Penumbra 2020 Volume 30 The Annual Art & Literary Journal of Stanislaus State
penumbra (pi-num â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;bre): n. 1. A partial shadow, as in an eclipse, between regions of complete shadow and complete illumination. 2. The partly darkened fringe around a sunspot. 3. An outlying, surrounding region; periphery; fringe. [Lat. paene, almost â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Lat. umbra, shadow]
All About Penumbra Since 1991, Penumbra has proudly published poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art by contributors from the Stanislaus region, from throughout the U.S., and from abroad. Our staff is composed entirely of students: they make all editorial decisions, including which submissions are accepted and how the journal is designed. Because new students staff the journal every year, Penumbra constantly evolves. Each year, we receive hundreds of art and literary submissions, and through an anonymous voting process, we decide which works to accept. We then select the top prose, poetry, and art pieces from which the judges select the prizewinners. Every Spring, English 4019: Editing Literary Magazines is open to students with junior or higher academic standing. Students from all majors are welcome: the course offers professional training in areas including art, business, and communications. Annually, we launch the new issue with a reading on the CSU Stanislaus campus, near the end of the Spring term. Thank you to the many contributors to Penumbra 2020. Your talent makes the journal what it is. Please continue sending in your work: submissions will open for Penumbra 2021 at the end of August of this year.
Penumbra Staff Faculty Advisor Dr. Monica Montelongo Flores
Editors-in-Chief Alejandro Caballero Hurtado Jarred White
Book Review Editor Monica Gudino
Assistant Book Review Editor Jessica Charest
Junior Lead Designers Erika Ann Evans Alyssa Gilbert
Executive Editor Briana Talley
Editing Team Ahmed Fara Bethany Harper Abigail Gutierrez Krystalia Magdalinos Christian King Beatriz Rivera Essence Deirdre Saunders
Design Team Monica Hernandez Medina Hannah Judish
Table of Contents Judge Bios…………………………………………………………………………............ 12
Every Time…………………………………………………............…………………….. 14
The Other Day……………………………………………………………………………... 17 Thich Quăng Dúc……………………………………………………………………....... 18
French Gateway…………………………………………………………………............ 19 French Making Waves……………………………………………………………....... 20 French Flight…………………………………………………………………………....... 21
One-Act Play Winner
The Ghost of a Chance, Or, Prometheus Unbound……………….............. 23
Coahuila En Memorias…………………………………………………………………. 36
Head In The Clouds………………………………………………………………........ 38
Hades, The Beast of my Dreams…………………………………………............. 39
Tumbling Down the Path Less Traveled………………………………….......... 41
The Company She Keeps……………………………………………………............. 43 Set Free…………………………………………………………………………................ 44
The Ritual…………………………………………………………………….................. 46
Heidelberg, Altstadt…………………………………………………………………….. 47 Crips & Emerald Green……………………………………………………………...... 74
Moment of Magic………………………………………………………………............ 48
5 AM Ramblings…………………………………………………………………........... 49
Family Photographs………………………………………………………….............. 51
Mary Ann Dimand
Wordsmithing…………………………………………………………………………..... 52 The Wreck…………………………………………………………………………………... 53
Naked………………………………………………………………………………….......... 54 Tequila Tsunami…………………………………………………………………........... 56
Pummeling Poets in the Dark………………………………………………........... 57
All I Hold In My Hands………………………………………………………………… 58
Morning Bagels………………………………………………………………………...... 60 They Were Brothers-Cain & Abel…………………………………………………... 61
Missing You………………………………………………………………………………... 62
End of Watch, We’ve Got It From Here…………………………………........... 45 Swamp…………………………………………………………………………….............. 63 Mourning Seeks Morning……………………………………………………........... 64
Yosemite Fire, Two Views………………………………………………………........ 65 BART Rides……………………………………………………………………………...... 66 Notre Dame………………………………………………………………………............ 97
What is Taken for Home in Tonopah…………………………………………….. 68 Woman at Blue River……………………………………………………………......... 76 Toward the Arkansas River……………………………………………………......... 77
Age and Influence……………………………………………………………............... 71 Untitled………………………………………………………………………................. 129
This Morning’s Salamander……………………………………………………........ 72 Too Far Out on the Deck of the Sea….………………………………................ 75
Sunset at Cape Kiwanda II…………………………………………………….......... 78
The Transformation………………………………………………………................. 79
Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Cellars--2014).…………………………….......... 80
Invasive Species…………………………………………………………………............ 81
Deserted Beauty…………………………………………………………………........... 82 Sea the Small Gifts……………………………………………………………............. 99
The Relief…………………………………………………………………………............ 83
Mary Louise Kiernan
Modern Degradation Is So Damn Statuesque…………………………………. 85
Little Art Plot……………………………………………………………………….......... 86
A Cento for Michelle Bitting……………………………………………………....... 87
Milky Way…………………………………………………………………………........... 88
That’s Not The Way I Remember It………………………………………………. 89
The Other World………………………………………………………………….......... 90
My Last Smoke…………………………………………………………………….......... 91
Commuter Service……………………………………………………....................... 92
Pacific Grove……………………………………………………………………………….. 93
Maui Sunset………………………………………………………………………………… 94 First Daffodil……………………………………………………………………………... 107
Untitled Landscape 8…………………………………………………….................. 96
Skin-Touch of Love…………………………………………………..……………..... 100
Nancy Diamante Bonazzoli
Fight, Flight or Freeze……………………………………………………............... 101
Head like a Hole……………………………………………………………............... 102
Between the Pages……………………………………………………….................. 103 Letters to the Girls I Loved……………………………………......................... 104
Fig…………………………………………………................................................. 105 Forbidden ……………………………………………………………………………...... 106
The Life of Others…………………………………………………………………....... 108
The Madonna……………………………………………………………………........... 112
Light of Hope………………………………………………………………………........ 114
The Admissions Office Waiting Room…………………………………............ 115
Ralph E. Shaffer
Goddess Mother…………………………………………………............................ 119
Moon Colony……………………………………………………………………............ 122
Lamplight Cleaners…………………………………………………………............. 123
Pancakes In Mourning…………………………………………………….............. 130 Indifference…………………………………………………………………….............. 143
Planted Here By Chance…………………………………………........................ 134
Just Outside of Heaven…………………………………………………………....... 135 During Parties, She Plays Gershwin………………………………………........ 146
Can’t Have Too Many Flamingos………………………………………….......... 138
The Machine……………………………………………………………………………… 142 Elements of Life………………………………………………………………….......... 151
Film and TV Reviews
The Lighthouse………………………………………………………………………..... 152
Infinity Standing Up…………………………………………………………............ 160
Earth Links……………………………………………………………………………….. 163
Thick and Other Essays…………………………………………………………....... 165
Dr. Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr
Sabrina & Corina: Stories…………………………………………………….......... 168
How It Feels to Float……………………………………………………………........ 170
The Holdout…………………………………………………………………………...... 172
The Starless Sea………………………………………………………...................... 174
Judge Bios Optimism Oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s essays have been published by In Fact Books and The Normal School, among others. Forthcoming, he has an essay appearing in the anthology Moving Writers: Stories of Joy, Triumph, and Healing (Peter Lang Publishing). He earned his MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sierra Nevada College and teaches writing full-time at Modesto Junior College in California. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s currently working on a memoir called Goodbye, Suicide. Prose Judge: Optimism One
Poetry Judge: Donnelle McGee Donnelle McGee is the author of GHOST MAN, a novel (Sibling Rivalry Press), SHINE, a novella (Sibling Rivalry Press), and NAKED, a collection of poetry (Unbound Content). He earned his MFA from Goddard College. He is a faculty member at Mission College in Santa Clara, California. His work has appeared in Controlled Burn, Colere, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Home Planet News, Iodine Poetry Journal, Permafrost, River Oak Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and Willard & Maple, among others. He is the founder and publisher of Thera Books, and he also serves as the Lead Poetry Editor for Clockhouse. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 12
Art Judge: Susanne French Susanne French is a ceramic artist who lives and works in Merced, California. She holds a degree, “Diploma,” in Industrial Design from “Hochschule fuer Gestaltung” in Offenbach, Germany and a M.A. in Studio Art from Cal. State University, Fresno. Susanne’s work includes highly textured vessels and abstract figurative sculpture. She currently teaches Ceramic Art and coordinates the exhibition program for Merced College Art Gallery. Her work has been shown in national and international exhibits. She has traveled extensively throughout the US and Europe, Latin America, and most recently Japan.
Every Time by Optimism One Every time I swim at my gym, I see my brother’s ex. From her station in the shallow end, where she teaches water aerobics or aquasize or whatever they call it, she sees me and says in her animated teacher voice, “Hey, how you doing?” Sometimes I try to match her enthusiasm—“Hey!”—and sometimes I just hold my hand up in a simple hello, biting down on what I want to say. And every time I walk to the locker room, my head down or staring straight ahead, I wonder, Does she know? I change as quickly as I can, hoping I can slip into the water before her class is over and she will start a conversation. Other days, I hope she will be done, drying off in the exact spot where I walk to my lane, and that she will meet my eyes and ask, “How’s your brother?” And every time, whether she is still in the pool or not, my first twenty laps are consumed by my potential answers to this unasked question. “Not too well,” I might say. “Could be better,” I might try. “I’ll shoot you a message on Facebook.” Or maybe, I think, I’ll just blurt out the truth. In this state of mind, holding an awkward and imaginary conversation while trying to maintain some sense of freestyle technique, it’s easy to lose count of which lap I’m on. And every time I do. But once I gain focus, deciding on a number that sounds about right, then thinking for a moment or two about the extension of my arms, the flattening of my hands to act like oars, the speed of my flutter-kick, I land on lap 27 and start thinking about the 27 Club, all those celebrities who exited in tragic fashion at a certain age, in particular Kurt Cobain. My brother wasn’t famous, no, or twenty-seven, but he was one of the most important people in my life, and I did idolize him at times, so yes, to me, he was a rock star. But this woman, now in her fifties, wasn’t even my brother’s girlfriend, 14
really, more of a fling, the post-high-school-sweetheart-break-up-rebound he would bring home for lunch from selling, of all things, life insurance. They’d disappear into his bedroom for twenty, thirty minutes, and the house would echo their delight. When they reappeared, neither of them bothered to hide their mussed hair and sly smiles. She might have wanted an actual relationship, but he wasn’t interested. And for the next twenty-five years, I don’t remember him ever mentioning her name, which is weird because now I’m obsessed with her. Now I see her every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Now I think about her on my non-swim days, not in that way, not as an attraction but as a connection, a life-line to my brother. In fact, I am the one who typed her maiden name and found her thumbnail face staring at me before I clicked on “Add Friend” and she accepted. But she has never sent me a single message, which also makes me think she knows. She must want to avoid the awkwardness. She must want to spare me the pain of bringing it up. She must think she waited too long to say anything. On lap 43, I think about my age when it happened. On lap 45, I think about his. And every time, mid-stroke, mid-kick, I consider sending this woman an essay I published. Or another one. Or both. The primary information is in the first, and most of the details are in the second, even the town, her hometown, which I only know because I overheard her telling her students—“I’m from Oakdale”—so how could she not know? I flip-turn and push off the wall, thinking, Why does she have to be from Oakdale? I twist my head to gulp in some air, thinking, Why does my wife have to be from Oakdale? I exhale, face down, in a single burst—part sob, part shout—wondering, Why did he choose Oakdale? Such is the tail-spin these swim days put me in. Such is the way that that town haunts me. Such is the way that this woman haunts me. Such is the way that my brother still haunts me. Did he ever think of how hard it is to cry underwater? Between laps 50 and 60, I compose short notes to accompany the files I will send: 15
“Forgive me if you already know this, but . . . ” “I’m not sure if you are aware that . . . ” “Please see attached.” But I never send or say anything. Instead, I wonder if I should swim on different days or at different times. Or if I schedule these workouts to work all of this out. Sometimes, too, I think of the swimmers in the other lanes—what imaginary conversations they are having and what grief they are swimming to or from. And sometimes I wonder if my brother’s ex-whatever thinks about any of this when she sees me. But no matter what, every time I get out of the water, I have to fight the instinct, still not gone after six-plus years, to call my brother and say, “Guess who I saw at the pool.”
The Other Day by Donnelle McGee My daughter backed the prius out of the garage A wave before the rev of the closing She's proud to be driving Sixteen And I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t remember it all How the little girl up on my shoulders Is now the young lady who writes about the importance of Professional athletes using their public platform to speak out about injustice Even though her English teacher smirked when notified of her topic Oh youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re writing about that Turlock is not in the most progressive part of California But the other day My daughter Mexican, Peruvian, African-American and Jewish Backed the prius out of the garage A wave before the rev of the closing
Thích Quảng Đức by Donnelle McGee My brother your words bring the image of the soul who burned himself to death in Saigon. Brother saying no to a government that shook to eliminate those like him. An act of defiance against an unjust government in 1963. When we talk protest, death is the ultimate thrust. Thích Quảng Đức. Brother Buddhist, and those with him in struggle, said enough. I don’t have that kind of courage. If I’m real about it, I blew up my marriage. And I Clash today on how to be with a woman. How does one be both black and white. Not a question. I live this. I don’t know how to be an ex-addict. If I’m honest, I’m so fragile I scare myself. Yet, watching this monk lose himself in flames there are tears. I am tired of drowning.
French Gateway by Susanne French
Ceramics sawdust and raku fired
French Making Waves by Susanne French
Pit fired ceramics
French Flight by Susanne French
Pit fired sculpture
One Act Play Winner Arnold Anthony Schmidt
Most recently, Modesto Junior College presented a dramatic reading of Arnold Anthony Schmidt’s Silence is Golden, written with Ken White. Schmidt has also written a series of one-act plays. These include "Birds of a Feather, or, the Old-Fashioned Hat Trick," presented at Modesto’s Center Stage Conservatory’s 24-Hour Play Festival; “A Bird in the Bush,” at Grass Valley’s Nugget Fringe Theater Festival; and "Every Number Has Its Part to Play," at Sacramento City College’s 29.5-Hour Playwriting Festival. Last year, California State University, Fresno presented Schmidt’s The Super Cilantro Girl, based on stories by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Herrera, which premiered at Turlock’s Lightbox Theatre in 2016. Schmidt’s film credits include serving as Assistant Producer on "The Silence," an American Film Institute production nominated for a 1983 Academy Award best short dramatic film; writing a screenplay for Deja Vu, a 1984 Cannon Films feature starring Jaclyn Smith, Nigel Terry, Shelley Winters, and Claire Bloom; and writing the story for the "Tommy's Lost Weekend" episode of the Warner Bros. sitcom Alice, nominated for a 1985 Emmy Award and awarded a 1986 Letter of Commendation from Los Angeles County for its treatment of teenage alcoholism. Schmidt teaches English, Film, and Creative Writing at the California State University, Stanislaus. 22
“The Ghost of a Chance, Or, Prometheus Unbound” __________________________ A Play in One Act By Arnold Anthony Schmidt CAST LIST: Characters may be adults of any age, race, sex, or sexual orientation. TEACHER: Dressed business casual, but with no sense of fashion. STUDENT #1: Smart, nervous, has the answer, but not sure it’s correct; hesitant and insecure. STUDENT #2: Dressed very trendy, as if for clubbing, but toned down just a notch. STUDENT #3: Attentive, but not always to class; texts, plays games on phone. STUDENT #4: Large messenger bag. Bold, almost-but-not-quite over-thetop dress (hippie, Goth, hipster, whatever). KING HAMLET’S GHOST: Medieval or Elizabethan attire, crown, spear, beard. SET: Minimal and suggestive. Desks and chairs. A blackboard, puppets, or poster board listing main characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet [King Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, Hamlet, Polonius, Ophelia]. Arrows or diagrams indicate character relationships. NOTE: The teacher and students behave as though perhaps a dozen additional students fill the classroom. Onstage characters interact with other "students" to create the illusion that a room full of people participates in the discussion, dominated by the five onstage characters.
SYNOPSIS Hamlet’s Ghost appears in a Shakespeare class, along with a therapy spider who may or may not exist. Lights come up. STUDENTS 1, 2, 3, and 4 settle into their desks. STUDENT #1 So how’d you do on the Calculus test? STUDENT #2 Pretty well, I think. STUDENT #3 How can you tell? Questions seemed easy? STUDENT #2 Not exactly. STUDENT #4 You study a lot? Pulled an all-nighter, eh? STUDENT #2 Not really, but I did study almost an hour after the club closed, when I got home from dancing. Gotta say, clubs close up early around here. By two o’clock, town’s dead. STUDENT #1 Well, it’s a weeknight. You’re clear-headed enough to study after dancing? STUDENT #2 Absolutely. But even if I’m not, I never take any chances. (shows extravagant socks) I’m sure my lucky socks pulled me through.
STUDENT #3 They really give you luck? STUDENT #2 Absolutely. So do these. (opens messenger bag, removes items, and places them on desk) Scuba mask - helps me see deep into the problem. Baby blanket - for security - and this (expanding fishing pole) helps me to relax. And, of course, my lucky rabbit’s foot. STUDENT #1 Yuck, dead animal parts! STUDENT #2 It’s not real. That’d be gross. STUDENT #1 So it’s from the body of a fake rabbit? STUDENT #3 Do you really believe in that stuff? STUDENT #2 It’s helped me through some difficult situations. I get “A's” all the time. STUDENT #1 Really? Wish I did. STUDENT #4 I don’t know, I guess I’ve never been superstitious. But I do have my therapy animal. Keeps me calm.
STUDENT #1 Therapy animal? STUDENT #4 Yeah, Prometheus, my pet tarantula. STUDENT #2 You have a therapy spider? STUDENT #4 Sure, can’t you see his little vest? (holding empty hand) You like spiders? STUDENT #1 Doesn’t everybody? STUDENT #2 And you’re sure he’s a he? How can you tell? STUDENT #4 Oh, you just know these things. STUDENT #2 puts good luck charms away as STUDENT #4 fumbles with spider. STUDENTS #1 and #3 settle in as TEACHER enters. TEACHER Now I’d like us to continue our discussion of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. STUDENT #4 Oh, shit!
STUDENT #2 What’s wrong? STUDENT #4 Prometheus! He’s slipped out of his harness. He’s gone. STUDENT #2 He’s got a harness? STUDENT #1 Well, he can’t go far. Can he? STUDENT #4 shrugs shoulders. A beat, then we hear a SCREAM off stage. STUDENT #3 He’s a fast little bugger, isn’t he. TEACHER tries to get their attention. TEACHER Let’s start by addressing one of the play’s key issues. As you remember, Hamlet encounters the ghost of his father, King Hamlet, who paces back and forth on the castle battlements, telling his story.
The GHOST OF KING HAMLET appears
and paces slowly back and forth, unseen by the teacher and students.
TEACHER (CON’T) (indicating characters on blackboard) Hamlet’s uncle Claudius has murdered King Hamlet and is having an affair with Hamlet's mother, Gertrude. Hamlet’s supposed to revenge his father, but can’t. Why not?
As the TEACHER moves to one side to check a student’s notebook, STUDENT #4 moves to the other side, searching for Prometheus. No luck. TEACHER (CON’D) During the play, Hamlet’s behavior becomes more and more erratic. Projecting his mother’s guilt on all women, Hamlet treats Ophelia so badly that she commits suicide. From the bag, STUDENT #2 offers binoculars to help STUDENT #4 see the spider. STUDENT #4 shakes head no. STUDENT #2 removes a package of Cheetos to attract Prometheus. Again, STUDENT #4 shakes head. STUDENT #1 takes Cheetos, eats and passes to #3. TEACHER (CON’T) Hamlet, thinking he’s killing Claudius, accidentally kills Ophelia’s father, Polonius. All this makes us wonder: is Hamlet sane and pretending to be mad as a strategy for revenge? Or is he truly mad and therefore incapable of revenge? What do you think? Anybody? STUDENT #4 I think the dude's batshit crazy. Stuff he does is all accident, chance. Like when he kills his girlfriend’s dad, Polonius -- which is no way to ingratiate yourself with a young lady, just my humble opinion -- especially after Polonius gives him all that good advice about neither a borrower nor a lender be, to thine own self be true, all that righteous stuff. STUDENT #2 Polonius is just a pompous windbag, and Hamlet pierced his balloon to let out all that hot air. Neither borrower nor lender? Our whole economy's 28
based on borrowing and lending! STUDENT #4 This is medieval Denmark, not twenty-first-century Silicon Valley. STUDENT #2 To thine own self be true, you know anybody can survive doing that? Next time your boss walks in wearing something tragic, tell the truth and say “wow, that looks awful” and see what kind of job evaluation your honesty gets you. STUDENT #4 True to yourself, not true to your boss. STUDENT #2 (indicating STUDENT #4’s clothes) On second thought, you better not give your boss any fashion advice. STUDENT #4 Clothes aren’t important. STUDENT #2 You kidding me? You don’t pay attention to style, you might as well dress like a school teacher. TEACHER Excuse me. STUDENT #2 No offense, Professor. TEACHER None taken. Sort of... STUDENT #1 I gotta say, I feel badly for Ophelia. In my mind, she's okay, and Hamlet 29
treats her like trash. If I was there, I'd smack him upside the head, prince or no prince, straighten that boy out. No way to treat a lady. STUDENT #2 Well, I agree with you there. He does treat her wrong, but that's because he's out of his ever-loving mind. That's why he doesn't revenge his father. Hamlet has an opportunity to kill Claudius when he's praying, but doesn't. STUDENT #4 He doesn't kill Claudius when he’s praying because Hamlet won’t hit the man from behind. Claudius is a worthy opponent. The boy’s got a code of ethics, a warrior code. STUDENT #3 Hamlet isn’t a warrior; he's a worrier. Worried about his mom, worried about his dad, worried about the ghost. If he was here today, he’d be worried about charging his iPhone. SCREAM offstage. Prometheus again. STUDENT #1 Maybe you should start worrying about Prometheus. STUDENT #4 No, he’s friendly. Very affectionate, actually. He loves getting close to people. STUDENT #2 That explains the screaming. STUDENT #1 Anyway, it’s no wonder Hamlet can't get anything done. The man's just got too much on his mind. But what about that ghost? Is he for real? GHOST walks by, waving at STUDENT #2. STUDENT #4 What do you mean, real? You ever seen a real ghost? 30
STUDENT #2 looks over at GHOST. STUDENT #2 I don’t know. Maybe. STUDENT #1 Me, I don't believe in ghosts. GHOST gestures disapproval: he’s shocked! STUDENT #2 I’m not so sure. GHOST nodding his head: yes you are. STUDENT #3 Maybe Claudius spiked their mead with some psychedelics or something. They’re all spinning out of control, know what I mean? Besides, Hamlet and the others all saw the ghost, so there’s lots of witnesses. STUDENT #2 Witnesses can be bought. They lie. They're mistaken. Like when folks told my boss they saw me out dancing last Saturday night, when I was supposed to be working at Miss Rosa Lee’s “Finger-Lickin Chicken Emporium.” STUDENT #4 Emporium! That place is a grease fire waiting to happen. It’s on the Environmental Protection Agency’s short list of toxic clean-up sites. STUDENT #2 I don’t eat there; I just work there. My point is I wasn't anywhere near Rio’s Club Supreme. STUDENT #4 But you weren’t at your job either. 31
STUDENT #2 Well, no... STUDENT #4 You were at a church meeting singing with the choir? STUDENT #2 No, but I would not patronize anyplace as tacky as Rio’s. STUDENT #4 So you were out dancing? STUDENT #2 Of course I was out dancing, fool. It was Saturday night. But I was at Ambrosia. Anyway, my point is witnesses are unreliable. You can’t always believe what you see. Or what you think you see. GHOST smiles at STUDENT #2 and dances. STUDENT #2 (CON’T) Last Saturday, some gossip just saw somebody fine at the club, naturally assumed it was me, and told my boss. Case of mistaken identity, though it’s hard to imagine two people so fine in the world. STUDENT #3 Insecurity’s a real problem for you, huh? STUDENT #2 Listen, what I'm saying’s about Claudius. How do we know he did the deed? I’m not going to take the word of a ghost that the man put poison in the king’s ear. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but I need more evidence than some musty old ghost. GHOST brushes his clothes: not musty! STUDENT #1 Sure, that ghost could be just a figment of their imagination. 32
GHOST motions to STUDENT #1, who almost but does not quite see him. TEACHER I admire your skepticism, but if we don't believe the ghost, Hamlet’s whole motivation for revenge falls apart. Why would the ghost lie? STUDENT #4 Because it’s all a scam. There is no ghost. TEACHER What? The GHOST does a double take. STUDENT #4 It’s a conspiracy. King Hamlet is still alive, but he knows Claudius is doing the nasty with his lady Gertrude. Well, he can’t interfere because it’s kind of embarrassing, his own wife preferring his brother to him. So King Hamlet fakes his own murder, pretends that Claudius murdered him, then tricks Hamlet into killing his uncle for “revenge.” TEACHER In hopes that Gertrude will return to him? STUDENT #4 Not so sure about that. Maybe he’s got himself a lady friend in Coachella or something. (drifting off-topic, to STUDENT #1.) You ever been to Coachella? STUDENT #1 (Going with the flow.) Me no, but I want to go. Got a friend says they party hearty there.
STUDENT #3 That’s what I hear too. We hear another SCREAM, stage right this time. TEACHER (exasperated.) Please, back to Hamlet. Why would King Hamlet torment his own son? Drive him mad? STUDENT #4 It’s obvious. Because Hamlet’s not his son. Gertrude’s fooling around now, she was fooling around then. The King knows Hamlet’s not his boy. TEACHER How could he be sure? STUDENT #1 Maybe Hamlet’s got one of those birthmarks. Princes always have birthmarks in movies. STUDENT #2 Yeah or an amulet he always wears around his neck. (holds rabbit’s foot) Like this! TEACHER I’m afraid we’ve got to stick with the evidence in the play. There are no birthmarks or amulets mentioned in the text. So back to our opening question: is Hamlet mad or pretending to be mad? STUDENT #1 I’m thinking maybe he is...
STUDENT #3 And I’m absolutely sure he isn’t... STUDENT #4 So professor, what do you think? What's the answer? Is Hamlet crazy or is he faking it? TEACHER We’ve all got to figure that out for ourselves. Maybe you're sure Hamlet's mad. Maybe he's crazy like a fox and just pretending. STUDENT #4 (to STUDENT #2) Sure, it's just like you and your job. Maybe your boss believes those folks who saw you dancing at Club Rio, maybe she doesn’t. She’s got to figure out the truth for herself. It's ambiguous. (picks up Prometheus) Look. He’s back! TEACHER Who? STUDENT #4 Prometheus. My therapy tarantula. TEACHER What? I don’t see anything... STUDENT #4 (holding up empty hand) Right here. And he’s still got his little vest on. As easy to see as Hamlet’s ghost. GHOST nods approvingly, gives thumbs up. Lights down. 35
Coahuila en Memorias by Janette Jameson Load up the green station wagon—one trailer, attach water pouch to front of car, hook up trailer, box up Siamese cat and Dachshund. Add two adults, one seven-year child, two teenagers. Travel south from California ocean into Sonoran desert. Become a child-tourist, temporary, not legal. Read the signs on bus nailed to belongings... Gringos go home! On the way to renew tourist card. Cross the bridge once—El Paso, American. Cross the bridge twice—Juarez, turista. Hidden grapefruits and trees go undeclared and then discovered, tossed by the American guard. Father waits on the other side of the bridge, climbs in passenger seat, headed for Torreòn. In 4th grade, at the beginning of each day, be reminded: Los niños el Castillo de Chapultepec threw themselves instead of capture by your people. They—boys—died young You—witness—child. Gringa, hide away in bed up against walls of cracked paint. Walls peel, exposing white underneath. Tuck your language into sleep; Camouflage into little girl play; jacks and encantados 36
Eat gansitos buy tamarindos from the vendor Sit every morning for your braids to be woven. Step out- leave Nancy Drew behind. Have your first love, and then many more. Join a gang of neighborhood girls Dance until 2:00 in am Learn make-up-thick lines on eyes Ride in teenage cars and drive for taquitos. Check out the boys—double back a few times Whisper into black phones late at night and always, No es de aqui’ Dream of someone’s auntie Ouija board ghosts at window. At eighteen move back to birth country cut the Mexican chords scream protest with black paint on walls Land in the in-between— two feet forward and then two feet back on Sunday. Never arrive Never go back In-between-visa granted to Unzone Longing becomes daily reminder until scent of one country is lost. Wait for twilight reminiscence when age has come.
Head in the Clouds by Jane Driscoll
Hades, The Beast of My Dreams by Hannah Judish You are but the beast that haunts my dreams, Amorphous black soot wings that fly low to the ground, ready to capture me. A beast of many faces. Your eyes like petrid yellow piss that stains brilliantly marbled porcelain bowls. The lacker of raven-slicked feathers glistens for a moment until your descent back down through the murky earth. I am but mesmerized, hypnotized by the curl of your lip, of the dulcet grumble of your voice that whispers to me like ashen fog over a lucid seaside city. I am still reminded of your capricious temper. The fiery inferno that seeks to whisk me back down, down to the world below that smells of raw singed embers. Flames that lick and lap at the delicate skin of my ankles. But you only commune with me in my dreams, The dreams that still seem to haunt me in my wake.
Cenotaph by Mark Fisher I write no elegy to these children absent are their blood and bones while performance art prayers become monologues spoken with a facade of respect painted over with pop-art graffiti displaying emptiness folded like an origami crane looking to transcend the abandoned house of prayer with vacant virtue signaling shopping for rummage store salvation with coins from shattered ceramic piggy banks while rendering unto Caesar their unwritten stories
Tumbling down the path less traveled by Ashli Bumgardner Tumbling down the path less traveled First-generation college student means something different for every graduate. For me, it meant persevering through imposter syndrome, addiction, and anxiety to light a path of you-can-do-it for my little sister and brother. The weight of it all kept me thin and strong. The first day of university, backpack full of new books straining my neck and shoulders, made me wonder if I could do it. Summer became winter—fall is a blur. It exhibited itself slowly: repeated temperature-taking and pulse-monitoring. I pulled over on the side of the road. I cried to the dashboard, “I give up.” The counselor said, “What you feel is anxiety. What you feel is normal.”
Soon enough, I auto-pilot down 99 to Turlock on my way to Bizzini Hall to talk about writing and poetry and all that makes life worth living. My backpack flings over my shoulder easily now as I dash from class to work and back again. And I soon stop wondering if Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m meant to be, because Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m strong enough to let it be.
The Company She Keeps by Janessa Jimenez
Set Free by Janessa Jimenez
End of Watch. We've Got It From Here. by Pat Egenberger End of Watch. We’ve Got It From Here. But we don’t. Cozy sweater unravels. Vinyl floors curl up to trip harried cooks. Roof leaks. Air whistles through window cracks. Tiles crash on unwary walkers. Gaskets rot. Paint peels. Raccoons invade the hen house scattering bloody feathers. Snails saw through greens. Rats gnaw peaches on the verge of ripeness. Dead bees litter pavement. Air chokes lungs. Putrid, orangish water oozes from pipes. Muslims, Mexicans, women are vilified. Once emptied concentration camps refill. Supreme Court decisions defied… Our enemies befriended, friends denied. Dragons hoard our treasure. Winds of war blow fierce new currents. We hear the grinding of a great unwinding. A new watch is needed on every side.
The Ritual by Ali Gilbert When I was little, all four of us slept in a California King. We had our own rooms and small beds shaped like race cars, but every night we crammed four bodies, like sardines, into a single vessel. My father cast shadows on the wall with his hands while my momma sang us bits and pieces of Pearl Jam songs. Every shadow looked like a mutt that someone dropped off at a shelter and my mommaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s voice was always off key, but we practiced this like a ritual before we slept. When my father drifted off, we traced the tattoos on his arm and imagined that they could move in the dark; we swirled our fingertips around the black and grey edges and breathed life into them with our stories. In the mornings, my father made us pancakes that were almost shaped like animals and my momma painted us with wet kisses; she tangled us up and tickled us in the torrent of her auburn hair. Our breakfast was charred and we had hair in our mouths, but I wished for one more night until we ran out of time.
Heidelberg, Altstadt by Monica Escobar
Moment of Magic by Jan Wellik I paused and stopped To watch the snowflakes today. Each a singular sensationâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; A magical mosaic, Nothing short of exquisite beauty. I tilted my face toward the sky, Letting each flake Tickle my cheeks and kiss my lips. I smiled at the touch, So simple, so small, Like the feeling when my toddler son Puts his small arms out to hug me. A little gesture With a big impact. Like the difference between Watching a snowstorm on TV And standing outside in one. I paused and stopped To think about the impacts I have on the world With just small gestures, A moment of magic Before disappearing.
5 am Ramblings by Dinamarie Isola I took it all—the regrets, the guilt, the hurts and humiliations— and smashed them into green clay. Pounded, rolled, forced a shape to it, but my clumsy hands haven’t changed. Collapsed into itself, tried again and again. Fresh starts are the theory of relativity when memory, relentless as raging tides, is there to beat my shores until I submit. The undertow alive and well; lulling me in, inviting me to drown. I thought myself a stronger swimmer. I’ve given up on fooling myself. I own the whole heaping mess. Even the parts that no longer wish to have anything to do with me. My rabbit’s heart, frantic pace that outruns me, leaps clean from my chest, takes off for someone worthy of such flight. Fickle youth has changed sides, crept off, never to be heard from after its parting cry, “You took too long! I can’t stay here forever!” Green fingernails; the clay’s clinging stain. My hands, heavy, clench and unclench, but they’ll never know. How to make this into what I want? An open question to a store closing its doors before time to take inventory. I roll that clay until it’s a hard, hard ball. Not original, not interesting. Perhaps useful as a paperweight, doorstop, or murder weapon?
I think better of it; one more shot. But it’s tight, like size 5½ shoes. No give; just unforgiving pain. So I leave the ball, hoping someday I’ll figure it out. My hands will be skilled, my vision enlightened. Fooling myself about fooling myself; that never grows old, even as I do.
Family Photographs by Mary Ann Dimand Floating inside the false rosewood doorway, they look impossible. What parents would poise their children like halfstrung marionettes sprawled, yet weightless, above the mottled carpet, the ashtrayed table? How could life breathe inside this weird anthology? Or the bright, contorted grins over the cravats and decollétés in a thorn-filled meadow. The groom’s left hand grips the bride’s elbow hard. She looks off toward some odd displeasure. And then we know, looking up to smile, perturbed, at our own household. We are not possible. None of us.
Wordsmithing by Mark Belair You sip strong black coffee each chilly April morning and quicken to life, ready to write, words uncurling inside you while outside your thrown open window, bare branches uncurl their leaves as if painting themselves from a sketch. * You glide off the moment, then circle back down like a hawk measuring its prey, the moment one you must un-riddle but fear, your words merely toying with what, un-hawk-like, you cannot pounce upon, what you, gliding off again, cannot clutch to make plain. * A bowl fills with milk that assumes the bowlâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s calm shape. A bowl shaped for milk. 52
The Wreck by Mark Belair The barn was borderline even back then, when I was a boy working summers in its fields, its splitting wall planks streaking sun, its loft ladder slanting, me counter-slanting as I rose. Now time has torn its corners off square, pulled it into a parallelogram, its sunken roof seeming to bear a weight of air heavy as the vanished years. Only its rain-muddied floor remains in place. When I make a rare return to what survives of that countryside, I imagine buying and restoring the old barn, but it’s too far gone, can only be kept as a wreck of itself—or wrecked. Though in my dreams it stands resurrected to when—after my morning paper route and my mom’s toast and eggs— I biked over and worked its few acres, weeding and picking rows of squash and beans and tomatoes, rows resurrecting each spring, their yields stored in the pungent barn, its walls weather-stressed yet strong, its roof weight-bearing, its dirt floor dry, hard, and clean. Dreams themselves not harvested out but growing—in this late, darkening season— ever more lush.
Naked by Zoe Messinger I’m in a rush to reach my destination, but I don’t know where to go. I’m anxious to make my mark, but I don’t know what to tattoo. I’m out of time, and I’m only 26. I’m 26 and different, 26 going on 64, and I feel enough for a lifetime. I lost myself in feeling today, so I made myself a drink and sat in front of my computer to write— dreaming in gin. I finished my cocktail and made some hot mint tea. I like to alternate the bad with the good. I like to break the bad with the good. One day I’ll be real good and the bad will just be an act— I’m 26 and different. I haven’t worn nail polish in years. I haven’t worn makeup in weeks. I haven’t dressed up in days. I feel authentic when I’m naked. Just as I am, unpainted. Clothing is the only thing I choose to hide behind, So here I am, sitting here draped in Italian silk with polka dots, totally naked. Not everyone likes to see it. 54
My whole life people have been trying to paint me. She told me to cut my hair, I’ll be like Mia Farrow. She told me to cut my hair, I’ll get an agent. She told me to cut my hair, it’ll free me. I’m not Mia Farrow. I don’t want to get an agent. I’m already naked. I have my own story to tell. It’s so hard to trust people will like us and our story. It’s so hard to leave a legacy. Maybe I’ll end up happy if I live my life naked. I’ll be someone someone else wants someone else to be, and she’ll tell some girl to cut her hair so she can be like me.
Tequila Tsunami by Zoe Messinger Hungover like a wet shirt draped out to dry over the banister 7:22 in the morning on a Sunday. Daisies spin through my head as my stomach curls inside me, a fist clenched trying to punch its way out, a pretzel that cannot unknot. I watch the tequila sun rise to the occasion, hung up on my reality, unmoving, picking poetry into my phone. I’m so tired I can barely breathe, so awake I can hardly sleep, eyes full of confetti pop rocks, exploding every blink. my third eye pulses, a muscle spasming its way to freedom. My hip hurts like hell. How else would I know I’m alive? I drink life in when I get the opportunity, chug its sweet nectar, its Mai-Tai mirage of miracles. I’m a little bit of everything: Tiki punch in the ominous red cooler full of surprises and virtues and mistakes. The neighbor snores and the ground beneath me rumbles, the waves of an alcoholic ocean crashing in my belly, a tequila tsunami. 56
Pummeling Poets in the Dark by Michelle Hartman Cut those gerunds; bleed out more action words Liberate unused poetry books @ library sale Quickly jot down poetic lines @ party Scramble stanzas to epigraph or not Swap prepositional phrase w/veiled sexual reference delete that 3 min. later Pace, curse, drink, masturbate, wipe poem off & start over Realize nothing short of Homeric epic can encapsulate current politics Workshop on too much coffee and Xanax We’ll murder all the poems amid laughter & merriment except for the few we take home to experiment with. ,;[,.?/!,,,:” Sew on some alliteration attach a parallel anecdote in a fractured narrative hit it w/ electricity and scream It’s Alive
All I Hold In My Hands by Alise Versella Soft Softly woman There is still strength in the swath of soft skin collecting on the hips How they housed the blood of your kin There is still bite and sting left on these lips That curled back to defend your right to speak Quiet Quietly woman The earth won’t end with a ruptured bang It will snuff out without a show A candle flame Pinched between forefinger and thumb The deadliest predator in the jungle... You never hear them coming You can break bones with a look And you worry too much how you look How somebody once said pretty paves the way When you don’t have as much money as a man Sweetly honey Like sugarcane, we cut Off our hair Like a lion without a mane Samson Is he still as majestic without that coarse crown? Why don’t you look inside his jaw? Ask Delilah, that temptress, that jezebel How can a woman be so powerful As to bring a kingdom down? Put your lipstick on That war-ready flag smiling to strangers on the street No ugly words ever fell from my great-grandmother’s tongue But every holiday dinner We would wait For her arrival The queen matriarch at the gate I have always been told I have soft hands 58
Always surprised by my shake Where did you learn to shake the hand of a man like that? How smooth and cool And firm The way our teeth clip our words into short Digestible Phrases Isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t my love easier to ingest like this? Knowing I am soft and quiet and sweet Like my hands could never be that violent That a woman could ever be Hard And loud And bitter You are a punk rock gospel Woman That music, that background noise they try to drown out But you are the witch that would float Walk across the water Jesus Scream hallelujah Woman Scream like a bird of prey Who flew through the dark so silently Until She caught with her claws The world.
Morning Bagels by Rochelle Shapiro Sunlight puddles the shoulders of my grandsons, the curls of their standing-up hair, cream cheese from morning bagels streaks their lips; they sit on the striped carpet, PokĂŠman figures thrown across the living room, or set in formation to be plowed down by Transformers. At the border, children locked in the glare of perpetual artificial light shiver on cement floors, no abuela to watch over them, ni madre, ni padre. My grandsons crouch on the soft striped carpet, sunlight puddling their shoulders, cream cheese glossing their lips.
They Were Brothers--Cain & Abel by Rochelle Shapiro One a farmer, the other a shepherd. But the story also holds true for sisters in a seaside town who knew murder in their fingernails that tore bloody stripes into each other’s arms, cheeks. They knew murder in their teeth, the one on the youngest’s shoulder fading into a raised opalescence after six decades, as did the burns from the car’s cigarette lighter. The sisters tattled on each other, causing whiskey rants from the mother, her face so close to theirs that her eyes were a blue cyclops eye. The tattling caused their father’s murderous fists, which had earned him the title of middleweight, to pound on tabletops, on doors, on daughters.
Missing You by Edward Supranowicz
Swamp by Pat Egenberger Refuse foams, most foul bath. The swollen swamp sucks sewage. Predators skulk through bleached bones, smother pleas, quench screams, crush skulls, excise tongues, bar, menace, probe, strangleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the morgue, yawning crater where they murdered truth.
Mourning Seeks Morning by Pat Egenberger I am too close to deathâ&#x20AC;Ś In Banda Ache rubble crushes sweet flesh, and in Aleppo men who think they are gods rain horror of fire and stone on fleeing families. In my microcosm, I look back, not forward, on memory. The Modesto ash that shaded our home through more than forty blistering summers stands bare; even the mistletoe has died. I see years of children jumping through its fallen leaves, its early little death, but now, it only waits for ax and saw. Winter burns through my joints and fells my friends one by one. I want to hold youth in my arms, see the world in green again, hear the cries of nesting birds, fly with the wind.
Yosemite Fire, Two Views by Nancy Haskett Once, Yosemite celebrated with fire every summer night, like a pagan ritual, almost sacred: fir bark collected from fallen dead trees, stacked at the edge of Glacier Point, the large pile lit in early evening, burned slowly as smoke drifted upwards, blew east toward Half Dome. When darkness filled the Valley floor, strong rakes pushed the coals to drop 3,000 feet â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a cascade of embers, an ephemeral fall of fire, beautiful, innocent, as it vanished into silence Today, we drive for miles through Rim Fire remains, next to charred snags of once towering white fir and sugar pine, a forest of black, jagged tombstones in a graveyard landscape of seeming desolation, scars left after a fire hurricane blew through these hills, an inferno so powerful it took nine weeks to contain, an entire year to extinguish completely. And yet, these skeletal remains offer sanctuary to California spotted and great gray owls, black-backed woodpeckers; once again deer and frogs have found the streams that still run to the river; Morel Mushrooms push up through ashes and burnt needles, rare prizes that cluster together, share a mysterious affinity for fire; low shrubs cover the ground, offer a sparse carpet of green, a promise of recovery.
BART Rides by Nancy Haskett I. Two teenage boys board at Oakland Coliseum station, Raiders caps over dreadlocks, torn jeans sagged well below the waist, earplugs in, phones in hand, a strong smell of marijuana accompanies them to the last two seats. She enters with a crowd at Montgomery, Louis Vuitton bag over her shoulder, gray hair pulled back in a tight chignon, Old Money tastefully exhibited, hurriedly grabs the hand strap near the boys’ seats, balances herself as the train lurches forward. At Powell Street, one of the boys gets up to leave, his empty seat an unasked invitation. She hesitates, sits down by the window, turns her head to look out at the platform, then stares into darkness all the way to Civic Center. II. After we board at Embarcadero Station, the train plunges into downward darkness, speeds through the tunnel under the bay. Ears pop, a slight unease permeates the car, and I wonder how many passengers think about an earthquake at this moment – a derailment, shattered windows, the rush of cold water— or, like me, simply wonder how it is even possible to build a submerged railway over three miles long under 135 feet of water. When they were younger, 66
my granddaughters would ask to sit near the window, hope to see fish swim by or maybe a whale; this makes me smile as the train screams and wails, wheels drag against the rails on turns, and then, suddenly, we climb up into daylight, emerge like some kind of mechanical sea serpent. III. I watch out the window, see giant dock cranes like Imperial walkers from Star Wars, multicolored graffiti murals that cover buildings and walls, blocks of fences topped with razor wire, homeless camps under elevated ramps, signs and billboards: SUNSHINE BISCUITS, JESUS IS ALIVE, a burned-out home with a collapsed roof, train cars stacked like giant blocks. A pigeon perches on a station wall, a seagull glides toward the Bay, a jet floats on final approach to Oakland with nose up, wheels down, lush green hills on my left are fringed with trees, west-facing windows blaze with the setting sun as dusk falls and we fly between two freeways.
What is Taken for Home in Tonopah by Jeffery Alfier Crows ride the thin weight of a breeze. By late day, winter air of diesel and tobacco. An old man out walking, goes after the days that are left to him. Streetlights and stop signs groan in the racing, shifting winds. Pine shadows over the courthouse lawn. A homeless woman slept with snow last week, her nights rimed with frost. Says she can tell me this much for nothing: sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mad and done for, wants to sink a slow bourbon, an overcoat against nightfall. A young woman at the Greyhound stop, one-way ticket and unlit cigarette, steps into her own shadow, into the flare of a strangerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s struck match. A rancher in the distance that borders town crimps wire on posts along unpaved roads flanking dead silver mines. Moonlight will come early over his land. It will sift the granite of a vanished river.
iMamba by James Adams Cold and gorgeous with its deviled-egg eye green, dark gray and oblong— I stare back at two meters of gaping death. What a fool to rest here, I curse myself and stay frozen. I must be blocking him. The narrow cobra’s hood; the powerful, slender, racing beauty. Any bite this far out is throbbing death in an hour. I remember the venomous reptile house at the zoo. Fascinating with their Latin name tags and glass displays; factoids galore—fasciculum toxic proteins to molecularize paralysis fast-acting tiny amino acid residues and 100% envenomization death rates. He edges to my left, a fraction. The perfect accordion, a symphony of movement, first the midsection, the whippet tail, last the neck and head edging forward. A Bach concerto. Brandenburg No. 4, yes.
This is no good, I think. And slowly stand. Rising to full height. Now I am the maestro and he my instrument, a violin of venom. I move my hand to gesture and my eyes lock in— no need to speak. The music rises in a tempest. Then he eases his way ’round me. And wriggles away. Note: Dendroaspis polylepis (Zulu: imamba; aka black mamba)— derived from dendro (δένδρο) [“tree”] and aspis (ασπίς) [“shield” or “hood”), a highly venomous, agile sub-Saharan reptile possessed of potent neuro- and cardiotoxins. Able to raise nearly half of its body off-ground, when threatened it hisses and spreads a small hood.
Age and Influence by Nairoby Mello
Multimedia on wood
This Morning’s Salamander by Lisa Meckel This morning’s salamander sleeps, or so it seems, on the kitchen’s tiled floor, a mostly maroonish, still-as-a-stick amphibian, though no stick at all. Rather a migrant from an unknown space, fleeing his natural home. Never have I seen a salamander here. He doesn’t skitter as I lift his soft, small body. I ask gentleness from my tissue-wrapped fingers and place him on the pebbly doorstep. He curves his small body in a half-circle, raises his head, looks around, lifts a small three-toed foot— is he feeling his body into life? Have I saved him from dying? My day calls me away. The earth moves in its cycle. Early dusk creates leafy shadows that fall upon him —he has not moved. Should I carry him into the sun? What would it do to his soft body to be picked up again? Would it un-rescue the rescued? I lift his little body, now thin and crisp, cry out at the shock of this change, at my failure. I place the crust 72
of a self onto the earth, wonder why I weep at this little loss. As my tears fall on the dried, paper-thin body, I’m overcome with images of the un-rescued —the toddler floating dead at the shallow shoreline; father and daughter lost from the light; the drowned immigrants tossed from their boats of hope; so many lost lives. What of our own inner ugliness that scars the world, spins out from fear of the stranger in our midst, separates child from parent. Even, I ask, why do I weep as I bury my morning salamander in the soft earth, and can’t weep for those who, in desperation, wander the world, seeking a safe home— I wonder if some events arise too dreadful for tears, beyond our poor capacity to solve with any kind of kindness.
Crisp & Emerald Green by Monica Escobar
Too Far Out on the Deck of the sea by Lisa Meckel This late afternoon I write words with no syllables letters rise to crowd my throat. I force the breath of sighs into phrases like watermelon sea, compose sea-sounds that don’t sing. I draw your face on the page. Monet-blue eyes smile at me, read my mind, pose gentle questions, press me for answers. Your existence depends upon my responses, I write all you ask of me. I write endlessly, all I know of you, giving you your life back. I write the poem, then your name. You sound the letters and one by one they fall from the paper. The wind rises, afternoon fades—Your gray city-jacket blows open to the dusking light, sea birds circle above. Fast! Fast I must rewrite you, for then you will stay. But your back turns to me. I write Stop! Turn back! Instead you enter the light…your image dissolves leaving only seabirds hovering above.
Woman at Blue River by Jeffrey Alfier She farms alone down Connerville Way. The river swells her harrowed fields, brings blooms to foxglove and catchfly. She got shed of a bad marriage, invited a lover down from Tulsa. Fed him what she raised — collards, tamped with bone broth. He worked the fields alongside her, their close shadows cross-stitching fertile ground. In day’s failing light her hair was dark honey. They shared nights so quiet they heard dust settle on wind chimes. Early evenings, they’d set a blanket by the river, soft ground where deer made a bed in the grass. Lust flared like heat lightning. But a meth habit she couldn’t break hollowed her face, and fields he couldn’t work alone began to fail. Before he made off one dawn, he stole moonshine and the brightest apples from her cellar. That night, she walked to the river to scour the blanket, carried it into deep water where an oar floated up on a sandbar.
Toward the Arkansas River by Jeffrey Alfier Deep into autumn, a hunter descends foothills along the Sequoyah. He blames shots gone astray on graceless winds that quickened the dust about him to steal his aim. On the buck that backed out of crosshairs into shadowsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; he swears starlings harassed him. Blames one too many slugs of liquor and warmth he failed to breathe into his hands when sleet tarnished daylight to stone gray, stinging his grip as it whitened the fields.
Sunset at Cape Kiwanda II by Marc Janssen Good night sun, There is a hint of sadness As the bloody train of your dress Splatters about the clouds. Who are you really? An excuse for lovers, A sterile, optical effect? When I look across the Still undulating plain Of the Pacific, Witnessing a birth As it violently dies.
The Transformation by Craig Kurtz “I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin.” —Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A massacre most every day — the murderer so recherché; my lovely cat’s affectionate, despite atrocities commit. Amazing how he’s so polite, the precious little socialite; but then when he is all alone, he’s pretty homicidal-prone. At once he’s kneading on my bed and getting pat upon his fuzzy head; but when my feet touch on the floor, there is a carcass splayed in gore. It’s all and well, this getting pet and having charms of the coquette; but what about this bloody spine you left behind, Mr. Feline? Assuredly, your mewing’s cute and purring I will not refute; but feathers disgorged in a pile suggest activities hostile. You run to me when your name’s called — you’re captivating when all sprawled; however, these cadavers bode you have a relaxed moral code. Excusing my naiveté, these victims do suggest foul play; it’s evident from what I’ve gleaned: I am residing with a fiend. 79
Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Cellars 2014) by Alan Britt Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s taken a while for this Cabernet to settle down, but sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just loosened her bodice, followed by her proverbial unzipping of skin to invite me in for a spell.
Invasive Species by Marty Carlock Benign vine, bittersweet, lays its tendril fingers on the nearest tree. Oak thinks it doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t care. O, give it time. The tree will find itself re-formed, fighting for space and air, into an obelisk of leaf, ripe to fall in winter storm. Dead, but not the vine. With no remorse for what itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s done, it wanders off to find more sun.
Deserted Beauty by Stephanie Morales
The Relief by Mary Louise Kiernan I do not like to write. I like having written. ~ William Zinsser So, you may ask, When is my best time to write? So, I say, When is the time best to pluck out oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s thorns? For two or three hours I hunch over, apply drawing salve, dislodge barbs, extract shards, re-create splintered scenes deeply embedded, tweeze thoughts word by word ever so slowly until my eye sockets demand mercy.
Open by Rachel Tramonte I want to spill open with you. Start here. Find some fissure and split me open, simply with your silver hammer. I want you to open me. This is how I come to you, obsidian, black gem. It’s not about the color of the moon. Tap. Tap here. Tap. Spill me open so we can see, together, if there is sand or more rock inside. I do want you to know me for who I really am. It is because of our difference— black to white, fire to water straight to trans, Muslim to agnostic— that I want to get to know you through the things you do to me and the things you let me do to you. Let’s crack past crystalline layers to bits of sediment, sand, gold. One day, we will marvel at the way you split me open and how you let me reach inside of you, past your armor to the things you were not sure you held inside of you. 84
Modern Degradation Is So Damn Statuesque by Brett Stout
Little Art Plot by Stephen Massimilla Then I burst out crying. I dreamed it was not a knife that had come between us, not the sight of love scrubbed down in its own blood, but the oily, sticky feel of recalling your skin slipping through my fingers. Naked, antiqued by the mildew-yellow nimbus of a mosquito-lamp, your marble leg emerged from a bath of black enamel. Blue leaves ticked to pewter in the gust. I knew youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d be back, with a copper Cupid lightning-soaked in green flames on your pillow, you two embedded in clouds over the poetâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s grave, out of the frame.
A Cento for Michelle Bitting by Abby Caplin In the wide and delicate pond of humankind, a verdict delivered, stunning those wide, round eyes. Because the worst catastrophes where bodies fell, clean and ripped open, a carnage of stars, the dead on the shore lined up, swaying to the right of walking insanity. As if for royalty. As if for Death’s bee, buzzing each ear of rose-stained glass. What the fuck, Lord? I had to keep reminding myself how not to grieve for the generations surging, the broken kingdom— the politicians buying their way to the top, heaven, a gilded trumpet raised, dictated by dicks. And now I see her in a box the color of crushed pomegranate. But if it were me, my bones, I wouldn’t mind. I’d die and float in heaven— my mother’s face melting real buttercream frosting, the risen batter ribboned, barley and green honey, two kinds and emerald pistachios, pumpkin pie and coriander and her mother’s warm immigrant kitchen. I like to think of it—
Milky Way by Elizabeth Underwood In the dream everything is drifting, but in silence, like a leaf feathering down, like the galaxy slowly spinningâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; spilling through an open window into this room, onto the floor, swirling cosmos all around in the breathless, resonant dark. In the night everything is falling, but barely, like the moon going down, a swath of clear black in its wake. Your seed spills and it is so very bright, like that same galaxy, that whirling stream of stars, filling me with light.
Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Not The Way I Remember It by Andrew Cain
The Other World by Basanti Timalsina Colorful butterflies in the garden Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t excite me anymore They are just some creatures on this earth As I am. The warm colors of sunrise and sunset Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t fill my heart with warmth It is just the course of time As my life on earth. The depth of silence, The pitch darkness in the woods, The unheard calling, The musty earth, They draw me in Closer and closer. In them I see The other world.
My Last Smoke by Clay Hunt I handed a man my last smoke, for he had none and I would have more. His cardboard eyes sparked on like a streetlight and flickered with glee. I handed him my lighter. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Keep it stranger,â&#x20AC;? I told him in smiles. As he walked away, back into the world that never loved, I asked him for a hug. He turned around and his energy could light a city, as it lit cities in me.
Commuter Service by D.S. Maolalai sweat, smelling of shoes and empty lockers. running in the morning, 30 seconds for the train and now your heart goes wild and everything is wet, hands slick rubber like an old bar of soap. and pressed in, too - covered by people and surrounded by the heat of breathed breaths. weather red and bright yellow, outside white as paper and blue like new afternoons. itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 8:45 am - the bag squeezes water off your shoulder. your shirt a shape of shouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have drank last night. and the brain; more weight than rocks in boxes. you stand the last few stops, as more people come in and the panic at missing it subsides. and then, of course, new panic; now the train crowded and nowhere to rest your hands.
Pacific Grove by Cleo Griffith It is not a silent place, my meditative space, Pacific waves crash, seagulls grate, daily thoughts leave my mind, concentration split between the measurable distance to the horizon and the unfathomable immensity within me. It takes this cacophony to bring me to my senses, natureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s kettledrums, hoarse angels on the wing, the silence is then all mine. I am the sound, too, we are all one, completion swells my heart. And it only takes memory of you and I there, my dear, to find that spirit of calm, again.
Maui Sunset by Jennifer Lagier All day, white mist gift-wraps Lanai, spills silver curtains of rain. A catamaran zig zags over placid water. Paddle boarders skid above hidden reefs. By dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s end, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re sticky and hot, crave a cooling off swim. From poolside lounges, we watch as Maui sun takes a breather atop palm trees before twilight descent. The hour grows golden. Sun rays spray from puffy, pink clouds. Shadows bracket a sailboat. Melted sun slides behind hilltops, disappears into bay.
Untitled Landscape 8 by Nieko McDaniel
Notre Dame by Nancy Haskett I. Our Dear Lady, since this past April, it seems that all of France, and perhaps much of the world, has wept over your latest tragedy. At the risk of stating the obvious, I would like to remind you that an existence of 850+ years is likely to be filled with its share of ups and downs. Of course, the temptation is always to focus on the positive memories— the coronations, Requiem Masses, the delightful tightrope walk between the bell towers, not to mention the alleged relics from the crucifixion— so let’s not pretend this fire is the worst thing that has happened. Let’s also remember the funerals, the suicides at the altar, the revolution which beheaded your statues, converted you to a mundane warehouse for the storage of food. Don’t forget that it was the fictitious story of a deformed hunchback that brought attention to your woeful plight, saved you from destruction, supported you in a time of great need (even more than your flying buttresses), and even in the midst of liberation from your German foes, stray bullets shattered glass from the Middle Ages. So, it’s somewhat difficult to summon much sympathy for you. After all, at significant expense, you have had an ongoing makeover, 96
centuries of facelifts and joint replacements; you have been cleaned, refreshed, updated, pampered and revered. No doubt you will once again rise above us all. II. After some consideration, I fear I may have maligned you unfairly. Compared to the multiple misfortunes and afflictions you have experienced over the centuries, this devastating fire seemed, at first, to be simply one more challenge you would undoubtedly overcomeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; that you would recover completely and be back to your old self in no time. The latest prognosis, I am forced to admit, looks far less hopeful, and I can only imagine your distress at being told there is a mere 50/50 chance of your survival. Since you are a cathedral, I would urge you to look toward the Heavens for some kind of divine intervention, and please take some comfort, as we Americans so often do, in our sincere thoughts and prayers.
Burned by Cristina Sandoval Homes have made Darkness at noon So easy. We regularly lie In rooms, as we speak, Bodies crumpled Like dead roses. Secrets line the walls. Fairy tales crawl in Through the vents. We have looked too hard Into the face of the eclipse. Gone blind in one eye. Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve sketched our bodies Against the shadows, Our breasts like half moon Nail clippings, Resting on the floor beneath. The moon steps aside, And yet, There is no certain light When we turn our backs To every window. We stare into a vacuum, Wonder if the walls can breathe. Our lungs collapse and rise, And we wonder if we could Be burned by starlight.
Sea the Small Gifts by Stephanie Morales
Skin-Touch of Love by Nancy Diamante Bonazzoli Ferocious night.
We left him there; his inhalator gone silent as his heartbeat.
We slam the car doors, surrender to grief. You turn the key. Windshield wipers echo his ghost-dance rhythms. Defroster on the fritz, our exhalations fog, dripping sheen. Pressed against icy glass, your fist’s edge squeaks round and round; our flooded eyes plead for vision. Squinting bravely, you attempt to steer us home. They’ll move him soon, lay him on a slab colder than this end-of-year night. Opening the windows I tip my head, invite the deluge to salve. I take no Sabbath from his memory his legacy my inheritance— his love the warm skin-touch. 100
Fight, Flight or Freeze by Sheila Landre You have four seconds to decide. All you have to guide you is what your eyes behold. What is this person’s size and does it favor you or them if it all comes down to blows? Facial expression -- curious and inviting or disdainful and foreboding? Alert or wandering gaze? Too much eye contact? Not enough? Body language saying—what? Cross reference for common factors with encounters of the past, factual or fictional, sort for stereotypes, discard false equivalencies. Make a decision. Question that. Warm smile, neutral nod, embarrassed laugh? Ask a question, make a statement, wait for them to make the first move, utter first phrase, duck, dodge or dance? Fly, fight, or freeze? Or extend your hand, palm open, weapons down, and brace yourself for the sensory onslaught of shaking a stranger’s hand.
Head like a Hole by Diego Caballero
Watercolor on paper
Between the Pages by Briana Talley I remember when he left me damaged, like pages torn out of my favorite book. Trying to edit me into his own idea of what perfect was, and discarding me when he failed. That was when you found me, and tried to glue the pages back to my spine. Sitting at your desk, your face contorted in focus, Scotch Tape covering my body like band-aids. I remember when you began to turn my crinkled pages, learning my story in memories, always careful to skip the pieces of me that you put back together. Treating the tears as fiction instead of the biography of a heartbreak. When I tried to fill the plot holes of my heart, you came at me with white-out, trying to erase the permanent ink etched on my bones. You ignored the old clichĂŠ and fell for a pretty cover, not knowing that he confused well-loved with well-used.
Letters to the Girls I Loved by Briana Talley To the first, Thank you for being a shoulder to cry on, no matter when I needed it. Always telling me I deserved better as I swam through the blue of your eyes. Thank you for being the cause of my sleepless nights, staring at the blank ceiling and wondering if we were just friends or if you wanted to kiss me too. To the second, Thank you for accepting me as I was, returning my flirting with your own, and gracing me with the presence of your smile. Thank you for cutting me off when you got a boyfriend, and he decided that I was an unneeded limb. And to the third, Thank you for playing along when everyone in our class said we would make a cute couple while butterflies rose in my stomach as you agreed. Thank you for making me believe I had a chance, While under every subtle advance â&#x20AC;&#x153;No Homoâ&#x20AC;? rang in the back of your mind, words as sharp as a knife to my soul, breaking my heart in a way no boy ever could.
Fig by Andrea Wagner The knife slides against skin, Softly, so easily; It pierces and cuts right through. Then it’s over, done, spilling over, And sticking to my fingers—such a mess— All for it to be rotten.
Forbidden by Andrea Wagner My atoms waited and longed for your touch. Before my brain even made words or thoughts, My cells had conspired, synapses had sparked; They wanted more, though life was yet to start. Now I’m a being, and my body still yearns. Tears flow and sting madly, aching to burn Whenever I willfully tear away, Since all that it asks for is that I stay. But I must disobey my raging soul. The atoms attached feel the biting pull Of what it’s like to be away from you— Brain over body, though body is true. Because I’m told to keep that part hidden, Some parts of life are strictly forbidden.
First Daffodil by Jennifer Lagier “...the cave where the conscience hides...”—Margot Farrington, in A Single Birch at Days End from The Blue Canoe of Longing A bodacious scrap of vivid yellow burns through morning downpour. Curiosity piqued, I investigate, discover January’s first jonquil. Daring relentless rain, sniping hail, she recruits pink hyacinth to join her bright chorus. Frontline floral Rockette, she bounces in the wind, stands out like a star from among garden wreckage. Icy gloom, sullen skies have chilled heart and soul, robbed me of any energy to emerge and engage. It takes a jaunty daffodil to lift my spirits, offer a promise of spring’s resurrection.
The Life of Others by Fabrizia Faustinella As I opened the door of the small donut shop, not far from our clinic, a warm, sweet smell instantly enveloped me and made me salivate. While I was waiting to place my order, a young woman caught my eye. She was sitting at one of the tables with a basket full of donuts in front of her. She was eating them voraciously. She was very overweight. I felt a surge of frustration, as many of my patients struggle with weight loss, but also don’t seem to do what’s right, despite hours spent in dietary and exercise counseling. She had a pretty face, dark hair, and big blue eyes. She looked somewhat disheveled though, with messy hair in pigtails. She was wearing pink sweatpants and a bleach-stained T-shirt which read, “God Loves His Children.” Finally, I paid for the donuts and left, releasing a sigh as I exited the place, still taking a glimpse of the young woman at the table. As I entered the clinic, one of the nurses swiftly whisked the donut box away from me. The examining rooms were already all occupied with patients. I took a deep breath, bracing myself for the hard day of work ahead of me, hoping I wouldn’t run behind schedule too much. Three hours went by very fast, as I kept going from room to room, until I ran into Lindsey Anne. She was the woman I saw earlier at the donut shop. What a great opportunity I had now to talk to her about a healthy lifestyle! I introduced myself and even told her that I had seen her earlier in the morning. She averted her eyes. Said that she had back pain, and that’s why she came to the clinic. She said that she wasn’t sleeping comfortably, and maybe that’s why she had back pain. If you lost some weight, your back wouldn’t hurt as much. The thought popped into my head like a conditioned response. She also had pain in both of her legs, headache, fatigue, nausea, stomachache, and a skin rash. She wanted something to make her feel better. I started going through her medical record. She was nineteen years old. She had been admitted many times to the psychiatry hospital, and she just delivered a baby three months earlier. I saw multiple visits in various emergency departments for homicidal and suicidal thoughts. Several suicidal attempts were documented. The diagnosis of severe anxiety and depression, PTSD, mood disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, cocaine abuse, incarceration, and homelessness popped up on the computer screen, sending a shock wave throughout my body.
“Sorry about your back pain,” I said, “but could you please tell me a little more about yourself? It seems like there is a lot going on with you which is more important than the aches and pain you’re experiencing. Is there anything I can do to help?” “I’m pregnant. I need a shelter,” she blurted out, those words punching me hard. “Lindsey Anne, you are pregnant?! It says here,” I pointed at the computer screen, “that you just had a baby!” I must have sounded frustrated and defeated. She looked down. A long silence followed. Then she uttered: “They took him away from me. They said I’m unfit to be a mom. But I’m going to keep this one. I’m fine now; I’m mentally stable. I can function.” Lindsey Anne had been living on the streets since she turned sixteen years old. A note from the psychiatrist detailed the horrors of her life: history of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse since age six, taken away from her family by Child Protective Services, cycled through multiple foster homes, was adopted, ran away. Became victim of human trafficking, was stabbed and choked; was in and out of jail for shoplifting, disruptive behavior, trespassing, drug use, and prostitution charges. ly?”
I cleared my throat and asked: “Where have you been staying late-
“I was in jail for a month. I got out last week, and I’ve been sleeping in a ditch since. I think that’s why I hurt all over.” She said she had no blankets; she was cold and tired. She was hungry too. Had a few dollars left in her pockets and ate some donuts in the morning. The shelters were full, and she was told to try again after the weekend. In the meantime, while waiting for a bed in one of the city’s shelters, the social worker, as documented in the medical record, gave her two options: 1 - Go to the emergency room; sleep there; go to OBGYN appoint ment next week. 2 - Sleep in the streets; go to OBGYN appointment next week. What kind of options are those? I thought. That wasn’t very reassuring, not to her and neither to me. I noticed that over time she had always scored very high on the mental health questionnaire. But contrary to most things in life, a high score on that type of questionnaire is very ominous and is indicative of severe depression. It asks questions about having little interest or plea109
sure in doing things, feeling hopeless, having poor appetite or overeating, feeling bad about yourself, having trouble concentrating, being restless and fidgety or having no energy, thinking of hurting yourself or thinking that you would be better off dead. “How do you feel now?” I asked. “You told me that you are stable. Is that true?” “I’m not sleeping well at night. I have nightmares. But I have to be stable because I want to keep this baby. They don’t even let me see the first one. I was hearing voices after I delivered, telling me to hurt the baby, but I knew it was wrong, so I told the doctors and they took him away from me.” “Lindsey Anne, you have to admit that it might be really hard for you to raise a child. I’ve been going through your records, as we speak, and I’ve been reading a lot of unsettling things about your life, your childhood, your family...” “I have no family. They are all dead. They all died in a car accident,” she said with determination in her voice. There was silence after that. I’m not sure if that was true or if she wanted to erase any thoughts of her abusive family and preferred to think of them as dead. “Listen; tell me at least if you’ve been thinking to hurt yourself.” I noticed the scars on her wrists and on her throat from past suicide attempts. I also read she had threatened in the past to walk into traffic or jump in front of the train. “I feel lonely. I have no support. I don’t think life is good for me... It hasn’t been good to me. But how do I tell my heart that I don’t want to live any longer and it’s okay to kill myself? If I kill myself, I’ll kill the baby too, and that’s not okay. My heart doesn’t want that because it knows it’s wrong.” She seemed so sweet and innocent, despite everything that had happened to her. I imagined her as a child, a little girl, sitting now in front of me, with her messy pigtails, full of dreams and hopes so prematurely shattered. All her potential hindered by unspeakable life circumstances, which played in my head as a dreadful, violent movie. I made arrangements to transfer her to the emergency department of our county psychiatric hospital. She agreed to it.
So much for my lecture on diet and exercise and how donuts are bad for you. That felt ridiculous now. I even felt ashamed of myself for making so many assumptions. Who could have possibly imagined her life, all the trauma she had suffered as a child, and continued to go through? Who could have thought, by looking at her in the donut shop, that she didn’t even know when she would eat next? That she was pregnant and sleeping in ditches? Nobody could have imagined, because that’s the life of others, the life we don’t know anything about, but we are so quick to judge and dismiss. We walk past each other, with all our biases and prejudices, ready to cast the first stone, blind to the complexity of human life and the unspeakable struggles of our children.
The Madonna by Kayla Wilton I met the Virgin Mary when I was seven years old. She lived among the climbing ivy and the blooming flowers in an alcove that smelled of fertile soil and wet moss and living things. It was not a hidden place, but it was a private place. It was the kind of rare place that made me want to deeply inhale the fresh, clean air and sit for a while, listening to the birds singing and the trees breathing around me. When I found her, I thought I had discovered the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s greatest secret nestled in the far reaches of the playground. I suddenly believed in a kind of divinity that had never felt tangible to me before. She was not God; she was better. She was better because she was here before me, standing up high but close enough for my small arms to reach out and touch her cold, rough skin. The children did not play here, although I could hear their joyous shouts and laughter not more than two hundred feet awayâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the wild and hectic energy and the unbridled ecstasy of childhood had their proper place in wide expanses of asphalt, in the crunching of woodchips, in the furious thumping of small feet across wooden play structures, in the repetitive whine of old and overtaxed swing sets, all of which were out of my view from here. The other children had no interest in the quiet and the calm, but it did not matter. She waited for those who would walk not run, those who would pay attention with gentle inquisitiveness to the whispers in the ivy leaves and the flower petals that flourished around her. She was tall and graceful in her stance, and I was drawn to her warm, serene spirit. She did not speak, but she looked down at me from her hollowed-out space in the wall like she was curious to hear my thoughts. Her face was open and kind in a way that compelled me to speak, to tell her things as if I were speaking to a friend. There was love for me here; I could feel it in the way she stood with her body inclined toward mine in invitation. She was the embodiment of everything that was holy on this earthâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and in her presence, so was I. Sometimes, when I visited her, I told her in hushed tones of the small, everyday, meaningless little things that occupy the mind of a young child. She listened attentively, as though my words held weight that she wanted to hold in the palm of her hand. Other times, I would simply sit and gaze up at her, contemplating the sight of her. She was angelic in her 112
posture, in the drape of her chiseled robes and in her open arms, but she had such a plain, ordinary face. It was a womanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s face, a motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s face ... a humanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s face. Somehow, this seemed right to me; it made her look to me like she belonged here, among the plants and the dirt. This was her realm, her domain, her home. She did not need to look beautiful to belong. I once brought my friends to see this refuge of mine tucked away in the lush, quiet greenness at the edge of all the ceaseless activity and noise. I had told them of this place that drew me in so completely, this place that contained an earthly miracle carved from stone. They were impressed, but they were not moved. To them, she was simply another adventure completed, another treasure found, and soon forgotten once the next quest was undertaken or the next sparkling gem uncovered. They agreed that she was mystical, maybe even holy, but their awe was short-lived. They did not return to stand alone at her feet and drink in her peaceful aura with pure reverence the way I did. I have not seen her in years, but I can sense that she still stands there, spectacular yet calm, in her place among the leaves. If I ever see her again, I will tell her that I have remembered her. I am sure that she remembers me.
Light of Hope by Liliana Prieto
The Admissions Office Waiting Room by Ralph E. Shaffer As Alis entered a nearly empty campus admissions office waiting room promptly at 2, she belatedly realized that she should have arrived fifteen minutes early in order to fill out whatever questionnaire the admissions officer might have for her. To her relief, there was no secretary sitting officiously at a desk, annoyed by Alis’ not early enough arrival. In fact, the only other person in the room, surprisingly, was a boy about her own age, sitting in one of the only two chairs in the room. Since she had no choice, she walked to the vacant chair, smiled at the boy, and sat. He smiled back and introduced himself. “Hi,” I’m Rex... short for Rexford.” He was an attractive kid, Alis thought, saying to herself, “I hope all the kids here are as good looking as he is.” “I’m Alis... spelled A-l-i-s. I think my folks were trying to be uppity with that spelling. It’s been a nuisance since I started school.” “I think it’s clever, and it does set you apart. Oh, I mean that it has a special class to it.” “I’d rather not be in a special class. It’s tough enough just being one of the kids.” "I’ll bet you don’t have any trouble fitting in. You look normal enough. And if you’re applying here, you must be super normal.” Alis segued to a related topic, happy to change the subject to something other than herself. “Did you apply to a lot of colleges? I assume you’d be an entering freshman, like me.” “The list would have been longer, but my Dad began wincing at paying the application fees at every one of those schools. Ten. I applied to ten. From Berkeley and Stanford to Harvard and Yale, and six major state universities in between [all of which he listed in geographical order.] But this place wasn’t on my list until they called me, and it’s the last one to interview me. How about you?” Alis, never a boaster, really wanted to impress this kid who had relished running through the list. “I only applied to eight,” she replied, making it sound like fewer was better. “Wesleyan, Scripps, Mills, and some of the ones you mentioned [without identifying which ones.] But this wasn’t even on my list, and I hadn’t planned to interview here un115
til....” She didn’t explain the “until.” Alis continued. “My Dad took a month off from his law work, and we did a leisurely tour of the campuses. Went to or through states I’d never been to before. Scripps and Mills are in different parts of California, and Wesleyan is in Connecticut. We traveled in a Motorhome, camped in the Petrified Forest and at those caves in Kentucky - Mammoth Caves. Saw Niagara for the first time, and the Black Hills in the Dakotas. It was quite a trip. I wish my Mom had been with us... but she died a year ago. Never got to see me graduate from high school or go off to college. But my Dad had enough enthusiasm for both of them.” “I’m sorry about your mother,” Rex said, a genuine feeling of sympathy in his voice. “It’s hard to lose someone like that when you’re so young. And your Mom probably regretted, in the midst of her illness, that she wouldn’t see you go through all the wonder of growing up.” Alis mused, “Mom’s gone, but I feel closer to her now than ever before. I know I’ll see her again.” But she changed the subject. “Did you make the grand tour, too?” Rex recounted his visits to the Ivy League schools and to Berkeley and Stanford. It was obvious the state universities in between were of less interest to him. “ We flew to all of them. My Dad got his pilot’s license long ago, and he bought a little jet plane. It was big enough for the two of us. My Mom chose to stay home. She said this was a guys’ trip. So the two of us did it. We never got to U. of Michigan, however. Instead, we detoured here when the plane had trouble. That’s why I’m at this place.” Alis looked at her watch. “My appointment was for 2. You were here before me, so I guess you had an even earlier appointment. The admissions officer must be running quite late. It’s now 2:15.” “No, my appointment was for 2, same as you. A campus like this probably has more than one person doing admission interviews. Doesn’t really matter if they’re running late. Time doesn’t mean much any more.” Rex didn’t explain his last comment. Alis seemed to understand. At that moment an inner door opened and two men came out. One of them spoke. “We apologize for the delay, but our interview won’t take long, and you’ll soon be on your separate ways. Well, maybe not so separate.” 116
He waved what might have been applications with one hand and pointed to them with the other. “You both were tops in your high school graduating classes. The references come from top- notch teachers at your respective schools. The list of community activities you engaged in is impressive - for both of you. So my colleague and I won’t need much time with either of you, but feel free to ask any questions you wish. Rex, you go with my colleague, and Alis, you come with me.” The two teenagers rose and followed the admission officers to separate rooms down a hallway behind the inner door. Rex was sitting in the same chair in the waiting room when Alis returned. “That wasn’t long at all,” she said, “but yours must have been even quicker.” “Wasn’t much to talk about, and I didn’t ask many questions. I hadn’t planned on coming here, so I wasn’t prepared.” “I wasn’t either,” Alis acknowledged. “I didn’t know what to ask. He probably was disappointed with me after what he said about us.” “What was interesting,” said Rex, “ was that there was none of this “You’ll get a letter from us not later than the first of May. He was ready to offer me admission today.” Alis beamed. “Me too. We’ll be freshmen, if that’s the right term, together.” “At other schools,” Rex added, “You get that letter the first of May from all the schools you applied to, and you get to make a choice.” He didn’t finish the thought, but the implication was that he didn’t have a choice. There was no alternative to acceptance. Well, actually there was, but it was not one he would choose. “I felt the same way,” Alis replied. “They made the choice, not me. But I’m glad you’ll be here too.” Rex hesitated, wanting to tell her why he had ended his tour here, and wondering why hers led to this campus as well. He decided to broach the subject, one that they had carefully avoided in their conversation before the admission officers came out. “Alis, if we hadn’t had plane trouble, my Dad and I would have been in Michigan today for a rather pointless interview, and then home to 117
wait until May to see if I made Berkeley or Harvard. But the plane trouble changed all that, and we came here. This place wasn’t even on my alternate list.” Alis made a faint smile. “Sounds like our motorhome experience. We didn’t get to Wesleyan, which I really wanted to attend. It was first on my list. But we didn’t get that far. It was a very rainy night, somewhere in the Poconos, I had never seen the Poconos, and since we were in them on a dark, rainy night, I can’t say I saw them even now. There was a tree in the road. Dad swerved, the Motorhome didn’t respond when he tried to straighten out - slippery pavement, I suppose - and we went over the edge and into a deep canyon. I’m not sure if anyone has found us yet.... And you?” Rex looked glum for the first time in their conversation. “It was more than plane trouble. The jet engine failed when we hit a flock of birds. We crashed somewhere in a forest. I don’t know where it was. Guess it doesn’t matter. I’m here as a result, just like you.” At that point, the inner door opened again and an elderly man in academic robes stepped into the waiting room. “I heard you comment about not knowing where you were then. I guess you know where you are now. Welcome, to both of you. Alis, your mother is waiting. But maybe you and Rex would like another moment together. However, I’m sure the two of you will become good friends during your time here at Eternity.”
Goddess Mother by Vivian Lawry The Goddess Mother was the Earth, companion to the sun and the moon. The sun blazed gold, and the moon shone mother-of-pearl. But they were silent, and the Goddess Mother was lonely. She sat like Buddha, wept, and swallowed her tears—green, fertile tears—and she grew great with child. In the fullness of time, she birthed a goddess daughter, half the size of the Goddess Mother and fully formed. The goddess daughter lay gasping and moaning on the belly of the Goddess Mother until a younger goddess slipped from her loins. The goddess daughter held the younger goddess in her arms as an infant goddess crawled into the light. The Goddess Mother held her daughters in her lap. The firstborn daughter she made Goddess of Waters—of all the seas, lakes, rivers, streams, and clouds. The second she made Goddess of Plants—beautiful, edible, healing, and poisonous. The youngest she made Goddess of Animals, whether on land or in the seas. The earth and air the Goddess Mother kept to herself. Each understanding the bonds among them, the Goddess Mother and her daughters ruled in harmony for millennia. With the passage of time, the Goddess Mother and her daughters felt selfish with so much abundance for just the four of them. They decided they should share their paradise. Each of the four gave her greatest gifts. The Goddess Mother gave thirteen elements from the earth and air. The Goddess of Waters gave saline and silicone. The Goddess of Animals formed their gifts into a new animal, patterned on chimpanzees and bonobos. The Goddess of Plants then added color and beauty. From the gifts of the four, they created beings almost in their own image and named them Humans. The Goddesses smiled as humans thrived and spread over the earth. They celebrated when humans took what they needed from the world around them. The humans gave thanks to the elements for rain and sun and thanked the plants and animals for granting them sustenance. The change was so gradual, it was hardly noticeable as humans moved from living with nature to exploiting and striving to control it. They dammed and redirected rivers, polluted watersheds, overfished the waters, and dumped oil and plastics into the seas. 119
They no longer respected other animals. Sometimes they blithely killed off species. Millions of plump passenger pigeons disappeared. The handsome males—slate blue with black streaks, patches of pinkish iridescence at the throat changing to metallic bronze, green, and purple, the lower throat and breast of soft rose, gradually shading to white on the lower abdomen, clear lake red irises, feet, and legs—were seen no more. No longer did flocks, like storm clouds, darken the sky midday, their passing sounding like thunder. They were over-hunted for commerce. The Goddesses mourned the passing of the pigeons and of the Tasmanian tiger, dodo, Caribbean monk seal, heath hen, golden toad, Javan tiger, West African black rhinoceros, elephant bird, sea mink, Atlas bear, and Falkland Islands wolf. Humans did not seem to care. Humans changed their animal relatives, breeding them to create specialized animals for their needs, for everything from herding to entertainment. They took over the creation of life itself by cloning. All over the world, plants became extinct in the wild— more than forty-five in Africa, twenty-two in the Americas, seventeen in Asia, thirty-seven in Oceania, and forty-nine in Australia. Sometimes humans just failed to protect them. Other times, they fell due to human activity. Humans over-cut forests without replanting and harvested coal, gas, and oil from deep in the earth regardless of the consequences. When the Goddess Mother and her daughters realized what was happening, they sent warnings. Little ones at first. Species became endangered, but these humans valued their own pleasures, comforts, and prosperity more than diversity. The Goddess Mother and her daughters increased the ferocity of wind and rain, creating ever more violent hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, volcanos, and earthquakes. They increased the devastation of forest fires, followed by mudslides. They melted polar ice caps and glaciers, raising ocean levels and changing coastlines worldwide. But humans clung to their belief in their ability to control these disasters. When nothing changed the humans’ behavior, the Goddesses had no choice but to teach humans just how puny they were compared to nature— the earth and air became fevered. The other animals retreated, but humans paid no heed. Volcanoes spewed death. Earthquakes brought down man-made structures, from huts to bridges to skyscrapers. Rivers flooded, and sea levels rose. Humans and their rubble were burned, bur120
ied, and lost to the sea. When all humans had died, the Goddess Mother and her daughters mourned their loss as they had mourned other extinct species. And then they started over, recreating paradise.
Moon Colony by Randall Smith
Four color wood cut print
Lamplight Cleaners by Adrian Markle Cam pulled for the third time on the still locked door of Lamplight Cleaners. He pressed against the glass and cupped his hands to either side of his face to keep the glare out. It was still dark inside, but there was a line of light shining in from the back, daylight creeping in through a door ajar. He stomped down the little alley that ran beside the shop to the back, where a kid leaned easily against the wall near the open back door, taking a drag from a crooked joint. Cam’s jaw tightened, his teeth grinding. The ache of it moved up behind his eyes. He wouldn’t be able to take even one night off from sleeping with his mouthguard this week. He breathed a slow breath, then another, forcing himself to be calm, or at least act it. It was the mature thing to do. And besides, maturity aside, Cam was gangly and narrow, all length and no substance, and this kid was heavy and broad, square shaped. Anger wouldn’t get him far. The kid had blond dreads that fell to his shoulders, a curved nose and pointed chin that looked like they were trying to touch, and clothes that were too big and too old for him. He eyed Cam up and extended the ass-end of the joint. “Can’t today,” Cam said, caught off guard by the friendliness of the gesture. “Love to, actually, but can’t. Thanks.” The kid nodded, butted out against the wall of the shop, and dropped the remains in his cardigan pocket, its beige wool hanging loose off him. The kid stepped in through the door. “So you need something, man?” “It’s almost…” Cam started, shouting suddenly. He thrust out his arm; an old gold watch spun around his wrist, its strap far too large for his thin wrist. “It’s twenty after eight. Your sign says eight, on the door.”
The kid looked at him, blank faced.
“So, yes,” Cam continued, “I need something. I need to pick up a suit. This is important. And it’s fucking . . . it’s twenty after eight.”
“Of course,” the kid said. “All of our customers are important. 123
Come on in. We’ll get you all sorted out.” Cam stepped toward him, but the kid blocked him with an outstretched hand. “Can’t come in this way. Wouldn’t be professional.” The kid jerked his thumb toward the front of the store, then shut the door in Cam’s face. Around the front, Cam watched the kid shuffling slowly, disinterestedly, from the back of the store while Cam shook the handle every second or two. “Good morning and welcome to Lamplight Cleaners,” the kid said when he finally unlocked the door.
“I need to pick up a suit. It’s for Adler.”
“For sure, man. Just slide me that ticket, and I’ll get you all taken care of.” Cam tensed. He and the kid walked to the counter, took their places on either side of it. “I wasn’t actually given a ticket,” Cam said. “I wasn’t charged. The woman who works here, with the curly hair . . .” it.”
“Maria.” “Yeah, Maria. She told me no charge. She said just come and get
The kid wrinkled his brow, and Cam searched for some way to prove his story. He pulled out his driver license and placed it on the counter. It wasn’t exactly proof, he figured, but if he were a criminal he wouldn’t be going around showing everyone his ID. The kid beat his fingers on the countertop—one two three four. “Sorry, man, can’t give you anything without a ticket. You’ll have to talk to Maria.” Cam had brought the suit in last week and laid it carefully on the counter. “I remember this one,” she’d said. She’d picked it up and looked at it and looked at him and didn’t say anything. And the quiet in which he normally thrived had felt different than he was used to—too wide open, too empty. She’d rubbed the material of it between her thumb and finger. 124
“It’s for…” he’d said, trying to fill the silence. “He. . .” Then he’d just stood there.
She hadn’t charged him.
“I did talk to Maria,” Cam said. “She told me to just come in and ask for it.” He placed his hands flat on the counter and leaned forward. The kid did not lean away. They were close. “So I’ve come in. And I’m asking for it.” The kid sucked his teeth and swayed his head side to side. “. . . Sorry, man. You’ll have to wait for Maria. She usually comes in around noon.” “I don’t have until noon,” Cam said, his volume rising, and the pain rising up again from behind his tightening jaw. “Call her.”
“I don’t wake her up unless something’s on fire.”
“Listen.” Cam closed his eyes and breathed deep through his nose. “You’re supposed to wear a suit. A dark suit. This is the only thing I have. It’s his. Was his. I found it and it fits me now.” The first time he’d seen his dad wear it, his dad had taken his mom out to some fancy work dinner, had put his hand on the small of her back as she’d stepped out the front door. He looked over the rows of plastic-wrapped garments. Right at the front: the suit, pressed and ready. Too wide for him at the shoulders and waist, but almost right in the arms and legs. Maria might have forgotten to mention it, but she hadn’t forgotten to clean it. There was hope. But in the back of his mind was a different hope, a hope that the kid would keep saying no, that he wouldn’t get the suit, that he wouldn’t go to the memorial, and that it wouldn’t be his fault.
“That’s it right there,” Cam said.
The kid looked back and forth between Cam and the suit. He lifted his hand from the table, he held his breath in. He was wavering. Maybe it would just take one last push.
“How would you feel if it was your dad?”
The kid’s face hardened instantly, the hand he’d been holding up in the air slammed down onto the counter. 125
“No, sorry,” the kid said.’Nothing I can do. This is decent money and I’m not going to mess that up by giving away clothes without tickets. Not for nothing.” He looked down at a pile of loose papers by the register, shuffled them around, pretended Cam wasn’t there.
“Just call her,” Cam said, but the kid didn’t respond.
Cam stepped back from the counter and dropped on to one of a few blue plastic chairs that were lined up against the wall by the door. “I’ve got, like . . . I’ll give you twenty bucks.”
The kid didn’t look up.
He pictured the look on his family’s face when he walked in in jeans and a hoodie, or later, after he hadn’t come at all. His mother had offered to arrange this for him, but he’d insisted on doing it himself. He was fifteen now. He wasn’t supposed to need her to look after him like that. He felt a familiar panic settling in, that constant cold feeling at the top of his lungs. He put his hand on his chest, placing pressure like he’d always seen done in movies with bad cuts and bullet holes. He looked back at the kid, who was now playing at curating a selection of posters and flyers that were pinned to a cork board on the wall by the counter.
“Hey,” Cam started.
“No.” He wanted to just take that no and leave, but he pictured the disappointment on his mother and sister’s faces again and said, “You got any more of that weed?” He shoved his hand into his pocket and came out with a wrinkled twenty. He might not get what he wanted here this morning, but he’d get something to help him deal with the failure. The kid nodded—slowly, as if stalling to sniff out a trap. Cam got up and walked toward the counter, but was met again by the outstretched hand and a lazy jerk of the thumb. “Can’t do it here,” the kid said. “That’s unprofessional.” 126
Cam was waiting at the back of the shop when the door swung
wide and the kid stepped out, the old butt already crooked in his mouth. He lit it the second his foot crossed the threshold, and he inhaled and passed it over to Cam, who took a drag and tried not to cough. The kid pulled a sandwich bag of joints from his sweater. “Five each.” Cam bought two and slipped them into his back pocket, and he and the kid passed the last half of the joint back and forth in silence in the cold morning wind. He looked in through the open back door of the cleaner’s down the line of plastic wrapped clothes to the suit, the corner of the bag waving playfully to him from a distance that was at once both insignificant and insurmountable. The last time he’d seen his dad wear it, his dad had crouched down to say something to him outside the lawyer’s office. He’d put his hand on Cam’s shoulder, shook him gently. He looked at the kid, whose jeans were rolled up three to four times at the cuff but still dragged across the ground, and he felt something not wholly unfamiliar, but wholly unexpected; he felt almost like they were friends now—they were hanging out and smoking a joint in near perfect silence, the same as he did with his other friends. Maybe this kid didn’t have many friends either. Maybe this small connection was enough to get him to reconsider. Cam pinched the last of it between his fingers, watched the way it flared during gusts of cold air. There was only enough left for one more drag. He extended it to the kid. “You kill it.” He’d preface his last request with an act of kindness. The kid reached out for it, but just before their fingers touched, it slipped from Cam’s grip and tumbled end over end to the concrete. The kid looked at Cam and sighed and shook his head, the same way his dad had used to do whenever Cam asked for help with something he’d already been shown how to do, something he should have been able to do on his own. Cam felt that coldness back, in his Chest. The kid bent down to pick it up. His dreads swung low and swayed shadows across the stone. Cam kicked. He just kicked. He brought his leg up as hard as he could, smacking the shin somewhere into the kid’s torso—he didn’t really see where. The kid grunted, turned to look at him with eyes suddenly slick and shining. His breathing came out in heaving gasps. He reached a hand out toward Cam, but he couldn’t straighten himself up right to reach him. And Cam placed a hand on the kid’s shoulder, and braced his feet against the coarse earth, and shoved. The kid spun as he fell. 127
Cam never saw him land. He was already in through the door, dashing madly through the rows of garments. He grabbed the suit as he ran past, the hook of the hanger catching the rack and starting it rocking. He slammed his hip on the edge of the counter as he ran past it, and it pinballed him off the corkboard, the impact of his shoulder knocking free the ads for bake sales and car washes and concerts. He kept running for the doorâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;shin, hip, and shoulder throbbingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;suit trailing behind him like a sail come loose in a storm. He cast one final glance behind him, the flyers floating slowly down to the floor like ashes in his wake.
Untitled by Nairoby Mello
Compressed and ink wash on multimedia paper
Pancakes in Mourning by Brynn Richer ‘Loving husband, devoted father, joy-filled grandfather and serviceman,’ was all the funeral pamphlet tacked onto his fridge said. The photo of his grandfather had stared blankly at him for the past four mornings when he woke up. It would greet him in his attempts to make breakfast—turning its back for a few moments as he rummaged through the fridge before surprising him again when the door sealed shut. The frozen memory looked more morose pinned underneath its magnet holdings. His grandfather’s eyes were despondent, worn beneath thick glasses, as if their own weight was even too trying. He was only twenty-three in the photo. The memories from the rest of his life carried by others shadowed his not yet liver-spotted face. His service peak cap pushed his forehead lower, allowing a ghost of a feeling to suggest his disappointment. His wife had picked the photo because it was neutral—but that was the problem with neutrality, it was easily shaped into negligent praise or silent disdain by the observer. Today’s date was loud in his mind. The funeral would’ve started by now. Today was the last day anyone was going to give a damn about his grandfather. He had felt, more than anything, insulted to have people suggest he would’ve wanted his grandson there. Tomorrow would be equally important, and so would the day after, and the day after that. Pain took more time than a church service or the bugle solo in “Taps”. So, no, he did not go. He had woken up at eight o’clock and grabbed pancake mix from the pantry instead. *** When he was young, falling asleep almost instantly was a task he was exceptionally good at, leaving his grandparents the enormous task of keeping him asleep until the sun had peaked over the horizon. Bargaining quickly became the solution. Eight in the morning was set as the start of the day—the time when his grandfather would convince himself he had gotten enough sleep and that his impatient grandson’s torture was over. His grandfather was always woken with sharp elbows or kicking knees and feet on Saturdays— never a second later than eight.
The ritual had begun with the stuttering of the gas burner and the quick whoosh of the flames while the morning yawned awake. His grandfather would brew a mug of black coffee—with mountainous spoonfuls of sugar if his wife wasn’t up yet—and sip slowly as his grandson climbed onto counters and balanced the bag of flour in his arms. His grandfather did the pancake making—even when he was of high school age and still spent the night—gently whisking the batter, grabbing a fingerful of it, and tasting it with an approving hum. “What’d you want to do today?” He’d ask, watching the batter spill onto the skillet.
“Eat pancakes, mostly." was his grandson’s favorite reply.
He’d get a wry eyebrow quirk from his grandfather—the older and bushier they got, the more sarcastic the quirk became. “Looks like you came to the right place then.” *** His first pancake always came out burnt, lumpy, or riddled with uneven edges because of too impatient of a flip. It would be smacked onto the plate, scornfully, before the second pancake started. And the fact that there was a funeral, or that his grandfather was on his fridge, didn’t change the fate of the first pancake. He smirked, realizing his eyes were watering instead of his mouth, as he flipped the second one. The second one was always the best shade of gold. Evenly toasted, still soaking up the melted butter in the pan—it was the one worth fighting over. *** A hum and a satisfied grunt filled the kitchen as his grandfather carefully laid the second pancake on the plate. It sighed in a consistent column of steam. “That one’s mine.” A huge, gnarled, finger pointed at it. “No,” his grandson drew out, wriggling on the counter with laughter. “It’s mine.”
A confident nod. “All mine.” 131
His grandfather would take a deep breath in, his potbelly expanding, “I guess I can live with that this time.” But it didn’t matter which time it was, it was always his grandson’s to take. *** He scraped every last drop of batter from the bowl, not wanting the ritual to end so soon. It would be the first pile to ever be eaten alone. The pancake slid off his spatula as he exhaled. He carried the plate to the table, making a stop at the fridge and grabbing his grandfather. Delicately placing him at the head of the table, his grandson waited for the will to cut a piece from the pile with his fork. ***
“They turn out alright?”
His grandson’s face would already be full of pancakes and his hands already impressively sticky, eagerly piercing the stack for more. “They’re good.” The sounds of clinking forks and scraping knives became the kitchen’s tune. His grandfather would occasionally steal a bite from his plate, releasing a theatrical noise of approval. “Mine turned out just okay.” He gave his grandson a side eye. “Just okay?”
“Would’ve been better if I had that second pancake.”
*** They felt like glue in his mouth. The bitterness from the first burnt one clashed with the rest of the decadent fluff. He chewed mechanically, feeling nausea bite up his throat. The feeling was slicked down with butter and syrup. His grandfather stared at the plate with only a few bites taken out of it. The ghost of disapproving eyebrows seemed to weigh heavier the longer the plate stayed untouched. Pancakes would take more than a day to taste better again. The days after the funeral would take a while to stop hurting. His grandfather would live on his fridge for more than a few years. There would be burnt days, bitter with black butter and grease, filled with existential ruin and hurried recovery. Days of smushed down eyebrows and neutrality, too. 132
But, eventually, there would be second pancakesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;even and golden days. And those days would always be looked forward to.
Planeted Here By Chance by Christopher Rodriguez
Acrylic on canvas
Just Outside of Heaven by Ahmed Fara It is impossible to guess just how many stolen vehicles may be driving down America’s roads at any given moment—that night, like any other night, was no exception. Ray was driving down Interstate 5 in a 1965 Ford Galaxie she had stolen from her previous landlord just a few hours prior. Ray was a young woman of twenty-four, her most distinctive feature being her short, messy, blonde hair, and was outfitted in pajamas and a purple faux fur coat. Asleep in the passenger seat was Ellie, her eightyear-old daughter, who shared her same wild, golden locks. They were driving through Oregon from Seattle, where Ray had been evicted earlier that morning. “I saw you!” Ray’s landlord screamed mere moments before the eviction. “I saw you whoring around on Aurora last night!” Ray wanted to protest, but her landlord took none of it and explained that if she didn’t vacate by the following morning, the police would be involved. Rather than fight it, Ray waited for her landlord to leave for her evening stroll to the local library with her son, then snuck into their apartment, only three doors down from Ray’s, to steal the keys to her Ford Galaxie and dash off in the middle of the night. The drive was long and boring. Leonard Cohen sang sad songs on the radio, and a broken heater left the car feeling too cold. Ellie woke at various points throughout their night drive, each time asking Ray a question: “Where are we even going?” or, “Why couldn’t you have brought some food?” Ray would reach over and stroke Ellie’s hair after each question, saying, “We’re almost there, darling,” or, “We’ll get food in the morning, baby.” By the time Ellie had fully settled into her sleep, the two of them had arrived upon a small, neon-tinged motel a few miles outside of Eugene, Oregon. The parking lot was, for the most part, barren. Ray parked outside the front office and shook her daughter awake.
“Up, Elle,” Ray whispered. “We’re here.”
Ellie woke and stretched her arms. “Where?” she murmured.
“I’m not sure. Somewhere in Oregon. We’re gonna stay here for 135
the night, okay?” Ellie stumbled into the front office behind her mother, taking a seat on a dirty plastic chair near the door. Behind the counter stood a tired man in a cowboy hat who was preoccupied with his smartphone. “Room for two?” the man asked Ray, hardly looking up from his device. “Just something with a single bed,” Ray told him. “Whatever’s cheapest.”
“I wanna sleep,” Ellie called out from behind Ray.
Ray turned and said, “Soon, babe. Soon.” She turned back to the worker and asked, “You know exactly where we are?” “Right outside Eugene. ‘Round there,” he replied. “Might as well be Eugene, anyways. Where you coming from?” “Seattle.”
“Really? What for?”
“Going to visit some family down in Los Angeles.”
The motel room was just as Ray had requested: very cheap. There was a single bed covered with a Mexican blanket along with a nightstand and an alarm clock. Ellie quickly fell asleep while Ray sat awake on the bedside, staring at the clock. 3:57 AM. She grabbed a cigarette and lighter and stepped outside with her fur coat on. The neon lights were debilitating at this hour, dousing her in hues of red and green while she smoked. A few doors down, a man stood leaning against his room door, smoking as well. He and Ray smiled at each other.
“Awfully late, isn’t it?” Ray asked him.
“Can’t ever sleep in motels,” the smoking man said. “Something about the blankets, I think.” Ray smiled, which made the man smile as well. A few minutes later, Ellie woke to an empty bedroom. The alarm clock read 4:03 AM. She wrapped herself in the Mexican blanket and waddled to the window. Outside, her mother was standing very close to the smoking man, speaking to him about something Ellie could not make out. 136
Ellie watched as Ray put her cigarette out under her shoe, took the man’s hand, and followed him into his room. Ellie waited a few minutes for her mother to reappear, but quickly grew tired and shuffled back to bed, falling asleep in a kaleidoscope of interweaving fabrics. At 4:52 AM, Ray returned to her motel room. She sat on the bedside and removed a roll of bills from her pocket. She counted them out in her hands. One hundred and fifty dollars. She stuffed the money back into her pocket and crawled under the blanket with Ellie. Ellie, with her eyes still shut, stirred, drowsily wrapping an arm around Ray.
“Where’d you go?” Ellie asked her mother.
“I just had to go get directions real quick,” Ray replied.
“Can we get pancakes in the morning?”
“Of course, baby,” Ray said. She pulled Ellie closer and kissed her forehead. The next morning, Ray and Ellie stopped at a diner in Eugene for breakfast, then continued on down towards Los Angeles, where Ray did not have any family. The smoking man from the motel drove back to Veneta, Oregon, just in time to have lunch with his wife and daughter.
Can’t Have Too Many Flamingos by Terry Sanville Rawley slouched in a deck chair on the porch of his ’73 Fleetwood doublewide and watched the afternoon parade. The overgrown succulents in pots along his porch railing nearly hid him in the shadows. But the trailer park kids knew he was there and shouted and waved on their way home from school. Sometimes he’d hobble down the ramp to the street and talk with them, tell stories, give them money to buy candy their parents forbade them to eat. The park residents put up with him since he’d lived there longer than anybody, since coming back crippled from ‘Nam, since outliving his wife and several pet cats. Only Magic Man, a twenty-pound tom, kept him company. He’d put the cat on a leash and walk around the park, the cat angering dog owners by leaving various deposits in their flowerbeds. But Rawley’s favorite haunt was stretched out in a lounge chair next to the pool, his straw hat pulled down, but not enough to block his view of the women taking their daily swim. He never bothered anybody, except maybe Larue, a big-eyed divorcee who wore provocative bathing suits, yet scowled at any man who looked at her twice. Rawley liked looking at her, wanted to be her friend. A few months back the trailer park got new management: a live-in couple from Indiana who wanted to improve the image of their aging California park. Each household got a letter that detailed what should be done to spruce up their space and coach. After receiving angry complaints, the managers, Elsa and Stan, held a meeting in the clubhouse to explain their requirements. Stan began the meeting. “I’m glad all of you came to talk about our park improvement program. I’ll try and—” Before he could finish, residents jumped to their feet and loudly aired their grievances. A beleaguered Stan tried responding while Elsa sat fuming. After a while, tempers cooled. Most had finished when Rawley stood. “You claim my garden’s a jungle. I like jungles. More plants means cleaner air.”
Stan smiled. “We’re not saying you can’t have a jungle. It just should be a neat jungle.” Laughter erupted from the crowd. Rawley continued, “And what’s this about my flamingos? What’s wrong with ’em? I think they’re beautiful.”
“Rawley, you’ve got thirty-six of them.”
“Hey, they like my jungle.”
“Look, Mr. Simmons, plastic pink flamingos are what most people make fun of when they talk about… about mobile home parks. We’re trying to improve our image in the minds of the community.” Rawley shook his head. “Can’t see how ditchin’ my flamingos will do that.”
“Ah, let ’im keep the stupid things,” somebody yelled.
“Yeah, Larry, they’re not as bad as your garden gnomes.”
“My gnomes look better than those concrete bunnies you’ve got.”
The laughter increased until Stan clapped his hands and quieted the crowd. “Obviously, we disagree on which garden ornaments are appropriate.” “Well, I think flamingos are charming,” Larue chimed in. “I think Rawley should keep ’em—I just wish he’d stop playing that darn clarinet! It’s driving me nuts.”
“Gonna be a short drive,” somebody said followed by laughter.
On Tuesday evenings, if it wasn’t raining, Rawley sat on his porch and played New Orleans style jazz and dirges, long strings of sweet soulful notes that brought life to the trailer park. In the summer, neighbors would join him, sometimes with guitars and banjos. Rawley tipped his hat at Larue. “I’ll try ta keep it down. Don’t wanna disturb you watchin’ Jeopardy! and Wheel.” 139
“That would be appreciated.”
“Maybe if you’d join me some evening...”
A “woooo woooo” rose from the crowd followed by chuckling. The meeting broke up. Over the next few weeks, Rawley noticed changes taking place. The managers pruned the park’s trees to within an inch of their lives. Plastic bags filled with garden clippings lined the streets on trash day. A paint crew provided cut-rate pressure washing and repaint jobs for the aging coaches. Even the clubhouse got a fresh coat of paint and its ratty carpet was replaced. Rawley did nothing. Stan banged on his door every few days, wanting to know when the flamingos would be removed and the jungle manicured. He threatened to hire a gardener to do the work then tack the cost onto Rawley’s monthly rent. Meanwhile, Larue joined Rawley on Tuesday evenings, and his clarinet playing gradually shortened. On one warm Tuesday, Rawley and Larue sat on his porch and sipped Margaritas. He played “Saint James Infirmary” and “Nearer My God to Thee.” The sun disappeared behind the surrounding mountains and the string of tiny lantern-shaped streetlights flickered on. Rawley retrieved a cardboard box from his house. With Larue’s help, he tied small flashlights onto his arms and legs and stuffed an array of them into his hatband. Properly festooned, he walked into the street and began to play his clarinet, a slow swinging rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” With a purring Magic Man in her arms, Larue stood by his side. Thirty-six squabbling flamingos immediately joined them. The birds formed two side-by- side columns and the parade moved on down the street. People came out onto their porches to watch. As the procession passed each coach, it was joined by a cadre of hopping bunnies, a platoon of marching garden gnomes, editions of Bambi and his mother, lizards that had escaped the sides of flowerpots, various frogs and toads, giant butterflies, a herd of miniature elephants, a few Yodas, Buddhas, midget black men holding lanterns, cupids shooting arrows or peeing into pools, hovering angels and archangels, and squirrels hiding from wide-eyed owls. At the end, a baby T-rex pulled a wagon that held a family of turtles.
The menagerie circled the trailer park then exited onto the busy city street and vanished. In the days that followed, the police failed to locate Rawley or Larue. But Stan discovered two pink flamingos inserted in the ground outside the poolâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s chain link fence. One seemed to glare at the other with huge eyes. The other stared at the pool, a toothy grin painted across its lower beak.
The Machine by Karen Smithee
Computer grahpic image
Indifference by Brynn Richer The intricately crafted, eggshell green, Victorian house sat on its plot as if it settled with a large sigh. A heaving effort of its foundation, now stubbornly resting—releasing unnerving snores of creaking wood and rattling pipes. The only light inside graciously provided by a single kitchen lamp. A dim, sad thing, only able to stretch its brilliance a few feet beyond the linoleum. The window’s mouth above the sink was open in a perpetual summer yawn, showing off its peeling white teeth, allowing dish soap suds to burst their fragrance onto the front porch—lemon and mint. She stared out onto the street, eyes seeming to scan for any sort of life beyond her mailbox, always waiting for something to catch onto. A car whisking its driver too fast down Rowland Drive, the neighbor’s kid turning on his television this late at night, a husband sneaking out to play midnight poker with his wife’s pocketbook—anything. Miss Hackney’s hands were a furious red under the suds. They pulsed with a heat that abated the pain for a few moments before it snapped back, after gaining a breath, with the next drying dish. It was thin porcelain she cradled in her dishtowel. A beautiful show of artistry she thought—blushing blue with delicate flowers encircling their rims, full of careful measures and immense pressure. She admired them with a neighborly smile—as if she didn’t catch her own hook nose, plump, almost berry shaded lips, or a halo of silver hair softening her harsh face—before nestling it onto the drying rack beside her. Static renditions of Elvis, John Denver and the occasional Buddy Holly danced out of the radio on the counter. Her orange tabby encouraging them with a loving, curious, pat of his paw. The elderly woman carefully wiped her hands on the towel as if she was removing a pair of silk gloves. She inspected her knotted hands and cuticles before putting a plain gold band on her finger, despite its swelling protest. There was wind outside that began to pick up, a beginning night’s whisper of the forecast turning slowly into something stronger; just enough of a breeze to bloom a child’s dreams into nightmares with a rattling tree branch or a rustle of leaves resembling footsteps in the dark. 143
“Are you ready to head upstairs, dear?”
Her husband of fifty-three years was still at the table. His gaze not wavering from the untouched food on a delicate, blue-flowered plate. Outside, the wind began to turn into a low whistle. The porch wind chimes started to sway with unpatterned melodies. It clashed with her radio. Miss Hackney turned back to the window, ending its yawn with a heavy slam, leaving her once again with her searching reflection in the glass. It no longer carried the pulled smile, remaining instead in positive, trained, indifference. The light bounced off the window and forced a shy silhouette onto her husband still at the table. Enough light projected towards him to see him fall sideways onto the floor, limp and solid. The flies on him startled into flight before landing on him again. Miss Hackney gave a playful smirk to his reflection, shaking her head and placing the towel still in her hands on its rightful oven handle. “No need to be dramatic, Richard, if you’re that tired you should’ve headed up without Me.” A loud crash jolted the growing lull of wind outside, louder than Miss Hackney’s frantic chimes echoing on the front porch. What was once a lull had gained the confidence of a full gust. A trash can had been knocked over and rolled onto the street—offering up its four times picked over spoils. “Oh, my,” Miss Hackney’s hand flew to her chest in polite shock. It began to fiddle with the dainty gold chain and locket sitting previously undisturbed on her wrinkled sternum. She watched through her window as several animals lunged towards the opportunity. She clucked her tongue at them, expecting some sort of manners to be displayed in her presence from the beasts simply because she was watching. The windchimes outside were becoming tangled in their own strings. A discord of awful, panicked, notes rang out and hit Miss Hackney’s ears with a bitter clang. The noise did not harmonize well with Elvis or anything else on the radio. “I’d better take it in—no use in keeping the neighbors up with that old thing clanging.” Her kind awareness was directed to no one in particular. She hobbled in tiny, careful steps to the door—unlocking all six locks 144
with a snappy click. Outside the air was chilled with the nearby ocean breeze. It carried impending storms that would pummel her gentle tulip stems, leaving her to wait until next spring in order to see them fully bloom. Miss Hackney brought her cardigan in closer to her pudgy sides. She cursed under her breath as she reached at the hook the chimes hung on. Even tiptoes proved to keep the task difficult. The chimes swelled in protest when she finally released them, “Oh, hush.” Introduced to her ears again was the growling across the street. It pivoted to be directed at her, now accompanied by shiny, unblinking, feral eyes. They gave her an assaulting stare. She watched the shadowy beasts quarter turn. One of them turned its dripping wet nose to the air— smelling the cocoa butter and expensive, anniversary gifted, cucumber hand cream the wind graciously provided—and took a possessive step farther into the street. Miss Hackney carried her chimes inside. The tempo of their song now a quicker pace, speedily ending with a staccato door slam. Applause of lock clicks followed before she placed the windchimes on the counter. An encore of snarling was at her door—scratching, sniffing, begging, for another number. She waited for the snarls to defeatedly depart, all too aware of the nails still clicking— pacing—on her front porch. Miss Hackney journeyed to the kitchen table, picked her husband up by the underarms with a soft grunt, and placed him back at the head of it. She cupped his open jaw carefully before lovingly swiping a finger down his sideburns. “I’m headed upstairs, Rich. I’ll work on my knitting some before I go to bed, so try not to stay down too late.”
She placed a kiss on his cheek, “Goodnight.”
During Parties, She Plays Gershwin by Ahmed Fara As of late, the Marandolas’ Upper West Side house was always crowded, a rotating cast of painters, poets, novelists, sculptors, and even the occasional musician, all wandering in and out, all throughout the day and all throughout the night. Tonight, in particular, the tiny, bohemian brownstone was teeming with life, far more than usual. The occasion was, as always, a party, this time celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mrs. Marandola’s first collection of poetry, a book simply titled My First Collection of Poetry. Mrs. Marandola was a woman a few years into her sixties, her auburn hair now filled with streaks of grey and white. During the party, she sat, as she always did, on a barstool in the center of the living room, outfitted in the same reading glasses and patterned kaftan, and effortlessly lead the eclectic group through conversations on every subject, whether it be the standards of Gershwin, the films of Federico Fellini, or the literature of J.D. Salinger, whom Mr. Marandola could not stand. “It’s too chatty,” Mr. Marandola would say of Salinger’s work. Mr. Marandola was just a few years younger than his wife and could often be found in the corner of the room by the large, wooden vinyl player, searching for a record to play for their company. He used to favor classical music, but Mrs. Marandola’s obsession with writing to the genre eventually drove him to jazz, starting first with the more traditional works of John Coltrane and Milt Jackson, then moving on to the wilder, experimental works of Miles Davis. Tonight, however, Mr. Marandola was nowhere near the record player and was instead seated on their old, velvet sofa, which could only mean the guests were getting a show. “Julie!” Mr. Marandola called into the crowd from his corner seat. He waited a moment, and when he received no answer, called once again: “Julianne!” After a moment, the Marandolas’ youngest daughter, Julianne, appeared from out of the chattering crowd. She was a girl of eighteen, adorned in a loose, black dress, and though she looked nothing like either of her parents, possessed both Mrs. Marandola’s auburn hair and the freckles Mr. Marandola bore in his youth.
“What is it?” Julianne replied back to Mr. Marandola.
“We’ve hit that sorry state in the evening where things have just sort of become... blah. Why don’t you play us a tune? Maybe some Gersh146
win, or...” “Right,” Julianne sighed, walking back in the direction she came from. On the way to her room, she passed her older brother Ben, a sweater-wearing man in his early thirties. He blocked her path with his arm before she could sneak by.
“What?” Julianne asked.
“The book wasn’t that good, right?” Ben asked. “I mean, yeah, it was good—it was okay—but it wasn’t great, right? It wasn’t groundbreaking. Not enough for all this. It’s like—okay, think about it like this... imagine all the incredible writers, poets, filmmakers, whatever, that the world is never going to hear about. The ones that won’t make it for whatever reason. Think about that. Okay, with that in mind... why are we here right now?” “I really don’t understand what we’re speaking about,” Julianne replied.
“Mom’s book. Her first—”
“Of poetry, yeah, yeah.”
They stood in silence for a moment, Ben expecting a more visceral reaction. Instead, Julianne began to chew on her thumbnail. He yanked her thumb from her mouth.
“Well?” He asked.
“It wasn’t that good.”
“I liked it.”
“You liked it because she’s your mom, but you know it wasn’t good.” “Why do you care so much? You aren’t hurting for money. You got published.” 147
“It’s—that’s not—” Ben sighed, shutting his eyes a moment to recollect his thoughts. “You’re missing my entire point. You’re going to Bard this fall, and I’d hope that if you were talented, your work would end up somewhere, but even if you are talented, it might not, y’know?”
Julianne continued to stare blankly at her brother.
“Look,” Ben continued, “I just don’t get why we’re celebrating something that isn’t what we all pretend it is.” He paused. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. Forget it.” “I mean, I guess she has written better poetry,” Julianne said with a nod. Ben nodded back. They both looked out at the party. Mrs. Marandola still had the crowd mesmerized. “Samantha’s lucky she lives in San Francisco,” Ben said. “She’s always got an excuse not to be here. What do I have? ‘Sorry mom, sorry dad, I can’t make it tonight. They closed every subway in Brooklyn. No, I swear, every subway.’ God, why are you going to Bard? I mean, I know you want to do film and everything, but you should’ve gone to USC or something. Somewhere far away. I can’t believe you’re subjecting yourself to this.”
“I won’t be living at home.”
“I don’t live at home either, but I’m still here.”
“Are you?” Julianne asked, playfully pulling at Ben’s nose.
From across the packed room, Mr. Marandola called out, “Julianne! What’s the hold up, dear?” “Violin duty?” Ben asked. Julianne nodded. “Dance, monkey,” he joked, giving her a squeeze on the shoulder. He wandered back into the crowd as Julianne stalked off to her bedroom. A minute later, she returned with an ebony violin in hand. Carved rather crudely into the wood was the phrase, “This Violin Kills Fascists.” “There she is!” Julianne’s mother said as her daughter returned. Mrs. Marandola rose and gestured for Julianne to take her spot. Julianne sat down on the stool and got comfortable with her violin. “The old, ‘war machine,’” Mr. Marandola remarked about the violin, a smile on his face. He turned to his guests and said, “I bought her 148
that when she was only seven—told her she’d grow into it.” Some people in the crowd laughed, others did not. While Julianne got set up, Ben looked through his mother and father’s bookshelf. It was filled with novels and poetry books of all kinds. He found a copy of Mrs. Marandola’s My First Collection of Poetry. He removed it and flipped it over. A photograph of Mrs. Marandola, twenty-five years younger, adorned the back cover. Behind Ben, Julianne began to play George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Ben turned around, his mother’s book of poetry still in hand, and listened to his sister’s violin playing. He looked to Mr. Marandola, who had his eyes shut, taking the music in, then to Mrs. Marandola, who was excitedly whispering to her guests about Julianne. After a few minutes of listening, Ben stepped outside and sat down on the front steps of the brownstone. It was dusk, the sky above Manhattan a surreal blend of purples and blues. Ben looked down at the book of poetry in his hands. “My first collection of poetry,” he said with a small laugh, shaking his head. He laid his head back on a step and stared up at the sky. He shut his eyes, and, though planning only to take a moment to recollect himself, promptly fell asleep. A few hours later, he was woken by Julianne, seated next to him and gently shaking his shoulder. “You missed the encore,” she said with a smile. Ben let out a small nose-laugh. They both looked to the book of poetry in his hands. “What a pretentious title,” Ben said quietly. Julianne smiled and nodded. They sat in silence, observing the passing bodies. Children, mothers, fathers, teenagers, grandparents, couples; everyone seemed to walk through this neighborhood, all completely unaware of what was happening in the Marandolas’ house, or the houses on either side of the Marandolas, or the ones all the way over in Brooklyn. Julianne shivered, then broke the silence, saying, “How ‘bout you read us one? We can make fun of it. It’ll be fun.” Ben nodded. He opened the book and thumbed through it. He stopped on a page that piqued his interest. “I don’t think I’ve ever read this one,” he told Julianne. “You want me to read it?”
“Yeah, I like the way you make poetry sound,” she said.
“Okay. It’s titled, ‘Brooklyn.’” He paused, then began to read the poem. 149
I am Brooklyn: powerful, ancient.
When you had nowhere
To send them, I took your poor
And hungry, and gave them shelter
And culture. Thankfully, you ignored me
For most of my life and let me prosper.
Then, you took advantage of me.
You tore my friends from my brownstones.
You sent the blacks away. You raped me.
You filled me with young, white men
With their fathers’ money, and now
you refuse to pull the plug on me.
But why? Why won’t you just kill me?
I am Brooklyn. I was.
The siblings let out small laughs, though neither of them found the poem funny. Ben shut the book and set it on the step. They sat silently with their thoughts for a while, then guests began to exit. They got up and said goodbye to everyone who was leaving. At nine, Ben said goodnight to his parents and took the subway home, taking his mother’s book of poetry with him. Julianne helped her father with the dishes and then went to bed. Both siblings thought of Brooklyn that night.
Elements of Life by Karen Smithee
TV and Film Reviews The Lighthouse (2019) Directed by Robert Eggers
Finding himself within something of a horror film Renaissance— directors like Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, and Panos Cosmatos have found incredible success in a short handful of years—Robert Eggers’ 2019 sophomore film, The Lighthouse, brilliantly outshines many of its contemporaries and Eggers’ own freshman debut, The Witch (2015). Written by Eggers and his brother, Max, The Lighthouse has what it takes to hold its own in an age of increasingly sophisticated horror movies and then some; a graceful combination of at-times-Shakespearean dialogue, bewitching visuals, unsettling audio, and chill-inducing acting and writing comes together under Robert Eggers’ masterful cinematic eye. The Lighthouse begins simply enough: Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson) must weather one another’s company on a lonesome island as they care for and rehabilitate a dilapidated lighthouse. The titular lighthouse remains poised at the center of the film’s conflict. Eggers’ decision to rely solely on crisp black and white film creates a glaring point of visual fixation for the characters and for audiences alike out of the lighthouse’s seemingly inescapable column of watchful light. As the caretakers’ relationship disintegrates, so too does their grasp on reality.
I found myself thinking about The Lighthouse days and weeks after the credits rolled. The Lighthouse’s ability to transfix audiences stems, in part, from its visuals: shots of the lighthouse’s central light often linger sensually over every glimmering facet of illumination and over every refraction of light off of the fixture’s glass. Eggers indulges in inky shadows that soak even the brightest daylight scenes in mystery and tension. A surreal landscape of jagged coast cliffs sets the scene for Eggers’ frequent use of mythological, classical, and Romantic-era imagery. At its most impactful, The Lighthouse visually plays with Greek mythology and toys with imagery that leaves viewers uncomfortable, confused, and utterly intrigued. The film’s enrapturing audio amplifies its visual components; the speaker-rattling bellows of the lighthouse’s foghorn, the perpetual whine of machinery, and the amalgamous blending of creaking floorboards, walls, and furniture with the flatulence and bodily groans of Dafoe’s character makes for a filmic experience that feels equal parts sonically and visually maddening and endlessly entertaining. The Lighthouse holds firm to its identity as a horror film, and it revels in its share of Hitchcock callbacks and its many homages to horror films of the past. However, The Lighthouse, like other great horror films of recent memory, deftly contributes to ongoing conversations about gender and gender performance, sexuality, toxic masculinity, education, and socioeconomic class. The film’s black and white aesthetics mirror the world’s historically monochromatic views of how men should act around other men; the tension-filled, smothering audio parallels the narrative but also the suffocating omnipresence of gender norms. The Eggers brothers’ penchant for pleasing, Shakespearean-styled monologues and twists of language comments quietly on the ever-present feud between the old and the new, the classically-trained erudite and the everyman. These complex themes, however, do not make for light viewing. The Lighthouse often feels heavy, and by the end of its 109 minute run time, I felt no closer to shedding the film’s tension as when I started watching it. This leaden viewing experience, however, often comes with small, much-needed doses of humorous absurdity and wicked fun. Its perpetually high level of cinematic and narrative abstraction, however, might disappoint viewers hoping for lighthearted, slasher-horror fare. Audiences should note, of course, that the film’s abstract nature often transforms it into the very same erudite material that creates so much of the tension for the film’s dueling Thomases. Eggers demonstrates his mastery over this abstraction, however, and The Lighthouse rarely feels bogged down by its own ambitions. 153
Furthermore, the generally splendid acting occasionally buckles under the weight of its own successes. Viewers get lost easily and with pleasure in Dafoe’s caricatured persona, while Pattinson, who comes alive in the film’s second half, occasionally struggles to keep up with his costar’s immense acting prowess. Dafoe becomes his character; it takes Pattinson a half hour or so to decide whether he feels as invested. Pattinson’s American accent seems to drift in, out, and between his English accent until it sticks for good—and just in time—right when the film transitions from peculiar mystery movie to unbridled nightmare fuel. The Lighthouse brings together myriad components that make for an elevated and, frankly, devilishly fun horror film. The Lighthouse has something for everyone: audiophiles and cinematography buffs can indulge in the film’s painstaking craftsmanship; viewers who love psychological horror can revel in Dafoe’s show-stopping performances and can have great fun riddling out the film’s many secrets; academics will certainly find something worth writing about in this film that brims with subtext. The Witch only sampled what Eggers had to offer; The Lighthouse delivers like few horror movies ever have. — Monica Gudino California State University, Stanislaus
Created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the creators of Sherlock and erstwhile writers for Doctor Who, return with a modern adaptation of the classic Dracula. Rather than remaining completely true to Dracula’s roots in the horror genre, this adaptation branches out, never taking itself too seriously but adding a layer of mystery and comedy. Those expecting a faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel will be surprised, for only the initial encounters between Jonathan Harker and Dracula remain true to the original, with the mini-series taking great liberties and creating a fresh take on a well-loved story. Viewers are taunted with two questions throughout, only resolved at the end: What does Dracula want and what is Dracula afraid of? Alongside these questions, the curious concept of “blood is lives” haunts each episode. The three episodes of this series remain consistent in their usage of witty dialogue that plays with vampire lore. Claes Bang provides a captivating performance as Dracula, the long-lived Romanian aristocratic vampire. Claes Bang infuses his voice with a drawling sarcasm enabling his version of Dracula to show an amused air of superiority belonging to one who knows more than the ones he addresses, a predator toying with his prey. On several occasions he makes allusions to his own nature, such as when he states, “I don’t drink… wine,” hinting at his blood-drinking habits. Bang’s portrayal works to create a charming Dracula, pleasantly frustrating in that one cannot completely vilify the monster. Admittedly, some of the characters throughout the series are under-utilized. Many of the passengers onboard the Demeter seem intended to show more diverse characters -- the creation of Dr. Sharma (a doctor from India), Adisa (the black lover of a rich white male aristocrat), and Grand Duchess Valeria of Augsburg work to show a more real scene than 155
the year 1897, the initial setting, would normally allow. However, these characters are all merely devices for Dracula to use and have a limited run. Renfield, a classic character from the book, begins showing signs of his odd behavior and life-consuming tendencies only for his character’s issues to be left unresolved by the end of the series. However, these characters serve their purpose, brief as their roles might be, and the series is more than carried by the two main characters: Dracula and Sister Agatha van Helsing. Dolly Wells provides a fresh take on the classic van Helsing character in the form of the highly curious nun, Sister Agatha, the only character equal to Dracula. Agatha van Helsing’s curiosity and crisis of religious faith make her an interesting opponent for the centuries-old Count. The two remain locked in a contest of wills that spans over a century, one made more intense by the chemistry between the leading actors. Although Dr. Seward and Lucy Westenra have a more limited role in the series compared to the original story, the two characters mark the beginning of a strong ending. Lucy’s infatuation with death eventually distances her from the pining Dr. Seward, but the willingness of these two to sacrifice and surrender to death are what begin to complete the growth of Dracula’s own character. The final scene between these two characters is emotional and deeply moving, communicating the importance of human bonds and genuine kindness. The strongest point in the series would seem to be the last ten to fifteen minutes, as Agatha––through Zoe van Helsing––and Dracula resolve their conflict at last. The ending allows viewers to see Dracula as human and complex, rather than just a monster. It speaks to the all-too human fear of death and shows how fear can warp a person, whereas understanding and acceptance can redeem them. Throughout the episodes, much of the setting until this final point has been dark, adhering to Dracula’s avoidance of sunlight. However, these final moments provide a beautiful cinematic moment of Dracula against the light of the sun for the first time in centuries. Even Dracula’s blood-induced dreamscape, typically dark or colored by blood, glows with the warm orange light of the sun. The series starts off with the atmosphere of the typical horror genre attributed to the original, but it blossoms further into an honest query into human nature that reaches a wide audience. — Jessica Charest California State University, Stanislaus
Midsommar (2019) Directed by Ari Aster
Midsommar is a 2019 horror film by Ari Aster, who also directed the mesmerizing and gut-wrenching Hereditary. Midsommar stars Florence Pugh as Dani Ardor and Jack Reynor as her codependent boyfriend, Christian Hughes. Their troubled relationship is at the heart of this tour-de-force spectacle of madness. If you choose to watch this film with a partner or significant other, you may find that the issues raised by the film cause tension in your own relationship, as Dani and Christian’s partnership is just that unhealthy. It is difficult to express how nuanced each line delivery comes off, how an eye-roll or a quick glance can express so much unspoken subtext between the characters. Their realistic performances express what it is like to be in a toxic relationship: constantly placing blame, clumsily avoiding the real issues, and evoking intense awkward silences. While this might make the film sound like a standard relationship drama, the characters are placed in a situation beyond imagining. Dani, Christian, and several of Christian’s colleagues are led to a Swedish summer solstice festival by their friend Pelle, who acts as their tour guide through his homeland and its unusual traditions. The film presents the village’s unsettling lore, which steeps viewers in a richly crafted culture of fertility, sacrifice, and manipulation, and elevates Midsommar beyond familiar “group of young adults in a horror movie” tropes. The monster of Midsommar is driven by the same sense of familiar inevitability that greets anyone who has ever carefully decorated a Christmas tree or prepared a Thanksgiving turkey. The people of Pelle’s village all play their parts in seducing, controlling, and murdering 157
the unwitting visitors, creating an oppressive “everyone is against me” atmosphere. Even as a lifelong fan of all things horror, I found this a troublesome watch. There are extremely graphic scenes of gore, physical deformities, suicide, vicious murder, and show-all sex. It does not pull any punches, presenting moments of terrible violence with expertly crafted mise-en-scene. Creative camera angles and dynamic stage direction make for captivating viewing with an emphasis on the “captive” part. Yet for everything that the film directly shows us, there are just as many things that are obscured or hinted at. Characters will walk off to talk to someone else, and if viewers are not paying attention to the staging, they might not immediately realize that they have been subtly taken out of the picture by the ever cheerful cultists. There are so many moving parts to this film that it demands a rewatch, but the subject matter is so primally upsetting that the mind instinctively pulls away from the thought of watching the events play out again. The film expertly creates an escalating sense of tension, since we are keenly aware of how many days remain before the festival’s grand conclusion, and as the days become ever more violent and troubling, viewers wonder what horrors the grand finale will bring. I will not––no, I cannot––spoil what happens in the last fifteen minutes of the film, because to do so would be to rob viewers of one of the most singularly cheerful, energetic, vile, perverse, and utterly surreal film experiences ever. What brings everything together is how unfailingly bright and colorful the film is, ensuring that every scene is imprinted on audiences’ brains in unflinching detail. This film is what happens if the Wicker Man (1973) has an incestuous child with Freaks (1932). It is less like The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and more akin to a Swedish Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). It feels very much like a sort of modernized 70’s film, with unforgivably bright clothes, intense drug-induced hallucinogenic scenes, and an emphasis on folksy traditions. Everything has a sort of disjointed clash to it: viewers know that the relationship between Dani and Christian sucks, they know that these ignorant Americans are going to piss all over the traditions of these people, and they for sure know that there is no way the gang will survive this festival. The film draws out audience expectations—teasing them with hints at how badly these young people are going to be eaten alive by the sweet-as-pie cultists—only to dump all sorts of unexpectedly awful nightmare situations at them. As a viewer, I often felt my eyes widen in shock and awe. Many times I drew my legs up to my chest and thought, “oooh, 158
they are SO going to get it now!â&#x20AC;? Ultimately I was left laughing at the totally bonkers absurdity of how vicious everything becomes. Midsommar is not a movie for the faint of heart. It is an utterly powerful, truly unapologetic ascent into insanity. Audiences may come out of the movie feeling as if they have been brought up to a higher plane of existence, where human compassion and interpersonal relationships have become so complex as to be totally alien from what they would normally find in daily life. They look around and feel a sense of unfamiliarity at having rejoined the rational world. This film is a Pandora's box that will unleash a flood of gibbering devils to torment viewers forever. Never again will they be able to look at a bear the same way, never again will a maypole bring them joy, and they will never, ever, want to visit Sweden. This film has the potential to be the film of the decade and is guaranteed to be unforgettable. â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Jarred White California State University, Stanislaus
Infinity Standing Up by Drew Pisarra Washington: Capturing Fire Press, 2019 57 pp. $10.00 Paperback
Before readers turn to the first page of Infinity Standing Up, author Drew Pisarra poses more questions than answers with the book’s front cover. The cover’s art––blueprints of some sort, accompanied by a vertical, solid-looking infinity symbol––suggests a collection fixated on mathematics, formulas, and the wonderful mystery of numbers. This suggestion initially seems at odds with the usual nature of poetry, but Pisarra’s infatuation with the schematics of Shakespearean sonnets and his intimate focus on romance, heartbreak, and yearning in the digital age works splendidly within a framework that indulges in the playful enigma of numbers. Infinity Standing Up offers readers a series of love poems that revel in heartbreak, lust, on-again-off-again relationships, and the quandaries of dating as an LGBT-aligned individual in the age of Tinder, Grindr, and other dating platforms. Pisarra’s “love” poems frequently pine for affection, belonging, and release from the torments of unclear or unrequited love in the same way that the poems in a Spenserian sonnet cycle might. Just because Pisarra explores heartbreak in Infinity Standing Up, however, does not mean that his poems languish in gloom and doom; many of his poems reclaim the act and agency of love, and as often as Pisarra laments sex or love gone wrong, he often actively expresses his boredom with it; in fact, the collection’s parting poems hint at self-affirmation, acceptance, and emotional recovery after many episodes of self-doubt and romantic confusion. 160
From the very first poem to the last, a total upheaval of poetic con-
ventions seems like Pisarra’s goal. His vulgarity tends to hit readers over the head like an anvil–which is a good thing, though those uncomfortable with frequent and earnest mentions of gay sex and profanity will likely not enjoy Infinity Standing Up–but belies the deftness with which he crafts his sonnets. Pisarra frequently treats his readers to charming lines like, “my heart / Broke more often than cheap dinnerware,” and “And now / I know even Ancient Greeks once suffered / from mid-life crises” (23, 28). Despite the Shakespearean bend to his poems, Pisarra knows how to make love relatable rather than lofty. In this sense, Pisarra never censors himself; his language can seem indelicate but the Shakespearean form reminds readers that Shakespeare himself often wrote lewdly and crudely but beautifully. Pisarra’s raw and unapologetic poetry, coupled with the choice to write within a highly rigid poetic structure, reminds readers of the multifacetedness of love, sex, and romance. True to its mathematical framework, Pisarra’s poetry often looks at love in parts, as if love has an equation that readers need only to piece together and solve to understand. Even his titles frolic in the joy of numbers: “Sonnet 69” impishly and gleefully explores the visual appearance of the number 69 and its corresponding sex position, while the cleverly titled “Sonnet <2,” pronounced, presumably, Sonnet Less-Than-Two, evokes absent love and the ghost of the short-hand heart symbol (<3) frequently written in internet spaces. Pisarra uses numbers to express himself, his longing, and his self-discovery. This dedication to the Shakespearean sonnet form, however, also becomes one of the few snags in Pisarra’s otherwise brilliant poetry. The rhyme scheme occasionally feels forced or veers into schoolyard singsong, though instances where Pisarra’s rhyming falls flat remain blessedly rare. Pisarra often regains control of misfired rhymes quickly enough, but he occasionally suffers from a lack of focus. While the foreword suggests that the poems generally adhere to the Shakespearean form, the more experimental poems often feel like they belong in another collection entirely. “Sonnet IIX or Sonnet VIII,” “Sonnet i” and “Sonnet 45,” for instance, read well and have a certain zing to them, but their experimental, stream-of-consciousness style feels clumsy in a collection structured, for the most part, around non-experimental poems. Likewise, Pisarra’s musings on the disconnect between people in a virtual age, wherein “finger taps” on “lovelorn apps” rule romantic interactions, can occasionally seem like all too familiar territory treaded again and again by people who swear that technology rips people and society apart (17). Pisarra never delves 161
too far into this line of thought, however, and often poses technology as a peripheral thought that he merely utilizes and sometimes thinks on wistfully. Despite the occasional misstep, Infinity Standing Up throws caution to the wind and indulges in vulgar––beautiful––language to chronicle love, loss, and personal growth. Like infinity itself, what Pisarra can create through the joyous union of words and numbers, so often separated in literature, seems limitless. — Monica Gudino California State University, Stanislaus
Earth Links by Gary Beck Allahabad: Cyberwit Publishing, 2019 104 pp. $12.00 Paperback
Gary Beck’s Earth Links is a rich collection of poetry that addresses many of modern America’s major societal conflicts and debates ranging from education to homelessness to politics. Poems like “Manhattan” and “Hard Times” provide the contrasting image of those in a privileged state and the bodies of homeless individuals lining the streets and sidewalks. Meanwhile, poems like “Campaign Season,” “Election Time,” “Power Politics,” and “Inadequacies” express the impotence and inequality of America’s voting system, with the wealthy often buying their way into power with bribes and false promises. Poems like “Non-Sentimental Education” and “Elasticity of Time” further analyze American society by drawing attention to weaknesses in the American education system. Beck’s work utilizes an easy-to-read style, permitting his messages to reach a wide audience without requiring rigorous scrutiny. Lines such as in “My Country” -- “My country is in great peril / envied and hated abroad, / divided and conflicted at home” -- are easily read and understood (50). And yet, despite such a simple style, Beck ingeniously employs several literary devices such as enjambment, oxymorons, strong imagery, and metaphors in order to emphasize such social issues. In “America, Where Art Thou?” he states, “But there was still opportunity… / For some,” enjambing the lines so that readers initially feel that rush of hope before experiencing the full impact of the following line’s qualifier (20). In the same poem, Beck also successfully demonstrates his own knowledge, referring to America as “...a mighty ship of state / in peril of collapse,” which alludes to Plato’s metaphor of a nation as a ship run by its captain and crew (26). Oxymorons like the idea of “misleading leaders” in “No Rewards” also work to express Beck’s critical analysis of American society (96). A key feature of Beck’s work is his use of birds and trees as metaphors for humanity. “A Dove’s Tale” outwardly expresses the way native pigeons deprive incoming doves of food but seems to provide commentary on the struggles of immigrants wishing for a better life. “Aberrant Nature” 163
reveals a cardinal trying to survive and care for its family, much like the average American. “Harsh Nudity” speaks of trees with bare branches reaching upward for survival, but in personifying these trees, Beck leaves open the possibility for human comparison. While many of his poems demonstrate America’s troubled relationship with nature, Beck utilizes different aspects of nature, such as birds and trees, to provide insight into humanity and to highlight the significance of the connection between human society and the natural world. Although many of the works in this collection are often short and direct, Beck includes a few longer pieces that detail the history of American progression, speaking to the turbulence of modern times. Poems like “The End of…” and “Does History Repeat?” reflect on America’s “empire” and compare it to ancient empires, such as Rome. “America, Where Art Thou?” reveals how immigrants become part of American culture while someone else ultimately becomes “the Other” as a result. Beck also mentions the notion of “lords of profit,” a reference that resurfaces in “A Mighty Sway.” While the consistent readability and relevant themes remain a strength of Beck’s work, the collection can feel heavy at times. Most of the works carry a darker tone and focus primarily on social criticism, leaving readers little chance to break from facing a harsh reality. The longer pieces, in particular, can be intense, and the repetition of ideas across poems keeps the tension in place throughout. However, readers can appreciate the honesty in the author’s tone, understanding his concerns and gaining insight into America at large. Earth Links is a poetry collection for an American audience that cares about the future of the United States and its people, conveying valuable social critiques in a highly accessible manner. — Jessica Charest California State University, Stanislaus
Thick and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cotton New York: The New Press, 2019 244 pp. $24.99 Hardcover
Recently, Lifetime aired Surviving R. Kelly: the Reckoning. This compelling sequel provides interviews with abused black women and Latinas, while also speaking to Kelly’s history and psychology. However, the docu-series is not really about R. Kelly, but rather the girls of color he brutalized and their need to be acknowledged. This is the woman of color’s time, Tressie McMillan Cottom says In Thick: and Other Essays, her anthology about the need for black women to be heard so they can bring about change. However, these women must first acknowledge that power stems from embedded institutional standards perpetuated by a white, capitalist mentality geared towards placing value on polarization. McMillan Cottom points out shifts in control start when society not only looks to black women, but to the discriminatory politics, laws, economics, psychologies, and media representations that dictate perception and create a skewed understanding of black women and their identities. In “In the Name of Beauty,” McMillan Cottom uses herself as an example. She speaks of being ugly and how she received backlash for writing an article expressing this point. Much of the anger came from black women who thought she was self-ridiculing, when what she said was that her self-perception stems from an institutional understanding of what beauty is, which comes from a capitalistic white gaze. What is considered beautiful is based on time, place, and environment; the definition varies. Beauty is also not in the eye of the beholder. It is determined by white hegemony, which includes feminists not seeing the whiteness associated with capital, which takes power away from black women. Beauty is controlled by white power and only comes from within if the power dynamic shifts away from established standards. She proves this by telling “evocative stories that become a problem for power” and by using herself as “data and research,” rather than as an example of a “thick,” pigeon-toed, bow-legged black woman who needs fixing, according to indoctrinated older black women (28).
McMillan Cottom argues that an attempted “fixing” killed her 165
baby. In the essay, “Dying to be Competent,” she speaks about how she decided to go to the “good side of town” for gynecological needs after getting pregnant (82). Doctors and nurses told her she was overweight, constipated, and/or spotting normally when she told the medical staff she was bleeding profusely and in preterm labor. They found out later that two large tumors caused the preterm labor resulting in her baby’s immediate demise: “Like millions of women of color, especially black women the healthcare machine could not imagine me as competent and so it neglected and ignored me until I was incompetent” (85). She also claims that the healthcare industry capitalizes on structural incompetence, which brings about more goods-consumption that make women of color more competent. “Know Your Whites” speaks about “the elasticity of whiteness,” which helped contribute to Barack Obama’s election, a black president white voters embraced because they allowed him “to become an idea” and “a charming projection of the paradox that defines them as white” (112). In “Black is Over (Or, Special Black),” she talks about static blackness, a “counterweight to whiteness,” and how even within the black community, discussion takes place about who is the more intelligent type of black person. McMillan Cottom wants people to recognize that the black experience is not “singular…the real goal has always been and should always be ending whiteness” (152). This should lead to elasticity within the black community. The mentality that black is over must be squelched; McMillan Cottom says black is not over, and that black people need to become gatekeepers of their own experiences or use “boundaries of blackness.” “The Price of Fabulousness'' states that gatekeeping is a “complex job” that requires people to manage and define boundaries while knowing that “status symbols” unlock the gate. There is a need for being presentable and acceptable, which is dictated by capitalism and whiteness and brings readers back to the women of color that R. Kelly tortured. McMillan Cottom speaks to R. Kelly’s transgressions in “Black Girlhood, Interrupted,” where black men, under the auspices of white privilege, look at black women as the problem. Thus, it is the culture that has given the world R. Kelly, Tyson, Bill Cosby, etc.; culture has made it acceptable to say black girlhood ends whenever a man says it ends and if she is desired, she is no longer a victim. She then becomes the one vilified and erased as opposed to the perpetrator. Thick: and Other Essays circles back to the author in “Girl 6,” which speaks to her being a struggling black op-ed writer. Like David 166
Brooks, who writes about how bad a sandwich is and is considered a genius, she wants to be taken seriously enough to where her mundane thoughts also become scholarship. She wants to be trusted enough that her comments can pay the bills. She calls her writing “third shift,” where she is a professor first and a volunteer second. She wants to be a “Professional Smart Person,” but published black women are not as revered for their public intellectualism, so she has to languish in relative obscurity. This is a major issue that needs rectifying because black women are not how they are perceived; they are, and McMillan Cottom is, “rational and human,” and all deserve to be heard.
— Dr. Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr. SUNY Cobleskill
Sabrina and Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo Anstine: Random House, 2019 240 pp. $12.99 Hardcover
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s first collection of short stories, Sabrina and Corina, was the recipient of The National Book Award for Fiction in 2019 and nominee for PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize in 2020. In her debut collection, Fajardo-Anstine explores what life is like as a minority woman in the U.S. Her characters struggle with generations of inevitable misfortune as they navigate life as Latina women with indigenous roots. There are eleven painfully realistic short stories, each of them portraying the everyday life of women attempting to advance in a world tailored for people unlike them. Fajardo-Anstine’s stories are melancholic and powerful enough to make the reader feel every drop of affliction in the characters’ lives. In a fusion of anger and love, Sabrina and Corina communicates issues of addiction, racism, sexism, and violence with the everydayness of her stories. A Colorado native, Fajardo-Anstine frames her short stories in the land she knows so well, which makes her writing more heartfelt and personal. Fajardo-Anstine’s collection opens with “Sugar Babies,” an aching and hopeful story about a young girl dealing with her mother’s abandonment. 10-year-old Sierra is partnered up with a male student and assigned to care for a sack of sugar as if it were their child. Forced to parent at a young age, Sierra demonstrates the difficulties of breaking cycles too familiar to us while leaving the readers to decide if she can. “Remedies” tells the story of a mother faced with the reality of her significant other’s infidelity. “Mama” feels compelled to reach out to the child he has fathered with the other woman in an effort to connect her daughter with her only brother, Harrison. It soon becomes obvious that Harrison’s mother suffers from an alcohol addiction that has led to years of neglect, allowing him to become infected with lice. When her daughter is also infected and forced to miss school as a result, Mama must make the difficult decision between her daughter’s well-being and extended family. In “Sabrina and Corina,” Fajardo-Anstine shows the dangers and fatality of male dependence that controls many women. Two cousins juxtapose two possible journeys and the obstacles they face along the way. Sabrina was always sassy and pre168
dicted to be beautiful with her long dark hair and blue eyes. Corina was the complete opposite: always plain, temperate, and safe. Sabrina spirals out of control and indulges in alcohol, drugs, nightlife, and various men and slowly pulls away from her family. Corina attends beauty school and creates a stable and successful life for herself. Years later, Corina uses her cosmetology skills to yet again clean up Sabrinaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s life, but this is the last time. Fajardo-Anstine writes the heavy truths which burden brown women without losing hope. Her characters are uniquely broken and strong, possessing an emotional resilience that declares a revolution. â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Danni Brar California State University, Stanislaus
How it Feels to Float by Helena Fox New York: Dial Books, 2019 384 pp. $10.99 Hardcover
Helena Fox’s debut novel How it Feels to Float explores the vast internal world of Elizabeth Martin Gray, known to those around her as Biz. At the story’s onset, sixteen-year-old Biz has a best friend, a consistent group of lunchmates, and a stable life with her mother and twin siblings; yet, the reader is introduced immediately to the turmoil that churns within her mind. She casually states the facts of her life, revealing that her father died when she was seven, she lives in a coastal town in Australia, and she feels like she does not belong. From this, Fox develops her character’s mentality slowly, featuring Biz much like any other young teen who must deal with loss, a single-parent household, and the complexities of secondary education. Drawing on the tropes of teens, part one begins with Biz conflicted about her sexuality after having kissed her best friend, Grace, in a moment of impulse. While the issue of sexuality is only raised momentarily, Fox writes these interactions in a way that normalizes the stuggles of queer youth. In the places where sexual activities or sexuality emerges, they are not romanticized teenage love, but rather a young girl’s growing consciousness over what is sexual attraction and what is the pressure to practice sexual or intimate behaviors related to one’s age. Of course, learning is messy, and the resulting interpersonal conflicts drive the severity of her mental decline. This novel is not about resolving the commonplace issues of a socially struggling teenager. Many readers can mistake the source of Biz’s anxieties as the culmination of course work, high school drama, and a few drunken mistakes, but Biz’s story is a mosaic of the misadventures and developing delusions of a disordered narrator. Biz, having never dealt with the death of her father, lives with a ghost repeating many of the same stories and floating in whenever her mind needs a reprieve from herself. The metaphor suggested by the title is deepened as the main character continues to lose her grip on reality, often allowing herself to dissociate before her anxieties reach their peak. Biz resists as her mother forces her 170
to go to therapy, to take classes at the community center, and asks that she try her best to get out of bed daily. With a developing support system around her, Biz does see improvement, but, like many who struggle with a mental illness, she begins to cherry-pick what she is willing to show her family and therapist. Fox varies her prose between short, choppy sentences and longer, rambling sentiments often within many of the short chapters to continue growing a sense of unraveling within the main character. The most descriptive portions provided by Biz are the realities she is chasing in polaroid photos that “speak” to her. As Biz continues to spiral, the reader has to try and guess what is happening within the narrator's mind and what is taking place within the world of the novel. In all, it is no surprise that the strongest theme and driving element of this novel is the realistic struggle involved in having a mental illness. Fox’s depictions of mental illness go against the representation in other media that either glorifies the tortured genius or reinforce neurodiversity as synonyms with violence against others. This is not the first YA novel featuring a narrator whose main antagonist is their mental disorder. These narratives seem to be the reactions to a movement to destigmatize mental illness and give young people a truthful representation of the issues that many suffer from. Biz is an unreliable narrator, an erratic teen, and floats in and out of reality, missing integral parts along the way. Overall, this novel is a fictionalized first-person account of worsening mental illness. Biz struggles as a result of the trauma of the events she has experienced, like her father’s death, but Fox shows readers that there can be more than one reason for struggling with depression, anxiety, or other disorders. Biz’s mental state is created by exploring the realities of teenage social life, old traumas, and internal imbalances that can damage a person’s life if left untreated. Most readers will sympathize with Biz as she works through her mistakes; a few may identify with her behavior, which allows for complex interpretations of the author’s work. The story ends, but Fox leaves readers with an abundance of websites and phone numbers for any reader in need. She encourages people to seek help or know what is available if her book spurred anything, which, I feel, serves as further support that the author means to create a realistic portrayal of mental illness and acknowledges that to do so may be triggering. — Jacklyn Heslop California State University, Stanislaus 171
The Holdout by Graham Moore New York: Random House, 2020 322 pp. $28.00 Hardcover
The Holdout by Graham Moore is a gripping mystery thriller that examines complex interpersonal relationships between sequestered jurors. The story centers itself around the trial of Bobby Knock, a 25year old black English teacher, who is accused of murdering his student, Jessica Silver, daughter of a billionaire city-planner. The case will feel very familiar to those who followed the O.J. Simpson trial, but rather than placing the focus on the accused, readers instead follow the lives of the jurors who handed down the “not guilty” verdict and how the intense public backlash changed their lives. The narrative bounces between the present––as the jurors are being called back to the hotel where they deliberated the case for the 10th anniversary of the verdict––and the past, where readers see the evidence, trial, and heated debates roll towards an inevitable conclusion. The tricky part about this scenario is finding the time to characterize each juror while also keeping the mystery and trial details at the forefront of the narrative. Moore mostly succeeds in juggling these key points and gives readers a peek into each person’s decision making process. While readers get a lot of insight from the designated main character, Maya Seale, some of the other jurors, especially the women, get lost in the mix. Five jurors are given considerably defined personalities, but the rest are more like quick sketches rather than fully fleshed out individuals. The book’s best qualities are its snappy dialogue, memorable settings, and truly enthralling mystery. It is careful not to fall into usual genre tropes and is clever enough to tip its hat to narratively familiar media such as Agatha Christie novels and the film 12 Angry Men, from which this story clearly takes a lot of inspiration. What kept me hooked is how the murder of Jessica Silver becomes expertly intertwined with a murder that occurs in the present day, creating a densely layered crime that has all too many suspects. As more details are revealed about Bobby Knock’s trial, more questions arise about the events of the present, making every moment feel relevant. 172
Readers are constantly presented with questions about fairness, the importance of truth, how neutral a jury can be when presented with a case so steeped in racial issues, and what “not guilty” really means. The book opens with Maya Seale, who has since become a defense attorney after the Bobby Knock case, defending a woman who cut her husband’s head off and stuffed it in her car’s dashboard. Through a series of brilliant questions and a cop’s careless responses, the head becomes dismissed as evidence and the prosecution now lacks anything definitive that ties the woman to the crime. This opener shows how, on paper, a crime may sound open-and-shut, but with enough legal know-how and procedural missteps, the American court system can be manipulated into setting a guilty person free, or sending an innocent one to jail. The book also comments on how quickly the American public responds to sensationalist reporting. If the people designed as “good guys” do not always win, then automatically that means the “bad guys” have won, which sends the public into a furious rage, but this is presented more as a societal issue, rather than a personal one, placing much of the blame on how facts are framed by the media. The woman that stuffed her husband’s head in the car, initially presented as a coldblooded killer, is revealed to have been suffering years of physical abuse by her husband, many times needing hospitalization for her considerable injuries. Suddenly, the reader finds themselves sympathizing with a woman who, moments before, had been firmly placed in the “bad guy” camp. This back-and-forth morality is present throughout and keeps the reader off balance about who to trust, what facts to believe, and what motivations the characters have for their actions. Fans of true crime stories and “whodunit” mysteries will find a lot to love, but die-hard courtroom specialists may find that the courtroom scenes play too fast and loose with standard legal procedures. As someone who loves Agatha Christie's work, Murder, She Wrote, and Columbo, I found The Holdout an enjoyable novel that kept me comfortably wrapped in an unconvential, but paradoxically familiar, mystery. I flew through The Holdout, an all around fantastic book and extremely easy read that left me feeling immensely satisfied. — Jarred White California State University, Stanislaus
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern New York: Doubleday, 2019 512 pp. $17.00 Hardcover
Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a fortune teller, encounters a door elaborately painted on the side of a wall when he is eleven. He has no idea that it leads to a library––“No, not a library, a book-centric fantasia”––that poor Zachary misses because he fails to open it (27). Thirteen years go by, and Zachary has returned to college in Vermont in a snowy January to work on his thesis. Having grown tired of his work, he submits to the pleasure of reading. While perusing the fiction collection in the library, he happens upon the book Sweet Sorrows, a collection of stories interlaced together with what seems like no connection, until he reaches the third, which retells the door in rich detail. “And so the son of the fortune-teller does not find his way to the Starless Sea. Not yet,” he reads, and the words ‘not yet’ propel him through a tale of fortuity and circumstances that allures even the most cynical readers (14). For those that love books and stories, the idea of an underground hidden library filled with hundreds of each can inspire enough daydreams to fill a lifetime. “For every tale carved in rock there are more inscribed on autumn leaves or woven into spiderwebs. They are fragile things. Less sturdy than their cousins who are told aloud and learned by heart” (6). Erin Morgenstern’s 2019 novel The Starless Sea is the highly anticipated follow up to her 2011 novel, The Night Circus. Although not filled with magic in the classical sense as much as The Night Circus, The Starless Sea is dusted with enchantment and wonder nonetheless. Morgenstern’s use of language is both simple and evocative. She plainly describes events as they are occurring while also providing the reader with imagery that is unparalleled. While Zachary is wandering the labyrinth that is the Harbor, we are told that “he makes three turns before he resorts to consulting the compass. The halls look different, brighter than before, the light changed. There are lamps tucked between books, strings of bulbs hanging from the ceiling. He passes a cat staring intently into the water and follows its gaze to a single orange koi swimming under the cat’s watchful eye” (139). This book is for readers that are looking for a fantas174
tical tale about adventure with rich, authentic language. Although the novel begins with a pirate in a dungeon, the central setting for the novel is the aforementioned “book-centric fantasia” with brief trips to the surface in present-day New York City where Zachary finds the eccentric Mirabel and Dorian, the exceptional-smelling storyteller. It is here that we are introduced to Allegra and are presented with the philosophical conundrum: how far are we willing to go to protect the things that we love? Full of mysteries to be solved, beautiful cocktails, and even more lovely impressions, Zachary must find his way in this complicated place to solve the riddles to save it. But perhaps it was never meant to be saved at all. Like The Night Circus, The Starless Sea is told in a nonlinear narrative. Unlike The Night Circus, the novel’s pattern is a bit more complex. While stories are the main focus here, it does take a little extra effort not to become lost in the mythical transitions between the frame narrative and what appears to be incomplete fragments scattered along the way. However, Fate, Time and the Moon are characters themselves intertwined with acolytes, guardians, and keepers, along with our present-day cast, each given their own role to play. The course of Zachary’s path pulls him towards Dorian, and although not a love story, The Starless Sea speaks to the fluidity and timelessness of love, loss, and hope, and above all the stories that we all hold close to our hearts. — Catherine Wright University of Charleston
Acknowledgments Penumbra would like to thank Claremont Print and Copy for their exemplary work and support. Our gratitude and thanks also go to the English Department for being the foundation from which Penumbra has grown. Thank you to Dr. Molly Winter (Department Chair), Dr. Jesse Wolfe (former advisor), and Tula Mattingly for their invaluable guidance and support of the journal. This publication would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication, and artistic vision of our Co-Editors-in-Chief, Alejandro Caballero Hurtado and Jarred White. The Penumbra Staff would like to give a special thank you to Dr. Monica Montelongo Flores for providing guidance, support, and a lot of her time in helping to bring the journal to life. We would also like to thank our graduate students, Monica Gudino and Jessica Charest, who provided invaluable assistance and guidance, as well as being our book and film review editors. We are grateful to the Art Department for partnering with us. We want to especially thank Chad Hunter, Dean De Cocker, and Leon Bach. We hope to continue our alliance for many years to come. Thank you to Optimism One, Donnelle McGee, and Susanne French for being our judges. We would like to extend our gratitude to those not mentioned for coninuous support throughout this entire process: thank you for helping to make Penumbra possible. This edition of Penumbra is dedicated to all those who lost their lives during the COVID-19 global pandemic. May our communal passion for art and literature continue to bring us solidarity and comfort. All rights revert to the contributors. Penumbra is indexed in the Humanities International Index. Content ÂŠ 2020
Penumbra Department of English California State University, Stanislaus One University Circle Turlock, CA 95382