AmLit is American University’s entirely student-run visual and literary arts publication and organization. We seek to generate and uplift the arts and artists at AU. To do that, we hope to be actively engaged in contemporary issues in art and life, and connect with the DC community. AmLit consists of many fluctuating and connected facets, currently consisting of this magazine, workshops, panels, other events, and a budding blog.
AmLit is the spawn of too many minds to count, but here is my best go at it. We would like to thank our faculty contributors Kyle Hackett and Shaun Schroth. Our faculty Best-in-Show judges also took the time to carefully evaluate the work in this issue, so a big thank you to Tyler Christensen, Leena Jayaswal, Andy Holtin, and Arielle Bernstein. This magazine could also not exist without the guidance of our faculty advisor, Linda Voris. Thank you to all of the organizations and people that collaborated with us this semester to put together programming: the soft masculinity and art panel (Soddie, TomCat, Kyle), the queer representation in film panel (Professor Okopny, Professor Christensen, Professor Meyers, Mitra Arthur), Adobe, Delta Phi Epsilon, Desirée Venn Frederic, Homie House Press and everyone who made Spills ZineFest happen, Wikimedia District of Columbia, and all of the people who let our staff interview and write about you on the blog (Chloë Bass, Ani Bradberry, Tsedaye Makonnen, Saleena Titus, Lee Gusman). The Good People on the Executive Board of AmLit are very excellent humans. Thank you for engaging with every submitted piece, being valiant leaders in discussion, fudging with spreadsheets, planning events, going to events, and having roses and thorns so juicy that I transcribe them into my own diary. Thank you to all of the assistants who tried us out and hopefully want to stick around. Our Design Team also could not be praised enough for thoughtfully crafting each page of this magazine by hand, assisting with all event promotion, and sharing their skills through several workshops this semester. Through these feats, our illustrious Design Director Claire has trained her assistants to lead AmLit Design to even greater heights. Thank you to all of the people who work in Student Activities for being crucial to all of our functions. Thank you to Student Media, you people are hilarious and amazing at what you do, we wouldn’t have wanted to share an office with anyone else. Of course, our hearts also beam for our adviser, Chris Young, for giving us new opportunities and guiding us through it all.
Artist Statement This painting is a visual transcription/and or representation of Frank Oceanâ€™s Channel Orange in a systems painting format. Channel Orange holds so many memories for me, and I wanted to actualize the soundtrack of my adolescence second by second. Each colored marking represents a different aspect of the album: purple=bass, red=percussion, white=vocals, alternating blue and green=the time signatures of each song, etc.
Before You Feast On This, You May Want To Know, In the spring of 2015, I asked to be removed from the AmLit email list. Whoever was in charge of that didn’t do it, and by that fall, I was swayed by the (frequent) funny and raunchy emails, and eager to join. I hopped on my bike to make it to the very first general interest meeting, and was promptly hit by a WMATA bus (I was fine but I did miss the meeting). I’m glad I didn’t take it as some sort of portent because it turns out being part of AmLit was an invaluable experience. AmLit is filled with ___________ __________ that constantly put a _________ on my (adjective)
________. I hope you sense the ________ that was put into this issue. It truly comes from (noun)
the _______ of our _______. Of course, none of it would be possible without _________. (noun)
__________ has put in a tremendous amount of ________ into this magazine and club at large. (your name)
Really though, AmLit could not have accomplished half of what it did this semester without the entire staff. There are a few qualities you will find in every member of AmLit’s staff: they love to celebrate and digest the work of their peers, they have kind and active hearts, and they are all wearing denim. Their daily highlights (referred to as “roses and thorns” in the AmLit community because we like metaphor) were always a pleasure to hear and to empathize with, and were occasionally very juicy (remember when Mercy overheard her students making fun of her name? also I would be remiss if I did not mention Thomas’ many roses of dinners he cooked in his crock pot which I’m sure were also very juicy). My point is, AmLit staff is a group of eclectic individuals whom I cherish and they are what makes this organization so special. Anyway, welcome to this issue, I hope you dig it. Au revoir (that means “later, gator” in French),
Maya Simkin Editor-in-Chief
| 6 lspeth Reilly ey West| E 8 Uncle Joe, K gonale | | Cam Dia 10 Silver Alert nonymous | You Eat | A at h W re A You ce | 13 Joyce Decer Herkimer | Simkin | 20 ips | Maya Rumble Str Reilly | 34 rning d | Elspeth se u | 40 cc A trigger wa e h 8 T 3 | peth Reilly y re h Move | Els li Hump E er | ow e P tl A as C Is The gg In Public ardboiled E ard | 45 Eating A H | Erin Bern ild h C h it W Of Body ool | 48 | Thomas P s er at W ney | 61 ed R aggie Maho M | ts en July In Fragm nale | 65 Cam Diago 76 Evergreen | odes | 67 da Hodes | Amanda H ber | Aman em ov N Infertility | In tions ng Constella nale | 79 After Charti Cam Diago | s le rt u T ea S | 80 Dream Of Carla Levy n’s Blood | ke ic h C In F ly | 82 peth Reilly Haint | Els la Levy | 85 Senses | Car
Do You Rem ember | Sop hia Salganico What Is A Po ff | 2 rtmanteau | M aya Simkin | Portrait Of Anna May W 15 ong | Jack T Portrait Of ollman | 18 My Teacher | Jack Tollm Wip | Paige an | 19 Stewart | 23 Asshat | Pai ge Stewart | 24 Antheia | B eth Lily | 32 Amphitrite | Beth Lily | 33 But Me You Have Forgot ten | Ashfia Simulation T Khan | 35 heory | Paige Stewart | 36 Paper | Paige Stewart | 36 Traffic | Arn aud Leciere | 39 Lightning B ug | Paige S te wart | 42 Nyx | Beth Lily | 46 Untitled Ser ies (2017) |S heer Figman They Live In | 62 The Same C ity But Will Reflection | N ever Meet | Amanda Boo Sheer Figman k | 78 | 69 Wood Study | Tiffany Cha mberlain | 81 I Cried Into The Ocean Thinking Tha New Negatio t Is Where I’ n | Kyle Hac ll Find You, kett | 87 For Leo | N
Matthew | Nicolla Etzion | 7 Scattered| Amanda B ook | 9 Motel 6, R oom 113 | Meghan N Clean Kit ash |11 chen | Ha nnah Solu Geometry s | 12 | Kay Ch u Mccarth Biomimic y | 14 ry | Soph ia Slaganic Fresh Start off | 17 | Sydney Hamilton Nik | Nik | 20 Daniludis | 27 Shadow | Safiya Ga llaghan | Cultivatio 28 n | Jordan Redd | 41 Sleeping B eauty | Jo rdan Redd St. Barbara | 43 | Kay Ch u Mccarth Lorenzo | y | 44 Nicolla Etz ion | 47 Icelandic Friend | M ilena Bozo Untitled | vic | 49 Sreenidhi K otipalli | 5 Radio Wa 1 ves | Meg han Nash Tend You | 5 3 r F lowers Watch Th Grand Ca em Grow nyon At S | Claire O u nset | Ma sborn | 55 Reykjavik tt Dwyer | Blues | H 5 6 a n a Manadath Grand Pri | 58 smatic | A manda Bo Joyous Glo o k | 59 w | Bailey Kroner | Staggered 6 0 | Amanda Book | 64 Everyone Was Outs id e | Hanna Arturo | M h Solus | eghan Na 66 sh | 70 Liza | Nic olla Etzion | 73 Untitled | Scott Mull in s | 75 Don’t Hu rry You’re A lr e ady Late | Phase 1 | Sheer Fig Scott Mull man | 77 in s Blight | S | 83 ophia Salg a n ic o ff | 85 Hydroelec tric Dam: Mishawak a, In | Sh aun Schro th | 86
ts | 1 Letter F rom The Editor | 3 Contrib utor Bio g raphie s | 88 Masthea d | 90
2 th| 16 agger |2 ercy Griff mith-Eln S M ia | v g li in O | By Liv nd Rivers lus | 52 e Coals A annah So H | n e Eyes Lik oes Gre he Sky G When T ool | 68 homas P T | t is e g Zeit
Pigeon toed, he shuffles with his two-sized feet, in shoes meant for scuba diving, collecting cereal flakes for the peacock pecking at his sliding glass door. Everything about him feels damp, the few grey hairs which cling to his spotty scalp the large wet eyes which blink too infrequently, the way his “y’knows” sound like the slow unsticking of his tongue from the mouth’s roof. He has three houses but we stay in the post office, there’s purple shag carpet and a tiki bar upstairs. He cracks crass jokes while we play with plastic guns, dinosaurs, and Twinkies mascots. He curses out his ex-wife and lusts over younger women, joking about fraud, drugs, and sex while we sit on his kitchen floor, eating Cuban sandwiches allowing the sweaty heat of our legs to cool against chipping tile. The night before we leave he gives us two-dollar bills, old toys, and scratched records He calls each of us his favorite. There is a jukebox in the corner weeping out Sinatra while the neon tubing struggles to stay lit.
Your grandfather lost himself on the backroads somewhere near Christmas. Your dad drove through the night to Michigan, found him at a gas station, spent two dollars on a Nutty Buddy and took him home. I came to see you when you got back from school. Your mother offered me red wine and cheese and lamented the Millennium Falcon shaped cutting boards you bought her
(“my kitchen is turning into a Star Wars shrine.”)
How long does it take to get to Ann Arbor from Raleigh I wonder but I don’t ask. Maybe one day I’ll have to rescue one of my own parents from a decaying mind why doesn’t anyone ever talk about how sad that is? Later, you fall asleep during A New Hope. Your cat curls up at my feet and we share the silence, bathed in the TV’s blue glow. Fuck, Alderaan is big.
The salt stings my tongue, freshly burned from the Thai food we ate for dinner and pussy. I can’t decide which of the three tastes best but I keep shoving the popcorn into my mouth to fill my gut with what I’d hoped would be satiated by her. I suck the grease off each finger, Recently plunged into her body, and debate whether to put them in myself in hopes that whatever drove her to the edge may have left its residue on me. If I lick and swirl hard enough to get the butter out from underneath my fingernails maybe I’ll figure out what went wrong when she was doing the same; why I’m shoving the content of this bag down my throat and why I’m afraid that if I stop my stomach will feel empty like it did after she came. Why watching her, mouth open, body frozen, made me feel detached from my own, like I had again let myself and everyone down by failing to complete this action that has been passed down from generation to generation like heating corn kennels on the stove. How many women have been left out from this big secret, been given the answer but not the instructions, left feeling empty instead of popped from the inside out. I’m lying next to her eating popcorn and I’m wondering if she will notice that I didn’t pop.
I Grandfather Basil toys a pepper shaker in his palm and a crucifix in the other and the steeple clings to November sky, graying overhead. Old maples whither and finally collapse as the cold sets in and we head inside for mass. In the dense air, the ringing church bells, my weary heart feels the Byzantine reverb crawling up my sleeve. From ten years back I remember my grandmother, prostrate. II In October I came here last with my daughter, whose light hair wavers in the sunlight caught in thinning gray firs. Along Main Streets, rows of buggiesâ€”parked bright morningsâ€”spilled down the roads. Inside diner windows, students and armymen would sit in the afternoon and reminisce. Today these streets are more vacant, and my daughter sits in the thin sheet of snow on the pavement. A rusted white car rests by the church while its owners seeds the trees on the lot.
Artist Statement It is all of the captions to the cartoons in a single issue of the New Yorker laid out in my desired order next to their corresponding page numbers in the magazine. Some page numbers are incorrect because when I went back to see what page they were from, I couldn’t’ quite figure it out, so I guessed. My favorite is “Fresh Pepper?”
“The Johnson family thanks you all for being here and showing your support. But, in order to proceed with the service we ask that you please silently walk through and pay your respects to the Johnson family at the end of the service. Thank you.” I look at those in front of me and crane my neck in search of an end to the line. The funeral director’s words are nothing more than mist disintegrating in this toobright room. Or is it not bright enough? I can’t be sure. To my right, a guest book lies propped open, signatures sprawled carefully on the thick black lines. I sign my name, my childish penmanship jutting out among its somber neighbors. My sisters follow suit. Even with them behind me, my legs shake, my weight constantly shifting from one foot to the other. And, my eyes. I don’t know what to do with my eyes. I try to keep my gaze fixed downward. My hands grip each other as if both linked together might prove strong enough to support the burden of a fractured spirit. But my eyes quickly flick in a different direction. A child squirms in the arms of his father and I cannot control the anger that rumbles underneath my skin. Sit still, you little bastard. Don’t you realize he’s not coming back? My anger fades, though, as I glimpse the rugged face of Mr. Johnson. He is not crying, but his own eyes betray a heaviness I have never witnessed before. Pat was a son before he was a brother, before he was a friend. And I decide the room is too bright; cheap light bulbs are not allowed to shine today. “It’s not him in the coffin, Care,” she says. “Don’t look at him. It’s not him.” I wasn’t sure what she meant by that until I saw him. A body, preserved for three days too long. Funerals are not for the dead, they are for the living. I can’t look at him, but the poster boards of his childhood pictures make me nauseous. My sister hugs me. I shuffle past. His brother wraps me in his arms and says, “It’s okay. It’s okay, Carrie.” My tears soak into the lapel of his suit jacket.
It’s not okay. The funeral director steps in front of the crowd again, repeating her first request. All I can think is that she is very good at a job that I would never be able to do. Her short, pointy heels and conservative, brown suit match her rehearsed sorrowful expression. From the corner of the room, instruments start to play, their notes filling the crowded room. Immediately, I change my mind. It’s not bright enough in here. His life was a damn firework display and he deserves a vibrant celebration, not a funeral choir. For a moment, I see him on the roof of the summer rental, a beer in his hand and a song on his lips, his smile flashing mischievously. I see a ping-pong paddle in his hand, sunglasses covering his blue eyes, and arms wide open for a hug. But here, all I see is despair swallowed by the crushing reality that life is not fair. When his sister makes her remarks, I am bathed in my own tears. By the time his brothers speak, my body has stopped producing them. I stand there, my head throbbing beneath those cheap light bulbs listening to words that shouldn’t have to be spoken. Afterwards, people tell me they’re sorry for my loss. I still haven’t come up with a proper response. Thank you? I walk out to the car. At the graveyard, a cloud simmers in the distance. My mom comments that it’s a beautiful place to rest in peace, but I hate that this place exists. Maybe if there were nowhere to put the dead, then people would stop dying. Rain begins to spit against our windshield. Before we can gather around the Johnson family plot, sheets of rain begin to fall. The quick thinkers pull out their umbrellas, but others stand soaked, their hair plastered to their faces and their clothes sagging like wilted flowers. Someone says this is Pat playing a prank on us from heaven, but I think it’s the world weeping. Someone else says there was a rainbow, but I didn’t see it. For once, my eyes had stayed fixed, glued to the white carnations placed so gently on his dark, glossy casket. We do not stay to watch them lower him into the
ground, and all my mind can process is the crunching of the gravel beneath our tires as we drive away. The ache is poignant, jabbing at my ribcage, pestering me to find a way to rationalize his death. Tell yourself it will all be okay. My unraveling, logical brain begs for solace, but finds none. The rest of me yearns for time to pass, clinging to the adage that time heals all wounds.
that seeps through my pores, lurks in my thoughts. Time cannot heal this. There is no way my human mind will ever understand. And when I ask my sisters how they do it, how they go about each day without splintering, they simply say, Carrie, we are broken, we are not okay, but we cope by living. We cope by living.
I know now that that is false. A loss is not something that can be healed. A soul cannot be replaced. On some days, his absence stings, like sleet against a windowpane, catching me off guard. On others, it slithers by almost unnoticed until it poisons the air around me. But the worst is the slow drip, drip, drip, of grief and confusion
In memory of Pete Smith
tr tr tr tr tr tr tr tr tr tr tr
The stage was a rickety thing. Its backdrop consisted of a faded, orange curtain that Calliope suspected had been red ten years ago. Normile was animatedly striding from one end to the other, apparently examining every inch, proclaiming his thoughts loudly to the shaky old man who tailed him and seemed about to rent them the space. “Luckily for you,” Normille continued, “we don’t need too many props or chairs. If thereis nothing better suited in this town, you will certainly do.” Mr. Normille had a voice like the bark of a dog: the slightest bit throaty, and naturallyquite loud. While not necessary to win over the gentleman who owned the stage equipment, it was useful for shows, for gathering an audience out of thin air. “Indeed,” wheezed the old man, who had finally stopped following him and now settled in what would be Calliope’s chair with a heavy sigh. He pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at his neck and forehead.
Podunk, USA. Calliope didn’t mind the ruse so much. It made her much more respectable, and the one room was cheaper than if they’d rented two. And, she thought, another body breathingin the night makes for better sleep. Hands still in the travel bag, Calliope glanced up at him as he applied a bit of makeup in the vanity. He went on as he applied a touch of rouge, bringing some life into an otherwise vague face, “If we were with a circus, we’d have a guaranteed audience at every show. Less advertising work.” “Mmm,” Calliope said, returning to the travel bag. When he was satisfied with his appearance, her partner got to his feet and held a hand out to her from across the room. Calliope eyed him warily. He said, crooking his fingers impatiently, “Come along, Cal, time for advertising.” She straightened up and sighed, looking around at the beds for a moment. What would help to sell her story? She settled on a hat with a black lace veil and a delicate fan.
Calliope caught his eye and smiled gently, shrugging. The old gentleman, raised hisunruly eyebrows and chuckled softly in return. “How do you like it, young lady?” he asked.
It had been her mother’s, stolen with no ill will, with a mother-of-pearl handle and softmpink roses sewn into the panels. The hat had been her mother’s, too. “Let’s go,” Calliope said.
“Quite well,” she said. Calliope had a soft voice that she sometimes thought did not match her appearance. In general, she made an effort to be straight-backed, strong in posture,and to hold her chin up when speaking to people.
When she reached him at the door, she stopped him with a hand against his arm and a stern look. “Suggest to me.”
Perhaps the trouble was that she rarely spoke to people. “I tell you, we ought to join a circus,” Normille said later that night. They had managed to get a room in a hotel in the center of town, under the guise of a married couple traveling on honeymoon. This was Normille’s favorite ruse, as hotel owners were more friendly an accommodating to happily married couples, even if it didn’t quite make sense to honeymoon at
He cocked an eyebrow, then settled into his usual, flamboyant attitude. “Ah, alright. We’ll get you in the mood for a great performance, draw them in like flies to honey.” Norville placed a finger under her chin and tilted her face up to his. They were a warmhazel, like a mug of beer. This close, she could feel his breath against her lips, wafting a scentlike fermented apples. An autumn day. A blighting wind that tugged hair free
and into her eyes, temporarily obscuring view.
Norville’s free hand waved before her eyes in a flourish.
It has been said that one can never truly understand loss until one has known it. Calliope supposed that that was the reason that she had abruptly begun seeing people who were no longer alive. Needless to say, the sight of her sister, returned from the river to which she had lost her, had chilled Calliope to the bone. Since then, in the time before waking, or in her dreams, she had seen wispy figures, nebulous shapes with human eyes and messages. More recently, she had begun to bear those messages and memories, using her body as a channel between one plane and another. Calliope felt a mixture of frustration and relief that this was not possible unless she was not quite conscious, unless she was suggestible.
A mourning dove’s wings flapping in her periphery. Its tell-tale whistle. Sometime, years ago, Calliope used her free hand to brush her hair out of her face. She squinted against the glare of a setting sun, dappled by thin trees. Far away, outside of time, a man’s voice brushed against her ear: “Three.” Calliope turned her face from the treeline and dropped her hand to her side. It wasnearly numb from the wind. “Two.” Something wet, something cold as a frozen lake water gripped her wrist. Calliope looked down at the puckered hand, then she looked up into the milky, wasted face of what had been a woman. Had been. “One.” The audience was full of rapt eyes, mouths shaped into “o”s, and still hands clasped under chins. Calliope always made sure to get a look at the audience before going under, to remind her what it’s for, to get an anchor on what would come next. They had turned out far greater in number than either of the performers had expected. Calliope never really knew what she was like when she was under, but behind the curtain, Normille had muttered something like, “You were quite the spectacle, muttering to yourself. Lolling about. Nice touch.” Now he was beside her and she in the ever-important chair. “Three!” his voice rang out. He was nothing, if not good at projecting his voice. “Two! One.” For half a moment, Calliope felt the energy flee her muscles, like heat evaporating into the air. She slumped in the chair and struggled to keep her head upright, to keep an eye on the new additions to the crowd. Calliope had learned that the dead were drawn to her, but also were somehow always there. They did not walk or even drift closer; they merely appeared out of the ether, as tangible as a thick fog. A few matrons. Soldiers, bearing the wounds of their work. Workers and farmers cut down by their own scythes and plows. Young black men with nooses around their necks and burning coals
Like dragging a physical weight, Calliope shifted her eyes back to Normille; he was waving his hands over her, muttering quietly, too quietly for the audience to hear. But he wasn’t looking at her, and so, she turned away. Whom would she choose? Whom did they want her to choose? Sweeping from face to face, story to story, it took some time for Calliope to find the eyes of a young man standing in the back of the field. It was impossible that he was older than 25 or so, and yet he appeared wan, as though he had not eaten much. His eyes were pale, passive, and his brows furrowed in an expression that looked like hurt. Like Calliope herself had let him down somehow. She gazed at him, seeking detail that would separate him from the ghosts that surrounded him: a lack of a noticeable wound, for one, or the color turning his cheeks and nose a raw pink. Maybe it was something in the eyes. All of the ghosts around him burned with their intentions— their eyes were the only real thing about them. His almost seemed like chips of glass. Calliope dragged herself to her feet. Somewhere in her periphery, she noted Normille raising his arms, his voice taking on a lower, authoritative timbre. Nevertheless, she pushed herself across the stage and down the rickety stairs. She shuddered violently and almost fell on the last stair, reaching out for a warm presence that caught her just before she hit the ground. There was no time for thanks. Every moment in this state was like minutes passing underwater. Her very clothes and hair dragged her down, as if there weren’t dry, barren dust beneath her feet, but a sucking swamp of mud. The weight of their eyes, their hands reaching
for her, their lives rested upon her shoulders and she had to refuse them for just one.
whether it’s better for you to look a bit frayed on the street or not.”
As she approached, she found figures that bled into the air around the boy, like spots of ink against a watercolor: a woman in a stained white shift, her arms cradling a thin infant. Its large, black eyes found Calliope and its lips parted in an expression like wonder. How rare to see. The woman was watching her with something harder, keener in her face. But the eyes were the same: liquid pools absorbing all she saw. Calliope struggled to raise her arm, and she beckoned for the ghost to come.
Calliope swallowed a nasty retort. She had known Normille for years now, had shared beds, meals, and even a few nice days with him. Yet, his audacity managed to floor her time and again. She took a deep breath. “I think you ought to begin giving me my share.”
She shuddered as the ethereal form communed with hers. With the spirit came memories of strong black coffee, ancient pains in fingers pricked by sewing needles, nursery rhymes, and an old rocking chair whose creak echoed through Calliope’s mind. Then came memories of pain: cramps, bleeding, a wailing child. Sorrow. Her voice, when it emerged from Calliope’s lips, was low and earnest. “Abner, you have done so well.” Even now, Calliope could hear his breath hitch. He searched her face for the source of someone he couldn’t see. “Protect your brothers and sister now more than ever. One spark begets a flame.” “Ex-excuse me?” The boy was blinking at her, hands raised as if he were both afraid to touch her, and afraid to let her fall. Calliope struggled to draw breath; a great wave of something blue and suffocating and sad threatened to overwhelm her. The next words just barely escaped her lips through the chattering of her teeth. “One spark.” Then the wave took her. “How much?” Calliope asked him that night. Normille was counting the money at the vanity: a rare moment of quiet for him. She could almost hear his breathing hitch as he approached the end of the pile. She watched his shoulders shift and heard him put the pile down in front of him. “Well,” he said, tone light, “You can eat a nice meal tomorrow. This will be enough for a hearty stew and a loaf of bread between us. Covers the room…” he turned and winked at her. “Perhaps enough for a new dress for you, Cal.” Without waiting for her response, he turned and stretched his arms above his head. He spoke on a yawn, “Though I don’t know
“I do, Cal. That’s your allowance. You don’t even do anything with it.” The boistrous, bouyant quality of his voice shifted into something leaden and hard. Calliope suspected that not even he was aware of the shift, but it happened sometimes: a showman no one wants to see, a speaker to whom no one could stomach listening. “What I do with it is no business of yours,” she returned his gaze steadily. “And yet, I deserve fifty percent. More.” She watched as he looked her up and down. A sneer tugged at his lips. “And so you expect me to foot stage rentals and hotel rooms from my own share? What kind of partnership is that, pet?” Calliope flushed under his gaze. “I expect that any money left over after our shared needs would be split even—” “It is not that easy.” “And why not?” Calliope felt herself trembling and forced herself to sit on the bed so it wouldn’t show. She fisted her hands in the sheets, hoping he wouldn’t notice. “From town to town, those expenses differ and—” “And our intake differs from show to show. What of it?” “Well, if we’re equal and I spend more money than you do, why should we get the same amount?” Normille was looking at her with all of the calm and even boredom one might feel when explaining a moot point to a child. Calliope pressed her lips together so that they wouldn’t fall apart in a stunned “o.” Even when she was angry, her voice rarely got louder than a stage whisper. She hissed, “Because without me, there would be no act!” Normille snorted. “Cal, you forget an essential truth— a flaw in your argument.” He paused for effect and took in her flushed face with that same, bored expression. “I could get work anywhere, doing many things. You would be nowhere if not for me.” His words hung in the air between them for a moment.
When she didn’t respond right away, he shrugged and stood up. “By the way, I’ve spoken to you about cryptic warnings. Can’t make money if the lies are so blatant. Why don’t you remember that tomorrow and go to bed, Cal? I’ll get you a nice pair of gloves if you play it safe like I asked.” It took Calliope quite some time to make sense of what had happened, of any logic behind his words. Did he believe himself ? Did he believe that she would? In fairness, she had never told him that the messages she conveyed were real. If her family turned her out for raving of the talking dead, then Normille was surely untrustworthy. He was tamer in his ignorance, and it brought Calliope a small sense of satisfaction that she was able to turn her talent into a living— if this could be a living, and if this truly were a talent. He was single-minded, with self-imposed blinders. Who was she to tear them from his view? Still, his obliviousness and his selfishness were utterly infuriating. No longer able or willing to hide the furious trembling, she stood and padded slowly to him where he was unbuttoning his sleeves. She took hold of his hands to stop him, to pull his attention to her. She ignored the slight frown, the raised eyebrows. “I will ‘play it safe.’ And you will regret your impulsive, foolish words.” Calliope dropped his hands like they bore festering sores. She tucked herself into the sole bed, as close to the window as possible, her whole body curled away from that which sickened her. When night had fully fallen and the moon had reached its apex, its light spilled into a shallow pool just beneath the window, dripping from the sheets on Calliope’s side of the bed. The tiny room was full of slow, heavy breathing, and darkness obscured the travel bag, the ragged dress, the mother-of-pearl fan, and the wallet tucked beneath the far pillow. It also obscured the two faces, turned diametrically toward either side of the room. If one were to observe the room, one might be startled to see something move at the window. Perhaps, if one were daring, one would ease closer and observe shapes shifting on the floor, at first like ripples in the surface of pool, then becoming more and more like clouds, then like strangely familiar shapes: a hand, an arm, a torso One might even see a grinning face, ghastly and
masklike, reflected against the floor. And then one would probably awake properly, as Calliope did. She was used to waking in the middle of the night, usually under the impression that someone has roused her to tell her news, and usually she it was correct. For half a second in time, Calliope’s heart gave a great lurch as she looked up into the face of a stranger. Then she realized that he wasn’t really there. It was always that way: people in her room, in her dreams, more real than she felt most of the time, and yet utterly impossible. This stranger in particular was surprising, because his means of death wasn’t obvious to her. Her eyes still clouded with sleep, she assessed his body for injuries and found none right away. He had been a young man, fairly handsome, dressed in the sort of finery of which Calliope’s family would never have dreamed. She wondered whether he had fought in the war, whether he was old enough; he certainly had the figure for hard work, even if his clothes did not suggest it. Lastly, like so many of his kind, the stranger’s eyes were hard and shining with a fiery bitterness. Their intensity did not match the easygoing smile on his face. She found herself unnerved. “I have a message,” he said smoothly, “for your friend.” He gestured with his chin to indicate the still form at the other end of the bed. “He is not a friend,” she answered lowly. “And I am not in the habit of losing sleep to the will of those long gone.” She was, in fact, lying. “He has no friends anymore,” the stranger went on, apparently heedless of the lie. “I have ensured that.” “How?” He regarded her for a while with those eyes, deeper than the sky behind him. Finally he reached a hand forward and touched hers where it rested on her knee. Calliope shuddered, her own thoughts imbued by the memories this man had lived: she felt the boozy delirium of parties, the thrill and exhilaration of shooting challenges and Russian Roulette, and finally, the sucking void of need, helplessness, and bitterness. She met his eyes again, confused. “I have wondered why it was that he was able to offer you help, when he so callously rejected my pleas for it.”
Calliope answered his penetrating stare, conscious of the weight of the offender’s body on the mattress. Singleminded. Self-absorbed. It was no wonder that he had no friends today. When he spoke again, he surprised her with his shift in tone; his voice shone with humor, “Why don’t you and I have some fun at his expense?” Calliope raised her eyebrows. “How so?” she asked, and she sat up and listened to the ghost’s tale. The next morning, Jeb Normille woke to find himself alone in the hotel room. When his partner did not return within a few minutes, he got up from bed and set about preparing himself for the day— a long, but essential process for his craft. He came down to the dining room to find Calliope at a table, wearing her best dress (the floral white one that she had worn the day that she had begged him for a job) and a rather uncharacteristic smile. It put him on edge, and he set his jaw as he approached. For one thing, he had no idea why she would be smiling so early in the morning when she was usually so sleepy and stoic. He also rather disagreed with her choices of presentation, given that their shows sold best when she appeared to be weak and troubled. In the eyes of audiences, a happy, healthy woman did not a good medium make. She was reading a newspaper when he sat down beside her, and that warm smile diminished slightly. Not because of his presence, he realized, but because of the article. Normille looked down at the headline: McCarthy house in flames. “Is that close by?” he asked, in his light, unaffected tone. He had many tones for exactly the affects that he desired to convey. “Mmm,” Calliope responded. She spooned some oatmeal into her mouth as she kept reading. “The manor at the top of the hill. We passed it as we were approaching the town.” “Why did we not ask for a private showing?” he muttered to himself. “Well, one of them came to our public show anyway,” the girl responded. Then she said, “Oh, all of the children were alright.” “How do you know?” Normille returned, almost failing
to disguise the irritation in hisvoice. Calliope finally met his eyes, and he found that hers— usually a dull brown— were alight and warm. She was charming, he had to admit. More reason to keep her around. No use for a homely showgirl, after all. “The picture.” She pointed to the fair youth in the blurry photo. He held a toddler in one arm, and held the hand of another boy, only a few years younger. They met the camera with weary, tight looks. Indeed, he was the boy that Calliope had targeted yesterday— the one to whom she had given the obscure warning. A chill went down the back of his neck that Normille quickly shook off. “What is there for eating, Cal?” “I ordered a pot of coffee for us both,” Calliope answered, gesturing. She smiled again as he poured himself a cup and began to stir in sugar. “I enjoy the oatmeal, and there are eggs, should you like them.” He thought she would continue speaking, based on the way her lips were parted, and took his first sip, watching her. But she only said, “Why don’t you drink some more? It would shut you up.” The words seemed coarse, like swears, coming from her lips. Of course he knew them, but he knew not why she said them. Years ago, he had said them to a friend in jest, unaware that the man would take his words so seriously, would drink steadily for the rest of the night, would go on to take sleeping pills, would die. He could specifically recall dreams in which he said those words over and over with horrific consequences: drowning in alcohol, his lips being sewn together, or imbibing poison that ruined his insides. They had passed, over the years, but he had never been able to shake a sense of responsibility, as though he had somehow, with his words alone, sentenced the man to death. He had not, after all, told the man to drink poison! But even as he muddled through the memories, Normille’s hands shook, and he swallowed dryly, looking down at his cup. He knew before he understood, and he looked to Calliope for explanation or help, only finding a look of intense concentration on her face. “Why don’t we go back to the room?” she said, in that churchmouse voice of hers. “I...I need a doctor,” the fear influenced his speech more than any somatic symptoms. He was trembling all over and his cup rattled in its saucer when he put it down. Like a stumbling fawn, he
clambered to his feet.
“You need me to suggest…you go under?”
“Calm yourself, Normille,” Calliope said, also getting to her feet. She reached out to him and took his hands. To an observer, she only appeared to comfort him. They were, after all, a loving couple here. “Let us go upstairs and I shall tell you why I have not added enough arsenic to kill you.”
“Why, yes.” Calliope pursed her lips and made a rather bored expression behind that lace veil. “I cannot see them without some effect— sleep, hypnosis, what have you. And you are the very best influence.” She patted the side of his face rather jovially. “After all, you make me want to die.”
“Then what are you doing?” he ground out from between gritted teeth. “Oh, I played it safe. Rather than warning you, I simply passed on a message from a ghost.” Calliope’s eyes were bright, still. Hard. “That is my job, after all, is it not?” “For the money?” “I wish to convey a message.” She shook her head gently and closed her eyes. “And I have, haven’t I? Though,” she began to guide him to the door, and he let her, listening with every fibre of his being which he could spare, “I assume you will give me my share from now on.” Normille did not answer this, as a wave of nausea crashed over him. He leaned heavily into her, and she bore his weight quietly. Dimly, he was aware of other hotel guests passing them. Calliope’s voice said, “Not feeling well, poor dear.” “You’re going...to kill me,” he panted. “And do the show yourself ?” “I admit that we do make a good team,” Calliope sighed, opening the door to their room with a key fished from her pocket. “I’m afraid I cannot do it entirely alone.” “Stupid,” he huffed. “I cannot go to the show.” Calliope led him to the bed and then, unceremoniously, pushed him onto the mattress. He couldn’t move, couldn’t roll over, so great was the roiling sea. When she was back in his line of vision, she was wearing the lace veil and holding the fan again. In the white dress, she looked rather like her sister, the one who had drowned just a week before he had given her job to Calliope. She had been lovely, too. “I do not need you at the show,” Calliope said, kneeling so that she could look him in the eye. “I only need you to suggest to me.” Normille struggled to hold her in focus. Had she really said what he thought she had?
They had fed the proctor’s dog a witch’s cake, grainy and thick with the Devil’s smell. It crumbled in his bleeding maw, and the mutt licked his paws clean. I sputtered as they spat at me, cursing as they grabbed the rope, My ears were heavy, the water near, and so I played the part they gave me: Come spring-time and the christenings, when you dip each child into the rivers flood May they emerge crying and capped red with the poison of my blood. Limbs bound, they tossed me undertow. Rattling my ribcage along the river’s teeth muddy leaves steeping in the hollows of my lungs, I am caught between boulder and bend, my body crumbles against the water’s jaw. The crabs scuttering along the dirt-silk have since picked my face clean of flesh, and now baitfish hide in the chalky pits that once cupped my eyes.
trigger warning: suicide Twenty miles outside the City I come upon a motel. Its old neon sign, identifying it as The Castle, flickers briefly to life. Its raised letters pulse a frantic ultramarine before receding into the relaxed blue of the landscape. A girl in a dated purple uniform, maybe intended for a bellboy, mans the front desk. As every night she waits to hear the landlord snoring in his room around the corner before she curls into the corner where the cameras don’t reach and picks at her fingernails. A firm tug and she draws blood, watching it congeal in a tiny orb on her nail before wiping it into her uniform. She stows the shavings beneath the counter where only she will know they hide. Cool air hits her from a cracked window. On the second floor, at the end of the landing, a boy prepares to die. He had checked into the hotel with his older brothers’ license. They’d always looked alike, and besides his brother doesn’t need it anymore. The boy stands now before the bed. His choices are lined up on the bleached sheets. His father’s hunting rifle with a pillow for a silencer. A thin razor with a gentle edge. A bottle of assorted pills he has gradually collected from his mother. A rope he has bought pre-tied in a noose. He thinks it’s funny they sell them like that now. Choices choices. He’s already written his note on the back of a ticket stub: “oops.” In the room next door, the one with a view, a permanent resident sits in his recliner. There’s a stain on the arm. Brown. Maybe wine, but probably not. He doesn’t
drink wine. Blood? He doesn’t remember bleeding. The television’s on and half the channels are static, like flies swimming through cream, through programs. Four men died today, the television says. That can’t be right. Four is too few. Maybe they haven’t found the rest yet. Check roadside ditches and motel room closets. The resident wonders if anyone is crying over the four dead men. He tries to remember the last time he cried. Rossini on the radio? Maybe mother’s funeral, at the rim of the empty old well. In the room below, the one reserved by the landlord for the characters expecting company, a tired man stares at a prostitute. When she had first arrived, she quickly procured the promised cash before removing any clothing. He stops her after her shirt is balled up in the corner but before her fingers can dismantle the bra clasp behind her back. He asks her to come sit on the bed and look at him. In his eyes, if she doesn’t mind. She supposes she doesn’t mind. There’s a man like this every once in a while, a man who doesn’t want to fuck. Just look. But they usually don’t want to look her in the eyes. And he is thinking that eyes are beautiful as long as we don’t expect anything of them. The door to the landlord’s room is cracked wide enough to see him slowly rolling a smoldering cigar between forefinger and thumb. A gust of terrible heat emanates from within, and I know it’s time leave.
Sunlight seeps through paper thin blinds and the fridge hums in its corner. The kitchen floor is always cold in the morning when the house is still dreaming. With hands still slow from sleep I reach into stagnant sink water, pull out a sudsy spoon, and drum it along the eggshell pinching away pieces, a mosaic collecting on wet fingertips, and in strips peel the skin. Outside the squirrels chat amongst themselves and I sift coffee through my teeth catching and spitting the grinds onto the shrubs that sit below my window. Across the street my neighbor waters her flowers, and I dig my tongue into the jellied yolk, saluting her with a mouthful of egg as she turns away.
Lift your body from its grave, bones of a mother, and offer sultry fruit to raw dilettante who sucks persimmon with spice. Left drowsy for who, but ginger-soaked hair which combs through torrid curl, a future. Rhythm interlaces kicking under the breast yet above the waist, I feel you unquenched, continued thirst, dry and dehydrated drip cumin, coming along the way. Growth cannot be evaded. You, maternal womb, are here as tomb and tome of life, expanding to bring this third coming birth, still in body while coppered expanse shall fall, blood pumps fetal wine.
In kitchens, I help my mother scoop the seeds from pomegranates. Plunging my numb fingers into the icy water, clawing out the flesh of the fruit. The day before I started the sixth grade, I was double-dog-dared to climb the fence. I scaled the rusted chain-links, only to get caught on the concertina wire at the top. I fell. My chest was julienned, but as I lay in the puddle on the other side of the fence, bleeding, crying, I was more upset I had ruined my favorite shirt. My mother warned me not to wear it out, it was to be part of my first-day-of-school ensemble, now it was macerated and red with my blood. Nothing more than a rag. The water is red from the juice of the fruit. I splash red waves as I plunge my numb fingers back into the white porcelain sink. Be careful my mother says to me, youâ€™ll stain your shirt. edited
Materials: Collage: Vintage Posters, Text books, Egg Shells
My grandmother likes to read coffee grounds after dinner, one day she saw you walking into a room. The curtains blew
and the breeze sighed a name I couldn’t hear.
I recognized your shadow when you came in
behind me, your favorite song had just ended and it made me think about driving with someone’s headlights in my rearview mirror. The wood smelled like oranges from a place I don’t remember but I know I’ve been, I found comfort in memories of the familiar. If you’ve ever squeezed an orange peel you know that it feels like skin but more real. I dreamt about you that night and I swear it set me on fire so I turned and turned until I put you out. I laid awake for hours pressing my palms against my eyes until the tears became a new part of me. Hours later, my jaw ached and when I opened my mouth to stretch I tasted the coffee I had been grinding in my sleep.
place the envelopes on the seat next to me, under the table. The sky is deep, a dark teal. I sense too much movement happening. I flick the radio on, twisting the knob through crackles and buzzes. Maybe the news has something to say about the weather. Waves of mumbled speech come through periodically. Steph will complain about the static, so I turn it off. She stays quiet, this time gazing at the stained backsplash. The smell of soup is so intense it nauseates me. I look over at the stool by the back door. “Where’s Henry?” Steph still leans, biting her nails. Four years ago this house was newly ours, but existed like something the two of us had built in our sleep. Age waited for us in the carpet fibers and unswept corners. Cracked paint and mismatched wallpaper did not feel like the remnants of other people, but memories we simply hadn’t lived yet. We decided to honeymoon right here, to spend time just living in the space. Move-in day was humid and its moist air lingered in the evening. There was something pleasant and comforting about the weather reflecting on our labor, matching the dampness of our skin. At dusk, the clouds turned sapphire. The sky projected lavender into the kitchen. Steph darted around the room. She wiped down the counters and organized cabinets. She was good at making a small space feel open. I sat by the window, breaking down boxes and watching cardboard dust react to the light. Occasionally, I’d sense her eyes on me. It felt good to know she was looking, regardless of whether or not I glanced back. Now Steph stands with one hand on her hip, the other loosely on a ladle. She hardly stirs as steam swirls into dense kitchen air. The room has smelled the same salty sweetness for three days. Her eyes study the floor tiles. Mine watch the window, searching for movement in the clouds. The hue of blue seeping through is strange for late afternoon. Something slaps the table. Steph’s back is turned before I can see her expression. I push the white envelopes aside. I look up and she’s gone back to the pot. She leans against the counter. It’s not a relaxed lean; just tired. I
“Steph––” “What?” “Where’s the cat?” “I don’t know.” She stares at her fingers. “He’s not on his stool.” I look under the table, hoping to find his tail about to graze my leg. I move the chair and papers fall. There’s only shadow and crumbs on the floor. I kiss the air and call his name. “When was the last time you saw him?” “I don’t know, twenty minutes ago.” “But he’s always––” “He’s a cat. He’s around.” A tremor in my chest travels to my stomach until I’m sick with a nervous, burning pulse. Part of me wants to get up and look around the house. Most of me is anxious I won’t find him. Steph’s right. Henry’s around. The smell will get to him soon enough. He loves when she cooks. Maybe he’s hiding––maybe he feels it, too. I turn to look out the window again. The sky is going green. Blades of grass flutter in the yard. I wipe sweat from my lip and brow. I used to like the warmth in this kitchen. Steph’s pasta was a heavy meal for the heat that evening, but we needed it after moving. The pot added steam to our sweat. I listened to her sizzle tomatoes. Oil crackled and spit. I positioned a stool over by the back door. The food processor let out a screechy hum. She asked me to come taste. Basil and garlic kicked the air as soon as the lid popped open. Steph laughed. I turned to see Henry on
the stool, watching us. When we first got him, everything he did was worthy of acknowledgment. We would sit around and watch him for hours, interrupting our conversation to point out the way he was lying down, wiping his face, flicking his tail. He waltzed around this house and picked his places as if he’d known it for years. He loved us without question. Henry’s tail waved and whipped at her pesto. His green eyes refracted the casts of violet light. Tonight, the light in here is sickly. The kitchen has never looked so starved. “Have you heard anything about the weather?” “Hm?” Steph continues to look past the pot at dirty tiles. “The weather––shit!” Muted-green goop bubbles up over the edges of the pot. “Why couldn’t you see it was about to boil over?” I stare at her averted eyes. She groans. I gather paper towels. “Relax, Jesus.” “I just don’t understand how you’re standing right––” “Can you stop? And if you knew it was about to boil over, you could have just told me.” “I didn’t, I just had a feeling and looked up. I’m not the one––” I feel my pitch rise. “I honestly don’t care. It happened. Can we drop it?” Her hands hover at her head, fingers spread, framing her face. Her eyes close as she exhales, as if she’s trying to enter sleep while standing. Heat turns to chill–– it scatters from my forehead to my neck. I approach her from behind. I wrap my arms around her waist, pressing my cheek to her back. She doesn’t move. There’s no tension in her muscles. It’s as if she doesn’t feel me. The insides of my gut grow heavy and I remove myself. Steph used to want me close. On that first night here, I could feel her craving me. I sucked the green sauce off her finger. She kissed my neck. We quickly decided that our bodies needed sex more than food. She drained the pasta and we waddled and thumped around the room before busting out of the back door, the porch loveseat being the closest piece of furniture conducive for semi-comfortable fucking.
Steph rested her head against my shoulder blade, releasing warm breath onto my sticky, summer skin. Each exhale was recovery. Our landscape resumed its evening conversation. Cicadas shushed the crickets. Wooden fence surrounded the porch, isolating my view into fragments. I looked through one empty slot at a time. Each one displayed its own portrait of our yard below. Twilight made the grass a heavy sheet of green, like the dark inside of a pine forest stretched out onto the floor. She asked me what I was thinking. A lot of people ask that question. When she did, something else was going on. Her eyes pegged every inch of my face. She was invested in the inside of head, like my thoughts would answer something she had always been needing. I told her I was looking at our yard. I loved it. She kept looking at me. Maybe she wanted more. She squeezed my arm before heading back inside. A breeze came and the blades leaned back toward where the ground faded into indigo sky. I took a few more moments before the shadows got too dark. Inside, Steph stood naked, plopping spaghetti into bowls. She garnished one with more lemon and pepper and parmesan, mixing it around to her liking. I kissed her shoulder and sat back in my new spot by the window. She brought the food over, and placed the extra toppings in front of my bowl. I told her how good it looked and she gave a tired smile before taking a sip of her beer. We ate the first meal in our house, quiet and taking it all in. I go back to the window. The clouds congeal, backlit by mossy sky. I look down at the table. I try to focus on the wood fibers, but the lines only lead to circles and swirls. I wipe my upper lip. “Have you heard anything about the weath––” “I think it’s done.” She glances at the soup. “These clouds don’t seem right.” “What?” “The sky, it’s making me nervous.” “I’m sure it’s fine. This is done. Can we eat?” She starts filling two bowls, dripping on the counter. My chest gets tight and traps the thumping inside. The window is in my peripheral, taunting me. I have to look. Dark has made the glass reflective, placing us out there. The sky is worse. Murky emerald churns ahead. I feel it creeping.
Artist Statement an unofficial sequel to “a night out” (published in amlit spring 2017)
“Steph, I really don’t––” Porcelain clinks in front of me, pulling my view to split pea soup. “Please. Not right now.” She sits down opposite of me. Her head goes right into her hand. I twist the ring on my finger. My skin is sticky from sweat. I stare at the green goop. I should take a bite–– she’ll comment on my not-eating. Swallowing doesn’t work right away. Thick liquid lingers in my mouth. I want to spit it out. Steph makes spirals with her spoon. She still hasn’t looked. I close my eyes, but then I’m overwhelmed with the sensation––the weather wants to surround around our home. The room seems smaller than usual. I want to step out, but I can’t move. Steph shifts in her seat. She reaches under her chair, and plops those envelopes onto the table again. Her cheek presses into her fist. “I really need you to look through those.” I look past the table, toward the doorway of the living room. “Okay?” She rubs her forehead. “Thank God, there he is.” I see Henry’s body sulk out of shadow and into the kitchen. She lets go of her spoon and it clinks hard on the bowl. “You aren’t even listening to me––” “Steph, I am. I was worried about Henry and the––” “Pay attention. I asked you a question and you won’t answer me.” Henry runs back out of the room. She’s looking at me, finally, but her eyes are searing. “You can’t ignore this––” she rips open an envelope and slaps it in front of me–– “it’s real, and you’re off in your own…” Her voice starts to get lost, and all I can hear is wind out there. I close my eyes again. A low lying mass morphs into itself over and over, building at its core. The center becomes weighted, slowly drooping down. A steady whir becomes loud. The funnel lengthens, inevitably grazing the ground. I watch, paralyzed. It’s happening. The sky is going to wrap around us. Soon the house will be lifted from underneath. Closer it comes, but I’m silent at its approach. Steph wouldn’t want to hear it––she’s ready. All we can do is wait.
Summer time crumbles like brown sugarâ€” molasses mellowing in small hands. Crystals soften the crooks within skin, heel of palm, pads of fingers. Frayed afternoons in a colored jumper, long legs imploring me to climb the sky; All time is like sugar, I think.
Artwork: “Mirror Fence” by Alyson Shotz
Is there anything lonelier than late July? At 2 a.m. the road home from Andrew’s house is a time machine. The whole evening felt like a fever dream ever since we mixed Seagram’s with a strawberry milkshake, and the hickey at my collarbone blooms red and ripe enough to remind me of every superficial high school romance I tucked away and left to stale in the pages of yearbooks and card-collecting lunch tins. Summer sends sticky storms to wash out whole afternoons like angry ellipses, as if there isn’t enough time or enough rain. The sweet juices of Eastern peaches dribble onto my mother’s new hardwood floors and she frets about ants, about the storm, and the dog. Our backyard is a time capsule; it is littered with coconut pineapple popsicle sticks, and black pond dye that stained the patio last spring, and my first kiss (New Year’s Eve 2011), and sun tan, and Oktoberfest, and big fat bullfrogs croaking dog day hymns, and the carcass of a long dead hamster buried somewhere near the swing. Is there anything lonelier?
I was salt on your pricked finger from the sewing needle. you sucked the blood loose from barely clotted scabs, rolling your eyes and laughing with the burlap hanging between your yellow teeth. I fall asleep to the twang of flossing gums like thin nail plucking a mahogany guitar probably somewhere in Valencia or Madrid, where babies cry with tiny fists instead of your red screams at the foot of the bed. you had a life before me. I watch you slam the shutters in a storm thinking it will help to hole up the house to keep the lightning out, the thunder you try your best to hush. If I could, I would, you say with conviction, I think I believe in God. you do not smile at me now, but stare out the window where the cat meows at its own reflection that is left out in the rain.
(n.) the ghost of time
German is such a lovely little language. Germans form compound words out of everything. The result is lost in translation, the meanings obscured by our clumsy English minds that demand everything be literal and explained. But German, German has a spirit. Zeitgeist literally translates to “time ghost,” and every German understands exactly what that means. In English, we would need at least a sentence to capture its meaning while they only need one word; so it’s a good thing we borrowed it from them. In English, we define Zeitgeist as, as quoted from Merriam Webster, “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era,” because our minds cannot understand it as time ghost like the way we can understand although or because; the complex concepts those words represent don’t require a second thought for us. Even the prefix, Zeit, is only one of the words Germans have for time, it is the essence of time, which is different from the time you can measure on your phone or on your wrist or on the wall. It’s the time you watched 9/11 on the TV and cried, it’s the time you were learning how to ride your bike and bloodied your knees and your father bought you ice cream afterwards, it’s the first time you fell in love. Chomsky, Lacan, Saussure, and Freud have all pondered the ways our first language wires our brains. As an infant, your mind is permanently wired in a certain way depending on your mother tongue, that even when you learn a language later in life it can never be fully appreciated, never fully understood. It is often joked that “you can’t understand Hegel until you’ve read him in German,” but the same could be said to the German that you could never understand Shakespeare until you read him in English. But this is not about language theory, I’m not smart enough to tackle that without a healthy dosage of a choice psychedelic and even then I’m afraid I would fall remarkably short. To understand these stories I need you to try to understand these ethereal German words that will follow.
(n.) head cinema; the act of playing out an entire scenario in your mind I miss having a smoke in Alexanderplatz. The harsh winter winds of the northern European plain lashing and licking my face while warm tobacco fills my lungs, breathing out and watching the smoke curl from my nose as if I were a dragon. The glowing, towering, Fernsehturm behind me, the streets peppered with Marxist graffiti, antifaschistische aktion, or Trump ist Scheiße, and the clickity-clack of the bright yellow trams scuttling across Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße. The sun growing dark and the city coming alive; throwing off the shackles of winter and work at midnight, grabbing beers and four euro camels from the spätkauf (n., late buy; a late night corner store) and drinking and smoking on the platform of the U-Bahnhof on the way to the clubs. Fuck, I miss that. I miss her; Adalie, and her big red wool jumper (pulli in German) and her cute little button nose. She was a student at Freie Universität, and I was too in a sense—just stuffed away on the satellite campus with all the other Americans. On our first date I took her to one of my favorite bars in Kreuzberg, she said “its fun to go to tourist bars sometimes” with her perfect English and dry German wit that’ll cut you down in an instant. After, we sat outside the spätkauf, drinking Berliner-Kindl—the word kindling is derived from Kindl, which means child. Life is a fire, we start as kindling, and then we burn up and become nothing but ash in the wind —and chain-smoking Camels, the smoke curling from our nostrils and the ash staining our pant legs. She smoked Camels because that’s what her father smoked, and she liked that I smoked them because of that too, or that’s what Freud would think anyways. She took me to a Turkish bar. She was Turkish, but she didn’t have
a Turkish passport, couldn’t speak Turkish, had only been there twice, and was born right here in Berlin. Later she would tell me she never considered herself to be a German and scoffed and told me that I was “so American” for thinking she had the right to consider herself German—my parents are immigrants, like hers, but I guess that’s not how it works anywhere else besides America. I love that about America, and not much else. The bar was all red. Softly lit red lighting with walls painted red behind the “free Palestine” graffiti, she came back from the bar and handed me an ice-cold Pilsner. I loved the way the red walls and the red light caught her red hair and her red jumper. Everything was red and it was lovely.
I had never been inside a real-life German’s apartment before. It’s not too different from an American apartment, but walking through her door felt like I was walking into Oz. She asked me what my favorite horror movie was, I told her The Shining; she had never seen it so we watched it lying on her mattress on the floor. While Jack Nicholson slowly lost his mind, she told me about how her Great-Grand Father was a survivor of the Armenian genocide and how he pretended he was a Turk for the rest of his life. She asked me about Trump, and how we could let it happen, I told her it happened the same way 1933 happened, it seemed like a smart enough answer. As a communist, she declared, she would never set foot in America until Trump was gone. She was as curious about what it meant to be an American
as I was curious about what it was like to be a German. I told her I loved German compound words, so she taught me a few. The movie had ended and we hadn’t even noticed. Everything smelled like smoke. We had a breakfast-in-bed of cigarettes and Ja! brand Hönig-Krisp cereal that I had always seen in Kaufland but had never bought—I’m not a huge fan of cereal. It was a warm morning, a sunny morning. The harsh Prussian winter was being beaten back by the tepid Berlin spring. We spent most of the day in bed, eventually venturing out into the sunny Charlottenburg streets, she pointed out the Old Prussian ministries and operas. Eventually she walked me back to the Zoologischer Garten U-Bahnhof. We had been on a date for a full twenty-four hours, 8pm to 8pm. She looked so lovely standing on the platform with the herd mosaic zebras and giraffes on the wall behind her. There wasn’t much time left, the trains run on time every time always in five-minute intervals; the last Prussian militants are the train conductors, they cannot be stopped. Einsteigen bitte! the doors of the train car opened and I turned to her and said “tschüss” (goodbye) and Adalie said “nein, auf wiedersehen” (until we meet again). Zurückblieben bitte! the train car doors closed and I was swallowed into the belly of the Bahnhof. As the train glided through the underground I saw it all unfold before me. Each day was a day closer to the day I would cry listening to “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode as I watched Berlin shrink away as the plane climbed higher and higher. I saw how the whole thing would play out, the happiness and heartbreak. But I didn’t care, I felt happy and that was new. I liked it, and I hadn’t felt it in so long. Eventually though, she must’ve seen it too; why get attached to a tourist? Sometimes I think about going back, my Irish passport granting me a permanent stay in Berlin, and seeing her outside the spätkauf, smoking her Camels. I would say to her “auf wiedersehen ist nicht tschüss,” or maybe just “hallo, Adalie.” II SEHNSUCHT (n.) an intense yearning for something indescribable I watched the old grandmother pin the day’s laundry upon the clothesline. The urban sprawl of Thessaloniki stretched into the dusk. Sandstone and cement towers
haphazardly thrown about, like people on a crowded bus, and every apartment had a balcony and every balcony had a potted plant that spilled out of its pot. Every single thing felt like it was trying to climb on top of one another, like vines in a jungle stretching up towards the canopy. The TV antennas pricked the sky with their steel fingers, and the sound of Greek comedies and tragedies floated through the air mixing with the cries of children playing tag in the courtyards and the bawling of the stray dogs roaming the streets. All the windows in the city were a soft yellow, a small vignette into someone’s world; a man kissing his wife as he gets home from work, friends drinking beers and watching football on the TV, a mother feeding her toddler mushed peas. Sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, the ancient city was cacophonous with car horns and distant laughter. Somewhere below me someone was cooking tomatoes and the aroma made me yearn for a home cooked meal. The massive freighters were gliding across the Aegean as the setting sun turned the whole sea scarlet. I suddenly felt so tragically lost. Greece was warm in February, at least warmer than Berlin. But it was still cold enough for the chill to wrap around me and fill me with despair. What was wrong? I was missing something. I was missing. What was it? III VERSCHLIMMBESSERN (v.) to make something worse when you were trying to make it better The universe tends towards entropy. The more you do the more chaos you create. I once read that if you step on the brake pedal for thirty seconds you cause thirty minutes of traffic behind you. The open casket was just for immediate family, which included us. My father was angry on the drive over—the last time he had spoken to his brother-in-law my uncle told my father to go to hell—but now he was weeping. His body was shrunken. The cancer had eaten him. Digested him. He was a big man, but he looked so small. My father hugged his sister, he hadn’t seen her in six years, they cried together; the same way they must have held each other and cried when my grandmother died when they were young. I needed a cigarette, the weak Nicorette in my pocket wasn’t going to cut it, but it was all I had. I was chewing
ferociously outside of the church and nervously fidgeting with my tie, my sister watched me pace back and forth. “We’ll never be like Dad and Aunt Chris will we?” She was just as anxious she just didn’t have an aggressive nicotine addiction. “No, of course not.” The church filled with extended family and distant relatives and friends and neighbors and the casket was closed. Afterwards, I made small talk with people I had some degree of relationship to, they’d politely ask how I’ve been and how was school and I’d tell them I just came home from Berlin and they’d feign interest.
My uncle Dan died of blood cancer in July, leaving my aunt Chris, my dad’s sister, a widow with five children. My father’s other sister is a blind former-scientologist who lives with a Methodist minister in Maine—she was just diagnosed with cancer. My family is not a peaceful family, I’m hesitant to say that we are not a happy family because there have been many happy times, but the bad always seems to outweigh the good. We simply are not a peaceful family—our house is a coliseum and if you live in a coliseum you have to become a gladiator—add existential pressure to the mix, and combustion is inevitable.
The massive alabaster cross on the hill of the cemetery glistened in the July sun. The grass was perfectly trimmed and vibrantly green. The hearse and the convoy rolled through the green hills to the freshly dug dirt.
We walked along the cliff side towards the lighthouse. All laughs, all smiles, all running around with our dog. Pretending that we hadn’t erupted just thirty minutes before. Pretending that my sister didn’t start cursing at my mother—she just turned sixteen and is learning how to drive, my mother is a backseat driver and it sends Ciara over the edge—which led to my father screaming at my sister and mother, which led to my mother crying and my sister pulling over and my father getting out of the car and storming down the street, and like always, I had to herd this family of cats back together because I didn’t ask to come up for this, I knew it would be like this, so I’ll be damned if we don’t go on this hike. We always go on this hike, every time we go to Montauk, which is often. That trail is trail. After making my mother and my sister talk it out, I set off down the street to find my father. He was sitting on the bench, still fuming, still angry at the world. I sat next to him and we talked for a while, and eventually we came to this,
After we laid the roses atop the casket and watched it sink into the earth we drove back out past the massive cross and straight to the reception. My cousins and my family were doing the best that they could, talking amongst themselves at the table, but my father was at the bar. I bought him a gin and tonic and sat down next to him. He was torn, he wanted to forgive his brother-inlaw but his pride was getting in the way. I told him to get over it, forgive the dead. He just stared into the distance. IV TORSCHLUSSPANIK (n.) gate shutting panic; the fear that time is running out As a child, you learn that one day you’ll die when you lose your balloon in the park on a sunny summer morning. Montauk was muted, especially for Labor Day weekend, the weather was foul and the sky and the sea were grey. It was my father’s birthday, he’s sixty-one. My mother had called me a few days before, they were going up to Maine to see my dad’s sister; she has cancer. “He’s not doing too well you know,” her Irish lilt cut through the phone, “after Dan in July, and now Connie has cancer too, you really need to come home this weekend. We’re going to Montauk to see Marion. You need to come home.” I do not have grandparents, I did, but they all died when I was very young. I have a great aunt Marion, the grand matriarch of our family, but she too has grown quite old.
“Are you scared of me?” he asked. “No. I’m not scared of you.” “Were you ever?” “When I was younger,” we were both facing forward; it was an easier conversation if we weren’t looking at one another. “But I’m not scared of you anymore.” We let the silence fester for a little while, watching the pedestrians pass us by. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m sorry I’ve been a terrible father.” “You’re not a terrible dad, you’re just a dad, and you’ve done your best. But be a man. Be a man and just say you’re sorry. Don’t add anything else, just own your mistakes and you’ll be a better man, a better father for it.” Good god I wanted a cigarette, and my father probably
wished he had one too. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree—but how can a new tree take root if it is in the shade of the other? He turned to look at me. It was an honest look, a look he’s given me before. It was pride that hung across his face. The cliff erodes a little bit more every time we come back. The bluff cuts deeper, and we all desperately scream for Juno, our dog, to come back from the ledge, terrified that it will cave in beneath her. The brush is thicker than normal; the trail was not well traveled this summer. As we made our way down to the beach the
sun began to break through the clouds, but the North Atlantic was still choppy and rough. On the beach my mother cast smooth grey stones into the sea while my sister tossed a stick of beach wood for the dog. Massive slabs of granite and basalt, blasted Appalachian mountain tops, were laid against the base of the peninsula where the lighthouse was, keeping the hungry seas from swallowing it whole, for now. We walked in the opposite direction, away from the lighthouse and underneath the cliff side. A house used to sit atop the cliff. It was there when my
parents were here in the early 1990s, now there is nothing left but pipe sticking out of the cliff, and the bathtub. All of my life that cast-iron tub sat atop that cliff, the erosion making it lean ever so slightly over the edge. We all stopped and stared at the tub, split in two, on the rocks in front of us. There was nothing left of that old house. Time takes, it never gives. V GEBORGENHEIT (n.) the perfect mixture of coz y, safe, comfortable, and warm The happiest day of my life was on a cold, snowy December day. I was seventeen and I was in love. I was in love with Ava, in love with my friends, in love with snowy days in New York with the childhood magic of Christmas in air. We spent the day at the Museum of Natural History. Everything felt warm. Everything was bright and yellow and smelled of knowledge. Seven teenagers running amuck surrounded by ancient artifacts and fossils—making out in the dark corners near the rare mineral exhibit or in the quiet hallways of the Precambrian era. We felt so young, almost invincible. We would never become the fossils surrounding us. We would live forever. This would last forever. We walked through Central Park that night. The snow was falling hard and fast. We table-topped each other in the park, lobbed snowballs and made angels. I was lying in the snow with Ava under a great big pine tree. When we kissed I never felt so truly in love and loved by someone. I felt alive, brimming with “potential energy” as Owen and Jack would later describe it as we sat on my porch this summer, remembering that night, drowning ourselves in bourbon and chain-smoking Camels. I remember feeling so warm despite the storm. The lights in all the thousands of windows of the upper west side glistened and shone through the snow like stars; it felt like a goddamn dream. We became part of the magical tapestry of New York at Christmas for just one beautiful evening. Ava’s bed that night was so warm, so soft, so safe.
A fizzling cherry-cola night sky dripped thick on my face as I shivered my bones loose from their sockets. On a damp, dewy lawn, I lay looking up at the stars, speckled patterns reminding me of backwash floating from some stupid boy’s mouth. Yawning, I lift up my hand to pinch them right out of the sky, like bread crumbs, but my fingers stick together with syrup. A cold metal can sets cool against my bare skin until I hear the slosh of nearing boots in the mud. You are kneading dough with the tread of your shoes, claiming land you don’t sow. Turning, layer over layer of sediment like crusts of the earth’s core, red and green like textbook graphics, though you don’t know it. Man cannot live by bread alone. I roll onto my side to look at you. You are picking pebbles from my matted hair, unabashed, still. I am not sorry for what I’ve done.
This morning I dreamt of sea turtles, hatchlings housed in shells gossamer-thin, making frenzied breaks for breakers that forced them backwards, tumbling with the sea and sand to try and try again. Under a moonless sky, most melted into drip castle mud, their tiny skeletons gently scooped by the surf and carried away.
One Saturday afternoon a fly came in from an open window in my grandmother’s blue kitchen and hovered over a tub of chicken soaking in its own blood. My grandmother had her phone pressed to her ear, her other hand kept warm, nestled in the dip in her side as she stared out the window and spoke through her teeth. My eyes followed the fly as it flew around its reflection in the clouded water my grandmother set the phone down to look at me. “Las palabras se van con el viento,” she announced. When I looked back over the fly had drowned
Splinters under my fingernails and you whiskey-eyed again, staring from the frame of our bedroom, it holds me like you used to ash crumbles from a soft and fading flame you and these walls always smelled of smoke the grey rings cling to the peeling paint our first house with a backyard full of oak trees, a garden you loved, lilies for a haint the clouds tear and the morning light catches you from behind and everything is gilded the carpet dotted with curling matches, my birthday roses limping, now wilted its card begins with love of mine and ends with blue ink smudging hurried amends
Artist Statement After the Alaskan Earthquake of 1964, huge portions of forested land sunk below sea level, and died after their roots were submerged in sea water. The sea water petrified the wood, leaving â€œGhost Forestsâ€? all over the state.
Olivia Smith-Elnaggar is a self-proclaimed misfit and mutt, especially now that she is a writer-turned-Psychology student in the MA program. She enjoys writing in a number of different genres, and plays video game music in her spare time. Paige Stewart was born in Greenville, Pennsylvania. In 2012 she received her BFA from Edinboro University with a concentration in painting. After Graduation Stewart attended artists residencies at Chautauqua School of Art and Mount Gretna School of Art. Her works have been shown in Washington DC, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York. Stewart was most recently nominated for the Dedalus Foundation Fellowship and is expected to receive her MFA at American University in 2018. She currently lives and travels between DC and Greenville, Pennsylvania. Hannah Solus ready for apocolypse Jack Tollman English national, studying Graphic design Mercy Griffith is a goat-herding, mountain climber in another life Nik Daniludis is a senior at American University who is studying Psychology and Arabic. She hopes to merge her love of photography with her passion for humanitarian work. Maya Simkin has not thought about alphabet soup in a while Ashfia Khan: devoted devotee of sweet potato fries Claire Osborn knows a lot of facts about cephalopods Sheer Figman never learned how to swim and her elbow hurts when it is going to rain. She might’ve peaked when she was fourteen but still wants to see what she will be like when she is twenty seven. Sometimes, she wonders what the world would be like without Caroline Coolidge or the Gregorian calendar.
Sydney Hamilton was a teen pop sensation in a past life Thomas Pool is having a dinner party and you’re invited Milena Bozovic is probably coping with her perpetual case of the hiccups
Safiya Gallaghan is a freshman at AU from North Carolina who hasn’t gone a day without being sick. She only wears salmon pink, and in her free time she enjoys eating her roommate’s snacks and being around art. Sophia Salganicoff My name is Sophia Salganicoff. I was born in Philadelphia, PA. I probably fell in love with art (and creating things) when my chubby little hand was just old enough to grab onto a fat magic marker and go to town. I want to make art more accessible and less intimidating (financially and/or egotistically speaking) for everyone, and I think that a lot more resources could be funneled into this category of education. The world around me–and the people who inhabit it–act as my primary inspiration. Existing art, whether visual or sonic, also heavily influences and informs my own artistic practice. Arnaud Leciere The painting that I have submitted is the result of abstract painting emerging from a personal and formal exploration. As an artist, I work with lines, forms, tone, color and texture. This painting respond to the environment I encounter daily and builds on a lifelong trajectory that echoes this daily experience. Eli Humphrey is an old boy studying history and literature. Sometimes, he writes things down. Nicolla Etzion Hi I’m Nicolla! I like tea with milk, Fauvism, the movie Pretty Woman, and getting upset at people who get too close to paintings at museums. Jordan Redd is not convinced she will make it through
this semester to see this magazine. Elspeth Reilly spends her free time talking to birds; she has the following to report back: they are appreciative of the breadcrumbs, however, the attack is imminent. Amanda Book struggles not to eat mac and cheese for every meal Meghan Nash is rattling the iron gates outside of your estate. Scott Mullins is about to graduate, he is expensive now y’all Joyce DeCerce is a poet from Florida. Anonymous changed her mind four times before deciding to stay anonymous and has Claire Osborn’s patience to thank for her decision. Kay Chu McCarthy is probably someone you forgot you already met. Cam Diagonale *Owen Wilson voice* “wow!” Carla Levy I’m just really excited to be here Tiffany Chamberlain was born in Tokyo, Japan and grew up in the South Jersey area. She received her BA in Liberal Arts from Rowan University in 2013. Her academic studies specialized in the areas of Philosophy, Religion and Sociology. She currently resides and works in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area where she is obtaining her MFA in Studio Art from American University. She is known for her figurative mixed-medium works often placed on a ground of abstraction. Objects in her work tend to hold symbolisms associated with her interest in spirituality. Her work explores ideas of identity, humanity and inclusion. Matt Dwyer is a sophomore at American University in the school of International Service. In his spare time he likes to read, spend time with his friends, and explore the outdoors. Bailey Kroner Hi I’m Bailey, I can be found in my dorm jamin’ to Hamilton and 90s music while wishing I was eating ice cream, but our freezer doesn’t work :(
photography. Hana has photographed in 14 countries around the world; in between stopovers you can find her in Washington DC sipping chai. Erin Bernard is an historian, artist, and poet based in Philadelphia, PA, currently working toward her Ph.D. in History at American University. Her work explores motherhood, the environment, cities, politics, and the body. She is the creator of the Philadelphia Public History Truck, an award-winning mobile museum which creates exhibitions with neighbors on issues of social justice. Her artwork has been exhibited throughout the region, including the Institute of Contemporary Art (University of Pennsylvania). Sreenidhi Kotipalli would just like to point out the fact that we’ve never seen Ted Cruz and Clawed in a room together....#StayWoke #StayWonk Amanda Hodes is very extra, and yes, this is a haiku Maggie Mahoney is out here. She is a Literature and Journalism double major with a passion for smoothies and an appreciation for a good pun. Kyle Hackett I deconstruct ideas of secure identity and fixed-painting techniques. By highlighting tension between self-representation and constructed image, my work is rooted in the need for empathy and a historical desire for connection and feeling. I emphasize conflicts of inner vs. outer in hopes to foster new realities and new ways of being understood as not, brown or white, black or grey, wealthy or poor, but human. Oftenacknowledging classical method’s incapacities for telling the truth, I stress ideas of vulnerability, false glamorization and anxiety of reconciling the past with the present. Shaun Schroth Artist, photographer, educator. Shaun is an Adjunct Photography Professor at the University of the District of Columbia, the Manager of Photographic Services at the American University, a freelance photographer and designer, and operates a portrait studio, Imaginem, focused on tintypes, large format instant film, and other unique photographic processes.
Hana Manadath is a 19 year old self-taught photographer with an eye for creativity since her iPhone days. Her work as a visual artist includes travel and portrait
Izzy Capodanno Iris Hills
Rebecca Sakaguchi Social Media Assistants Mercedes Subhani
Kiley Browne General Staff Cam Diagonale
Tessa Ann Stewart
Susana Gude Brittany Greene
J’han Brady Sarah Soliman
Andrew Levy Blog Team Film Assistants
Rachel Windsor Maggie Mahoney
Hannah Solus Jordan Redd
Design Director Claire Osborn
A Message from the Design Director: this issue was made with love, hard work, and a lot of glue. Iâ€™d like to give special thanks to this semesterâ€™s design team for hand making all the accents, handwriting all the titles and subheadings, and building the cover from scraps and odd ends. You are all amazing, talented designers. Thank you for making my last semester as design editor a good one.
American Literary (AmLit), AU's student-run creative magazine, is published twice a year and is comprised of poetry, short prose, photos, ar...
Published on Dec 4, 2017
American Literary (AmLit), AU's student-run creative magazine, is published twice a year and is comprised of poetry, short prose, photos, ar...