Mission Statement American Literary Magazine, affectionately known as AmLit, is American Universityâ€™s literary and creative arts magazine. Run entirely by students, AmLit is published twice a year, at the end of the fall and spring semesters. Striving to showcase the best student writing and visual art within the campus community, on both the undergraduate and graduate level, AmLit contains poetry, prose, art, film, and photography submitted by our students. AmLit selects its content based on an anonymous review process, giving each staff member an equal vote on every piece submitted. The Editors-in-Chief and Genre Editors resolve any discrepancies in the democratic voting process. All copyrights revert to the artists upon publication, unless otherwise noted.
Acknowledgements We wish we could climb to the top of Katzen to sing the praises of everyone who has contributed to the copy of AmLit you hold in your hands today. From our general staff, who never fail to bring thoughtful analysis and an appreciation for craft to our review sessions, to the creators who give us the gift of their work, we owe you our profound gratitude. As our first year of working with Heritage Printing comes to a close, we know that we could not have made it through the winding journey of creating AmLit without them. Producing a publication as time-honored as AmLit can be daunting, but Heritage never failed to guide us to our destination. The particular beauty of this edition will not go unnoticed, and for that we applaud our design and copy team, who have spent countless hours in the studio constructing this work of art. If you happen to see a girl in a rainbow raincoat flying around campus on her razor scooter, be sure to thank her for being the visionary behind it all, our Creative Director, Rebecca Sakaguchi. To our executive board, we thank you for your hilarious, sometimes sad, and always relatable roses and thorns; thank you for pushing the magazine forward; thank you for being our friends. We know that the future is bright with our assistants, who amaze us with their dedication and the endless possibilities they see within AmLit. As you grow into its future leaders, we know it will be well taken care of in your hands. Finally, a very special thank you must be set aside for Chris Young, Student Mediaâ€™s strongest advocate. As we watch Chris move on to his next challenge, we know that he will bring his sage advise and brighten-your-day smile with him. Student Media and AmLit will be forever touched by his time as our advisor and mentor.
Fall 2019 / 3
Letter from the Editors Dearest AmLit, As we say farewell to a magazine and a community that has watched us grow from our tiny underclassmen years to our final weeks as co-Editors-in-Chief, we wanted to follow our parentsâ€™ relentless advice to always write a thank you letter. So, AmLit, thank you for: Leading us to people from all nooks and crannies of campus, from our veteran e-board members (yâ€™all are old) to the fresh faces at the Involvement Fair. Showing us that a wonky place like American University harbors beautiful, gifted artists and authors whose voices need to be elevated. Making sure that each event had the correct amount of snacksâ€“ Milanos and Cheeto puffs, specifically. Reminding us to never take this remarkable community of advisors, creators, and friends for granted. Allowing us to make mistakes, both big and silly, and grow into the almost fully-formed adult people we are today. Guiding us to discover our truest passions. Handing us your most lovely, personal, spectacular, spunky, and vulnerable art and letting us turn it into a bomb mag. Our rose is all of you. And our thorn is saying goodbye. Hugs, Emaan and Izzy
Fall 2019 / 5
Table of Contents Art Photo
Mission Statement / 3 Acknowledgements / 3 Letter from the Editors / 5 Contributor Biographies / Masthead / Autographs /
6 / American Literary Magazine
HellHole by Sayukta Agarwal / 48 Jungle Boy by Jack Tollman / 26 Untitled by Jack Tollman / 40 Ghosts at Ajloun Castle by Shah Jahan / 18–19 AU by Madeleine Roth / 89 Blue Dream by Jasmin Chan / 47 Divided by Stephanie Mirah / 84 Empty by Madeleine Roth / 16 Far, Far Away by Madeleine Roth / 72 Farewell Letter by Amanda Book / 52 Flight in Alliteration by Amanda Book / 42 Gil and Some Flowers by Thea Persaud / 58 Grownup by Samantha Daley / 97 I’m Homosexual for Oaks by Maxwell Laro / 79 I’m Late For My Interview by Zander Velleca / 23 Mama by Clarissa Cheung / 86 Mars is Now Inhabitable and Corporations are Fast on Their Way to Make it Uninhabitable with Insane Housing Prices by Syeda Siddiqi / 91 Mother & Daughter by Stephanie Mirah / 10 Navel by Samantha Daley / 71 On Mullet Street by Isabel Capodanno / 14 Rigged by Rachel Burger / 83 Secret Garden by Samantha Daley / 75 Shelled-in by Amanda Book / 34 Some Things I’ve Lost by Amanda Book / 66 Still by Madeleine Roth / 25 Strange Weekend by Zander Velleca / 65 Sunset Lodge by Maxwell Laro / 45 The Persuasion by Jasmin Chan / 77 Tourists in Double by Jordan Redd / 68 Two Views From Alcatraz by Jordan Redd / 56 Untitled by Loretta Dzanya / 13 Untitled by Loretta Dzanya / 24 Untitled by Loretta Dzanya / 37 Untitled by Lane Manalo-LeClair / 9 Untitled by Lane Manalo-LeClair / 54 Warmth by Jasmin Chan / 4 We Were Humming the Same Song by Amanda Book / 95 ام و يش لك تيسنا انا ةعلقلا يف انا ةمدنع نامك يش يا يدبby Syeda Siddiqi / 81 Black Sand by Gabrielle Michel / 29–30 Light Bleed by Jordan Redd / 32–33 Nightlights by Henri Brink / 80 Spring Photograms by Isabel Capodanno / 38–39
A Luxury We Cannot Afford by Niccolo Bechtler / 28 Birds by Marissa Parisi / 17 Black Bullets by Isabella Igbanugo / 22–22 *trigger warning Boxes by Zainab Mirza / 31 Caged Creatives by Samantha Monteith / 15 Car by Zainab Mirza / 93 Cheesecake Factory Gothic by Syeda Siddiqi / 61 Coming Home by Thea Persaud / 87 d.j. by Sofia Hines / 41 Daylight Savings, GMT +1 by Cam Diagonale / 49 Doli Incapax by Lily Theders / 62 Every 60 Hours by Sofia Hines / 11 Fishing by Stephanie Mirah / 8 Hiawatha by Annie Przypyszny / 76 In Christina’s World by Stephanie Mirah / 98 June in Gettysburg by Cam Diagonale / 64 Midwestern American Bodies of Water Include Swimming Pools and Canning Jars by Hope Neyer / 44 Points of Contact by Niccolo Bechtler / 63 Protagonists of Their Own by Annie Przypyszny / 36 Proud by Sofia Hines / 27 Snowglobe by Stephanie Mirah / 35 Structures by Niccolo Bechtler / 43 Summer in Buckwheat by Amanda Book / 62 The Color Yellow by Caroline Routh / 94 *trigger warning The Greatest Myth by Isabella Igbanugo / 74 The Taste of Avocado by Sofia Hines / 12 This Is What a Mirror Is by Emaan Khan / 59 Wood, Paper, Leaf by Niccolo Bechtler / 55 Yvonne by Jayda Hinds / 35 At the Ballet by Kristen Batstone / 73–74 Cloud Beach by Brianna Bytner / 50–51 Daily Commute by Stephanie Mirah / 88 If Heaven Were a Highlight Reel by Rob Sanford / 90 Kansas Skies by Charlotte Faust / 85 Leah by Caroline Hannum / 96–97 Making Time by Brianna Bytner / 53 Rising Tide by Grace Hasson / 82 Technicolor Summer-Seasons and People by Emma Lovato / 57 The Village by Caroline Hannum / 78–79 Time by Riddhi Setty / 92 Twins by Gracie Donovan / 69–70 Uh, I Got Some Things I Wanna Say by Syeda Siddiqi / 46 When I’m Terrified by Alexa Barnes / 67 Bell by Samantha Daley / 60 Fall 2019 / 7
Picasso’s hunched fisherman at Antibes pierces another lost fish with steel prongs. I have forgotten much of the why and how and where of those days. I wonder what it’s like to fully remember. They stare into the night water — comprised of swirls and boxes — that presses the boat forward, waiting for fish to come. They’re worth a penny, baited to the top by flakes of falsehoods until caught, trembling breathless in the air. The other fisherman, not as lucky as his friend, perches on the planks of wood, his thumbs gripping his taut line. I fish for the files in my waterlogged brain, sheets of disintegrating paper, heaps of soggy childhood days. I can’t recall if it was me or my sister who experienced what.
8 / American Literary Magazine
Best in Show Poetry
Fall 2019 / 9
mother & daughter 10 / American Literary Magazine
every 60 hours her soul was yellow and profound it melted into my arms when she met me soft golden, like when the sun touches the edge of a faraway cloud sweet lemon rinds curling up at the ends she had honey eyes and a faded shirt, soaked with blood into her cinnamon skin she met me quietly and whispered to me a list - swim in the the sea - see another summer - write a poem - hug my mother a list of things i wish i could have done before i died before a community gathers weepy eyed before her mother shakes and cries before more students walk down halls caging fear inside before justice is denied and childrensâ€™ bodies line the streets motionless in a mess of thoughts and flowers every. 60. hours.
Fall 2019 / 11
the taste of avocado i thought we had 3? he asks, earnestly no pa, i say once more, one in each hand just 2 oh. a smile. one for each of us then weakly i agree strongly i slice 2 summer avocados smiling faintly, knowing in the winter they won’t be quite as good understanding that he’ll they’ll worsen understanding that i’ve got to enjoy them now, but not overthinking as i tend to do i pierce them with my knife / my eyes are down, drinking jadestone-colored chunks of avocados drowning them in lime juice and mashing them with practiced hands comfortably indulging in this world of familiarity, of things that never change i love to cook! i say, or rather, i just can’t stand to look up so i neatly chop cilantro as my pa forgets my mother and the taste of avocado
12 / American Literary Magazine
Untitled Artistâ€™s Statement: film photography
Fall 2019 / 13
On Mullet Street Artistâ€™s Statement: film photography
14 / American Literary Magazine
Caged Creatives Crab in an oyster cage, Locked in barrels made for meat, A spring leaf cracking through, Iron split and spliced in me And over and under you Covering the color that Pulses in my green veins That scream the name Of our patron saints Adonis & Brigid. Behind steel curtains we sing In whispers pressed out of our Bare naked chests painted Over in ironed collars & coats Begging to be set free Coated in rainbow glitter, To live out inverted desires In the dusk and daylight alike To scream pure obscenities To the bodies electric around us Awakening primal sensations Of hedonistic cravings for truth.
Fall 2019 / 15
16 / American Literary Magazine
You were gone. Only for a little while, I know But gone. Like the song of birds in winter, You leave my world quiet and cold. The while has only just begun I already feel sick The quiet feels lonely I see him. We laugh, we dance. Closer and closer. The cold of the night fades as my head Rests in his chest He feels like you. Whiskey dances through our bodies As his fingers dance through my hair How much I’ve missed that from you. As comfort envelopes my body, I reach up to his head to do the same Ready to feel the softness of dark curls. But my fingers are greeted with sharp short spikes Of freshly buzzed hair I forgot he wasn’t you. My moment of warmth cut by a freezing gust It is cold. Quiet again. The same way I must wait for the birds’ song to return, I cannot feign the feeling of being next to you.
Fall 2019 / 17
Ghosts at Ajloun Castle
1. I swear as your knight, to protect you and your country forever
2. “Don’t go, my love.” “Don’t worry, My Queen, I will be back soon.” 18 / American Literary Magazine
3. News, Your Highness, from the war
4. Marry me, rule by my side Fall 2019 / 19
Black Bullets *Trigger Warning Sometimes They seem like Wisps of a dream I saw Philando Through the eyes Of a 4 year old girl Two kids were playing hopscotch Pitter patter Feet hit the ground Yet my ears Caught a glimpse Of Trayvon as his body Hit pavement. There was a man Selling CDs downtown The world heard a beat A tune Sweet melodies, I just heard gunshots. Al/ton/Ster/ling I guess thatâ€™s in 4/4 The birds Sang a sugared symphony That seemed to coat the wind like dew
Though I noticed it sounded as if They had lost their breath Couldnâ€™t even breathe in, a song -Eric Garner I shook the salt Carved the butter Popped a few pieces of popcorn Into my mouth Everything seemed to melt 20 / American Literary Magazine
Eyes glazed the screen 12 minutes in Everything faded I thought about How time melts Just like the kettles 12 minutes 12 years Some don’t get That long -Tamir Rice I chose the grass Instead of the sidewalk I stepped In mud It seemed To pull me down As if it knew me. Mud, Dirt, Earth, bullets. Always mistaking brown bodies For premature caskets
(Genesis 3:19 - “ for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”). And just like dust, I realized I could be gone So quick And the world Wouldn’t stop they would say She was meant for this, call it justice, Smile at the statue of liberty As she wept Wave the flag As it whimpered Where badge as it became numb; because that’s the only way it new how to survive. -Sandra Bland Sunday morning I brewed Black coffee took up My cross Fall 2019 / 21
Isabella Igbanugo Black Bullets (cont) Flipped to corinthians Sang in my heart a faithful hallelujah Murmured an Amen Not knowing it would be my last. This is the day the Lord has made; It’s not worship Unless bodies are hitting the ground -Charleston
Monday afternoon Somewhere A little girl A little boy Sat down in class Right after lunch Teacher asked Do you remember anything you learned last week? Expecting minced memories of the algebra equations taught last monday, Or a vague overview of friday’s grammar lesson But this student raised their hand And said I learned something about breathing black bodies. I heard it on the news. Then, Walked to the board Every step echoed; You gotta see this nifty trick-It’s kinda like our spelling quizzes! (S)he wrote: [ breathing black bodies] Step 1: Learn to take out the unimportant words, mingle relevant syllables, twist and turn letters, until you get an A. Step 2: Breathing B-reath- ing Reath Add one more letter Mix some things around And you have a Threat You can never go wrong.
22 / American Literary Magazine
Iâ€™m Late For My Interview Fall 2019 / 23
24 / American Literary Magazine
Still Fall 2019 / 25
Best in Show Art
Proud buried in duvet covered in covers in echos of her parent’s voice father’s and mother’s heavy with disappointment that weigh on her back hoping her parents won’t turn theirs on her
on a girl boys will be boys (and girls will be their toys) you see we don’t blame them for sexualizing you we shudder at you giving them a chance to
all over a picture. proud
can’t you see the horror if i didn’t know you (does she?) i’d say you were working a corner
you see she used to glare at her reflection suck her stomach in sacrificing comfort for perceived perfection but she realized that the angels in the magazines were plastic their wings don’t fly only snap and break and the illusion was broken too, shattered. her mirror was lonely didn’t spend much time with the girl’s reflection who understood it wasn’t about perfection the lesson was contentment and she was posted, proud happy in her body, it was official but you can never stay happy all things gold must go and so, it came. her parents called her to their room
wait, why are you crying? (she’s branded with the scarlet letter) you should have known you should have anticipated this reject just leave give us some time to reflect we only thought we raised you better she races to her room shuts the door swallowed by her bed sinks through to the floor shattered she has regained an enemy and her mirror, a friend tugging clothes down as she leaves the house again somehow thinking it’s wrong to be proud in your skin
sit down (even though she’s tied down) it’s the internet you can never forget showing skin to the world? you know how boys are when they see skin (god forbid) Fall 2019 / 27
A luxury we cannot afford “One breaks into the canon only by aesthetic strength” - Harold Bloom Bloom wrote that the poet cannot transcend language by serving any moral means. In his dream, aesthetics strung from virgin starlight. But as we know, those who pursue purity are fated to be vacant. Need I invoke history? The word is the symbol, serves the purpose. If the beef is not brown the cow has died in vain. If it does not line my stomach, warm my fingertips then the has cow suffered her immobile fatness, stood in her shit, scorched her blue sky brown with exhaust—for nothing. Speak when spoken to, and only with something to say. Once again, I am sent to bed without my supper.
28 / American Literary Magazine
Fall 2019 / 29
Gabrielle Michel Black Sand (cont)
30 / American Literary Magazine
boxes are stacked, bags are zipped each notch another day I was uncertain if the heat of Miami was waiting for me the warm heart of a the single-lettered nicknamed neighbor a place I unexpectedly would feel close to chasing stars above Lincoln and Washington stuffing our faces with cookiesâ€” chocolate drips from the cooked dough to her lap both of us raw, always at 2 AM, insomniacs time spent with warm skin touching hers I admit, more olive than mine the bumps on her legs I could re-trace maybe sheâ€™ll share with me who she really is take out the box that has been hidden, locked
Fall 2019 / 31
Light Bleed Artistâ€™s Statement: shot on color 35mm film; Light Bleeds 1 and 3 were the beginning of the roll, which is why they are halves of a photo. Light Bleed 2 has light bleeds because the camera backing was quickly opened and closed.
32 / American Literary Magazine
Fall 2019 / 33
shelled-in 34 / American Literary Magazine
Best in Show Poetry
I remember when I was little my momma got arthritis in her hands. She couldn’t cornrow my hair anymore. “It hurts too much now,” she said. “Learn how to do it yourself.” I did. My momma startin’ to look older now, but I’m pretending not to see the lines by her smile or the crows by her feet. She be coming home from work now and i’ll fix her a plate to eat, make sure she got a glass of water with that. Makin’ sure she got enough sleep. “Jayda, I am not the same woman from years ago,” she tells me. This I know, but I cannot tell if she’s sad or happy about it. Both, I think.
Snowglobe I needed a collection like my maternal grandmother’s mugs that lined the walls of my grandparents’ basement. When she died, the mugs were left undusted, and my grandfather prayed daily sprinkling breadcrumbs around a Mary in their backyard calling the birds. I only knew my grandfather when he lost his memory. He would scream into the night keeping everyone in the house wide-eyed and stiff. My mom told me it was okay. On his dresser, there sat a snowglobe with Francis of Assisi surrounded by white flakes. Assisi sought poverty in the name of God. He whistled with the birds until they all took flight forming a cross in the sky. In 1905, Erwin Perzy didn’t mean to make the snowglobe. He wanted a new surgical lamp, but when the reflective particles drifted down, he dreamed of winter. My grandfather couldn’t bring all of his belongings when he moved into a home. I snuck the snowglobe to add to my collection. I wanted to fill my shelves. I didn’t care about the saints. Fall 2019 / 35
Protagonists Of Their Own They’ve accepted That they’ll never be As cheery as milkmaids Or as routine as mailmen; They’ve accepted A dodgy boyscout compass And a cracked Magic 8 Ball As their crooked tools of navigation. They roam through supermarkets And think nothing about it. They doze off on the metro And think nothing about it. Then they return to their Modest apartments And they think a lot about it. And none of them have childhood trophies And none of them have PhDs. Some of them have cash saved up, But not so much that they could Afford a larger apartment. They chew their nails to the pink, And leave laundry dead on the floor, And sometimes call in sick to work When they feel okay enough to go. With more pluck than homeric heroes, They do what they can, when they can Despite the things that they’ve accepted.
36 / American Literary Magazine
untitled Artistâ€™s Statement: film photography
Fall 2019 / 37
Spring Photograms Artistâ€™s Statement: I shot silhouettes of body parts in the studio on a 35mm camera and printed them in the darkroom on orthochromatic film. Then, I layered them as masks over multigrade darkroom paper and, on a sheet of glass, arranged dried flowers around the silhouettes before exposing the paper to light.
38 / American Literary Magazine
d.j. dark, wet tree a boy strung up with bed sheets looks with silent, crying eyes sour, strange fruit his soul is full and pink his lips and tongue are mute the limit is the sky disguised hidden from his upward, peering silent, crying eyes he longs for flight but the poor boy swings let the caged bird sing let freedom ring in st. louis county but his wings are bed sheets heavy, slabbed with tar he aches to stretch to see the sky
his death will bring prayers 1. (plural noun) /prer/ complicit silence and, if weâ€™re lucky, progress 1. (noun) /prĂ¤gres/ ruby red tongues drenched with hollow promises / shouted sympathies from podiums / cotton stuffed ears
Fall 2019 / 41
flight in alliteration Best in Show Photo
42 / American Literary Magazine
Structures I. Paris We stand so the spire stretches out straight above us, the gravel below is round and powdery in my fingers. My dad takes a photo, still on 35mm. It’s too hot. There’s no shade in the gardens surrounding the Eiffel Tower and we’ve heard of old people dying in the mid-afternoon. Finally the light turns orange and fades. II. New York I point to a plastic trash bag stuck in a tree. My mom tries to distract me with cloud-animals, but I like the bag. It dances like a white bird. There’s a playground on every corner
There’s a skatepark cut into the sand like an oasis. It’s time to leave and I argue with my dad in front of our rented Mustang, I try to hide that I’m crying. Every morning guys bring leaf blowers to the park and dry the concrete. IV. Princeton An abstract iron sculpture bleeds rust into its concrete base, sunk into the grass. The university belltower rises above the tops of old buildings with ripples in their windows. I play the rock game with my dad. Words have no meaning yet and we run around the thick tree trunk yelling “rock.” I trip and grab its bark as I fall.
with fast metal slides from before I was born. In the car we listen to Kind of Blue. III. Los Angeles Up before the sun, I look at the beach out the window.
Fall 2019 / 43
Midwestern American Bodies of Water Include Swimming Pools and Canning Jars Midwestern American bodies of water include swimming pools and canning jars, And you’re always going to be alive in the puddles we stumbled through when I wore tomboy jeans. Indiana is good for memories, mosquitoes too, and bonfires. I was always better than you at catching fireflies, but never strong enough to poke the holes, with the nail we found by the toolshed—I never punctured the skin of the canning jar. The one night I was strong enough it rained, and in the morning you took care to hide the sunken bugs from me. I guess if you’re that small it doesn’t take so much water to drown in. You are the fireflies and also the jar. I don’t remember it but it must have rained a lot, those summers we ran around shoeless. You’re also alive in a clear wooded pond. I’ve always liked to imagine it as though I’m seeing you through this wet reflection of myself. In that moment I suppose you became so in love with that painless image, so in love with loving yourself that for that moment, You never wanted a wave to break. No flowers sprang up beside the pond, Narcissus. When we were 6 and 10 I fell in the swimming pool and you pulled me out. I’m not sure if you pushed me, but you pulled me out. That’s what counts. I’d like to rename a sea for you. I tried making one. I dug a hole in the silt by the edge of the pond, and no matter how many waves and bugs rushed over it I prayed it stayed until morning. Since then, I still have not managed to catch fireflies and keep them overnight. The fireflies I could not catch, possibly, have been stars. Midwestern American bodies of water include swimming pools and canning jars.
44 / American Literary Magazine
Fall 2019 / 45
Uh, I Got Some Things I Wanna Say Dear Colonizer, There are some things I want to say and all of which you must accept as that is my manifest destiny that I claim. These are my self-evident truths, my birthright. 1) When you claim beauty in the “barbaric” you must understand that I do not have the same luxury; that my natural body will never be feminine, like yours. That my hair, my skin, my lips, my love
it just makes those who want to live in peace very, very angry. They will swarm around you make sure you know that we are here. That this earth you stole from us is ours, and we will take it back. We will remind you that we are hornets and we sting. And it hurts. 4) When you come to our lands to educate the uneducated, know that we are only being educated on the extent of your savagery. We have survived through your carnage, your exploitation, your
“This earth you stole from us is ours, and we will take it back.” for myself will never be beautiful, but rather, the barbaric being barbaric. 2) The wars that you see in these “lesser” countries are because of you. Like an abusive parent, your ancestors do not let these young countries discover themselves in a way that they become who they were meant to be. Instead, you suffocate them, make cages so small that they grew up only knowing captivity. Now that your countries have too many issues of its own, you’ve let out children with high-grade weapons into a cruel world that expects them to grow up. 3) Beating a hornet’s nest doesn’t make it disappear,
46 / American Literary Magazine
harsh greedy hands with the protection of our culture, our lifestyles, our very existence through numbers. There is nothing you can teach us that we already don’t know. I know I have said the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me Allah. So, I say this on behalf of all the people, all the livelihoods you have destroyed. We good. Kindly, fuck you. Worst Regards, You Don’t Get To Know Me
Blue Dream Fall 2019 / 47
48 / American Literary Magazine
Daylight Savings, GMT +1 Breathing in
the hot summer smell of wheatgrass yellow onions cooking in someoneâ€™s second story walk-up, windows open, wisteria petals caught in the breeze and then
in a womanâ€™s braid, I am frozen in my noticing, placid on a warm bench, hands idle in my lap, fingers interlaced, palms splayed skywards as if for salvation.
As evening closes in,
the sky blushes pink at my prayer. The sun, soft as orange creamsicle at golden hour, answers it.
Fall 2019 / 49
Cloud Beach Cloud Beach was a stone throw away of a car drive. The other beaches lining the lake were more popular. They had deeper waters and mammoth dunes to slide down. But every summer, me and dad always came to this one instead. We escaped our metal kingdom to stretch out in the open air. As soon as dad turned off the engine, I hopped out of my seat and ran to the water’s edge to start my hunt. Dad only trusted his daughter to find the perfect spot. The sand climbed between my toes to welcome me. Seagulls squawked “hello” overhead. We lay out the large towel and stuck the umbrella in the ground. I protested against the sunscreen, but he wouldn’t let me go on my journey until I was protected from the sun. I thought its rays could never hurt me. Dad sat down in his fold-out chair and watched as I ran towards the clear waves and threw myself in. The water was still freezing in June, but no one could ever wait until August. We got used to it. The other kids splashed their way in the same rainbow unicorn swimsuits. I was a lone wolf with no siblings, so I raised my chin, took a deep breath, and introduced myself to as many kids I could. I eventually chose my tribe for the day and joined in their games where they took me in as one of their own. Giggles escaped us in an outburst of glee.
the throne, after King Trident. Passing boats saw the young merpeople from the distance and drove back and forth, creating waves for us to jump through. Something brushed my tail from the depths below, but I ignored it. Back on land, the warm sand glistened bright like snow. The humans preferred to stay there. Teenagers filled the air with the smell of suntan oil. They stretched out like cats and let their skin absorb all the light it could. Maybe one day they hoped that one day they’d look like the sun. The tall castles of the metal kingdom never let much light through. One teenager with bushy hair carried his speakers on his shoulder and cranked up the volume so we could all hear “I Feel Good” by James Brown. The music vibrated the shore until everyone’s hearts beated in sync. Grownups brought their seaside novels, but most of them only got a page in before the lull of the waves soothed them to sleep. An elderly couple held hands and walked along the wet sand in comfortable silence. Something brushed my tail again. I yelped.
“Something brushed my tail from t he depths below, but I ignored it” We remembered we were mermaids. It’d been far too long. We flipped our fins and stretched out our rusty tails. We dove for shells and talked to school of fish. Now we were just visiting the human beach for vacation. The boys raced for who would be next in line for 50 / American Literary Magazine
The other mermaids rushed to my side to investigate. We dove under and let the lake consume us. We opened our eyes, although we couldn’t make out much in the murky waters. But amongst the blur, I could make out my attacker.
It was the Kraken, and it was going to eat us whole. We swam to the shallows and gathered our forces. The mermaids and mermen united, shaping twigs into spears and floaties into shields. After training to our limits, we returned to the depths, together. The Kraken had been waiting for us. The current carried it towards the surface where it reached out its tough tentacles, trying to pull us down. But it was no match for our people. I used all the strength in my tail to whack the creature towards the shallows. Then we cornered it with our shields and threw it out of the water. Like a beached whale, the Kraken was defenseless, and hiding from the sun for so long, the light reduced it to nothing more than a fallen tree branch. The merpeople cheered in victory.
on a large enough tantrum to stay. I wanted we could take the beach home with us, but I knew I’d be back. I shook in the evening breeze, wishing the sun would come back. Clouds hovered over us, letting only the tiniest slivers of light peak through. The crash of the waves grew louder. Dad started the car and smiled at me through the mirror, asking about my journey under the sea. I told him what I could, but left out the part about the Kraken. Adults just wouldn’t understand. I touched the window’s glass to say goodbye to the water and the sun. But then I knew I had bigger matters to decide. Rocky road or mint chocolate chip?
When we grew tired of our life out at sea, we turned our fins into legs and crawled back up the beach. It was time to blend back into human society and build a new kingdom. Then maybe we wouldn’t have to go back. Sand became our brick and water became our mortar. With our buckets and gardening shovels, we were unstoppable. And after our castle stood tall and blocked the sun, a knight decided to build a trench. That would surely keep the adults out. Yet our decades of empire were mere hours, and it was hard to refuse the call of our parents. Our empty bellies grumbled with their promises for ice cream. I parted ways with my tribe. Perhaps we would fight side by side again in the next mermaid war. There were plenty of Krakens waiting for revenge, no doubt. Families packed away their splendor and climbed back back up the beach to their metal horses. The children washed the sand off their legs and feet, too tired to put Fall 2019 / 51
52 / American Literary Magazine
Making Time My hands shake with each tap on the keyboard. I let the bright screen suck the vision from my eyes. Each blink is heavier than the next, pleading me to let my eyes stay closed and get the rest I’ve missed for months. But I can’t lose the time. Please don’t let me sleep. The night should be used to learn Japanese business vocabulary, watch videos of pretty girls doing makeup, or taking personality quizzes. Then there’s homework. Another cup of coffee or two, and I could finish writing that paper that’s due on Friday. What a splendid idea! I shoot straight up and fling the covers off, but only then do I realize that my limbs have filled with sand. Please don’t let me… There is nothing worse than tomorrow. The sun will rise and that means I’ll have to go to class. I’ll have to turn in my homework, and I’ll probably fail. My professor will hate me. I’ll fail the class. My GPA will come crashing down and I’ll lose my scholarship. I won’t graduate. Nobody will hire me. All because tomorrow will come.
Please don’t let… It’s three a.m. So much time has already slipped away. My heart is pounding. I’ve been in this room too long. I just need to stretch my legs, or go for a run. But I can’t move. That’s okay. I can lay here and review for my exam in my head. I can make a list of groceries I need, while I’m at it. See? I can multitask. Please don’t… Mind over matter. It’s just a body, a selfish blob of flesh. It can do whatever I tell it to do, and I’m screaming at it because there are a hundred more important things to get done, to think. The clock will play a nasty trick if I close my eyes. But I’m tired of fighting. Please… I just need one more hour for every minute I take away from myself.
farewell letter Fall 2019 / 53
54 / American Literary Magazine
Wood, paper, leaf Brown false wood tabletop reflects white light from the north-facing window. Machine-pressed grain runs toward me away from the light. Around it three chairs rest, their legs intertwined with the table’s legs in a tight brown knot. The chairs’ cushions are tan and textured. On the table’s surface lies a discarded copy of The Marx-Engels Reader (ed. R.C. Tucker, 1978), part-obscured by a chair’s latticed back. The Reader is not mine and no one has come to claim it. Its cover has faded from red to pink and its spine is webbed with white cracks. Inscribed in the front cover: “Mark Abbott, 1980.” Behind the Reader, two small houseplants glow in the sunlight. On the left, a succulent in a teal pot shaped like a Mexican calavera skull which I bought on sale at Trader Joe’s. On the right, a deep green lily whose label reads “Dumb Cane.” The white light passes over them and they are still.
Fall 2019 / 55
Two Views from Alcatraz shot on color 120mm film; double exposures 56 / American Literary Magazine
Technicolor Summer Seasons and People This summer should have been shot on film. It was nostalgia and new experiences all wrapped into one. It was coffee shops and art walks, and books I gave you that I kind of want back now. It was the first time you put your hand on my thigh and it was the first time I didn’t freak out when someone touched me like that. It was my first kiss that was everything I ever hoped it would be. And it was my first love worth remembering, even if it only existed for the summer. It was lavender lattes and dates at the Bootbarn. It was text messages to friends far away that said, “I think I really like this girl.” It was 400 Lux by Lorde on the way back from our first date where I thought you were way too cool for me. Then I learned that you’re obsessed with The Bachelorette, so I figured out that we were both uncool in different ways. It was mornings in my kitchen where we made chocolate-covered strawberries, and you met my brother and my dad, and they both totally saw me falling but thank God they didn’t say anything. It was 90-degree afternoons in Wash Park, where the only reason it was too hot was because you were there (I’m sorry, but I’m kind of not sorry). And it was the second and the last time you lay in my bed, and we still didn’t do anything other than kiss and that meant everything to me. It was goodbyes in front of my driveway when you’d freeze up and kiss my head and we’d both hope that it was enough to make me stay. And I wish I had a video camera, but video cameras can’t record feelings and I will always remember how this summer made me feel.
ready for. And I will make myself die with the leaves and I will relearn how to be myself without you here. I will write you letters when you don’t deserve my kind words. And you will write me letters where your kind words are almost too late, and you know that they will almost make me fall in love with you. And I will keep drinking lavender lattes, but I will never go back to the Bootbarn because we both learned that $90 cowboy hats are a bad idea. And I will teach myself to play the piano and it will not be to impress you, but sometimes I might send you a video. And you will get that video while you are laying in your ex-girlfriend’s bed and I will be mad that I ever let you see such an intimate part of me. And when I miss you, I will play Hard Feelings by Lorde and I will cry over the contrast between that and the songs I added to a playlist about you. And I will try not to miss you. And I will hope that you can fight whatever demons you have back in Fort Collins because you won’t tell me they exist, but you’re good at saying a lot without saying a lot. And you never say a lot. And I will try not to wait for you. And I will be selfless enough to wait for you and you will be selfish enough to let me. And I will be worried that I will stop being able to write poetry when I am not with you. But maybe this piece can exist as a sentiment to the fact that you are not here, and I am still writing poetry. Or maybe you are here in my mind all of the time anyways and I will not know what to do when I realize that I should stop assigning seasons to people.
This fall will be shot in black and white. It will get cold and we will get far away from each other. And I will figure out that I got too invested in a feeling that was too big for me. And I will fly home too early and try to push us into something neither of us are Fall 2019 / 57
Gil and Some Flowers 58 / American Literary Magazine
this is what a mirror is a refractory, hunk of metal or slab of wood, or chipped brick making flush coal and cherub cold copper skin, rusty, grimy it is smutty and peeling the glass creeps under my skin and cuts every prickled hair, unfurling smog and sticky tar it takes those soft, resilient bumps and bruises and stretches and curls and mauls them, each thwack forcing water from my eyes and tearing the seams of those russet patches built from years of stitching it is a sucker-punch, what sunk my eyes and hollowed me out but at 7:14 am it spits at me and punches my face black and i wait for it again tomorrow
Fall 2019 / 59
Best in Show Film
60 / American Literary Magazine
Cheesecake Factory Gothic It is quiet and the Cheesecake Factory lays still in place of resounding laughter and chatter amongst the dark tables there are remnants of memories, of birthdays and middle aged ladies’ lunches of sad parents having their last dinners with their newborn college kids the eerie quiet is odd when the lucid jazz music playing is a little too loud drowning your words in a sea of everyone else’s voices now the room is shrouded in silence it doesn’t sit well to see the Cheesecake Factory so solemn like a seagull in a city nowhere near the shore the restaurant, with its halls usually so dark, is even darker the only source of light emanates from the cheesecake display each one sitting next to each other, longing to go with their next patron elegantly decorated cakes, cut into soft slices, wait ever-so patiently every flavor that comes to mind is illuminated by the display lights Red Velvet, Salted Caramel, Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple Cheesecake everything, in place, waiting for the next day but something is not right there’s a feeling of dread in the air a crime of passion in a restaurant full of ghosts there’s only one living soul conflicted but driven by need knowing right from wrong but choosing the latter That Soul is Me; Stealing the Pumpernickel Bread.
https://youtu.be/4jj64pDjqos Fall 2019 / 61
Doli Incapax The eve of Valentine’s eve, Two boys from baby Beirut. One. A delinquent tearaway. Two. A boy yearning to be liked. Influencer and influencee. Playing truant, lifting shoppes. Mustard pockets of spoils. Troll doll, batteries, blue paint. Fifteen forty-two. Hand in hand with a babe Plucked from A.R. Tym’s. Two point five miles To Liverpool, to the rail line. All the fates conspiring. A kick of persuasion, A tap on a fishtank. “Unparallelled evil and barbarity.” Dropped bricks, raised bar. Eyes filled with pain, Eyes filled with paint. A small, helpless soul. Left, a broken doll on the tracks.
Summer in Buckwheat In the car ride back from the train station / brazen women unravel onto I-95 / languid in time/ unfolding across backyards / together we learn to stop repeating / I am yours / I am yours / I am yours / and when July’s pink rays / exhale with the crickets, we are reminded / it’s impossible to fall out of love with a memory / and we beat together/ and construct our own melody / and as August stillness / drips from hose-ends / I’m told I need to get busy / with what I’d like to be / I’d like to be shadows / that grow with each evening / pink and yellow stripes / that pale against your skin / the space between / forgiveness and asking / but most of all / nothing at all / nothing at all / nothing at all
62 / American Literary Magazine
points of contact i. A cop stopped me outside the arts center thick chest and puffed like a bullfrog. Destroying property: sit there on the ledge, put your hands where I can see them, give me your ID. My wet hair, the waxy granite. ii. Wanting to know the thing so badly that you want to be of the thingâ€” Mary Oliver I think, her walks on winter mornings. Our bare chests warm and smooth in her bed and yellow string lights, prisms of hair. iii. The needle pulses in my thigh where I shaved a rectangle. Leo, hair and beard behind the machine, tracing line afer black line into my dermis. The letters scream and beat drums on the kitchen floor.
Fall 2019 / 63
June in Gettysburg Unseen I seep out of my spring skin, unfurling like the limp confederate jasmine spooled around the old fencepost under the mirrored sky — an upside down bowl perforated with little stick and poke stars — and turn my clean face upwards just as the moon, sickled and delicate, settles between the branches of the aching sycamore. Oh, to be a peal of laughter breaking Carlisle Street’s Saturday night din, mint chocolate chip ice cream liquifying in a styrofoam bowl, the shared dampness of a young couple’s entwined hands. This summertime, furiously tender, stretches and swells in the notes of an old country song that someone is playing from their car.
64 / American Literary Magazine
Strange Weekend Fall 2019 / 65
some things iâ€™ve lost 66 / American Literary Magazine
When I’m Terrified Yes, the concept of love itself is flawed and false. But it is still in common usage, and my personal rejection of the concept often precipitates intense questioning from those who uphold it as to how I assess their experience of what they consider love. A dismissal of their experiences as a systematic neurological response satisfies few, and questions persist after. In an attempt to disarm me, proponents of a transcendental love then ask how I will know when I am in love. I will know because I will be terrified. I will not fall for someone because they smell like sunny laundry, French lavender, or traces of chlorine. They won’t look like the crescendo of a frothy wave or Mariáno Fortuny’s second-best painting. They won’t taste like grapefruits or dill, and they won’t feel like olive oil dripping down my fingers. They will not echo like the windchimes at the garden store, or that Donovan Woods song. If you have never slept on white, line-dried sheets, watched the ocean pound against the shore, or eaten ruby red grapefruits until your tongue is sore, you do not miss them. You do not think about a joy you’ve
lost, and the third stand from the left in the second row of the Thursday Farmer’s Market does not make your tongue tingle. You don’t feel an absence because you don’t know what you’re missing. But I can imagine a world suddenly without summer sheets, roaring waves, and red grapefruits. I would continue to exist, just as I always have. I would continue as though everything were the same. But when I pass a laundry line or the coast or a citrus grove, I would think about what I had once, and what I should have savored more. I would know their absence. When I use the word love, it will be for a person whose absence terrifies me. When I worry that their absence from my day-to-day life will distract me more than their presence ever could. When a life after their departure would be more insufferable than summers without sunshine scented sheets, the pounding of the ocean, or the tingle of ruby red grapefruits. Their absence would be so pervasive that a world without their presence would be almost unbearable. Then, I could use the word love. I am not yet terrified.
“You don’t know an absence because you don’t know what you’re missing.”
Fall 2019 / 67
Tourists in Double a double exposure, shot on color 120mm film
68 / American Literary Magazine
The bar was hot and sweaty, almost suffocating. Mike held his breath as he pushed his way through the block of bodies surrounding the bar, the stink of beer and cigarettes assaulting his nostrils. He was already well on his way to plastered, vision swimming, limbs heavy and warm. He hadn’t meant to get drunk tonight but he’d been too busy laughing with his roommates to notice how many beers he’d ended up guzzling down. It was too bad. He’d been hoping to remain presentable tonight for his sister, but it wasn’t as if she hadn’t seen him this way before. They’d seen each other in practically every way, sharing almost everything since the day that they were born. A birthday, a bathroom, a classroom, a family. Still, he wasn’t too keen on her seeing him plastered.
It seemed that in the couple minutes he’d been gone to take a piss Maureen had gone from a giggling sister to a proud chugger of beers.
Back at the table the boys had already moved on to the next round of beers. Mark’s eyes widened over the rim of his glass as he spotted Mike drawing closer. Throwing his beer down with a slam and a slosh, he grasped Mike’s arm with force.
“Dude,” he whispered loudly, “your sister’s kinda hot.” Mike wrinkled his nose at this and shoved him aside.
“Man, I can’t believe you missed it,” he said, burp gripped behind his teeth. “Your little sister just shotgunned a beer in like ten seconds.”
“Is he talking ‘bout how hot your sister is? ‘Cause I agree,” another friend chimed in.
Mike whipped his head around to gape at his sister. Last he’d heard, she thought beer tasted like dirty sock water. “I’m not his little sister,” she simpered, “he’s the one who’s two minutes younger, not me.” She flicked her blonde hair, looking bored. “Besides, half the can ended up on the floor when you stabbed it with that spoon of yours.”
“Maureen, you hate beer,” he said. She sniffed her nose at him. Something she’d been doing since they were kids and their pediatrician diagnosed her with a deviated septum. “I don’t know, it’s not so bad,” she said, “I guess you could say that I’ve developed a taste for it.” Mike scoffed at her. It was so like Maureen to take his absence as an opportunity to grab the attention of the group, no matter how minute. As Maureen turned back to her friends and their Dirty Shirleys, Mark leaned in close.
“Shut up man, that’s my sister you’re talking about,” Mike said.
“You guys better shut it before I knock your teeth in,” Mike said, “this isn’t some random chick and I won’t have you treating my sister with disrespect.” “Well you better tell Andy that,” Mark said, “because it looks like he’s making a move.” Mike whipped around, once again, to gape at his sister. She was leaning with her back against the wall and her ankles crossed, head thrown back in a laugh. She looked like she always had. Happy, carefree, and young; laughing as loud and for as long as she pleased. Her blonde hair was tangled and face freckled, a face that Fall 2019 / 69
looked so similar to his own. Andy was leaning towards her, head in front of hers and arm around her waist, leering. Mike’s blood ran hot with rage and he stumbled to his feet. Making a fist, he punched Andy square in the nose. Andy gasped as he tumbled to the floor, landing at Maureen’s feet. Blood was pouring out of his nostrils at an alarming rate. Maureen jumped back in surprise and Mike glanced up to look at her. But something was different, Maureen was different. Her young, chubby face looked
ethereal and matured, cheekbones prominent. Part of him thought to ask if she’d lost weight, her face seemed slimmer. The eyes he thought he knew, the eyes he thought he shared with her, were framed by fair eyebrows drawn up in anger. Her eyes almost seemed to be a different color, more green than blue. For one awful moment he thought he had the wrong girl. A girl with fair eyebrows and green eyes, a thin face and cheekbones pointed like knives. Then, in a blink, she was back to normal, his Maureen. He shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. Maybe he’d had more to drink than he’d thought.
“She looked like she always had. Happy, carefree, and young; laughing as loud and for as long as she pleased.”
70 / American Literary Magazine
Far, far away
72 / American Literary Magazine
At the Ballet The theater is packed, attendees sitting on the edge of their seats with their legs bobbing up and down. Sweating glasses of champagne sway in their hands as their lips caress smoking cigarettes. They wear suits of silk and satin gowns, from foreign designers with names whom you could never pronounce. It’s exciting and far too easy to forget about the little things. Things that seem so insignificant, especially when your mind is preoccupied with matters of much greater importance—like the woman beside you. Tall and statuesque, in a tight, burgundy gown— a retired model, perhaps? Unlike other patrons, she lounges back in her seat, fingers tapping against the leather armrest. Ta-tap. Ta-tap. Ta-tap. An impatient
beside you—who continues with her steady rhythm. Ta-tap. Ta-tap. Ta-tap. Perhaps, you think, she is also new to this strange world. Maybe her dress is borrowed and her diamond necklace a piece of costume jewelry. There is always a chance she stumbled upon a trampled ticket on the road, just like you. And while this thought offers you some comfort, you know it not to be true. With her head tilted and lips pursed, she exudes this sense of purpose. Struck by this woman’s bold display of defiance, you are compelled to talk to her. “It’s exciting, isn’t it?” The woman looks up, the rhythm disrupted.
“Maybe her dress is borrowed and her diamond necklace a piece of costume jewelry.” beat. She wears this mask of cold reproach, completely unmotivated to engage in the scene unfolding around her. And this offends you. How could it not? In the pit, a penguin waddles to the podium. He pulls a bronze baton from his sleeve and begins directing the orchestra. As the instruments begin to tune, a gentle melody of chaos ensues. A sudden hush falls over the audience. All remains quiet, except for the woman
There is a long pause and for one breathless second your palms begin to sweat and your heart beats faster. “I suppose,” She cocks her head to the side, “Though she ought to be prettier.” “Who?” She gestures to the pamphlet in your lap, “The prima ballerina, of course. Beautiful dancer— I mean, she just floats across the stage. But that nose...” Fall 2019 / 73
Gently tracing the glossy cover of the theater program, you find yourself nodding in agreement. It didn’t bother you five minutes ago when you paged through the program but now—it’s all you can see. A nose so profound it practically jumps off the page. “It’s unfortunate really. The company is definitely going under if a washed-out, divorcee is the best talent they can find.”
waiting to be delighted but you are no longer among them. Now lounging back in your seat, tapping gently on the leather armrest, you feel unmotivated to partake in this spectacle. The prima-ballerina steps onto the stage and you can’t help but think, she ought to be prettier.
The curtain ascends as the trumpets hit their most triumphant note. The cloud of smoke thins as the patrons quickly dash out their cigars. They are eagerly
The Greatest Myth Love is a thing for immortals.
A final inquiry: how can you feel what you force to bow at your feet?
74 / American Literary Magazine
secret garden Fall 2019 / 75
Hiawatha My father’s childhood home, Creaky and colonial; The walls are checkered red and white, And my Gramma was a nurse. There’s two clocks, Side by side, As if time in this house is not a constant. Children clutter the walls, Oil children with dynamic eyes And paper-white skin; I am older than them now. There’s still a dial-up phone, And there’s still candles next to lamps, And there’s pewter, plenty of pewter, And couches that seem not meant to be sat upon. Christmas colors; it is not always Christmas, But it is sometimes. Images of past popes clutter the fridge This is a Catholic household, make no mistake. Music is always playing and I think it still Would be playing even if the radio wasn’t on. The only hip and happening things To be found in this house Are unwatched television programs And today’s paper. Timeless little home, With so many footsteps; Do you remember everything? I am not omniscient, but I would like you to be.
76 / American Literary Magazine
The Persuasian Artist’s Statement: The history of the term “Asian Persuasion” has often pertained to the sexualization of Asian women through the male gaze. The idea behind naming this piece “The Persuasion” is to reclaim the word and its power.
Fall 2019 / 77
The Village vil·lage /vilij/ noun a group of houses and associated buildings, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town, situated in a rural area. There will be a field passing on your right. Another on your left. Look closely, past the silos. Fisher’s stand, working out of the red barn with the stone house right off the highway, has its produce out. A collection of sweet corn, cantaloupes, home-made pies and a mountain of purpled blueberries that will remind you of the empty bowl at home resting on the kitchen table. Keep driving. If the windows are cracked open it should be alright, it’s not planting season so the air won’t be rank with manure and your eyes won’t water. There are mountains, hills really, but mountains seemed so much grander when you realized you could first describe this place that you came from. So geographically correct or not, there are mountains beyond the fields. If you want, you can let your hand rest out the window. You’ll drive past the Yerger’s house, see the dairy cows in the other field approaching. One year, the year you did a soccer camp and Mom would drive back and forth quite literally over hill and under dale through the twists of the valley, you both noticed this one cow that just lay there. One day passed and it was still stuck there. Another day passed, and it was in the same reclined position, its stomach puzzlingly distended. Finally, the cow was gone. Mom’s eyes searched your face to see if the lines in your brain had made the connection and you just laughed, because well, that cow had been dead for at least three days and you both had stupidly thought it was sleeping. The car will pass this sign in a moment, on the side of the 78 / American Literary Magazine
Best in Show Prose
highway, carved and decorated with a time-stamp and wheat stalks fixed into the wood. Your eyes will narrow in until finally you can read “Welcome to the village of….” See, growing up in a place, you know what it’s called but you never understand how, or why, or the implication. For however many years, “village” never rolled off the tongue. You would vocalize the “Oh I’m from -insert hometown here-,” and then there would be this little voice in the back of your head going, “The village of. The Village of blank.” You never put the two together and here you are years later after being gone. Coming and going, the seven letters combined are really sticking, protruding outwards for some reason. Is that what happens when you leave? I mean really leave, not just the first year you’re gone, or the second one when you come back and realize your room is a little different and the faces not so familiar but the last names ring a bell. Or worse, there’s the third year where you find yourself seeing these faces, recognizing all of the names, but there’s this little piece missing. This segment, the one where the wires are meant to be straight and uncrossed and a bell or the proverbial light is meant to react to the names and faces. That is what stays dormant or more likely dead. Nothing. Nada. You’ve checked out, really left at this point. However, there’s the village. The unspoken, always there, signifier of how to succinctly sum up this place. So you, for the first time in your well educated life, look up this word. Webster’s defines this term as follows: “a group of houses and associated buildings, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town, situated in a rural area.” Your brain immediately breaks this down. “Associated buildings” are red brick houses, slate roofs, the
i’m homosexual for oaks
fairgrounds directly behind your house or the old inn at the center of Main Street. The youth building that could double as a taxidermy museum. Why do stuffed raccoons make your heart ache? You can’t imagine that this little crook, filled with tractor paths, a high school let out for the first day of hunting season, the church with the hoagie sale and the walls that let your parents say “I love you” in front of stained glass, could be bigger than something. Probably those that live in a hamlet can’t imagine that their own corner of existence is larger than some spots in this world. Valleys are situated. Hills meshed together, creating this bowl of contained, isolated existence that requires the force of upward motion if one wants to leave. This place is rested, fixed in an area where your high school
teacher graduated with your father, whose daughter you have been in classes with since kindergarten. People who perk up at your last name as they rattle off a list of aunts and uncles to see who you belong to and please god let it be the one who didn’t let the pig loose in the school courtyard. A rural area, where the fair means one day off of school. Where Future Farmers of America is a sense of pride for those involved and that still makes you twinge because people don’t understand how hard these people work and how fiercely they love this valley. More than anything it is that drive. The one where you see the fields. The cows with nothing but the mountains, yes mountains, behind them. Fisher’s stand with colors that no museum could hope to hold. And this light. This gold light that makes you feel safe and rooted to what is around you. It is your hand out the window, seeing the sign with the wheat stalks and the dates. The sign with “village”. Fall 2019 / 79
80 / American Literary Magazine
تيسنا انا ةعلقلا يف انا ةمدنع نامك يش يا يدب ام و يش لك
Nightlights Fall 2019 / 81
Rising Tide A collection of heart-shaped stones sits on the railing, overlooking the dark bay. The ivy creeps up the railing, trying to claim more, always more. The water seems as patient as the ivy. It laps the sand, and washes away footprints each night. No one can leave a mark that the waves wonâ€™t wash away. In their depths more rocks for the railing roll around and roll around. Soon, they will wash ashore, and soon the ivy will overcome the railing and soon the water will swallow everything. Soon, but not yet. The rocks on the railing are all different. One is as gray as the water, others are small and white like teeth lost at sea. Some of the stones are smooth, and others are rough, all different like the hands used to collect them. His hands have wrinkles piling up, but his grandchildren grab stones with tiny, spirited hands. The greed of the ivy climbing the railing never will match the greed of those hands. They take stone after stone until they overflow on the railing, spilling into the ivy here and there. There will come a day when their small sticky hands will be wrinkled like his. There will come a day when he can no longer see whether a stone is heartshaped, or even bend down to take one that looks like it could be. All the while the dark water comes up to the railing, and then returns to its dismal depths. Some days it dares taste the railing, reaching for what it doesnâ€™t yet have. He takes a heart-shaped rock from the railing in his wrinkled hands and throws it into the bay. He will never see it again. He takes handfuls and handfuls in his hands. Then he takes as many rocks as he can carry and yet still more. He watches as it rains hearts. The stones fall hard on the water like hail, some heartshaped, some just almost heart-shaped, all sink to the bottom. His hands fall to his sides. His ears no longer yearn for the plunk of rocks falling into the waves. He 82 / American Literary Magazine
slumps forward and wipes sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. He retreats to the railing to watch the ivy, now free to take over where the stones were. Now there is space for more. His grandchildren with their tiny hands will put more rocks back on the railing, but the ones that he threw are gone. Perhaps one of the original heart-shaped rocks will wash ashore, but no one will remember. He will not remember. By then he may be gone. He stands by the railing, listening to the waves. He knows that someday the wrinkled waves will come up and up to the ivy and the railing where heart-shaped rocks are often collected. Heâ€™s imagining the day when the bay will no longer tickle the ivy, but will overcome all the structures built.
Fall 2019 / 83
Divided 84 / American Literary Magazine
Kansas Skies Each year, as the days went long and the air got sticky, I went down to where the sky was big. Driving to Anthony from the Wichita airport makes you understand why people used to think the world was flat. It makes you believe the world has no edges at all. One straight road takes you all the way over, an hour’s drive into the horizon at the end of the sky. There are no trees, no turns, no hills; you can see the road until it becomes nothing but a point on the line between earth and air. There is nothing to block you from the sky—this makes that sky bigger than mine. That sky is so immediate there that it feels like you’re in it. In Maryland when it feels like you’re in the sky, you’re really only in the clouds. It’s the heat and the damp and the thickness of the air, always smelling like rain on steaming pavement. Hot air in Kansas doesn’t come in the rain storms, it comes in the wind. The wind blows heavy with heat and dust over the fields which wave in it, wheat bristling free. When the storms come, they bring the cool, wet air and the rumbling thunder. The skies crackle with electricity; the rain is the only thing that keeps the dry, dry world from burning. But then the dry world blows away.
up stopped its rattling and we drove on to Anthony uninterrupted. Three years later I had become an eleven-year-old, slowly beginning to believe less in others and in myself having seen many, many colors in the sky, when another twister picked up the trees by the farmhouse and the silo out back. I believed, maybe still believe, while there is no real way of proving this, that if that twister had come even so small a distance as the reach of my arm closer toward the house we would’ve been picked right up with that old silo and those even older trees. You can still see the path that second twister took up the drive, down the side, and round the back of the house. You can see the empty rivets where those three trees once stood and the massive, senseless chucks of scrap metal that used to make up the silo piled here and there out by the roundtop, and nobody ever filled the middle of the drive back in where all the loose gravel was strewn aside, replaced by storming winds.
I was eight years old, the age where broken tree branches can be toy horses and there’s only one sort of color the sky can be, when I lived out my first twister. Milt was driving down that long, long road to Anthony, my mother in the front street, worrying, my brother, Frank, on the bench seat next to me, calling out the colors of the sky. I had never seen the sky go green like that before. The twister was a beast, a being pulsing at us, running towards us. It was a base of gray clouds made of ground and ground-things being torn away; it was the bright moment of activity in front of the dark sky. It turned my world a color I did not think it should be. Just as Frank called the sky out green, it turned away. Just like that Milt’s old white pickFall 2019 / 85
Artist’s Statement: For my grandmother and my mother. A photograph of my mother taken this summer, shortly after her mom’s passing. Taken where my mother’s parents had their honeymoon, and where they later brought their three children on vacations as a family. 86 / American Literary Magazine
Coming Home Coming home from work is a quiet affairI pet the cat if she’ll let me, turn the stove on for dinner, shower as the water boils, eat crisp yellow onions and soft plum tomatoes over sitcom laughter at a table meant for four. What a privilege it is to ask, “How was your day?” or “How is the food?” or simply “How are you?” The hours pass slowly as I draw the faces that I don’t see enough and push back the curtains to let the fading light in. Through the big bay window, families with dogs stroll under the leaves of the magnolia and I yearn to leap into familiar arms that squeeze and say I am loved.
Fall 2019 / 87
Daily Commute I have to walk down the escalator to board my train towards New Carrollton. It’s not a choice but rather an implied obligation of all commuters who dare to step on the revolving stairs on the left. So, I walk. Jammed between men in suits with shiny gelled hair and shiny bald spots and women with rouged cheeks and clickclick heels. The hexagon tiles of the worn Metro floors fill my vision as I avert my attention away from a man in a red t-shirt sitting crisscross against a pillar on the further side of the platform. He speaks. Can anybody help me with anything? Rhythmically. Slurred. He repeats this phrase over and over. His words fall together in his mouth making him actually say Can anybodee helpme with anythin’? (I can still hear it now. Days away from this man and that platform and that two-minutes-away train.) He says it with increased volume and allows it to echo through the rail tunnels before asking again. I look with no attempt to hide my stares. People help by offering spare dollars. Most offer nervous glances. Can anybodee helpme with anythin’? Anything. All he wants is anything, but I shuffle onto an orange line train towards New Carrollton instead. The red light blinked in rapid succession and the speakers played a twinkling melody warning all straggling and struggling potential passengers the doors of the Metro car were closing. With what can only be described as milliseconds to spare, two little girls hop on the train. Giggling. Smiling toothless smiles. They had made it.
88 / American Literary Magazine
Sisters presumably, one at least a foot taller than the other. They seemed to be heading to school, wearing ironed navy polo shirts and pants that flare at the bottom exposing their bony ankles. The little one’s tie-dyed backpack was too big on her and her glasses sat too far down on her nose. They both had frizzy hair pulled back into ponytails that flared into triangles. I wanted to call my sisters. See how they were doing now, but my phone flashed No Service and commuters sit in silence. More giggles as the train shook them along. They held onto the lowest pole they could. When the train jerked too hard, the taller one grabbed the little one’s arm and pulled her closer. The only sounds I heard were the rushing of the air around the Metro car as we zipped down the track. The mechanical tinkling and creaking noises gave passengers the impression that at any moment we would up and derail. I sat with my knees angled towards the aisle because my seatmate wasn’t willing to minimize the amount of space she took up even after I sat down. I was annoyed as I watched my legs bump along with the shaking car. This is Federal Center South West. My seatmate spoke. Man, some days I feel like my commute takes forever. Other days, like today, it feels faster. How does that happen? Shouldn’t they be driving the same? She paused. I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter as long as I’m getting to where I need to go. I abandoned my annoyance and laughed and agreed. It doesn’t matter, I thought, as long as I’m getting to where I need to go.
Fall 2019 / 89
If Heaven Were a Highlight Reel When I was a kid, I pictured heaven as a highlight reel of life’s best moments. Nothing more. A little league home run, my mom and dad cheering. A tube ride on Lake McQueeny in early June, when the whip of water and wind felt purifying, almost baptismal. Some particularly euphoric afternoon at recess, perhaps one in which I caught a glance or smile from a childhood crush. Various Christmas mornings, the soothing smell of firewood, the joyous shrieks and giggles of my siblings and baby cousins. These moments would play on loop, back-to-back. That must be heaven, I figured. The best of the best, again and again. What else could it be? Where else could it be? Surely, heaven is there, on those playgrounds and summer days, between time-outs and multiplication tables. If heaven were so, you’d feature prominently. The high school reel would cut out, and an angelic cinema technician would flap over with a new roll of film. There’d be a whir, and you’d appear on the balcony of your freshman year apartment, looking –if you’ll allow me– celestial. It’s April, and you’re telling me about your summer plans in California. That’s unfortunate, I say, emboldened by a few drinks. It’d be nice if you were here. You smirk and assure me you’ll be back in a few months.
And you were. You were there in my dorm room, recalling your time at home as rays of golden light peaked through the blinds. You were there in Georgetown, nibbling on manna-sweet macaroons, eyes squinted in a suppressed smile. You were there in Montreal, laughing sonorously over a shared bottle of wine, a Eucharistic red. Heaven would feature these felicities, but it wouldn’t depict the hurt: the fights and frustrations, the jealousy and deceit, the break-ups, of which there were many. Sometimes I wonder if you even remember the heaven we had, if you recall our time fondly. I couldn’t blame you if you didn’t. Memory is mercurial, bending our past to feed our present. We’re all just trying to survive. I guess that’s why I like this vision of heaven even now, years after the lake trips and little league. It proposes reckoning, reconciliation with the bright spots we were forced to edit out of our histories. It allows for a level of nuance oft-dismissed on Earth: that things can both be beautiful and bad, brimming with potential and utterly hopeless. As life goes on, I’ll be tempted to write you off as insignificant, as a mistake, as a “Who? Oh, we dated on and off in college.” And someday I might. But if heaven were a highlight reel, I’d remember you were more than that.
“This must be heaven, I figured. The best of the best, again and again.” 90 / American Literary Magazine
Mars is now inhabitable and corporations are fast on their way to make it uninhabitable with insane housing prices Fall 2019 / 91
You know what’s really funny? The impermanence of it all. Everything slips away. The very fabric of time dances through our fingers, teasing and taunting, with challenging ‘catch me if you can’ eyes and a ‘we both know you can’t’ smile. And if time, the mastermind of the universe and its weird random coincidences is against us, then what hope do we mere mortals have?
Am I a skeptic? Was I a skeptic when he held me for the first time and we kissed like we were kissing our way into a life that transcended anything we had ever seen before? Was I a skeptic when he burnt the toast and I smiled and ate it anyway, assuring him that it was perfect? Was I always a skeptic or was it a skill one acquired with the accumulation of painful moments?
“Was I always a skeptic or was it a skill one acquired with the accumulation of painful moments?” This is what I asked you on our first date. I was upset and slightly inebriated and it was pissing me off that your strawberry blonde hair reminded me of someone that I vowed never to remember again. But time is funny that way, it brings stuff up when you least want to see it, shoving it down your throat like a little reminder that the past is the present because if you still remember him every time you bake double chocolate fudge brownies then you will still remember him when you have a perfectly wonderful new person in front of you waiting to help you forget him. You didn’t run away like I thought you would. You didn’t even seem a little bit mad. You just smiled and offered me the alternative that the mastermind of all fuckery isn’t time but love. I actually laughed at that one, and not just an artificial empty giggle. I snorted and chuckled and you raised an eyebrow and asked if I was a skeptic. The smile slowly faded as your words engulfed me in a cloud of thoughts and old memories. 92 / American Literary Magazine
You touched my hand and shook me out of my reverie and your teasing smile was replaced by an expression that seemed to look past my eyes into all the parts of me I never wanted you to see, stripping me bare in one fell swoop. You grabbed my hand and guided me to the dance floor, where instead of holding me and giving me a chance to compare you slender hands to his large calloused ones, you broke away and started performing the most bizarre sequence of what could barely qualify as dance steps, making me laugh until my sides hurt and forget everything for a few fleeting minutes. I will forever remember that as the day time lost, even if just for a split second and with it, so did he.
I use our code word my eyes arenâ€™t shy they shamelessly glance through the windowthe light in your home and on my phone synonymously, bright we meet, buckle ourselves in an old Ford I turn the dial and we follow the voice of Leon Bridges who asks for fresh air and so, we invite the wind to join us resting by an unfamiliar lake, the blades of grass ask for you to pull them like twizzlers (snuck into the movies) at 2 in the morning you watch with soft, dark, slanted eyes as a lion yawn takes over which is brushed off because I rather let my time be stolen by you
Fall 2019 / 93
The Color Yellow *Trigger Warning: This poem discusses heavy topics, such as suicide. If you are concerned for yourself, or a loved one, please reach out to the counseling center (202-885-350).
Daffodils and tulips Are the first sure signs of spring here. They’re a hardy bunch, often with snow still trimming their leaves When they make their first appearance As a bright surprise on the dawn of some ordinary day.
And the next morning, too, when everything had changed The single dim light bulb in my closet Seemed to glow brighter than normal The same wavelengths as a nuclear explosion When my mother told me you were gone.
Yellow, after all, is the first color of everyday When the sun nudges the ocean to make green And the morning mist to make blue And reflects off the backs of crows and the mirrors of cars Until her fingers tap gently on your window pane.
I wonder if that dawn After the sun woke the sea and the dew, the birds and the mirrors If she ceased tapping at your window, by your bed For your slumber was deeper than even she could wake Or the rest of us.
What is so special about red’s passion Or the equanimity of blue? What really does make orange pop? When yellow Is the color of an optimistic future.
Now I find myself looking at your yearbook picture often Searching in your flaxen braids, in the sweet wrinkles under your eyes, And in the dirt visible beneath your fingernails For the “who”s and the “what”s, the “why”s and the “how”s And each time realizing you couldn’t say.
There’s a reason chicks are born tawney And bees match the pollen on buttercups and dandelions. The same reason couples fortify their love in bands of gold And honey drips luxuriously from combs of liquid sunshine Or sunflowers bow graciously to their bright Mother. I remember that March morning on the way to church, I saw those daffodils for the first time All in a neat row along the walkway Each nodding as I passed by Whispering sweet nothings after my heels.
94 / American Literary Magazine
I wonder if you are the artist Who paints the brilliant golds I see after sunsets. I hope that you are the one who kisses my face With the love of each new day, The golden cardinal’s song that carries on a breeze. I pray you are the color yellow.
we were humming the same song
Fall 2019 / 95
There was this one moment—moments really—where Leah and I would go to the bookstore together every two weeks. She would sit and stare at the wonder and the melancholy of Sylvia while I would stuff myself on Hemingway and Salinger because they were familiar and early on in my road to going beyond the syllabus. I was secure that I knew them at least, a small shelf that I could claim if she asked me questions. Leah was so resolute. Happy and ready to jump. For what and towards whom I never knew. She loved words and the people who could string them together like pearls on a strand and that was enough reason for us to share a car ride up and over the mountains through Reding where we once got pulled over. White girls with bumper stickers from our high school were only in the city for one reason. Leah and her dark waves, browned skin and the emphasized syllables in the last name of her license made the young officer probably think of falling buildings and George Bush standing on top of the rubble. There were moments.
And she was happy. Preppy even, peppy maybe too. Feeling constrained by the cream faces of our dairy farming valley. We went to parties. She was the first person I threw up next to. In the woods, behind a shed near the house that wasn’t hers but that I think truly shifted something in her. Girls who love Sylvia hate parts of this world, present company not excluded. The next year after she came back she was waned, waxing on the reserves of the person she had started out the semester as. There was this tick, not a flashing red light like the ones on the police car, but still this hazy warning of, “She slipped.” When we drove in the months that followed, her car smelled like air freshener that couldn’t hide last night’s puffs. This was new, not totally alarming or worth judgment by itself, but put together with other pieces was halting.
“When we drove in the months that followed her car smelled like air freshener that couldn’t hide last night’s puffs.” So we would sit and write, the first year we made this gathering a habit. She was leaving for a huge college and full English classes and the promise of new faces that would meet hers compassionately. So she was excited. I was feeling abandoned not by her but the structure of rigidity in the phrase, “This is how it’s done. Patience.” 96 / American Literary Magazine
The next four years were erratic and downward. Not a straight shot but curved and intertwined which was harder than a crash that had a clear trajectory. Because up meant hope. Better meant fulfilled promise. Lost meant sudden shaking death of never getting out. That night, the last night, the message said she was in a women’s shelter. Anxiety crept in, which was selfish
because the fear wasn’t for her but from a slipping place of possibility. One degree of separation that finished the line, “That could be…”. Deep breaths, pages read, maybe calm could creep in. And there were questions, concerns, a bellied weight of responsibility. The response, articulated sentiments of explicit nonjudgment, clarification, and worry. Empathy, that tidal wave that doesn’t let a person see clearly or respond proportionally or responsibly. That was kept under lock and key, and sympathy superseded the potential chaos.
So now, alone at the same bookstore, I kept our routine. I went by every section that had Sylvia Plath’s string of pearls. I did it for myself because the year Leah left I sought her out as some hybrid of replacement, familiar, and eventual savior. My fingers touched the paper binding, the cracks in my chest got a little wider to let their—her—pain in. I felt the air hit the bottom of my lungs. No new messages.
In Christina’s World the grass is itchy and her body is turned toward home. Her arms, translucent in the summer afternoon sun, trembling. Christina commits to crawling, her fingers dragging her to a moment of rest, awaiting the last few yards before her barn-house haven. In Christina’s World, we stay behind watching the wind whirl her wired hair and scratch the pricking against our exposed ankles. Poor Thing, we whisper as we suck on blueberries and peer at her pink pressed dress. Three steps around, we crouch and our eyes meet. Gray pebbles sunken into the paleness, she stares agape. Eyes don’t bare her sickness. Not in Wyeth’s world, where he can still walk through dying fields and paint the back of her head.
98 / American Literary Magazine
Masthead Editors-in-Chief Emaan Khan Izzy Capodanno
Art Editors Emily Coneybeare Rachel Burger
Creative Director Rebecca Sakaguchi
Art Assistant Rachel Suleymanov
Copy Editors Alice Bershtein Sarah Maraschky
Blog Editors Brianna Bytner Maggie Mahoney Morgan Bluma
Design/Copy Assistants Emma Busch Hope Neyer Julia Padolf Lily Spiro Skylar Smith Sophia Salganicoff Prose Editors Henri Brink Riddhi Setty Prose Assistants Brooke Pierson Kristen Batstone Lauren Patetta Stephanie Mirah
Blog Assistants Catie Colucci Isabella Goodman Kendall Kalustyan Lauren Morris Saraya Roberts Syeda Siddiqi Staffers Gracie Donavon Isabella Igbanugo Maeve Pond Samuel Nunn Sofia Dean Talia Marshall
Poetry Editors Camryn Diagonale Brendan Sakosits Poetry Assistants Grace Hasson Marissa Parisi Nora Sullivan Photo/Film Editors Amanda Book Jordan Redd Photo/Film Assistants Max Laro Shelby Drzewiecki
Fall 2019 / 99
Bios Amanda Book’s fashion inspiration is paddington bear. Annie Przypyszny would like to shout out her cats, Buffy Summers, her lovely friends, and the villagers of Animal Crossing New Leaf for always believing in her and inspiring her to write to her heart’s content :) Brianna Bytner loves all things magical. Clarissa Cheung is a sophomore majoring in Sociology and double minoring in Transcultural Lit and Multi-Ethnic Studies. she can’t wait to show her mom that her picture is in a magazine! Cam Diagonale yearns to start her own bathroom tile company and name it “The Grout Gatsby.” Emaan Khan hates mirrors. Emma Lovato is living proof that economics majors are multifaceted. Grace Hasson is a sophomore studying Literature with a Creative Writing focus along with a minor in music. She loves writing prose and poetry along with playing guitar. Gabrielle Michel studied abroad in England for a year, but was a rebel and never consumed one cup of tea. Hope Neyer isn’t feral, yet. Izzy Capodanno loves pet names, both giving and receiving. Jasmin Chan has always loved art, mostly drawing and painting. She recently picked up photography as a hobby and hasn’t turned back since. Jaz loves the feeling of turning her photographic visions into a reality. Jaz’s favorite part of photography is capturing a feeling with a moment. Jordan Redd wants to know if you would like to make a film with her next semester. pls? 100 / American Literary Magazine
Lily Theders is a freshman at AU. This semester she is majoring in journalism but is switching to history in the spring. She attended Cincinnati’s School for The Creative and Performing arts from 7th through 12th grade and was a creative writing major all the way through. She is beyond excited to be featured in AmLit :) Lane Manalo-LeClair is a synesthete who is excited to take a photography course while in Santiago, Chile next semester. Loretta Dzanya is a senior majoring in Sociology and Public Health! Thank you Europe for sparking my interest in film photography. Forever grateful to you! Maxwell Laro said “Hey, Amlit photo team! Thanks for emailing me back. What happens if I can’t think of a short bio in time for publication?” Marissa Parisi is a sophomore that drinks too much strawberry lemonade and doesn’t write enough poetry. She loved being an assistant for amlit this semester. Madeleine Roth is an SIS freshman from Phoenix, Arizona. She is so excited to be studying in the nation’s capitol! Niccolo Bechtler spent childhood summers standing on a medium-sized rock, just off the coast of Wales. It was very cold at night, so he imagined that it wasn’t. He still doesn’t really understand how the library is organized. Maybe it’s better that way. Rachel Burger is 85% iced coffee, 11% napkin sketches, 3% puppy eyes, 1% Spotify playlist names & is entirely grateful to be a part of amlit :) Riddhi Setty is like pickles and candy canes. Kind of weird, but not bad. Sayukta Agarwal is a sophomore in SPA. She hates coming back to a piece of art more than once and only enjoys art when she feels like she’s
in the zone. This is one of her favorite ways to unwind and she is excited to be a part of the AmLit community. Samantha Monteith is a 2nd year graduate student at SIS & a fan of baby carrots & Bono. Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal empire, who reigned from 1628 to 1658. Sofia Hines is a freshman trying to advocate through poetry and is probably listening to smino. Stephanie Mirah is a big fan of dogs wearing sunglasses. Jack Tollman is a British senior studying Graphic Design and Marketing. Syeda Siddiqi voted for Mop in the 2016 Tumblr Lizard Elections and that’s the most political she’s been as a SIS major. Zainab Mirza misses her angelfish, Angel, who passed away 17 years ago when she was trapped in the fish tank filter less than 24 hours after PETCO conceived her. Zander Velleca said “eh.”
Fall 2019 / 101
102 / American Literary Magazine