the emerson review 2013
the emerson review 2013
The Emerson Review is an annual literary journal published by undergraduate students at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. All genres of original, unpublished writing and visual art will be considered for publication. The reading period for the 2014 issue runs August 1, 2013 through February 1, 2014. All submissions are handled anonymously. Materials can be submitted to The Emerson Review though our online submission manager http://emersonreview.submittable.com. Complete guidelines can be found on our website. General questions and comments should be sent to submissions. firstname.lastname@example.org. http://emersonreview.com Printed by Excel Graphix. www.excelgraphix.com ISSN: 2156-2237 ÂŠ 2013 The Emerson Review
Staff Editor-in-Chief // Jordan Koluch Managing Editor // Jessica Slavin Treasurer & Publicist // Melanie Lieberman Webmaster // Ashleigh Heaton Designer // Carly Loman Fiction Editor // Emily Murphy Assistant Fiction Editors // CJ Nadeau & Libby Webster
Nonfiction Editors // Carly Loman & Sara Selevitch Poetry Editors // Rachel Amico & Amanda Bondi Assistant Poetry Editor // Gabrielle Tyson Readers // Shevaun Betzler, Logan Boehler, Caroline Cassard, Celina Colby, Jillian Connick, Michele Debczak, Brady Detwiler, Rachel Dugan, Megan Foster, Isabel Mader, Kayla Maiuri, Kelly Nolte, Madelyn Reese, Miriam Riad, Cristina Stubbe, Allison Trujillo
Fiction Toni Ann Johnson // Claiming Tobias // 5 Aaron Sommers // The Last Millennium Monster // 32 Ursula Villarreal-Moura // Blood Paisleys, 1990 // 49 // Tabloid Totems // 51 CJ Nadeau // 8:69 // 53 Leslee Rene Wright // Henceforth Known as Matthew // 67
Poetry Jennifer Dykema // Snow Child // 1 // Letter in March // 3 Donnie Welch // Happy New Year, We Sell Tobacco Now // 17 // Nature versus Nurture // 18 Bobby Crawford // On the Items in My Room // 19 // Ring of Fire // 20 // Infinite Mathematics // 22 Matthew Gesicki // Pheromones // 39 Gabrielle Freeman // Outline It in Black and Call It Art // 66
Nonfiction Catherine Doucette // On the Run // 26 Katherine Bove // The Glasses // 62
Photography Libby Webster // gardens // 41 // domenica // 42 // doll parts // 43 // the view from happy // 44 // sorry about the mess // 45 // bowling // 46 // calvin // 47 Chelsey Moody // Fisherman // 48
Spotlights Pablo Medina // Faculty Poetry // 83 Caroline Praderio // Undergraduate Nonfiction // 93
volume forty two
Snow Child Jennifer Dykema
I know a mother whose child won’t ever be seen windowframed, trudging through knee-deep snow. His nose touched by chill won’t crinkle, his upper lip crisp with snot and tissue ready. He will not bury icicles below the swing set, praying that imaginary bones, sheer and in need of a keeper, will transform to glass when daffodils and tulips shatter shells of seeds like her water glass against the tile floor the morning that red flashers crept in kitchen windows and stained the walls. Her husband’s golden wedding band—cut by shears on the stretcher—folded into her palm. A young officer touched her shoulder, melting snow dripping like icicles in March from his black boots. She’s a stranger now, in her home of crisp laundry and barely framed wedding snapshots. Her hair is crisp with white from sixty-five years of collecting shards of glass. They hide in rugs and shine under the refrigerator as icicles on overhangs wait to be found. Beside her kitchen window, she presses linen napkins until their creases are rigid to the touch. She slides the creases against her wrists, thinking of this life she’d like to shear. On her bathroom’s yellowed vanity, she leaves clipping shears in a plastic cup, points down. His copper hair trimmings crisp still on the blade. His terrycloth robe hangs straight and touched
2 // Snow Child // only by dust and the heater’s draft. On their nightstand, his glasses rest, nestled in the pages of the book—its title faded from window light whose fingers have stretched in chaotic lines like icicles losing their shape in spring. The freezer barely shuts, icicles resembling old garden vegetables and jars of homemade chili sit in sheer disbelief that he’ll never pull them out for lunch, stand by a window propping their son on his knee to see Momma in their garden of crisp snow peas and tomatoes she’d ease off the vine and arrange in a glass bowl next to the kitchen sink. His soup bowl hasn’t been touched since she held his cut band in her palm. She wants just to be touched by his calloused fingers again. Aches to hold her boy as Daddy plucks icicles and shows him how to hold them between his lips and grin with a glass cigar. Now, she uses garden shears to knock icicles down and watch them crack against the steps like crisp winter gems. She doesn’t stop when she sees neighbors stare from their windows. At night she puts her cheek to glass to feel her body touched, if only by a crisp frosted window. Numbly, she watches her neighbor boy, full of sheer imagination, bury winter’s icy shards under piles of snow.
Letter in March Jennifer Dykema
Spring is six days and twenty-one hours away. Books say you have nubs nowâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;waiting to be hands, toes, legs. Do you notice the black dog and I walking each afternoon? We ponder the tulip tree waiting with knotted branches below our nursery window. Books say you have nubs now waiting to be hands, toes, legs. I show nothing. I keep you, my secret, locked between my lips just as the tulip tree waiting with knotted branches below our nursery window for white blossoms to shuffle in wind and press against my screen door. I show nothing. I keep you, my secret, locked between my lips like the baby hidden in me before your sister, a child for whom white blossoms shuffle from the tree planted in memory of next to my screen door, reminding me to check on my firstborn while she naps, hover my finger to feel her breath. The baby hidden in me before your sister was a child for whom we did not paint a nursery or choose my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s middle name. Remind me to check on my firstborn while she naps; I hover my finger to feel her breath. You, floating darling, will not be a first, but perhaps a last love. Not yet have we painted your windowed nursery or chosen your middle name.
4 // Letter in March // Do you notice the black dog and I walking each afternoon? We ponder you, floating darling, who will not be a first, but a lasting love, waited for as the first spring day just six days and twenty-one hours away.
Claiming Tobias Toni Ann Johnson
If you’re born black in the blue-collar town of Monroe, New York, in the 1960s, it doesn’t matter if your daddy gets rich, if your mom is good-looking, or even if you’re almost light enough to pass. You’re an alien, always. You’re never meant to feel at home. If you’re born in the same hospital and brought directly to the same neighborhood on the same street as Tobias, your father’s a philandering psychologist, and your parents own a four-bedroom colonial larger than the one Tobias’s parents lease. When you’re three years old and it’s summertime, you run squealing together, potbellied, through the sprinkler in the front yard. Wild curls tamed into two braids, and his hair as long as yours, you hold chubby hands as streams of water lift in unison up-up-up, then delicately down-down-down, drenching and delighting both of you. Your mother and his across the street keep an eye on you through windows that face each other. You’re four before the summer’s end, and so is he. Wading in the pink kiddie pool, you notice each other’s private parts. Different, but
6 // Claiming Tobias // not alarming, because no one has explained to either of you why private parts are private. He eats cakes from the Easy-Bake Oven. Brunette Barbie dates his G.I. Joe. He says, “I’m going to marry you when I grow up.” And you agree. At five, you’re equally graceless at badminton, the rackets too bulky for your pudgy little hands. Instead, you play catch with the birdie. When it bops you hard in the eye, he soothes the eyelid with his lips and says, “Magic kisses. Your hurt has disappeared.” You stop crying and pretend that the magic has worked, even though it hasn’t, because knowing that he wants it to is almost enough. After badminton in the yard, his barefooted mom, wearing a peace sign necklace, comes and walks you both across the street and down the hill to his yard where you sit at the wooden picnic table while she hangs white linens on the line to dry. Your mother has given you each a foil-wrapped Yodel, which you eat the same way: biting off the ends, nibbling away the chocolate candy coating, then unrolling the dense, dark cake with your tongues and lapping up the cream filling inside the way you’ve watched his gray cat Lucy drink milk from her dish. After the snack, you remain at the table to draw pictures of yourselves and each other on sketchpads with crayons from a box of Crayolas. He’s “peach,” and you’re “tan.” When he asks, “How come you always have a tan, Maddie?” you shrug and say, “That’s how I was made.” Your father is a tan crayon, too, but your mother, darker, is “raw sienna,” which you can’t read yet, or pronounce correctly. Tobias’s mother remarks that your parents are attractive colored people, like the movie stars Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, but you don’t know who they are, and you don’t understand what she means by “colored.” In your five-year-old mind, everyone can be “colored” with a Crayola crayon. The summer you turn six, your mother has begun a weekend business selling antiques, and before your father hires a nanny, she thinks he should babysit. He should stay home with his daughter, she says, instead of carousing at the tennis club down the hill with those ladies in their short skirts. He plays tennis anyway, with Tobias’s father, so you and Tobias get dragged along. You’ve been going there since you
// Toni Ann Johnson // 7 were tiny, and neither of you are too fond of the place. There are five red clay courts that have a high chain link fence around them and a barn-like clubhouse that faces the courts. It’s unfinished inside, mostly beams and bare wood frames of rooms, except for a bathroom that’s always out of toilet paper. Sometimes adults stand in there and talk, but there’s nothing for kids to do, and your fathers, in their clueless narcissism, expect you to sit quietly on the benches in front of the clubhouse and watch them play tennis. It makes you uncomfortable to see Tobias’s father play, but you’ll never say that because it would hurt Tobias’s feelings. You know that he’s sensitive about the silver leg braces his father wears because he had polio as a boy. The Ferrell kids, who live on the block below Tobias’s house, have teased him about this and made him cry. You hate seeing Tobias cry. Two giggly ladies in shorts skirts with sun-tanned legs join your fathers, and the four begin to play doubles. Even though you’re only six, you know your mother will disapprove because she’s asked you to tell her if your father plays with ladies, and when he does, she gets mad. You two try to sit still and wait for your fathers to finish playing. You try to block out the squeak and rattle the leg braces make as Tobias’s father runs. You listen to the ball bounce on the clay court, clokt, then bounce off the rackets, ting. Clokt—ting—clokt—ting…but you’re bored, and you’re six, and sitting still is just not possible. There’s a creek in a wooded area behind the clubhouse. It’s slimy and foul-smelling, and grown-ups say it isn’t a real creek at all but merely sewage flowing to wherever it flows. There are frogs and toads in it, though, which makes it “real” enough to occupy you and Tobias. Because you’re on the chunky side, you both wear husky-sized Toughskins from Sears. The Ferrell kids call them “fake” jeans for fat kids. You’ve rolled yours up, and you step from rock to rock, looking for creatures, trying not to get your sneakers wet in the fetid slime. You sing your favorite song, not knowing at the time that it’s “soul” music or that the group, The Foundations, is “integrated.” You don’t even know what integrated means. You just like how it sounds to sing the words to Tobias. “Baby, now that I’ve found you, I can’t let you go. I’ll build my world around you—”
8 // Claiming Tobias // “Maddie,” Tobias says, “you’re gonna scare the frogs away.” He isn’t the boss of you, and you will sing if you want to. “I need you so. And baby even though, you don’t need me, you don’t neeeed me.” Barry and Kevin, the meanest of the Ferrell clan, show up on the hill on the other side of the creek. They squint down at you, arms folded, contemplating which mode of terror to inflict this afternoon. Barry, nine, is lanky and athletic with clear blue eyes and wavy blond hair. Your mother says he’s a beautiful child. You don’t share that opinion. Snot-faced Kevin, who’s seven, has stick-straight dirty blond bangs that half cover his beady brown eyes. Like Tobias, he has allergies, and his nose runs. Tobias’s parents wipe his nose several times a day, but Kevin’s parents let the snot pool and crust up above his upper lip, and it makes your stomach queasy to look at him. Mr. Ferrell, who has a crew cut and wears a blue and black uniform when he takes the train to New York City every day, doesn’t play tennis, but there’s a path through the woods behind the Ferrell’s house leading down to the creek. Your mother and Tobias’s have told you to forgive the Ferrell boys if they’re mean because their sister Cary-Ann, who’s your age, is very sick and always in and out of the hospital. The family is sad, you’ve been told. You don’t understand why being sad makes them mean. “This is our creek,” Barry says. “You’re on our property.” Kevin’s head bobs up and down like Barry’s little yes man. Then he breathes in sharply, through his nose, trying to suck up the dripping snot, but he gives up, sticks out his tongue, and licks it off. You screw up your face and look away, down the creek. You want to leave because the Ferrell boys scare you. Tobias isn’t leaving though, and you follow his lead. “What you makin’ faces about, trespasser?” Barry hisses at you. “You little trespasser!” “Leave us alone, Barry,” Tobias says. His voice sounds more frightened than confident, and since there are no grown-ups in sight, you decide you will escape before they hit you, or worse, push you into the stinky slime. Kevin points at something moving on the rocks. It looks like a big brown rock itself, but it’s crawling. “Oh shit, a turtle,” Kevin yells. He sniffles. The brothers hop down the rocks toward it, away from you and
// Toni Ann Johnson // 9 Tobias, thank God. You blow air through your lips, grab Tobias’s hand, and pull him with you, back toward the boring, but safe, bench. // The next afternoon Tobias is over, and you sit on the edge of the concrete back patio sucking on fudge pops. Your father is with a lady patient downstairs in his office, and your mother is in a bad mood because earlier that day she argued with him. He’s refused to watch you on the weekends any longer. You and Tobias turn and see her come out of the house wearing a frown. She’s got Brutus, your father’s Great Dane, on a leash. They’re on their way for a walk up the path through the woods behind your house. Brutus is big. He yanks away from your mother, his leash escaping her hand, and he dashes toward Tobias’s fudge pop, which disappears in an instant. Startled, Tobias squawks and holds his arms up in the air like you’ve seen him do when he plays cops and robbers. You want to laugh, but you don’t because it might hurt his feelings. “Bad dog!” your mother scolds. “Drop it!” Brutus gulps, licks the spot under his nose, then growls at her. Your mother’s normally pretty face squinches from a mild frown into a sharp scowl, and she smacks Brutus on his long snout. He bites her, immediately, on her lower arm. She screams. You start to cry and drop your fudge pop onto the grass. Tobias grabs you by the belt loop of your Toughskins and pulls you backward toward the house to lean with him against the wall. He’s shaking as you sniffle. Brutus, knowing he’s in big trouble, crouches and hangs his head low. Your mother snarls at you and Tobias, “Don’t you move!” She picks up the end of Brutus’s leash, pulls him off the patio into the back yard, and ties him up to a maple tree. She eyes you two, daring you to disobey, and she goes inside. A few minutes later, she comes back out with Bactine and a Band-Aid. You and Tobias have not budged because you’re terrified of your mother. “Let Tobias kiss it, Mommy,” you say. “It’ll make the hurt disappear.” Tobias looks at you like you’re crazy, and you can tell he wants to do no such thing. “I’m okay,” your mother says, smiling a little as she cleans then bandages her wound. You and Tobias breathe easier for a moment until, to
10 // Claiming Tobias // your horror, you see her step off the patio, pick up rocks from around the yard, and begin hurling them, full force, at Brutus. “You ever bite me again,” she shrieks, “I’ll fucking kill you! You understand me?” She misses sometimes, but mostly she doesn’t, and the dog yelps every time he’s struck. You and Tobias are both crying now, but you’re too shocked and confused to help Brutus. Your mother has gone bananas. “What are you doing, Mrs. Arrington?” She whips around, eyes wild, to find a red kickball rolling into the yard, followed by all four Ferrell kids, Barry, Kevin, their six-year-old bald sister, Cary-Ann, and their older brother John, eleven. He’s a handsomer, snot-free version of Kevin, and the only one brave enough to speak to your mother. Barry picks up the ball, and the siblings stand there, staring. “Why are you throwing rocks at your dog?” John demands, sounding understandably judgmental. “Get outta here!” your mother roars, loud enough to make you and Tobias cover your ears. She draws her hand back with a rock the size of her fist in it. She doesn’t throw it, but the Ferrell kids dash out of your yard. Cary-Ann looks back at you as she goes. You meet her eyes. You don’t know Cary-Ann well because she’s had leukemia for a few years and is rarely seen outside. You think it’s sad that her head looks like a ball of Silly Putty, but your mother tells you not to repeat that. // When Tobias’s father, to your delight, hangs a tire swing from the tall pine tree in their yard, you do see Cary-Ann outside. The huge tire comes from a tractor. It’s big enough to seat the backsides of several children, and he hangs it, horizontally, with silver chains. The first day you see it from your bedroom window is the day the Haitian nanny, Martine, arrives, and you find out she’s going to live with you. Your parents want you to stay home and play with Martine that day so you can get to know her, but you throw a fit, and they let the nanny walk you across the street so you can ride the swing with Tobias, Cary-Ann, Barry, Kevin, and John. As Martine stands off to the side, the other kids stare like they’ve never seen anything like her. They seem stunned by her presence, but
// Toni Ann Johnson // 11 you’re more interested in playing than you are in Martine because you can look at her later. You sit between Tobias and Cary-Ann, and you all kick your legs. “That’s your babysitter?” Cary-Ann asks as the swing rises, then falls. Her voice suggests that she thinks this is unfortunate. She shakes her head, and her lips turn downward, and even though she has no hair where her eyebrows should be, she squeezes them together and says, “She’s ugly.” Her brothers snicker in a mean way. Martine is dark brown, and her hair is black and spongy and shaped like a football helmet, but she’s not ugly in your opinion, just different. You’ve seen people who look like her when you’ve visited relatives in New York City. You like how Martine’s white uniform fits her slender shape, and you think her smooth, high cheeks and white teeth are pretty. Cary-Ann, with her Silly Putty head, is ugly, but you don’t say that. You say, “That’s not nice, Cary-Ann.” “But it’s true,” she says. “Yeah,” Tobias adds, giggling. “We’ll have to color her with the ugly crayon.” Your lip sticks out and quivers. Tobias has taken Cary-Ann’s side over yours. // As it turns out, you and Martine don’t hit it off. She doesn’t speak English, and you don’t speak French. You don’t realize that her refusal to speak your language has been negotiated by your parents, who hope you’ll have some sense and learn hers. And you foolishly assume that she doesn’t understand a word you say. Your parents leave the house the day you have a slight cold, and your mother has told you not to go outside. She especially doesn’t want you playing with Cary-Ann while you’re sick because her illness makes her more susceptible to everything. While Martine is cooking downstairs, you see from your bedroom window that Tobias and Cary-Ann are riding the tire swing. Just the two of them. Cary-Ann has on a red jumper and a red scarf around her head, and even though she’s bald, she looks good that day. You run out the front door, Martine on your heels, wagging her long,
12 // Claiming Tobias // skinny index finger, like Brutus’s tail, yelling, “Arretez! Arretez!” You know she’s telling you not to go anywhere, and you know damn well you’re not allowed to say shut up. But you say it anyway. “Oh, shut up, Miss Martine! Just shut up!” And you keep going on your chunky little legs, in your husky fake jeans, because you think Martine doesn’t know what “shut up” means anyway, and no way are you going to be left out of a fun time on the swing. And Tobias is your best friend, and you’re gonna see that it stays that way. You cross the street by yourself, but you figure Martine can’t tell on you because she can’t even speak English. When you get to the swing, Tobias’s mom waves from the picnic table, and you forget how jealous you are that Cary-Ann is there in her cute red outfit with Tobias because Tobias is so glad to see you, he cheers, “Maddie! Maddie! Maddie!” You hop on the swing and kick your legs. Cary-Ann teaches you the words to Miss Mary Mack-Mack-Mack, all dressed in black-blackblack, with silver buttons-buttons-buttons all down her back-backback, and she shows you the arm movements. She doesn’t want to show Tobias because, she says, “It’s only for girls.” When Tobias starts kicking his legs really hard to make the swing go higher and faster, you can’t do the arm movements anymore because you have to hold onto the chains so you don’t fall off. You know he’s pissed, so you drop Miss Mary Mack and start singing to him. “Baby, now that I’ve found you, I can’t let you go. I’ll build my world around you…” He sings back, “I need you so, and baby even though…” “All right, all right,” Cary-Ann says louder than either of you. “I’ll teach him, too. Fine.” She begins showing the song to Tobias, then you’re left out, but it’s okay because it’s his turn, and you don’t mind sharing Cary-Ann. You sing and swing along for what seems like forever until you hear your mother screaming from across the street. “Madeline! Better get your butt down off that swing!” And you see her flying toward you as if she’s on a motorized broom. The terror begins in your trembling thighs, moves up into your belly and onward to the top of your head, where you begin to sweat. You’re really in for it now. You start to slide off the swing, but you don’t make it. She
// Toni Ann Johnson // 13 snatches you off by the waist and sets you down, hard, on your feet. She whacks your backside in front of your friends before grabbing your wrist and yanking you out of the yard, up the hill, and across the street without even letting you say good-bye. She doesn’t say another word until you’re in the house. She backs you up against the refrigerator, and you can see Martine behind her, at the stove. Your mother is wearing makeup, and she looks so pretty with her red lips and her long lashes, but her eyes have that frenzied look they get when she’s so mad she doesn’t know what she’s doing. “I told you to stay inside, Maddie!” She slaps you in the face, and it hurts and scares you. Martine looks over at you from the stove. Her perfectly round head tops her crisp, white collar, and she looks like a Milk Dud with eyes on top of a vanilla-frosted cupcake. “You crossed the street by yourself?” SMACK! Your face stings, and you’re terrified because you don’t know if she’ll ever stop, and you’re sad that your mother doesn’t love you anymore. “And you told Miss Martine to shut up?” SMACK! “Don’t you ever talk to her that way again! You understand me?” You stare at Martine. Her hands cover her mouth, and her eyes look concerned. You know now that she tricked you. She was only pretending not to understand English, and you hate her ugly, lying guts. // Sometime later, your cold is better, you’ve survived your beating, and you and Tobias ride the swing. Just the two of you. You sit across from each other, holding onto the chains and kicking your legs. Neither of you speak for a while. “You look sad,” he finally says. You nod, then look down at the ground passing by as you swing. It makes you dizzy. “My mom and dad have been fighting, and my mom’s always mad at me...” You want to tell him more, but Cary-Ann walks into the yard. She has on a yellow sundress and a short blond wig that’s crooked on her head. “We’re barbecuing hot dogs at our house. Want some?” She looks at Tobias. You and Tobias aren’t ones to pass up hot dogs. You both hop off and follow her. The street between their houses isn’t a main road like the
14 // Claiming Tobias // one between yours and Tobias’s house. It’s a private, dirt road, only for residents, so you’re allowed to cross it without an adult if you’re careful. As you and Tobias follow Cary-Ann down the Ferrell’s stone driveway, Cary-Ann stops when John, Barry, and Kevin appear at the other end, close to their garage. They look in your direction. They don’t smile. John is the first to pick up a few stones. He stares at you, his eyes cold. You sense that he’s about to throw them, but part of you can’t believe it. He hurls one. Then another. Barry and Kevin gather up stones and soon do the same. You’re struck in the lower-leg and the arm, and it hurts, but you don’t have time to feel it. They’re chasing you, and you’ve turned to run. You think they’re throwing the stones at both of you, and so does Tobias. He runs with you, back toward his house. “Stop, Tobias!” Barry yells as he grabs up more rocks. But Tobias keeps running, and you and he make it to his yard and duck behind the swing. Soon a shower of rocks pelts the tire until they’ve run out, and the three boys stop at the edge of Tobias’s yard. “Maddie,” John yells, “stay away from our sister. We don’t want her playing with niggers.” Tobias’s eyes are wide as he looks at you and whispers, “You’re a nigger?” You’re out of breath, and your heart is pounding. You’re not sure what a nigger is. You think it might be someone who plays with kids with leukemia when they’re not supposed to because they have a cold. “Stay out of our yard, Maddie,” Barry shouts. “Tobias, you can come.” You watch as John, Barry, and Kevin turn and walk back toward CaryAnn, who’s still across the street, standing in her yard. Her wig is sliding sideways off of her head and hanging almost to her shoulder as she faces her brothers, who move toward her. John reaches her first, straightens out her wig, puts his arm around her, and walks her to the back of their house. Kevin and Barry follow. You’re still unable to move, but you calm down as they disappear. You and Tobias remain crouched behind the swing for a few more moments. You look at him, but he won’t look you in the eye, and it’s just as well because you don’t know what you’d say if he did. You look at your arm and notice a red welt forming. He finally stands up and says, “Thought all niggers look like your babysitter. Are you one, too? Is that why you always have a tan?”
// Toni Ann Johnson // 15 If Miss Martine is one, you think you might be one, too, but you don’t want to admit it, so you just say, “I don’t know.” “I’m gonna ask my mother.” He leaves you at the swing and runs into his house. Your arm hurts and so does your leg where the rocks have hit you. You ache to go home, but you’re not allowed to cross the street by yourself. You climb to the top edge of Tobias’s yard. “Miss Martine! Miss Martine!” You scream until she looks out the window and sees you. When she collects you, you squeeze her hand so tight it makes her wince. After you cross the street, she lifts you up and carries you the rest of the way. // At your insistence, Miss Martine walks you over to Tobias’s house a couple of days later after dinner, but he won’t come outside. You stand on the back porch and see him inside, watching an old movie on TV, The Wizard of Oz. You’ve watched it together before. His mother is at the open door, and she calls him, but he will not turn around. “Tobias, that’s rude, son. Maddie came to see you. Now go on outside and play.” Tobias shakes his head without turning around. “Can I come in and watch with you?” He shakes his head again. His mother looks at you, “I’m sorry, honey. I’ll talk to him,” she says. “Try back later.” // Your father tells you to leave Tobias alone for a while. “I talked to his dad,” he says, kneeling in front of you as you play, alone, with the Barbies in your room. “And he says Tobias is afraid of being bullied. He needs some time to learn how to stand up for himself.” “He doesn’t want to be my friend anymore?” “I’m sure he does, Madeline. But boys go through stages, and maybe right now he wants to play with boys instead of girls.” “Is it because I’m a nigger?” you ask. Your father’s clean-shaven cheeks turn red, and his lips turn inward and disappear, leaving a mustache with no mouth. His eyes drift from your face, up toward the ceiling. He doesn’t say anything for a few moments. When he finally speaks, you have to strain to hear him.
16 // Claiming Tobias // “Don’t say that word, baby. That’s not what you are.” He looks at you again and blows air out of his mouth. “You’re an Afro-American. Some people won’t want to play with you because of that, but if they don’t, then you don’t need them for friends. You don’t need them.” You wish that something, some magic, maybe The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, could change you from being Afro-American into whatever Tobias is. // When school starts, Tobias doesn’t talk to you at the bus stop. He talks with the Ferrells, who become even meaner after Cary-Ann dies. You’re sad about Cary-Ann, too, but they don’t know that. Sometimes when they call you mean things, Tobias does, too. You can tell that his heart isn’t in it, though. Once in a while, you bring a Yodel to the bus stop and eat it in front of him, the way you two used to, biting off the ends, nibbling away the chocolate candy coating, unrolling the dense dark cake with your tongue, and then lapping up the cream filling the way you used to watch his gray cat Lucy drink her milk. You think he must remember, but if he does, he doesn’t let on. You imagine him giving you a magic kiss, and you wait for the hurt to disappear.
Happy New Year, We Sell Tobacco Now Donnie Welch The neon letters “ATM” glowed red the way I wanted you to blush that night you said, “Your poetry makes me smile,” and I foolishly admitted that, “It’s all I ever wanted my words to do,” then you laid your palms on my temples. Hillside Market and life’s other small miracles remind me not to take blessings and cheap chasers for granted— good kisses and cranberry juice come with a cost, after all.
Nature versus Nurture Donnie Welch Daddy Long Legs seems a particularly good name for a drag queen.
On the Items in My Room Bobby Crawford oh walking stick in the corner resting leaning next to good-old-virgin Mary statuette. i canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t take you to the city. sorry for your company. she is very quiet. always looking down. i know you never cared for snakes, or even the way she squishes on them, like to bring their eyeballs stillborn into this world. but i see also you are jealous of the way she strides the earth.
Ring of Fire Bobby Crawford
the Virginia earthquake went off while i was driving up interstate 270— i didn’t feel a thing. when i arrived for breakfast in Maryland, everyone was scared and jumpy, convergent. they, unlike me, had never lived in San Jose, had never had the Juan de Fuca
handicap, or privilege: the most, or least effective alarm clock on the planet. strike-slipping your way to work, starting the day with the morning shakes, coffee down shirts or your fingers it is something i thought they might grasp here: grinding slowly up the coast, a popular eastern pass-time for decades, but no. what is the morning like in divergent lands, where we each go our own ways, leaving mountains behind us? how do they clean up after breakfast? do they leave the lava-cakes about, crumbling? in my hand, a crumpled torn napkin.
// Bobby Crawford // 21 in Kamchatka, do they aftermath the way we do, on bubbling island parties, mimosas, and crusty French bread, in the volcano-heat? do they have a custom for this time, it was alright; nobody died; bring out the the finest San Francisco treats…or is it like the District of Columbia, huddled: in the Aleutian, Nazca, Japan…do they wish the earth would stop shaking?
Infinite Mathematics Bobby Crawford 1 when you have a good orgasm, mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers postulate, you are experiencing, in an instant, an infinity. when you have a great orgasm, you understand time as atomic and continuous, a bomb both ticking and exploding, exploding once, over, and over again. 2 all of the molecules in the universe are individual entities that are continuously touching themselves and each other. erotica is the art of understanding how much infinity you can fit into a finite space. insert dick joke here. 3 between zero and infinity there are infinity integers. if we were rational casanovas we would start counting. fuck. but think how many irrational decimals there are just between 1 and 2:
// Bobby Crawford // 23 1.0001, 1.001, 1.01, 1.013650940340870602030544020106 and weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re not even to 1.02. meaning, between you and me, there are physically an infinite number of infinite ways we can string ourselves together. 4 the primary problem with understanding infinity, mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers postulate, is that the human mind cannot tell the difference between actually infinite and very, very, very, very large insert dick joke here. 5 imagine the pacific ocean, the surface of it. now imagine the depth. now, imagine the universe, now, multiply the number of stars in the universe by the number of water molecules in the pacific ocean, all of these things are finite. i am thinking about the wrong things when i orgasm. 6 there are three kinds of people, mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers postulate, that really need to get laid. they say, the universe is doing Kegel exercises, expanding, and contracting, expanding. contracting. it is perpetually orgasming. 7 i do not want to fuck you infinitely
24 // Infinite Mathematics // the way atoms masturbate. i want to fuck you redundantly, over and over again. 8 there is a statistical bell curve of ways we can move through space. we do not keep our imaginations within the standard deviations. we get a lot of ends of distributions, calculate improper ratios: arm to leg, leg to head, leg to leg, head-between-legs, legs on desk, ass to desk, desk to bed, papers on desk to floor to floor to fuck to bed
9 these are Escher’s repeating geometrically inconceivable infinities. can we have Escher sex? on a staircase i mean. wrap limbs around each other in impossibly awkward angles, i’ll go up down, while you go and we’ll fall through door/window/desk/floors into skies that can’t possibly exist. this is what i mean by kinky. positions that only work in alternative orgasming universes, fucking in parallel dimensions.
// Bobby Crawford // 25 10 sex is Zenoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s paradox of motion. we cannot be here and there at the same time. but i am here, and you are there, and time is both now and when we orgasm and the time in are we moving? or does the universe hesitate while we orgasm? what we experience after continuous fucking is fallout, is nuclear, is atomic, 11 no, when i orgasm in the same millisecond you do i discover that every other time i have orgasmed, it has been like Zenoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s paradox. halfway there. halfway there. half we get so close but our bodies never actually touch. 12 when you have a good orgasm, why are mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers standing inside postulating? do they not know the universe is waiting for them, touching itself at the thought?
On the Run Catherine Doucette
Yesterday, an Ohio man opened all the cages in his private animal reserve. Then he killed himself. I imagine his animalsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Bengal tigers, grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, confused with their freedom. Fifty-six exotic animals loosed and not knowing what to do. I picture monkeys fleeing down asphalt sidewalks and jaguars tentatively making their way past cut fences and open doors. Somewhere in Ohio, claws tapped the unfamiliar ground outside the bars, while padded feet stole away without sound. But the news report said that some of the animals were still standing by their cages when the authorities showed up. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s where they were killed, idling next to their pens, bewildered at the foreign taste of freedom. Ohio became a hunting ground for officers, armed with bullets and fear of the unknown. Not even Jack Hannah could save the animals, could halt their slaughter. Standing full-faced to the TV cameras, in the sprawl of dropped animals and cages left ajar, he offered refuge at the Columbia Zoo to any survivors. But authorities determined that the animals were too dangerous to capture or drug; the order was to
// Catherine Doucette // 27 shoot to kill. Last count I heard, at least three animals were still loose. Among them were a grizzly bear and a mountain lion. I wonder if the dead man had imagined that eighteen endangered Bengal tigers would be shot, that over fifty confined hearts would be stopped. Or did he think they might actually roam free in Ohio, making the suburbs home, using their muscles to lunge and scavenge like nature intended? I wonder if he thought death was better than being caged, having just been released from jail himself. Meanwhile, schools were closed for the day, people were urged to stay in their cars and told not to run if confronted. // Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m afraid to turn the radio on, to see if the animals are all carcasses, accounted for, slaughtered. There is a part of me that is rooting for that last trio. And I am the saddest for the animals that didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know they could leave their cages, so they hovered near their bars in uncertainty until their deaths. Raised in captivity, their wild instincts were dampened, and in Ohio, they pushed upon strange ground, wondering whether to run. Sometimes I think movement is the answerâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;even just to chase life for another moment. The story out of Ohio sets my mind pacing, remembering when I worked in Switzerland and taught an early morning running class with my friend, Phil. Before the sun was up, two mornings a week, we met at the sport platz with a captive group of students. It was fall, and a crust of snow settled upon the ground, the trails, and the roots we would stumble over. Frost slicked rocks and dead grasses. Sometimes the snow glowed in the moon, and we clicked off our headlamps in the chill morning. Those dawns before I turned a flashlight on, I found the group by their murmur, a low-throated growl of displeasure and duty. Figures stood close to each other in impatience, their hunched frames more solid than the sparse and reaching branches of the trees that lined the field. When I joined the shifting group, it was exciting, like meeting for an escape, the chance to rip through the woods while everyone else slept. It was as if we were preparing for something, training our bodies for endurance and speed, fighting the classroom rituals that dominated our days. The group always got separated, strung out in the darkness. But we
28 // On the Run // stomped over the same ground every morning, and I never worried about anyone getting lost. Suddenly, I would find myself alone in the dark woods. My breathing seemed inordinately loud, and I felt the clarity of the cold. My heart thumped in my stomach from exertion and sometimes fear; I would create images of lurking animals to press my motivation, imagine eyes in the dark and big forms moving behind the curtain of forest and morning. Passing small meadows in the woods felt like running next to a spotlight, and then you would dive back into the tree cover and work up the curl of the trail. There was a sort of blind belief moving with me—that I would eventually pop out of the woods, emerge in a safe place, if I just kept running. The methodical placing of my feet on mountain trails seemed right, that my body was in motion, that I was already running if something were to happen. Moving in the dark pushed me with that cold edge of morning fear, the seeping instinct that urged my feet faster. The woods encroached, and the brittle air punished my lungs. Isn’t it always a plan in the back of your mind to just run away? I could have slept in late those mornings, but instead I chose to have my legs and mind ready to flee. It’s better to move than to be dropped where you stand. // I didn’t stay in Switzerland. I got kicked out. I was partway through my second year as a teacher at an international boarding school. I had forked over my personal space by becoming a dorm parent. I taught six days a week and had every meal of every day with students. I thought that that much time invested in the school would be enough to secure my place there. In the end, it wasn’t. I was denied a permanent working visa. Everyone encouraged me to stay and fight. I knew, though, that it wouldn’t work. I only had a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. The Swiss wanted someone more special, with additional pieces of paper to prove value. The news came suddenly. I had been told that the visa would be taken care of, that I would be taken care of. I was turned out quickly. In Ohio, motorists were greeted with unfamiliar messages on illuminated traffic billboards: “Caution Exotic Animals,” and then the flash of “Stay In Vehicle.” But in a small classroom, Phil told me differently. “Go,” he said, “Go live your life.” In his lilting Swiss accent, his words made
// Catherine Doucette // 29 sense. It was as if he were cutting and prying the fence for me, hoping I would bolt. We sat on the tired classroom tables, the hint of chalk dust unsettled in the air. I looked out the big windows towards the Alps, picked out the Rosenhorn, the Middlehorn, and the Wetterhorn. I let my eyes crawl up the mountains and remembered when I climbed the Rosenhorn with Phil the first week I arrived in Switzerland. Since then we had been escaping on adventures, on skis, up mountains, and even just out the back door for a run. Running seemed to be our placeholder, an interim workout to sustain our bodies until the next adventure, the next invitation to move. Somehow using my muscles daily helped to keep me sane. Days that I didn’t run or hike found me pacing and restrained in the big school buildings. Staring out the window, I climbed the Rosenhorn with my eyes, taking the route we had taken. I wondered how to leave this place. I swung my feet from the table as I listened to Phil. His woven hat carefully covering his bald spot, his sun-worn face still smiling despite the fact that he was telling me to leave. My hands felt dry and swollen, tempered by the chalk and paper of my life. “Don’t stay for us,” he said. “Leave for you.” Later that week, Phil and I stood in the school’s gear room. It was a narrow closet that smelled like climbing shoes. We were returning gear, clinking carabiners and quick draws onto nails, stacking ropes and shoes on shelves. Working as a team, we methodically checked in each piece, moving around ice axes, beacons, rock protection, and avalanche shovels. I was concentrating on harnesses when he said to me, “If I were younger, we would go see the world together.” There was the hitch of impossibility in his voice—secured by a good job, his age, a wife, and a home. I realized that some people would envy my situation, being pushed out into the unknown. Phil was one of them. // I am just wrapping up work on the East Coast when I hear about the animals. I haven’t lived in the same place year-round for over eleven years. People chained to jobs, houses, spouses, and children see this as thrilling—to be untethered and able to do “anything” and go “anywhere.” Somewhere the pink gums and pointed white teeth of foreign animals are bared to the sloping green hills and cement of Ohio.
30 // On the Run // Wide, yellow eyes scope out the horizon without seeing bars, fences, and wire, trying to choose a direction. Socially we are held captive by the idea of ladders, career moves, walls, shelter. I like these thick lines of security around me but continually find myself without employment and housing, turned out into the chaos of finding my own way. More often than not, I find it paralyzing. But I don’t want to be caught idling, thinking about the warmth of my previous bed and the security of a paycheck. It’s time to move again, and I have the month of November to deal with. I’m expected in the West in December, with the snow. Until then, I assume that anywhere else is better than where I am. Friends of friends have a cabin in New Hampshire. They offer me the place for the month of November. I accept it because any plan is better than no plan; motion is better than standing still. I find the address back on a network of tired dirt roads. The cabin is placed on a slight hill amid huge, swaying white pines. Out back is a babbling brook. I tentatively move in, keeping my things in their bags in case I have to flee. I track orange pine needles and curling leaves across the carpets and into the kitchen. I walk through each room and glance out the windows. Some bedrooms are so small that the door hits the bed inside, stopping the arch of hinges. The place is musty, stale from disuse. I run a hand up the banister, its railing shiny, its pine balusters hand-stripped and solid. My eyes trail over the rope-chinked logs and notice the fraying ends of rope that have worked free. The cabin feels small and empty. After I have walked through every room, I change into my running clothes. It’s a slurry of rain and wind outside the cabin, but I abandon my sleeping computer and book to stretch my legs. I lock the place up and cross the leaf-encrusted lawn. With the new key tucked away, I tilt my head against the rain and start up the road. My running shoes have frayed holes, and my body already feels weary. But as I crest the first hill and watch leaves shimmy in the wind, I shout out to greet a pair of draft horses that are watching me from a big field surrounded by woods. They watch me with pricked ears but are comfortable, having no predators to worry about. I get my pace. I relax and affix myself in the contours of this new landscape.
// Catherine Doucette // 31 Out in the open, I think about the cabin and convince myself how this, too, will work. Listening to my breathing, I imagine tiger stripes between trees, eyes watching me from a perch, sleek forms crouching behind stone walls. In this unfamiliar terrain, I am reminded how quickly freedom is granted and stripped; all the while, I look for big cats along the road.
The Last Millennium Monster Aaron Sommers
1. In May of 1972, Hal and Rod Shapiro (“The Tri-Borough Twins”) build Millennium Village in Miami Beach. It is a refuge for those who find the winters in New York City too much. It has the best view on Collins Avenue. It has a woefully inadequate security system. 2. On the fourth of May 2002, Larry Schoenberg, eighty-one-year-old resident of said retirement community, starts to yawn but loses the energy halfway through. Schoenberg picks up his newspaper with a grunt and walks towards the clubhouse, where the weekly “Bronx Boys” meeting has commenced. 3. Exactly nine minutes after Schoenberg arrives at his destination, a colossal lizard—identified in this account as a Mutant Brazilian Alligator—breaches the South End section of Millennium Village. In its
// Aaron Sommers // 33 wake, it leaves a decimated bed of prize-winning rosebushes and Mortimer “Morty” Saperstein, aged ninety-one, who has his third and final heart attack upon setting eyes on the beast. 4. The lizard waddles toward the clubhouse, where a serving staff is preparing brunch. Hugh Benny, age eighty-one, retired firefighter for the New York City Fire Department Precinct Thirty-Four and Firehouse Engine Thirty-Six, attempts to stop the creature from going any farther. It is the last decision of Benny’s life and the first meal for the 3600-pound alligator. The creature continues to the entryway of the clubhouse. Two custodians sweeping the marble floors dutifully alert the rest of the staff with child-like, shrieking screams. 5. 10:00 am. Brunch is delayed via an announcement on the PA system by Events Coordinator Fran Cogswell, aged ninety. Schoenberg and his group of acquaintances continue talking unabated. Saul Rosenberg, age eighty-five—de facto Chairman of the Bronx Boys Club— doesn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, besides that “the old fart [Schoenberg]” is “…more cranky than usual.” Rosenberg also claims most residents of Millennium Village skip brunch anyway— in hopes of favorable seats during dinner—“when they serve us the good stuff.” 6. Items on the Bronx Boys Club meeting agenda for the Week of May 15, 2002: – Approval of minutes from previous meeting. – Matters arising from previous meeting. – The unique, superior taste of their mother’s homemade matzo ball soup. – The prowess of particular baseball players (all deceased). – The old neighborhoods (In a rare show of agreement, all three members concurred they “were a hell of a lot better before the Puerto Ricans moved in.”).
34 // The Last Millennium Monster // 7. 10:36 am. Florida Department of Fish and Game Emergency Unit (FDFGEU) arrives on the premises of Millennium Village. Heavy traffic on State Road Route A1A hinders the responders. The Florida State Highway Patrol notes an overturned tractor-trailer on A1A containing hazardous waste causes lengthy delays. 8a. 11:08 am. FDFGEU Executive Director Dr. Kent Bicknell attempts to subdue the ogre with a tranquilizer from a military-grade blowgun. This proves unfruitful. Several FDFGEU staff allegedly hear a “roar” or “wet bark” from the creature. Dr. Bicknell notes the creature smells “…worse than shit…rotten and feculent, like a burnt fart.” 8b. 11:18 am. Bicknell engages the beast with the maximum dose of tranquilizer available. Gradual prostration of the animal follows. 8c. 11:27 am. Due to the creature’s inordinate size, the FDFGEU containment vehicle on site cannot withhold the thirty-six-foot alligator. Bicknell requests a rotorcraft. The request is expedited by the Executive Director’s urgent communiqué to General George T. Peterson of the Ninety-Sixth Air Base Wing. According to the official transcript, Dr. Bicknell exclaims: “I’m going to need some help down here, General. I have no idea what the fuck this thing is.” 9a. 11:30 am. An F-class Chinook helicopter is dispatched from Eglin Air Force Base. It lands with a few soft bounces on the golf course adjacent to Millennium Village. The beast is ensconced in a titanium-linked net, and the aircraft disembarks Millennium Village en route to a classified federal facility within Everglades National Park. 11:43 am. The helicopter experiences a loss of altitude. Stability control mechanisms fail to maintain the craft’s equilibrium. According to
// Aaron Sommers // 35 eyewitnesses, the cold-blooded creature sways back and forth in the air like a gruesome pendulum. 11:50 am. The Chinook helicopter crashes into the east bank of the Kissimmee River. All six crewmembers on board (pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, two technicians, and one officer from an unnamed federal agency) perish. 9b. The explosion destroys a nest inhabited by a large family of Manatees. 10. One witness, Effie Tynsberg, claims something flew off the stricken craft before it plummeted into the water. Tynsberg, age ninety-three, describes “…a monster, one of those [red] dragons from the movies,” abruptly flying away from the helicopter. Martin Ableson, age nine, from North Miami Beach, relates a similar event. Ableson describes both a “sea monster” and “a giant flying bat.” According to the boy, “the [monster] flapped his big scaly wings. It was really cool. Then fire and smoke balls came out of his mouth, and he was gone, and then the helicopter crashed and went boom.” Dale Bunker, age forty-five, resident of Ponderosa Trailer Park in Kissimmee, also claims, “Yeah, I seen it. I look up and seen it squigglin’ round in the air. Ain’t seen nothin’ like it. They had him in this metal net, and the chopper, it was havin’ some real trouble.” Bunker—who sold his account and photographs to the Hearst Corporation—asserts the beast did not have wings. “No, he wasn’t no dragon. Hell, no. He was more like […] Jabba the Hut or somethin’.” Bunker’s story is serialized in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries (“The Bigfoot of Boca”). In June of 2002, Bunker dies from an Oxycontin® overdose. 11. June 18, 2002. Burt Bryson, Professor of Herpetology at the Australian National University (ANU), acquires a classified image from a National Security Agency (NSA) Keyhole “Big Bird” satellite. A high-resolution screenshot of an indentation in the earth at the crash site suggests the
36 // The Last Millennium Monster // size and shape of—according to the professor—a prehistoric reptile. He determines it is a Phobosuchus from the Cretaceous period. 12. June 20, 2002. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) determine Bryson violated a US federal order by viewing top secret data. The ANU dismisses Bryson from his position as associate professor. Three years after capturing the image and losing his job, Bryson is killed by a box jellyfish while vacationing in Melbourne with his life partner. 13. June 27, 2002. Marcus Fillberg, senior marine biologist at the United States Geological Society (USGS) files a pro forma report. After extensive soil analysis in and around the perimeter of Millennium Village and crash site, Fillberg is unable to conclude an alligator of any kind had been in the area. However, chromatography indicates material associated with a dinosaur of the early Cenozoic Era. Six years after his report, Fillberg dies in Hollywood, Florida, of cirrhosis of the liver. 14. July 4, 2002. A crew from National Geographic Explorer accompanies international big-game hunter Col. Bill “The Rifleman” Carson to the outskirts of the watershed. The intent of the week-long expedition is to track and capture the notorious lizard. The effort fails. During the second night out, Carson is ambushed by the leviathan. According to cinematographer Gene Brock, the dragon “came out of nowhere” and “spit” three bursts of fire. Brock notes a thicket of dry horsetail and pickerelweeds were ignited and “sent our whole camp up in smoke.” Amidst the inferno, Carson’s X-Caliber® harpoon gun misfires. The hunter is swiftly impaled within the jaws of the apex predator. Although Brock’s hair catches on fire during the debacle and the film stock is destroyed, most of the National Geographic crew escapes the area relatively unharmed. 15. August 9, 2002. In an interview with local media outlet KTFA, Paul
// Aaron Sommers // 37 Kilchenstein—senior investigator at the FFWCC—surmises the monster “played dead,” and “at best, those darts merely agitated the damn thing.” He concludes, “[…] everybody talks about how big she is. I don’t give a shit [sic] about that […] Reptiles are brain-stem animals. But the Geezer Godzilla outfoxed us all.” Kilchenstein speculates the non-native lizard swam downstream from the Kissimmee River into the diverse, hospitable ecosystem of the Florida Bay. The Commissioner of the FFWCC pooh-poohs his account, labeling Kilchenstein’s theory “quixotic” and “a load of baloney.” On July 18, 2002, while working on Invasive Plant Management in Tallahassee, Kilchenstein is bitten by a brown recluse spider and dies from a severe systemic reaction to the necrotic venom. 16. 2004–Present. The administration at Millennium Village refuses to acknowledge the veracity of the monster. Karl Klamm, President of Millennium Village Miami Beach, dismisses the narrative of a mammoth alligator entering his facility as “balderdash […]” and “duck shit from our competitors.” Klamm testifies “… [We] are a safe, gated community. No pets are allowed. We’ll add years to your life and life to your years.” Klamm shrugs off first-hand reports of an oversized reptile running amok in his “magnificent, active-adult condominiums.” The president says, “Look, most of our residents are senile—they think Truman is still president. You tell me someone saw a dragon tear up my clubhouse? Big deal. I’ll find someone who saw Frank Sinatra sing and dance yesterday at the same [emphasis added] goddamn place. Maybe a leprechaun served him martinis, too. Go ahead and print that.” The Millennium Village clubhouse is closed for two weeks after the monster’s melee. The residents are placated with discount coupons procured by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Wolfie’s Deli. The damage to the golf course and rose beds is explained by President Klamm in the newsletter (The Millennium Monthly) as a gross malfunction of the sprinkler system. 17. Larry Schoenberg doesn’t play golf and hates flowers, so he never no-
38 // The Last Millennium Monster // tices the aftermath of the infamous Geezer Godzilla. On July 2, 2008, Schoenberg diesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;with a few gripes but no regretsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;at age eightynine. His obituary in the Miami Herald notes he is predeceased by his spouse of fifty-one years, Jackie Whitman Schoenberg. They have no children. In lieu of flowers, donations are made to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
Pheromones Matthew Gesicki
We wake early when the bees sing, emerging from trapdoors of the hive, ravishing honeysuckle, the fur-rub of bodies on anthersâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; their hymns mark our arrival. Robed in white and veiled headdress, you kneel a pilgrim at a shrine, smoke-drowsed bees whispering novenas as you stroke the combs for honey, our fingers fit gently together in this garden at dawn, stars peeled away by light and jars of nectar opened. Your fingers map my body with the anatomy of a beeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; tremble of the thorax, the single release of the sting unclasping her viscera, her slender legs flitting against skin until everything within is bared before you as I am.
40 // Pheromones // Light pours through the trees and stirs the bees to matins, bodies bending together in broken pose, beesong turned to silence.
// gardens // Libby Webster //
// domenica // Libby Webster //
// doll parts // Libby Webster //
// the view from happy // Libby Webster //
// sorry about the mess // Libby Webster //
// bowling // Libby Webster //
// calvin // Libby Webster //
// Fisherman // Chelsey Moody //
Blood Paisleys, 1990 Ursula Villarreal-Moura
Do you remember when drive-by shootings were an epidemic in San Antonio? When in middle school every morning you’d greet your gaggle of friends by saying, “You survived the bullets, you nasty gangbangers,” and they replied with quips like, “Yeah, I’m thug like that,” or “I was wearing my Crips colors, fool.” Only you were all twelve-yearold private school girls, scared by the local nightly news, sick at the body counts in the newspaper headlines. Some of you were MexicanAmerican; some of you were white. All of you were equally embarrassed by your uncivilized city as you were by your newfound period blood. Whenever an errant blood paisley stained a skirt or gym shorts, the group issued a warning to the victim, “Vato, you been shot near the buttocks. Get help.” Gangs were the rage, initiations were never-ending, and you were held hostage in the prime of puberty. This was before you began describing hip-hop as iambic, before you seriously considered the idea of
50 // Blood Paisleys, 1990 // leaving San Antonio, years before you developed your insulated New England daydream. The prospect of staying in your bloody city, well, that was a chalk outline you could draw in your sleep.
Tabloid Totems Ursula Villarreal-Moura
Your guilty pleasure for the past decade has been reading tabloids online. Splashed across your desktop screen, astronomically scaled photographs of popular and burnt-out celebrities. Since you can remember, a particular blond male model has reminded you of your ex-boyfriend, also a model but tall and Japanese. Except for their feathered eyebrows and similar clothing campaigns, the men are incongruent. Yet to you, they are interchangeable like quickly scribbled fives and “s”s. One November, they appear in the same section of the New York Times. The blond man modeling quixotic cologne, your ex posing pensively with platinum cufflinks. Flipping back and forth between the ads, you can’t decide which man is yours. After a quiet hour of scrutiny, you ball up the paper and toss it in a public trashcan. Three blocks down Columbus Avenue, you buy a fresh copy of the newspaper you just discarded. A tingly tightness spreads across the bridge of your nose as you realize you will never own them, only facsimiles of their silhouettes. The reasons for your breakup with the model blur more with each season. You text your close friend and asks why you did it. It was years
52 // Tabloid Totems // ago, and you doubt your motives and loathe your friends for not advising you to stick it out. Regret engulfs you like a heavy winter coat. He was dragging you both down, your friend replies. Another green bubble of text appears: Don’t forget the problems. These oblique answers annoy you. You wonder if your ex misses you, if he saved the birthday cards you penned him, and if so, which ones. In Paris, a deranged fan assaults the blond model in front of a café. His bruised face, gigantic and unrecognizable, graces your desktop monitor. From work, you Skype your mother in hysterics. You won’t believe what happened, you sob. The model’s face resembles a navy slab of meat, his eyelids swollen shut. The police arrived too late to save his magazine features. With hyphenated exhales, you utter the blond model’s name over and over. You don’t even know him, your mother fumes. In your mind, you add the word “anymore” because for years you’ve followed his photographs, and for quite some time you fell asleep next to, and dreamt of growing old with, someone like him.
8:69 CJ Nadeau
We were standing at the corner of Tremont and Tremont, and my watch said it was eight-sixty-nine at night. And I don’t mean that’s what I read on the watch face; my watch said, “eight-sixty-nine pm Eastern Standard Time.” The voice was tinny and whined at the start of each syllable. Now keep in mind we had just finished smoking so much our brains transcended to a point where all thoughts were lucid. We had all the answers. They were wet and slippery and floundered when we tried to wrap our already sweaty hands around them. And when we grasped the meaning of it all, our brains transcended to the highest point on the spectrum and we emerged at the very bottom to start over. That was the corner of Tremont and Tremont, and I’ll tell you how we came to be frozen in time precisely at eight-sixty-nine at night. I don’t use the term “we” loosely. It was me, Don Tay, and Al Mund. Don brought us out to this party where the latest girl he was chasing was supposed to be. She wasn’t. It wasn’t a surprise, though, because he fell in love with the next cute girl he saw, and Al was there talking to someone about a show he was producing or trying to get someone to
54 // 8:69 // pick up. I was there observing. I liked to observe—people tell me I’m boring at parties because I don’t talk to others. I hate when people tell me how to enjoy myself. I am enjoying myself, and I don’t tell them where to put their feet. I enjoy talking; I’m just not very good at it. At the party on the second floor above the first floor and on the corner of Tremont and Tremont, we flung prepositional phrases around casually because we were young and we considered ourselves artists. We were artists of all kinds, and I stood in the corner with my back against someone’s self-expression. It was a big mural that someone had Sharpie-d onto the wall but lost interest halfway through. What they finished was a small boy dressed like a Cub Scout, and he held a small red balloon that was deflated. On the couch were the weed fairy and a guy with dreads. The weed fairy dug his hands into an endless bag of weed and gave a handful to the man on the couch. “Roll this,” he said, and when it was halfway smoked, he said, “Toss it, bro. It’s too small.” So the dreadful man tossed it, and their eyes were squinted like it was really their lids that had inhaled the smoke and now were frozen themselves, laughing. There was a drinking game going on in the kitchen; it was a small kitchen with a dirty white fridge, brown cabinets, and a sink with a broken faucet that dispensed dirty dishes instead of water. The kid with too many tattoos was playing and losing and was the loudest. To his left were his three friends from high school who came for the weekend but never really left high school and thus were too awkward to interact with anyone outside of their group. One had an old lacrosse shirt on with a high school mascot and a backwards hat. Another wore a flannel with the sleeves stuck in limbo halfway between elbow and wrist, and the third had no shirt at all. On the right of the illustrated man were his friends, who were too hip to be described because you probably haven’t heard what they dress like. Don was in there flirting with one of the too-hip girls, but she liked him because you probably haven’t heard of Don, and he was a poet and a drinking enthusiast as a result. On the porch outside, Al Mund stood smoking a cigar and peeing off the edge. I sat down on one of the two couches that were pushed together in a loose kind of “L” shape. There was a roof that blocked off the sky from the porch and my eyes from the stars—if you could
// CJ Nadeau // 55 see any in Boston at night. “Hey man,” Al said without turning, “who’s there?” I told him it was me, and he nodded. When he was done, he turned and asked if anyone else was coming, and I didn’t know. Al convinced me to go back onto the couch with the weed fairy and the dreadful man even though I didn’t want to. Al was kind of a wizard in that way. Back in the living room, we sat down between the dreadful man and the weed fairy. They were skeptical when we sat down, but Al started talking to the weed fairy to disarm their skepticism. I was skeptical he could do it. The interrogation was simple, mainly because Al calls it conversation. Al had this car-salesman smile that made you want to tell him everything about you. It wasn’t that he was devious or shrewd like a salesman—he just had the boyish face that goes along with one. The more I think about it, Al is pretty devious. The weed fairy had no constitution and immediately divulged that he worked for a computer company and wrote code. Because of this, he made too much money and worked too hard. “It’s great,” the weed fairy said because he hated his job. The dreadful man was a ball player at a local college. “Living the dream,” he said because he was. Al convinced them to let us get down, and we smoked too much too fast. I could tell the night was now a race against time before my mind transcended spectrum top to spectrum bottom. It was near. High time, the end is nigh; I laughed at the thought, and Al looked at me. “You okay?” he asked. Then he blew a nimbus of smoke into my face so thick it pushed my face and my eyes to the clock, and that’s when I saw it. The digital clock by the television was a long, flat piece of technology that was advanced enough to tell time after the hour’s end. It was eight-sixty-nine at night for the first time in my life. I sat there and stared at the numbers, wondering what the eight, six, and nine meant. The more I thought, the less I could think, and I’m not sure how much time passed, but a group of people walked through the door, and the clock still read eight-sixty-nine. The logical explanation was that Al Mund cast a spell on the room because he didn’t want the party to stop. Or since he was a wizard and it was his duty to make sure the party reached its destiny, he had to freeze us. I was convinced. I could hear Don’s high-pitched cackle of a laugh in the kitchen and
56 // 8:69 // was drawn to it. He was next to the illustrated man and still talking to the same girl when she asked him a question about his art. He started to say something and tripped over his words. He said something along the lines of Fred Flintstone’s “yabbadabbadoo,” which I hated. If Don was Fred Flintstone, then Al was Kazoo, and I was stuck being Barney. No one wants to be Barney. I didn’t want to be a sidekick in a kitchen. The parade of people that “pardon me”-ed through the partygoers was six people long: two guys and four girls. The guys were first, and they looked like they had the money for private school. I knew because I did, too. The guy that led them had a “Vietnam Veteran” hat on, which meant he aged well or was a d-bag. He carried a thirty of Pabst and motioned with his free hand to the kitchen. His platoon followed. His troops were loyal and dressed in uniform. They all had their standardissue, socially conscious sneakers with jeans that hugged their legs and v-necks of varying length. I can only assume that the depth in their “V”s was to distinguish rank, and that’s why I was drawn to the second in command. She was a redhead and wore her rank proudly, and I knew Don would need a wingman, which would mean he would need Al. I had time to find where Al went because Squad Leader was arming his troops with beers and had the newest member reloading the fridge. I pushed through to the porch in search of Al. The door opened out and to the right, so at first I didn’t think anyone was out there, so I shut the door to pee. There was a man on the couch hidden by the door. His shoes were gray with salmon-colored bottoms, and his pants matched in color. The jacket he wore was a darker gray, maybe black—I couldn’t tell—and he left it open to expose a gray vest and white button-down shirt. He had a salmon-colored bow tie, and in his jacket he had a salmon head sticking out of the breast pocket. Where the man’s head should have been was a pocket watch. “Sorry,” I said. I went back inside and wondered what I was apologizing for. I always do that, even if someone bumps into me. “Sorry,” I say to apologize for my existence. Don says I apologize too much, and then I have to apologize for that, and then he says I never mean it, but I always mean it. Wait, what the fuck was that on the couch? I’ll get Al to look at it; he’ll know what to do. Partygoers were rearranged in the room so Al was in the center, probably by his design. Both the weed fairy and the dreadful man had
// CJ Nadeau // 57 moved to one corner of the couch so they weren’t split by the invading troops. They offered a peace pipe as tangible proof of their alliance that was three feet tall, and the opposing sides were able to form a treaty. Al isolated the Squad Leader and his second in command for interrogation. I overheard Squad Leader say that his troops were all stationed at Berklee. Don was there, too, but he and the girl were both waiting for their squad leaders’ orders to get involved in the conversation. That’s when the wizard shot me a smile that made me want to buy a Suburu—or join the awkward conversation. I stood between the commander and the redhead, and Al dumped the commander on me with a line about something we vaguely have in common. Al moved so that I occupied the commander’s attention, and he was between the redhead and Don. I told the commander my hometown, and he told me his. He told me about his band, and I told him about my writings, and we each said the other should like our fan page. I told him I would, and we said how great it was that weed was medical in his state, and I wished it was in mine, and then Squad Leader went to sign the alliance with the weed fairy. Don pushed the hair off his forehead, and with the grime that accompanies a crowded room, it stayed off and to the side so he looked neurotic. Don is neurotic. Al interrogated the redhead. She had graduated college and began teaching students with autism. And somehow she was already telling Al she did it because her brother was autistic, and then Al and her had a conversation that was too intense for my current state. Sometimes Al could be a bad wingman like that. He was too interested in finding out about people, and his interrogations got too real. Al didn’t mean to be that way; he just had a funny way of going about things, and people had a curious desire to tell him the truth. The first time I met Al, I had told him my parents were getting a divorce. I haven’t even told Don that yet, and we’ve known each other for a few years, and my parents are now divorced and remarried. Al would somehow slip Don into the conversation, and somehow Don would end up going home with her, and Al would have been the conductor that orchestrated the symphony of eight-sixty-nine. Al finished his interrogation and introduced me and Don Tay to
58 // 8:69 // Lucy Fair, and they got the unpleasant pleasantries out of the way. One thing I hate about meeting people is that I have to give them my statistics. Where I’m from, where I go to school, my job. I wish I had a baseball card to hand out to people. On the front it would be my face, and the back would have my height and weight, college and major, and my interests and hobbies. The baseball card would have to say something embarrassing, too, just to keep the awkwardness of meeting people in it. Mine would say that one time I laughed so hard I peed myself at the high school lunch table. This was the college party my mom was afraid of—it was more of a caricature of a party, anyway. The illustrated man was still playing his drinking games in the kitchen, and even though he was losing, it sounded like fun. There was a different soundtrack in there with the bass of his old friends’ laughter and the treble of his friends that were too hip to laugh so they chortled. The weed fairy had pulled out another pipe and passed around a joint and the peace pipe and the new pipe. The weed fairy talked to the girl next to him. She was cute and had glasses. I was a sucker for glasses. I was a sucker. The weed fairy and the girl traded baseball cards before the weed fairy moved on to the other two girls. He forfeited his seat to Squad Leader and sat down on the opposite end of the couch. Next to the weed fairy, the girls’ eyes now laughed at the same joke as him, and he told them, “You don’t know high. I know high.” The dreadful man laughed and said, “Preach.” Lucy and Don were in conversation and didn’t seem to notice Al with his hands on his hips as he smiled and nodded at all the right parts. Our symphony sounded fine, and Don was going to get laid, and Al was the reason, and I was enjoying myself, and Al probably had something to do with that, too. The dreadful man passed a bong to the commander. When the commander conquered it, the dreadful man packed more of the weed fairy’s blessings and passed it to the girl beside the commander. She coughed and knocked her drink over. It spilled all over the commander. “Court marshall her!” I said. Really, I shouted it. I thought it was pretty funny. Everyone stared at me. I said something along the lines
// CJ Nadeau // 59 of “my bad” or “just kidding” or maybe both. I made my way out to the porch to pee off the edge. It—the pocket watch and suit—sat in the same spot on the couch but had its right leg crossed over the left, and its arms were spread out on the top of the couch. I tried to ignore it and went to the opposite end of the balcony and peed over the edge. It just sat there with its watch face looking at me. I sat down on the other side of the couch and looked at it. I looked it up and down and inspected every fiber of its jacket and the sheen of the polish on the watch head. All the while, its mechanism ticked in the background. After a minute, it almost sounded like a heartbeat. “Do you live here?” I said. “As much as you do.” I just looked at it. I didn’t see anything move on the watch face and didn’t know where the sound came from. The voice was whiny and shrill like a teakettle. It gave me goose bumps and put a weird pressure in my stomach. “I’m down here,” it said. It was the salmon. The salmon head could speak. I guess that made sense. What’s wrong with me? “Do you know the guys that live here?” “As much as you do.” “Oh,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say, and I wish I had this thing’s baseball card. If I had to guess, it would read MIT and majored in mechanical engineering, and its hobbies were the collegiate math team and his calculus club. Its awkward moment was that it once took him more than three minutes to solve a Rubik’s Cube. “Where do you go to school?” I said. “I don’t.” Well there goes this conversation. There’s nothing worse than asking someone what school they’re going to and they say they don’t. I always feel like an ass. Even if they don’t seem to mind. I should be the one that’s embarrassed. I don’t know where this is going. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Sun Delisle.”
60 // 8:69 // Sun told me a joke. It said Neil Armstrong used to always tell lame jokes about the moon. Then he would end it with, “You probably had to be there.” Cracked me up. After that, I settled down because that broke the proverbial ice between us. I was looking at Sun’s watch face with the Roman numerals XII, III, VI, and IX etched in the appropriate places. In the center, there was a dull light like a near-death digital clock that read “eight-sixty-nine.” “I’ve seen that time before,” I said. And Sun said it knew that already. I asked him, “What’s it mean?” And it told me that was for me to figure out. Then it asked me, “Would you rather be a rich man or a king?” My first thought was that I wouldn’t want to be either because both are trapped in the den of responsibility. Then I realized that a king is just a nice face now, but I would love to be a king to ride into battle on horseback aside his best knights. I wouldn’t really though because I’m a coward and would ride behind my troops to observe, and man should fear the king that rides behind his troops. I said I didn’t know and asked Sun what it thought. “The rich man has the ball in his court, while the king has the court in his arena.” I nodded, and we enjoyed a comfortable silence that quickly made me uncomfortable. “Is this some kind of joke?” I asked. “Like a Disney movie?” The pocket watch leaned in, and I leaned towards it. The pocket watch pulled my ear down to the salmon’s lips and whispered, “Don’t fool yourself. This isn’t Wonderland, and you are not Alice.” The words sent a chill down my spine and aroused me in a way I can’t explain. Sun turned my head so I looked the salmon head in its eye. It smelled of salt and ocean waves. I could smell the crash of ocean waves on its lips. It pulled me in, and we were kissing. It had wire-thin lips that tasted like sea salt, and I was parched. Don walked out onto the porch and saw us. I looked up at him. “She called me extraordinary,” he said. “Who?” “Lucy.” “Cool,” I said.
// CJ Nadeau // 61 “No,” Don said. “She called me extra ordinary.” “Oh.” “Were you kissing that?” Don said. I nodded. “My bad,” he said and went back inside.
The Glasses Katherine Bove
I was nine years old when I got my first pair of glasses. They were round and thick and wire-framed. When I remember that day, I’m not particularly struck by the way the optometrist’s office smelled (dry like Kleenex) or by the way the uneven nubs on the periscope-like eyechecker dug red ovals into the bridge of my nose. Instead, all I can clearly remember is sitting on the swing back home after the appointment and my yiayiá leaning over the flowerbeds. The swing set, with its yellow, nylon rope swings and splintery monkey bars, was set back from the house, where the backyard met the thin saplings and pricker tangles of the woods. The rest of the yard was framed by the barn—a pale, chipping gray with ivy kinking up over the cracked windows of the woodshed—and by the flowerbed. I was swinging and looking off into the woods through my new lenses. The leaves seemed to stand out, each an individual, curved shape, not just part of a mass. The sun filtered through the gaps between the leaves in sharp little shafts, not blurry blocks, and each woodchip I kicked had its own knots and texture.
// Katherine Bove // 63 My yiayiá was over for dinner, but instead of listening to her mumble in Greek, I’d decided to mope about my glasses on the swing. At the time, it didn’t seem selfish or wrong. It was just grown-ups planning poorly or something—how could I devote time to my grandmother when I had four eyes to deal with now? I hadn’t seen her in awhile. I wasn’t quite sure why, exactly, but she never watched my brother and me anymore. I was thinking about how I’d have to compose myself, compose my bleary, stupid, dead eyes, and go try to talk with her, but when I looked over at Yiayiá from the swing and saw her, short, hunched form leaning over the freshly mulched marigold beds, I was scared. Before school started, I was over at my grandparents’ house all of the time. My yiayiá had always been a cheerful person. I don’t think I ever heard her yell. I remember sitting on the edge of the steps and drawing chalk dogs on the sidewalk while she swept the stoop. I remember holding her sleeve and walking down the block to a convenience store where we’d buy Funyuns and rip into the greasy, yellow bag before even leaving the store. But mostly, I remember watching her cook. She bustled around the kitchen, sometimes in socks, singing and laughing with the TV turned down low on some soap opera. Her skin was cold and smelled of flour a lot of the time and sort of hung in places—her elbows and chin—and it was so white that the blue veins in her wrists stood out; I thought she was like dough, especially in the way her jaw muscles would knead the rest of her face into a big, floppy smile. I don’t remember the way her hug felt; even her voice was indistinct. When I think back to my time with her, I just feel my un-socked toes digging into the couch cushions and the stolen meatball hidden in the pocket of my cheek like a warm pit. I hear TV static, crackly, peanut-brittle singing, and the under-hum of the fridge, and the way that hard, flat, fuzzy sound carries through the creaky yellow linoleum. There was something warm about that kitchen. Every room in the house led into it, was just a pit stop on the way there. The buttery smell of stuff like tiropita made me feel drowsy and comfortable in a November Sunday-evening kind of way: clear sunlight hanging in the windows, and nothing and everything balancing on the promise of nightfall. The last time I remember really being in my grandparents’ kitchen
64 // The Glasses // was different, though. It felt like it was only a few months before I got my glasses, but it was over a year before. Yiayiá was kneading cold dough with a wooden dowel in the half-light until it was thin as flakes of mica, and I was watching from the green sofa, sock-less toes dug in between the cushions, while Pappoús sat patiently at the kitchen table, slicing grapes in two and flicking the seeds out with the tip of his knife (and they bounced, as always, into a little bowl or fell down on the linoleum and rolled under the sink cabinet, becoming the tile pattern) as he watched the TV flicker; Yiayiá was singing in her crackly voice, but then she just turned around and said to me, “Ana, can you hand me the ladle—” and I just sat there thinking, “My name is Kate,” and a purple shadow fell across Pappoús’ face. He knew that something had taken a bite out of Yiayiá’s brain, kneaded it to mush and static, so that now she stands in a wrinkled navy dress, looking down into marigolds and into her watery reflection in the birdbath, and I wonder if she recognizes her own nose, but as I walk over, away from the swing, I try to push that thought away, and instead I think that maybe she is looking for a jewel in that water, precious and red that she has dropped, or maybe a shell because she looks as soft and wide-eyed as a child drawn to a tide pool in search of ripples to catch. I feel cold suddenly, so I say kalispéra and hold her hand, and we sit on the blue slate stoop, and she calls me Ana. And I don’t know if I want to cry or yell, but I know I can’t stand the way my glasses are reflected in her glasses and hers in mine and that we can see each other’s faces so clearly, but she doesn’t know who I am, and I’m forgetting her, too. And I know I can’t stand the way the mint plants are flopping over and casting purple shadows across our ankles because the shadows remind me of something precious being swallowed. I want to say something more, more than ti kánete? or s’ agapó, but I can’t. Her eyes, brown maybe, are searching the yard, the sky, and finding nothing. And now Mom is calling us in for dinner. It’s probably chicken kebabs (I’ve definitely asked her at least six times but mostly just because I want to talk to her and not think about my glasses, and I haven’t once listened to her response). We’ll sit down and maybe say grace for formality’s sake but maybe not, and my brother will dump ketchup on his plate,
// Katherine Bove // 65 and my dad will chide him for condiment waste, and I’ll think about eating broccoli while wearing glasses for the first time, and Mom will help Yiayiá cut her chicken, and I’ll pretend it’s just the arthritis, those crumbly joints, but really it’s something else, something I can’t see.
Outline It in Black and Call It Art Gabrielle Freeman What to do when you spill a 60 dollar pinot noir on the blindingly white, pressed, fine Irish linen tablecloth at the artist meet-n-greet you weren’t even invited to but you tagged along with your painter best girlfriend because she didn’t want to go by herself but she had to show her face if she ever hoped to sell her oil-on-canvas series of 40 inch square “nudes with kitchen implements” to this crowd at 600 dollars a pop.
Henceforth Known as Matthew Leslee Rene Wright
It’s no use describing the sky because around here it’s the only thing we’ve ever seen, and it’s the obstructions that are mournfully absent: no laddering skeleton of a skyscraper, no picturesque mountain summit, and scarcely a tree that doesn’t amount to more than a spindly post. As such, it was easy to see the truck approaching a mile off, the smeary diesel exhaust a stark blemish against all that oppressive blue. “Look, Gator. Yonder approaches our lost brother.” Jane spoke and moved like a stage performer, raising her soil-caked shovel to shoulder height and drawing back her free arm as if to pull tight a bow and take aim. We were knee-deep in a mud hole, a litter of tarnished spoons and forks circling our shoes. It was our pirated stash, all of it filched from the school lunchroom and picnicking neighbors, and we dutifully relocated it to a new hiding spot every day or so, if only to keep up the illusion that what we’d stolen was something of worth. “Yeah, here he comes,” I said. Unlike her, I only ever used my own voice.
68 // Henceforth Known as Matthew // “An imposter,” Jane said, spitting into the mud pit for emphasis. I spat, too, this show of solidarity far better than a handshake between us. We didn’t like him, our brother. He sneezed in threes, using not a wad of toilet paper to swab at his nose but a crisp handkerchief that had a googly-eyed daisy embroidered in its corner. He moved his lips when he read, syllables coming like girlish sighs as he studied whatever readable text had popped up before him: the back of a cereal box; an anonymous Christmas card; the cracked and stretched slogans printed on our grandfather’s t-shirts, like Wulliver’s Hay and Seed, est. 1902. And despite being the cleanest-looking person we’d ever seen, our brother smelled of shit. Not horseshit or chicken shit—gamey, pungent smells we were used to—but plain old shit. The human kind. We’d met him, our brother, only a few times, each at strained family gatherings that were thrown haphazardly in the name of reunion or holiday festivities. They were packed with so many kids that he stood out only for his smell—that and his funny, old-fashioned dress shorts, so short that they more resembled velveteen underpants, his knees gleaming like porcelain cups far below them. “That’s your brother.” Ma dragged us behind the potato salad buffet to whisper this revelation and hefted a stubby finger to point him out, as if we might have forgotten him in the time that spanned between holidays. We weren’t much impressed and wondered how something we didn’t want could belong to us so completely. We did what we could to reject him, ditching him like a scab at the back gate as we bolted off to shoot clay pigeons with older cousins, relations we were happy to own and lay claim to, if only for their ability to pelt us full of buck-shot if we refused. “He’s your very own brother,” Ma insisted, and had she been like other mothers, she might have pinched one of us by the tender petal of the ear to bully her point across. She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her housedress instead, where they worried and thrashed like hungry gerbils. “Your own brother, understand?” We didn’t, tending not to believe in our mother’s view of the world unless it was first verified by our father, who never pocketed his hands unless he was digging for loose change. “Yeah, he belongs to us, whether some people’d care to admit it
// Leslee Rene Wright // 69 or not.” He looked not at us as he said this but at our grandparents. Our mother’s parents, a pair of well-off land owners who doted on our brother in the most sickening ways, daubing at his chin after each bite of casserole and slicking down his cowlick with water that had been delicately finger-tipped from a nearby glass. Our brother didn’t call them Gramps and Gran, as Jane and I did. He called them Mommy and Daddy instead. When he coughed on this or that morsel of food, Gramps would pat his back and say, “Gone down the wrong road, did it?” Our brother was a big, grown baby. What we knew was that we had lived with Gramps and Gran, too, back when our father was in Korea. Jane was six, and our brother was two, and I was somewhere in between. What I remembered most from that time was how Gran carried our brother from room to room like a sack of grain, securing a future where he wouldn’t be able to wipe his own mouth. A doctor came to visit often, feeling the back of Ma’s head while she sat on a high kitchen stool. Jane and I watched from the table as he leaned over and shined a penlight into her eyes. I imagined that narrow beam of light tunneling all the way through her black pupils and bouncing around the huge, empty cavern of her skull. Father came back as a skinny old man. We left Gramps and Gran’s, but for some reason that didn’t much concern Jane or me, our brother was left behind. “They wouldn’t let go,” Father grunted, and I thought of how Gran had cradled our brother against her apron. If Gran loved him so much, then Jane and I agreed that it was probably best to let her keep him. Years passed, and even though we changed—Jane cutting her hair one year, braiding it back the next, followed by my graduation from t-ball to fast pitch—our brother seemed the same: just another mild curiosity who sat on the edge of a chair rummaging through his Christmas stocking, one of many strange things about our family that our parents were unable to reasonably explain. We’d learned not to expect reason from either of them. Father had moved us around the state so many times we’d lost count, always “gettin’ on opportunity,” his phrase for taking what would ultimately be an unwise gamble. One spring this meant moving into a firetrap of an abandoned VFW hall, a clapboard and tarpaper shack that even the
70 // Henceforth Known as Matthew // Veterans themselves had decided was too shoddy to drink beer and play poker in. It was the first place we lived in that had a real indoor bathroom—nothing more than a chipped toilet closed up in a closet, but it flushed and everything. Ma warned us not to use it because using things made them wear out faster, leaving us no choice but to lumber out to the fly-infested outhouse that sat crookedly behind the garage. She had lots of warnings like that: don’t vacuum with the radio on, or else risk an explosion. Don’t eat before bed, lest we want nightmares. Don’t run around after you eat, or you’ll puke it all up. As test of her warnings, I saved up enough cereal box tops to send away for a floppy, rubber replication of human vomit, complete with a small chunk of carrot and a realistic smattering of corn. Once it was ours, Jane and I tossed it back and forth like a Frisbee for a while, then planted it behind the couch for our unsuspecting mother to stumble across. It had a disappointing effect, since being made of rubber it stood erect atop the carpet bristles rather than sinking in wetly the way real vomit would. We laid it out on an open comic book instead, the slick pages having enough substance to explain the vomit’s curious state of solidity. I made a few convincing retching noises, and Jane shrieked for added drama. Ma swept into the room and, not saying a word, picked up the comic book and ran with it into our forbidden bathroom, oblivious even when the vomit slid off the comic like a pancake and made a splash into the toilet’s rusty water. She flushed with abandon, all those weeks of flushes that were rightfully ours, thoughts of wearing out the toilet now absent from her mind. We took to blaming our brother for this, our lot in life. In bad months, our outhouse was stocked with an old Sears Roebuck catalogs in lieu of toilet paper, while he had the nerve to laze about on the porch swing of our grandparent’s house, a fine linen hanky coiled in his breast pocket and never-ending access to an indoor toilet that he could flush to his heart’s content. “I hate him,” Jane would say, her elbow forking my side as we wrestled with the single thin quilt that covered our bed. “I hate him, too,” I said back, gathering toe-fuls of quilt and shoring them up under my legs to keep the cold air from nosing in. Most nights, there was a pale slice of light at the bottom of our bedroom
// Leslee Rene Wright // 71 door signaling that our father was staying up late to pore over legal papers. How he managed this was a wonder, since he had left school at grade six and hadn’t voluntarily read a word since. Some mornings, we’d wake up to find both our parents had stayed up the night attempting to make sense of papers and forms, a number of drained coffee mugs crowding the dining room table where they worked. “We never said they could keep him for keeps,” our father would often say on such mornings, pulling the papers close to his nose as if this might render them readable. “I know that much for sure; we didn’t say nothing about for keeps.” “Well, finders keepers, losers weepers,” our mother might add, staring out the kitchen window as if conducting a study of how the night retreated from our scrappy back lawn, her voice halfway between dream and awake, as it always was. She usually wore an ill-fitting robe that blended in with the gaudy watercolor print of our sofa, both robe and sofa having been left behind when the Veterans moved their headquarters into town. When she moved around the room, the watery swish of her robe would catch my drifting eyes and hold them. If I squinted, I saw shapes emerge from those lazy, swirling designs: birds, usually, and mostly chickens, their feathers gleaming with crimson and gold. The chickens gave me a funny, pent-up feeling, and I closed my eyes tight to push them away. Above her vivid robe, our mother had a square, German face, and the corners of her mouth tilted sadly downward of their own accord, though she was never sad, not exactly. She’d just been spooked in the head by something, that was all. Or so our father often explained in private, Jane and I silent as schoolbook schoolchildren as we sat beside him in the husk of his old pickup truck. Sometimes we two would come home at sundown to find no dinner on the table, our mother absorbed in the stack of magazines she’d been reading and re-reading for years, the same twenty or so copies of Time and Family Circle that had been given away for free at the general store. Our demands for food and drink seemed to cause her vague confusion, as if she’d forgotten what such things were, and only when our father stormed in, enraged and sweaty after his long shift at the train yards, did she hop to her feet and begin to hunt around for something edible. If we were lucky, she would scrounge
72 // Henceforth Known as Matthew // up a few eggs to fry, though there were occasions, many, when she produced nothing. To us, she didn’t seem halfway spooked enough. On those nights when there was nothing to eat, our father would jingle the keys to his pickup in our direction, and we’d follow obediently, quiet during the fifteen-minute ride into town. He’d pull to a stop in front of the Main Street Hotel; their coffee shop did all their baking late at night, and our father, friendly with the head cook, would slip in a back door and return with a sack of sugary donuts in hand, their warmth steaming up the windshield as he clambered in beside us. We sat like that—father with his coffee, Jane and I sharing a single paper cup of hot chocolate—all three chewing furiously until the donuts were gone. It was during one of these late-night donut dinners that he gave us the bad news. So bad that Jane shoved a jelly-filled bun into her mouth all at once, choking, and the force of her coughs promptly sent hot chocolate down the front of her sweater. Father didn’t pound her on the back and ask her if it went down the wrong road; he just handed me a napkin as indication that I was to help clean her up. “Once your brother’s come home we’ll have to eat real square,” he said. “Real square, three times a day. He’s one of them diabetics.” And so our brother—henceforth known as Matthew—came back to us, perched in our rightful spot between our parents on the threadbare upholstery of the pickup truck while Jane and I were dug knee-deep in a mud hole. When she spat into it, I knew we both had the same thing in mind. // Matthew follows Ma out of the truck like a runty pup, head carefully lowered even though his eyes try to shy up and seek ours out. This show of weakness is where he goes wrong; in our minds, it only affirms the truth—he’s not one of us; he doesn’t belong. “Go on, get.” Jane says this as if she’s seen a raccoon heading for the trash bins, though she keeps her voice low so that our father won’t hear. Ma is in direct earshot, but rather than tell us to mind our manners, her hands make a dive for her coat pockets, burrowing in around the circumference of her hips as they always do. I hate how she roots
// Leslee Rene Wright // 73 through her pockets as if searching for the words that she ought to say but never quite has the strength to deliver. Because of this, maybe, I hunker over and paw up a fistful of mud, which is really just slightly damp topsoil, lumpy with burrs and pebbles. Matthew takes a tentative step forward, and I fling it into his face, relishing the way he jerks back with a cry, then immediately reaches up to swipe the gook clean from the grooves of his eyes. “Ouch,” he declares, and this one word is enough to sentence me to the second-worst ass beating of my life. I find I don’t muchly care. That one word, ouch, rings in my ears like a blast from a triumphant bugle. “You be nice to that boy,” Father warns as he hangs up his strap on the garage wall. “Go on in there, and give your apologies.” “You want him to know my apologies were whipped out of me?” I don’t know if Matthew will actually know this at all. When’s he ever been whipped? Father yanks me into the house by the strap of my overalls. “Say ’em anyway,” he advises. Orders, more like. Matthew is sat at a straight-backed chair in the dining room, and Ma’s put out a plate of cheese and crackers in front of him. Bright cheese that screams yellow, and crackers that are funny looking, more brown than white. There’s a china hutch with glass panes in the front and back that separates the dining room from the living room. It’s the nicest piece of furniture we own, and Jane stands behind it, watching Matthew eat his cheese. I join her and watch, too. We know cheese and crackers as food for parties. “You blistered?” she asks in a smiley voice. “Not too bad,” I lie. “Matthew is a mouse,” she says, wriggling a nose full of invisible whiskers. “Look at him: Matthew the mouse, eating his peas and cheese.” “I don’t see any peas.” “I’m creating a rhyme. Matthew the mouse, covered in mud like a dud, eating his peas and cheese.” We share a grin that Father’s booming voice breaks apart. “You say you’re sorry yet, Gator?”
74 // Henceforth Known as Matthew // “Sorry for throwing mud in your face,” I say to Matthew from behind the china hutch. Then I wave. Matthew looks at me all big-eyed, and I think he might be grateful for the glass between us. When he’s finished his snack, Matthew stands up and asks where he can wash his hands. Ma looks confused and hands him a sodden paper tissue from the pocket of her robe. After wiping his hands on it, he starts to round the china hutch as if he belongs on the other side. Jane and I back away quickish. “You wanna play?” he sniffles. There are cracker crumbs dusting the front of his shirt. We say nothing for a long time, during which Father clears his throat loudly in warning. “Might as well,” Jane says, toeing on a pair of sneakers and heading for the back door, me shadowing after her. Outside, Matthew looks squinty and pale, startled to find himself in the sun. “What do you wanna do?” Jane asks, then points at the gully that lies low in the land behind our VFW Hall. “We could go to the woods and shoot stuff.” No one who’s ever seen actual woods would describe the gully as such. It’s full of diseased-looking trees and scrubby underbrush, all thanks to the trickle of a creek that runs through it, and happens to be the only spot of lushness for miles around. “We could go viper hunting.” “Viper?” Matthew asks. “What’s that?” “Snakes,” I offer. And there are snakes in the gully, though they can’t really be described as vipers any more than the gully can be described as woods. “I don’t know,” Matthew says, and he looks like he might cry. “I don’t like snakes.” Jane regards him with a look that is both cruel and curious. “What all did you do for fun out at Gramps and Gran’s, then? Hide from the cats like a mousey-mouse?” With this insult lost on him, Matthew brightens unexpectedly. “Did you see that my cat Biscuit had kittens? Two boys and a girl, all orange.” “You can’t have a cat here,” Jane tells him. “Father only likes dogs and pigs. And Ma says that cats will steal your breath while you sleep.”
// Leslee Rene Wright // 75 “My daddy likes cats,” Matthew says, a finger curling into his mouth, hooked like a question mark. “That’s not your daddy,” I say, rushing so I can beat Jane to this crowning moment. “He’s Ma’s daddy, which makes him nothin’ more than your grandpa, same as us.” Matthew begins to suck on the finger, his eyes shiny-wet marbles. “How come he wants me to call him Daddy, then?” There’s a hint of defiance way, way low in his voice, a deplorable sign that he’s just like us, after all. It sends a quiver through Jane and back to me, resulting the sudden and shared knowledge that we’ve never been fought over, never been fought for. “Me and Gator are gonna go hunt vipers!” Jane screams, mostly to let everyone know that this is the way it is now: Jane and Gator and no one else. It doesn’t feel as good as it should, but we make a gleeful run for the gully anyway, leaving Matthew to suck his finger on the back porch. While he watches us play, the sun lolls down to the horizon and sheds the last of its light, coloring the world out until there’s nothing but two boys and a girl, all orange. // When night comes, there is no more Jane and Gator. Father gives Jane a surprise instead: her very own bedroom. He’s spent the last few weekends cleaning out the back storage closet, getting rid of lumber scrap and puffy-pink insulation to make room for a foldout camp bed. It’s covered in a thick, brand-new quilt, still creased from being folded on the drugstore shelf. There’s a tin mirror on the wall, and the walls themselves have a fresh, paint-y smell. Jane sees her room and squeals like a girl. On her, it’s a noise that sounds all wrong. “You and Matthew’ll bunk up together now,” Father tells me, smiling because Jane is smiling. “Why?” I ask, not smiling. I think I’d be happier if they’d given Matthew his very own room, made special just for him. Just like dinner, which was full of green stuff I couldn’t name, and a pot roast cooked tougher than boot leather. “That’s how it is with brothers,” Father booms. “I bunked up with mine; you’ll bunk up with yours. Jane’s my oldest and only-est girl, and it’s time she knew it.”
76 // Henceforth Known as Matthew // I look to Jane for help, but she’s already climbed into her new bed and gotten under the quilt. Her pillow puffs her hair into a halo around her head, and she’s got her hands folded and tucked under her chin. Her innocent play is tarnished only when she slits open an eye and rolls it towards me, her face contracting in a silent giggle. “I hear rats running around your new walls,” I tell her, but my voice is small because I don’t really hear a thing, and even if I did, Jane wouldn’t care. She’s not scared of anything. Father gives me a thunk on the ear and hustles me toward bed, and I find I sorely miss the days when he worked the night shift down at the train yards. Back then, Jane and I had stayed up as late as we pleased, setting up rival squadrons of plastic soldiers along the living room rug while Ma sat in her easy chair, immobile even when we set off landmines behind the sofa. “Go on and sleep,” Father says, whispering for no reason I can see, then shuts Matthew and me inside the bedroom that had once belonged to Jane and Gator. It’s tar-dark in the room. There had been a lightbulb in the ceiling once, but I’d spit on it, and it exploded. Glass from the lightbulb still pebbled the plaster walls, sunk in too deep to be dug out. “It’s dark,” Matthew says, just as I yank on the window shade, sending it up with a rattle and bounce. The paltriest strands of moonlight manage to sneak in, creating the boxy outlines of the bed and the dresser. “You afraid?” I make my voice into a sneer that he can’t help but see. “I could trip.” I find his bony shoulders and give him a little push in the direction of the bed. “You get in first,” I say. After a few seconds, the bed creaks and rustles with his slight weight. I’m crawling in after him, prepared to breathe through my mouth if he starts smelling of shit, when a beam of light knifes over us. It’s Ma standing there in the doorway, stiff and dark as a cardboard shadow. “Want a goodnight story?” she asks. “Yeah,” I say, and, at the same time, there’s a warm puff in my ear, along with Matthew’s buzzing whisper. “Does she mean bedtime story?”
// Leslee Rene Wright // 77 “Yeah, shut up,” I hiss at him, pulling away more of the quilt than I need to cover myself. Ma sits on the end of the bed, and I stretch my feet toward her since she has habit to rub them when telling a goodnight story. She never rubs Jane’s feet—Jane’s feet are too ticklish—but mine are rougher and tougher than hooves, and sometimes it’s her rubbing that makes them into feet again. “We used to have Christmas at Uncle Tommy’s house,” she begins, and her usually fluttering hands begin to kneed my left foot, the touch weak at first, then strengthening as she works into the arch. Sometimes it’s the rubbing that makes her hands into hands again, too. I don’t listen too hard to her goodnight story. It’s one I’ve heard before, so much I can recite it myself. It’s a good one about Uncle Tommy and his best rifle, how someone’s pet goose ended up being Christmas dinner, how everyone knew they would only get oranges for presents that year because there was no money. Uncle Tommy had a surprise, though: a Baby Ruth candy bar for each and every one. And that’s what Ma remembers most: Uncle Tommy coming in from the cold, ice clinging to his beard in little pellets, and how he flung a sackload of Baby Ruths across the wood floor, their shiny wrappers brighter than tree tinsel. She finishes the story with a sigh that sounds a little sad, which is how she always finishes, then gives my foot one last squeeze and stands up. “Good night,” she says, shutting out the light again. I close my eyes tight and try to chase sleep down, make it play nice with me. I can feel Matthew shivering beside me, though, and swallowing again and again, though there’s nothing to swallow. “Something’s still wrong with our mother,” he says, so quiet I think I might be dreaming at first. “Isn’t there?” The question loads down my chest like a hunk of iron, and for the first time, I wonder how Matthew sees things. What’s he seeing now? The ugly and snappable spine of my back, or the brick-and-mortar fortress I wish it could be? “Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” I finally mumble, feigning a tone of exhaustion.
78 // Henceforth Known as Matthew // “You don’t?” “Nah.” “But Mommy—I mean, Granny—she said you was there when they found her.” “Found her where?” I’ve never found her. “By the chicken coops?” His voice shivers along with his body, and I think about how if it were Jane, she’d just throw her cold limbs around me like a strangling moss and hijack the heat in me. “We don’t have chickens,” I tell him, giving over an extra inch of the quilt. “I want to sleep now.” The edges of sleep come and tell me that maybe we did have chickens once. They got into my birthday cake when I was three, leaving chicken prints in the icing and chicken fluff in the ice cream. And then later, they were gone. Where’d they go? Sleep inches closer, and I can see those chickens marching back and forth across my mother’s back, pecking under her robe and hair for the grain that’s scattered there. She’s flat out on the ground, too spooked to move. I can see the man who spooked her, too; he’s got a piece of lumber, bloody on one end. He smiles at me and hops over the henhouse like a fox, his smile bloody on both ends, then rolls for the hills until he’s no bigger than a tumbleweed. Even miles off, I still see him. I’m just not supposed to. // Come morning, the only thing I see is Matthew, sat in my usual chair. He’s wrapped in Ma’s old robe of many watercolors and carefully spoons oatmeal into his mouth, while Jane slowly mashes hers into inedible paste. I sit down next to him, and he smiles once, quick and bashful, like there’s some secret between us. “You’re just lucky he didn’t see you,” Gran had said to me once, Matthew tucked in her arms while the doctor massaged the back of Ma’s head. Gran hadn’t known how the man with the lumber had looked me in the eye or how he had smiled at me like a friend. So rather than melt my heart, Matthew’s smile pricks at me and makes me want to one-up my nastiest self. The way the mud had clung to his lips and eyebrows had been satisfying but surely not satisfying enough. Jane herself only acknowledges his presence by kicking a steady rhythm against the table leg nearest him so that his oatmeal bowl grad-
// Leslee Rene Wright // 79 ually migrates away from his spoon,until he finally must reach out and reign it back in again. I tell myself it’s the oatmeal that does it. We like donuts not just for dinner but breakfast, too, and our mother’s idea of home cooking is cornflakes, but here it is once again: the best of her intentions, stirred up on a stove and presented for Matthew’s sake, all warm and nourishing. I have no words for my displeasure—Jane is the one with words, not me—and because of this can only make my displeasure known in simple ways. I reach for the carton of milk that sits in the center of the table and lift it up high, ignoring the dribbles of milk that course down my arm. Matthew stares with interest, as if I plan to do something dramatic, and since that is exactly what I plan, I give him a quick nod before bringing the milk carton down hard on the crown of his head. It makes a comical boinging sound, just made of cardboard, after all. I’m not sure which of us is more surprised when blood begins to stream over his forehead—so much and so fast that it’s as if it’s been poured there, as if directly from the milk carton that I now stare at in wonder. It’s bloody on one end. Later inspection will prove that the carton’s sharp corner is to blame and not any sort of hidden gladiator strength of my own, but for now I am stunned at my own prowess, scared at how much more satisfying it is to see Matthew covered in blood and not dirt. “That’s my chair,” I say, placing the carton back on the table, keeping it near me as if it might come in handy for later. I know I’ve gone too far when Jane actually screams—Jane, who once loosened all the bolts on my bicycle, who shot me in the thigh with a pellet gun so I could accurately describe to her what it was like to be in a war. She screams, and Mother comes running; she stops up short behind the glass of the china hutch, just a lazy, hazy shape, and for a moment I’m certain that she’ll just pocket her hands and do nothing. She’s not the sort of mother who has bandages and ice packs handy, after all, and wouldn’t know how to identify a crisis unless our father was around to shout it into her. I am halfway to feeling smug about the entire incident when our mother surprises me. She hurries to Matthew’s side and pulls a handkerchief from her pocket—his handkerchief—I can see the round-
80 // Henceforth Known as Matthew // eyed daisy from here—and gently applies it to the top of his skull, tipping his head back so that his face looks up into her own, smeary with blood but free of tears. “Don’t do that,” she says to me. “Don’t you ever do that.” When my father returns from work, his back broken and exhausted from hours of switching ties at the railroad, I will receive that numberone worst ass-beating of my life. During the beating, which will take place out in the garage, amongst all the oily car parts that he’s been meaning to put to good use, my father will tell me that I’ve almost lost him his son for the second time. Throughout it all, I will distract myself with thoughts of what Ma is cooking for dinner—for she is surely cooking, for Matthew is surely helping, passing her the salt, reading in his girlish voice from a recipe card. Jane will lock herself in her new bedroom, and only later will I realize that it’s not because of Matthew but because she’s a woman now, or so she will tell me one week from now, when Pinky Wulliver, the kleptomaniac, kisses her behind the school Dumpsters. But before this new life can form around us—a new life with Matthew—I must face my real punishment, one that is the first of its kind: I am ten years old, and my mother has only just now told me no.
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Spotlights From the Emerson Community
// Pablo Medina //
// Caroline Praderio //
Pablo Medina Faculty Poetry Spotlight
Pablo Medina was born in Havana, Cuba, and moved with his family to New York City at the age of twelve. Medina’s Pork Rind and Cuban Songs was the first collection of poems written directly into English by a Cuban-born writer. In addition, he has published five other poetry collections, Arching into the Afterlife, The Floating Island, Puntos de apoyo, Points of Balance, and The Man Who Wrote on Water. His fifth poetry collection, Points of Balance (Four Way Books, 2005), has been called “nothing short of linguistic mastery.” His sixth collection, The Man Who Wrote on Water, was called “exemplary” by the El Paso Times. Medina has been the recipient of numerous awards, among them grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Arts Councils, the United States Department of State, The Oscar B. Cintas Foundation, and The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, as well as fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations. Medina served on the Board of Directors of AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) from 2002–2007 and was elected President in 2005–2006. At present, Medina is a professor of fiction and poetry at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. “To the Muse” originally appeared in Arching into the Afterlife (Bilingual Press, 1991). “A Poem for the Epiphany,” “Bolero of the Third Goodbye,” “Mercy,” and “The Wait” were previous published in The Floating Island (White Pine Press, 1999). “Lightning Bolt” was originally published in The Man Who Wrote on Water (Hanging Loose Press, 2011).
Lightning Bolt after Humberto Akâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;abal Sometimes the sky becomes afraid of so much darkness. It hurls down a lightning bolt to see if we are still here and is amazed to find us trusting that it is still above.
Bolero of the Third Goodbye Sing well what I gave you, mi amor— the house, the bracelets, the poems. Sing how I cared for the children, waited for you to come home, washed your panties, folded your clothes, did your résumé in three languages— the language of love, the language of hope, the language of betrayal. Sing well, palomita, how I listened when you told me you loved someone else, comforted you when he didn’t love you back, how I cried until I threw my rage and my shame at you, preciosa. Sing of our drive to the doctor for the operation, how I brought you home, fed the children and sat by you thinking, now we can love all we want. We did, the ways you wanted, the ways I thought you wanted. We drank champagne, played games with the bottle, went around the world in our bodies, loving the love, loving the dizziness. Remember, querida, how you asked for my “commitment”
86 //Bolero of the Third Goodbye // and I gave it to you, as I would have given you my eyelids if you’d asked? Because that is the way of my love, the only way I know. Sing well, mi vida, you’ll never get this much from anyone. You’ll see: a slap on the face, cheap wine, the anonymous bed, the emptiness after. I gave you everything, corazón. Look now, how it lies in the gutter next to that white dove I saw last summer circling our house. Sing well, mi cielo, sing well.
Mercy for David Roskos Hitler is in Eternity. –Allen Ginsberg I see him in the middle of a field, a gnomish man, little different from a butcher dead of cancer or the corner pharmacist who smoked too much. I forgive him as I forgive my father’s sins, my mother’s screams, my lover who loved too much, my children who didn’t. I forgive his arrogant chest leaning into history, his concentration camps, his twelve million dead, his mediocre watercolors, his incapacities in bed. He is dancing with my daughter, smiling, pale arm curled around her waist. He invites my family to eat and drink and talk about nothing important.
88 // Mercy // The sun is dappling the field, the day is slow like honey. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s had too much wine, this Adolph. He leans against the trunk of a celestial oak and closes his eyes. His face fills with kindness. Around him the angels go about their loving.
To the Muse Here on your nape is the thinnest vein where meaning gathers. Here on your shoulders is the sweat of summer. I taste it like wine, like sleep. There is no mend to winter’s tear, there is no end to this tomorrow. I am tired of waiting. And I am tired of watching the moon spill on my hands. I am tired of my bones in the morning, the monotone of work and wires. Once there were no sounds and the earth rested round and satisfied. The river spoke the language of wells and loam or none at all. I grow deaf on purpose. The moon is mother to my age: there could be love but it would be a word. There could be hope and it would be a mouth or milk or briers. The answer is a stone, a city of locked doors, the storm in your breast turned fog and in the fog dead coal and in the night a mouthful of ashes. Every road leads out. Bed gathers dust and fish swim up the stair. I’ll go. That’s all. The greener side of dreams is in the world. Your vein leads there.
The Wait Tell me about the worms. –Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot The day slows, fills with time and color, church bells, bees swarming by the window. I am waiting for last night’s dream, for the touch of the woman who drank next to me. I am waiting for my daughter’s call, my son’s good-bye, for a long black ship to take me on a holiday of sleep. Across the street there is the parking lot of long ago, the whiskey light of autumn pointing home. There is home: a phone that wants to ring, a door that wants to open. Someone I know is making his way across the universe.
A Poem for the Epiphany for Ellen Jacko Ach, wie anders, wie schön, Lebt der Himmel, lebt die Erde. –Goethe It snows because the door to heaven is open, because God is tired of working and the day needs to be left alone. It snows because there is a widow hiding under her mother’s bed, because the birds are resting their throats and three wise men are offering gifts. Because the clouds are singing and trees have a right to exist, because the horses of the past are returning. They are gray and trot gently into the barn never touching the ground. It snows because the wind wants to be water, because water wants to be powder and powder wants to seduce the eye. Because once in his life the philosopher has to admit to the poverty of thought. Because the rich man cannot buy snow and the poor man has to wear it on his eyebrows. Because it makes the old dog think
92 // A Poem for the Epiphany // his life has just begun. He runs back and forth across the parking lot. He rolls in the snow. He laps it up. It snows because light and dark are making love in a field where old age has no meaning, where colors blur, silence covers sound, sleep covers sorrow, everything is death, everything is joy.
Caroline Praderio Undergraduate Nonfiction Spotlight Caroline is a terrible poet. To date, her only positively received work in that genre has been a parody of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” in which she compared her own hair to a moldy mop. This was discouraging, considering that she’d spent nearly eighteen years filling diaries with weepy verses about boys and parents not understanding. She left her first poetry workshop with a heavy heart and a dream dashed. It was in this discouraged state that she stumbled upon creative nonfiction, the same way a bear might amble unsuspectingly into a trap. She enjoys the challenge of prying meaning from her largely boring daily experiences and maintains that the truth is always, unquestionably (sometimes cruelly) stranger than fiction. Her writing has appeared in Boston Common, The Improper Bostonian, and the catharsis online literary journal, where she now serves as nonfiction editor. She is also the author of Sweet Baby Jesus!, a collection of essays published by Wilde Press in 2012. Caroline is currently at work on a BFA thesis at Emerson College, where she’ll graduate in May 2013. In her free time, she’s trying to figure out how to eat just one chip and asks that anyone with the answer contact her immediately.
Grown Woman We were running late, like we always did, but it seemed more criminal than usual on the way to my grandmother’s wake. My father drove, his face stern and angular behind the oval-lens Ray-Bans he’s had for as long as I can remember. My younger brother Rocco sat in the back with me, fumbling with his half-Windsor, shoulders stiff in a suit coat purchased at the mall the night before. My mother was up in the passenger’s seat, smoothing makeup across her full cheeks. I saw her reflection in the visor’s flip-down mirror: light golden eyes, a strong, square jaw, thin wisps of eyebrows, and a dully rounded nose. She looked exactly like her mother, and I tried to imagine what the past few days had been like for her—to catch a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror or the reflective surface of the oven door and see her dead mother’s eyes and expressions laced wholly into her own. The makeup sunk slowly onto her skin. We picked up speed on Route 140 north towards Sterling, my mother’s hometown, where the calling hours would begin that evening. It was
// Caroline Praderio // 95 Friday afternoon, and the late-summer trees outside the window were bursting green, blurring together as if I contemplated them through eyes full of tears—though I hadn’t cried once that day. The parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived, and the gravel crunched under the tires as my father straightened out in between two white lines. “Ready?” he asked. I’d woken from a sweat-drenched nightmare on Wednesday morning to a text message from my mother: “You need to call me as soon as you wake up.” I did, and there was something in the silence between the pickup and her labored, “Hi, honey,” that gave it away. My grandmother, who’d been declining into the severest stages of Alzheimer’s disease for the past five years, had died. Peacefully, my mother told me. It happened in her sleep, at the psychiatric hospital where she’d been undergoing evaluation for recent aggressive behavior. Hardly a week before, I’d moved into my first apartment and started my third year of college in Boston. Now, I leaned up against the unfamiliar wall of my new kitchen with my cell phone against my cheek. I was in a wrinkled t-shirt, no pants, glasses still on the bedside table so that everything—the speckled tile floor, the concerned faces of my emerging roommates, the Christmas lights strung up above the stove—was blurred. My mother explained what had happened through sobs and gasps for breath. Then I cried, too, not because the news was particularly shocking, but because when my mother cries, I always end up doing the same. Even if we’re separated by the hour-long drive between Boston and my hometown, even if the poor reception in my basement apartment makes her sobs sound like static, they’re unmistakably hers—and then, before I can stop it, they’re mine, too. “I think the wake is going to end up being Friday night,” my father reported later that day, in the businesslike voice he always uses when I call him at work. “And we’ll have the funeral Saturday morning.” “Okay,” I said, reshuffling the weekend’s plans in my mind, drafting the emails I’d have to send to back out of previous commitments. “I
96 // Grown Woman // just have to move some stuff around. I’ll be ready on Friday afternoon, though.” “Good,” he replied. “Just know that when you come home…Mom’s having a really hard time. You have to remember that for her—she’s just lost her mother. It’s different for her.” “I know,” I lied. I wouldn’t know the first thing about losing a mother. I pictured my father with his elbows on his desk, supporting his head with its close-cut, salt-and-pepper hair. I could hear the deep tiredness in his voice; imagined him rubbing his face, his long sharp nose and woolly, arched eyebrows. The image gave me strange comfort, and I almost called him “Daddy” as we made travel plans and said goodbye. I was home for the summer after my second year of college when my grandmother—my Babcia, as all the grandkids called her—started to die. She’d already been moved to an Alzheimer’s care facility after she’d wandered out of the house too many times and lost the ability to safely care for herself. At the insistence of my mother and my uncles— and ultimately, by their combined force—she left her split-level house on a hill in Sterling, her fat cocker spaniel named Mack, her basement perpetually stocked with Diet Coke cans, and her kitchen with linoleum floor that curled up at the corners and microwave that smelled, no matter what, like hot dogs. It was just after Thanksgiving in 2011 when she was accepted and relocated into the Harbor Program, a specialized memory care unit at Shrewsbury Crossings. I only went there once, while I was home for Christmas, and when I did, my mother was already friendly with the woman sitting at the front desk. They waved and smiled politely as we passed through the carpeted lobby and down the hallway to the Harbor Program unit. The door was locked from both sides—to prevent residents from wandering—but my mother fished the key from her pocketbook, and we passed through. “Ed lives in that room,” she said, pointing out the name placards beside room doors as we walked through more carpeted hallways, noting the most interesting characters. “He’s an old Polish guy, and he loves Babcia. He just talks and talks and talks to her. And he feeds her sometimes, too. Ruth lives over there, but she is just a mean old lady. Not very nice at all.”
// Caroline Praderio // 97 We reached the common area—a dining room on the left with about twenty square tables occupied here and there by a slowly chewing resident, and a living room on the right with leather furniture, a piano, and a widescreen TV. My grandmother was eating at a table with three other women—each absorbed in her own tray of food, all talking with themselves rather than with each other, or not talking at all and staring down at their small cups of pudding. Caretakers in pastel-colored polos moved from table to table, looking like harried waitresses on busy weekend nights. They picked up the spills and the dropped spoons and encouraged the residents to take just a few more bites. None of the caretakers looked much older than I was, and I wondered where they found their patience. At twenty, I could barely manage to wait until the polish on my fingernails was dry, and I still drummed my fingertips on the countertop waiting for my toast to pop up. But when these women asked my grandmother for the third time whether or not she wanted dessert and waited while her lips moved but no sound of reply came out, their faces were smooth, unperturbed by frustration. And even though they had to speak up for residents who were hard-of-hearing, somehow their voices together were like a soft, unwavering hum, like the barely perceptible buzz of a running refrigerator. “Alright, Joanie, we’ll get you some dessert just in case.” The caretaker rubbed her shoulder affectionately and headed briskly for the kitchen. I shook hands with a few of them, waved silently, and smiled to others as my mother introduced me. They gave a report on my grandmother—how she’d been sleeping and eating and if she’d been talking much. My mother nodded, cataloging it all internally with her hand wrapped around her chin and her lips clenched tightly together. We left Babcia to eat, and my mother took me to see her room. There was a wicker hamper against a wall, some unremarkable framed art hanging up. There was a mini-fridge with juice boxes and nothing else inside and bathroom equipped with railings. “It’s nice here, Mom,” I said with most honest smile I could squeeze across my face. It was nice—but it was also a cramped, odd hybrid of hotel room and dormitory, and it had a smell like the hospital, like iodine and rubber gloves and sheets that are washed so often they smell like soap instead of sleep.
98 // Grown Woman // We went back to the common area and brought my grandmother over to the couch to watch TV. Her walk in her last few years of life had become very distinct: a slightly forward-leaning shuffle, one sneaker and then the next, scuffing just a few inches at a time and pausing to extract the balled-up tissue she kept in the cuff of her sweatshirt sleeve and wipe her nose or lips. I sat next to her as we watched a daytime soap. She had always called them her “stories” when we were little, and when she babysat my brothers and me during the day, she folded our laundry into perfect, crease-free stacks even while her eyes were fixed on the screen. But this time she looked slowly back and forth from the screen to my face. The Alzheimer’s had affected her language skills first and most severely, and what had started as mistakenly calling me by my mother’s or cousin’s name eventually became puffs of air and a pair of lips working furiously but saying nothing whenever she tried to talk. She always knew who I was—but, near the end, could never ask how I was. I tried to smooth my face like the caretakers did and clear it of any trace of concern or pity while I watched her mouth fumble for a question. I strung together the word-bits that faltered from her lips like clumsy first steps and determined that she was asking about school. “It’s really great, Babcia,” I said, hoping that I’d interpreted correctly. “I’m having a lot of fun.” “That’s good,” she said and turned back to the TV. That summer, my mother often told me that Babcia would cry whenever she visited Shrewsbury Crossings—she was angry that my mother and her brothers had decided to move her there in the first place and sad that my mother would always leave her alone with the caretakers who were calm and kind but still strangers. I had no memory of seeing my grandmother cry, and she didn’t when we left the Harbor Program that afternoon. The door clicked and locked heavily behind us, and I pictured her wanting to pound on it. At least once a week, my mother would take Babcia out for the day while she ran errands. Country music and desserts were the only two things my grandmother discernibly enjoyed in the last year or so of her life, so my mother would tune her car radio to the local country station and drive to Olive Garden or Applebee’s for lunch and some-
// Caroline Praderio // 99 thing sweet. I accompanied them a few times, and the routine rarely changed: Babcia’s foot tapped along to the slowly dawdling beat of each twangy song, and once seated inside the restaurant, she quietly sipped her Diet Coke while my mother said, “My mom will have the chocolate cake, please.” When I was there, my mother and I talked while Babcia looked on, as if she were behind a screen or a thick pane of glass. When I wasn’t there, I’m not sure if there were any sounds but the scrapes of two knives against two plates. To me, Babcia had been gone since the beginning of that summer, about four months before the night she actually—that is, physically— died. I was putting away groceries when my mother brought Babcia from Shrewsbury Crossings for a visit at our house. The afternoon sun streamed in through the kitchen’s bay window as my grandmother stepped unsurely in from the hall. I talked to her while I arranged cans and boxes in the cabinet. She started trying to speak after a moment— she needed to use the bathroom. I showed her the way, walking slowly in front of her through the hallway while I heard the slow shuffle of her sneakers behind me. “I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re done, Babcia. Okay?” “Yup, yup,” she said, and I closed the bathroom door for her. A few minutes later, Babcia emerged from the hallway into the bright kitchen with her linen shorts unzipped and unbuttoned. Her underwear showed—it was made of a dull, ivory-colored imitation silk that just barely reflected the sunlight. She held each side of her opened fly and looked down, as if she wasn’t sure they belonged to her. Her lips trembled the way a child’s lip does when he’s about to cry. “Can you—” she started but found no more words. She looked at me. I walked over and took the side with the button and the side with the buttonhole from between her clenched thumbs and fingers. I fastened and zipped the enclosure as quickly as I could, acting as if she’d asked me to do a casual favor, to zip up the back of her dress instead of her shorts. “There we go!” I said. “All set.” The sun was now in her face—in her golden brown eyes and on the
100 // Grown Woman // thin film of sweat that was collecting just above her collarbone and on her forehead. “I—I haven’t—” she began again. I waited. “I didn’t always used to be like this,” she told me, and even from across the room, I could feel thousands of intended words creeping up her throat, struggling for the air but falling short instead, stagnating beneath her tongue without the power to escape. “I know,” I said. That’s why I felt strangely proud when I first heard that my grandmother had been caught biting and grabbing at other residents at Shrewsbury Crossings. It was at the very end of the summer, and I was happy to hear that even though she needed help to get dressed, she hadn’t lost the power—or the will—to defend herself. But soon, I dreaded the weekly updates from the doctors, as told to me by my mother while we shopped or unpacked groceries. My grandmother had been delicately dosed with anti-psychotics, sedating her to a wheelchaired, near-vegetative state—anything to stop the aggressive behaviors, the doctors had said. “You know what, Caroline?” my mother asked me once, interrupting the rhythmic drag of wipers on the windshield as we drove together. I didn’t look across from the passenger’s side to meet her eyes—I didn’t need to. I could hear the weight of a confession in her voice. “What, Mom?” “Sometimes I wish that one night she’ll just fall asleep and…go. So it will just be over,” she told me, the last word escaping with a rush of breath and a half-sob. There was the back-and-forth of the wipers again, and when I finally did glance across at her, she looked older than ever. It was strange the way we automatically whispered once passed the doors of the funeral home. There was a fear, maybe, that normal speaking volumes might topple everyone’s carefully controlled emotions, stacked like top-heavy Jenga towers still wobbling from the last player’s move. My family was uncharacteristically muted while we hugged the aunts and uncles and cousins who’d already arrived. The rustling of my
// Caroline Praderio // 101 dress against my uncle’s suit coat was louder in my ear than his hushed, “How are you doing? How’s school?” The funeral director stood at the edge of the room, rocking back and forth on his heels as we finished our greetings. “Are we ready for the private viewing?” he asked, whispering like the rest of us. My youngest cousin, Julia, gripped my hand as we saw our grandmother’s dead body for the first time. I couldn’t remember if I had seen an open casket by the time I was eight years old like she was, but I squeezed her hand back so she’d know I was there. I hadn’t seen my grandmother at all in the last five or six months of her life—a combination of being away at school and not wanting to see her cry if I visited the nursing home. She looked thinner than I remembered, wearing a purple shirt made of some slightly metallic, deliberately crinkled fabric. I wondered if my mother had picked it out—its gaudy shimmer made me smile for a moment. She had on a rose-colored lipstick, the same shade I’d seen her wear to parties before she was sick. She sported the emblematic countenance of a corpse—peaceful but morose, the corners of her lips turned downwards in the slightest of frowns. The calling hours were about to begin, and Julia and I, still holding hands, took our place in the receiving line. She looked at me with nervous, clear blue eyes. “It’s probably going to be really weird,” I told her—because even though I didn’t feel it, I was a grown woman in her eyes, and as such, I couldn’t tell her anything but the truth. “But all you have to do is smile at everyone, and shake their hands, and look them in the eyes, and say ‘Thank you for coming,’ even if you have no idea who they are. But that’s not so bad, right?” She nodded, and her strawberry-blond ponytail bounced. // When I was younger, I used to wish that my family observed El Día de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—the national Mexican holiday celebrated each year on the first two days of November. On those two days, Mexican families build altars to honor those who have died, covering their graves with flowers, candles, favorite foods, and photographs
102 // Grown Woman // of the deceased. This preparation is believed to encourage the return of loved ones’ souls—a joyful, colorful, noisy reunion where the prayers of the living make contact with the spirits of those who have passed on. And each year at the beginning of November, in grade school Spanish class, our Señorita or Señora would flip off the fluorescents and roll some ancient, wood-paneled TV set to the front of the classroom. “Clase,” she’d say to get our attention and then revert back to English. “Today we’re going to watch a video about El Día de los Muertos. And you will be taking notes,” she’d finish, usually with a smirk twisted like the tilde over an ñ. The class would sigh collectively as notebooks flopped onto the graffitied desktops. But I never really minded it—jotting down the facts that seemed important, read by narrators with deep (or feigned) Mexican accents, over mariachi music that wavered unsteadily in the background. The holiday seemed to offer something different in its recognition of death— an alternative to the solemn funeral proceedings I’d known all my life. Every wake or funeral service I’ve been to is a dismal parade of shuffling feet on funeral home carpet, worn bare in the places where so many have stood and waited to view a body. Every time, it’s the deceased presented in little more than a glorified box, then stared at by mourners on creaking kneelers—or at a distance, by children too scared to approach something as absolute as a dead body. Its delicate script of whispers underscoring a cold, casketed departure. The receiving line is even worse—when the body lying in the casket belongs to someone you once knew and loved, someone who sent you birthday cards with twenty-dollar bills and introduced you to ketchup and picked you up from school on special occasions with strawberryfrosted donuts, the way my Babcia did. That’s when the long calling hours are filled with torturously awkward encounters, with clammy handshakes that turn into halfhearted hugs, with strangers apologizing for your loss and not knowing what to expect for an answer. There are always the chalky funeral home mints, sucked on one after the other without considering the sugary coating left all over the teeth and tongue. There are sips of water from complimentary conical paper cups, the kind that turn weak and pliable a few seconds after they’re filled. Later, at home, these are followed by lukewarm deli platters and neighbor-made lasagnas, eaten without considering the taste of salty
// Caroline Praderio // 103 cold cuts and cheese. None of these are filling, though they’re heavy in your stomach. And every year in Spanish class, as I watched those families on the screen, smiling amidst their preparations for El Día de los Muertos, and eating things that looked a lot better than almost-warm cold cuts, I wished for a tradition like that of my own. The Day of the Dead is not a replacement for a traditional funeral— in fact, as a primarily Catholic nation, the Christian funeral is probably the same in Mexico as it’s been in every church I’ve entered wearing a politely somber expression and a black dress. But in Mexican culture, it doesn’t end with a name etched on a gravestone. Every year, the holiday is joyfully anticipated—and for those who believe in an afterlife, I imagine it’s a kind of proof that the souls of the departed aren’t so far from us after all. Maybe the celebration of the Day of the Dead perpetuates a belief in the afterlife—and maybe it’s worth believing in if you know that the ones you’ve lost will come back and linger, even if only for a moment, once each year. Even if it’s not all that serious, at the very least, El Día de los Muertos knows how to crack a smile in the presence of death. Holiday candies and decorations are made to look like smiling skulls and skeletons—not to be feared, but to cheerfully adorn the altars that honor the dead, like a bucktoothed bunny at Easter or a full-bellied snowman near Christmas. I watched and took notes on those families, filtered through aging, 1980s film and a warbling soundtrack, and I felt as if they’d figured it out: not a one-time acknowledgment of death but a perpetual celebration of life. Years later, I sat in the funeral home, shivering in air conditioning that would prevent premature decay of my grandmother’s body. And even though I was older, I found myself once again wishing that there were something more. I found myself struggling to listen to the priest’s generic final blessings, his prayers that would be read at another funeral that afternoon and three more the next day. I felt cold. // Two of my grandmother’s three calling hours had elapsed, and my cheeks were already sore from fake smiles. “I’m one of the grandchildren,” I’d say, clasping the papery skin of an elderly hand. “Caroline. And this is my younger brother, Rocco.” “Oh!” they’d gasp, sometimes reaching out to stroke my face as if I
104 // Grown Woman // were something unreal. “I remember you from when you were a little girl! But look at you now, all grown up!” I fidgeted in my heels, unsure of what to say in return, and they’d hobble away with the help of a cane or the arm of a spouse. I soon saw a familiar tuft of white hair at the kneeler—my grandmother’s best friend, Nancy Renauld, a woman with wide hips, crackled leathery skin, and honking voice, like a goose. She and Babcia had been neighbors for years, hosting bingo parties and picking through Saturday morning yard sales, haggling with bags of quarters over the prices of useless trinkets. She made kielbasa with beans at every Fourth of July cookout, and called my grandmother “Joanie” whenever she was giving gardening advice. Though I’d never known her very well, she wrapped her age-spotted arms all the way around me when she came through the receiving line. “How are you doing?” she asked, as if we’d chatted on the phone or went out for coffee a few days earlier. I almost gave her my now-automatic response—“Fine, we’ll get through it together”—but I felt like I couldn’t lie to Nancy. “Actually, Nancy,” I started, and glanced over at the casket again. “I’m not very sad at all.” She smiled wide, showing the yellowed edges of her dentures, but a tear dribbled from her left eye, spilling in and out of wrinkles on its way down her cheek. “You know what, Caroline? I feel the same way. When I first found out she died, do you know what I thought?” I shook my head no. The tears had stopped welling in her eyes. “I thought, I’m so happy for Joanie. She’s free.” “I feel the same way, Nancy,” I said and had to catch my breath with surprise that she’d articulated my own feelings better than I ever could. Then again, Nancy had never been one to mince words. We hugged again, and the line moved on. // I think that this year, when El Día de los Muertos comes around at the beginning of November, maybe I’ll make an altar for my grandmother—an ofrenda. It’ll have a picture of her and all the grandchildren, a candle or two, burning in the apartment against my landlord’s
// Caroline Praderio // 105 rules. Maybe I’ll buy some flowers, the kinds she used to grow in her garden—snapdragons, hostas, bleeding hearts, day lilies, roses. It will be adorned with her favorite foods, maybe a link of Polish kielbasa still in its shrink wrapping or a bowl of ruffled potato chips alongside some onion dip, mixed well in a little aluminum bowl, just the way she served it at every Easter morning or Christmas Eve. It will feature a squeeze-bottle of ketchup because, as my mother never fails to remind us, Babcia was the one who introduced my brothers and me to the condiment, which plagued our white t-shirts for years. I would stick on an American flag for her famous Fourth of July cookouts and a bonewhite sand dollar from Cape Cod for teaching me how to find them in tide pools and bleach them to keep as treasures on my bookshelves and on top of my jewelry boxes. If I had a bottle of her musky perfume, maybe I’d spray it all around the room or in the crooks of my elbows. And even if I can’t feel the return of her soul, even if there’s no profound moment of reunion, even if I can’t hear anything but the streetcars rattling by on the tracks outside—at the very least, I will have honored her life. And at the very least, I will smile like a skull.
Over the Roofs of the World The Halloween I was eighteen-almost-nineteen, I dressed as a slutty sailor. The dress came from a thrift shop in Allston, the hat and gloves and white fishnet thigh-highs from a party store in downtown Boston— all for almost as cheap as I looked. That Halloween night, the dress returned to the dingy Allston streets from whence it came, and in a smoky house on Linden Street, I hoped for boys to look at me (none did) and got drunk enough on Rubinoff’s vodka to cry for no real reason, just feeling a lot of things all of a sudden, you know, and I think a slice of pizza might help if you wanna get one with me, but don’t let me eat all of it or else I’ll be fat so let’s just rip it in half and I can’t believe that boy saw me cry is there sauce on my cheek don’t let me throw up until I get home to the bathroom and I can’t stop I just think I’m crying because I just want someone to love me already. The Halloween I was twenty-almost-twenty-one, I dressed as an Ewok. The safety pins came from the corners of my top desk drawer, the
// Caroline Praderio // 107 two yards of furry brown fabric came from a craft store in Chinatown where they still write receipts in ink on carbon-copy paper. The stick, a last-minute addition for dramatic effect, came from the ground in the alleyway behind my apartment—just as free as I looked. That Halloween night, I had nowhere to go until my friend sent me a text message to say she’d finagled me onto the guest list of a fraternity party, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. I agreed to go, even though a storm had begun—some incestuous hybrid of snow and rain that left an inchdeep, grayish, semisolid puddle all over the sidewalks and streets of Boston. Would have been tough to walk through in a slutty sailor’s red satin, peep-toe sling-backs. But I was in my roommate’s fur-lined Sorels with thick rubbers soles and laces all the way up to my knees. I stepped out and left fat footprints on my way to the train station. The party was in Allston again. I paid five dollars to get in and watched as the unfortunate pledge guarding the door struck out my name on a printed-out list. I threw back three beers, felt nothing, and waded through a crowd of people who either got it (“I fucking love Star Wars!”) or didn’t. I recognized myself in the eighteen-almost-nineteenyear-olds who stood against the walls, for whom the taste of alcohol still tugged the corners of mouths downward into grimaces. I felt a heat rash start prickling on the backs of my knees, trapped beneath the furry fabric I’d used to fashion pants, and also between the sweating bodies of at least seventy-five college students headed swiftly toward inebriation. Heat throbbed in my chest, straight up to the conservative neckline of my fur vest. For a moment, I was jealous of the parade of half-dressed police officers, nurses, and cat-women around me—all bare-legged and flaunting swaths of midriff. I saw one stumble in her stilettos and watched a wave of mixed drink flirt with the edge of her plastic cup. At least she’s cool, I thought. On a crowded staircase, I was forced face-to-face with a boy who looked lustily at me. He noticed the dark brown triangle I’d painted on the tip of my nose with a tube of eyeliner—the finishing touch. “You know…I think you’re really beautiful,” he said between bass beats that rattled discarded glass bottles on the floor. “Thanks,” I said with a smile, nod, and polite tilt of my stick in his direction. “I made it myself.”
108 // Over the Roofs of the World // Two boys dressed in lederhosen looked at me from the landing above the stairs. Another in a polyester-looking cloak tried to lock his eyes with mine as I wove down the stairs. Then I decided to leave. I helped an acquaintance—a drunk girl with a tiara and no other distinguishable costume pieces—get home on the subway, then rode the last few stops to my apartment alone. I sat upright, as if my cardboard ears had somehow wired into my brain and enhanced my hearing. I held my stick at the ready. I watched my reflection in the train’s window flicker as the lights in the tunnels went by like a strobing camera flash. The semisolid puddle on the sidewalk was still there when I stepped off the train platform, but it had been mussed and overturned by the feet of Halloween revelers who figured the beer or the Burnett’s was worth the bite of wind on their faces or through the holes in fishnet stockings. I welcomed the cool air into my synthetic fur. I was alone on the street, in the storm, but I wasn’t scared. I felt the eyes of the boys at the party still on my painted nose and my face, the way that skin can remember the way a certain person touched it hours or days or weeks before. I was pleased and surprised to find that, suddenly, I didn’t need them. I didn’t want their glassy stares or even the compliments that meandered from their mouths before they considered how odd it’d be to call an Ewok beautiful. If I were perhaps one double-dare braver, or one beer drunker, I might have had the courage to let out the barbaric yawp that was bulging in my throat, swelling and gurgling and threatening to burst forth, the same way it must have been in Whitman’s pen. I cast aside my stick and kicked at a puddle of slush, swung my arms big and wide, and ran the last block home.
On That Ledge “We’re going cliff jumping at a place up in Rockport,” he tells me lastminute, the night before he leaves. It’s the last weekend of September that can still masquerade convincingly as summer, and we’re standing in the doorway to his bedroom. We are in love, most likely for the first time in our lives, because we are so young. He sees that I look crestfallen. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, baby,” he says, enveloping me in his tanned arms. His lips hit my temple in a sweet kiss. “I’ll be back tomorrow night. And I promise it’s only guys going.” “I wasn’t worried about that,” I say smelling his smell—salty sweat, Head and Shoulders, Listerine—which is on his skin and laced into the ribbed crewneck collar of his t-shirt. I press my nose into his neck so he won’t see the frown still tangling my face. I don’t want to him to ask what’s wrong. Instead, I keep smelling and brushing my lips against the soft place where neck turns to shoulder. Instead, I say, “I’ll miss you tomorrow,” though the words are muffled by flesh. We stand in his doorway for some time and say that we love each
110 // On That Ledge // other, over and over, because it’s new enough that it still feels wonderful, even just to say out loud. Then, before it’s too late to catch the train home, I step out into the late August night. Downtown Boston is starting to cool now that the sun has set, but the air is still swirling, warm with exhaust and smoke. The night is growing darker and thicker. The concrete slabs of the sidewalk shimmer underneath the orange glow of the streetlamps. I head home alone in a rattling streetcar toward Brookline. The next morning, he and four friends, all young men, all twenty or so, wake up early and take the Orange Line out of Boston from Chinatown to Oak Grove. This is near where he grew up, so they all load into his silver station wagon, and he drives the last leg to Rockport, where they’ve planned a day of rope swinging into a river and jumping off of cliffs into the ocean. They’ve got towels in their backpacks and a camera to record it all, every splash and belly flop and warrior cry that’s stifled by the smack of skin against New England water. Whether it’s fresh or salt, New England water is always cold, the type of cold that’s impossible to acclimate to, the type of cold that makes your toes go numb before you get the courage to stick the rest of your foot in. There’s no getting used to it. The only way to get into New England water, whether it’s fresh or salt, is by jumping. So they jump—and he brings back rope-burned hands and caughtmidair photos later that night as proof. “That’s great, baby. It looks like you had so much fun.” A frown spreads across my lips again—but I deliberately loose a layer of brown hair from behind my ear to shield one side of my face. I don’t want to him to ask because I’m not sure how to explain that I’m jealous of the torn-up skin on his fingers and of his damp bathing suit balled up in the bottom corner of his backpack. I wish, more acutely than I intend to, that the taut arm muscles clinging to the frayed rope, and the faces frozen somewhere between thrill and terror, and the toes splayed in anticipation of the water were my own. “It was fun!” he says, and though he winces as he wraps a bandage around each rope-burned finger, his cheeks are almost glowing pink. I’ve felt that pinkness in myself before, and I can tell, even without asking, that he feels alive.
// Caroline Praderio // 111 As I pore over the photographs, I wonder, as I have since I was twelve or so, what boys talk about when they’re alone. I try to think about the way it feels to fall. // I am ten years old the first time, with ten toes curled over the edge of a cliff that drops down twenty feet before it meets the ocean. I am all bones and limbs, all hands and feet that I’ve yet to grow into. My dripping-wet bathing suit that clings to me like plastic wrap on a glass bowl—a bit bunchy and wrinkled but sealed tight. I’m shivering, arms folded across my flat chest and hands tucked into my armpits, which aren’t much for warmth, but that’s where I put them when they’re cold anyway. The cliff is on one side of a little inlet on the coast of Maine which fills up with greenish ocean water when the tide is high. When the tide rushes out, the inlet’s left completely empty—nothing but the rocks that have no choice but to stay and some crab legs and clumps of seaweed strewn across the sand like things inadvertently dropped from pockets. My family’s on a camping trip, to the same coastal campground that my father used to go to when he was young. It’s our first time there, and my brothers and I delight in knowing that our father and aunts and uncles walked the same dusty paths, burned fires in the same stone circles, jumped from this very cliff, and met the same unforgiving smack of New England water. In campground parlance, it’s called the Bathtub. And it’s tradition, we learn, that everyone jumps from one side and watches from the other. The bare feet and hands of generations of jumpers have worn pathways into the face of the cliff—the path to the top, and to the water, is clear. And in the sunlight, since it’s studded with mica and stripes of quartz and granite, it sparkles. My mother is among the watchers, sitting on a spread-out beach towel and holding her camera at the ready, should I muster up the courage and launch myself into the air. My father is a jumper, and his tan arms and shoulders are just above the water’s surface below me, treading water in the murky green basin. He’s looking up at me encouragingly while salty beads of ocean roll down the bridge of his sharp nose. My brothers are here, too—the older one has jumped before; the younger one hesitates on the side of the watchers.
112 // On That Ledge // And there is Elizabeth, a friend I’ve made who’s staying at the campsite next to ours on Dune Way. She is a bit younger than I am, I think— or maybe just shorter—but her hair is black and waist-length, and her skin is dark. I admire her because I think she looks like Pocahontas. And standing on that ledge, the wind upturning her bangs, she looks even greater and stronger, like a warrior on the high ground, standing and smirking above an easy kill, victorious before the battle even begins. We spent the week playing together in her family’s faded red-andgray tent. We reached into a family-size plastic tub of cheddar whales and dolphins, carefully extracting one of each marine mammal. “If you hold a dolphin in one closed hand and a whale in the other,” she tells me, “and hold both fists up underneath my dog’s nose, he can tell which is which, and he’ll always nudge the hand with the whale inside.” I don’t believe her until it happens, just like that, three times in a row. And then, before the week at the campground is over, we are at the Bathtub. If she’s afraid before she jumps, it doesn’t show. Her one-piece is mustard yellow with pink hibiscuses, but it becomes a colorful, cannonball-ish blur before she meets the water, which churns and turns white at the spot where she goes under. She emerges with her bangs stuck to her forehead as if she’s just dunked into a real bathtub, warm and full of bubbles. I’m still standing on the edge of the cliff watching her—and when I see two rows of bright white teeth blossom in the middle of her tanned face, I feel ashamed that I’m still scared of jumping and the smack of the water against my skin and of the rocks that are lurking like sleeping sharks at the bottom and going down but not coming back up and of the feeling of falling. But more than sharks, more than rocks, more than anything: I do not want to be a watcher. I want to burst to the surface and smile the jumper’s smile. I want to relive, over and over, the fall and how it feels. I look up from my feet and across the Bathtub and decide I am resolved to do it. There’s my mother with the camera, and there’s Elizabeth climbing back up the other side for her sun-warmed towel, and there’s a few false starts and then, finally, there’s my launch. My toes uncurl from the rock.
// Caroline Praderio // 113 // Late that night, now that he’s home, we’re standing at the doorway to his bedroom again. We’re thinking about going to bed. His arms are wrapped around me, but his rope-burned fingers don’t quite touch my back—instead, they gingerly graze my t-shirt. Soon, just before we fall asleep curled up together, we’ll sigh and whisper how good it feels to be side-by-side and to be in love. “I’m glad you didn’t get hurt, love,” I tell him. I picture him falling towards the water and yelling, filled up to his blond eyebrows with the thrill of a dare—a living, breathing example of boys-will-be-boys and boys will jump from cliffs. And then those boys return home with pinkness in their cheeks and stories for the girlfriend who stayed at home. Stories for the watchers. He squeezes me tight and tells me how much he missed me. But as he does, and though I don’t expect it, the pressure of his arms around me brings the pressure of tears up behind my eyes—because I can’t remember how it feels to fall, even though I have stood on that ledge, and because once I was a cliff jumper, too.
Colophon This issue of The Emerson Review is set in Caledonia, a typeface created by William Addison Dwiggins.
Executive Staff Rachel Amico believes poetry is essentially a party environment where drunk, intelligent people try explaining things they normally can’t. She believes it is important to note that not all parties are fun and that most of the time, drunk people are bad at communicating—but also that a party environment is generally more interesting than a nonparty environment. She misses The Emerson Review and has various feelings when she thinks about it. Amanda Bondi enjoys sunny backyard barbecues in mid-July. On chilly days, she drives around the Massachusetts coastline with the heat on and windows down. She supports the efforts of the local pizza scene. Ashleigh Heaton is a Writing, Literature, and Publishing major who dabbles in HTML wizardry during her free time. She often daydreams of being as fierce as Barbara Gordon, Makoto Kino, or Arya Stark, but she likes to think she’s cool in her own way. Jordan Koluch has written so many bios for The Emerson Review that she has nothing interesting left to say about herself. She will probably cry a little when she sees this book in print but can’t really say why. Melanie Taryn Lieberman is pursuing a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in The Connecticut Review, The Emerson Review, and Boston Common magazine, and she has received national and international recognition for her prose, poetry, and playwriting. Her greatest passions are writing and food, and when both happen simultaneously, she is ecstatic. She
116 // Executive Staff // writes a monthly food column for The Berkeley Beacon and runs a food blog, “Little Word Bites.” Carly Loman is originally from Washington, D.C. She enjoys design, books, politics, and, most of all, being here now. Emily Murphy is a senior Writing, Literature, and Publishing major. She has a fondness for taffy and Margaret Atwood and believes there is no shame in dog-earing book pages. CJ Nadeau believes that if you give a writer a job, he is going to submit his work. When he sends his stories, he will probably do so under an assumed name. Nothing if not practical, Sara Selevitch is a WLP major and philosophy minor. Her interests include laughing, looking at pictures of cats online, and eating barbecue chips. Her life goal is to become Tumblrfamous. Jessica Slavin is in love with words, but she’s not always very good with them. Her strengths include being exceptionally type-A and being consistently early. Her weaknesses include getting numbers from boys and casual conversations. Gabrielle Tyson is a sophomore WLP major. She is addicted to Doritos, snapbacks, and poetry with good line breaks. She spends the majority of her time in sweatpants but feels no shame because they are the comfiest thing to wear when reading and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Libby Webster is a music enthusiast with really short bangs whose special hobbies include writing flash fiction and making ugly faces when she cries. She has recently begun to reevaluate her life choices as the result of her creation of an OkCupid account. She hates writing about herself.
Contributors Katherine Bove is an undergraduate in Emerson College’s BFA program. Her short fiction, nonfiction, and art have appeared in several publications, including Gangsters in Concrete and the online literary anthology the catharsis. Currently, she works at Harvard Education Publishing Group and volunteers at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bobby Crawford is the co-curator of the Emerson Poetry Project, Emerson College’s slam poetry scene. His work has been featured at various venues around New England, including the Boston Museum of Science. He owes much of his inspiration to suburban angst and late-night taquerías. Catherine Doucette grew up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She is an avid skier and runner, and she has found joy in mountain ranges around the world. Doucette’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Bellingham Review, Silk Road Review, Emrys Journal, and The Los Angles Review. Jennifer Dykema is blessed to share her days with her husband and their two daughters in the beautiful Great Lake State, Michigan. She holds an MFA from Murray State University and teaches at Northpoint Bible College in Grand Rapids. Gabrielle Freeman is a poet living in eastern North Carolina. She recently earned her MFA in poetry from Converse College. Gabrielle’s poems have been published in many journals including Clockhouse Review, Red Rock Review, MiPOesias, and Chagrin River Review.
118 // Contributors // Matthew Gesicki is pursuing his BA in English and Religion at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. His poetry and fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Calliope, Relief, The Mill, and elsewhere. Toni Ann Johnson is a recipient of the Christopher Award for her teleplay “Ruby Bridges,” about the child who integrated the New Orleans public school system, and a two-time recipient of the Humanitas Prize, having won in 1998 for “Ruby Bridges” and again in 2004 for her teleplay, “Crown Heights,” a Showtime Television film about the 1991 riots between blacks and Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Johnson’s stage plays have been produced by The New York Stage and Film Company and The Negro Ensemble Company. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Chelsey Moody is a Junior Writing, Literature, and Publishing major who originates from Los Angeles, California. She enjoys anything in relation to Elvis Presley and finds she is most happy when anywhere in or by the ocean. CJ Nadeau is bad at pen names. Aaron Sommers’ fiction has been featured in Confluence, Lifelines: A Dartmouth Medical School Literary Journal, and Philament. His story “The Million Dollar Sneeze” was selected by the Vermillion Literary Project Magazine. He lives and teaches in rural New Hampshire with his wife and daughter (the latter, unlike the Geezer Godzilla, happens to be a very picky eater) in an old house set deep in the woods and on the more inaccessible side of a mountain. When he isn’t toiling on his novel, he can be reached at email@example.com. Ursula Villarreal-Moura was the winner of the 2012 CutBank Big Fish Flash Fiction/Prose Poetry Contest. Her fiction and nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in CutBank, The Emerson Review, NAP, Black Heart Magazine, Toska, Van Duzer, and elsewhere. She
// Contributors // 119 contributes book reviews to The Fiddleback, Necessary Fiction, and Nib and is an assistant editor for Cream City Review. Libby Webster is a junior Writing, Literature, and Publishing major with a minor in photography at Emerson College. She likes to use photography to make people look at the mundane in a new light and often creates photo series that can be “read” like a narrative. She hopes to find more ways to combine her love of writing with her love of photography in future projects. Donnie Welch is a twenty-year-old Writing, Literature, and Publishing major from Emerson College. He describes himself as clean-cut and playground-tough. Leslee Rene Wright lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado. She is often torn between writing poetry and fiction but has learned to compromise by writing both; thus far, it’s been a very healthy arrangement. Her work has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Raleigh Review, Crab Creek Review, The Louisville Review, and others.
Special Thanks The editors and staff are very grateful to Richard Hoffman, Lise Haines, and Lisa Diercks for their help in making this book possible. For their support and guidance, the staff and editors would also like to thank Sharon Duffy and Steven Martin at the Office of Student Life; the Department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing; and the Student Government Association.