Italics Mine Issue 14 Featuring Gillian Lynn Katz Una Ludviksen Shannon Magrane Finola McDonald Jamison Murcott Sam de Poto Gabriella Saladino Zoey B. Scheler Ernst Tenemille Khalif Thompson Sierra Torres Ben Verde Erica Vitucci
Ray Antonison Whisper Blanchard Leondra Bombace Destiny Carattini Rachel Chevat Matthew Crisson Nolan Crowley Kayla Dale Bridget Renee Dease Riley A. Dixon R. James Donahue Jalen Garcia-Hall Ethan Gresko Christopher Jiles Jr.
Spring / Summer 2017
Italics Mine showcases the new, creative literary voices of Purchase College students—majors and non-majors alike—through print and web. The diversity of the student population is reflected in the pieces we strive to share with the entire college community. Italics Mine is a notable addition to the Lilly B. Lieb Port Creative Writing Program at Purchase College. The program’s close proximity to the cultural life of New York City, its numerous writers in residence, and its summer writing program on the French Riviera make it unique among undergraduate programs. It is the only program in the SUNY system to offer such a major. Special thanks to the Purchase College Affiliates Grant for their support in the printing of this issue.
Poetry Shana Blatt Catherine Camilleri Aviva LeShaw Elaine Vasquez
Fiction Erik Goetz Chris Santini Aren Landau Anne Penatello
Nonfiction Kate Brown Jiaming Tang Stella Heinz
Design Alexander Markus Beach
Layout Jaiming Tang Elaine Vasquez Kate Brown
Web Aren Landau
Art Erik Goetz Chris Santini Anne Penatello
Managing Editors Ajani Bazile-Dutes Edy Getz
Events Stella Heinz Shana Blatt
Marketing and PR Catherine Camilleri Aviva LeShaw
Faculty Advisors Monica Ferrell Catherine Lewis Mehdi Okasi Warren Lehrer
Spring / Summer 2017
The Creative Writing Program at SUNY Purchase College, in Purchase, New York 10577, publishes Italics Mine. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of either the magazine staff or any institution. Following publication, all rights revert to the authors and artists. “The Season Shifter” Cover Art by Whisper Blanchard
Table of Contents Poetry
1 2 12 13 20 21 26 27 39 41 47 48 53 62 63 64 68 70 82 88
3 10 14 22 32 34 38 43 50 60 65 75 78 80 81 92
Sometimes We Double Take Finola McDonald Home Alone Chris Stewart The Pond Whisper Blanchard Gold Una Ludviksen Fire Carly Sorenson Mystical Epiphanies Gillian Lynn Katz Coffee Shop Enby Ray Antonison Solar Una Ludviksen The Two Types of Strangers Rachel Chevat You Might Fall in Love With Around 28th Street Chris Stewart Bare Bone Theory McDonald Slept In R. James Donahue Homesickness Gillian Lynn Katz Black Coffee Rachel Chevat The Wandererâ€™s Skin Jalen Garcia-Hall Destination Finola McDonald Short Mass Una Ludviksen cHaOtic Zen Ernst Tenemille Opened Drawers Gabby Saladino The Lake Whisper Blanchard
1 2 12 13 20 21 26 27 39
An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Chris Stewart An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nolan Crowley Art Is Explosive: An Interview with George Saunders An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Gillian Lynn Katz Marching Forward Ethan Gresko An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ethan Gresko An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jalen Garcia-Hall Voices From The Past: An Interview with Rachel Hall Expanding Horizons Shannon Magrane An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jamison Murcott In Conversation with Justin Torres and Kirstin Valdez-Quade Shadow Meets Self Bridget Dease An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bridget Dease To My Compatriots Destiny Carattini of 206th and Bedford80 An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Khalif Thompson An Interview with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Whisper Blanchard
3 10 14
41 47 48 53 62 63 64 68 70 82 88
22 32 34 38 43
5 23 29 35 55
Migratory Patterns Nolan Crowley A Fable Ben Verde Tart Leondra Bombace What You See Jalen Garcia-Hall The Ascent Jamison Murcott
5 23 29 35 55
4 7 8 11 19 25 28 31 37 40 46 49 52 54 57 61 69 71 72 73 76 79 86 87
Creative Self-portrait: Prostitute Yuko Kyutoku Aloof Lavender Zoey Scheler Billowing Bungalow Zoey Scheler Electric Frost Zoey Scheler Repression of Series #2 Yuko Kyutoku Identities Puppets Yuko Kyutoku Expecting Alice Whisper Blanchard Grip Matthew Crisson In The Corner Matthew Crisson Figure Study Yuko Kyutoku Tenebrism Yuko Kyutoku Bubbling Over Sierra Torres Sunshine Kayla Dale Sierra Torres Eye Sierra Torres Feeling Blue Coffee Addiction Yuko Kyutoku Letters Yuko Kyutoku Riverhead Raceway Samuel de Poto What Were the Sins This Time Christopher Jiles Jr. Self Portrait Yuko Kyutoku Untitled (Fisayoi) Khalif Thompson Milkdud Khalif Thompson Hybrid: Time Bomb x Heart Yuko Kyutoku Goddess of Visual Arts Yuko Kyutoku
4 7 8 11 19 25 28 31 37 40 46 49 52 54 57 61 69 71 72 73 76 79 86 87
50 60 65 75 78 80 81 92 IV
ITALICS MINE ISSUE 14
Sometimes We Double Take
By Finola McDonald
The children who lie in wet grass, bronze bellies up, observing orange ocean, purple palm, and sunset twice a day as the mantis sits patient. He sings to them gently, leaps hard from each stalk of remarkable green understanding even the earthworms need sun.
An Interview with Chris Stewart
My callused palm strangles the doorknob of their room. Silence is punched by the hinges’ whine. For a boy, an empty house is filled with opportunity. Behind their door is a closet. Inside are hangers with dresses and ties. I wedge myself into the stoic fabrics, itchy with their lack of wear, and darkness steeps from the corner. Shadows sit tight on the dusty floor. I get my fingers dirty but probe for the pair. They’re patent leather with a cheap gold chain. I step out and place my soles onto the cold insoles. They’re deformed around my feet. Mom has bad bones. She won’t notice the stretching from the lumber of this lap. The floors are like sirens in daylight when no one is around to watch me be alone and the house only has so much carpet to quiet the shock of my particular kind of practice.
What was the inspiration for this piece? The first line of this poem was originally “For a boy, an empty house is filled with opportunity.” I’m not entirely sure where
What excites you about the artistic process? I’ve found that editing is really the most gratifying experience. Writing poetry is totally mysterious to me and I have no set structure to how or when I write, but sitting down “I’m a very social person, so sitting at my desk editing while the to edit makes me think critically and long-term about my work. Editing forces me to think about sun is shining feels like I’m denying myself something.” what I want to actually say, and I’ve always struggled with thinking before I speak (a teacher once told me it fell from, but I understood it was from my past. This line I had verbal diarrhea), so to go back and comb over and perfect launched my memories of sneaking into my parents closet and what I want to say — that’s the most rewarding experience. trying on my mother’s heels. I think I did it more than I let myself remember. My parents were pretty good about not leav- What is your most embarrassing habit as a writer? ing us home alone, but on the rare occasions I found the house Hmm. I don’t really have anything I find embarrassing, but to myself, I took advantage of the situation. I wanted to portray cliché, yes! I’ve found that I do all of my writing and editing at the feeling of scandal that comes with behaving a particular way night, like, with tea at my side and light music. Recently I’ve in a place that is completely familiar to you. It’s like running had a candle lit. So I look like this really obvious picture of in the halls of your elementary school, but now think preteen poet. Alone and by candlelight. Writing at night stems from my boy in department store heels. It’s off-centering, but exciting. I adolescence and being emotional on Tumblr in the early mornwanted the reader to feel unbalanced, afraid, urgent. ing hours, but I also just prefer to be active during the day. I’m a very social person, so sitting at my desk editing while the sun is Can you discuss your creative process in crafting this piece? shining feels like I’m denying myself something. I wrote the first draft of this piece in one sitting. I was quite pleased with it, but knew it needed to be tightened up. I’d taken it to workshop not long after I wrote it and the critiques were totally helpful. I had to unknot my narrative a bit. The plot line was vague at points, which made the narrative a bit muddy overall, but the feeling was there. So it really just came down to choice of language. I kept going back to this poem over the course of four months. Tweaking one line here, one word there. I knew the form was definite though. Then one day the language just felt right, so I decided to stop touching it.
Migratory Patterns I awoke to the soft coos of pigeons outside my office window. I’d been with them for generations now. They had been building their nests in between the stonework of the roof for years. It is a beautiful, warm November morning. The small analog clock on my desk shows the time as 6:47 AM. I hate falling asleep at my desk, it was murder on my back, and as of late it had been happening more and more often. This office has become my home these last few months, dozens of my personal effects are scattered around the room: a multitude of papers, a small stack of Styrofoam cups, two coats, multiple changes of clothes, shoes, even a small mirror and shaving kit, and of course the mountain of books that I lived under. I have no real particular interest in going home; no one is waiting for me there and I’m assuming my plants died sometime in the past two weeks. Besides, this most recent exhibit was going to be the death of me.
an endowment in the millions and boasts an impressive floor plan, ours is located in what was once a massive abandoned train station and has ticket sales in the triple digits on a good month. It survives however, thanks to the generous donations of local philanthropists. It is them whom I thank every morning for my cup of coffee. The Keurig machine in my office was a gift for my “tireless dedication to the preservation of wildlife and my commitment to the education of the people of Madison, Wisconsin” and was presented to me on my 55th birthday alongside a cheap storebought cake in this very office by the seventeen other employees of the museum. Director Akila was even there, with her perfect teeth and forced smile.
I knew she didn’t like me even back then, but just like today there’s really nothing she can do about it. I’m just as fundamental How could Director Akila seriously expect me to portray the to the operation of this museum as the columns that keep it from migratory patterns of the Emperor penguin in the Washington collapsing in on itself. With smug satisfaction, I stand up from my room? It was basically a glorified broom closet! After I take off my desk, grab one of the small Styrofoam cups, and bring it with me glasses and rub my eyes, they drift towards the plaque on my desk. to the bathroom right outside of my office. After struggling to pee My name was written in tasteful italics: Dr. Henry Gallagher and for three minutes I wash my hands and fill the cup with tap water. just underneath that was my job title: Museum Curator. It was a My reflection in the mirror gives me pause, when did I get so old? fine plaque, a bronze plate on My skin hangs loosely from my mahogany, but the “n” and “I find my thoughts drifting towards the Emperor face; it looks like I’m wearing a the “r” of my first name were Penguin. I think of the countless millions of them coat a size too large. When I was the smallest bit closer together. much younger, I always marveled that follow a deep, primal imperative…” This small spacing issue irked at how fast time seemed to be me to no end. On late nights passing me by. College felt like it my tired eyes would fall from my computer screen to this minor was over before it had even begun; I remember being horrified at annoyance and it would consume me for minutes at a time. Back graduation, at the thought that my whole life was going to pass by to the issue at hand, how do I accurately portray the migratory just as quickly. Before I knew it, I’d be dead. I wasn’t far off; I’ve patterns of the world’s biggest living penguin species in a fucking got one foot in the grave already and I feel like I’ve been alive for broom closet? a couple weeks, not the better part of a century. I’m not dead yet though, and I have work to do. The answer to that question is going to need coffee, and I at least know how I’m going to accomplish that task. The Museum of I walk back to my office and place the Keurig cup into the Natural History in Madison, Wisconsin shares its name with one coffee machine, fill the machine with the tap water, fumble with of the most famous museums in the entire world and that’s about the buttons for a bit, and place the Styrofoam cup in the usual where the similarities end. Whereas its metropolitan cousin has place. As is tradition, I allow my mind to wander as I wait for the Yuko Kyutoku, “Creative Self-Portrait: Prostitute”
machine to do its job. I find my thoughts drifting towards the Emperor Penguin. I think of the countless millions of them that follow a deep, primal imperative… hundreds of miles away from where they live, every year without fail for thousands of years. They always head to the same breeding grounds every year, and they will continue to do so until they cease to exist as a species. My research for the past couple of decades has focused on the predators that follow this massive migration in search of food. Thousands die every single year to a number of different terrestrial and aquatic predators during their trek towards their breeding grounds. These predators have learned to expect them every year like clockwork. All they need to do is simply wait for them to appear and then feast. The coffee machine lets out a few small chirps to let me know that it has successfully completed its job.
was for the first time. I recall distinctly that it was a Lion’s Mane. The very same plastic representation of one still adorns the walls in the Marine Life wing. Not many things remain constant in this museum. They moved it back in ‘97. I don’t pass it anymore on my walks, but I still find myself thinking about it frequently. Even today, over half a century later, I’m still amazed that these things exist in the ocean, oblivious to the world as they float, totally content, on the currents. As I continued making my way through the blue labyrinth that we call the marine life wing, I retreated deeper and deeper into myself. I’ve been coming to this museum my entire life; I’ve brought and been brought here by dates, friends, and family. I can recall a time when this museum was truly something to be proud of. Nowadays, hardly anyone comes here. I guess the people of Madison have gotten bored of plastic renditions of fish and other animals. I look up to see a life-sized model of a great white shark hanging from
I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee in my hands. The familiar, safe suggestion of heat leaves me feeling cozy inside and this sensation has become just as important a part of “Why do the crustaceans have a hall all to themselves, while my morning routine as the coffee itself. I take a I’m forced to relegate one of the world’s most magnificent long sip and prepare for the day. I change out migrations to a broom closet?” of yesterday’s outfit and into a new one that is remarkably similar: a white collared shirt, khakis, a black leather belt, and black leather shoes. Freshly adorned, I head the ceiling. Suddenly, my mind is barraged by a series of memories to the bathroom again and splash some cold water on my face that had lain dormant for decades. before heading out on my morning walk around the museum. My path, as always, takes me to the Arctic Life wing of the museum They were of my tenth birthday and they came to me as clear as and back to my office before the daily 9 AM museum staff a glacial lake. The majority of the day itself has been lost to time, meeting. Today’s meeting is an important one for me, because but there are specific instances that I remember even now, all we have to finalize the layout for the Emperor Penguin exhibit. I these years later. The first memory that I can recall begins in my don’t have a thing prepared for it, because I will no longer walk front yard, many of the neighborhood kids and most of my friends mindlessly to my death like those stupid fucking Penguins. A had already arrived and we had begun to play. I had just finished quick glance at my watch lets me know that it was 8:22 AM which pelting a girl from my neighborhood with water-balloons that gives me plenty of time to wander. were made to look like grenades. They didn’t pop on contact, so my response was to just keep throwing them harder and harder at On my morning walk I invariably start at the marine life wing, her. She, justifiably, began to scream at me to stop and I can still and from there I head towards the Arctic Life wing, once there I feel that piercing screech. I immediately stopped, but I remember complete the loop and end back at the Marine Life wing where being flabbergasted that she would assault my ears like some sort the stair case to the staff offices are located. I had been passing of banshee, so I threw one more at her and ran away. It didn’t pop. through these rooms since I was just a child. I can still remember During my flight away from her I remember looking up at the the feeling of wonder that these blue, cavernous rooms first large American flag hanging from the front façade of my house inspired in me as I waddled through them on unsure legs, my and thinking to myself that I will remember this moment forever. hand clasped in my father’s as he explained to me what a jellyfish I still do.
Nolan Crowley: Migration Patterns
I find it very hard to construct meaning out of my past experiences mostly because I can’t recall many. This probably has something to do with my ever-increasing age. I like to imagine myself as a speed boat dashing along the surface of the ocean of life. As anyone who has spent time on a boat can tell you, this is an incredibly enjoyable experience and for the most part, I would describe my life as such, too. The image of an American flag lazily hanging from my childhood home has become a kind of memory anchor for me. I’m able to slow down, stop and toss it deep into the intimidating water. When it’s safely secured I’m able to plunge into my own depths. I dive in, following the anchor line down as far it will go, eventually losing all hints of light from the surface. This deep down, the pressure is crushing. Though I’m fully immersed within the black waters, I can start to make out the shapes of alien marine life: my memories. They can only exist this far deep down, and it shows. They’re stunted, disgusting things that lack eyes. Some glow, illuminating the darkness and revealing others with toothfilled maws, and long tentacles that stretch even farther down into the dark. Still grasping tight to my anchor line, I’m able to make out a real Angler fish of a memory, that is to say a particularly ugly one. It is one of me sitting on top of a close friend of mine named Logan. He’s face down in the dirt, my ten-year-old elbow is firmly planted into one of his kidneys, and he’s begging me to stop. I don’t relent until he starts to cry. He gets my mom to call his, and he leaves the party soon after, still covered in dirt and sniffling. He moved to Dallas, Texas later that week without saying another word to me, and we’ve never spoken again. I attacked him because he broke my new squirt gun, one that was shaped to look like a great white shark, not five minutes after I opened it. I’m struck by how savage I was by nature. My tenth birthday included pegging girls with kid-friendly hand grenades, and hurting someone I cared about so badly he cried. I wonder what Logan and the neighbor girl think of these memories. I want desperately to have their point of view; could I really have been as bad as I think I was? With the passing of time I wonder what they have made me into. Am I just a stupid kid to them? Did these incidents leave permanent psychological scars? Do they even remember me?
Zoey Scheler Aloof Lavendar
“Watch your step Dr. Gallagher! I just finished mopping there,” yelled Jack, the Museum’s long time janitor, from down the hallway.
“Thanks Jack! I’ve been stuck in my head all morning!” I called back after taking a deep breath. Jack is one of the museum’s few constants. He has been working here for longer than I have, but he had a talent for melting into the museum’s landscape and went about his business unnoticed. Before I came to work at the museum, I always thought that it looked spotless, but I never once saw a janitor cleaning. Over my years here, the Museum slowly revealed its secrets to me, and perhaps the best kept of these was Jack. Whenever he chose to reveal himself to me it was a pleasure. He was short, deeply tan, had a magnificent dark brown mustache, and wore the same Madison Mallards baseball hat and blue jumpsuit every time I saw him.
shoulders of my dad to get a better look over the crowd. It was there, suspended in the air and completely exposed that I first laid eyes on the diorama that would come to stalk my young dreams for years to come. The 30ft diorama was mostly hidden away behind a large staircase in the far right hand corner of the room. From what I could see, the whale has a mouth full of daggers and eyes like coals, its mouth is about to close itself around the head of the squid, though I would hesitate to call the whale the winner.
“I know how you get Dr. Gallagher,” he replied in his soft voice and with a smile, “shouldn’t you be at the staff meeting?” “Shit! Do you have the time Jack?” “It’s 8:47 Henry,” he said while pointing towards a clock near the ceiling surrounded by a school of plastic fish. “You better hurry!” “Thank you Jack. I’m headed there now,” I replied briskly before rushing off, and leaving him alone submerged in the marine life wing. This means I won’t even get a chance to see the Arctic Life Wing before the meeting. That’s always a bad sign, in all my time here at the museum, there has never once been a good day that does not start with my daily visit to the Arctic Life Wing. I don’t expect today to be the day that breaks that streak either. I can’t believe that I’ve been walking for so long! The marine life wing is huge, the second largest in the entire museum, and if I want to make it to this particularly important staff meeting, I was going to have to pass through a section I haven’t seen since I was a child. The closing stretch of this morning’s walk was going to be the most perilous because of the monsters locked in a decades long life or death struggle in a dark room near the end of the hallway. The room in question, the “Giants of the Deep” room, plays host to one to the most horrifying dioramas I’ve ever seen: A bull sperm whale hunting a giant squid in the deep, dark ocean. I find it nearly impossible to describe the horror that the memory of this scene induces within me, because it is rooted in the reasonless days of my youth where impressions and emotions were much more true than objective reality. I first saw this scene on the opening day of the marine life wing, I was only seven and I was riding on the
Nolan Crowley: Migration Patterns
Zoey Scheler, “Billowing Bungalow”
The squid has its massive tentacles suctioned all around the body of the whale, and all around its body can be seen the damage that these tentacles can cause. Suction cup wounds bigger than my childhood self cover the whales upper body and head, the massive eyes of the giant squid filled with a wild desire to survive.
The color gradient of the walls becomes brighter as I move out of the “Giants of the Deep” room, and into a part of the museum that I’m much more familiar with. The sea life in this hallway seems friendly. Tropical fish and coral surround me, making the hallway into a kaleidoscope of color. For the first time in a long time, my head feels clear and I walk with a purpose. As I make me way towards the staircase leading to the staff offices, Jack chooses to reveal himself to me again.
As I make my way closer to the source of some of my deepest psychological scars my heart rate begins to rapidly quicken. I’ve avoided coming near this room for decades. I wasn’t missing much. The Hall of Crustaceans served as the buffer zone between the monsters and myself, and it was there that I currently found myself. Why do the crustaceans have a hall all to themselves, while I’m forced to relegate one of the world’s most magnificent migrations to a broom closet? As that petty thought enters and leaves my mind, I notice that my legs are shaking. I don’t think that I can do this. I consider for a moment calling out to Jack for help, but this thought immediately strikes me as ridiculous. I focus on moving forward and eventually I find myself staring at the entrance of the “Giants of the Deep.” On trembling legs, I inch forward into the rapidly darkening room. The soft blue wall paint of the marine life wing was replaced by a dark grey, the only light coming from very soft bulbs hanging from the ceiling.
“Are you alright, Henry?” he asks, the concern audible in his voice. “I can honestly say that I’ve never felt better Jack,” I reply without slowing down. I quickly make my way up the 53 individual steps of the staircase faster than I have in three decades. I follow the unadorned, egg-shell-white hallway directly towards the office where Director Akila holds the daily staff meeting. The sounds of a conversation could already be heard. Undeterred, I open the door and it immediately stops. Director Akila has a PowerPoint open on the projector showing this fiscal year’s monetary projections. The room is filled with the same colleagues that I have been working with for decades, but I don’t recognize any of their faces. They appear covered in an obscuring layer of dust. With my hand still on the doorknob and my body filling the doorway, I begin to put into words what I’ve been contemplating internally for years.
I lose sense of my surroundings as I inch closer to the staircase that hides the diorama from view. I know that there should be a variety of whale models surrounding me, but all I could perceive was the staircase daring me to come down it. I remind myself that I don’t need to go down those stairs, in fact I shouldn’t because I’m already late, but I accept its challenge. The sound of my shoes connecting with the stairs echoes around the room. I make my way down until I find myself completely entombed in the dark. The only light comes from the single small bulb that illuminates the diorama. It appeared generally just as I remembered it, but in my old age it took on a completely different meaning. What struck me most was how small the pair seemed. The dark that surrounded them seemed to be consuming them. I notice that a fine layer of dust has coated the models. I don’t remember there ever being dust anywhere in the museum, Jack was incredibly thorough; even the models hanging from the ceiling where spotless. Why doesn’t he come down here? The two combatants look tired. I’m tired. In my old age, what truly horrifies me is that these two combatants have been locked in the amber of this moment forever, perpetually stuck in the killing blow of a death struggle, locked away in the darkness of a medium-sized room in Madison, Wisconsin. I turn from the diorama and head back up the stairs. Italics Mine
“Good morning everyone! Beautiful day isn’t it? I’m extremely excited to announce my resignation. I hope you have a wonderful day!” Without waiting for a response I slam the door shut and hurry back down the hallway towards the stairs. I don’t even head back to my office to grab anything. I pass through the marine life wing so quickly that its denizens become a blur of color. Eventually, I find myself at the welcome desk. It stands unmanned, and there is no one to bear witness to my dramatic exit. I explode out of the heavy oak doors of the museum and into the bright, warm November morning. The coos of the pigeons outside of my old office can be heard above me. As I look up at them for the last time they transform into a blizzard of feathers and take flight.
Turn to page 1o for an interview with Nolan Crowley 9
An Interview with Nolan Crowley
Author of Migration Patterns, pages 5 through 9
What was the inspiration for this piece? As a kid, my Dad would always bring my sister and I to the Natural History Museum in New York City. In the same room with the life-size blue whale hanging from the ceiling, hidden away under a staircase is a diorama of a sperm whale hunting a giant squid. The diorama is pretty big, and as a kid it dwarfed my sister and I. It’s really creepy! I began this story by trying to recreate the diorama from memory. Funnily enough, I remember going back to see the diorama my sophomore year of college and as I walked close to it I saw a kid running away from it crying! It was good to see that it’s still scaring children after all these years.
What excites you about the artistic process? Writing is always cathartic for me. I can be a pretty anxious person sometimes and writing gives me a space to explore those anxieties in a safe way. It’s exciting to see where my mind goes when I allow myself to just put words onto a page. Whenever I’m done with a story I always feel like I’ve learned something more about myself. What is your most embarrassing habit as a writer? I don’t think I’ve ever finished writing anything without cracking every single joint in my hand like six or seven times! For some reason it helps me focus!
Can you discuss your creative process in crafting this piece? Whenever I write something it’s always done in bursts, and this piece wan’t an exception. I usually begin a story when inspiration strikes, and then I continue writing until it fades. I keep doing that until I have a few scenes which I think are well written. The rest of the process involves crafting a story around those scenes so they make some sort of narrative sense.
Zoey Scheler ,“Electric Frost”
Una Ludviksen Her heart was offered in a blue bowl. My desire comes after You, another distinctive exemption to Normal behavior In both jaws you tongue the valleys And cataracts. Entirely pure strike-slip Movement till the sun Returns, a biblical boulder north Of precious Of helium. Your teeth, love Six cutting teeth in each Jaw. Weak, feminine Frequently nicked the tips Of its fingers Weak and arched and flowered with red geraniums Seeking separation, room To rotate on the depressed edge. Never found entirely pure Cutting teeth infested The cornland, curious yellow stones Staining just as fire does not Always produce devastation. I am beginning to suspect the sky is a blue Weed created By a tilted shoreline. She was buried with her husband, displaced towards the ocean Cysts, the Marigold, the ox-eye daisy, Two sunflowers.
Her father dug a hole in the cool black dirt and paved its bottom with cement. He waited for the sun to dry it, filled it with city water from a hose on the side of the house, and topped the city water with lily pads— waiting for the sun to grow algae [before finally] the small koi fish, orange & black & white calico. Soon, the goldfish too, from a tank flashing in the sun. Then, the white-phase great blue heron, its stilt legs wading through the air as the bird half-crouched in the cool black dirt, treading lightly towards the bubbling surface of the pond. Tadpoles teemed just along the water’s edge (had she put them there? Did she vaguely remember a small bucket?), catching the sharp eye of the heron. The fish go one by one, day by day, and the tadpoles become toads.
Art is Explosive. An Interview With George Saunders By Jiaming Tang and Erik Goetz
George Saunders is the author of four collections of short stories, a novella, a book of essays, and an award-winning children’s book. Tenth of December, his most recent short story collection, was named one of the Top Ten Books of 2013 by The New York Times. He has been awarded both a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2013, Time named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. His stories regularly appear in The New Yorker, and he teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University. His first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, was published in February of 2017. In March of 2017, Saunders gave a reading at Purchase College. Prior to that event, he sat down with Italics Mine to discuss the writing process, book tours, and the stratification of American discourse.
Italics Mine: I think first we’d just like to ask you a little about book tours.
GS: No, not really. I’m not someone who tends to track directly from real life. There’s an extra step in there where I meet all these people, maybe my collective vision of humanity adjusts a little bit, and then I invent out of that. There are writers who do it that way, but for me it’s not a one-to-one correspondence.
George Saunders: (Nervous laughter) Insert sound of nervous laughter here. IM: Did you take to it at first, or was there an adjustment period? GS: It was easy at first because it was so minor. The first three or four books there was almost nothing. You’d go to maybe four or five cities and you’d go there and sit around all day and at night you’d do a reading that eight people come to and three of them are in the wrong place. So that was pretty easy. When Tenth of December came out, then it got challenging. In the middle of that tour the book blew up and you started getting more interviews during the day and so on. This one is 24 cities in 26 days or something. This is the last day of it. It’s quite challenging but I like it. I’m from a working class background. My dad had restaurants. And I’m like “yeah I can do it.” (laughs) But it’s a different skill set entirely. You can’t imagine that Henry James would have liked it very much.
IM: In doing research for this interview, even just googling your name for articles and interviews from the past month, so many results come up. Does it ever weigh on you how much George Saunders content is out there? GS: Yeah a little bit. It’s a new problem. Even two books ago you would do an interview and it would just go away. This is kind of “insider baseball,” but I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed. You can do ten really big interviews that you assume everyone in the world has heard, but in fact the intersection is very small. This is the contemporary media world, so you can do ten interviews and then you do the 11th and you’ll hear from
“If we progressives get together and decide what the highest, most compassionate form of our argument is, then I think that’s good for us.”
IM: You interact with a lot of people during these book tours. Does your decency ever become an impediment? GS: No, not all. It’s helpful, because I try to see this part of it as being potentially helpful to the creative process in this way: last night I was in Dallas and did a reading, and then we had a signing. There were maybe 200 people in the line. So you have a little bit of a chance to talk to people and you see that they’re rooting for you as a writer. They’re there because they like you. Whatever you’ve done in the past has pleased them. You talk to them and you see they’re very much like you: people with families and jobs. So, for me, what I try to take from it is encouragement that if I want to go a little deeper, or crazier, they’ll follow. I think if I was in a vacuum I might have a tendency to project my reader in a more negative way, someone who’s out to get me or find fault. When 200 people come out on a nice evening to hear your work, that should encourage you to swing harder in the next book. IM: Do the people you talk to ever become characters in your stories? Do you people-watch?
Art is Explosive: An Interview With George Saunders
many people saying, “oh I didn’t know you had a book out.” I think I’m learning the overall strategy in public relations now which is to bombard. And then you’re going to have a small group of people who feel like you’re too much in their life (laughs). But every time you do a new thing you actually reach new people. It’s strange to realize how many readers there actually are in the world. We’re here together. I’m trying to be frank with you and have an actual moment here. Then if that lasts a long time, that’s great. As long as you don’t start becoming insincere or mechanistic about it, it should be ok if it persists in the world. I think. But it also means if you make a mistake, that persists. Then suddenly you find yourself being careful, which is not a good thing either. My thing is just to try and be there in a cheerful way, engage personally, and then whatever happens is okay. IM: Speaking of engaging, we unsuccessfully searched online for a conservative take on Lincoln In The Bardo. Do you ever worry that you might not be reaching certain audiences?
GS: That’s a big question on my mind right now. I went to cover the Trump rallies for The New Yorker and no one even knew what The New Yorker was. So I wrote what I thought was this very persuasive piece of journalism, but generally speaking the people I was trying to persuade weren’t reading it. That’s a huge problem. On tour, I went to some cities that were in conservative states but the people who come aren’t conservatives. Actually, the last two nights, people came up at the end –
“The artistic task is very holy, in that it teaches us a better way of seeing.” I’d been reading a playful anti-Trump poem – and they said “I didn’t appreciate that.” They both used the same word: “disappointed.” They came to hear a literary reading and they got politics. But that’s two people out of 1000 over two nights. I think that’s a real issue. Those circles aren’t intersecting. If I were a young writer or intellectual, that would be a very large concern for me. The polarization is such that, whatever we do in the artistic sphere, it amounts to a form of preaching to the choir. I know there are conservative people who read, and I think this book must be reaching some of them because it’s selling a lot, so I’m hopeful about that. I think if you read a work of literature it does something positive for you that eventually flows out into the political sphere. It’s definitely a sense of two different tribes. Do you feel that way too? In your world? IM: It’s hard to say, being at an art school. Like you said if we were to a stage a protest here, who would we be trying to reach? GS: I think there is something to be said about preaching to the choir. If we progressives get together and decide what the highest, most compassionate form of our argument is, then I think that’s good for us. It’s amazing the extent to which the people I met at the Trump rally don’t know you guys. Art school to them just means: decadent socialists sleeping until 11 o’clock, getting up, getting stoned, and going back to bed. They’re not very curious about it. One thing, I think, that’s true with progressives: you guys are probably somewhat curious about the Trump people whether or not you can find some way to engage with them. I don’t think you would ever say: “they’re beneath my consideration.” There’s always exceptions, but I think there’s a lot of that coming from the other side. You don’t really have a country if it’s just two Italics Mine
teams who hate each other. I was alive during the Vietnam era and, even though there was a lot of anger and a lot of violence, I think there was some sense of common purpose and mutual affection that is now starting to erode. Which is kind of a scary thing. IM: In your New Yorker article (“Who Are All These Trump Supporters?”) you talked about how there were only three TV stations at that time, so most people got their news from the same place. GS: Yeah, I had family members who were pro-war, I was against it, but everyone was watching Walter Cronkite, and the facts of the war were not in dispute. Sometimes they were wrong, there were things that were being suppressed, but when two people had an argument they had a common data set. So you could say: “Well, we know that this many civilians died in Vietnam this week.” “Yes we agree. What do you think of that?” This person might think it was a necessary evil, this person might think it was a war crime, but there was no argument about the number at least. That’s not what’s going on anymore. IM: And that relates back to what you said about the conservative impression of art schools. Part of that negative image is true, but nothing is that simple, everything is “yes, and…” You might not identify with the culture but somewhere in there must be an element that agrees with your sensibilities. GS: Right. “Yes, and…” is the improv mantra and I think it’s also the artistic mantra. I can’t quite explain why this is the case but in a work of, let’s say fiction, “Yes, and…” is the right artistic stance. You might start off trying to describe someone in a certain way and say “Okay, that’s true about her…what else?” And as you try to move your projection closer and closer to three-dimensional reality, I think that’s actually love, or at least it’s affection. One of the things I love about writing is I think it trains us in doing that. I see it sometimes flowing out into my real life. Somebody cuts you off in traffic and your first thought is “Ugh, stupid Republican!” And then you think: “Wait a minute let me revise that a little.” In that case the way to revise is to look, and if possible, to engage in some way. The artistic task is very holy, in that it teaches us a better way of seeing. If you see in complexity, I think your impulse to judge dies down. Say there’s someone in your family: he’s
an obnoxious guy, he’s a sweetheart, he’s a drunk, he’s a critic named Dave Hickey who writes about this really wonbaseball coach, he wants to lend you ten dollars but then he derfully. He says we have to be careful, as artists, to not do too borrowed fifteen and didn’t pay it back. As those facts build much of this programmatic advocacy for art, because it cuts up, your judgment gets disart off at the waist if it has to be abled. Maybe your quality “...art has the right and the obligation to be useless.” good for something. We have of active affection is still to say: even if it’s not good for there, but the judgment recedes a little. I would argue that anything, we’re still gonna do it. It might be good for somemakes you a more powerful person, because instead of acting thing but we’re not guaranteeing it. That’s the only way to out of a half-baked projection, you’re acting out of some kind keep it free. of reality. IM: In your essay “I Was Ayn Rand’s Lover,” you talk about IM: Which reminds me of your New Yorker article “My Writing Rand’s idea of Objectivism as being “the inner state of an Education: A Time Line” where you describe writing as “a exalted self-esteem.” To be an artist, do you need a bit of that verbal fondness for life.” Do you believe writing can be sucmindset to present your work as valuable to others? cessful if done from a place of anger or disenfranchisement? GS: You have to have what I think of as “artistic pride.” You GS: I think so. My understanding of those terms is that’s also a have to say “I’m going to occupy this position passionately form of fondness. If you’re pissed off because something terand fiercely for this period of time. I may change my mind, rible happened to you or your family, that doesn’t mean I might be wrong, I might not do it very well.” But part of you’re not fond of life. It means you’re angry that your the game is to do that in the name of creating energy, culfondness was taken advantage of, or sidelined in some way. tural energy. In that way Ayn Rand was a successful artist. She Fondness is a funny word to use, but I suppose bad writing had what now seems to me a kind of fucked-up idea, but she would be done by someone who might say “Eh, all right, I really believed it. So on that level she made a lot of ripples and guess it’s okay to be alive.” But those of us who are fond of people reacted to her and against her. I think you have to have life might also be heartbroken at times. That’s part of the some sense of playfulness. When you write a story in which a equation. Flannery O’Connor was not someone who was baby falls off a cliff, the baby doesn’t actually fall off the cliff, fond of life in any traditional way, except she was so attentive so what you’re really doing is creating a platonic thing, and to it that she must have been a riot to be around. That acerbic the job of that thing is to go out and make energy. Her ideas wit doesn’t come out of indifference. So, you write a book. spoke to me in a big way when I was eighteen and then when That’s what it’s all about. The writing is where all this comI got out into the world, they stopped, but they’d done their plexity happens. Then you go to talk about it, and without job by that time. You know how, if you have a friend who’s even meaning to, you develop a shtick or a persona. Mine is outspoken and just says things passionately, that person can Mr. Empathy, but it’s like the line from The Princess Bride: “I be a force for good. Even if he says an idiotic thing, your don’t think it means what they think it means.” Empathy for response to that can tell you what you believe. me doesn’t mean cheerful or sunny, it could also mean anger. If you’re empathetic for this group of people, and this other IM: On “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” you talked about group of people is trying to kill them, well that empathy is empathizing with people through the process of trying to prickly. It can be very lively. I’m at the end of the tour now, so change their mind. I’m starting to go back into the artistic mind, and what I really think is that art has the right and the obligation to be useless. GS: Right, I’m reading a wonderful Buddhist text called Our Because when we sit here and talk about what art should do, Pristine Mind. The teacher says that in the Buddhist tradition, someone out there goes: “Oh they’re saying art must do this.” love means you want other people to be happy, recognizing Then the next thing you know they’re sending you off to that everyone wants to be happy. Compassion means that you the gulag because your art didn’t do the right thing. There’s a want other people not to suffer. That’s deep, you know, if you
Art is Explosive: An Interview With George Saunders
think about somebody who’s got a hurtful political position. You can say “Well I disagree 100% with what he’s saying, but I don’t like that he’s suffering.” If somebody’s a racist, then they’re causing suffering and they’re suffering. First you have to stop them from causing the suffering, but also then you can have a secondary thought of “God, it must be terrible to be so small-minded.” With that attitude, especially if you’re intelligent and have an artistic bent, your imaginative faculty is very powerful; to be able to imagine that person, his pain, and why he might feel that way. I think if you were ever gonna persuade him, that’s how you’d do it. But you also have to have fortifications. I’m not saying “please be a racist until I can persuade you.” If a baby is crawling toward a light socket, you don’t say “oh sweetie…” You grab him by the diaper. There’s a fierceness that can be a part of the approach. In the Eastern tradition, the teachers could be very fierce and very crazy, but if you needed that correction, if you really had your head up your ass, and your teacher could see it and correct it by insulting you in public, that would be a nice thing to do actually, if he could fix you. But there it gets dangerous, because those are very special people who can do that. You know, I certainly can’t. So for me to be nice is a better bet.
IM: Right, a lot of people see writing as an explosive act, to transfer the mind onto the page. GS: At least in some of the Tibetan traditions, one of the moves is to say: “energy can be converted.” So, for example, to have energy, even angry energy, is good. What you do with it is a different question. I think art is explosive. They have a notion of thoughts which says: that which you expel is not you. It’s of you, but it’s not you. And that’s an interesting writing point: as a young writer, you sit down and start a first draft thinking “yeah that’s me and if it sucks, I suck” but with more experience you start to think “I did that, it’s an expression of my energy on a certain day, but I can then take today’s energy and alter it.” Your relation to what comes from you is critical, to not say: “whatever I say is me forever” but rather “I contain a lot of different people and a lot of different energies.” The writing job is to let those different people and different energies out at different times.
IM: As a Buddhist, how do you balance the work of taming the mind with letting your creative energies run free? GS: I think they’re the same. I’m a little out of my depth here as I’m not an advanced Buddhist, but to me it seems like, when you’re at the writing desk you’re basically giving “to have energy, even angry energy, is good. your mind the permission What you do with it is a different question.” to engage in this intuitive, creative work. You know you’re doing it, so it’s okay. It’s like if you mostly believed in being quiet, but then every so often you got to sing, it’s not really a contradiction of the vow of silence. Especially in rewriting, what I’m mostly doing is just reading the text and trying to have a real uninflected reaction to the energy coming off it, which is a meditative thing. I’m looking at my text, I’m reading it, I’m allowing my feelings to actually be what they are, and then revising accordingly. It’s really like what you’d be doing in meditation: you’re having thoughts, not clinging to them, and letting them go. To me, it doesn’t seem like a contradiction.
Art is Explosive: An Interview With George Saunders
Yuko Kyutoku, “Repression of Series #2”
Gillian Lynn Katz That night, I wore a birthday party hat and drank some spice-steeped whiskey hotter than my friend-filled common room. We sat transfixed, legs entwined, and watched the news: the ban on certain immigrants discussed on screen. Alarms approached. We faltered first, in doubt, until my friend - so quiet, like a queen lifted the window, led us out. We crawled into the night, dark as space, and feeling like perhaps, for now, we’re free.
Moon Jellyfish on Long Island Sound: lacy silk shards of white. A solitary mushroom bride floats like a pink umbrella, and undulates through the milky waters like a ballerina ebbing in mist. The cilia of the sea anemone open and close: an accordion that engulfs its inauspicious victim, buried in oblivion. As I peer through the glass a pool of mirrored floating freedom, my aqueous reflection moves in the water. A pink lotus flower blooms My thoughts are expansive.
An Interview with Gillian Lynn Katz What was the inspiration for this piece? The inspiration for Homesickness is self-explanatory. Before the internet and Facebook, I was dependent on letters and printed photographs for contact with my family in South Africa. After e-mail came about, connection was simpler. Facebook enabled me to share my life with friends and family across the world, some of whom I thought I had lost contact with forever.
What excites you about the artistic process? I am excited about the artistic process because it helps me express a myriad of feelings I have about my life. I was born in South Africa during the Apartheid Era and came to the USA as a teenager. I feel writing about my experiences helps me process them in my mind. Through public readings and talks, I am able to share my feelings with others and I find this a validating experience.
For Mystical Epiphanies, I was on a class trip with my daughter to the Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut. We stopped by a tank where jellyfish were floating through the water, and that is where I got the inspiration for writing this poem Can you discuss your creative process in crafting this piece? In the poem Homesickness, I was looking at pictures of my family on Facebook and the gorgeous surroundings of Cape Town. I just poured out my feelings of nostalgia and focused on the details of the surrounding terrain to give a sense of place to the reader. My creative process differs for everything I write. Sometimes I have an idea that sticks in my mind for years before I start writing about it.
A Fable The late night became the early morning, which became the I’ve watched you every day, coming to and from work alone, and afternoon. The man stumbled home. The cars whizzed past. never have I empathized more with a human!” He must’ve looked ridiculous, nose bloody, shirt unbuttoned. He climbed the hill to his bungalow, puked on the lawn, and The Man looked at the Gnome. The paint on its red hat was fell asleep. almost completely gone, revealing its white concrete body. He “Hello.” noticed for the first time how old it looked. It had been on the “Pardon me, sir.” lawn when he first started renting the house, along with 2 plastic “If you could just wake up.” flamingoes, 4 concrete sheep, and one humanoid frog with a It was a voice he didn’t recognize, it seemed to be putting on a fishing pole and hat. front of politeness. He wiped the crust from his eyes and looked around. Nobody. “For years I’ve been debating whether or not to talk to you,” “Down here, sir,” it said. said the Gnome. “While I watched you sleep in your own vomit It was coming from the Garden Gnome. after having watched you do so countless times, I felt today was “Hello there,” he said to the Garden Gnome. the day.” “It’s about time,” it said. “Yes, yes I’m sorry,” he said, “The Man looked at the Gnome. The paint on its “What is it that you want looking around the cul-de-sac red hat had was almost completely gone, revealing its from me?” The man said to the to see if any of the neighbors Gnome. white concrete body.” could see him. “I guess I had It said nothing for a moment. too much to drink. I don’t even “I want you to take me with know what time it is, let me take you inside.” you,” It said. And so he did. “What?” “To work. At the Middle School. You’re a teacher yes?” In the kitchenette, he put the kettle on and made two cups of coffee. “Yes, how did you know that?” The man looked around his house. It was tiny, just a living room, a bedroom, and a kitchenette. The yellow-beige rug had “Your car is covered in those bumper stickers, there’s that one two stains on it: one from tomato sauce, another from vomit. He that says ‘If you can read this, thank a teacher’ or something. What wondered if the Gnome noticed, or cared. is it that you teach anyway?” “Thanks for the coffee,” said the Gnome. “But I have no use for it.” “History.” “Ah, sorry,” said the Man. “Instinct, I guess.” “Oh I know plenty about history! Trust me.” “It’s okay,” said the Gnome. “To be honest, I really don’t care. And so he did. There are more important matters at hand.” Reluctantly. The Gnome’s demeanor, or whatever you call it, changed. The Man was a trusting person, generally. He tended to assume “I broke my silence today, because I couldn’t take it anymore. the best of people, or gnomes. Why shouldn’t he trust it? How It’s been building up inside of me, hundreds of years, and especould it do him any harm? It couldn’t even walk! Why not let it cially for the years I’ve been stationed on your lawn. It’s a solemn come to his class and talk to the kids? affair, consciousness, especially when you’re made of stone. But
The next morning, the Man and the Gnome got into the Man’s car and drove down the Hutchinson Parkway to Steven Sherbert Middle School. Steven Sherbert was a single-story brick building, spread out over 100 acres. It looked like a Middle School. Before his first class, History of Modern Europe, he told his students that there would be a guest speaker. The Man asked his students to be open-minded and respectful to his friend the Gnome. It sat on his oak desk in the corner of the room where the Man had placed him, looking out at the bored students. The Gnome hadn’t explained what he had planned, but the Man guessed it would be fine. The Man finished speaking and glanced over at the Gnome. It said nothing at first, continuing to stare out at the students. Then, he made a sound that could’ve been clearing his throat and began. “I’ve seen empires fall and rise, death, destruction, and martyrdom. I was at Gettysburg, Hindenburg, Manchuria, everywhere.” The students looked less bored. “Students, please, if you would like to know anything about the past 300 years of history, I implore you, ask me.” And so they did. “That was really something,” the Man said. He had watched in awe as the Gnome had answered the students’ vague questions with incredible detail and personal anecdotes. The students had become more animated and excited than he had ever seen. The man would’ve been lying if he’d said he hadn’t felt inadequate. He knew he wasn’t great at his job, but he enjoyed it. To have this lawn ornament come in and overpower him was emasculating.
you taking over my job, the administration would never allow it,” he paused. “I’ll never allow it,” he said. “Would never allow what? Someone who actually excites the minds of students? Who doesn’t bore them to death? Please, don’t make me laugh, you pathetic shell of a man,” said the Gnome. “What are you going to do? Get up and walk to the school? You’re a piece of stone! Fuck you! I’m going to bed,” said the man. “I’m terribly sorry you feel so threatened by your lawn ornament, coward,” said the Gnome. In his bedroom, the man took two swigs from a bottle of Beefeater. He didn’t know what to do. The Gnome was clearly some sort of important mythical being, but it was an asshole. He couldn’t let it take teaching away from him. It was all he had. He took another swig of gin. Mythical being or not, it had to go. He knew it didn’t sleep. It just sat wherever he put it all night long, thinking, plotting, he didn’t know what. It was currently in the kitchenette, on the windowsill, facing out towards the driveway. He went into the basement, got a sledgehammer, and quietly moved towards the Gnome. He had drunk half the bottle of Beefeater to work up some courage. He stumbled at the entrance of the kitchenette, but the Gnome didn’t seem to hear. He tiptoed towards it until he felt bold enough, and lifted the hammer above his head. The hammer, which weighed 40 pounds, threw off his center of balance and made him fall backwards, hit his head, and fall unconscious. When he awoke he was cold. He tried to open his eyes, but they had already been open. He saw grass, he was in front of his house, how had he ended up here? He tried to get up, but couldn’t: he tried to look around, but couldn’t. His body felt like it was made of stone.
“I guess so,” said the Gnome. “Wasn’t much.” They were back in the man’s bungalow. He was eating Chinese food. “What I have planned for tomorrow should really get them going,” it said.
*** Yuko Kyutoku, “Identities Puppets”
“Tomorrow? This was a one-time thing, Gnome. I can’t have Italics Mine
Ben Verde A Fable
coffee shop enby
i stopped having a name in my dreams ever since i realized i’m trans. coffee shops were the first haven — my names varied: lilly, rose, august, ray. i stood in line and invented a new persona every time for the same cup of chai. “ray with a y?” “rae with an e?” they always asked. i am now rey with a y and an e — i am now more me. black ink scribbles of my new identity — it sounds like me, but who is she? i still look like a woman. i sound like one too. i don’t want to be a man or a woman — i want to recede into a coffee shop and think of a new name. i had no one else to be — i ran out of names — they felt soft like my armpit hair and
Una Ludviksen they stopped calling me my deadname in my dreams — the lovers, the warriors, the scientists, the time travelers, the monsters — even the villains respected my upcoming identity. i just didn’t have a name for it yet.
This place here, the knot won’t come out to be sweet. Sweatstained antswarm younger sequences almost unknown to me: a still warm lover without lover. Remote, wind hardened when I move, I disturb you. Could look like paper clips in a tin can. White male coffee house hands shaking the sputter burn of light energy. Rods so I can see you unclearly. I forgot your face for two moments, I didn’t hear your voice.
i’m told to listen to my dreams but in my dreams i am no one. i go get more coffee and think — who will i be this time? she calls my name — “ray?” — and i grab the cup from the counter. black ink — permanent — my name on a plastic cup, like christmastime when i pick up the sharpie and, disgruntled, write a strange name on a red cup. but here, shouting baristas and stained aprons are my realized dreamscape. outside the coffe eshop is the sun, and i take my chai into the light and stand in the warmth of my new name — they will be happy to know i’ve decided.
tasted of swallowed candy but i am not soft or candied, i am muddy and worn.
He blames me. There are times I think that if I’d done as I’d been told, none of these feelings would be boiling inside me, but I can’t imagine going back to such a meager life. I didn’t have to be curious, I didn’t have to want. I could have just stayed in ignorance like him and I’d have been none-the-wiser.
Whisper Blanchard, “Expecting Alice”
Worship is maybe perhaps too strong a word for the way I used to feel about him. Adore is more fitting I think. But was there any real love? Love. I know what that is, in a kind of distant way. A concept– because it doesn’t have a form but it lives and breathes all the same. It was whispered to me on that fateful day and I feel like the more I think about it, the further, I distance myself from His father is furious, says I’m just as much of a disappointment him. A part of me that was always asleep is now awake, as the girl who came before me. And of course, his father is always and it keeps searching for something that I know I will never get right. from him. I can see it in his eyes, the judgment, the shame. I can see the I walk around naked simply to make him uncomfortable. At embarrassment on my behalf, the pity. first I tried to make him understand that there wasn’t anything wrong with our nakedness, But I don’t feel ashamed. “I don’t have a creator from whom I was shaped. but he told me that it made I’m tired, tired all the time. us no better than the beasts. That it what makes me so different, so strange.” Every time I feel his eyes on me He said it was indecent and it’s like he doesn’t even know wrong. who I am anymore. Now I see him so clearly I wish that I didn’t see him at all. That I am wrong. Wrong. I’m always the one on the bottom, always the one that isn’t Always wrong. allowed to be in control, to be free. We aren’t equal. Before, it didn’t matter to me because I did not have cause to wonder. Now Everything that comes out of my mouth is wrong. I hate it. My questions go unanswered, my body is unfulfilled and I am We are not equal. left wanting all the time. He holds my hands above my head as he pounds into me and I think to myself, what did I see before all of this happened? When Sometimes I wonder if on that day when I bit down and broke he’s finished, he’s so spent that he just rolls away. I’m left empty the skin, if I’d cursed myself to always want. and unfulfilled and burning for something I thought I had tasted, and now I know that I never did. He doesn’t seem to yearn for anything more than what he’s always had. He still tries so hard to please his father, tries so hard to make up for what I’ve done because of course he absolutely needs I walk alone, disappear into the trees. I find places where he can’t to repent for my mistake. follow. I explore where he sees no need to wander. I watch the other creatures, with their feathers and fur and scales, and I wish I My lapse of judgment. could be like them, wish I could be just as free to be myself. My curiosity. My weakness.
me on powerful, feathered or leathery wings. Even those with fins manage to follow in the waters as the gates close behind us all, rippling with the heat of angelic fire.
A strength that I apparently should not have. I’m not supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to follow him and do as I’m told. I am the sacrifice, I am the vessel where he spends his desire and nothing more. I am the foolish one, the lame one, the docile one. I shouldn’t want for anything more than what he can give me. But I do, I want more. Without him.
But there is one companion who has been beside me all along. He has draped himself over my shoulders like a mantle, his body warm, thick and strong, his head resting close to my left breast, my heart. He enjoys the warmth I radiate. His coloring is stark even against the golden duskiness of my skin. In the shadows, he seems black as night but he radiates every color imaginable in the light of day.
The other - my confidante, my guide, my companion was right. You could have more. I can. I can feel it, tickling at my brain, darting past in my peripheral.
“And what shall we do now?” he asks, murmuring in that soft, baritone I have grown quite fond of. He looks up at me with bright, chartreuse eyes. The others look to me as well, cocking their heads in curiosity. They look to me now. I may not wear fur nor possess claws and fangs but somehow I am one of them.
You are so much more. More. I should not want for anything else than what he gives me but I want no part of him any longer. I believe I made that clear when I kicked him, when he tried to push inside me. It must have not registered because I needed to hit him again to get him off and make him run from me.
I smile, the first real smile I have felt since that fateful day, and raise one hand to stroke the top of his head in affection. My other hand lifts to my mouth. “We will be free,” I answer, before biting into the skin of the apple.
Now he won’t look at me. I expect him to strike me as punishment, but I remember that I am not his equal; I am beneath him. I am not even worth the effort it would take to raise a hand.
When I look at him, I see his father’s face. He is a doll formed in an image of something supposedly greater. Who am I a mirror of? Him? No. And if I was, I am no longer.
There is no other like me. I don’t have a creator from whom I was shaped. That is what makes me so different, so strange. That is what makes me so lonely.
He tells me to leave. Before, we would have left together but now he wishes to remain in his father’s kingdom of ignorance. It is safer for him there. His father’s forgiveness does not include me. Matthew Crisson, “Grip”
I do leave, nude and alone, and I find that some creatures follow me. Some walk on all fours, an eclectic menagerie of horns and hooves and teeth and claws while others soar above
Leondra Bombace: Tart
Our shirts read: “Not My President,” “Pussy Grabs Back,” and “The Future is Female.” I marched next to three other women, the four of us holding hands, down 5th Avenue in Manhattan. At that moment, it was the best thing I could do to support the thousands of women, people of color, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and disabled people marching around me, who would be affected by President Trump’s policies. I am a white, cisgender male, but am far from supportive of Donald Trump running our country.
me during the summer of 2016, and so many other people now had a very real reason to be afraid for who they were. And it bothered me most that I wouldn’t be able to directly take that fear away; I may not be directly impacted by Donald Trump’s policies, but they would, and something sparked inside me on November 9th that made me realize I couldn’t just sit and feel sorry for them.
Four days after the election, on November 12th, I went to my first post-election march in New York City. The thousands of people there would march from Union Square on 14th Street, turn onto On the evening of November 8th, 2016, I sat in my bed, 5th Avenue, and go 42 blocks to the Trump Tower located on constantly refreshing the New 56th Street. There was someYork Times, NPR, and CNN “It blared out to me, louder than any alarm could thing special about being in New on my computer, who were all York City that day. I have always have been that morning.” covering the presidential election. thought there is a special feeling I ate a box of Captain Crunch in attempt to relieve my stress– about uniting for a common cause in the city, and knowing how Donald Trump was leading Hillary Clinton in electoral votes. united the people there felt was something remarkable. As the night progressed, I was all out of Cap’n Crunch, Donald Trump won Florida and Pennsylvania, and I was searching in my In front of me there were signs that read “Teach Empathy,” “Love head for the answer to the question: how was this possible? Trumps All,” “Can’t Comb Over Misogyny,” and a personal favorite from the day, “Trump is Putin’s Bitch. Fuck You Donald!” I woke up the next morning and opened the New York Times on The signs reassured me I was where I needed to be, but it was the my phone, as I had been doing throughout election season. The chants that made my eyes water. home page confirmed my fear: “TRUMP TRIUMPHS.” It blared out to me, louder than any alarm could have been that A man behind me yelled “Show me what democracy looks like!” morning. I was confused, wondering how the joke of the election Almost instinctively, more people than I could count around me quickly surprised millions of Americans. I was angry that he had responded, “This is what democracy looks like!” I was amazed, enough supporters in the country to give him that front page partially by the fact that everyone knew these chants and I didn’t, headline; and I was sad for the women, people of color, members and partially because there was something overwhelmingly of the LGBTQ+ community that I hold so close to my heart. It comforting about being able to yell with them. Within their loud wasn’t fair that my mother, sister, girlfriend, my best friend Xavier voices came a mixture of fear and hope and it was the only place I of now 17 years who is black, my friend, Tim, who came out to had ever heard anything like it. There were other chants, of course.
Women in the crowd yelled “My body my choice,” while the men in the crowd responded, “Her body her choice!” “Black lives matter,” and “Muslim lives matter” erupted. “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” was another. The words vibrated in my ears, news helicopters reverberated in the sky, and unexpectedly, I felt tears begin to well up in my eyes. I sensed, as I chanted along with the people beside me, that I was making the difference I began to long for after the election. I felt like I was helping my mother, sister, girlfriend, and two of my best friends. It didn’t matter that we spent over two hours walking or that I couldn’t even stand in front of Trump Tower to get a picture of sticking my middle finger up at it (which I’m happy to say I got later). I, along with the friends I went to the march with, felt accomplished, like we were on the right path to stopping Trump even after he was elected. I marched again in January, this time the day after the inauguration, in Washington D.C for the Women’s March. It was, of course, much larger than the one in New York City. And I plan to keep marching, because my best friend Xavier is still afraid to have a morally flawed president running our country, because the healthcare that the women in my life rely on is in danger, and among other reasons, because it’s the biggest way I can imagine making their fear subside.
Turn to page 34 for an interview with Ethan Gresko
Ethan Gresko Marching Forward
An Interview with Ethan Gresko
What You See
Author of Marching Forward, pages 32 through 33
What was the inspiration for this piece? My inspiration for “Marching Forward” came from the two post-election marches I went to, in November and in January. I had this feeling after Trump was elected, and if I were to try to describe it, it would be helplessness. I felt sad for all of my loved ones that had to be afraid to be who they were in this messed up world we live in. And I felt like I needed to help them, because it wasn’t fair that since I’m a white, cisgender male, I would pretty much be able to float by during Trump’s term as president. So I guess you could say Donald Trump was my inspiration. Because he ran for president and was elected, my friends and family had to be afraid, and then I got the opportunity to march. Can you discuss your creative process in crafting this piece? The creative process was interesting. Since I’m a journalism major, I don’t write creatively very often. I did a lot of creative writing in high school, and wrote a few creative non-fiction pieces there, but it has been a while nonetheless. One thing I could take from journalistic writing was the need for visualization. Since I was writing about a march that had a lot of signs, chants, and people everywhere, I figured I should try to put my reader in the march as well as I could. I hope I did a good job with that. Besides, I just wrote. I wanted to give the reader a little sneak preview of the march, which is what I did in the first paragraph, and then from there I just relayed the events from election night to the New York City march as well as my memory would allow. It was fun, because I sort of got to relive everything as I wrote.
What excites you about the artistic process? I think what is best about the artistic process is how open it is, like with interpretation and things of that nature. It’s what is great about art in general, is that you won’t ever find something that is exactly the same, so there is so much that’s unique. The artistic process is exciting to me because whatever the piece in progress is, you know it will be unique to the artist because that’s how THEY interpret it. I think that goes for all art, whether it be writing, painting, drawing, constructing, etc. What is your most embarrassing habit as a writer? My most embarrassing habit as a writer… that’s tough. I’m not really sure. Is the fact that I take a really long time to get my writing going a bad habit? I’ll have my idea set in my head, but arranging words on paper takes me a while, because I become a bit of a perfectionist and anything that seems a little off won’t cut it.
You were too young to remember the war—the one that killed The forests are cut down, given way to vast fields of empty. You your father, left your mother maimed and defeated. But you pass by them, watching as the young rake through the dust like remember the soldiers returning home from the south, their hair fools, singing songs to their beaten gods. It’s no wonder, you cut and faces hung low with shame, bodies sticky with dried blood. think, that their land is barren. They have not chosen to accept You still lived in the north then, in Laûa, where the hills used to the will of the Godking, and have thus been punished, you think, seem endless, where the gods used to inhale and exhale in the wet like your father—like King Paûba, and all the old, cut down men season, where the herds emanated abundant, and the land was and women whose bones lay unburned and unburied across the dripping with fruit. Then the Godking came. He came out of the land, so numerous that you needn’t want for a good flint spear or a land beyond the mountains, north of Laûadïma, the great temple. decent necklace because anything can be taken from the earth. All He came with his Fthona, his people, burning the houses of the around you are fields of dry, uncivilized dead. old gods—the heathen gods—and preaching the will of his new ones. Your father fought against Your people have forsaken you. him, and died. Your uncles, your “The dust comes, a zephyr, taking your land in The Milanpalwa of the north— aunts, they fought against him your clan—they have forsaken its bosom like a patient mother.” and died. For years, the Godking you, and their elders now rove the swept over your tribe, heading south toward the desert. The great countryside with child soldiers, calling for futile war with the holy king of your homeland, Paûba, the one all men praised, the one of the earth. You hear of them in the mouths of parents, how they who was called noblest, strongest of all Palwa, closest to Do and sacrifice the young, how they say they can kill the Godking and Désa, he fought the Godking and died. You learn later what he bring the rains back. The air is thick with dust and anxiety. The looked like, dying on the floor, a spear thrust through his body, people wheeze as they speak. You just shake your head, all the way the Godking standing above him like some sort of ancestral spirit, down to the Southland of Onarota, where the last battles were beard glazed in blood, eyes white as the mountaintops in the north. held years back. The savannah is now a desert. You are trekking its vast void when your mother passes, and you bury her in the dust The dust comes, a zephyr, taking your land in its bosom like like the Fthona do it. You sacrifice a hare over her grave to feed a patient mother. You grow up around the mutilated and the her, and you take nothing of the kill. trampled, your defeated people. Some of them cling to their fallen gods. You do not. It is why you become an exile, when it seems The Palwa never used to feed the dead. all the north turns against you, and the people talk of burning One day, you and your fellow refugees stumble upon a village, just children, slaughtering heathens who have forgotten the old ways. as barren as the ones you’ve traversed for years, just as godless and You have forgotten the old ways, so you go with your mother ashamed as your home in the north. The people there cover you south, through the heart of Palwaland, where the plains used to in clay, they wash your body in red ocher. They speak to you with mingle with forests—with life of all sorts. respect. The rebels of the north, your old people, have not come
here yet, have not made these people filthy and afraid. They have not had to sacrifice their babes to bring the rains back or give up their lives to the armies of heathens. Not yet, at least. This is where the King of the Palwa died all those years ago, and where his widow resides—Queen Lûda, more regal than any warrior-chief from your side of the Palwaland. Her daughter is young and beautiful, and you marry her to stay with her clan. She marries you because she needs a child, she says, to continue her father’s dynasty, and because you are a handsome man now. The wedding is short. You lie beside her in the night, kissing her naked spine, forgetting about your years travelling, forgetting about your heathen clan in the north, forgetting your exile and your slain family and the cares of the world. Your wife is a heathen. She still believes in the old gods, in Do and Désa. And on that first night by her side, you ask her, “Did your father’s death teach you nothing?” She says, “It taught me everything.” And she turns away for the night.
*** Turn to page 38 for an interview with Jalen Garcia-Hall
Matthew Crisson, “In the Corner”
Jalen Garcia-Hall What You See
An Interview with Jalen Garcia-Hall
The Two Types of Strangers You Might Fall in Love With Rachel Chevat
Author of What You See, pages 35 through 36
What was the inspiration for this piece? I was in a dim place, I think—a barren place. I had looked into myself and seen my bones, my muscles and my organs, all rotted and sinewy, and so I wrote what I saw, and I guess it was cathartic. I wanted to show what it was like to see with only one eye open, the other pointed ever inward. Can you discuss your creative process in crafting this piece? The piece took maybe half an hour to write. It was a sudden burst of passion that sizzled out pretty quickly. I was attempting to draw up a landscape that was dead; and that, of course, gets to be pretty soul-crushing business. I also wanted to tell a story from the second-person, because it’s probably the most bizarre perspective that a writer can use. It is deeply personal, because no one can really know another’s mind so intimately without being within that person’s mind, and yet it’s also impersonal. The narrator is indeterminate, like maybe it’s the protagonist’s memory, recalling the events, but maybe it’s his wife, or one of his gods. It’s that dissonance between the truth of the thoughts and the authority by which they are told that I wanted to capture.
What excites you about the artistic process? I like landscapes that can be felt, so creating those landscapes, and feeling through them as I write is quite fulfilling.
most of the love affairs you’ll have with strangers will last for mere moments. you’ll stand magnetically close to the tall man in a corduroy jacket at the museum and he will follow you towards the next painting you’ll lock eyes with a boy on the subway and swear that for as long as you live you will never forget his face (in the same breath he’ll grow blurry in your head) and these off-chance romances will be fun confetti memories, but
What is your most embarrassing habit as a writer? I’ll write a piece of micro-fiction and then set a novel around it, or write a novel and set a series around it, or write a series and set my life around it. Oftentimes, thinking big can be more of a vice than a virtue.
watch out for the second type of stranger you may fall forthe one who appears out of nowhere in the most familiar places: like your house when you call his name as you have one thousand and three times before there you are in the kitchen with him when he looks at you with a new sad gaze that feels stranger than if you had never met at all
Around 28th Street By Chris Stewart
You force a dress on. It’s black jersey cloth. You are out in Chelsea and a man cracks a bottle over your head. He leaves you to bleed, but you stumble onto the train of the dress, and come to, hazy with his rejection. You straighten out, smooth the crinkled fabric to accentuate your butt and leave the bar. You’re hustling on 7th. You steal personal packages. You order Modelo (with lime) on Christopher Street now. The same queens have been here forever. You know them, you tell me, and, you hate it here. You pour fistfuls of pills and sling the empty plastics into that banged up purse. You’re in debt from running your mouth. Outside this window, the girls under the scaffold are after you because you’ve got access to a card. Your transaction history is a cry for help after the duck you charged at dinner. I can’t believe you still want to go out with blood from the bottle dried on your cheek. I’ll wash and clean the wound tomorrow. You make it home tonight, I say, Or try to find a friend in this city that you haven’t met on your phone. You are out here on your own. You shouldn’t want to trust me. You can’t.
Yuko Kyutoku, “Figure Study”
Voices From the Past An Interview With Rachel Hall By Shana Blatt, Stella Heinz and Erik Goetz
Rachel Hall’s collection of linked stories, Heirlooms, was awarded the BkMk Press 2015 G.S. Sharat Chandra prize, selected by Marge Piercy. Her stories and essays have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, Gettysburg Review, Lilith, New Letters, and Water~Stone. In addition, she has received awards and honors from publications such as Lilith and Glimmer Train, and New Letters and from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, as well as Ragdale and the Ox-Bow School of the Arts where portions of Heirlooms were written. She holds an MFA from Indiana University where she was the Hemingway Fellow in Fiction. Currently, Hall is Professor of English at the State University of New York-Geneseo. She teaches creative writing and literature and holds two Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence—one for teaching and one for her creative work. Heirlooms begins in the French seaside city of Saint-Malo, in 1940, and ends in the American Midwest in 1989. In its collection of linked stories, the war reverberates through four generations of a Jewish family. Inspired by the author’s family stories as well as extensive research, Heirlooms explores assumptions about love, duty, memory and truth. Before her reading at SUNY Purchase in November, 2016, Hall graciously sat down with the staff of Italics Mine to discuss Heirlooms, as well as her ongoing work as faculty advisor to the SUNY Geneseo literary magazine Gandy Dancer. This interview has been adapted from the latter part of our conversation.
Italics Mine: How did you envision these characters and how did you negotiate the space for creativity in these characters while still preserving the historical aspect?
in some way. If you’re writing about your grandmother, turn her into someone fifty years younger, or change the gender. If they’re petite, make them tall. It’s still them, but you’re changing them enough that they experience the world slightly Rachal Hall: That’s a really good question and a complicated differently. I think tall/short is really interesting. My daughter, question. The characters are when she was a little girl, was the inspired by real life people as well “I’m very interested in setting, in observing tiniest one in her class and she as the historical time period. The had a marvelous teacher who was setting, and then bringing it to the page.” character of Lise, for instance, is incredibly tall, like really tall, outbased on the woman who adopted my mother, who’s really landishly tall, but they got each other because they both knew her paternal aunt. Of course the character of Lise is not that what it was like to stand out in some way. Exercises like that woman, but she’s inspired by her. It was easy for me to go can help you “see” the character, to understand them. from that—when you know someone—to imagine how they would think or feel or speak about something. Of course I IM: Did writing Heirlooms bring you closer to your Jewish herdidn’t know the character, Lise, and certainly not in 1940, but itage? that was fun for me to imagine how this person I knew as a much older woman would have been during that time. Her RH: I think it did, in a funny way. My family is vaguely Jewish, desire to have children is something that a lot of women expenobody’s been practicing for generations, and yet I think rience, not all women, but the idea of experiencing it at that when people ask me if this a Jewish book, I feel like “Well particular time seemed interesting to me. You would think, yeah it is... in a certain way.” The transmission of stories over ‘not a good time to have a baby’ and yet the desire is still really generations is part of what the collection is about. I think trastrong in her. ditions or rituals give us something to do when there’s nothing to do. IM: Why did you choose the form of a story cycle rather than a novel? I heard a lot of these stories growing up, about suddenly having to leave the occupied zone, or trying to farm, not having RH: I think I was sort of tricking myself into writing a novel, but enough food, and going to the neighbors for help and being the way it happened was I wrote the very first story in the turned down. These were stories that I grew up with, so collection. That was published, and I thought, ‘I want to I had this sort of outline and then I did a lot of research. I write another story about that same woman coming back to would have hated if someone had said to me, “you have to do St. Malo,’ so I wrote the last story and then I realized I had research,” but it’s so fun. I read a lot of journals that people these bookends. Then I wrote the title story after that. So I wrote from this time period that were published in book didn’t work in a chronological way. Maybe you could write form. I read old letters from my family--my mother transa novel with a capital N that way, but I don’t know if people lated the ones she could for me. Letters and journals are good do. Something about calling them stories and being able to for character development too, because you get a voice from work in the story-world -- it just worked for me. The idea of what people write to themselves and others, so that was really a novel is so vast and sprawling… helpful. Old photographs and newspapers and all that. I was really lucky because my grandparents had photo albums (I call IM: Do you have any tips on how to develop a character before the people who adopted my mother my grandparents) and as a you put them in a story? little girl I would look at these pictures and there would be my mom in her little French girl uniform and then right next to RH: There are so many good craft exercises. One that works that a picture of a bridge that had been bombed by the French really well when I teach fiction workshops is to take someone Resistance. who’s based on someone you know, but then change them
Voices From the Past: An Interview with Rachel Hall
IM: Do you research, visit the places, or look at pictures for specific settings? For example: the scene on the train with Lise and her baby? RH: I love setting and I think a lot of times writers forget about it. Someone said it’s like the poor, neglected stepsister of the elements. It gets ignored, but it’s important and can enrich the characters so much because the way we experience setting is so different from one person to another. I’m very interested in setting, in observing setting, and then bringing it to the page. For Heirlooms, I did travel and research that way. I also lived in France when I was in school. I’ve always encouraged my students to try and go abroad if they can. It’s especially good for writers to do, to get immersed in a different country and culture. Some of my research is stuff that I recalled from that time living in France, but also used family photographs. I used travel guides too, especially with the very first story because I hadn’t been to France in a while. I looked up the town I was setting it in and the names of the cathedrals and streets and all those things. The first and the last story are set in that town called St. Malo that I discovered in the year that I was in college, and it’s probably my favorite place in the world. It’s just so beautiful and dramatic. IM: A common thread in Heirlooms was ‘what’s next?’ It worked well to create tension, but also to move the plot forward. RH: I think we’re like that as humans: ‘I gotta do this and I gotta do this’ and then what? I think as a fiction writer, I’m always more interested in the after, not so much the car crash or the death, but how people respond to it afterward.
Bare Bone Theory
you lean naked across the cold counter and whisper to him, tell me what you mean. and the quietude lets you study: kalamata olives, and peaches on this white wood table, a newspaper folded, half desired, the taste of oranges after coffee the unkempt nailbeds of Atlas, two knives, no forks, and the green finch beckoning — how else to explain it?
Yuko Kyutoku, “Tenebrism”
R. James Donahue
I slept in My bed. It’s So impressive - My bed is So obsessed with Gravity and dimensions. I slept in, Tensions in the fabric of Time, Getting wrinkled and re-aligned By my tossing and turning, vivid visions of learning earnings, On a journey into my yearning mind. I wake with a sigh, For I cannot rewind Relive and retry To be that hero here. All these endorphins are coursing through my dome, On these white waves of fear. Like dolphins or sea horses, Etchings in white brick, porcelain, and stonecarve out trembling rainbow symbolsMake me feel alone in this bed. Melatonin is creeping behind my ears. Whispering fears, Third eye wide like deer Oh dear I think I’m dreaming here. My seeing is deceiving Cus’ I’m being a being Who’s mental exceeding Its potential while sleeping -
Sierra Torres, “Bubbling Over”
But Breathing brings my head back to its zen I sleep in… (gotta’ get up) My bed it’s(Grow up) So depressin’ so I gotta’ get up (Pay up) and play pretend. Get the fuck out of my head now, Get the fuck out of these clouds, Get the fuck out of this bed then! Italics Mine
On my last day of high school, I felt incredible. I was more excited than I had ever been as I walked away from that dull brick building, knowing full well that I would never have to go back again. The past four years had dragged on and on, in a tedious stretch of stress and tears in and outside of school, and I was so eager to finally, finally be moving on. Moving up to college, out of the hometown I’d lived in and loved for twelve years, on with my life...I could hardly wait. I threw myself into the preparation: talking with my new suitemates over Facebook before we all met, going to store after store with my mother for brand new supplies and dorm furniture, telling myself how great everything was going to be as soon as I got there. The anticipation only built and built, until I couldn’t wait for the last days of summer. Then on move-in day, when the reality of the situation finally hit me after months of delay, something in me cracked. Falling from my summer-long adrenaline high, I realized that I was not prepared emotionally at all. I honestly had no idea it was possible outside the realm of fiction to cry for three days straight. I had raw red marks on my face from how often I rubbed at my eyes in an embarrassed frenzy. I’ve always thought myself very lucky to be so close to my family, but I failed to consider the downside: that it would hurt more than I could have expected to be near-completely separated from them for the first time. I had never felt so alone in my entire life. The first cut is the deepest, I told myself, and with time I would surely be able to get used to things. However, logic barely made a dent in my gloom or my fear, and for the first few days I couldn’t get rid of my terrified internal mantra of, I want to see my mother, I want to see my brother, I want to go home.
What did finally begin to break me out of my funk, though, were my first introductions to the amazing people that would become my friends over the next eight months. Making friends has never exactly been a talent of mine, and I had been imagining myself alone and awkward all the time. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t make the best company: my reluctance to speak and awkwardness trying, my vampire-like hesitation to join in with others unless I’m explicitly invited (the last thing I want to be is a bother to people), my tendency to overthink and be afraid of everything, and general inexperience in becoming close to people sees to that. But even despite my anxiety, everybody was so unfailingly kind to me. One of my suitemates, seeing me crying, tried to make me feel more at ease by sitting with me at dinner and showing me pictures of her pet husky. Yet another found me the second morning and said, “Hey, I know you were really upset yesterday, but it’s okay. You can do this!” My roommate proved right off the bat to be one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Once I was approached by them, everyone started to feel much more approachable. A few weeks into the year, we had to watch The Godfather in a group setting for class, and for what would be the first of many times, about a dozen of us piled into my suite’s common room with big bowls of popcorn for movie night, and even though I didn’t know them as well just yet, I felt as comfortable with them as I felt with the friends back home that I had known for years, and it astonished me. I don’t mind being by myself most of the time, but the feeling of simply being in a group where I seemed to belong, of people wanting to have me around... There really is nothing better.
Now, I have a few very close friends from my hometown, but I had known that eventually, I would be fine at college. But I had I had never known what it was like to have such a big group of never expected that ‘eventually’ would happen so quickly, or that friends, that was always doing something. I’m very used to things ‘fine’ was the understatement of the century. I look back on a year being planned, so one thing that I never expected to learn that my of laughter-filled card games in the common room, of getting friends taught me was how to be more spontaneous. I wouldn’t be into new and great TV shows that I’d never considered before, of expecting to do anything one minute, and then the next a bunch delivery Chinese food and Domino’s pizza late at night, of Nicki of us would be running out to catch a movie, or find a fast-food Minaj and Twenty One Pilots in every car ride, of talking more place for a late dinner, or hearing about a new event or show on than my anxiety-ridden self ever had before, of breaking out of my campus that we had to see. I still have the ticket stub in my pockarmor-thick shell and finding a new understanding of my art and etbook from the first time, when my roommate took us out to of myself. Every piece of every experience was special, and I know see The Martian, and I still have the pictures from the Italian that I’m never going to be able to listen to this music or watch restaurant that became our default whenever we went into the city. these shows without thinking of the people who introduced me to No way am I ever going to get rid of any of them. them, and smiling. Clubs also became a staple of my college life. I was nervous about them, too, at first. I don’t have much of a presence on my own, and I thought that it would be difficult to become an integral part of the group, instead of someone who isn’t really needed, who’s is neither noticed when she’s there nor missed when she’s gone. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I started coming to meetings because I enjoyed the things we would do, but by the end of the year I would never miss a meeting because I couldn’t wait to see everybody. Not only did it feel good to be with people I could connect with over our shared interests, but they noticed me and acknowledged me. They’d talk about how I’d come to every meeting, and how it was actually disappointing if I wasn’t there. It mattered whether or not I was around. That’s the kind of thing that really sticks with me. Now, because of that, I’m planning to try something else new and run for vice president of my favorite club.
In hindsight, that first year of college was the year of the unexpected, in all areas. I joined in more and said more and did more than I ever thought I would, and I felt perfectly at home away from home. And I have my friends to thank for all of that. In one year, I believe that I grew a lot and learned a lot, because of them. I know that I can’t forget any of that, either, because as much as I love my college, my time here isn’t going to last forever, and soon enough I’m going to have to move on again. But I will try not to be afraid, and to use what I’ve learned here to make my life better. I want friendships, I want closeness, I want belonging...And I know now that if I really do desire those things, I can’t shrink back anymore. I will have to reach out and try for them myself, and I think that now, I’ll be able to do it.
Gillian Lynn Katz
I want to jump through my computer screen, where I see my cousins on Facebook. I haven’t seen them in the flesh since 1984. When I crash through the curtains of light that separate us, the particles of the sun repose me onto the promenade of Plettenberg Bay. I am with them in the now: Jimmy, Sonja, Maisie, Todd, as we bicycle down the coastline of Cape Town. Gone are the snowbanks of New York. The streets covered in black ice where I slip and slide on the driveway, plows that sift the sodden soggy saturated snow into mountains of mush on the sidewalks. Now, the only mountain I see is Table Mountain, its flat-topped peak shrouded by a lacy cloth of clouds covering its circumference. I want to hail the halcyon days of deliverance where cousin can be with cousin. We are no longer separated by oceans of water and millennia of minutes, but we dive with the dolphins and swim with the sharks where the azure blue waves crash into the shore. We dance through the dryness of the Karoo and run with the rhinos. We watch the water buffalo and we wait for the lions at the Kruger Park. We hail the hydrangeas as they bloom by the boughs of the bougainvillea. We smell the sweet lilac of the winding wisteria and wile under the weeping willows. We pick mangoes off the trees that grow in our gardens. The cherry blossoms that give way to gorgeous red and yellow fruits and mulberry trees, dozens of them that grow down the hill towards the grapevine where Jack, the Bantu servant who had been with my grandparents for decades grew dagga, a stronger strain than American marijuana. All these days and nights where I can commune with my compatriots. I don’t have to wait for the jumbo jet that will carry me back to my country. I will dream again of golden days I left in migratory madness.
Kayla Dale, “Sunshine”
The Ascent There are two things you should know if you’ve never gone rock climbing. The first: it is a precise dance. It is slow and it is exact, but it is so graceful. Every movement is meticulously thought out, every move matched by every climber. In succession, we each slowly raise our outstretched arms, the pads of our fingers clinging to the slightest ledge, the weight of our bodies resting on a ridge or stuffed into a crevice. Sometimes we are weightless. We strap ourselves to the stone at night and sleep, suspended in the air. We listen to the silence of the height, the music of the forest out of earshot. We stretch our limbs and flex our fingers and move our bodies as one body, every motion seemingly singular. Pulled together by ropes that weave through our harnesses, we dance our way up the side of Él Capitan as one.
would usually just sign her name at the bottom, but that time she actually wrote something. It said: “Congrats, you’re officially old enough to be a mother. Don’t get knocked up.” She meant for it to be a joke. A fucking joke. As if my entire existence was something to chuckle about and shake your head at and say: “Well, now we know better”. I remember holding the card in my hand. Don’t get knocked up. The scar on my upper-arm seemingly came to life, growing hotter under the sleeve of my shirt. Looking over my shoulder, my grandmother sighed as she read the card and wrapped her arms around me. And then later, a phone call: Julie on the other line, standing in a phone booth with her longtime boyfriend, Casey, tapping on the glass, telling her: “Hurry up, hurry up!”
The second: there is a clarity, unlike any other, that you expe“What was out there? What was she chasing?” “Hey Lex, happy birthday!” rience once you reach the top. she said, static filling the space Muscles sore, body aching, hair greasy, skin and clothes unwashed, between us. “Did you get the card I sent you?” you pull yourself over the top of the rock wall and lie on your back. Out of breath, adrenaline filling your veins, you look up at “Yeah,” I said, looking across the room at the wastebasket in the sky; bright, blue, clear. And then comes the sound, the air is the corner. filled with it. On the rock wall, there is nothing, only the wind “Funny, right?” I could hear the giggle in her voice. Casey, scraping against the face of the stone. But there, at the top, there again, tapped insistently on the glass. The static grew louder. are birds and rodents and bushes and insects and the sounds of the “No,” I said. surface world come back to you. And there is clapping, we are all I could hear Julie and Casey having a muffled conversation on clapping. We’ve done it. the other end, the horn of a truck filling the phone line, then more static. My mother was only nineteen when she had me. Nineteen, and with a baby that took her last name because there was no father. Nineteen, and she decided that I would be raised calling her Julie, instead of Mom, because she was too young to be a mother. Nineteen, and she put the cradle in my grandmother’s room instead of her own so that somebody would hear my cries in the middle of the night. Nineteen. She was only nineteen. Julie sent me a birthday card when I turned nineteen. She
“What’s that? I couldn’t hear you.” Before I could answer, she broke in: “I’m glad you liked it. Hey, I gotta run. This guy is giving me and Casey a lift to Helena. We’re gonna do some climbing in Montana. Isn’t that awesome?” Then she hung up. The hate radiated from inside my body. I could feel it seeping into my blood, congealing on my bones. The stench of sulfur filled
Sierra Torres, “Eye”
my nostrils and I gagged at the stink of my own anger as I remem- “First climb at Yosemite. I did some climbing back in New York.” bered my grandmother crying. Hunched over in the kitchen She nodded, “Oh, nice,” and paused, following my gaze across the chair, wisps of grey hair clinging to her wet cheeks, she sobbed campground. “That’s Ed Gats. Great climber.” into a tissue as her friend stood over her and rubbed her back. I remember plates falling all around me. I am four and, having I smiled politely then looked back at Ed. He slowly flipped a page climbed onto the countertop, knocked them all over. The sound in the textbook, took another pull from the joint, then suddenly of breaking glass filled the house as the plates plunged towards the looked up, meeting my stare. I held his gaze for a moment, then ground, exploding around me. I remember looking down at the turned away. gauze wrapped around my arm as my grandmother spoke too loud, “He’s been climbing his whole life. I heard that his parents used saying “Alexis got stitches and Julie wasn’t there. She didn’t come. to strap him to a harness and his dad would climb with Ed on his She didn’t care enough to come.” This is my earliest memory. back.” But why? Why didn’t she care? Why didn’t she come? What “Really?” I turned to see if she was kidding. was out there? What was she chasing? Why couldn’t I come along? She shrugged. “It’s a lifestyle, you know?” I pulled the pieces of her card from the wastebasket, frantically rifled through my desk for tape, then carefully aligned the ripped “Yeah, sure.” I said, looking back at Ed, but he was gone. edges and stuck them back together. I needed to know why.
“His resting face was a look of amusement and The night before my climb, Ed I first encountered Ed Gats as he appeared across the campfire tranquility because he had never known anysat, leaning against the base of a from me. Sitting on a log thing else.” tree. A textbook describing the between two too-skinny girls, he face of Él Capitan and a map were leaned towards the speaker of a spread out across his lap as he slowly brought a joint to his lips and story, nodding his head along to the cadences of their sentences. inhaled. I watched from a distance as he pushed his shaggy hair Throwing his head back and laughing wildly, his body shook behind his ear and murmured the words of the textbook, his eyes and the sound of his laughter temporarily filled the woods, then running across the pages. Around me, people pitched their tents floated away with the smoke of the fire. I was watching him again. and organized their gear, coiling rope and refilling chalk bags. He took a joint from one of the girls, puffed it slowly, letting the Skin red from the sun, lips chapped from thirst, dust and dirt smoke fill the cavities of his body, then exhaled smoothly and clinging to hair, chalk clinging to skin, they were a different kind passed it along. He furtively touched the girls, resting a hand on of people. They strolled through the forest barefoot, washed their an arm or leg as he spoke, a coy smile twitching on his lips. Then, bodies only every so often. They tied hammocks to the trunks of quickly withdrawing, he would shift his body away, turn his head trees and called it home. They lived at the base of the mountain, slightly, and focus on the other girl. And still, the girls leaned into milling about on the ground until it was finally time to climb, then him, craving his touch, his attention. It was a game to him. effortlessly ascending the sheer rock wall of Él Capitan. Breathlessly reaching the top, they were already thinking about when I looked into the fire, watching the flames consume the dry, they would climb it again. And I was in the middle of all of it, rotting wood that had been collected from the forest. Next to taking them all in. They paused to look at me, skin clean, hair me sat the lanky woman from before - Rhonda, she had told me. unknotted, and they nodded their heads and smiled softly. The joint made its way around the fire, Rhonda taking a hit then passing it to me. I held it awkwardly, pinched between my thumb Welcome. and index finger. I had never smoked pot before. I closed my eyes, remembering that when I was eleven, I had been “First climb here?” A lanky woman appeared next to me, tufts of rifling through Julie’s room, searching for something I could no brown hair peeking out from underneath her baseball cap. longer recall. Pulling open all her drawers, I came across a Ziploc
Jamison Murcott The Ascent
bag with a colored glass bowl, a lighter, and a smaller bag filled with a green herb. Without being able to name it, I knew what it was and why Julie had it. I returned the bag to its drawer and never touched it again. Until now, until here. Surrounded by her people, I took a breath and placed the joint between my lips. I breathed in, feeling the smoke fill my mouth and then my lungs. I coughed as I exhaled, passing the joint along with shaky hands. Julie would have done it with more grace, but having done it at all was Julie enough. I coughed into my arm, quickly swiping at my watery eyes as I caught my breath. And looking across the fire, I could see Ed Gats, this time watching me. “You look familiar,” Ed said, as he stepped out of the shadows of the trees by my tent, “but I don’t think we’ve met before.” Distant laughter from the campfire wove throughout the tents sporadically planted among the trees. “Well this is my first time here,” I said, sitting on a log in front of my tent. Sierra Torres, “Feeling Blue”
“Oh, really?” he said, coming closer, a half-smile on his lips. “I’m guessing you’re going up with that group tomorrow? How long’s it gonna be? Five days?” I nodded. “Wow, let me tell ya, there’s nothing like your first climb up The Cap. It takes your breath away.” “That’s why I’m here.” He sat down next to me as I pulled off my boots. “What’s your name?” “Alexis,” I said, “Alexis Sherman.” “Sherman… Sherman,” he said, his eyes looking off into the sky, his lips silently moving. “Now that’s a familiar name. Sherman… Julie Sherman?” he asked slowly, the name uncertain in his mouth. I nodded. “Julie Sherman,” he said one more time before it registered. “Julie Sherman! No way, you know Julie?!” Again, I nodded. He sprung up from his seat next to me. The whiteness of his smile was eerie in the dark. “Wow, Julie Sherman,” he said again, this time with admiration. “I haven’t
seen her in years. How’s she doing? She still climbing?” “As far as I know. How do you know her?” “Julie started climbing routes on The Cap when I was, like, twelve. We actually did some climbs together; we were in the same group. She still seeing that guy, uh, what’s his name? Cory?” “Casey,” I said. “Right, Casey. She still seeing him?” “Yeah.” “That’s a shame. Well, it’s not, but you know I had such a crush on her back then. She was so hot. And so into climbing, which was really hot, too.” He sat back down next to me. “Every year she’d make her way back to The Cap and I’d be like ‘this is it, this is the year’ and I was convinced that she’d see how much I matured and how great at climbing I was and I figured she’d dump Casey for me.” He looked at me with a nostalgic smile, then shrugged. “Obviously it never happened, but a guy could hope.” He paused and looked down at his hands, still smiling. Then,
looking up, asked “You two sisters or something?” “Something,” I said vaguely. He looked at me, waiting for a clearer answer. “She’s my mom.” There was a passing look of shock. “No way,” he said, “she’s so young! She must’ve been like - what? - twenty, when she had you?” “Nineteen, actually.” “No way… She spent so much time here. She always talked about all the climbs she went on. She was all over the place. Wow, she never even mentioned-” He stopped himself before he could finish his sentence, but I knew where it was going. “Yeah… She wasn’t around much.” I caught his gaze for a moment. We looked at each other, the buzz of insects filling the air. Then, looking away, he cleared his throat, saying casually, “But now you’re here. Julie’s old stomping grounds. I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence.” When he looked back at me, his face had resumed its resting position, a perpetual look of amusement; as if life had never handed him the weight that others had to carry; as if the forests and the mountains had protected him all his life. His resting face was a look of amusement and tranquility because he had never known anything else. I raised my eyebrows then looked down at my boots, my fingers fiddling with the laces. “Come on,” he said, “you can tell me.” But I didn’t. Ed was silent, nodding his head once and sitting back down again. We stayed like that for a bit, listening to the night surrounding us. I liked sitting next to him. Ed Gats, the man who had only ever known climbing, who only ever knew Julie as a person and not some absent character. I liked imagining what it was like to know her as he did. After a while I said, “I’m here to get answers.” He looked at me carefully and I shrugged. He breathed in slowly, turning his chin up and staring at the sky, which was alive with stars. I followed his gaze, somehow finding the outline of Él Capitan in the darkness. “Well, you came to the right place,” he said.
Jamison Murcott The Ascent
“Why do you say that?” He stood up. “This place is full of answers. You’ll see.” Ed smiled at me the way he had smiled at those girls at the campfire: like he had a secret, like he knew the punchline to a joke someone else was telling. “See you tomorrow, bright and early. It’ll be a hell of a climb.” Ed Gats disappeared the same way he had appeared: as though materializing out of thin air. In the early morning light, I lace my rope through my harness and hand the end to Ed, who does the same then passes it on. There are seven of us, all tied together and standing at the base of Él Capitan. I reach out my hand, brushing the stone with my chalky fingertips. The rock is cool against my skin. We start the climb. It happens so quickly; I barely feel my feet stepping off the ground. Hours pass like minutes, moments of silence stretching and stretching into meditation. That’s what this is: a moving meditation. I listen to the sound of my breathing: labored but peaceful. I feel my muscles throbbing, but there is a kind of satisfaction that comes with the pain. There is only one thought, one tranquil thought: climb. On the first night, we drive metal stakes into the rock wall and clip our tents to the side of Él Capitan. Ed and I whisper little sentences to each other about our lives, “You know, I never went to school,” Ed says. I look at him through the darkness as he sits, cross-legged, opposite me in my tent. “My parents home-schooled me between climbs.” “Julie never went to a single school function. Not a field trip. Not a parent-teacher conference. Nothing.” On the second night, I crack ice packs and carefully lay them on my body, the artificial cold numbing my aching limbs. The wind scratches the nylon tent. “Did you ever think that you might die up here?” I ask Ed. “Once,” he says, “I was thirteen, I think, and we got caught in a storm.” He pauses, rifling through his backpack and pulling out a glass piece and weed. He packs the bowl, takes a hit, then gives it to me. “This’ll help with the soreness.” I take the bowl from his hands, my fingers gently brushing his. “It was me, my parents, and a couple other climbers,” he says.
“Julie and Casey were there, I remember. It was a real bad storm, the rain hitting the tent so hard I really thought the drops would break the tent. It was so windy and every time there was thunder, the entire rock wall would shudder… I really thought I was gonna die. And I remember, I remember looking around at everybody else and I could see the worry in their eyes. My parents, they smiled and said it was gonna be fine, but I knew that they were just as afraid as I was.”
even made it to the top, but she fell on her way down and broke her wrist.” I look at Ed. He waits for me to continue. “My grandmother, she was so upset at Julie. ‘Why didn’t you listen to me?’ she asked after they got home from the hospital. And Julie, with this bulky cast on her wrist, said, ‘I needed to know what was at the top.’” Ed nods.
Ed takes another hit. “But Julie… She was so calm and so “She always needed to know what was at the top. She always completely unconcerned, like it was just another walk in the park.” needed to know what was out there, what was waiting for her.” The sensation of crying rushes through my body, my skin “Why?” I ask. prickling, my nose tingling, my eyes slowly becoming watery until “I don’t know,” he says. the tears slip past my lashes and down my cheeks. “I get it,” I said, On the third night, I am too tired to talk. “I get why… I get why she…” “It’s who she was.” On the fourth night, Ed asks me “When do you think you’ll start “Yeah, this,” I say, gesturing to everything, “this is her.” I smile doing things because of yourself and not because of Julie?” sadly, Ed matching my expression. “What?” “You tell your life through stories about Julie. Can’t you see The group sits, exhausted, as we wait for park rangers to pick us that? She’s present in your memories but not in your life.” I don’t up and drive us down the mountain. “You were right,” I say, know how to respond. turning to Ed. “I’ve kept track of my life through Julie, through her absences.” I drag my finger in the dirt. “Not anymore though. The climb comes to an end on the fifth day. One final push, one Not anymore.” final breath, one final thought, and I am at the top. Standing up, I look out across the world. Yosemite Valley stretches out below me. From here, the trees have never looked so green, the waters have never looked so blue. From here, the world is different. The world is majestic and mysterious and powerful and dangerous, but it is conquerable, if you try. Ed stands next to me near the edge of the cliff. He is smiling, but he isn’t looking out across the valley. My fingers are throbbing, my chest burning. Behind us, the other climbers chat amongst themselves, sprawled out on the ground. I stand at the edge for a bit, Ed, silent, next to me. “Did you get your answer?” He asks, his voice low. “I remember a story about Julie,” I say. “She was nine, I think, and there was this tree in the backyard. My grandmother kept telling her, ‘Don’t climb the tree, Julie, you’ll hurt yourself, don’t climb the tree,’ but she did anyway. She climbed the tree, and she
Turn to page 60 for an interview with Jamison Murcott
An Interview with Jamison Murcott
Author of The Ascent, pages 55 through 59
What was the inspiration for this piece? This piece was actually inspired by an in-class writing exercise for my Fiction Writing I class. The assignment was to find a picture of somebody in a magazine and write a quick piece about them and what they were doing. I came across this woman with her back to the camera as she faced a looming mountain in the background and I just ran with it. Can you discuss your creative process in crafting this piece? Over the summer, I spent a lot of time rock climbing with one of my friends. When writing this piece, I drew a lot from that experience. I also watched and rewatched clips from a rock climbing documentary that I had watched recently in order to accurately portray the atmosphere and attitudes of the climbers. When writing about the actual rock climbing scenes, I found that it was helpful if I closed my eyes and mimicked the motion of rock climbing in order to figure out how I wanted to express the characters’ actions.
What excites you about the artistic process? I really love seeing everything come together. I have this picture in my head and sometimes it can be really tedious to get the story from my head to paper but once everything starts to fall into place, it’s really nice to see all the different pieces working together. It’s also really fun to see how the story changed throughout the writing process and it’s surprising to see things that I changed and how those different little (or big) details can change the story entirely. What is your most embarrassing habit as a writer? My most embarrassing habit? Honestly, I’m always worried that I’m not using commas correctly! I find that I tend to use commas to create a pause in a sentence and I think I definitely overdo it sometimes (a lot of the time).
Yuko Kyutoku, “Coffee Addiction”
The Wanderer’s Skin Jalen Garcia-Hall
My skin is brown, my hair Curls obnoxiously sometimes And wakes in matted patches on my brow. Sometimes The gods rub ash on my arms And gorge my stomach after dinner And peel my lips after days in the sun.
my first sip of coffee ever was from your cup. my lipstick left a fingerprint on the brim of the mug. i think you drank from my kiss-stained spot— i hope you did that on purpose
But she makes me feel beautiful, Even when her skin, her hair, are not like mine, Even when I am lost in thought and dreaming of the desert And this homeless world without boundaries To cross and without a history to comb through, Even though we are enemies by blood because Her people made my people bleed, Deflowered my homeland like young women Deflower young boys at their most vulnerable. She makes me feel beautiful when she shares cups with me, When we drink warm beer together and roast pork, When she lays her legs on mine and boosts her body, When she praises the gods and says my name, head uplifted, When she kisses my thighs and rubs my swollen feet. How many can say they have worn sheep’s wool with their true love Or planted unshaved gardens in the dry season?
Purgatory is where the world wants to be and you, ádhúil, are halfway there. Feels coarse like miotas, mama looking at the crescent light just before dinner. Purple carrots, leaking gravy damanta, soft to the touch and hot on the peeling pallet roof. The fibers of the violin bow buck then canter, go haoibhinn on the shores of the Unknown.
In Conversation with Justin Torres and Kirstin Valdez-Quade By Jiaming Tang and Aviva LeShaw
Justin Torres is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. His first novel, We the Animals, has been translated into fifteen languages and received the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. In 2012, the National Book Foundation named Torres one of “5 Under 35.” He is an assistant professor of English at UCLA. Kirstin Valdez-Quade is the author of Night at the Fiestas, a collection of short stories that won the John Leonard Prize from the National Book Critics Circle. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Guernica, The Southern Review, and The Best American Short Stories. She is an assistant professor at Princeton University. This past Fall, Justin Torres and Kirstin Valdez-Quade visited Purchase College to give a reading. Prior to their event, they sat down with a group of Purchase College students to discuss writing about parents, scrapping novel drafts, choosing titles, and the fragility of memory. The following interview is adapted from that collective conversation.
Italics Mine: How did you choose the structure for your books? Kristin, you did a story cycle, and Justin, you wrote connected vignettes — how did you arrive at these structures?
I tell my students, you have to write what feels urgent. But then, the reality sets in...that actual human eyes will see this piece of writing. And that’s when I start calling people, or having nightmares. I had one story in my collection that I was worried about. I was actually worried about my mother. It was early, actually, in the copy-editing process when I finally sent it to her. I said, “if there are things you want me to change I would consider it, but I really didn’t want to.” She called me back a few days later, and I was terrified, and her only comment was, “Boy, you really notice things.” That was the greatest compliment, but also such a criticism.
Kirstin Valdez-Quade: For my book, I wrote individual short stories, and I knew all along it would be a story cycle that focused on New Mexico. I wanted the story to look at this place that I love and that confounds me, through different prisms. Do you guys know Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”? That was in my head as I wrote this. That was the organizing principle I had. As you write, your obsessions and your preoccupations become apparent to you. There were these ways in which the stories were speaking to each other...I kept that in mind while ordering the stories. I wanted to balance sweet and salty — the different flavors of the stories. I also like that the structure feels...irrevocable. You can never go back. In fiction, just like in life.
I wrote another story about my grandfather once; all he said was, “you got some details wrong, but I definitely recognize my car.”
Justin Torres: I wanted my book to kind of function like memory. I think I read a lot of coming-of-age novels that had a conventional structure, and a conventional narrative arc...and I didn’t really want to write coming-of-age, but I know that’s technically where this book falls. I wanted to do something different — to just break the form. I wanted it to function like memory — where you are deeply in one moment without too much connective tissue to the next moment you are in. Then I wanted the end to jump in time, so you are ejected from the family and the moment the same way the narrator is, so everything is sudden and rushed and some form of adulthood is forced upon you...but everyone hates the way I ended it!
JT: I don’t know whether I actually write fiction. I mean, I do. I definitely do write fiction. But I write a lot from personal experience. That’s always the seed. That’s the way I’ve always worked. I used to think it was about making it interesting: exaggerate, omit! But then I realized it’s tricky, with publications...I had to think about the ethics of what I was doing. Look, I always tell my students: write whatever the fuck you want. Write whatever moves the story and seems interesting and grabs people. And then, you don’t have to publish it. Or if you are going to publish it...call it fiction!
IM: Who are you writing for? Yourself, or the readers? KVQ: For me, it’s about making connections. If I was just writing for myself, I don’t know that I’d do it. But it’s also not just for the reader...it’s both.
IM: How did you choose your titles? JT: Titles are hard. With the cover and the title, it’s often not just you deciding.
JT: I honestly don’t know. It changes. I often start writing for myself, and then eventually it evolves. IM: What are you currently reading?
KVQ: I find titles so tricky. It either comes fairly early in the drafting process and feels right...or I try a bunch of different titles that never really feel right. When I sold my book, I sold it under the title, “Jubilee,” a word I love and the title of one of the stories. I love the exuberance of that word, and in a lot of my stories there is a lot of darkness — and I like the irony. My editor said, for good reason, I couldn’t do it. She said it didn’t invoke a place. So we just made a list of titles and came upon this one.
JT: I’ve been teaching a bunch of books that I haven’t read in my queer latino literature course. We just read the The Rain God by Arturo Islas. It’s amazing. You should all read it. KVQ: I’m reading NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names which is wonderful.
IM: When did you know your piece of writing was “done”?
IM: How do you decide whether or not a story should be told in fiction or nonfiction? KVQ: I don’t write much nonfiction, I find it harrowing. I love the protective veil of fiction. I just published a nonfiction piece in The New York Times that was a light piece, short, not high-stakes. But the amount of anxiety I poured into it was incredible, because the stakes feel so high with nonfiction. I had to keep questioning myself, did this actually happen? My tendency to let fiction creep in is so strong — I have to keep asking myself, did this actually happen? Because you have to tell the truth with nonfiction. Some people don’t mind it...and I wonder, where are your self-protective instincts?
In Conversation with Justin Torres and Kirstin Valdez-Quade
At one point, I sent my agent a couple more stories, thinking we would talk about edits and then beginning to send them out to magazine. She called me that afternoon: “we’re ready to go out with a collection.” And I said, “no we’re not!” They weren’t ready.
JT: It took me six years to write that very short book. People tell me, “I read it in an afternoon!” And I say, “it took six years of my life [to write]!” I felt complicated about it. The way that I usually decide that something is done is that I read it aloud, and there is not a moment that I hate. I usually hate it for so long. I feel that it is false for so long. You know, I think that’s why everything I write is so short, so I can I read it from beginning to end. Also, I like to make sure the intention behind it is not something else — revenge. KVQ: My book took me almost ten years to write. The oldest story is the first one. I wrote the first draft of that in 2006. But during that time, I was moving around a lot, I wrote a bunch of other stories that were total failures. I was learning how to write. I’m a slow writer, too. Nothing ever feels ready to me.
by drowning like brittle skin reaching for the cracked a body that believes in down a thought in the back, is this is looking at each star lost in cloud cover, chemicals skin. will my spirit turn with my body? bones under —breaking contact and where are we going are we sure we’re going there looking down now they’re looking up and nobody intended to be felt? back. hands tied. we know still set aside your vows to catch, break your focus it works how our feet are here now. how easy togetherness, so why are they sure (move air at one end of the bruises breaking the circle) this is prayer this visceral place where hands are still in a sea of self, looking elsewhere, not in the bones under soil our church is the surface again, a stranger’s arm and enjoy being overwhelmed this is selfish Yuko Kyutoku, “Letters”
we have red lines on our necks from craning upwards, pinched and it takes time to recover.
My heart has been hacked into Silent Anonymous ; blood drips, drop Like atom bombs on the antagonist. They explode in Outer Space, Cramped into the ears of deaf-men. My screams are in lower case, Like muted dreams, wailing just to be heard. But you won’t hear Me though. Zen In my chaotic Eden Eve’s in rapture, searching, Twerking jerks to feed fantasies; I am running through hell tales, While Belle sells water bottles to wishing wells. Would you like to talk, she says Noah, I say, i’m just going through a phase.
Samuel de Poto, “Riverhead Raceway”
Samuel de Poto Riverhead Raceway Christopher Jiles Jr. “What Were the Sins This Time”
Yuko Kyutoku, “Self Portrait”
Shadow Meets Self What Changed Rachel Chevat
today i held your chaos in my hands and felt the tsunami become as gentle as a pond today i am afraid of being the whale today i am afraid of being the krill but i still went swimming and that is what changed
Darkie. Charcoal. Dirt. Mud. For years, these were my names. They were given to me by my peers who could not understand the difference in our skin colors. “Why are you so much darker than me?” they would ask. “Does God not love you enough to make you lighter?” I lived with the shiftiness of a body that just wouldn’t lighten after praying to a God that the people around me struggled to believe in. Our belief in God was supposed to unite us, but soon we realized that it had done nothing but divide us. I didn’t want to make the mistake of believing in something I couldn’t see. I just prayed silently, in an empty room, waiting for a wish that would never be granted. The kids on my block used to make jokes about me disappearing at night. I’d laugh along with them. If I didn’t laugh, I was afraid I’d lose them. I was too young to understand the impact their laughter would have on me as I matured. “Nighty night, night,” they’d say, dispersing into the darkness of the night as the streetlights came on and glared down on me. I was left alone, or rather, left to myself, trying to piece together the remains of my broken identity. Speaking the names they gave me into existence meant that they were true. Darkie. Charcoal. Dirt. Mud… and if they were true, I wanted to know why. Before I was old enough to understand what being a writer was, all I wanted to do was hide. I wasn’t sure I could ever accurately articulate the mess floating around in my head, but I was determined to try. Earlier in the quest to self-acceptance, I wrote poetry about why people thought I was ugly. The one I remember was only three lines long: I don’t understand. They don’t understand. Maybe we never will.
Poetry never felt quite right. The poems I wrote were either too short or too vague. It felt almost as foreign to me as my own body, so I started writing short stories about people, places, and experiences that were completely different from my own. The characters were white. They lived in the suburbs. They were thirty. They were married. They had dogs. By shifting the focus from myself to people I didn’t know, I didn’t have to confront my ugliness. I didn’t have to wonder why people thought I was ugly. Breaking into these white-centered spaces meant that I didn’t have to be ugly. I found myself seeking help in the words I wrote, but couldn’t relate to, and rejecting help in the words I thought, but didn’t have the courage to say. The pain of realizing that I hated my own skin often manifested into a character’s sudden death in my short stories. The death was always untimely, quickly paced, and unimportant to the plot of the story—similar to how my skin made me feel: unimportant. I promised myself that I’d stop writing if that pain ever went away. Here I am, still writing. “Protect your magic,” my aunt would say to me as she held my face in her hands. “Protect it. You won’t be blessed enough, in this lifetime, to keep it.” She believed the color of my skin was powerful, that it could make a name for itself without my permission. But with that power came rage; the honesty in her voice suffocated me. I don’t think I ever believed in magic, or that I even had it to begin with. It was easier to see my self in pieces than it was to see me whole. There was the piece that saw lightness as beauty, the piece that balanced that lightness with possibility, and the piece that doubted everything. That last piece believed that blackness and happiness could not co-exist because to be happy while also being black meant that everything was okay. There I was, a disruption in the form of a girl, rotting from the
darkness pain was important pain was pain was. There was no stopping the darkness that had cursed me. I was the victim of a curse I could not explain. I thought back to that question: “Does God not love you enough to make you lighter?” All I could do was hurt the darkness, damage the darkness, and punish the darkness, in the way that it had hurt, damaged and punished me. So, this was womanhood...I always thought being a woman meant you had to give up everything you loved, whether you wanted to or not…and then, what would it mean if you wanted to? If I wasn’t a woman, what would I be? There was something special in being nobody to somebody. I was broken because God was using me. The most beautiful parts of me were those no one could see. I was a just a wisp of something, ungrounded, lies floating around in my head, waiting to be named. Just waiting…waiting…waiting. “You are nothing.” “You are black and you are nothing.” But I thought to myself: if just for one minute I got to pull my happiness out of the dark hole it had been in all these years, then I wanted to do that. I never knew it felt that way. Nobody ever told me that having the choice to be nothing would feel that way. Darkie, Charcoal, Dirt, Mud…these are my names… This was
“She is ugly.” “She is a waste of space.” “She is no one.” For years, I accepted this. I stayed broken. My flesh was charged with the spirit of its maker. My soul was ruptured by the sharpness of those words. I enjoyed the pain because it was the only thing that had not given up on me. Pain was my savior pain was my
What does it mean to be black to her? To be black in a world where people tell you that it’s not beautiful, what does it mean? To live at the intersection of being black and being a woman, what does it mean? There is an urgency in taking back what’s already been taken from you. Darkie. Charcoal. Dirt. Mud. For years, these were my names. Never again.
“Darkie. Charcoal. Dirt. Mud. For years, these were my names. Never again.”
Khalif Thompson, “Untitled (Fisayoi)
outside in. There I was, absorbing all of the waste that had been dumped on me. People cleaned themselves on me…wiped themselves clean of the ugliness and the pain, rendering me ugly and in pain.
thing was obvious: I always found solace in writing. It was the friend I never had, the doll I rarely played with, the skin I never loved. A few years ago, I couldn’t look in a mirror without cringing. I remember when my mama asked me what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I didn’t have an answer for her, so I asked what she saw when she looked at me. She said “I see a lot of pain in you, baby,” and I didn’t want to tell her that she was right, so I laughed it off as I do, and said “Nah, that’s crazy.” The girl she needed in her life was not the girl I wanted to see in the mirror every day, but I am choosing to rise in the pain of seeing her. I am choosing to think critically about what I want to say to that girl in the mirror so that the next little black girl who thinks she’s ugly can take her time and work through the thought without getting caught in it. You might see her one day, sitting uncomfortably in the corner with her legs tucked underneath her, reading a Toni Morrison novel; trying to find hope in the words on the page that haven’t yet been smudged by tear-stained thumbprints.
the dialect of a broken black girl who still thinks that she’s ugly and worth nothing because the search for beauty, whatever that was, proved too difficult and inconvenient. This was the dialect of a broken black girl whose story was created in all of five minutes after looking in a mirror and deciding that she wasn’t enough. This was the dialect of a broken black girl who knew she wasn’t worth much, but still wanted the fighter in her to break loose from the clutches of a body that broke more easily than it healed. Death likes to eat…and this was a kind of death that grew as its hunger did. I was just a dark girl moving through the world in pieces, dying in pieces so that shock of it wouldn’t hit me all at once. Whether it was writing poetry that didn’t feel quite right, or writing short stories that didn’t feel like they said enough, one
Bridget Dease Shadow Meets Self
An Interview with Bridget Dease Author of Shadow Meets Self, pages 75 through 77
What was the inspiration for this piece? Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always looked in the mirror and hated what stared back at me. My mother always told me that my dark skin was something to be extremely proud of, that it was beautiful, but the voices of my peers telling me that it was unattractive or that God had made a mistake were much louder. Whether it be a short story, play, or poem, my characters are usually the driving force of the piece. However, for this particular piece, the character driving the story is me. I was a little worried about sharing this with people because it’s so deeply personal and sort of embarrassing to admit, but I’d like to lend a voice to the movement of dismantling the idea that dark skin is ugly or worthless and to hopefully help other young girls acknowledge their worth and beauty.
What excites you about the artistic process? When I write fiction or plays, I would usually say that being able to explore themes I wouldn’t normally face in real life is one of the most exciting parts about the artistic process. In the case of this piece, exploring my truth as a young dark-skinned girl was exciting, albeit difficult. I’ve had to sit down and really allow myself to be honest about the story I wanted to tell. I tend to second guess myself in my writing which is very time-consuming and frustrating, but everyday I’m working towards having more confidence. I suppose there’s no set process to writing about these kinds of painful, exhilarating and rewarding things other than to just go for it without second-guessing yourself, but I know that I feel most cathartic and creative when I’m writing about something that makes me uncomfortable.
Can you discuss your creative process in crafting this piece? This piece started off as a short play that I wrote for my LGBTQ Theatre and Performance class in which I had three unidentified figures (friends of mine in the class) read aloud hurtful comments that I’ve heard throughout my lifetime about my dark skin. The combination of hearing those phrases being hurled at me once more as well as standing in front of a class of people who had no idea this happened was both cathartic and nerve-wracking. I was afraid of those phrases bringing up old feelings that I’ve had (and still have), but as I continue to create, I’m realizing that those feelings are valid and that they are necessary to my growth as a writer and as a person.
What is your most embarrassing habit as a writer? My most embarrassing habit as a writer would be when I talk to myself. I have a lot of mess floating around in my head that isn’t quite developed yet, so I edit it over and over again by speaking out loud as to configure it into something that makes sense. I guess this is only embarrassing because I constantly worry that I’ll be caught, but I haven’t...yet.
Khalif Thompson, “Milkdud”
To My Compatriots of 206th and Bedford
An Interview with Khalif Thompson Artist: Untitled (Fisayoi), page 76 and Milkdud, page 79
What was the inspiration for these pieces? Prior to and during the process of making Milk Dud and Untitled (Fisayo) I was looking at a number of artists working in black portraiture and conceptualism, namely Barkley L. Hendricks and Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas. Using the idea of the odalisque and examining and adorning the black body, while conveying the subject’s identity.
Estoy de vuelta de la universidad! Would you believe I’ve almost The taste of home is like no other. College definitely taught me forgotten this bountiful, rich scent of arroz y gandules cooking that. Beyond our famous dishes, tasting home is reminiscing the in Mami’s small, tight kitchen? This is the distinct taste of the tears families shed when kitchen she cursed every time she turned around, “Teach your mother we all suffer the typical urban tragedies that knocking over a pan, for her quarters were so have been normalized as a reality of the urban how powerful small. standard of living. We are inherently given a her accented voice is. “ script. We are inherently born slaves that do not I’m remembering que aquí es el lugar where our even realize the censorship around us. On the mothers’ beauties were our only mysteries in which we prided block, college has become an abstract dream that our parents beg ourselves. Tenemos esa sangre fuerte, las madres would tell their us to chase. And when you are a part of that small percentage that daughters with a perfectly lined-lip smirk does receive an acceptance letter, run with it. Exercise your mind beyond the boundaries to which the world constrains you. Teach Casi olvido que este es el lugar where my childhood crush was the your mother how powerful her accented voice is. Teach your first to hold my hips. His face was smooth as vermouth, as were siblings to educate themselves and expand their minds as you have. his slick little comments. I heard his Ma later popped him in the mouth when she caught him cursing around his friends. Rice and beans may be my favorite meal, pero te lo juro: this newfound wisdom tastes so damn good. And would you believe I almost forgot how loud we were—are? Sinceramente tu hermana, I forgot the bemused gringos who walked past our block, Des wondering who was throwing a house party at nine in the morning. But if you were from here, you knew it was someone’s *** mami who swore she was cleaning but was actually a faithful dance partner to her trapeador.
Can you discuss your creative process in crafting these pieces? I started by researching different artists and concepts that interest me, having in mind a general essence I wanted to get from a painting, and motifs I wished to include. Then bringing in live models, and creating a setup, I paint and take photographs of them that I later use as references. What excites you about the artistic process? Decision making is really fun to me as well as stressful, I love listening to music while I paint and getting lost in my work. What is your most embarrassing habit as a writer? I always leave my model’s naked references all over my desk, and they’re usually friends of mine so I feel bad.
brittle bones crackling like pop rocks. gorilla glue over elmer’s because gorilla smells better, and tastes just like home when sticking to gums, between teeth, underneath tongue.
eyes roll into the back of your head when you look at straight trees that you know have crooked roots. hands dig in the mud below getting dirt under the manicured nails with a clear top coat.
webbed toes inside of your socks in shoes that are too wide just like your hips. looking for the cure that hasn’t been invented yet by the people who haven’t even been born.
you learned to see in the dark while wondering why me why me why me? no reply. crucified by the light of day having the last laugh because of what you remembered.
faux love that feels good in your mouth when you lick the other’s and taste today’s lunch. the kind that eats the dirt off of the floor because it too is a shameless bottom feeder behind closed doors.
the physical form comes with numerous formalities. pry open your rib cage and stand amongst them exposed. beating heart no longer protected by the flesh and bone that kept you warm through winter.
the hand has eczema and jagged human claws. it slaps the wall looking for the light switch in a room with no windows and one door that locks every night around 1 AM.
walk the thin line between delusion and daydream. watch your step and keep your balance because it wobbles every once in a while when you’re not paying very close attention.
slanted on your inside chewing on glass for fun. howl at the moon like the neighbor’s dog who has fleas and ticks that like your blood better, friends that bite and don’t mind using you.
the windows to your soul are grimy and in need of cleaning when too many have touched them. wipe them down and keep advertising the show before the last onlooker suggests that you shut the blinds.
Permanent People are not permanent. Our legs are designed to walk away, our hands constructed to pack our things, our lips devised to say “goodbye”. Even the cells of our bodies will wither and die and be replaced and the people you love will not even consist of the same molecules. People simply aren’t permanent.
Michael gave me power and certainty. No matter how far I wandered, I knew that when I was ready to turn around and go home, Michael would be waiting for me. Michael was always waiting. But with waiting came isolation, I could see it in his face, the way he pursed his lips, furrowed his brows. The text messages started to come in paragraphs, endless monologues about how much he cared about me and loved me, how lonely he was without someone to keep him company.
Michael seemed permanent. He was tall and broad with dark, tightly-wound curls and eyes magnified by intense, thick-framed glasses. He was the funny kid at the back of the classroom and I was the pet that sat at the front. He was the sarcasm and I was the dry humor. The pot smoker and the goody-goody. Yet we found each other. And we loved each other. As much as anyone could.
“I know I have family and friends who love me and I know college is right around the corner, but I just want someone by my side. I feel so isolated and unwanted.” Michael said one time.
It wasn’t romantic or flirtatious. It was just love; the love of being around each other, the love of knowing without speaking, understanding without explaining. We just got it, we got each other. We were permanent. “You’re my best friend,” he would say over and over again, like every time he said it, it became more true. And I would laugh or smile and then there would be silence, as though to let it sink in. It was a comfortable silence, as though it belonged there, as though it was there simply to say “see, you don’t even need words.” It was like that for a long time, just the two of us. From the moment our alarms dragged us out of our beds until we were so exhausted we couldn’t keep our eyes open, we found little ways to be together. We would send each other stupid jokes or poke each other when we passed in the halls. And soon we found bits and pieces of the other one in ourselves. I found myself using expressions only Michael used, listening to music only Michael played. We were shaping each other. I realized, one day, that Michael was in love with me. I could see the way his eyes lingered, the way his face would light up when I walked into the room. But I didn’t love him. Not like that. I had made it clear that I wasn’t interested; I loved other people, even dated other people, yet Michael remained close by, ready to ask “how high” if I told him to jump.
I hugged him tightly, his arms wrapping around my body. “It’s okay,” I cooed, “I know you feel sad right now but it’ll go away. The sadness always goes away. We all feel sad sometimes, I promise. It comes and goes, it happens to me, it happens to everyone. But it’s only temporary. Nothing is permanent.” I said softly into his ear, his body shuddering from his sighs. “College will be here before you know it and you’ll be off meeting all kinds of people and making all kinds of friends and you won’t ever be alone, I promise you. I promise.” July waltzed into our hazy summer, bringing with it fireworks and cool beach nights. The Fourth of July was the single greatest day in my small beach town, everyone flocked to the beaches, setting up bonfires and lighting fireworks. Music and cheering and chattering engulfed the coastline. Small children played with sparklers as couples walked the length of the beach with their sandy dogs on wet leashes. Michael and I found each other on the beach that night. Bumping into each other, we hugged, took photos, then parted, bumping into other people who we considered friends in our drunken state. At the end of the night, Michael and I found ourselves trekking a mile through town to the elementary school. We stumbled into each other, giggling at our lack of coordination. We sat on the steps at the back of the school, looking over the expanse of the field and playground. Leaning against each other, we watched
over the school in silence, absorbing the sounds of the night; the rustling of leaves, the footsteps of late night strangers, the buzzing of streetlights.
And the conversation ended. And I had destroyed the person I was trying to save.
“Are you still lonely?” I asked quietly, my words sluggish, my eyes fuzzy. Michael was quiet for a moment, perhaps he hadn’t heard me.
Michael and I were permanent. And then we weren’t. And then we were strangers, just like that. I went from having him wrapped around my finger to barely being able to reach him. Little incidents of bickering morphed into screaming at each other in capital letters followed by long stretches of silence. But this silence was different. It was sharp and bitter, like if you let it get too close, it would bite. It wasn’t gentle or complacent. It was a screeching, blaring silence.
“Kind of,” he replied slowly, unsure if he was answering correctly. I leaned in then, kissing him gently. “Let me take away your loneliness,” I said, nearly inaudibly. Michael kissed me back, eagerly leaning into my touch. I had thought, believed, that if I could steal away Michael’s loneliness for just a moment, if a kiss was all it would take to heal his wounds, then I would save him. I would kiss him and alleviate his pain and come morning everything would be normal and Michael would be okay. I was wrong. In the days that would follow, Michael would insist that we should date. “I don’t want a relationship, Michael. I don’t want anything to tie me down in college. Long distance relationships never work.” “Well then we can date for the summer and go back to friends in the fall.” “That never works, Michael, you know that. These things never work out.” “Well if you don’t want to be a thing with me, then why did you kiss me?”
August arrived like high tide, like the entire summer it seemed so far away and slow approaching until suddenly it was there and we were leaving. I went north and Michael went south and it was over. What had once seemed as solid and firm as a building, cracked and crumbled and I was left standing in the rubble. It was like I was standing out in the rain with my hands cupped, yet no matter how hard I tried to catch the drops, water still slipped through my fingers. Michael wasn’t permanent. And no matter how hard I tried to believe that he was, no matter how much I wanted to think that he would come back to me, it just wasn’t true. And so I became just as ephemeral as he. I boxed up the sound of his voice and the way he made me laugh and pretended it had never happened, pretended that the person I was with Michael never existed. People are not permanent. They are not photographs or poems, nor are they buildings or parks. Some of them may seem that way, in fact, most of them do. But it’s just not true. And once you learn that, you’ll become just as temporary too.
“To save you,” I wanted to say. But I didn’t say that, or I did, but not in that way. “It breaks my heart, Michael. Michael, it breaks my heart to see you so sad and lonely, and I thought, Michael, I thought that if I could take away that loneliness for just a moment, if I could just take away your pain…”
“I never asked for your help. I don’t need your pity.”
Yuko Kyutoku, “Hybrid- Time Bomb x Heart”
Yuko Kyutoku, “Goddess of Visual Arts”
The Lake They moved to the lake when she was four— It wasn’t the lake; it was one of many, called Serena Lakes, (because of the serenity of lakes, naturally) even though none of them were that: natural. None of the lakes or ponds or pools in Kendall, or The Hammocks or Coconut Grove or even in Homestead, that unpaved marshy farmland dividing South Miami from the Everglades’ swamps and the Miccosukee Resort. But Homestead is later. Now she is four years old and this is her lake, concrete-paved as everything in her life was concrete-paved, (the sidewalk, the driveway, the house; her knees perpetually skinned) but big enough that she could call it a lake. There was no shore—the backs of yards of all the houses, crowded neatly round, ran right down into water as if below the surface there was a black hole slowly pulling the yards in an inch or two a year— trees arching away from a steep slope, warm water lapping up into suburbia-green grass, growing tall and un-mowed. in that grass the girls found nests of duck eggs, some of them rotten, and small beady tadpoles, squirming in the water-sunken roots. young iguanas whipping their long lethal tails and sometimes in the summer penny copper crawfish; often toads in a drunken stagger, croaking their sounds, but more often they found nothing and came back with arms and legs itching from mosquito bites and chigger mites.
Who put them there? The Homeowners’ Association? (Her father was once on The Homeowners’ Association Board, when Whisper was still in elementary school, making what she understood only to be Important Decisions for the fate of the neighborhood. She remembers being proud of him for that). The parents never cooked the fish they caught— they never trusted the lake water; told the girls not to open their eyes underwater. And yet, sometimes Whisper did. The girls would tow the raft out on a cleverly-rigged rope pulley, (usually coated slick in lime green algae, but never mind it; it is soft to the touch) and cling to the side of it, practicing holding their breath underwater. They wanted to see who could hold their breath longest, or do the best backflip off of the raft, or swim the fastest back to land. Or do nothing at all, but wade slowly in place, feet dangling in colder waters below small silver minnows and other delicate, flighty fish nibbling at their toes. So sometimes she did open her eyes underwater though they told her not to because she wanted to see the little fish, and whether the tadpoles had sprouted their legs yet, and to figure out—which she never did—what the bottom of the lake looked like.
They were ‘the girls’ whenever their parents called for them, because they were always together and always with Whisper, or she with them. Their fathers and mothers (together because the girls were together) hung rope swings and hammocks from the overhanging trees and built rafts to float out to the middle of the lake.
She had vague impressions, maybe imaginings, of a dense forest of algae cast in brown light. She would remind herself that the lake was dug out of the ground by bulldozers, and not a real body of water, and yet she still entertained the fantastic idea of a ship, or the waterlogged fragments of one, lying at the bottom overtaken by billowing lake weeds. She knew at least that it was cold there. If she dived any deeper than the length of her own body, the light changed the water from blue-grey to a dim, murky green and the warmth of it was leeched. She could hear only the sound of her own body swishing in the water and imagined some dark silhouette would rush at her out of the deep, a gnarled snapping turtle or black Water Moccasin.
The mothers hosed them down and toweled them off when they came in, And gave them hot oatmeal baths for their bites. The fathers tried, and sometimes did, catch fish from the lake— Yes, somehow there were fish in the lake, mostly small bass.
During the rainy season, she sometimes left paperback books, borrowed from her school library out on the patio, on the ‘outdoor furniture’; it would rain overnight,
Whisper Blanchard The Lake
sideways through the patio screen and the pages would warp and run their ink. She would remember a little too late and run out to find the wind had picked up the book and left it open and floating on the water, bumping into the grassy edge of the lake, waiting for her there. She would try to dry them with her mother’s hair dryer. The librarian was disappointed in her; he let her know books were a great responsibility. But she liked the rainy season— She could stand in her backyard, looking out over the mercurial silver of the lake, her eyes following the tiny ripples that danced atop the water’s surface—the only evidence, she thought, of invisible gusts of wind—and knew that a storm was coming. The clouds rolled on the horizon, lightning flashed. The violet hour. The girls could go in the lake if it was raining, but never if they heard thunder. She was barefoot in the grass, watching bees hover around a bush flowering violet. The rain like a cool silver curtain falling over the lake rushed towards her; she could see it advancing on the water— she would barely make it to the house before it was suddenly overhead, and then everywhere, all around, the waterfall sound. Sometimes it rained so often that the lake became bloated, overflowing with rainwater and lake water, hiccupping little rivulets into the backyard. That was how she would know they would start finding ticks inside the house, brought in on the hides of their dogs: Duke a black lab and Angel a mixed mutt, the ticks would crawl up the walls and nestle into the carpets, deftly hidden in her father’s white ankle socks. She hated the ticks’ gluttony, how their backs would swell— and if she pressed them just so between her thumb and forefinger they would burst like overripe berries, spilling her own warm blood. Everything circled back to the lake. It was only because of the lake that she ever dreamed when she was younger, and really, they were nightmares, but they never scared her, so she often forgot and called them dreams. She liked to wonder how her little subconscious came about them. Once, the yard became a hedge maze, decorated with limestone statues and empty bird cages, like Villa Vizcaya. In the center of the garden, a praying mantis, tall as a tree, bowed its front legs, eyes whirling like pinwheels. Impossibly large above the tiny dream-Whisper, that she had to lock herself in a birdcage and watch as it loomed overhead.
became vivid toucans and rushed at her over the lake, like the rain often rushed in from the horizon. When she ran inside the house and closed the glass sliding door, she slammed it on a toucan’s beak, sunset orange, and it cracked like the shell of an egg; she woke up feeling so guilty about what she’d done, but not scared of the nightmare, though the bird had come for her and tried to peck at her eyes. Her most recurring dreams were of tornados, (though she’d never even seen one); sometimes they were pillars of hot wind and dirt, otherwise waterspouts twirling with silver minnows swimming inside, and silver-dollar turtles she’d once released into the lake when they became too large for their tanks. Why would she dream that? Maybe it was the lake. Maybe that was why her parents told her not to open her eyes underwater. Maybe the water in her eyes made her see things. Or maybe, Whisper wondered, was the lake water getting into her body through her pores? If she swallowed water while swimming, she worried—did her stomach ache in a funny way, or did she conjure the feeling herself, a niggling of curiosity, a paranoia?`
Turn to page 92 for an interview with Whisper Blanchard
Another time, a murder of crows
Whisper Blanchard The Lake
An Interview with Whisper Blanchard Author of The Lake, pages 88 through 91
What was the inspiration for this piece? While working on my senior project, I wrote a lot of (initially aimless) poems about my childhood that I realized were set near some body of water. Coincidentally I wrote The Lake first, using stream-of-conscious as a way to sift through memories of my childhood home so that I could craft a fictional, poeticized version of it for my readers. Every detail that I was interested in putting to paper seemed to be associated in some way to the lake on the other side of my backyard, so the first poem very quickly became about the lake. I then wrote The Pond, a shorter poem for a smaller body of water, and the series grew from there to include my earliest memories of learning how to swim, and other sites of water in my hometown, including beaches, river campsites, public pools and state parks. Can you discuss your creative process in crafting this piece? When a reader encounters a bird in a poem, particularly if it is singing, it means that the poet is thinking about the creative process of writing the poem; this was something I learned from my literature professors here at Purchase. For many poets, birds have become an ultimate analogy for the poet’s highest, most sincere art. For me, when I look at my own work, I realize that my poetic symbol is not a singing bird, though birds certainly appear in my nature poems, but instead the presence of water in the poem. Rivers, rain showers and the like appear organically in the settings of my drafts, and with such frequency that I can’t ignore my own affinity for the element of water. For this reason I think that spending too much time in urbanized areas actually hinders my creative process, and that I am more inspired when I can be near the sea, or some other body of water; and therefore more inspired when I think about water as well.
What excites you about the artistic process? I get excited about writing in fleeting bursts. I’ve realized more recently that if I let myself wander into a poem or piece of prose, the work is more sincere and fruitful, as opposed to approaching a first draft with meticulous intention about what I want to accomplish in the writing and how I’m going to do it. So I guess what I am trying to do is actually break down my artistic process to something simple and natural; I feel restricted by rigid writing forms, and though they can be used as a tool to challenge the poet’s mind, my best work is free verse. What is your most embarrassing habit as a writer? I don’t write nearly enough. I spend an endless amount of time everyday thinking about what I want to write about, but never actually find the time to do the work. It can be incredibly easy to place the blame elsewhere, on the build-up of other assignments or a tight work schedule, but I know that as an artist it is on me to forge a path for my work to happen.
Erica Vitucci, “252”
Contributor Biographies Ray Antonison bribed the editors of Italics Mine to get published this year. They would like to thank their gerbil, Rue, for her constant support and company. They dedicate their poem to every name that just felt so right. Whisper Blanchard is a small, flowering plant that flourishes best in the tropical climate of Miami, FL. She is allergic to bees and not much of a green thumb herself. It is essential that she is planted near some sea or other large body of water. Leandra Bombace loves a good story and to weave tales. She has loved mythology, fairytales, and music since as far back as she can remember. Her writing is greatly inspired by a combination of these three. Destiny Carattini is a freshman attending SUNY Purchase, majoring in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. Hailing from New York, Destiny enjoys writing essays on any subject that wrestles with her own values or interests. She aspires to write for the New York Times and wallow in her unfinished essays. Rachel Chevat is a singer/songwriter and Studio Composition major from Brooklyn. She enjoys pasta and chocolate and loves the ocean. Matthew Crisson, 18, roams their hometown of NYC in search of museums, fashion inspiration, spare potter’s clay, and people who love to give you a piece of their mind. They are a cat fanatic, humble shrub, and a Sculpture major (with minors in Art History and Psychology) as well as Hot Messiah, a crossdressing demigod and the reigning Fall Ball ‘16 Quing. Previous pieces have been seen on display at corporate offices in Manhattan, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, and MoMA P.S.1. Their work tends to document and challenge subjects such as socio-political power structures, the fabrication of gender constructs, and human belief in powers both mythological and mystical.
Nolan Crowley is currently a senior attending SUNY Purchase where he double majors in History and Literature with a minor in Philosophy. He is originally from the Hudson Valley area of New York and has only recently begun to write seriously. Kayla Dale is a junior double major in Creative Writing and Literature. When she’s not reading, writing, and editing, she’s working on projects in various mediums that include ink, chalk, pastel, and photography. Much of her work focuses on contrast, whether it be pale hands against a black wall, or a dark flower against a white light. Bridget Renee Dease is a young human being. Or at least, trying to be. She was born and raised in Washington DC. At Purchase College, Bridget is a senior who double majors in Creative Writing and Anthropology/double minors in Playwriting and History. Somehow, she has not completely lost it, but continues her search for sleep, sanity, and happiness. She’d like to thank her lovely mama, who is her world and nothing less. She’d also like to give a little advice to anyone if they should ever find themselves down: Never doubt yourself; you are amazing and there’s a whole world of people waiting to discover you.Peace, Good Vibes, and Toni Morrison (her idol). Riley A. Dixon is a senior Creative Writing and Literature major at SUNY Purchase. Graduation is dreaded/anticipated in May 2017. She is seeking all lost mythical creatures and treasured childhood memories--for research purposes. R. James Donahue started writing at fourteen years old, poetry and rhythm were intertwined in every day conversation and life. Even though it wasn’t the popular or cool thing to do in high school, Donahue “free-writes” every day to express himself.
Jalen Garcia-Hall is a Bronx native, and a senior at Purchase College, majoring in Creative Writing and History. Ethan Gresko is a sophomore journalism major with a literature concentration from Rochester, N.Y. His work in journalism includes being a senior writer for the Purchase Beat, as well as getting articles and other work featured in local publications like Daily Voice and WAG Magazine. He is a hiking and snack fanatic, and once ate a whole box of Frosted Flakes for breakfast. Christopher Jiles Jr. is a visual artist from Brooklyn based in Brownsville, New York. He began his undergraduate studies in painting and drawing at SUNY Purchase College in 2013 and will be receiving his BFA in the Spring of 2017. Through painting, along with a multitude of mediums, issues involving police brutality and injustices faced by the African American community, as well as reflections of what is perceived as the everyday African American come forth and impose themselves on the viewers. Christopher’s current work centers on himself as he ventures into the depths of memories and experiences that have shaped and continue to shape who he is. Beyond the theme of blackness, while still whispering to it, he explores sexuality, various interactions, and perceptions. His work has been showcased in the Visual Arts Building at SUNY Purchase College several times and has been part of a group exhibition in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY. Gillian Lynn Katz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved to the United States as a teenager in the mid-1960’s. She graduated from Purchase College in 1994 with a BA in Literature. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College and a Certificate in Screenwriting from UCLA Extension. In 2012, Ms. Katz’s chapbook, Kaleidoscope, was published by Finishing Line Press and her poem “Midnight” won Second Place in the Greenburgh Poetry Contest. She has also published poetry and fiction in various journals including Inkwell, The Westchester Review, and Epiphany.
Una Ludviksen was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. She migrates back and forth from the other coast to attend the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase. She loves words and the subtly enormous power they hold. Shannon Magrane is a sophomore Creative Writing major and Screenwriting minor from Long Island, who aspires to be a novelist. She specializes in writing fantasy, but also enjoys horror and science fiction. She loves dogs more than she loves herself and would sell her soul for a chocolate bar. As a second year creative writing student, Finola McDonald is still finding her way through the poetic path, but becoming more comfortable with the walk. Her work, although abstract at times, aims to connect to the reader, whoever he or she may be, because poetry is universal. Jamison Murcott is a student at Purchase College and is currently working towards a BA in Creative Writing. Native to Long Island, New York, she spends her summers working at the beach and then spends all that money on egg sandwiches and iced coffee. Her earliest written story was about her Uncle Larry mowing his lawn in July while dressed in a snowsuit because he was afraid of venomous snakes (she likes to think that her storytelling has since improved). Sam de Poto is a photographer, printmaker, and installation artist. Born and raised on Shelter Island NY, he currently resides in Yonkers, NY while completing his BFA in Visual Arts at SUNY Purchase. Sam’s work primarily focuses on the manifestation of liminal spaces and ways in which people and place enter a state of flux during a time of social and political turmoil. Sam is interested in art’s function as being both a vehicle to spark social change and a form of storying telling that embraces narrative and sharing of experiences. After graduating, Sam plans on moving to Chicago to work on collaborative installation pieces while pursuing ongoing narrative-based photographic works.
Gabriella Saladino is a Literature and Creative Writing double major going into their junior year here at Purchase. They spend their free time working at the Learning Center and writing poetry. Zoey B. Scheler is a second year MFA candidate at Purchase College SUNY. Zoey attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, where she received her BFA with an emphasis in ceramics. Following her studies in Brooklyn she attended Hofstra University on Long Island, NY, obtaining her MSED in K-12 Art Education. Zoey is currently working on small, handheld, intimate, ceramic objects and engaging in a theoretical conversation about clay craft. To see more of her work please visit zoeybscheler.com Ernst Tenemille is a senior, graduating this May in Liberal Studies with a Minor in Psychology. He was born in Haiti. His pen name literally translates to “negro of the Mountain,” but to most Haitians it is a pejorative term that means “hillbilly,” “uneducated,” or “idiot!” But to him, among other things, it means “Black man from Haiti,” which describes him perfectly. That is, if you understand that “neg” is colloquial French for “negro” and that the word “Haiti,” actually means “land of mountains”--morne is French for small mountain. He believes it healthy to embrace all parts of a person, hence, “NegMorne,” in every sense of the word. Khalif Thompson is a Junior at Purchase College, majoring in Painting and Drawing. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, where he also majored in Fine Art. His work has been primarily based in portraiture and figuration. Concepts that interest him deal with race, identity, sexuality, and the human condition. He seeks to continue developing his ideas and experience as an artist and human being, strengthening his knowledge and adoration of concepts of creation.
Sierra Torres is a young artist from Queens, New York. With both her parents involved in th3is field along with other family members, she has always been surrounded by art. Torres enjoys finding very man-made objects and transforming them to trick the eye of the viewer to make the piece resemble something from nature. Touch and sight are important senses in her daily life that has a huge impact to what inspires her art making. Ben Verde is a sophomore Journalism major at Purchase. He hopes to write something good one day Erica Vitucci is a creator from New York. Their work is based on documentation and virtual experimentation that are inspired on the Bleed between breaching societies expectations of traditional beauty in life and art.
Issue 14 of Italics Mine