AIRPORT ROAD www.electrastreet.net/airportroad NYU Abu Dhabi 19 Washington Square North New York, NY 10003 Send inquiries to: Cyrus R. K. Patell Publisher Airport Road NYU Abu Dhabi PO Box 903 New York, NY 10276-0903 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Front and Back Cover Design by Joaquin Kunkel
Chiran Raj Pandey Vamika Sinha Einas Alhamali Anthony Chua Shenuka Corea Evangeline Louise Gerodias Máté Hekfusz Dominique Joaquin Neha John Lucius Lambert Tusshara Nalakumar Srilatha Yasmeen Tajiddin Chiran Raj Pandey
Deborah Lindsay Williams
Cyrus R. K. Patell
Issue 08 Fall 2018
CONTENTS Chiran Raj Pandey and Vamika Sinha, Introduction......................................7 PROSE Karno Dasgupta, Funerals .........................................................................17 Chiran Raj Pandey, How I Came to be Deaf ..............................................23 Alice Huang, The Only Way of Healing I Was Ever Able To Master............. 39 Louise Gerodias, The Other Face of Migration............................................46 Nada Almosa, Al Malaâ€™ika...........................................................................51 Amal Al Shamsi, Sleep...............................................................................59 Zoe Patterson, The Pond...........................................................................63 Alice Huang, Pool Day................................................................................67 Zoe Patterson, The School for Little Witches..............................................81 Ria Golovakova, Wrong Shade of Red.......................................................90
Siya Chandrie, August..............................................................................103 Warda Malik, Open Wounds, Open Laces................................................114 Louise Gerodias, Is That Butterfly Someone You Loved?..........................137 Alice Huang, Squanderer of Words...........................................................145 POETRY Leanne Talavera,Taking Off.........................................................................11 Vamika Sinha, movie...................................................................................14 Vongai Mlambo, sometimes history continues............................................21 Zoe Patterson, Aircraft Cabin.....................................................................28 Vamika Sinha, whole foods........................................................................31 Vamika Sinha, big apple..............................................................................36 Zoe Patterson, Milton.................................................................................42 Muhammad Shehryar Hamid, Bicycle........................................................45
POETRY (continued) Chiran Raj Pandey, Meditation before Bed.................................................57 Archita Arun, Whose water is it anyway?....................................................75 Zoe Patterson, Ofelia and Ophelia..............................................................78 Alice Huang, Youth...................................................................................107 Fatema Al Fardan, A Manifesto.................................................................108 Alice Huang, Romanticism........................................................................110 Gigs Banga, homesickness......................................................................111 Leanne Talavera, Falling Out.....................................................................121 Gigs Banga, we’re flying...........................................................................124 Vamika Sinha, Q Train...............................................................................128 Karno Dasgupta, ancestry........................................................................132 Amal Al Shamsi, Aisle...............................................................................134 Muhammad Rafay Ashfaq, Remanence...................................................143 VISUAL Anthony Chua, Nishiki’s Offerings...............................................................13
Adele Bea Cipste, Contemplation...............................................................20 Amna Al Ameri, Overthinking......................................................................27 Bana Alamad, مشقلب.................................................................................30 Bana Alamad,
٢ الغسيل حبل..........................................................................34
Nadia Rabeh, Privileged Observants...........................................................35 Dominique Joaquin, Stroll..........................................................................41 Adele Bea Cipste, On the Edge.................................................................44 Ethan David, Kata Tjuta.............................................................................50 Sophia Karzai, Star.....................................................................................56 Rayna Li, Dreamscape................................................................................58 Rayna Li, O, full of scorpions is my mind....................................................62 Muhammad Shehryar Hamid, Ice Age.......................................................74 Muhammad Shehryar Hamid, Iceberg Lettuce...........................................79 Hatim Benhsain, Whale..............................................................................80
VISUAL (continued) Maria Paula Calderon Acon, Coherence....................................................89
Achrakat El Fitory, Beauty from Imilchil.....................................................102 Rayna Li, My Spirit Is Concealed Within the Corner of Darkness...............109 Rayna Li, Mask........................................................................................113 Tom Abi Samra, Mosque......................................................................... 119 Hatim Benhsain, Tranquil..........................................................................120 Zeping Fei, Escape..................................................................................126 Tom Abi Samra, Typography in Sharjah....................................................127 Amna Al Ameri, Lego Houses...................................................................130 Tom Abi Samra, Raouche........................................................................131 Bana Alamad, درب.....................................................................................133 Adele Bea Cipste, Mother........................................................................136 Tom Abi Samra, Lebanon....................................................................... 142
INTRODUCTION What happens when readers differ? One of our accepted photograph submissions, “Overthinking,” provoked a divisive debate among the editorial board. In the midst of Abu Dhabi’s Plant Souq, the photographer finds a middle-aged South Asian man. Both photographer and subject are curious about each other. The
former’s curiosity is expressed through the act of taking the photo, while the latter, through his closed and guarded stance, contemplates both the photographer’s presence and position. Both these curiosities are
plagued by a historical tension that transferred onto us as editorial board members. Some of us argued that the camera acted as a privileged
voyeur; reproducing the logic of Orientalism, the camera imagined the subject as “Other,” and by confining him to the photograph, doubly
othered him. Others suggested that without knowing the artist and their
positionality, we had in front of us a sensitive portrait of any human being:
as the photograph changed hands, the subject’s relationship to the viewer also changed, each time producing a different narrative that went beyond just othering.
The tension produced by these two arguments remained unresolved,
and it is that very tension that led us to accept the submission. For us as co-editors, it embodied the question with which we had begun the semester: how do we approach and engage with art and literature,
and then translate it to Airport Road? With “Overthinking,”’ some of us
privileged the political lens of the artwork; others downplayed it in favor of aesthetics. Ultimately, what we were trying to do is use our education, our tools of interpretation as learned in Arts and Humanities classes, to figure
out why we accepted or rejected certain submissions. As an experiment, we hosted a meeting about reading practices early in the semester. The editorial board was presented with four works
published previously in Airport Road—two texts and two photographs— and asked to dissect them as if they were being considered for
publication. We scrutinized every step of this process: if one member
said, “I think NYUAD students could relate to this piece,” we considered
whether relatability was always a vital factor for accepting a submission. And if yes, relatable for whom—that is, who was our audience? We
explored the effectiveness of chosen forms: is a poem about memory
most successful as a repetitive ghazal or fragmented free-verse? To cite a well-known lyric as an example: is “Leda and the Swan” so potent because it is a sonnet?
Summarizing our meetings, we later came up with a set of “Reading Practices” for our editorial board:
We are not just interpreting texts, but evaluating them. When confronted with a work, we leap to interpretation,
unpacking metaphors, similes, motifs, and themes. In the
process of producing meaning, we sometimes fail to consider whether the work is successful in how it operates. A poem can be meaningful, and yet the links between its operating
parts may still be weak. Therefore, we approach a piece fully aware that all our interpretive work should contribute toward evaluation.
We want to think about the form of a piece, and how it
operates. What does it mean for a text to be a ‘poem’? Or for it to be a ‘prose poem’? Or a comic strip or landscape
photograph? Evaluation begins with identifying form, and thus
locating all further discussion—about theme, motifs, contexts, stylistic devices—within the constraints of that form. Is this
piece successfully performing its intentions? Or, if the piece
is pushing at the boundaries of its form, is it effectively doing
so? Our answers to these questions are predicated also on our understanding of the work of the piece: its ‘function,’ whether that be a sociopolitical, aesthetic, or sentimental function. We want to be aware of how we relate to a piece. Just
because we ‘relate’ to a work, that does not always mean it
is successful. Relatability may itself be marked by ideological history: in the 20th century, for example, white publishing houses used that same argument—“Our audience will
not relate to this”—to avoid publishing immigrant, African
American, and other marginalized writing. We therefore want to avoid simplistic reader-responses—“I want to admit this piece because it is relatable.” As editorial board members,
our relationship to the submissions is also metonymic of the
relationship between audience and text. Although we pointed to NYU Abu Dhabi as the prominent audience, we identified that this diverse and shifting audience, which spans NYU’s entire global network of sites, is impossible to describe in
particular terms. No single audience relates to the same text for the same reasons.
From our work this semester, we have learned that Airport Road and its sister publication Electra Street: A Journal of the Arts and Humanities have a unique position and responsibility within NYUAD. We seek
to create and foster dialogue between students and faculty, among
different academic disciplines, between our theoretical and practical understandings of art, but most importantly to marry the realms of
scholarship and creative practice. What does it mean when a professor
says, “This is not a Literature class, but a Creative Writing one,” or “This is not an Arts practice class: it’s an Art History class”? We believe that the two are inextricably linked: each informs and influences the other. In “Taking Off,” the poem that begins this issue, literary interpretation is encompassed and performed by creative writing. For the poet, the
act of interpretation is achieved through creative writing in two ways:
(1) creative writing itself is interpretation; and (2) interpretation, reading,
meaning-making, all are inevitably ‘creation.’ The poet herself performs this two-step process by re-creating Horace’s Ars Poetica—thus
interpreting a history of art that we may trace back to Horace’s treatise on art and poetry. Reading literary theory helps us produce creative writing; at the same time, reading and producing creative writing initiates new
theories and frameworks. “Writing and reading,” for author Toni Morrison, “mean being aware of the writer’s notions of risk and safety, the serene achievement of, or sweaty fight for, meaning and response-ability.” We
have attempted to embody this pedagogical and methodological stance through Airport Road.
Airport Road is a special project for us: this edition carries the work,
accumulated knowledge, the weight and gravity of our last three years at this institution and in this country. We imagine its future and lament the
fact that we will soon graduate. We thus present Airport Road 08 as the first step in a literary legacy.
Chiran Raj Pandey Vamika Sinha
Once in a while, I am god. Not the painter with parted lips, pausing. Rising. Pausing
again. Falling gently. Blood pulsing through
the veins of my eyes. Watching in blank focus. Twitching with an unripened epiphany, fingernails buried into moistened soil clutching
and releasing the energy of a fleeting life.
That god creates. Hurls glasses and porcelain to the wall watching frustration fall to the
floor in heavy snowflakes. I am the god that slowly peels my toes from the mud. Looks for the right bed of clouds and looks down
and realizes. How the curve of the painterâ€™s stroke
is the river of careless, dirtied bristles. Surprisingly thick with the aftertaste of colors groomed
onto the trees, skimmed across the arch of the mountainsâ€™ shadow, dusted along the
borders of both one, and within. Tickling with individual
hairs individual angels. Sandpapered just
enough to the muscle swelled around the bone, their halos fuzzy and as fragrant as
coconuts. Coffee beans. Harvested vanilla. And I fear their harshness on the canvas, and
because all art is unpredictable and emotional and betrayal. But once in a while I am god.
Nishikiâ€™s Offerings Anthony Chua
SCENE: the credits fly up
with a last mcdonald’s meal,
the suitcase that you carried for me, and two slim boarding passes with two different endings.
but when the music stops
and the screen goes dark,
when they come to sweep away the memory-debris
off the cinema seats, i wonder— do you still watch those old films?
do you still lay awake, fighting off sleep? do you still take blurry pictures of crystal scenes?
do you still switch comic and romantic with a leading man’s ease? the cinema is empty
but i never got the nerve to leave.
the past recurs like the men play jazz
every day in our city—quick and warm and lonely. the rhythm always off-beat
as if missing half the dialogue in a script lost to the seas. and i’m left wondering
what happened to the plot— do you ponder
what you came to mean to me? do you remember
the city lights awash
with rain and mist, so beautiful that i couldn’t see? do i ever emerge
on your faraway screen? the credits fly up
when we bury memory— an obituary to the past
trapped inside rolling reels
left to the mercy of distance, dust and the mind’s rudest critics. the cinema is locked
but i’m still inside, sifting through the pictures, finally able to see
our ghosts side-by-side on the screen. the past is playing
slow and cool and lovely.
i think iâ€™ll keep this seat warm forever your piece of me
unable to be swept away to reality where movies always end
and life spills soda on my dreams.
Funerals are not like the ones you see in the movies. They happen
in whitewashed rooms with two lights and a broken fan that whirrs
pathetically in the corner, while people murmur sadly about how he was a good man who wasted away in a corner room, chasing after dreams that were easier to imagine within four walls than realize in the outside world. Funerals are like the bitter aftertaste of the grapefruit juice your mother
slips you on the way to the gathering, while she tries not to cry because she senses the wall she has so carefully constructed to suppress every emotion is starting to crack. They smell like musty rooms tinged with
claustrophobia, where everyday pretenses dissolve—not the immaculate mourning of dramatized life in films that treat death like a plot point.
Funerals, in fact, happen under the humming of an incinerator. They turn a miserable, broken, unloved man into a pile of ash that has more care, love and attention showered onto it in an hour than the man had ever
gotten in the last three years of his life. There’s something humanizing
about someone dying—suddenly people care more than they generally
allow themselves to feel. Suddenly, wailing and hysterics are appropriate responses to a situation and no one judges the woman with the undone hair or the man with the tear-stained face.
An inherent, laughable hypocrisy reveals itself in the love lavished on a
cadaver by people who no longer have to deal with the everyday burden its life had posed. Nostalgia superimposes memory and a rosy tint plays back on a montage of a life everyone wants to remember—not a life
everyone wants to forget. Almost humorous. Almost. At one point, your father starts crying for the first time, and someone’s groans intensify to
the point that you wish the old fan’s rattle or the incinerator’s hum was louder than the uncomfortable silence.
Then, it is over. You hear doors opening and people talking in the succinct phrases associated with tragedy made transaction. You get an urn. The most expensive one, because deathly love has no price-tag when you
straddle the upper echelons of a society that quietly, respectfully judges funerals. And you feel the resentment of a family forced into an old crematorium instead of an auspicious, holy riverside.
Life is like death in that regard. There’s a lot of resentment involved in
both. And eventually, after the initial, probably genuine pang of pain has
subsided, the critical eyes of thronging well-wishers begin to deconstruct the events that led up to and followed someone’s death.
But then you forget what you were thinking about because everyone
starts leaving the cramped room, back into their cars and rushing home to prepare for the day of loss, recollections and gossip. Fingers dig into your skin as a disoriented woman grabs your forearm. You begin to
protest before realizing that this is your mother. Something has given
way inside of her. Like a fault line rupturing, a crack has emerged from the wreckage of a strained relationship that is now just a sinking ship
because no relation exists. Her father is dead. And it has hit her harder than she had expected, harder than she could have imagined. There is
a crazed glow in her eyes. The societal pretension has lifted; so too has the calculating, probing sharpness. The brown irises are wide, as if in
a dark room, although it is light out. They look unfocused. Unknowing. Unprepared.
You stare at this woman—this strange woman. And realize that she has
eye-bags. And wrinkles and lines and a scratch on her left cheek. There is
no makeup onâ€”there was no time. And the fact that her nails are digging into your arm ceases to matter for a moment; you are unsettled by the
sudden humanness of a person you have grown used to seeing artificial.
But this moment cannot last for long. The last of the extended family has left. Your father wipes his tears and grasps at composure.
Gray, broken men were kind once, although their histories are veiled by
the senile dependence of old age. Upon their death, the veil is torn; what remains is only their past goodness.
Your father swallows the sadness momentarily and beckons toward the entrance. Your mother is rooted to the spot, crying, mumbling incoherently. It is okay to cry today. Funerals let us feel unashamedly. You grab hold of your mother and pull her toward you. It is a clear
and sunny day. The brightness seems to be laughing at the pain so
concentrated around you. People die; the world goes on. No room for pathetic fallacies.
Contemplation Adele Bea Cipste Watercolor and pencil on paper
sometimes history continues Vongai Mlambo
There are houses on the outskirts of the city Pushing themselves across the boundaries Trying to be noticed I see them, I see them. There are bodies writhing in silent protestation
Packed tightly against each other in a sighing bus Like pigs transported far for slaughter
Where their squeals are easier to ignore I hear them, I hear them. There are children working by candlelight
Finishing yesterdayâ€™s homework with sore eyes
Already tired from tomorrowâ€™s journey to school Where geography will be blurred by aching feet I feel them, I feel them. If they could just stay awake until history
They would learn the root of their afflictions
Discover that it has to do with the color of their skin They might ask when it will get better
One of those questions without an answer
But when the teacher sits on the bus She will cry into her lap,
soaking her neighbor with sadness Whispering Never, Never.
How I Came to be Deaf Chiran Raj Pandey
My deafness came about one Saturday around the beginning of monsoon in 2001, right when rainwater ought to have cooled our earth, right when all the homes in Kathmandu were always filled because the curfew-hit
streets had to be empty, right when my world, rocked by the coming of my baby daughter, had finally become rock stable, when I had finally
learned to love my wife, when after years—I had begun practicing the
piano again—it came knocking, and finding space in my cochlea or what have you, made itself at home for the rest of my life.
In 2001, the Maoists had begun creeping into Kathmandu. A younger
and more handsome CGI-produced Prachanda stood proud on the cover of Himal magazine, and all across the city men and women talked only about him. “From the jungle to the city,” read one newspaper article;
another speculative piece was titled, “Ko timi, Ho Chi Minh?” Before I
became deaf I heard chatter all around Kathmandu, and in the noise of
the city, carried from one person to another, one voice to another, I heard the same things, the same names, the same questions—“Who are they? Who is Prachanda?”
Before I became deaf, King Birendra still strolled across Thamel every
Thursday morning, dressed in his matching Nike pants and shoes, his security detail hanging closely behind him like the full stop at the end of a long sentence. Tall and stately, he would wave randomly at the
passersby, the little Maruti taxis which had just come into operation, the
yellow-black tempos (from which—I heard—on a hot day one of the tires came off and landed right in front of the king, missing crushing his feet
by inches; the king just laughed and walked it off). I never saw him, but
I think I heard him once from my office, which was a gentle molar right
at the mouth of the Thamel—a little hush-hush commotion, the King is
here kind of excitement, a strong, guarded voice, “Namaskaar, sanchai
hunuhunchha?” I ran to see him from my window, but by that time he had already disappeared.
During curfew, if I were at my Thamel office I would be stranded there for
hours—hours away from my little daughter. Sometimes it was announced right before lunch; it was never less than five hours at a time. When
curfew happened, it happened in all its vigorousness. It was a no lunch, no baby daughter, no skip-work-today curfew. But I remember silence. It came from the ugliest, thirstiest, most intimate place of Kathmandu,
from all the strength it must have taken to hold this city together. Nothing happened in the silence—not even the hush-hush commotion of “King Birendra is promenading” or the curious “Who is Prachanda?”
So you would believe me when I say that it was during curfew one
evening that I heard a shriek tear through Kathmandu’s silence, then
more screaming, the gushing of blood, promises made and immediately broken, more screaming, a Coca Cola can (?), and finally, language, a name, uttered by a hysterical man, “Dipendra… Dipendra…”
The next day my deafness began creeping up on me until it was no longer creeping; it had arrived, first slowly and then all at once. I remember other things, too, from that final night of hearing:
My little girl crying. We had just put her to bed. She cried, cried, cried, and then she stopped crying—or was it that I stopped hearing it? I’m
getting my days and nights mixed up now; it wasn’t until the morning that I couldn’t hear anymore.
A conversation between my wife and me: we had just put Sapana, our baby daughter, to sleep. Only four weeks earlier, I had seen my wife
in labor. I have since then stopped seeing a woman but instead, the
following image: the whole world grown by God from a cauliflower plant; the world is the fruit of the plant; my ears are sewed into it; inside the cauliflower I hear nothing but my wife’s voice.
Notes from a piano. Many years ago I watched a man the size of a baby
play the piano without ever touching its keys. It was in Paris; we had just gotten married. My father-in-law was paying for our little honeymoon. All things were in their right place: the Eiffel Tower remained standing; all
the places and églises and cathédrales in Paris, carved directly from the
stone of the earth, they were waiting for us. I never really liked Paris save that man, who was never seated in front of the piano, never touched its keys, never played a single melody, but hiding under the hood plucked
the piano’s strings to sound such eerie noises. One piece he played was to remind me of 2001, and all of the things that were going to happen in 2001, all of which happened with a crashing sound. Do you recall that
painting—Botticelli, I think—that had been projected atop Narayanhiti for twenty December days in ‘99, because the King’s son liked it? That’s the
sound of this piece the man was playing in Paris. The piano’s raw strings contorted, stretched, released, I mean, released the events of 2001.
In 2001, the Maoists are making their way into Kathmandu. Democracy
lingers. During curfew, when the world outside is stopped, domestic life, too, becomes the chiya-pasal, the everyday-politics. Our lives are so
recklessly weaved into a worldly fabric: the WHOLE WORLD knows me, and it knows that I, too, don’t know the question we’re all asking—Who
the hell is Prachanda and what is he doing bringing his jungle business to Kathmandu?
Do not read this as nostalgia. If you do, read the nostalgia for my days of hearing—those I miss. But do not read any other kind of longing, and if
you find yourself stumbling onto a half-formed desire for something long
past, you straighten yourself, dust off the sob story, gather your strength, and read the next sentence.
The sound of rain. Kathmandu in the cold. Kathmandu in the summer.
Kathmandu during curfew hour—I remember it well. Kathmandu during curfew hour was unforgettable, because you heard it all and you heard nothing. For a few minutes during curfew hour each day, I remember
hearing all of Kathmandu, and that night, when a screaming somebody stabbed that silence I heard everything and then some more. What I
think—I have no reason to think otherwise—is that the very same scream must have traveled through the city to find the one open ear, mine, and
shoveled deep into it, because the next morning when I woke up, I felt a
gaping hole on both sides of my head; the images of my dream had come printed on the day’s newspaper; King Birendra lay sprawled across the front page of Kantipur, killed by his own son.
Overthinking Amna Al Ameri
Aircraft Cabin Zoe Patterson
Snaking gold veins dribble and drip below Tinned tuna somehow airborne
We’re chasing the sun with the moon
Bobbing like a white face at our backs The clouds pulling cotton
Across our air-sucked eyes. Home is a memory
Easily tampered with behind your shoulders How is it splitting so suddenly At the seams?
Did you leave it in the dryer too long? Did you photocopy it or 3D print it?
Which one is real? It cannot—surely—be an Aircraft cabin?
A place as uncomfortable as the man
Shuffling past you from that pencil-box bathroom. His indigestion eyes are a warning worse than
Seatbelt signs. You really don’t want to go in there. Home shouldn’t be
A scrabbling toddler’s kick
Or the quivering string of drool That glitters from you
To the tray the attendant is clearing.
Home is a collection of things
It is a hand-crafted alibi to prove You danced, wore,
read, wrote, breathed
There is a stuttering line of objects from Your foalish careening into the world to Your feet
and the thing attached to them.
Home is a proof of you beyond the mirror. So, it cannot be a stinking port-a-potty
Whizzing through the clouds 12 kilometers Up.
It can’t be a thing lobbed at the sky
Like some soda can crushed underfoot and flung— Even if the person in the mirror there Looks surprisingly like (an ugly) you
And you’ve crafted a house from the feeling Of flight.
Home is “remember when”—
And a softness about the eyes
A memory, easily tampered with.
america—that band-aid full of promises to fix you.
join the queue, dizzied by the piles and piles of rainbows lying
at the end of the aisle.
juice boxes, chocolates, gluten-free pasta, and shampoos of a thousand kinds.
there are 50 ways to touch the hair on your head. there are 50 ways to choose a magazine, where
there are 50 ways to please your man, written code red. i spin from the choices—regular, organic, soy. cold-pressed and cool priced. my dream lies
in that carton of red and white,
like toothpaste or the fourth of july. my ID is stuck
in that carton, preservative -free, no added sugar, to be processed, still. america—that carton of promises to keep
your belly full. whoever you may be, there is always an option:
almond milks for the lactose intolerant,
agave syrups for the glucose intolerant, 9 mm guns for the racially intolerant. no other
nation has so much goodwill for the things we can not tolerate.
the hate you give is always accepted
for donation, indeed all types are welcome. we take sweatshirts in every color or kind. we take bodies of every color and kind. america—that superpower
disguised as a supermarket, promising to make you whole.
it urges like a mother demanding
to over-achieve, you bend backwards. it nags: eat your greens.
your farm-fresh kale, your kombucha tea, your crisp dollar bills, your illegal weed,
your residence visa, your statue of liberty.
green as your distant aunt’s envy, she likes your facebook pictures in spite. for you are inside the womb of an inferno
crown cutting into your head, young lady liberty.
while back home she—
in the kitchen, disillusioned—
makes sweet and sour stir fry; the smoke and sweat
of trying and wanting, working and hurting hard for a better myth of a better life, rises roof high,
up the vents to stranger skies.
٢ حبل الغسيل
Privileged Observants Nadia Rabeh
new york. mouth ajar
holds a manâ€™s savings in coins down its throat. new york, a gullet of bile, trapped voice garbling beautiful
words, so big it will certainly swallow you whole.
new york. eyes wide, eyes focused, eyes always narrow.
we keep our chins raised and heads lowered palms up, palms open.
trollies full, bags loaded, down
cast eyes and shoulders tense.
backs hunched and thumbs bent.
swiping for trains and un-easy sex.
swiping for pockets and easy meds.
swiping for sweet ice-cream and men.
swiping for play and pause and stop, this is not what you wanted.
transaction of dreams now complete. open call for hopes and prayers. II.
hi there, how can i help you today?
here, let me show youâ€” the appropriate size for your skyscraping dream, the appropriate volume of choice in this grocery, the appropriate space that you constantly need in your wallet
or your head. III.
is this building so high
is the price so high
is the list so high
is the flight swallowing up the runway while choking on its steam, self in the cargo hold, overweight again? will you cruise, crash or just descend?
gentle as a dollar bill or a grain of snow? lay to rest solid cold?
crumple fast, robbed of home? undone, sunken to the floor?
framed in white, fall in a hole?
new york. begging to be fished from the dustbin
to shake off its poor
smells, be polished shiny apple new again. iâ€™m here now.
deposit my fantasies, and grow me with interest new york. a weed out of the crack, a rose stemming up, up, up
from concrete and corruption, nation-size dream reduced
to coins stuffed in a beaten hand.
The Only Way of Healing I Was Ever Able to Master Alice Huang
Every time I hear that guitar solo, I know the song is ending. Then I go back to the afternoons in New York City: I would move a chair to sit right by the window, where I could watch time slip by on Fifth Avenue.
“Paul, I know you said that you’d take me, any way I came or went.”
I think about the days that took away a small piece of me. I remember the vibrations in my chest as I stared at the point where cars disappeared,
the light reflecting off the tops of them, the cold windows, the dark eyes. I see myself running through the light. It’s far too bright for me to open my eyes. I just run, through traffic and the shadows of girls in blue dresses
and the edges of slippery curbs. I shed as I run. I strip myself of clothes
and skin and lungs. I don’t know if I ever make it to the point where cars disappear.
I know when the song fades out.
* Every time I hear a ukulele, I recall the bus ride from University and
Frances to West Transfer Point. It was the most beautiful summer. All
paleness tanned, all wounds healed. It was full of patches of green and yellow. That was Madison to me. Green and yellow, even on grey days. I got off at the second to last stop every morning from the rear door. I
would always raise my voice to wish the driver a great day from the back before hopping off, and so would everyone else. What a way to start a day.
I never needed to learn how to free fall. I landed in this city full of
strangers with desolation in my throat. But the sun was bright in Madison,
so I ran around the lake barefoot and chased fireflies and jumped onto the backs of men and women who were quick to catch me. Soon, it wasnâ€™t
that harsh to swallow the venom anymore. I know wounds are healed by opening up to more potential wounds. I can see them growing already.
Tanned skin turning light pink. That is the only way of healing I was ever able to master.
Those were the fearless summer days.
* This morning I drove Mother to work. She had a cappuccino in her
hand, and a piece of honey bread on her lap. As I turned left out of our
driveway, I remembered the teenage days when I had to wake up early
in the morning to go to school. I was always sleep deprived and grumpy, shoving breakfast down my throat to the sound of the radio show that taught one Hakka phrase each day. The familiar tick of the blinker, my mother now in the passenger seat.
Days go by and there is not much we get to keep, just some bits and pieces of songs and gentle ticks of blinkers.
A dandelion fluff
A red jacket hung soaking from a tree The golden light and
A baseball game in the distance Summers, I used to alight
Big jet planes streaky messes in the sky Insect colonies above and below
The moon a vegetable print on the blue. Three body prints in tall grass
Summers later itâ€™s just one, bigger print As if one swallowed the others
Or the ground swallowed the two
Or life segregates children and the
Grass gets cut from under your ankles. But the robins are the same still
Moving twitchy like theyâ€™ve been
Reanimated from a frozen death and the Suburbs still seethe like a dull, regular Unhappy marriage.
I used to sit on these stairs and read About animal anatomies
And this town smells like the girl who died Here
When she nose-dove into the void
It wasn’t poetic like Virginia’s pockets full Of stones or
The heat around Sylvia’s ears; But poetic like a scream that never ends Only you stopped listening.
A Labrador with a grey muzzle and Ski-slope eyes
An old woman with mashed potato hair
And a guilty smile when she leaves her dog’s poo In the child’s playground.
A man whose breakfast is the lonesome wolf cry Of liquor that goes down smooth.
I know my town with the same bewilderment
As reading the diaries of my young doubled self A body print on a grass long since grown.
On The Edge
Adele Bea Cipste Watercolor on paper
Muhammad Shehryar Hamid
He took his time to grab the bicycle Both tires flat, the handle broken
The seat adjusted to the maximum length So high, his hands barely reached
The roller chain off the two sprockets, Cut in half with a powerful tool A bent nose plier
Forced through his three layers of clothing, Buried there deep
The red darkening
He took his time to grab the bicycle A single tear in his eye Not for the hurt
But for his motherâ€™s purse Opened last Thursday
On his eleventh birthday
When the aged and poor, single mother Took her son to the bicycle store
The Other Face of Migration Louise Gerodias
Dear Mama, I am writing to reach you—even if I know my words are powerless against the distance. I am writing to remember the time, 11 years ago, when you tucked me in bed and I asked you to sing our favorite song, Selena’s
“Dreaming of You.” Your soothing voice caressed my ear— like it always did—and sent me off to dreamland.
You were in my dream that night. Everything was hazy. I couldn’t see the look on your face, but I heard your voice. I’m sorry. I wondered if I was hearing wrong. Mama, what were you sorry for? Anak, I’m sorry, but I
must do this. Your voice, as always, was tender. And yet, too soft, almost fragile, as if something inside you would break if you kept speaking.
Strange. I was dreaming but I felt heavy—my heart was heavy. I didn’t
know it was possible to experience such a sensation in my dreams. I felt
the warmth of your hands, patting me back to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I went straight to our kitchen. I always see you there in the morning, cooking my favorite sunny-side up and Ate’s corned beef hash for breakfast. Ma, I had a strange dream last night! I wish it really was a dream, but wishes are for fairytale princesses and that’s not what I am. Lola held her arms out; the world itself wrapped around me. The hug
was too tight. My heart was heavy. Your mama left last night. She’s going abroad to work. She didn’t want to wake you up because she knew you wouldn’t let her go. Mama, did you want me to let go?
I remember that time when I was six or seven, my first day of first grade, I didn’t want to go to school. Fat tears rolled down my cheeks. First a
drizzle, then a downpour. I have always been a shy and anxious child. I
took after you. I did not hate school; I hated not having you beside me. I
knew you were frustrated. People were staring. Mama, don’t leave me! My teacher was already inside our classroom. She seemed eager to start the class, but I didn’t want you to go. The three of us made a deal: I would
calm and sit down only if my designated seat was that wooden chair—
painted in pink, like a marshmallow—near the wall, facing the door where I could see you. The teacher agreed and so for about an hour, you stood outside the door. You would wave at me and urge me, using improvised hand signs, to look in front and listen to the teacher. We fell into this
routine for three more days, until I felt comfortable around my peers. You were my source of strength. I knew, during those times, I wasn’t yours.
Today was my first day at college. There were no children crying, teachers waiting or mothers standing by the door. I am writing because my
classmate said she’s going out for dinner with her mother. To celebrate
the start of her undergraduate journey. I’m an adult now, but can’t adults hope to see their mothers stand by the door sometimes?
My grade school graduation. The principal said I was to give a speech on
behalf of the graduating class. Congratulations! Ate and Lola jumped with joy after I broke the news. I thought of you. You were always the happiest whenever I received awards in school. You would tell your friends that
your daughter was elected club president, won the spelling bee, ranked as a class achiever. My self-proclaimed number one supporter.
You had phoned home a month before my big day. I didn’t know then what the principal had said, but I asked you to come home. Please
come back home. I miss you. You said something about a contract and
expensive flight tickets. I’ll try. I might be young, but I was smart enough to decipher hidden messages. I’ll try = I can’t.
I tried to understand the reason behind your absence. Married but single. Two daughters. One sick mother. Insufficient income. Growing needs. But—sorry, mama—I couldn’t do it.
My high school’s Family Day, do you remember? I was in tenth grade. You
were home for the first time since you had started working abroad. I acted as if I wasn’t affected by your presence, but something bloomed inside me. Don’t keep your hopes up. Ate had always been the rational sister.
She protects my heart, especially in moments when I let my guard down. That was one of them
You did not come. Appointment with the Department of Labor and
Employment, you said. I wondered: Does a daughter have to book an appointment to spend time with her mother?
December. Philippines celebrates the longest Christmas season in the world. Christmas used to be my favorite holiday. We listened to carols
and decorated our house with gleaming displays as early as September. Lanterns lined every street and walkway. On December 16th, we would
wake up at 3:00 am to prepare and attend the first of nine Misa de Gallo. I was eager to complete those nine days because you said my wish
would come true. Before I knew it, completing Misa de Gallo became our
tradition. It was not so much about my wish, but about you and me praying together, eating puto and drinking taho right before we went home.
I don’t look forward to December as much as I used to. I can barely count
the number of times I’ve attended Misa de Gallo in the last couple of years. Waking up before dawn has now become a chore.
The first Christmas without you felt empty, but one could say I’m already used to it. I don’t even feel anymore. Christmas Day is just like any other day in the calendar.
The time you found out your mama died, I don’t think we’ll ever forget. Lola had an acute heart failure. You were hysterical over the phone, 4,645 miles away. We knew you couldn’t just hop on a plane home. Flight tickets are
expensive and your contract had not ended. Mama! Why did you leave me, mama?
Ever since you left I thought I had already seen the different faces of pain. That I could recognize its shadow even from afar. I was wrong. In the
quaver of your voice I heard the familiar pain of a daughter. We shared
that pain. You lost your mother, I lost the woman who stood as mine. But
there was something else. As if I was transported back to that night when
you visited me in my dream—my heart felt heavy. The sun was high in the sky, but the house was filled with gloom. As you continued to cry, I felt
my insides tighten. I imagined fat tears rolling down your cheeks. First a drizzle, then a downpour, then a flood.
I experienced, for the first time, the pain of hearing you—my mother—cry.
At the age of seven, Hala lost her best friend. “We’re soul mates,” Reem
said. “Because God tied our spirits together before we were born.” Reem was confident that they shared the angel that had breathed into their
mothers, like how the angel Jibreel breathed into Mariam, the mother of
the prophet Isa. They are connected forever within the foundations of their soul. In the distant future, Hala will envy the thoughts of children, which often produced the most profound worlds.
Hala sat at her best friend’s wake, surrounded by crying women. Wailing women. She was quiet. Her feet, wrapped in shiny black shoes, didn’t
quite reach the floor. Reem’s aunt came around, passing out copies of the Qur’an to each mourner. These were paid for by Reem’s father, in
hopes that those who read from them would pray in Reem’s name, so that her “hasanat” will be added upon while she rests before judgement day. Hala’s mother said that “hasanat” are good points that an angel on your shoulder keeps count of.
Her mother had told her that Reem was in an accident, but did not tell her more. Did not want those images in her daughter’s head. But Hala
heard fleeting words floating around her in hushed whispers. “Poor girl,
the hit must have made it a quick end.” “They found the car, it had been abandoned.” Hala began to imagine what Reem’s body might have
looked like after the accident. But women do not look at the deceased
body. The familial men have carried her casket to the graveyard. Women are not allowed into the cemetery.
There is no doubt that Reem will make it to “janna,” heaven. I can see her turn into a song bird and flying. I can also see her eating all the chocolate in the world, without ever getting sick. Hala knew that Reem would do
this, because they had told each other what they would do in heaven after they died. Hala wanted to have a bouncy castle made of jelly. It would be
green. She also wanted to have the same exact home she lived in now to be in heaven, so that she could be with her family, so that she could still be neighbors with Reem.
Hala looked up from her shoes and to the women in the room. Many of them were veiled, in long dark dresses. She couldn’t tell one from the
other. Except Reem’s mother, who had torn off her scarf and was now
working on tearing off her hair. From the corner of her eye, Hala could see another woman walking into the room. Veiled. By her side was a girl who looked to be just as old as Hala.
The girl moved from one woman to another, kissing cheeks and repeating the same words her mother had told her to say to those who mourn.
When she reached Hala, she sat beside her. “My name is Malak,” she
whispered. Hala nodded, and they sat quietly for the remainder of the
evening in the living room where she once spit Coca Cola on the carpet
and Reem took the blame. Lying was a sin, but are all lies bad? Hala grew anxious, thinking of Reem’s “hasanat,” in fear that by taking the blame, she might lose her place in heaven. She later asked her mother, whose eyes immediately drew tears. She planted kisses on Hala’s face, and
reassured her that little girls always go to heaven. This placated Hala,
until she remembered being told that children of Adam and Even cannot decide who goes to heaven or hell, but only God can. Did this mean her mother was in trouble for saying that Reem is in heaven?
Hala prayed in her bed for forgiveness for them all that night.
When all had left the wake, Hala and her mother stood up to leave. Malak waved goodbye to Hala, and Hala waved back.
It was another month of scorching heat before school began. Third grade. The first day of class without Reem. Hala sat at the desk with her name taped onto it. Beside her was a girl who was scrawling intensely on a
paper, her hair covering her face. When Hala’s chair scraped against the
floor, the girl looked up. It was Malak. A large grin broke across her face.
“Hello, Hala!” Malak giggled at her own words. Hala noticed that no name was taped onto Malak’s desk.
Malak began to follow Hala everywhere. Hala supposed they were friends now, which she did not particularly mind. Sometimes Malak irritated
her, because she never played the games Hala enjoyed best. Cops and
robbers, or tag. Malak would not let Hala brush her hair like the other girls do either. But they found other ways to play.
It was a semester later when Hala’s mother sat her down at home and
asked, “Why aren’t you making any friends at school?” This puzzled Hala, because she had been with her newfound friend every day since classes
began. “Don’t lie to me, your school called to ask if you are well, because you always sit alone.” That was when Hala became afraid. She told her mother about Malak, and her mother grew pale.
Hala watched her mother as she called the school and enquired about
a “Malak.” She asked her daughter if she knew her last name, and Hala shook her head. Hala did not hear what was said from the other end of
the phone call, but when her mother hung up, she held Hala’s arm firmly. “Don’t lie to your mother, are you making up this friend?” She watched her mother’s face begin to scrunch up and turn red, and then tears fell
again. “It’s okay to make friends. Reem wouldn’t be mad at you.” Reem.
The name ricocheted off the back of Hala’s mind, and soon enough, she began to cry too. She embraced her mother, calling “Mama, mama,” before she fell into an exhausted sleep.
At school the next day, Hala marched with purpose. She walked into
class, stepped up to Malak and commanded, “Why are you here if you’re
not a student at my school? Why would you lie to me? I thought you were my friend.” Malak looked at her, quiet. She reached out her hand but
withdrew it. They ignored each other for the rest of the day. After school, Hala was walking into the car park to meet her mother. She heard her
name and turned around to see Malak running to her. Angry, Hala turned away from her and began to run out onto the street. Her ears were too
full with the sound of her raging heart to hear the honk, honk hooooonk.
When it was loud enough to hear, it was too late. She froze. Then, a hand pulled harshly at her collar, onto the pavement. Hala lay there, and saw
a face shadowed by the sun. Two souls tied, too close. And it was gone. The wailing of a mother, her mother. “Hala!” She fell to her knees and embraced her daughter, then took her home.
Hala did not go to school the following day. Her mother was brushing
back her hair when Hala asked, “Mama, how did you run to me so fast to
save me?” Her mother’s brows came together, her hand stopped moving. “Albi, my heart, what do you mean?” She heard the sentence again, still fresh in her thoughts. Two souls tied, too close. Malak.
She ran to school the next morning to the unnamed desk. No one was there.
Hala’s mother taught her that every child of Adam has ten guardian
angels, al-mala’ika, who would protect their person from any harm and
evil intentions. Hala asked her mother if two people could share guardian
angels. Her mother smiled, “Maybe.” That night, she dreamt of holding Malak’s and Reem’s hands, lying down in a green jelly bouncy house.
Star Sophia Karzai
Ink and gold pigment on paper
Meditation before Bed Chiran Raj Pandey
It was last night
that I could not sleep.
There was an eclipse—
the moon was behind us and now its dirty shadow threatened
to clamber up my open window.
I have heard eclipses change the world. On an eclipse night
the earth moves four times as slow; lakes, rivers, ponds, seas— all are released
from gravity’s grasp;
all are free to be as they are on eclipse night save man
who, bound beautifully to his bed,
is ashamed at the things he has done and therefore he cannot sleep.
Dreamscape Rayna Li Charcoal on newsprint
Amal Al Shamsi
SUBJECT: Possible Threat Alert: The Strange Case of Sleep SLEEP, the missing time that passes between sunset and sunrise in
diurnal mammals, has long been accepted as a time when consciousness is suspended while the body rests. An average human being spends half of his life partaking in this elaborate time theft, which will be referred to
from now on as SLEEP. The way that SLEEP is perceived by the everyday
individual is a fascinating byproduct of the combined efforts to slow down the evolution of mankind and its surroundings. Think about SLEEP like this, since it helps when approaching a very familiar (some might say
even “dear”) topic, to zoom all the way out: the procedure starts with
sealing off one’s self in a chamber specifically designed to facilitate an
accepted form of self-sedation. All of which leads to one possibility: that
at one point, the world was experiencing excruciating growing pains and
seemed ready to snap. Uninterrupted consciousness day and night meant human beings and their surroundings were progressing too quickly; the universe struggled to keep up.
The perpetuation of the idea that SLEEP is a biological necessity, that it restores the body’s vitals and re-energizes its spirits, dates back to the
first written record. It is time for these falsities to be refuted: what is your earliest recollection of going to bed? Who is with you in that moment?
Memory is faulty, but that does not detract from the essence of SLEEP as you, by which I mean everyone, have encountered it. Whether you
were sung to by your mother, rocked, or got so bored of being ignored in your infantile babbling that you shut your eyes, all of us lost our first
burst of time at a very young age. We did not know any better. We have
unfortunately kept up the habit ever since. The mere thought of being awake past midnight sent the ancient man into near madness. Tales
of fright, of the mysteries and unfavourable encounters that take place under the veil of the night, pervaded the conversation and the minds
of mankind. “Insomniacs,” those who were not brought under the spell of SLEEP or those whose minds rebelled, were handled like diseased
patients. In this way, culture stepped in to bolster the claims of “science.” But, again: anyone can be convinced that a specific action is necessary for their survival. Clothing is another manmade construct that merely
complicates and subtracts from further evolution. Or even the silly instinct to spit out blessings when another human being attempts to dislodge
something from their throat. With the time and resources that are being funnelled into giving human bodies a second, synthetic skin, the entire
race could have been in the distant rudimentary stages of interplanetary communication centuries ago.
We have been taught that the day is over at a certain time, whenceforth we must retire. But how do we know that it is vital for human beings to
partake in prolonged sedation? How is it possible to track SLEEP back to
the time before language and complex thought? How would wasting such valuable time be useful in any sense before man could rely on the artificial assistance and protection of technology? When did consciousness
become too much? I assure you, this is all being brought up not just to stir a sense of unease within the forcibly narcoleptic body of mankind,
but to prepare you for another haunting thought. SLEEP has been falling steeply into its own slumber over the years; its effects are wearing off
for its believers. The production of high-commitment screen displays is soaring and creeping into the later, unexplored hours of the dark. The public has slowly been primed over the years, reeled in by late night
talk shows and old favourite rerun segments, to engage in less SLEEP, eventually to need less SLEEP. The time an adult spends immersed in
the tranquillized state of SLEEP has gone down from ten hours to eight in the past decade. As of now, it sits at a meagre four hours. Viewers
are on the verge of transcending the boundaries of day and night in full consciousness, returning to an unremembered past.
That can only make one wonder: what are we staying awake for? What must we prepare for?
O, full of scorpions is my mind Rayna Li Monoprint on watercolor paper
Back then the pond looked okay to swim in, and it never really was, but
we still did, me and the other boys. The ice would melt in the springtime
and on days when the sun came out and there wasn’t a trace of snow left, we would all gather around. We didn’t even have to say it, we just knew we would. All the boys in the neighborhood, it was like the pond was
calling to us. The older ones would tow the younger ones along, kicking and screaming—they’d heard the stories.
We would gather around at the edges, looking down and puffing our
chests out. Once they got there the younger ones wouldn’t cry anymore— they knew what would happen if they did, and nobody wanted to get
pushed in. Some boys would hum to themselves, but the others hated that because we thought they might call them up from underwater.
Whoever they were. We sometimes felt their strong fingers on our calves,
when we let ourselves wade up to our necks. The older boys said to never go so far that you couldn’t touch the ground. Our mothers forbade us
from doing it at all. The factory was pouring something in the water that made your skin feel slick and sticky afterwards.
But then that summer there was a boy called Jack Hadley. He didn’t
believe in the stories. His mother and little sister were making dinner at
home while he went out exploring. His sister called him “Jackie” but he’d pinch her if she did it in front of anyone else. Jack liked swimming, and when he showed up at the pond, one of the boys dared him to go first. He’d never been in before. He was a new kid trying to prove himself.
We were impressed. He didn’t even wince from the cold water, and he
wasn’t ashamed to strip to his boxers in front of everyone. He had one
curly hair on his chest, and was skinny enough that you could see his
ribs. He went calf-high, knee-high, waist-high. His legs looked like bendy straws. Nobody had ever been that far into the pond alone. By now you
were supposed to call on someone else to join, and he would call another, until all of you were in. But Jackie was alone. He pushed a floating can
aside and pretended to smoke on one of the reeds for our entertainment. “What do you all look so scared for?” He twisted a reed into a gun and aimed it at my chest. We locked eyes. There was silence. “BAM.” He pretended to shoot me and even though I wished I hadn’t, I jumped. A bird flew away with a twittering disapproval. I felt the others’ eyes on
me. I was torn between telling him not to go any further and proving that I didn’t care about him, didn’t care about the gun or any of it. I wasn’t a baby.
“I dare you to go out to your neck,” I said, regretting the words as soon as they came out. His expression had already accepted the dare before he could. All the boys bit their breaths back. He walked backwards, facing
me. He went elbow-deep, nipple-deep, shoulder-deep. He was going too fast. The pond looked like it was breathing hard. Like a woman in porn. Each of us started to feel a shard of ice burrow deep into our hearts. “Stop!” The word burst out of the boy beside me.
I echoed it with my own weak “Stop,” as another step had him up to his ears.
Jackie started laughing, and was still laughing when the pond water
started to seep into his mouth. His mouth got bigger and bigger, like his
jaw was unhinged. Like a reverse fountain, like pulling a plug. His mouth
was still laughing when his eyes started to panic. When his face changed
colour. His mouth was wide when the water went up his nose and poured into his ears. Then he disappeared with a little pop, leaving a pretend reed-gun behind.
Jackie’s mom and sister moved away. They made a grave for him but the
truth is nobody took the body out of the pond. Nobody could dare to drag along the bottom to see what was in there. It took them a week to get
us to even admit that we’d seen Jack the day he went missing. I wanted to tell my Mother over and over that I was the one who killed Jack, but
when I tried to speak my voice collapsed. No sound came out. My mother begged me to speak. Couldn’t I become a little clearer? Couldn’t I just
tell her somehow what happened? Couldn’t I stop being so angry all the time?
When winter fell I went back to the pond for the first time. I walked out onto the ice, cleared a patch of snow and looked down. I could see
straight to the bottom through the green murk. I lay on my stomach and finally spoke, but all the words that came out were not what I wanted to say. I heard myself, and realized I couldn’t connect meanings to words
anymore. When I spoke, sentences came out like [apple] snow. Machine. I. quiver. [HELP] no less than. golf. falling. The more I spoke the less sense it made. The more I spoke, the more I tasted blood.
Jackie floated up to the surface eventually, like I’d known he would, and
we lay face to face, staring at each other through the ice. His skin was
bloated and his hair moved like the weeds at the bottom of the pond. His mouth was still unhinged in a grotesque smile. A beer label had attached itself to his thigh. He was so beautiful. And marred. I pressed myself
against the ice and hoped to warm it enough that I would sink through.
They found me almost frozen and unconscious, with raw knuckles from
trying to punch my way through to him. They told my Mother Iâ€™d been in a fight. When I spoke, it was with someone elseâ€™s voice.
Tong Li heard the muffled voice of his father coming from the poolside. “C’mon, last lap, you’re almost there. Don’t take your breaths so frequently. It’s gonna slow you down. Let’s go, son.”
There were five white stripes in between the blue tiles at the bottom of the pool, but Tong wasn’t sure whether the one he had just passed was the
third or the fourth stripe since he was distracted by the waves that struck
when a big guy swam by. Saturday mornings are most crowded at the city pool. Five weeks ago, he started off from the slow lane, but now he swims in the medium lane, which is the one that is always packed.
He tried to hold his breath for longer, but his lungs wouldn’t cooperate. His heart was pumping fast in his throat and his ears. He heard his
father’s voice again, but this time he had no strength left to decipher the words scrambled by water. Perhaps that was someone else’s father. His legs felt soggy, but his feet felt like rocks.
Suddenly, the tip of his right fingers hit the cold wall. So, that was the fourth stripe back there. Finally.
He stood up in the pool and hurried to climb out in order to avoid the
next approaching swimmer. His left hand clung to the cover of the drain to support the rest of his body, which didn’t feel like his anymore. Mr. Li
walked up to him and threw a towel on top of his head. Pebbles of water rolled down the sides of his face and gathered beneath his chin.
Tong is ten years and seven months old, really quite skinny for his age.
His bathing trunks barely stay on his waist. He has very fair skin, almost a light pink color. As his father rubbed the towel against his hair, Tong
saw another kid walk out of the dressing room. He walked along the pool alone, briskly but heedful of the wet floor. His steps were steady, but
when the daylight seeped through the ceiling and fell on his face, you
could instantly see the kid gamboling at the beach, stirring up splashes
of water with his foot, laughing. He had that kind of carefree cheer that he carried with him.
Two women were chatting loudly near the pool. Tong could hear bits and
pieces of their conversation. They were saying something about the post
office and the gas price and about the public-school tuition. For a second, they stopped to wave at that kid walking by, and one woman obviously
made a compliment to the other, who responded with a proud smile. As the kid turned toward where Tong was standing, he saw a familiar face.
* “Pa, that’s Shao-Ping, the new classmate I told you about. I didn’t know
he comes here too.” Tong’s toes, wrinkled from soaking in the pool for too long, were scratching the floor. Sometimes he does that. Other times he flips his feet outwards so that the only parts in contact with the wet floor are the outer rim of his feet.
Shao-Ping was warming up, his shoulder blades wide open and two arms stretching all the way behind. He was slim like Tong, but he had bigger
thighs and tanned skin. His yellow swimming cap was lying on the floor next to him.
“That’s great. I wonder how long he has been practicing. Everyone
works hard these days. My colleagues are all sending their children
to swimming. It’s good you’re here every weekend. Soon you will be
asking me to go to the river with your friends, I would feel much more
comfortable letting you go if you knew how to protect yourself in water.” Mr. Li grabbed the towel from Tong’s head, hung it on his own arm and
started walking. Tong followed, but when Mr. Li passed by the entrance of the dressing room without stopping, Tong clumsily jogged up to his dad. “Where are you going, Papa? The dressing room was back there.”
“Oh, we gotta go say hi to your classmate first. Hurry. We wanna catch him before he starts swimming.”
“What? I’m not going to say hi to him. I don’t want him to think I’m weird.” “Didn’t you say he is your closest friend in the new class?” “Yeah, but, it’s awkward to walk up to him.” “How are you going to make friends at school if you’re scared to even say hi?”
“I’m not scared. I just don’t want to.” “It’s just greeting a classmate. What’s so difficult about it? Don’t be a little girl,” Mr. Li was starting to raise his voice. He grabbed Tong’s upper arm. “I’m not scared. I actually only talked to him once. I don’t know him well yet. Maybe he doesn’t even remember me. He looks like he is about to get into the water. I don’t want to interrupt him.”
“If he didn’t remember you, he will after you greet him. Stop making excuses. Get over there.”
“I really don’t want to, Pa. If we see him again next week I’ll say hi. I
promise. It’s strange to go up to him and say hi now. I don’t know him well enough yet. He’s gonna think I’m weird.”
“Next time. Next time. You will say the same thing to me next time.” He clenched his hand around his son’s arm yanked him forward.
Tong started crying. He kept on peeking at Shao-Ping. Please don’t notice me. Please don’t notice me. As his father started dragging him toward
the opposite side of the pool, he tried to resist by holding on to the drain cover with his toes. They were hurting from clinging so hard.
“If you don’t get over there to say hi to that kid, I will make you shout ‘I’m not a coward’ in the parking lot for everyone to hear. We will see which one is more embarrassing.”
Mr. Li stopped tugging Tong’s arm but did not let go. Around his grip, Tong’s fair skin began to turn red.
Tong felt as if there were worms crawling in his nose and his throat.
“You have one last chance to decide. Do you want to go and greet your friend, or no?”
Just as he finished the sentence, Shao-Ping put on his yellow swimming cap and descended the ladder into the pool.
Tong squeezed his sore eyes as more tears fell. “Okay. Too late now. You will shout ‘I am not a coward’ in the parking lot later and everyone will hear you.”
As they walked into the parking lot, Tong secretly hoped his father would just forget about his threat. He quickly walked to the back of the car
and yanked the door handle. The car was locked. He waited for a few
moments and tried again, but the door remained locked. He could feel his father staring at the back of his neck. He tried to gather as much courage as he could to turn around and look at his dad, but all that gathered were more helpless tears.
“Say it. Don’t be a coward again. You know our deal. You made your
decision. Actions have consequences. Shout. Shout. Let everyone on the street know.”
Two joggers passed by. An old man was strolling on the streets. A group of college students who had just walked out of the 7-Eleven next to the
public sports center were laughing at a joke about the color of someone’s car.
* Tong stood still. “Say it. Say it, son. Say it. Say it.” “I am not a coward,” Tong murmured. “Louder. I can’t hear you.” “I am not a coward.” “Louder. You need to be loud enough for everyone on the street to hear you. We will not go home until you say it loud enough. I have the entire day to spend here.”
Tong clenched his small fists and started walking away from the car. Mr. Li took two quick steps to stop Tong. He pulled the boy’s shoulder, turning him around to face him.
“You think you can get away that easily? If you want to walk home by yourself, fine. You can walk home after you can shout loud enough.”
Tong twisted his waist to the left to try and get rid of his father’s strong hand. He could feel his nose turning red.
“I am not a coward,” Tong was much louder than before, but his voice cracked at the last syllable.
“I want everyone passing by to be able to hear you. Try again.” Tong was silent. He hated everything. He hated everything, most of all
his own tears that kept coming. In his head he pictured running away. He imagined his father being very, very sad and full of regrets when he ran away. Tong wanted to run away forever.
“Do it. Hurry. Let’s get this over with. Do it,” Mr. Li’s voice shook, too. “I AM NOT A COWARD,” Tong finally yelled, as loud as any ten-year-old ever could.
Time stopped on that entire street. The joggers slowed for a moment to look at him. The college students stopped and glanced at each other. Only the old man continued to pace as if nothing had happened.
Mr. Li’s eyes scanned the parking lot, examined every detail of every
object in this entire parking lot. He listened to the voice of his trembling son. He heard fear and history in it. He looked at his son and looked at
the college kids and looked at his own toes and the scratched surface of his blue car. He looked at his son and his damp silky hair.
“I AM NOT A COWARD,” Tong’s father shouted, even louder than his son. “I AM NOT A COWARD.” The joggers resumed. The old man went on. The college students were out of sight.
No one was left on the street now. “I AM NOT A COWARD,” shouted the son. “I AM NOT A COWARD,” shouted the father.
Muhammad Shehryar Hamid
Whose water is it anyway? Archita Arun
The river dispute,
yes the same one,
has attracted some of the most extreme protests and dharnas.
Submit a draft Collect statistics from each of the states that had the river basin Constitute a tribunal Discuss the apex court order Create a petition board (these are NOT actions you can take as a regular citizen) It started a long time ago 1892 1924
back when states were princely and borders blurry
A resulting agreement:
75% to one of the states and a union territory
23% to the other state
and the rest to you and me. The dispute continues to rage
because the water that was precious then has become more precious now Whose water is it anyway? Did you know that the measure for river water division is TMC Thousand Million Cubic Feet.
And yet the dispute continues Hereâ€™s the deal:
where my water needs end, yours can begin.
The waiting waiting waiting #GoBackModi
#WhereIsOurWater No.1 Twitter Trend: All in a Dayâ€™s Work During the colonial times
one state favored over another but now
bureaucratickhichdithatthiscountryalwayseemstobeinbecauseevenifwedid haveallthewaterwerequiredwewouldbebickeringaboutsomethingelseisthisw hatdemocracylookslikewhilefewrichupperclassmenfightaboutwheretobuild damsmillionsoffarmersandciviliansprotestoutofhungerandstarvation
and all I can do as a citizen of this country, as a member of my state and rant.
is read about this on Firstpost and Outlook
They say it is a sensitive subject
because water for one= lack of water for another. Can a simple discourse change the course of a river hence changing the course of many lives?
Ofelia and Ophelia Zoe Patterson
Her spirit, a fairy flickering insect itch Inside of her
Dead on the floor button-down And bloody frock.
She was a chrysalis crushed in his Unassuming bite
A sacrifice to Pan’s
Delightful fingers for a boy A brother’s body.
The namesake of another Ophelia, who
Drowned herself to teach us, what Exactly?
Lower her body so that the men
Can kill each other over fathers or Her lack
A plot device, pining. I imagine the older Ophelia tut-tuts
Floating on that cloudy gospel cherub perch Another senseless death for That boy—brother—lover
He will only live to start another war But
Isn’t it beautiful?
Iceberg Lettuce Muhammad Shehryar Hamid
Whale Hatim Benhsain Ink on paper
The School for Little Witches Zoe Patterson
“What a little witch.” Esther overheard it, passed like a note from her third-grade teacher to the fourth-grade teacher. She knew that they were talking about her.
Both adults glanced at her and let their guilty eyes slide sideways when they saw her watching them. Esther had those big, dark eyes and thick
eyebrows that looked like they didn’t belong on a child. Nobody brushed or braided her hair, and she came to school without lunch at least twice a week, which would have made Teacher feel bad for the child, if she wasn’t such a little witch.
Esther passed the two grown-ups on her way out of the classroom, rolling the word witch around in her hand, like those stress balls Principal kept
on his desk. Maybe she was a witch. Maybe that was why Teacher hated her.
“She doesn’t have any friends, she steals food, she’s incorrigible and unmanageable.”
Teacher said that to the Principal a few days ago, when Esther was
eavesdropping from the bushes under his open window. If everyone had already decided she was a witch, Esther thought she should learn some spells. To stop bullies. To make her parents happy.
When she asked for spell books in the library, the librarian shook his
head, “You’d better not ask about witches around here Esther, you go to a Catholic school. But I bet you could find something at the public library.”
Now she had a quest. The Public Library. Witch section. She would go tomorrow.
Other kids had parents to drive them to the public library, but Esther
didn’t. She lived in a ramshackle house with a Dad sewn into the couch
and a Mom who was like a whirling hurricane. They used to have a dog, but even Buddy ran away, probably to live in a nicer part of the suburb.
Esther did have three pet toads that she kept in a fish tank she’d found in the nearby junkyard. That morning she fed them worms from the garden, which twisted and flipped between her index finger and thumb, a little slimy and a little muscly. It wasn’t true, what Teacher had said about
Esther having no friends. She had her toads, and she had Robert. He was the boy who lived in the house across from the junkyard. He didn’t go to her school, so Teacher didn’t know about him.
Esther thought that Robert might be a little witch too. He liked
inventing things and made lots of explosions with stuff he found for his
experiments, but she wasn’t supposed to play with him. It was because he was black. Esther’s Dad didn’t like “those people.” She never told Robert why they had to meet in the woods, but he didn’t ask, and
sometimes Esther thought he might already know. She decided to invite him to the library.
Esther was always welcome at Robert’s house. She walked right in. “How are you, star-girl?”
Robert’s Mom was the one who first told Esther what her name meant. “I’m going to the library to look for spell books. Can Robert come?” Esther asked.
“A quest! That sounds fun. Make sure you’re home before it gets dark.”
Before they left, Robert’s Mom whispered something to him about being polite, especially to the police. Esther wondered why the police would even talk to two kids at the library.
“Do you see that toad?” Esther asked. The two kids were taking a shortcut through the woods. Robert nodded, “So, you think we’re both witches? Isn’t it only a girl who can be a witch?”
“No, you just have to be uncorrigable and unmanageable,” Esther said, pouncing on the toad.
She was glad when Robert didn’t ask what incorrigible meant. She
loved to feel the toad’s heart beating and the soft leathery skin cupped in her hands. It was a handful of life. The toad’s feet swam against her
palm, and she murmured until it stopped struggling and instead vibrated
contently. Robert led the way as Esther put the toad in the front pocket of her shirt. It didn’t try to hop out even once.
When she opened her eyes to it, Esther could see magic all around. The trees were creaking, whispering to her. A fairy with moth wings peeked
out from behind a sapling. When they crossed the bridge above the river, Esther looked down and saw two small trolls hauling a fish toward the
bank. Magic wasn’t just in creatures either; it was like seeing a brand new colour all of a sudden. It decorated the leaves and snapped and sizzled when she turned rocks over with her sneakers.
Soon they saw another toad and, speaking softly, Esther coerced it to hop
into the palm of her hand. When it did, she beamed up at Robert, “See! I’m definitely a witch.”
Robert wasn’t sure if he liked toads. He could hold one and hated to see them killed or tortured by the other boys at school, but he didn’t love them like Esther did. Could he still be a witch?
The kids arrived at the edge of the woods and were just stepping off
the trail, when Esther heard something. Footsteps. The two toads in her pockets hummed nervously.
Splat. Something hit her shoulder. It wasn’t too painful, only surprising
and wet. She heard a rancorous laugh titter through the trees. She and
Robert looked at each other before another egg whizzed through the air to smack the back of Robert’s head.
They had no ammo to participate in an egg war. And Esther’s Mom would slap her if she ruined any more clothes. The two took off running, with four other kids soon in hot pursuit.
They ran blindly. Through streets, over hedges, with sweat pouring. The
toads thudded along in Esther’s pocket, whispering encouragement. The other kids were faster. When Robert and Esther stopped to catch their
breath, the bullies encircled them. They asked Esther what she was doing hanging out with someone like Robert. His eyes filled with angry tears.
One boy tried to lift Esther’s skirt. When she raised her hand to slap him, someone taller than her caught her wrist from behind and twisted her around to face him.
The bully’s laughter filled Esther’s ears like pounding blood, and she
screamed so loud that everyone had to cover their ears. She didn’t stop
screaming, a dainty, high-pitched, little-girl scream. The boy dropped
her wrist. A gnome in a nearby yard exploded. Robert closed his eyes, concentrating, and the road bubbled up suddenly, the way a rug can, and lifted all the kids above the neighborhood. Robert clenched his
fists, and sparks flew out with menace. He linked arms with Esther, who
stopped screaming and opened her eyes to look with wonder at the tiny neighborhood below them.
“You will never touch her again,” Robert bellowed. When the road smoothed itself out again, the bullies scattered, and Esther and Robert walked away with power coursing through their veins. They
got to the library and asked for books about witches. A student volunteer, noticing their eggy clothes and hair, helped with the books and carefully pointed the bathroom out to them as well.
They spent the day reading, and Esther finally understood why that
character Matilda had liked the library so much. It was dusty and quiet
except for fingers clattering over ancient computers. The magic in here
was excited, whirring in and out of people’s ears, buzzing around in their brains before swirling into the air again. Some of it got squished into
books or pinned under scribbling pens. People carried it unknowingly in their backpacks when they left the library. Esther pointed spells out to Robert, and he wrote them carefully in his notebook.
When the two kids got hungry they decided it was time to go home.
On the way out of the library, Robert saw a police officer and his back
stiffened. The officer approached. As he got closer, Esther noticed how he grew and stretched, like a shadow. She noticed that Robert was afraid. “What are you kids doing here?” the man asked.
“Reading, obviously,” Esther rolled her eyes. The officer ignored her, “I asked you what you’re doing here,” he looked pointedly at Robert.
“We’re here reading books sir.” “Can I see your library card?” Esther started to explain that they weren’t old enough yet, but the officer cut her off, again looking at Robert. “I don’t have one, sir.” “Why would you come to the library and disrupt all these nice people who do have library cards?”
“I just wanted to read, sir.” “I don’t think so. Why would a boy like you come here to read?” “He didn’t do anything wrong!” Esther shouted. “Then he won’t mind me having a look in his backpack, will he?” the
officer snatched Robert’s backpack without waiting for an answer, and
rifled through the contents. He seemed annoyed to only find a notebook and pencils.
“Did you come here to deface the library books with these pencils?” “No, sir.”
“Well, we got a call about a gnome that got smashed by some kids this morning. Do you know anything about that?”
Esther felt a guilty swoop. Her scream had broken the gnome. Robert glanced at her.
“I knew it! I’m going to have to take you to the station to sort this out,” the
officer said to Robert. “Or you can admit now that it was you,” he stepped closer to the boy.
“It wasn’t!” Robert tried to keep his cool. “All you’ll have to do is apologize, and your parents can buy the nice lady a new gnome,” the officer said. “I didn’t do it!” “Alright then, into the squad car I guess,” the officer grabbed Robert’s wrist.
Esther took a toad out of her front pocket and whispered to it, “Help.” The toad started to grow in her hand. It grew until it plopped on the floor. The officer stared at it. He hated toads. It grew to be the size of a cat,
then a small dog, then a cow, then a car. Robert smiled. He could feel
the man shaking, frozen. The toad licked its lips, then pushed its tongue out slowly, slowly. It extended like a slimy arm, reaching, then slithered
its way up the officer’s leg, python-style. When the tongue had wrapped
around the officer’s torso twice, Robert peeled the man’s fingers from his
wrist. The toad’s mouth creaked open, and the tongue snapped the police officer inside. Robert patted the toad’s nose as a thank you, and it leapt
away, bouncing from rooftop to rooftop until it was no longer visible. Esther asked the second toad to take them home, so it grew to the
size of a horse and sprouted long pink feathery wings. The two children clambered on.
When Esther rode her new pet toad to school the next day, Teacher was so afraid that she quit. Estherâ€™s new teacher thought she was gifted, not incorrigible.
Esther grew up to be a witch and a principal. She started a school for little witches. And Robert grew up to be a scientist and potion-maker. Esther
told her Dad about being friends with Robert, and when her Dad seemed likely to protest, the toad licked its lips. Her Dad learned to keep his mouth shut.
Maria Paula Calderon Acon Generative Art in Java
Wrong Shade of Red Ria Golovakova
“Ella! Get out of there!” her mother banged on the door, making the walls of the bathroom stall shake. Ella stared down at her hands. She wasn’t
interested in the way her nails were manicured, even though it had taken
two hours to make them pristine. Nor was she interested in the rings and bracelets so carefully selected to match the slenderness of the wrist and highlight the gentle bend of the knuckle. Instead she counted her fingers over and over again. One. Her face in the mirror looked like it belonged to someone else. Her mother had succeeded: she looked like a beautiful doll. Her eyelashes extended to hover over the pupils like gentle butterflies. Her eyelids were painted
in a rainbow of pastel shades that complemented the black of her brows. All to draw attention to the centerpiece: bright scarlet lips. The shade
was singled out from ten other bright reds, because the store assistant claimed it was the perfect distraction from her natural paleness.
“You’ll look just like Snow White!” her mother had exclaimed, throwing the lipstick into the shopping cart.
Ella remembered noticing how her mother’s smile was like the white
tiles of the store’s floor. One tile had a pink smear on it, reflecting off the fluorescent lights.
She stared at her lips: their color reminded her of Snow White’s
poisonous apple. The more she looked, the less her features made
sense. The eyes seemed like they could fly away at the slightest gust of wind. She imagined the Mona Lisa—did she wear makeup? Everyone
loved Mona Lisa’s smile. Is that because she chose the perfect shade of lipstick? Her phone vibrated. It was her boyfriend wondering when she would be joining the pre-game. Right. She moved to rub her eyes, but
then remembered the paint all over them. Dolls can’t have tired eyes, after all.
“I’ll be there in 5.” Sent.
Two. Loud music blasted through the open door as she walked in. In an instant, she was engulfed by a cloud of shisha smoke.
“Ella!” Her boyfriend stood to greet her, passing the pipe to someone else. “You look like a doll.”
“That’s what my mother said,” she smiled back. As expected, the room was full. Girls as made-up as her swung their
high-heeled feet over their chairs, leaning back in tobacco-induced bliss. Another round of vodka-and-coke. Some boys huddled around a table,
playing cards. Deep house played from a set of giant speakers arranged for maximum noise complaint likelihood.
“Are you ready, Ells?” a friend playfully nudged her. “It’s our big day.” “I need a few rounds of those vodka cokes first,” she waved an empty glass in the air.
It was quickly picked up and filled. The drink was bitter in her mouth. As she gulped it down, Ella resisted the urge to throw it right back up. “Just like medicine,” she thought.
Three. Her head began spinning. She stood up to take off her heels. “Fuck the patriarchy!” She screamed as her friends cheered. She threw her shoes across the room. “I’m gonna get on that stage, barefoot if I have to.”
“If the patriarchy’s fucked, can I wear your heels to go up there?” asked a male acquaintance, pretending to put on the shoe.
Ella laughed and fell on the couch, letting its softness engulf her. The room was noisier than before. The alcohol had kicked in. Some were
already dancing. The sun was still up, which meant they had plenty of time before pretending to be adults for the ceremony.
Ella looked out of the window, trying to make out if anybody was there.
Every window on campus looked the same: black holes on colorful walls. An illusion of privacy as a substitute for freedom.
No, she needed to have fun. She grabbed another drink from the
windowsill and got up to dance, taking sips through the straw while
swaying to the beat. The deep house had long been replaced by the
Global Top 50—familiar repetitive lyrics, screamed out by anyone whose mouth wasn’t occupied by a drink or somebody else’s tongue.
The floor was cold under her bare feet, but Ella enjoyed how her
intoxication made the walls seem a little softer. If she looked up just right, the ceiling swayed with her. How many drunkards had looked up at that
same ceiling over the years? She remembered the time when somebodyâ€™s smoke set off the fire alarm and they all got dowsed with water. She wished she could feel that water on her skin again.
Four. Before she knew it, she found herself fixing her lipstick in the bathroom
mirror. She stuck out her tongue and so did the reflection, but Ella could swear that the response was delayed.
Her eyes were red ... did Snow White ever get drunk to deal with her
horrible stepmother? Did her eyes ever look that tired when she took care of those seven dwarves? Imagine having to take care of seven lazy little men ...
She took off her dress and slipped out of her underwear, entering the
shower. She pulled the shower head low enough for the water to avoid
hitting her face and opened the tap. At first, the water burned her and she
jumped away. Now she could feel her heartbeat in her throat. Pulsing. She found herself turning the knob even further until the water was ice cold. It hurt, but the pain sobered her up.
She could still feel her heart pumping blood all through the body, trying to compensate for the lost heat. She looked down at her breasts, red from the chilly water.
Whatâ€™s the time?
Ella hadn’t brought her phone into the bathroom. Maybe it was best to
get out before anybody caught her using somebody else’s shower. She turned off the water and got out, shivering as she dried her feet. She
couldn’t use anybody else’s towel, so the clothes went back on wet skin, the fabric sticking. She took another look in the mirror, feeling the ceiling spin behind her.
Five. The party went on. Ella pushed through the dancing bodies to make
another drink. She downed the vodka-filled mixture, feeling the alcohol burn her throat and give her body desired warmth. “Babe,” Ella’s
boyfriend embraced her, taking her to the dance floor. He caressed her
hair, which was still a little damp, and pressed his lips to the wet skin on her neck. She held her breath, unsure of how to explain herself, but he didn’t notice.
Instead, he whispered sweet nothings into her ear, and she nodded,
smiling wide as the drink entered her bloodstream. They spun. The room
became a carousel, round and round as the sun began to set, coloring the party with gold as if King Midas had paid them a visit.
Six. The music shifted. Ella found herself dancing in a different room. The
makeup on her face felt just as heavy and her gown went down to her feet. As she moved she avoided tearing the delicate fabric with her
stilettos. She looked up at her date’s face, hoping to lean in for a kiss, and saw his eyes wandering onto her chest. In silence, she gazed around the
room following the many couples twirling around. She had never seen any of these people look that nice before. Colorful gowns, black suits, and
shiny shoes all sliding around the polished ballroom floor. The lights fade from purple to blue.
A celebration, she thought, leaning her head against her date’s shoulder.
He smelled a little like cheap cologne and a lot like adolescent sweat. She wondered if she was supposed to feel excited at such a smell. Had she
been excited when he had first undressed her and they had touched each other in ways like never before? His sweat smelled like the cheese fries
they had had for lunch that day. Now, as they danced, his smell had hints of bad liquor. Ella wasn’t sure which was worse.
She hadn’t attended the first party that day. Instead, her mother had dressed her up, and Ella had waited, sitting on the stairs as her date
pulled into the driveway in a beat-up car. He had walked out to meet her and had given her a bouquet of roses.
In the car, she had smelled the flowers, trying to figure out why they were
supposed to be so precious. The petals were limp in her hands so she ran her fingertips over the thorns, pressing her skin ever so slightly into them as the city passed them by.
At one point, the car stopped too abruptly and as her body swung
forward, she felt a sharp pain in her finger. A drop of blood was beginning to form. She watched quietly, observing its red against that of the roses.
Seven. “We should get going soon,” her boyfriend looked at the approaching darkness. “You still have to finish getting ready.”
She went to pick up her shoes, bending down to put them back on. The
music had stopped and everyone was scrambling to find their suit jacket
or earrings. Now they had to go back to their respective rooms, reconnect with their parents, and put on their gowns.
Ella knocked on the door, hoping that her mother wasn’t still asleep. She was sorting jewelry that would match Ella’s dress. As they argued about
whether a golden charm on a silver bracelet could match silver earrings,
Ella tried to hold on to her intoxication. Sobriety would mean giving in to her mother’s panicked excitement.
“Put on your gown,” her mother stepped back to assess her creation. “You look like a beautiful princess.”
Ella smiled as pictures were taken from every possible angle. Occasions
like this must be captured as life-long memories. That’s what her mother’s Facebook captions were likely to say: “Formative moments met with perfect smiles.”
Eight. All the graduates were gathered in a hall next to the gym where the
ceremony was to be held. Ella found herself constantly posing for pictures as she maneuvered through the figures wearing identical robes and
academic caps with golden tassels. Every smile was followed by the
worry that she had forgotten who her real friends were. Every meaningful relationship must be commemorated with an image of hugs, laughs, and endless affection.
As more and more people approached her, yelling congratulatory
messages at each other, Ellaâ€™s head started to spin. More alcohol must
have kicked in last minute, she thought. Another flash and now she was sitting on the floor, worried faces looking down at her from the height of their heels. As they asked if she was okay, she wondered why makeup makes worry look so grotesque.
She ran off to the bathroom, claiming that she must have drunk too much. When a friend asked if she should come along, Ella gathered just enough self-control to shake her head. Now, her steps were echoing in her head, the clicking of the heels distant as if belonging to someone running after her.
She shut the stall door and the walls seemed to come down on her. She couldnâ€™t remember anyone she had talked to that night. Her mother, a boy, blurry faces. Everyone with the same absent-minded smiles in a boozed-up frenzy.
The taste of vodka was in her mouth again. She felt the urge to spit it
out. Vomit rose into her mouth. She bent over the toilet and the contents of her stomach spilled out. As the toilet flushed, she leaned against the
cold porcelain, her heart pounding. This time it was not a reassurance of existence but rather an annoying timer on her shame.
She clawed at her chest, pushing her nails in, hoping to shut the pulse up. Realizing that she had only been digging into the fabric of her dress, she gave up. She reached for the makeup bag in her purse.
Blood pounded in her ears, and she pulled out her eyebrow razor. She counted with every beat as she pressed the blade against her wrist.
Nine. The ballroom slowly began to clear out as Ella and her date continued to
dance, avoiding any hint of eye contact. The music was still loud enough to avoid conversation without seeming awkward, so they spun as they had for the past hour.
“Do you want to go get some fresh air?” she asked, her voice hoarse after a long silence. He took her hand and they walked out of the ballroom and up the stairs, to a balcony far enough that the teachers wouldn’t check.
To Ella’s surprise it was filled with people. Everyone was smoking and her date pulled a cigarette out, too.
“Would you like a drink?” someone asked, and she was handed a bottle, its label ripped off. “Don’t be scared, we wouldn’t poison you.”
Soon she was leaning precariously over the balcony, yelling profanities
into the night air. Over the sound of laughter she took her date’s hand and climbed onto the railing, feeling the cold concrete against her bare feet.
From here she could see the hotel pond, across a small road lit only with headlights of cars rushing to the main lobby.
“Let’s go, let’s go to the pond!” She urged her date, jumping into his arms. He swayed from the weight of her body and looked back blankly. “What pond?”
She didn’t look back as she ran down the stairs, leaving her shoes and
purse behind. The grass leading to the pond was soft as cotton and Ella
marveled at the quiet air. She sat down next to the water and the hem of her gown touched the water. She tried to make out if there were any fish
in its blackness. She felt like the darkness knew something she didn’t and made ripples with her hand, trying to gather some sort of answer from disturbing the stillness.
The water stung and she looked at her hand, remembering the cuts left from the roses. After the one accidental cut she spent the ride pressing her hand into the thorns, making more cuts and watching the drops of blood collect onto the thin skin between her fingers.
Now the cuts were dried up and so she lay next to the pond, looking at
the vast emptiness above her. It was a new moon and light pollution from
the neighboring city didn’t allow her to see any stars. The darkness of the sky seemed just as still as the darkness of the pond waters.
Ella imagined herself drowning, being swallowed by the sky’s depths, her body sinking toward the fish. She listened to the faint echoes of music
coming from the building she had just left and wondered how many more drinks her friends must have had. She envisioned her date laughing with the girls who passed him their cigarettes and marveled at how clear her mind remained at the thought.
She was like the pond, still and empty. She must have seemed like that to him, given how little they talked and how little he listened when she tried. She stood up and walked into the water as it approached her knees and
her dress floated at the surface like a jellyfish. She imagined herself to be Ophelia, drowning in the river and floating among lilies, like in that Millais painting. She wished the pond were deep enough to take her with it.
Ten. She is drawing flowers with the blood on her arm, petals blooming, opening up to her. She can’t feel the pain, as the cold touch of the
blade had long ceased to be unfamiliar. She is in control of her body; it has become an object to command. She puts out her arm, extending and contracting her fingers. Everything is up to her. Why stop at just movement? She can reach inside.
The blood makes her more real. Without cutting beyond her surface, she can’t be sure she isn’t hollow. She can’t prove that she’s not a doll. Red blood lies behind red lips, running through her veins, watering her from within. She’s like the flowers she draws.
She watches the flowers turn to brown, rotting on her skin, and then repaints them by refreshing the wounds. She must keep drawing. “… Ella?” She pauses, trying to place the voice. “Are you here?” Mother. Putting the blade away, she tries to open her purse, but her hands are
shaking too much. Once the zipper gives in, she immediately drops the mirror.
Did the steps stop?
She picks up the mirror and takes a look at her face. Her lipstick is
smudged over her cheeks. She takes a tissue and begins wiping it off,
rubbing her face until her skin turns red and it’s impossible to tell where the lipstick ends anymore. She wipes herself with the back of her arm, only to leave smudges of her own blood.
“Ella. Are you angry at me?” She sees her mother’s blue heels in front of her stall.
“Did I pick the wrong shade of red for you?” She drops the lipstick-stained wipes and begins to cry. “Please open the door.” Ella reaches for the lock.
Beauty from Imilchil
Achrakat El Fitory Acrylic on canvas
August in Bombay brings the illusion of good weather. A false promise.
After July’s ceaseless onslaught of monsoon, we are allowed one month to recuperate before the scorching burn of October arrives. But there is also something quite resplendent about the city in August—the orange sun-rays make even the drab brick walls of South Bombay lanes look
elegant. August also inevitably brings with it arranged-marriage proposals. And engagement ceremonies. As wedding season approaches, slowly creeping up like a looming doomsday for secret lovers, August hangs there as their last month of naïve, youthful love.
On one such August afternoon, Nina sat at her balcony, taking in the
cool breeze, the soft sunlight, and the quietude of the autumn street.
She couldn’t help but think about her own wedding day. She was having trouble picking between crimson and pastel pink embroidery for her
wedding sari. It was another matter that her parents hadn’t found her a
groom yet, but the concern of having a less-than-perfect wedding outfit seemed all too important.
“Nina!” her mother’s voice bellowed from the kitchen. “Are you ready
yet? They’ll be here in two hours and you haven’t even started on the samosas!”
Nina hurried downstairs into the kitchen, clumsily knotting her hair into a tight bun, armed with a rolling pin and an unwavering determination to finally get the samosas right. The weight of this day could not be
understated—her prospective groom and his family were coming to
“see” her. They were visiting on the recommendation of her aunt Rekha,
a middle-aged housewife who engineered the entire extended family’s
arranged marriages. Every Indian family has a designated “Rekha maasi.” As Nina kneaded the mashed potatoes and green peas for the samosas,
her mind drifted to that last conversation she had had with Rekha maasi.
“He’s so well settled, beta. He just completed his MBA. You’ll never have
to work a day in your life.” Then, whispering into Nina’s ear, she said “He’s a bit on the chubbier side though.” Well, at least he’s sure to enjoy the samosas and snacks then, Nina thought.
This day was even more important to Nina’s mother. Her afternoon was jam-packed with chores—she meticulously swept the house, searched her cabinets for the fancy china, prepared a fresh cup of tea for her
husband, picked up his used teacup from where he had left it near the
couch, and instructed Nina on how to make samosas. Through all of this, her mind was fixated on only one concern: I just hope they like her. Her fear was not unfounded.
Just three months earlier, on a pouring, grey monsoon evening, Nina had been jilted by her then-fiancé in the front seat of his car.
“She’s too stubborn—why does she want to continue college even after
we’re married?” he had told a mutual friend of the family. “Does she think I can’t take care of her? She’s nice and all but I can’t handle girls like
this.” The friend, of course, dutifully informed the entire neighborhood about Nina’s inexcusable character flaw.
Nina’s father blamed her mother, and her mother blamed herself,
as mothers often do. This is what happens when you raise a girl in a
place like Bombay, she thought. I should have seen this coming when she started talking to those rogue boys from the neighborhood. She wasn’t wrong, though. The neighborhood boys that Nina had spent
her childhood and adolescence with had now started studying things
like law and economics and engineering. Important things. Things that
Nina hadn’t ever imagined for herself. And the day she tried to, she was met with a car door slammed in her face as she stood alone in the rain, watching her fiancé drive away into the grey horizon. That incident was
enough to convince her of her own stupidity in wanting things that were not meant for her. So, for now, she chose to focus on the samosas. It was 4:45. They were supposed to arrive in fifteen minutes. Nina’s
father oiled the creaky kitchen door, and her brother fixed the living room lightbulb that had been flickering for several months. The entire family
scrambled to prepare the house. We’re lucky that they’ve even agreed to
seeing Nina after everything they’ve heard, her father said to himself. But it was an unspoken truth for the entire family. Fresh white lilies were cut and arranged around the living room. Samosas were laid out, chai was
brewed. The family’s anticipation swelled like the boiling tea leaves as the hour drew to a close. Nina sat at her bedroom balcony. Waiting, as she
was told to, for this stranger and his family. The cool autumn sea breeze hit her face. She inhaled, peering outside, hoping to sneak a look at her unknown chubby suitor. This was it.
A car turned the corner into her street, but whizzed past without stopping. Soon after, a mini-van drove by. With the sound of each passing vehicle, Nina’s heart raced in anticipation. A third car drove down their street.
And a fourth. And a fifth, until she had lost count of the cars and hours that had passed. The sun had set, and so had the romantic August
hue of the city. The samosas had gone cold. The fancy china remained
unused. Nothing—not even a phone-call explanation. But the explanation was achingly obvious. Slowly, accepting what had just happened, Nina
carefully unscrewed her pearl earrings, her ornate silver bangles, and her delicate necklace, placing them back in their velvet box. That evening,
the silence in the house was jarring. A throbbing dread washed over
Ninaâ€™s parents, but they said nothing. Hoping against hope, or maybe just struggling to accept that their little girlâ€™s reputation, like blotchy
stained glass, was permanently tainted. Nina stared blankly at the purple sky, feeling simply confused. Cruelty was expected from the gloomy
monsoon, but a Bombay August was supposed to bring love, not more false promises.
A sudden loud, carefree chatter of voices erupted outside the house. Nina ran to the balcony to see if they had finally decided to come. But it was only the young neighborhood boys, not much older than her, returning
from college on their bikes. They were nonchalantly laughing about a joke their economics professor had cracked during a lecture. Turning around, she went back into her room to continue removing her jewelry.
I don’t want your white wedding I just want to tell you
That I don’t like whiskey
That I only like the way the word sounds Beg you to dance with me
Whisper poetry in your sleep I don’t want your wings
Or your shoes or your window pane I just want to turn Your typical day
and the city’s chatter
into lukewarm poetry I don’t want your war
or your insurrection or your belfry I just want to sit
at the breakwater where we poured ourselves into
a single shadow
and forget poetry
Fatema Al Fardan
Who are you? I was named
F-A—a letter that
can’t be pronounced in English—M-A Fatema for short. A wanderer Am I really ‘Fatema’? Just because papers Say so
I am a culture A civilization A religion
I am genes
Of O positives G6PD carriers
I possess entitlement
Happiness and sadness An ego
The size of a mosquito I am a soul
In a human I possess
Intelligence and stupidity A character
I am the universe
Trapped in a body Over time
My Spirit Is Concealed Within the Corner of Darkness Rayna Li
Drypoint intaglio print on watercolor paper
Romanticism Alice Huang
Today I was not at war. Usually I am, but today I was not because last night I realized you had been at war, too. It seems almost as if I find a taste of the romantic in being at war, saturated in viscous history,
spending time each morning pondering the sleepless nights of the past. Things that happen in the world have a very fine-grained texture to me,
fine-grained like counting a war by the number of wounds as opposed to casualties, and counting the wounds by each broken vein and cracked
bone. I found out that you had constantly been at war, too: only you do not find wound-licking as romantic as I do. I suppose you dislike red things, too. Itâ€™s all very raw.
homesickness Gigs Banga
Mother speaks words She nurtures those words,
Works 10-hour shifts to feed those words She washes those words,
Cleans the mess of others to dry those words She prays for those words
Sacrifices happiness to care for those words She sleeps with those words
Hurts herself to protect those words Mother’s tongue
Speaks words of love Mother’s heart
Cries words of grief Son’s hands Hands hold Hold tight Tight grip Grip firm
Firmly hold tight the hands of his Mother’s words He fears those words,
Lives far away from home to avoid those words He rejects those words,
Pretends to be satisfied to degrade those words He attacks those words,
Drawing blood to murder those words I’m sorry.
As the vibrations dance on the Son’s tongue I’m sorry
As his Mother’s heart mourns its void Cut off tongues,
To stop the speaking. Cut up hearts,
To stop the bleeding. Mother no longer speaks words, She owns them now.
Rayna Li Block print on Thai Kozo paper
Open Wounds, Open Laces Warda Malik
Take both straps and thread one over the other to form a knot in the middle.
Do you remember when we lived in the small house with a large garden somewhere in the north? I didn’t like that house. It was old and dainty, and did I mention how much I disliked our bathrooms? They lacked
showers and geysers, and you’d have to warm the water in a bucket
every time I decided to clean myself from the dirt I loved to play in. But
you never complained. Why didn’t you shout at me for running around in
the streets and dirtying myself from the filth thrown at me? The neighbors
told you to buy me clothes that covered my bare knees while I played with their kids, and you decided to listen to them that one time. But I fought with you that night when you asked me to change my shorts and put
on trousers before I went to bed. You heard me and told me that I could make my own decisions even at the age of nine. I went to sleep in your arms on that hot summer night.
You woke me up from my naps after school to take Qur’an classes at
home. I would complain to you about how I didn’t want to recite words in a language that I didn’t understand. But I would keep quiet when anyone else entered the room. I was afraid of what someone else might think
about my naïve views, but you encouraged me to ask my Qur’an teacher to bring translations that I could read and remember. And I did.
I became both decisive and curious from your encouragements. But your little girl grew up too fast. At the age of ten, my Qur’an teacher’s
hand slipped down my pants and circled the skin on my back. His hand
performed a dance, while I froze. He leaned close to me and whispered in my ears that it was a game between the two of us. And no one else. After
he left, I was unable to move from the carpet of our drawing room where I
had my daily Qur’an classes. I could sense the aroma of the chicken curry
you were making for dinner in our tiny kitchen. But I could think of nothing besides the foreign hands that felt my hips.
Many tears escaped my eyes when I heard you cry, while telling the man you shared life with about what had happened to your little girl. I stood
outside the closed door and heard your sobs that agonized my veins. You
asked him to insult my teacher in front of everyone. He only said that he’d make sure that the teacher never entered our house again. But it wasn’t enough for you.
Tie another loose knot and thread the straps through the circle on the opposite side of each one.
It was when I was twelve that I witnessed what he did to you. I was in my room, finishing my essay on Jane Eyre, when I heard your scream. The world collapsed. Nothing else mattered to me in that moment besides
knowing that you were okay. I was shaking when I walked into your room. He asked me to leave, but I didn’t. You knew that I would be able to
breathe only if you told me that you were fine. And that’s what you said. Later, you came into my room and we cuddled until I could sense your
calm. Do you realize that all I wanted was to take away all your fears? And I knew you wanted the same for me — perhaps with more desperation.
I was sixteen the first time I fell in love with a boy. I never told you, but I knew that you knew about us. I didn’t know that boys like him existed,
because my conception of men was confined to the man you shared life with. The boy I fell in love with wrote poems and letters for me. It was
through him that I discovered what being safe in the arms of a man felt like.
When that boy moved halfway across the world, you found me crying
into the pages of my favorite novel. You held me tightly in your arms and told me that it was acceptable to let go when it became too difficult to
fight. I looked into your eyes when you said this, and we both knew what I meant. A lot was spoken in that silence, but when we held each other, everything else became background noise.
I was in high school when I came home to him drunk every night. You told me to focus on school, but I knew it meant I needed to keep my
scholarship. You then started your own business to pay for our expenses and his alcohol. I helped you pick fabric at the local bazaar to stitch
clothes to sell to women who lived near our home. You began to stay
busy, but the stress lines on your forehead started to become permanent.
Pull the loops tight to make them secure. I left for college in a country far away, and I know it broke your heart to
see me go out into the world away from you. But you were also so proud
of the strong girl you had raised. It was the start of a new chapter for both of us. We had never spent more than a few days away from each other. Sometimes I would look out the window of my dorm, and wonder what you were doing in our small home.
We Skyped on a regular basis, but I could sense your loneliness creeping through the optic wires across the oceans. I felt guilty about leaving you
alone, but you made sure that I focused on the opportunities I had in
front of me. You never brought up the man you shared life with in our
Skype conversations. I didn’t bring him up either. But instead you told me your dreams about how you wished to switch on the television someday and see someone interviewing me about an incredible feat that I had achieved.
It was on a windy December night that I received the call that shattered my world and tore apart my soul. It was from him.
He told me that you had been hospitalized due to an accident and I
needed to come back. I screamed on the phone, but mostly at myself for abandoning you. It felt like all my body parts had gone numb, and
the earth was sucking me in. Everything that followed until I reached the hospital was a blur; my world had collided with that phone call.
I saw you lying on the hospital bed, covered in bruises and scars on your face and body. I caressed your face, held your hands, and assured you
that you were going to make it. We were going to make it. I don’t know if
you heard me, but I thought you did. I stepped out of the room, sat on the
floor, and cried until the nurses and doctors came to ask me to pull myself together. And I did. For you, I did.
But it only lasted until the doctor pulled me aside and told me that you
weren’t going to make it. A bullet had passed through the chest that was
a part of my soul. In the moments that followed, I thought it’d be easier to die before seeing the life drain from you.
The man you shared life with—the man I shared blood with—never
showed his face again. I searched for him a long time, but I gave up. What would I say? What would I do when I looked him in the eye? He was the
reason that I had died a living death in the hospital that chilly winter night. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder why he made that phone call after the bullet fired from his pistol.
And you’re ready to run. I know it’s been three months since the last time I came to see you. But I’m here with good news, so please forgive me. I was interviewed on
national television last week for my NGO. Many women came to thank me for my work; you’d have been very proud if you saw me.
I have red roses, which I got from the flower shop guy next to our old
home, for you. I’ll leave them here, right next to you. Ah, my shoelaces are open again. Yes, I know what you would say, mama.
Tom Abi Samra
Hatim Benhsain Ink on paper
My father was unfaithful, but it’s always referred to
in present tense. With every upward stroke that climbs past ten, I count the mornings he’s said he loved me, with
a black guilt that eats away at the brown in his eyes. I
count the nights his tail lights pull out of our driveway, my mother’s Suspicions refusing to let him sleep
on their bed. I count the afternoons I go home and see a note from him. That he can’t be there for a while. Here.
I count the almosts where my mother has reached for her suitcase. The any-moment-nows where the cries of Gravel are the eerie forebodings of an oracle crow. I count the should-I’s that shine through the headlights that pull up, spelling it out against our windows.
In every echoing tick past ten I always pray to a Something, somewhere. I pray that I’ll wake up and hear two sets of footsteps descend our stairs. I pray for two sighs of defeat whisper through a squeaking door (at least, I’ll tell myself, there were two).
They’re answered by Midnight as I rest my head on my pillow. Answered, with the screams of choked
haunting me like a childhood threat lurking under my bed. Answered with a
through the walls. Questioning where his wife went, or how he can’t live
Answered in Silence— when the nothing that is said speaks more strongly about
Answered, when two hearts that have loved for too long, learn how to
we’re flying Gigs Banga
The content is full
As each day drifts into the next I miss you endlessly, But you know that, Don’t you?
My heart hurts as it pumps this blood through my body. Oh, how I wish it were simple.
18 years was simply not enough.
But there’s no expiration date on this. Remember the game we used to play. I would pretend to be an airplane
as you guided me through the skies. Your fingers interlaced with mine,
and I soared high-up in my imagination. I was flying …
… dad, I’m flying! Friday nights,
You made sure I was in bed by 9PM. But I know you knew
That I was never really asleep,
that I hid the T.V. remote under my pillow,
cautiously waiting till you had left the room. 7:30 in the morning,
I would wake you up,
to drop me off to school.
You stood patiently by the door
Because I was always running late. Remember when you asked me for the razor?
Your beard was becoming bushy,
and mother insisted that you trim it. Remember me walking into the bathroom, seeing your hair fall from your head, clogging up the sink.
scattered on the floor.
Did you get a haircut, dad? Scarves adorned your naked head. It was your must-have accessory when going-out.
You had an honest heart,
Yet lies lay on your tongue. Remember the game we used to play. We would pretend to be airplanes
as you guided us through the skies. Our fingers interlaced,
and we soared high-up in our imagination. I was flying …
… we’re flying!
… dad, look, you’re flying.
Typography in Sharjah Tom Abi Samra
what is a place but
a postcard chewed out
by memory; a conveyor belt of baggage with its locks smashed up; oh, the mishandling.
what is moving but sitting stillâ€”
the tangerine seat on the Q train, notebook
sketching someone he once made you happy
to a different-colored seat. what is looking but
the swiveling of the eye through dust
covered lenses. window after window, image
after image, passing
after passing, a gaze as fixed
as the stations between places but weak asâ€”look! that tiny ratâ€™s heart squashed
underneath the train tracks.
Amna Al Ameri
Tom Abi Samra
Karno Dasgupta 21. It is evening in the desert,
It is heavy with humidity,
I sit outside, near the sand,
The sweat clings to my clothes,
20. It is dusk in the city,
The oppressive heat is stifling,
He sits on the verandah, overlooking the street, The sweat clings to his three-piece suit,
19. It is nightfall in the delta,
The sultry darkness draws swarming flies,
He sits on the terrace, facing the river, The sweat clings to his dhoti,
The crickets chirp.
Amal Al Shamsi
i. saw a woman once pushing an empty stroller. the lack was the color of a trampled sandcastle, the woman floating driftwood slipping off unforgiving pavement. i could not know where she came from or must go (a spring waltzing down the stairs fifty paces, nothing in between) though i can recall her leather pumps sailing through puddles and the absence robbing the wheelâ€™s squeak. i tally the crows with each muted turn, enough to keep her warm.
ii. often see myself in dreams, passively in the midst of things, sitting in the hallway of my old house braiding matches into my hair so that i might stay afloat in the hall of mirrors. i could (beads fell with each blink, on me and not me) recycled figuresâ€™ toes stretched over with someplace to be. follow the sound of a rolling dice before its dots spill all over the rug again, hair unfolds on itself, i find myself seeking something mine. perhaps i have stolen my own eyes.
iii. caught the tune of a backed-up, rusted handgun. the man over there has got that rubber face on, looking like the ladder stopped halfway, now she looks as if she’d rather catch him with three hands than with none at all, hair parted by the corner of a coffee table, plucking eyelashes to have something to say. the glass pipes that curl around a copper headlight tell me that it’s great to be here, perhaps greater than to stay. i’m washed out with no dinner or a show, but the call left on hold and plastic bag doing a sombre pirouette.
iv. reeled in the line and out came the sun, filling the whole pier, sounding like a memory as it spun around in my palms. i peered into it like one peers into a bottomless bowl, holding back a yawn. the light like the stem of a dandelion, the seeds disturbed by the ocean’s applause. i carried it and it carried the scent of a flashing green exit sign. it reminded me that there was a time when i was put down and never picked back up. i told everyone i had tossed it back in, had to, but what did it do to deserve that.
Adele Bea Cipste Pencil on paper
Is That Butterfly Someone You Loved? Louise Gerodias
What would happen if everything in the world came with a sign? I first asked myself this question six years ago, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon inside the bedroom I shared with my mother.
Mama died that day. I lost her to a complication of rheumatic heart
disease—I try not to remember which one—and pneumonia. I was turning 16. I wanted to celebrate with her. When she still had the energy to talk,
a week before her passing, she promised my sister and I that she would come back home. Soon. I don’t remember her saying she would come back home with us, but I thought that was default. She said that she
would cook pancit to celebrate my big day. She was sorry she could not
do anything else for me. At that time, all that mattered was her promise to come home.
* September 11 was supposed to be another normal school day. I woke
up at 4:30 am to cook my breakfast, which was also my lunch. I’m used to eating heavy meals in the morning. Mama said breakfast is the most
important meal of the day. I showered an hour later. I would usually wake
my sister up, but I knew she did not have early morning classes that day. She did say she would drop by the hospital to see mama. I wondered
what would be a good time to visit in the afternoon. I normally leave the
house at about 6:15 am to save myself from the nasty morning traffic of
Cebu. That day, however, I was early by 15 minutes. I felt a sense of pride. I have always been a stickler for time; I do not even know what Filipino time is. When I opened the house gate—red and rusty—a small white
butterfly flew past me and perched on a nearby bench made of concrete. I would sometimes spend afternoons and nights sitting on it with family
or friends, catching up with each other. I stood outside the gate for a few seconds and stared at the butterfly. She had brilliant white wings with
a black spot on each side. Her undersides were a creamy white. Such
butterflies are common to the Philippines, especially in areas with garden beds and vegetation.
When I was younger, on my free weekends, I would sneak my way behind
a neighbor’s house. My curious spirit thought there was a forest out there. Masses of green, dances between light and shadow, a minty smell, the sound of my feet sliding through the bed of leaves, small and big white
butterflies. The kind that had a black spot on each wing. I went to catch them. I would bring them home with me then set them free. I guess I enjoyed their brief company.
I left for school after sharing a moment with my unexpected visitor. Today is going to be a great day! I will do my best to make every day
count. I used to chant this daily mantra and that day was no exception. Morning classes rolled in and things seemed to be going my way, but I
felt something was not right. I tried to brush it off. I thought of mama in
the hospital and wondered if I should have skipped class instead. Uncle
mentioned she had been looking for me yesterday. I couldn’t go because of after-school commitments. I wished I had.
At around noon, I was outside the classroom, eating lunch on the floor, when my phone rang. Uncle calling. The feeling in my gut came back,
stronger this time. I pressed the phone to my ear. With the softest voice
that I had never heard him use until that day, uncle told me: Louise, she’s gone.
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign
Life is demanding without understanding I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign
I was a walking mess. My homeroom adviser had to direct me on what to do. It was a sunny Tuesday, but inside the white cab that drove me to the hospital there was a downpour, a flood. Mama had fulfilled her promise.
She had gone home. She had never said she would go home with us. She had never said home was a place on earth.
Every time I remember that day, I always think of my unexpected winged visitor. Mama told me once that butterflies are visiting souls from the
dead. Whenever she saw one inside the house, she would talk to it like
she would her parents. She loved butterflies for this very reason. I learned to do the same, but I had forgotten on this particular Tuesday.
In “The Crab and the Butterfly: A Study in Animal Symbolism,” Waldemar Deonna writes that “the butterfly is the symbol of the soul.” Even the
Greek goddess Psyche was said to have butterfly wings. For Deonna,
butterflies represented life and immortality. Christianity sees butterflies
along the same vein. Throughout my life, I have heard people relate the
passing of a loved one, or their yearning for the dead, to butterflies. Not
just small white-winged butterflies with black spots but various species. It seemed to me that my experience contradicted what Deonna said. But if I am to give it more thought, maybe through their presence in
death narratives, by virtue of death being part of life, butterflies indeed symbolize life.
I am writing this essay with the Swedish pop group Ace of Base playing in the background. I did see the sign, but I only saw it for what it was,
not what it could have been. These days I wonder if it is possible to really see something—a butterfly, in this case—for the other things or people
they represent, especially at times when you least expect something to happen.
I thought of it while watching The Namesake, a 2006 Indian-American
film based on the novel of the same name. It was about the emotional
experience of being caught between two conflicting cultures: Indian and
American. I was struck by the scene of a telephone conversation between Ashima Ganguli and her husband, Ashoke. Ashoke initiated the call.
He was inside a telephone booth in a hospital in Ohio, where he taught
engineering. It was impossible not to notice the slight quaver in his voice.
I am okay, just a stomach ache. Ashima, I am okay. Everything will be fine, okay? Ashoke sounded to me as if he was convincing himself, not his wife, that things would work out in the end. Ashoke later died. A heart attack. There were signs. A phone call from a hospital. Lies about a really, really long line to see the doctor. Ashoke’s voice. His insistence on his okay
health. But how could Ashima know the truth? Even the realization that
those signs were signs came to me only after the news of his death. I did feel something was not right, but who was to say that he would die soon after that call? Who was to say that my winged visitor was an omen for my mother’s passing?
No one could possibly expect anything as painful as death to happen
by merely seeing things. There were times, I must admit, when I thought of my mama dying even before she did. She had struggled against her
failing heart for as long as I can remember. The hospital, at some point,
became commonplace for my sister and I. An open-heart surgery when I was in third grade followed by multiple trips to the hospital. She went in and out. In and out. In and out. In, then her heart said out.
What would happen if everything in the world came with a sign? I asked myself the same question today, six years after I parted ways with my mom forever. I donâ€™t have an answer. Maybe Ace of Base was right. Maybe signs do open peopleâ€™s eyes. But to what? I do not know. I do not think I would want to know.
Lebanon Tom Abi Samra
Muhammad Rafay Ashfaq
Seeing you reduce
From the size of the sun
The reflection of the moon The light of every hour
The ever-lingering thought
To a brief, shimmering light
In the space between blinks
Squanderer of Words Alice Huang
I know someone who said I love you too much, too soon and she got
angry when I pointed out that she was a squanderer. Then she said okay. She said it sucks to have feelings judged. I take it that she meant we
are not ballroom dancers. We don’t need someone pointing out how it’s
Waltz, so do not stick out your hips. Keep your damn frame straight. Then say hey, now we’re doing the Lindy Hop—can you get your kicks crispy
and clean and stop moving your hips at all? If your jazzy hand is not even jazzy, what do you mean you’re dancing Swing?
Another day this person said something like, “Oh, you mean the world to
me.” I couldn’t help but point out that she was a colloquial hedonist. She got offended again. She said to me that she had only ever said it to four people. She told me, “Okay, now I don’t feel comfortable sharing things with you anymore.” I take it that she was saying we are not poets. We
don’t need to say something like “You are a Eucharist beyond my Miles Davis” to make sure one liking is different from the other likings of the
past. We don’t need to craft something so everyone who reads it will feel special, that their delicate emotions are a labyrinth too complex for any
other human being. Because we are not into poetry, when we lie we don’t sweat over lying beautifully.
Two days ago, she said oh my, you are so close to my heart. What does that mean? I asked her. She said, “Oh, I am so in love.” I don’t know if
that was a reply to my question or if she simply did not care. Anyhow, I
did not feel like my question was answered. I take it that she meant, girl,
why do you even ponder the meaning of words? Being romantic is about the fact that two people recite a poem together, not about what color the day was when the poet wrote down “You were a hobby to me.” Affection
is about burning candles to the view of the desert city, not about the very boring people who are talking about their days, however ordinary, over
dinner, to the one person who cares. The heart is just a figurative thing, not a sanguinary, palpitating, soft, yet persistent thing.
A journal of student creative work.