Ivory Tower two thousand thirteen
Ivory Tower 2013
Ivory Tower 2013 Undergraduate Art and Literary Magazine
Acknowledgments Ivory Tower is the annual journal of art and creative writing by undergraduate students on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus. We are grateful for financial support from the Department of English, Student Unions and Activities, the Coca-Cola Activity Initiative, and the Coca-Cola Development Initiative. We also thank the following individuals for their generous contibutions to the magazine: Dr. Betty Bergland, Pam Chenevert, James Cihlar, Linda Demeter, Richard Dufner, Clayton D. Halunen, Sara and Jim Kunitz, Velma Moen, Jill and Subba Moorthy, Kevin and Anna Paulson, Liz Salzmann, Pam and Jim Sleper, and Paul A. and Lucienne J. Taylor. We are grateful for the collaboration of our university and community partners: dislocate magazine, Hazel & Wren, Jimmy John’s, Kopplin’s Coffee, Micawber’s Books, Paper Darts, Publika Tea and Coffee Union, Radio K, the University of Minnesota Archives, the University of Minnesota Foundation, the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, Versa Printing, and Whole Beast Rag. Thanks also to the friends and colleagues who provided advice, assistance, and inspiration: Courtney Algeo, Debra Anderson, Mary Barfield, Maria Damon, Jennifer Fossenbell, Karen Frederickson, Erin George, Kathleen Glasgow, Brian Goldberg, Zachary Haas, Katharine Hargreaves, Rose Hendrickson, Laurie Hertzel, Jessica Joseph, Judith Katz, Grace Littlefield, Pamela Leszczynski, Jesse R. Lickel, Andrew Marzoni, Jamie Millard, Tomás Q. Morín, Meghan Murphy, Dan Philippon, Julie Schumacher, Terri Sutton, Albert Tims, Claire Tomczak, Michael Walsh, Kasia Wasko, Amanda Wray, and Melissa Wray. We thank the many undergraduate students who submitted work, as well as the staff, faculty, and graduate assistants in the Creative Writing Program and in the English and Art Departments who helped distribute our call. Special thanks to our teacher, James Cihlar, English Department Chair Ellen Messer-Davidow, and our faculty advisor Peter Campion.
Staff Editors in Chief Etta Berkland Casey Underkofler
Copyeditors Dalton Craig Heather Hamilton
Managing Editors Aaron Bergland Lindsey Geyer Damian Johansson
Proofreaders Kristen Darveaux John Moen
Online Editor Jessica Sanko Marketing Director Elleni Paulson Publicist Amy Wolner
Fiction Editors Melissa Meaglia John Moen Natalia Petkovich Nonfiction Editor Amy Wolner
Art Editor Cassandra Labriola
Poetry Editors David Bowar Aaron Bristow Jessica Sanko
Design Manager WooHyun Shim
Instructor James Cihlar
Copyright © 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota Ivory Tower is a nonprofit annual student production. Ivory Tower University of Minnesota Department of English 207 Lind Hall 207 Church Street SE Minneapolis, MN 55455 www.ivorytower.umn.edu Printed by Versa Press, East Peoria, Illinois, on acid-free paper. Cover: “Fading,” Kristina Laskowski, digital photograph
Ivory Tower 2013 A Letter from the Editors in Chief • ix
Poetry Missouri Shells • Clara Lee • 13 Seconds • Brian Pricco • 18 Moving Picture • Joe Kellen • 24 Dethroned • Lucas Scheelk • 30 Greetings • Andrea Tritschler • 37 Yours Truly • Andrea Tritschler • 38 I Keep My Name in the Corner of a Room • Graham Thomas • 45 Continuum • Jennifer Wang • 51 At the Expense of Travel • David Piery • 55 Istanbul • Samuel Anderson • 59 Postcards • Katie Engevik • 65 Halfway through the Sixth Beer, I Fell Asleep on Your Kitchen Table • Claire Holtz • 73 Rape • Nick Neylon • 74 XO • Morgan Luther • 75 What Weird Flesh • Cory Alford • 76 bones&brains • AP Looze • 86
Fiction “Should I Ring the Doorbell, or Should I Just Barge Right In?” • Dylan Hester • 15 The Natural Museum • Laura Burnes • 19
Actinomorphy and the Human Nose • Scott Seres • 28 Ballad of Zion • Hannah Yeskel • 31 Silence Is Sexy • Matthew McGuire • 39 Delicate Hobbies • Matthew Ullery • 46 The Fast Track to Becoming a Closet Artist • Carissa Johnson • 60 Hummingbird • KT Perleberg • 67
Nonfiction Teacher Tree • Amber Petrik • 25 Lemons • Nick Neylon • 43 Formosa • Emily Walz • 53 Monsieur Gomez • Nora Poole • 56 Lilacs in September • Vanessa Ramstack • 78
Visual Art Fading • Kristina Laskowski • Front Cover Family • Kelsie Klaustermeier Layer of Youth • Elijah Rankin Through the Looking Glass • Maureen Vance Habitat: Silence • Beau Sinchai Habitat: Community Conflict • Beau Sinchai The Show Must Go On • Kristina Laskowski You’re Not Invisible, You Just Don’t Exist • Kristina Laskowski Visualizing Architecture • Mark Miller Contributors’ Notes • 89
A Letter from the Editors in Chief We find ourselves in a period of conversation. Around the world people are looking for new modes of communication between nations and cultures; around our city, people are looking for new ways to connect to friends, family, lovers, and enemies. It’s difficult to ignore. So much of our time is spent discussing how the day went or reporting on the latest international crisis. Ivory Tower has noticed these things, and we seek to join the conversation by compiling the 2013 issue around the theme of dialogue. We facilitate communication between students by sharing some of the most personal and profound stories written by undergraduates at the University of Minnesota. Here, we open the door for questions without claiming to provide answers. In the following pages you will find a journey through life, stretching from stories of accidental childhood friendships in Laura Burnes’s “The Natural Museum,” to honest pieces of nonfiction that deal with death in an introspective and novel form, as in Vanessa Ramstack’s “Lilacs in September.” Within our rich pool of selections, we discovered a narrative that addresses, explores, and runs headlong into the dialogue of everyday (and extraordinary) life: the immature arguings of angsty teenagers along with the reality of dealing with rape; meditations on foreign lands and people in addition to what it means to be “just / a couple / of queers kissing.” We make no apologies for the content within, because it is honest. An open dialogue about the world we all inhabit must be had, and we thank our authors for opening themselves to the blank page. Welcome to the 2013 edition of Ivory Tower.
Ivory Tower 2013
Missouri Shells Clara Lee On October blacktop poured over limestone, the hard ghost of an inland sea, farmland, then floodplains now emptied by whistle, we tumble, small and tough under wind. Over me, Jacob Dearborn is all stonewashed jeans and potato hands, but I, too, am a scuffling-hard kid caught knees on asphalt, shoving back punishment for pinching the still-delicate penis of his best friend, who yesterday called me a Chinese shrimp with glasses. Now I think Jacob is trying to kill me with his damp, white hands and still—I don’t know— I think I’ll marry him for his pilgrim’s name, and his white eyelashes long like horses’ and his mean, wet lisp. I cannot wrest his fists from my face. In a book, I will learn that Dearborns torched orchards and corn fields to oceans of flame. And smashed on my teeth his thumb: the salt of landlocked sea-grit, raw dough, and quick, I hear the interstate: cold water rushing, another whistle is blowing, and quick, I bite to the quick of his thumb. Now he is crashing up into the cookie-sheet slide under which we were hiding, he is crying, I am running. He is calling me a shrimp—as if I ever belonged to this dull-hearted ocean, dry-walled, lawned-over, washed-over calm. I belong to the islands,
plantations, sugar cane trains in Japan, to the seamstress, to the hatmaker of Kowloon, Hong Kong. I donâ€™t know. I am panting and wanting for home.
“Should I Ring the Doorbell, or Should I Just Barge Right In?” Dylan Hester That was the question I distinctly remember asking myself one morning, standing on a front porch, facing a door whose screen I could barely see over. I was five years old, and I had just walked across the street and a third of a block uphill to my friends’ house. A short time earlier, I had walked up the same hill to the same porch and right in through the front door. I could only vaguely comprehend why my friends’ mom had gently scolded me when she found me in the kitchen. Isn’t that what you were supposed to do? I walked right through the door to my own house several times a day. I was welcome to come over and play with my friends in the backyard, but for whatever reason, I could not just barge right in. I had to knock, or ring the doorbell, or say “hello!” through the screen-door, which I could barely see over. I could do any of these things, but I could not just barge right in. I remember the tones of these three words as she said them. They sounded tense. You can’t just barge right in. Emphasis on barge. Ah. Ahr. Ahrg. Barge. Barge right in. You can’t just barge right in. Did I know that she was serious when she said this? I couldn’t tell. I slowly opened the door and walked inside. In the front room I saw their father, lying on the sofa, turned away from the door and watching cable TV. We didn’t have cable TV. Then the kitchen, where their mom was preparing lunch. I walked quietly past both rooms, somehow without either parent stirring, and headed straight for the back hallway toward my friends’ room. Their door was open, and they saw me right away. Him, six, and her, eight, and me, five, the youngest, and here I was, I had walked right in through the front door, I had walked past their father, an intimidating grown-up, I had walked right into his house, and I had walked right past their mother, who had gently, but sternly told me not to do what I had just done, and I had succeeded, isn’t that something? I had made it past and now I am here and we should go to the backyard and play because that’s why I did all of this in the first place. 15
But that was not what they were thinking when they saw me quietly creeping toward their room. They did not expect to see me walking in their house unannounced, without a phone call, without so much as hearing a doorbell or a knock or a boy’s voice saying “hello!” through the screen-door. So they charged at me with big fat inflated red and blue hammers. They bonked me right on the head, one-two, one-two, the plastic squeaking with every movement, rubbing against the narrow hallway walls. With every bonk on the head I moved two steps backward and closer to the front door, and they shouted, “what are you doing here! nobody let you in!” and we passed the kitchen, “you can’t just walk right in! this isn’t your house!” and their mom was looking at me, right straight at me without saying a word, bonk, “go to your own house! this isn’t your house!” and we were at the living room, “you can’t be here! go back outside!” and their dad was no longer watching cable TV, but was looking right straight at me without saying a word, bonk, “go back home!” bonk, “go home and do something else!” bonk, “you can’t just barge right in!” I did not break your rule. I know what your mom told me, but that wasn’t you, you were not even in the room then, and I’ve caused no harm. I let myself in and we were going to play together in the backyard because we always play together, so why not, and what is the problem, why are you upset, why does this bother you, why do you react this way? I am on your side. I am on your side, we are friends, you are not your parents. They closed the door. I stood on the front porch, facing the door whose screen I could barely see over. I looked up at the screen-door and the sunlight reflected against that great expansive grid that birds could not fly through, but I could shout “hello!” through, I saw the red and blue hammers leering up from the other side, and I saw the tops of their heads and their eyes peeking up just over the bottom of the screen, and the inside looked so different, the details obscured, the shadows darker, everything so fuzzy and hazy and uncertain from the other side of that screen-door. A robin began to chirp in the trees nearby. I turned around. I walked a third of a block downhill and crossed the street. Were they still watching from their door? Who cares? I stopped and looked at my own porch, my own door whose screen 16
I could barely see over, but I didn’t go inside. I turned my head and looked straight up into the cloudless sky and from behind me I could see the highest, greenest branches of the big old tree that stood right in the middle of our front yard. I climbed into the tree. I stood on the first sturdy branch and then on the second sturdy branch and the third and the fourth and on and on, until I could not climb anymore, and I was a thousand feet above the ground, above my house and above their house and above all the neighbors’ houses. I saw the street below, which I crossed, and the hill, which I walked up, and beyond that there were bigger hills and busier streets, the whole neighborhood, even the park with the creek and the walking trail. It was so bright and blue and clear and crisp and there was no screen making everything dark and fuzzy and obscured, but I still looked up anyway, I looked straight up from the very top of the tree above everything and into the gradient blue sky and I shouted “hello!”
Seconds Brian Pricco This little eye of mine can see the TV screen plastered with pixels of orange ringed with black and gray Mom propped at the screen. The rush of waves reflected off her pinball eyes, her hands gripped over the telephone cascaded with wrinkles. Sitting at the kitchen counter swirling the oatmeal with added brown sugar and cream on the tip of my spoon I asked: What’s wrong? A building is falling down— Oh
It can all be rebuilt I assured myself It can be rebuilt in sugar cubes. This little eye of mine didn’t see the jet puncture the building’s silvery head. It saw the oatmeal with added brown sugar and cream smolder within its bowl.
The Natural Museum Laura Burnes Peter Natural collected dead things during recess. He fished chicken legs out of the dumpster, picked up dead squirrels on the edge of the four square court and threw them in his tiger print backpack, and fed lifeless flies to a spider he kept in a mason jar. He dressed like Abraham Lincoln, and his somber suits made him look dinky next to the other first graders in jeans and baggy superhero T-shirts. We avoided him whenever possible. Our parents got class lists from the teacher and insisted on inviting him to our birthday parties, but his presence was eerie. He’d stand perfectly still in the corner of your garden while you were eating ice cream and he’d let ants crawl over his feet and talk to worms. When you asked him what he was doing, he’d say he was sending out messages. Our parents stopped inviting him to birthday parties and told us not to talk to him, and his parents didn’t care that he was left out because they were dead. He didn’t care that none of us would talk to him, since he didn’t want to talk to us anyway. He only liked talking to things in the ground. I watched him as I swung alone at the edge of the playground. I saw him dig in the peace garden, dirtying his oversized suit while everyone else screamed and laughed and played boy versus girl tag. He was above it all, and wanted none of anyone. When Billy Malone shoved Peter Natural and stomped on his top hat, Peter didn’t scream or cry. He sat sadly at the bottom of the baby slide, muttering and massaging a brown worm in his palm. I walked over to him. “What are you saying to it?” “He’s dying,” Peter mumbled, not looking at me. “I’m telling him he shouldn’t.” The worm began wriggling in his palm, and he carefully deposited it in the sand. I handed him a translucent bone I found in my fish sandwich and asked him if he wanted to swing with me. He held the fish bone up to the sky and smiled. We became married misfits on the swings, perfectly in sync as we pumped our legs to make our bodies parallel to the ground. He told 19
me he had a graveyard in his basement, a graveyard where he kept things that he loved, because everything he loved was dead. “If you were dead, I’d put you there too,” he said shyly, as we faced the ground and came back up, his freckles popping in the sun, a small bead of sweat glistening on his forehead under his flat hair. We stayed married until the end of recess. One day he asked if I wanted to see his graveyard. I followed him down the wet sidewalk, hopping over puddles and waiting for him as he bent down and picked up an earthworm and whispered to it. “What are you saying now?” I asked. “To find my grandma and tell her ‘hi,’” he replied, carefully putting it down on the ground. Peter Natural’s house was on a dead-end street next to a railroad track. Chain-link fences surrounded the dirt yard, and gray paint peeled from the porch. We circled the house to the backyard with a broken swing set and overflowing trash cans. Peter kicked aside some plywood to reveal the door to his basement. “It’s down here,” he told me. I crawled down the shaky stairs after him, and I saw the outline of his top hat in the dark climbing up a step stool to reach the light string. As the room slowly flooded with dull light from the grimy bulb, my feet stuck in the muddy ground, and I saw his graveyard. Small pieces of cardboard marked spots on the ground, but many white bones were positioned carefully around the room. He pulled a baby rabbit out of his backpack and started digging a new hole with a trowel. He’d dig it up in a few months, he told me, when just the bones were left. He liked to dig things up, so he could see them and they could see him and still appreciate life. The graveyard started with his parents, who were given the spot of honor in the corner. Peter said after they died, he moved in with his aunt and found their bones in the basement. He dug them up, polished them, and laid them down carefully on the basement floor. The bone hands carefully clutched each other, lying out placidly on the mud. Next to them was his dog, Sandy, and Sandy’s favorite toy, a moldy, plush Mickey Mouse 20
doll, was in her mouth. “This is my favorite place in the whole world,” Peter told me, showing me his collection of bird bodies. I stepped around mounted fish and a small mouse skull and saw that he plastered the walls with photographs. Some were from magazines, showing squirrels jumping and lions roaring, and some were from his life, showing two people dancing and laughing, a wedding, and a baby. “I like it,” I said, looking at all the bones, and I meant it. I followed him every day after school to his basement. We’d sit, sometimes we’d talk, sometimes I’d help him bury a squirrel, sometimes we’d clean gunk from the bones. I never cleaned grime from his parents because he wanted to, but he let me polish Sandy. I had to leave before his aunt got home. “She doesn’t like people,” Peter explained. I found that out when his aunt came home early one day. She was like the skeletons, except she had stretchy, gray skin and silver hair. Her eye sockets were black, and when she found us in the basement, they burst with fury. She started screaming, and I started running, and I didn’t stop until I was underneath my own bed. Then I started worrying about Peter, and wishing he had run with me. At recess the next day, he still swung with me, but not as high. “She was so mad, she’s locking up the basement, and we’re going to leave next week, we’re going far away she said, and I can’t take my graveyard with me, and you can’t come with me. I asked, and she screamed more and said she’d put you in a real graveyard.” We were silent, listening to the creak of the swing set. “Maybe I can visit, if we can find money,” I said. Peter shook his head. “Where are you gonna get money?” I smacked my gum and looked at Billy Malone’s shirt with a dinosaur on it as he strutted by. “Your graveyard,” I said. “It’s a dead thing museum. People can see it and you make them pay, and then you can pay for me to visit you.” He gasped at the idea. “A museum! A museum! Everyone could see everything I’ve collected!” “See and pay,” I said. Peter nodded excitedly. “A museum of my life! My work! So you can see me when I move far away!” 21
Peter polished and reassembled all the bones so they looked extra professional, and I made a pretty banner. We furiously made signs and put them up around school. We gave them to everyone on the playground. We ran out of school and to our new museum. I put up the banner, and Peter readjusted his top hat nervously. I straightened the photos on the wall, and Peter put up nametags in front of the assembled bones so everyone would know what they were looking at. We moved aside the plywood and opened the door to the basement so real light flooded in, making the bones sparkle. “I like it,” I told him. He nodded and held my hand. “I like it better when it’s not just mine.” A few kids came down the street, anxiously clutching their backpacks as they approached the chain-link. I told them to step right up and see the glories of the one-time only, fifty cents a ticket Natural Museum, just this way under the plywood. They pulled out their quarters and followed Peter and me down into the basement, where they gasped and giggled at what they found. Some didn’t want to stay; some stayed for an hour. Billy Malone was so impressed he apologized to Peter for always stealing his top hat. Peter beamed at me as a line of first, second, and even third graders began to form, and quarters started filling an empty mason jar, and then another. Our visitors were impressed, and promised to spread the word before we closed. They ran home, they told their friends, their friends told their friends, and some of their friends told their parents. The police came and shut down the Natural Museum. Peter Natural cried as they carried out the bones in a black trash bag, and dragged away his aunt when she came home. “They’re taking them away,” he sobbed. “They’re taking away everything I love.” Yellow tape surrounded the basement. Men in vans came and tried to talk to Peter, but Peter stopped talking. My parents came and tried to take me away, but I wouldn’t go. Not without Peter. I bent down on the sidewalk and pulled a worm out of the puddle and hurried past uniforms to get to him. I walked over to him as he sat red-eyed and sickly on his rusty swing. I put the worm on his lap. He looked down at it as it limply 22
wriggled. “I rescued it,” I told him. “But you save it.” He picked it up between his thumb and middle finger, held it up to his forehead, and shakily sighed. It started wriggling, and he put it down on the ground. He looked up at me, and I smiled and held out my hand. “We can make a new one,” I whispered. More tears watered Peter’s cheeks, but he nodded and got off the swing. We held hands and walked out of his backyard.
Moving Picture Joe Kellen not-brown hair illuminated in the scales of dark matter twisting around you his voice making little yelps of joy at the animals on the television screen if there is anything that you are sure of in this foxhole of a living room it is that animal planet will be the only station running after the apocalypse comes all the gibbons and hornbills spouting out onto the tarry streets at dawn screaming psalms of the collapsing sun their overripe mouths stuffed with the cameramanâ€™s fruit
Teacher Tree Amber Petrik The suggestion of heat beams down from the pale yellow sun while I am scampering off to collect my gang of neighborhood girls before my dad picks me up for the weekend. It is an early summer afternoon and the sky is piercingly blue, dotted with the fluff of cotton ball clouds. Together, we cause mischief, tromping around the block. We bound around the Hilltop trailer park yelping and galloping. Our sights are set on the limestone embankment separating busy Central Avenue above from the trailer park below. Almost instantly, I find myself bounding off a stack of unsteady limestone and then gliding across the narrow park street. I can see only a blur of crumbling tar below me, and I land heavily, sprawling out on the grass island, home to our climbing trees. They are standing there serenely, encased in the safety of the trailer park, watching us play. Tall, with greenish afros and silver leggings, they are young trees and they love us, too. Their branches swoop kindly low in a welcoming manner: well within our reach. Even the bark is smooth and easy to grip with our bare feet. I pick myself up from the itchy ground. I hear the sound of grass blades whooshing past my ears as I latch onto a branch. Slowly and deliberately, I pull myself up into the shimmering green hideout of the early summer leaves. All four of us fit into a staggered circle among the branches, talking, whispering secrets. Here inside the tree it is special. It is safe. The trees shelter us from the traffic roaring past on Central, and keep our whispered secrets with invisible smiles. I don’t know whose idea it is. We are picking up chunks of the crumbling pavement as large as our fists, smashing them into the branches of our favorite tree, the one on the end of the row. We are doing it to tear off the bark of the tree because underneath it smells like apples. That is astonishing because this isn’t an apple tree. It doesn’t bloom; it never bears fruit. So we are tearing the bark off and rubbing the soft wood beneath for the perfume. We put it on wrist to wrist, then 25
wrists to neck. First, it was one of the branches—an accident—as one of us fell from the low branch with shoes on, taking a scrap of bark with. Now we are doing it to the trunk with purpose as the smell starts to disappear from the branch. We are using the sharp, jagged edges of the pavement to tear into the flesh of the tree. It gives us, so graciously, the scent we crave. From down the block, I hear my name screamed by my mama. My dad is here. I drop my crumbling rock and run three trailers down to my front yard, where he is waiting. From the front step, I grab my backpack and jump into the truck, pulling myself up with the interior handle. He slams the door behind me because I am too small to swing the door by myself and still get it to latch. As I am falling asleep in my other bed, in my other home, my dad is reading the last line of my favorite book, “As days grow colder and the nights grow longer, they fly honking, honking south. ‘Goodbye, goodbye. Goodbye, geese.’” The hum of my humidifier and the rhythmic up-and-down of my dad’s voice lulls me to sleep. The soft shades of the evening’s colors fade away behind my eyelids, and soon I am gently snoring. It is the middle of the night and, gripped by an uncontrollable and irrational fear, I am sitting bolt upright in bed. The night-light on my alarm clock is glowing a slightly different shade of yellow than before. In fact, all the colors of the room have shifted, though only a little, from what they were before. Blues are purples. Yellows are limes. Grays are charcoal. And everything is grainy. It is as if I am experiencing the world through a fuzzy television. Pixelated. I am hurling heavy, bodily sobs into the night, crying uncontrollably. My eyes are not able to focus on any one thing, and they slowly slide to the door of my room, then to the white wicker basket I use as my hamper. There, on the farthest side of the room, growing from my hamper, is a tiny sapling. This sapling is shrouded in a light so pure it cannot accurately be described as white: it is higher than white; it’s silver, but green. Shimmery. I am still sobbing as the sapling shapes itself from my dirty clothes 26
one jerky, stop-motion frame at a time. As it grows, I grow. I feel what it feels. I am the baby tree, blooming out long branches with immature buds. My leaves are unfurling from them, hanging beside me as unclenched fists. I am tall; I am strong; and from this vantage point, I see a child. The child is tearing off my bark. I can feel someone tearing the skin from my arms and from my ribcage. Now I am openly wailing, completely paralyzed. I cry until I stop hurting. My eyes swell; my hands swell; my throat starts to close. My ears are buzzing. My tree is fading. The light is dimming as the leaves fall off to lie on a forest floor somewhere far beneath my hamper. The branches look more weathered: gray, instead of silver. Now the dark blues and purples of my room start to intrude. The silvery, glittering light is tarnishing as the small sapling shrinks down, returning to the pile of dirty clothes it sprouted from as a seed. My cries are coming out in slow, jerky gasps. I lie there breathing heavily. Whimpering. As my breathing levels off and calm clarity finally returns, the words tree sprite float in my mind. Itâ€™s a new concept for me, and I find the words have a strange texture to them as I roll them around in my mouth. I still feel connected to the tree, as though it is not truly gone, and I feel her, more so than hear her, in my mind. All beings feel pain, she teaches me. All beings deserve compassion.
Actinomorphy and the Human Nose Scott Seres I keep a dried and flattened pink chrysanthemum in a shoebox with a few other important things under my bed frame. I like it because it’s symmetrical, with exactly sixty-eight petals, not including the filament that holds the pollen anther and the stigma, which some people think are little petals, even though they’re not. I like symmetrical things because I have Asperger’s syndrome, which some people pronounce “ASS-BURGERS,” but Hans Asperger, whom it’s named after, was Austrian, so it would actually be pronounced “ASS-PURJERS.” My psychiatrist, Dr. Finkelstein, calls it “ASS-BURGERS” too, which is funny, because doctors in the United States have to go to four years of college, and then four years of medical school, and then at least three years of internship, plus residency, which can be another two or three years. That’s a lot of education to still be pronouncing Asperger’s wrong. I know all of these things because I read a lot of books, and not because of school. I go to a special school, but a lot of the kids there aren’t smart like I am. Like Johnny Schmittendorf. One time he swallowed a bottle cap and Mr. Martin had to take him to the hospital. Then, for a couple of days the nurse had to go to the bathroom with Johnny every time he went. Most nurses only have to go to school for two years, but they still get to work with doctors and do stuff that doctors won’t do. Now Mr. Martin only uses Styrofoam cups when we get to have soda on birthdays and holidays. I got the chrysanthemum from our next door neighbor, Katie Birchmier. Her nose is perfectly straight. Some people have noses that are crooked, and most of the time they veer to the right, but not Katie’s nose. When I first saw the chrysanthemum it was pinned onto Katie’s pink dress in the red Pontiac Trans Am with New York license plates that is sometimes parked in front of Miss Johnson’s house. Mom said that Miss Johnson needs a husband. Maybe she doesn’t have one because her nose is a little crooked. But there are a lot of people with crooked noses. 23.03 percent or 23.03/100 of all the people I saw at the Six Flags Great Adventure Park in Newark didn’t have straight noses. That’s 38 out of 165 people. So Miss Johnson should be fine. 28
Anyway, I was looking at the edge of the sidewalk where Mr. Birchmier missed some grass with his Toro Cyclone lawnmower and I didn’t like the way it looked, so I turned the other way. Then I saw Katie and a boy in the back seat of the red Pontiac Trans Am. They must have been arguing because Katie kept on saying, “no,” sometimes really loud. I don’t like loud noises, but I stayed to look at the chrysanthemum in her corsage through the window. Most things aren’t symmetrical, especially in nature, but that chrysanthemum seemed to be. I tried to count the petals to find out if they were even in number, but it was hard to see because they kept on moving because they were fighting. This made me mad, so I started screaming and they stopped and looked at me. The black stuff on the edges of Katie’s eyes, like mom wears, was all messed up because she was crying. I didn’t like that, but I stayed to stare at the chrysanthemum. Katie got out of the car and her dress was messed up too. I didn’t like that either, so I tried to only think about that corsage dangling from her shoulder strap. The boy said something mean to me before he drove off, but I didn’t talk to him because I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. Katie then put her arms around me. I don’t like to be touched, so I screamed again and she let go. She looked at me and then the chrysanthemum, and then unpinned it and held it out to me. I took it because Katie is not a stranger because she lives next door, and because it was so symmetrical. That’s how I got the chrysanthemum. I put it in Cases and Materials on Criminal Law, Fourth Edition by Joshua Dressler, J.D., to flatten and dry it out because that was the biggest book on my dad’s bookshelf. I was afraid it would no longer be symmetrical when I took it out after a week, but it still was. When I see Katie I always tell her about it. Her makeup is all right now, and I don’t see that red Pontiac Trans Am with New York license plates around anymore.
Dethroned Lucas Scheelk I have built entire kingdoms Out of salt & pepper shakers, Napkin holders, ripped-up straw wrappers, Cups, sugar packets, and ketchup bottles. Their history is erased before the main course, Reset to default, And I am dethroned.
Ballad of Zion Hannah Yeskel Sometimes when we’re sitting in my car and I’m toking in front of the school, Carver ducks in his seat like he’s the one who’s going to get expelled someday. Meanwhile, Barbie sits in the backseat, and we pass a joint back and forth. We’re kind of a trio. We’ve been together since we were all put into that group for speech class when we were sophomores. I don’t know for sure if Carver knows Barbie and I are fucking. But he probably does. He’s smart—smarter than me, maybe. He’s never said anything about it, if that’s the case, because we all know he’s in love with her. I don’t blame him—she’s blonde and she laughs a lot. Carver’s trying to read a book for school, and knowing him, he probably enjoys it. I give him a lot of shit about wearing plaid shirts and that dopey smile of his, but I like him. In middle school, he was the real nerd type; once he hit junior year of high school, though, he was the guy that most girls say they’d fuck—no question. He had that sort of everyman thing going on—the real nice guy, the dude you asked to help you, the kid that everyone chuckled about and said, “Oh, that Carver …” I think his name should have been Chester or Oliver. I dunno. But who am I to talk about names? My parents named me Zion. Carver likes to watch Barbie’s hands stroke the guitar as she makes up stupid songs. Her fingers are deft and strong, and we take turns strumming. She likes chords, but I like picking more. “If Zi should die it’d make me cry so don’t ever make me get a single tear in my eye,” she sings. Her chord progressions are jarring, but it suits her voice. It’s a weak voice in a sexy way. I know Carver thinks she’s mostly a gentle girl with a bite. But I know better. She’s mostly bite with just a little gentle. “Carver doesn’t have a name that rhymes with stuff,” she warbles. “So I’ll just sing Caaaaar-veeeeer.” She pauses and grins at him. “Do you like it? I call it the ‘Ballad of the Great Esteemed Carver Allaway.’ I think I could go places with it.” “Maybe,” says Carver, rolling up the window. My car is a piece of 31
shit so he has to physically crank it up. “Class time. Don’t get too fucked up, Zion. You still have time to get expelled before we graduate.” I grin at him. “You wound. When was the last time I got too fucked up?” “Last night,” Barbie says. “But it’s sort of cute you’re concerned about me,” I go on as Carver unlocks the door. He stuffs the book in his backpack and opens the door. Usually Carver would roll his eyes, bid me a good day, and then head out across the parking lot. Today he slams the door so hard that Barbie’s head bangs against the car. After she recovers, I catch her eye and we share a sort of shocked look. “Cranky, much?” she says, eyes wide as she watches Carver stomp away. She climbs into the front seat, presses her knees against the dash, and runs a hand through her hair. “Usually he’s so nice.” I shrug. “That’s the thing about nice people. Everyone thinks they’re nice all the time.” “But Carver is nice all the time.” “What about that time we got him drunk and he called you a slut?” Barbie rolls her eyes. “That was different.” It was different because Barbie loves Carver back. If I didn’t cling to every good thing that’d ever happened to me, I’d probably tell Barbie to ask him out. I’m selfish like that and I don’t care. But I do notice the way her eyes well up a little bit as she remembers Carver blathering like a drunk idiot. “You’re such a slut,” he’d said. I’d slung one of his arms over my neck and was dragging him inside my house from the back porch. Barbie was on his other side and trying to coax him into walking on his own, but the idiot wasn’t having any of it. We’d been drinking a bottle of vodka a friend of mine picked up for us. It was just the three of us on my back porch, mixing soda and juice with big shots of vodka. “Look at how you dress,” Carver went on. “You complain about guys hitting on you all the time but you’re wearing a—a short skirt like that. What do you expect? You’re asking for it. If you didn’t want it, you wouldn’t wear it.” Barbie’s legs prickled with goosebumps in her little blue skirt. The skirt hugged her ass deliciously, but I never said anything about the 32
way she dresses, because however Barbie wants to dress is none of my business, and I don’t care. I told Carver to shut up, but Barbie insisted that it was okay. It wasn’t, not when her eyes were going all soggy and she was choking down a lump in her throat. I wanted to break his stupid perfect nose, but I couldn’t punch a drunk kid like Carver. After Barbie and I dropped Carver onto the couch, he wormed his body into the cushions and sighed. He passed out pretty quick. I made a quick mental note: never try to get a liquor-virgin drunk again. Barbie sat on her knees beside the snoring Carver and threaded her fingers through his dark hair. It might have been sweet if he hadn’t just called her a slut. I remember how I clenched my fists and wanted to rip her away from him, tell her that she was better than Carver. Finally, when she leaned over to kiss his forehead, I growled and told her to get away from him. “Why?” she said. I offered my hand to her. “Because he called you a slut.” “Lots of people call me a slut, Zion,” said Barbie with a watery smile. She took my hand. “I’m sort of used to it by now.” “That’s not the fucking point.” I pulled her over to the desk chair in front of the computer, knocked off a few receipts and fast food wrappers from the cushion, and set her down. Maybe I was still pretty drunk at that point, but so was she, and my feelings were real even if they were congealing with the booze. She looked up at me with those big blues of hers. She asked me if she was good enough for Carver, if a nice boy like him would ever love a girl like her. I didn’t tell her that secretly Carver wanted to marry her, dress her up all pretty, and stick her in a beautiful house full of his children. The thought of them together made me queasy. “He’s not the guy for you,” I said. “He’s not. Your miracle guy would never call you a slut, okay? He’d say it doesn’t matter what you wear because that’s your choice, okay? Okay?” Barbie’s skirt was riding up on her legs, but I pretended not to notice. “Is that what you would say?” Barbie asked. I nodded. Because I would say that and I did say that. For a second we sort of just looked at each other like two aliens meeting for the first time on a strange planet. I don’t know who leaned in first, but a 33
second later, Barbie’s arms were around my neck and my hands were pressing against her spine as we kissed. It wasn’t pretty kissing, either. It was desperate, with our teeth clacking together and our tongues doing whatever, as if we were trying to get closer and closer until we melded into one body. Barbie’s name is actually Sandra, I think you should know. It’s also her mom’s name, which would be nice and heartwarming if her mom was dead. But Sandra the First is still alive and well, and dating the scummiest guys in town. I started calling her Barbie because her hair is so golden blonde, and she really seems to like having a nickname that has nothing to do with the way she acts around guys. I think my favorite part about that night was that while Carver was passed out, I was making out with the girl he loved right in front of him with my thumb on her nipple and her tongue in my mouth. If I’d had a condom handy, we probably would have fucked right there on the floor in front of him. That would have been perfect. It’s like the ultimate fuck you. But here’s the deal: even though I wanted to break Carver’s nose for what he said to Barbie, I still sort of like him. That’s the thing about Carver—you can’t not like him. It’s that weird charm that he’s got going; even though he’s judging you, you still want him to approve of you. I almost feel like I’m a normal guy when I stand next to him, as if I’m actually worth something. I know Carver is worth about ten of me, but sometimes when we’re all joking around, I can pretend I’m valuable. That’s why Barbie is in love. He’s the kind of guy Sandra the First could never get. Barbie’s with me, and she’s happy enough, but I’m her mother’s type. I know that. I know that Barbie and I are suited for each other, though Barbie can’t admit it to herself. Even if Carver ever grows a pair and takes her in his arms one day, it won’t last. Barbie won’t ever live up to his expectations. “You talk a lot of shit about a guy you say you like,” Barbie mentions quietly to the stillness that’s choking the car. “Carver needs to be shitted on sometimes.” When Barbie and I finally decide it’s time to go to class, I spend a lot of the day looking for Carver. He’s not in any of my classes, and he avoids his locker because he knows I’ll find him there. He avoids Barbie too, which is unusual. For a while, I think maybe 34
he’s finally done it and skipped class, but that’s when I see him. He’s got this smile on his face as he’s talking to a girl that looks a lot like Barbie. Their hips are touching as they sit next to each other in the cafeteria, and she’s giggling at everything he says. She’s normal. I think I know her. She’s another one of those types that smiles when she’s supposed to, talks only when she has something nice to say, dresses like Carver thinks a girl should—modest, but not too modest. And then Barbie, being Barbie, walks past me and I don’t realize it’s her until she’s stomping up to the table and sitting across from Carver and his new gal pal. Carver looks up all startled, but then he ignores her even when she starts talking to him. Suddenly, I know what he’s up to. Carver’s always thought he was better than both of us, and for a long time he’s been trying to figure out a way to separate himself from the trio. “You guys…” he always says. He always says something like that and shakes his head as if we’re his disobedient children. I would usually grin and say something like, “Aw, Dad, don’t get mad.” I think the day has come for him to abandon us. He’s pretending Barbie doesn’t exist. Just like her mom, just like her dad, just like all of our teachers. Carver loves her, but he’s too good for her. He could never introduce her to his middle-class parents; he could never expect her to follow him to college. His dreams of making her a cute little housewife are stupid. And all at once, it hits me that he wants to hurt her, make her go away forever. Barbie is still trying to get his attention, but he keeps ignoring her. He ignores the way she rambles on and the way she speaks with that weak little voice. I feel a surge of anger as he pointedly looks away, rejecting the love she’s trying to give him. What Carver doesn’t realize, though, is that I’ll take any love I can get from her. I love her, and I hate the Great Esteemed Carver Allaway. I hate him for trying to make everyone always do the right thing, for fitting everyone in their right places like puzzle pieces, and for refusing the most spectacular girl on the planet. So in a fit of love, I stride across the cafeteria, thinking of all the things I’m going to say in front of everybody. Now here’s the thing 35
about love that I’ve learned while spending time inside Barbie: it’s messy. It’s disgusting and messy, and I wouldn’t ever advise someone to try it. You’ll end up marrying the guy who’s a complete fuck-up, who can’t do one thing right in his life. You’ll still love him even when he keeps losing jobs or ends up in jail for starting a fight at a bar. You’ll realize that you ended up exactly like your mother even though you always promised yourself that you would never, never, never be anything like her. When I finally reach Carver and tap him on the shoulder, I’m ready to tell him everything that’s gross and terrible about him—a public exposure to reveal he isn’t as great as everyone thinks. But then he just looks at me with his raised eyebrows and everything culminates in a few seconds. Barbie watches as I raise my fist, Carver’s eyes widen, and a flash of fury drives my knuckle into his nose. And then that’s it. I go to the principal’s office, the principal racks up all my priors, and he says I should’ve been at the mercy of the school board a long time ago. I tell him to go fuck himself. I’m expelled and Barbie falls in love.
Greetings Andrea Tritschler You were right, you know. It always starts with schoolgirl foolishness, mostly, it ends with trouble. Violins played in the corner before we began to break things. Sweaty palms are to be blamed. The floor ignited. Skin melted like steel. I took off that dress, the one you liked so much. Stuffing my mouth with silence. The broken zipper choked, and bugs crawled into your teeth. You laughed the whole time. Champagne glasses filled cherry red, it gushed, dripping on the peeling baseboards. Organs stabbed with shattered glass while we danced in dizzying circles. The sharp pain in your lung as you expel heavy smoke. The marble physique just crumbled away. Fistful of hot ashes, eighty percent loaded with ammunition. You were right. It was all a joke, but you lost. I would like my socks back.
Yours Truly Andrea Tritschler I found your socks today, the pair I shoved down your throat. Buried under rotten garbage, suffocating by unpacked boxes. Bloodstains soaked the heel, time spent resting your feet on the desk. Unraveling the yarn sewn across your lips, words splintering my face with dried blood, with breath like cherry licorice. Wax melts off our faces, unrecognizable, I am covered in scars, and shattered glass sparkles on your cheek. You smile. Broken lenses left my eyes bleeding. Crimson wallpaper lynched around my neck, hanging from the ceiling. Your hand holding it in place, whispering poison bullets into my ear. I never loved you anyway.
Silence Is Sexy Matthew McGuire <Hey.> <. . .> <Hey.> <. . .> <Hey. Are you awake?> <No.> <Ha, ha, ha.> <. . .> <Hey. Don’t go back to sleep. I want to talk to you.> <About what?> <Nothing really. I just want to talk to you.> <. . .> <Come on. Let’s talk.> <Let’s sleep.> <. . .> <. . .> <Hey. Don’t close your eyes.> <I’m not sleeping, I’m just . . .> <Hey.> <I’m awake!> <You’re tired. I should just let you go back to sleep.> <No, no. I’m up. See? I’m sitting up, ready to shoot the intimate breeze at 5:00 a.m.> <If you’re going to be ironic . . .> <No, I’m not. Sorry. I didn’t sleep so well. I’m not used to your mattress.> <Well, how about we get comfortable and you can lie there and close your eyes and I’ll talk and you just listen to me. You don’t even have to say anything. Just listen.> <Okay. Let me just get back under the covers. Here. Move your leg.> <Like here? Is here good?> <No, lie on your side and then wrap it around . . . Have you never 39
spooned before?> <Of course I have. So just bring my leg like this? Where does this arm go? It feels awkward there, underneath your neck.> <Put it under my pillow. It might go numb in a few minutes, but it’s no big deal.> <And my other arm?> <. . .> <Here?> <Lower.> <Surely not here?> <Too low.> <Here?> <There we go.> <See, isn’t this nice?> <We’re lucky it’s cold out. Two people in one bed generate a lot of heat.> <Who is spooning whom here? Am I the big spoon?> <I used to share a bed with my sister when I was little. It got really warm and uncomfortable when she would snuggle up to me. That’s what she called it. Snuggling.> <Do I spoon you or do you spoon me? Or is the whole act ‘spooning’? As in both of us are one spooning unit?> <When my parents moved, we each got our own room, so I didn’t have to share a bed anymore. I think I miss that.> <The back of your neck smells good. I think it’s your shampoo.> <Mmm . . . Probably.> <It’s not all shampoo, though. There’s some sweat in it too. Like the way someone else’s clothes smell good. Especially in the morning.> <I miss waking up next to someone. Like just lying there while the other person sleeps and trying your absolute best not to disturb them so that when they wake up you can pretend that you both woke up at the same time.> <. . .> <. . .> <Hey.> <. . .> <Hey.> <Mmm.> 40
<Hey. Don’t go to sleep yet. I want to tell you something. I want to tell you my greatest fear.> <Mmmno.> <Well, I mean, I told you I’m afraid of heights, and I am. Like, who isn’t?> <Mmm.> <But that’s not my biggest fear.> <Mm?> <My biggest fear is a little more abstract, I think.> <Mm.> <My biggest fear is that one day, I’ll be talking to some friends at work and I’ll say something and everyone will just look at me like I said something so completely naïve and stupid, and it will turn out that what I said was naïve and stupid because of some great, basic, obvious fact that’s so basic and obvious that everyone on the planet knows it, but doesn’t ever talk about it because it’s so basic and obvious and elementary, like, why would you even talk about something so apparent and simple.> <Mmmlike what?> <I don’t know. This obvious, unspoken fact would have to be so simple and fundamental that you wouldn’t even think about talking about it. But, like everyone knows about it because it’s such a primary and absolute fact, but I don’t because maybe my parents never thought to mention it to me or I was sick that day in school. That’s part of the reason I had such good attendance in school. I was scared of missing something important.> <Mmm.> <You couldn’t even tell me this fact if you wanted to; the fact is buried so deep within you that you aren’t even consciously aware of it. You probably wouldn’t even think of it twice after you learned it. It’s just there, in the background of every conversation, waiting to, I don’t know, like, expose me.> <. . .> <But then after it comes out that I don’t know this obvious fact, everyone will just sort of shake their heads. They won’t even laugh at me because it’s so sad, like, how does this guy even function if he doesn’t know something as simple as X. X of course standing in for the basic fact I don’t know.> 41
<Mmmcourse.> <But they’ll pity me. Or think I’m stupid. Not even special education stupid, like—I don’t know. The word that always comes to me is hapless. They’ll think I’m hapless.> <. . .> <You don’t think I’m hapless, do you?> <. . .> <Do you?> <Mmcoursenot.> <But like I guess I’m afraid of being uncovered. I think I said exposed earlier. So that’s it. I’m scared of not knowing a really essential fact. I don’t know why.> <. . .> <So what do you think?> <Hmm?> <What do you think? Of my fear?> <. . .> <Hey.> <. . .> <Hey.> <What?>
Lemons Nick Neylon Lemons look naked and pale after the peel comes off. I cut one of them in half with a chef ’s knife and turned it over in my hand to look for seeds. There were three of them sitting between the folds of the fruit. I grabbed them between my thumb and forefinger and pulled them gently from the lemon. Then I squeezed the juice out into a cup, with two tablespoons of sugar, three measures of gin, and six ice cubes. A waiter from Arizona had said that I had to try a Tom Collins with fresh lemon juice, so there I was in the kitchen, pouring three equal measures into three plastic cups, topping them off with three equal parts soda water. Drinking gin always feels like walking through a pine forest. This was like walking through a pine forest after a rain. The drink tasted cool and sweet and refreshing. It soon proved to be much stronger than I thought. Suddenly the words were coming quickly to my mouth: too quickly for my tongue to keep up. It got caught on s’s and ch’s. My two partners in this drink were worse off than me. One was trying to dance on a shaky table and the other was kissing her boyfriend on the cheek over and over again, trying to speak French. She was the host; the one on the table was her friend from Finland. In the morning, there was no morning. There was a shit, 2.5 liters of water that I drank without pleasure, a walk back to bed where the floor screamed in angry creaks and questions and, “Yes, yes, again you never learn.” In the afternoon, for the only two able to stomach a walk and a metro ride, there was a trip to the Hungarian bathhouse on the other side of town: down the boulevard and past the terror museum, to the yellow building with black railings outside. We paid three thousand florins for a wristband that gave entry and a locker for our clothes. We stepped through the damp hallways to the open world of the baths. The first step was through a pool of cold water to cleanse the feet of dirt, and the next was into a wet, warm world. I felt like I was returning to the womb; the water was the temperature of tears of happiness or the sweat that forms between a couple asleep. It 43
welcomed its way into every corner of my body. I fell into it. There were statues in the bathhouse. There were perfect ivory bodies strewn out in relaxation, or vigor, or other heroic emotions. They had muscle definition that didn’t seem anatomically correct. Looking at them and myself, I didn’t see much similarity—probably because I’m circumcised, and these were all Greeks on display. In the sauna, I looked over at Briitta. She had lived on and off in Finland her whole life, and said the hot smell of dry wood reminded her of her home. A man in a Speedo got up and walked out of the sauna, leaving us alone. “I think confidence is key to that look,” I said. “A butt is a butt, though. The other parts vary, but a butt is a butt,” she said. “Jens is obsessed with his butt.” “He is one of the most muscle-bound people I have ever seen.” “He is really body conscious.” Right then, I saw her take her right hand and wipe sweat off the underside of her left breast, looking back up at me. I had forgotten that a woman could do that. That she could sweat underneath the colorful, delicate patterns of cloth covering her up. Many mornings later, I woke up to a woman. She was lying on her side next to me, and I felt like this had never happened before. Her mouth was open, and she snored gently. It was a dark, quiet sound coming from deep, deep inside her. When she got up, she walked around naked. Her hips were wide, and her legs had veins and creases and other signs of life. When she turned around, I felt guilty for looking her over like that, even though we had been together for months. She just smiled a bit and lifted up the covers. I felt the cold air outside, and then her soft warmth as she rolled next to me. I could feel her short, harsh hairs rub against my legs. She reminded me of the lemons, of fruit with seeds, and I wrapped my arms around her and fell back into sleep.
I Keep My Name in the Corner of a Room Graham Thomas Only once I put it in the breast of a suit slipped through to the sewer, pooled cars to the sky blew down to California where the salt takes your lines and your life is in the frame of a Walmart bike. I drop you off at Friday’s because you can’t remember directions. I take out my wallet and see that I’m thirteen again. I ride home and think of what a fool I am and of the sun. I fall asleep with a fever in the heat. I wake without roof, bed, or walls. My skin lays beside, tanned and stretched on the white ground. I take it, I fasten winged boots and a cape with which, in the salt, over the course of ninety days by shadow, time, and flight I write my name.
Delicate Hobbies Matthew Ullery Delicate hands. This is what Nora’s mother told her. You have delicate hands, take up a delicate hobby. She took up soccer in grade school, so she wouldn’t have to use her hands at all. She kept them in her pockets, hidden away, and watched her mother knit the mittens she requested every winter. Her mother had delicate hands, but older than hers, bonier, beginning to knot before she was even forty. Knitting was a delicate hobby, one for delicate hands, a hobby for delicate hearts and lonely thoughts. Her mother had never played soccer. She had been lonely her whole life. Her mother died before Nora had turned nineteen, bone cancer, and everybody would put their winter-dry hands on her wrists and say, poor dear. Her friends thought it was breast cancer, the kind mothers get, but the only person she ever corrected was a boy from the community college down the street, who took her small breasts in his hands and told her he was glad it hadn’t been her. She liked him because he studied science, but in the back of his notebooks she’d found poetry. He was a fleeting preoccupation and they had never had sex but she had dreamed about it more than once, dreamed about lying on her hospital deathbed, naked under stark white sheets while he ran his fingers up the scar on her shoulder blade, bone cancer, surgery wounds opening while her mother desperately tried to knit them shut. These nights Nora would wake shivering, tuck her hands underneath her body and stare into the empty space behind her eyelids. Delicate hobbies for delicate hands. After the death of her mother, Nora had cold fingers. This is what she told her grandmother the day she asked for a pair of knitting needles. “I need to make mittens.” “What about the ones your mother knit you?” “They’re all gone. I’ve lost them.” This was not true, but the thought of it made her cry. She had her mother’s mittens in a box underneath her bed. They radiated a sickly heat that kept her up at night, but she knew they were safe. 46
Her grandmother bought her an entire set of needles; it was over a hundred dollars but she told Nora it had been twenty. Nora quit soccer. This was at the very end of high school. Her first scarf was crooked, made of an ugly, itchy green that she had gotten on sale. She threw it away and tried again. She didn’t think about her mother, or cancer, or vulgar boys who wrote poetry. She knit four more scarves and a pair of mittens and a sweater for her grandmother’s cat that was supposed to be a joke, but the cat was wearing it every time Nora went to visit, until the day her grandmother died. She forgot about her matriarchs altogether, sometimes wondered where she had come from. Had she been birthed from a muddy hole, or just dropped down from the sky? “I like your hands.” “Excuse me?” “Your hands. They’re cute. Delicate. Can I buy you a drink?” Nora was twenty-three when a woman with dark hair and wide eyes told her she had delicate hands. She felt like crying, her dead mother’s voice filling her ears, but instead she kissed the woman, an act of inconsolable madness. Afterward, the woman said her name. Amy. Amy was tall. Her hands were big. She didn’t play soccer or knit. She read books and smoked cigarettes and told stories at parties. Amy had always wanted a motorbike but had never had the money. These are the important things, the kind of things that linger long after individual memories are gone. They went on dates. Amy asked what kind of cancer Nora’s mother had died of. They bought each other drinks and Nora kept her hands on the table, where Amy could see them and even touch them if she wanted to. She did want to. It was not a slow affair but it was a kind one. Nora stopped knitting, had no time or reason for it. Amy’s hands kept hers warm in the cold months. Nora had nothing sad to think about, had no thoughts of dead mothers or grandmothers. They talked about the future, sometimes, more often than they noticed. Nora wanted a house, something surrounded by nature, a place with room for a garden. Something built just for her. Amy didn’t care about houses but shook her head when she thought about Nora using her fragile hands for any hard work, even gardening seemed like too 47
much, too risky. Carpentry was completely out of the question, rough work for calloused cigarette-stained hands. “Someday,” Amy said, “I will build you a house.” After three months, Amy left to pursue a girl with small hands who could not knit but played the violin in a chamber orchestra. Nora’s friends would tell her that Amy was a cold-hearted bitch, but she knew better. She knew Amy would never fall in love, not with her or the violin girl or anybody else. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. The same way bone cancer wasn’t anybody’s fault. She started knitting again. She knit more to think less. A delicate hobby for delicate hands and broken hearts. A scarf for a friend, a pair of mittens for another. She outfitted everyone she knew in uncomfortable woolen layers. “Would you like something for your birthday?” A childhood friend, distant now but still collecting a wardrobe full of itching sweaters, a closet of scarves, too many tea cozies for a woman who didn’t drink tea. “Please, no more, you’ve done too much already.” “You couldn’t use another pair of socks?” “I have so many. I only have two feet.” “Or mittens?” “I only have two hands, Nora. It’s warm half the time here, anyway.” “I’ll make you another scarf, then.” “I have so many. I’m sorry, but I have to go. Dinner’s in the oven. Goodbye, Nora.” Nora went to the craft store three bus stops away and bought as much yarn as she could carry. It was a Thursday. At home, she started to knit. Nobody wanted scarves or mittens or socks, but Amy’s face and the smell of her cigarettes and the way she read books with one hand made knitting necessary. After one ball of yarn was gone, she reached for another. Colors were not important. Knitting, a delicate hobby, made her delicate fingers sting. She went back to the craft store for more yarn. The woman at the checkout counter gave her a look that might have been pity or concern, but Nora wasn’t looking. When the woman spoke, her voice was Amy’s voice, low and soft. 48
“What are you working on?” “I’m knitting.” “That’s a lot of yarn. What’re you knitting?” “I have to get home.” “Would you like the receipt?” “My bus is outside.” “I’ll put it in the bag. You have a good day, now.” The house was full, cramped with yarn. To get from the bedroom to the kitchen was a struggle, and forget about the kitchen to the bathroom. Nora continued to knit, barely noticing the tight coils of color surrounding her. She heard violin music and knit more furiously, focused hard on her stitches, the gentle click of her needles, until the music was gone. The bathroom. She had to go to the bathroom. Nora placed her work gently on the arm of the chair and looked around her. The path from the living room to the bathroom was a difficult one, crosshatched with spiderwebs of yarn, loose ends and tangles. The apartment was too small, and Nora’s memories were too big, too vivid, overtaking her thoughts every moment her hands were still. She dragged her knitting, needles first, out the front door. A burst of color followed her down the street, a delicate explosion of sadness, snagging on tree branches and fire hydrants and the teeth of whimpering dogs. Nora set up in a park not far away, a wide grassy field surrounded by trees, the perfect place for an afternoon knit. She started again, her hands moving slowly at first, her muscle memory taking a moment to find its rhythm. How long had she been outside? She didn’t know, didn’t care. She couldn’t see anything but her knitting, couldn’t hear the children playing nearby or the sound of traffic from behind the trees. She knit furiously, unstopping, her delicate hands hardened with the effort of forgetting. Amy. Who was Amy? Nora was uncoiling her last ball of yarn. She couldn’t remember Amy’s hands, except that they were big. Her memories of this were nondescript, unfeeling. Amy had wanted a motorbike. Who cares? She had smoked, like everybody else in the city, and read books in an entirely conventional way, with one hand. Amy had not been a terrible person but she had not been an 49
extraordinary person, either. Like Noraâ€™s mother, she had just been a person, sometimes kind and sometimes angry. Like vulgar boys who liked poetry, Amy was a shooting star, exciting at first but just another star like all the rest. Nora didnâ€™t feel anything inside, only felt the coarse and soft fabric she had built around her. She cast off her knitting, stitching together the ends of the yarn, delicately slipping it off her needles. The yarn encasing her had made itself into high ceilings, walls of tapestries, even the ground beneath her was covered in a thick layer of plush wool. From the outside, it was obvious what Nora had built. It was a house. A house of red and blue and yellow, wool and nylon and heather and fleece, bay windows lined with synthetic green vines and a door of brown virgin wool. A delicate house for delicate hands, for delicate hearts. But Nora was not delicate. She did not need a delicate house. She walked back to her apartment, undressed, and climbed into bed, tucking her cold, calloused hands beneath her and falling into a comfortable sleep, dreaming of her mother and grandmother knitting white sheets around her, of Amy lying close and running stained fingers over her smooth shoulder blade before saying goodbye, they would all say goodbye. In the morning Nora would take up a new hobby, something for hands like hers.
Continuum Jennifer Wang I can’t find the word, or a synonym of the word, or the triple chin-onym of the word, to explain seeing the sky through the density of this ocean. Let’s
heavy purples weighted by a wasted frat boy’s prayer tethered with weathered sailor knots. Engulfing them with the insistence of a stalker’s correspondence are the bent steel frames of cars clashing in nonlinear time the silent bang of bumpers decimating bumpers of reverberating currents shuddering from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and in between, in the glimpses of silence, in the sky, those lights— the clumps composed of the still-beating hearts of unborn children they ring out. It’s the same recipe for everything else in the universe: emptiness, shell-casings embraced by the monsters we’ve already become.
This is fear, with the vaguest, most concrete sense of rhyme and reason. I canâ€™t draw breath. Nothing else stops.
Formosa Emily Walz i. Terraced Bay / 台湾 / Formosa I have spent the last year avoiding Taiwan. The flashbacks come in slices: green vinyl seats on the aging city buses, the long roads between my house and school, the house with the pull-down metal grate over the front door, motor scooters crowding the patch of concrete out front, a heavy lock. The music shop across the street, the hotel on the corner that we later found out housed a brothel. The living room with its old leather couches, scuffed and torn; the bookshelves on which we, I, arranged our books by the color of their spines to make it feel like we lived there, too. The bulk food from Costco, the two-burner stove that seemed like such luxury after Chengdu. The sentry of countertop appliances: a little blue microwave, a rice-cooker, a toaster oven bought off someone leaving the country. The cockroaches. The garbage trucks that trundled through the streets playing “Für Elise” and other songs I have forgotten. How at first I would mistake them for ice cream trucks, having no other reference point for trucks that played music. The early mornings waking to them on our falling-apart bed, held together with screws and wire. It was all falling apart. The incense on the nightstand that didn’t keep the mosquitoes away, the candles, the makeshift tablecloths, the old mattress. The paint we chose for the walls, white and a pale aqua to match the Marrakesh color scheme I wanted. My hands, blood red from the oil paint that was supposed to be the deep pomegranate accent and would not would not wash off. Our grimy balcony’s small collection of plants. The sound of rain on the roof, the scent of pineapples throughout the house during the season when our flat-mates made pineapple wine. The mangoes I carried back from the supermarket sales and ate 53
three at a time, against my Chinese teacherâ€™s advice. The sticky summers, the 7-11s on every corner, gallons of bubble tea. Some things reclaimed, others ceded. This I leave for you. ii. One person does not make a diaspora Somewhere in Asia there is a kaleidoscope museum. I have been there. I have seen the colors and glass, the patio cafĂŠ and children tugging their parents inside. I have looked through these tubes, seen all shapes and sizes of colorful smatterings, collisions and pieces and illumination: nothing like my life. The dancing, the synchronicity, the team of swimmers lifting legs all at once, the pattern and geometry and brightness, the colorfulness of childhood. It bothers me that I cannot remember where this kaleidoscope museum was, or when I would have seen it, if it is real at all. I have a feeling it was in Asia, have a feeling I was there with youâ€”a you I no longer address in such terms, so directly, except in past and unsent letters. It does not seem like enough of a thing to write to ask, can you remember, was there a kaleidoscope museum?
At the Expense of Travel David Piery After folding up all the maps, their skin marked with black lines here and there, marking direction, not destination. All the friends you made and lost over time and distance, the languages you once spoke but soon forgot. The faces of loves fading with the years. It’s like that. The rush of a new city, the smell of cigarettes on a Spanish balcony, the power outages in Istanbul; all became the greatest vices and pleasures in life. Waking up next to a beautiful woman in the heat of a Mediterranean morning. You still taste the weight of experience, feel the warmth of another body next to yours, and stutter a language you used to speak fluently. When you go home you never return the same, every piece of you has been left behind in some foreign place. Your heart is still flung over an iron balcony in a city you’ll never return to. You would do it all over again though, even if family doesn’t understand the customs of Asia or the tongue of the Portuguese. You lived out of your backpack, looked out over the snowcapped Alps and lost everything.
Monsieur Gomez Nora Poole Upon arriving in the French town of Montpellier, I found myself in a place very distant from my preconceived notions of what France should be. I had been picturing Paris—an ancient city: the quintessential embodiment of a certain European sensibility that I hoped would rub off on me during my time as a student there. Montpellier was indeed ancient, dating from the end of the tenth century. But unlike Paris, whose age is manifest in an elegance of architecture and the enduring sense of self that great cities seem to possess, Montpellier had aged the way people do, with visible decay masked by an unsuccessful attempt to remain young. The city’s dereliction was most obvious in the Jardin des Plantes. Founded in 1593, the garden must have once been quite beautiful. Today, the stone walls are pocked by age, and weeds sneak among the trunks of cypress trees and the legs of stone benches. The statues commemorating celebrated botanists and scholars have become faceless, their features effaced by rain or masked in moss, the stone books in their hands filled with the droppings of pigeons. Despite the decrepitude that had claimed the city, it was still a place of life—if a rather lazy brand of life. Things moved at a comfortable pace; the Mediterranean heat demanded it. This pervasive attitude of relaxation lent itself to enjoying small pleasures: the shade under palm and cypress in the dormitory courtyard, a gentle ocean breeze stirred unexpectedly from nowhere, the tuxedo flash of a magpie’s wings on the lawn in sudden stark contrast to the grass made golden and crisp in the sun. Most enjoyable was the language: a French spoken with the open drawling of a yawn, words blending and flowing into one another. My French improved, not so much out of any particular scholarly devotion, but rather out of casual conversation and the avid attention with which I eavesdropped on those around me, trying out new words under my breath. I learned more talking to the man who owned the corner grocery store, with his twanging Provençal accent and a large, sleepy dog at his feet, than from any textbook or verb conjugation 56
exercise. I cannot, however, entirely discredit the value of my academic pursuit of the language, for to do so would be to discredit Monsieur Gomez. That, I realize now, would be a mistake. Monsieur Gomez was my first taste of a European standard of education. An Argentinian expatriate who nonetheless spoke impeccable French, Monsieur Gomez was a rotund, nearly bald little man with an outcropping of bristly grey hair upon his head, which was mirrored from below by a neatly trimmed short grey beard. Despite the unrelenting heat of the Mediterranean summer, every day he wore a crisp short-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way to his chin and fastened with one of an impressive collection of drab bow ties. He had the unsettling habit of looking over the top of his thick, round glasses at whichever student had the privilege to be the victim of his scrutiny. According to Monsieur Gomez, to speak French less than perfectly was indicative of a serious character defect on our part as students. It was his belief that a grammatical mistake was no less than a faute morale: a moral transgression representative of our value as human beings as much as of our ability to speak French. This philosophy ruled his teaching: we were subjected to an endless barrage of conjugation drills, lists of irregular verbs, and vague explanations of when and when not to use the ever-elusive subjunctive mood. If one of us should dare to make a mistake when speaking aloud, Monsieur Gomez would let out a pained little moan and screw shut his eyes, clutching dramatically at his chest before sternly correcting the mistake and continuing the lesson with an air of injured dignity. There was one occasion upon which Monsieur Gomez took me quite by surprise, when so different a part of himself did he betray that I felt as though Iâ€™d intruded on some deeply personal act, such as the singing of a song by someone who is sure no one is listening, or the way someone examines himself in a mirror when he believes himself completely alone: curiously, indulgently. That particular afternoon, almost the entire class had abandoned its studies in favor of the beach, and I was one of only four or five who remained. Monsieur Gomez, after a series of particularly grueling exercises involving direct and indirect objects, articles, and other such grammatical peculiarities, had taken mercy on us and decided to do a speaking exercise instead. We were given paper cards with prompts written on them, and were to talk for several minutes about 57
what was on each card. Mine asked for a description of an object from childhood connected to an especially significant memory. As the others took their turn—explain a solution to global climate change, discuss a difficult choice you had to make, describe a tradition practiced by your family—Monsieur Gomez interjected with his customary moans and groans as each student in turn offended him with misplaced modifiers, wrongly conjugated verbs, and incomprehensible pronunciation. I listened with growing agitation as each of my classmates trailed off in humiliation or uncertainty. And then it was my turn. I kept it simple. “My father,” I began, “had a big bowl made of wood. He taught me how to make bread in it when I was little. He’s died since then. Now I have the bowl.” For a moment, Monsieur Gomez gave me a hard look; he hesitated, almost suspiciously, and then began to speak. “I had a bowl, too,” he said quietly. “When I was a little boy in Argentina, I had a nanny. She took care of me until I was seven years old, and then she went away. Every year on my birthday she would come back to our house, and bring with her a great big ceramic bowl, and in it she would make me a birthday cake. I remember every cake she made. She came every year.” He broke off, and I was startled back into the room; I had the sense that the two of us had left it temporarily, abandoning the orange carpet and tiny desks for a bright afternoon in Argentina many years ago. Monsieur Gomez had bent his head and pressed a fist gently to his forehead. There were tears at the corners of his eyes. Gathering himself, he addressed the class. “Very good,” he said to us. “That’s enough for today. Go home.” The students filed out, and Monsieur Gomez remained sitting in one of the too-small plastic chairs, resting his chin on the back of one of his hands. He was still. Motes of dust suspended in buttered sunlight rose and sank around him, and a tepid breeze shuffled the papers on the desk before him, but he didn’t seem to mind. Leaving the door slightly ajar, I went out into a blaze of mid-afternoon light. For a moment I was blind. Slowly, I began to walk back.
Istanbul Samuel Anderson as the muezzin calls I never see you kneel he is calling to remind me; I’m hungover god is great I need to look for a job god is great we drink your beer in the shadow of your minarets yet you respond with a smile you’ve been hiding tucked beneath your nicotine-stained mustache. send your gypsy children to pester me for cigarettes. outside a closed pharmacy a pack of street dogs circle a cow femur each snarling, slobbering, but only posturing none with the guts to take your gift. ten million cats patrol your ancient cobblestones dodging Italian high heels and taxicabs piloted by maniacs. feline heirs of ottoman harems, sultan palaces, mosques of all color: step down from your thrones sit with me. we’ll share oysters, watch steel juggernauts gently spit out of black seas off-duty police torching cop cars in the name of fútbol, watch your subjects’ children weaving through infinite traffic selling day-old bread schoolgirls in short skirts skipping past the tattoo shop. but please close your eyes as I piss in your streets, butcher your language, stagger out of your nightclubs to greet the rising sun with a cheeseburger and lemonade. god is great
The Fast Track to Becoming a Closet Artist Carissa Johnson Start by grabbing the nearest ten-cent notebook from your elementary school locker. Use it as your doodle journal, your diary, and your bible. Scribble pictures of Pokémon characters, Mario, and trees. Give them to your mom. Your dad will come home, and see what you’ve done hanging on the stark white fridge. When he thinks you’re not listening, he’ll sigh and say to your mom, “I’ve tried to take him hunting and fishing. I’ve tried playing basketball, soccer, and football with him. And all he wants to do is draw pictures. My son the picture drawer.” Forgive him for saying this. Keep drawing every second you get. Draw a picture of Link from your favorite videogame, Zelda. Draw him running up the side of the hill with a look of great valor and honor smeared across his face as he runs to save Princess Zelda from the castle. Pay no attention to the jock gang each day when they round the corner, see you drawing, and shout “FAGGOT!” and “Fat ass!” at you. But, when they make you the junior high punching bag, feel free to sock the biggest one in the eyeball so hard that he has a black eye for weeks, and you get detention every day for the next two months. Decide that detention is good. It’s your new art studio. In detention draw a flipbook with all of the jocks getting mauled and killed by the grim reaper. Always remember your pencil is your best weapon for revenge. When high school comes you’ve slimmed down. Enroll yourself in every single art class your public school can muster. Enter contests, lose those contests. Enter some more. Now everyone knows you as the “art kid.” In your small town you’re a rare entity, which exists in the vast pool of future business majors, future biology majors, and future stay-at-home moms. Girls will think you’re hot because you’re different. “Will you draw a picture of me?” they’ll all ask you. Say no to them all. Ask your crush to prom. She will become your new best friend. Your dad will be baffled by how you got such a good-looking girlfriend. And when she offers to let you draw her, accept her offer. 60
She’s the rawest inspiration you’ll ever get. In the end you shouldn’t let her go, but you will anyway. You receive an art scholarship, for your drawing of her, to a big liberal arts school four hours away in the city. The night before you move away you’ll catch your mom saying to your dad, “See, I told you his drawing was a gift. My son the artist!” Hug your mom before you go. College life in the city will eat you up and spit you out. Yes, the crosswalks mean something so don’t be startled when they blare “WALK!” at you before your 8:00 a.m. class. REMEMBER: in the city you really will get hit if you walk when the sign says “DO NOT WALK.” Also, you’d better learn to get rid of the “I’m the only artist for miles” chip on your shoulder. Here, the artsy-hipster types span for miles. Conclude that you hate your roommate. Every weekend he brings in his posse of high school football rejects and potheads. He’ll say to you, “Hey buddy, do you want me to roll you a big fat joint? Or are you just gonna sit here and draw like a square?” Continue to sit at your desk and draw like a square, willing him and his posse to leave with your mind. You’ll have a temporary lapse of character and proceed to draw pictures of potheads with veiny eyes and overweight football players getting mauled and killed by the grim reaper. You are satisfied. But, be sure to hide those pictures. Your dad will call periodically. “Have you met any good girls yet? Have you declared your major yet?” he’ll ask you anxiously. Tell him that you have declared art as your major, after all that’s why you’re here. He’ll reply, “Well there’s still time to change your mind. You were always so good with computers. Why don’t you do computer science? There are some really high paying IT jobs in this state.” Forgive him for saying that too. In your free time, start writing an extensive list of answers to the question “What are you going to do with an art major exactly?” Try not to make every answer sound sarcastic: 1. Be a freelance cartoonist, 2. Work as a concept artist for the entertainment industry, 3. Be a hobo with a sketchpad under the I-94 bridge, and so on. Expect to be bombarded with this question from the eagerly pragmatic types in your family for the rest of your college career. Turn that list into a novella. You make it your extracurricular goal to date any girl with a 61
heartbeat and pulse. Tell yourself that it’s for important artistic research. When each of them asks you, “Will you draw me naked like Jack from Titanic?” say yes to them all. Draw every microscopic detail on each and every one of them in dusty gray charcoal. Moles, freckles, cellulite, and all. Your art teacher will praise you for your keen attention to expression and realism. “I’d like to feature your series of nudes in the student gallery,” she’ll say. Title your series “Vagina Oeuvre.” When your mom asks about your latest work tell her you’ve been drawing a series of construction equipment stills with charcoal. Learn to become the master of changing subjects. Decide to despise your generals. But, force yourself to take BIO 110 anyway. You depend on your soft-spoken lab partner, Kelly, for all of the heavy-duty brain work in the class. She’s a nursing major. She doesn’t do art or understand terms like “still-life” or “blind-contour,” but she can dissect a dead kitten like it’s no one’s business. Bring her home for Thanksgiving. You like her, your family loves her. Your dad will pull you aside and say, “Now that’s a girl you should marry.” Try not to let that statement fester in your subconscious for long. And just when you’ve stomached about all the family time that you can, your great aunt will ask you your favorite FAQ. Dig deep into the arsenal of your mind and grab one of the responses on your list that hasn’t been touched yet. You respond by saying, “Well, for now, I’m focusing on expanding my use of acrylic paints, but one day I’d like to draw a series of pornographic flipbooks for Playboy.” Ignore the angry email from your mom that you receive the following week. Graduate from college. Struggle to make ends meet. Stay up all night worrying about your $40,000 in student loans. Ignore thousands of “I told you so’s” from your dad. Take a job as a barista in a coffee shop where they put up your artwork for decoration. You become the most prized froth and whipped cream artist in the coffee shop. Everyone wants your white chocolate mocha. Buy a GRE test prep book. Tell yourself you’ll go to grad school for art. Barron’s New GRE sits under your bed in its cellophane wrapper. Resolve to make a living with your art major as a concept artist. Send in your work to Pixar, DreamWorks, and EA Games. Write excruciatingly long cover letters explaining your experience with both digital and traditional mediums. Perfect your portfolio to show your wide range of skills with Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, paint, 62
and more. One of your old art professors will write you a glowing reference letter. Check your email ten times per day in anticipation of a message reading “Congratulations! We’d love to have you!” in your inbox. EA Games will get back to you first. They tell you that your work with paint and charcoal is amazing, but your style with digital mediums is not in line with where the gaming industry is headed. Pixar and DreamWorks tell you that your style is too mature for their audiences. Keep dating Kelly on and off. She’s been working double shifts at the hospital and has saved more money than you’ve had in your entire lifetime. She doesn’t have time to meet any other guys and you don’t feel up to the task of meeting any other girls. So, at the urging of your dad, ask her to marry you, even though you know you don’t love her. Let your parents shower the two of you with a $50,000 wedding and reception that includes a photo booth, a psychic, and little jars of jam at each place setting that read “J & K Forever.” Thank your mom for all of her hard work and planning. Miss the days when all you had to do was become a better artist. Blow $500 on new art supplies just to prove to yourself that you haven’t lost your game that you can pick this back up at any time. Arrange the goods into piles—acrylic paint, oil based, gesso, watercolors, etc. Then rearrange them into color-coded piles to kill time. Kelly will come home that night from the hospital in her scrubs, stand silently in front of you and your bounty, and give you one of her worried looks. You receive daily calls from your dad hounding you to “get a damn job already.” You and Kelly will move back to your hometown. Take an IT job, and try to act excited when she tells you she’s pregnant. Wonder how the hell you’ll ever take care of a baby. Work. Save to buy your first four-bedroom house with a backyard. Your dad will insist that you get one with a three-stall garage even though you only own one beat up Camry and a bicycle. Paint one of the rooms in your new house as a nursery—it’s your latest work of art. Pretend to be up with your new son when really you’re in the den sketching at 4:30 a.m. You have to be to work in three hours, but forget about that. Reach for your ten-cent notebook and sketch a warrior tricked out like Beowulf. Sketch him wearing a heavy coat of mail. He’ll stare back at you with an empty look on his face. Ball that sketch 63
up. Start over like you used to in elementary school. Start over as many times as it takes. At 5:30 a.m. your son will cry. Listen to your wife tiptoe to his room. She won’t know where you are, but it doesn’t really matter. Fall asleep at your desk at work. On the way home from work, stop by the drug store and stock up on condoms. Tell yourself it’s because you can’t afford another baby right now. Make a bottle, and hold your son. Look at his face and try to think like an artist again. Observe each and every breath he takes. When your wife comes in to take him she’ll ask you how your day at work was. Respond with your usual “fine” and escape to the den as quickly as possible. You have heaped a pile of balled up sketches on your desk that no one will ever see. Now, your art exists only in this 10’ x 12’ den. On your way home from work the next day, stop off at the nearest art supply store. Browse the shelves for the perfect beginner’s watercolor set. Pick out one for $24.99 along with a small camel hair paintbrush. Grab another ten-cent notebook too. Take them home and wrap them like a present in newspaper, writing “Your first art set. Love, Dad” on the front in black sharpie. Hide the gift away in your den’s closet for a rainy day.
Family â€˘ Kelsie Klaustermeier black & white photography
Layer of Youth â€˘ Elijah Rankin digital photography & photoshop
Through the Looking Glass â€˘ Maureen Vance digital photography
Habitat: Silence â€˘ Beau Sinchai acrylic paint on canvas
Habitat: Community Conflict â€˘ Beau Sinchai acrylic paint on canvas
The Show Must Go On â€˘ Kristina Laskowski intaglio print
You’re Not Invisible, You Just Don’t Exist • Kristina Laskowski monotype print
Visualizing Architecture â€˘ Mark Miller 3D computer-generated image
Postcards Katie Engevik Send me a piece of Alaska, to tell me you’re safe, to capture the mountain you climbed. To see, ah— the sea—my friend, where is my adventure? If only— I could follow you, who taught me to wander. Unlike us, maps and postcards have four corners. My world had them too, but now— we know— there are invisible borders— I never would have seen without you. I’ll remember your shower yodel while I bake the cornmeal, upstairs— your gleeful noise is something I still hear. You smell organic, and borrow eggs from the neighbors, dance with me in the kitchen and run alongside my bike, but don’t mind any strangers. I look wide-eyed, and ask about glaciers and bees, so much to question— where will we be, in ten years, if not here? 65
Promise to send me a piece of Alaska— to show me you’re safe, to remind me I’m not alone.
Hummingbird KT Perleberg They told us it would be special, and to face the change with excitement. I remember so clearly sitting in our sixth grade sex ed class when the teacher turned the topic from reproductive organs to something more substantial, to our hearts, and a dark and heavy silence fell over us. (Everyone starts out quiet as kids, for the most part. At my sixth birthday party we were playing musical chairs, and Lisa fell over. She skinned her knee, she cried because it hurt, and we all just stood there and quietly watched while the adults rushed in to help. We just didn’t care. Lisa was taken inside to be cleaned up. Someone sneezed and we played again.) The teacher shifted anxiously and smiled at our unmoved faces. We could smile, of course, could mimic the feelings we didn’t yet understand, but there was something synthetic about the expressions when we were young. It’s easy for those who have gone through the change to forget they were like us once. We frighten them. But the teacher just kept smiling. “Your parents have probably already explained this part to you, since it’s a lot more romantic than dopamine and norepinephrine,” she said, “but it’s part of my job to tell you anyway. We’re all born with a series of vessels and arterial pumps that make our blood flow, which keeps us alive. As the diaphragm contracts downward it makes the lungs inflate, squeezing the area between the lungs. Then, as the diaphragm relaxes upward, the lungs deflate, opening the area for blood to come into the valves. It’s not very practical, and a lot of people can’t engage in too much physical activity until they get older. In the center of this network is a small bud of stem cells that don’t develop until puberty. They divide and grow into the most important organ of all: the heart. Not only is the human heart the most efficient muscle for transporting blood and oxygen, it’s also a doorway.” She stood waiting, expectant—she’d done this a million times before—until someone cautiously asked, “A door?” “Yes!” she said. “It’s the door you pass through from childhood to 67
adulthood. When your heart grows in, you see, is when you start to feel, to love, to fear, to show compassion. You feel more than you ever have before: emotional pain instead of physical; laughter out of joy rather than nervous stimulation. It’s thrilling and alien and so, so special. That’s how you fall in love. It’s how you learn to do good for the sake of doing good. It’s when your imagination reaches new depths.” The teacher continued her spiel, but only one thought hovered over me. Emotional pain? I was the first to raise my hand when the time came for questions at the end. “Does it hurt?” I asked, and the class all looked at me. We’re curious. We’re precocious and patient and so, so quiet. Learning is precious to us before we grow our hearts, because there’s nothing else to do. I guess we’re all born animals of instinct, and only become human beings when the organ grows. It’s apathy. We laugh if we’re tickled because it’s a nervous reaction. We cry when we hurt ourselves. We tell our parents we love them because we’re taught to. Love means nothing; hate means nothing. Even wanting and wishing are insignificant until we have hearts. My question made the teacher bite her lip, like it was the last thing she wanted to tell us. “It does. It hurts very much to grow a new organ. But, every student is allowed a grace week when their time comes, to stay home, rest, and adjust. Do you all remember when we talked about caterpillars turning into butterflies? The difference when you come back makes all the pain worth it.” I was instantly wary of the change. We all were. Pain was something we understood. An entire week of misery just to grow a muscle? The change was the source of objective gossip for weeks after the lesson. When would it start? Who would be the first to succumb? Betting pools of candy and petty favors started. A week of science notes for Ginny: she already cried at the slightest discomfort. An entire pillowcase full of Halloween candy for Joe. No one bet on themselves. It was the closest to emotional investment we would get before our hearts came. Lisa (the girl from my birthday party, oh god) was the first, only a month later. In the middle of class, she started screaming because she felt it: she could feel it growing like a parasite, and it scared her more than it hurt. The teacher rushed her to the nurse, and she was gone for four days. We treated her like the messiah when she returned. 68
“What’s it feel like?” someone asked, and Lisa could only shake her head, watery eyes wide. It’s impossible to explain emotions to people who don’t have any. After that, it was a domino effect. Not looking forward to the day when I would feel the change, I watched with vague distaste over the next four years as each of my classmates fell to their fate. Joe thought it would be funny—such a clown after his change—to try faking it a second time at the beginning of a new school year with a new teacher. He threw himself out of his chair and onto the floor, shrieking, hoping for a week off of school (no one hated school until they changed; they didn’t know how to hate anything before), but the teachers were well trained in knowing. One look at his stifled grin and suppressed tears of laughter, and he was put back in his chair with a reprimand. Everyone started pairing off at some point. Boys and girls, girls and girls, boys and boys: it didn’t matter. No one was safe from the magnetic pull of sex and love when they could feel so keenly. Cliques formed. People started buying clothes in bright colors and racy designs, and hung posters on their bedroom walls. But I stayed the same. I watched everyone around me vanish for a week and come back with the stars in their eyes and moon-faced grins when they saw that Special Someone. Valentine’s Day suddenly meant something. Girls cried when they got into trouble; boys got into fights. It was like watching Animal Planet, but in real life. By the time I was sixteen, and I was the only person left of my class who hadn’t changed, my parents sent me to the doctor. My body had changed, my voice had changed, but I’d never felt the pangs of my heart growing. I was examined. The doctors took x-rays of my chest and MRI scans of my brain. If I had a heart I might have been afraid that there was something wrong, but I was declared healthy. “Just a late bloomer,” the doctor smiled at my mother. “Give it time and she’ll get there.” That night, I heard my parents talking in the living room. I was curious, so I listened. “It’s not normal, Jack,” Mom insisted. Dishes sloshed metallically in the sink. She washed; Dad dried. “I was thirteen when I had my change. You were fourteen and considered late. I’ve never heard of anyone changing past fifteen.” “There have been studies done. It’s not unheard of in this day and 69
age. Lizzy is fine. We just need to listen to the doctor and give her space.” Mom dropped something into the sink, maybe her gloves. It was a tiny but audible splash. “Don’t you know what those studies say? Sociopathy. People who dissect other people because they’re curious. Jack, what if—?” “Terry!” They both spun to face me when I stepped into the kitchen. The fear in Mom’s eyes was blown wide, bleeding out onto the floor, and Dad was forcing a smile. I took a cookie from the jar and went back to my room. Maybe I should have acted upset or betrayed, but they wouldn’t have believed me anyway. Not without a heart beating behind my ribs. My grace week went untouched even as I graduated. By then I was a social outcast, a pariah to those who no longer understood what it meant not to feel. Some pitied me, tried to befriend me, but how does one become friends with someone who has no interests? I didn’t blame them for giving up on me. Thinking about it logically, I probably would have given up on me, too. What’s the point of putting time and effort into a useless final product? A friendship with a machine. I went to my third choice college. The first two didn’t like my essays: apparently, they lacked enthusiasm. It hardly mattered to me as long as I could go. After my parents’ conversation about my alleged sociopathy, I had found my home life to be a little stifling. Dad tried to pretend there was nothing wrong, but it’s easy to see when someone’s lying if your judgment isn’t clouded by feelings. Life was satisfactory, for a while. No one knew about my heart condition. People mostly left me to myself, which I appreciated for the first few weeks, but just because I couldn’t feel didn’t mean I objected to occasional human interaction. I heard on campus that anyone could start a club about anything, and it got me thinking: what if there were people like me on campus? People without hearts? So I made a club and I called it “The Heartless.” About fifteen people showed up to the first meeting. I was as close to feeling thrilled as I’d ever been, until I realized they were all hipsters and would-be poets who hadn’t taken the name of my club seriously. I left thirty dollars lighter and never went back. Apparently, the club is still thriving without its founder, or so I’ve heard. 70
Someone followed me out that day, though. His name was Jeremy, and he followed me out of the club meeting with his hands buried in his pockets. Buried deep. There was something empty in his sallow face that was like looking in a mirror, and I knew. I knew him as clearly as I knew myself. That was why I stopped. “Can I feel your pulse?” I asked. He didn’t get embarrassed, didn’t shyly smile or shuffle his feet, only held out his arm and let me feel. Just as I suspected, he didn’t have the heady boom of a post-change heartbeat, but a hummingbird whir like mine. We were both so pale, unable to go out and play sports with the changed. We were alike, he and I. I didn’t have to be alone. We spent our time together because it made sense, two heartless people being friends. We talked about things that interested us. I was a freshman who was good at math. He was a senior who excelled in biology. Much of the time we did our homework together. People who didn’t know us thought we were an item. “Inseparable,” they called us. More like aimless. Jeremy was objectively handsome: tall, blond hair, soft skin, and eyes like the nighttime. So many girls admired him for his looks, but kept their distance because of his heart condition. But did I love him? Of course not. I wish I did, though. I wish things had turned out differently. “We could study at my apartment tonight,” suggested Jeremy after we’d known each other for nearly a full semester. “I have to do some brushing up on my biology, as I’ve finally decided on my senior thesis.” I looked up at him—he towered over me—with interest. “What is it?” I asked. “I’m doing a project on how the heartless biologically function as adults. I could really use your help with the research.” We went to his apartment. It was small and sparsely decorated, filled with books on every wall. I looked over the spines with interest: almost every one of them had to do with the heartless. An entire bookcase filled to the brim with information about my condition. I had no idea that there were enough people like me to inform so much literature on the topic. Any question I might have about myself could be answered. I could start to understand my condition. Society would 71
no longer be able to call the heartless “monsters” or “freaks of nature” because they would be forced to accept that there was a logically irrefutable explanation to the condition. “Jeremy, this is very thorough,” I told him, turning around to face him with my hands tangling together. “You’re going to be fine; I’m not certain what I can do to h—” A rag stinking of chemicals was pressed over my nose and mouth, and in the few moments before the world went black, I felt a painful jolt of realization. My mother was right, you know. Sometimes, people who are born without hearts were never meant to have one. Sometimes, they’re sociopaths who cut people up for fun. Dissect them. Sometimes they take up biology. I just wish I could tell her this to her face, but I can’t because I’m curled up on Jeremy’s bathroom floor, my knees drawn tight and shaking. Head swimming with the chemical he used to knock me out, it’s all I can do to sit upright, let alone defend myself. My breath shudders painfully: I am afraid. Never have I been so afraid in all my life, and just the fact that this fear is so tangible is half of what makes me afraid. As Jeremy’s footsteps thud toward the bathroom, I feel a fluttering in my ribs.
Halfway through the Sixth Beer, I Fell Asleep on Your Kitchen Table Claire Holtz I am speaking at your funeral in a red dress and stilettos. When I clear my throat, ash spews onto the podium, I apologize in a tenor rasp. I imagine you undressing me on the church altar and when I start to speak, I can only call your name. In the first pew, your girlfriend will not look at me. I hang my head, walk off the altar into a confessional. After I sit down, the priest gazes up, â€œI know.â€?
Rape Nick Neylon I go to IKEA because there is a concrete path with arrows marked on maps overhead because everything is written in Helvetica because I spent the morning saying nothing into phones
XO Morgan Luther Manufactured hearts of ice drift endless with Eternal entropy, Or is it enthalpy? System changes misunderstand. Southern Hospitality hospitalizes No Man, No-Thing is All-Things And the stomach consumes and the liver regrets. Washed up words spat out an amygdalaâ€™s unwashed mouth, And now itâ€™s just Brita watered downs and nicotine fevers Of contemplation or complexities.
What Weird Flesh Cory Alford what weird flesh this book-born catharsis penciled grievance inked lightness over a lurking dick joke made form filled with form many forms but until I hand it / me over, this me / it flows over the flex of land expulsion, though torturously slow of mindless antiquity romantic thoughts of manhood like veils woven repeatedly obsessive reassessment and only using the yarn with color never seen but this skin song testament to sunshine exercise and book learning you hack apart set on ice flash-frozen fragments me in your hands (take care.) it, I, we make(s) fragility cringe at bare flesh 76
purposeful planned wounds rehashed tattoos lasered away only for reapplication then hands descend and the cold sets in.
Lilacs in September Vanessa Ramstack One In the hospital bed she looks so small. Sallow cheeks, milky eyes, collar bones peeking through the tissue paper gown. Why aren’t those gowns more substantial? In a napkin gown, you’re a soggy piece of pizza crust or the remnants of a turkey sandwich. I’ll come back for you later; you’ll only sit in the fridge for a little while. A week goes by and it’s time to take out the trash. I sit down in the chair by the window. I instinctively move it farther into the corner. My dad is in the opposite corner talking about his real estate classes; my aunt’s eyes are frosted glass as she nods from beneath a thousand wires and tubes. My brother is staring at nothing. I don’t bother to catch his eye because in this moment, there is no sidelong joking glance, and no way to shake our heads with a chuckle at family antics. There is only this room, a yellowing bed, and a family learning to say goodbye.
Two Sometimes, I am back on the farm. My father drives the forty-five minutes through backcountry roads and across railroad tracks with no stop signs. The green is an endless paintbrush swipe, and the leaves never touch the ground. He pulls onto the gravel driveway. The dust clouds the windows, but our eyes remember. My brother and I catapult from the car and race each other to the barn, nothing but a swirl of freckled limbs and open-mouthed laughs.
Three She teaches me to horseback ride when I am nine years old. She saddles up the “nicest horse, Bailey—because Sunny’s too mean. He’ll 78
buck you right off,” and encourages me to touch his nose and look him in the eyes. Flies congregate around Bailey’s lips and eyelashes; he blows them away with a sigh. I stretch my arms to the horn and tentatively place one foot in the stirrup. She nods. I readjust my already-sweaty fingers on the wood, and pull upward. I feel my arm bones pressing against my skin, trying to rip their way through muscle and veins. I pull again. I start to cry a little as the seat and cantle shift toward me, the whole saddle now hanging off Bailey’s side. My aunt dismounts, and moves to adjust Bailey’s saddle. She grabs my hand and asks if I really want to ride today—because I don’t have to if I don’t want to. I sniffle and stare at my feet. “It’s what I really want,” I say. She’ll boost me on the count of three. One for luck, two for love, three for a pair of wings. Her hand on my back, my hands wrapped in the horse’s mane, and I’m in the saddle. We ride through a grove of pine trees into a clearing of once-tall grass and Queen Anne’s lace. The last bits of sun collect on the grass’s tips and create puddles of gold around the horse hooves. I keep Bailey in line behind Sunny and try to sit as tall as my aunt in the saddle. Even with her crooked back, she manages to reach her body to the sky, making her the tallest creature in the world.
Four There are flowers on the windowsill. They are lined up in rows, the water tinged a light brown, the heads wilting into the syrup of each other’s vases. I start to count the fallen petals on the top of the heater, but lose track. “How’s your summer going?” she asks. “How’s the boyfriend? Getting excited to go back to school?” Amazing how people can continue to execute small talk perfectly; if I were lying under a horse, I could still recite my “Good, but too fast. Good. Oh, you know, sort of ’s” until the horse beat me out of sheer boredom. I want to ask her if she’s afraid. I want to ask her how she can be sure God exists, how she knows she’ll be awake forever, but a nurse comes in to adjust something on one of the machines recreating the functions of her body. So I tell her I’m excited for my boyfriend to be 79
a freshman at the same university as me, even though what I really mean is I’m skeptical and afraid of change and sometimes all I want to do is go to sleep for years and years. She smiles and nods, saying that’ll be a great thing. The nurse pats the bed, saying she can press the morphine button anytime. She presses it as soon as the nurse leaves.
Five She is in the kitchen arranging dessert trays for the Fourth of July party. Her spine creaks and bends, never allowing her to look straight ahead. Her neck twists outward and to the side, reminding me of a lawn flamingo. But the neck brace supports her beautiful, beautiful head and my father says we can at least thank medicine for that.
Six She says the pain is constant. We all look at our feet. My grandpa either cries or scratches the corners of his eyes for a minute. I want to say something profound. I want her to look at my face for a second or two or a thousand, open her mouth in that way people do when they realize you are an angel on Earth, and whisper, “Thank you.” Instead, I fixate on my uncle’s mustache, wondering how many hairs there are.
Seven When I sit on the fence surrounding the horse pasture, I pretend it’s my fence. I even pretend I built it a hundred long years ago, when my husband said to me, “Now wouldn’t a fence look just perfect right here.” I pretend I built the entire farmhouse with the snap of a finger. Life was simple like that. Maybe the world didn’t even have disease. No cancer to swallow a person whole. Maybe it was like a Dalí painting: filled with the kinds of things your mind could only imagine beneath night’s veil, between waking and dreaming. Everything could happen in a painting like that. 80
The horses chase each other through the dandelion-ridden grass. I sit on the fence. I watch them paint their lives.
Eight “I just want to walk again. Why won’t God let me walk again?” She closes her eyes. I become acutely aware of the existence of my own legs. The way they tingle when I tighten the muscles, the rippling of flesh as I tap my heel on the ground, the way they seem to disappear when motionless. The dead weight. The way my toes press into the ground, ready to sprint away from my legs, without warning, without a kiss goodbye. In this moment, we cry—together, but alone. And this is the way everything seems to go.
Nine She asks me to sing for her. The only song she wants to hear is the one I wrote for a friend a year ago. “‘Laws of Science,’” she says. “You know I love that one.” I only play the songs my relatives want to hear, and when my fingers give way after five (or, if I’m lucky, six) songs, I sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” a cappella to lull each mind into a calm, calm sleep. She sits on the stone patio, her smile a half moon, the inside of a candle’s glow, the first bite of an apple: the smile you wish you wore when people told you things would get better.
Ten The last time I see her is August 2010. I do not remember the ride there or the ride home. I do not remember walking into the house, and I do not remember what I say to her besides, “I love you.” I give her a painting and a poem I wrote, but she cannot see the painting or read the poem. Each eye is barely a sliver and her mouth moves slowly, like a flipbook in reverse. I hug her, but she feels like 81
dust beneath my fingertips. My littlest cousin is there. She is ten. I remember when I was just like her, but I will never understand watching my aunt die through ten-year-old eyes. I go to the kitchen, cut us each a slice of chocolate cake. It’s just a normal day with normal chocolate cake in a normal kitchen in the midst of a normal woman’s life. Maybe if time moved backward a minute for every second it moved forward, I could cut that piece of chocolate cake forever.
Eleven On summer sleepover nights, I stay in my cousin’s old room. My aunt brings me Disney coloring books and sparkly crayons. Sometimes we watch a movie. She heaps two bowls with ice cream and taps some rainbow sprinkles into the folds of the tiny dessert mountains. The swirls of cold blend with the plush fabric of the couch and I sink my back deeper into the cushions. I fall in and out of sleep with the bowl on my lap. The TV hums in the background. I suppose I dream, but I couldn’t say of what. But when I wake the next morning, I smell lilacs.
Twelve My brother posts a Facebook status. He never does that. “I wish I could’ve gotten to know my aunt better.” Fuck. It’s all I can think. I type it as my status. The world explodes when I express a curse word on the internet. Who cares? I want people to read it over and over: fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. I want them to wonder. I want them to call and ask what’s wrong. I turn off my phone and leave to see Toy Story 3 with an old friend. I can’t cry, though surely I should let it out before my friend sees and asks what’s wrong. Without the status staring her down, she’ll have no context for my anger. And so I’ll have to explain it. Word by word, minute by minute: a whole life, condensed into a single conversation. And I just can’t do that.
Thirteen I walk to Burger King. I want to feel my stomach rot because I cannot feel my tear ducts. I stare the cashier square in the eye and order a cheeseburger with ketchup and mustard only. A small fries. A small soda. I sit in a window seat and sip a third of the soda in one gulp. A sugar dance on my teeth—it almost makes me feel normal. Soda was a rare after-school treat in elementary school. I try to float back to that moment. I try to taste the soda through the mouth of a nineyear-old girl. The burp sticks in my throat.
Fourteen My brother wants to fish in the pond at the front of the farm. I tell him for the hundredth time I don’t like fish. He says I don’t have to touch them. I wish I could leave every fish sleeping quietly at the bottom of the ripples and sand. I don’t want to see one die with a hook in its lip. I don’t want its brethren to leap from the water, wailing with loss, and I don’t want water to soak through my shoes. So there I sit, in the corner of the metal boat, hoping nothing has the courage to jump in with me.
Fifteen I think about death. I pretend to know the answer. I pretend to understand the question. Death is like the physical act of going to sleep and the thought process directly preceding it. I will wake up tomorrow. The muscles know; the bones know; the mind assumes. But when? When will I wake up? Depending on the day, it could be a number of times: 8:00 a.m., class. 12:00 p.m., lunch date. Sunday, sleep day. Some days, I do not know when, but I know yes. Waking is eventual; it is imminent; it is merely the end of a dream. Death is the end of this dream on Earth. I will wake up. I go to sleep. I die. I cannot distinguish the difference. All my body knows is the eventual. 83
Sixteen I call my dad. He says I should come home for the funeral the following weekend. I nod into the phone. I can’t stop thinking about Toy Story 3, and the toys holding hands as they move closer and closer to the garbage incinerator. Why does everything suddenly feel like a fire? Like the moment before a phoenix disintegrates completely into ash, when he makes a final cry or plea. I’ll be fine. This week will be fine. I’ll sleep all weekend. I’ll be fine. This is my cry to some god, or the weakest plea to myself. I hang up the phone and walk home. The sky is clear, and I punch holes in it with my incisors as I ask where you are. Farther from a building, louder in the mouth, I want you to answer. I yell to no one, “Where are you?”
Seventeen The human body decays too quickly. It cannot wait. She cannot wait. The funeral is moved to the immediate Tuesday. I do not attend.
Eighteen I stand in the shower after refusing my boyfriend sex. My skin glistens with an itch. She will never scratch an itch again; she will never touch lips with her husband again. Her hair will never drape across a shoulder, and she will never satiate the urge to trace the veins of a hand up the arm, up, up, to the heart. The end of shared dreams, the beginning of a sleep. She’ll never know I am crying into the drain, dry-heaving. I cover my head with my arms. I disappear into the tiled walls.
Nineteen I go to sleep that night and I wake up the next morning.
Twenty And the next, and the next, and the next.
bones&brains AP Looze we just a couple of queers kissing at the park talk like we ain’t girls ain’t boys ain’t nothing but bones &brains. we muscle and wrestle sky strums with stars bats flap insects have their way with our skin. pass a can between hands pull on hair tug shirts shove hip catch lip like sugar like rain. this kiss i’m fag next you’re drag like dykes hands find the double x of us helix we denied. don’t care won’t have don’t pass 86
we’re not this not that. ’cause we ain’t nothing but the not but a couple of queers but bones &brains.
Contributors’ Notes Cory Alford is a senior majoring in English, awaiting his Master of Education program in the summer. He hopes to teach high school students about rap poetry, comic books, and Walt Whitman. Samuel Anderson is a junior majoring in English. Last spring, he relocated his fiancée and cat 1,700 miles east from the Pacific Northwest to “Nordeast” Minneapolis. He is adjusting well to the Midwest, due to a shared passion for beer, sausage, ice fishing, and polka. Laura Burnes is a sophomore majoring in English, and she doesn’t want to be a teacher, so she wishes people would stop asking. She wants to be like Harper Lee and write one good thing and then hide away for seventy-five years, laughing as the royalty checks roll in. Katie Engevik is a senior at the University of Minnesota who will be graduating this fall with a double major in English and German. Her poem was inspired by those who find a way to remain close across time and oceans. Dylan Hester studies English literature, broadcasts electronic soundscapes on Radio K, and interns at the University of Minnesota Press. His primary interests are tea, parks, and muted color tones. Claire Holtz is a Philosophy major and a Gender Studies minor. Her recent search history includes, “does salsa go bad,” “Netflix,” and “stores that sell good hammocks.” Carissa Johnson is a sophomore studying English from Moorhead, Minnesota. After graduating, she hopes to work in publishing or go on to graduate school for English or Library 89
Science. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves knitting, drinking coffee, and exploring the Twin Cities. Joe Kellen is an aspiring playwright with an affinity for Jell-O cake and language. The Twin Cities will always be his home— he’ll probably never stop owing them for their ineffable impact on his creative work. Remember that poetry is everywhere— that’s profound enough for this sort of thing, right? Kelsie Klaustermeier is a Golden Gopher junior studying Graphic Design and Journalism. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family, the smell of a rainy day, and extra-hot coffee (with a bit of cream). Ultimately, she loves to solve problems and to be challenged. Kristina Laskowski is a red-headed, Pisces-Aquarian cusp studying Architecture with a minor in Printmaking. Thus, she does not sleep much, which actually is a good thing, since whenever she does she has nightmares of bears and squirrels attacking her room. She loves art that makes you wonder and dream. Clara Lee was born in Florida, raised in Missouri, and studied painting in Baltimore before heaving three duffels roughly the size of her body into the cool, steel belly of the Empire Builder. She is yea feet tall and talks with her hands. AP Looze writes poems and creative nonfiction pieces, performs, does quirky crafts, likes to meow at cats, and sometimes practices high kicks while waiting for water to boil. AP will be graduating this semester with degrees in Art, Theater, and English. AP hasn’t a clue what’s next. Morgan Luther is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He will be graduating from the University of Minnesota sometime during this decade. His drink of choice is Jack Daniel’s. Straight. In a flask. Follow him on Twitter: @morgzyoloha. 90
Matthew McGuire lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and will graduate in May with degrees in English and Philosophy. He is not afraid of silence. Mark Miller is a freshman in the College of Science and Engineering from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He has always wanted to major in Aerospace Engineering, and so far that is still the plan. Despite his love for math and science, his favorite hobbies include photography, filmmaking, and graphic art. Nick Neylon spent his childhood on the West Coast eating grass and walking around alone. He grew up in Wisconsin, where he became lactose intolerant. Now he lives in the Twin Cities, where he found the joys of bikes, trees, and fine polka music. KT Perleberg is a sophomore and Film major from St. Francis, Minnesota. As soon as she learned enough of the alphabet to write all over the walls, she took up storytelling and never stopped. After graduation, she plans on using that inclination for acting, producing, and screenwriting in the entertainment industry. Amber Petrik has been a writer since the age of eleven, when she very decidedly declared, “I’m going to be a writer.” Currently, she is a full-time student studying English at the University of Minnesota. After graduation, she hopes to pursue the writing life. David Piery is an undergraduate English major. He loves to drink coffee, travel, and write. In addition to being Ukrainian, he is also Thai and Italian. If you have seen him, or have any idea of his whereabouts, please contact Ivory Tower. Nora Poole is a senior English major writing across multiple genres. She writes to remember, to create, and to explore the blurred line where the two run together into something truer than the truth. 91
Brian Pricco hails from the suburban hub of Burnsville, Minnesota. He came to the University of Minnesota with a rudimentary knowledge of poetry. Four years later, he is about to graduate and hopes to live in Barcelona, drinking espresso at outdoor cafés while trying to find a pen. Vanessa Ramstack’s first thought when she learned she had to write a bio for this magazine was: Should this be in first person or third person? The answer was that it should be in third person. She’s a true-blue cat person, and is currently craving red velvet cheesecake. . . . Graduation present? Okay, thanks. But enough about her; tell her your story someday. Elijah Rankin is a junior at the University of Minnesota, and he brakes for whales. “Our work, our performing, is a striving for metamorphosis. It’s like a purification ritual, in the alchemical sense. First, you have to have a period of disorder, chaos; returning to a primeval disaster region. Out of that, you purify the elements, and find a new seed of life, which transforms all life, all matter, all personality—until, finally, hopefully, you emerge and marry all those dualisms and opposites. Then you’re not talking about good and evil anymore, but something unified and pure.”—Jim Morrison Lucas Scheelk, with the news of his poem’s acceptance, decided to take his bio into his own hands, in the form of a haiku. “The unicorns cheered / Laying down rainbow carpets / For him to walk on.” In his spare time, Lucas strives to be as creatively fabulous as possible. Scott Seres only stops writing poetry and prose and reading books that normal people would never waste their time with when he slips (naturally or otherwise) into unconsciousness. He currently works as a writing consultant at the University of Minnesota Center for Writing, and is unwisely pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English. 92
Beau Sinchai is a senior who will be graduating with a Bachelor of Design degree in Architecture and a minor in Art. Much of her work, both design and art, is created in response to the social issues at hand. Her other works have been published in the Minnesota Daily, have been exhibited at Boynton Health Services, and have won a national competition in Thailand. Graham Thomas is a songwriter from beautiful Bismarck, North Dakota. He fronts a band called Nora and the Janitors. He plays drums and stuff in another called Winterstate. He never wants to die. Sisyphus is his role model. He really likes Joanna Newsom and Howlin’ Wolf and climbing things. Andrea Tritschler is in her last semester at the University of Minnesota. She is majoring in Journalism and minoring in Spanish and Information Technology. She is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Obsessed with writing and foreign culture, she has plans to spend time in Brazil after graduation. She is currently exploring freelance opportunities and working on a collection of essays. Matthew Ullery is a Minnesota-native queer writer and a junior at the University of Minnesota, where he is majoring in English. He boasts a vocabulary of over one hundred words, and hopes to pursue a career that allows him to use all of them. Maureen Vance is a senior English major who is minoring in Art. She was once quoted in the Minnesota Daily as saying, “But I’m wearing two hats, so at least I’ve got that going for me.” Emily Walz has lived and traveled throughout China, Taiwan, and portions of Southeast Asia. She has worked for a library, an independent press, a law office, a digital archive, and as a freelance book reviewer. Her reviews have been published in Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong, and Minneapolis.
Jennifer Wang feels like a beanstalk growing every-which-way, constantly jittery with anticipation to see where she ends up next. That’s how she knows she is young—because she does not know enough about the world to have the slightest idea where that will be. Hannah Yeskel is a sophomore from Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. She is a student by day, a writer by night, and on the weekends she battles the supervillains of the Twin Cities. She can’t dance or do mental math, but she’s got 20/20 vision and she can knit.
Ivory Tower 2013 was designed by WooHyun Shim, Cassandra Labriola, and Aaron Bergland, and typeset in Adobe Caslon Pro and Minion Pro. It was printed by Versa Press on 60 lb. Opaque Offset and 70 lb. Gusto Satin Matte.
Cory Alford Samuel Anderson Laura Burnes Katie Engevik Dylan Hester Claire Holtz Carissa Johnson Joe Kellen Kelsie Klaustermeier Kristina Laskowski Clara Lee AP Looze Morgan Luther Matthew McGuire Mark Miller Nick Neylon
KT Perleberg Amber Petrik David Piery Nora Poole Brian Pricco Vanessa Ramstack Elijah Rankin Lucas Scheelk Scott Seres Beau Sinchai Graham Thomas Andrea Tritschler Matthew Ullery Maureen Vance Emily Walz Jennifer Wang Hannah Yeskel