The Comma - Fall 2017

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Cartographer CAT REYNOLDS Childhood was a pilgrimage from house to house, city to city, state to state, country to country. As soon as the dust settled on our last path, it was time to kick up more on a new one. I was a malleable object in the outstretched hands of others’ lives. I came, I saw, I adapted. I left. My place became displacement. I became comfortable only in the uncomfortable. I burned one life and built another, ashes from ashes. You ask me where I’m from. My mother, my father. I am from and I am of the world. I am sprung from a lifetime of strangeness and wandering, and I am from wherever I was the moment before this one, from wherever I will be in the moment after this one. I am from right here. Wherever it may be. You ask me to pinpoint where my home is on a map, and I will instead present you with a globe and say, “Here.” I have replaced a pin with a path. You ask me for the blueprints of my childhood home, and I will give you my footprint. I have made a home of myself, and thus have made a home of the world. I have made a home of myself, a home I will share with you. Stay awhile, stay forever. Find calm in my heart the way you curl up in front of a fire on a winter’s eve on a living room rug


and let the embers of my spirit warm you from your fingertips to your toes. Claim sanctuary in my smile, when I am my most vulnerable, and let yourself rest in the safety of where I have let my walls down to build them up for you. Arms outstretched, hands to the heavens, come to me the way I have come to myself and let me love you the way I have learned to love myself. I can shapeshift and makeshift, watch me contort my entire being to be for you. Your home is not where you were born. Your home is not where you live. Your home is not a house. It is where you have been, it is where you are going, it is where you are. Your home is both nothing and everything, transcending space, time, reality. This is our home, whatever this turns out to be. Ashes to ashes.

I Apologize To My Mother While Talking to the “Princess Diana” Tree at the Botanical Gardens MATTHEW APADULA I was one of those leash kids, you know? “Hyperactive” was not the word of the day. Too diagnostic, clinical. We need a better word for kids who drink in a little too much sun, who haven’t grown large enough yet for all the matter in their small bodies to spring forth. “Hyperactive” can’t get its arms around those kids and neither could my mother. The good children got to walk in step with their mother’s hips, as tall as the sky, but I was the one with the tether, circling her in gleeful orbit and the word of the day was “elastic” as I found the farther I ran from my mother, down the pathways in the gardens, pulling my leash closer and closer to plaques I was not yet old enough to read, the faster I would be pulled back, my laugh making waves in spacetime, the flowers of fall rigor mortis exploding around me as my tiny Keds discovered flight, as the leash tore me back from the edge of my universe back to my mother back to my all-I-know, and what is a mother’s love if not the cable snapping you back from the uncaring maw even as the meat of her hands chafed from tugging me back to her planet. Even as my sonic boom stole from her what little sleep she’d gotten the night before. Even as I, her little satellite, insisted on breaking my revolution her heart. Even as the frowning green shirts from the front gate, of course, asked her and her errant moon to leave, as they were disturbing the gardens for the nicer, quieter systems. Diana, I’m just made out of what my mother told me made me when my planet came together. Starstuff, rock, singeing-hot core. But I only feel dust as I rotate out here. Diana, I don’t remember this story. I was a baby, born-new from the stars my mother let die for me. There’s less light in this corner of the universe, because of me. PAULA NAJAS

Diana, I guess you know better than I do what it means to feel your everything slip out of reach, to feel an orbit splinter under the weight of another gravity.


Aphelion AARON LASCANO Ahead, the dire canyons dry, where soon our piercéd prince shall lie, In Er’bus, maze of twisted ash, where all concede their lives have passed. Before that end Achilles finds his mentor’s star, his tutor’s eye, It lights the stage on which he asks the beachhead and the river vast To slow, stave off, fell Charon’s pass, the tides resist his ferry fast. Instead, he prays, “Dear Chiron, haste! Fly down, come see your pupil’s face, ‘Fore he receive death’s dark’ning mask. But grant small peace in moments last!” As downwards Sagitta’rius raced, a gilded path his stars did trace. His gaze alights upon the one who on his teachings did rely. What peace has he, what peace to grant, now knows he where his ward’s been cast? Great Chiron first amongst his kind, brought low at last, sets free his cry, “My fiercest star, my student last, were you by Paris’ shaft outclassed? I taught you wrong, I failed you fast, with thoughts my arts were unsurpassed, I was a fool to guide you through your wager with the gods’ ill grace!” Achilles pleads, “Our time won’t last—But bless me ‘fore my ship’s come past!” To his lorn side did Chiron race, and on his head a blessing trace. When Charon came, it then was time to take last lives to canyons dry. Achilles went, then spoke his last when he had crossed the river vast. “I witness now my shadow’s life, that’s followed me from my first cry, Ruled by a fate o’er-watched by gods who sought my role be bright and fast, My audience, those tempters great, bequeathed me paths for the contrast One brief of war, the other long and void. The first would I embrace. Enticed by glory, how could I choose else? By swords was I thus cast. To heaven now, will Chiron race, and me, no comfort in his place.”


My Mother’s Flower FABIOLA GARCIA-MORALES My mother. She gave me my breath, my strength, and my life. She built me an empire out of ashes, and experiences that shaped my mind. I did not come from wealth, but my intelligence’s worth a fortune. It was my mother and I, a woman guiding her daughter in a world that would be against her. Here, that is America, where being Latina was the equivalent of being invisible. Pride was my oppressor’s motive, prejudice was the ghost who haunted my existence. I persisted, and remembered why my mother brought me here. To give me the life she did not have.

Untitled PARDO, C. I was born on this stage I didn’t think I would ever want to climb off But when I saw my father charging at me Thighs shuddering Mane razing Snout quivering I turned back to the crowd Their eyes pinpricks of light stolen from the stage Down deep in the ravine And I jumped Foolish enough to hope that I would Thump down to the rusty dirt of the twin plateau of this giant canyon But knowing still I would be drawn in By my spectators’ greedy eyes

They reached out their hands Short arms to break a loooooooooong Fall Into their sweaty grasp. A pit of naked snakes Molted and wearing their guts inside out Their gore erupts around my father’s quivering haunches, Crashing in from the heavens Following, following, following, following And he rears his head, born anew, scattering the blood upon us like rain— A drop hits my cheek And I am extremely tempted to taste of this audience’s labor and life A swathe of blood off my cheek And onto my thumb To redden my tongue. To paint my stomach with blood.

My father makes the ground shudder They wilt like dried up weeds and die like mashed up beans beneath his feet; Pounding hooves into the blood-mud. There was one place I was safe A brightly lit oasis, now floating in the sky— I know why my audience watched me Because they couldn’t see me But for the shadows that I would cast with my stage lights Giving rest to their greedy eyes from my shining retreat when I would couch their gorge in a few moments of precious darkness Dark, deep, precious darkness The kind of which that grew from my father’s coat The kind of which that whinnied from my father’s throat The kind of which that carried his hooves across the loam The kind of which that said “Cristina, it’s time to go home.”

The force that comes with hitting a wall, is the one that increases your strength. That is why we have had doors shut before us. Sometimes it is good to be in the soil, because you grow, and eventually bloom. If it wasn’t for the labyrinth my mother set out for me, I would not be here. I would not be my mother’s flower.



The Nonsense Ghost ALEXANDRA RICHARDSON My room is full of ghosts. My room is haunted by me. They are everywhere, in everything, staring at the fluorescent star stickers stuck to the ceiling, floating in the windows, peeking in the mirror, crying in the bed, reading in the corner armchair. Every last one has one little end twisted and tied in a tight knot around the old copy of Alice Through the Looking Glass that’s sitting on my bedside table. One ghost in particular, the least painful ghost to meet, I think, greets me at the door, in a light blue velvet overall dress and a white turtleneck with a velvet hairbow in long, tangled dark hair. She is seven. She is not scared of me, though she’s scared of the dark and murderers and deep water and judgement and the universe. She speaks in a high, squeaky voice that shakes with strangers and softens around friends she’s frightened to offend. There is a white rabbit with a red waist-coat and a glass eye on a chain, stitched in silvery thread on the dress pocket. She has Alice Through the Looking Glass in her hand because she found it on the bookshelf in her parents’ room and liked the bright scarlet of the cover, the loopy gold script of the title. She takes my wrist, blue with veins, and leads me, but I don’t need her to. I am my wholest self again, because all the selves that I washed and starched and ironed and folded into drawers, or tucked into corners, or hid under beds and tried to forget about are hung like clean sheets. I can see them as clearly as my own reflection and I can hear their voices in my head. There is a little, tiny, almost invisible gold chain that runs through each of them, linking all the ghosts together, anchoring them to this first space that was mine so that they can never evaporate like exhaled smoke on the wind. They float like balloons, each on her chainlink, bobbing and rising with the updraft. I pry apart the pages of the books, sifting through the sketched remnants of my own face. The small, pointy font on pale discolored pages reminds me of learning how to write in first grade, agonizing over my letters. There are whitish spots where my fingers have turned pages, again and again. Whole words and errant letters have faded. The corners are tearing. The spine is creased, like the face of a tired grandfather. The tired pages are spotted with stains: saltwater from tears and mineral water and Diet Coke, and smears of something red-brown that might be blood from where I bit my nails to the quick when I was twelve. The words rearrange into tickling sentences CABBAGES AND KINGS and CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER and OFF WITH HER HEAD! They are nonsensical and wild, like the little girl likes to be, sometimes. Sometimes she likes to sleep wrong-way-around on her bed that’s actually just a mattress on top of a box-spring, no bed frame or anything like that, with her feet under the windows, so she can look out at the street lamp and the stars as she sleeps, so she can see her room flipped back to front. Sometimes she likes to scream into her pillow, where no one will hear. Here, she is allowed to be everything and nothing. Lewis Carroll’s sentences are draped like the curtains the little ghost girl used to hold the ends of and wave up and down because the calico fluttering in the sun reminded her of the sea. The colors of Wonderland are painted into the walls. She knows because she has no difficulty drawing at her desk, playing pretend with dolls in party dresses, pacing her room and reciting made-up stories in here. Her corner of the universe is limitless. She pries the words apart, the ghost girl, and turns the letters around with sticky, inky, clumsy fingers. How did he do it—sketch everything and nothing so crudely and so completely into a hundred-some pages? How was it possible to see the world so clearly and yet portray it such as it was not at all? It wasn’t so scary when encapsulated in those pages, when the big RIGHTS and WRONGS were picked away and the nonsense allowed to run and jump and yell and dance and throw a party. She haunts that room, the little ghost-girl, but I don’t mind. I like to believe that she belongs as much to Wonderland as she does to me and that she keeps a little piece of Wonderland, of nonsense, hovering unseen and ever-present in my corner of the universe.


The bad news is: I’m leaving and I don’t know when I’ll be back. The good news is: I’m leaving the sun right where it is, at your favorite height and temperature. There is still cocaine on the mountaintops if any of you are interested in that. Otherwise, everything is basically the same as it was before, the prettiest flowers, will continue to grow, and you will still be able to fall in love…don’t worry, I’ve designed it so that you are able to survive without me. Do not try and contact me during this period. The winning lotto numbers for the next month, are not arbitrary; they are coordinates, to all your missing aircrafts. If you knew this already, congratulations, you are the last prophet. Now get to work, you all have a lot of grieving to do.

Separate/Together ABBY WHEAT I am here. Sitting in class, fidgeting out of nervousness and boredom, mind racing with thoughts that have nothing to do with the subject material, staring at the clock, making to-do lists in my head. I am here. Alone on the couch, watching the microwave as my frozen mac and cheese spins in endless circles, sipping from my third Diet Coke of the day. I am here. Watching TV in my bed in solitude, laying still for hours, my brain turned off, my limbs stiff, my hair knotted on the back of my head, doing a whole lot of nothing. I am here. In my bed as I start my day, rolling over to hit snooze just one more time, my head heavy on the pillow, my eyes barely open, hours of activities I don’t want to participate in ahead of me. You are here. Across from me at a table in the library, focused on the contents of your notebook, you look up and smile at me while I struggle with my chem homework, reaching your hand out to squeeze mine. You are here. Cooking the chicken as I boil the pasta, the two of us dancing in the kitchen to some old folk song, you gently grab my shoulders from behind and give me a kiss on the head, both of us feeling full of chicken alfredo and love. You are here. Our hands gripping each other as we walk through the park, smiling at every dog who passes by, giggling about inside jokes, telling each other every detail of our hours spent apart, the destination of our journey unspecified. You are here. Tucked under the blanket, still resting peacefully, your hair is a messy tangle of brownish curls, your breaths long and deep, your body gracefully rising and falling to the rhythm of your heart. Rolling over, grey eyes sleepily peering into mine, wrapping your arms around me, pulling me in close. I am so glad you are here.

Old God JOE GROSS Oh, those vast, calm, measureless mountain days,1 When it rose from view like Starry Night And stood still taller than birds in flight. Our sikh, who took peyote, said it showed No further face, this god that did not hide. The wind and water sook its center, Though into its soul could not enter. They shaved its face and shook its base for ten Thousand years, but the mountain survived, changed. We’d left that place, yet stood at its foot. Left that place where men dug and found soot. In that time, the mountain became the dunes. A god diminished is still striking, Like us, who never fully die. _________________ Muir, John. Diaries from his “First Summer in the Sierra.”



The Garden ASHLEY RIVERA This is where you belong, a deep gentle voice called out to her from the white puffy clouds. She sat in her garden, underneath a blue sky, surrounded by yellow tulips and red roses. She grew up in the garden, smelling the sweet aroma that emanated from each flower; her only concern in life was whether the flowers would remain with her forever—they were her only company. She enjoyed watching them appear from the ground and bloom into colorful spectacles. The clouds took care of both her and the flowers. Every other day, they released rain droplets that kept her clean and the flowers alive. She was happy. One day, she stumbled upon a small mirror on the ground that was concealed by the green grass. Put that down right now! the clouds yelled, but for the first time in her life, with a thunderous voice. She looked in the mirror and studied her long black hair and snow white face. She immediately plucked one of the red roses and placed it in her hair. Some of the petals fell off, landing in her hair. She looked at herself in the mirror again and a feeling of elation washed over her: this feels better, she thought. She felt happier than ever before. Stop what you are doing! the clouds roared. She remained seated among the flowers as a gentle wind blew through her hair. The wind caught hold of the rose, causing her to jump to her feet and chase after it. Eventually, the rose disappeared from her sight. She began to cry at the thought of her color withering away. See! This is the way things are supposed to be, the clouds said, returning to their softer voice—the one she was accustomed to. She wanted to listen to the clouds— they were responsible for her life. She wanted to be obedient. She picked up the mirror and looked into her bloodshot eyes that had become puffy from crying. She placed her hand on her face, her skin felt like bark. She was sad. With a heart full of despair, she smiled. She dropped down to the ground. Her bare feet now damp from the tears of the flowers—they too shared her feelings. The flowers now understood that her happiness no longer depended on watching them grow day after day; she wanted to plant her own seeds. She wanted green stems and pink rose petals to call her own. Do you see what you have done? You almost ruined everything. You’ve been a bad person. You must return to the person you used to be immediately, or nothing good will come of you, the clouds said sternly. She laughed, plucked a yellow tulip, and placed it in her hair. Suddenly, a large gust of wind came through, snatching the tulip, and some of her hair. Her body began to shake in fear. She checked the mirror again and her hair was shortened. Tears began to build up behind her eyes, but this time, she used all of her strength to hold them in; she wouldn’t let the flowers cry again. Instead, she smiled. You’re just making things worse for yourself. Listen to us, we know what’s best for you! the wind proclaimed. Another gust of wind stirred the entire garden, ripping flowers from their roots. Her future was being torn from the Earth. She closed her eyes, got up, and yelled, “Do what you want, but you’ll never take me!”


10 Minutes MEGAN CRANE “10 minutes.” Dr. Ericsson stops writing and looks up at me. “10 minutes?” “Yeah, 10 minutes.” Scritch-scratch goes his pen on the clipboard, and I’m instantly nervous. “Why, is 10 minutes weird?” “Oh, no,” he assures me. “10 minutes is an average duration for panic attacks. Actually, that’s relatively short.” “Lucky me.” I feel the sarcasm dribbling from between my lips. 10 minutes does not feel short. And I do not feel lucky. I’m shivering but I’m not really cold. The door to the office is slightly ajar, and I see a girl through the fiveinch crack, sitting stiffly in one of the waiting room chairs. Her eyes flit away from mine the moment I look at her. It never feels like 10 minutes. “What?” Dr. Ericsson asks, and I realize I said my thought out loud. “The panic attacks,” I say. “They never feel like 10 minutes. More like 10 years.” Scritch-scratch-scritch. “Tell me more about that?” I tighten in on myself, legs winding around each other like Kudzu vines, fingers grasping at my shirt, my skin, each other. I do not know how to describe to this stranger—the sudden mental assault of nonexistent sirens and flashing lights. How do you explain how it feels to simultaneously feel everything and absolutely nothing, to tear apart your body from the inside out just to feel something that isn’t fear. How your body aches when adrenaline forces its way into your bloodstream. How does it feel—like swallowing cotton balls, like missing a step on the stairs, like trying to breathe against the wind when the car windows are down, like you’re going to throw something up but you don’t know what, like someone stuck a blender in your skull and whipped your brain into stiff peaks. “How does it feel?” Dr. Ericsson asks. My mouth opens, and for a second I feel like I’m going to choke or gag or vomit or all of the above all at once and I cannot breathe. “Like I need a cigarette,” I say. I sit in the plaza for an hour, trying to remember how to exhale.


Rosy Vinegar ADELE FISK I like to pickle bits of people. Not big, important bits. Bits they won’t miss. Jamie’s baby incisor is the pride of my collection. The enamel has pickled into a sheet of mother of pearl and the brine glows like bioluminescent algae. The only imperfection that remains is the jagged edge at the end of its tusk-like root. I knocked it out with a rock when we were six years old. While he was searching for the tooth I pinched it out of the dirt and slipped it into my sock. He cried but soon, he forgot. At home, while my mother thought I was washing my face, I scrubbed the bloody mud from the enamel and hid it where the tooth fairy would not steal it. I never felt guilty. He grew a new tooth. I keep Jamie’s jars in a row on my windowsill so the sun will shine through them like stained glass. A thin strand of black hair has eroded, diffusing into the brine, turning it a thin green that lights my room like sunshine through oak leaves. A bit of cuticle foams like hydrogen peroxide on a skinned knee. An eyelash has sprouted a web of roots that spread like capillaries, casting dappled shadows on my wall. His collection is the smallest of mine. I haven’t been able to update it. I have not seen him since we were six years old; on the day I stole his tooth. By now he has all new teeth, all new hair follicles. But I know his grown up smile does not glint with mother of pearl.



A Plea for Manhattan TATIANA GALLARDO Take a second. You’re at an intersection. You’re about to cross the street, you’re about to move on along the same journey to your grey, secluded office void of any family photos, any lucky charms. You’re about to work until 11pm, hoping your boss will notice but knowing he won’t care. You’re about to walk two blocks east and stop for your medium black coffee at the shop that makes you feel trendy and tip the cute blonde barista because it makes you feel benevolently powerful. You’re going to walk with that damn black coffee spilling on your new leather shoes all the way to the door that brings you doom and misery simply because you graduated college promising to bring home paychecks and bonuses that would satisfy your parents yet all the while, inside you’re drowning in work, in pain, in anger, in missed opportunities and you say, with that toothy grin, Oh, isn’t life wonderful. Don’t. Don’t keep walking forward when you know there’s something about to happen. Or maybe you don’t know. Maybe you’ll never know. But if you took off your headphones and stopped listening to your “favorite” podcast that you really only listen to because it makes you a cultured conversationalist at the upcoming holiday party, and if you opened your eyes instead of looking straight ahead except when the girl with the bouncing breasts passes, you’d see. You’d see you’d see you’d see you’d see that right there, right at that crossing, two lovers meet. She is walking north; he is walking south down Fifth Avenue. They are strangers. They are lovers. Watch. Watch and feel and watch and see and dammit care about what’s happening. This happens every second, every hour, but everyone like you, like me, like us, like them, is busy moving, reaching destinations we deem goals that are nothing more than sinking voids. Look! Now! Two people pass on the street. For whatever reason that is beyond us both, they look up. She sees him seeing her. They smile and share space, air, time, life. In that moment of crossing, they loved and you were a witness.