Mission Statement The American Literary Magazine, affectionately known as AmLit, is American University’s studentrun literary and creative arts magazine. Striving to showcase the best student creative works, AmLit’s semesterly publication includes art, film, photography, poetry, and prose. AmLit’s review process is anonymous and democratic, with genre editors leading open discussions. The AmLit community, also known as the AmFam, comes together each semester to share their love for the creative arts, host events, and design the publication. All copyrights belong to the artists.
Acknowledgements AmLit is more than an organization; it is a community. We are endlessly thankful to everyone for welcoming us and all of our ideas with big smiles and open arms. We are grateful to every single person who submitted to AmLit — without you, there would be no magazine. We are honored to share your incredible work. This magazine was born out of hours of Zoom calls, the boat emoji, and the amazing vision of AmLit’s creative directors, Katie Meyerson and Emma Lovato. The AmLit you see before you (and hopefully one day hold) would not have been possible without the many hours Katie and Emma spent on Procreate and InDesign, painstakingly drawing every beautiful illustration and meticulously placing every piece with love. We also owe a special thank you to our copy editor, Stephanie Mirah. Without her dedicated attention to detail, we would be lost and riddled with errors. To our copy and design teams, who overcame the barriers of space and time to make this magazine come to life, we owe you our endless gratitude. To our lovely executive board, thank you for keeping AmLit alive and the AmFam close together no matter the physical distance. Without you, it would not have been possible to so seamlessly adapt and accommodate for the unexplored territory that we found ourselves in this semester. From guiding review sessions to entertaining our emergency meetings and contributing to our Spotify playlist, we could not have asked for a better executive board - or group of friends - to put this magazine together with. Thank you to the Student Media Board Co-Chairs, Chloe Li and Isaiah Washington, and our fellow media organizations for always being a source of inspiration. We consider ourselves fortunate to be associated with your excellence. Sheer thanks Riddhi, and Riddhi thanks Sheer. We’re not sure who else we could have talked about AmLit with for 400 hours on Facetime. We would be amiss if we did not thank the Zoom polling feature that made our anonymous review process possible while we’re all miles apart. Thank you to everyone who logged on to our review sessions and events. Whether you joined us for the first time or are a seasoned review session attendee, we loved seeing all of your lovely faces light up our screens and appreciate having you as a part of the AmFam. Finally, a special shoutout goes to our AmLit mascots, Nessie and Howard, as well as the other pets of the AmFam. Fall 2020 / 3
a gracious stranger's home
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Letter from the Editors
December 18, 2020
Oh, hello! You’ve found the Fall 2020 Edition of AmLit! Whether you are reading this on your screen, days after publication, or rediscovering it years later, tucked away on your bookshelf, we invite you to cozy up with this magazine and let it welcome you to the world of art and writing that it holds within its pages. Through AmLit, all mediums come together to create a body of art that lends its voice to a community. It is an unabashed celebration of art and life, a recognition that we all come from different places and different experiences, and the art that culminates as a result of these experiences is both beautiful and unique. It is limitless, it is exciting, it is an escape from the mundane world and a welcoming home, all at the same time. This magazine is meant to bring a bit of that AmLit home — home to you. We often wonder about AmLit’s past. Did you know this is volume 97? How did we come so far? How did we begin? We miss rummaging through the archives and exploring, finding scribbled notes and hidden doodles between the pages of past volumes. We are honored to place this edition on AmLit’s bookshelf and excited by the idea that you, dear reader, might find it many years later. We navigated new territories this semester, from review sessions on Zoom to an ice cream social without ice cream (unless you brought your own). Still, we embraced this change and ventured into newfound ideas — the result of which we are excited to show you through this edition of AmLit. Alongside our E-Board, we decided to stray away from recent tradition and replace “Best in Show” with a new feature, “Editor’s Choice.” In past semesters, AmLit has reached out to professors to select what was, in their opinion, the best piece in a genre. This semester, each member of our E-Board chose a piece to highlight in the magazine instead. Rather than four Best in Show pieces, this volume of AmLit has sixteen Editor’s Choice pieces — chosen with love, care, and appreciation by AmLit’s E-Board members. The “Editor’s Choice” labels you will see in this magazine are accompanied on our website by an explanation from each editor, giving us a glimpse into the reasons behind their choice. This allows us to connect with the AmLit community in a way we haven’t done before; as each editor spent hours flipping through the pieces you will see in the pages to come, this new feature gives us a chance to let artists know how much their work impacts those that read it. Thank you, AmLit, for trusting us, holding us up when we stumble, and growing with us. You are our forever rose. While we daydream the days away, we just wish we could go on a picnic or walk in the woods with you all. For now, these pages will have to suffice. So bundle up, load that one fireplace video on Netflix, and scroll (or one day flip) through the beautiful works we are honored to feature inside. With love, always, Riddhi & Sheer Fall 2020 / 5
Table of Contents ART Blind / Grace Collins / p. 64 connecting with ancestors / Kait Caffrey / p. 27 flowers i gave my mom / Grace Collins / p. 120 Flowers you can keep in a jar even when they’re dead / Grace Collins / p. 106 For some reason, this makes me miss middle school gym, but I wish it didn’t. / Talia Marshall / p. 55 gender diptych / Sheer Figman / p. 29 Interior of a Lesbian / Katie Meyerson / p. 112 Judith at the Bus Stop / Hope Neyer / p. 23 King Arthur - 5 Movements / Emma Southern / p. 38-39 Leaking my nudes / Anonymous / p. 21 looked better / Maren Valenti / p. 109 looking up / Maren Valenti / p. 85 MM / Riddhi Setty / p. 110 Molly and Julie! I hope you get the reference. / Talia Marshall / p. 66 Patchwork Quilt / Katie Meyerson / p. 53 She Named Him Egg / Katie Meyerson / p. 48 You Live Here / Katie Meyerson / p. 118 Your Toxic Performance of Femininity is Upsetting The Homegirls / Talia Marshall / p. 88
PHOTO a gracious stranger’s home / Stephanie Mirah / p. 4 A Typical Morning / James Kwon / p. 36 baby boos / Riddhi Setty / p. 49 Blue Sunrise / James Kwon / p. 95 Blue Sunrise II / James Kwon / p. 95 crossroads / Lia Patentas / p. 25 Dancing Man’s Trash / Alejandro Irizarry / p. 76 daylight / Stephanie Mirah / p. 114 erika / Olivia Schwalm / p. 40 feast / Olivia Schwalm / p. 35 Fell in Love by the Fire Escape / Emma Lovato / p. 19 first print (Fall 2019) / Hannah Fisher / p. 33 Glass Tears Pastiche / Shea Neary / p. 105 grace / Maren Valenti / p. 91 heat waves / Lia Patentas / p. 101 hidden / Maxwell Laro / p. 111 I Know Everything Now / Emma Lovato / p. 107 Madeleine in B&W / Shea Neary / p. 51 mid-july / Kait Caffrey / p. 13 Midnight Stroll / Lauren Mitchell / p. 82 niños de las montañas (mountain boys) / Kait Caffrey / p. 80 nomads / Maxwell Laro / p. 16 Nothing Happens Tour / Daniella Jimenez / p. 68 Painting in the Sand / Emily Park / p. 61 painting with light / Kait Caffrey / p. 75 perpetual, like pretty much every day / Sheer Figman / p. 59 pietá / Maren Valenti / p. 56 pristine / Lia Patentas / p. 8
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river dolphin / Kait Caffrey / p. 96 sometimes i think i want to play and other times i just want to think / Sami Pye / p. 69 Sophia No.1 / Hannah Fisher/ p. 99 Stacked in Color / Shea Neary / p. 60 The Eye of the Storm / Alejandro Irizarry / p. 102 the kitchen is the backyard / Sami Pye / p. 123 the world got smaller / Olivia Schwalm / p. 45 two-legged ants / Maxwell Laro / p. 43 untitled / Sami Pye / p. 10 untitled / Olivia Schwalm / p. 71 Walk on Film No.1 / Hannah Fisher / p. 63 “when things calm down” is just a lore / Sami Pye / p. 70 Wherever You Want / Lauren Mitchell / p. 97 8 & 4 / Stephanie Mirah / p. 15
POETRY A Better Future Is Possible / Hope Neyer / p. 77 a summer migraine / Zoe Smith / p. 20 Ammi / Momal Rizvi / p. 119 and soon / Riddhi Setty / p. 106 Ants / Sofia Dean / p. 14 back-up / Joseph Benge / p. 82 Barnyard / Hope Neyer/ p. 44 broken strings / Grace Hasson / p. 118 Butterflies in the Winter and The Echo of Wings / Caroline Krekorian / p. 100 “China Town.” / Kate Jasenski / p. 72 claiming space / Brendan Sakosits / p. 52 Claude Monet’s The Red Kerchief / Gracie Donovan / p. 57 coulda shoulda woulda (a poem about the secret love between Mr. Grange and Mr. Morrison) / Zoe Smith / p. 89 dandelions / Rachel Black / p. 103 Daylily / Niccolo Bechtler / p. 41 deadweight / Zarah Naqib / p. 117 Don’t You Know? / Grace Hasson / p. 91 DUSK OUT ON THE MARSH / Lily Song / p. 41 Empty and Going Back / Talia Marshall / p. 42 Fruit Punch / Sofia Dean / p. 54 I Cut Myself Opening a Jam Jar / Grace Hasson / p. 70 I dream a dream / Riddhi Setty / p. 61 I Understand Van Gogh Cutting Off His Ear / Grace Hasson / p. 39 in a field in prayer / Brendan Sakosits / p. 17 In Conversation / Riddhi Setty / p. 92-94 Independence Day / Gracie Donovan / p. 12 INTERMISSION / Lily Song / p. 115 La Tierra Devastada / Emma Southern / p. 26
Last Words / Emma Lovato / p. 97 light. / Rachel Black / p. 37 Love Poem / Annie Przypyszny / p. 113 loves / Shelby Rose / p. 48 Memories / James Kwon / p. 30-31 My Hair Still Smells Like Firepit / Peyton Bigora / p. 81 Nazareth / Shelby Rose / p. 51 Not Your Average Idiom / Katie Meyerson / p. 22 Numbers / Shelby Rose / p. 65 Penelope / Emma Southern / p. 111 Pins and needles / Niccolo Bechtler / p.83 Self-Improvement / Syd Smith / p. 109 Silver spoon / Niccolo Bechtler / p. 94 Summer of ‘o7 / Sofia Dean / p. 9 Sunflower / Reagan Koffink / p. 11 The first time I saw my mother cry / Gracie Donovan / p. 90 the one-man waltz / Zarah Naqib / p. 32 The Sculptor / Reagan Koffink / p. 108 The womb / Niccolo Bechtler / p. 87 To Jean, Best of Luck – The Girls / Annie Przypyzny / p. 67 TRUTH JUICE / Reagan Koffink / p. 14 unFreed / Zarah Naqib / p. 84 wite-out: quick dry correction fluid / Rachel Black / p. 74 You are Here Maddux Lane / Annie Przypyszny / p. 20 2013 - Present / Katie Meyerson / p. 78-79 401 YEARS IN 08:46 / Zarah Naqib / p. 73 9/12 / Abby Grifno / p. 116
PROSE Before Manchester / Alexa Barnes / p. 58 Clandestine Meetings / Samantha McAllister / p. 86-87 Consolation Prizes / Emma Lovato / p. 122 Constellations / Hope Neyer / p. 28 Earl Grey / Katt McCann / p. 98-99 First I have to learn in English / Alexa Barnes / p. 18-19 Missed Messages / Shelby Rose / p. 104-105 one last night in the old world / Karan Bacrabail Tewkani / p. 24-25 Peach Season / Henri Brink / p. 46-47 the red line / Samantha McAllister / p. 34-35 The Waiting Room / Emma Southern / p. 121 Thoughts from Late Summer / Emma Lovato / p. 62 To Be Retitled / Charlotte Faust / p. 50
Fall 2020 / 7
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Summer of '07 We are 6 years old. The sweet fumes of honeysuckle are filling the air. And my friends and I can feel our nostrils dancing, our mouths salivating. We dash across greenery, chubby thighs are now folded on the soft earth. Mommy will yell at me for the grass stains already sinking into soft pink shorts that hug my baby fat tight. But I am not thinking of that. Tiny hands blend with the branches of a bush, abundant in our afternoon treat, finding their way to the brightest honeysuckles popping heads off of stems pulling from the bottom string. I wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sure what it was called, and I still do not know. All that matters is that it unleashes sweet, sweet juices that pass through the pathway in between my sprouting two front teeth. A gap that will one day be of no use. But I am not thinking of that. Refreshing splendor travels down my throat, filling my blooming belly, and laughter comes next
I lift my tiny head to thank the sun for this glorious day. My caramel skin growing darker as my friendsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; cheeks are painted pink. Our mamas will scold us for not wearing sunscreen. But we are not thinking of that. Burps are escaping our mouths, drunk on honeysuckle. We will sprint into the house cool air rushing across our skin, Longing for another hug from the sun.
untitled Medium Statement: 35 mm film
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Sunflower My mom and I are growing sunflowers again. Mammoths that waved their trunks in our kitchen window, an echoing chorus of swing sets creak, as I pump legs, water, Drip Drop I flop,
fold over, curl and land on my feet again.
You see, talking with my mother, is as easy as it is to balance dew on a tipsy mint leaf, it is a fight against gravity and inertia, the feeling of falling, and already flying, only to spit yourself stretching – down. It is, so damn hard to cut these weeds extinct. As they too bleed green onto my bedroom walls, “I wish I didn’t have to be here” but still, I am, rooted to where I grew: her. Winding roots a crown, of brown locks she says I have my father’s hair but I am nowhere near straight, so, I shave myself a chainsaw, and create petals from bloody woodchips, sawdust my seeds as me.
Fall 2020 / 11
Independence Day there’s a saying about red skies and sailors. I heard it for the first time at our neighbor’s house on lake Erie It was just around that time in the summer when fireworks pepper the night time red, white and blue popsicles drip down burnt forearms I had yet to outgrow my childlike body my brother still wore a buzzcut hair so blonde it looked nearly white and there was something about the way the red bled into the fading blue sky that reminded me of the blood stained underwear my sister had left in the bathroom that morning when she went running to my parents’ room sobs wracking her body blue and arms pressed so tight around her middle her hands turned white the next day she stayed inside so I swam alone and wore the red strawberry swimsuit that itched like a burn I scratched under my arms while the bittersweet taste of childhood and popsicles stained my teeth blue
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mid-july Medium Statement: film
Fall 2020 / 13
Ants My mother hates them, but secretly I admire the way they lift clumps of sugar as a treasure for their Queen. They sacrifice their small, black beaded bodies, drowning in household cleaner. And yet the next day, they will return, marching in complex Lines and Wiggles that drummers and horn players would envy. The smell of crumbled coffee cake will be too sweet to resist. I praise them under my breath as my mother frantically hides anything with hints of sugar in the fridge and cupboards. Creatures not even a pound Holding this much control, Casting spells, On giants.
TRUTH JUICE s(l)ip beneath petals of dew aching to moisten bow(e)ls of cherry wine. as red freckles clothes, to hands sallow and sea, sickening laps the body, floating and filling. 75% is enough sink, to sweet, silly, and soft breathes the room: clouds they never told me how easy it was, to skate satin, when all I knew was how to twirl in straight lines as Sober sighs to sleep, â&#x20AC;&#x153;all too wellâ&#x20AC;?
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8&4 Fall 2020 / 15
nomads 16 / American Literary Magazine
in a field in prayer leaves idle between their infinite blues they beckon; â&#x20AC;&#x153;Sitâ&#x20AC;? and in all, everything concurs.
Fall 2020 / 17
First I have to learn in English A two-fingered sideways salute marks the beginning of my sequence. Index finger to my chest, then paired to double-tap my palm before flexing my left hand into a series of unfamiliar forms. Imitating an umpire, I roll them together, pinching the air. Finger to chest, then lips. Again and again, I sign, reaching for meanings. When my hands stutter, I look to the left of the sun, as though the heavens will open and hand me an answer. Then I remember the sign for learn, and my eyes snap back to a resting posture, thanking my brain, not the sky. My finger taps a red circle, repeating my sequence with a look of intense concentration as the sunlight scatters across my face and floor. I am hearing. I finish. I smile. I type. Hello. I am learning to sign A-S-L. I’m a beginner. I am hearing. That’s dope. He says, with words and the corner of his hair. I smile. Hand to chest, a single pass over my face as I smile again. That means thank you. But you’ll have to wait a while for more, the letters are hard. Seven thousand nine hundred twenty four erudite, Times New Roman words later, I sign again. Finger to chest, a two-finger tap of the palm, imaginary typing, a double tap as though conducting an invisible orchestra. Four fingerspelled letters. Really three with bookends. I learned to spell. This is your name. Closed fist covering my thumb. Closed fist with my thumb out. Index finger curled over middle finger, standing vertically. Fingers together, hovering in a semicircle above a semicircular thumb. Two fingers extended inward, the others in a fist. M-A-R-C-H. The four fingers stand together, blinking inwards and covering the thumb. Fourteen. The last time I spoke to him was March Fourteenth. Since then, it has been written words in azure bubbles and signed words against the backdrop of a place he’s never been. Learn how to flirt with me. He says. In words. This time with his whole face and a smile. I’m good with hands. I write. He laughs, he writes. Goodnight, he writes. As any multimodal or multilingual communicator knows, some things don’t translate. American Sign Language is not a one to one ratio. It’s a mechanism of expression. A series of gestures substitutes for listened words. But to sign, as to speak, you have to first know what you mean. The sign for flirting is like shoving away an imaginary typewriter, flittering the fingers up and down, pulling the elbows in and out as I tap the imaginary keys. This is how I flirt too. Typing things, thinking things, setting them aside. Never articulating them. To say soft things with spoken words is ironically hard. Harder still is to say soft things meant to land poignantly. I have a near limitless array of vowels, consonants, and combinations in my head, in my mouth, and now a beginner’s set in my hands. But words that mean delicate things do not roll off the fingertips 18 / American Literary Magazine
as easily as academic verbiage and well-timed droll. They do not leap off the tongue like insults and giggles and assertions. Delicate words are harbored deep in my lungs, where they stay. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a silly inequity that I, with perceptible words and the sound of my own echo, deploy them so sparingly. A score of sunlit lessons later, I again press a small red circle. Index finger to chest. Two fingers double tap a flat palm. Typing in air. I sign. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m learning to flirt for you, but first I have to learn in English.
Fell in Love by the Fire Escape Medium Statement: 35 mm disposable camera
Fall 2020 / 19
You are Here Maddux Lane My neighbor, the doctor, walks His hot-tempered spaniel, its shiny Ears dulled by the morning fog. Sometimes I see his wife, Trim as their front lawn, Collecting mail at noon. They have three cars And no children. There’s the powerpole, Slightly tilted. It collapsed Last summer, and the firemen Came and fixed it. A lawnmower starts And the UPS truck lulls by. Nothing that makes noise Makes noise, even the cardinal, Bold-breasted with jocundity— He knows that nearby there are Babies pondering their naps, Business men and women Making Saturday phonecalls. Maybe a deer will wander Into a yard, and every window Will go Oh Look A Deer. The roads were repaved Just a couple years back, And almost every backyard Has a dry birdbath. We are lucky and I cannot Be cynical about it.
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a summer migraine i had my mother draw me a bath it smelled of mangos and lavender i washed myself with a broken bar of soap it too smelled like lavender i then climbed out and kneeled on the floor bent body over the edge and attempted to scrub the headache out through the scalp the warm water was forgiving unlike the shower head would’ve been the headache seemed scared of the dark room and my fingernails it ran and hid under the bridge of my nose i fear i will swallow it soon
Leaking my nudes
Fall 2020 / 21
Not Your Average Idiom delicate. cherry blossom petals falling apart in your hand, floating away in the breeze. that kind of delicate. china, sitting lovely and proud. a prized family heirloom. it never gets used, [they] say, because itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s delicate. and for all of her delicateness [ i ] am a child grabbing fistfuls of those spring blooms, scattering them to the wind. she is a fragile thing. not frail, not weak. no, she is the strongest person [ iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve ] ever known. not frail, not weak, but fragile. delicate. delicate doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t deserve a bull in her china shop, but that is what she has gotten.
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Judith at the Bus Stop
Fall 2020 / 23
Karan Bacrabail Tekwani
one last night in the old world As I broke through the surface of the water, I felt the last traces of air flee my lungs. I sank slowly, my hair billowing out in front of me. I could see faint beams of sunlight glistening through the sea, and schools of fish weaving between pink clusters of coral. I let myself drift for a moment, relishing the salty chill of the sea. Only when my lungs were on the brink of implosion did I allow myself to surface, rubbing my eyes clear and taking in my surroundings. To my right, a rough wall of rock arched about ten feet out of the sea. I scanned the horizon, squinting against the brilliance of the setting sun, searching the emerald waves for any sign of Kirena. A few too many moments went by before I saw a head of brown hair pop out of the sea somewhere to my left, and I swam over to her, rising and falling with the tide. “Feel like climbing out yet?” I asked. “Sure,” she replied. “Done for the night?” “Probably.” She paddled to the wall and grabbed hold of a small ledge, curled her fingers against its mossy surface, trying to avoid pricking her fingers on any urchins nestled within its cracks. She waited for the next wave, letting it push her closer up to the ledge, and pulled herself out right as it peaked, the muscles in her shoulders and back rippling with the exertion. I waited for her to climb all the way out before I followed. By the time I climbed out, Kirena was crouched over by our backpacks, rummaging through hers, most likely in search of her phone. I pulled a towel out of mine, and spread it out on the edge of the wall. I sat down, crossing my legs, and she sat beside me. As the rich, orange sun began to tuck itself in under sheets of starlight and seawater, the pale glow of the moon began to vie with it for the dominance of the evening sky. The two of us had come here together so many times over the last twelve years, easily hundreds of times,
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but it never grew old. On an island full of secrets and treasures, to us, this small cliff was the most priceless. Kirena stared out into the sea, her inquisitive, jade eyes uncharacteristically listless tonight. “What’s wrong?” I asked. She pursed her lips and locked her eyes with mine. “I’m excited to leave, you know. I’m happy about it. There’s been so much hype around ‘college life,’ I can’t wait to see what that’s all about.” She paused. “But I’ll miss you.” Our time together, our lifelong, absolute togetherness was about to come to an end. Life as an wundergrad was calling her name, how couldn’t she answer it? “I’ll miss you too,” I said. “But it’s okay! You’ll be back in, what, six months? By the time you’re here again it’ll feel like it’s been no time at all.” Right then, I felt the fullness of her exasperation in the depths of my heart, and I knew what she was about to say before her lips had even begun to part. “You could have gone anywhere, you know. You should have.” I sighed. “I know.” “So why’d you choose to stay?” I lay on my back, drinking in the amorphous, pink clouds, but I could still feel her eyes on me. “Because I didn’t want to.” “There’s nothing for you here. Not a damn
What was left to say?
“I know,” I said. I felt her look away as I sat back up. I shifted my weight on the towel. It was soft, thick and green, and it guarded our soft thighs from the jagged stones beneath us. I moved closer, putting an arm around her as she leaned her head against my shoulder. For a few moments, neither of us said a thing. I almost dared to hope we’d be able to enjoy the rest of the evening. But then her phone started buzzing.
She rose to her feet and I with her. We packed our things and walked to our cars as the darkening sky encroached upon scraps of starlight. I chucked my bag into my car as she tossed hers onto the bed of her truck. We stared at each other for what felt like hours before we hugged. We held each other for minutes though they felt like fleeting seconds, and eventually she pulled away.
Our time was up.
“Don’t let this rock trap you here,” she said as she slipped into her truck.
She sat up and placed a hand against my cheek, her fingers tender against my jaw. She motioned as if to speak, but didn’t.
And then she left.
Fall 2020 / 25
La Tierra Devastada Yo he visto la tierra devastada Con ningún respeto a madre Tierra Hecho vulnerable y cicatrizada, Despojada como si estéril de la guerra Pero yo sé que la reacción fue sofocada, ignorada Retorcida en mentiras. Por estas, La historia fue saturada Y solo poderosos tuvieron las respuestas
Translation I have seen the land ravaged With no regards to Mother Earth Made vulnerable and scarred Stripped as if barren from war But I know the response was stifled, ignored Twisted into lies. By these, History was flooded And only the powerful held the answers
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connecting with ancestors
Fall 2020 / 27
Constellations One of the things we talked about during that last week was how we first saw constellations. After all, the stars don’t really have patterns. We just put them there to tell stories about things we don’t understand. Humans are messy, and imposing order onto the cosmos makes us feel better. I understand. After a midnight drive out of Washington through star-touching hilltops in Maryland and the unblinking skies of West Virginia I am finally home. It has been a long week and now missing love I want bare floors and clean walls and new patterns in the plastic stars on my bedroom ceiling. I make eye contact with myself while I brush my teeth. It is storming here and will storm all week. By the laws we’ve created as a joke it must be beautiful under his angle at the same constellations, no cumulus skies to mask the falsehoods we love to rain dance under and make up myths about: inevitability and predestination. I wonder what shapes those same stars would form into if we freed them. I wonder what shapes the shoulder freckles and momentary rests from self consciousness would take too and I think if we wandered into every vacant lot and public park and stared into the sky until it looked different we’d be closer than the closest star to getting it all figured out. Constellations are like conclusions about music, or red flags in relationships: whether or not you are aware of them, they’re out there but the first time you see them, you almost always need someone to point them out. We have this shared experience of childhood car rides to clear skies, him in a van visible on satellite imagery, me in the third row crossing cornfields to Indiana. In my case it was October, and I had fallen asleep on the soft curves of 74 and 70 through Knightsville and Prairie City. Details of geography I lack or briefly closed my eyes for in his account, even though I listened as best I could, promise. 28 / American Literary Magazine
But both of us remember the vast and unknowable sky being rendered smaller, somehow. Isn’t it a delight to know - to understand constellations in the same sky over Indianapolis and Portland? To comprehend the Main Street haze of population: less, fewer. To learn archipelagos (or constellations) of freckles and the summer burns that placed them there. In the same way it is a delight to see and not to crush snails, or startle newts, worms, other small but knowable creatures, and in the same way as constellations these are impossible for me to see until they are pointed out. Perhaps I just need better glasses, but I swear I would sacrifice clarity to hear patient explanations and follow an untrembling hand pointing to something stellar and amphibious. Imagine if no one agreed on the names of constellations. What if no one told us to look for the same belt and scoop and shape? Would we find them anyway? Imagine if no one told us what to expect, or when. If the first time you saw a constellation, or your love as your lover was truly your own. If we walked outside at once to make it up. If hundreds of us gathered in every available wide-open space, projecting our own dreams, thoughts, and hopes for the future into the empty and promising sky. I’d rearrange the starscape myself to tell new stories. Imagine, all of us, stumbling onto stilled highways, holding hands, swapping laser pointers and pouring shared Thermos-dregs of hot chocolate into waxy paper cups.
Artist Statement: This diptych was an assignment given with the intention of having us conform to the gender binary. Instead, I chose to capture two emotions - anger and sadness - as a reflection on how they may relate to gender norms. Medium Statement: sheet metal, chain, bolts, nails
Fall 2020 / 29
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Artist Statement: I wrote this poem during a time in my life when I felt like I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t catch a break from my day-today activities. This poem is a gentle reminder to center myself whenever I feel stressed out, because the memories we make are fleeting and they serve as the source of our happiness when times get difficult.
Fall 2020 / 31
the one-man waltz “He is a loose cannon,” they said And maybe the elasticity of such a metal Had worn. Marbles that roll like dice All six sides, so much to say What comes next? But reality is however he wants it to be As Schrodinger’s cat: Who lies, dead and alive at the very same time. A flash in the pan, day by day Veiled in vanity, or Cloaked by a conscience. The lightbulb that dances Until it no longer quivers Two faces of the same coin: insanity and Brilliance. A destination dedicated to its distance. That building whose face stands Clouded by a sky’s graying hairs, and The tracks of a transcontinental train once traveled. He breathes, weeping. Though in pain or petulance, A wayfaring wonder– Only he knows.
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first print (Fall 2019)
Fall 2020 / 33
the red line I saw the woman crying as soon as I sat down. The train car was almost empty, just me and a boy and the crying woman. Her eyes are red to match her cheeks, and the fluorescent lights make her face glisten with tears. It is only late afternoon – a Thursday. The rush-hour crowds hadn’t joined us on the Red Line yet. People cry on the train plenty, but that was usually a Friday or Saturday late night, usually a girl in a shining dress, crying over how pretty her friend was or how horrible that boy was to her. The woman had no bags with her, and no ubiquitous D.C. lanyard declaring that she is some Very Official Person. I didn’t know if she was crying because she was happy or sad. There are some people who don’t keep their emotions inside. I never learned how to let them out. I am with the boy on the train. He holds my hand. We don’t talk much on the short ride. Our faces are pale in the dark window; we look almost underwater. I always loved the water, even after years of working at a pool. His body shifted closer to mine, our kneecaps were touching. It was still that time when every touch feels like it could be more and when every bit of information is a revelation. It had been a long time since I had done anything that involved touching someone. It was easier to be quiet than to be loud enough for a guy to notice. The woman was still crying. She looked almost like my mother, in the way that so many older white women do to me. I look for her everywhere now that she is gone and seem to find her. The same curl in the hair or glasses perched on top of the head. None of them are my mother. I want to see her. I want to see her home in Kentucky with a clip in her hair and face red from cooking. Maybe she has been crying too, at a TV show or book. She exists in memory. She exists in women on the train. The train starts to slow in a tunnel. “Typical D.C., huh?” said the boy. His body settled more, anticipating the wait. Trains are supposed to run, but they never really do in D.C. This is not the first time I have been stuck in a dark tunnel. A voice garbled over the intercom. We are stopped on the Red Line. I am not afraid of the dark, but I am afraid of the subway train catching on fire or being trapped forever. There isn’t any reason to believe these things will happen. In my head, it already is happening. The boy sighed, clearly calm. The woman joined us underwater. She really looked like my mother. I stood up, I moved towards her. As long as he has known me, at least, I am not the girl to stand up. I don’t have anything to offer to her, probably not even words of consolation. How many types of pain have I felt? “Hi, I just wanted to ask if you were okay? Now that the train is stopped,” I said, flinched. I hate hearing myself talk, hate the way I construct sentences. The woman stared at me for a beat. “A friend is sick.” “Oh. My mother was sick, she’s gone,” I said. I stared at the window. Everyone said I looked like my mother. “I’m sorry. You’re too young to lose a mother,” she said. I nod. I love to hear from women. I am tired of always hearing from men. I made eye contact with the boy. We don’t share every moment, not yet at least. Maybe we never will. She grasped my hand. It was nothing like my mother’s hand. Her’s had always been soft and large, usually with a cut on them from some klutzy moment. The woman’s hands were finely wrinkled and papery. There are moments when life seems boundless. Moments when someone has lived your life, but not quite your life. The woman suddenly looked nothing like my mother. The skin tone was all wrong, her hair a different shade of brown. “I just don’t know how I can do things without her knowing about them.”
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â&#x20AC;&#x153;You do them anyway,â&#x20AC;? she said. A garbled voice came over the intercom again. I stood and walked to my seat. The boy grabbed my hand. The woman held my gaze for another moment, and then slowly closed her eyes. Her face reflected in the window, serene underwater. The train moved through the tunnel again, so quickly, you could not see our faces.
Fall 2020 / 35
A Typical Morning Artist Statement: As soon as I left Hawai’i to attend American University, I quickly realized how much I missed the natural beauty of my home. This is the view I would be greeted with nearly every morning: A glassy ocean with the Ko’olau mountains in the distance – a scene pulled straight from a fairytale. I’ve been spoiled, I know.
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r a r r y a a r y y a r r y a a y y on her throne he sun sits of golde t n beams reaching out her light-filled arms to caress the faces of children and embrace the flowers. her glow blinding in its luminescence taps me on the shoulder and i latch onto her featherlight frame. we cradle each other in our shared intimacy in h. the still and that is enoug she smiles,
Fall 2020 / 37
King Arthur - 5 Movements
Artist Statement: Inspired by music â&#x20AC;&#x153;King Arthur String Quartetâ&#x20AC;? by Christopher Palmer. Medium Statement: acrylic on five canvases
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I Understand Van Gogh Cutting Off His Ear CW: harm
but if it was me it wouldn’t have been an ear. I think I’d guillotine a finger maybe my ring finger. cut to the bone— white cap of a skin ocean. or maybe I’d decapitate a thumb. so that I could stop cutting holes in silence with my guitar. who needs music? who needs an ear? I’d rid myself of anything if it made a difference.
Fall 2020 / 39
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Daylily Thirty-six blossoms today. Two more than yesterday, four fewer than the day before. They sag under their weight, stems like the dainty elongated limbs of old Vogue illustrations. Just as elegant, just as impossible. It’s the middle of summer, and the orange petals cook in the sun. Each day comprises a decline. Each day fewer buds bloom and more blossoms wilt. Each day strays further from rebirth: fresh-cut grass, charcoal grill, honeysuckle, gasoline. Toward what, no one knows. Daylilies flower meet the sun one time and disappear at night
DUSK OUT ON THE MARSH you read to me as the sky outside the car windows darkens and turns the pages deep gray. words of summer and growing up blur in my eyesight as I watch your lips move in the dark. what are you thinking about? that story makes me sad. yes, it makes me sad too, because I am growing up and growing away and this summer warmth of your head on my shoulder will not last forever I think of what our friendship could’ve been if I’d made a few realizations last year. I am afraid of the future because I say that life and love and a moment can be beautiful even if (and because) they do not always last, but I am a hypocrite in more ways than one and I am afraid to make decisions and for my dad’s health and all these thoughts unspoken are tearing me apart. but for now, I let the comfort and warmth of the car ride lull me to sleep. I’ll be happy with even a fleeting glimpse of this peacefulness, suspended in time as fleeting as the dusk as it fades to night.
Fall 2020 / 41
Empty and Going Back Today I stood in a parking garage during a storm and watched a coal train pass. It was heading West so I guess it was going to the coal mines to be filled and then it would come back East to fuel the factories and the cars and all this stupid shitty environmental destruction and the factories would make money and the coal train would come back empty again. Back to be filled again, the hole in the mountain getting deeper and more painful until I guess eventually the mountain collapses I don’t really know because geology is more my sister’s thing. But I know a bit about how coal mining is this paradox because the Appalachian economy depends on it but at the same time it’s making Appalachia cave in on itself And the train just keeps emptying Appalachia so we can make the world a bit worse I guess it’s not really the train’s fault. It’s as much a vehicle for coal as for graffiti. For now, the train is empty and graffitied and going back and all I can hear or see or think about is it being empty and graffitied and going back and being empty and going back and my friend behind me has somehow tuned it out to talk about the storm and the dark sky that has taken a break from falling above us even though the train is right there empty and going back And in a few days or weeks it will come back this way and I will probably be gone by then but it will be full and graffitied and going back but the mountains will be there as they always have been but emptied and ravished and, for the sake of continuity, going black
“Back to be filled again, the hole
in the mountain getting deeper and more painful until I guess eventually the mountain collapses”
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Fall 2020 / 43
Barnyard CW: violence Scream at the break of every dawn. And at the dawn of every break, Woman. It is a fact that violence against you first is the most reliable red flag for more pain sprinting down the path. Learn to run barefoot, Woman. It is a fact that you can only prepare so much. Your sister will teach you to sew sandals, secret the leather-piercing needle in your breast. You are now a knife. Study the sows, woman. What are they but your other sisters with hanging, swollen breasts? Study the bulls. It is a fact that they are more than twice as expensive and without a cow a hundred percent for show. Study the rut and the mount and the pain, Woman. You know this to be yours. So study the red cock, insolent. The strut. Then speak! Un-silent the broken egg. The henhouse door crushed inward. The fat snake fed on child. The potential mourned. Study the pitchfork, woman. The revolt. If they raise a hand to you I will raise mine. We are sisters in a way. Weight your skirt with bullets, heavy And I will teach you to hold a gun. Punch the dough, woman. Learn from the barnyard Study the axe and the scream, Fight! Learn the sag of the red bird headless over your knee.
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the world got smaller
Fall 2020 / 45
Peach Season By the time they were done moving crates from the truck to the stall, Sarah’s boots and ankles were covered in the soft, silty mud that the morning mist had left behind. Little white pebbles were stuck in the treads of her shoes, leftovers from the parking lot they’d left their goods-laden truck in. She stood by the table a moment, breathing in the smell of dirt and grass and freshly made jams, before her mom dropped the last crate inside the tent. “God, it’s going to be miserable today.” She said, wiping the sweat from her brow. “Heaven forbid they put us anywhere but the middle of a swamp.” Sarah rolled her eyes. Her mother had a way of pulling drama out of every situation “Come on, Mom, it isn’t a swamp.” “Trust me, a couple more years and you’ll be complaining with the rest of us.” She paused for a beat, watching Sarah from the corner of her eye, before sighing. “Go ahead and set up the table, I’ll go see if Mary-Pat’s still selling that god-awful soap.” Sarah chuckled a little and got to work, the din of passing cars lulling her into a mechanical rhythm as she set out the crates of fruit and breads and other homemade items. At the edge of the circle of tents, she was surrounded by road on both sides, looking in at the market. It was a great view, and as she surveyed the day’s stalls Sarah lit her eyes on something much more interesting than apples and herbs. The “something” in question being, in this case, Carol Long’s daughter, who was setting up her own display of homemade pasta and sauces across the wide path from Sarah. Her name was Rachel, and Sarah hadn’t worked up the courage to talk to her yet. She’d perfected the art of messy brilliance, hair up in a bun with just the right amount of hair falling out, an old pair of overalls that had one strap slipping down over a white undershirt and knees that were ripped and stained with apparent use. Sarah was dying to know if she’d done that herself, if she’d fallen time and time again to look so perfect, or if she’d bought them along with her charm.
“Sarah was dying to know if she'd done that
herself, if she'd fallen time and time again to look so perfect, or if she'd bought them along with her charm.” Sarah tried to refocus, turning her back to Rachel and picking up the crate of peaches to arrange in the display. Peaches were her favorite- soft and sweet, always ready to bite into. They were almost intangible things, ready to turn to smoke the second you picked them. She picked one up, turning it in her hand. She wondered if her mom would notice if she kept this one for herself, sank her teeth into it and savored in the candy-tinged flavor of it, or if she’d— “How do you know if they’re ripe?” Rachel’s voice at her shoulder made Sarah suddenly glad for the years of her mom’s own surprising appearances that kept her from crushing the soft fruit between her fingers. She braced herself on the table, taking a moment to catch her breath before she turned to face Rachel, who had the corner of her lip turned up in what Sarah hoped was a smile. She tried to wrack her brain for what Rachel’d said in the first place, and came up with nothing. “What?” 46 / American Literary Magazine
“How do you know if they’re ripe?” Rachel gestured to the peach in Sarah’s hand. “Do you squeeze them?” “Squeeze them? I… I’m sorry. Are we talking about the peaches?” God, she felt like an idiot. She couldn’t string two thoughts together. But Rachel’s smile widened, devilish, the edges pulling up and exposing just the barest hint of teeth, catching Sarah off guard. It was the kind of smile, she felt sure, that could trick you into doing anything it asked. “Yes,” she said, “The peaches.” “You don’t squeeze peaches,” Sarah said. “It ruins them.” Rachel’s smile widened again, seeming to get a bit more playful. Maybe. Hopefully. “So how do you know, then?” “It’s, ah. It’s the wrinkles,” Sarah said, finally stringing her thoughts together. “You look for the wrinkles on top, next to the stem.” Sarah turned so they were both facing the same way, shoulder to shoulder, and moved the fruit toward Rachel. She was closer than Sarah had intended, or maybe Rachel had moved and Sarah hadn’t noticed. Either way, this was getting far more intimate than she was prepared to deal with. She soldiered on. “Here at the edge, see? It means it’s ready.” For a moment, neither of them said anything. Sarah moved her head slightly, watching Rachel, waiting for something, anything to signal the end of this trance. The silence stretched on forever, the heat of the day building between them. Rachel turned, cheeks flushed, mouth open, ready to speak– “I hope you’re not giving away our peaches.” The spell, it seemed, was broken. Her mom was back from gossiping, and the magic of the moment flowed away like floodwater after a storm. The two of them jerked apart, Sarah pulled the peach behind her back, and her mom clicked her tongue in displeasure. “Really, Sarah. I would’ve thought you’d be done setting up by now.” Her mom wove through the empty boxes back behind the table, moving away the leftover containers while Rachel offered platitudes, retreating back to her own goods. The first patrons started trickling in, asking questions, testing the fruit. Between the patrons, Rachel looked up from across the path, catching Sarah’s eye. And for a moment, Sarah could have sworn she saw her smile.
Fall 2020 / 47
loves Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been in love before, warmth of a friendship mistaken a love unfulfilled with a kiss a flame snuffed, gone cold warm amber crystallized into stone Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been in love before though not like this with heartstrings pulled taught, tangled with those of another the push, pull as a bow slides across their violinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s face a melody created and met with harmony and played on, unceasing
She Named Him Egg Medium Statement: yarn
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Fall 2020 / 49
To Be Retitled I wake to music. Too early. Pale dawn still creeps through my window. A trumpet sings to me from the other room. I do not want to be awake yet. My day begins in anger. I can feel it in my throat. I dress quickly to leave in haste. Out on the street, the notes ring slow across cobbled ground. Buildings reach for the sky all around. They are sleepwalking children caught up in a dream. In that dream, they are trees. It is the sun they reach for. The trumpet’s sounds still drift to me from the corner window a few steps away, a few storeys up. I rush on. My day is long in summer’s heat. I will not return home until I see leaves skitter through the street caught in a breeze leaving this square with the sinking sun. A new trumpet will sing to me from a corner that is not ours. The trumpet’s eyes will meet with mine across empty space. A fleeting moment will pass. The sun will sink lower, lower, lower still. Our will gazes break. The trumpet will sing on. I return home when the sky has gone golden. Your notes ring slow across empty air. From your ears to mine and back again. The song comes to an end. Flesh reaches for flesh. We settle into each other. The quiet sounds of skin pressing against skin seep into the space around us. The room takes a slow plunge into darkness. We lean into each other on our tattered couch in our tattered home gazing at all the other tattered pieces of our tattered lives.
“Again,” words had never come easier to lips.
“Again.” Some other trumpet sings on. We pay no mind.
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Madeleine in B&W
he plucks barbs from a self-made crown pricks with thorns creates a skin of burrs and barbs anoints in his blood placing it onto others hands builds his own cross and calls us romans but despite myself i worry as he crafts his own judas
Fall 2020 / 51
claiming space I lean on the river; the sounds of the water, birds and tree’s liberate like anesthesia
my phone vibrates.
the flows drown out the electricity tight folds blankened in roaring fog I’m strong, it’s not my call, it’s not my life
I light a cigarette.
Peace on earth is an exhale that holds for the sunset my blank stare is strength, holding it in.
my phone vibrates.
and my phone vibrates.
and my phone vibrates.
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Patchwork Quilt Medium Statement: yarn
Fall 2020 / 53
Fruit Punch Crimson. Like the colorful Kool-Aid that reminds me of childhood cookouts. Still staining the plump lips of Gods and Goddesses, tattooing tongues that dangle with joy. Sugary. Like my mother who sits carelessly, helping herself to humorous heaps of sweetener in any drink, even Fruit Punch. Tainted. When He crept out from behind the curtains of abandonment for one summer. Handing me a bottle of Red Poison that used to be my favorite, But no longer quenching my thirst during the unbearably humid July that he chose only to guest star in. No more fitting, The Antagonist. This memory. Creeps to the forefront of my mind as I stumble out of the drugstore, a bright red Turkey Hill bottle cradled by my worn brown fingers. Today. I try and take a taste and I cannot help but choke. What comes out is Crimson. like Bitter Blood.
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For some reason, this makes me miss middle school gym, but I wish it didn't. Fall 2020 / 55
Medium Statement: digital photograph
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Claude Monet's The Red Kerchief Artist Statement: The painting is of the artistsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; first wife, Camille Monet, who is said to have died from Uterine cancer which is rumoured to have been caused by a poorly done abortion.
The woman who looks back at me is not quite a woman at all but more an impression of one, of what a woman should be. Her face is not really a face. Through the time warp of a glass door it becomes the head of a baby perched upon the neck of a mourning mother. And around that head draped across shoulders is a kerchief of pure red. Blood red. The blood that fills a womb right up until it spills over, red wine on my grandmotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s best tablecloth. Does her blood look differently than mine? Did it hurt when they took the child out? Or only after? When they shipped her off to the countryside to rest, to lighten, to roam the fields with her parasol swinging along behind her. While the artist found a different woman to carry his children. And I wonder, does it feel lonesome when something that was once empty, once full, is now empty again? And if I took off that kerchief, the one made of blood, What would I find?
Fall 2020 / 57
Before Manchester The phone rang twice and my grandfather picked up. Nothing normal, but nothing particularly abnormal. My grandmother was with her society. She was in two societies of elderly women and I don’t remember which one met on Wednesdays. He had worked today. He would not work tomorrow. Apparently, he never worked Thursdays, but I didn’t remember that either. My grandfather was not one for conversation, in English or Deutsch. Tomorrow I was headed to Manchester, I reminded him. Or more likely, I told him for the first time, and I told him to pass along the message. Distance makes my grandmother nervous. For the first eighteen years of my life, I lived a six-hour drive away and saw her twice a year. For the last two, I lived a six-hour flight away and saw her twice a year. Yet having me on the opposite coast was something to worry about, as was my travel, so worry she did. On Thursday I arrived in Manchester with too many suits and not enough snow clothes. By Wednesday I was back in Washington. I sat through a class in which I did not learn anything, then phoned my mother. All was never well, but most was usually good enough. Yes, I was glad to be back. Yes, I had enjoyed myself. Yes, the snow was cold. Then the yesses stopped. When you hear words like cancer, the okays begin. Okay. Will he be okay? I am okay. Are you okay? He sounded okay. He had realized right on time. He quit his job the day I called but hadn’t bothered to tell anyone. In fact, he made a point of attempting
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not to bother anyone, ever. He drove himself to the hospital. He was ready for retirement, at 83. He was not in a rush, he was just efficient. He said he had lived a long time and had seen a lot of things. I suppose this was true. He had seen the Schwartzwald, and the Vierwaldstättersee, and the Atlantic, and America, and Beverly Hills, and the people of Beverly Hills who claimed to have seen the world. He had seen Brazil when I was seven and he said it was the trip of a lifetime. And I suppose if you declare a trip the trip of a lifetime, you don’t need any more trips. But I had crossed a country to cross states in the span of mere days. The width of America had never seemed very far until suddenly it was too long and I had realized too late.
“The width of America
had never seemed very far until suddenly it was too long and I had realized too late.”
perpetual, like pretty much every day
Fall 2020 / 59
Stacked in Color 60 / American Literary Magazine
I dream a dream Strawberry juice drips down your chin Chocolate coats your lips You ask if thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s anything on your face. Our kiss is sticky and sweet. I wanted to know what you taste like. I want to know what you taste like. My spine tingling with your breath. My fingers tracing your veins. A thousand chocolate kisses. None at all.
Painting in the Sand Fall 2020 / 61
Thoughts from Late Summer It’s a bitter feeling, waking up with you lodged in my chest. I choke down everything I’m not saying until the words feel like broken glass in my throat. A year ago, I’d wake up 2,000 miles away and be able to say: “I miss you,” and we both know what it meant. I miss you: I adore you, I want to marry you, I wish you were here, I love you. But today I woke up ten miles away, and I didn’t text you, but if I did it would have said: “I miss you,” meaning I’m lonely, I want to wake up next to someone, I’m not mad anymore, I’m sorry. I think “I miss you” is the placeholder for everything we thought we’d have more time to say. You sat in our coffee shop waiting for me, but I’d be across the country by the time I knew you wanted to meet me. I baked in that parking lot for hours, sweating out Bacardi and tears, and throwing up everything I didn’t say. You said you hated me, and that made it all the more real. What would’ve happened if I told you not to see her that night at the bungalow by the water? Would I leave behind the memory of you saying you’d come home to me after? What would’ve happened if when you cried at my feet, I knelt next to you and said,”yes, baby, I’ll stay?” They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. But I lay here, reminiscing on the feeling of your lips on my neck and your hand on my cheek... a feeling I’ve had before and never will again. It’s agony. You cannot miss what you have not felt. I wish I never felt you.
Walk on Film No.1
Fall 2020 / 63
Blind 64 / American Literary Magazine
Numbers CW: eating disorder 24: the average number of ribs in a human body, 24 or 12 sets. you run your fingers over them reverently, as if they were something holy. To feel them, to assure yourself that you still can, is. 2: the number of wrists two of your fingers can encircle. they shouldn’t, but a mix of pleasure-pain ignites with this knowledge. 1,200 or, if you like, 2,000: the number of calories you allow(ed) yourself to have in a day. the numbers you check, double check, triple check. an egg. usually around 60-70. breakfast. around 300. numbers that measure the value of your day, whether the night is spent rigid with anxiety. ???. the number of fear foods on your list. it’s a lot, that you know. ice cream. white bread. the things that go bump in the night. 0. members of your family who helped. you try not to take this personally. many days it’s easy to. you’re not sure whether that’s a good thing. 1. someone who helps now. and this, this is personal. sometimes you’re sure your heart will burst from your chest, crack with how hard it aches. 3: the number of hours spaced between each time you eat, a shackle of an obsessive-compulsivity, cinched tight and chafing around a brain held captive. 3 + 2: 3 meals, 2 snacks. a nutritionist told you these numbers years ago, when an illness forced acknowledgment of your bones, the soul that threatened to slip unnoticed between the ridges of ribs and through the hollows of cheeks. 85-105: three years with this accomplishment to your name, not enough, you know you know, but you have been stuck standing on this plateau since college began, stuck watching as time passed below the mountain you found yourself stalled upon, watched as climbers passed you. they ask if you’re trapped there, offer their tools for a while, but you take this break and watch.
Fall 2020 / 65
Molly and Julie! I hope you get the reference. 66 / American Literary Magazine
To Jean, Best of Luck ---- The Girls The locket’s a mess—no amount of Hagerty’s muck can buff it back to its former wink of gold, and I can’t say I remember her voice. It’s empty. the words engraved on the outside make me laugh. To Jean, Best of Luck. —The Girls I know The Girls. They have bright cheeks and poise, sweater sets and sorority flair, slender ankles, teeth white as tea ware, too much perfume, no shadows in their eyes. The Girls sweep their hips when they walk, aware their skirts embrace them with flattering love. The Girls leave lipstick stains, caressing them off with monogrammed handkerchiefs. The Girls whisper about babies, how many they’ll have, and what they’ll do to get them. The Girls. So dear. I can hear their voices clucking with affection, Best of Luck, Best of Luck!
Fall 2020 / 67
Nothing Happens Tour Artist Statement: The Wallows on tour in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
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sometimes i think i want to play and other times i just want to think Medium Statement: 35 mm film
Fall 2020 / 69
I Cut Myself Opening a Jam Jar CW: harm I thought the blood was jam. When I washed it off it stung. Beestings beneath the skinâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; cleaning wounds hurts just as much as gifting them.
"when things calm down" is just a lore Medium Statement: 35 mm film
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untitled Fall 2020 / 71
"China Town." First pass the gate keeping of culture turned new Open Door “for friendship this time.” Arches replace archenemies to partners to governments to people going and people coming for the food that they know “isn’t real.” Fake China dolls, serving patrons at restaurants stuffed with kung pao chicken, Beijing duck and culture vultures who demand “Authenticity”: Bitter greens, bitter labor, Yellow Peril, Red Scare, Dragon Ladies and dog-eaters in a dog-eat-dog world.
72 / American Literary Magazine
401 YEARS IN 08:46 for eight minutes and forty-six seconds the white man applied pressure: systemic oppression manifested as murder for sport in broad daylight. his limbs the noose, his badge the white hood. as if squashing a bug with the sole of his foot. but to feel entitled enough to rob the Black man of the air he breathes for the melanin he wears is to uphold a pattern, a default, a system– not an isolated event. for over four hundred years this is america. built on the backs of a people deemed 3/5 of a person, while the white man kneels and stands on a country molded by Black hands and the rest of us sat idly by. in textbooks and classrooms, we learn about racism as a ghost of the past. slavery and segregation: maybe yesterday’s problem, but not tomorrow’s and certainly, not one that’ll last.
we dilute how barbaric was the white man’s reign and chalk it up to an archaic savior complex or a plague with a definitive end rather than some type of relay. but we continue to exploit Black culture the same way white men pillaged Africa for their slaves. in policies’ fine print, they reiterate just how embedded the oppression really is. Black bodies remain the currency, and their markets merely mimic the times to try to make us forget: whether jim crow or 13th amendment– endless names for the same fix, feigning evolution as they buy politicians’ silence. race is only divisive because the oppressors made it so. under american soil, roots intertwine with weeds, the archetype of resilient and powerful perverted to dangerous and diseased. planted there by the people in power all to suffocate the Black man’s potential.
so, for eight minutes and forty-six seconds the white man killed for sport, applied pressure on A Dream Deferred. unable to fathom how it would explode.
Fall 2020 / 73
wite-out: quick dry correction fluid how can i walk the lengths of my mind if i lose a piece of myself with every breath you take half-eaten toast the lilacs have begun their decent joining the earthworms in their decay and yet the roses, a pale yellow in full bloom i’ll surrender my lungs if you trade in your amygdala for my aching parietal lobe i blacked out the last time we talked the cracks in the pavement are inviting me and i wonder if i might join them in their thoughtless slumber the future has a vacancy and i can’t help but hope won’t you check in but then i wonder if i can wipe you clean but the clock is analog and i don’t forget stop looking at me.
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painting with light Medium Statement: film
Fall 2020 / 75
Dancing Man's Trash 76 / American Literary Magazine
A Better Future Is Possible A better future is possible. And on quiet nights I can hear her, But mostly she’s silent. Every evening she stands at the end of the dock, skipping rocks over our heads. When the sea overwhelms us, which it will, I think, she will swim in bristling eddies of saltwater around our monuments. She will drink the air we can no longer breathe. A better future is possible And on clear nights I can see her, But mostly she’s obscured. She’s naked in the rolling hills Laughing too loud at things that are not funny. When the fires come for us, which they will, I think, She’s going to stand out in the open, burning dark. She will scorch the air we can no longer breathe. A better future is possible. And when I’m kind to myself I can taste her But mostly she’s sour, Or worse, she’s got the bloody sting of pennies on her lips. When the hours overwhelm us, which they will, I think, She’ll be standing in the streets, palms turned up, begging in the air we can no longer breathe.
A better future is possible and some nights I stay up like a maniac scribbling her six hundred names like a love letter, I think. But mostly I am silent. Mostly I am obscured, sour. Just a little out of reach, but I promise. A better future is possible. On quiet nights I can hear her. She is writing a song and we’ll remember how to sing.
are a morse code sign for hope.”
A better future is possible And on the bravest nights I can reach out and touch her. But usually she is just a bit too far Her skin is warm on my fingertips. Her freckles are a Morse code sign for hope. When the faithless drown us out, which they will, I think. She will go down fighting. She will still be howling, hauling in and out the air we cannot breathe.
Fall 2020 / 77
2013 - Present CW: sexual assault
when i look into her eyes in the mirror we are two: a frightened girl, a defeated adult
such an innocuous word things that make mattresses bounce coils kids love to leap upon so why is it that when i think of bedsprings my face is pushed into textile marks upon my [cheeks] there is [wet] eve r y wh e r e deafening with my ear pressed against them they scream runrunrun there is no running from this there is only endure tomorrow they will scream again every night they scream for my missing tongue
we shift apart in these moments these gaps in time when i can see her she flits through my memories dancing across trauma refusing to stay still for too long tonight i watched her in the mirror tear tracks sliding d o w n her cheeks and i watch as she washes her hands: washwashwashwash d r y washwashwashwash d r y they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t come clean not to her, anyways they shake maybe one more try washwashwashwash d r y as two become one again i know they will never come clean
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III. indefinite shame creeps into my throat lodging itself with my tonsils, wedging itself into my trachea. i failed her. we were one once. we will never be one again. she is she and i am me. she was brave- she endured and i watched her die in my arms, watched her last shaking breaths leave her tiny frame. when i try to remember her now a summer storm’s haze falls over my memories. what did she like? what were her dreams? who were her friends? i may have failed her. she is dead and i am alive. but he will never touch her again. and maybe that’s better than living.
“a summer storm’s haze falls over my memories.”
Fall 2020 / 79
niĂąos de las montaĂąas (mountain boys) Medium Statement: film
80 / American Literary Magazine
My Hair Still Smells Like Firepit My hair still smells like firepit My eyes still burn from embers that escaped and pressed against my cheeks Those smoky, rustic nights where all you see is within the small circle And there is no angst of seething darkness just over your shoulder Look across and see the fire’s reflection in someone’s eyes as they swap anecdotes like baseball cards The smoke always topples onto one unfortunate body who then tugs at their hoodie and pulls it down over their mouth and nose and eyes and coughs and laughs and complains “it’s always me— Always”
In winter, there’s always one unable to grapple with the bitter wind who leans in tantalizing the flames to lick their nose Come summer, that same one patiently leans in and with nimble fingers rotates a marshmallow on a stick never allowing it to be consumed charcoal black All this within the small circle Temps chaos and disorder and petty feuds But that weighted night never slithers in with all the focus on the light within the small circle’s center
The one firekeeper pokes and prods the ignited log unsettling the cinders who shoot more ashes straight to the Heavens
Fall 2020 / 81
back-up i know all the way outs. exits on either side of the row, and hallways all lead to the same place. roads going home, or at least, the closest approximation of home. ease of comfort is just. too simple. life is supposed to be a bit more complex than finding the closest stairwell down. because I could get to the lowest floor before you, and you know Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve often got it in me to do so as well. sometimes it feels easier to take the elevator, than to jump out a window. but sometimes I just desire the air, and sometimes I crave the feeling of the ground closer and closer and too close.
Pins and needles This time I’m on a plain. The ground is tan with the thick texture of pins and needles. Like a carpet I can see but never touch. Does that make sense? Around me is much of nothing. Somewhere in the distance, the horizon hovers. I’m having a hard time telling what’s real, but yes: It’s shaking, just slightly. The whole world takes on the color of a photograph at dusk, a sky of baby blue, fading light frozen. In front of me is a set of columns the size of a house. Four great white tubes, their edges undefined, as though seen through intense heat. Stone, decorated Tuscan-style with unadorned cap and pedestal. They spring from the hazy earth, incisors from God’s underbite. It’s hard to talk through fucked-up teeth. I walk toward the columns. I’m wearing leather sandals. You might be wearing nothing. My face drifts to them, ever closer. A sound emanates from overhead, like the whoosh of a thousand far-off airplanes. With my lips an inch from the stone, I open my mouth wide and bite down. The surface crumbles in my jaw. It has no taste, but it triggers a memory: My grandfather bounces me on his knee, sitting on the carpeted stairs at the old house, the one with the garden built from railroad ties, the one that weathered the changing century and turned to dust.
“With my lips an inch from the stone, I open my mouth wide and bite down.” The dust coats my tongue now. I suck air through my nose and blow the wet mass out of my mouth. It hits the air and dissolves back into the column. That was my moment, my clarity. Time to leave. The thousand airplanes are in the room with me, roaring like a house fire. The hazy air is clearer every second, the columns’ outline becomes tangible. They speed toward the horizon and I am the tablecloth yanked from beneath the plates, pulled backward with sudden and immense force. As the blood leaves my brain, I think again of my grandfather and the carpet on the stairs, thick as pins and needles.
Fall 2020 / 83
Á¿ Freed CW: suicide, overdose i watched a man shake to death once. but i couldn’t quite see his face– so afraid of his own identity, they say his haste begot waste. it began with a small shiver, slinking down the nape of his neck. then the ticks turned to tremors, a sight i can all but forget. his shoulder blades jerked forward every hair on his body stood tall, every muscle drawn into his torso as if to say “brace yourselves” for his fall. sounding chopin’s funeral march, it erupted swiftly from there. his nerves: the strings of a grand piano, struck by hammers mishandled with care. his convulsions mimicked the melody, the notes increasing in volume; hunched over, he moved but as one entity, a trembling waltz in a lonely ballroom. i’m not certain when he drew his last breath, for his body decelerated from an earthquake of action to complete and utter stillness, he paused– a whole human being broken down into fractions. the shaking subsided and what was left in its place was the hollowed shell of a man, whose limbs refused to relax, relinquish their space. as loyal guards to his being, they stood stiff at their stations a suicide suspended in time perhaps they stay for his vindication.
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looking up Medium Statement: colored pencil on paper
Fall 2020 / 85
Clandestine Meetings CW: abuse She saw him everywhere. She imagined his reaction to everything. Sometimes when a boy in class told a joke, she could hear his sarcastic remark echoing in her ear. She knew his whisper so perfectly that her body could almost replicate the sensation of hearing it – the goosebumps rising, heart rate picking up. It wasn’t real, of course. But it was almost, almost him. They hadn’t been together long. Months before, he claimed, she hadn’t even noticed him at an ice cream social. She promised it hadn’t been her – she hated school events and, of course, she would have noticed him had she been there. But eventually, it became part of their mythology – evidence that what they were doing was right, was fated. That he had met her before she met him. That he had been attracted to her for longer than she even knew. She liked that. It gave her some power back, some control over him. It was almost an upper hand, the implication that he had pined for her. She told herself these things, these stories. But there was always part of her that remembered the truth. She hadn’t been at the ice cream social. He was thinking of a different girl. Sitting on a bus, pale reflection in the dark window, she had a letter in her hand. This was it. She knew it was over, it had been over months now. She was even seeing someone else, a boy from her literature class who was just there for the general education requirement, but he did like to read, he said, that first day of class. He told her how he liked learning in general. The first time they had sex, instead of hurried buttoning and yelling at her for making him do this, the boy from class told her about his country’s political situation. She liked learning too. Or she always used to like learning. They weren’t quite together but were getting more and more tangled together. String that may eventually form shape to a them. But she was dating a boy, a boy who thought she was kind, that she could make her own decisions with confidence. The boy from her class could be a start her friends promised – to get over the other. He thought she was totally herself. She thought he was almost, almost someone else.
“She thought he was almost, almost someone else.” If sitting on the bus, the letter in her hand on that bus was the end of the end, the bus not a bus but Death’s chariot carrying her forward, then there was a beginning of the end. That beginning must have been, she thought, her lateness. That had been spring. In March, the season had arrived with flowers blooming and pollen falling around them like sparks, burning their skin. Each time he had made love to her that spring he burned her, leaving purple-blue marks as a constant reminder that a man loved her. The spring was fast but so were they, the spring was hot and wet and full of new growth. So were they. She asked if they could move in together. His eyes burned her. April was next, an unsettled month where 86 / American Literary Magazine
he held her so tight, afraid the wind and change would take her away. She told him they were growing something together inside her. But not every new flower survives April’s storms, and by the end of the month, it was just the two of them. He was happy – happy to have her to himself. She was lost. He didn’t notice. Not until final grades came in May. That was the middle of the end. He had rarely brought her to his home, but she had gone there herself many times, had memorized the bus route that brought her right to his doorstep. She had memorized his goodbye to her, memorized her final goodbye to him. The letter in her hand was written not only on paper but on the weak walls of her heart. None of her friends knew she was doing this, but then none of them knew that he had loved her. They had agreed telling people would be wrong, he’d lose tenure, his job, his fragile new start with his wife. She would lose everything too. The embarrassment would be too much, especially since really she had pursued him. She did, in the end, lose almost, almost everything. She wasn’t brave enough to ring the doorbell, to try and burn him with silence and a look like he had to her. The letter was placed as carefully as a baby in the mailbox. She would never know if he read it. But she knew what she said. He never really loved her. She never really knew him.
The womb I’m in the back of a jet-black limousine, speeding through a cityscape. All the buildings are identical. Billboards glow and hover and entice, bound to brick walls. Every window is a dark mouth, but their voices are caught behind bars. No one comes in, nothing comes out. From inside, the soft pulse of an imagined heartbeat. While in the womb, the flow of blood itself can be heard. It swishes with each beat like wine through my teeth. The womb was warm and soft, inside I saw only daylight. From the back of the limousine, I see only the night. The tires run across rainwater. Many nights, their even hiss lulls me to sleep. Water on the windows. A glass box looms into view, casting omnidirectional light. We have arrived. Clouds press against its transparent walls, backlit with what can only be called sunbeams. They dance in a breeze I can’t feel. Between the clouds, a sky of deep blue. This is what it looked like inside another kind of womb. An old man is here too, staring at the glass box, the artificial sky. He cries openly. The limousine idles behind, but tonight I decide to walk. Back in the dark, I hear nothing.
Fall 2020 / 87
Your Toxic Performance of Femininity is Upsetting The Homegirls
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coulda shoulda woulda (a poem about the secret love between Mr. Grange and Mr. Morrison) CW: suicide, blood If i knew the dog could bite the hand that fed it? i would’ve been halfway to Texas by the day he died i never would’ve sworn blood dries fast but my face was still wet by the time the ambulance got there one bullet. behind the temple. in one ear and out the other like every damn thing i ever told him. the slug came through bone and into our front window shattered it from the outer looks of it it was on its way to wound the sunset a lead stone versus a star funny that man never knew how to pick his battles. i was facing him, too saw the life leave his eyes and escape from his lips like cigar smoke and i smelled it— death— the scent was metallic and warm fresh and raw like maggots in an open wound.
the police showed up car doors were slamming as i hid the few pictures of us in the vent behind the couch i tried to stop the blood from splattering as i answered the door i tried to act the right amount of distraught my voice sounded weak and far off just like on the 911 call. i told them he was my best friend and that his head had never sat quite right and it got the better of him that’s what i said then there was nothing left. the coroner came and got him he left me dish soap for the bloodstains on the couch mopped my floors for me gave me the number for the funeral home “thank you, Mr.Morrison. again. i’m sorry for your loss” the door closed i got into the shower and threw my clothes into the fireplace the smell filled the room once again metallic and warm a smoking gun.
maggots are just little babies trying to survive and that’s what our love felt like his and mine like i said i would’ve been halfway to Texas but that bastard and his words that bitch would write verses on napkin corners he was full of it and i loved him like maggots love open wounds.
Fall 2020 / 89
The first time I saw my mother cry I was sitting in a hospital bed with white walls surrounding me, a velour coffin fluorescents crisping my brain. Somewhere in that coiled up eight year old body, clad only in a medical gown the ice of hospital air conditioning biting at my bones, I believed that she could not deny me when I said: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Mommy, take me home.â&#x20AC;? I, who had been mixed up in the essence of her soul who had sat like a bird on her shoulder all throughout her life. I, who had been nothing but an idea, floating in space then nestling in the warmth of her womb until I came out to meet her at the end of a hospital bed. Where we meet now. And I was right, she could not deny me. Instead, she cried.
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Don't You Know? The fish is akin to the hook. He dreams of itâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; of metal flesh, serrated teeth in a line. The waves cradle and deliver him to the mouth of sleep.
grace Medium Statement: darkroom photography
Fall 2020 / 91
In Conversation Riddhi Setty
Whitman the Travelling Mystic Are you and I alike, Walt Whitman? Connected by an ancient stream of thought That we have claimed to both Believe and not believe in. Do the ghungroo on my ankles Seem familiar? Does their tinkle trigger Memories of another? Can you be of a place Where your feet have never Touched the soil And your lungs have never Breathed the air? I suppose I cannot question you, I understand the confusion. I too contradict myself. I know what it is like to exist As many people inside the same person. I know you are a mystic And I am just a human, But I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t help but wonder If you lie awake at night Just as I do, wondering. Who you are, Where your soul came from, And where it will go next.
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Song of the Pandemic It is strange to stay rooted in one place for this long, I am unaccustomed. I wonder if I will still appreciate this, Waking up to sunlight on my face and birds chirping, Twenty-one days later. Peculiar, seas of people reduced to three. Dog included. I guess we take it all for granted. Who wouldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve thought this would happen, not I. I suppose history really does have a way of repeating itself. There are people I have not spoken to in over a year. Some I never expected to speak to again. Fear has a way of bringing us together. I guess that is my silver lining. Knowing they were never really gone. My mother will fill my inbox with hundreds of emails Though she is now but a room away. I guess it is her way of pretending things are not different, That I have not changed. I guess we do not know how to figure out where this leaves us But time is on our side, and we will make it out eventually I painted yesterday. I baked a cake. And scones. Filled pages with my dreams. These are things I have not done in a while. It makes me feel like a version of myself I did not know I had lost. I realize I have been her echo for a while now. I did not know I had the capacity to be so many people, That I had died this many times already. I suppose I will die again. Change is sweeping, It is quiet. I do not see It coming, I do not know where It leaves me. Many of the people I love are now halfway around the world. I will not see them in person for several months. I wonder if I will be different, or if they will. Maybe we both will. I wonder if we will still fit together.
Fall 2020 / 93
By the time I return, my skin will have replaced itself four times over. Soon it will not have brushed against the cherry blossoms, Will not have hugged the people it recognizes, Will not know your touch. But it will remember. And so will I. Sometimes, I go stir crazy. Whitman would look at me in disgust if he knew, For his being does not permit him to take loafing as anything but necessary, And mine does not permit me to take it as anything but a waste of time. Maybe he would agree with me if I explained the generational change. Maybe I would agree with him if my body hadn’t forgotten what it means to slow down. I spend my days in other people’s stories. In the pages of another’s adventure, The reel of someone else’s heartbreak, The pause of my own. I realize that this is still my story. I simply do not yet know how to write it.
Silver spoon All around my body, space and stardust. I might find myself inside a watercolor, the splatters of bleeding purple along the Milky Way. My arms have grown thick hair, it bobs in the strange fluid of the magnetosphere. High above the Earth, every color of infinity breathes small breaths. I write these words with a silver spoon. It’s concealed in my cheek, where no one will ever see it. The Earth, blue green brown, spins beneath my feet. Continental Europe has rotated into view. From these heights, last century’s machine-gun fire is still audible. Off the trenches, each discharge a throaty pop. Warm and resonant in the chest. Elsewhere, someone beats a drum. There’s screaming, too: surrounding everything, roller coaster rides and the collapse of giant things, wrapped like a blanket. I hesitate to call this harmony. A tree grows here, but it is difficult to see. Most people only glimpse it a few times in their lives, after the birth of a child, after drinking with an old friend, after a torrential rainfall, after very good sex. This tree inhabits the dead mind, follows the exchange of something momentous: the fluids, the new breath, and, later, silence. I struggle to grasp this on the best day. This is not the best day. Luckily, an owl lives in the tree-branches and is much less philosophical. She speaks only about the weather, no matter what, always says it’s been strange. She smiles when she says this. Silently, I wonder if she also carries a silver spoon, if everyone does.
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Artist’s Statement: I had just finished watching “Call Me by Your Name,” a movie that heavily resonated with me, and I wanted to recreate the atmosphere I felt from some of its scenes. Elio and Oliver, the two main characters, would often use the morning to hold intimate conversations, so I stayed up all night and waited for the aquamarine blue that signaled that the sun was inching its way toward the horizon.
Blue Sunrise II
Fall 2020 / 95
river dolphin Medium Statement: film
96 / American Literary Magazine
Last Words If December falls and we’re not talking, just know that I’m sorry. Just know that I slept with the volume up on my phone in case you called. If I could say one last thing, I’d apologize for being so selfish, But then I’d ask you to leave a voicemail, say you love me and mean it. I have some poetry books on my night table that I’ve been meaning to send to you; Peonies pressed between the pages since I promised myself I wouldn’t send bouquets. I became the best version of myself by loving you, and I hope you get to meet her one day. By the time you read this, I hope we’re okay.
Wherever You Want
Fall 2020 / 97
It was a mistake – an inkblot on paper.
Your words slipped, gliding off your tongue and falling onto my bare, pale chest. Soon the droplet spread, seeping slowly into my fibrous skin, claiming and transforming the surface, leaving something new, something different. I would have thought the ink to be cold, an unforgiving stain, but it was warm – a fresh tattoo kissed onto my skin. The sheets were crumbled, tucked under the curves of our skin, pulled and shifted to mold our aching bodies. It was not comfortable, but neither of us would dare move from the off-white folds that kept us grounded. In the air I could smell a fresh cup of tea, Earl Grey, fixed at the bedside, emitting a soft trail of steam that lost itself in the atmosphere. I feel myself drifting towards the smell, clean and calm. Revitalizing. You were an Earl Grey situation. A keep-the-bag-in-the-mug kind of choice. Though I didn’t need the caffeine, I still tipped my head back and felt the steaming liquid trail down my throat. I smiled through fogged glasses; my vision disoriented from the heat of the drink. Through momentary blindness, the world seemed clear. In those short seconds I knew seeing was not believing, but that belief was mystified lenses and Earl Grey tea with two scoops of raw sugar. It was always two scoops, and always raw. When preparing my tea, I would slide the silverware drawer open with a musical clang and my fingers would dance over the cool metal, tickling the handles until I found the daintiest spoon. Gingerly, I would open the mason jar holding the browned sugar crystals, twisting it slowly and uncapping it, letting the sweetness float into my nose.
Raw sugar. It had to be raw. Generic
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granulated gems could never shine as bright. Fake sugar left a bitter taste on my tongue. This wasn’t artificial, nor some diner sugar packet, stacked up into castles built only to fall. This was a hoard of crystals, mineral jewels creating a mountain of transcendent confection. The moths liked the sugar, I think. It was sweet like summertime. As a little girl, I was told I would feel butterflies circling, fluttering slightly, tickling my pink insides gently. Romantic words poured idyllic scenes into my mind of green grass and laughter. I bathed in them, nearly drowned, as I swam in the water of those words, basking as droplets of false perceptions of passion cascaded from my brow. My hair weighed heavy with those hopeless daydreams and concocted fantasies. It started when you brushed my hand that night. You looked anywhere but me, finding intrigue in the off-white sheets, their folds and wrinkles, the dirty clothes on the floor I forgot to pick up, even the paint chipped ceiling. First a brush, then a grip. Maybe that was when the ink drops first fell, waking the moths from their slumber. I only felt two sensations at that moment, sweaty palms and the moths, eating away at the walls I had put up, just as they ate holes through the burnt orange sweater in the back of my closet. You hate the color orange. Brown and ugly, I adored the moths. They were real – real like raw sugar dissolved in my Earl Grey tea. Real like the crumpled sheets absorbing my aching body. The holes they created made me light, removing the excess weight and allowing me to float as though trapped in the most ineffable dream. They drained my hair of all
the picturesque scenes of chocolate-covered strawberries and fake sugar. I began to float away and refused to come down until your grip tightened, pulling me back into the entanglement of sheets. The words spilled out of you then and left the inkblot on my chest. As I melded back into the bed, the tattoo formed right above my breast and looked something like a butterfly. I took a few sips of my tea and peered at it once more through fogged glasses. What a beautiful mistake this inkblot was â&#x20AC;&#x201C; beautiful and real.
Fall 2020 / 99
Butterflies in the Winter and The Echo of Wings Butterflies in the Winter
It’s fall now
I have butterflies in the winter
My insides are twisted
And this time it took the butterflies for the ride
My heart skips a beat when I see him
No time for hugs or goodbyes
I get nervous for no reason
Spring came and brought along clouds
My thoughts flutter a mile a minute
That loom and linger
With possibilities, with questions
With no sign of leaving
The sun peeks out once in awhile
With a glimpse of hope
I have butterflies in the winter
Or perhaps just a reminder of what is now
My hand entwined in his
out of sight
And I don’t want to let go
The butterflies have flown away
My heart skips a beat
And didn’t say if they were coming back
It’s almost spring
My heart is beating
And I just hope
It’s fall now
the butterflies don’t fly away
And all that’s left is the echoes of their wings
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Fall 2020 /101
The Eye of the Storm 102 / American Literary Magazine
dandelions the cracks in the pavement are enticing me, whispering their languid lullabies coaxing caterpillars, higher climbing with timeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; passing, becoming butterflies. the solitude swaddles me in its calm the damp earth grounding me in easy rest darkness is tugging my eyelids in compliance to the dirt, resigning my chest. but the darkness is a lonely place, and my thoughts have become too loud, iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m choking on habit and comfort, i cannot stand my sunken paradise is corroding. and yet i raise my head to the low light rising from the ground gasping, i take flight.
Fall 2020 /103
Missed Messages CW: eating disorder MOM > --------------------Today 8:40 AM I haven’t been truthful with you the past few months. Not you, not anyone. Every time I try the words stick like so much food in my throat, choking me until the moment’s passed and it’s too late to revisit the diner topic we were on before the bread went the wrong way, swallowing my words instead of being swallowed itself. -------------------Today 9:00 AM We leave the topic untouched like so much food on a plate. You let me. I’m not blaming you, or maybe I am, or maybe I’m blaming myself, or maybe I’m blaming everything. We don’t talk about it. Not even when you saw more than your 17-year-old daughter. When you saw the gaunt lines of age creased carefully into her face, like so many folds in that belonging to your mother. When the numbers listed off when, as a child, she would grip fast to your hand as the pediatrician marked her in a percentile, healthy and whole, were read out again with the doctor’s pencil falling below the line. -------------------Today 9:30 AM I love you. You love me. I think that’s why I never spoke, why you never prodded. From birth, I was your golden girl, docile and sweet when the others weren’t. Soft-spoken, sensitive. I think you worried you would lose me. It didn’t matter that you were losing me anyway, you willed yourself to ignore the physical to preserve the emotional connection we had. Even if my body wasted, no longer the chubby child you held close and read to, what you wanted most of all was to still love and be loved. I don’t blame you for that. I kept silent, allowed you to crow about how healthy your daughter was, how active, how conscientious. You did it because you loved me and somewhere I knew that to tell the truth was to become a stranger to you. -------------------Today 10:00 AM You do the perfunctory work of making appointments with a dietitian, but you’re never in the room. You can’t look it in the eyes, can’t hear it put into words that solidify its existence, make it real. I understand. It’s scary. So we don’t speak of it, pushing the topic around our plates, skirting around it even as it sits heavy between us on the table. I don’t put it into words either. Better to attribute it to stress, to an offshoot of my depression. That way it isn’t deliberate. All you have to do is reignite an interest in food, watch as the candle alights our faces in a restaurant, looking at each other but not seeing. --------------------Today 12:00 PM Haley notices. A sharp glance, blunt words–things that hurt the skin as they target the problem, rip the bandaid straight off. Maybe it’s because we’re friends in the ways siblings can be but parents can’t. Maybe it’s true that somewhere before our birth we split our souls into two, losing a part of ourselves but gaining some mythical twin sister spirit you see in cheaply put together YA fantasy novels with gaudy, glossy covers. Maybe it’s also a generational thing, the distance between Boomers and Gen-Zers. I don’t know. I do know that she notices in ways you don’t. She makes derisive comments when I put together food, something that sparks a brief and spiteful
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hatred in me. I appreciate it though. I really do. ----------------------Today 12:30 PM There are times when I’ve looked in the mirror and hated what I’ve seen there. Not the dysphoric distortions that used to occupy them, but the real me. Ribs that rise like mountain peaks, hip bones jutting out like so much jagged rock, a body that forms a child-like line, straight where it should curve. Never satisfied, in sickness or recovery. I’ve obsessed over whether a person could love a person like me, worried that thought over and over in an animal frenzy of fear and pain. But somehow, someone does. Her eyebrows knit together, forming a thin line of anxiety when her hand encircles my wrist, seeing her old self in the bones she feels so close to the surface. She worries, but she loves, she loves, she loves. One morning we bake muffins. ----------------------Today 1:00 PM This isn’t an indictment. Perhaps one day, we can discuss this over lunch.
Glass Tears Pastiche
Fall 2020 /105
and soon And soon the summer will find its way to you And I will take the winter off your shoulders And soon I will let you be more And I will curl up as you expand But one day we will Shift to accommodate Each other.
Flowers you can keep in a jar even when they're dead
106 / American Literary Magazine
I Know Everything Now
Fall 2020 /107
The Sculptor A sunset of lolling, laughing trees awakens the sculptor in me. A god of sand and stone, to play melody with tendons between his fingers to whom I am apprentice. Siphoning cups from the erosion of spit & breath, they are conversation pieces. You see, my roots are not in blood. they are in ink, scrawled between torn bibles and dog-eared pages, the stories you do not want to tell but nonetheless drool into your cup. And here I am, waiting to listen.
my roots are not in blood.â&#x20AC;?
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Self-Improvement I could not tell you why I do these things. You would think my actions hold meaning, in reality, i have no sense of self, no outer vision to explain this to you. I have an array of tools, tools I use to pry, pull, search, destroy. If i’m not careful, I’ll stick a bare hand into the box and withdraw it with a small bloom of red. These things happen and I’m simply in the backseat. Enter the room, and my mind walks out. I don’t want you. Why would I need a rational being with something so useless? Get to the bone. Get rid of everything else, destroy it with whatever I’ve got, and be content with a destroyed body. After all, it’s just a space. Just a cage, a box, a death.
looked better Medium Statement: collage on matte board
Medium Statement: lino carving
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hidden Ev’ry day, the burden Carried alone and in secret Pulling at my heart My one and only true weakness Her face still clear in thoughts The way she tells stories of past Fingers on piano But such beauty can never last I held her as she passed Years of hardships all led to this A tear rolls down my cheek As I say goodbye with a kiss
Ev’ry day, the burden Of knowing how she lived and died I told her I’d be strong The last words she heard, and I lied
Artist Statement: inspired by “Bridge of Clay” by Markus Zusak
Fall 2020 /111
Interior of a Lesbian Medium Statement: colored pencil
112/ American Literary Magazine
Love Poem We’ve been closest the longest. Fifteen years. That’s a while. We’re young and when we’re old, you’ll love me…more? Perhaps you’ll love me just the same, but with a croaking voice, and ugly hands. I’ll love you madly, as always. I’ll keep pulling the long, loose hairs staticked to your coat, even when they’ve refined into silver threads. Fifteen years. We’re already past the ability to misunderstand, and any anger between us is adorable—so small and weak, you have to pity it for even trying. We’re each growing stranger, and yet estrangement is just a sad story we heard about some other pair, poor them. You know me, you lovely grump, Don’t you think I’m the sun? I wrap you in my arms, kiss your cheek (that’s I Love You). You grumble, but don’t resist (that’s I Know. Same Here). The world could learn a thing or two from us. For starters: friendship should be as easy as singing your own name.
Fall 2020 /113
114 / American Literary Magazine
INTERMISSION you asked me if I am still writing poetry recently and i didn’t have an answer for you because i wouldn’t really call it poetry when i spatter my words across the page in feverish thirst my words aren’t beautiful don’t flow in melodic prose in the way i want them to they don’t make sense (i guess none of this makes sense though) the thing is, i don’t know which metaphor to use: i feel shattered, scattered, like a broken vase, but i am not made of glass and fragility i feel stretched, taut, tangled as a web i feel turbulent, stormy, my roots unhinged by the tornado but i can’t compare myself to a rope or a hurricane for i know that i am only human i don’t know which adjectives to use: sad sounds too weak and plastic unreal maybe, dreamlike but it’s more nightmare-like than the images of pink clouds and serenity that the word dream conjures shocked isn’t true, because deep down, i knew what was coming for us, didn’t i and grieving is such an ugly word— it’s easier to pretend everything is normal i don’t know if i’m capable of poetry anymore how am i supposed to write about emotions if i don’t know what i’m feeling and how am i supposed to write about loss if i’m still in the denial stage it’s like an unexpected intermission in the middle of the show: the curtains swing close, the music stops the audience holds their breath as they wonder if there will be another act or if the heart wrenching cliffhanger was supposed to be some sort of finale
Fall 2020 /115
9/12 We are strangers now Stranger still are all the days that came before I wrapped her hand again today It was bloody and bruised, the bandage not quite right “You are my doctor now” she said with a laugh Lighthearted still— I don’t want to be your doctor Today it was my birthday And my lover sent champagne For me to drink Alone “How old are you?” She asked “Guess.” I told her, smiling “Eighteen?” I laughed. We are strangers now She calls me bitch under her breath Angry I don’t get to the door first Distressed to know I am home “The neighbors are so loud,” she once told me As my sister practiced guitar in the room next door Singing softly to herself “I wish they would shut up.” We are strangers now “I’m twenty-one” I tell her I check her bandages, she will forget their purpose. “Thank you, doctor.”
116 / American Literary Magazine
deadweight There is truth in lies and liars. Dulling two rocks, sometimes more, At the chance to ignite their own fire. In the rhythm of raindrops, They rewash dirtied laundry to Reveal true colors; Cats and dogs galore, A reign, no mercy unto others– Here lies Macbeth’s hands. Or perhaps they sleep soundly knowing This world was made crooked. For the people, by the people. Beloved drowned down by the river. If anything, they are playing the game Exactly as they were taught.
“Or perhaps they sleep soundly knowing
This world was made crooked.”
But how much rubble am I to pocket? Before the sticks and stones become A deadly anchor, Deadweight anger. Just burdensome enough to send me reeling Beneath the surface. So, a word of advice: Stop giving the world to people All too feeble to carry its contents.
Fall 2020 /117
broken strings some secrets stay between me & my guitar whisper to the strings what i’ve done who i’ve wanted in the dark alleys of my mind where bricks crumble under i love yous never said and the prickle of a chord fills the silence, fills the darkness i hear every cry i’ve composed and hold each one for a moment— broken strings are a sign of trust
You Live Here Medium Statement: ink
AÂŁÂŁÂĽ she said my name a coo, eyes beaming the first time it left her lips rocking me back and forth in her arms she said my name a call, echoing from the kitchen feet padding down the stairs a steaming bowl, spoon-fed to me by her hands she said my name a pause, uncertain eyes scanning my face I nod, slowly, heart pangs in my chest a helpless child staring at me from underneath withered skin she said my name a word no longer in her vocabulary gray eyes empty, lost searching for something anything familiar in the world but how how do I guide the Matriarch the one who cradled me the one who nurtured me the one who bore my own Mother from her hips when she can no longer guide herself
Fall 2020 /119
flowers i gave my mom
120 / American Literary Magazine
The Waiting Room The mood changed as soon as I walked through the doors. The tension was tangible. Children, teens, adults. All here for a reason. Hoping for a better future, a future of insurance and safety in the country they already call home. Immigrants who have reached citizenship. Immigrants who aren’t so lucky. Immigrants who need paperwork and formalities and government approval. Or immigrants like me, who are already citizens but await physical affirmation to confirm their validity. The room was swarming. Not with insects but with humans. The whirring air conditioning and electricity was an easy-to-neglect buzz in the background, loud enough to propel forth louder voices but quiet enough so as to not be distracting. The rows upon rows–front-to-back and some along the wall–were made of hard plastic. The plastic that makes your legs stick when you wear shorts on a hot day. It seemed that two-thirds if each row was full–a few empty seats left between strangers—chasms between cultures. The aridness of the outdoors had begun to seep through the walls, the air conditioning not quite up to par, making the waiting room uncomfortable–that is, more uncomfortable than having to wait in anticipation for the government to finally do something. Every minute it seemed a beep would sound, signaling a new member of the waiting committee about to join after being led through the metal detector. Languages other than English were being spoken casually. Spanish, maybe Arabic, Chinese. Where have they all come from? Why are they here today? Dozens upon dozens of restless spirits, being suffocated by the waiting room. It reminded me of The Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby.” “All the lonely people / where do they all come from? / All the lonely people / where do they all belong?” The air seemed heavy, another weight upon these people’s shoulders. The world represented in this room, through toddlers and through elderly, through parents and through teens. A wail escaped from a child, the cause of the outburst unclear, upsetting another child. A chain reaction. Crying and screaming echoed off the blank cream walls. The small boy, dark-skinned and curly-haired, the instigator, was appeased with a toy. A dinosaur, speckled green and brown with ridges up and down its back. A triceratops? Possibly. I couldn’t say for certain. Though I can’t imagine it mattered at all to the little boy. His cries forgotten, his focus shifted. All that existed was the dinosaur. The hard, plastic toy groped in his hand, dancing across the plastic seats, an adventure being formed in the boy’s head for the creature. Does he even understand why he is here? That soon, when the people in the waiting room are no longer waiting, he will have no reason to be questioned for being here, except every reason created by the bigots who have made his presence here necessary.
Fall 2020 /121
Consolation Prizes They’re right about time. It washes and washes until there’s nothing left. Do you remember that night in my childhood bedroom? You asked me to touch your face, I did, and you told me not to forget what it felt like. I replayed that moment for weeks, until yesterday morning I couldn’t remember if your voice was actually your voice, or if it was one that I made up for you. I couldn’t remember if your face felt like your face, or if it was simply the ghost of my left hand caressing my right cheek. I poured through my phone, searching for you. I find a snippet of your laugh screeching stop while I pointed my camera at you. And I listen to the only voicemail I have.
“I couldn’t remember if your face felt like your face, or if it was simply the ghost of my left hand caressing my right cheek.”
“Maybe I need to stop with the bad habits.” You say goodnight and then my first and middle name as the line cuts out. I fall apart 2,000 miles away while I struggle to leave a voicemail of my own. I pour through the film photos I never sent you. One that I took the night we ran through the sprinklers. One from the night we danced under the gazebo where you said you wanted to marry me. You, holding my teddy bear on your shoulders like it was a toddler, and the one you took of me, flannel and messy hair and embarrassed to be in front of the camera instead of behind it. We lived a small lifetime, discussing our house and what we’d name our children, and how we’d wear dresses to the ceremony and suits the reception. Maybe I’m having a hard time adjusting to an unfamiliar bed, or loneliness gets the best of me while I play the piano for no one. But I’d give anything for a thousand more little lifetimes with you.
122/ American Literary Magazine
the kitchen is the backyard Medium Statement: 35 mm film
Fall 2020 /123
Bios Alexa Barnes occasionally wishes she hadn’t studied American politics because she desperately wants to move to Antarctica, where they have a perpetual need for radio technicians and glaciologists but never a demand for pollsters. Niccolo Bechtler was raised on the plains way out west, where he learned to darn socks. One afternoon he hitched a ride on an old freight train and found his way to the sea. These days, you might find him sitting on a stump or underneath a cool-looking rock, like a snail. Peyton Bigora writes and is always surprised AmLit actually likes it enough to include it in the magazine. Rachel Black just wants people to appreciate soup and poetry more (in that order). Henri Brink is currently writing from her childhood bedroom, wondering how she ever got work done before she went to college. Kait Caffery is an amateur moonbender. She enjoys healing, and laughing until her stomach hurts. Grace Collins loves making art, eating trash, and getting cash! Sofia Dean is an ashamed milk addict, too ashamed to say what kind of milk. Unashamed in her love for other WOC creators <3 Gracie Donovan is a literature major and her favorite movie is Pride and Prejudice (2005) because of Kiera Knightley. Charlotte Faust can’t eat gluten but she can eat your heart out.
124/ American Literary Magazine
Sheer Figman was recently told that everything in the world is a rat. Birds? Sky rats. Fish? Sea rats. Squirrels? Tree rats. Sheer, herself? Art rat. Hannah Fisher is a junior studying film and history. She is still hoping that the quarantine creativity boost kicks in soon. Abby Grifno most enjoys short jogs and long walks, sun rises in the fall, and scary movies (cheesy) that make her laugh. Grace Hasson is an author, poet, and lover of words. Alejandro Irizarry is an artist from Caguas, Puerto Rico who likes thinking about writing stuff and occasionally actually does. Kate Jasenski (林潔瑩) is a Chinese adoptee, senior in SIS, and chronic over-thinker (especially about “identity”). After graduation, Kate hopes to be a Fulbright ETA in Korea. Daniella Jimenez hopes to shoot many more concerts in the future. The next band she would like to take concert photos for would probably be The Neighbourhood. Reagan Koffink lives and learns as the world turns. Caroline Krekorian spent too long trying to figure out what to put here. She will probably still be thinking of something by the time you read this. James Kwon is a senior that enjoys photography, digital art, playing piano, and writing poetry in his free time. He loves to explore new places to eat and is always down for a new adventure. His ideal day is a sunny, crisp fall day spent going to museums with friends and eating at local, hole-in-the-wall restaurants until the sun dips beneath the horizon.
Emma Lovato is probably drinking wine and listening to Taylor Swift. Talia Marshall is not the muse of comedy, merely one of her clowns. Samantha McAllister has a desk covered in books and is a little scared of dark academia Instagram aesthetics. Katt McCann just wants to sit in a rocking chair, drink some tea, and write about worlds that don’t exist. Katie Meyerson has tricked you into looking at her entire design and illustration portfolio, so now you have to hire her.
Joseph Benge is a member of the Photo Collective eboard, and is just as worried about how many frogs there are these days as he is hoping you’re having a good week. Momal Rizvi wrote her first poem and uhhh here we are. Shelby Rose is a junior at AU and the campus’ resident library of lesbian book recommendations. Brendan Sakosits wears colored chinos far, far too often (and will never, ever stop). Olivia Schwalm is a junior FMA major who lives in Baltimore and thinks photography is cool.
Stephanie Mirah wants to get a tattoo at some point in her life. She just hasn’t decided when or what it will be. Maybe a matchstick or a forgetme-not or a line from some poem or…
Riddhi Setty firmly believes that time isn’t real. Let her know if you ever want to get ice cream at 3 a.m.
Lauren Mitchell wears denim on denim and makes it look good.
Syd Smith said hi to the sun this morning don’t worry, they said it back.
Zarah Naqib is still reconciling with the idea that everything is, in fact, a social construct.
Zoe Smith is probably lost somewhere in the stationery section of a Super Target.
Shea Neary loves the muppets, pistachio ice cream, and funky earrings!!
Lily Song is a freshman SIS student! She could eat ice cream for every meal and occasionally paints during zoom classes.
Hope Neyer is grateful to a specific crow. Emily Park loves umbrellas!! Lia Patentas believes the most essential oil is olive oil. Annie Przypyszny hopes that YOU, dear reader, are having a magical day. Sami Pye is living proof that AU has a photo major.
Emma Southern is currently a freshman in CAS and in the CBRS program. She is very honored to have her work accepted into the Fall 2020 issue! Karan Bacrabail Tekwani thinks that if you’re only in five classes you shouldn’t have SEVEN FINALS TO DO, but that’s just his opinion. Maren Valenti skates fast, **** *s*, and gives them all whiplash.
Fall 2020 /125
Masthead Editors in Chief Sheer Figman Riddhi Setty Art Editors Rachel Burger Annie Przypyszny Art Assistants Grace Collins Lily Song Nikolai Razumov Photo Editors Kait Caffrey Piper Hamm Photo Assistants Daniella Jimenez Lindsey McCormack Poetry Editors Sofia Dean Brendan Sakosits Poetry Assistants Grace Hasson Reagan Koffink Tiffanie Roye Prose Editors Henri Brink Katt McCann Prose Assistants Eliza DuBose Natalie Flynn Karan Bacrabail Tekwani
Creative Directors Emma Lovato Katie Meyerson Design Assistants Skylar Smith Isabelle Wittmann Copy Editor Stephanie Mirah Copy Assistants Morgan Goldberg Alex Kaiss Blog Editors Gracie Donovan Shelby Rose Blog Assistants Sophia Fingerman Laisa Gastaliturris Sana Mamtaney Event Coordinator Emily Coneybeare Website Coordinator Scarlett Wedergren General Body Members Leila Akinwumiju Emma Geer Emma Southern
Dear readers, When we first started upon this design process, there were nearly constant setbacks. Whether there were difficulties bringing our vision to life or we spent time on other AmLit endeavors, this magazine was an uphill battle from the start. We decided to be bold, and do something that has (to our knowledge) never been done in an edition of AmLit: illustrating it. After around 60+ hours on illustrations, countless hours moving the pieces around, dozens of “short” meetings that took all day, and a fair amount of literal tears, we are so proud of what we have put together; this semester we both truly were taught the meaning of a “labor of love”. We hope that you rejoice over the wonderful submissions of your peers and find yourself lost in the cozy world of AmLit. With Love, Co-Creative Directors Katie Meyerson and Emma Lovato