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apogee

A Literar y Journal

Issue_no.1

roger reeves / vera lau / angela koh / katherine sanders / eloísa díaz / aaron shin / marshall thomas / stephen o’connor


apogee issue no. 1

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contents

Editorial Roger Reeves p Fog Harder Zero in the Palm “Pay for soup / build a fort / set that on fire” Vera Lau n f From Dumpster

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Angela Koh f Jesa Eloísa Díaz f Decalogue of the Perfect Immigrant Aaron Shin f There Once Was a Fire // Staff Contribution // Joan Kane p Akkumin Qanituq/Swift Descent Composition with Transformed Birds Katherine Sanders f Scenes in Question Marshall Thomas p Hate Composite 1 Hate Composite 2 Malcolm Hansen f They Come In All Colors

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Alexandra Watson p Sugar & Salt // Staff Contribution // Guinevere Lee n f My Two Fathers // Staff Contribution // María Cristina Fernández Hall A Town in the Mountains Sábila Michal Malachowski p Newark Nothing Jae Won Chung f How Harold Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Han Marina Blitshteyn p self portrait w/ documentation Stephen O’Connor f Excerpt from: Nobody Here Knows Anything, A Novel Contributor Bios

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= f i ct i o n

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= n o n - f i ct i o n = p o e t ry

cover photo : “Steel Pan USA, Flatbush, 2010”

Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich

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A p o g e e Sta f f

Jennifer Ohrstrom Melody Nixon Zinzi Clemmons A. Graham Cumberbatch Design Alexandra Watson Promotion contributing editors Eleanor Levinson Nonfiction Layal Masri Tenzin Dickyi Fiction Chris Prioleau Alexandra Watson Elisa Fernández-Arias Poetry Aaron Shin

Editor-in-Chief Managing Editor Production

Apogee Journal is published online annually. We accept submissions of poetry and prose. Visit: apogeejournal.me Send work to: apogeelit@gmail.com © 2012 Apogee Journal All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists upon online publication.

Apogee Journal acknowledges the support of family members, friends, roommates, professors and classmates who have helped make this publication possible. We would especially like to thank Sonya Chung for her invaluable guidance, Erin Ehsani for her input into Apogee’s early stages and continued backing, and Kevin T.S. Tang for his design of the Apogee logo. We thank the Interdisciplinary Arts Council at Columbia University for their funding of this issue.

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apogee editorial

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lmost exactly a year

ago myself and a group of other frazzled but strongwilled writing students, Zinzi Clemmons, Erin Ehsani, Jen Ohrstrom and Aaron Shin, met in a neon-lit classroom and talked strategy. We largely felt we had not found a space for our own voices within our MFA program, despite two semesters of stunningly well-structured and wideranging courses on the art of creative writing. As an emerging nonfiction author I felt I lacked a strong platform of support or a place to carry out meaningful discussion on the concerns central to my writing – race, cultural dialog, and issues of inequality. As an international student I found I was expected to act as a sort of writerly tour guide to my home country (New Zealand), which was in turn defined by those around me–an enticing land of hobbits, sheep-horde millions and elves (the sheep part, I admit, is partially true). More pertinently, the rest of the Apogee team had all faced experiences of being regarded or made Other, and expected to represent her/his ‘culture’ even if born and bred in the United States. They had regularly met with limiting preconceptions of what their subject matter ought or ought not to be. We all thought it was important to the health of our writing community, and our own health as writers, to create a physical space for the words of ‘non-normative’ voices. Despite the defining against, we hoped the space would be a positive one - celebrating a multitude of voices rather than a

singular voice, and promoting diversity in the a ltruistic sense of multiple perspectives. We were joined by talented and fresh-minded new students in the fall – Tenzin Dickyi, Chris Prioleau and Alexandra Watson – and spring semester – Elisa Fernández-Arias and Eleanor Levinson – and they have grown the journal’s momentum and vision. The word apogee denotes the point in an object’s orbit that is farthest from the center. And so our journal seeks to ‘trace the margins’ of the literary world and thereby provide a platform for all writers to thoughtfully engage with issues of race and cultural diversity. Apogee also creates a center for those writers, us, by providing a space in which we can celebrate and feel pride in our diverse voices. We believe the interests of everybody are upheld when diversity is encouraged. These are the facets of Apogee we aim to present to you in our inaugural issue. This issue is dedicated to the writing students of Columbia University and features the work of Columbia creative writing undergraduates, MFA graduates, and MFA alumni. The issue also includes two guest contributions by writers associated with the Columbia University MFA writing program – Roger Reeves, the Our Word Writer-in-Residence in Spring 2012, and Stephen O’Connor, a professor of nonfiction and adjunct faculty member. We also include contributions by three of our own staff writers. Thank you to all of the Apogee crew members, who have collectively sent the journal into orbit.

Melody Nixon, Founding Editor, on behalf of Apogee

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“Dominoes, Miami, 2010” Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich


fog harder by roger reeves

Each bulb became an empty school. Little Wood thrush—something very far from this ash tray And my mother’s fingers worrying sorrow— Perhaps, you—alone as a bowl—have watched A child fall from a nest, wonder if, in the flush and falling, Fall harder, fence post bear the body of what I could not. Have you ever pushed? Have you ever wanted to? Don’t answer that. The school room empty. The last of the children holding glass bulbs of wonder In their hands, running to the edge of the roof. Thrush, Have you ever taken a pill that keeps you From calling to each child jumping into the fog?

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roger reeves

zero in the palm after raner marie rilke’s “entrance”

Whoever you are: boy, or not quite, step out From the room in which you know nothing, Gather your one horse by his one mane And run him to the river: whoever you are. With your tongue, which has obeyed nothing, Lift very slowly this Bed of Eros into the ear Of this same horse and place his slender broken Into the water like a boy, or not quite, that rang And rang between the two white sheets of a bed, The boy looking nothing like a black tree, singed And alone, in a white sky though his limbs spread Resemble a mane leaking out over the water Like a flock of trees or ghost: whoever you are: Boy or black zero in the palm of a white bed in a room In which you know nothing: what should be done With all of these bodies awaiting their execution?

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roger reeves

“Pay for soup / build a fort / set that on fire�

Again, again, the tiny and faulting / corsage of days / Snake oil rubbed on the joints of your mouth / come On Victrola in the corner of this evening / no more Slow songs / the docks are filled with the same sorrow As the thunder rotting above us and none of us can swim Through lightening or the pea-green soup of the ocean They say a hand over the heart keeps a storm away / well What keeps you here / buffalo-tongued and haunted Like the empire of dust making its way into our mouths / Stop building a fort / you have already set that on fire too

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from dumpster by vera lau

I

She fought the thing, emitted a mousy shriek that got louder and louder and sent my father charging into the kitchen because he thought there was an intruder. And suddenly, everything went back to normal. The lights sparked back on, the temperature stabilized, and the only thing that remained was my mother’s awareness of her newly crisp, crackly skin that had taken on the texture of barbequed potato chips. Confucius Gentleman flipped on the lights and peered around the kitchen. “Why you want to scream in the middle of the night for? Aiya! Go sleep your fucked-up dream off,” he said. My mother was quick to point out that my grandmother, Poh-poh, and I required constant demonic cleansing, but she claimed she was ferocious enough to scare the phantoms away without any supernatural help. “I had to block the ghosts out,” she would announce proudly. “Just for you kids. You wouldn’t survive if you had Poh-poh for your mommy. See, I control crazy.” But immediately after her first ghostly-alien encounter, she became worried that thousands of extraterrestrials were waiting to ambush her if she stayed home alone while Confucius Gentleman worked at his engineering firm. Shuddering and shaking, the walls of our house were to her in the midst of some spiteful West Coast quake, and they seemed like they were crushing her. Each day the room spunspunspun in a jumbled merrygo-round in her bleary vision. She hallucinated about a couple of invisible people who randomly pinched her limbs, and her banshee squealing at random night-time hours gave me an insomnia disorder at the start of kindergarten. Other times she could be chopping bok choy then suddenly let out a squeal, and a few minutes later, she would hop frantically up and down and swipe madly with her cleaver at an invisible person. My mother was more interesting to watch than Sesame Street.

t all began when i was

six; a month after my brother was born. At two in the morning, aliens made an international stopover in our kitchen. Our world became a strange and terrifying anomaly, and every member of our family transformed into unearthly versions of themselves. At one point my mother, Quiet Snow, fumbled for non-dairy baby formula in the pantry, and a staticky voice in her head began to possess her. Look over here, the voice demanded, and Quiet Snow’s eyeballs and neck robotically swiveled to the doorway as if by pure synaptic sorcery. You’re okay, the voice reassured her. You’re going to be absolutely A-okay. The voice took control of Quiet Snow’s body. Soundless, it communicated only by feeling out the English words inside her brain. A kind, kingly buzzing. This was the first hallucination that made Quiet Snow insist she had been chosen to host the aliens. She told us that she had been visited by ghosts who pretended to be aliens, but unlike everyone else in “the fucking family,” she could “control herself.” My mother adamantly claimed she was immune to demon/alien possession. Quiet Snow recounted her abductions to me. She told me that once, the kitchen light bulbs began to sputter and pop pop pop. Look at the door, said the voice. An electric blue miasma mushroomed from the doorway, sparking wildly and coiling upwards like the northern lights. It was Quiet Snow’s own little aurora borealis detonating in our kitchen. Hot smoke scalded her skin. Everything churned brighter and the blue lightning zigzagged white and became aggressive. She gradually disappeared into this special-effects atmosphere, sucked up in this eddy of brightness. Everything is going to be fine, the gentle voice insisted. \ f

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vera lau Unfortunately, I became afraid of ghosts too. Too terrified to run to the washroom in the middle of the night, I wet my bed throughout elementary school. Maybe I was imitating my screaming mother, but I got kicked out of my first Montessori for taking off my clothes, running around naked, and chucking my poofy pink dress into a garbage can. I screamed and kicked a teacher in the knee, and charged through the halls, howling. We had no behavioural rules at home, so why should I sit when I was told? Why couldn’t I say “fuck?” There was no incentive to learn if you weren’t being paid off in cash, which is how Confucius Gentleman regularly bribed me to do my homework. In the afternoons, I went to French Immersion School, but I was so afraid of ghosts in the dark single-stall girls’ washroom that I peed everywhere else. Story-time, art class, right on the carpet, on other kids’ shoes. One classmate nicknamed me “la fontaine.” “Est-que je peux aller aux toilettes?” the teacher tried to make me say, believing I was too afraid to ask for permission to pee. The principal called my parents in and told them not to send me back until I was toilet-trained. To solve her supernatural problem, Quiet Snow packed a duffel bag and moved us into our asylum: a suburban shopping mall. Monday through Friday she presided over the food court like some retired dowager, holding a miniature court with my baby brother from standard opening to closing time. At three pm, she took a break and automatically scooped up my sister and me from kindergarten/preschool, and then we all hung out at the mall until nine or ten pm. We were forbidden to return home if Dad wasn’t there because we were all in constant and terrible end-of-the-world jeopardy. She thought that if we hid out in retail paradise, the soporific elevator music, hot dazzling display lights, and blasts of cheap fatty food smells would comfort and sustain us. There was less chance of us getting killed or possessed if we were surrounded by an anonymous daytime horde, by zealous housewives worshipping dazzling red “clearance” signage. New mothers paraded their Disney strollers through the mall, unaware of the vicious Chinese ghosts who were kept at bay only because they feared crowds. To keep us busy and resolve her hallucinations, Quiet Snow forced us to loop around the mall 30 times in a row. When she did this my sister and I could barely keep up with the stroller as she forged obsessively ahead. As we hysterically lapped the mall we practiced being si10 |

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lent in case we were ever attacked by swollen-headed aliens or shimmering spirits from space. This was Quiet Snow’s logic: if we kept active and athletic we’d be ready to outrun them, and in the safety of the noisy swarming mall we could confuse them. In the food court, my mother hogged as many as three tables with all our diapers and bottles and Garfield toothbrushes. She gave people shit-face if they asked her to move, but most people didn’t notice, or pretended not to. She was the kind of mother who kept feeding us, like a piggy bank cranking out limitless loonies for a can of orange pop at the vending machine, or a random ten dollar bill for cardboard pizza and plastic poutine. If you tuggedtuggedtugged at her bulky purse long enough, she’d eventually hand the entire thing over. And if she dawdled, I knew to keep making a fuss or scamper off to the loonie store to steal chocolate bars and expired candies and colour-by-number drawing books to keep myself amused. Since we practically lived at the mall, at the age of six I was already an accomplished shoplifter. When I wasn’t folding napkins into wilted fortune tellers or flexing plastic cutlery into deformed stars, I was trick-or-treating in various stores. My favourite kangaroo knapsack from an auntie in Australia was large enough to hold whatever I wanted. It was florescent purple with a hideous stuffed head, floppy ears and creepy black eyes, so I’d pretend that it was watching my back and ready to tell me if the staff were coming. At the dollar store I snatched balloons, pink goodie bags for a potential birthday party, and any plastic toy I wanted. If my mother noticed that I always had new toys at the food court, she didn’t say anything. Zombified, she was always staring at someone I couldn’t see, and I was happy enough that she didn’t make me divide my edible plunder with my sister. At that age it didn’t really occur to me that my brother and sister were real, that they were related to me, probably because my mother never bothered to explain the concept of “siblings.” I saw that the useless creatures cried and complained frequently, and I decided that she and my father were abnormal to collect such loud, life-sized dolls. And I never suspected I had been a baby or toddler because of the famous Lau family procreation myth, which taught me that my parents had fished me out of a downtown dumpster. “That’s why you’re garbage,” my father liked to explain. “All garbage have low IQ. Not like Daddy at all.


vera lau I’m very, very smart because I’m from library.” “Then why you get me from dumpster?” I had asked when I was six. “It’s free,” my father declared. “You think we want to pay money for you? Mommy and I know how to save money on unimportant things.” At the loonie-stores, maternal women sometimes asked me where my mom was, and I lied that I was lost and hurriedly shoved a chocolate bar inside my kangaroo’s brain. Other times, they assumed I did not speak English, which was mostly true, and I pretended to know absolutely nothing either way. Salesladies never bothered to rummage through my bag. The staff didn’t seem to care that I was prowling their store every day; no one ever said quick, hide the sweets. Usually, helpful mothers hurried me to the customer service desk, and an announcement was made on the speakers, but sometimes it took my mother two or three hours to collect me. I was bored because I knew she was holding a coma-like court with murderous ghosts who dared not harm her in public and I already knew my way around the mall without any help. To be honest, I never thought to rat her out or reveal her scheme because customer service doled out free allyou-could-eat lollipops to soothe the unwanted children of lost and found. As I trick-or-treated and partied in customer service, Quiet Snow spent her time probing deep within herself, plucking answers out of her skewed cranium in the food court, while my sister, Deep Thinker, gnawed on a slimy wedge of pepperoni pizza and my brother, Make Lots of Money, wailed inconsolably in his four-wheeled carriage. This was probably my happiest childhood memory: running free in the candied playground of Retail Land for three months. My gigantic toy box of limitless loot and free customer candy. We never left our mall sanctuary except to go home to sleep, and then, only because the mall didn’t allow customer sleepovers. When we did go home, our mother plugged in baby monitors in all our bedrooms to listen for any imminent invasions. “What do you do if an alien or ghost attacks you?” she would ask us, insisting we prepare. “We should go to the mall because they don’t like lots of people,” my sister and I would say in unison. During our in-mall stints Quiet Snow randomly dressed herself and handed us whatever—I wore flores-

cent green overalls and boy’s orange t-shirts, all from my older cousins who had outgrown them. The hand-medowns were sequined leftovers with funny, misspelled messages. My overalls had glittery ”Rain in Spring Run Mainly in Plaine” on the sides and my orange t-shirt said “Luff Thee Mother.” We were thriving suburban bums, self-made Hongcouver hippies, living in our self-imposed exile. Obviously, we never bothered to shower, and eventually my kindergarten teacher called Quiet Snow in to convey the stinky verdict. “Does V., shower?” the woman asked. “We’ve had countless complaints.” “Of course,” Quiet Snow lied. “What kind of question is that? I mean, do you shower?” “Of course,” the teacher said, embarrassed. “Do you think my kid smells like shit? Is that why you’re telling me? Or did a bunch of little kids complain to you? If you think she reeks, why don’t you tell her to wear deodorant? Tell me, out of all the teachers in this school, how come we got stuck with a bitch?” Mortified, I ducked my head down and pretended I was busy colouring with a white board marker. “Come on, V.,” my mother snapped, “let’s quit this school. You won’t learn anything from a crazy woman who thinks you smell like poo.” But by the next week I was back, at the only school in our district that would take me.

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jesa by angela koh

I have been looking for you Kumiko in cutlery boxes long like caskets, used to store old photographs. Here, you are almost seventy and small like a little sister – your sure smile showing years of eating unagi, collecting ear pickers, saving Easter eggs until they sink and wrinkle. I cannot see you, the widow, nor the cob-webbed rice bin, nor the fires, nor the sick bays. Instead, at the mouth of a fenceless field, chrysanthemums swing up and powder your chin in the afternoon wind. You, no longer particular, fit yourself between bouquets and hold still.

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Decalogue of the Perfect Immigrant by eloísa díaz

1.

your sweaty hands, your dry mouth, stutter whenever possible, red ears always help. When someone asks you to repeat your name – because they will – take pity on them but answer in the most sublimely delicate of tones. When they pronounce your name wrong – because they will – ponder carefully if you absolutely must correct their mistake or if you could find it in your heart to one day feel comfortable being called by another name, a new name.

saying your goodbyes, waving to the family members who have been so kind to drive you to the airport and make sure you actually get on the plane – or at least that you get past security without stirring up any trouble, the security of your home country, must we specify, because no one can guarantee a positive outcome to a conversation with one of the exquisite, efficient and uniformed civil servants of the distinguished United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, who now stare at you through the scratched Plexiglas that makes for a new type of prison, the kind we build for ourselves when we dream of living a life we weren’t born into. Do so promptly, without looking back, without pulling your glasses off to wipe the tears that have started to cloud your vision and your judgment and, as you trot along the halls of the international airport of your choice, don’t forget to slow down, almost to the point of stopping, so you can listen to the echoes of the marble, the steps of those who went before you. leave your home country

be aware of the existence of acronyms, and don’t commit the rookie mistake of relying on them or trusting them in any way. Please make sure you stay at a safe distance from all “TBA,” “TBD,” “Q&A,” “PC,” “BLT,” “TTYL,” “TMI,” “BYO-anything,” “AA,” “FYI,” “ASAP,” “DIY,” “DUI,” “PMS,” “PBJ,” “LMFAO.” History keeps track of the few audacious academicians who, wanting to demystify their power, have dared to recount them all, catalogued them like precious butterflies and made their proliferation known to the public, but they were outnumbered and it proved to be a Herculean task. Acronyms are crouching behind any word, clutching to any possible syntactical form as if it were their last hope, lying in wait for the inexpert speaker’s mistake of thinking they understand everything in the current conversation. You will at some point feel the urge to shout out “FML,” but gird yourself and hold your tongue: you are an “FOB” and you will forever be in a trial- period.

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country with fresh eyes, ready to take things in, and an open heart, ready to be broken. The road might present itself as arduous, perpetually peppered with circumstances that bear witness to the fact that leaving what you know for a dream might not have been the most intelligent decision you ever made in your brief but intense life, that maybe life in your homeland, or even in your hometown, could offer you a more luminous perspective. But you cannot cave and allow for the Fata morgana that is spontaneous disillusion to trick you into taking a step back. Life has never looked so peachy as now.

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arrive in your new

and caution in restaurants; this advice also applies to any other food establishment in which you will be required to make a decision that could affect your already sufficiently delicate and pampered digestion. Never dare to order something you have not eaten before, or something you could not

5.

be embarrassed whenever you need to introduce yourself to others. Show every external sign of abashment and feel free to accumulate them on your person: blush, shake, own

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operate with special care

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eloísa díaz describe with pinpoint accuracy, or something that bears the ever so marginal possibility that a surprise could occur when the waiter brings you your food. A “corn-dog” might not be a corn-dog. Who knows what Butterfingers are.

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or too often. Even when finding yourself in the company of your friends, never open up to the point where they might sense – God forbid deduce – who you really are. You might think the guardedness unnecessary and prefer to abandon your attitude of permanent caution, and suddenly a surreptitious slip such as pronouncing the word “jacket” as “yacket” will turn you into the object of mockery and parody by those who until the moment preceding this one thought you were one of them. In case of loss-of-friendship anxiety, breathe quietly, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, entrust yourself to the deities that were imposed on you since the earliest age in your home country and make an innocent yet sly remark about the possibility they might learn another language, in which fairly hypothetical scenario you will show them the same compassion they are having the magnanimity of showing you at present.

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don ’ t talk too loudly ,

are gearing up to say a word out loud for the first time. Like “awry.” Take the time to make sure you are in a place and time where no curious or accidental ears could get hold of the fact that the sound made by your vocal cords and the sound made by Sir Kenneth Branagh’s vocal cords, paladin of Shakespearian English, don’t coincide. Don’t ever trust appearances: the written letters of which a word is composed are never an indicator of how the latter is pronounced. Keep in mind the fiasco of discovering that “Duane Reade” is not pronounced “Doo-ahhhn Red.”

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think twice when you

the ultimate endurance test of the supermarket. If at first sight the quantity of food and options leaves you perplexed, spend some time in these halogen-illuminated aisles to allow your five senses – or six – to acclimatize. You will have to choose between thirty kinds of cereal, none of which you have ever encountered before (see point 4), or elucidate what the opaque containers labeled “butter substitute” really hold and whether they 14 |

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can be considered an option to schmier on your morning toast (see point 4). Don’t believe the labels. Olive oil is Spanish, not Italian, and yogurt is Turkish, not Greek. who you were – or are, if you insist on resisting conversion. Don’t long for the motherland because it’s been a while now since she spat out your ungrateful bones and now barely remembers your name. Why else would they treat you like they do on the rare occasions you go back? Never share your homesickness with others. If you do, you will risk stopping being the natives’ “friend” and become their “Spanish friend”, and they will bore you with endless tales of vacations in Puerto Rico, anecdotes about how deep in their nasal orifice the booger that was worrying them was lodged at the moment when Spain won the World Cup, and ask impertinent questions about the circumstances of your youth, and whether electricity was a luxury for your family. On the other hand, they might think you useful in case they decide to eat at a Mexican restaurant. After all, what American citizen has completely understood the difference between a taco and a fajita?

9.

10.

forget

without exception like the perfect guest. Don’t ask for more tea, or more cookies. Don’t ask inconvenient questions, or complain, or put your feet on the coffee table, literally or in a figurative sense. Never feel at home. Always keep an eye, a splinter of the peripheral capacity that has not yet completely abandoned the human vision since the most atavistic of times, on the emergency exit. Never believe that the journey has ended, that you’re at home, that here you can lay roots and rest your bones and watch your grandchildren grow. behave always and


There Once Was a Fire by Aaron Shin

staff contribution

A

bove our fireplace: the

shelf my father installed over Thanksgiving break. On the shelf: my mother’s wine glass. She plucks it by the stem and offers it to me. “Drink some,” she says. I do.

“Isn’t it delicious?” “It’s sweet,” I say, handing the glass back to her. “Have some more.” She pushes my hand and some red splashes onto the ottoman on which I am sitting, crosslegged. “Crap,” she mutters. Sober mom would clean it right away, but instead she calls over Maxwell to lap it up. He gives the dollop a little lick and then sneezes. His entire body seems to shiver. I use my socks to soak up the rest. “Daddy,” she says, pointing to my father. “Refill my glass.” He goes into the kitchen and brings back the bottle of port. “It’s my favorite drink,” my mother explains as he tops her off. She fidgets and puts one leg over mine. “Dessert wine, you know. Here, have another gulp.” “I think I’m good.” “Fine. More for me!” And she throws back her head and cackles. We stare into the fire that is now ablaze. My father nudges the smoldering log with a poker. Embers scatter from behind the iron screen and shoot up the flue. “Did I ever tell you about my old boyfriends?” my mother asks after a long silence. She turns to me and opens her mouth, then shuts it very fast, and grins. “No,” I finally say. “I had a few, you know.” “You once told me about Mark. You said he proposed to you, but you said no because he was too short.” “He was,” she says, bringing the glass from her lips and \ f

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setting it on the shelf. “But I got proposed to a lot back then.” “I’m sure you did.” I notice that Maxwell has fallen asleep next to the piano. I watch his chest rise and fall, and yawn. “How about my professor at Hofstra?” she asks. “Did I tell you about him?” My father snorts and leans back in his chair. “No,” I say. “He proposed to me at the end of my sophomore year. Initially I said yes.” The log in the fire cracks and spits as I sit very still, not knowing what to say. “Are you talking about the business law guy?” asks my father with his eyes closed. “Shut up, you,” my mother says. “You were how old?” I ask. “Nineteen,” she says. A blanket of white light from a neighbor driving past our house flushes our ceiling, and it is soporific. “He told me I was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.” My father stretches his arms and shifts in his chair. I look at the clock on the piano and see that it is almost two. “We should go to bed,” I say. I get up and walk into the kitchen. I drink two glasses of water and stare at my reflection in the window above the sink. Beyond my reflection: our driveway, wet, dark, and strewn with leaves. Leaves to be raked and stuffed into an orange garbage bin. Something my father and I were told to do many days ago. I walk back into the living room and sit on the ottoman. “Tell me the story,” I say. My father starts to speak, but my mother interrupts. “I had many men who wanted me,” she says. “Men who

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aaron shin said that I was the sweetest girl they’d ever seen. They mailed me gifts. Coats so soft you’d fall asleep just holding them in your arms. Watches so big they weighed you down. I kept them all. No matter how much I resented the man, I always kept his gift.” Maxwell kicks in his sleep and yawps. “My sophomore year I was taught by a graduate student for my intro to business law. He was only twentyfour. I can still remember the black satchel in which he kept our papers. It made him look important. Much like the bag you carry around nowadays. Odd how those trends all came back.” “Did he buy you anything?” I ask. “Nothing,” she says. “He didn’t have to.” I steal a glance at my father, who is now looking into the fire. “Your grandfather really liked him, too,” she continues. “I brought him to Fort Lee several times, and grandpa said he was a very handsome fellow.” “That’s weird,” I say. “This whole story’s weird.” “Then he proposed to me,” my mother says, also looking into the fire. Her eyes are glowing. “I said yes because I loved him. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? But when I told your grandfather, he stated simply that I had to marry Korean. That was non-negotiable.” “So you married dad.” “Yes. So four months later I married your father.” “Did you love him?” “Who, your father?” “Yes.” “No.” I cough. “But I do now.” I am afraid to look at my father, so I don’t. “But that professor—boy, did he love me!” she bursts, laughing. “After your sister was born he called the house. He said, ‘Lily, I hear you and your husband are having issues. I knew he wasn’t right for you. That’s why I will ask you one more time to marry me. Leave Harry and I will raise your daughter as my own. You never loved him, so why put yourself through such torment?’” “Does nuna know this story?” I ask. “No,” my mother says. “I’m only telling this to you because I’m drunk.” “But if you had run away with him, I’d have never been born,” I murmur. “Well, I’m very glad that I didn’t.” We don’t say anything and my father grunts and is 16 |

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maybe asleep. His eyes are closed and his mouth taut. I cannot tell if his face is flushed red from the alcohol or from the breath of the fire. “Daddy,” my mother says, “what was his name again?” My father does not respond. “Daddy,” my mother says again. “Harry!” He opens an eye and says, “Levov.” “Right,” my mother says, clapping her hands. “Levov.” “So you told dad, huh?” “He found a letter,” she says. My father sits up in his chair and bellows, “I said to her, ‘No man but me!’ and she had no choice but to obey—for I am her one and only!” A smile that is Cheshire in its enormity inches up his slack cheeks, and my mother also smiles, though hers is not as big. I yawn and shake my head. “I can’t imagine you saying that,” I say to my father. “He’s joking,” my mother says. I look over at the piano. Maxwell’s gone. He’s gone downstairs to curl up next to my mother’s bed and go to sleep. I think about doing the same. “I’m beat,” I say. “Drank a lot, you know.” “Go to bed, baby,” my mother says. “Goodnight,” says my father, who is now pouring himself a glass of port. I go downstairs and brush my teeth and wash my face. I pop a zit on my chin and put my wine-stamped socks in the hamper. Then, I go into the bedroom that is no longer mine and crawl underneath the goose down comforter, lying on my right. I shut my eyes but do not sleep.


“Pledge” jayda d. thompson


Akkumin Qanituq / Swift Descent by joan kane

Words turn to dry grass beneath my cramped foot, Anger to grease ice on the sea, once turbulent. In another room I hear her voice over Again the creaking of the pipes. In another room she has not gone Unforgiven and shunned. Another room is filled with light, As full as her white wall tent The summer that she took me in, Pressed fresh leaves against my wounds As if as if to heal them.

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joan kane

Composition with Transformed Birds Exiled from the cycle of star and stone, The soil’s fine extrusion of the final vein Of blue shot through with gold, Skull a-throb with preoccupation. In carving a song made manifest. The receding field, our ensuing battle— Though distant from home the ravens More closely flock together.

issue 1


scenes in question by katherine sanders

D

o you mind if we ask you a

this office is a safe environment and I’m here to help you talk through everything that’s been going on, so why don’t you tell me a little about yourself? I noticed you’re wearing a cast on your leg, was that a soccer injury? You still made the goal? Wow, that’s great, so how have things been going since the cast was put on? Mm hmm…right…well I’m sorry to hear about your parents’ separation…no problem…here, some tissues…can you tell me what happened?

few questions? Do you live here? I see…so the incident occurred at your dad’s house? Okay, and how old are you? What were the circumstances of the night of October 4th? What time did the suspect enter your bedroom? Was there anything unusual about his behavior? So you think he might have been intoxicated? What was he wearing? When he came to give you your medication did he give a reason for lying down next to you? What did you notice about the pill he gave you? What did you say? After you took the pill, how long were you asleep? And then you woke up with him on top of you? Did you scream? So even after you woke up, you pretended to be asleep? Did you make any noise at all when you felt the pain or saw the blood? Did the suspect say anything about what happened?

..... What do you mean, what did I do when I found out I got pregnant? I was never pregnant—seriously, what gave you that idea? I gotta go, I’m gonna be late for class, can we talk later? ..... Have you told your mother about what your father did to you that night? Good, it’s very important that she knows what’s going on; and what did she say when you told her? Okay, very good, if you could tell her anything—not just about the incident, but about your feelings or about her leaving your father—what would you tell her? What would you tell your father?

..... The cops are gone, don’t cry, it’s alright, you don’t have to testify, your father and I will work this out in court— there’s nothing for you to worry about, okay? Baby I know this is hard, do you think it’s any easier for me, watching you suffer? I just want us to be happy again, isn’t that what you want too? How’s your leg feeling? Soon it will be time to take that cast off, you’re looking forward to that, aren’t you? Is it easier now to get around on those crutches?

..... Okay okay, so I got pregnant when Mike and I were dating—it was an accident ya know? But what’s your story? Are you? Are you sure? With who? Whoa, that’s messed up, have you talked to anyone else about this?

..... I’m glad you came to see me, have a seat, do you want a cup of water? No? Alright, we’ll get started, first, my job is to protect your privacy, I want you to know 20 |

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katherine sanders Thanks for coming to see me again—water?—no, okay, how have things been going? Okay, and how are you feeling? Right, let’s talk about this, when did you realize you were pregnant?

.....

.....

You’re aware that your father was attacked at his house? Do you mind if we ask you a few questions about that? Where were you on October 26 around 12:45pm? One of your teachers said he saw you leaving the school at the beginning of lunch break at 12:20…why did you leave the school? How long have you had that cast on your leg? What time did you arrive at the house? When you entered the house to pick up your homework did you notice anything unusual? How did you enter the house? Did you expect your father to be home? Did you check and see if anyone else was home? So you were in your room gathering your things and you didn’t hear anything? No gunshot? Why were your fingerprints on the weapon? .....

It was different for me when I got pregnant, I mean, I can’t even imagine what you’re going through… I was scared as hell like you and throwing up every day and I wasn’t sure if that was because of the baby or because I was afraid, I knew I messed up big, but you, you didn’t do anything to deserve this, I mean it’s totally not your fault—you know that, right?

Hi honey, sorry about the noise in the background, I’m still at the office, are you at home? Okay, I called the hospital, they said there’s a very good chance your dad will live…the bullet missed his heart, but he lost a lot of blood so he needs to stay there for awhile…are you there? Okay, he’s not ready to see anyone right now…why do you want to see him anyway?

.....

.....

When your mother started blaming your father, how did that make you feel?

So Miss, let me get this straight, you walked into the kitchen to get something to eat and you saw your father bleeding on the kitchen floor? How did your fingerprints get on the gun? You’re saying you picked up the gun, but didn’t shoot it? You just dropped it and left the house?

--Oh my god—I was afraid this would happen—are you okay? I know I said this before, but that’s it, neither one of us, you or me, is ever going back to that house again— I don’t care that he’s your dad, no dad in his right mind would ever…it’s probably to get back at me, that son of a bitch—I’m coming to pick you up, where are you now? If he ever touches you again I’ll…what do you mean it’s not that big of deal?! That son of a bitch is supposed to be taking care of you and he…?! Okay don’t cry, I’m sorry...I can leave in twenty minutes, where will you be?

..... Maybe you should abort it like I did, what do you think? What are you going to do?

.....

So Mi ss, let me get thi s straight, you walked into the kitchen to get so mething to e at and you saw your father bleeding on the kitchen floor? H ow did your fingerprints get on the gun?

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katherine sanders That’s crazy that the cops came to the school to ask you all these questions, when you found me at the end of lunch break and I saw the look on your face I got scared…it was like you had seen a ghost, do you remember the principal talking to the police? I think that’s what happened right before you passed out—how are you feeling now? Are you comfortable? Do you want me to get you anything? .....

..... If you saw him again, your father, what would you say to him? ..... Your father will have to testify and unfortunately you’ll have to too, especially since you don’t have any witnesses…do you?

I hate to tell you this, but you’re a suspect in your father’s attempted murder case, the medical report says we can assume that the victim was shot around 12:45pm on October 26th, a neighbor heard the gunshot and saw you leave the house…isn’t there anyone that can vouch for where you were at 12:45?

I’m here to listen and be on your side, you know? No matter what actually happened you can tell me…did you try to kill your father?

.....

.....

I don’t know how to ask this, honey, well…did you? Did you shoot…? I don’t know, okay, I just don’t know, this is all too much, I don’t know who or what to believe anymore, maybe I should never have been a mother in the first place…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that…I just don’t know what to do…will you promise me something? Promise me that you won’t go near that man ever again? Please?

Don’t you realize that you have a chance to get out of all this? I mean, if your dad lives, he can tell everyone the truth—that you weren’t involved—I know he made your life a living hell, he’s a monster and all that, but, he’s still your dad, don’t you think that means something to him too?

.....

Use your head, honey, if he says you shot the gun— and at this point I have no trouble believing he would to protect his ass and his drug dealing loser friends— then there’s nothing you can do, right?

Look, it’s your choice, I got an abortion, safe and legal and all that, but I honestly don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, yeah it makes things easier, you go from being pregnant to being not pregnant, but I think about it all the time—like every time I see a baby I think about the one I didn’t have, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, have you talked to your mom about this? ..... All I ever wanted was for you was to graduate and go on to college and make something of yourself, I don’t want you to make the stupid mistakes your father and I made, can’t you see that? That man is poison, for both of us, that’s why I don’t want you going near him again, okay?

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.....

.....

..... What if you spoke for yourself for real? Told all? What you think and feel and what you did and didn’t do? What then?


hate composite 1 by marshall thomas

ok tell your computer all about me • we say weak lips • say tired • look man just leave • we say this is trash • how many rap ballads do we need • dusty gators • to the left • hi • fall back • go scratch your athlete’s foot • we say airball! • your frozen foods body • lie down • watch the sour ceiling • sniff • we say hide-and-seek hairline • we say you rap like you’re leaving a voicemail • that’s a reptilian jump shot son • haters with temp jobs • haters going bowling • haters recoil and do my taxes • suck my back • got long money • iced the watch on you • what we weren’t looking • yeah bezels the bezels • our minds are on the filing cabinet • our hands in the filing cabinet

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marshall thomas

hate composite 2

a jet among a swarm of jets • or yachted up among the masts • desert eagle clap clap you wouldn’t • last place mixtape • all crack don’t fluff up nice • money curtains man it’s money in the bathtub now • don’t you ever get another haircut • ashy knuckles had em giggling • you mariachi corny • fuck outta here • black as hash browns done wrong • and cereal minded • soft before you know it • when did you crawl out the basement

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They Come In All Colors by Malcolm Hansen

-I-

E

ven

if

the

“—to continue bringing your boy to the pool.” “And if it didn’t make a lick of difference the last two weeks?” “I’d like to, Buck. I swear I would.” “Dammit, Stanley. What the hell’s the difference between the boy’s mother and Maureen Burns over there who’s doing her damnedest to brown up every bit as much as Cleopatra?” I had never seen Missus Burns without either a drink or a bottle of Coppertone in her hand. Mister Abrams glanced over to her. He dropped his eyes to his black wingtips. “Honestly, Buck,” he said. “I don’t know. But I’m starting to feel the heat.” “It’s his birthday, for crying out loud.” A raucous peel of high-pitched belly laughs drowned out Dad’s voice. So I rubbed the goose bumps from my arms and jumped in, hoping their talk had nothing to do with me. No sooner did I reemerge choking down a mouthful of water than Danny Dixon quipped that it served me right because here he’d been pleading with me for the last five minutes to concentrate and wouldn’t you know it I wasn’t even paying attention. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Dad, even as I struggled to stay afloat. Mister Abrams pushed back his Panama hat as far as he could without its falling from atop his comb-over. “Buck, I got a phone call last night. And all I heard was the sound of a match being lit.” “That’s just some fool trying to be funny.” “I don’t think so, Buck.” Dad’s slack-jawed face went as still as backwater. Mister Abrams tugged at the collar of his checkered sport coat. He turned his back to Dad and called out: “Dixon!” The next thing I knew I was going it alone in the deep end. Danny Dixon glided effortlessly to the edge of the

billboard

out front said the Camelot Motor Lodge was the perfect rest stop for Snow Birds passing through Georgia on their way to Florida, it owed its survival to the Albany housewives who brought their kids to the pool out back. It was my third Saturday there, and I loved it. Danny Dixon was floating on his back by the near ledge of the pool. He cupped his hands over his mouth and hollered out that the trick to treading water was to keep my arms paddling with my head above water and “oh two” circulating through my nose. Dad stood poolside cheering me on. He nudged Mister Abrams, the motel owner. “Whaddya think, Stanley?” he asked. “Is he a natural or what?” I had been in and out of the water that morning more times than I can count. I laughed my head off each time I skipped by Dad before diving back in toward the teenager awaiting me with his hands held up like he was about to catch a football. I twisted around from atop the shiny metal stepladder to make sure that Dad was watching. Mister Abrams pulled him aside. “Well, Buck,” he said. “It’s just that in my opinion you ought to do what you can to give your boy a leg up in the world. Lord knows he’s better off hitting the books than hanging around here all day long.” Dad looked haltingly at Mister Abrams. He glanced over the vacant deck chairs scattered around the fencedin terrace. “Buck? I mean it might not be such a good idea to, well, you know—” Dad looked down at the short old man in front of him. “Spit it out, Stanley.”

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malcolm hansen pool. He hoisted himself up. He toweled his back dry with a dewy ear pricked toward Mister Abrams, then took a duffel bag from atop a slatted chair and pulled out his wallet. Which hardly made any sense at all because just a week earlier Dad had insisted on paying up front for all twelve swim lessons. He said it with a wink because Mister Abrams could hardly be expected to understand that my swim lessons were indispensable. As he explained it, how every Fairchild had been not just a good swimmer but a great swimmer and how that hotshot Dixon kid who was the captain of the varsity swim team was just the boy to teach me. I looked on wide-eyed as Danny Dixon counted eleven singles back into Dad’s palm. Dad stared down at the money for what seemed like an eternity, then called me poolside. Spitting out water like a tugboat, I flapped and flailed over to the stepladder. I hugged it. Dad knelt down on one knee. He asked how things were going. As uneasy as I was with the dim look in his eyes, I managed a convincing, “Terrific.” Dad, pleased, nodded. He looked away. He sighed and, turning back to me, said, “Pack up.” “What about my swim lesson?” “I’ll teach you myself. Just not here.” “But I like it here.” “Just do as I say. Okay?” I looked over Dad’s shoulder—but not toward the cleaning lady pushing a bulging linen cart or Danny Dixon who was feeding the soda machine directly behind her. Instead I watched the slow flap, straight glide of a hawk drifting in an updraft. I clutched the fat lip of the ledge and climbed out of the pool, dripping. Derrick, Vincent, and the Tillman kid came up to me. Vincent stepped forward. “I can swim better than you,” he said. I thumped water from my ear with the heel of my hand and said, “So?” The Tillman kid, who never got the drift of things right off, asked why I wasn’t finishing my swim lesson. I picked at my wedgie as Vincent explained that it was probably because my dad had another one of his spats with Mister Abrams. Derrick narrowed his eyes in the direction of the frothy green drink being forced into Dad’s hand by Mister Abrams and said, “Yeah, your dad’s a real pecker head. Last time he wouldn’t let you come with us to Ben’s 26 |

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Burgers and now this.” I pressed one nostril with my thumb and blew watery snot from the other in contemplation of Derrick’s comment. I turned my back on the boys and tiptoed over hot tiles on my way to the sun-faded umbrella under which my clothes were spread out. The slap of Derrick’s feet followed me there. “Where are you going?” he asked. I gathered up my blue jeans and black high-tops and poked around under the patio table for my socks. “Home.” “How come?” I squinted in the glare of the sun and patted my face dry, but said nothing. Derrick smiled in the direction of his mother. “My mama lets me stay as long as I want,” he said. “Mine would too but she’s busy.” “Doing what?” I doubled up my towel and rolled in my goggles. “Wash.” “Your mama does the wash?” Derrick’s mother looked lazier than the deck chair she was lying on. I glanced from the manicured hand dangling over the armrest to the cleaning lady knocking on a door with a short stack of towels in her arms, then back to Derrick. “Just kidding,” I said. Derrick held his nose and dove into the pool, soaking me in the spray of a human cannonball. I wiped the water from my eyes and sat down in a folding chair to watch as he disappeared underwater. He reemerged smiling from cheek to cheek. A shadow engulfed me from behind. Dad set down his drink, still untouched, on the adjacent table. “I’ll be out in the car,” he said. I looked up from my shoelaces and nodded. I zigzagged past four on-coming flip-flops on my way out to the gravel parking lot. I climbed into the hot front seat of our Corvair. I looked up at Dad’s moist upper lip. “Am I in trouble?” I asked. “No.” “Then why are we going home?” Dad eased out of the parking lot, but said nothing. “Mister Abrams doesn’t like me, does he?” Dad flipped on his blinker. He waited for a car to pass before turning. “Stanley likes you as much as he likes anybody,” he said. “I just don’t like that Derrick kid is all.” “How come?” I asked.


malcolm hansen “Huey,” he said. “I want you to know that it ain’t how you look that’s important. It’s how you carry yourself. Your manner of speaking—you know—your upbringing that’s the main thing.” The inside of the car went quiet as Dad turned onto Maplewood Avenue. He followed it all the way out to Brentwood. The brakes squealed as Dad pulled up beside a wiffle ball bat that I had left in the front yard of our house. He eased over the driveway and straddled a mound of motor oil-soaked sawdust. The engine went quiet. I fidgeted with my thumbnail before looking back up at him. I braced for his answer before I had even mustered the courage to ask the question. “How do I look?” Dad sighed. He looked over and held my eyes in his. “You’re a good looking boy, Huey. But sometimes people

get jealous and say mean things is all.” Mom appeared in the doorway with an armful of laundry. Dad snatched at the door handle like it was an escape hatch. “Why are you boys back a whole hour early?” Mom called out. I reached into the back seat and pulled out my towel. I dragged myself from the car. I kicked the plastic bat out of my way and mounted the bottommost step. Inside the house I turned at the sound of murmuring voices in the open doorway behind me. Over the sound of the Berner’s dog yapping across the street I heard Dad say: “Stanley turned Huey out.” Mom set the laundry basket down. “No.” “I know.” “Why?”

I looked up at the shirttail spilling fro m Dad’s pants. I g rinned. “ One ti m e on fl ag day Miss us Mayapple lined u s up out front a nd walked u s all the way down to River s ide Cemetery. You rem e mber th at, Daddy?”

“He’s scared.” Mom bent down and hugged me in the same suffocating way she did when my Aunt Myrna passed. “Don’t worry, Cupcake,” she said. “We’ll get you something nice for your birthday.” Later that afternoon I scrambled down from the worn seat cushion of an easy chair and bolted through the front door at the sound of a pickup truck pulling up in front of our house. Grampa Frank shoved open his truck door with a grunt. “Oh my goodness,” he said. “Is this the birthday boy? No, this can’t be. You’re much too big.” Grampa Frank came by once a year and always made me feel like he did what he could to make up for all the time that had passed since his last visit. He reached in and held out a gift-wrapped box. He let himself gingerly down from his pickup. I tore my present open and held a brand new magnifying glass up to my face Sherlock Holmes-style. “Lookit what Grampa got me!”

I chased Grampa Frank inside. Mom hung his ball cap on the banister post and called out after him. “So how’s life treating you?” “Besides being a day late and a dollar short my whole life, you mean? Couldn’t be better. You?” “Can’t complain.” Mom dialed down the knob on the stove. She poked at half a dozen hot dogs floating in a pot of boiling water. “You know I had a mind to fix up something special. But you know how kids are these days. You think you’re doing something nice for them and it turns out they want something completely different.” Dad opened the fridge. “You know how it is when you’re the youngest one in the neighborhood,” he said. “But I’m expecting another year of school to change all that.” Dad pulled out two beers and slapped the refrigerator door shut. Grampa Frank was kind enough not to ask where all my friends were. Instead he took the beer held out to him and moseyed back into the hallway.

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malcolm hansen He stopped beside a finger painting of mine that hung opposite the stair rails. “Glad to see you have these up,” he said. Mom looked down the hallway. “Huey made that one last year.” Grampa Frank’s beer made a tinny sound as he rested it on his belt buckle. “I mean the one of Connie and me.” He took the frame off the hook. He knelt down and brought it up close to my face. “That’s your grandma and me thirty years ago,” he said. Grampa Frank turned to Mom with the picture still in his hand. “It’s nice of you not to have changed much in the house. Makes me wish Connie could see it for herself.” “How is Connie these days? Cupcake. The table.” I pulled open a drawer and counted out four knives and four forks. I set them down in a pile on the kitchen table. Grampa Frank hung the picture frame back up on the second try. He made his way into the kitchen. “Say, did you hear about the two colored boys caught swimming over at the Camelot last night?” A large, batter-streaked mixing bowl sat on the stove. Dad tipped it. He licked his finger clean. “Trespassing?” “That’s the question everybody’s asking,” Grampa Frank said. “Byron saw them on his way home from work. He was driving by as they were heading across South Slappery with a shoe in each hand and Stanley’s front office lit up like a Christmas tree. And when Byron sped up to get a better look they high-tailed it on out of there, so scared the one didn’t bother coming back for the tennis shoe he’d dropped. Byron pulled over. And you know damned well that Byron being Byron he got out of his car and fetched it. Then went straight to the police and handed it over along with the story of what he’d seen.” The oven timer rattled, then stopped. “What kind of sneaker was it?” Mom asked. Grampa Frank took a seat. He lifted both hands from the table as I dealt him a plate. “Hell if I know,” he said. “But the police are wondering if Stanley ain’t been letting coloreds in after hours for a small fee.” Mom twisted around from the oven with my birthday cake in hand. “You’re kidding.” I set out a bottle of ketchup, then the mustard and relish. I pulled up a chair and sat down beside Grampa Frank. “Oscar Mayer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A!” Grampa Frank smiled, then continued. “Serious as 28 |

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a heart attack,” he said. “They got every white man in Albany complaining about how they’re being made to take a bath with those colored boys. They got no choice but to close the pool. Supposedly it’ll be re-opened just as soon as Stanley has it drained and scrubbed.” Mom pulled up a chair to the table with a bowl of potato chips in hand. “Stanley’s not going to do that,” she said.

- II Shortly after lunch the next day Dad

ushered me into our 1957 Corvair. I rolled down the window and angled my hand toward the bright, halo-ringed sky. I dozed off before feeling the bump bump of the railroad crossing at Oglethorpe. Half an hour later my eyes popped open to the sight of Dad pulling the key from the ignition. He got out and pulled my towel from the back seat. He pointed towards a densely vaulted wood and smiled. “Not bad, huh?” Dad told me to leave my window cracked. He took me by the hand and led me into a clearing. I made my way over a damp bed of pine needles with a rolled up towel in hand and Dad at my side. “Now most people, they don’t believe there was much fighting down this far,” he said. “During the war?” “Yeah.” “There was fighting down this far?” “Minor skirmishes mostly,” he said. “But it wasn’t the kind of fighting we should be proud of. So it don’t get talked about much. But you and me, we got the story handed down to us straight from your Great Grampa. So we know better.” “Missus Mayapple says no way in heck was there any fighting down this far.” Dad swiped at the tall grass with his inner arch and rambled on about the time the Flint River rose so high that anyone wading within a quarter mile of it quickly found himself in over his head. That was exactly what had happened to my Great Grampa Francis Fairchild Senior, who’d been out with his regiment when one of the recruits had suddenly disappeared underwater at a blind drop off. According to Dad, Great Grampa Fairchild had looked after his men like they were his own children. Sadly, there was nothing that he could do but watch as the young man slipped issue 1


malcolm hansen underwater, never to be seen or heard from again. Great Grampa Fairchild couldn’t swim. I looked up at the shirttail spilling from Dad’s pants. I grinned. “One time on flag day Missus Mayapple lined us up out front and walked us all the way down to Riverside Cemetery. You remember that, Daddy?” “For goodness sake, Huey. I’m trying to explain to you how it took real courage to do what your Great Grampa did.” We emerged from the dense canopy of pine trees. Dad stopped to marvel at a flowering dogwood arched over the riverbank. I stopped beside him. The swampy plain before us extended like a ledge all the way to the water’s edge. I swatted at a swarm of flies and ran after Dad. Dad knelt down to the river. “This is what I wanted to show you,” he said. “How come?” “This is where your great Grampa did the most difficult thing that he ever had to do in his whole life.” “What happened to that soldier?” “He drowned.” Dad kicked off his shoes and socks and rolled up his khakis and waded in. I looked out over the water in awe. “If you ask me he should’ve tried to save him,” I said. “Because the Lone Ranger is always telling Tonto how it’s better to die in honor than live in shame. Everyone knows that.” The river whispered past Dad’s ankles. He waded up alongside me. “Whaddya say we work on that doggy paddle of yours?” he asked. “Say, whatever happened to that little flag I got on Flag Day?” Dad answered by trying to pull me in. I sprinted up the river for a full two seconds before he caught me up by the back of my trousers. I sank to the ground and sprawled out over the soft tufts of grass. Dad collapsed beside me. “Hear that?” he asked. “Hear what?” “Listen.” I did. “I still don’t hear it,” I said. Dad pointed to the water creeping over the flagstone-tiled shoreline. “The current is trying to tell you something,” he said. “It’s trying to tell you that it’s not as simple as always duking it out at every turn and at any cost. Sometimes you’ve got to swallow your pride. Just like your great Grampa did. He had to do it. Or else he’d have drowned and no good done. And thank God that

he did. Because neither you nor me would be here if he hadn’t. That’s the wisdom of the river, Huey. It tells us to bend when there’s no other way.”

issue 1


“WERK”

Jayda d. thompson 30 |

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sugar & salt by alexandra watson staff contribution

I.

I do not speak the language of your tongue But I’ve read between the new lines in your skin. The sea woven in your wild hair tells all. I’m mourning the flesh of you, the sores from Heat moisture contact companions Rope burns at ankles & wrists. You arrive with new blood on your dress, They sniff you like dogs and write the date. I tell you everything I can with eyes, Making small promises I’m dying to keep To save you one row of cane To build you one moment of peace. II.

Sweat bead suspended at your eyebrow gleams, The one jewel of my crown. My mind will be first to taste its coconut salt. One drop rolls and trembles on your lip & Your tongue flicks up to catch it. I die a salty death on your top lip. A sweat & palm frond love, The oil inside your midnight skin. Coconut & pineapple flesh, sticky rum. A fruited love, sugarsweet, canewhipped. A tastedriven sugarcane love in the soil. III.

I give up sleep to walk 12 miles at dark to you You guide my fingers to your dampness I swell & ache from days without you I have you on the ground and your dress stays on You hold your hips up to not get soil inside, I part your mouth with mine and only then Do I taste blood and feel the swell of your lip But it’s too late to ask or to worry about A body not mine to love or yours I collapse, whipped by the look and the salt in your eye. And you by the sugar in mine. \ f

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issue 1


my two fathers by guinevere lee

staff contribution

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ne of my fathers is tall;

the other is short. The tall one wears grey polo shirts tucked over the bulge of his stomach into the high waistband of his slacks. The short one wears Hawaiian shorts and sweater vests over T-shirts. One only owns loafers, the other, sandals.

Dad Barnaby taught me about kindness. He would pull over on the side of the road, in the middle of traffic, to grip a turtle with his hands and gently reposition it on the bank of a nearby lake. He also taught me to be afraid of things—like men and marriage and alligators that climbed fences into people’s pools. As I grew up I got the impression he didn’t like me very much. He always paid more attention to my brother, and called me a baby, and once he screamed that I was a little bitch. He told me I was “just like” his mother. He hated his mother.

I have two fathers. My stepfather and my biological father. Both married my mother, who divorced one, then the other. I call them Dad Barnaby and Dad Neal. When I was younger I called them Daddy Barnaby and Daddy Neal. I grew up in a house with Daddy Neal, who watched me take my first steps and taught me how to read. I saw Daddy Barnaby only on weekends, when he took me and my brother and sister to different parks we nicknamed “the castle park” and “the Yogi Bear park.” He sat me on the handlebars as he biked to the grocery store, and I still remember the wind and the quiet sound of the wheels rippling down the sidewalk.

He taught me about Buddhism, and we’d chant together in his house. When I was a child I fell asleep to the soft drone of his chanting—scratchy, a little deep, always strained. I look like him. I’m the only one of his three children who looks like him. Sometimes I see pink around my knuckles—the same as his pink skin. Once after I cried for a long time I looked in the mirror and my eyes were bright green and yellow—a field in the afternoon, his eyes.

Six years ago, when my mother divorced Dad Neal, she yelled, “He isn’t even your father!” I thought: but he is. There is a photo of Daddy Neal and me. I’m wearing a little white dress and white booties. My hair is short and black, and my nose is small and squished like a button. Daddy Neal is holding me under the orange tree. He looks like a giant, standing there, squinting against the sun. I look very happy, holding on to him, hoisted onto his high hip. When we were younger my brother and sister and I played a game with the oranges and the 32 |

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nearby swing set. We would begin swinging, gaining speed with each swing by crunching up our bodies then spreading apart like divers and arching our backs, and when high enough, we catapulted from the seats into the thinnest branches at the top of the orange tree. We competed that way, seeing who could pluck the highest oranges by flying.

Daddy Neal read to me in the evenings and scratched my back. I remember his long claws—his nails, like the rest of him, seemed to belong to a giant. He took a keen interest in me, more than my other parents. He told me I was precocious and a great orator when other people

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guinevere lee called me a bigmouth. He said that oration was a necessary skill for future presidents, and winked at me over the dinner table. He told me I could be a doctor if I wanted, or maybe a cetologist since I liked to study whales and locked myself in my bedroom to read and copy drawings from a book for hours. When I got accepted to my first graduate program he announced the fact at his wedding to his new wife, in front of a hundred people I’d never met. I was sort of like his first child: a baby when he got together with my mom, an infant in his arms.

Neither my brother nor my sister associates very much with Dad Neal now, after the divorce and everything, because he isn’t their real dad. They call him Neal, and sometimes, in their company or that of my mother, I do too. I say “Neal,” and feel like I’ve sliced something in half.

He stole money from my mother during their divorce; he stripped their savings before she noticed. And he won’t pay for my youngest sisters, his daughters, to go to college. Now he has a new family: a new wife and two bouncing baby boys. He sends me emails every week and calls to ask for my vacation dates in between long-winded explanations of why he can’t afford my sister’s automobile bills or pay my mother alimony. I have two dads. One is my step-dad and the other is my blood-dad. I look like one and not the other. Between me and Dad Barnaby, a live wire writhes. Between me and Dad Neal, there is the orange tree in the backyard that got struck by lightning three times and finally died, just before the divorce.

issue 1


a town in the mountains by María Cristina fernández Hall

Tapalpa curved roads ranch the bovine bleating clay houses with hay poking out everywhere. Tapalpa finger-sink texture of the bovine fleecing weaving in the market where locals don’t buy. Tapalpa the dusty rock they slide down is now such a curvy sigh of gleaming, bleating erosion. Tapalpa magic throned fleece-colored faces mixing with brown.

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maría cristina fernández hall

Sábila Slippery Aztec fingers. Sábila smears, loosens grasp. Too much land for one hand. From the burning Culiacán, to the forests of thorny trees. The reign of Tenochtitlan pouring forth from an angular waterfall over the steps that now rush down reflecting the emerging sun in a single sinuous line. The snake of conquest slides under a horse.

issue 1


newark nothing by michal malachowski

We shall be made a story and a by-word through the world One o’clock, 25 in Newark, I am A white boy sitting sullenly amongst What Yahweh and William Bradford’s people Would call “minorities.” Oh, I am offered gum. The ice crackles, bridging, bridging… I am dropped off at an unofficial bus stop. Engineered simmer, simmering… I am going to jail. These times… I am going to jail to visit my old Polish nanny, Who tried to cozen Jesus & Karl Rove and revuelto a this draconian land; No avail, now she’s deportation fodder. She speaks no English, crow cries in her eyes – Oh white america, you sure hate your antipodes. But here comes that sensitively won Wordsworthian epiphany— And here am I the spoiled initiate in the visitation hut (aside from attorneys), Ephebe, do you dare tell them of Mexico-mown lawns On the suburban cusp of Bethesda’s bust? Where is that angel descending? Dirty beggar it; who is cured? I am aware I am no one’s minority just another, So how can they be mine if I’m understaffed? I am going to ask myself again and again. In the dusty drops of plaster jail-grime shine, I parcel out sight On all and focus on these masks called people: Each a tendril of an interstellar something squeezed onto a census. But in the silence it is clear – Accepted, understood, the silent parcel of this connection stirs. We’re humans ferrying toward our downtrodden, Not signifiers signifying social classification. My nanny weeps to see me, worn tears as real As past and future Bastilles crumbling, puritan heads shaken and shaking. In this mire I am a man, sanitizer-free and as dirty

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michal malachowski

As my neighbor, thank all weak gods for the dirt that still binds us! Without dirt, the pallid snows would coat and coat… Back on the bus, I am no timid white boy But a star caramelized in stars, a volatile part Of a larger pain, an ache for Arcadia— For America. This port, that factory, that steel rung home Now rings us up as downtrodden Visited upon by a trodden-down idea. Who still believes in Cleon’s democracy?

“All of the Lights”

/ Jayda d. thompson issue 1


How Harold Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Han by Jae Won Chung

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wo hours a day is all

kids whose countries of origin have measly per-capita incomes, which leads to a more malodorous diet and a dowdier global image. Plus I have seen Dustin fight, and I know I can take him. He confuses fights with fierce huggings. And that is precisely how he gets himself kicked out of college. This is a major bummer and means Dustin has to pay out-of-state tuition for his in-state college education. (Though we have lived in the United States for years and years, we are still not citizens.) Mom’s been working overtime for as long as I can remember, and in the morning, all I see of her is the elaborate breakfast spread with the Travel & Leisure section blotched in places by the soup steam. She won’t return till eight or nine, and when she does, she will immediately begin clattering around the kitchen to cook. Any decent human being would make note of the sacrifice and make the most out of college, but not Dustin. He decides to throw it all away on a fight he can’t even win. There’s great sadness in our household on the night of Dustin’s expulsion. Mom is like, “What am I going to do with you?” And when she says I, note the singular, meaning spousal absence, for she is a single parent. It gets ugly quick when she slaps Dustin on the forehead with the meaty base of her palm. Dustin’s head snaps back then returns to place, his expression glazed in zombie-like indifference, like it’s all part of a tiresome routine. “Look at your younger brother,” Mom says, taking Dustin’s huge cheeks in her hand and turning his face to me. “If you could be at least one-fourth of what your brother is, I would be satisfied. One-fourth!” I understand the pain he must feel, because both he and I know she means that number. Like, if we were to quantify my achievements and his, and he accomplished a fourth of what I have, Mom would go, “This, I can live

I need to maintain my kickass GPA. I build equations that launch curvaceous asymptotes, which are eternal. I do one hundred crunch-ups every morning hanging upside down, shooting joyous pangs of improvement through my abs. I rap lyrics of suffering over the percussive picking of the strings by my muscular and agile digits. I date the fuck out of girls of various origins who are sexy and inspiring, whose needs I caress with my doleful eyes. I am the hippest Class President and a co-founder of LET’S NOT GET AIDS. It is my dream to sashay through the corridors of Washington, shooting invisible bullets of hello at co-elite passersby and be genially shot back. Because aren’t we the generation of mixing the cool with the grave? We are forever mixing for a better tomorrow. My sole life-burden is Dustin, my older brother, or hyung, as he likes to call himself. As in “Harold! Is that any way to be talking to your hyung?” But, okay, if there is one thing you should not mix, it is language. So Dustin is Dustin and not hyung, though he remembers a time when I called him that. Sure I have glimpses of those years but I also have glimpses of calling a tiger a kittie and pointing to Florida on the map and thinking it was my country of origin. We make mistakes. We correct and move on. But what if Dustin makes them more often than I? Because he is older but lesser. He is the unsexy kind of brooder, and if you can get him out of his room long enough, he will mutter dribbling downer words until you want to slap his cheeks full of optimism and soaring. Anything is possible if you spend mornings on crunchups and involve yourself in the community by tutoring 38 |

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jae won chung with.” I am perfectly aware, also, that Mom’s explicit comparison only stokes the embers of Dustin’s brooding, but I do not overstep my filial boundaries. Because isn’t that what makes a parent? Having the right to parent poorly if the mood so strikes? She keeps getting shoutier until she grabs Dustin by the hair and drags him around the carpet, which is a considerable ouch even for the onlooker. For the next few months, Dustin does nothing except drive out to his old campus to fraternize with his church friends. I no longer go to church, because sitting through service is like stewing in a long, conscience-curdling hypocrisy bath. Mom has always felt I should gain admission into both an elite east coast university and heaven, but one event during youth group happened to crumble not my faith, but my tolerance for it. We’d just come from service, where an old lady sang in the traditional Korean style. It didn’t have a slamming beat but it was full of mournful longing, her vocals mighty and haunting. Dustin got teary-eyed and excused himself and Mom slept through the whole thing. After the performance, our Youth Group Leader held a discussion section, and introduced a word I had never heard before: han. “It’s the essence of who we are as a people.” Then he looked right at me before saying, “You might not know han, but han knows you,” which is a fucked up thing to say in my book. So I went home and took down the massive dual-language dictionary in Mom’s bedroom, and after going through like sixteen different kinds of hans, I found the one I was looking for, which meant grudge, resentment, a bitter feeling, hatred, rancor, a mixed feeling of sorrow and regret. This is our legacy of a five thousand year old family? Doesn’t the church cite among its deadly sins, anger, pride and envy? And if you think for second about han, isn’t it basically slabs of anger sandwiched between pride and envy in a very undelicious way? So that is why I don’t go to church and do not much care for any “bond” or “fellowship” that comes out of that place. And it isn’t surprising that Dustin, after hanging out with these shallow believers, would suddenly want to go back to his country of origin to “get in touch with his heritage” and “improve his first language,” as if he has his second down, which he didn’t, as evidenced by his SAT verbal. This means Mom will have to pay for his plane ticket along with what is sure to be a lifestyle of

mediocrity until he can stand on his own two feet. As if he hadn’t wasted enough of our family’s money? “Are you going to the motherland to find yourself? Are you going to sample exotic dishes and ladies of our origin and remark, ‘That is so interesting!’ Because that is like so predictable.” He shrugs, eyeing me like a lowing cow. It occurs to me that his bits of brooding are like massive flecks of ash in freshly cooked rice, and that rice is America. To my surprise, Mom nods mysteriously, saying, “You’re so much like your father,” and promises to let him go as soon as we get our citizenship. At which point, I am like WTF? But that is not the end of it. Because Dustin says, “If we get it,” filling me with terror. That is exactly the kind of shit that bars Dustin from being my hyung proper, in my opinion. Because what kind of hyung makes a joke like that? Joking about being deported when we might actually get deported? About saying bye bye to the only life we’ve known? That’s the thing about Dustin. He can be so childish. When we were in elementary school, and fresh American arrivals, he and I would play a game called ‘stinger’ which involved putting our hands together as if in prayer and raising our index finger like a steeple. The game entailed thrusting the fingers deep within the buttocks of an unexpected party to cause pain and humiliation in the stung person. The name of the game in literal translation was ‘excrement indicator’ but he said ‘stinger’ had a better ring to it. I told him again and again how the game might not be palatable to American youth, but he adapted it as a form of tag. “Instead of tagging,” he said, “we can sting.” Somehow, the game caught on like crazy and for a time it was up there with hide & seek and kickball. The older boys put a stop to this when they caught wind of it. Everyone, including Dustin, was made to denounce it as homo. I am glad those days are over with. A month later we get a letter in the mail in English so official Mom can’t understand it. She shows it to me and I leap with mirth and tell her the news and tell Dustin the news and Mom frames it after making seventeen photocopies of it and mailing it to extended family in Houston, Busan, Vancouver and Rio, just for safe keeping. We’ve been invited to a naturalization oath ceremony at a local high school. issue 1


jae won chung

“ W hat if they send us back and you have to relea rn Kore an and your grades are s hit becaus e you don’t even under stand wh at your te achers are saying?”

A district judge seated on stage of the auditorium gives a long speech about his mother’s immigrant journey from Poland. I am seated between Dustin and an Iranian man. He is watching episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond on his portable viewing device and cracking up gently, showing his pearly row of teeth. It suddenly blows my mind that this man is about to become, right before my eyes, Iranian-American, which is a marvelous idea—both Iranian AND American—and I am grateful to have the privilege of witnessing the change come over him, like the growth of an additional, awesome appendage, when we are all sworn in. But I am deprived of this pleasure because of something Dustin does, which becomes an instant Dustinclassic. The judge asks us to raise our right hand to our chest and repeat after his words, words I am more than happy to repeat and believe. Then I see, to my left, Dustin’s hand, which is held up lackadaisically to begin with, sneakily beginning to droop, and I stick my elbow in his side and whisper sharply, “Get it up!” but he doesn’t. Then he stops repeating after the judge! I am outraged by this because fair is fair. They will let us live in this great country and enjoy its shopalicious bounty if we recite these words they’ve prepared for us and what is more reasonable than that? What takes less effort, you dumbass, than raising your right hand and repeating these beautifully solemn words in unison with other aspiring soon-to-be Americans? “Why didn’t you do it?” I interrogate him during our drive home from the ceremony. “I didn’t feel like it.” “You didn’t feel like it? Do you realize what can happen if they find out you didn’t take the oath?” “The whole thing was pointless. Like they were listening anyway.” I cannot believe what I am hearing. “Your father was like that,” Mom weighs in, which is 40 |

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completely unhelpful. “Like what? He was stupid? Lazy? Dishonest? With weak arm muscles?” “What a beautiful day!” Mom says. “We should go out for a steak dinner.” I look out the window for relief, only to catch a rude glimpse of myself snarling in the sideview mirror. I hear what sounds like a chortle hurled from deep within, and Dustin says, “What if it was all a trick?” “What?” “I mean, what if it was all a setup, and we get home and Homeland Security agents are waiting for us, and we’re all deported by tomorrow morning?” I cannot believe the glee in Dustin’s voice as he imagines this horror and I keep reminding myself to let it go because Dustin is an idiot. “What if they send us back and you have to relearn Korean and your grades are shit because you don’t even understand what your teachers are saying? What if you end up going to one of those rural colleges amidst the rice paddies in the middle of nowhere? And what if you can never return to the U.S., and even if you do, you can’t get a decent job because nobody’s heard of your college, and by then, your English is a joke and people keep saying to you, ‘Welcome to America. Where do you come from? How long have you been in the United States? Two months?’” “Like that would ever happen.” “Why not?” “Because idiot, you’re the one who didn’t take the oath. I should report your ass so you get what you deserve. I took the oath. I have my citizenship. They can’t just take that away.” “Didn’t you hear about that guard from Auschwitz who was recently stripped of his U.S. citizenship? He’d been an American for decades but it didn’t matter.” “Motherfucker, I’m not a Nazi!” “You would do well no matter where you were,” Mom


jae won chung says in that blandly reassuring way. “You would always excel.” “That’s right,” Dustin says. “You don’t have to go to an Ivy League school.” That is a sly way of getting under my skin, because Dustin knows I have been stressing about college admissions. The reason I tell you about Dustin’s half-assed oath taking is because something that transpires at dinner a few weeks later. He makes an announcement of the blood-freezing variety. He declares, “I want to join the army.” And I’m asking myself, Why? With his citizenship, he can vote and apply for prestigious government fellowships and travel freely without worrying about Customs Officers glaring at his shabby green passport, and he’s going to join the army? Then I get to thinking maybe this is the future? Because didn’t I see, not too long ago, a young police officer about Dustin’s age from our country of origin? And I was like, Really? Your parents let you do that? Then I saw another one a few days later, and I was like, Wow! I barely noticed it this time. So maybe the same thing for the army? Then I begin kicking myself. Why didn’t you think of this sooner? Because when do Americans get all soggy-eyed about being Americans? When they talk about what they sacrificed in war. They say, “My grandfather bumrushed the Nazis in Normandy” or “My uncle lost the bottom half of his face in Vietnam.” So why not this? Because who can beat a story like that, told with feeling? Then I realize he is talking about something else. He isn’t joining the U.S. army, he’s joining the Korean army. So I sigh and explain to him how that is totally prohibited for a U.S. citizen to join the army of another sovereign nation. “I realize that,” Dustin says. There is a beat before Mom says, “Do you know that politicians will lie and risk their careers to keep their kids from going to the army? You lose two years of your life and you will have to play lackey to people you don’t respect at all, and you will be singled out for harassment since they will consider you a Yankee.” “I’ve been thinking,” Dustin says. “Hypothetically, what if we go to war with America? Who would I fight for?” So I ask, “what exactly is the meaning of ‘we’ in your question?”

According to Dustin, this is something he’s been reflecting on deeply since our oath taking. Now I see the trouble of free thought. Some people are in chains of stupidity, to which they are blind, so that they must be dragged against their will to the grassy hillocks of good sense. I want to tell Dustin he is acting rashly without proper information. Research shows that South Korea is a regional chum to America, and a handy little buffer-state between two world powers. It is time for a historical reality check. “Hypothetically,” Dustin says. “I’m saying if it’s between us and them, they are going to annihilate us, no doubt about that. Don’t forget what they did to the Japanese.” I am like, yes, thanks for that reference, which is so tenth grade. The internment camps were unfortunate, as Mr. Kilbride taught us in AP History, but we learned our lessons, didn’t we? Because did we round up Arabs and make them sell their property at below-market prices even during that fabulous housing boom? Practically all of them were left alone after 9/11 weren’t they? And next time we’ll do even better because that is the kind of country this is. That is when Mom steps in. She tells me to go upstairs so she and Dustin can talk. So like a good son, I obey. It takes a little time for me to work out the potential repercussions of Dustin’s treasonous musings. Because what if there is a showdown between my country of origin and my country of citizenship? It wouldn’t happen any time soon, but it could happen way down the line when I am like thirty years old and married, climbing the ladder of power when a well-meaning superior taps me on the shoulder and says, “Oops, it says here your brother defected from our great nation to join a defiant enemy state and recent studies have shown that younger siblings of defectors are sixty-three percent more likely to behave in unpatriotic ways.” I storm downstairs to give Dustin a piece of my mind, but it’s just Mom. Dustin’s gone for a drive, and she says it’s going to be okay. “What’s been decided?” Mom says what Dustin needs is structure in his life, a way to solidify his manhood and become an adult. He can do that here, in America, without renouncing his U.S. citizenship. He will join the U.S. Army or the National Guard or the Marines. He will join something, but he will do it here. And that is how Dustin joins the U.S. Army. issue 1


jae won chung Dustin shaves his head, sheds his gut, erects his posture. He is manning up. Seeing him after his training, I cannot help but be impressed. The transformation is undeniable. I ask him how it happened, but he will not tell me. So I read this book called Becoming an American Soldier: A Journey. I learn the meaning of “G.I.” which is Government Issue. It’s interesting to learn who owns what. Our house belongs to Mom. My jeans belong to me. The air belongs to nobody. Dustin belongs to the U.S. Army. He is deployed to a faraway land with a ton of sand, blown out buildings and angry men. It is not impossible that he will die, be maimed, et cetera. Curiously, the sight of Mom’s weeping reminds me of her joy. How she reacted, for example, when I won an essay contest in seventh grade for my “On the Importance of Azaleas and Lampreys in the Country of My Origin.” Mom went whooping and kicking in the aisles of the auditorium, bending her lower limbs in improbable angles both peasant and bestial, and didn’t the sight coil feelings of shame around my pride like a toxic Twizzler of the heart, which I had to assiduously and unbitterly uncoil? I ask myself how I would feel if Dustin were killed. Would it destroy me? In which knowable ways? Will I weep the way she does? I am proud of my brother, he is risking his life for our country. I am not old enough to go to a bar but if we are still at war by the time I get to college, I would be proud to boast to any drunk American elder about my brother. I write a well-balanced essay called “On the Importance of Humanism and Reconciliation and Victory for the United States and the World” and am awarded the Hur Prize for Promising Students of Government, so that I am called down to the counselor’s office. The man who is waiting for me has black hair and is in a green Polo shirt and slacks. He could be any number of middle-aged dudes from Mom’s church, but he

is not. He is Jason Hur, the same Jason Hur from his Wikipedia page, which shows him in front of all of those skinny microphones looking relaxed and unflappable. He is an alum of our high school, graduate of Kennedy School of Government, a human rights activist and a legal counselor to the State Department. When I sit down with Jason Hur, he says he’s read my essay several times. “I’ve been keeping an eye on you, Harold. I created this scholarship to cultivate young talent such as yourself.” “Thank you, sir.” This is the first time, since my grocery-bagging summers of yore, that I have used the word sir. Back then it felt like a game, like I was making a mockery of both the customer and the word sir, but here, before the presence of Hur, it is right, like the word was invented precisely for this moment. He says things about my essay, first enumerating its remarkable strengths, but also noting possible areas for improvement, whose very existence cause me, I cannot lie, some scintilla of distress and self-doubt. I ask him, “Do you think the essay needs to be revised?” My voice is trembling. He tells me that will be the easy part. So I ask him what will be the hard part. “Harold,” he says. “Have you heard of the concept of han?” I tell him yes, as a matter of fact I have and boy have I ever, many times. He proceeds to say that he could detect in my essay, though it was not about han, my complicated attitudes regarding han. He tells me that my feelings towards han, in fact, are feelings of han towards han, a kind of meta-han. Which, while it might sound awesome and transcendent, eventually leads to a vicious cycle of funk and brooding, which amounts to your run-of-the-mill first-order han. “I was like you, Harold. What you don’t yet understand

The way he sm iles at me, I see thi s is supposed to be an under sta nding mo ment. I feel like we’re at the cu sp of something, and I sm ile ju st to let him know I’ m teetering along with hi m.

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jae won chung is that you see han as a liability, something that will hold you back. But when you see something so wet, wiggly and alive, you have to roll up your sleeves and grab it. You can’t just turn away from it and say, ‘I do not understand it’ or ‘That is not me.’” “I don’t know if I understand what this has to do with the war in the Middle East.” “How are you going to get people to listen to you talk about people going through pain and suffering of history, if you cannot talk about the pain and suffering of your own people?” “But...I don’t really see Koreans as my people.” Saying it, even though I have believed it for a long time, still feels like heresy, like I have poked Mom with something very sharp, and huge, even though she is not even here. This is me throwing myself before Hur’s judgment, hoping that he will understand, that he will say it’s okay. The way he answers takes me aback, because it’s like what I said was nothing, a common mistake, like the failure to carry the one. “They can be your people if you need them to be,” he says. “People always talk about how han is a fundamentally Korean emotion. Okay, but it’s also the pain and grief of human history itself. The trick is in how you use it, for its benefit, so that the memory of your people’s pain becomes the ground of your authority, so that people will open their hearts and listen.” The way he smiles at me, I see this is supposed to be an understanding moment. I feel like we’re at the cusp of something, and I smile just to let him know I’m teetering along with him. “When you go home tonight, after you’re done with your homework, ask yourself this, ‘What can han do for me? What can han do for America? What can han do for the world?’ It’s like a Rubik’s cube, Harold. Make the sides match. Any answer that doesn’t consider these questions as three different ways of asking the same thing isn’t the correct one.” When I come out of the office, I am reeling with shame and excitement and learning. I get home and I want to tell Mom what happened, but I literally do not have the words. As it turns out, she is on videochat with Dustin. “Your face looks good,” Mom is saying to him, which is code for you are getting fat. I too can make out the chub, even through the grainy pixelage. I am already educated about this phenomenon from articles and blogs, accord-

ing to which “this is that rare war where soldiers gain weight.” “The webcam adds five pounds,” Dustin says. He is joking but his face is joyless. You can tell that is what they all say. I tell him, “I am working on an essay for graduation, about Iraq and you. Would you like to contribute something? Like an anecdote that ties it all together? What the war means for you and us as a people? Both American and Korean? Something hopeful? Balanced by tragedy? But in a hopeful order?” Part of me wants to tell him about my epiphany via Jason Hur, but the more judicious part of me tells me to keep it hush. “What time do you go to bed at night?” Mom says. “Make sure to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Also, dress in layers. It gets really cold in the desert. Did you know that?” That is classic Mom. Acting like she is an expert on the desert when she has never been to one. Dustin and I exchange furtive glances of meaning. Leave it to Mom’s momness to occasionally unite the brothers. “Any important missions of late?” I ask. “You know I can’t talk about that.” “Any regrets?” I say. He gives me a look like I tried to pick his nose with my finger. Then, after a silence that is of the tortured sort, but also maybe pregnant with awesome material to include in my essay, he says, “war is not the kind of thing, which, at the end of it, you say, I am glad I went.” That’s a new tone for Dustin, one of calm, manly knowing. But wow, is that really the kind of language suitable for the public ear? For one, it’s not even a real sentence. And is that really the message we need when the whole world is mired in crisis? If I am disappointed, do I show it? No way, because if anything, I am in fact thankful for Dustin’s tangled verbiage, since it is clear now how I am needed. Because when graduation day has come, and the auditorium fills with good Americans with anxious hearts, I shall stand there as a beacon of reassurance and promise. Because I will speak in complete sentences. Because I will tell them the story of my people and our han, and how only in the United States of America could a people, burdened by a five-thousand years of shitty luck, shed the shackles of the past, to become free, lovers of hope—true horizon-gazers. I will be radiant with self-belief, and with me in their sights, their issue 1


jae won chung American hearts engorged with promise, they will find in themselves something to believe in too. So I tell Dustin, “Stay safe, hyung, and come home soon.” I say. He nods. Mom says, “Make sure to keep your toes, armpits and asshole clean.” He nods again and the screen goes black. And you know it’s not so bad calling your older brother hyung? All it does is give respect where respect is due. There’s genuine pleasure there. And you get respect in return for conferring respect, like recursive respect, self-respect. And what better word for that kind of conferral than hyung?

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self portrait w/ documentation by marina blitshteyn

whose face you widowed by your name, your government whose mother tongue you bit at tits and all who’s mountain-climbing up your passport now where you at, home country where you I know a guy who knows a guy says watch where you’re watch watch where you’re going I know a guy came here with nothing I know a guy with nothing lost everything but his boot straps says keep going balls to the wall and all whose widowed face you facing made customs agents blink twice bit the tongue off all them off all that and on TV met your new match smiling at the screen we told you show us your hands show us what you got there got there in your pockets show us the forms worn and all still going by the wayside show us what you know mother country you mother country you mother

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an excerpt from

nobody here knows anything a novel by stephen o’connor

– Hope – This scene takes place in a flooded nursing home in New Orleans late at night on the day after Hurricane Katrina has ravaged the city. Talesha is an attendant in the home and Mrs. Zeisse is a German Jewish refugee whose legs are paralyzed and who is confined to her bed in single room on the second floor of the home. The electricity is out. There is no light or air conditioning. Also, the water supply has become infiltrated by sewage, so there is nothing to drink but canned fruit juice. Temperatures inside the home go well into the hundreds during the day. Many of the elderly and ill residents are dying. Talesha and Mrs. Zeisse had no particular relationship before Katrina, but have become friends since. Talesha seeks refuge in Mrs. Zeisse’s room whenever she has a spare moment. They are waiting to be rescued, but so far have no indication that help is coming.

Talesha? Are you there?

Shooting?

Shhh. I’m here, Mrs. Zeisse.

That’s what it sounded like. Wasn’t no car backfiring, that’s for sure!

I am sorry. You must be busy. I do not want to know about shooting. Not now. Not for the time being. Most of them are sleeping finally. Why aren’t you sleeping?

So you had a bad dream?

I was asleep. A little bit. But I was frightened.

I dreamed my mother’s dead face was pressed up right against mine. Maybe it is because. You know. We were talking. Her face was cold as a piece of chicken right out of the refrigerator. I could feel it.

… I had a dream. It was one of those dreams that are so real.

No wonder you were frightened.

Do you mind if I sit down a bit?

I do not want to talk about that. Tell me about yourself. Tell me a story.

Please. I would like you to. It is so dark. I don’t know any stories. I know. And everybody’s lying on mattresses all over the floors out there. I almost tripped over Lucy Smith three times. Betty almost fell down the stairs.

Sure you do. Just tell me something that happened. A happy memory. We both need to get out of this place.

I do not think I have ever seen it so dark. And so quiet. Listen. No cars.

Well. In our minds.

I heard someone shooting a little while ago. 46 |

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stephen o’connor she stole that. Gave it away to someone. Well. I guess there is this one time. I was living with my second foster mother. You were in foster care? Oh, yeah. Ever since I was little. Five years old. You poor. Nah. It wasn’t so bad. You know. … So anyway. My foster mother’s name was Mrs. Bingham. She weighed like two hundred and fifty pounds. This big, fat woman. And there was this other girl there. Chardonelle. She was a foster child too. Mrs. Bingham was getting paid for keeping us. That was the only reason. She used to make us. You know, when we been bad. She used to make us get down on our knees and thank God she was so generous that she took us in. “Without me y’all would both be dead!” she used to say. “So y’all thank God for bringing you to me!” And she would sprinkle sand on the floorboards so that it was extra painful. And she’d make us stay like that. On our knees. For hours. And after that. Well, I just never had much patience for Christians after that. People start talking about Jesus this and Jesus that, I just. Well, anyway. When it was Christmas, she gave us these dolls. They were white-girl dolls. Beautiful dolls that were almost big as we were. Like maybe three and a half feet. And they had these eyes that opened and closed. And they were all wrapped up in this clear plastic paper. With a little ribbon at the top. And she wouldn’t let us take the plastic off. We just had to look at them through the plastic. And play with them. You know, still all wrapped up. She said we were going to break them. Get our dirty fingerprints all over them. And after Christmas was over, she put them in the top of the closet. She said she was keeping them for us. She said we would thank her for it one day. And then next Christmas, she just gave us the same two dolls all over again. Anyhow. Chardonelle. I didn’t like her. She was a bad girl. She was like, only eight, nine. And she’d smoke a cigarette every chance she got. And she’d steal things from me. My shirts. My earring. That was the only thing I had from my mother. This one little gold hoop I used to wear in my left ear. I lost the other. And Chardonelle,

Talesha! That is so! How could she! She’s just. You know. Well, anyway. She was funny, though. She had this sense of humor. So one day. Mrs. Bingham always had this bath at five o’clock. Just before dinner. She said it was her quiet time. Kept her from going crazy. So one day Chardonelle and I stole all the towels in the bathroom. We just took them and hid them under our beds. And Mrs. Bingham didn’t even notice. She just took her bath like normal. So anyway. She been in there a while. And then Chardonelle, she starts like, “Ooo Talesha! You start a fire! You just gonna burn us all up!” And she was such a good actor! She was just shouting. And you just had to believe her, cause she really sounded like she was terrified. “Oh! Talesha! The curtains! The curtains are on fire! We’re all gonna get burnt to bits! Run tell Mrs. Bingham! Run tell Mrs. Bingham!” I was just running around in circles, yelling, “Fire! Fire! Help! Help!” And then there was like this tidal wave. It happened just like we planned it. There was like this rumbling and this cursing. And Mrs. Bingham bursts out the door buck-naked, cause she couldn’t find any towels to wrap around her. And she’s just flopping all over the place—scared out of her mind! And then she sees the expression on our faces and she’s like, “You little bitches!” And we just laughed and ran out the door onto the street. And she couldn’t follow us cause she was buck-naked. She just yelled at us, “You little bitches!” And we just laughed and laughed. All down the street. I don’t think I ever laughed so hard! That felt so good! Chardonelle and me, we were just falling all over each other. It was like we really were sisters. Oh my! But then. Of course. You know. After that, Mrs. Bingham had enough of us. And I didn’t ever really see Chardonelle after that. Somebody told me she had a baby. She was fifteen. Somebody else told me she run off to California. I don’t know. That is a good story. Well, it’s not such a good story. But it was a good time in the middle of a bad time. That is the only kind of good time there is, I think. That. I try not to think about it that way, Mrs. Zeisse. issue 1


stephen o’connor That is why they are precious. Good times. I try to think it’s always getting better. I try to think, if you work hard. If you are careful. Do the right thing. Things will just get better. They have to. That is the American way. And they are getting better. The older I get. My life is just getting better and better and better. You are a lucky girl. You have to have hope, Mrs. Zeisse. Hope is good. Hope is the most important thing there is. I would rather be strong.

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“Portrait of a Young Girl, Flatbush, 2010”

Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich


apogee contributors issue no. 1

Marina Blitshteyn and her family came to the US as refugees in 1991. She studied English at SUNY Buffalo and is about to receive her MFA in poetry from Columbia University, where she also worked as a writing instructor and consultant. She is the author of Russian for Lovers (Argos Books, 2011). Jae Won Chung was born in Seoul, grew up in Philly and is currently a Ph.D. student in Columbia’s EALAC department. His interests include colonial modernity, diasporic literature, translation and Korean cinema. His English translations of Korean poetry and fiction have appeared in Washington Square, Azalea and New Writings from Korea. Eloísa Díaz was born in Madrid. She studied law at the Sorbonne before entering the MFA program in creative writing at Columbia University. In her work she explores what it feels like to live between two cultures and two languages.

María Cristina Fernández Hall lived in Mexico for sixteen years. She came to New York City to study Creative Writing and Politial Science at Columbia University. She likes poetry, guitars

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and the beach. Recently she has taken an interest in translation. She knows that if airplanes were cheaper, the world would be lived so differently.

Malcolm Hansen was born in Chattanooga, TN. After only two years of formal high school education, Malcolm went to Stanford and earned a BA in philosophy. He worked for a few years in the software industry in California before embarking on a motorcycle ride from San Francisco to Ecuador, where he lived for several years and wrote his first novel. He has traveled and lived in Portugal and Argentina, where he completed a draft of his second novel. Malcolm’s favorite pastime is wrestling with his wife and two kids. “They Come in All Colors” is excerpted from a larger workin-progress of the same title. It’s a story about a biracial kid coming to terms with the dominant cultural views of Albany, Georgia, in 1961.

National Native Creative Development grant, a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award, and a Fellowship from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Alaska Arts and Cultures Foundation.

Angela E J Koh received her BA in English at the University of California, Irvine and a certification in Japanese at Shinanomachi Inter-Cultural Tokyo. She taught English in Seoul, Korea, and is currently completing her MFA at Columbia University in New York. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, La Petite Zine, Gulf Stream, Susquehanna Review, and elsewhere.

Vera Lau’s memoir is about her crazy Chinese family that does not believe mental illness exists until her aunt takes the city of Vancouver hostage on Canada Day by threatening to jump off a major bridge. Woo Woo Like You follows the tragic and wacky misadventures of very messed up people.

Joan Kane is Inupiaq and lives with her husband and two sons in Anchorage, Alaska. She earned her BA from Harvard College in 2000 and her MFA from Columbia University in 2006. She is the author of The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife for which she received a 2009 Whiting Writers’ Award. Her other honors include a

Guinevere Lee currently lives in New York City, but has plans to relocate to the California desert to finish her first collection of essays, perfect the curvature of her biceps, master the art of vegan baking with her girlfriend, and teach writing. If you would like to join her swiftly booming

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apogee contributors issue no. 1

fan base you can follow her on Twitter @damselfruit.

Michal Malachowski is a bit of a recluse, a dash of the provocateur, and a pinch of a poet. He is currently a third year English major with dreams to either be a garbageman or a writer. His hobbies include poesy, novelcraft, MMO’s, electro dance, and philology. He can be reached at thisstichomythia@gmail.com or @chthonic_poet_.

Stephen O’Connor currently teaches nonfiction at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and Sarah Lawrence College. His most recent book is Here Comes Another Lesson, Short Stories. His fiction, poetry and essays have been published in many journals, including The New Yorker, Conjunctions, One Story, Poetry Magazine, The Nation and The New York Times. For further information, please visit: www.stephenoconnor.net. Roger Reeves was the Our Word writer-in-residence at Columbia University’s School of the Arts in spring, 2012. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, and the Indiana Review,

among others. Kim Addonizio selected “Kletic of Walt Whitman” for the Best New Poets 2009 anthology. He was awarded a Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and two Cave Canem Fellowships. Recently, he earned his MFA from the James A. Michener Center for Creative Writing at the University of Texas. Currently, he is an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His first book, King Me, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2013. Katherine Sanders is a writer and translator pursuing her MFA at Columbia University. She is also a member of Harlem Writers’ Circle and the founding editor of Crescendo City.

Aaron Shin is a Bay Area writer whose work has appeared in Death Hums, the Argos Books Anthology of MFA Poetry, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies. Marshall Thomas, Columbia College ‘12, is “ridin’ in my whip, racin’ to her place/ Talkin’ to myself preparin’ to tell her to her face/She opened up the door and didn’t wanna

come near me/I said ‘One second, baby! Please hear me!’”

Alexandra Watson is a first year fiction student in Columbia’s graduate writing program with a soft spot for poetry. She is currently translating contemporary short stories from Spanish and writing her own fiction. She received her BA in English and Literary Arts from Brown University, and has been published in Brown’s Issues, Clerestory, and Aldous journals.

Photography: Madeleine hunt-Ehrlich is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York. Her work examines the Caribbean Diaspora as it impacts and exists in America.

Jayda D. Thompson “Re-creating and re- imagining the diversity that lives our symbolic world.” Writer. Producer. Visual Translator. Collector of Images. Columbia MFA graduate 2012.

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jae won chung / guinevere lee / maríA cristina fernández hall / alexandra watson / marina blitshteyn / MALCOLM HANSEN / joan kane

apogee_journal / Issue_no.1 / june_2012

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Profile for Apogee Journal

Apogee Journal: Issue One  

The debut issue of Apogee Journal

Apogee Journal: Issue One  

The debut issue of Apogee Journal

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