To the artists and teachers who make what we do possible, we thank you and hope this book inspires all who read it.
Editors-in-Chief Sarah Buckman Mariah Abshire Jordan Jacob Layout & Design Taylor Austell Website Savannah Thanscheidt Poetry Grace Green Anna Dominquez Fiction Rey Mullennix Ruvi Gonzalez Creative Nonfiction Shamiya Anderson Art Kathleen Roland Social Media Madison George Briana Lopez Submissions Chrissy Thelemann Public Relations & Marketing Stephanie Thompson
Contents Show Me Canada, Show Me Trees Jacob Dvorak
Rhiannon Robert Tucker
outgrown Dean Symmonds
The Boy with the Woven Boat Gabriela Maduro
Bridge Rosy Roberts
The Ear Game Cody Williams
Aubade to Kite Rey Mullennix
Vulnerable Sam Jaffe
The Taxi Driver Stephanie Thompson
Lonely Yasmine Andii Sajid
Story Told in Blue Brandon Abrams
Michal Katherine Clark
The Evergreens Cody Williams
Cover Philip Giangrosso
daughter of zeus, lover of mine Jessica Prescott
Burning Anna Kingsley Taylor Austell
Breaking Separation Robert Tucker
Until the Fire Returns Amy Duncan
Cleanse Devyn Burgess
The Art of being a Woman Kathleen Roland
The Backseat Gabrielle Smith
Dandelions Devyn Burgess
Mid-June on Dutton Island Kathrine Clark
The Siren Dayi Fu
The Belt of Venus Alexis Williams
Self-Destruction Jessica Floyd
A Poem in Stages Briana Lopez
Dust Bowl Landon Gay
Salad Days Kiersten Mercado
Summer on Pine Hill John DeCerce
17 Mile Monterey Rosy Roberts
Marks of the Summit Zarra Marlowe
Furry Implications Logan Monds
On the Fourth of July Briana Lopez
Sunday Afternoon Ryan Widgeon
Visiting Hours Tatiana Saleh
Instructions for a Teenage Rebellion Kelsey Johnson
Illumination Jose Chavez
Punching in the Dark Brooke Azzaro
Ideal Hallucination Katie Hecht
Daydreams Dayi Fu
Retention Pond Savannah Thanscheidt
Daddy Callie Hitzing
Teeth Kiersten Mercado
Still Brooke Azzaro
Growing Up with Guns Madison George
Philip Screaming Robert Tucker
Congregation of Sinners Chelsea Ashley
Shadows II Sam Jaffe
The Gulf of the Greedy Ationette Adkins
Paper Family Destiny Reid
Triangles Jesse Bassett
Lost Goddess of the Moon Grace Green
Migration Taylor Austell
Lost Soul Ilyana Richie
Show Me Canada, Show Me Trees Jacob Dvorak
A kind of patrol, our quick hands lifting paper from leaves and blades. The sun hidden by trees, shards falling to stiff frosted grass. Pale flat fishes in the sky, shadowed clouds, we gathered and bagged and looked behind. Boots covered with pale mud and water. Some stars, blinking, (pink and yellow) worlds among the blackness we carried, our torn-paper gathered and damp from the ground. We stopped at light noon, flowers falling from the astounded, those things we cleaned, lilies floating and dry, their advice is hurried, not at all. They flutter dimly, searching. The two of us could go, we realize, go from here to cover from the trees and drink from our river. Spirits could do that, their arms shaking, from their mouths this ragged scream. But we are not those. We return at night, a full silence with us, houses dark and large, and we wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t leave.
Robert Tucker 9
outgrown Dean Symmonds
My god is golden-flecked and unpretty. his Wings hang from silver hooks sunken into flesh. his back curves like roots of cypress, and his Crown is littered with lavender buds, and every spring, Roses split his ears. Each eve, Moon in his mouth, he’d sing of the chosen ones—david’s butterflies weaved into wheat hair like a crown, abraham’s lids studded with stars—My god grew me slow—he’d sing me soft with sweet Floods and drowned Apples, slip silver hymns into my ear; whenever I slept I Sang gomorrah, goliath, sweeping pillars of salt, isaac’s Life whittled to the width of his father’s knife— My still god weaved me from silver and tulle, he wore me frayed— My still god bathes in gold and eats pale stars with sharp, Human teeth. he perches on my nighttime sill and begs for love like Storms beg for blood, he begs light—screams when his skin rips, and only the Trees mourn; when his Wings flap, barely a bird calls; and when he’s gone, I tear sleep-songs from my ears, and hear.
The Boy with the Woven Boat Gabriela Maduro
he idea of an eventual life on California’s golden shores festered in Jiang’s subconscious. Jiang yearned for a new existence, colored by red fluorescent lights that spelled out “Chinatown” across paved streets. He wanted to make a life for himself that stemmed beyond a village caked with mud and a city tainted with sin. Jiang was now a man, and he viewed his village as poison. He saw many other men, faces shining bright with the flattering complexion of youth, waste their lives away. They trekked to and from the city every day to do the filthiest, most demeaning of jobs, only to come home to run-down huts and hungry children. Their necks grew into tiny hunches on their backs, and their hair fell out in clumps, leaving starling spots of white all over their scalps. Jiang encountered these men asleep on the sides of the road like the most primitive of animals, too exhausted to go on. Muscle dissolved into skin that hung in loose bunches around one’s face, and various diseases stole these men’s lives. A final rest in one’s coffin was preferable to even one more hour of hard labor. Jiang promised himself he would never be reduced to such a state. He would escape this perpetual filth and find a world that extended past the streaked windows of his fish shop. His fifth grade teacher was one of the few other villagers who had made the journey before him, and in the weeks before his departure, he infused Jiang with images of the glorious continent that lay at his disposal just across the sea. The teacher shared stories of noodle shops where all one had to do was wait tables before receiving countless tips, and a government that
made sure that one received a minimum wage. He spoke of the cars one could buy for cheap there, so that no one had to make the long treks working men in the village had to endure daily. The teacher’s greatest fantasies were about the young, unmarried girls who were eager to find a husband so long as he was a respectable, workingclass man. Every day after work, Jiang ventured into the forest, gathering large banana leaves for the boat and sewed them together until his fingers were so swollen with blisters that he could no longer pick up the needle. Jiang’s skin grew swollen with muscles as he dragged the foliage through the forest. On his last day working at the fish shop, Jiang stole a pair of metal oars that had leaned along the walls of the workroom for as long as he could remember. He thought of a last minute plan to steal a motorized fishing boat too, but the keys were locked away in his boss’s office. His boss was a tiny, wrinkled old man with a temper so infamous it was rumored that the gods themselves trembled when he raised his voice. It didn’t take long for Jiang to get to the beach the next morning. He gingerly stepped over his mother on his way out of the hut, mourning her sickly figure, before grabbing ahold of his boat and dragging it behind him. Whispers of the beach’s shores began at his tiny hut, and he soon reached the piles of seaweed that reached up to the knee. As the waves lapped at his feet, Jiang stood still in a prayer, holding the boat steady in front of him and envisioning the beautiful life that lay before him. Then he opened his eyes, pushed the boat out into waist-deep water and hopped in, pants clinging uncomfortably to his legs. Tiny fish swarmed around the mast of the boat, thumping
“Jiang imagined that perhaps the gods themselves had come down to claim his life.”
against it as they escorted Jiang through the water. The waves were lazy swells, easy to paddle through, and Jiang took this to be a good omen. There wasn’t even a breeze in the air and Jiang fantasized, if one was tracing his path from above, his progress would be a perfectly straight line. Jiang continued like this for hours, shoulders bobbing up and down, even in the hot face of the sun. The shift came slowly, first as a whisper and then violently. The slight breeze that Jiang barely noticed developed into ripples and eventually fullon waves. Jiang looked around frenziedly in all directions, searching for a rational explanation. Seeing nothing but waves before him, all sorts of wild fantasies came to mind—stories his mother told him as child about the wrath of the gods against insolent mortals. Terrifying shapes lurked behind each swell. A giant, greyish figure began at the horizon and slowly moved towards him. Jiang imagined that perhaps the gods themselves had come down to claim his life. Yet Jiang’s arms continued to move, accustomed to laboring as his mind wandered elsewhere. The only concept worse to Jiang than being swallowed up by the gods was being pushed off course, and he was determined not to let sheer, childish terror mark defeat. The grey figure slowly came into clearer view, and Jiang decided to himself that if the gods had really come for him, at least he would die a romantic death. Anything was better than the slow, torturous death that would have awaited him back in the village. Jiang could not help but laugh at himself when he realized what the grey figure really was. It was not a god at all, but a fishing boat, and coming straight towards him. A figure stood at its mast, studying Jiang closely with binoculars. Jiang waved with excitement, thinking that maybe the trip was much shorter than the villagers made it out to be, and that he had already reached the golden land. The fishing boat idled its engine as it came close, and Jiang ran his tongue over his teeth, wanting to savor the words he had waited so long to ask. “Hello,” Jiang called, “how much longer until Chinatown?”
The blurred figure set down its binoculars in surprise, before giving Jiang a long stare and emitting a hearty laugh, saying, “Foolish boy. You must be from the village. Even with that paddle boat, you’re no more than fifteen minutes away from the Chinese shore.” And with that, Jiang looked behind him, only to find the white sands of the beach beaming within swimming distance. The oars, slick with the warm sweat of Jiang’s palms and tainted by the essence of his village, dropped from his hands and into the sea. Their rust gleamed like gold through the refracted sunlight, bouncing off the scales of the tiny fish that passed by.
Rosy Roberts 13
The Ear Game Cody Williams
eat poured through my window and onto my muddy face, forcing me to wake up like it knew what torrential darkness had been roaming throughout the house. I had been dreaming. I was in a vineyard, where a tall and graceful man with a skinny straw like neck and a woman in a plastered prune colored dress were sitting on a pile of grapes, which rose and multiplied, their round and plump faces the size of a veteran’s ankles. The two had seemed to be acquainted with each other with a sort of awkward moving of the eyes, like realizing that they were characters, and hence unimportant. As the grapes burgeoned, they expanded until they burst into an exaggerated ocean. While the woman struggled to keep to the surface, the man paused, then swam away like it hurt to be saved. And now there was a burning sensation in my eyes, and I decided that it was from all the juice I drank last night. I was a juice addict, as my father called me. Back then, we’d get it in the jumbo bottles they sold at Sam’s. He’d say, “Order up!” and I’d pretend to order from one of those pubs on TV. “A nice and easy,” I’d say, and he’d slide me a glass of juice as it sloshed all over the kitchen table. I’d drink wildly, getting splotches of purple all over my shirt. “An art,” he’d say, “spontaneous little marks like finger paint.” He said I was spontaneous, a happy mistake. Momma would come in, saying “Freaking Fargo,” her lips like dark and sugary blueberry bubblegum, and with a tired clap, she’d go to her room and not come out until it was time to eat. I didn’t like when she yelled. I’d hear my father’s soft tone seeping under the doorway, mellow, spread out under momma’s shrill but tired and unreasonable voice, until finally, at the front door one night, her voice had no room to grow in the wide spaceless world beyond home.
But the house was far from what I’d gotten used to now, the loud back and forth abounding, and rising in the front door. I could hear momma’s shrill voice, her saying the same thing over and over. “Just don’t. Please, go.” And each time, a farther reach to a crescendo. “Just don’t! Please, GO!” These were the words I’d hear in the ear game. It was something my father taught me to do in situations like these, and I could imagine that at the other side of the doorway, he was pushing the inside flaps of his ears in and out, letting the sound truncate and sprinkle like tiny grains of glass. A kaleidoscope effect. I did this every time, half smiling, because I remembered the juice and the sloshing, but I also imagined the way my father would crumble under her words, and I didn’t want to see him so vulnerable. But I was tired of waiting. I wanted to see him. Slipping into the front, where my mother stood, flailing her arms and crying, what I saw and heard suddenly brought that sour taste on my bottom lip, how the taste of grape had soured. How the jugs of juice were now fancy, half empty bottles with skinny necks. She was screaming,“Just please, don’t go,” at an empty doorway. I stepped away, caught in between something of a world too surprising to be real, but too real to be completely true. “But that’s how it always is. One day, you’re seeing one thing, and the next, something completely different. Life is just unreal like that,” momma would say when she gave me that squinty eyed look before she hit the table hard with the bottle and sent me to bed with a swig of juice that made the house revolve around me until I went to sleep with my head spinning. I’d asked her why she wouldn’t stop – wouldn’t stop yelling. “Because I need to fill this house. I need to fill this room. I need to fill myself with what I can’t hear if I stopped.” I’d feel a lump go down my throat like a large grape to the empty pit of my stomach, like I was supposed to know what this meant, but had nothing to digest it with. She’d clutch the juice tight.
“a world too surprising to be real, but too real to be completely true.”
“Because he won’t come back, no matter how many times I tell him.” Then, she’d get louder. “He won’t come back!” That night, I found her rocking and holding a bottle close to her chest like a teddy bear. “Are you okay, momma?” I asked. And she nodded wearily. “Everything’s okay, baby.” And I’d drink my juice and go to bed, waiting to push my ears in and out the next day – drink the juice – hear momma cry, hear “everything’s okay.” Until eventually, all I’d hear were fragments of my mother’s voice being swept up by the wind coming through the doorway. I’d come out as the room twirled, saying “Everything’s okay, momma. Everything’s okay.” It’s night, and momma’s in her usual place in her room with her back against the door, clutching her juice and humming softly to herself. I’m holding the bottle, sloshing the red around in my mouth. It is sour at first, but sweet, filling my stomach with something like a light heaviness I’d never known of. I’m holding it to my chest, thinking of momma, hearing bits of sirens outside like I no longer needed to play the ear game to divide the world into pieces. I’m watching the stars outside my window start to spin and dazzle. I hope daddy comes back.
Aubade to the Kite Rey Mullennix
My lips have traveled over maps of collected faces, someone new in every town, anchored only to fleeting pleasures I havenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t tasted yet. When I met you, your eyes never looked lower than the horizon, I decided then to plant myself. I told you I could help you fly, guide your way on air currents while you trusted me to ground us. But after you handed me your string and I ran with it, forcing you through head winds, it was your back tugs that prevented my getting away. You pulled enough for my feet to grab dirt and stay where you were. I pushed enough for your heart to swoon and soar, whispered lies to keep your string taut. I ran us down the wrong path, choosing the thrill of a tree branch maze. I yanked you through jagged fingers and sharp edges before you snagged and pricked on branches. I pulled until the sun came up, branches ripped holes in your skin, but I could not get you down. When the light came, I stopped, releasing your string, letting you go.
Vulnerable Sam Jaffe
The Taxi Driver Stephanie Thompson
he night crawls through the city like a fog. The taxi cab slips through the congested arteries of downtown, the sunshine yellow muted by time and dirt. The taxi driver unbuttons his shirt collar. He has been driving all night. His name is Rodney, and nights like these remind him of her. But he pushes the thoughts away again and pulls over to pick up his next passengers. The couple spills into the back. One is a girl with a voice full of giggles that drunkenly tip over her tongue, and when she says the address her words are drawn out until all that is left is her breath slipping through her teeth. Her companion speaks little, but he has the voice of money. The taxi moves smoothly back into the traffic. The sound of the woman’s voice cuts through the Pop Top 50 countdown. “I call her, every so often. Just so that she won’t get lonely. Daddy won’t talk to her anymore. Not after that surgery. No use keeping the cow if all the milk is dried up. Like a desert. Dried up like the Sahara Desert,” she trails off into hysterical laughter, eventually dissolving into hiccups. “Yes, like the desert.” The man’s voice is almost a murmur. “No, no. Not like the desert. Like Mexico. Hot sand. Brown trees. Not green trees like that one up there. Like that little tree that nice man has up there on his mirror.” “Let’s just get you home safely,” her companion says. The girl laughs chaotically and sloppily. But there is something pleasing in it. For a second Rodney mistakes her laugh for the one that woke him up every morning like sunshine, creeping through closed eyelids. He reminds himself that that laugh is miles away, in the arms of some other man who probably wears it like a blanket. Rodney
turns up the music, and stares out the window. Rodney almost sighs with relief when the voice of the woman in the backseat breaks through his thoughts. “You know, I wish all guys I’ve been with were as,” (she hiccups) “as chivalrous as you. Chivalry isn’t dead! Thank God! Thank God!” She pauses for an eternity before letting out a string of profanity. “They were terrible! The whole lot of them!” “Shh,” her companion soothes. She sighs. It’s a soft, seductive sound. Rodney tries to focus on something else besides them and their kisses in his backseat. The neon lights of the buildings lighting up like Christmas. Painted faces parading down the street. “I once loved a man believe it or not,” the woman whispers faintly like an old secret. “He was very good to me. But he was lonely, a very lonely man. Sometimes I swear I could taste sadness on him. Do you think sadness is contagious? Can it make you sick?” She cries like something broken. Once again Rodney thinks of her, not the woman in the backseat, but the one who he had carried to bed when she was too tired to walk, whose tears sparkled with rainbows, whose voice could break like glass. There is a faint rustling sound. Rodney imagines that the man in the backseat running his fingers through the woman’s hair. “It’s okay,” the man says. “I’m here. I won’t leave.” “Chivalry is not dead.” The woman calms. Minutes tiptoe past until the silence in the backseat is all-encompassing. It is a type of silence that Rodney had grown used to, the silence of something gone wrong, of two bodies lying on separate sides of the bed. Rodney wonders about the things the woman in the backseat had mentioned. He wonders about her life, forming questions in his head. He tries to come up with answers, but he was never good at understanding people. He can never find the right words. For a second Rodney feels as empty as his half-filled comforter. “Are you awake?” the man in the backseat
“For a second, Rodney feels as empty as his half-filled comforter.”
asks. “Yes.” The woman’s voice is low and soft, something childish curling over the edges of her syllables. “Are you okay?” There is the familiar and indisputable shuffling of fabric against cracked leather seats. The sound of mouths moving over each other. “No,” the man says. The woman passenger in the back lets out a short gasp and Rodney turns down the radio slightly to make the conversation more audible. “No?” she asks. “No.” He is rejecting her. “Why not?” There is that quiet again, before she says, “I’m sorry. I just don’t know how. I mean this is what guys want, right? To be kissed? Guys want to be loved. Just not in the same way women want to be loved, I suppose. We never want to be alone. I’m sorry, I know I’m babbling. But love, love is love, right?” The man does not answer for some time. He must be waiting for her house. A bed is by far preferable to backseats. There is something about finding soft pillows on the bedroom floor and being able to smell her on the sheets. Rodney hasn’t washed the sheets in weeks. Even though the trace of her is long gone, he clings to memory of it. Suddenly, it smells like loneliness. Like of easy women slipping through Rodney’s apartment doors, flimsy replicas of what he used to have. Rodney stops. They have reached their destination. The exchange of money is quick and efficient. The man overpays. Rodney holds the woman’s door open, something that he has not done in a while. But he wants to see this woman. She has cornsilk hair, dim eyes and dark freckles peppering the sharp bridge of her nose. Her mouth is thin, an unkind scratch on her narrow, flushed face. A face only excused by her smile which flashes like lightning and lingers like electricity. Rodney goes back inside the cab. “You are a good man,” the woman says to her companion, nervously fiddling with her hair. “Yes,” the man says. She pauses. “Do you want to come in?” A pause.
Then the man from the backseat kisses her. It is a simple brush of lips but Rodney’s knuckles turn white on the wheel. He wants to tell the man that soon she will start smelling like another man’s cologne. That one morning he will set her place at the table and wait at the door. But she will never come home. “Goodnight,” the man says. “Goodnight,” is the woman’s soft broken reply. Rodney thinks about what he has lost. Something inside him wants the man to go with this woman and love her. He wants someone else to wake up only to realize that she’s still gone, she no longer loves you, you are alone. He wants someone else to hurt for a change. Someone else to understand him. The man slips back into the back of the taxi and sighs. He says an address. Rodney pauses before speaking, “don’t let her leave.” “Excuse me?” the man replies. Rodney inhales deeply. He can almost smell her. “It sounds easy. It sounds stupid. Truth sounds like that. But love her as much as you can, while you can. Because once she’s gone,” Rodney feels something tighten in his chest, “she’s not coming back.” The man in the backseat is silent. For weeks, she didn’t come home, and he fell asleep on the porch steps every night, hoping to wake up to her laugh dripping into his ears like sunshine. Rodney hears it in his head, almost overshadowing the opening and closing of the taxi’s backseat door. Rodney lays his head on the dashboard. Then he lifts it, wipes his eyes, and maneuvers the taxi back onto the dark roads. He does not look back. He does not think. He just drives, eventually pulling up beside his next passengers. They note the color of the taxi, old yellow, they say, like faded sunshine.
Yasmine Andii Sajid Everyday, a sunrise demands it be praised, a sunset demands it be marveled, and a night sky demands it be awed. I’m constantly occupied with the task of appreciating the sheer beauty of this world. If I’m lonely, it must be the loneliness feeding my heart. Feeding it the manna of time that I use to please myself, not some beer drinking, cigar smoking man. Time to appreciate the simplicity and contentment of isolation, the peace that floods my morning coffee . If I’m lonely, it’s with these thoughts that scurry on the cold marble floor, in the late night of the early morning that know— it’s not time to trouble about my ex husband’s dirty underwear that he always left sitting on the floor by the laundry basket but never in it. And it’s not time to anguish over the dirty plates he placed on the counter instead of in the sink only a footstep away. And it’s not time to fret over if the neighbours could hear his filthy slurs behind closed doors and thin walls. And it’s not time to cry over being shoved against walls and against my beliefs. And it’s not time to seethe over being constantly ridiculed and taunted. Everyone does get lonely once in a while, but not for him. I’m not lonely for him.
Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m lonely for a body, for interlocked fingers and warm grasps. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m lonely for sharing sandwiches and crips at lunch. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m lonely for waking up to kisses on the nose and waffles for breakfast. But no, I am not lonely for him. I am not lonely. I am liberated and able to relish in the ample freedom that is independence.
Story Told in Blue Brandon Abrams
Katherine Clark 1 Samuel 18:21-22 Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. 21 “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” 1 Samuel 19:13 My father is waning as my King grows brighter but He is rugged divinity, His battle-calloused hands caress tender hymns on harp strings, He is holy temptation bathed in Philistine blood and my heart is beating in tongues. In the morning, He will be gone, blessing eyes far from these, I hold the teraphim to my breast the entire night, the illusion closer than He’s yet dared to come. 1 Samuel 25:44 This one is kind and soft-spoken. he holds me like his bible with reverent trepidation but I don’t know how it feels to be opened. his warm breath dulls the sharpened blade he lays between us each night. It is our last. The King comes to reclaim me at dawn. he follows the procession screaming, weeping, mourning the loss of his greatest good deed. 2 Samuel 6:16 I am a white flag stained with the blood turned cold in my royal veins. I swaddle His children, her children, not knowing the weight of a swollen belly only how to hold them so they stop weeping. He dances before the ark. Bloody sunlight smiles upon him as if God Himself grins. He moves, primal, bare, and entirely not mine.
The Evergreens Cody Williams
he forest is ringing again, five slow chimes, and flocks of fowl fly restlessly in the open, tired air. Mom is sleeping away on some sarcastic prayer. It is hurting her, like some beautiful anger stirred in the petals all scattered on a table beside her from some wearisome redbud. And like a prayer, her eyes just drift off, like being locked onto someone far away. “There has to be some humanity,” she must think. She has a gaze like her thoughts are asters, and hydrangea, and phlox, but none of them sounding familiar when she’d hear them being called by a soft voice on the Discovery Channel. “Damn demons!” she’d say. “A trick of the eye,” like the medicine in the center of a red lollipop in floral wrapper, a bow on the back of a patchy head, velvet sheets over a canyon. They were reflections, red and yellow and blue unnatural reflections, the ones that caused glaucoma. She’d warn me about them on the days when we’d go venturing in the garden, and I had been sitting too close to the TV. It was spring, 1980, when we’d gone out, and the rhododendrons were reddening, rosing over in blush. She’d grown keen to them and like always, she bent down, touched the stem of one of the white rhododendrons still in bloom and blushing, and whispered “he died in the Evergreens on a Sunday.” She didn’t talk much after that, just sat on a patch of ground, her eyes descending with the weight and wetness of light dew. There was a mist around her, and I was inhaling, trying to thrive and move in a space where the air was a wall. But rose had turned to crimson, and something crept under the loud ringing coming up and out of the trees. “I want you to meet my father.” We hadn’t packed much, but water
cleansers and a few hunting tools. There was a sea sky, the color of blue eyed mary’s, and we’d been trekking the hillside for a while, stepping over bluets, brushing past ferns and lemon colored pansies. She’d been looking at the ground, having conversations under her breath and pausing periodically, feeling the wind with a wet finger. “It’s gentle,” she said, “like feeling for gardenia leaves.” Light currents carried us the rest of the way there, and my mom, with the circling of a foot, had made good with the ground. Her father was an explorer, she told me, who, every day, would bring her “red rose gentians from mommy”, who’d had a bullet slip through her head when she was 33, like some game too soon in the path of eager hunters. She said he was a wild man, a redhead with long hair and the tendency to say anything. They’d pick flowers together, giving asters their secrets and exchanging each other’s flowers, like a cacophony of hidden whispers. “Even now,” she said, “I feel like the forest is trying to love me.” He was found one day in the Evergreens with black in his veins, holding gentias. The Evergreens picked up aggressively, and the leaves and brushes stirred, with bare steps, small rustling, in the sound of approaching, like a graceful animal. A long-haired, gray-headed man with a charcoaled face and bare chest rested his foot on a large rock near where we sat. “Halito,” he said. He asked us what we were doing out in the woods, cringing at our dinner plans. He’d much prefer his nuts, berries, and dry vegetables, saying “we and ‘they’ would appreciate it.” He was a botanist at heart, and had been out exploring. After we declined, he forced a smile, like he knew not to ask a second time, and headed north on bare stride, always looking back. My mom was blushing, noticing small wisterias on the back of a tree, and whispering again, like the whole thing had happened in her head. On the brim of twilight, when the place was all nightshade, we built a fire to cook tea leaves and fox hide. A settling, calming mist had
“They’d pick flowers together, giving asters their secrets and exchanging each other’s flowers.”
wrought my mom, and in the midst of man, she was still, humming and cooking. He’d come from the trees, just standing there, overarching the fire. His shadow was a god of the ground. There was a weird bubbling, like hard water springs, slow. There was black in his eyes, and he was all gone, far removed, looking at the fox and back at her. Before I could feel her shoulder, he moved viper-like and I jerked back, rooted to the ground and being told by the earth to stay put. He was clawing her face, growling, and forcing her back on the rocks. He shook his gray locks back and forth. Red stripes streamed in lines down her cheeks, and there was a crunch like thick bark. She managed a whimper, keeping her eyes open like she wanted him to feel in her what he couldn’t possibly. And there was quiet. He stood above the mess, a watchful figure, breathing like his breath was the wind, going in and out, back and forth. He looked at her like he couldn’t believe her, and dipped into the wilderness. She was said to be paralyzed, though by what they couldn’t understand. She’d say “Father” all that week, and refused to be brought flowers until finally, she just stopped saying it. We’d always been religious, the spiritual kind of religious, and since then, I’d kept God in an old apartment some miles away from our old house, while my mother, stiff-necked with flowery gaze, slept and watched television and mocked and cried secretly. I’d believed God to be something separate, naturally unnatural, from the greenery, the phlox, the asters – the one who regulated nature and man, who protected each from the other. Out the window far by the Evergreens, there’s nothing but green, never fading or folding or brightening, not even with the seasons, odd therapy a distance away. “He’s got you,” my mom says, hanging from the side of the wheelchair. “Goddammit, He’s got you!” And the church bell rings in the trees, like it always will.
Philip Giangrosso 26
daughter of zeus, lover of mine Jessica Prescott
brother, i saw the lightning roll off your tongue in sparks your fist wrinkled with the scars of a thief snatching fragile wrists and burying them in olympian linens demeter was a corpse in your covers and persephone the skeleton she bore but brother her bones were a white winter smooth as powdered snow and your only wish was to melt her brother i loved the girl, despite every patch of skin your hatred charred black i touched her hips with ashen claws kissed her with soft death on my tongue let poseidon swallow us both and we went down, down to where salvation can only be grasped in the smoky shriek of a fleeting soul in the absence of your mighty thunder in a trembling handful of six pomegranate seedsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; (and forgive me, my love, for i did not mean to trap you in a place as cold as this fire.)
Burning Anna Kingsley Taylor Austell
Anna’s cotton blouse spun out over white hot summer while sweat stung our smoldering flesh. You could smell smoke behind her ashy gown, tailored by cotton-cut fingers, sculpting African clay in Florida’s white furnace. We hauled seventy pounds of cotton up the crumbled tabby to our Anna, blessing her with the finest plumage. You wouldn’t believe she was one of us: sweeter than cane, fire feeding to the whip over her head, hot on our bloody backs. But our oyster barracks and iron graced lawns set us on fire too— there is no incoming tide. Skin roasts, ready for the ground to devour us when we finally do burn out. Anna stands over our grave, fanning away her trail of smoke with that cotton bonnet while we’re cleaning bloody leaves from the cracks in our backs, pushing brothers and sisters in. You might not have seen the fire burn over, but it turned that sweet smelling, white-gowned woman back to black ash.
Breaking Separation Robert Tucker
Until the Fire Returns Amy Duncan
I’ve been waiting up all night, but you never showed. Oliver Tank, Up All Night The tentacles of the flames you created etched brown stains on innocent white rocks. It took seconds for pure water to find solace in the grasp of your fire, but it took hours for your warmth to find me. Your fire is strong. In your eyes, it will never die. Next to me, it is faltering. Unfailing. Blue light turned orange and your flames stretched beyond their boundaries, tasting the dirt for life-giving death: something dry. I spent hours letting my jeans soak up moisture from the portion of the bare earth we rented together for a night. I allow myself to trace your footsteps into the forest, the last ones I’ve seen in hours, with the tip of my finger as my spine feels the dampness of the soil below. I consider burning my palms with the light you’ve given me to stay alert for a few more minutes. I want to watch you emerge from the trees, as victorious as you looked when you abandoned me to seek the comfort of something even more flammable than I. You always said it was dangerous to leave fire unattended, but I can’t keep my eyes open anymore.
The Art of being a Woman Kathleen Roland
Ditch the paintbrushes, roll your sleeves up to your elbows, grind paint into the grooves of the canvas with your fists. Know there is more to being a woman than having a uterus and breasts. Paint home, sleeping soundly in your heart like Caza Azul, where women kick soccer balls in the street, and speak as intellectuals. Paint eyelids dreaming and waking in the moon’s spotlight of ambitions with a heart full of acrylic paint. Keep painting until you’ve lost at least one drop of sweat and never forget the pallet you’re working with. Never forget the diseases, the street car collisions, lousy marriages, and miscarriages. But paint them so no one can deny they ever existed.
The Backseat Gabrielle Smith
ames had been the first of the four to know Mary. Their mothers were close friends, so when they had children of the same age, they tried to get the two to bond. In the years of their early education, Mary’s hair began to turn strawberry blonde. He always watched her tiny fingers grip determinedly on oversized crayons, and take them home when she was done. Her crayon box rattled from the missing crayons, but she never seemed to notice. One day she had just finished coloring an elephant blue, and she pointed the crayon in his face. She said, “here.” The crayon was kept on the inside of his pillow case, and was sure to promise him good dreams and a good night’s sleep. He kept it all the way until his mother had taken away his pillow without his knowledge, telling him it is good to replace the pillows and mattresses after a few years as dirt and dead skin would build up on them. James was determined to find another to replace the one that had been stolen from him, but they were no longer children. Crayons weren’t used as often as they used to be. It was when they were in middle school that James noticed how her eyes would no longer meet his, as if she was always looking over his shoulder. He would sit with her at lunch and watch her talk to Sarah, who they had met in sixth grade English. Mary’s round and youthful face eliminated her smile. There was a new freckle on her face that day, number fifty seven, on the corner of her nose which was still sunburned from last week. Her and Sarah’s tan lines suggested that they went to the beach together. He remembered the days when it would be just him and Mary at the beach. It was him that she smiled at, even as he splashed her with water.
He brought it up only once; they had been giggling from a previous conversation. When they laid eyes on him, their giggling faded quickly and Mary’s eyes drifted somewhere behind his left ear. He asked if they went to the beach. Did they have fun, he inquired. They nodded. Sarah chuckled remembering something that happened at the beach and she nudged Mary. Mary rolled her eyes and poked her in the ribs. James wasn’t finished, however. He asked more about what the sand was like and how big the waves were. They all seemed to be rhetorical, as there were no replies. They had engaged in a conversation amongst themselves. James didn’t notice, he kept rambling about how great it must have been. His voice had diminished to a small mumble and even if someone managed to hear him over the roar of the cafeteria, his words weren’t comprehendible. Nevertheless, he continued his conversation. The sun was quite bright that day wasn’t it? You two sure have gotten a lot darker. Mary, you even got a sunburn. Did you put on sunscreen? You know how sensitive your skin is. I would have been there to remind you, had I been invited, but that’s okay. I’m sure you will invite me next time. Did you see any people you know at the beach? Did you make any new friends? I remember when we would always go for ice cream after the beach. To help us cool down. The sun was always flaming, and it was quite hot when we weren’t in the water. I would always have to keep asking you if you put on sunscreen. Sometimes you would lie to me and say you did, but I could already see a sunburn forming. I would always have to put the sunscreen on you myself. One day, two guys began sitting at the table. Sarah had met a guy named Derek at the beach and she thought he was really cute. Derek had a best friend named Brad who was taller, smarter, and more athletic, but Sarah liked Derek. Derek had tussled brown hair, she would say. It’s like it’s windblown. Windblown. Perfectly messy, whatever that meant. James didn’t understand girls, especially Sarah. He looked to Mary to see
“The crayon was kept on the inside of his pillowcase, and was sure to promise him good dreams and a good night’s sleep.”
if she had any idea what was happening. She was surprisingly into the conversation, just as much as Sarah was. She had boarded a ship and rocketed off to a new world beyond his grasp. She could never be too far. Their love was too pure. He studied her new behavior, and she seemed to become just as puzzling as Sarah especially when Brad was mentioned. James expected Brad and Derek to eventually fall off the trio, but they had become permanently a part of it, and seemed to fit in much better than he did. Mary had gotten taller, and Brad was the only one with his license. He had a big truck that all five of them could fit in. Driver and passenger seats, two seats in the middle, and a large seat made for three in the back. Sarah and Derek had just started dating, so Mary suggested that they should sit together in the middle. James stood awkwardly outside of the car. Mary looked at him. “You want to sit in the back, James?” Sarah began to answer for him. “No, I think he’d rather sit with yo-.” Mary patted James on the shoulder. “You can have shot gun next time, okay?” James sat in the back and looked on at the pairs before him. He would listen to their flirtatious jabs and stare at Brad’s spiked hair in the rearview mirror. They made eye contact once and Brad gave him a little nod. James nodded back. They had gotten to the mall and they all filed out from the car. They had all began walking to the entrance, while James lingered behind. He looked up from his shoes once to see Brad and Mary gone. He kept walking and in the corner of his eye, he saw Brad and Mary between two parked cars. His lips were on hers, and her arms were around his neck. James walked without looking back. The girls and boys separated, going to their own specialized stores. James followed Sarah and Mary. “Are you sure you don’t want to go with the guys?” They would ask. He would nod and follow a little behind, to give them a little privacy. Mary ran to a window and looked through the glass. Diamonds, emeralds, and rubies sparkled inside of the counter. She pointed out one to Sarah. “Look at those emerald earrings! Wouldn’t they really bring out my eyes?” They walked on talking about summer jobs and which colors that go well with their eye colors. James slinked back little further, and looked into the glass at the jewels. The girls had began to disappear around the corner, and he watched
them leave. Yes Mary, it really would bring out your eyes. If you get matching earrings, they will make your green eyes pop. It contrasts so beautifully with your hair. I remember when that hair was still blond, and I remember how it changed over time. Isn’t hair funny? I was born with black hair, and it hasn’t changed much. It’s brown now, but that is nothing in comparison to you. Fiery red hair to match your fiery personality, a flame that burns through me right to the core.
Dandelions Devyn Burgess
Mid-June on Dutton Island Katherine Clark
You wear your mother’s dress and it is the closest she’s been in days. The faded denim urges your shoulders straight, yet it drags across the earth, unable to decide between white sand or black dirt. It left us this dusty gray sediment. The blooms of spring have long seeded, leaving a vibrant, though doomed, green to my left and the intercostal to your right. Opaqued at low tide and yet a startling blue, I feel at the back of my eyes as you step deeper into the water. It turns murky in your wake. You tell me love should be free as I fumble for change, hoping the poem in my pocket is enough. You tell me the water is fresh as you reach for my salt-stung palms, leading me deeper and deeper and I can’t remember if I even know how to swim. We emerge, mud and salt covering our shins, having found no baptism in dirty water, I look for answers in your voice. I am surprised to hear yes. The rain, denim, and truth press into a cohesion I am still trying to fathom. I feel the salt wash from my skin, and you taste rain, sweet and fresh and clear.
The Siren Dayi Fu
The Belt of Venus Alexis Williams
When we first met by the bus loop in seventh grade, you were sitting cross-legged on the curb in a white ruffled dress with a hard cast sealed around your left arm. I was alone too, on the opposite side of the lawn—my crew of two algebra geeks and a Bosnian girl never seen without her ukelele were busy chasing pigeons. I ditched them and asked you what happened. You looked at me for a moment as if you recognized me but couldn’t remember where from. Finally, you smiled and said, “It was late at night. I was walking down the stairs and looking at the stars.” I apologized about your arm, and sat beside you. I soon learned that most things you said sounded like poetry, even what you whispered viciously in your sleep one night in the apartment, saying I cursed what I touched. You said, “Tus manos son negras. Asi negras. No los quiero.” A round of buses pulled into the loop then, and you swiftly stood to board yours before I could think up something to say. You’d left me just as my mother had, only not as ceremoniously and with less thought. While unpacking cardboard boxes our first night in Desert Springs, you plotted the rest of our lives on a timeline of connected successes. I told you I was afraid. You promised I’d never be empty, not with you. Cigarette breath and all, you kissed me and swiftly let go. In the mornings you stood before a tall canvas in sweats, your dark hair tied up in a mop on your head, legs covered in paint stains. I imagined you spinning in a white ruffled dress down an aisle sprinkled in tulips. I imagined a diamond twinkling on your finger. This terrified me. The day you created Venus, you began with
her eyes—two gaping, black holes. Your previous paintings were grim, prematurely-aged men with sagging wrinkles or worn joints, but she was seamless. Her skin flowed like milk, teeth dazzled, and her arms were abnormally long, extending beyond the edges of the canvas. “The belt never ends,” you said in poised concentration while I watched behind you. A can of black paint sat at your feet. You peered at me from the corner of your eye, tipped it over and stepped in. With some fancy footwork, you made intricately-shaped black smudges on the floor. “Mad?” You drew a crescent with your big toe. I shook my head. You leapt forward and shoved me. I landed on my palms in the black puddle. “Get up, loser,” you laughed, nudging my side with your knee. I stood, only to be speckled in paint by each of your fingertips—a spot on my cheek, one on my nose, and forehead until my face was grasped in your hands. I clutched your wrists and tried to pry you off, but you fought, leaning in to call me names in each ear. I brought your wrists down and twisted. You didn’t give in. I turned your right outward and your left in. If I tightened my grip, I figured, you wouldn’t let go. At some point, you wailed and collapsed to the floor writhing in pain, black paint up to your elbows. Every time I hurt you afterward, I resurfaced from the same illusion to find my hands that sick color. You rambled in a foggy mist to the ceiling hours before you died, words climbing from your lips. Your thinning locks spread from the crest of your head into tufts paled by hospital room light. Your left hand sank down the side of the mattress as you spoke. You were searching for mine. “Ahmed, I was never good with plants,” you mumbled. “You know, my abuela told me when I was seven that I’d grow old enough to see bark on our lemon trees in St. Louis, and I could read Bradbury on the branches in my fifties, like the retired ladies who wear maxi skirts and drink green tea on their front porch, except I’d be drinking lemonade made with all those lemons and I’d have a whole garden, not a stupid box dorm down the
“The day you created Venus, you began with her eyes—two gaping, black holes.”
hall from sophomore musicians who play their stupid guitars at 2 AM—” “Lucia?” I started. You continued. “We’d be settled on a fresh acre of Missouri land together, and it’d be like an indie movie. Thought of you as my mountaintop. Thought of you as my peak. Thought of you as everything,” you sang, “I’ve had, but couldn’t keep. I’ve had, but couldn’t keep.” Your fist blossomed, fingers uncurling. I didn’t want to touch you. I couldn’t listen to you anymore. I had my hand on the door. I needed to be the one who left first. On our balcony, I shattered your favorite lemonade glasses. As yellow shards scattered over concrete, you were swept into an invisible current. You were leaving. I’d been emptied of you. I’ve had the same dream every night for seven weeks. In it, we are lying in the overgrown lawn outside our middle school, watching storm clouds split and roll into one another like a time lapse. Buses pile up in the loop, but we’re alone. Wind rustles blades of grass against our skin. We are thick and heavy on the ground, souls intertwined. Two strewn mistakes. There is a blast of white light and a gust that lifts our bodies up into trees. We spin slowly in warped time, chins tucked, arms forward, on our backs. Venus’ belt of arms encases us. Fingers latch. She sings a lullaby, pale and blind with eyes that have darkened over and teeth that shine brighter than the coldest star. She laughs. Light collides. We fall. Anything left of her is trapped in dried oil paint on cheap canvases sold to the strangers who asked me about her at your viewing. The brushes went in the trash. The walls are bare. I woke from this dream to another thunderstorm this afternoon, and heard the soft hum of her voice muffled by rain. After thunder broke and it was washed away, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d heard it at all. Venus never died. When Pale Blue Eyes plays on the radio, she stretches her arms and locks them. When I bake in Tucson heat even with the Chrysler AC on full blast, she stretches her arms and locks them. The belt thrives on repetition and restless consistency. It is a time thief. You were endlessly breathless on cigarettes and the same pair of wilting lungs, wondering where the days went, one smoke after the other. I shaved and drove on flooded backroads to
the burger joint on the corner. The reflected red neon sign GENE’S GRILLE fell onto my windshield as I eased into a space and cut the engine. Gene snuck up on me at the bar and clapped his hand on my back. He’s a heavy-set man with a face like a burnt patty and a voice that rumbles deep. “Look,” he said low. “Ahmed, I’m real sorry about your girl. Hang in there, all right? Whatever you order, it’s on me.” I appreciated that, but I couldn’t find it in my throat to thank him. I try not to think about you, Lu, but I see you everywhere. I don’t eat. I’ve lost weight. It’s evening now. The sun is dwindling. Collapsed on the bathroom floor, I am one of your paintings, grim and prematurelyaged with sagging wrinkles and worn joints. I’m wet and dripping, the shower head is still running, and I hate my cursed hands. I’ll add this letter with the others under my bed, stick it in an envelope and seal it shut. I won’t go looking for it. I thought I heard Venus’ voice, so I stepped out of the hot water and listened harder, but there was no one. She didn’t need rain to wash her voice away this time. This time she seized the pause, reminded me things will always be like this—the silence before good happens, and the rotation of loss while it never does. Ahmed
Self Destruction Jessica Floyd
A Poem In Stages Briana Lopez
I. The winds softly ruffle my leaves, pattering gently in the moving air, silky edges curling inwards with each stir of the wind. The sun does wonders. Reviving limp rose petals and delicate leaves. Guiding a new sprout from beneath, as it rises above the ground to its first glimpse at this world. A faint grey cloud moves before the sun as the wind quickens. II. The wind forcibly rips each of the leaves off of my stems. With each gust, sap spews from my veins. With another tug of the wind, I tumble across pavement, the gale dragging me along. III. The air finally calms. Earth still shaking. Plants uprooted by the storm. My leaves and petals scattered along the base of the flowerbed. Beneath the stray leaves sits newly moist soil, softened by the rain. The sun now beaming above,
in this sky. Following this spring storm, my bare stems and closed bud call for attention. The bees become busy again, exchanging pollen from rose to rose. Above me, a nimbus cloud prepares to precipitate.
Dust Bowl Landon Gay
The break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath. John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath In a bare, stricken field, a man pounds a dull metal plow into barren ground. His arms swing like a minute hand. Hour after hour he beats on the red crust. His plow chips the surface, the sound of devil’s heckle. Hot dust fills in the crease above his brow. The wrinkled skin of his knuckles suction tight around bones. Palms bind, blisters blood with a splintered wooden handle. He heaves a limp loose body pleading with the soil. The three cotton dresses tumbling, scuffing on the crust, and the oven smoke sifting through split pine walls lifts his plow. In a low muted heave he labors, “we’ll live off the fat of the land.” As the western sun throbs a wave of white heat, the man leans over his plow, sweat drips from his upper lip. For a moment a small speck of soil is lush, and brown; the kind that cakes your hands, nurtures a soft white farm house, grows green grass embracing the stumble of three young children. But as the sun blazed on the dream quickly evaporated. His home still a quivering stack. From the fields burst thickets, but he swings again, pulls up dust and clay, pleading the land to produce. To nurture the fall of those three cotton dresses stained red.
Summer on Pine Hill John DeCerce
I. Snow has never been God’s strongsuit. The painter may breathe leaves onto their canvas, and the printer carve a branch into wood, though nothing seems arising from the diploma of either artist. Thus, when God sees his chance, he takes it, whipping snow into air, thrusting away whatever coughing heat was already struggling to stand in the face of the coming winter. To glare at it, dead eyes forward, is the essence of audacity. Humans have always been particular with such things; at least the heat is prepared to go when ice falls. Audacity is why we observe art rather than become it, why we seek aesthetics to the point that we are willing to force belief that struggle is sacerdotal. It is why God does not cause snow to fall save he needs a masterpiece. The trees, lacking audacity, do not care what is true or is not. Touching planet to space, they become art. When we reached the tracks, I set my notebook down and looked about. White ash and green ash rose against each other, stretching in an intertwining competition. Red maples surrounded us like steam surrounds a teabag, their armies standing miles out. The others sat on the rails whose last train I imagined must have had a red carpet trailing behind it. It rained, Robert told us, Forty minutes ago. It was supposed to rain? No, he said, That’s not what was forecasted. The six of us exchanged glances more skeptical than nervous. Leaves can take on snow but the weight doesn’t make them any less beautiful. The sunlight fell in blankets, angling through twigs suspended above us. We began walking again. Each grain of earth we treaded over gave way to three more feet in altitude, means for us to form a slower group. Those hikers with more care for the sky than the
ground had left us minutes upon, before we had so much crossed the bridge onto the mountain. They were trying to escape the world, I fancied. But then, who forecasts for Upstate New York? he asked us. Nature favors the bold, he declared, as if having won an extensive debate, and I eyed the tracks. As we left them, they disappeared into the wood’s decreasingly audacious vanity. And the temperature? It’ll stick, get colder as we climb, but it won’t rain so I think it’ll be worth our while. I nodded, looking forward. This time we joined together. Nature favors the bold, we proclaimed. II. My notebook was my most powerful asset, the pen my medium. Generally I’d have been writing about which ever travesty I’d faced last week, but this pen said more on what my rationale was willing to process than what my memory was pleading to recount. Ayn Rand said that we live empirically and understand rationally, that art arises from perception for comprehension: personally moving forward was about knowledge. And she was right. I wrote because I wanted to understand where I was, not where I had been, and the notebook put what I saw and felt to words. It didn’t take analogies or clever metaphors. If I was honest with the notebook, it would tell a new story, more reasonable than the last but whose subjectivity knew where it was headed. When the world oscillated I wrote what I sought. I turned my head for that, although some say art lets us transcend reality I stayed firmly where I was. Nothing is an absorbing process, because if we’re audacious enough, the birth of presence from absorption denotes that we should find presence elsewhere. Regardless, I found difficulty in comprehending how far I was from the mountain’s base. I was getting higher every moment. We eventually approached the ski lodge, which looked as abandoned as Robert told us it was. He’d given us a comprehensive history of the mountain in the past twenty minutes, explaining from its rise above sea level to the 1950s, when it was bought by a country club. The club liquidated, skiers continued appearing in the winter. Pine
“When the world oscillated, I wrote what I sought.”
Hill became a ghost town. We were tourists, at best, Pine Hill desolate enough for the owner of the local gas station to inform us that Rick had bought the last lighter fluid. Presumably, this was the nearest Rick in sixty miles. To those who stay, society becomes transcendental. They lose the audacity. There is a plain which we came to, a few hundred feet beneath the summit. We thought it could go on forever, so we pressed the wind against our shoulders and I clutched the notebook between my fingertips and my arm and we ran. It was audacious, it was human, the pusillanimous embodiments of life around us, in their struggle to survive, became art; trampling reeds beneath our soles, we observed, because that was the most risqué thing to do in the face of a coming winter. Robert checked the weather again. Clear skies. III. Pine Hill was a Bell Jar in every way. The residents lived unfathomable lives – not even the notebook could tell what anyone could do in such a place. Store windows had no merchandise, but June 2003’s sale was still boldly advertised, and the fire department, which I presumed was the only viable career in the area, rang out its alarms to test them just prior to lunch each day. We could hear them go off then. They sounded like bomb sirens. They sounded like the entire mountain would be enflamed in minutes, that it would crumble under the weight of all Guernica’s corpses. Sadistic or else, that’s all the town was worth. The townspeople were ignorant as children. Robert received a text. We can go to the top, he told us, Because we have until six. What time is it now? Six-forty. It wasn’t common for us to be late. Robert supposed this could be all the times we should’ve been late condensed to a moment, considering we wouldn’t be again. Hell, Pine Hill was small enough you couldn’t be late to something there if you were within a vicinity. Dinner was not imperative. We set to the peak. The hike there was silent. Prior had we talked economics and taken pictures. Now, I did not even write. We merely looked, up, down, left, further left, sometimes so far left we’d come back round to looking left. We weren’t – or at least, I
wasn’t – leaving until we saw what there was to see, but I didn’t know if I wanted to keep my eyes opened. I could no longer deny how far from sea level I was now, the notebook becoming more so a rejection of the past’s existence than a release. I went to the mountains because a) I wanted to live deliberately, b) because nature favors the bold, c) for truth is objective and d) because I wanted to physically transform into Henry David Thoreau. My list was getting longer; I was feeling more like James Joyce than Walt Whitman; we walked higher. I realized it didn’t matter what I wanted. That’s another thing about audacity: it minds truth and not desire. As we approached the peak, we should have seen the last rays of the sun. The trees overhead had covered the sky. Robert looked at his phone, eyes widened – someone had finally forecasted for Upstate New York. He dropped it in apparent shock looked up skies overhead darker than they were before, much, far above clouds not too much the opposite of high just on top of us and we were on top of the world. Like looking out a plane window in a storm save there’s no roof and you can only descend fast as the group can move as a collective. There’s not a lot to see from the top of Pine Hill, but we revived the opportunity to watch snow fall from there. I wanted to be Thoreau because e) I wanted to overcome how intrinsically linked I was to where I had been. I went to the mountains to prove to myself that it was something I couldn’t do. The rest of the group had already started back, audacity flown, but I didn’t feel it was time to follow yet. The wind whistled around me like every soul to have been on the Hill was screaming for me to get away from this place, and I could hear the thunder roll across drafts of hail. Snow has never been God’s strongsuit. Becoming new has never been mine. I tossed the notebook away and turned around.
17 Mile Monterey Rosy Roberts
Marks of the Summit
(after Jack London’s Call of the Wild) Zarra Marlowe
I travel into the tundra with nothing for warmth and a white-cover book in my hand. Having created no means of escape, no way to pack up my memories and ship them back home. I have not wings to give me flight; I am here until the end. Six hours until the sun shakes awake, fewer before my body will be frozen in its place. I won’t make it to morning. My ideals have burrowed too deeply, sharp and slick, maggots in a corpse. So I will meet a man’s end: hard, purposeful, bitter. I start up again, shifting ice, slipping into the smooth movements, crunching thin frosted water beneath my bare feet. Knowing. There are worse ways to die.
Furry Implications Logan Monds
had to say bye to my dog Sam today. He was my favorite dog because he was my daddy’s. Sam was so furry and big, but he felt more like sandpaper than skin. I love how his mouth had pearl teeth in it. But I don’t love that he had to leave, especially since it’s mostly Josh’s fault. Josh is a kid in my class who lives next door. He told his Mama and Daddy that Sam bit him, so they called the dogcatcher. People like Josh’s parents hate Sam because he is called a “pit bull,” like the people before Daddy who cut Sam’s ears. Josh deserved to get bit. He makes my hands shake like the washing machine at night, when it makes monster noises and hits the wall because Daddy forgot to nail it to the floor before he left, even though he said he wouldn’t. It covers up Mama’s voice when she locks herself in her room and cries at night. Mama and the dogcatcher were in my yard when the school bus dropped me off today. He was leaned against his van, a picture of a dog licking at his cheek. He had a gross smile like the Grinch and his hair was globby spaghetti. His hat must have gone through the washer because it was droopy like puppy ears. I asked Mama if the dogcatcher was taking Sam and she said that Sam was going somewhere where they would take good care of him. I hope so because the dogcatcher seemed like a mean man, though I was scared when Daddy left too. Maybe Sam is going somewhere like Daddy, to help people everywhere. I got on my knees beside Sam because Mama and the dogcatcher were still talking. Sam smiled at me, the way dogs do when they know what you’re feeling. His mouth was open and pink, and he gave me a rough lick on the cheek. I usually get irritated when he does that because I read about the germs living in spit, but this time I
hugged him. The fur of his neck wiped his slobber off my face. “You’ll be fine, okay?” I said when the tears started shoving their fingers in my eyes. It isn’t because crying is for babies that I hate it so much; I hate it because it stings. It stings like when I got stung by a wasp on the foot. I stepped on the wasp and reduced it to mush, a spatter on the cement. I started crying because it hurt. My daddy was still home then, so he ran outside and grabbed me to ask what was wrong. He asked where it hurt, and how much it hurt. I told him that my foot was okay, but I felt really bad for killing the wasp. He laughed and called me a “Buddhist” while he flattened a BandAid against my heel. But even with the Band-Aid on, I didn’t feel any better about killing the wasp. It wasn’t the kind of hurt that was on skin or in blood. It was something achey that made my head hurt and my stomach sick from wondering about the wasp’s family and if it had children to feed. I asked my teacher about it one day, and she told me that it was about having a “conscience.” I don’t want a conscience if it hurts so much. Both my mama and I are familiar with this sting, especially back when I didn’t know why Daddy was leaving. Now I know that they give him special uniforms that are the colors of the woods, and they give him a gun. He didn’t hear very well last time we talked on the phone, two months ago. Mama had to keep repeating that my birthday was soon and that he should come back for it. The people at his job send us things in the mail all the time. When he first left, they sent us letters and forms that Mama sometimes read to me, and we would laugh at the big words. One time, they sent us a pretty badge for Daddy to put on his service jacket when he got home. And just three weeks ago, they sent us an American flag that was folded into a triangle. It seems like he has it good up there, in “deployment.” Mama and I were both stinging bad when the dogcatcher asked if Sam would need restraints for the ride back to the shelter. Mama wiped her eyes
“Even with the sun burning from the inside, she stayed silent as a tree, like a witness.”
off on her flowery sleeve and told the dogcatcher that Sam was a good dog. Sam shouldn’t leave at all. I hugged Sam’s neck harder, even though his fur was sandpaper. His heart sounded big, so big that I could hear it even from holding him by the neck. I remember when Mama first got Sam for Daddy, when he was a puppy and Daddy smoked cigars. Sam’s fur was a lot softer then, like sheets and whipped cream and the smell of grass. Daddy and Sam would sit together sometimes, and watch the sun burn the clouds into ashes and stars. They liked the company they shared. Mama and I would watch them from the window, and she would tell me that dogs like Sam are misunderstood. People like Daddy could overlook breed, and that was the sort of person we needed to fight for us in places like Afghanistan. Mama said that she wouldn’t have it any other way. But her eyes had red cracks of lava in the white parts when the dogcatcher told her that Sam was being taken, regardless of her prayers. Even with the sting burning from the inside, she stayed silent as a tree, like a witness. Maybe she was quiet like this all the time, and I was hearing the washing machine screaming instead of her. Maybe it was my own crying, on the nights when I could imagine the highway rushing with light and tires, when I could imagine my dad coming back. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to. Mama finally asked the dogcatcher about the word “euthanize,” which sounded like a very beautiful word. It was beautiful in the way of invisible letters, like in the words “Chevrolet” and “lasagna.” It had to mean something nice. The dogcatcher called for Sam. I gave Sam one last kiss on the nose for good luck, like Daddy always did to Mama when she left for work in the morning. I let go of him. As he bounded to the dogcatcher, I thought about the other people who I let go of. Saying goodbye to Mama on dewy mornings when she drops me off at the bus stop. Waving to Daddy from the window because it is raining and I do not want to catch pneumonia. Hugging Sam because I can remember the days when he was soft. Mama, Daddy, and Sam are all my soldiers. I am just the one who waits for them to come home.
On the Fourth of July Briana Lopez
Inside, the family arrives, each with their own dish. Flan, caramelized coating, pudding-like and sugary center. Pernil, fat and full dripping in its hearty juices. Baked twice for extra flavor. Outside, Mami stands above the barbeque. The tables set in red, and white, and blue. Burgers and hotdogs toasting, blackening. Mami smells the Pernil moving through the screen porch and smiles. Abuelaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s old favorite. She sets down her barbeque tongs, wipes her hands off slowly, and approaches the screen door. Her family and childhood friends gathered around the dinner table. She leaves the burgers and hotdogs above the charcoal, burning. The red white and blue decorations ripped away by the wind. On the Fourth of July, she chooses.
Sunday Afternoon Ryan Widgeon
her bed. “Don’t see any here.” “Fine.” He opened the book. He relaxed, read in a lighter voice, sped up at the appropriate Tatiana Saleh places, and didn’t stumble as much. About halfway toward the end, Constance cleared her throat. Distracted now. She asked if he boy let himself in like he entered Peter knew how to bake. Strudel? Constance could confession. Head down, he sat and crossed go for a good strudel. Like the kind her daughter his ankles, carrying the Bible, a Marvel made. He said he would ask. “What’s that in there?” she asked, pointing comic, and a copy of Anne of Green Gables. He introduced himself as Peter, looking at ground. at his backpack he carried on his way in. A woman’s Constance nodded at him but continued to run her watch with a narrow face and gold hands. He snatched the bag back. “It’s my mom’s.” fingers over her cardigan, conducting an invisible orchestra with her Jell-O spoon. He opened Anne Before she could get the wrong idea, he shook his of Green Gables to the first page and got as far as head. “She’s not dead. She just works a lot, but she got a job and a house closer to the city so she can the second before she interrupted him. “You know, it’s probably good they’re work. I’ll see her a lot once she gets settled in. She gone,” she said, touching where her breasts used said she would.” “Yeah.” Constance wanted to change the to be. “My ex-husband used to go about them all subject. She raised her leg. “My ex-husband got wrong.” Peter nodded. They’d warned him about this same tattoo, see?” She showed him a little this. The older ones lost it at times. He read outline of a baby cow. “Get it? A calf on a calf?” Peter nodded, in a monotone voice. feeling he’d lost her Constance decided he again. “Yeah.” was a good boy, even “Anyway, he though when his rosary moved to Washington dropped to the floor, D.C. when I was thirtyhe didn’t pick it up. four.” Even though he said When he asked “goddammit” under her why, her brow pulled his breath when he in slightly and she rubbed mispronounced words. the sore on her neck, just When it got to the part about Anne’s childhood, she leaned back, tugging above the scars. Two weeks after her first surgery, the cardigan closer. She sighed, leaning further he’d begun to “feel like they were growing apart.” When the doctors recommended she remove her back. She sighed again, louder. “He was like a Rubik’s cube – you know, too second as well, just to be safe, that was it. She pulled the cardigan tighter and crossed her legs. hard to figure out and twenty years out of style.” “I don’t know, kid. Men can’t handle a woman like “We should finish reading.” Constance nodded as if this was a sound me.” The two of them talked a little more plan, snatching the comic book from his hands. about his mom and Peter reread the comic book. She opened it to a random page in the middle and leaned back again. “You’re right, we should read.” Constance, bored, came up with a game to read He grabbed her wrist and she let the book Anne of Green Gables backwards. “You won’t understand anything if you go fall to the floor. “My dad gave me that!” the wrong way.” Peter searched for reason in her “Then read it!” Peter glared. “I’m not supposed to read this logic. To be fair, Constance never understood one to the old ladies.” Constance looked over her shoulder, under much more going the right way, either. “The endings are the best part. That’s when all the
“Constance decided he was a good boy, even though when his rosary dropped to the floor, he didn’t pick it up.”
problems get wrapped up, but this way, we don’t have to hear about the sad parts.” So they read the book backwards. He came back the next day, and the next after that. Catholic community service for breathing near the Eucharist. When her legs began to ache again, and he made the obligatory Sign of the Cross, she snapped her fingers. “Don’t pray for me yet, kid.” On the twelfth day, he gave her a few of his books. Sometimes she would ask the nurse to bring the wheelchair and take them to the garden. She claimed she didn’t need the wheelchair, but the doctor said no more roller coasters, so she made do. Peter would sit on a patch of grass and tell her more about his mother, or she would tell him about living in San Francisco before her husband disappeared. He would ask about her family and she would rub her neck and pull the cardigan closer. She danced around an answer then offered to show him her calf again. Still, he payed attention, hoping to piece together a story from the fragments she gave him. Finally, he couldn’t take it. “Why do you always wear that cardigan?” he asked her one day, spreading out in the grass. “Don’t you wash it?” “And get rid of these beautiful stains?” She pointed at the spaghetti sauce they’d shared a week earlier. “You’re kidding.” Two months passed of their daily visits, and Peter stopped bringing comic books. She taught him how to cheat at Operation and watch horror movies and laugh. “You really wanna get scared? Watch the news.” A few days before Thanksgiving, he arrived to her room with a board game. He’d passed his requirement for community service hours 28 days before. Constance wasn’t there, or in the garden or in the library or in the cafeteria. The nurse came in and asked if he’d be interested in reading to the new patient. He waited for her to leave, then sat on the bed for a long while. She left her watch.
Instructions for a Teenage Rebellion Kelsey Johnson
Don’t wish on cut-paper stars. Beware: among the pale shadows and moonless-sunless light, the water will anoint you, like suffocating in a confession booth. This is not the new language of air you’ve heard about. You are drowning in the river. Don’t hold your breath for change. Hold your breath because you know if you don’t, the beautiful lilies and leaves will become little ceiling tiles, your throat will fill with ruthless fire and finally end your inaudible futility.
Illumination Jose Chavez
Punching in the Dark Brooke Azzaro
illy McGee thinks of his mother when officers slam him against the car. Delinquent curls fall from his slick hair; he thinks of his father. Pressed against glass, his lips pout toward the moon and he thinks of kissing. Breath leaks from his nostrils in tufts of smoke. Two cops fumble with quicksilver handcuffs. With child-like eyes, Billy scans the inside of the dark police car. Bars dividing the front of the car from the back snarl at Billy like decaying tiger teeth. Billy snarls back. An officer reads him his Fifth Amendment Rights. Billy only hears sirens whirling. An hour ago, he barreled down stretches of Adirondack roads. When he wasn’t paying attention, swarms of police cars flocked behind him. The brigade of cars stole the open road, forcing his car off the highway. Trembling hands followed humbly like shaking servants, steering towards the left. He thrashed in his car seat, punching fists against steering wheel, playing muted leather drum until he was deaf with guilt. Now, two policemen yank Billy and throw his elfish body in the back. From behind him, an officer shoves his hands toward a rail that stretches across the ceiling. With a short silver chain, he quickly links handcuff to rail. “Your wife called,” he said, “told us to find you. Lucky we did. You should be sorry.” He slammed the door. Billy was. Before the police caught him, snow blinded his windshield. Soon, they would send their puppies after his rancid gas leaks and blood stained hands. He twisted the stereo dial until his car was flooded with blood-pumping bass and twinkling piano keys. His gut hurled forward against his stomach. Jazz. A saxophone broke over smooth piano riffs. A waterfall breaking over a cliff. Trumpets blared, wringing his heart with every never-ending whole note. Maggie and Billy used to dance in their crowded den. Sweeping to sweet music, their feet brushed the floor. He held her so tight so many
years ago. Close, against his chest, cradling her in his arms. Before Maggie went missing for nights at a time, she was all his; skin impossibly smooth, spilling between his fingers. No one would ever cut in. He waltzed around her songbird laughter and twirled her with flicked wrists. Her short curly hair glowed in dim light. Large black islands in her eyes, he believed they were countries. He jammed his finger in the eject button, scrambled for the disc, and pressed it against his tattered jeans until it snapped.
Ideal Hallucination Katie Hecht
(He awakes from his dark unconsciousness, among a fog of false memory, drinks his fallacies by glass bottle) Humis turns to flat shores of silt and is caressed by the curbs of the lake, filtered moon light, full and round with silence The open water an invitation to endlessness Oar and boat on the banks assure you any destination is within reach Paddling out in a little, flat bottomed token of luck, The blackness recedes from the surface (He asks where I want to go, “Away from here, from you.” Bold.) Flowers scatter atop the water, lotus and water lily encourage my parting from tangibility to simple nirvana (He gives me heavy tongued apologies, weighed down more by whiskey than remorse “Who else do I have left?”) But I am already gone curled into a blanket of wool and euphoric solidarity If what I don’t see can’t hurt me why open my eyes?
Daydreams Dayi Fu
I never learned its mystery. I never was quite able to understand why somebody would leave something perfectly good behind. Every once and Savannah Thanscheidt again I wonder about it, usually whenever my dad calls me to see how things are going, or to tell me that child support will be running a little behind child’s first memory is forever hazy, just this month. I wonder if I’d known to walk to the trickles of one insignificant instance that pond’s edge, to look inside the wet but intact shell, they somehow instinctually recall as “first” would I see a rotting sole hidden just beneath the later on in life. I’d like to believe that it usually fabric? involves both a mom and a dad. When I was three, my parents divorced. My mom in Olympic time remarried and became pregnant with my first baby brother. I used to ask her why she had to break my daddy’s heart, as if parroting words I didn’t understand would make everything fall into place for my little mind. She has always believed that you should do things with your kids - make memories. Something she said her parents never did for her. Deep into her third trimester, she took me and her new husband, John, to Cape Canaveral. Through a procession of zoo visits, rocket launching pad tours, ice cream cones and cheap hotels, my mom tried to convince us that even when things change, we could still be the same family. To this day we laugh about why they’d make such a trip when I was so young. Even now, with SAT scores, lunch dates, and overwhelming writing projects, I remember one moment. Despite a vignette of age circling that memory’s edges, every detail sits waiting in my psyche for recollection: There is a little pond by the visitor’s entrance of the Kennedy Space Center. It is the kind of place where a few ducks might live to make things look just a bit more natural; it hides the truth that this will only ever be a retention pond. At the edge of the pond is a sneaker. It is black and white, dirty and not too old. To me, anybody can fly if they want to. Outer space is a concept I’m not yet old enough to understand, except that that’s where Harold goes with his purple crayon. It is nothing new. But to see someone abandon a shoe? How did they walk anywhere? For months after, my mom would try to tell cute stories of my stepdad lifting me up on his shoulders, or of alligators or zebras. I couldn’t stop asking about the sneaker though, my simple chirps wondered about it over and over.
Daddy Callie Hitzing
It was a Monday. October 25, 2004 a rainy, grey Monday; two days before my birthday. I remember watching you. The rhythmic rise and fall of your chest. As you slept, your wide-frame glasses, slowly falling lower and lower down the bridge of your nose. I remember the smell of anesthetics and the naĂŻve screams from my four-year-old, far too young to understand she was losing her grandfather. The light squeeze of your hand, reminding me of what I was about to lose. Your poor soul, couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t bear to speak any words, but then again, neither could I. You left me with an upwards curve of your lips and three words that I will never be able to tell you again.
waves of pain that were drowning him. Harold clamped his teeth together and forced words, pressing them like dried out stamps Brooke Azzaro onto paper. “What, Dad?” Connor asked, and elbowed him in the ribs. Harold winced and tried to smile. “Can you pass me the string?” Harold asked. atches of grey clouds hung low, prowling across the pine-covered horizon of the bay. His voice came out weak and strained. “Yeah, sure,” Connor said quietly and Winds raced to sweep the deep sea clean, passed him the string. His father fumbled it in his kicking up waves in its path. Rows of honeycolored docks slithered endlessly on the water’s hands like a hot potato before letting it fall to the surface, levitating above the blackness of the bay. deck. Harold groaned and reached down to pick Sons and small racing boats covered the docks, it up. Connor’s laughter tore space between them, illuminating grey skies with warmth. Fathers held reminding himself that maybe the silence was a homemade boats and restless boys gently, guiding silly joke. “Come on, Dad! We don’t have much time tiny hands to hold tiny boats tightly. Sons giggled – quit joking around!” Connor said and helped in their fathers’ embraces and squirmed during Harold tie some string. tickle fights and pats on the head. Connor felt a violent poke in his back. Connor watched one boy farther down Standing behind him was the chubby boy who the dock bend down towards the water. The boy lived a couple of doors down reached his hand into the from their house. He was bay and in one valiant sucking on his dried, glueswoop, splashed his father. covered thumb. The father scooped up the “What’s wrong with son, held him tight by the your daaaaaaad?” he said. waist, and lifted him high His puffy, freckled cheeks over the water. The son inflated as he gnawed on squealed as the father spun his words like they were a him around and set him on delicious meal. the ground. With a rustle of “Weeeeeell, he the boy’s hair and a noisy looks….weird…like…I dunno…he acts weird,” the kiss on the forehead, the two went back to work. For the first time in a year, Connor Klein sat boy said, pointing at Harold. “What are you talking about?” completely still. Connor asked. He looked expectantly to his father, waiting Harold heard what was going on. He knew for him to scoop him up and hover him over the what was coming. He raced to make his body water. Harold could feel his son’s bright blue eyes appear normal for the boys, pulling a heavy hand burn into the back of his neck where there was up to wave to Connor. Harold winked with both already a sharp, chromatic pain that throbbed to eyes and gave a soggy smile. Connor tilted his the beat of the slapping waves. It felt like someone head in concern and furrowed his brows. Harold was stabbing an icicle at the base of his neck. He sighed; he couldn’t hide from it anymore. “Why do you think he acts weird?” Connor wanted so badly to massage the pain away, but his hands ran away from him. It took him everything whispered innocently, thinking his father couldn’t he had not to break down in public, but every hear him. “Becaaaaause,” the boy said, folding his movement was a battle. He was ice cream standing arms snugly against his chest. “My dad said so. in the sun, quickly melting into a sticky mess. Every time Harold looked at Connor, he was reminded Heeeee saaayyyss youuuurrr daaaadd has ALS.” “Ryan!” the boy’s father called from behind to keep on pushing, keep on bearing through the them. With strict force, the father pulled Ryan
“Connor held his father tight enough for him to know that he was sorry without breaking him.”
away from Connor. Connor watched the two storm clouds dart down the dock, then disappear into the turbulent tides of the crowd. As Connor approached his father, Harold wiped the pain away from his hands. His father’s teal colored windbreaker whipped against his rag doll bones, wearing him more than he was wearing it. Connor felt dirty, like Ryan dumped a bucket of mud from the bay all over him. He didn’t understand. Connor dove into his pocket and grabbed his Captain America action figure. “I think that Captain America needs to be glued on the boat.” Connor said to his father. “Can you do it?” Harold paused, like he had forgotten something. He shook his head weakly; Connor was testing him. Big caterpillar eyebrows knitted themselves into a scarf. Harold opened his mouth and bubbly sounds come out, like he was gargling salt water. Connor looked down at his shoes. Yes, Connor thought, something was not right. “I’ll try my best,” his father said. Harold took Captain America and a tube of glue in both of his shaking hands, cursing under his breath. They wouldn’t stop shaking. They wouldn’t stop shaking. They wouldn’t stop shaking. Curious, Connor reached out and touched his shaking hands. The skin hung limp on his bones like raw dough. Harold’s hands flopped to escape from Connor’s touch. Harold jerked his hands away, sending Captain America to the bay. “No!” Connor shouted. He raced to the edge of the dock. Connor dunked his hand in the freezing water. He fished for Captain America’s head. It was too late. Captain America struggled for air, his open mouth bubbling with sea foam and floated until the thirsty black water swallowed him up. “Dad!” Connor said. He turned to face his father. “Why did you do that? Now we don’t have a ship driver!” His father’s face was weak and soggy. His eyes backed away into two hollow caves in his head. Puddles of spit formed at the corners of his lips. Harold wiped them away with a shaking hand. “I’m sorry, Connor,” Harold said, grabbing
Connor’s shoulder with a slacked arm. Connor jerked away, focusing on the spot where Captain American used to be. They looked at each other for a long time, silently. Connor wanted to take the permanent marker in his pocket and scribble out the doodle of the father in front of him. He wanted to stomp the chalk drawing of him out with his feet and watch colored powder rise into a rainbow. Something horrible was digging itself in Connor’s stomach, gnawing voraciously at his guts, pumping his beating heart loudly so everyone could hear. Embarrassment consumed him. Disgust was pulling his curly hair and crawling up his spine. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer bellowed through speakers, “the races are about to begin! Get your boats ready, and when the whistle blows, let ‘em rip!” “We can still do this,” Harold said. He held the boat in front of Connor for him to take. Reluctantly, Connor grabbed the boat and held it above the water. The whistle shrilled and Connor set the boat on water. Puffy white sails billowed like clouds before a rainstorm. Churning waves carried the stern swiftly. Suddenly, the boat stopped in mid-stride. Mountains of bubbles formed around the back of the boat and it started to sink. White swirly arms of foam grabbed its crooked deck. Water seeped through cracks in the boat, rips in the sail, blobs of glue and splinters Connor didn’t see before. The boat, too, had slipped below the water’s surface. Staring at the path of waves the boat had left behind, Harold rubbed guilt from his hands. Cogs of anger reeled behind Connor’s black eyes, but Harold couldn’t bear to face them. Earthquake hands shook in Harold’s coat pockets and tears flooded down a straight face. Connor searched for an explanation in his eyes but couldn’t find one. We can’t be together, Connor thought. I hope he never leaves me. Harold thought. Connor took one step backwards. Thick fog rolled in between them like a shimmering scarf. Harold wanted working legs to chase after his son more than anything. He wanted to explain everything to him without slurring. Harold grabbed hold of his son’s eyes with his. Please don’t leave me. Harold reached
out flimsy arms in front of him. Pill-sized sobs thrashed against his throat. As Connor took another step back, fog formed pictures of the past few weeks. His father’s limp hugs. PB&Js that looked like they had wrestled with angry hands. The quiet car rides to school. The way his father never picked him up and carried him to bed anymore. Connor ran. He bumped into families and stepped on glue sticks and string and dodged high fives and handshakes like a deathly game of hopscotch. Firecracker rain sparked off the dock and slapped his red cheeks. Hair stuck flat to his forehead. He kept running, and let rain fill his eyes so he didn’t have to see what was behind him. In a flash of white lighting, Connor stepped back, landed on a roll of string, and slammed to the ground. Soggy sneakers formed a circle around him. No one did anything for a long time. Connor felt like a mess no one wanted to clean up. Embarrassment spread through him like disease. He clutched his fists and bit down sobs with baby teeth. Pushing his body down against the wood, he tried to sink to the sea. Peachy pains pulsed down his spine. He wanted waves to curl greedy fingers over the deck and roll him into the ocean. Dancing on decisions, fathers subsided like tidal waves and exchanged excuses. Finally, three men helped the boy to his feet, offering him ice for his bruises. The only thing Connor wanted was his father. Harold turned to see his son bounding down the dock, shirt wet and arms open. Connor held his father tight enough for him to know that he was sorry without breaking him. “I’m sorry,” Connor said, burying his head in his father’s cold shirt. With hands like butterfly wings, Harold brought Connor’s wet cheek to his. He whispered something in Connor’s ear that slipped and slid in his mouth. It sounded like a mudslide, but it felt like I love you.
Growing Up with Guns Madison George
I put her in a white linen dress. The bottom embroidered with intricate flowers that dangle and rest on her knees. I part her hair to the right, braiding a small section, and pull it back into a dainty knot— so it won’t hang in her face. She picks out a hair clip that doesn’t match, and a pair of glittered sandals I didn’t intend on her wearing. I can only tell her so much. That girls come with mouths fully loaded. Cocked and cold. They hold it heavily in their frail palms. Small fingers gripping the hard exterior. You can hear it lock. A click in place. Just shy of age six. Three shots have been fired. They will hate her glittered shoes, her too long dresses, the clip I told her not to wear, the way she speaks. Everything. Until she picks up a gun of her own.
Philip Screaming Robert Tucker
as soon as I left. I wasn’t oblivious to my Congregation of Sinners lapses actions. Chelsea Ashley
“Everyone, please bow your head,” Bishop Davis said. He towered over the congregation from the pulpit. Everyone lowered their heads as the words he said every week uncoiled from his mouth. I watched the people around me shut their eyes as if they were closing down shop for the night. Sunday is the day of rest. Deacons, security, and those who wanted to leave the parking lot quickly left the sanctuary while we prayed. Those who were leaving tried to do so quietly, but the church’s doors have always been too heavy for quiet exits. “No one should be moving except those who have been assigned to do so,” my bishop said. “I would like to extend an invitation to each of you,” he said as he looked into the crowd, searching for someone to accept his offer. “Most of you know that I should be dead right now. But by nothing apart from the grace of God, I am standing before you. So, if you would like to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, please raise your hand.” People looked around, unsure of whether or not they should raise their hands, or keep them burrowed in their pockets next to carcasses of past lives that they couldn’t seem to let go of. No hands were raised. My bishop looked across the land for his prey, then continued the alter call. “If you have already accepted Jesus Christ but molted your skin of Christianity, you are also urged to raise your hand. You might have walked away from the Lord and would like to come back. The scripture says that those who deny thy father in front of others will be denied from Heaven.” The sinners were quiet and ashamed; omething the bishop picked up on. Even I was ashamed of the sins I’d committed weeks, even seconds, before the service. The shame never fully dissipated, because I’d continue committing these
As he repeated his “invitation,” hands curved their way into the air. Bishop Davis nodded. He smiled at them, as if he was the one giving them fig leaves to cover their flaws. “There are hands up everywhere,” he said. That wasn’t true. There were hands scattered around the room, but they rose irregularly. My palm lay belly-down as it slid across the curve of the chair in front of me. These chairs had seen more sinners than any bartender or prostitute. My bishop always said that if you needed to ask yourself if you should raise your hand, then you probably should. Apparently, it was the Holy Spirit speaking to you. What was the point of raising my hand if I would later repeat my mistakes? I understood that the voice of God spoke in the congregation’s left ear. They were told to raise their hands and accept the Lord as their savior. “Tomorrow is not promised,” he would say. But what about the voice in their right ear? The voice telling them that sin was better than a savior? The taste of forbidden fruit on the congregation’s lips and the combatting feelings between right and wrong were enough to make anyone conflicted. I secretly enjoyed that feeling. “There is someone here that is trying to hold onto sin, it is more like you are trying to hold onto the few minutes you have left.” I rubbed my fingers against the rough material of the chair, waiting for someone to raise their hand. If that person was me, the voice in the left ear would be louder than the one in the other ear, wouldn’t it? “I know that you think you don’t deserve this opportunity. God has given you many chances that you have ignored, but don’t let this chance get away from you. Let go, for yourself and for God.” What was I, or whoever he was addressing, supposed to let go of? My sins? My choices? The voice in my right ear making itself at home? Was I supposed to be letting go of myself? Another hand slowly raised and my bishop nodded silently. “If everyone could hold one hand up,
“I understood that the voice of God spoke in the congregation’s left ear.”
because that is where our help comes from. Heavenly Father in the name of Jesusâ&#x20AC;Śâ&#x20AC;? I guess I was not the prodigal son that God was calling back home. I recited the confession of repentance along with my fellow church members. Some people kept their eyes closed tight and whispered the ritual like it was the only thing they could hold onto. Others said it like children forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It was just routine for this congregation of sinners.
Shadows II Sam Jaffe
The Gulf of the Greedy Antoinette Adkins
Wine in possession of a bubbly enthusiasm drips as violet fingers when swirled crawling, sultry, coyly down the edges of your sanded chalice. None too gentle a crimson sip, singeing your soft throat. Little sugar, for fear of headache coupled with regret the next morning come. A faux of your wealth. There are those on the dingy city’s streets and slums. The poor ones, they do not have stemmed glasses. Their wine is rancid from the bows and bins of trash consumed in desperate gulps directly out of the bottle, that same glass then broken, later to be embedded, torn and tearing into the vulnerable flesh of some poor, intoxicated fool itching to fight. But you. You, with your wealth. You could gift them your treasures for the greater good; that is what the hero believes the hero you like to pretend to be, you— you in your suit and black, black tie. Instead, you sit there and pretend so shamelessly that you are some kind of connoisseur, tongue clucking self indulgently on the ribbed roof of your mouth. You are dangerously playing a façade, making yourself feel far more important than your soul—bitter as the wine—truly deserves to be. You do nothing to resolve this. It is doubtful that you even see an issue to be resolved. After all, what cares do you ever have? What cares for real life could ever be held within your heart when you have the luxury of hearing the cracking of a cork each day instead of the piercing clang of shattered glass?
Paper Family Destiny Reid
had an unrealistic dream where I had a complete family. A family that was held tightly together by the metal clasps of a staple. Our faces and eyes were imprinted with happiness I never thought was ever possible. Mother was beautiful; her shoulder-length brown hair, dark eyes, a face so utterly perfect. Father had no features. He was an outline. But throughout my childhood, I began to give him characteristics of what I thought would make him perfect. I built him a personality of protection, imagining he would lift me up on his shoulders, hoping he would be proud to have me as a daughter. I wanted a father that stayed glued. My mother would tell me that he didn’t matter because he wasn’t there. She explained to me every time I asked about him, giving me a worn-out it’s not your fault he wasn’t ready to be a father. Those words replayed over and over again like a scratched, fingerprinted CD stuck on the same verse. For the longest time, I knew I wasn’t worthy for him to be my father. I was a waste of time to him. When I finally met that man, I remember how he didn’t take the time to apologize for his mistake; his mistake of casually forgetting about me for eight years. For discarding me like I was a stained shirt, never taking the time to see if he could wash it. From then on, I knew he would never be the father I dreamt of. He wasn’t proud of me. He wouldn’t protect me. A couple years later, daddy-number-two came into the picture; he smiled the same way the fool did. Whiter teeth filled his mouth, a shorter beard, a shaved head. I accepted him with open arms, hoping he was the father that I wanted; he hugged me back, rubbed his scruffy face against my tender cheek. When he would come home, I remember running to him, hugging his waist,
smiling ear-to-ear. When he took me to the zoo, we would feed the birds, he’d take me to get ice cream, and buy me meatball sandwiches next to the place I took karate lessons. He scolded me like a father would and gave me piggy back rides. The father that left me became nothing but a wasted memory. For three years, he was something that mother and I loved, but his appearance slowly made its way into my dreams; the outline soon became a man with broad shoulders, but no eyes. Just a mannequin covered in skin. Mom said he wasn’t in the best shape, that he had too many problems. After we left him and moved back into my nana’s, I heard Mom crying once, sitting on the porch, over-looking the smogfilled sky. I wrapped my arms around her narrow shoulders and pulled her close, knowing at that moment our roles were reversed. She had to work for us to live on our own, in an old apartment, lurking in the streets of California. With one bedroom, a tiny kitchen filled with red appliances, and a small bathroom. Food stuffed in the cabinets, paid by food stamps. The back porch was where my mother would plant little herbs and tomatoes. The plants were bright green and slowly suffocating, turning brown from the smoke of her cigarette. I watched her blow stress out of her red lips. She soon found a man who she had known and loved since she was fifteen. He was in the navy, with a baldhead, more tattoos, and white smile. For two years, he was called Robert. Then the third year and from then on, he was known as “Pabert”, a mixture of papa and Robert, and our family became bigger when my sister was born. The image of a father had disappeared from my mind. It was like my family was a piece of paper, torn and crumpled. Dried glue and tape covering the surface from temporary fixes. Staples were removed or still left clamped. I still haven’t accepted him as Dad yet; Mom said he has done more than enough to be one. I don’t trust him; he makes her cry, and I find myself holding her and feeling her sob. I know marriage isn’t supposed to be perfect, but I just can’t stand to see my mother shed a single tear; it
“It was like my family was a piece of paper, torn and crumpled.”
brings back too much. Every time they fight or she cries, I hear rips of the paper. This family is covered in so many staples that I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even see the paper it was drawn on anymore.
Triangles Jesse Bassett
Lost Goddess of the Moon Grace Green
Apollo was not meant to go to the moon. We learned that from Thirteen. Three men almost froze, suffocating in the vastness of our night sky. Diana watched them, told them stories from the constellations for comfort as her brother froze, nebulas blocking his path to the sun. But we kept sending Apollo to the moon, let him carry back pieces of Diana’s home for inspection. Diana fled, carried the stars on her palms and flew into the universe. The moon is following her, breaking gravity’s ropes, getting deeper and deeper into the universe, inch by inch. We still send Apollo to the stars. Carrying the sun behind him, he’s pushed by man’s mechanical chariot. The stars burn in his golden heat. Orion holds out his hand, reaching for Diana as the lights of his belt blink out. I watch Diana’s kingdom go dark. I watch the night sky die.
Migration Taylor Austell
My childhood was the splayed feathers of a tawny mallard ascending onto bigger and better things, her fading image, the broken surface of the pond. We sat on the bankside releasing motherless ducklings, their yellow bodies rocked in the rippled arms of the backyard lake. The grass under my legs was a downy nest of supple twigs. Momma took two in each hand saying “baby they can’t fly yet,” but they could swim from birth. She guided my hands into the cardboard box to scoop one up in clammy palms. Just like them, I wanted to fly. So momma lowered me into glass, water gulping softly, broke in my fleeting wake. Spread out vee; just a ripple beneath hollow heart and grown wings. I unfolded these feathers and lifted into them, breaking the surface, onto bigger and better things. But somehow there was the slope of the bank, my mother’s voice quiet behind me, the grass climbing knee high— and the sky a blank canvas. I used to think freedom came at the spread of wings, the lift of body, leaving home.