortar and pestle from the spice cabinet and grind, twist, press. As the dust forms, you will see: German immigrant, teenage pregnancy, Spanish influenza and the widow it left behind. My grandmother’s grandmother passing through Cleveland, saying she would stay if she found a job in the next twelve hours. You’ll see the cobbler who hires her, supplies her with the first pair of shoes she ever had that weren’t for the purpose of running away. Tip over the mortar, spread the powder over a lace tablecloth that was passed down like wedding crystal. Run your fingertip along the pattern of the lace, shifting through the dust and the images will show themselves. Sheet cake at a retirement party after forty years of shoe polish underneath fingernails and callouses from kneading the toughness from leather. The bungalow on 314th, the glimpse of Lake Erie at the end of the street if you lean far enough out the front window. She sits on the steps, working the heel of her hand into the heel of her granddaughter’s shoe, how to knead out the stiffness, find comfort where none existed. 13
When it is done and I have no more to show you, run to my room and find the box of buttons in the back of my closet. Siphon me into the heart-shaped box, which I stole from my grandmotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sewing kit, the enamel pieces rattling like teeth. There I will sit, entombed and waiting, collecting dust.
(Art by Steven Ostrowski)
The World is a Clementine You | C a n | D i g
Your Thumbs Into J a c k M i t c h e l l
1. i can read your palms, you know i saw a how-to in a young book once the diagram, the names of the lines, how to read their length and depth this is your love line, this is your life line i marvel at your palm now how it sits open and lazy and expecting in my direction, i pull apart a fibrous clementine and set the glowing and golden fruit into your waiting hand you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t look at me as you eat it nose deep in the Confessions of St. Augustine we sit on the sunlight steps of the library i never come here alone i tap your wrist to give you the last piece i tap your wrist to watch your fingers unravel i tap your wrist to see your palm again the last slice of summertime passes between us i expect you to eat it, i expect you to not look at me you tap my wrist and you offer half a slice of clementine 2. a submarine lives behind the museum we visited it once for fun laughed at each other in the porthole windows and passed chest to chest in the narrow hallway you told me you were afraid of drowning.
(Art by Asi Yakovovich)
we drink tea while sitting on blue cushions in the local tea shop you tell me about the Confession of St. Augustine you tell me about the writings of Boethius you tell me about the poetry of Catullus i pull your teacup out of your hands gently, always gently and swish the leaves around at the bottom they are amorphous i tell you that i know how to read tea leaves i saw it in a movie once find the shape and find the meaning a heart manifests in the ground leaf center of the saucer, pointillist impossible to deny “it’s a black dog, be wary of church graveyards during new moons.” you laugh at the warning
i know that you know my bedroom ceiling better than i do. what with all your nights awake. that you will find your way across the rivers in the drywall. the forests in the asbestos, besides, I’ve read your palms. this is your love line, this is your life line
4. your mother cries into my shoulder. she calls me a beautiful boy. she calls me a kind and gentle boy. she doesn’t think you’ll make it through the veil, the thick shroud between us
but i know better. i know that you’ve read the Inferno the Purgatorio, the Paradiso, that you have toured the heavens and hells and that you have the potential to make the universe cry again.
i eat a clementine on the moonlight steps of the library i never come here alone. 16
Beck|in|the Headlights A l e x a R a i n e s
I desperately consumed my tea, wishing to be quenched and caffeinated, but it wasn’t doing anything for me. I sped down the road, on my way to another day at my “dream job”. I worked in an office full of jesters and clowns, and the head fool, my boss, had already written me up twice for tardiness. I really couldn’t afford to get fired at this point. What would I do? Move back home? Get relentlessly compared to my prettier and more successful sisters? As that thought crossed my mind, a deer crossed the road. I swerved to avoid it, sending my car careening into a ditch. Suddenly I sat straight up, soaked in sweat, and out of breath. I was not in my car. I was tangled in my blankets. I felt around for my phone to check the time. 3:16 a.m. I dropped it into my lap and ran my hands over my face and through my hair. I was too exhausted to get out of bed, so I just laid back down. I could relive my nightmare so easily if I closed my eyes. I’ve never even been in an accident. I decided to call my best friend, I knew he would pick up. “Eugnh—hello?” grumbled Martie. “Hey man, uh, what’s up?” I said, trying not to sound freaked out. “Sleep? I was sleeping?” He replied. “Yeah sorry, I called ‘cause I had a nightmare,” I admitted. “What about?” He responded in a quizzical tone. “I dreamt I got into a car accident trying to avoid hitting a deer,” I explained. “What? That’s wild!” he exclaimed. “I know. I didn’t feel any pain or anything, I woke up right before impact.” I said, my voice shaking a little. Martie paused for a bit. “Do you want me to come over?” he asked. “Yeah, please, I don’t think I’m going back to sleep tonight,” I answered. I eventually fell back asleep, sticking to my cold, orange leather couch, while Martie was telling me a story about when he broke his arm trying to do parkour at age nine. … When the sun rose, I got up and made myself some tea. I still felt shaken and cloudy. I don’t know why I would dream something like that. Eventually, I got dressed since I had work in 17
“What did you do last weekend?” he asked. “I cut my grass with safety scissors,” I said without turning to look at him. I knew he just wanted to tell me about his weekend, he definitely didn’t care about what I did. “Nice sounds fun. I went to the bar with the boys. There were hella chicks there! Hot ones too. You don’t normally see those kind ‘round these parts.” He said, nudging my shoulder. I spun my chair around to face him. I immediately noticed his bright orange polka-dot tie, which was weirdly long; it was halfway-down to his knees. “Uh, what’s with your tie, dude?” I asked. “Yeah, I bet my buddy that I could take a shot for every point his team made in the game last night. Turns out his team won so, heh, let’s just say I woke up in my underwear in the parking lot of a Chase Bank!” I just blinked at him; I genuinely couldn’t come up with a response at that point. … Once I was home again, I flipped on the T.V. to watch the 6 ‘o clock news. A woman wearing a fuchsia and black dress and a chunky pearl necklace was onscreen: “Good evening, I’m Kelsey Kingston. Breaking news tonight, a car accident on Walker Road. Police say a local resident crashed into a ditch and the car was totaled. No word on the condition of the driver. Their identity is currently being withheld until contact is made with the driver’s family.” Walker Road? The route I take to work every single day? No way. No fucking way. Plain coincidence. If that was me, I would know. I turned the T.V. off and tossed the remote away. I walked out to my balcony
a bit. I felt a little stiff pulling my sweatshirt over my head, probably from sleeping on the couch. I entered my bathroom to check my reflection. I looked so horrible in the mirror. Puffy face, raccoon eyes. Gross. I walked out of my building and towards the parking lot. The sun was super bright, I shut my eyes quickly but still saw swirls of deep purple follow the direction of my gaze. Once I got in my car, I turned up the stereo, but the music didn’t change in volume, it remained faint. So faint that I couldn’t even figure out what song it was. I decided to let it go, I could just take it into the dealership this weekend. I pulled out of my building’s parking lot slowly, and the whole way there, I scanned the road for any animals or people that might walk into it. I arrived at work and entered the lobby.
“Just a mo Not a goo She asked her pink c sunglasse to wink at
“Hey there, Beck.” Cleo, the receptionist, greeted me and waved her hand that was adorned with garish green and gold acrylic nails. “Morning,” I said. “Just a morning? Not a good one?” She asked, tilting her pink cat-eye sunglasses down to wink at me. “Good morning, Cleo,” I replied. I made my way towards my desk, taking in the standard office smell of low-quality coffee and despair. Once I took my seat, I removed my laptop from my bag and opened it up. Ding! 289 new emails. I fought the urge to close it. When lunchtime rolled around, I decided to not eat because that would increase my risk of human interaction. Nonetheless, just by sitting still and doing absolutely nothing, I managed to gain the attention of one of the most annoying guys in my office, Gustav. “Hey Beck, what the heck?” he said with great gusto. I rolled my eyes so hard that I thought they might just pop out of my head. He said that to me every single day. It was never funny once. “Hello,” I replied. 18
and lit a cigarette, crossing my arms over the railing. Wait. Why is one of my arms thicker than the other? I pulled back my right sleeve to reveal a wrist cast. I stumbled backward and dropped my cigarette on the ground. I examined my cast all over. It had a signature scrawled on it, Martie Cortez. “Martie?” I whispered. I immediately called him. “What’s up?” he said. “Can you come over here?” I asked, my voice squeaky and panicked. “Ha-ha, sure.” He replied. “Alright, cool, see you soon.” I exhaled, relieved. Martie joined me on the balcony not long after I hung up. “You got here really fast,” I stated with a confused expression on my face. “Yeah, of course, I did. It’s not a very long walk.” He chuckled. “You doin’ okay, bud?” he asked, placing his hand gently on my back. I flinched. “What the fuck is going on?! What is this?” I questioned, holding up my apparently broken wrist. “Let’s sit down inside, okay?” he said, in an overly soft, baby-talk tone. We sat down on that frigid orange leather couch. “Please tell me what’s going on,” I whined. “Beck, you were in a car accident two days ago, and you have a few injuries; Your wrist is fractured, and you have a concussion. Other than that, it’s just scrapes and bruises.” He explained carefully, making sure to downplay the severity of the situation. “What?! What the hell are you talking about?” I exclaimed. “Calm down, everything’s gonna be okay. Except for your car. It’s totaled.” He stated.
“No, it isn’t. I drove it to work this morning,” I said defiantly. He laughed. I scowled at him in response. “It’s totally totaled. And you haven’t even gone back to work yet. You have to rest at home for at least another week, man. That’s why I’ve been staying with you, you’re not supposed to be by yourself while you’re taking those pain meds.” He explained motioning to a prescription pill bottle on the coffee table. “Pain meds? I’m not taking any pain meds. Those aren’t mine.” I huffed. “Come on man, the doc said you’d be out of it, but damn.” He said with a half-smile. I flopped back on the couch, taking it all in. A slight sinking feeling surrounded me. As soon as Martie had pointed it out, I could feel all the tender areas of my body. Especially my chest, where each breath was met with dull, stretching pain. I pushed myself back up onto my elbows. “I think I need some more.”
orning? od one?” d, tilting cat-eye es down t me.
C a rl B o o n
Number one: you were born pure; you tried at love but were dissuaded by the thought of love’s thereafter, its kitchen sinks of eggshells and its Easter Sundays. The toddler’s wet the bed again; the priest delivers a homily on attending the broken in you before the mistress wishing. Number two: be overcome with grief before it makes a wire cord where passion was, where once you foundered sea-side and found joy in the detritus of far-off continents. Distrust the wondrous narrative but don’t the corner’s pale girl making strange beasts of the cars, the men egg salad, worse. Number three: please avoid dying; it’s crucial and more than arranging coins at the bus-stop, measuring egg-whites for the salad dressing some aunt, here or there, will complain of. And finally make yourself a harbor, take what comes but deny their satisfactions and indigo reminders. There’s lace, good Boston lace, behind the saddest of storefronts on Beacon Street, where a man pretends to be a star of the ballet, then wipes his face for no one with his shirtsleeve.
The Great Orange
Destiny Machine E t h a n
S l a y t o n
“I’m Crow and this here is Bunny. Welcome aboard!” They picked me up out on I-84 in a dusty orange Subaru around noon as the sun started getting hot. I’d thrown my weather-stained rucksack in the backseat and climbed in. “Jackie.” I shook their hands then the short black-haired man called Crow drove slowly back onto the highway. “Where you from, Jackie?” Bunny asked and shot me a toothy grin. I figured Bunny’s name had something to do with his large front incisors that hung slightly over his bottom lip. “Back west. Oregon.” I rubbed my temples and looked at Crow’s reflection in the rearview. He was watching the road and glancing back at me from time to time as I spoke. “Just visiting family.” “That’s quite a trek, there, Jackie! Did you fly out or hitch all the way?” “Flew part way. To New York then hitched the rest.” I watched the trees grow taller as we drove deeper into the country. “Had some friends in ‘Jersey I wanted to see so I figured why not.” “Before we get too far gone, where is it you need to go?” Crow swatted Bunny’s knee then gestured at the glove box. Bunny leaned forward and brought out a crumpled road map of Vermont. I watched him as he tried to make some sense of the mess. “Lyndonville. Or however far you’ll take me. No rush.” I turned back to my tree watching, thinking how it had been years since I’d seen this stretch of road. “Ok. Yeah, we can get you halfway. We’ve got to pull over in Peacham.” Crow looked into the rearview at me as he finished. “Family business of our own.” And then kept on driving. “Much obliged.” I said to the backs of their heads. “Think nothing of it! Me an’ Bunny been enjoyin’ our drive. It’s the least we can do for someone in need.” Bunny turned to me with a smile as big as you please. His flat pink lips pressed against his teeth. His big, round, dark blue eyes sparkling back at me as he nodded in agreement with his friend. For a moment, I felt like I was living in a cartoon. “There is one thing we got to do before we can drop you off…” Crow began. “Sure.” I noticed Crow’s voice had turned up a notch. “We don’t have to-“ Bunny started with a loud whisper. “Yeah, it’ll be fun!” Crow exclaimed. “You only live once!” He turned his eyes back to me. “Right, Jackie?” 21
“You got it.“ I dismissed Crow’s need for approval and looked back out the passenger’s window and my trees. I had no desire to involve myself in whatever game these two were discussing. That morning’s breakfast had been argument rich with my estranged father of two years. It was my fault; I thought I was over it. Over Dad’s anger at life. Over his need to wallow in his own
an hour!” It was Crow’s voice. I didn’t open my eyes, hoping to learn what was up without getting involved. “Bullshit. There’s no way. This is, what, your fifth time driving? No way you made that turn!” “Not only did I make it at Twenty-Five, I decided to up the stakes!” “When? When did you pull this stunt?”
self-pity. It had been two years since Mom had died and two years since my father felt more at at home in the bottom of a bottle than talking with his own family. He lashed out at my girl, made her leave, tore my life apart along with his. So I bailed. Went out west. Tried to lose myself in another world. But his face kept coming back. So did Mom’s. She kept talking to me in between the hours of sleep and waking. She’d tell me “Your father was just angry.” That he needed me. She wouldn’t shut up. For almost two years, the ghost of her voice kept trying to break down the walls I had erected. So I made the trek back east. Called dad. Tried to put this all behind us. But breakfast didn’t go well. Can’t say I acted any better than dad did either. He could still get under my skin with that voice of his. My head was still buzzing from it and I didn’t feel like getting into another heated discussion with anyone, let alone two strangers. I just wanted to lay back, watch the trees flow past and let my mind wander. The trees helped. I zoned out watching the greens, yellows and reds of the changing leaves pass by. What few clouds hung in the sky seemed to wave at me as we drove past. I cracked the window just enough to smell the sweet autumn air. The cool breeze calmed my nerves. I don’t know how long I was out, but I woke up to something like this: “I did so do it before! I’d always been able to veer a hard left and this time I did it at twenty-five miles
“After school so no one was around!” “That’s not what I meant; where was ma? She would’ve knocked you into next year if she caught you horsin’ around!” “She wasn’t around! Ma had to go deal with some kids who’d gotten into a fight at school! She was busy all afternoon in detention!” Who are these guys? “Man, you could have wrecked! After all she’s done for us, you just decided to go around Gallison’s Curve?” Gallison. I had heard the name before. I grew up around here. They were talking about the old back road that went behind the middle school. It was the biggest enemy of transmissions other than frost heaves around town. Gallison Curve. Gallison Hill Road. Some friends of mine from a neighboring high school used to live on that road. Their parents owned gas stations and they bought big houses in the hills away from the townies. The curve these two were talking about lead away from the middle school and directly onto Gallison Hill Road. The curve was a ninety-degree death-trap. Both lanes of traffic were warned by large yellow Caution and Watch Out for Children signs. 5 MPH speed limit signs peppered the remainder of the curve. The one thing that never adorned that treacherous turn after the middle school? A guardrail. I began to get a sinking feeling in my stomach. “Yeah man! Look,” Crow began to rationalize his
“You’re welcome to get out.”
pointed at me and a drop in his tone. “Jackie, this is one of those moments. One of those times you need to pay attention. Where the world doesn’t always meet with your needs because something bigger is happening. It’s these moments that define us. Define who we are.” He lowered his finger and a kindness met me from behind his eyes. “You’re welcome to get out. But just think; if we make this turn, you’ll see it from here…” Crow smiled. “…but you’ll have missed it forever.” An image of my dad swam into view. An image of my angry, drunken, depressed father who had pushed everything away after mom died. Images of him shaking his fist at my girl, getting angry at the drop of a hat and then finally bailing; selling the house, buying a Winnebago, running from fear. He pushed his family away. Pushed me away. The boiling rage of that morning’s argument rekindled and I wanted to lash out in any way that I could. I wanted to bash my body against the rocks of the world so my father would have to see my broken, shattered form and be forced to wake up from his bullshit daydream, to realize what he had lost. At that moment, Crow’s hand was perched on my
intent. “…I figure if I get enough of a head start and I pull the wheel just before the turn, the back end will have enough space on the road so it won’t dip over into the ditch and we’ll have made it at eighty.” “EIGHTY??!!” Bunny barked. My ruse couldn’t get past that scream; I opened my eyes and feigned ignorance. “What’s up fellas? We at Peacham yet?” I faked a yawn that turned real and stretched as I looked out the window. We’d taken a turn from our previous route and were driving up a long stretch of hilly road. The houses perched on either side of the road seemed to accentuate the waves of the hillside. I could see the middle school cresting just over the top and realized Gallison Hill Road was not far. I was along for the stunt of a very excitable, and from what I could surmise, very green, vehicle operator. That morning’s breakfast created a slight acid splash at the back of my throat and I rubbed at it with cold, boney fingers as the school came into full view. “Why’re we here?” “That’s a very sound question, Jack!” Bunny was staring a hole through Crow. “Why are we here??” Crow waved his hand gently in the air like a bird trying to float through an angry breeze. “Ok, look. This might have less to do with either of you-” “You can say that again!” Bunny muttered angrily. “But this is something I’ve been practicing for a bit,” Crow made a slight aside to Bunny as he tilted his head towards him. “…and Ma doesn’t need to find out.” “Who’s “Ma”?” I interjected with an incredulous look at Crow. “What’s going on? I mean, I can get out and get another lift. I don’t need to-” Crow had stopped the car just at the point the land went flat atop the hill. I looked out the windshield and could see the turn onto Gallison about a thousand feet ahead. The yellow warning signs had begun to decorate the landscape. I felt weightless for a second and decided to bolt. Crow turned and fixed my eyes with his, a finger
“It’s these moments that define us. ” shoulder. He was like a friend I had known my entire life and I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was ready to dive screaming into this bizarre adventure. I looked back into my friend’s eyes, “Let’s go.” He patted my shoulder softly, still smiling at me, turned and put both hands on the wheel. “You heard the man,” Crow peered over at Bunny. Bunny had gone rigid. His back straight up and down against the seat. His big, stupid hands gripping the cushion. “Boss, I don’t want t’ do this.” I think I saw his eyes waver for a second and then Bunny stared straight ahead; to the beyond of what would be known in a matter of moments. Moments that felt like a lifetime in 23
stiff, concentrated on his task. He had souls on board to think about and his goal- which was what, exactly?to attend to. The car accelerated. Smooth. “Wow.” To myself. I hadn’t expected that. Trees blurred past. I think that was a bird? Birds. Crows. Scaring them. Murders broke and flew apart. SPLT. SPLT. PLT. Trees came faster. Bunny: OH BASTARD OH BASTARD OH BASTARD! What was? Curve. It’s on us. SPLT. SPLT. SP-that noise? IsI saw it on the windshield. Saw it hitting before the car had gone from twenty-five to fifty. Crows’ speech. It came back. Flooded my mind: “It’s these moments that define us.” All was well after Crows’ speech; excitement had replaced my fear but anger had insured me a ticket to a town called oblivion. I had heard the sound, seen the droplets on the windshield and hadn’t registered them because Crow convinced meIs that rain? The car speed up again: Fifty to sixty-four. I felt my arm give way to my body as I tumbled over. The vehicle lurched and turned into the curve but only for a moment. The rain had slicked the pavement, slicked the tires, slicked the inner workings of the Great Orange Destiny Machine and had coaxed the right front tire to lose its grip on the curve just enough to roll it out of control and turn to the right, towards the field of trees beyond. Crows hands were flapping against the steering wheel as we began to pitch over the side. I felt myself being whipped around and then another sinking feeling. Everything seemed quiet. The car jerking suddenly had created a din of nothing. I felt weightless. Aware. My mind opened in light of fear, frustration and the lack of noise. Like an onslaught of forced mindfulness. Slowly, we felt our world grow larger as we realized we were up in the air. An intense relief of tension shot out from my center. The invisible force formed arcs out beyond my body and tethered my senses to
that tiny orange car. The fumes billowing out from its tailpipe as it idled there on the hilltop. This weird vessel that would transport three beings to a new point in their lives, ready to start their journey at the control of a man named Crow. The car gunned. It stood in place and the loud roar that issued from its bowels came fast. Faster and louder than I would have thought possible. The rust on the undercarriage had tricked me. The softness of the orange paint had told me the car would be friends with me. The contrast of deep green trees against its form as it stopped to pick me up had been familiar to me. It had all been a lie. I was about to be thrashed to my end against the bark and bone of the firs that waited, maws dripping no doubt, at the bottom of the curve because of my anger. Tiny metallic shards coated with orange paint would be lodged in my skull due to one stupid decision. The coroner would need pliers for this morbid task. “Yup!” The coroner would proclaim. “Another angry young adult with abandonment issues fresh for the slab!” He’d say as he plucked my innards from their decaying shell. The engine grumbled and I was sure the fiery eruption was the vehicle itself laughing at me and my anger. The headlights would be twisted in animated villainy and triumph as my form shot like a catapult’s payload, punched through the tube of windshield glass, onto the forest floor, gasping and gulping my last breath. A trembling left hand reached the shoulder of the driver’s seat and my voice managed a strangled, “Maybe we should…” Smiling, Crow turned briefly to me and then to Bunny, “You only live once, boys...” My shoulders slammed into the seat and my right knee came up fast. I rolled to my right and stopped myself with a quick SPAP of my palm on the upholstery. Something danced across my back and I heard a sharp CRACK on one of the windows. I sat up and saw Bunny with both hands flat on the dash. Oh bastard, oh bastard, oh bastard, OH BASTARD! Crow turned into a terrified version of calm. It was his turn to be stricken
Are we fl
the experience around us. It was like I saw everything happen all at once. I saw the grass and knew what I was seeing wasn’t normal; looking down horizontally, patches upon patches of tall wet grass. Tall wet grass waiting to catch us as the great orange destiny machine plunged over the side of the curve. OH BASTARD OH BASTARD O- Bunny became still. His great hands covering the dash, pushing away from the experience. I saw the corner of his eye, saw him witness the oncoming grass. Crow saw and we watched. Watched the blades waver, waiting to catch us. Lightheaded, hovering, I wondered to myself, “Can I sit back hard enough? Are we flipping? Can I push it back? Am I Strong enough?” The car’s bottom fell back with a bounce and a thud on solid ground. We hadn’t flipped but the force made us roll faster, down towards the tree-line. SHIT SHIT SHIT! Someone yelped. Watching trees rush up to greet us. STOP STOP STOP! Everything’s so quiet. No birds. No rain drops. No car engine. Nothing. OH BASTARD OH BASTARD O-Bunny. The car slid on wet tires into the grass. The grass got caught in the wheels, blocking the brakes, still spinning. The tall grass THRUPPED against the hood, the wheels and sides of the car. THRUPP RHUPP THRUPP THRUPP. Chest, tight. Muscles ache from gritting. Jawline tough. Arms outstretched- roll with the crash or against it? THRUPP. The car ground to a halt. The passenger and driver side door flung open, flung wide, flung angrily. WHAT THE FUCK THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK! FUCK! OH MY GOD OH MY- Bunny was hopping up and down. Biggest man I have ever seen jumping straight up and down repeatedly. He was so mad. His face, red. Eyes on fire. Crow stumbled backwards, away from the car. Away from the orange nightmare. I saw his look of awe and terror. His long nose, flaring red and taking in big gulps of fresh air. His tiny chest rising and falling
as quick as it could. His arms extended and slowly flapping. Crow was speechless. I opened the back door, swung my legs out onto the ground“Dear grass.” I thought.” Lovely ground. I love you ground, I love you, I-” A new mantra began in my head as my sneakers shuffled thankfully through the grass, relishing the feel of solid earth beneath my feet as I held the back passenger door open. I stood up and walked past Bunny, jumping madly. “MOTHER FUCK, CROW! FUCKING MOTHER FUCKING….FUCK!” his voice carried worlds of anger within it. I walked to the tree line a few feet away from the car. “Dude,…dude…I….dude…” Crow couldn’t register what he had almost brought upon himself. His arms outstretched, fingers groping for something, shaking, black mop of hair perched high on his brow above his staring, dazed eyes. His stuttering seemed to only enrage Bunny further. I kept walking away from the Human explosion of Bunny and the meltdown of Crow. The car, whose tires I then saw, had become home to a thousand strands of shiny, wet grass. The wheels had taken on so much of the wet strands, enough to halt the spinning, grinding gears. The grass stopped us. The car had almost hit the firs and birchwood. It was inches from the closest. I looked back at the tire treads that we left in the grass, that crept down to the car from the top of the curve, the steep deadly slope of land that almost became our grave site. The trees, I remember, regarded me with skepticism. They wondered, almost aloud, at how lucky I was. I wondered along with them. I touched the bark of the closest one, thanking it for sparing me. Sparing us. “YOU ABSOLUTE MORON!!” Bunny yelled behind me. I didn’t care. I was too happy to not be wrapped around one of the trees. Too happy to not think about how angry I had been. Too shaken to not realize how petty I had been. How wrapped up in myself I had been. How much I had been neglecting my dad, the way he
had been neglecting me. “I would have had it…” Crow muttered at the ground. Drops of lightly falling rain hit Crow’s flesh. His head shot up then and his eyes narrowed. Like a creature who forgot his neck had been surrounded by a noose mere seconds ago, Crow bellowed back at Bunny. “WE ALMOST HAD IT!” But I was too interested in making peace with the trees to watch their impending implosion. “BUT IT RAINED!!” Crow attempted to explain his failure away. His voice kicked up a notch. “WHY DID YOU DO THIS?? MA IS GUNNA FREAK!” Bunny. His voice went up a notch too. Not just up a notch but an entire scale. That was almost a shriek. I broke from my reverie with the trees and turned. looking towards the car. “SHE’LL NEVER FIND OUT! WE’LL CALL BOB! HE’LL TOW US HOME BEFORE SHE GETS BACK!” “DOESN’T MATTER! BOB’S A BLABBERMOUTH! MA WILL FIND OUT!! SHE ALWAYS FINDS OUT!!” “NOT IF YOU DON’T TELL HER!” I walked back to the car, rescued my rucksack from the back seat, threw it on, adjusted the straps, and began walking back up the slope to Gallison Hill Road. With my own anger eaten up from the overpowering fear of dying we had just experienced, I decided to take my new-found love of breathing and get out of this mess. Dad’s face blurred in my mind and thoughts of my Grandparents warm house nestled in the hills of Lyndonville brought a smile to my face. I could easily catch another ride on the interstate or at a general store and I’d still make it to Grandma’s house for dinner. It would take about an hour to walk back but that was better than hanging around with two guys who clearly had a priority disorder. Behind me, Bunny and Crow continued to argue about nothing. “YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING! YOU ALWAYS RUIN EVERYTHING!” “Screw you, man.”
“Don’t walk away from me!” “We callin’ Bob?” “Duh.” As I made the last step up to the wet pavement of Gallison, I looked back down at the tiny orange vehicle and the two men walking a zig-zag pattern up the other end the Road. I had clearly been forgotten. Whether out of embarrassment for an unfulfilled prophecy by Crow- “It’s these moments that define us”- or due to shock, I don’t know, nor did I care. Bunny and Crow being out of my life was a most wonderful notion and I was on my own again. I began backtracking the route we had driven. I scanned the road for evidence of our journey but there was no trail of tires visible on the road. I’m not sure what I was looking for. Some evidence of a minor catastrophe? Other than the old orange Subaru now residing in a nearby ditch, there was no ghost to insinuate anything had ever transpired. As the rain grew heavier, a red truck driving slowly crept over to me. The driver turned to me, nodded, pulled over and stopped. “Need a lift?” “I do, thanks.” I looked back to where the Great Orange Destiny Machine had taken its plunge over the side of the curve and to the trees that I had, for a few minutes, wanted to wrap my lanky form around to forget the pain of family. Those trees and that curve, the ditch and even the old Subaru had given me a different form of respite. One I was grateful for. One I wouldn’t soon forget. At least maybe one that would help me have a better conversation with my father in the future. One that would maybe even help me learn how to listen. “You forget something?” The driver asked. “Naw.” I said as I hoisted myself into the truck. “Just taking it all in.”
Wave|Away Anne|Marie W
I am the pale girl statue arms raised, afraid of the ocean overcoming my lungs with salt. And I am the driftwood boat filled with flowers and bones awaiting the arrow flame to sink me.
(Art by Asi Yakovovich)
shake your eyes into place donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t trust the picture in the mirror,
itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just an echo of your bones
look at the pupils, do They go where yours go? when You turn your head do They keep looking forward? Bare your teeth to the clone can You feel your gums? can You feel your heart? your blood drudging through your veins? is it hot? Is it cold? do You even feel anything? You have to leave. You have to go. outside, get cold, get soaked by the rain. look out for reflections in puddles, He might be following You feel something wet shoes, damp hair aching feet, fingernails skin deep get past the blood, find the bone call out for crows to pick out your eyes sew your hand over your heart inject helium into your lungs feel the bile rise up and the ground hit your knees feel your skin, your muscles, your organs feel the blood mixing into the dirt Be there
T h e Storm
L a u r i
through my windowpane I see kerplunk as it hits its own puddles Puddles goes quack in his green and yellow jersey You see the lighting crack and Hear the thunder whiplash crack bam boom splash silence.
C h a m b e r s
Rain ratta tat tat pitter pitter-pat
Old Tin Cup
I tunnel through the tomb gripping pick and shovel slightly [an archaeologistâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s beloved tools] collapsing walls barricade my way hinder lively spirits threaten doom eternal but I push forward relentlessly. A sickly gas fills my nostrils the wretched breath of the dead. Behold! Not a stride away [barely even in a crawl] I glimpse the treasure I seek. reaching out for the artifact my fingers brush its sleek surface years of effort coming to fruition victory almost in grasp... A bell chimes. illusion shattered, I smile nevertheless pulling myself from the wreckage not a forlorn temple lost to the world instead the remains of an old chicken coop with walls like wet sponge and floors covered in gray lumber and toys storage for that which has no use [in any conventional way] I run to the yellow house down the hill where grandmother waits with her toiling hand-bell meeting my sister along the way ripped from her own reveries though my adventure was left behind idol still unobtained I receive a treasure still an old tin measuring cup battered with age filled with layers for me to unearth pretzels, crackers, popcorn, chips I dig in refreshed to return to the yard and experience whatever new escapades are in store. 31
Dreams of A Black Girl
Ad r i a n n a
Nationwide, 69 percent of African Americans graduate from
high school, and I happen to be a part of that statistic. To be academically educated in my neighborhood is something you do not tread lightly about. The way the “hood” is set up, everybody is looking for the next dollar, new ways to make ends meet by any means possible: robbing, murder, arson, drugs. The list goes on and on. Many people in my neighborhood are well-known illiterates, due to them not getting proper education. The only place that took the time to educate them when no one else did was the streets. The streets are what raised most of the people in North Philadelphia. The very few who do make it, however, like me, you don’t hear or see too much of them anymore. Slowly, their faces will fade away from the few minds who were privy to their success. This is because most people in the hood don’t have positive role models in their lives, and the only role models that they do have are people who are in the streets. Witnessing the failures of so many black children everyday makes it hard to recollect the very few who are successful. My plan was, always, to become the nurse practitioner I always planned to be, and forget where I came from- never looking back to remember pulling up late at night from a family dinner and having a prostitute greet us at our car, offering their services. Never looking back to remember walking outside for a quick breath of air to condoms and lipstick containers from their night’s work greeting you at the bottom of your doorsteps; walking home from school and seeing the drunken man sitting on the corner almost passed out at 4:00 PM. What I took away from these experiences is that my neighborhood would always be what it had always been. It would always face the problems of poverty, drugs and crime and it would remain the breeding grounds for it long after I was gone. I pretended, growing up, that I was unaware of what was happening, not only on my street, but in the neighborhood at large. The severity of poverty in my neighborhood, and the crime and prostitutes were too much to comprehend at a young age. I used the denial as a coping mechanism to maintain the innocence that I had as a child. When I finally accepted the reality, I lost my innocence. I experienced the loss of my innocence at a young age, before most kids do. In fact, at the age 34
of eight years old, most kids don’t even know what a condom or prostitute is, and I wish that had been the case for me, too. I didn’t have that choice, however; it was time to grow up. I was eight with the knowledge and experience of an adult, and it was time to act like it. For this reason, I made a promise to myself the moment I had realized what all was going on, that when I was old enough to leave, I would. I would get as far away as possible and become the nurse practitioner that I dreamed to be. But as I started getting older, I started to witness the hardships of working and the toll it took on my father. He worked long hours each day at multiple jobs and relied on a network of people, such as my grandfather and grandmothers, to make the possibility of his daughter receiving a proper education an option. Two heart attacks and a stroke later, the goal never changed. This instilled in me the value of education, that I can have opportunities to succeed and, later, have the financial freedom that is attached to that. My dad has always reiterated this goal to me, and fortunately, the goal stuck, even if it took years for it to happen. Eventually, I realized how bad I needed an education to succeed at what I wanted to do. I needed to set myself up the best way possible to become the retirement plan I know my father desperately depended on me to be. Abandoning where I came from wasn’t an option anymore. Fortunately, my father was able to afford to put me in private school my entire life. He saw it as a safe haven, a place where I could really make something out of myself, which is an opportunity that Philadelphia public schools don’t provide. Many of the public schools are underfunded, understaffed and
lack the basic necessities to educate the students. This link between poverty and lack of education resources allowed for me no other choice than to attend private school. Private school offered an escape from the unforgiving streets of North Philadelphia. Yet, I still never felt a sense of belonging in a predominantly white institution. The two worlds that I lived in everyday never compromised with each other, and a part of me always felt I didn’t have a place of belonging at Abington Friends. When I adopted a voice of properness, I too was considered to be forgetting the reality of back home. When I was at school, my melanin was too apparent, my hair was too kinky, and my hips were too wide for my peers. No matter what I did or how much I hoped I could change myself, it was never possible. Beginning in elementary school, I always felt the weight my race had on my education. The pity from my teachers diminished my belief in the education system and its mission to educate children, regardless of differences. With my difference being race, the standard of academic success was not expected of me. When I excelled in academics, it was believed I cheated my way to it. In the classroom, when I answered the teacher’s questions, it seemed like everything I said was incorrect. It was as if I was under more scrutiny because of the way I looked, rather than the correctness of my answer in comparison to a more pale face. When I got in trouble in middle school, my behavior was more intolerable and punishable than my white classmates. It was as if nothing I did was correct. Slowly, I began to devalue the meaning of education. My interests in topics, such as race and the
. . .when I answered the teacher’s questions, it seemed like everything I said was incorrect.
lessons that came with it, were gone. White people’s understanding of poverty and my understanding was completely different. It was frustrating and uncomfortable at times to take part in the conversations that were had. My white counterparts’ color blindness to equality was voided due to their thoughts of glorification of “hood coolness” and their realities of bank accounts linked to endless amounts of money. The lesson of race could only be taught by experience, and I knew none of my school peers would be able to experience the reality I did every day. My grades began to drop and, along with them, came the thread of meaningless threats. Each year of high school, I was threatened by my dad to be sent to the neighborhood school, which is exactly what I wanted to happen. I wanted to be understood by people who knew firsthand what it was like to be black. My attendance was sporadic throughout high school, that is until my sophomore year. Around that time, I actually began to understand the importance of education, and the ones who came before me made sure I was able to. I saw the reality of the world and the necessity of education to succeed. The reality was that the people I grew up, who worked hard cleaning the buildings and bathrooms of my school each day from head to toe, were janitors and nothing more. Those same people looked like me: innocent lives vibrant with melanin that was denied the chance of a good life because of their skin. It was then that I realized the power of knowledge is something that no one can take from you, and finally I understood why, for so many decades, people were afraid of blacks having it. You will always be at a disadvantage when compared to your white counterparts, and you will have to work twice as hard for opportunities that are handed to them. For black and impoverished people, if you don’t have education you don’t have anything. All of the goals I dreamt about as a child would not be possible if I didn’t graduate high school, and I
knew I needed to care more about my grades. I started meeting with teachers when I didn’t understand concepts, or to simply build relationships with them. After school, I was eager to complete homework and even get ahead on the homework due later in the week. I got involved in extracurricular activities, such as diversity work, to be a part of the ongoing conversations that private schools were finally ready to have about differences within our community. Being a diversity facilitator, I was able to facilitate events at my high school such as, Many Voices One Community Day, which allowed for me to educate teachers and students on differences within private school communities. Teachers I had grown up with finally saw me as a student who cared about her education, and I did too. I felt more than capable of the work and motivated to do what I needed to do to give myself the future my father and I deserved. On the day of my graduation, June 12th, 2019, I found myself surrounded by the people who helped raised me. Starting with my dad, and leading to my grandfather and grandmothers. These were the people who continuously pushed me since day one to see more than what I saw everyday directly in front of me. They saw the endless possibilities the world had to offer me and the only person who stood in my way, no matter what society told me. They saw that the only thing standing in the way of my path to true success was myself.
O d e | to|the Vericose|Vein
L o u g h i n
on my left testicle you lie unabashedly purple pumping away effervescent signs of life-giving liquid my bright grapevine
at last the age of learning of looking for answers on peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s legs noticing the lines so similar to my own but out in the open with less room to hide
when we were younger your existence scared me for years youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d hide under the surface waiting to well up with the hair-popping ball-dropping new stage of life
we soon became friends my violet-blood-vessel and ball-shaving-I a secret pact of beauty uniquely mine once we started fucking we had so much to share from our self-conscious nipples to our hairy taint-line
a titular sign of testicular cancer a fragile fault a failure of design too terrified to ask I hoped you would die
but the most important thing for our partner to find is the love we both cherish my left testicleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s varicose vein and I 37
B o u n d a
T h r e e (Daisy Chains)
R a v y n
M c G u i r e
Two pairs of tiny hands in the dark. Just as blind as I but a hand to hold. Joined together by thin braided threads. Intertwangled intertwined; a strong inseverable bond. Bound by birth. Dancing circles in the ivy beneath the willows. Giggling a tickled laugh. Little boney toes rooted in dirt, soft & rich. Daisy chain tangles bouncing on frail shoulders. Grass stained toenails, mud embedded pores. Gangly fingers grip a moist yellow ball loosing it as a friendly lab launches after it. Sugar-caked jeans protecting our petite kneecaps from scrapes that would do them harm. We sisters three crammed in an oak toy chest, filling it with shushed laughter. Communing with the bears that live there. Clutching knotted fleece blankets under our noses snuggling into each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s boney arms. The glow of a laptop screen fading into darkness. Iridescent glowing stars open their eyes (radioactive baby green) above our heads to whisper us to sleep. Bound are thee we sisters three. Regular trivial tormentation of the runt. Constant annoyance interrupting on the move slumber. Pulling the lip, the ear, & every single pigtail. Unapologetic mockery in its wake. Sunshine-filled cheeks purpled by the leaving of the one sacred & necessary. Unseen for (seemingly) never-ending seconds. Pinkies locked in vertigo. Standing hand in hand, as a monstrosity invaded our familial circle. Alone in the light against a beast so vile. Its bridge to our isle built by Mother. Our soft voices nearly 39
silenced by the vast evil. Sibling abuse halted by outside forces. Reconciled by the betrayal of others. Time again finding comfort & loyalty in each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s delicate arms. Daisies in permanent root, from one to the other. A boundless connection in those deep earthy bones so dear. Our limitless voices echoing in their drums,
shaking dry the chemical poison coating our pink skin. Unsilenced are we sisters three.
(Photograph by Ariadne Blayde)
Eyes M i n d of
B a r r a g a n
Paolo slept soundly in his room; his thin figure indented
comfortably in the failing springs of his bed until his dormancy was disrupted amid the deafening silence. His eyelids slowly slid open, in the unnerving truancy of a culprit. His pupils gawked at the inside of the sleep mask his mother had given him. Nothing. Paolo ripped off the mask. His earplugs fell out in response to the sudden movement. A nervous jerk coursed through his body, his muscles throbbing and frantic. A loud grumble erupted from within his sheets. Suddenly, the bed didn’t seem so comfortable anymore. Paolo groggily swiped at the empty space on his nightstand and raised his hand to his mouth by habit. He rotated his head toward every corner of the room. Gleaming eyes peered back at him from every direction. Every direction: the tricolor on the bed stand, in the lilies on the peeling wallpaper, on the pill bottle supported by the broken desk across the room. His father’s brows. His mother’s iris. A composite of authority. Paolo carefully drifted out of his bed and tugged at the blanket. Nothing...not this time at least. The door beckoned him, but the bottle sang his name. Paolo took a false step by the desk and rammed his head into the wall. His ankle folded into itself, sparking an all-too-familiar sensation. The bottle tipped and scattered its contents on the floor. He gripped his head, searching his memory for the curse word appropriate for this situation, but couldn’t remember. The walls rang just as strongly as his ears. Surely his father would have awoken had he been there. Had he ever been there. The walls have memory. Paolo’s small feet tapped against the cracked floorboards. An explicit creaking resonated within the room, castrating the silence. The knob of the door squeaked in response to the boy’s grip, shrieking in disgust. But there is no one else in the house right now, he consoled himself. No one but me. He frowned at the implication. Paolo stumbled down the hallway, his limp foot dragging against the splintering floorboards. He ran his small hands across the walls as he pushed himself down the passage and finally clenched the handrails that lead down the stairs. The briefest hesitation crossed him as he stared down into the familiar, seductive darkness. The exit. He shook his head and let go of the rails, turning back to the hallway. Whatever awaited him was not confined by the walls of his residence. Paolo was pulled forwards 41
His father. Himself. Flashes of his existence paraded across his mind. Paolo’s knees knocked against each other as he glanced around. He rubbed his abdomen as if he’d been punched. The empty mouth of the beast opened and spewed forth a piercing cold breath. Paolo took a step back and his mouth, too, opened and let out a piercing scream. But there was no one to hear him. No one but us.
with the same force that drew him from the bed. He pounded his head and opened the door to the next room. Fear crawled over his fragile outline, knowing what would come next. The same growl that awoke him echoed off the walls. He quickened his pace in desperation. The first monster flickered into existence. From above, it stared indiscriminately down at him. Paolo couldn’t distinguish a face among its threatening but inconsistent illumination. At Paolo’s command the monster left as quickly as it had appeared, and no slower. He turned and saw the second apparition, greeting him once again. Familiarity did not soften its threatening nature. Its dingy, white, cold shell shone against the meekness of the boy before it. The monster stared at him with round eyes that he had known to inflame upon provocation. The eyes were caked with black dust from the beast’s previous victims. Paolo guided his eyes away from the apparition, knowing it could do him no harm
Fear crawled over his fragile outline if he ignored it. The next figure revealed itself as a gurgling mess. Its full mouth emitted the stench of negligence. He had seen this monster most of any other. Although its eyes were hidden, it judged him intensely. The monster drooled before him in intervals. Paolo stood before it expressionless. The boy ambled to the left, a jolt of pain escaping from his ankle. Here he confronted the final obstacle. A grumble echoed through the air, the same that had awoken him. The angular behemoth displayed a height much more pronounced than Paolo’s, the patches against its dark skin barely distinguishable in the darkness surrounding him. The faces of his family taunted him from the beast’s shell. His mother. 42
Feel A s h e s the
F e n g
G o o i
I became numb to the fireworks. Even their deafening bangs
had turned into white noise. One after another, they shot up into the night sky and exploded in dazzling blues, reds, yellows and greens. Petals of light bloomed in the air before fizzling into nothingness but then before you could even realize it was gone, another took its place and then another. For the past two hours, it was an endless barrage. Occasionally, I glanced up to look at them as I folded the joss paper into the shape of a yuanbao, the ancient boat-shaped gold ingots used in Imperial China. Together with my sister and my father, I stacked the folded papers up into a pile on the street outside our house and in front of the makeshift altar we made. The pile had gotten so big it was now the shape of mountain. Every so often when I set a paper ingot atop the pile, it would cause an avalanche. Dozens of paper ingots came tumbling down, expanding the pile’s base, giving it a stronger foundation. Then, the three of us would fold more of them, stacking them atop one another once more, making the gold paper mountain even bigger and taller. The night was hot and muggy and all the smoke in the air didn’t help. The smell of incense and joss sticks drifted through the street. I sweated while I crouched down beside the pile. I looked to see my father and sister intently focused on their task. They had the zeal of monks, their eyes did not wander like mine, their busy hands folded the paper notes like assembly line machines. It had been almost an hour now and just a few minutes to midnight, my feet were feeling a little sore. My sister noticed, she always did. “You could can take a break if you want or sit down,” she said. I ignored her and carried on. Other families on our street were doing the same but they build up their piles with languid cheer. They laughed and chatted as they folded and piled their gold papers together. For many it was a festive gathering, families had invited brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, and friends for the occasion. I looked at the house across ours, the men heatedly debated politics as they stacked their pile, they paused on occasion to take a swig of beer or munch on the snacks their wives passed 44
to them, their children ran around with fizzling sparklers in their hands while their grandma watched contently. Our family was just us. Still, our pile was bigger and taller than all the other families, we had taken up so much of the road that only a kancil could squeeze through it. It had always been this way since I could remember. Every year, our pile was the biggest and tallest. Everyone else had numbers, we had fervor. It was the eve of the ninth day of the Chinese New Year, we were all celebrating the Bai Tian Kong Festival, where we honored the God of Heavens, The Grandfather of The Skies, the Jade Emperor. It was a holiday celebrated by the Hokkien Chinese people and most people on our island emigrated from there. According to legends, during the first days of Chinese New Year, a group of pirates raided the Hokkien province. They slaughtered villagers and burnt down their homes. Some of the villagers managed to escape and hid themselves in the nearby sugarcane fields. There, they prayed to the Jade Emperor for deliverance and he answered. For days the pirates scoured the fields for the villagers but among the tall stalks of green, they became invisible. On the ninth day, the pirates gave up and left. Henceforth, the Hokkien people celebrated their salvation with offerings of gratitude to the Jade Emperor. I got all this from Wikipedia. When I asked my sister if this was true, she shrugged. “I thought we were celebrating His birthday,” she said. I googled and found that it was both, a sign of The God of Heaven’s blessing. “I always wondered what was up with the sugar canes, I never thought to ask.”
We wondered if our father knew the story. He actually wasn’t Hokkien and since Chinese subethnicity is patrilineal, technically we weren’t either. Our mother was though but according to my sister, she didn’t care much for the festival. “Mom couldn’t stand staying up past eleven. She would fall asleep instantly, dead to the world. Even with all fireworks, she slept like a pig. You inherited that from her seeing as how I have to drag you off your bed every morning,” my sister said. I never knew my mother, she passed away when I was five and my sister was ten. People sometimes asked me if I remember anything about her, I told them I had an image of a gentle faced woman tenderly brushing my hair. It made them nod and smile but it was a lie. It happened but I didn’t remember it. My sister told me my mother loved brushing my hair. She said my mother and I had the same hair, soft, smooth and silky black. My sister would always note the similarities between us but I always wondered about the differences. What was the true gulf between me and this woman I didn’t know who hovered over my life. When I saw photographs of her, I would actually feel uneasy. It was true, appearance wise we were near identical, even as a child I could see her eyes in mine, my lips in her’s. As the years passed the similarities only grew. I’m not sure why but I feared that one day I would wake up and become her mirror image. When we were done piling up the boat-shaped ingots, my father started laying the gifts atop our paper mountain. Our family didn’t just have the biggest pile on the street, we also always prepared the most lavish gifts for the Jade Emperor. This year my father bought a pair of black leather shoes, a clean cut white designer shirt, an iPad, an opulent palace filled with little servants, and a silver car that looked like
When I saw photographs of her, I would actually feel uneasy.
a Tesla, an upgrade from last year’s Mercedes Benz. They were all made of paper, destined to be burnt and mailed up to the heavens. I wondered if all these gifts actually made the Jade Emperor annoyed. I imagined rows and rows of heavenly palaces bursting to the seams with luxury cars, gold and designer clothes. I wondered if the Sky God would sigh and say “I have too many servants, the heavens are overpopulated!” What’s the point of all these gifts for an immortal all powerful being? I mean, what would a god even do with an iPad? I asked my father about this once and he just shrugged and said “It’s worship. It’s about the intent, I think.” My father was no devout believer of the gods, he fulfilled his religious duties almost begrudgingly. My sister had to constantly remind him to buy flowers and fruits for the gods on our altar on the first of every month. When I told him my friends all were blessed at the Temple of the Milk Buddha for the national exam, he snorted derisively. “Why would you need a god to give you good grades? I didn’t waste my time praying to get my degree, no god gave me my job or my home, I earned it all on my own,” he said. During Qingming one year, he told us we wouldn’t need to clean his tomb or offer him food and remembrances once he passes. He pointed to a grave beside him. It was a crumbling nameless slab of stone swallowed by weeds and drowned by the indifferent waves of time. “That’s what I want my death to be, I’m just gonna be sleeping, sleeping, sleeping. Don’t bother luring me out with roast pork and paper money,” he joked. My sister got very upset with him for this.
My mother was cremated. She requested her ashes to be scattered on the park where we used to play every weekend, I didn’t remember that either. It was probably illegal and not environmentally friendly, but we did it. I go there sometimes and wonder how many blades of grass were borne out of those ashes. Yes, my father considered religion and traditions an inconvenience more than a necessity. Yet, every year he would go all out for this one night. Even without my sister’s prompting, he prepared everything for the festival from the food to the offerings all in advance. When it was midnight, my father took one of the gold paper ingots from the pile, lit it with the candle from the makeshift altar, and tossed it back in. The fire was slow and meticulous. It cautiously chipped at the paper offerings before its hunger was truly unleashed and it engulfed everything in gluttony. I watched the paper palace and the little servants inside it, the car, the iPad, the clothes, the ingots, all crumple, blacken and disintegrate into the red oblivion. My father took the two sugar canes that were attached to each side of the Jade Emperor’s makeshift altar, snapped them and threw them into the fire. All around us was the same, every home on the street had a little bonfire before it but ours was the biggest and burnt the brightest. The smoke stung my eyes and I started coughing. My sister gently pulled me back from it but I nudged her aside. I stepped forward closer to the fire. The heat made sweat drip from my brow, I breathed in slow and deep. I stared at the flames, eyes watering, feeling slightly guilty. I remembered when my sister took us to the
The fire. . . cautiously chipped at the paper offerings. . . 46
Temple of The Milk Buddha to be blessed last year. We both had our respective national exams, her’s at the end of high school and mine at the end of primary school. We took the bus and didn’t tell our father. There were throngs of people that day, all there to receive a divine blessing. Me and my sister stood in a long line with three joss sticks in hand to pray to the god but my dread and anxiety grew as I got closer to the front. The brass incense pot was absolutely filled with burning joss sticks, all squeezed in tight together with no room to spare, the overcrowded mass of them jutted up intimidatingly like a smoldering bamboo forest amid a desert of ash. The ember rings around the tip of the burning sticks exhaled and inhaled in a union of malicious anticipation. When it was my turn, I bowed down and waved my sticks but didn’t pray. My eyes were searching anxiously for any little spot to place my sticks and my mind was far too worried about my hand being stung by the ashes when I did stick them in. I thought about how the forest of incense sticks would crumble as I reached in and a rain of red-hot ashes would assault my hand. It was a silly thing, it was just hot ash, it would just be a little sting but I imagined my skin melting, boiling and being scorched apart that you would see the whites of my bones. My sister was behind me, she saw my hesitation and without a word she took the three sticks of incense from my hand and placed them expertly in the pot. They stood proud and upright, indistinguishable citizens of the burning collective. The surrounding sticks were undistributed, my sister’s hand left the pot as graceful and clean as it always was. Now that she had placed mine, it was my sister’s turn to pray and place her own incense sticks. However, just then, an old man from the temple came forward and casually grabbed a fistful of joss sticks, their burning tips crumbled and his hand was buried in an avalanche of hot ash but he didn’t even flinch. It
was as if his old wrinkled hands were made of iron, the gray ashes dusted off his skin and fell to the floor. The pot was now clear, my sister prayed and inserted her sticks peacefully inside it. “You think this actually helps?” I asked my sister after we were done. She shrugged “Asking for a little help never hurt anyone. We do our best, sometimes it’s enough, sometimes it isn’t, sometimes luck and good fortune makes all the difference.” Whether it was luck, a blessing, or through her own efforts, my sister gained stellar results from her examination. She earned a scholarship and soon she’ll leave us for someplace better and further. Together, the three of us, my father, my sister and me, watched the fire turn from a writhing red beast into a pathetic black mess, the last flickers reached out into the air with quiet desperation. When it finally died, we cleaned up and brought the food offerings back inside. But just before we dismantled the Jade Emperor’s makeshift altar, I made sure my sister and father didn’t see me and bowed down before Him. I gave a quick prayer. I prayed that one day I wouldn’t feel the ashes.
M i r r o r Sparrow
L a t t a n z i (Art by Kateryna Bortsova)
I pull my fingers through my hair, releasing dreams of you beneath running water. Memories take shape behind rosy eyelids and are put to rest with good water pressure. I hear your love suspended from the tendrils near to my ears, like ripe fruit I’ll pluck your tiny hearts from my hair and kiss them into the mouth in the mirror. Every day I will love myself this way. There’s a face in the mirror I’m not close to yet but I can close my eyes and dream I’m next to yours. I look at the hair settling onto my left shoulder, proof of growth. Time has designed a teacher out of me and you say my lessons taste sweet. I couldn’t fathom anything sweeter than a multiverse of you and I. I’ll carry this love in my legs and with each fresh step on solid Earth I’ll feel certain of the cultivation of great heights. Today I counted my lucky stars for this lifetime, so tonight I will design a constellation in reverence to you
S a l s a A l e x DeLaCruz
The morning after Mario died, Junior, the eldest of Mario’s children, received a phone call from his youngest sister, Mary. She described to him the accounts of the night before. The final tone, Mario’s last mumble, and the stampede of sneakers and ragged scrubs. And curiously, their brother Angel, who slumped over the husk of their father. She knew her brothers, Antonio, Angel, and Junior, more than she knew her sister Lana. Mary swore Angel was smiling. “None of us liked him, Mary.” “Nah, Junior. I liked him… didn’t you?” The whisper of coaxial scratches hung in Junior’s ear as he sucked the cig between his lips. He stared at the cracked pavement between his feet. “Anyway, Dad wanted the reception at the restaurant.” “Figured.” “So, it’s ok?” “Doesn’t matter.” “You ok?” “Yeah, Mary. I’m good.” “Let’s meet up -” I could imagine his contemplation and her naivety, ignorantly unaware of his disposition. His phone would fall to his side as he rubbed his dry eyes and allowed her to continue her ramble before returning to the conversation, and his eyes would tighten inwards. “Antonio, and Lana, said they would help cut down the costs after-” “Should I be fine?” “The- uh, yeah. Yes? But, hey, I’m sure we’ll get through it together. By the way.” “Yeah?” “Dad had a request for the salsa.” On his way to the restaurant. Junior thought about the crack on his front patio. How it reminded him of the cracks in the tar in front of his restaurant. The cracks led from the alley behind Fletcher, crossed Main, and parted Broadway and LaGranche. The gap wasn’t terrible in size, but noticeable, most definitely. Junior’s Sous Chef, Rose, had noticed it weeks 50
earlier and dubbed the site, The Black Canyon. The name never seemed more appropriate than that morning, and before last night, the site was no wider than an inch, and the city’s reputation for negligence guaranteed the issue would grow into a problem.
dung, mixed in urinal watah. FUCKIN’ WASTE. The jars clanged like wind chimes in the backseat. The family secret, Mario called it. The recipe that payed for his children’s schooling, food, and his own father’s citizenship. The secret ingredient in his lasting relationship with Junior’s mother, ‘til she was found on the wrong end of Akon St. Junior and his mother shared a love of reading, and cooking. She passed a short time after Junior took over the restaurant. She begged him to change himself around, let go of grudges— do something with his life. As he passed the city line between Chelmsford, and Lowell, he rolled down his window, and felt the crisp air scrape the moisture off his skin. His face tightened, grill marks of flaked skin edged slightly. A euphoric rush powered him forward. Junior reached into the front pocket of his black attire. His leather gloves plucked a crumpled carton housing three bent cigarettes, and a scrap of paper scribbled with bullets and crossed out lines. He popped
Overnight, the storm had come in furious, and raged as if Zeus and Thor were competing in a javelin toss, and neither dared concede. Hail bullets and rain spears had raided the cracks, and with the cold November sunrise, froze, widening the gap. The slivered valley of the Black Canyon had ripped further and gave birth to a respectable lip. Black sheens and sunset foliage hid the lip that predated suspensions and mufflers. Junior rumbled down to the reception in his ’95 Camry. Sunglasses on- the blinding white of the sun erased the road. Junior had only ever received two gifts from his father. The first was this beat-up Camry that was given
A euphoric rush powered him forward. to him as a high school graduation present, and the second was the restaurant. Whether he loved these gifts depended on the day, and today was a day where the line would be toed. In Junior’s youth, Mario had beaten into him, “This restaurant was the only reason you were born. You and the othah rats are just free labah.” “Whatever.” “Start choppin’ tomatahs, wise ass. Salsa’s runnin’ low.” The salsa. The damn fucking salsa that I’m forced to make. It’s my goddamn restaurant. Fuckin’ lawyers. Fuckin’ dad. Fucking salsa. ‘Give you the restaurant’ my ass! When you go, so does the salsa, ‘cause ain’t nobody gonna care about that slime of fuckin’ garbage
a cig in and lit the tail end as he balanced the wheel on his knee. A gurgling cough followed the initial puff. After a minute, Junior squeezed his lips around the cig and uncrumpled the paper, reading to himself. “Today, we honor my father— no— the city loses a ‘great’ man. NO – this is all bullshit.” Junior turned his attention to the radio, twisting the rubber dial of the antique. There was a finesse to the tuning. He turned ‘til a click popped at the nerves of his arthritic fingertip, then held on ‘til the local AM came on. A memorial service played in honor of his father. He pulled out a yellowed rag, dampened, and reeking of ash. Wheezing in and exhaling gunk. A whisper of white noise warped into a muffled tone, “Missed will be the late Mario Galapagos, died 51
on Tuesday, November 6th. He leaves behind his five children and restaurant as his legacy, a pillar of his importance to our community. Service will be at…”. Junior took a deep breath and grinded his teeth before smacking the radio off, as his lungs flushed out the air. His father’s face shrunk in tight when he’d first found out about the smoking. Junior was 19, and Mario was pissed. “Whatever,” Junior would say, which garnered an “I got a gun” from Mario. “Under your bed.” Junior would roll his eyes. “SO JUST WASTE YAHSELF, NOW! I wanna mourn soonah than latah, ya feckin’ moron.” Time passed quicker than a bullet through the heart.
pulling him into another world, and the imperfect perfection of her smile. Her smile creeped to her left side and showed a slight glimmer of white that peered through the crevice of her lips. As a teenager, his father never approved of dating, and his mother would throw him lines like, “a woman wants love” or “never gift her a rose if you do not know she wants it” or something indecipherable to him. As Junior continued to drive, he noticed Robert down the street from the restaurant. Robert, who curated the funeral parlor, pulled the antique plastic covers out of his heirloom hearse his own father bequeathed to him. A sad state of hand-me-down junk, and life-weights. Robert whipped the cover in the air with a couple of snaps, then attempted to close the trunk door. SWING! Denied. The door swings right back, smacking Robert clear in the knee. Robert jostled back, confused, and scratched the tender scalp atop his head, then swung again. Rejection! The door came back with a mighty vengeance into Robert’s gut, and miraculously locked itself in. Robert stumbled up for a moment, surprised to see the door stuck. He tugged it gently, with no budge, then clapped his gloves together. The crack in the road gave Junior a jump as his tires slammed against it. The wheel broke from Junior’s grip. His fingers slid in and cocked it slowly back into place. The stench of rubber filled the air as Junior halted. Junior gripped onto his gut and keeled over a degree. He swallowed some spit, then felt the mucus drip down his throat. He wheezed and coughed. Junior pulled up to the restaurant. Curtains covered the windows. Most days, Rose would have had the restaurant ready to go for business, even letting a few of the early birds in to warm up with some tea and toast, but today, Mary was wrangling in the mourners. Junior couldn’t believe they loved that man with so much passion. He trudged in the backdoor, pulled up
Homeless tents filled in the gaps of darkness blanketed between the unkept shops, and businesses which piqued in the mid-90’s into the early aughts. Police patrols were shorter and covered less of the city. Every night, Junior would order Rose to carry the leftovers out for the transients. He never told Rose how much he appreciated her taking care of the restaurant, or the way she handled the regulars, who were marinated in their conservative views. Or how much he cared for their conversations of war, and drugs, and sleep, and sex, and food. Food. FOOD. Those were the Crème de la Crème of the articulate cuisines the two would concoct. The smells, the textures, presentation, design, art, but never the taste. For them taste was least important. Food tasted good, no matter what. Details stimulated their artisanal minds, but her details took Junior over. Junior would toss late at night til the squeaks of the springs drove him out. Some days he’d light up a drag, some days he’d play Star Wars, and some days he would count the speckles left in the concrete on his patio. But every time, he would think of Rose: her frizzled hair held by safety pins, the wrinkles of her knuckles dusted in flour, the deep green of her iris, 52
his tie and tugged his pants down. One after another, old patrons gave Junior their condolences. Junior pulled at his necktie, sighed, and broke from the mob. Hope Rose made extra last night. The sick bastards love this shit. Walking into the kitchen, he noticed a note taped on the swing-door which read, Sorry for the shit I gave you last week. Know that I’m here, but you owe me a good dinner. Not from this rathole, though. The chef’s a prick. Yours, Rose. p.s. Extra salsa in the freezer. Those sick bastards love that shit. p.s.s Speak up. Junior gave a rare snicker, yes, they do. He plodded into the freezer and dragged a bucket of salsa out the door.
“NO shit. So, where does this go?” Antonio chuckled, smacked Junior in the shoulder, and held tight. Mary scrunched her lips up in a forced smile, then pointed to the open casket in the dining area. Junior directed his vision to her finger’s direction. His face fell limp, his jaw dropped, and his eyebrow curled up. On Mario’s chest, a wooden bowl, handed down to him by Junior’s grandmother, was gently held up by Mario’s stiff hands. Guests gathered around the casket, dipping their chips, and dripping residue on Mario’s pale cheeks. No one bothered to clean up the dried tomato chunks. “What… the fuck?” Antonio spat out with laughter as Junior stiffened back up. “This… has to be breaking a health code or seven.” “I saw Uncle Raul double dip, and, eh, who’s coming to check on you.” “It’s what he wanted.” Mary interrupted. Junior shouted “I’m gonna get shut down!” Uncle Raul bumbles around the corner, belly tearing the thread of the single button that kept his bunched-up, waist-high, lump-plum gut within the body’s capacity. Uncle Raul licked his fingers before groping Junior’s chest, tugging him in close. “Son, you’ve gotta keep that salsa going.” Uncle Raul wipes his chin off on his pocket rag. “Shit’s the reason why I barely fit in my suit.” “I’m sure it’s not the only reason.” Antonio whispered close “Shut it!” “Sorry, Uncle Raul. I’m just a wreck.” Antonio smirked. Uncle Raul sighed, “Listen, it’s not healthy to laugh at a funeral. Ya father wasn’t good at a lot of things, but he took care ah ya kids. Gave ya a roof, ‘n food on the table.” “Basic human needs. Any less and we would’ve been better off under Trujillo.” Lana cut in with her pearl
Uncle Raul bumbles around the corner, belly tearing the thread of the single button that kept his bunched-up, waist-high, lump-plum gut within the body’s capacity. A yelp came from across the room, “Junior!” Mary came rushing like a linebacker in full sprint. She crunched a bag of tortilla chips in Junior’s chest. His brother, Antonio, was right behind her. “What’s this for?” “The salsa.” 53
white dress. She was never one to follow the rules. “Eh, ya kids need to ‘member the good times!” “Yeah! The good times, Uncle Raul.” Antonio grabbed Uncle Raul by the shoulder and held him tight. He lifted a single finger at the corner of the restaurant. “Lana, remember the days where Dad would make us kneel in the corner there?” Lana gave Uncle Raul’s tummy a one-two smack, “Yeah, and the nails-” “That stuck right up from-” “The floorboards! YES!” “Yup, and the tears we would shed together.” “Oh, I miss the tears! Haven’t had them since I left this shithole. What did we do to deserve it?” “Some days it would be running, other days it’d be for fun. Most days it was just to keep us out of his hair.” “And remember, big brother, Junior, punching that dead beat in the jaw.” Junior cringed. “Because he was sick of the torture.” “ALRIGHT! Jesus!” Raul broke off, huffing hot air, and bumbled down to a booth. Lana jumped in and gave Junior a big embrace. “Hey, big brother.” “Hey, kiddo.” Junior smacks his lips on Lana’s forehead. “You feeling ok?” Junior smirked, “Almost died at the ‘Black Canyon’.” “The what?” “Something Rose talked about. Anyway, I’m… ya
know. You?” “Like, a puff of smoke.” They shared a laugh. Antonio nudged his siblings, and the four of them walked into the seated area. Angel sat alone in the corner of the bar and listened to the eulogies with little vigor. Junior shot over to his brother. The rest followed closely, and ritualistic spun in the stools as they rested their asses. “Hey, Mario.” “Hey, Man.” Junior nodded. “You going up?” “I don’t know. Maybe.” “You should. You guys were close.” “Nah. I’ll just bullshit.” Junior paused and looked down to his tattered shoes and swayed his eyes over to his brother Angel’s Italian loafers. “You lucked out you know…” Junior cocked a solemn smile to his brother who looked back with a cautious gaze. “You didn’t want this place.” “Yeah, I know.” “He loved you, more than any of us.” Junior stretched back in the stool. “I mean, he spared you from this dump.” Angel shook his head in displeasure. “You’re ridiculous! He knew you weren’t gonna make it anywhere.” Junior scrunched his eyebrows towards each other. “What the fuck are you saying?” “Mario, you were a loser before you got this place, and you complain about Dad, but how many times has he bailed you out of jail, or cleaned you up, or fought for you…” Junior saw a rare glimpse of pain that none of his siblings dared show, causing his hand to grip onto Angel’s shoulder. “I’m sorry…” Surprised, Angel gave in, “But he wasn’t an easy man either.” “Nope- he always loved to pit us against each other, and- fuck me- he’s getting the last laugh.”
Angel sat alone in the corner of the bar and listened to the eulogies with little vigor.
“I’m sure he’s loving it.” A moment passed as the ceremony continued. “Mario.” Junior shot in. “It’s ok, baby brother, but, please… you gotta stop with that. Mario’s my name, but I ain’t the new one.” “Alright, sure.” Junior peaked over to his brother, locking eyes, before turning away to the minister who cricked up to the podium. “Would anyone else like to give our dear friend a last goodbye?”, the minister asked. “Fuck it!” Junior stood up and walked up to the stand. “Ah, good man, Mario.” AM I THE NEW MARIO!? No fuckin’ way… No. fuckin’ way! Whatever… Just like you practiced. Where’s Rose? Could use some of her courage. Junior popped behind the podium and looked at the crowd of friends his father had gathered. So many old faces, like antique heirlooms that he never understood, but appreciated. Bumps climbed up his back as he swallowed his fear. “I, ah, just wanted to say thank you to all of you for being here. I know my father would’ve appreciated it. Umm… yeah. I can’t say much about him that you don’t already know. He was hardworkin’, and he loved his work more than anything.” Looking up at his siblings, Junior inhaled and shook his head, affirming his struggle. Rose walked in, beautiful as ever. Junior stopped himself. “But what you all don’t know, is that this man was a prick,” The crowd turned sour. “… And I don’t think I’m gonna miss him. Sure, he gave me this place, and he bailed me out of some tight spots- and I appreciate that- but you know what, the
man was never there when I really needed him. He never taught me how to BE a man, or teach me how to date a girl, or throw a spiral, or fuck, for fucksake! This man never gave any of us a smile. Not one god damn fucking smile.” The minister pinched his bible tight to his chest, while dipping a chip in the casket. “But fuck did he teach me how to make some shit salsa! No ‘I love you’, no ‘If you need me, I’m here’, or a simple ‘How was your fucking day?’” Lana stood up and clapped. Mary stomped towards the stage. Rose laughed along with Lana. “Preach!” Lana shouted. “So, fuck you, Dad. Fuck you and your SALSA!” Junior paused to stare at the gaped jaws and wrinkled faces that stared at him in complete shock, before turning to the minister, whose mouth was sprinkled with crumbs, “And you know what? The salsa- it’s ground tobacco! … Addicts!” Mary took hold of Junior and dragged him outside, where she held him down on the stairs until the guests had aligned for the procession. Rose took over her duties and plopped down next to Junior. “You did it.” “I feel good.” “You should.” “Should I feel good?” Junior’s eyes cut through the grout and stone before him. Rose slapped Junior in the arm, giving him a reassuring smile. “When I said, ‘Speak up’, I didn’t mean like that.” Junior slumped down and laid his back against the cold slab. He stared at the wrinkled leather of Rose’s heels. His eyes followed her leg up to the waves of her dress, and to the beauty of her eyes. “You know how to talk to a girl, by the way.” Junior
. . .and ritualistically spun in the stools as they rested their asses.
popped his head up. Rose stood and floated over Junior, down the steps. “You just don’t know how to ask them out.” Junior hopped to his feet. Just as he was going to blurt out the question, a small whisper stopped him in his tracks. “Not at your Dad’s funeral, though. See ya tomorrow.” Lana closed the casket, refilling the bowl before doing so. “Eat up, Dad.” Antonio and Angel led the pack carrying the casket. “See ya, Pops.” “Night, night. Fucker.” They loaded him up, stepped back, and slammed the trunk a few times. Mary drove her siblings close behind the hearse. The loudest sound was Antonio’s heavy breathing. Lana cut in. “That was wicked, Junior.” “Thanks.” Junior looked at her with a crooked smirk. More compliments followed. Even Mary said, “You’re gonna lose a lot of customers, but that was ‘wicked’.” Junior stared at the hearse in front. He couldn’t help, but wish that god was real, and that his father was there, crimson-faced, strangling his throat with his poltergeist sausage-links. He wished that he could’ve seen his reaction when he flipped him off one last time. I fucking wish. As they passed Broadway, Junior remembered the Black Canyon, and asked Mary to ease off the gas. About 500 feet down the road, the hearse hit the lip at 25 miles. The pack of rats watched the casket pop up and a burst of red covered the windows. The door swung open and out went the casket, wide open. Mary swerved around the carcass and pulled to a stop. Mario continued to slide down Fletcher, and into Main, until finally stopping in the cross between Broadway and LaGranche. Antonio, Angel, and Lana ran to their father. Junior 56
followed behind. Lana smiled as she pulled her phone out, while the hearse kept driving. Antonio spat profanities at the hearse, as the conga of cars waited behind. Doors opened, and out cracked geriatric pops of hips and slaps of rubber soles on the slick pavement. Junior approached the casket with his father plastered in salsa. Angel held his head in hand. Junior knelt and scraped an upward crescent through the salsa over his father’s mouth. The siblings gathered around– the pantheon. Each looked to Junior- eyes reflected the polarized beams of the glaring street. “That’s all we ever really wanted.”
(Art by Daniel Ciochina)
K i n g ’ s
My breath reeks of your embezzled jubilation (and nitrogen) You fell
in love with me and my laissez faire sense of punctuation
My last breaths spent on run-on sentences
(Photograph by Sarah Deckro)
Sedna in the Water J.M. Brannyk
Hanging onto the boat. Fingers pleading with the wood, the water, the air slapping up against her long face. Her dark braids float, barely bobbing their twisted heads above the cold skin of water. The moon is pulled roughly behind a cloud. Each eye of night acquiesces and closes as the dagger is pulled from the sheath There are no words to surface. Ten cuts. Not so clean. The dull knife pries the bones off the boat’s ledge. Her startled cry gargles on the choppy water as her grip is sliced away, like meat, in sloppy cuts. Her eyes never lose their surprise as she slowly sinks by inches, doesn’t drop in quickly like he had hoped but the water carefully accepts her into its sharp obsidian nest. The bloody fingers still wriggling, rolling around the boat in a panic. He can see the whites of her eyes minutes afterwards, staring out from the bruised mouth of the ocean. He rows back in silence. The fingers become wrinkled, still flailing and knocking into each other. He pauses to gather and toss them out of the boat, but they keep changing. It’s hours before he returns to his home without his daughter. At the bottom of the sea, the blood from her hands hardens, her long braids freeze and crystalize, the water morphs her into something even more enduring.
T h e | Ye l l o w
Umbrella Melissa P o w e r s
The city was grey. Clouds stood watch overhead as cars and people milled through crowded streets. Wind kicked the ever-present downpour of rain against glass skyscrapers. The droplets began to pool in the yellow and white striped awning above Conroy. He had tucked himself underneath the awning for a nap on the ground as the storm approached. Beads of water migrated down the canvas cover and plopped to the ground, splashing the tips of his bare toes. While the sensation would prove to be annoying, he hunkered down farther against the brick wall of the cafe. The owner was kind enough to let Conroy doze against the building before closing time most days and sometimes would gift him with a display dessert. A shrewd businessman, the owner would often reuse the display foods the next day if they passed a visual inspection. Only as a last possible option, of course. Usually, Conroy would receive a box of mismatched macaroons. Though brightly colored, the pastries lacked filling and had a habit of crumbling to pieces the moment teeth met cookie. Occasionally, a ham and egg sandwich would find its way into Conroy’s proximity when he woke up. The dry macaroons were worth it for a sandwich and a narrow spot to sleep. The trickle of rain down the drainpipe serving as Conroy’s pillow caught his attention. Water spilled out the end, flooding the sidewalk but missing him by a few inches. The water spread across the darkened sidewalk. A seemingly mindless flow of tendrils creeping for the quickest path downward. An unseen sun crashed through the clouds, sparkling off the liquid trails. A subtle change in lighting that vanished as quickly as it appeared. Conroy felt a familiar twinge of despair watching the liquid crawl so beautifully across the pavement. Shaking his head, he dismissed his thoughts. The sky wept at a faster pace. Soon, the end of the drainpipe was spewing water at a gentle vibrato. Breathing a sigh of relief, Conroy shut his eyes, the steady hum of the pipe luring him to sleep. “Excuse me,” A woman said, breaking through Conroy’s restless sleep. Someone, or possibly a stick, tapped Conroy on his folded knee. He tucked his knees closer to his chest, squeezing his eyes shut tighter, and eased off a rock that found its way under his bottom. 59
“Excuse me,” the speaker lowered to sit on her heels. “I don’t mean to bother you, but this is important.” Conroy shook his head and he heard her scoff. She tapped him on the shoulder, “Hey, seriously, some lady inside is pissed and calling the cops.”
with silver hair and a cell phone pushed against the side of her face looked directly at Conroy and glowered. The Umbrella woman stood, crossing one arm and maintaining her hold on her umbrella with the other. Conroy glared back at the silver-haired woman and rose to his feet slowly. The owner of the
A stinging, comforting warmth flowed down his throat. . . Conroy popped his eyes open. The woman’s thin eyebrows were drawn, a wrinkle popping up between them. She was attractive, not much older than Conroy, a pair of large hoop earrings peeking out from her stick-straight brown hair. A faint, thin scar cut a line across her left cheek and down to her chin.The woolly white jacket cinched tightly with a belt around her waist was buttoned to the collar and tinted a bright yellow by the large umbrella slung over her shoulder. The coat was long, covering her knees as she sat in a squat. Boots, black and heavy, poked out from the hem of her dress and a large, simple, purple purse rested on the ground between her feet. “Finally, Jesus,” the woman said. “Some cranky lady saw you sleeping out here and got all uppity about it. You want a cup of coffee? She can’t make you leave if you’re a customer. My treat.” “The cops aren’t gonna come,” Conroy said, the sound of his own voice echoed in his ears unfamiliar to him. “It’s raining.” The woman’s eyebrows rose nearly to her forehead before she shrugged and rolled her eyes, “Alright, fine, how about you help me out with something? I’ll pay you.” He looked the woman up and down again. Nothing about her led him to believe she had ill-intentions for him. Still, he said, “What do you want?” “Let me try and draw your hands. I tried taking this art class and it’s for an assignment.” Suddenly, the door to the cafe burst open. A woman
cafe was directly behind the angry, old broad with an exasperated look on his face. “Yes, Officer, he’s still here,” the other woman spoke into her phone loudly, intending for Conroy and Umbrella to hear it. She took a few steps down the stoop and placed and an angry fist on her hip. “Some people, I swear,” Umbrella said. She moved closer to Conroy, casting him in yellow with her bright umbrella. She smelled like roses and pastel hues. “He’s not leaving, psycho. Get over yourself.” “I am on the phone,” Silver hair snapped. She turned to the Owner and shoved the cell phone into his hands, “They want to speak to you before sending a car over. You should really learn how to run a business. I’m a customer and the customer is always right. That slob is clearing on drugs.” “I’m buying him a cup of coffee so technically he’s a customer now,” Umbrella said. She pulled lightly on Conroy’s arm, encouraging him to follow her. Quickly, she pulled the umbrella closed and popped it into the plastic bucket that served as a stand just inside the door. “There you go, lady,” The owner said, tossing the cell phone back to the silver haired woman and shrugging his shoulders. He hung in the doorway once Conroy and the woman with the umbrella passed him, looking down at the silver haired woman from the top steps. “You’re both customers now so whether you stay or go is your choice.” “Let’s see how many people stop by this crusty 60
place after they read about this horrible experience on the net,” Silver tossed her hair over her shoulder as she popped open her dull gray umbrella, marching off down the street. The door slammed shut from the wind as Conroy cautiously lowered himself into a chair opposite of the Umbrella woman. Owner muttered an insult under his breath meant for the Silver Haired woman before brewing and plopping down two black coffees on the table Conroy and Umbrella shared. He apologized to the pair despite Umbrella’s insistence that it wasn’t necessary. The short conversation tapered off as the Owner went back to work, muttering to himself about needing a “brewski” after he closed down the shop. He made a round of wiping down the other empty tables before disappearing into the employees only area of his cafe. Conroy savored the black coffee as it slipped past his lips. A stinging, comforting warmth flowed down his throat, blooming in his stomach and eventually seeping into his bones. The Umbrella woman sat upright in her chair, poised, with one leg crossed over the other while she used a thin, wooden stick to swirl cream and sugar into her cup of coffee. A comically large, black artists bag was draped over the back of her chair by a single black strap, dangling off the ground and swaying under the draft of warm air blowing out of a vent directly above. Conroy looked at the vent, the dancing, swirl of cream in his companions cup, and finally around the empty tables of the cafe. Music, filled with deep drum beats and simple guitar strums, beckoned his eyes towards the employee only area. “I’ve finished,” Conroy said, darting a glance back towards Umbrella. The very corner of Umbrella’s lips tugged upwards as she smirked, using the stick she’d used to stir her coffee to point to the large coffee pots sitting on heating plates near the cash register. “Duke doesn’t mind if you fill yourself,” she said. “Just don’t make anything fancy behind the counter.”
Conroy nodded, slowly easing out of his chair and refilling his coffee cup with steaming black coffee. When he sat back down, the Umbrella woman had pulled out a small sketch pad and tin case filled with graphite pencils in various states of abuse. Conroy lifted the shortest pencil out of the case, examining the bite marks on the end. “Nervous habit,” The Umbrella woman offered even though Conroy hadn’t said a word. He nodded, setting the pencil back with its family. Umbrella readied herself, turning the pad at an angle on the wooden table and instructing him how to model for her. He held the coffee cup as still as possible, minus the occasional sip that she allowed, and watched her sketch. She started with one large circle, the cup, before adding more circles to represent his fingers. Every so often, she would compare his hand in front of her to her drawing and would frown, erasing the entirety and starting over. Annoyance bubbled inside Conroy while he watched. Finally, when she’d erased and redrawn for the third time, he said, “You’re doing it wrong.” Umbrella’s eyebrows shot up again as she frowned at him, “Excuse me?” “You’re drawing from memory,” he said. “Not what’s in front of you. Here, watch.” Picking up the same pencil he’d inspected before, he turned the pad to face him and set the cup directly next to the window. The rain had eased slightly, allowing the sun to illuminate the cup through the glass and exaggerating the contrast of shadows. “Start with the shadows,” Conroy said, an image of the cup balancing on the window sill flowing from his practiced hand and onto the page. “You think you’re drawing my hand, but really you’re tracing the light. Try again.” Deftly, he set the pencil down on the pad and slide it across the table. The Umbrella woman’s eyes were wide with shock, darting between the cup on the sill and the hand drawn, miniature masterpiece of that same 61
cup sitting in front of her. Conroy waited, expectantly hoping whatever was intriguing his companion about his doodle would pass. “How did you do that?” She asked suddenly, excitement sparkling in her eyes. “I mean, I know it’s just a cup but it feels so heartbroken.” She laid her hand on top of his on the table and Conroy resisted the urge to snatch it away. “Seriously, who hurt you?” “Life,” Conroy snapped, harsher than he meant to. Slowly, he pulled his hand from hers and grasped the cup again. “Well?” The Umbrella woman stared at him for a long while. As if he was a thousand different jigsaw pieces strewn across the floor and she was determined to think the pieces into place. Conroy shifted in his seat. He could smell himself in the draft and could feel the grime encrusted to his loose fitting clothes. Finally, she picked up the longest pencil in the case, sans bite marks, and flipped to a new page of the sketch book. For an hour, she practiced recreating his hand on the page. Admittedly, she lacked talent but followed his advice. The Owner stuck to the employees only area; reappearing and disappearing through the thick curtain whenever the bell above the door made the slightest chime. Various patrons came and went; ordering mostly to-go coffees or teas to combat the chill outside. Conroy found himself relaxing with the intermittent hiss of the espresso machine. The furnace groaned quietly in the walls. All too soon, a preprogrammed tone sang from deep in the clutches of the Umbrella woman’s purple purse. She excused herself and dropped the pencil on the table. “Fuck,” she said without enthusiasm. “My bus is coming soon. Thanks for your help.” She rummaged through her purse and excavated a green wallet with a loud zipper. “For the coffee and your time,” a smile pulled at both her cheeks. The large, hoop earrings bumped against her neck when she dropped two twenties and a fiver in the middle of the table. “Only if you sign your picture though. My professor is going to
be confused if you don’t. I can’t do anything like that.” Umbrella held out the smallest, chewed pencil he had favored and told him the date. With a huff, Conroy signed his doodle and motioned to hand the pencil back to her. “Keep it,” she said. “Tell Duke I’ll see him at Francine’s later.” Quickly, she gathered her purse, the oversized art bag, and downed the last swig of her cold coffee. The bell above the door rang in Conroy’s ears as she left. A quick wave of goodbye through the window was the last Conroy saw of her before she disappeared down the street and into the reinvigorated downpour. Her neon yellow umbrella sat perched in the canister near the door. The Owner, a smudge of chocolate from his homemade eclairs stuck the corner of his lip, popped his head out from behind the curtain, “Sherri head out?” Conroy nodded, tucking the pencil behind his ear for safekeeping, “She forgot her umbrella.” “She’ll be back tomorrow,” the Owner said, surprised when Conroy stood from the table and stepped behind the coffee bar. In the midst of helping himself to the espresso machine and expertly putting together a latte for himself, Conroy asked, “You hiring?” A smile broke out across Duke’s face and for a fleeting moment he could have been considered attractive, “Thought you’d never ask.”
“How did it h asked once his to return
More than a few years later... Choking back the shock, Conroy gazed down at the dead woman lying flat on the coroner’s table. White 62
streaks curled through her hair and wrinkles lined her face. The scar running from cheek to chin had faded even more over time. He knew she was naked beneath the white sheet tucked under her arms. Not that he had ever seen her even remotely close to nude over the course of their twenty year friendship. A ragged, purple purse sat sad and limp on a table next to the body. The contents of the purse were displayed across the sterile metal table top like stolen artifacts to be viewed by snot- nosed school children on a field trip. Conroy wiped the sweat from his upper lip. Guilt racked his bones. It had been five or six years since they’d seen each other last and, for a moment, Conroy doubted whether he’d given the coroner the right name. “How did it happen?” He asked once his voice decided to return to him. The words came out roughly and Conroy found the coroner’s lack of compassion frustrating. “What? Oh, asthma attack,” the coroner, a junior member of the hospital staff who found far too much importance in his recent promotion answered. He scribbled something on the clipboard in his hands and pushed it towards the intern who filled his previous position. “Some tweaker tried to snag her purse and the struggle sent her into an episode. The guy ran off and you can probably guess the rest.” Not remotely able to accept the answer, Conroy nodded. He asked a few more questions, growing indignant with the corners lack of emotion over the subject. After scribbling his name on some paperwork, his mind replaying the scene of the dead woman’s demise as he imagined it happening, Conroy left out the sliding double doors of the hospital and sat down in the driver’s seat of his Mercedes. Nikolai sat in the passenger seat, fifteen years Conroy’s junior and with a blue earring stabbed through his ear. Expectantly,
Nikolai waited for his boyfriend to start the car. “Babe,” Nikolai finally said when Conroy didn’t move for several minutes. “We’re going to be late meeting your friend.” “We’re not,” Conroy said, his words dismissive and patronizing even to his own ears. He couldn’t look at Nikolai. The other man was full of life and passion, the slightest emotion pouring across his face. Just as hers had been. Sometimes, Conroy found the trait annoying, especially when they argued. But as they sat together in the parking garage, Conroy knew the slightest glance would keep him from holding himself together. He would be a thousand jigsaw pieces unstuck from one another and piled in his seat. Plunking a short, stubby pencil with bite marks nawed into the long gone eraser, he gazed at it with flat, emotionless eyes. “She’s dead.” “Oh my god,” Nikolai blurted out. Tears poured down his cheeks, “is that why the hospital called you? Oh, Babe, that’s terrible are you alright?” Conroy shook his head, unable to answer. Instead, he jammed the key into the ignition and backed out of the parking space without checking for oncoming traffic. Nikolai flooded him with questions about his well being. The younger man’s mouth connected directly to his thoughts as he made plans for a “griefcation”, as he called it later. Conroy didn’t answer. The drive to their apartment passed quickly. It wasn’t until they crossed the threshold of their apartment and he saw the bright yellow umbrella hanging from the wall did Conroy finally break down.
happen?” He s voice decided n to him.
E b o n y i Laura Saint M a r t i n
2029 “When did you decide to become a priest?” “I did not decide, it was decided for me.” Pope Joseph’s smile was incandescent, his teeth large and white. The group of reporters couldn’t help but fall in love with Africa’s first pope. “How so?” “Oh, that I cannot tell you.” His laugh was deep and rich. “You would think me quite mad.” “So you were called by God?” More laughter. “You could say that.” 1974 Favor Joseph Kalu was orphaned at a young age, raised by visiting Catholics during one of many turbulent periods in Nigeria’s history. Outwardly jovial and loud, there was a deep, still center within him where only God could exist. His faith was ardent but quiet, making him an oddity with other Nigerians. He drew great comfort from that deep, still cavern within, and knew he wanted to help others find similar “spiritual cupboards” that only God could fill. Favor had a dog. This dog did not live in the orphanage, was not fed by the priests and nuns and other children. This dog only approached young Favor when no one else was around, and the dog seemed intelligent, maybe even more intelligent than some people! When Favor wandered away from the crowded orphanage and the surrounding, equally crowded streets, the dog followed him. When Favor stopped, the dog stopped. When Favor looked at the dog, he stared back. When Favor spoke to the dog, the dog only stared harder. Favor felt like the dog was talking to him. But that’s just crazy. The dog wasn’t much to look at, just a plain tan dog, about three or four stone, a little ribby, some scars. His 65
face was blunt, bullyish. He looked old, but his teeth were white, his eyes clear. Favor saw the dog every day, made excuses to go see him. He got up early to finish his tasks and slipped off to the bush. The dog was always waiting. He was not as demonstrative as most dogs, but tolerated pats and hugs from Favor. When Favor was sad, the dog would lay his head in Favor’s lap. Favor would sometimes fall asleep like that, with the dog’s head in his lap, and the sleep was the best sleep he’d ever known. He would often dream of strange, peaceful things, of leaves and wind and water, huge lands made of water, of lazy butterflies, giant spotted fish, fields of wheat that were actually crowds of people, bowing in prayer as though stirred by a great wind. After a couple of months, Favor began to dream at night. Sometimes the dreams were peaceful, but sometimes they weren’t. But they ended with words of reassurance. They ended with the dog staring at him, and a voice speaking to him. “I will always be here for you, Favor Joseph Kalu. Even when I am not here in the physical world, I will be in your heart. I will be a part of you. Pay close attention and study hard the teachings of Jesus, Favor Joseph Kalu. God has a great need for you.” And that is what Favor did. He prayed fervently, attended his schooling and gave it his undivided attention. He read the Bible from cover to cover. He worked hard around the orphanage and the church, he helped the poor and the disabled and the elderly around the city. He cared for animals and stopped eating their meat. Favor grew strong and tall, even on his meatless diet. He was a smart boy, much smarter than those around him. A savvy teacher with friends in slightly higher places decided to have Favor tested.
He continued to see the dog in his teen years. The dog rarely lay his head in Favor’s lap anymore, because he didn’t need to. Favor now knew the power of prayer, knew he could find comfort in God and in the Bible. Favor, an avid reader, also began reading the Torah, and the Quran, because he wanted to understand others. He read many books, history, science, math, biographies. He read romance, thrillers, comedies. But he had a special soft spot for police procedurals. Although other Catholics said it was wrong, Favor didn’t believe it, and continued to read and learn and try to understand others, even those considered evil. His favorite fictional character was Hannibal Lecter. Favor started to notice girls, and found them confusing. There were pretty girls, plain girls, skinny girls, fat girls, loud girls, devout girls. There were women from many countries at his church, many colors, straw-haired Swedes, purple-lipped Indians, mixed race women from England and America. There were little cute girls with their tight curls, long leggy teens with their screaming and giggling, thick-waisted African Mamas with their wise scolding. They all had pretty faces and smelled wonderful. So confusing! The dog understood. In dreams, he told Favor to love and respect women. He told Favor they were queens, and one day Favor would have a queen of his own, but not in the way most men would have a woman. The dog explained the penis, and cautioned that God had other plans. Favor’s penis would never know a woman. But he would one day know a woman more deeply than the merely physical. He would have a soulmate.
His IQ was 159. 66
This the dog promised. One day Favor went to see the dog, but the dog didn’t come. He sat down and waited, feeling a heavy sadness he couldn’t explain. He waited, and he fell asleep. “This will be our last time together,” the dog told him in a dream. “I am so tired, and you are ready to find your destiny. I know you will be sad, but remember I will always be in your heart. I will be in that deep place of silence within you. I love you, Favor Joseph Kalu.” When Favor woke up, the dog had his head in his lap. He looked up at Favor, and Favor’s heart broke. The dog got to his feet slowly, painfully. He limped off toward the bush. “Wait!” Favor called. The dog turned back. “I never gave you a name. Do you have a name?”
“Akachi,” a voice said. This was the first time Favor heard the voice while awake. “The hand of God.” “But you are a dog! And you have no hands!” The dog stared at Favor for a long time, then disappeared into the bush. That night Favor dreamed of a star named Akachi. The next day Favor met a queen named Freedom.
(Art by J W Goossen)
To See or Not to See L a u r a Williams
A game I like to play with fellow contact lens wearers: What’s YOUR Prescription? Both eyes at negative nine, I’m hard to beat. In olden times or the apocalyptic future, I’d be completely disabled, a hands-and-knees gatherer, not gathering much. Mine would be a water-colored world. Shapes would exist on the pads of my fingers. Everything would be a cross-eyed examination. Take, for example, this sh-exy Sh-anta mug— the Sean Connery features of Jolly Saint Nick indiscernible, until brought to the bridge of my nose. Yet, I imagine, there’d still be certain constants. Like, the smell, the taste, the heat, the joy of black coffee. I’d be okay, given that. Just give me that and I’ll be okay.
(Art by Whitney Weisenberg)
W A T E R K e s h a
A j o s eFisher
She say I am a witch, a devil, a bad guy—everything under the sun except a child of God, ehn? Okay. By the time I finish tell you, you will know true evil. You will know. You will see how I enter hell and come out smiling. You will see. Our relationship is not the only thing that die the day my daughter break my heart, o, no. I know what she tell you. She is believable too, sha. Probably pouring her tears on top of the same fire she herself make. You feel her pain too, don’t you? You must do, when she say that me, Ronke Maryann Thomas, I am the worst mother—the kind of mother who abandons her one and only child. I should tell you that it is easy to believe the sun is gone forever if all you see is cloud; so let me clear it. I did not abandon my child. I did not. I did not do it in Nigeria and not here in America—they send you to prison for that—no? I was watching the Oprah when a woman say something like about the way past trauma affect our adulthood, you understand? She say, it is not your fault if trouble follow you from when you young. She say and even if trauma pass you and you survive, one day, it will catch you, sha and then you will have to answer it. She is correct about that. You will have to answer it on this earth or when you stand before the Father God above. Sebi I was a small girl too, now, long ago. My childhood was moving like slow-slow. I live inside a tarpaulincovered hut, in a small village where nothing happen. Day comes after night and rainy season follow dry season, and in between waiting for one or the other to come back, we work. No one know or care what happen on the other side of the forest, not the women, anyway. They too busy working, doing this and that, taking care of husband, children, goats, farm, life. My mama was the youngest wife after the three witches Baba already claim. In their compound, Baba get his own hut. Each wife get her own too. All their hut build with strong stone wall and strong roof to live with their children. When my mama come, they give her hut 71
with hole inside ceiling. She born me inside this hut and every day, no matter what I am doing, she say: Why are you playing? Go find stick. Why are you sitting? Go find leafs. Are you awake? Go find branch. All the days, she wanting me to collect anything, anything to plug the hole make rain stop falling for our head. She say it in front of the witches so they see I am not lazy. My mama work like omo odo, I tell you, sha; like she is servant and not one of Baba’s wives. Come day, she go to river, return, cook, wash clothes and children—her own and the other ones. She clean the compound, go back to fetch more water, then she walk, walk and walk back home. When night come, she tired so much, sha. She don’t ask me to help her, never. Because she born me with soft bone, she fear I break, so she give me small work for finding plug for ceiling only. When I say I want to help her with big work she always saying, no, Ronke, I can do it by myself. Hear me when I say all I ever pray from God is to give me power for make my mama’s life simple. I am eight near nine years. One day, when my mama carry bucket for going to the river, I carry her second bucket. Mama, I am going to help. She laugh at me. Small girl, what can you do? I beg and beg and finally, she say yes. The bucket, so full, sit on top of my head like heaven is pressing me inside ground. Lo ora—be careful, my mama is saying. Yes, mah. My legs are shaking and paining, feeling like say they will shatter if I don’t sit down. Inside my chest, I am feeling like warm, proud I can help my mama. We near the compound and people are clapping for me and I am smiling, and my mama is saying, no mind them, carry your water go inside. I see the boy, Wale. He is clapping at me and smiling at me. I try show him my own smile and the bucket fall, wash the happy kuro from my face. Forgive me, mama, I keep saying, and her eyes smile like no wahala— it is no problem, mistakes can happen to anyone. She put down her buckets and come to me. She is kneeling down by me. She put her hand on top of my shoulder. Her eyes shining at me, smiling at me. She is making me feel the warm inside my chest. The other wives, true witches, were seeing us and saying to my mama, oti ba omo yen je—you have spoil her. They saying why my mama wait eight years for 72
(Art by Paula
teach me to fetch water. Oti baje, they say—she has spoil. My mama’s hand, smooth like banana skin, leave my shoulder. Her eyes don’t shine no more and her eyes don’t smile no more and the warm in my inside disappear. Mama is walking away from me, but the witches are shouting: Oti ba omo yen je! Oti ba omo yen je! I am sitting on the ground, wet as the soul of a fish when I see my mama come back to me. I raise up my hands, cry, pick me, mama, but she don’t lift me. Her hand come down slap my leg. I scream. The witches are saying, good, good, finally. My mama slap my arm, mouth, top of my head. Ah Jesus. I don’t stop screaming. The more I scream, the more her hand is paining me, sha. But she keep saying to me, next time, watch where you are going. I don’t tell you that so for pitying me. Look at my life— house, car, good job inside America. I am fine. You know that woman on the Oprah will say I am traumatize because my mama beat me but she don’t understand, you see. She don’t know say beating come with Nigeria upbringing. It is like somebody say, “Here, Child, here your parents, roof, food, clothes, and here, take your beating too.” Sometimes the other things not guarantee, but beating in life—guarantee. It is kuku the way. How will children know respect? How? But I swear, I never beat your mother. I never beat my Josephine. I know the witches will say maybe if I take my mama’s lesson and beat my child, she would never embarrass me like she do, but I will tell you why I choose never beat my child. After my mama beat me that day, she look at me like I am not her daughter, like I am not her anything. Then, my mama look at her hands. Then I see my mama come start crying herself. The witches surround my mama like teeth around tongue, say she is mad woman— crying for no reason. My mama don’t say nothing. She kuku carry me from ground and she kuku take me behind the hut and she kuku wash me. One day, when I am ten years, and Wale is the same years, curiosity disease catch him. We all of us watch him run cross the river. He enter the bush and disappear. I pray for his safe return. We all of us pray, but the fear he leave behind, ah, is too much to bear. His own mama cry and cry and beg God day and night until God’s hand come down snatch the sound from her chest. My own mama say it is good the woman die. I ask her, Why mama? Destefanis)
She tell me never leave her to carry that kind of pain. She say I should kill her first before I leave her inside life without her child. She say because she love me too much. I ask my mama, if you love me, why you beat me? She say daughters suppose come make life easy for their mama. She say sorry; her shame is too much big on that day. She say shame is worse than death. Death, you finish, you go. Shame, you carry. Maybe because she carry shame for borning me, her only child, with soft bone is why she allow river carry her go, finish— maybe. I beg God, please, make my life simple with no shame. My thirteen years in that village feeling like two lifetime come and gone. After my mama die and now I am alone with the witches, my work never finish. From when sun enter sky to when night come swallow it away, I go to river, fetch water, come back, cook, wash clothes, wash children, clean compound. Then I walk, walk, walk all the way back to river, carry more water, come back home. My life so full with water, even in my dream I am drowning. All of them witches laugh at me when I sometimes fall down because of soft bones. I know inside my bones growing strong, so I do the work. I don’t say nothing I want to say. I say only yes mah. I bring one bucket, they beat me. Two bucket, they beat me. Two bucket inside each hand and one on top of my head, still, they beat me. I beg the river take me away. I pray to God, take me to the other side of the forest like Wale. Every day, I go to the river, and I hope I fight the water until my heart tired and death finish me go like my mama. I hope. I ask God, is there a place better past this? That is where I want to be. I tell Baba I want to go, past the river, through the bush like Wale, and he say, “Lay down Ronke; dreams exist only when you are sleeping.” When the witches see me talking to Baba without permission, ah, dear God, they beat me sha. One by one, they-beat-me, sha. I am fifteen years now, in that house, and I tell God to stop this nonsense. How much suffering can I bear when every one of my breath being used to praise Him and beg Him and wait for Him? Finally, He answer me, sha. And thank God I was still standing. Wale return at our nineteen, and he start his church and he ask me, thank God, to be his wife. After that hell, ah, I am expecting heaven, but the witches enter again. No. They say. 74
(Art by Paula
They tell Baba, another man in the village should marry me, not one who will leave to follow voice inside his head. Imagine that? They dismiss a man of God. They hate me so much, sha, they cannot spare small drop of love, small happiness for me. It is wickedness, full stop. I spit at their feet, call them witches—aje! They try beat me again and I bring cutlass. Come near me and I will scatter your body on this my father’s compound, I say. Feeling proud. Then I cry. If I cannot marry for love, how can I born love and raise love and die knowing love? I ask Baba. I wait for him to send me go sleep and dream of it, but he say, with eyes shining and eyes smiling, “I know that kind of love.” You do? “Oh, yes. With your mama. The rest of the women, their fathers owed me. Your mama, she caught my eye. That must have been why—all their hatred for her. But I promise you, Ronke, with me, your mama laughed. She sang and she danced—always dancing.” She was? “Yes, o. And she was so proud of you.” I feel sad then because I wish I knew my mama was happy in her life. After I marry Wale, he want me to pregnant right away. When I born your mother, she pass through the witches hands and I swear one of them put curse on her. It is the only way to explain. Yes, I believe it, o. When my new baby is crying as if today is paining her, as if tomorrow is the only remedy and still when tomorrow come, she don’t stop crying, is that not a curse? No breast or no hug or no song is helping. It is like as if the sun go away and leave the forever night. Being mother is not easy, o. Newborn time is very hard time for any mother. And my heart is still breaking that I was not there for help my child with her baby when the crying is too much. For three more years, I live with those witches inside Baba’s compound. Even though I have my own husband, ehn, they find way to disturb me with something, anything. Ronke, fetch water. Ronke, clean compound. 75
Ronke, climb tree, enter sky, pluck sunshine. You would think say I am there only for mistreating. That is why I never let them near Josephine, ever, ever. That thing vexed them, sha. Did I think my daughter is too good for them? They say. Are they not her grandmothers too? They even shout on my head like they do to my mama. And just like my mama, I don’t say nothing. I ignore them. Wale say only, “Be patient, Ronke. Be patient.” My mama used to say if you want to know how somebody feel about you, tell them something good that happen to you. Forget their mouth and what it is saying, look at their eyes. When I tell the witches that my husband, a man of God is taking me and my child to America to do missionary work, ah, their eyes get big and their faces turn as if I put bitter kola nut on their tongues. Ah Jesus. How is Ronke leaving the village? They saying. How is Ronke going somewhere we will never know? How? Jealousy fill their eyes and spill like tears, but they are not crying with happiness for me, o. No. I know better. God forgive, but I pray their tears still burning them. Yes, I know who I am, my dear girl. I will answer to God when the time come. Look at my life. I was just village girl, no education, only dream. Do you know how it feel when you are dreaming sweet dream, and morning come to snatch your dream from your mind and you fight your eyes to go back sleep so you can find same dream and stay inside forever? Ah, your mother, my Josephine, was my dream. For her, there was going be no river with hands, no witches, no carrying water—only college. College was going be her forest. The thing Josephine do when she say, “Mummy, I am pregnant,” is —ah, God forgive me. The thing is, she so close. Colleges surrounding her like stars around moon and she can go to any one she want, but you see, she spill all her water so close to home. I try to keep the shine of my eyes, and the smile of them—a grandchild—but not like this. Then
Josephine say she don’t know who pregnant her. In this America? Neighbors even thinking say my Wale did it, like we Africans are animals. They are animals. I see on the Oprah all the time, men molesting girls and boys—don’t tell me. So yes, I say abort, God forgive me. Yes, I say, get out, please forgive me; the whole world was watching. When fear come pour the black of life on the mind, the climbing out from darkness is so hard— so paining. Like when we first come here, ah, this America. We live inside basement with two other families, sharing kitchen, bathroom, no car, no money, nothing—and now look at my life, thank God. I’m not boasting. I just want for Josephine to put feet on this ground, in this life, build something and be proud, okay; that is all. I want for her a life nobody can look at and throw shame. I am not the bad guy but I am not the good one. I know that now. It was those witches, the devil, God, my mama, Baba, one of them sha, maybe all of them. They blind me so much with dream, blind me so much with fear of shame, blind me so much, I kuku put my own two feet inside curse. I make room for pain of living without my only child. I never think of I would hear from you, you know? I fear my daughter would never speak to me again for how I do to her but thank God you forgive me. Maybe too soon to say, yet? I hope. I hope. You two talk? Everyday? Ah, God is good. You thought I was going be strong, don’t you? Well, maybe I am not strong. Maybe I don’t want to be anyway. Maybe I just want to see my daughter again, and see you, Tia Maryann Thomas. It will be a dream come true, sha.
In t h e
C a rl B o o n
In the neighborhood where I met boyhood, where it adorned me with monarch butterflies and sun-tea on stoops and teenagers blatantly kissing the wind, the bikes are quiet now. Imagine all that chrome resisting oxygen, all those garages, slim rhombuses of sun through slim windows. Imagine those abundant ways through the park around parked cars, that imaginary tunnel our friends believed in, 1983, when the world was black and white and mostly good because we werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t the Soviets. So much is lost now, so much meant to be is goneâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the redbuds, the meandering plum, the crabapple. Only children see them, unaccustomed to our need to be elsewhere.
(Photographs by Guliherme Bergamini)
Right!!! G r e t c h e n | M i n e r |
I had a touching, yet disturbing, conversation with one of my favorite ladies today, and it really got me thinking. Why don’t we show ourselves the same respect we reserve for our friends, or even our families? The things that my friend was saying to herself, and confiding in me, shook me. How could this woman, who has inspired me since the very first second I met her at a local winery. Whom I instantly felt connected with. Even feeling smitten, in an “I hope she feels the same way”, way. Waiting to call her after we first met, so I didn’t come across as desperate. She, on the other hand, called me almost immediately, since she’s that refreshingly genuine, authentic, open and supportive. In this conversation that unsettled me, she opened up that she felt unattractive, and wasn’t sure if she liked herself very much, at least right now. How could this fucking amazing, accomplished and caring gem of a women tell herself that she was unattractive, or any less than her magnanimous self. She described being angry at herself. For a husband who cheated on her and blew up their 13-year marriage. Not that her self-talk totally shocked me. I mean, I’ve talked to myself in the same way. But it pissed me off that this is so damn common. I mean we’d never talk to our friends the way we talk to ourselves. And our friends would call us on this. In a second. But we don’t get a chance to. Because it’s self-talk. It’s like we know how insidious it is that we can barely say it aloud. Or heaven forbid, to a dear friend. But we have no fucking problem saying this vile shit to ourselves. Often repeatedly and in multiple ways. And when we don’t talk about it, we start to believe it. Even worse we start to become it. How fucking pathetic is that? Yet we’re more accepting of calling ourselves pathetic than calling ourselves out on this self-deprecating and vitriolic self-talk. Why the fuck is that? 79
But it’s about balance. And respect. Knowing when you need others. When you need to be alone. When you have something to give. Or when you need something from someone. And understanding. We’re not perfect. We will fuck up. We will offend each other. And intentions matter, but they don’t always excuse actions. We need to listen. And hear each other. Give each other space. And love. And respect. And for damn sure treat yourself with that same respect.
Because we are bombarded with images of ourselves as less than. We compare ourselves. To everyone. And we can’t ever know anyone’s full truth or given situation. Not that we should. But we know our own. And our friends unknowingly compare themselves to us, even inadvertently putting us down and comparing our situations. Usually to make each other feel better. But it doesn’t. Because if someone gives you an example of a situation worse than yours, it’s like telling you yours isn’t so bad. Or worse, your feelings aren’t valid. And if your feelings aren’t valid then you are absolutely less than. So why would you ever voice them? You have no choice but to live in your self-talk. And you, are your own worst enemy. We must break this cycle. You would never talk to your friends this way. You are better than this. You are worthy. You are enough. In fact, you are likely pretty fucking awesome. We all have shit. We all have to get through it. It’s not always fast. Or pretty. And we may lose friends along the way. But we’ll choose the people who accept us for who we are. Push us to strive, not to be better. Call us on our shit. But don’t shame us for it. Give us space. But also push us, just enough. And we better fucking do the same for them. 80
Ve r te b r a e
A nnie Earnshaw
For me, it starts on the left side of the spine, stirring, painfully vibrant. Makes me spit curses of all colors, red like my mother’s hair, blue like my grandmother’s scarves, electric magenta for the moments when I reach beyond a straight posture to grab Advil from my nightstand. I forget that I am supposed to take it easy. Be kind to my body, let the knots that climb my back and mirror my vertebrae untangle, redistribute as gravity pulls my spine into alignment again. But I shift abruptly, waiting for a crack, clap, an angry rotation, a fizzling moment and then release. But it doesn’t work that way. There is no clap, no crack. Pain is patient, lemon curd yellow, oozing and aching.
V i r t u a l A p r i l
J e r r i c e J. Babtiste
My birthday is celebrated with wild yellow branches blooming. My girlfriend comments “Wow, that’s yellow,” as she looks through her oval window. We write about forsythia and share it in the new virtual world. She sits in front of a camera, reads her poem to a group gathered but not gathered in the same room. We don’t know when we’ll be able to shake hands with a stranger or even kiss children. Making pots of soup is the main event of the day. Lentils with turmeric and ginger, black bean with chicken, we take great risks. As I walk in the neighborhood, I keep an eye on how close I am to the next person. Six feet is the safe number. The forsythia in full bloom, I feel grateful for this flash of fragile life.
(Art by Whitney Weisenberg)
V i g i l J M
Jessi, asks him to get down to the warehouse early, 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning, to help with the new shipment. He tells her it’s all good. Monday and Tuesday are his weekend, so he'll be well rested. She knows about his situation, so he even jokes, weakly, “It’s not like I have anything else to do.” So Tuesday night he goes to lay down, early for him, around 7:30, in the twin bed of his childhood, between the very same striped sheets, white and faded hunter green, pilled now and worn with age. He watches the dusk well up from the east. Soon it is dark, and the only light in his room is the sickly green glow of the digital alarm clock he used in high school. He can't sleep. He'd seen on one of his fitness blogs that it was better to not just lie in bed if you couldn’t sleep, that getting up to do something else will help trick your brain into getting tired. He goes down to the kitchen to raid the fridge, creeping like a teen around the one familiar creaky step. He comes back to bed with a piece of cold chicken folded into a paper towel. He wipes his face with a clean corner of the paper towel and goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth. The grout that holds the sink in place is cracking. Was the tile always so chipped and old? He angles his face, to check the uncertain lines of his jaw in the cold light of the chipped chrome fixtures. He'd always had a baby face, but in the last couple of years, with all that's happened, anything soft has been absorbed by his body and the skin of his face has tightened onto the armature of his skull. The face in the mirror looks too pale, pasty, and its watery gray eyes are bloodshot. He's let his sandy brown hair grow out a little too far: it's sending out tufts around his ears. He frowns and flexes his biceps at his reflection. He creeps down the hall again and lies down. This time he can’t escape the feeling of being watched in the murky darkness. He realizes it’s the fighters in the MMA posters of his adolescence. Their flat eyes seem to track him in the dusk of his peripheral vision as he tosses in bed. He can’t get comfortable. He turns on the light again, opens the Big Book and reads about the third step, the one he's working. He finds himself starting to yawn, pulls the cord on his lamp, stares blankly into the darkness, and does not sleep. 5 a.m. rolls around and he gets up, bleary, head buzzing. He 83
drinks cup after cup of his mom's ashy coffee, black, but it hardly makes a dent. When he gets to work, he's fumbling, and he spaces out and loses track when Jessi asks him to count some pallets. She cocks her head in concern, but, like, skepticism, too. “Is something wrong with you?” The week is a waking fever dream. Every night he wrestles his racing thoughts in the dark. The playbook of his life, blown wide open, reveals every mistake he’s made. By day, he slams coffee, goes to work. His peripheral vision starts to blur every couple of hours, a sort of Vaseline on the lens effect. It feels like a migraine coming on but won’t blossom into a headache, instead filling his field of view with blurry roses of hazy white void. That evening, he watches through the back window of the bus as the sky explodes into a riot of color at sunset. It has already begun to fade as he walks his few allotted blocks from the bus to home. Still, enough warm light remains to paint the pitted white siding of the house he grew up in a cozy pink. His mother is out in the front yard in her torn pants and clogs, gardening clothes, cutting back the spindly roses that grow along the sinking foundation of the split-level ranch. Every spring, she fights a losing battle with the mildew that blackens the leaves. She is finishing up now, gingerly stuffing the thorny branches into a yard-waste bag. Strands of her long dark hair escape their ponytail. She has dirt rubbed into the lines of her face. “There's a couple of packages for you,” she says. He watches the first spring flowers nod on their thin stems like his weary head does on his flimsy neck. "Thanks." He's most of the way inside when she calls after him. "Are you doing okay? You look-I don't know, you look tired." "I'm fine, Mom." She takes off her gardening gloves and trails after him up the stoop. He turns to face her, blinking in an
uneven rhythm. The minute you start thinking about blinking, you can't do it right anymore. He feels the laser of her suspicious gaze scanning him for the very same telltale signs she's been looking for since he was sixteen. Her eyes are narrowed, deepening that wrinkle of concern between her brows that has only recently, since he got the ankle bracelet, become permanently creased. He fights the urge to yell, to slam doors, to burn rubber, and lifts his eyebrows, an expression shooting for breezy, but landing on grimace. She purses her lips and turns back to her roses. Inside, the sound-cancelling headphones and blackout curtain that he ordered at 4 in the morning on Saturday have come. So he goes straight up to his room and hangs the black curtain, obscuring the last pink shreds of sunset that still linger outside. He puts the headphones on, and lies down in his narrow, virginal bed. Now there is no sound but the blood rushing through his own skull, and his room is flooded with dark. Still the wheeling vault of the world spins in his ruined, blurry vision. He can't shut out the incontrovertible proof of the ceiling barely seen in the dim light of the alarm clock, the confining clutch of the bracelet that pins him in place like an insect, or the hideous weight of his own flesh.
D a v i d V a n D e v e l d e r
The day before Pedro’s despedida, some grade-school boys from
Sada’an walked into the neighborhood billiards room on the outskirts of Barrio Crossing, in the suburbs of Midsayap, where their uncle had been shooting eight ball with some of his friends. The boys were taking turns playing with a new toy they found in the scrub brush along the Davao Road; they were playing “rocket ship.” Unfortunately, no one was watching them except for one of the survivors, who witnessed the precise moment of the explosion from across the makeshift pool hall, the moment when one of the boys accidentally knocked the base of their toy rocket – a live RPG round – on the rough cement floor at just the right spot, with just the right amount of pressure, at just the right angle. In all, eight people were killed, including the three children, whose remains the mven took all night to gather and reassemble from the surroundings after the dust and smoke had dissipated. At sunset the next day, the last of the men from the burial of the neighbor’s boy came up the hill from the jeepney stop beside the “Gemone Store” on the Davao road. They walked slowly, with fathomless eyes on broken feet and iron legs up the hardrutted, sun-baked clay road that climbed from the highway to the community center at the top of the hill; there, they followed faint, divergent paths through roadside ferns and dusty undergrowth toward sudden throngs of cheering progeny, whom they hugged with rigid arms and hands clawed stiff from hours of digging. The sun hung like a giant, ripened mango caught high among the palm fronds and canopies of chocolate and bamboo; across its face, Lorikeets and Bul Buls swooped, vanished, reappeared wheeling back into the trees like shards of obsidian skipped across the reflection of a cloudless sky. Here and there along the hillside, women chattered together over cooking fires in outdoor kitchens beneath gray spires of copra smoke held static by the humidity under the trees; still others crouched kneading laundry, their forearms vanished rhythmically into pails of soapy froth, or bathed reluctant toddlers by the water pump. Here and there, children slogged up the hillside shouldering bamboo poles that sagged from the clumsy weight of the plastic jerry cans strung clustered at each end. Still others climbed to precarious heights among the chocolate and mango trees: the younger boys hunted for fighting spiders; their kerosene lamps 85
grew ever more distinct against the deepening twilight, illuminating a byzantine kaleidoscope of branches layered high overhead, and tracing the children’s intermittent laughter. Their shadows flickered high among the cavernous canopies at various depths in the spreading dusk, like the silhouetted forms of macaques traversing the topmost branches in search of the choicest fruit. And then, one by one but all at once, mothers and grandmothers stood in windows and at the thresholds of open doorways to call their children home to warm rice and soup and firewarmth and family and sleep: “Sigeeeeee! Sige na! Boyeeeeeet! Ging-giiiiiiing! Manihapon ta ra! Sige na! Mangaon ‘ta!” Pedro, an American, and Boy, his project manager, bodyguard and culture broker in Midsayap, sat on a log at the top of the hill drinking a bottle of rum one shot at a time. Boy had planned a small but official despedida celebration for Pedro, who was leaving the next day for the struggling project in Dadiangas, via the oftendangerous, or “critical,” central route through Pikit and Digos and Makilala, but had cancelled it for reasons that required no explanation. The two men watched the children drift home from their play as the first of the neighbors gathered in the lamp light behind the house where the neighbor boy lived who had died in the explosion at the billiards hall the day before; behind them, barely audible on a little short-wave radio, a brief VOA ragtime jazz segment faded to a single mellifluous department-store voice reading warnings to a world far, far away . . to Americans caught behind the lines in Kuwait City, we want you to know that the chair . . is against. . the door . . repeat . . the chair . . is against . . the door . . . “I will write a letter to Robert,” said Boy. "I will
explain to him that it will be too dangerous for you in Dadiangas na lang.” Pedro shrugged. “Ambot lang,” he said. “I don’t know. They think everything is finished here. They aren’t convinced that you need me.” Below them, a short convoy of armored troop carriers passed quickly down the Davao road along the base of the hill toward Lungon and Pikit, where the fighting had resumed. They could hear the sudden whoosh of the trucks passing and the distant crackling squelch of a field radio. They heard highpitched, panicked voices rising, now fading away as the trucks vanished into the darkness of the night beyond the rice paddies. Boy nodded and drank a shot of rum. He grimaced. “Sige,” he said. “I will ask Doc Salem to help. Maybe Doc can convince him. Once election season is over . . it will be, ano, more conducive lagi.” “Lagi,” Pedro said, more to himself than to Boy, but more to the wind than to himself. He was worried. Boy could hear the worry in his voice, and his voice trying to mask it. Behind them, from the near darkness, the radio announcer’s voice warbled steadily on against the ambient hum of the insect world of nightfall in North Cotabato . . Americans visiting the Republic of the Philippines should avoid travel on the island of Mindanao . . Americans who must travel on Mindanao are advised to limit all travel to urban areas during daylight hours; unstable conditions may occur anywhere at any time . .repeat . . unstable conditions . . A breeze moved along the hill, and the only sound now beside the radio voice and the near-far chorus of insects was the lonely, heroic hum of a single tricycle moving away toward town. The only light came from the stars and from the porch lights
Their shadows flickered high among the cavernous canopies. . .
at the vigil; in the distance, the last of the spider hunters floated in orbs of lamplight through the tall grass and Castor and Ipil Ipil trees on the edge of the slope above the mudfish pond and the rice paddies beyond the staff house. Makeshift kerosene lanterns lit their cautious, single-file march through the bush; they clutched them out at arm’s length, like little molotov cocktails, pausing now and then to distinguish flickering shadows from living things. Boy watched them and smiled, remembering; then he called down to them, cupping his hand to his mouth to make his voice carry better: “Sigeeeee! Gabii na. Ta ra! May mga Cobra diha! Soooose Mariajosef . . .” He caught himself mid-sentence and cut his volume by half, but it was too late. He glanced reflexively toward the vigil, to see if anyone had heard him. The family had arranged some chairs around a small table outside the front door, and on the table stood two bottles of rum and a five-gallon jerry can of Tuba and a pitcher of ice water. As each family arrived, the children peeled away to play hide and seek along the continuous strip of back yard that buffered the hillside hamlet from the rice farms below, where a crooked line of banana and papaya trees suggested a boundary between light and near darkness, between home and not home, between safety and a shadow world full of scorpions and spitting cobras and unexploded ordnance. A single Humvee passed without headlights at the base of the hill; panicked electric voices moved by in Doppler, vanishing northward into the velveteen darkness toward Pikit. The men could hear the muffled popcorn sound of a firefight far away. Boy turned the volume down on the radio and listened into the direction the Humvee had gone. The next thought hung between the two men for a while, unspoken on the night air. More neighbors gathered at the vigil; the men could hear the low mumble of conversation
beneath the occasional bursts of grief from inside the house. “Sa Pilipinas,” Boy said, nodding toward the vigil, “no one has lisentia to die or to be born alone.” He drank a shot of rum and passed the glass and the bottle to Pedro, who poured a glass and raised it in the direction of the vigil. “Mabuhay,” Pedro said to the spirit of the child, to the wind, to God, to no one at all, and he drank the shot and grimaced, and then he poured one more and drank that one before he handed the bottle and glass back to Boy. “We should have beer,”Pedro said. “To wash the rum down.” “The dead do not care,” Boy said, and he smiled a little. When the rum was finished, the men walked down the hillside together in silence, and as they reached the staff house, Pedro told Boy goodnight. Boy said that he would have the truck ready to take Pedro to the terminal first thing in the morning. “Try to get some sleep,” he said. “Long trip tomorrow.” Inside the staff house, Pedro locked the door and shut the windows and bid the leopard geckos goodnight; then he turned out the light and got under the mosquito net and lay still in the darkness. Before long, he heard Shadow, the neighbor’s mutt, scratching at the kitchen door, and Pedro let him inside and shared a can of sardines with him before bed. After that, Pedro poured one last shot of rum, and he chased it with the bottom of his last can of soda. “You’re an awfully good boy, Shadow,” he said, burping for punctuation. Shadow gazed up, grinning a dog grin, and Pedro scratched his head.
“The dead do not care,” Boy said.
“Well . . You’ll have to watch over the place while I’m gone. I’m afraid nobody’s going to give you any sardines. But I’ll be back, for Christmas, if not sooner. Promise. And I’ll bring extra.” The dog seemed satisfied with Pedro’s explanation. After their snack, Pedro turned back out the lights, and he and Shadow climbed under the mosquito net and lay on the bed together and listened out into the night. Pedro scratched Shadow’s head gently until his breathing slowed down and he started to snore. Up the hill, at the house where the neighbors held vigil, those who had gathered began to sing.
(Photograph by Guliherme Bergamini)
Contributors’ Notes Jerrice J. Baptiste’s poems have been
published in The Yale Review, The Minetta Review, The Crucible, The Caribbean Writer, So Spoke the Earth: Anthology of Women Writers of Haitian Descent, and many others. Jerrice enjoys crafting words and sharing them.
Christian Barragan is currently a senior at
California State University Northridge. Originally from Riverside, CA, he aims to become either a novelist or a screenwriter in the future. His work has appeared in The Northridge Review, La Ceiba, Coffin Bell, and Pif Magazine.
Guilherme Bergamini is a Brazilian
Photographic reporter and visual artist who graduated in Journalism. For over two decades, he has developed projects with photography and narrative possibilities. His works dialogue between memory and social political criticism. He believes in photography as the aesthetic potential and transforming agent of society. Guilherme Bergamini participated in collective exhibitions in 30 countries.
Ariadne Blayde is an artist. Carl Boon is the author of Places & Names: Poems
(The Nasiona Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph. D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University, and teaches American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University in Turkey.
Kateryna Bortsova is a painter/graphic artist
with BFA in graphic arts and MFA. Her work has been shown in international exhibitions (Taiwan, Moscow, Munich, Macedonia). She received a silver medal in the 2015 Emirates Skywards Art of Travel competition, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. You can view her work on Instagram: @katerynabortsova, or on her website: http://bortsova6.wix.com/bortsova .
Paula DeStefanis works between acrylic and oil
painting. In acrylic, she draws from her experiences, beginning each canvas as a written journal. They are multi- layered and geometrical. In oils, she is drawn to the patina and decay of aged surfaces. Painting with unconventional tools and scratching away to find what lay beneath.
J.M. Brannyk is a dual citizen of Detroit, MI and Columbia, MO. Although J.M. is an atheist, LGBTQ socialist, the person is usually underwhelming, and would prefer to just watch B-horror in the corner. There’s a terrific spouse in the mix, too, but a major lack of a dog. J.M. is a frequent contributor at www. HauntedMTL.com.
Lauri Chambers likes to write late at night. You
can find her letting her imagination, and characters run free. Lauri is the mother of three grown young men and the grandmother to three grand-girls. Lauri is also a second-year student at Portland Community College. Lauri loves to write poetry but hopes to branch out into non-fiction soon.
Daniel Ciochina was born in Portland, Oregon.
The first generation of his family to be born in the United States. Exploring South America, Europe, and the States surveying the characteristics of people, objects, and their relations between each other. He creates pieces that embody these ideas. Making one question or reflect their own stance within a given space.
Alex De La Cruz is an “old soul” in Portland with
a background of script writing and storytelling. De La Cruz, born and raised in Lowell, MA, looks into the mundane, flooding the grey with color and vision. Using a relentless, yet thoughtful voice, De La Cruz guides you through blasts of excitement and the calm of serenity.
Sarah Deckro is a teacher, writer and
photographer with a passion for stories, whether literature, fairy tales, music, art, or the history of humanity. She works as a preschool teacher in Boston, MA. Her photography has appeared in Pidgeonholes, The Esthetic Apostle, Camas Magazine, Waxwing, The Bookends Review, Arkana Magazine and A Room of Her Own Foundation.
Paula DeStefanis works between acrylic and oil
painting. In acrylic, she draws from her experiences, beginning each canvas as written journal. They are multi-layered and geometrical. In oils, she is drawn to the patina and decay of aged surfaces. Painting with unconventional tools and scratching away to find what lay beneath.
Annie Earnshaw studies Creative Writing
and Dance at Elon University in Elon, NC. Her fifthgrade class voted that she was ‘Most Likely to Write a Book,’ and she’s been writing ever since. You can find
Annie at annielikeswords.com and on Instagram @ annielikeswordsblog.
Kesha Ajose-Fisher was born in Chicago and
raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She now lives in Oregon with her family and can be found writing, reading, cooking for friends and family, raising her babies, cuddling with her puppy, Oscar, and fighting for social justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. In her free time, she squeezes in a hike through the beautiful green of the Pacific Northwest.
Gregory Goodrich is a 28-year-old poet
from Los Angeles, California, blending elements of modern rhythms and lyricism with concepts from contemporary and classical literature. Gregory studied English Literature with an emphasis in creative writing at Azusa Pacific University and was taught/mentored by published poets such as Craig Cotter, Luivette Resto, Dr. Sharon Rizk, and Dr. Ralph Carlson.
Feng Gooi was born and raised in the sunny
tropical island of Penang, Malaysia but is currently in snowy Buffalo, New York studying for a Masters in Mental Health Counseling. He used to work in Saint Paul as a mental health rehab worker. He is previously published in Minnesota’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction.
J W Goosen, born and raised in Vancouver,
currently lives in Ladner BC and enjoys carving out time for photography, writing poems and stories. Publishing credits include Rhubarb, Geez, Grain, Canadian Stories and Contact No Contact.
Milo Graves is a 17-year-old student at Portland Community College. born in Illinois whose family moved to Beaverton, Oregon. Milo is transgender,
which greatly affects and inspires a lot of Milo’s writing. When not at school, Milo enjoys hanging out with friends, family, pets, or listening to music non-stop.
A proud artist, writer and D&D enthusiast. Ravyn identifies as queer. Ravyn is bisexual and a proud LGBTQ supporter who is majoring in writing as well as American Sign Language.
Danielle Klebes has exhibited at galleries and museums across the United States and in Canada and Croatia. She spent much of 2019 and 2020 participating in domestic and international artist residencies, but is now in quarantine in Vermont. Danielle received her MFA in Visual Arts from Lesley University College of Art and Design in Cambridge, MA.
Eleanor A. Murphy grew up in Worcester,
Sparrow Lattanzi is a non-binary, sapphic artist who creates from the heart in pursuit of self-love. Sparrow hopes to unlock all types of love, to give and receive unconditionally, and to find comfort through the means of being uncomfortable. Sparrow’s mission is to create pieces that evoke a sense of great self-worth, self-love, and self-realization. Ethan Lee is a Bay Area student interested in the visual arts. They enjoy art as a creative outlet and a way to interact with others. Dave Loughin is a writer, dancer, and a veritable ball of mental illness. He has an associate’s degree from PCC and is working towards writing and philosophy degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. His mom is awesome and his cat, Nyx, is very cute despite being so whiny all the time Gretchen Miner is a writer originally from the Midwest, who lives in Southeast Portland with her entertaining husband and their sweet, stubborn and sensitive, Pit/ Dane mix Nikita. She likes to write about shitty, honest situations with humor, compassion and sass.
Ravyn McGuire was born and raised in Oregon.
Massachusetts, living a relatively sheltered life in the middling urbanity of New England. Her photos reflect her first unleashed experience outside of that region, outside of America even, through a viewfinder.
Jai Milx is a creative writing student at PCC Cascade
who will be transferring to PSU’s Creative Writing BFA program in the fall. Jai lives in outer east Portland with their partner, a number of roommates, and their elderly rescue poodle, Jean-Pierre. Their interests include heavy and experimental music, speculative fiction, and comic books.
Jack Mitchell is a queer trans man living in
Beaverton, Oregon. He is absolutely thrilled to be attending Portland State University and studying Psychology and Film there. He enjoys reading tarot, playing D&D, and taking spur of the moment road trips with his puppy, Galavant.
Steven Ostrowski is a poet, a fiction writer, a
painter and a teacher. His chapbook, ‘After the Tate Modern,’ won the 2017 Atlantic Road Prize. His artwork has appeared in several literary journals, including NUNUM and Another Chicago Magazine, as well as on the cover of the inaugural issue of Lily Poetry Review.
Melissa Powers is a student at Portland
Alexa Raines is an artist and writer living in
Tigard, Oregon. She draws cartoons and writes short fiction stories. She loves her dog Max.
B.S.Roberts, when not indulging himself by
reading or writing poetry and prose, is a museum curator and an administrative assistant at the University of Maine at Augusta. He also tends to be working on his degree in ethnography and folklore. B.S.Roberts lives in Maine with his fiancée, daughter, silver pheasants, turtle, and four cats.
Laura Saint Martin is an emerging writer of
fiction and poetry, with several short works published by online and print anthologies.
Dave Sims makes art and music in the old
mountains of central Pennsylvania. See more of his work at www.tincansims.com and look for his short story collection The Carcass, including his frontispieces and cover art, forthcoming from the UnCollected Press later this year.
Ethan Slayton: Class: Art-guy, Level: 2, Abilities:
Burritos, tacos, Skyrim, D&D, writing, drawing, hanging out with wife while giggling uncontrollably at their 2 cats while they watch Letterkenny. Threat Level: Nonexistent unless burritos are involved.
David VanDevelder is a freelance writer and
editor who lives in Richmond Virginia. He holds two degrees in English, and studies Southern Literature and applied Semiotics. While he writes across forms and in a number of voices, his favorite topics are those having to do with zones of cultural interface and cultural axes of contradiction.
Ronald Walker is an artist living in Sacramento,
California. He works in a style he terms “Suburban Primitive” that combines his interest in the origins of art along with life in the suburbs. He holds an MA and an MFA in painting and his work has been exhibited in over 200 exhibitions, including 45 solo exhibits.
Whitney Weisenberg is right-handed, yet
I draw with both of my hands. I like uneven lines and want the artwork to look childlike. My work has been featured in The Syndrome Magazine, Wingless Dreamer, and Beyond Words Literary Magazine. When I’m not drawing-I’m teaching, writing, reading, singing, binge watching, and/or spending time with my family in Ohio.
Anne Marie Wells (She/Her) of Hoback
Junction, Wyoming is a queer poet, playwright, and storyteller navigating the world with a chronic illness.
Laura Williams is a school nurse and an assistant editor for Central New York’s literary journal, Stone Canoe.
Asi Yacobovitch’s paintings reflect his inner
world and describe the interplay between the private self and concepts related to nature, time and space. In his recent works, Asi examines the “unknown”, fear of the unknown and the tension between the unknown and certainty.
Adrianna Zamichieli is a writer and
undergraduate student at Goucher College. She lives in Towson, Maryland currently as a college student. She was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.