Elan Fall/Winter 2020 Online Edition

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Faculty Advisor Tiffany Melanson

Élan International Student Literary Magazine Produced by the Creative Writing department of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and funded through the Writers’ Guild Boosters Association 2445 San Diego Rd., Jacksonville FL, 32207 (904) 346-5620


Volume 35 | Issue 1

Editors-in-Chief Zoe Lathey Blair Bowers Art Direction Blake Molenaar Parker Sheppard Managing Editors La’Mirakle Price Nayra McMahan Genre Editor Sheldon White Marketing/Digital Media Sage Whitecotton Douglas Anderson Art Liaisons Mackenzie Wondell Audrey Lendvay


Editor’s Note In a time of reflection, the pieces in the Fall/Winter 2020 online edition perfectly highlight identity and self-discovery within the real world and our surroundings. We’ve described this edition as a ‘quiet issue’, focusing on self-reflection and contemplation. Take your time to savor these carefully selected reflections of each artists’ thoughts and ideas, hear their stories, and take into consideration that, in many cases, these stories could easily be your own.


-Editors-in-Chief Zoe Lathey and Blair Bowers

Contents messy rememberings Nayra McMahan


If my Mind Was a Snowglobe Eliza Hinrichs


Greenhouse Abby Pasternak


Mixed Media Dreams Rachel Brown


The Butterfly Effect Haven Jack


Colorful Freedom Jade Wynn


Long Abstractions Nia Moneyhun


Which Do I Tend To Max Young


Chronic Hannah Bardhi


tension Victor Platt


The Spice House Evelyn Weaver


Cajun Cottage Ingalls Vincent


Canid Lillian Ackiss




Street View Ingalls Vincent


Snake Raelynd Smith


How Far We Are from the Stars Abigail Gower


bone spur Victor Platt


War Poet Blake Molenaar


Deconstructed Avery Sullivan


Men Dream of Wars Sheldon White


Zephyr Winds Brendan Nurczyk


Strange Snow Trinity Jones


Lost Souls at the Border Britney Garibay


More Familiar Than Most Things Blake Molenaar


Twins Henry Mowry


Every. Single. Flower. Summer Carrier


Brothers Emmaline Kim


Together Christian Riley


The Neighborhood Zarria Belizaire


The Everyday Sublime Keila Smith


Ode to My Grandmother Niveah Desirea


Gold Ball Neissa Berlius


The Little Mermaid Kaysyn Jones


Swimming Emily Gnida


The Sand Swiped Over Her Eyes Andrea Salvador


slower Lara Spronken


In the Soft Part of Night Hannah Bardhi


Leaving Next Fall for University Zoe Lathey


The Library Avery Sullivan


Preserved Hannah Wehrung


The Fox and the Grapes Sara Jacks


Middle School Writing Contest Winners Listing

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messy re m e m b e r i n g s BY NAYRA MCMAHAN

“Well if the Greek root for ‘poet’ is ‘creator,’ then to remember is to create, and, therefore, to remember is to be a poet.” – Ocean Vuong do we mean to become poets? do we decide, at some point? is it purposeful, intentional? or do we simply migrate into poetry, make a bed of our own feathers, fluff the pillows for the poet inside, (the poet we are born into being, the one who sees box as sailboat, couch fort as oriental train, bird, dog, cat, as magical, the poet we lost somewhere along the way) let them (finally) find comfort, and start listening to them speak? what is a poet? there’s no right answer to this question. someone who writes poems, yes. someone who looks at the world as art, as a question, not meant to be answered. you are a poet, or learning to be one.


you scribble down your rememberings, frantically, poorly, grasping at the dust left behind as they take off into the air, your pen moving as fingers curling into empty, you exhaust yourself, and you retreat. then you are told to sit back and watch, before putting pen to paper, do not reach. instead listen, watch. you will watch as the sun stretches her fingers into the clouds. listen to the robin who sits by your window as he twitters about, going on about the cat that chased him earlier, how a storm is coming later this week. touch the flowers in your backyard, growing though the soil is poor, and ask them how they keep going even when it doesn’t rain for weeks. make out of wet earth, incense. memorize sun slotting through blinds, then through tree leaves.

then, quietly, you will write it all down.

you will learn how to transcribe a bird’s song, or how not to. you’ll drink up the songs you heard on the radio when you were nine and broadcast them to the world, make them mean something again. you will reach down your throat to find the words you meant to tell your third-grade crush and you will write them all over the walls until you can’t write anymore then you will repaint your room.


it will not be all sunrises, all bird song, you will not wake up every morning and see the beauty in it, you know every remembering will not be good, but you will keep creating anyway, and recreating, you find the will to continue. you will make messes and clean them up, (or not). you will remember each of the messes you’ve made and you will encase them in glass so you can try not to make them again, you will learn. and finally, whether you meant to or not, when you wake up and remember the feeling of a watermelon slice in midsummers of childhood of a popsicle stick between your teeth, and pull out your pen to let the words drip all over your hands, your paper, you will be a poet.


Eliza Hinrichs If My Mind Was a Snowglobe Painting



i’ve carved a room made of glass jagged fabrication built cloudy-gray webbed with cracks and wire frames to match stickers of places; fields spilling with dreams line the scratched panels and find seams bursting with fraying thread. soaked leaves spring up from the ground buzzing bees rest on intoxicating cotton swabs swarming, stifling delivered to ears with honey-infested words i’ve dug down through the soil and made friends with the worms the others—they say— will come at me with knives but gleaming silver whispers speak “otherwise” overgrown—overflowing bright green leaves that keep on going, going, going, laughing and dying reaching to the translucent rafters touching the ceiling from high-wire heights memories lie but paintings, paintings she promises, those have been inked over over thousands of times vines grow too tall to contain too tall too tall too tall to cut down— a fractured patchwork begins to unwind one touch and it shatters


Rachel Brown Mixed Media Dreams Mixed Media


The Butterfly Effect B Y H AV E N J A C K

Little things matter to me. Like mid-day car washes, smiles in passing, and knowing why green is my favorite color. (It’s because it makes me feel awake.) Big things, like the size of the universe, how Earth was created, and why bad things happen to good people make me forget how to breathe. So, I try very hard to remember where I begin, where I end, and that things out of my control are going to stay that way. I try very hard not to contemplate God’s existence or the chemical makeup of life’s purpose. Tonight, this is very hard. Tonight, I’m lying in my best friend’s bed, drifting somewhere between her softly singing “Hallelujah” and the whispering of the trees as they dance in the wind. Her delicate voice feels like fine silk and it swims around my chest, leaving a heavy shadow in its wake. I want to ask her to stop, to tell her that song makes the air in the room If you compared my soul turn to lead. We’ve talked about faith to that of a butterfly, the before, her and I. I’ve explained that only difference you’d see my belief in God has always stood on is that I am not a butterfly rickety legs, but that it died the same at all. night four young souls, including my friend, found themselves at the bottom of a cliff. They sat there almost two days before the authorities found their car and put a stamp on their death certificate. Despite this, I can’t find it within myself to ask her to stop. Instead, I focus on the branches outside her window as they sway to the beat of the wind. Their movement vaguely resembles that of a butterfly’s wings, and I find myself wishing that my thoughts could move as steadily as them. Maya’s voice bends into an orchestra and I can picture myself as a great, looming Oak. Passive to all of the hurt that comes with being human. The song swells and concludes with a final chorus of impassioned “hallelujahs.” “Maya…” I draw. “Yes?” “Are you ok? Mentally?” She pauses a few moments before saying “Yes. Why?”


“You have a lot going on, I’m just checking in.” I can hear the indifference in her voice as she says “Life sucks. Drive fast, die fast.” I cringe as images of the sharp turns and curves that wind around the bluffs circle my train of thought. “Eloquently put, your disregard for life is truly admirable.” I can almost picture the look on Hazels face when she realized she was going to die. I can almost feel the lurching of her car as its nose plunged over the cliffs edge. “It’s called realism. You’ll get it when you’re my age, I’ve just been through more.” Her words bounce around the room, accompanied only by the howling wind and my splintered heart. I choose not to say anything more. Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps her two years on me has brought her troubles beyond my understanding. I let the sound of the wind carry me into a fitful sleep, just to dream of a kind red-haired girl and a song we once sang together. When the sun’s rays reach through Maya’s window to wish us good morning, I can still see the bright smile of a girl who’s face reeks of grief. I can still taste the faint whisper of laughter on my tongue from a time that is buried in the Earth. Without moving to face her, I tell Maya: “If you’re going to drive fast, at least wear your seatbelt. Funerals are a pain to plan.” We don’t talk for a long while before I silently get up and Maya follows me downstairs. I make coffee while she cooks grilled cheese for breakfast. We sit down at her kitchen table and when her sandwich is halfway gone, she says in a quiet manner: “You’re not going to have plan my funeral anytime soon.” I finish chewing my mouthful of food and sigh. “You never know Maya, bad things happen when you least expect them.” She casts me a thoughtful look before saying, “We haven’t gone to the beach in a while, you wanna go after we eat?” “But you hate the beach.” Maya picks her grilled cheese back up, “Yea. I do.” Once our food is gone, and our mess is cleaned we head out the door. Before long we pull into the beaches 15

parking lot. A gust of wind sweeps my hair into my face the second I crack the car’s door. Maya and I walk, side by side, to the distant shoreline where the water laps onto the sand. The sky is dark, and the air has a sharp chill to it. Even so, I feel somewhat relieved of an invisible weight that had been sitting on my chest. Maya’s face is twisted in keen dislike as she blinks into the rippling wind. “I’ll never understand why you find the beach so fascinating.” “It makes breathing easier,” I tell her honestly. We walk along the water, in content silence until Maya stops and turns to face me. “You’ve been quiet lately. Not in a good way either. I know I’m not all that great at feelings and stuff, but I’m worried about you. You know you can talk to me, right?” At first, I don’t say anything. Maya has never been the type to talk like this. “Nothing’s wrong. I promise.” She huffs before bringing her arms up and letting them flop at her sides. Grabbing my hand, she tows me further up the shore, before pulling us both to ground, facing the ocean. “What’s going on in your head?” she asks. I stare out at the water, falling into a trance as I watch the waves dance and shift. Their constant repetition of gathering and crashing draws my thoughts closer to my lips. “Sometimes...” I drag. “Sometimes, I get this feeling of total inferiority. Like I could disappear entirely, and it wouldn’t matter. Then I get to thinking that I’m already as good as gone.” The wind kisses my cheek, and Maya has a contemplative look on her face. “It would matter if you died.” I begin moving a patch of sand around, uncomfortable with the mood shift. “Who ever said anything about dying?” Standing up, I roll my jeans to my shins, and make my way back to the shoreline. I pause when the water is swirling at my ankles. The sand shuffles under my weight and melds itself around my feet. My grandmother always used to say that the ocean is the oldest and wisest thing to exist. She’d tell me that he had wonderful insight for those who


would listen. I almost believe her, with the way the wind and the waves and my thoughts are creating a harmonious tune around my head. Maya wanders up to my side, her pants mirroring mine. “What do you think happens when you die?” I ask. “I don’t know. Maybe you go to heaven, maybe hell, maybe you’re reincarnated.” “Wouldn’t that be beautiful? To be born again?” “Depends. As a beetle? No. A dog? Sure.” “I’d be a butterfly.” Maya casts me a glance. “An insect, really?” “It’s not about the name. It’s about the essence.” “Essence?” “If you compared my soul to that of a butterfly, the only difference you’d see is that I am not a butterfly at all.” I close my eyes and spread my arms, picturing myself flittering somewhere above the grey cloud in my head. I see myself with exotic wings, so contrary to the dull thing I am now. Suddenly, I am spinning in the water. Like a top, I turn and twirl. I am no longer me. I am nothing and everything all at the same time. I am the clouds, and the sea, and the wind, and every particle in between. I’m every whisper of a thought I’ve ever had. But it all means nothing. It’s all silly and inferior compared to the great expanse of the universe. My friend is dead. Rotting in a box, buried in the ground. She is dead and I am spinning. I will never hear her musical laugh again. I will never see her golden smile or auburn hair again. We will never sing together again. For the rest of time, she is gone, and I am not. My heels slip from under me and my back crashes into the angry waves. My breath leaves my lungs, and I can only laugh. As I bob against the harsh current, I think maybe the ocean is hurting too. The bustle of the world is muffled by the water’s song. The clouds, and the wind, and every particle in between dissolve until there is only me and the waves. What a shame it is that Picasso never got to paint this moment. It is quite the masterpiece. With the overwhelming artistry of this scene, I can hardly remember a time when my heart was heavy at all. Life, death, happiness, sorrow; it’s all the same to a butterfly. So, it must all be the same to me.


Jade Wynn Colorful Freedom Mixed Media


Long A b s t r a c t i o n s BY NIA MONEYHUN

I’m floating like a ghost through ruin of a lifetime long-forgotten What must’ve been Homes? Shops? Municipal buildings? with their walls torn down, roofs gone, retaken by greenery, all it looks like anymore is discolored debris, hardly propping each other up like rocks that always belonged to nature Somewhere in this Godforsaken dump, a radio whirs away like a limp engine, just alive enough to carry the sweet, scorched crooning of some old man near death or already long-gone It falls in sync with the chirping cicadas I keeping turning around walking in circles, my heart jumps for no reason looking back over my shoulder, I half-expect someone to be following me In the corner of periphery, I think there are lost souls but it’s just the summertime heat wavering off the compact yellow ground


I’m in a place that’s never known time and time has never known it I suspect that it’s never known darkness That as long as the sun has shown here it’s a place no one has ever lived A part of me meanwhile fears some secret tunnel or passage that leads underground Where I’m bound to find the missing corpses and skeletons I thought were buried and gone, out of my heart, out of my mind If someone was there I’m sure I’d still be unsure of how to feel, what to think What I should remember I tell myself I’m better off meandering the crooked streets, another ghost in the summertime heat


Max Young Which Do I Tend To Mixed Media



I want to take care of you like you did my headache, when we were driving, my head resting on the window. Experiencing small concussions as you sped through the tunnel, its fuzzed orange light like the inside of a microwave. Forgetting where the bumps begin and end. You tell me it’s okay, pull into a parking lot, and I wait under closed lids for the sound of pills rattling. Small skeletons grinding against themselves. You place two in my hand, though I always ask for three, but I am silent, crouched in the breath of bushes lining the lot. You’re picking leaves off my sweater, and the deadly blush of my brains makes me feel fragile underneath your warm hands. You’re picking leaves off my sweater, and I know I could never hold you like this. I’m always watching you watching me rest my head against pavement. Another headache, another wave of nausea crashing between firm temples. Like a religion, you look for answers in my silence, ask me to rate the pain, and I am devoted to telling you I can’t shake it into words. I would explain it to you if I could. How I want to hold your secrets in my palm, and devour them whole, save a little bit of you for another day like this.


Victor Platt tension Mixed Media


The Spice House B Y E V E LY N W E AV E R

It’s surprising that the stair isn’t coated in a sheen of old blood. Every time Omar passes it, there’s this gritty feeling in his stomach and he can almost feel the grains of rock from the cement patio steps on his forehead, the false pressure of somebody pushing him, when really, it was just his little body, the flashlight in his right hand, the walkietalkie in his left, and the wind. The only thing on the steps nowadays is petunias, royal blue and red. He wonders who left them and what they meant by it. Maybe it was Grace, a kind of passive apology. They’re probably supposed to be patriotic, it being July and all, but part of him hopes the colors stand for Nepal. Mom would’ve liked that. The door had squealed on his way out of the house twelve years ago, the way old wooden doors do, his hand slippery with the type of sweat you get You’ll never learn from when you’re high on adrenaline. me that you can’t run out Mom said he had rice on his face into the streets at night and when she told the stories at family come back in one piece. get-togethers, laughing at how silly he looked. His eyes weren’t hot with anger like they usually were, only wide open. He was a raccoon and the long slab porch, about his height from the ground, was the only thing between him and the juicy, delicious dumpster of a world. There were ginger ale bottles on the bare tree branches, an art project that was his idea, but Mom had only let it happen because his brother, Kamil, the golden boy, had been the one to ask. He’d call P.J. and tell him he was running away. P.J. would let him stay in his huge closet, and they’d lay out in beanbags and eat leftover kettle corn and stay up all night. Mom didn’t understand. There was nothing for them in Chicago. They had it all in Chattanooga. The bridge, the ice cream store, his parents’ jobs, the hiking trails. What more could you want? How could a little more money be enough to pull up your family to the roots? Then again, Mom was no stranger to growing new roots, not that he considered when he was younger.


When he ran out the door and lost traction of the cement stairs, he’d been looking at the house across the street, the one with the turquoise painted trim and the wellworn work van in the driveway, barely lit by street lights. He hadn’t realized he was tripping and falling until he heard the sound, the thud of bone on concrete and felt warmth near his head. Mom had screamed, he’d opened his eyes, the streetlights were blinding, and the pain came in waves. Though he’d felt numb on adrenaline before, now everything was physical. He felt the chips of wood from his father’s whittling cutting into his hands as he dropped what he had been holding and tried to press himself up from the ground and his mother’s arms locking with his, pulling him up from behind. “You wouldn’t survive one day out of this house,” Mom had said behind him, her coarse hair scooped into a bun, her silky night robe on. Even angry, she was so quiet. Back then, he’d mistaken it for being docile. The house smelled earthy, like the lentil stew she had mixed up. “Don’t mess with Mom when she’s been cooking,” Kamil had told him back when he thought his younger brother could still be saved from her wrath. But if she had tipped his whole world upside down, what was the point in following her rules? “You need to live in a big city,” his mother said later as she dressed the deep wound in his head. The lady at St. Anne’s Hospital flinched when she saw it, but said he’d be okay if they could stop the bleeding. “Why?” “Because you’ll never listen to me. You’ll never learn from me that you can’t run out into the streets at night and come back in one piece.” By then, his eyes had gone fuzzy with pain. The grapeflavored acetaminophen he took hadn’t started working yet. All he could do was cry. “I’m sorry, Mama.” “Why are you sorry?” The gauze was finally doing its work and she stood up to wash her smooth hands. But when she asked him, Omar couldn’t quite say. His ears were warm with shame. His mother had done so much for him, and he’d tried to run away. If he thought moving to another state was bad, try being forced to leave


your country. His parents could make more money if they moved to the headquarters in Chicago, he knew this even though he didn’t really understand what their job was back then. Maybe what happened out by the porch was God pushing him down. She sat back down on her favorite wooden barstool and looked Omar in the eyes like she understood. It was times like this when she scared Omar the worst. He wasn’t used to her being tender, caring. He didn’t know how to appease that side of her. She patted the bandages on his head and said. “I know.” A breath. “Don’t be sorry, be better.” And just like that, she’d tucked the stool underneath the kitchen table and helped Omar’s father clean up the kitchen. Now, Omar steps up to the same glossy front door and checks the mail, the old-fashioned iron box cool against his fingertips. There’s nothing. No Wall Street Journal in the driveway either. Kamil must’ve cancelled the mail. Two years ago, Mom had stood right here with a real estate flyer in her hand, insistent that she would “get her damn house back.” And she did. When he twists the key in the lock, Omar hears the door sigh, the floors creak, the little wood house that always speaks to you even if you don’t speak back. He inhales a thousand memories, the golden light in the living room, the smell of dirt and spice in the walls. The last part of herself his mother gave him.


Ingalls Vincent Cajun Cottage Mixed Media



I learned how to like dogs as my house burned in the background. since I was seven, I’ve had dreams of my head being held taut in the mouth of a beast, canines digging holes into my temples and sleeping I would toss and turn and wake up to wiping tears I mistook for slobber on my face. That night I fell out of my window and for a moment I heard nothing but barking cries to get up! as I got dragged inside the neighbor’s kitchen and the sight of a dog stood me Straight. the carpet under my feet cemented me in place, keeping me still in fear as the dog sat down beside me, bowing its head wiping spit on my shirt -- I choked on the feeling of wet, sticky, stuck to my stomach, extra damp with tears of a baby who cried on me, told me “it’s gonna be okay,” while we held her dog’s head and I stared at its teeth until I could feel the pain in my temples again.


the police knocked loud and in my shorts and no shoes we were evacuated, the whole street. I could still see the blood orange tint the firelight gave my skin; I could still feel the heat from across the street, feel hot breath wrapping around my temples, piercing and the dog was shoved into my hands, sad-eyed and whimpering. My knuckles turned white around the red leash leading me somewhere, to someone, pulling me ahead as I could concentrate on nothing but -and the dog & I both turned our noses to the smell of cooked skin. when I couldn’t find my parents I stood still with the leash in my hand, watching flames finally die down to a two-story height instead of three and the sight of the water hoses spraying it down made the pain in my temples only burn hotter a tug on the leash said to me I need to stop thinking so much. My eyes found the dog laid down in front of the fire trucks with its face on the ground tongue out and panting, locking eyes with mine. It opened its stomach and bent its legs let tears fall down its hanging cheeks while


my hand covered its ribs. in the ambulance I curled into the gurney and in my sleep I watched the world continue around me, but I heard a patter of keratin on steel and panting throughout the cabin of the ambulance. In my sleep I watched the dog wobble into bed with me, staring but never longer than a few seconds – I felt the rhythm of hot breath on my arm – breathing in and out, dribbling onto my hand sticking my shirt to my chest. for a moment I cried. I cried and cried and let the tears mix with the slobber and made my whimpers sound canid, made myself the dog, let it lay its head on my arm and lick the salt off my face – and for once, I let it. I held the dog in my arms and closed my eyes, breathing in and out, letting it drool on the sheets and on me.


Ingalls Vincent Street View Mixed Media


Raelynd Smith Snake Painting


How Far We Are From The Stars BY ABIGAIL GOWER

Her hair flowed in the wind. I walked through the sliding glass door to the balcony to see what she was so fixated on but I could only see the ground below me. I saw how hard it would be to hit it, how much damage it would do, if it would leave me breathing or if I would be dead. I wondered if I would I knew how high I was flatline but come back to life, just to off the ground, but she relive my story of how I saw God or knew how low she was from the stars. whatever when I died. But she wasn’t looking down, she looked up at the stars, I could only assume that she thought about how long it would take her to fall from the ozone layer. How it’d be to skydive under that sky, the gut feeling that makes me sick even thinking about it. I knew how high I was off the ground, but she knew how low she was from the stars. I’d never seen her before this moment but I knew, she was truly free. “What do you even see?” I asked her. I looked over at the side of her face, her jawline, and the dimples she wore with pride. She never turned towards me. “The Big Dipper. Don’t you?” She responded, pointing at the sky. “I see the concrete.” I said, looking down once again and feeling queasy. There was a cat, but it looked like an ant. What if I landed on it? Would it soften the blow? “Look harder dummy.” She jumped up and sat on the railing, her back facing the open. She held onto the railing, leaning over to see where the constellation ended. I instinctively grabbed her waist, holding on tight. If she went down, I’d go with her. “There’s the end of it,” she said, pointing at all the stars, I couldn’t tell which was which. “How do you know?” I never let go of her waist until she jumped down with a soft thud. She weighed practically nothing, but I wonder if the thud would’ve been louder


hitting the ground. “How do you know Brad?” The better question was ‘how does Brad know and invite someone this weird to his party?’ “Friend of a friend,” she responded. “Where are they?” I asked, looking through the glass door. No one was looking for either of us. “Inside.” She said. I nodded. I wished I was inside. I couldn’t fall to my death in there. “Where’d you grow up?” She asked. “Here, where else?” I said. “Somewhere small. You can see everything, even the planets when there’s not so many buildings.” She said, still never making eye contact. Maybe she’d lose the Big Dipper if she looked away. “New York’s known for those.” I said, chuckling at my own joke. “Not upstate. Upstate people confuse stars for fireflies. There’s so many of both. You only know it’s a firefly when it moves.” She finally looked over. “Big cities don’t have those.” I didn’t know what to say. Some time passed and she hadn’t moved. “Are you like an alien or something?” I asked. I felt like vomiting, the building was so tall and thin it felt like we were swaying in the wind. “No. You feel it too, right? The building moving?” I nodded, not taking my eyes off the ground. “It’s like we’re a flower in the wind, it feels natural.” She said, sitting on the floor, letting her feet dangle over the balcony. “What?” I asked. “You’ll never understand will you?” “I don’t see what there is to understand,” I responded. Maybe if I answered her questions in the same abstract way she said them, something meaningful would come out of this conversation. “You’re no fun. Follow me. We’re going on a trip.” She stood up, brushing dirt off her jeans. “You can’t be serious.” I laughed. Who was I kidding? I was talking to the weirdest girl on the planet. If she kidnapped me and sold me I wouldn’t even be


surprised. She grabbed my hand and yanked at me. The noise of the party happening flooded my ears. How was I able to ignore all that sound before? I thought my brain was going to implode it was so loud. She took me through the crowd, I hit people left and right. Each one weighed different. If there was maybe one more person on this floor jumping, we’d break the floor in and end up in someone else’s living room. Maybe they have kids. We’d traumatize them. Before I realized, I was out the door. “What were you even thinking about in there?” She asked, digging for her car keys. The hallway was a lot quieter. That seemed to fill my eardrums quicker than the noise, the beat of the song bounced under my feet. “Can you like read minds or something?” “Once again, no. I just saw you go someplace else.” She shrugged and eventually pulled her car keys out. I don’t know why but I expected tons of keychains, but there wasn’t a single one. “Even I have a keychain.” I said. I pulled it out of my pocket. It was a picture of a character from a sitcom I watch. “The Office. I like it.” She said, admiring Michael Scott in my hand. “I like too many things to have keychains for them. It’s like picking your favorite child.” “Yeah, if your child is cities, shows, games, people… I could go on forever.” “You get me.” She winked. When we got to the parking garage, I didn’t even know what to expect for her car. No actually I did, and I was right. A yellow well-used punch-buggy. “Get in.” She pointed in the direction of the punchbuggy. I already deduced it was hers though. I looked at the floor. It felt like it would be the last time I see it for a while. It was so much more detailed up close. I could still picture my body hitting it, my blood would pool to the right of me. The left would be too weird. It would stain the ground, and I’d be staring at this god awful ceiling. “Are you drunk?” I asked. She was looking down to see what I saw. “Why do you ask?” She responded. Why can I never get a straight answer out of her?


“Because if you’re going to drive us off a cliff, I’d at least like a forewarning.” “So you wouldn’t be opposed to it.” She smiled. I laughed. I got in the passenger’s seat anyways. Why did she have such a strong influence over me? I never trusted anyone driving me. “My dad died that way.” Something about her made me reveal everything about myself. She turned the engine on. “What way?” “Drunk driver. The guy drove on the wrong side of the road, he’s in jail but, y’know. It doesn’t bring him back.” “Actually I do know.” She turned onto a main road. “My mom drowned. She thought it was the best way.” “I’m sorry.” I looked over at her. She wasn’t crying, she was smiling. “Are you joking?” “No, she was just so peaceful when she made up her mind to die. It was like she was already gone. I’m not at peace with my life, at least not yet.” “And when you are?” “I haven’t decided yet.” She was leaving the city at this point. A while passed, we must both be reliving memories of our parents. At least I was. At my eighth birthday my dad threw a cake in my mom’s face. My dad and I didn’t stop laughing until the next week. And then he did it again for my ninth birthday. And every birthday after that. On my last birthday before he died, my mom caught and threw the cake right back at him. She continued driving as north as her gas tank would take her. It must’ve been a solid hour when she finally stopped. “Get out.” She said. She turned off the heater. Her headlights shined down the road, just a few feet. There were no streetlights, no cars honking, no buildings that swayed. I saw my reflection in the window. I was ready for someone to jump out of the vast nothingness and into the driver’s seat, taking me God knows where, but no one did. “Why?” I said. “It’s today isn’t it.” She said looking deep into my soul. “How do you know?”


“When you lose your parent your body remembers it every time the anniversary comes around. My stomach churns, your body language tells it all.” “Screw you. Even if that is true, you have no right to judge me like that.” My face got hot, my heartbeat picked up. She was right. And my body couldn’t deny it. “You can’t keep hiding. You can’t keep living like this because you’re not living at all.” “I could say the same about you.” I looked away. Does she do this often? Drive people to the middle of nowhere and give them an intervention? “You can say the same thing about anyone. Literally anyone. Just—“ She sighed and grabbed my face and kissed me. She pushed my face away and got out of the car. She ran to my side and pulled me out. She’s stronger than I thought. She sat on the hood of the car. Something in my mind told me to get on the the hood. I did. She laid her back on the windshield and brushed her hair out of her face. The stars were small. The fireflies were too. I didn’t even realize there were fireflies until she pointed out that stars don’t move.


Victor Platt bone spur Drawing



didn’t die a martyr, no, I died in civvies while the sky was losing black to grey, six yards out from where we’d camped for the night, one-hundred and thirty-two thousand from any fighting left. On the body: volume of Sassoon, torn to two spines, unsmoked cigarette, pen, paper, lighter. No ichor, didn’t shimmer and shine in the light: there was no light, and no one to see. There was blood that didn’t get a chance to be red, splendid in the eyes of the enemy, before it made the dirt black. After everything, I died a brother still, to that boy who taught me meter and verse, that man who told me of the evils of war, who begged me not to go, asked me to remember in battle my Stafford, my Tolstoy. But my last thoughts weren’t a treatise on war. They were on how the flash cleared the black to the green all around, how the light caught the condensation heavy on leaves, and one final, cut-off oops, as if every death wasn’t an accident, as if they died martyrs, as if heroism was ever an option.


Avery Sullivan Deconstructed Drawing



Men D re a m o f Wa r s BY SHELDON WHITE

Whenever I flip through One of my father’s books on the troubles He’ll launch into one of these Long winded lectures On the conflict. PIRA, Peace lines, Various brigades and RUC detachments. He’s not even Irish, Definitely not been in war. He sits there while The modern man fantasizes About long nights in trenches, The ping Of a rifle breech, And the final Red Dawn scenario, halted by The emasculation of impending Reason and global restraint. There is nothing else Quite like the deathwish Implanted at our birth. We love the fight, The idea of scrambling across cold, Rainy cobblestone intersections Arouses the soldier in us. We find ourselves running Across sulfur lit street ways. The idea of a gun in our hand, An invisible enemy to be had. We shuffle back to suburbia And make our lunch. I cannot stand to live like this. I want to die in the street. 42

Zephyr Winds

(an excerpt)

BY B R E N D A N n U R C Z Y K

When I was 16, my brother, Paul, was drafted. I had never seen my mother cry the way she did, her face creased and crinkled up like a paper ball. Her skin, crumpled, reminded me of the afternoons she would sit at her desk writing to her sister in Maine, a pile of unsatisfactory stationary at her feet. And we knew it would happen too, my brother being drafted. His 18th birthday was nothing short of a funeral -- Ma in her black dress, Pa in his coughing fit, the birthday cake halfbaked and runny in the center. Like those church barbecues where the food was already half-eaten by flies by the time we got to it, the ice in the pitcher melted. And she was no good cook as is, but the nerves must have really got to her. The last time I spoke to my brother was at sunset that same month, sharing a cigarette. August. The sun was as runny as that birthday cake too, melted around the trees at the end But she always held me of the field where the beat-up fence close, her blonde hair was, now overtaken again by the resting on my cheek. She smelled like perfume, earth. Where that cross Pa made cigarettes, and rosé. out of scrap wood was. Where he and Paul would kneel at night by night. They couldn’t pray the war away, but they sure did try. I would be drifting to sleep, my window perched open, and our Father who art in heaven. . . would sync in with the cicadas. At the fence line where we used to sit and stargaze as kids. August. August like church barbecues and baby showers and rolling in the fields. August like swimming in the lake, the sun against your skin. August like soft wind. “Keep care of Ma,” he said to me between a drag, his voice rich and heavy like black coffee, his dark hair pushed over his eyes. The stubble rough against his once porcelain skin. The sun orange and heavy on his face. The wind shook the windchime on the porch and as the smoke drifted from his lips, he handed me back what was left of the cigarette and walked back inside. I stayed there for a moment, watching the clouds fold over the blue and orange of the sky, one of those gentle summer zephyrs flipping through my hair. The cigarette butt burned out and I crushed it to ash with my toe. It left a black mark on the wood. I didn’t know how to feel right then and there.


Paul would die in combat a few months later. Turns out the praying ain’t do much. When I was 17, my mother was a wreck. She would stand around running her hand with her sponge over a dish in circles for hours on end. “It’s not dry enough,” she would say, “run along now.” Or sweep one corner an hour too many. “You know how my allergies act up, the dust.” Some afternoons, I would be sitting in that large chair in the corner flipping through a novel, and I would look up at my mother, and her eyes would be glittering, her lip slightly quivering. But I never knew why. Some days she would be better. Others not. Sometimes she would catch me staring too, and put on a smile for me, coercing me over and giving me a hug or swaying me in her arms—a little half-hearted dance. But she always held me close, her blonde hair resting on my cheek. She smelled like perfume, cigarettes, and rosé. Sometimes she would be humming, or she would have a record playing real low. But she never danced like she used to, or sang to the trees and along with the birds. The music was out of her by then and the house stood still and silent against the stiff July heat. I prayed for winter, for Christmas, when we might go to Maine to see Ma’s folks or California to see Pa’s. At any rate, my mind then was on Sunday, when we would go to church and I would see other people. More than just Ma’s tired face, Pa’s cold one, or my own plain face in the mirror. I knew things would get better soon. One of those hot afternoons meant for staying inside and reading, I was flipping through on of the novels on the coffee table when a piece of paper slipped out. Crinkled at points where it had dried wet. I glazed over it, it was a love letter, Pa’s name a motif. And yet it wasn’t in my mother’s handwriting. Ma’s handwriting was like a samba, precise and delicate. I know because her handwriting, her delicate and careful hand, was part of my own. I know, because the wastebin was always filled with letters with words she could never get out right. The handwriting here was shaky, messy, sloppy.


Your love, It was signed. Your love. I couldn’t make out the name it was signed, the ink melted into rings. I slid the letter back in the same page of the novel and put it back on the coffee table. I didn’t ask Pa about it either, I had no reason to. It was probably just a mistake, a left behind letter. That summer, summer of my seventeen, my father took me out to the forest, the afternoon sun blinding, the leaves crumbling beneath his hefty worn boots he never did give up. The birds chirped in the trees, a stream burbling somewhere. And all a sudden, my father would stop in the middle of the trail, his face creasing as he looked through the trees as if his mind was somewhere else. He didn’t look at me. Like I was invisible, like another forest tree. Another leaf beneath his boot, “Son.” he said, the silence broken by his rough voice, cutting through the heavy summer air. I watched him reach for something tucked behind his flannel shirt. His German luger shone in the afternoon sun. His WWII German Luger he captured in northern Germany. He didn’t need to say anything. The gun was heavy in my hand, cool and deep against my callused fingertips on one side, warm where it had been against his body on the other. I looked at my father, his face weathered, a scar curling around his eye. He looked, tired, worn. His one leg limped; his finger ever so crooked. I sometimes forget how truly old he was, what a worn man he is. I forget he was a war hero. I thought about when my mother told me how she met him. Before the war, before me. In Costa Rica, she said she was dancing, and he was in the crowd with his cigarette, fondling her up with his eyes. She said she fell in love with his smile, his eyes, like sea gems she said. Like ocean water, and rain. I thought of my father now, eyes paled to gray. He didn’t smile, not anymore. “Not since ’45” Mama would say. Not since ‘45. Pa treats life like its war, like every movement is analytical. He’ll stare you down, and I watch his face crease, his pupils widen and focus like a telescope. There’s no room to be indecisive.


I thought about the story my father told me in war: how he and a few other soldiers poured cyanide into a pot of chili resting over a fire in a German camp. I thought about how he said they died. How they dropped like flies onto the ground. Their green-brown uniforms blended in with the dead leaves on the forest ground. As we kept walking through the forest, my hand tightened around the smooth curve of the handle and I thought of my brother in combat, his uniform soiled with mud, his shirt pressed to him like a second layer of skin. Pacing through the murky swampy water. Mosquitos large enough to take out a bear buzzing around him. Knee-deep in the swirling green of the rice paddies, lost in the heavy fog. I wondered if he was scared. I can only imagine where he died, or how. They never told us. So, I see his body crumpled up at the edge of the forest like a thrown-away doll, his face cracked with blood, nothing less than unrecognizable. But even the men who come back home from war are unrecognizable.


Strang e S n o w BY TRINITY JONES

“The wildfire crisis on the West Coast grew to a staggering scale on Friday, as huge fires merged and bore down on towns and suburbs… At least 15 people have died in the fires, with more expected as teams search through burned homes.” – The New York Times I walked through the trees barefoot in a snowfall no weatherman could predict. I tried to breathe and instead contracted smoker’s lung from the exhaust polluting the air. I tried to breathe, and was overwhelmed by the volume of myself – these trees no longer inhabit life, nor do they have life within themselves. I gently placed a hand on a tree nearest to me as if to find a pulse beneath its scorched flesh, desperate to not be the only living thing here. I shuddered at the silence when its brittle exterior crumbled in my palm. No one to grieve for this life lost, nothing to remember it ever lived in the first place. I don’t know how long I stood there but I felt my feet numb in the heat of this strange snow. As the white specks fell from the black clouds above, covering the burned floor with a white blanket, I tilted my head toward the red sky wondering how something that once meant beauty could become an ugly reminder of how badly we’ve failed.


Britney Garibay Lost Souls at the Border Painting



More Familiar Than Most Things B Y B lake M olenaar

The plaque said the bridge was a feat, a miracle of steam and steel, wood and willpower. L. was swiping at its brass face mechanically, fresh snow falling into the grooves of the letters faster than she could wipe it off. She had wandered too far from the visitor center, lost in the thought of trees and frothy water. She gave the plaque a final wipe, an afterthought, before giving it up to the elements and waiting. She thought instead of Lewis and Clark, passing below before the bridge was even built. It seemed the bridge itself was now a rickety thing, however impressive it might have been in the day. It was uncertain but familiar, a similar thing to the bridges in fairy-tales, where the planks collapse and the heroine goes flying into the There were a lot of things monster’s mouth. they didn’t remember, a lot But L. was not a heroine, of things they willed away. and this was not a fairy-tale. There were no monsters in Wyoming, at least not of the fairy-tale sort. There was nothing of anything in Wyoming, really. Just Yellowstone, this bridge, and the snow, this powder floating down that felt like an end to something. C. had somehow found his way back from the center and was all at once next to L., looking over the fragile railing at the rushing water below and mistaking her contemplation for awe. “This was the first place I saw real snow,” he said, not because it was true and not to fill the space, but simply because this was the way she and he moved through the world and everything in between. Memories, false and real and yet-to-be-determined. L. couldn’t remember if she’d ever seen snow until now-- but the shape it took in her mouth and mind still felt more familiar than most things did these days.


“I thought the world was ending. I must’ve been three or four.” C. continued when she didn’t respond. L. wished she had known him at three or four. But things would have to have been different, and she didn’t know if that was good or bad. C. had money in his fist, bills crumbled into anxious paper balls. So that was what he’d stayed for. “We should get out of here soon.” She didn’t respond. “The engine might freeze.” She was watching his hand, tension tightening in her gut. “You might freeze,” he said. So, they returned to where they’d started, to the old church van with “Bible Belt Baptist Church” scrawled on the sides. But they were not in the Bible Belt anymore, and the van wouldn’t be able to take another Wyoming winter. They were no Lewis and Clark, and they didn’t have a Sacagawea to keep the engine hot and running. They would skip town again, or find another ride. They would make their way slowly, as L. had never truly learned to drive and C., the usual reluctant driver, had broken his foot several weeks prior and couldn’t drive without a struggle. “Hurts like hell,” he’d said when he noticed L. staring as he wrapped his foot. He had wrapped it in gauze, which L. hadn’t thought would do much of anything, but C. always had to put a bandage on something. L. hadn’t been there when he’d broken it, but she could piece it together, or at least give the scene some grotesque shape in her mind. He had jumped, and falling was the consequence his body would bear, landing in some new fresh hell. She wasn’t sure if this was any better of a landing place than where they’d started off. But now that it was long behind them they had to keep moving, and so L. had to drive. It probably wasn’t the best choice; her mind was on motels and broken bones, the money in his fist and where it had come from. So she didn’t recognize the impact, or C. reaching over, easing her leg on the brake, and putting the van in park. She didn’t recognize that there was anything wrong at all, aside from the usual. It was the wheezing close of the passenger door that woke her.


It looked like a poor imitation of a dog, probably even before it was hit. C. was by its side, taking off his tattered jacket. It was a long moment while L. stared at him through the dirty windshield before he stared back-- not at her but at her presence, the smudged impressions of her features in the tinted glass-- and she realized what it was he wanted. She was unsteady on her feet as they hit the pavement. The dog was missing its tail, and what thin grey fur it had left was matted with dirt and blood. C.’s jacket was off and he was holding it hopelessly. Maybe he had taken it off to apply pressure, maybe it was just to do something with his hands. But there was nothing he could do with it, the bleeding was on the inside. The blood on the outside seemed to be dry, shrink-wrapping little sections of its fur. C. tried to pick it up but it keened and he winced. “We’ve gotta get help,” he said pointlessly, his hands hovering over it. “Okay,” she said, making no move. The ridge of the ignition key was rough as she slid her thumb along it, its weight heavy in her freezing hands. C. was looking at her like there was something he expected her to say, something he wanted her to understand that she just couldn’t. “I’ll go back to the gas station,” she tried, “I’ll see if there’s--” “No,” he said too quickly and tried to regain his composure. She tried to conceal her relief. “You stay here. I’ll go.” He stood from his crouched position. Standing, he towered over her. Her unease returned as he clumsily limped into the driver’s side and she realized he expected her to stay with the animal in a more meaningful capacity than the literal. As he pulled around, he stopped again, rolled down the window and said “And sit with him, for God’s sake.” Then he was gone, searching in the distance for someone who could help. It took her a moment before she realized she had still been standing while C. sat with the dog, as well who “him” was, as she hadn’t really been thinking of it in terms of he or she. Her mind had been more on C. than the dog. Sitting, she could get a better look at the thing. Its leg was mangled, the bones twisted around in its skin.


He had been upset. He still was. L. and C. had always silently agreed that they understood each other more than other people, but sometimes L. had wondered if he understood her more than she did he. She knew that she lacked something important, something he thought was important, and it disappointed him. She couldn’t remember how it was she and C. met, and assumed he didn’t either. There were a lot of things they didn’t remember, a lot of things they willed away. Maybe this would be another, or maybe they were getting past the age when they could curate their history. His jacket was still on the ground next to her, and she wondered if he was cold, wherever he was. She wondered how they were going to pay for a vet if they found one. She suspected it would be the same way he got all of their money, which she also wondered about, but tried to ignore. She couldn’t pretend to know whether her ignorance was for her sake or his. She couldn’t pretend to know what he would do if he were here, but she could take a guess. She took the jacket in her hands, so different from his, and placed it under the dog’s head. It was warm, and she let her freezing fingers linger there for a moment. She closed her eyes and imagined it had been C. that had been thrown into the air by the car, falling onto the road, and a hot tear slipped out from underneath her eyelid, and then more. The dog whined and put his head on her knee. She heard the familiar sound of the van, for the first time from the outside, but didn’t open her eyes or let go of the dog until she heard the doors open and close. Stepping out of the passenger side was a middle-aged man who seemed normal enough, but behind him leered the suggestion of how C. had gotten him to come. But he would help, and L. could still remember how to trust C. When C. got out, L. didn’t stand for fear of jostling the newly settled dog. C. came to her and embraced her. Still crying, she said “I’m sorry,” or maybe she didn’t, but he understood.


Henry Mowry Twins Drawing


Every. Single. Flower. B Y S ummer C arrier

James’ campsite was situated amidst a huge field of, according to The New Mexico Guide to Flora and Fauna, Ponderosa Pine and Common Juniper. Soon, the scenery would shift as the mountains rose into the sky, forests gradually morphing into clumps of spruce and odd lone fir jutting out from the jagged cliffs. Fun facts like this were useful knowledge to James, there were plenty more in his other book, The New Mexico Continental Divide: One Man’s Journey. Reading that allowed New Mexico to render not just as a landmass but yucca flowers, a yellow flag, roadrunners, coyotes, and the birthplace of both Smokey Bear and the first atom bomb explosion. The book contained everything about the weather, the history, and even provided several backpacking recipes. The violent meeting of Though, James would have to get two continents, as if a better at maintaining a fire before mountain range had been attempting any of the Wild-Man’s erected on his internal Stew or Camper’s Peach Cobbler organs. that had been carefully marked with cat shaped sticky notes. Cat shaped sticky notes he’d return to, fondly, then solemnly, and think of his tabbies: Picasso, Pollock and Eiffel. Pollock had stepped in front of a car tire and so followed Eiffel and Picasso in quick succession, as if they’d lined up and marched out to die. Now, even their traces were gone. There were no more stray hairs on the couch, or catnip treats stuffed behind a soup can. That cabinet was gone, and James rolled the couch into a landfill along with his Frida Kahlo posters, a nightstand, and a bookcase. The couch didn’t even crash as it tumbled into the pit, just thunked into the pile, and James chose to call his parents, which he hadn’t done in years, and told his mother as she picked up, “I need a place to stay.” His mother clicked her tongue, clicked it again, and said, “You can always stay here. You’re the one keeping yourself away, sweetheart.”


“Yes, I know.” James said. “Oh good! It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, should we throw a party? Something small?” “If you want to, I can’t stop you,” He looked down towards his feet, and then back up towards the sky. There were no stars. “Wonderful.” She piped, like a cupcake, “I’ll make burgers. Your father will be so happy. He loves my burgers, you know.” “I know. I love you. Should I pick up cookies, or something?” His mother made a strange noise, displeased, “Please don’t. Aren’t you coming all the way from New York? Won’t they get stale? I’ll make something. Chocolate cake.” James doesn’t like cake, but his mother had already made up her mind. She had been tapping her nails, a sound absolute and sure, and as robotic as the rest of her demeanor. It was like the sound of her teeth grinding and preparing for a meal. As if she was already forcing a hunk of white bread and venison meat down his throat. As if her teeth were already gnashing against his bones. The campsite wasn’t what James had come to expect out of camping, barely enough room for a tent and a dilapidated fire pit. After moving to Berkeley’s campus, he had quickly abandoned every bit of knowledge accumulated from eighteen years living with his family. He’d grown used to camping with friends and easels in overpriced spots by Moss Beach, then upstate New York after he moved to the city, chasing his love for what New York was like in pictureswide, open, and blue. James got to work. Tarp laid out, the one-sleeper backpacking tent he’d borrowed from his brother pitched, fly buckled down, fire poorly made. His dinner was rehydrated and subsequently devoured with an unfamiliar appetite only somewhat appeased by an environmentally friendly choice of rice, beans, and rabid handfuls of organic granola. Dishes half-washed in the stream, hands rubbed together, supplies pulled over the thick limb of a tree. With painstaking finality he beat the dirt out of his hiking boots before collapsing onto the hard ground only thinly covered by his brother’s sleeping bag.


It was amazing how the sleeping bag always took up more space than the tent. How much heavier it was in the pack. The sleeping bag, he supposed, wasn’t the necessary item- it was the privilege. James thought up a little personal rule, because of this, something his parents would think was good: that it was the things he didn’t need he’d have to work hardest for. James only wanted to make his family proud, so he was proud of himself for this thought. He wanted to draw it, wanted to bring the thought to life in the branches of the trees, and the slivers of fish occasionally visible in the running stream. His sketchbook was at home. James didn’t need to be drawing anyways, he was hiking, thinking, building. In the morning there’d be more thinking of how to fix everything in his life and his parents would be proud of him. Then, James would not have to think again about this pain welled inside his heart like a collapsing parachute: his boss, her hands folded over her desk, face blank. Your designs are amazing, but you lack vision. You lack the oomph that we need. For now, he needed to rest, he was embarrassingly out of shape. When he rests, he dreams of his brother. David, saying “It’s not going anywhere.” Back in his father’s truck. A few empty beer bottles rolling on the floor of the backseat and the sound of it: sliding again, again, again, against the dirty rubber mats, knocking into wind-up flashlights, the first aid kit, and the shotgun shoved under the passenger seat. James couldn’t help from peeking back. He’d been rudely stopped from helping load anything with David’s promise that he’d just get in the way, and now his furniture was packed high and strapped down haphazardly on the bed of the truck. David was leaned around the back of the passenger seat, neck lazily craning around the side of it, as if James isn’t worth fully turning. “You don’t know that,” James tells him, fingers ticking and ticking against the seat. “It’ll be fine,” His father said, leisurely winding the car around the tumultuous mountain bends, “Your stress is going to give me a heart attack, nothing back there’s that


valuable.” James didn’t feel like replying, he checked over his shoulder again. “Seriously,” David rolls don the window and pulls out a pack of cigarettes, “Quit it, you’re going to give me an aneurysm.” As if the cigarettes wouldn’t do it first, James thought. David offered him one and James shook his head. James was always doing this: packing himself up like a tight suitcase, mouth shut. “That isn’t how it works,” James tells them, “If you had just let me pack it, I wouldn’t be worried.” They weren’t even on the highway. They were still driving down from their house and James felt like his fingernails were on the verge of popping off like the click of a pen, the way he was clenching the fabric of the seat. David offered a cigarette. James denied it. “Whatever. You want to stress yourself out? Be my guest.” David told him. “I was, but you had a problem with it,” James huffed, “Don’t you want to talk about anything else? Movies? Books? The trees? Don’t you have anything else to talk about? Anything you want to ask me about?” “What is there to ask you, James? Don’t you have it all figured out?” “Well, of course I don’t.” His brother rolled his eyes, “What’s your scholarship for then? If you don’t know?” “I don’t know. Maybe if you asked me questions, you could find out.” “And why would I do that?” “Maybe I have something to say.” His father groaned. “If you guys are going to fight the whole way, I’m going to lose it.” Taking one hand off the wheel, he takes a cigarette from David, who lights them “James stop annoying David.” James sputtered for a second, took one last fleeting look at the few belongings he actually wanted: criterion movie posters, different photography books, cookbooks, everything he’d ever spent too much on via the MOMA website, and a sparse wardrobe that was going to expand once he knew he wouldn’t face ridicule for it, and sat himself forward.


David offered him a smoke, and James turned it down. He had picked up smoking but was trying to quit the nasty habit before he left home. “Look James, I’m sorry,” David said, “You’re just stressing me out. Why don’t you enjoy this? It’s going to be our last car ride together for a long time.” James cleared his throat and said, “I’m just worried.” Instead of saying good or I already said that. His father and brother chortled in the front seat. Some inside joke he was not privy to. “It’s not that bad, James,” his father said. “It’s awful! You don’t get it. It’s not your stuff strapped down to the back of the car.” “Oh, well,” David said, snuffing his cigarette out in the ashtray. “Guess we’re too stupid to get it, too stupid to ever possibly understand poor James.” His father chuckled. “Yeah, we’re idiots, not like James.” “I never said that!” James snapped. “You implied it,” David drawled. James jumped when the snuffed cigarette was flicked towards his head. The cigarette tumbled down to his chest, James picked it up and dropped it on the mats of the truck. “I didn’t,” He said meekly, “I don’t think you guys are dumb.” And, suddenly, the dream shifts: Tumbles. David laughing. Hands pressed into James neck and squeezing tight. Red cheeks, bruises piling on more. Their mother laughing and shrieking. The slow approach of darkness as James’ breath slows to small, desperate streams. His father had never gone to college. His mother had, and her anthropology degree had been spent here: watching her two boys growling like dogs. Laughing. Rolling around on the floor like tectonic plates, each violently subducting one another. Wasn’t that anthropology at its finest? This was just like the Columbian Exchange. It was practically geography. “Take that!” His brother screamed, like a badly written script. James swung his left knee up into the soft patch of skin beneath his brother’s jaw and David’s head snapped back like ripping a page out from a magazine, or like his mother’s nails dragging through the news and tearing out what mattered to their family: the weddings, the obituaries, and the Sunday comics. 59

His mother and father telling him that was art: the arc of his knee into David’s jaw, and the clippings of Sunday comics. David pretending he didn’t cry and pouncing back to smash an elbow in James’ side. James never finished dreaming that night. When he startled awake, James did not know what awoke him. The wind? A rabbit? He did not have enough time to find out. He needed to use the restroom. In an attempt to roll out of bed, James hit the plastic grey wall of the tent before remembering where he was. James reminded himself that this journey was meant to bring fulfillment. Satisfaction could be found in scrambling on his hands and knees, and the dorky looking headlamp he grabbed as he unzipped the doorway. Grabbing the waistband of his poorly insulated jeans, clumsily with sleep, James attempted to unbutton and roll the pants down. He failed miserably. He was now too tired to finish such an utterly simple movement. He sighed, and let his thumbs hang loose on the edge of the fabric, jagged like beaker tubes without stands. Swinging the headlamp around made him dizzy, along with the hunger and deep-seated exhaustion, but he couldn’t help himself. The embarrassment made him check over his shoulder, like someone would be watching. His father, guiding his fingers over a rifle, his mother shaking her head. James knew he was paranoid. He expected his fears to be eased by the glance. He expected to be met by nothing except the trickling sounds of the creek and be forced to return to his task at hand. He did not expect to be met by a pair of wide-blown pupils staring back at him. Even after James realized it was real, it felt fake. James, who had been so convinced of the beauty and whole being of the forest, now stared down a cardboard cutout. The heavy, warm breath swirled into strewn about cotton balls and hot glue as it hit the cold air. This was a fourth grader’s drawing of Summer Camp. Some science project, on a three-panel board, opened up to reveal a messy graph and indecipherable handwriting. An elk bull, as his book taught him, could grow up to eight or nine feet tall (including antlers), and could be well over 700 pounds. Big to the point of too big. Stubborn and wild. 60

Almost like David, James thought. David, who would’ve already been in the trees with his rifle loaded. Not like James. James who was not having the lifechanging moment he could’ve had then. James who stared down the elk in the eyes in the yellow beam of his dorky headlamp and stayed absolutely still. James just thought of his brother, and the cold, and how his fingers were still trapped in his waistband. James barely remembered the crash. He remembers it later not even as a movement through space: just the jolting of his ribs, the sound of fireworks crackling, his breath in one, desperate stream. The violent meeting of two continents, as if a mountain range had been erected on his internal organs. He only existed again, afterward, crying and grasping at his chest, unsure sure if he was crying in pain or loneliness. The very earth was turning its cold, rough, face away. It was just him, and the sound of an owl somewhere, flying away. The clomp of hooves running, growing fainter. One last glimpse of them- James’ head snapping to the side to catch the glint of them disappearing in the brush. Later, when he finally drags himself up and dresses his wounds, James would think: I am so grateful for my sleeping bag. He’d realize the tent only shaded the view of the stars. He’d see his cat stickers in his books, think that he shouldn’t have named his cats after dead artists and finally begin mourning them in a way that allowed him to preserve their love. Preserve their memory. Unlike their ashes which he’d let loose to drift through the streets of New York. Lying down would reveal every inch of hard ground underneath David’s sleeping bag. James would dream again, without finishing, of his knee jabbing into his brother’s chin. He’d dream of his mother’s nails tapping on the landline. James would realize, come morning, how they’re all old now, and his mother’s hands around her pink nails have frayed like an over-washed pair of jeans and his brother had graduated from business school. James would want to draw this in the morning: The glint of the elk’s hooves, like David’s lighter, and his mother’s nails, disappearing. The bushes. Every. Single. Flower. His ribs cracking and creaking and snapping like he was a door forcibly flung open. James would draw


on the back of the recipe pages. If he had to, the drawing would be etched in the ground with sticks. His father would call it ugly, so James would shove it in his face and ask him, finally, “Well, what did you learn on the continental divide, huh? You don’t even know what life is!” James would draw the divide. The broad and poetic concept of Disruption, and of Coming Together. Of so many states, how America was so many parts and pieces and one line across the middle was both The Separation and The Coming Together. He’d draw it all Now, he just needs to drag himself up.


Emmaline Kim Brothers Drawing


Christian Riley Together Painting


The N e i g h b o r h o o d BY Zarria Belizaire

We are the few who live in silence you don’t notice were there until the sirens ring blue and red race down the street gunpowder and the smallest hint of urine fills the air We walk in unity heads turn in disbelief of our rowdiness mothers hold their children and purses closer the pigs glue their eyes to our bodies never do we stay out of the neighborhood for long We watch the outside through lines the streets carry whispers life leaves the houses silence, pretend you’re not there ignore the invisible men, no boys trading secrets, trading lives We gather on Sundays streets alight with laughter cigarettes and weed hold hands with sweet Hawaiian bread and ribs “uncle” Earl tells stories of when he was younger taking the smaller children on a journey filled with feet pounding on the asphalt the five-O huffing and puffing behind We laugh far into the night the pigs lurking around our neighborhood goes ignored slams of domino on the old rickety table echo down the street small bodies filled with unleashed energy run in circles, their tiny hands clutching the stems of sparklers dogs sniff the ground for dropped pieces of food the air fills with gossip and old stories We make the night last 65

Keila Smith The Everyday Sublime Painting


An Ode to My Grandmother BY NIVEAH DESIREA

I would sit by her side in the midst of deep summer days. These were the moments when the sun would illuminate our little red porch and keep steady heat ignited in our brown skin. Often on days like this, you could find me sitting crisscross by her plastic porch chair, clinging to her leg as my head laid atop her knee. The sounds of Berry White, the Commodores, or Donny Hathaway would caress my ears in the times I was too full of fifty-cent crunchy Cheetos and fruit punch soda to continue playing with the rest of the neighborhood children, who never seemed exhausted. She, my Nana, would just pat my head every now and again as she laughed and spoke about the “good ole days.” With one ear pressed into her world and the other fully aware of the now, I would often pick and choose which version of Love baby. Real love. reality I wanted to live in. Not this stuff some of I chose hers every time. In the moments of blazing these people call love now. heat and unforgettable music, I would only ever hold her hand and talk to her for hours as if I was her old friend who needed to play a little game of catch up. Deep in her poise is where I found my own, every moment molded me into a perfectly imperfect young woman. Just those locking of our fingers and exchange of dialogue made me the richest middle-class girl on the North side of Jacksonville. I often remember the smell of June, handpicked dandelions and my Nana’s pungent perfume. I sometimes ponder the sequence of events that led me to want to make an ode to her. It was a Friday afternoon, the first time we indulged in conversation blossomed from music. I was sitting on our porch steps staring at her with starry eyes, eating away at my yellow and orange Tweety Bird ice cream bar. I loved to observe my Nana, I still do. The way her eyes closed in remembrance as a familiar song she’d heard many times before struck its beginning notes, was one expression I studied well.


As the music played on, her body became one with it, her foot would tap strongly against the wooden planks of our porch. The repetitive motion took the shape of whatever upbeat had taken a hold of her. This time, her taps resembled a stomp of understanding. It seemed as she’d adopted a powerful connection with the lyrics being bestowed on us through the song Love T.K.O by Teddy Pendergrass. I didn’t know the title at the time nor the artist. All I could manage to make out at the time is I liked the way the music made her feel. In turn, I straightened my back and began to stomp my foot along. My hands dripped with the sweetness of melting ice cream and my mouth moved in the direction of chewing Tweety’s gumball eyes. My movements focused on the vigorous desperate voice I was determined to have move me the way it moved my grandmother. I was so into it I didn’t notice she was watching me. She was receiving a good laugh off her granddaughter in the purple Minnie Mouse outfit and neat ponytails rocking and tapping her foot like an older church lady who caught the holy ghost. “What you know about Teddy P girl!?” She chuckled, keeping her eyes fixated on me and my ridiculous moment. “You like this Nivi?” Her voice was gently stern, I knew she was serious, but I couldn’t really understand what it would mean for me if I said yes versus if I said no. So, I simply opted to just nod instead. I was very subtle and yet she understood. It was around 2 o’clock now, the sun seemed to shift its rays from my back to the left side of my face. Cars passed, people walked, and the music continued to play. With one final look into my eyes my Nana motioned me to sit beside her as I’d done before. I found my place holding onto her leg as usual and her hands assumed their position on my head. One ear pressed to her and the other open to the world, I heard the music of a new song play. “There’s a rainbow in my heart. That reminds me of how we parted, and I, I know my love is gone forever. But deep down in my heart I’ll love her forever.” The radio played the song with a force I’d never paid attention to until that moment. Every other song was just another fragment of Nana’s life, this one was too, but


something, everything about it was different. “Nana, what is he talking about?” My curiosity was blunt and ferocious. The way the singer Gene Chandler sang to me personally, I gained the courage to ask her about things I’d never had the urge to inquire about before. “Love baby. Real love. Not this stuff some of these people call love now.” A sweet pat was applied to my head. “Like how you love me?” I tried to speak as I softly could, because I wanted to hear all of the song. “Something like it. But no. He is in love with this woman. Like your mother and Shawn.” I remember hearing her speak and the light bulb going off. “Oh. Like mommy and dad—Nana? Have you ever loved someone like that?” There was a pause as the next song began. “Yes, and you will too.” When she wanted to leave things alone, she left her sentences vague. “When?” I asked, curiosity leading me. “When you’re older. But, what have I always told you, you have two B’s, books, and boys. And trust me, they don’t mix. It’s as simple as that.” She figured it to be simplistic, but to me it was quite the opposite. This conversation was one of the first times I was able to take my grandmother’s words in and analyze them in my own way. Having her there to answer my pesky questions and steer me in the right direction made me feel undeniably special. I vividly remember the music playing on that Friday. Song after song until night fall, when the air was warm and the only sounds that could be heard were stick bugs coming together and her old radio. I went to bed that night thinking of that day. My grandmother’s head pats continued to circle my cloudy mind when the thought occurred; she was way too special to not share. One day, I will tell the whole wide world how her perfume still lingers in my nose, and that her cooking touches my cravings every moment of every day, I knew one day I would make an ode to her. So, this is her ode.


Neissa Berlius Gold Ball Painting


The Li t t l e M e r m a i d BY kaysyn JONES

“Smokies mussels have terrific names, like purple wartyback, shiny pigtoe, and monkeyface pearlymussel. Unfortunately, that is where all interest in them ends. Because they are so little regarded, even by naturalists, mussels have vanished at an exceptional rate.” – Bill Bryson “I know what you want… it’s very stupid of you! but you shall have your will even so, for it will bring you great misfortune...” – The Sea Witch, Hans Christian Andersen See this beating heart? I have wrapped it in marram grass and left it in your room to find. Respond sometime- please, take your time. Do not turn your face towards mine. Take time like the tide takes shells. Decide reciprocation after. I cannot wait. I cocoon my body with webbed salt soft spray (embalming) I let the riptide take me. Memories of your face rush-how one eye squints, how those lips move up, daring-- darling memories of your hands, strong thin and dancing the way you push your hair to the side… grains of sand, searing


I calcify the cocoon becomes a shell (barnacles grow over the surface) (I am a rock adrift) so none can find me. The cocoon becomes a shell and I wrap nacre around each grain of sand, each piece of you sealed in here, with me my hands find your gentle smile scattered among a thousand moments My eyes multiply here. A thousand black pearls, dark pupils holding you, like secrets staring out unwilling, unseeing, into endless blue‌ And you cast your net into the sea and drag the rock ashore and place those thin hands on my salty back and I am undone-a bivalve cracked open along the seam by a clever knife left naked stark-blinded by the sunlight, by those eyes as the pearls drop, roll away bouncing I am sure that if you reach out, I will cling and shape myself to you a blind thing against the whorls of a conch I would disappear into mist, if you asked it become the sky for you to gaze at a sunset for those lovely hands to trace‌


But this body heavy with salt, wrinkled and wet and burning‌ Oh, it wants only for marram grass marram grass to hold it together.


Emily Gnida Swimming Drawing


The Sand Swiped Over Her Eyes B Y A N D R E A S A LVA D O R

My younger sister Martine has been a restless sleeper ever since she was a baby, except now that she can talk, we’re certain she’s plagued by nightmares. Our parents were locked in a game of heads up with her, rummaging for milk bottles and TV remotes and plush toys to decipher the cause of her violent cries in the middle of nights. They’ve been resting easy ever since her teeth grew in, when she first babbled about the scary trenches of water behind her closed eyes. I’m telling you this because Martine heard that you’ve been tormented by nightmares, too. She’s afraid to tell you how to stop them because she’s certain you’re going to laugh at her and call her crazy. Frankly, I don’t care. We grew up beside a beach. Of course, we’re bound to turn crazy from the sea salt that’s made a home in our lungs. Once the sand is over We’ve seen our house swallowed your eyes, you receive by the waves and spit out. We’ve the gift of an empty dream. been inside as the water digested us, dictating our fates. When you see and experience these kinds of things – and I bet you have, you’ve been here for a while now – then there’s no doubt you’re going to get nightmares. It’s just the world’s check-and-balance for living next to paradise. Back to the cure: sand. Not the fine-milled sand that the vendors sell as bottles attached to necklaces, or the one little kids pee on as they stare out at the expanse of shimmering blue, imagining sharks. Martine means the sand already underneath the water, where the starfishes and clams take their rest. Baby turtle scuttle ground. Naïve tourists cursing as their feet go bloody from treading on a sea urchin that rests on the sand’s grooves. Scoop it into a small bottle. Hide it under your swimsuit, preferably dark to hide the bulge. Got that? Good. After you’ve extracted the sand, paddle back to the shore. Don’t think about the bottle coming loose as you


freestyle your way to solid ground; the sand knows to keep still. Once you’re back, go straight home. Shower, and get ready to sleep. Martine has tried it before, skipping around town with the bottle of sand attached to her hip like a baton. She’s seen her friends in the hotel villas, puckered her mouth at offseason watermelon shakes, before heading home. Each time, her head hits the pillow and she’s transported into a dream she thinks will contain solace. From the bright colors and fuzzy images, the nightmares begin to emerge. She startles us with her screams through the thin walls, and we’re back to square one. The sand becomes nothing but decoration if you take a detour. Just go home. Believe me. When you’ve shed the smell of salt and the stink of chemical sunblock, wind down in the comfort – or cage – of your bed. The first few times of waking up without nightmares thanks to the sand can feel like lucky occurrences, so feel free to shake off the nerves and doubt. When your eyes begin to flutter, awaken your fingers. Have them fight against grogginess and force them to reach for the sand bottle poised on the side of your bed. Uncork the bottle and dip a finger or two in, then spread the sand over your closed eyelids. The sand will be painful at first, because your eyelids have been shredded by constant blinking in and out of sleep, trying to push the nightmares away. After a while, I can guarantee you that they’ll begin to feel like mere pinpricks. They are a necessary weight, if you want to make it through the night silently. Go to sleep, just like that. Don’t think about the recurring dreams of being choked by seaweed, your bones washing up on the shore like a gift to keep your family in line. Stop reliving a tsunami picking you apart or a typhoon’s waves playing a game of catch and throw with your body. Tonight, none of them will haunt you. In fairness, a worry might be that you are an active sleeper. Martine is like that – when we were small enough to share a bed, if I didn’t wake up from her horrified shouts, then I’d be jolted awake as a stray limb whacked my face. It’s half the reason why my nose is flat; the other is because of the typhoon a few years back, crushing Martine and I under the floorboards. Even if you think you’re likely to turn


up on the packed ground by morning, don’t worry. Once the sand is over your eyes, you’ll receive the gift of an empty dream. This is the best the sand gives Martine. We’ve ringed the entire island and scoured the depths for different variations of sand. Bottles have been filled and emptied. Variations of scorched and sunken sand have been mixed in vials by two desperate, hopeful daydreamers. No matter the combination, the result is always the same: a blank slate after a long day of worrying. It’s good for me, seeing Martine with sand swiped over her eyes, to keep me from remembering. It’s perfect for her, I know. Martine can brave tidal waves tugging down boats, roofs being ripped off pillars, and bodies of fishermen bobbing up after a storm, without expecting these realities to merge with her fantasies. She is still scared when these things happen, but not of what will haunt her after. For you, since you haven’t lived here as long as us, it should be enough.


Lara Spronken slower Photograph


In the S o f t P a r t o f t h e N i g h t BY HANNAH BARDHI

Your arms, usually busy with creation, surrender to my sides. And here I am, pretending to watch the ceiling instead of your shirtsleeves. Watching sleeping veins poke through like mountain crests. Watching the lava lamp roll over each peak and valley, desperate as the tail end of a search party. As the light separates us from the night in pink, orange, and red, I tell you of the dream where I am prying my way through a forest. Every night the clearing at the end smells like you: fresh laundry, fresh money, fresh air. Every morning I wake up, still holding my breath. In the soft part of night, I am pretending not to love all the wrong parts of ourselves. Your chest rising under white sheets, your heart tired of trying to outsmart mine. And your arms, still upturned, waiting. I unplug the lamp, and we are just two bodies, helpless to what the moonlight chooses to remember.


Leavin g N e x t F a l l f o r Univer s i t y BY Zoe lathey

My mother makes bread some Sundays in the fall, the air sounds of kneading dough, rolling pins, the mutter of ingredients under her breath. She tells me the yeast is alive, crackling and bubbling as it feasts in sugar in water. When the timer dings and the dough has risen, she will roll it and shape it, with wet hands, then use a serrated knife to score it. My mother holds me tight, in the cold kitchen, my feet bare on winter tiles, she will say she’ll miss me, and she’ll cry, as I pat her back, reassuring her I’ll call home. My mother will ask if it smells good, as the room grows golden and warm, she will ask me again as I eat it, Dancing Queen loud in the background. I’ll bake with her these Sundays, the dust filters through the windows against her skin and we’ll sing along to ABBA and she’ll tell me, yeast is living and eating. We are eating.


Avery Sullivan The Library Painting


Preser v e d BY HANNAH wehrUng

When I am seven years old, my grandmother teaches me to make strawberry preserves; slushing red and sugar glazed, not because she needs me to know, but because it is nonetheless needful: how she prepared my father’s breakfasts one hundred 6 A.M.s, the broadcast baseball swats and shouts carrying quietly in the still air of an unlit, wooden hall. This is the first real recipe I ever follow for myself, and this, wonderfully, is untrue— Grandmother cups my small hands around the berries as we wash them, pulls me away before they mush. Her blue-veined arms reach higher than mine ever will to the sugar jar shyly hidden behind an old sewing tin, just as they did when she picked these jolly fruits from a wide brush I’d never known. In the morning, not knowing if she’s slept, I spoon strawberry preserves, made-from-scratch from the little earth of her backyard, onto round pancakes that she taught me how to flip: gently, not too rough, hand firm over spatula and she tells me about a photo of my dad on the mantle. Seventeen years old with his prom date in one arm, her skirt kept like that with something, imagine something like a hoola-hoop, she says. She says that the girl couldn’t get out of the car without nearly breaking it. I could never! I insisted, watched her lips make a small, blue frown as she watched me imagine a life impossible. Now, I am seventeen. The little earth of my Grandmother’s house


I think to have some strawberry preserves before I remember: see the Florida crowding at this kitchen window, a kitchen table with no chairs, no roundness. To the table I say, I’m listening, now. I’m listening, now. To what? My father takes a long breath behind me, says, have you fixed anything good?


Sara Jacks The Fox and the Grapes Painting


2020 Middle School Writing Contest Élan celebrates the work of students between 6th and 8th grades in our annual Middle School Writing Contest. The winners of the contest are awarded a certificate and publication of their work on the Élan magazine website. Below is a listing of this year’s winning pieces. To read the work of these talented young writers, visit our website at www. elanlitmag.org. FIRST PLACE WINNER “Grief” by Janna Tannous SECOND PLACE WINNER “Questions of the Youth” by Erion P. Sanders THIRD PLACE WINNERS “The Roaring Himalayas” by Rehan Sheikh “Untitled” by John Walker


ĂŠlan (Ä -län): n. 1. enthusiastic vigor and liveliness. 2 .distinctive style or flair. 3. an international student literary magazine.



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