PLAINSONG Volume 28
ÂŠ 2014 Plainsong, Vol. 28 Department of English, University of Jamestown, Jamestown, North Dakota Copyright reverting to authors, artists, and photographers on publication Any reprinting or reproduction may be done only with their permission
Plainsong, a non-profit journal funded by the University of Jamestown and published by the University Department of English, includes the work of students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University of Jamestown
Editorial Board Department of English David Godfrey, Ph.D., Chair Mark Brown, Ph.D. Sean Flory, Ph.D. Dorothy Holley Larry Woiwode, copy editor
Student Editor Jessamine Julian
Layout and Interior Design Donna Schmitz
Cover Photo Watson in Dying Sun Annika Lind, Plainsong Prize Photo Award
Printing and Binding Two Rivers Printing
Table of Contents Western Hospitality, Jim Stone................................................................................................................6 Photograph, Watching the Game, Debi Piscitiello............................................................................7 The Weight Cut, Alicia Hubbard, Thomas McGrath Poetry Prize.............................................8 A Different World, Annika Vernon.........................................................................................................10 Waiting Room, Kylynn Walker................................................................................................................12 Photograph, Out of the Darkness, Levi Brown.................................................................................15 Stencil, Briana VinZant, Larry Woiwode Fiction Prize................................................................16 Greed, A Powerful Force, Taylor Lammers...........................................................................................18 Photograph, And On His Farm He Had A Pig…, Dacotah Wealot...............................................21 Harry, Kayla Byle........................................................................................................................................22 To the Reader, Lance Johansen.............................................................................................................28 Photograph, Floating Toad, Deb Gideon...........................................................................................31 I Killed A Man With Words One Time, Matthew Nies.......................................................................32 Transformation, Hannah Erickson........................................................................................................34 Cancer, Annika Vernon............................................................................................................................36 Paperclip, Matthew Nies..........................................................................................................................39 Poor Eddie, Jim Stone...............................................................................................................................40 Alexandra and Me, Mike Findlay...........................................................................................................44 Photograph, Dakota Sunrise, Laurel Woiwode................................................................................48 Rain Like Dust, Matthew Nies.................................................................................................................49 Socks, Laura Sieling...................................................................................................................................50 Photograph, For Those Below, Levi Brown........................................................................................61 Austen and Thackeray’s Views on Marriage, Briana VinZant.........................................................62 One Hour In The Lab With Peter, Annika Vernon..............................................................................68 Stains, Brittany Cochran..........................................................................................................................71 O Pioneers! and So Long, See You Tomorrow, Zachary Wolf..........................................................72 Photograph, Duck Hunt Sunrise, Garrett Tenney............................................................................75 Together, Hanna Erickson.......................................................................................................................76 My Burden, John Peterson......................................................................................................................78 This Is My Love Letter, Brooke Lietzke..................................................................................................79 Bellow and Me, Alicia Hubbard, Louise Erdrich Non-Fiction Prize.......................................80 Photograph, Tried and True, Levi Brown............................................................................................85
WESTERN HOSPITALITY Spurred by a bet, a greenhorn gets down on a bronco’s back. Alive, astride its airborne hide, a twist or two, blue fades to black. Bucked up and off, but still hung up, his face becomes a plow. A rodeo clown says, looking down, “How do you like ‘er out West, now?” —Jim Stone
THE WEIGHT CUT The scale scoffs silently
as I step on it slowly;
One-thirty-three flashes, I hurry to my locker
thirteen pounds left to lose.
lather my body in lots of Abolene,
Then slip into my sauna suit, My hoodie holds in heat Strong! I tell myself,
my skin feeling saturated, greasy.
as I layer the clothes heavily.
stay positive and smile!--
Looking like the Michelin-man,
a magnificent monstrous marshmallow,
But I donâ€™t care how ridiculous, how grey haired do-gooders will dote With curiosity and concern
as they stare, completely confused;
I will smile politely in passing, feel the sweat slowly starting. With force I run faster,
focusing on a future fate,
Seeing my hand held high,
and my heart hailing victory
until droplets of salty sweat
seep and sting my eyes
and Poof! goes my portrait,
my visual of planned perfection;
But no malignant matter, I push mile after mile
my mind is made up;
as my courage manifests.
Through incessant intervals
the pain begins to internalize.
This begins the battle, the burn that bends your will; First the desire to drink,
to drench your dry pallet,
Then a ferocious feeling of fire Your memory melting away Focus! You must not falter So forget that you feel frail,
as heat fatigues the frame-as your mind begins to wander.
for failure is not imaginable. commit to feigning fortitude.
Two-point-two pounds to go,
tick tock, tick tock,
I know the hour is nearing but lie naked in nonsensical thinking; This last kilo will kill me, all wrestlers curse the weight cut. Cold tiles cool my conscience
in my craving for comfort;
Deadened by delirium, I struggle Must move body, or so
but dig deep and keep going,
I mutter but keep motionless.
Staggering and unsteady I stand tall, submitting to insanity. Mind over matter, I mumble dizzily. Must. Make. Weight. Quickly humbled by the horrific heat, I enter Hell. Scorched and suffocated, every cell shrivels in spite; The brutal sauna begs me to surrender, but I stay. Time passing at a glacial pace, numb fingers and tingling toes, The threshold for tolerance tested. It teeters and totters With no guarantees given, so begins the gruesome gamble Between vice and virtue, the villain or the victorious. The boundary becoming a
blur between reality and a dream,
Though my resolve is resilient and my audacity ruthless. I exhale, step on the scale, and say a silent prayer.
A DIFFERENT WORLD Running, screaming, and laughing children suddenly surrounded us as we stepped out of our vehicles. They raced to where we stood with smiles on their dirt-covered faces and a sparkle in their eyes. As more and more gathered, I saw they shared an equally shabby appearance.
My church had announced, earlier that year, that they would be taking
a mission trip to the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. I happily joined the mission team, eager to help others in need. I didnâ€™t know that the trip would give me a glimpse of the real world that would forever change me.
Our mission team had arrived at the reservation earlier that week and
gone to work at various sites to assist with clean-up and repair. On this particular sunny afternoon we were headed to do what we had been waiting for--spending time with the children. We filled a trailer with crafts, games, water, and snacks, and were off to a nearby park.
Now, as I stood staring down at the children with their grimy faces, greasy
hair, and worn-out clothes, I was dumbstruck. They were smiling but the pain and suffering beneath was obvious. I was swept by emotion--fear for the children and anger toward their parents. How could parents not care enough to feed, clothe, and nurture their children? How could they live like this? Why must children endure this? These questions flooded my mind and, as I stood thinking, I felt the tugging of childrenâ€™s hands on my clothes.
I tried to put my disturbing questions aside as the children took me up
to play. Before long I was involved in games of catch, in reading Bible stories, in directing art projects, and suddenly I forgot the different world of the children. They were like me. They wanted to be children and be loved.
Before I knew it, we were headed back to camp for supper. It had been a
wonderful day and I left the children with a smile on my face, knowing that I would see them over the next few days.
As hopeful as I was for them, I couldn’t push the horrifying memories of
their lives from my mind. That night, while recalling the activities of the day, I came to realize what these children faced--most frightening was learning that the snacks we took them may have been their only meal for the day. My team couldn’t believe this and knew we had to help. We began to save our lunch sandwiches for the children.
Over the week I witnessed a number of fear-striking situations that gave
me a better understanding of the children’s lives. I came to love them dearly, and it was heartbreaking when our trip came to a close. As I said goodbye to them, I choked back tears. I knew I should be hopeful that maybe we made a small difference. But I was scared for the children. I watched in silence as they walked slowly home, where food was scarce but love, so I feared, was scarcer.
Leann was sitting in the waiting room at the Family Planning Clinic. She
hated it here. Across the room a nervous teenage girl was tapping her fingernails on the chair and looking at the clock every few seconds. Leann guessed the girl was probably getting birth control for the first time or maybe her first check-up. She was getting on Leann’s nerves.
To Leann’s right was a lady whose swollen belly looked ready to pop. She
was beaming and telling no one in particular that she was getting an ultrasound done, and that the baby should be along in a couple of weeks, and that she hoped it was a beautiful baby girl. Leann wanted the woman to shut up. She didn’t care about the woman’s healthy baby and thought it was stupid that she wanted a girl. A little boy is what Leann always wanted.
An Applejack bounced off Leann’s head. She turned and saw a two- year-
old smiling at her, holding a fistful of cereal. The child’s mother apologized, but as soon as she turned away Leann stuck her tongue out at kid. He started crying and his mother picked him up and tried to soothe him. For some reason that angered Leann, too, so she turned her attention back to the paperwork she was supposed to fill out.
“In the past month how many days have you felt hopeless?” That seemed vague. The past month had been rough on Leann, but
hopeless sounded extreme. She cried every day, and lately it was hard to get out of bed. Nothing excited or motivated her anymore. So she circled (2)--“More days than not.”
“In the past month have you felt a lack of motivation, extreme tiredness, or
sadness?” Leann was starting to think this depression and anxiety quiz was kind of a joke. All the questions were sounding the same, and Leann was afraid that the answers she had circled were making her look whiny and pathetic.
“Leann Lawrence,” a nurse called from the doorway, looking down at the
clipboard and then peering at the faces in the waiting room. Leann quickly circled (2) on the slip of paper and followed the nurse, who was wearing pink scrubs with flowers on them, down the hall. She spoke to Leann in a soft, calm voice, and Leann remembered how she had held this nurse and cried once before. So she didn’t have to look at the woman, Leann stared at a poster of a kitten climbing a tree while she answered her questions, the room so bright and cheerful Leann didn’t like it.
The nurse finally left Leann alone to wait for the doctor. She would be
getting an ultrasound today, but she wasn’t looking forward to it. She could already feel the tears burning behind her eyes. When the doctor hooked the machine up, Leann turned away from the screen; she didn’t want to see.
“Well, it was a slow miscarriage, but it seems as though everything is out so
we don’t have to worry about scheduling anything else. Have you experienced any more problems?”
Leann shook her head no.
He went on to say that Leann could try again in two months, if she wanted
to. Leann was looking down, trying to hide her tears. She nodded to show she understood and he left the room to give her some privacy. Leann wrapped her arms around her stubbornly empty stomach. She remembered the first shock of blood, the terror and panic that filled her. She also remembered the twenty-two days of bleeding that followed, knowing her baby had died inside. She knew she was going to need more than two months to pull herself together, and she hated that waiting room so much she never wanted to go back there again.
STENCIL You wake in a room, and you know you’re a person. You recognize everything around you. You know you’re in a bed. You know how to think, feel, and move. You know a country with a government exists. You know about cars, malls, parks, sports. You have an abundant knowledge of how the world works, but not how you got that knowledge, who gave it to you. And then you hear a noise, indistinct and overpowering—a tornado of pitches and tones asking to consume you. The tornado will take everything you have to offer and ask for more. “How do you feel?” It’s a high voice. “Are you hungry?” It’s a low voice. “Does she need kisses?” It’s a young voice. “Her vitals are good.” It’s an urgent voice. “Laura, how do you feel?”
The person who says this--a doctor--looks at me. So do the high, low, and
young voices. I am looking for Laura.
“Laura, honey?” the high voice says again.
“Who’s Laura?” I ask.
People keep telling me that most likely I will remember who I was--am
--I’ll remember. The doctors say it’s hard to tell with these “situations.” My life is a situation. They told me to spend time around things, doing things that seem familiar. They told me my name is Laura Blakely. I am nineteen years old. I play soccer, I am a student, I am a painter and I bus tables at a local diner. Last week I went into a coma. Now I am nothing more than the sum of every photo, fact, and anecdote anybody can tell me. I’m not a person, I’m a memory.
People remember me, and I stare at them, trying to remember who.
Before, I was working on a series of self-portraits in art, a charcoal, a painting, a mask, and an abstract. Apparently I had finished the first three. My design for the abstract piece was based on the equation of facts and memories people had written about me.
“Laura,” my teacher said, “the abstract self-portrait is supposed to be a
representation of who you are, not who people say you are. What you’re going through right now will change who you are, even if you do end up remembering who you were.”
My finished project is called “Stencil.” I made a stencil of a face, not exactly
mine. I asked people to describe what I looked like from memory and then I made a shape based on what they said. Then I glued to it pictures from my past, a square cloth from my baby blanket, a ribbon from soccer. I painted words from others’ anecdotes and hung trinkets from it.
But the center of the stencil remains empty. —Briana VinZant
GREED, A POWERFUL FORCE
In her novel, O Pioneers!, Willa Cather examines life as pioneers on the
prairie experienced it. Over the course of the story, the characters confront hardship and are forced to make difficult decisions. Among the trials of the prairie, greed appears to weigh heavily on many decisions.
John Bergson moved his family to a homestead because he “had the Old-
World belief that land, in itself, is desirable” (Cather 8). John believed that the land held value and that led him to the prairie. He was not content with his job at a Stockholm shipyard; he yearned for something greater. Greed drove him and his family to Hanover, Nebraska. Years later, when John Bergson was on his deathbed, he realized that his daughter, Alexandra, was the one with whom “he could entrust the future of his family and the possibilities of his hard-won land” (9). He knew that the only way his venture to the prairie would be worthwhile would be to entrust Alexandra with the farm. Even in his dying, he is provoked by greed.
After John Bergson’s death, Alexandra is confronted by her brothers,
Lou and Oscar. They tell Alexandra that they want to leave the land their father cherished: “There’s no use in us trying to stick it out, just to be stubborn. There’s something in knowing when to quit” (22). Lou and Oscar are discouraged by the land their father has left them; they want more. Alexandra refuses to leave because she wants to continue her father’s legacy. She desires the same prosperity as John, and is too stubborn to give that up: “Some day the land itself will be worth more than all we can ever raise on it” (22). Greed is evident on both sides of the argument: Alexandra desires to keep the land for future profit and the two sons desire to move for immediate profit. Mrs. Bergson agrees with Alexandra; she simply cannot bear the thought of moving again. With her mother on her side,
Alexandra wins the argument. The Bergsons remain on the prairie, despite Lou and Oscar’s quest for more.
Years later, Lou and Oscar’s greed continues. The land finally provides
for the family as Alexandra dreamt it would. During this period of prosperity, Alexandra’s friend Carl comes to visit. Lou and Oscar feel threatened by Carl’s influence on Alexandra. They believe that Carl is showing interest in Alexandra because of their riches and land: “Alexandra! Can’t you see he’s just a tramp and he’s after your money?” (64). Despite the extensive land and profit Alexandra has already provided for her brothers, they fear that if Alexandra falls for Carl, her riches and land will go to him rather than them. They are insatiable. They believe that they have worked hard for their sister’s profit, and the thought that Alexandra is willing to give it all to an outsider is unbearable.
In this argument, however, Alexandra is as greedy as her brothers. She has
been unmarried for years now, and feels drawn to Carl. When Lou asks her when Carl is planning on leaving, she responds, “I don’t know, Lou. Not for some time, I hope” (64). It is clear that she is developing feelings for Carl. When Oscar implies that Carl is after her money because she is too old to get married, she replies, “All that does n’t [sic] concern anybody but Carl and me” (66). Alexandra is so focused on Carl she is not willing to discuss the issue with her own family.
Alexandra’s youngest and most cherished brother, Emil, also becomes
susceptible to greed. “Then he fell to imagining that he looked once more and found it there, and what it would be like if she loved him,--she who, as Alexandra said, could give her whole heart” (69). He had fallen in love with a married woman, Marie Shabata. Emil dreamed about her; he dreamed that she would be his eventually. This is true greed.
Marie shares Emil’s greed: she returns his feelings. When Emil confronts her
about his love for her, she admits that she loves him, too. “‘On my honor, Marie, if you will say you love me, I will go away.’ She lifted her face to his. ‘How could I help it? Did n’t [sic] you know?’” (92). She dreams of him in the same way that he dreams of her. Their greed for each other leads them to an affair. It is their desire of love for one another that directs them toward their fate: death.
Frank Shabata, Marie’s husband, admits that he lost Marie’s love long ago.
“The distance between them had widened and hardened… The spark of her life went somewhere else, and he was always watching to surprise it” (87). Rather than trying to rekindle his love with his wife, his greed leads him to deter Marie from finding love anywhere else. When he discovers Marie and Emil together, he kills them.
Greed is the force behind many decisions in O Pioneers!: it led John’s
family to the prairie, turned sister and brothers against each other, encouraged a young couple to commit adultery, and drove a man mad enough to kill. Greed is a powerful force. —Taylor Lammers
Work Cited Cather, Willa. O Pioneers!. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993. Print.
“What’s that? Oh, yeah, I remember. Funny, wasn’t it?”
I chuckle to myself, catching the wary eye of the nurse. She turns away,
tired of dealing with an old man and his bodiless voices. She’s “reoriented”--that’s what they call telling me that what I’m hearing isn’t the real me several times a day.
Heck, the voice doesn’t bother me. I’ve got more entertainment now than
I’ve had in years. I like it.
It was about five years ago that I first heard the voice, sitting in my living
room, staring out the window. I think my TV was on and that is why it startled me. You see, I have been alone for a while now, going on twenty-six years. Cancer got my wife in ’88 and we never had kids--too much trouble.
So when you’re sitting, listening to the news, watching to see if the
neighbor is going to let his little dog back inside and someone says to you in your own home, “Nice day, isn’t it?” and you didn’t hear them come in, it comes as a bit of a surprise. I turn myself right around, looking for who got themselves inside my house. I can’t see anyone, and Radar, my old hound, hasn’t even lifted an ear, so I call out, “Who are you? And what are you doing in my house?”
No answer. Sneaky devil, I think--probably some kids. They aren’t quite
as formal when they come to your house any more, you know. You can’t count on them to knock before they waltz right in, selling you raffle tickets for school or some club, or trying to mow your lawn for five bucks because clearly you are a poor old man, just sitting inside his house, watching the grass grow and bemoaning the fact that he can’t push a lawn mower and his walker at the same time. I never use that patch of grass anyway. No one does, except Radar, and he just relieves himself on it. I wouldn’t walk through that, and the long grass gives
him a little privacy. A man’s got to have that.
No answer. I figure I’ve got nothing worth stealing, so I’m safe there and I’m
not terribly exciting--I just set here with the TV on. They’ll get bored and get back to their homework, or texting, probably. Maybe go home for dinner, I don’t know.
“Looks like the little sausage dog made it inside at last. At least, he’s not
bouncing all over the yard or yipping at the door.”
Well what do you know? I was just thinking that. I look around the room,
trying to find out who else thinks that pup looks like a little hot dog.
“Come on out, I hear you. Don’t be shy about it, I’m not going to kick you
out right yet.”
No answer. Big surprise there. I’m beginning to see a bit of a pattern. It is
frustrating, though, and I’m annoyed--also a little frightened. I find the remote and switch off the TV. Still no one in the room, as far as I can see.
I reach for my walker, waking Radar up. “Come on dog, go get ‘em.”
He watches me for a second, like he’s considering the command before
slowly getting to his feet to gimp his way to my side. I scratch his grizzled head, noting the many white hairs around his brown muzzle.
“Dog’s getting old.”
I freeze right there, because I realize the voice isn’t coming from
somewhere in the room, it’s inside my head.
Chills run down my back. I’ve seen a lot of things and I don’t think I’m too
easily scared, but when there is someone up in your brain talking to you, it sort of knocks you off balance. I’ve heard of this and I think maybe I’m going crazy. I figure I’ll sleep on it, see how it turns out in the morning. Besides, I’d have to call a taxi and I’ve got to find some cash first. That is a big ordeal when you have to putter
around with a walker and your legs won’t keep you up for more than five minutes without shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. Then you can’t get your hand off the walker until you find somewhere close to sit down and rest a minute.
Next morning, I wait for some voices to start talking to me. Nothing. I let
old Radar out, since the voice seems to like dogs so much. All quiet in the peanut gallery.
Wasn’t until about noon, when I was getting a little peckish that the voice
comes in again, commenting about maybe making a sandwich.
I pause, not sure if responding will move me from hearing voices to a bona
Finally, “Not a bad idea,” I reply.
For being a crazy person, this is the best conversation I’ve had in years. Old
Radar, he’s good company, but he’s never been much of a talker.
There’s not much peanut butter in the jar and it’s difficult to get out--my
hands won’t stay still. Maybe twenty minutes later I have a peanut butter and cheese sandwich on the counter. I’m out of jam, among other things--probably need a prescription or two filled as well. Looks like I’ll be calling a taxi after all.
I make an appointment with the doctor in three days--Tuesday.
“It sure isn’t worth going to town twice in the same week.”
“Yep, isn’t that the truth.” Shaking my head I move off down the hall,
hoping to make it to the living room before I wobble off balance. I think I’m pretty fast, for an old man, but sometimes, it’s a close call.
Me and that voice chatter on and off throughout the day. I kind of enjoy
having someone to talk to, a voice that responds back. Plus, we always agree. It’s great. No offense Radar, you’re still the top dog.
I call and cancel the doctor appointment. He is a smart man, but he’ll just
give me more pills, I’m sure. I already take a shovelful and I don’t want to go in simply to be called crazy.
Looking back, I think I didn’t want to lose my conversation, either.
Radar started getting worse--he couldn’t get up real fast and sometimes
I beat him from the kitchen to the living room. I guess we both started going downhill a little. I never timed myself down the hallway, but the shakes were catching up to me and a lot of times I collapsed in my chair instead of sitting down. I even almost missed once. That would have been a mess. I have a little button on a chain around my neck to push if I do fall, but I don’t want to be put in with all the really old people. I don’t want to lose my house, my dog, my freedom, my memories.
I guess I wouldn’t lose my memories, just familiar things. They wouldn’t
mean much to anyone else--a couple of letters, newspaper clippings, an ugly faded cotton cat my wife made, some pictures, all little things, but they mean a lot to me. I suppose when they take you to those homes you don’t get to keep much.
Well, it wasn’t a week into December that I let Radar out and he slipped on
the ramp. Poor old boy. I never heard such a whine in my life, I tell you. I want to go out there to him, but my legs are already getting shaky and I know if he slipped with his four legs, I’ll slip with two weak ones and my slick walker. I see the woman with the sausage dog hurry over and try to help my old hound to his feet, at least get him out of his splayed position, but it hurts him too much. Tears come to my eyes. I already know. The voice whispers quiet reassurances as I head to my house to call the vet.
I guess it was rude to leave her there without saying a word, when she had
run over to help, but I didn’t think of that until just now.
My legs are shaking and I have to sit before I fall. The phone isn’t quite
in reach, and I have to find a phone book for the number. I hear the lady calling through my front door, “Do you want me to call the vet?”
She asks for his name and, as I give it, I stand up and begin to push my
chair to the doorway. It’s slow going, but I don’t want Radar to think I don’t care. The voice encourages me and I thank him. The neighbor looks up and tells me it is what anyone would do. I pause, realize she thinks I was talking to her and nod silently.
I can’t watch my dog, crying with his legs all twisted and his sweet eyes
looking to me. I talk to him softly, curse my old body, and rock back and forth just a little. The vet comes. Radar passes on.
Alone in my house, I sit. I think the neighbor left something on my
doorstep, but I can’t trust my legs to get me there.
Harry, the voice, comforts me, reminds me what a rascal Radar used to be,
how he matured into a beautiful dog, a great pointer, so loyal, my constant-andonly companion.
I fall once, but I’m close enough to the chair to pull myself upright.
I fall again the next morning. I have pain in my right hip and knee and I can’t straighten my leg. Harry and I go back and forth until he finally wins and I push the button. A voice, not Harry’s comes out of a speaker and I explain that I seem to have fallen and can’t get up. She asks for my address and if I am in pain and I say I suppose so--can’t move my whole right leg. She says help is coming.
Soon enough I hear sirens and I hope the fire isn’t in my neighborhood.
Turns out the ambulance is for me. Harry mutters that they needn’t have made such a fuss and I agree. It seems silly.
In the emergency room, they tell me I’ll need surgery--my right hip is
fractured. After surgery, I will be placed in an assisted living facility. Harry asks if that is like a nursing home.
“Yeah,” I say, “Is that a nursing home?”
The doctor pauses. “It is a place where you can stay while you recover and
there will be people available to help you with any of your needs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
“And how much will all this cost?”
After the doctor answers all of our questions, we’re shipped off.
I don’t like it. No one lets me do anything for myself. I’m not even supposed
to go to the bathroom alone. When I get dressed, someone lays my clothes out and when I take too long, she puts them on me. Bah!
Harry and I talk a lot. Every day. We pull up memories of my childhood, like
the time at the lake when my brother pushed me off the dock before I could swim. My mom jumped right in with her flowered dress and heaved me on out. When we got to the shore, there was her sun hat, floating way out by the end of the dock. My brother had to go get it.
I used to try not to talk to Harry when people were in the room. Everyone
looked at me oddly and at first they took me to a doctor to try and get me more pills. I refused. That’s my right, you know. A little gal here told me that.
Now I just answer him right back. Everybody already thinks I’m a crazy old
coot and I like the conversation. Sometimes even the nurse wants to know what Harry thinks. He’s a funny guy.
TO THE READER
The work of Charles Baudelaire is controversial and reaches the dark
corners of the imagination. Baudelaire reminds me of Edgar Allen Poe in the way he can find attractiveness in the horror of evil. He is fascinated by sin and studies it as he does evil. In his sense of beauty I see a certain revolt and a spiritual lameness. He starts off The Flowers of Evil with a poem, “To the Reader.” In this particular poem Baudelaire shows a pessimistic side of life, overrun with hypocrites and death.
Baudelaire begins “To the Reader” by saying, “Infatuation, sadism, lust,
avarice/ possess our souls and drain our body’s force” (Baudelaire, 600-601, ll. 1-2). This exposes the root of human nature and the human condition. He accuses the world of being populated with hypocrites filled with sinful, repetitive actions. He addresses major vices that remain at the heart of evil today. He believes that greed, lust, and infatuation reside in every human being, decaying their attempts at redemption.
Baudelaire introduces a religious aspect to the poem, in which he
discusses the human nature of repentance and how our future temptations wipe out our attempts at cleaning our slate. He states, “our sins are mulish, our confessions lies;/ we play to the grandstand with our promises,/ we pray for tears to wash away our filthiness” (5-7). Baudelaire is addressing our tendency as human beings to be repeat sinners. On Sunday we plead an empty repentance from the guilt weighing on us, knowing that our promises to discipline ourselves from temptation will soon evade us, like grasping the wind.
Baudelaire’s imagery in this poem makes us recognize a place where God
does not control our outcome and fate:
The devil, watching our sickbeds, hissed old smut and folk-songs to our soul, until the soft and precious metal of our will boiled off in vapor for this scientist. (9-12)
For most, it is believed that God puts no more temptation than we can handle in front of us. Baudelaire, however, envisions Satan controlling our destiny and temptations. Therefore we have no free will of choice, because Satan has corrupted us with vices leading only down a path that ends in hell.
and each step forward is a step to hell, unmoved, though previous corpses and their smell asphyxiate our progress on this road. (14-16)
Baudelaire explains that we are so blinded that even though we have seen the horrific results of our evil, we are not disturbed enough to change our selfish worldly ways.
He addresses the chase that we are on to find happiness, although we
set our hearts on false, instant gratifications that benefit us poorly in the long run. He states, â€œLike the poor lush who cannot satisfy/ we try to force our sex with counterfeits,/ die drooling on the deliquescent tits,/ mouthing the rotten orange we suck dryâ€? (17-20).
One of the interesting series of lines that Baudelaire concocts, goes
If poison, arson, sex, narcotics, and knives have not yet ruined us and stitched their quick, loud patterns on the canvas of our lives, it is because our souls are still too sick. (25-28)
Baudelaire invites us to the darkest corners of our minds where arson, sex,
and narcotics are scraping the surface. He suggests that human beings are naturally so wretched and devious that the common evils we are desensitized to every day do not even burn a memory in our brains. We are the worst evil in the world, for we are only the catalyst to unleashing the darkest evils that are locked away in our subconscious.
Out of all the darkness that Baudelaire discusses, he says that
boredom, or ennui, is the worst--“it would murder for a moment’s rest/ and willingly annihilate the earth./ It’s BOREDOM [sic]. Tears have glued its eyes together” (35-37). Baudelaire entertains the idea that boredom is the gateway that opens on all evils. Denying yourself the will to find out who you are and exploring your mind can lead to nothing good. Fear and selfpity awaken ennui, so you cannot see the potential in life’s endless course.
Charles Baudelaire was influenced by the era he lived in and most
likely by unpleasant circumstances he experienced at that time. He found satisfaction in writing about the then controversial matters we now study. Baudelaire captures mankind’s nature candidly and speaks to the pessimist inside his readers--“you--hypocrite Reader--my double--my brother!” (40) According to Baudelaire’s message--that boredom is the worst evil--then the key to defeating evil would be to appreciate life and the never-ending possibilities of its mysteries. —Lance Johansen
Work Cited Baudelaire, Charles. “To the Reader.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Shorter Second Edition. Volume 2. Ed. Peter Simon, et al. Trans. Robert Lowell. Norton: New York, 2009. Print.
I KILLED A MAN WITH WORDS ONE TIME I cannot see but misty haze, my life A simple fog which skates away from search And seizure. Legs a powdered dust, I skirt Along the ground from place to place, my arms Like hairy apes’. And yet I cannot stop My tongue, a serpent gorged on poisoned meal And always starved for death. And this is why I killed a man with words one time. The street Was set a filthy hue, the lights just dimmed Enough to help conceal my work. The man Was strange and happy, whistling woeful tunes Of bonnie dames and distant lands. I caught Him fast in mirth outside McSorley’s pub And reeled him close with dreams of mine. And then I deftly strapped him tight in locks of steel That hung from alley walls nearby. The stage Was set, and I began to work. I cut His tongue with whispered coos. The squirming flesh I tore asunder with my gentle blade Of icy steel. I threw the muscle on The ground and crushed it underfoot. Yet still He smiled—a bloody grin through gaping teeth. He started choking frightful gurgles, spit A thick and murky paste. I cauterized The wound with tears, apologies like fire. But since he was a helpless wreck, my tongue Could not withhold itself to pick once more From branches tempting ripe. I plucked his eyes, Depressive talk the perfect gouge. I carved His ears off next with razors sharpened by Sarcastic verbs. He could not see or hear What followed then. I’m sure it would have made Him laugh—supposed to anyway. I cracked
Licentious jokes about what is no joke. The punch-line put a vise between his legs. His manhood hung between two iron slats That pinch repressive tight when closed. My shock Kept driving jokes to twist the vice and crush His balls. A cry of anguish sounds like mirth Sometimes. His sweaty shouts and piercing groans Contrasted grainy pops, first one and then Another. Out his bowels blood and cream Like Moby Dick bled slow. I sawed right through His legs with curses asking “Why?” His chest Lay heaving, barely life still pulsing through. With shaking hands I touched his breast and felt It heave with hearty life. My scalpel, forged From well-intentioned lies, reflected bright Before I plunged it to the hilt in him. The muscled ribs unveiled to me their prize Which cleaved and paused its rhythm evermore. I sat in blood, my breast a crimson stain. I clutched the tongue, discarded at the first, And thought if I had done some wrong. I cried. I scuttled off to find another soul To bully, slash, eviscerate with words. A name like Charon stings and I laugh least Of all the sadists. Truth behind a veil: My words are killing me, not once but always.
The smoke is so thick I can barely see the green, yellow, and red of a Bob
Marley poster on the wall. My watering eyes distort the silent faces on the TV, and the reggae music in the background penetrates the haze.
Dylan takes a long hit on a bong and exhales slowly, coughing only a
bit. He exhales, blowing smoke into perfect Os, displaying his smoking talent to everybody in the room. I sit silent, trying not to gag from the stench of marijuana.
Dylan passes the bong to his friend Jason and they continue the cycle.
“Dude,” Justin says, “you got some really good shit for us, man.”
Dylan smiles at me and puts his arm around my shoulder, pulling me
closer. I breathe through my mouth so he doesn’t smell as bad. He tries to kiss me but is so stoned he misses. I laugh it off but feel myself building rage. He never used to be this way. He was open to me and never judged who I was. I knew he was sad--anybody would be after their significant other of five years broke up with them--but I thought my presence improved his life. He told me I helped. I held him when he cried, listened when he was sad, and talked him through times when he was confused. I loved him and he loved me. He promised to take care of me and stand by me through everything. He would never make me do anything I wasn’t comfortable with, he said. He swore we would always be together and one day we would marry.
Now, sitting on the dirty floor of his apartment, playing with the emerald
promise ring he bought for my eighteenth birthday and trying to count the multiple burn marks in the carpet from the hours he spends in his boxers, playing games on his Xbox and smoking weed from one of his many pipes, I’m not sure I love him. I’m not even sure I like him. Everything about him--his half smile, his
boyish laugh, the way he bites his lip when he’s thinking--every single act of his is about to drive me insane.
“I have to go,” I say to Dylan.
“Right now. Don’t walk me to my car. I’ll be okay, and you aren’t in good
enough shape to come with me without risking being caught.”
For once he listens. He walks me to the apartment door and gives me a
hug. I can smell the cologne on his shirt for a second before the weed takes over. I look him in the eyes and he kisses me on the forehead.
“I love you so much, babe. Text me at home so I know you made it.”
On the drive back I listen to anything that isn’t a love song, but it all
reminds me of him. I drive faster than I should with the windows down and it’s the middle of January. I get home, park the car in the garage, and go to my room. I text Dylan and tell him I’m fine. He doesn’t pick up on how I feel. He doesn’t know how hurt I am. He can’t see that I feel second-fiddle to his addiction. He doesn’t understand that I’m already gone. —Hannah Erickson
CANCER it seemed so far off, distant
not in my life
it had changed lives
but not mine.
not till now
still so vivid in my mind
had gone to another doctor
this one had called her back
that night that would change our lives cancer
her words still so clear
as if only yesterday
“they sent in the lab work”
her voice wavering “and it’s cancer” cancer
questions filled my head
tears flooded my eyes
we cried, all of us
for so long--together
friends and family called
and more tears came cancer
then we waited
and waited cancer
so early this was the day
on the first of October of mom’s operation
the day--nervously awaited-- questions
would answer our troubling
cancer so many
long hours in the waiting room
sitting, thinking, praying
waiting waiting for answers cancer
after so long
she came mom
from the needle it held
came from everywhere
they were a life line cancer
so different nothing I had
not my strong mother
not like this
and I was scared
so scared cancer
as my mother
grimaced in pain
staying by her side
wishing there was some way
to ease her pain
and I waited cancer then
after so many long hours
of silent waiting
leading us, mom
down a new path
that renewed our fading spirits cancer
made it through the struggles
we wonder, wait, and pray cancer
we have changed
as a family
and who we are as people
but even greater still
is our faith
of our survival through this battle
in everything God is there
and always will be watching, waiting, praying cancer
PAPERCLIP I look around the here and now and see It sit unmoving on the desk. A dull But shiny surface shows fluorescent light Reflecting from its bent and twisted self. Contracted like old grief, a stainless tool For keeping papers tight, it does not live Nor ever has. And yet, it moves my soul. I look around the then and there and hear My shoes strike hard against the parking lot Asphalt. My heart beats a nervous tick. Her hand gives mine a gentle squeeze. I look To see her steely eyes--a tint of sky Shows from their depths. I swallow hard. Her voice, a sob, says “Bye!” I swallow hard. I look around the here and now and do Not feel my heart; perhaps my depth has thrown Away the key. My soul is bent and does Not dream. “Dream again. Believe in hope-That love does not abscond.” A paperclip Is bent, defined by how it holds a page. Will I define myself by how I now hold?
Myrtle Swenson didn’t mind so much that her daughter, Betty, was
engaged to a biker named Jackson. She told her husband, Will, that he seemed to be a decent enough fellow—called her ma’am and all—and she said that Eddie, their grandson, seemed to like him well enough. But she’d be hanged before she let Eddie give his mother away in a bar. The boy had gone his whole ten years without a father in the house and he deserved better.
As for Will, he didn’t care if they got hitched in the lambing shed—“Good
enough for Jesus,” he said—and he didn’t think that Eddie cared one way or another, either. On the other hand, the boy could be hard to read at times; and besides, Myrtle was adamant.
She also knew how to work Will. She told him that Betty deserved better,
too, married right out of high school, a marriage that lasted less than two months. Three years later, Betty hadn’t even bothered to marry Eddie’s father. But Eddie had been the center of Myrtle’s universe from the moment he was born, and Myrtle had been the center of Will’s since the moment they married.
“Poor Eddie,” Myrtle said, “he deserves better.”
“So do you, sweetie,” Will said, “so do you.”
The wedding took place at a Holiday Inn. Myrtle had seen to every detail,
determined to make Eddie almost as much the center of attention as Betty. Eddie escorted Betty to the altar in an outfit that matched Jackson’s--black pants, purple shirt, and white boutonniere. The preacher was instructed to invite family and friends to share with Betty and Jackson—and with Eddie—this most important moment in their lives. Eddie was recruited to pose in nearly as many photographs as the bride and groom. And after champagne toasts had been offered by as many
of the family and friends articulate enough or drunk enough to do so, Myrtle asked Eddie if he wanted to make a toast.
Without hesitation, Eddie raised a goblet of caffeine-free Diet Coke, on
hand especially for him, and said, “I hope my mom and my new dad don’t get a divorce.”
“I talked to Eddie on the phone today,” Myrtle said.
“Yeah?” Will said. “What did he have to say?”
“I asked him how he was getting along with his new dad.”
“He said OK.”
“Just OK, huh? I’m surprised you didn’t drive to town to find out what’s
“Well, I didn’t. But I did ask him how he liked sharing his mom with his new
dad and all he said was that was OK too.”
“I think the pickup has a full tank.”
“Be serious, Will, you know how much Eddie likes to cuddle with his mom--
always has. Crawls into bed with her every chance he gets.”
“Just like he crawls in with you,” Will said, “and I get exiled to the guest
room. I don’t suppose Jackson’s as tolerant on that score.”
“I’m sure he’s not, and he’s right. But poor Eddie, he’s got to feel a little
back-burnered. It’s only natural after all this time with her to himself.”
“He’ll get over it,” Will said, turning on the news. “It may take a little time,
but he’ll get over it.”
“Speaking of that,” Myrtle said, “it’s been a month to the day and they’re
still married. Remember that toast Eddie made at the reception?”
“Of course I do, best part of the whole ordeal.”
Myrtle ignored Will’s dig. “Well, I wonder where it came from,” she said. “It’s
not like Betty and his father were ever married.”
“No,” Will said, “but maybe he thinks they were.”
“Now, why would he think that?”
“I don’t know,” Will said, “but you know how protective she is of him. You,
too, as far as that goes. Maybe the two of you let him think Betty and his dad were divorced so he wouldn’t know he was a bastard.”
“Will Swenson! Don’t you ever say that!”
“Calm down, but you know how he is. Remember when he announced he
was on hiatus from brushing his teeth? I guarantee when he discovers bastard he’ll look that up on dictionary dot whatever, too. Then what?”
“Oh, no!” Myrtle screamed.
“Jeez, sweetie, I’m just having a conversation.” But he saw that her eyes
were on the TV, not him.
On the screen were mug shots of Eddie’s new dad, Jackson. Will turned up
the volume: “…in custody following a fight outside a local bar in which two men were stabbed. In other news…”
“Oh, poor Eddie!” Myrtle said. “Three days before Christmas. Go get them,
Will. Go get them right now and bring them home. Oh, God, Will, poor Eddie!”
“Gramma,” Eddie asked, “am I a mistake?”
“Heaven’s no, Eddie!” Myrtle said. “Why on earth would you think such a
thing? Did you take your meds?”
“Yes, Gramma, but me and my mom saw my new dad in detention and
he said he made a mistake and my mom said everybody makes mistakes and my
mom and my real dad made me. Am I a mistake?”
“A surprise, maybe, but not a mistake,” she said.
The idea that he might have been a surprise could have turned the
conversation in a different direction, but he stayed on track, “My mom said bullies were picking on my new dad and he bullied them back and that’s why my new dad is in detention like I was when I bit that bully at school.”
When Jackson was sentenced, Myrtle knew that there was no more
downplaying the situation--no more protecting Eddie from the truth.
“Eddie,” she said, “Jackson’s going to be in detention for a long time.”
“How long?” Eddie asked.
“Five years,” she said, “a little less if he’s good.”
“Five years!” Eddie wailed. “Oh, no!”
“Oh, you poor dear,” Myrtle said. “Why don’t you go up and crawl in with
your mom. We can talk about it tomorrow.”
In the morning, Eddie woke to the smell of his favorite sausages, as happy
as he had been since before his mom had married his new dad. —Jim Stone
ALEXANDRA AND ME Of the characters in three novels, O Pioneers!, So Long, See You Tomorrow, and The Ponder Heart, I identify with Alexandra Bergson in O Pioneers! Alexandra is a hardworking and strong-willed woman. Her fatherâ€™s farm is able to eventually prosper under her watch. Her father, John Bergson, came from Sweden and put all his effort into trying to maintain and expand a successful farm. In the beginning of the novel John Bergson is dying, and he believes his daughter is more capable of continuing to run his farm than his two older sons. He leaves it in her hands. This would seem a controversial decision at the time, since women then tended to be housewives rather than farmers. The choice, however, demonstrates the strength and determination of Alexandra; she was the best candidate to take over the farm. Alexandra has many traits I can identify with. The first is, We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it. Iâ€™m from a diverse background and have moved around many times in my life. I was born in Chicago, moved to Minnesota, Georgia, and lastly, California, before I entered college in North Dakota. Iâ€™ve lived in so many different areas I was able to experience several different cultures, and see a wide variety of societal norms. I eventually found the larger the area I lived in, the less happy I was, and this was confirmed once I entered college in North Dakota. It is there that I met friends who knew how to live off the land and take care of themselves. If something broke, they would fix it or attempt to fix it rather than throw it away and ask their parents for money to buy something new. I could identify with the hearty and self-sufficient people of North Dakota--people who truly love and live off the land. There is a sense of community here. North Dakotans endure tough winters
together and try their best to help each other out. Once winter is over, I have never seen people take advantage of the spring and summer as they do in North Dakota. They love the outdoors and try to spend as much time in it as possible; they know the land. Farmers and others in the state live off of the land and are the closest to being self-sufficient in this day and age as I have seen anywhere in the country. I have learned more about the land and life itself since living in North Dakota, and I’m grateful for that. After talking to friends from all over the country, I feel I have a better grasp of the purpose of my life, and I believe that stems from an understanding of the land and lessons about life I have learned in North Dakota. I’ve become more independent and self-sufficient, and I believe that people who live this way are the ones who truly own the land. People here enjoy electronics and current luxuries but they do not need them to survive, while people in other areas would be completely at a loss without electricity.
Another passage in O Pioneers! helps express my appreciation and
eventual love of North Dakota, again referring to Alexandra: She had never known before how much the country meant to her. The chirping of the insects in the long grass had been like the sweetest music. After living in North Dakota for several years, I went home to work in California and spend time with my family. I soon realized how much I disliked the state. The place itself is beautiful--stunning geography, perfect weather almost every day--but the people affected me. One encounters in that beautiful geography and weather millions of others. They are from all over the world, and sometimes it’s difficult to find a connection, even in language. But it’s the lack of friendliness or community that bothers me most, as well as a lack of respect or appreciation for the land and the sights California has to offer. In O Pioneers! Carl discusses with Alexandra how the significance of being
an individual is lost in cities: “In the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him... We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theatres. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder” (Cather 47-48). In North Dakota you can wave or say hello to almost anyone you wish, and you’ll receive the same courtesy, if not a conversation as well. In California, if you greet somebody you don’t know you’ll be stared at and ignored or, worse, you’ll draw suspicions. The state is one of the most populated places I have been, but I’ve never felt more alone than in California. Californians are so caught up in the hustle of their daily lives and whatever else is going on, they seem to forget to appreciate nature, even life itself. That includes other people. Once I got back to North Dakota and time slowed down for me, I was able to enjoy the chirping of insects, the breeze in the trees--to relax with loved ones and friends, sensations that escape me in California. I found that I truly missed being in North Dakota, where I am an individual, not another face among countless others.
Finally, I identified with Alexandra’s hard work, and her reasons behind
it. She was working as hard as she could to build up the farm, and while she had personal ambition, the work was not for her alone; she worked as she did for her family. I have plans of working after college to earn a good salary, and while this desire partly stems from personal reasons, or ambition, or greed, as some may put it, the financial success I wish to secure is for my future family. I want to provide my family with the best home and life possible. In order to do that, the next years of my life, from ages twenty-three to twenty-eight or so, I’ll be working most of the
time. Just as Alexandra gave up most of her youth trying to build the family farm, I plan to use my youth to work for the future of my family. Meanwhile my fiancé will be going to vet school to follow her chosen path. We are giving up the prime of our lives to set up our future.
Alexandra seemed to have had a vision of what she wanted to achieve,
one for her farm and her family, just as I have one for my fiancé and our family. We share this vision, and are working together to achieve it. I found many ways in which I could identify with Alexandra--her love of the land, of the country, as well as her work ethic and independence. I believe my goals are similar to hers, and I connected with how she managed her life.
Work Cited Cather, Willa. O Pioneers!. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993. Print.
RAIN, LIKE DUST A cloud can break but rain is always new. Though tears like rain will not return to cry, The raindrops fall no matter what I do. If rain, like sand, could count my seconds through, Then desperation cries for answers—why Do clouds disintegrate while rain stays new? From dust to dust my body will pursue A course of naked wreck, its blood run dry. The raindrops fall no matter what I do. Salvation comes in humble forms—a truth When lies will do, a dimly shining light. A cloud can break but rain is always new. And though the foolish drink a salve in lieu Of facing death’s unwillingness to die, The raindrops fall no matter what they do. A whispered prayer still counts from heaven’s view, But Hell may offer back a louder cry. A cloud will break but rain is always new, And raindrops fall no matter what you do.
SOCKS Howell, in the southeast corner of Michigan, is home to the annual “Legend of Sleepy Howell” parade, the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest, and the yearly Howell Melon Festival. The townspeople are good-natured, if a little overinvolved in outlandish festivities. On the corner of Shoester and Fifth Street, a powder-blue house is surrounded by a white picket fence and guarded by a grand scarlet oak. Its fallen leaves act as camouflage for two G.I. Joes bent into army-crawl position, appearing to maneuver through a battlefield of muddy Matchbox cars, a toppled Red Flyer tricycle, a rusty Tonka dump truck, and Nerf darts.
“Oh, my Lord, Charley!” Yeva Bellemore’s knees struck the kitchen linoleum in her drop to her son’s eye level. Yeva placed her hands on his soft stomach (how she wanted him to remain a Pillsbury Dough Boy forever!) before twisting Charley’s hips around. “Oh, Little Man! What color was this shirt when you left for school this morning?” Charley’s eyes wouldn’t meet his mother’s as he tucked his chin into his left collarbone and began to grin. “Green.” “What color did we say it was going to be when you got home?” Flapping his arms like wings, he caught her eye and said, “Green!” “What color is it now?” Charley clenched his fists, hiked them up to his ribcage, and began to wriggle out of his mother’s tight squeeze. “Charley! What color?”
“Brown!” he shrieked. Yeva had begun to tickle her filthy son. Dried chips of
mud skittered as he melted to the floor in debilitating giggles. She finally caught his sneakered feet and stared him down.
“Little Man! What happened today?” “There was mud in the play yard,” he replied, displaying a collection of baby teeth separated by wide gaps. The front left one was prematurely missing due to a tricycle accident the week before. The phone rang. “Little Man, do not move.” She let go of his small feet and swept the red wall phone into her hand. “Hello? Oh, hi! Yes, Ma’am, I’ve got him right here. I, um, no that’s not--” Charley had rolled over and was scrambling toward the back door. Yeva reached down and caught the back of his shirt--sloughing more dirt on the floor--and tugged protesting Charley backward. With one hand, she reached around his shoulder and pressed his back firmly into her leg. “Really? No, I can’t. Wow! OK. Hm. Well, I don’t think–mmhm. Okay. Well, thanks for calling, Ms. Wells! It’s always nice to-- All right. Bye.” This time when Yeva knelt down, she pinned Charley’s arms to his sides. “You ran the hose for an hour behind the bunny shed, according to Ms. Wells. How deep was that mud bath?” By the thickness of mud hemming Charley’s Levis, the pit had certainly been bigger than a mere puddle. “I made space for the pigs!” “Oh, yeah? Is it time for this last piglet to jump into the bath?” “Yes!” Yeva stared at her grinning six-year-old. I can’t believe you like baths, Kid, she marveled. Clamping Charley between outstretched arms, she carried him toward the bathroom to avoid crushing dirt into the carpet.
Charley and his mother were snuggled together beneath Bob the Builder sheets. “The Red-Headed League,” Yeva read as she nestled deeper under the
comforter. “I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in very deep conversation…” She loved this tradition. It had evolved as an attempt to hush a hysterical Charley a couple of years ago. Both found Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventures so enjoyable that Watson’s narratives became an essential part of bedtime. Together they spoke of inviting Watson to birthday parties and tea and privately postulated Sherlock’s probable moves in real-life situations. At Sherlock’s last words, Yeva closed the heavy book. Last Christmas, she had bought an illustrated Holmes anthology and signed it, “December 21st, 1887. To my dear Charles, in hopes that you will find the adventures of my friend as thrilling as they occurred in reality. Learn to read, young fellow, and no doubt you will become as sharp and as fine a man as Sherlock himself. Regards, Dr. John H. Watson.” The book did not leave his bedside table. Yeva shifted her weight and gently placed Charley’s heavy head onto the pillow. “Goodnight, Bug.” She shut off the reading lamp and allowed the dim glow of a fire truck nightlight to guide her way into the hall. Yawning, she plodded down the carpeted hallway and turned into her own bedroom. It was only ten after eight, but she was exhausted. On top of finalizing her deadline for The Howeller: Daily News, she had volunteered at Sunshine Thrift Shop; and Yeva’s band rehearsal for the annual Turkey Stroll had run two hours late (she played flute in a small group whose appearance was required at every community event). As a result, flamboyant conductor and event planner, Bert Lowell’s relentless commitment to “excellence, precision, and passion” was usually enough, today being no exception, to make Yeva late in picking Charley up from school. Slipping into an oversized UCLA shirt --one she and her friend Caroline had stolen off of the mascot--Yeva
pulled the covers aside and sank into the mattress. But she could not sleep. Her restless tossing knocked thoughts from high shelves, landing them in the paths of sheep she was attempting to count. They tripped, and were not able to clear the fence she had erected for them to jump over. One, two, sheep. Sheep. Sleep. Beep. Wups. Oy. I’m going nuts. After a few more minutes of turning over, kicking the blankets, then flipping her pillow, Yeva fumbled for her glasses and headed downstairs to make a pot of Sleepy Time tea. Bookshelves lined the hall leading to the stairs. Yeva always focused on the floor when she passed the shelves with family albums and picture frames. With Charley, she was forced to gaze at each photograph and feign the enthusiasm that should accompany snapshots of their earlier life. Of course it had been tempting to rip and tear and burn every one that featured her ex-husband’s face, but she knew they had to be preserved between glass and plastic for Charley. Orderly albums were not the only reminders of their failed marriage. Family portraits lined the staircase, mocking her with insincere grins. One in particular was ruthless; halfway down hung a four-by-six print of Colin, snapped when they were attending UCLA together. Colin was leaving his dorm room, a medical student with an overflowing laundry basket, sporting an extremely unattractive, dark-brown pair of long johns. One knee had been thrust upward to support the collapsing basket filled with dirty socks, shirts, sweats, and shorts. His face was caught in a raucous guffaw after Yeva had shaken her head and called him ridiculous. The picture also featured a floor littered with crushed Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. This drove Yeva nuts. “Colin, if I do that basket of laundry will you take all these cans out to the recycling?” Colin, soccer star that he was, looked down and shuffled one around with the edge of his foot, then expertly shot it into the corner of the room.
“Yeah. I can do that. Here.” He tossed the basket on the sofa, and walked toward the kitchenette to grab a trash bag. Yeva searched for the detergent and her copy of Cat’s Cradle to read while the laundry ran. Two hours later, Yeva returned with a basket full of folded clothing, excited because she had finished the book and couldn’t wait to discuss it with her boyfriend. “Colin! Have you ever read Cat’s Cradle? You--” she had kicked something when she entered the room. It was a crushed Pabst beer can. A scribbled note sat on the chipped coffee table: ‘Babe, I went to the game with the guys. Clear up for me? They’re coming back after and you’re right. This place IS a mess.’ She sat down and crunched the notebook paper in her hand, and tears began to hit her legs, disappearing into the fabric of her jeans. Not only did the picture remind her of that afternoon, the socks hanging out of the laundry basket brought to mind an argument that occurred soon after they moved into their new house. “Would it be so hard to just put your socks in the hamper when you take them off?”
“Would it be so hard to just pick them up when you’re ready to do a load?”
“Colin! I’m trying to keep our floor clear! Charley puts everything in his
Yeva and Colin were staring at each other from opposite sides of their king-
sized bed. Yeva finally looked down at their white comforter and counted the dots where the fabric was pulled down by stitching. She said to her husband, “I have asked you over and over to share responsibility for things around the house. We talked about being partners in this marriage. I am not going to–”
“Why do you always take something as stupid as socks on the ground and
instantly make it sound like I’m the worst person ever?”
“What are you talking about? You sound like a twelve-year-old!”
“Christ. Babe, you’re the one upset over socks.” He jerked his arms up,
challenging her to come up with a counterargument. Yeva despised debate, which angered him. Colin found his car keys and walked out.
Yeva squinted as she switched on a light that buzzed violently, as if in protest at being used so late at night. She opened a cupboard and grabbed a white mug that was covered in smudges of green paint. It was intended to be the handprint of “Charley Flat, Age 3” from preschool, but Charley couldn’t be held still long enough to get a good, single print. The comical struggle had chipped the mug in three places with seven shapeless blotches on one side. Yeva sat, absently spinning tea around the edges of her mug. She had found in recent years that the more silent it was in the house, the louder she could recreate reverberating arguments as if they were occurring for the first time. Even the walls would not let her forget milestone disagreements that led to the divorce. Momentous insults had found their way down the staircase to hang between candid photographs of her family and wedding.
Yeva traced golden arcs of light with her toes, cast by a small slatted window in the back room of a church. She had kicked off her white heels and they keeping each other company in the corner, no longer invited to the ceremony. I’ll not wear shoes today, she had decided. It was her day anyway, according to movies and bridal magazines and relatives. So I’ll do what I want. She tapped her iPod rhythmically and looked toward the door. Just sit still, oh my God, the time is coming. Calm down. But she pictured Colin’s face, and excitement kidnapped her breath and steadiness, sweeping them into such a good hiding spot that she couldn’t recover them until after the ceremony.
Suddenly the door swung open, allowing her father to enter in a close-fitting
tuxedo and shiny wingtips. He was so tall his pant legs hung well above his shoes, revealing ridiculously-colored, striped socks. “Are you ready?” He lifted his eyebrows expectantly and stared at his daughter, her dark auburn hair piled in endless loops and braids.
“Yes. Yes! Yeah, sorry, I’m ready. An Alison Krauss song came up on shuffle.”
She tried to stand but nerves had turned her into a newborn fawn. She fell backward, slowly deflating a puff of white satin. “Oh, God, Dad! I need help,” she giggled, reaching for her father’s steadying hand.
“Have you been drinking already?” he teased. “I haven’t even walked you down
the aisle! What will your grandmother think?”
“Shut up, Dad!” Struggling to force her shaking fingers into a fist, she gave up,
and hit his shoulder playfully with an open hand.
Beyond that moment with her father, Yeva remembered little about the outdoor ceremony. She knew how the soft, damp grass felt between her toes. She could vaguely recall the voice of Eva Cassidy singing “I Know You By Heart” softly in the background. Anything else she could picture about that day was a mixture of conjecture and magazine photographs she had seen since, lending themselves to a scrapbook medley of the backdrop: “My daisies must have looked like that,” and “The bridesmaids’ dresses were probably close to that shade of green.” These conjectures were as close as she got to visualizing her wedding day. Yeva was driving, gripping the ringing cell phone against the steering wheel while trying to place a travel mug in a cup holder. “Hey, Mom.” “Hey, Sweetie, how are you?” “Everything’s--” Hot, black coffee erupted from the container and burned
her fingers as the car bounced over a pothole. She tried to keep her watering eyes on the road, finally able to drop the mug into the hole. “Ow! Every time!” she wailed. “Rough day?” “I’m on my way to pick Charley up from Colin’s.” “Wish him a painful death for me,” her mom said, and Yeva laughed. The sound danced from her lips and settled the anger that had been swirling in her mind, stirring memories of regret over her and Colin’s generic dates and predictable proposal. “If only it were that simple. Every time I see him it’s like, ‘How’s your life with the Swedish whore?’” “Oh, come now, he doesn’t entertain whores.” “I know. It’s just gotten worse. Melanie used to stay upstairs or go out when I came to get Charley. Now she doesn’t even bother.” There was silence on both ends of the line. Yeva remembered calling home with her suspicions a mere two years after she and Colin exchanged their vows.
Yeva was headed west on Grand River Avenue away from Uptown Coffeehouse, a cup of scalding black coffee squeezed between her legs. She was having trouble navigating Howell’s wide roads. Through her tears, the traffic lights became as distracting as the bizarre blinking Christmas decorations the Wallaces hung out every year. She pulled onto a side street muttering, “Whaddo I do…whaddo I do…whaddo I do… OK, call Mom. What if I’m wrong? I should call Caroline first.” She fumbled with her phone, unable to punch the correct keys to reach her best friend. “Hey, I’m glad you called. Let’s get some coffee.” At Caroline’s cheery voice, Yeva began to sob again and ended the call.
She sat sniffling, distracted by streams of sparkling raindrops gliding down the windshield; some joined with another drop, paused, then resumed their descent. The tapping of fat drops added rhythm to her thoughts, organizing them into coherent patterns. Yeva dialed home. “Hello?” Yeva’s forehead thudded onto the steering wheel as though invisible marionette strings, keeping her upright, slipped as Disbelief placed them in Grief’s hands. “Mom, I think Colin is having an affair.”
Over the receiver, Yeva and her mother began to speak at the same time.
The conversation was impeded by multiple “Hm?’s” and, “No, go aheads,” but finally resumed after tumbling laughter. After ridding herself of giggles, Yeva asked, “How did I let things get so far with Colin, Mom?”
“I don’t know, Honey. He was a looker.” This inspired new, musical chuckles.
“But how could I have been so blind? Sometimes I think about things that
were so obviously wrong I just don’t see how I could have--” She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“Well, he seemed like such a good guy. Plus, I think Charley’s given you
Yeva had just pulled up to a brick house in the middle of Wentmore Street.
Colin’s black Escalade was parked the driveway.
“Oh, sorry, Mom. They’re coming outside. Talk to you later. Love you!”
Charley’s outstretched arms hit the screen door with such force it banged
the wall, swung back, and hit Colin squarely on the forehead. Charley sprinted across the lawn, jumped into the minivan, and positioned himself in his car seat, kicking his legs. Yeva was snorting with suppressed laughter as her ex-husband
slouched toward the car, rubbing his hairline. “Hi.”
“Hi, Colin.” Her tone was flat. “Can you get Charley buckled in?”
“Yeah.” He reached over his son and began to fumble with the plastic clips
“Thanks. I’ll call you later about dropping Charley off next week.” The
silvery quality of laughter that usually resided in her tone was absent. Yeva stared, expressionless, over the steering wheel. Charley continued to swing his feet, thumping the back of the passenger seat. She punched the door-lock button, Colin stepped back, and she pulled away from the curb.
She missed the green light to cross Wilmer Avenue. She sighed. She and
her friend Caroline called the stop “Red Wilmer,” because of multiple tickets and moving violations due to its five-minute delay. Which is ridiculous! A single car goes by as we sit here! Yeva thought, shaking her head. Charley stopped kicking. “Mom?” Yeva glanced into her rearview mirror and smiled as her son’s sage-green eyes blinked back at her.
“Why do you hate Daddy?”
“Why do you hate Daddy?” Usually, Yeva was able to answer her son’s daily,
unorthodox questions in the same way she cut his apple juice with water; she watered down the truth with humor. This question kidnapped her wit.
“I don’t hate your Dad! Where did you learn that word?”
“I don’t know, but you do! You don’t laugh when Daddy comes.”
Yeva squinted into the grey sky. “Maybe he’s not a funny person!”
“He makes me laugh!”
Yeva was speechless. She looked into the mirror again. Charley was gazing
out the window, resting his little chin in a cupped hand. His brow was deeply furrowed and his cheek was smushed up toward his nose. He looked so much like Colin.
“Charley, I don’t hate your Dad.” She paused, searching for a justification.
“Did you know the only reason I ever read Sherlock Holmes was because of your Dad?”
“Really?” he chirped.
“Yep.” A glance into her right mirror showed Colin trudging up the lawn
toward his house. He kicked a rock. “And a bunch of other fantastic books we can read when you get a little older,” Yeva added, after she’d thought it through. She refocused on the road as “Simple Song” began to play from a homemade CD. After the fifth verse, she joined James Mercer’s effortlessly deep voice with harmony of her own, and reflected on what a long time it had been since she had sung out loud.
AUSTEN AND THACKERAY’S VIEWS ON MARRIAGE William Makepeace Thackeray and Jane Austen use their novels to illuminate problems of society in nineteenth century Europe. Comparing and contrasting the main characters of Vanity Fair and Emma brings to light a problem of hypocrisy and vanity, especially in the institution, or rather business transaction, of marriage. Emma is a twenty-one year old girl, born and raised in the highest gentry society of Highbury. Becky, of Vanity Fair, is of low birth, but is fairly well educated. Emma and Becky’s views on marriage reflect their creators’ views: society reduced marriage in nineteenth century Europe to a business transaction laced with hypocrisy and scheming. The similarities Emma and Becky share in their childhood are important in considering the ways they find their husbands. Emma and Becky each lose a mother when young. Emma has Miss Taylor as a governess, but she is hardly a role model. The narrator of Emma describes Miss Taylor’s presence in Emma’s life as, “less as a governess than a friend” (Austen 5). Becky’s father died when she was still a growing girl. Emma’s father is still alive in the novel; however, Mr. Woodhouse can hardly be considered a positive influence in Emma’s life. Apart from being fair tempered, Mr. Woodhouse teaches Emma nothing of value and gives Emma whatever she wants. He cannot even bear to hear Emma criticized by Mr. Knightley. These similarities between Becky and Emma affect the way they mature as women. Without an adult, particularly a mother in their lives, both have to find husbands on their own. As a result, Emma and Becky are immersed in the hypocritical and competitive world of marriage early on. Although Thackeray is known for making obvious the hypocrisy of his characters, it is not Becky who is the hypocrite; in my opinion, it is Emma. Emma’s hypocrisy about the institution of marriage can be seen not only in her own
pursuit of marriage, but in her relationships with non-suitors. Consider the way Emma classifies Miss Taylor, Harriet, Mr. Elton, and Robert Martin. Miss Taylor is a governess; her value on the marriage market is low, with Emma’s encouragement, however, Miss Taylor marries Mr. Weston. Emma finds Miss Taylor worthy of a gentlewoman’s title, so other people find Miss Taylor worthy. But according to society’s rules, which Emma strictly adheres to, Miss Taylor should never have been able to marry Mr. Weston; she is that much beneath him in the social hierarchy. Emma sees Harriet, who is only “the natural daughter of somebody” (19) the same way she saw Miss Taylor. Emma is biased toward Harriet and so feels as though Harriet must be worthy of marrying up. Emma vows to “detach [Harriet] from her bad, and introduce her into good society” (18). Emma intends to see Harriet well married, not because Harriet deserves it but because she does not want to lose Harriet’s acquaintance. Emma’s motives to play matchmaker prove to be hypocritical in her acquaintance with Harriet. Emma pretends she is doing such a good for Harriet, but in actuality her gross misjudgments, due to her vanity, result in her courting both the men Harriet is interested in. Emma’s desires to have Miss Taylor and Harriet marry above their social positions do not make her a hypocrite; her incredulity at Mr. Elton and Mr. Martin attempting to marry does. Emma does not even know Mr. Martin when she dismisses him as a potential suitor for Harriet. She assumes that he could never be genteel or refined enough to marry Harriet because he’s a farmer. Emma describes Mr. Martin as someone who “looked as if he did not know what manner was” (26) and who is “plain, undoubtedly--remarkably plain:--but that is nothing, compared with his entire want of gentility” (94). Emma makes all these judgments after meeting Mr. Martin only once for less than five minutes. When Mr. Elton proposes
to Emma, she rejects him primarily because he is two classes beneath her in the social hierarchy, and also because Mr. Elton’s proposal proved to Emma she was wrong and hurt her pride. The narrator tells the reader, “she thought very highly of him as a good humored, well-meaning, respectable young man, without any deficiency of useful understanding or knowledge of the world” (28). She does not even consider him a potential suitor, however, because he is beneath her. As portrayed through Emma’s eyes, men can marry down but not up, and women can marry up but not down. Emma is not the only character in nineteenth century Europe who treated the social hierarchy to manipulate in this way, which is why Austen uses Emma to criticize the hypocrisy of the double standards in the transaction of marriage. Emma is also hypocritical in matters of her own heart. She says that if she marries, it will be for love, but she does not truly marry for love. She spends so much time considering the available suitors in her social class in Highbury, she doesn’t realize that Mr. Elton is pursuing her, and Mr. Knightley is in love with her. At one point, Harriet asks Emma why she is not married and Emma replies, “I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing” (68). In this, Emma conveys her vow to never marry unless she is in love. Yet, her criteria for potential suitors have nothing to do with love; Emma looks for someone is in the right social class. When Emma hears that Frank Churchill, who is Mr. Weston’s son, and Miss Taylor’s new stepson, intends to visit, she says that she has always been curious about him. Taking care to consider her vow never to marry, Emma says “if she ever were to marry, he was the very person to suit her in age, character, and condition. He seemed by his connection between the families to quite belong to her” (94). At this point Emma knows nothing about Mr. Frank Churchill except his name and what has been relayed about him through Mr. Weston. Emma’s first conclusion about this perfect stranger
is that he should be the one she should marry because of his connection to her through Miss Taylor. Emma is one of the few privileged people in England at this time with the luxury of being able to marry for love--money no concern to her. Looking at Emma’s interactions with marriage in the novel reveals the hypocrisy of the double standard. Emma illustrates how much society has warped the institution of marriage, because Emma, who could have married for love, does not. Becky sees marriage in much the same way Emma does, which is interesting, considering their stark difference in economic backgrounds. Becky is a poor orphan with one friend in the world--Amelia. For Becky, marriage is about finding financial security. After her first potential suitor, the narrator says Becky “had built for herself a most magnificent castle in the air, of which she was mistress, with a husband somewhere in the background” (Thackeray 26). This makes Becky seem she cares only about money, but Becky has no friends or family, save Amelia, who, apart from giving Becky a few gifts, cannot take care of her. Unlike Amelia, Becky does not have a mother to go “husband-hunting” (26) for her. As the narrator points out, “if [Becky] did not get a husband for herself, there was no one else in the wide world who would take the trouble off her hands” (26). Becky must be manipulative and scheme in order to paint a picture of herself that is worthy of marriage, despite her low social rank. The world of marriage is competitive, and love has nothing to do with it. Becky’s first prospect, Jos, does not work out because his friend George convinces him he should not marry Becky. The narrator explains the process of courting a man in the nineteenth century, using a series of questions: “What keeps them dancing till five o’clock in the morning through the whole mortal season?” (26) and then answers, “but that they may bring down some ‘desirable’ young man with those killing bows and arrows of theirs?” (26). The number and range of questions posed to describe marriage shows how competitive marriage was in
the nineteenth century. The hunting metaphor is almost literal. Physical weapons are not used, but intellectual weapons are, because if one is a woman in the nineteenth century, the possibilities for security are scarce. Husband-hunting isn’t just necessary, it’s risky. Becky has practically sealed her marriage with Jos before George says anything. Divorce was more difficult to obtain in this era; once a person was married, they stayed married, and if a marriage did not prosper the way Becky hoped, she could be left homeless, starving, with a husband she did not love. Becky’s case does not exactly match this scenario when Becky marries Rawdon Crawley. Rawdon is the son of Sir Pitt Crawley, one of Becky’s other prospects. Both Sir Pitt and Rawdon are hoping for an inheritance from Miss Crawley when she dies. Becky marries Rawdon hoping that he will get the larger share. Unfortunately, Becky is wrong. Rawdon, though he is one of the more honest characters in the novel, lacks intelligence and money. He survives on the credit his name provides as a member of nobility and gambles to make ends meet. Becky does well in life as a terrific and clever actress. An entire chapter is dedicated to her style, entitled, “How to Live Well on Nothing a Year” (452). Every day begs the question: When will Rawdon and Becky run out of resources. Thackeray, like many novelists in the nineteenth century, disagrees with this system of marriage, where a woman’s fate is frequently bleak. Thackeray expresses his disagreement through Becky by making her a controversial character. She is not exactly ethical, but she is not unlikeable because she is not a hypocrite. Readers sympathize with Becky in spite of her manipulative ways. So if Becky is not to blame for her lack of morality, who is? Thackeray uses Vanity Fair to say that society is to blame, for abusing the institution of marriage. Emma and Becky find their husbands the same way, by considering who is socially prominent enough to satisfy their wishes. Becky and Emma’s differences
in regard to marriage lie in their intentions in getting married. Emma marries Mr. Knightley because he was the only acceptable, single male left, and they happened to be in love. Becky does not marry for love; she marries for security. The similarities between Emma and Becky’s methods in finding a husband, despite differences in socioeconomic backgrounds, convey Austen and Thackeray’s views on the problem of marriage. The two women were raised completely different, grew up in different societies, and still view marriage as a business merger instead of the joining of two people in love. Vanity Fair and Emma are both comedies, so both have happy endings. These endings, however, do not undermine the novels’ messages. According to the ideas expressed in Thackeray and Austen’s novels, they appear to believe that society in nineteenth century Europe was abusing marriage by making it business deal infused with all the hypocrisy and competition of a systematic business.
Works Cited Austen, Jane. Emma. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print. Thackeray, W.M. Vanity Fair. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
ONE HOUR IN THE LAB WITH PETER
Machines were grinding, hammers pounding, and the pungent smell of
resin filled the air. People dressed in business attire and lab aprons raced around, each one trying to accomplish his or her own tasks. I stood in the middle of it all, asking questions and doing my best to take it all in. It was the summer after my senior year of high school. For the second day, I was job-shadowing in the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at Great Plains Rehabilitation Services. It was my goal to pursue a degree in orthotics and prosthetics, but first I needed to understand the demands of the career, and that summer I shadowed for three consecutive days. It was the second day, however, that had an impact on me. That day, in one hour, one man built my confidence, influenced my perspective on this career, and testified through actions and words about the importance of God in his work.
I was observing a leg brace taking shape when Peter, a dedicated
prosthetist, came up to me, a smile on his face. He handed me his apron and said, “OK, it’s time to get dirty.” I was thrilled! I love hands-on work. Peter began explaining, “You’ve taken chemistry before, I’m sure.”
Well, yes I had taken chemistry, but merely one semester of high school
chemistry. I had not started taking any classes specifically for orthotics and prosthetics. I had not even begun college. Who did he think I was? I explained that I had only a little experience with chemistry, but that didn’t seem to faze Peter. He kept right on explaining. “In a reaction, you have a catalyst, or the substance that causes the reaction to occur. When we work with plaster to create castings and molds, the catalyst is water.”
So far I was still able to follow what he was saying.
He continued explaining the process, and handed me the castings for
bilateral Ankle-foot Orthosis, or AFOs. This pair of AFOs needed to be sealed off in the front, where a cut had been made to remove the casting from the patient’s foot, and filled with plaster to form a model. Peter gave me instructions for finishing the front of the casting, but left me to work on my own, without completing the task for me. He didn’t even hover over my shoulder to insure that I was doing it correctly; he trusted my abilities.
I tore a piece of plaster and dipped it in the water, then laid it along the
front cut, holding the casting in place so the piece of plaster would create an effective seal. As I meticulously went about my work, Peter stayed in the room, talking. He didn’t talk, however, about the weather or current events, but spoke passionately about his beliefs and his faith in God, and how this affected his life, his work, and his relationships with his patients.
What he taught me was indispensable. Through his actions and his words,
he made it evident that God could be a defining part of my career--that it is He who works through the practitioner, as well as the patient. Peter’s ultimate goal was to treat all who came to the clinic with the same respect he would give to Jesus.
When I had finished sealing the casting, I assumed that my authorized
involvement of shadowing had reached its peak. Peter had other intentions. He was confident that I could complete the remainder of the tasks necessary to prepare the AFO castings for filling. So I continued the process. Under the guidance of Peter, I used a machine to saw the cast through the ankle. This cut would allow the cast to be set at the proper angle of ninety degrees. Together we
positioned the angles of the AFOs with a wedge of plaster. The AFO castings were finished then and ready to create a model.
That afternoon I learned about catalysts, the casting process, and how to
prepare AFOs to be filled. I learned of more important matters, however; I learned to have confidence in my abilities, and to understand that God is a vital part of life and work. Peter gave. He offered me this opportunity and expressed confidence in my abilities, when I did not. He gave me assurance and, more notably, shared with me the importance of God in my career.
STAINS Stains tell a story, Something of the past; Joy, embarrassment, or anger; Yes, the stain is unfortunate But it is the story that counts. There are stains on our person, our soul; They leave irremovable marks, Stains of events in our lives That could be painful or happy. We try to remove these stains, The distractions or masks, But the pain is still there And so is the stain. If the stain is there, Make it count; Forgive the past But do not forget; Do not forget That the stain is a story to tell. â€”Brittany Cochran
O PIONEERS! and SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW
Many similarities exist between Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! and William
Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow. In both stories, an underlying theme is present that is always building to bring about a climax after the main conflicts. Yet in each book the conflict comes about in different ways.
The most obvious and powerful theme in both novels is a feeling of
jealousy, betrayal, and loss. In O Pioneers!, for example, Marie Tovesky is a young Bohemian girl who marries Frank Shabata. Frank is a self-centered, jealous man with a quick temper. He seems to think the world is against him and that no one cares about him, even though Marie does. One could say that Frank suffers from depression. Marie has always felt affection for Emil, a friend of hers since childhood. Emil feels the same about Marie, yet the two never confess their feelings to each other.
Tensions start to rise as the two find it harder and harder to hide their
feelings, and they finally kiss at a supper at the local French church. After a night of drinking in town, Frank returns home to find Emil’s horse in his stable. He begins to search the house for Marie and Emil. He finds nothing, but then he “went into his bedroom and took his murderous 405 Winchester from the closet” (Cather 102). Frank finds his wife and Emil under a tree in his orchard, and in a fit of rage, Frank jerks up his rifle and fires, killing both Marie and Emil. So Long, See You Tomorrow is the story of a man reliving the events of his 1920s childhood. Two of the main characters in the book are neighboring farmers and best friends--Clarence Smith and Lloyd Wilson. Both are tenant farmers, meaning they are living and farming on land they do not own. Though both are tenants, the Wilsons are considerably better off than the Smiths. Over the course of the book, Lloyd Wilson and Clarence’s wife, Fern, grow less interested in their spouses and become more interested in each other. The two begin an affair that
ends up affecting not only them but everyone they know, including people in town. As a result of the affair, Lloyd’s wife leaves him and takes their two daughters with her. When Clarence hears about the affair from his wife Fern, he does little or nothing about it. Fern eventually divorces Clarence and he begins to experience a growing sense of injustice. He has done nothing wrong and yet awful things are happening to him. Clarence is somewhat similar to Frank Shabata in O Pioneers! in that he’s prone to violent outbursts; during these he sometimes blacks out or doesn’t realize or remember what he’s said or done. In one instance, Clarence and Fern are having an argument and Clarence becomes so enraged he picks up a fire poker and has to be restrained by his hired man before he does something he would regret. Clarence falls into a deeper depression and his anger and sadness grows until he decides to act. He goes into Lloyd’s barn and shoots him in the heart while Lloyd is milking his cows. Clarence goes to the town’s gravel pit and wires weights to his feet and ties the pistol he has used to kill Lloyd to his wrist with shoelaces, presumably to hide the murder weapon, and then turns the pistol on himself and lets the weights take him down. In both books an intense feeling of betrayal and jealousy causes two men to murder their wives’ lovers. In each story, however, the anger and sadness affects the men in different ways. In O Pioneers! Frank Shabata comes home after drinking in the local tavern and acts impulsively, in a jealous rage--a decision he regrets immediately and has to live with the rest of his life. In So Long, See You Tomorrow, Clarence Smith’s depression builds and builds over a period of time and eats away at him, causing him question his self-worth. He is reported to have told a stranger on the street that “I am broken and a failure and I have nothing for which to live” (Maxwell 34). Maxwell notes how the local newspaper has put his preposition in the right place. Clarence has time to plan and execute Lloyd’s murder, to the extent
of bringing along a revolver in case his shotgun misfires, as it does. Both novels portray a great sense of loss in most of the characters. Alexandra is the main character in O Pioneers! She suffers a great deal of loss over the course of the book, beginning with the death of her father when she is young. She loses her best friend Carl when his family moves away. Years later, differences between her and her brothers tear the family in two. Finally, she loses her youngest brother Emil, who was always more a son to her than a brother, along with her friend Marie, when they are killed by Frank Shabata. In So Long, See You Tomorrow a tremendous sense of loss is conveyed. The first and most important, for Maxwell, was the death of his mother when he was ten years old. This completely changed his life and it seems he never quite recovers from it. Maxwell also loses his best friend, Cletus. Cletus is the son of Clarence Smith, and his father murders Lloyd Wilson and takes his own life, Cletus moves away, effectively ending the friendship between him and Maxwell. Maxwell is not the only one to suffer, though. Lloyd Wilson and Clarence Smith lose their families and eventually lose their lives. Even Cletusâ€™ dog suffers from the events building up to the murder. Both O Pioneers! and So Long, See You Tomorrow deal with the difficulties of betrayal, injustice, and suffering. In both novels, infidelity serves as a catalyst that sets off a chain of events that alters the lives of all the characters involved. Both stories force their readers to examine the choices they make and the unforeseen results that their actions could bring about. â€”Zachary Wolf Works Cited Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913. Print. Maxwell, William. So Long, See You Tomorrow. New York: Vintage Books, 1980. Print.
Alice felt the hot summer sun burn her fair skin. It was late afternoon, and
Mary had promised she would join Alice on the trampoline after she finished the dishes. Alice heard the phone ring and Mary answer it. Alice drummed her fingers on the spring of the trampoline and counted to thirty.
“Maaaaary,” Alice yelled, “When are you gonna come out here?”
“I’m coming, just give me a moment!”
Mary emerged and walked to the trampoline. The sun was bright and it
was hard for Alice to see Mary’s face, but she could tell Mary was trying to hide a secret from her. Every adult in Alice’s life seemed to be hiding a secret from her.
“Who was that?” Alice asked.
“Your dad called,” Mary said.
“Really? Is he home? Do we need to go pick him up?”
“No, kiddo, he actually said he needed to spend the night in the cities
because of some flight delays or something. Your mom’s on call, so I’ll be spending the night with you in case anything comes up.”
Alice nodded and pretended not to care. She knew Mary saw through her
but hoped she wouldn’t say so. That’s why Mary was different from other adults in Alice’s life. Mary listened and followed up on any need. She cared about Alice.
“Hey, kiddo, it’s gonna be OK. We’ll do an art project and watch a Disney
movie, OK? I know they’re your favorite movies and I have a really cool project in mind. Does that sound OK with you?”
“Yeah, that sounds OK.”
But it was not OK. Both of them knew it. Alice had started to figure out
what she thought Mary already knew; whether or not her dad was staying in the cities, Alice had the idea he wasn’t staying alone.
This had been going on for a long time. Kayla, her older sister, knew
too, but she had problems of her own--boy problems and other problems more
important to Kayla than her dad with women other than their mom. The sisters never admitted the situation, and their mom had stopped asking, “Where is your dad?” when he didn’t come home. She didn’t want to know.
Alice began to cry. Her mom never wanted to spend time with her. Her
mom was too sick or too tired to do anything with her. They never sat down as a family or did anything as a family and their talk was awkward and forced. Looking in from the outside, others might think that this lovely family living in an expensive house had everything they could dream of wanting--except each other.
“Hey, kiddo, it’s gonna be OK,” Mary said. “We’re gonna have lots of fun
together and we’ll make up for it.”
Alice wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and nodded. Mary drew
her close and ran her fingers through her hair, holding her without saying a word. She hummed and rocked Alice back and forth, the way her mom had years ago.
Alice sat in Mary’s lap on the trampoline and realized that Mary was more
to her than a nanny. Mary was the mom and older sister Alice wished she had.
“Mary, can I--?”
“Of course, kiddo, ask whatever you want.”
“Why did you decide to come back and work another year, even though
Kayla could babysit me now?”
Mary took a deep breath and looked at Alice. The warm summer day had
turned the cheeks of both pink, and from a distance they could be sisters.
“Kiddo, I came back because I love working with you. You’re my girl, my
little sister, and even if I wasn’t getting paid to be here I would want to be here every day. You’re like family, and family sticks together, right?”
Alice smiled and gave Mary a hug. “I love you so much, Mary.”
“I love you too, kiddo.” —Hannah Erickson
MY BURDEN My burden is not your burden, For my burden could not be carried by any man. I was not born into a life of privilege; Ever since I was young I have had to fend for myself; I grew up doing difficult manual labor; Some people called me a beast of burden with all the work I had to do. I have never been given any choices. Ever since I was able, I have been told what to do. I grew up doing the work of my father before me, Working alongside my parents, following their lead like a dog on a leash, And I suppose if that is how it all started, that is how it will end; I will be led to the slaughter like a dumb animal As I have seen greater men go, my suffering forgotten. I have seen the eyes of men who knew they were going to die, I have seen great men humbled, I have seen the love of a man forsaken by his lover; Yet all these are minuscule compared to my burden. You could liken it to carrying the weight of the world on one’s shoulders; The only difference is: I was carrying The Man who bore the weight of the world on His shoulders. –A Jackass–
THIS IS MY LOVE LETTER This is my love letter to you. These are the words that I have never spoken And the dreams I have never confessed; These are the secrets that hang on our silence, This is my love letter to you. The way a memory fills me with joy, The way a song makes my soul sing, The way a photo holds so much hope, The way who we are brings me peace; This is my love letter to you. For each quiet morning, For countless late nights, For the dreams shared between us, For the chance of what might be, This is my love letter to you. From that second first kiss under bright shining stars, To the moment I knew my heart was tied to yours, To the setting of these words--know them to be true! I want to laugh with you forever, So this is my love letter to you.
BELLOW AND ME “In the greatest confusion,” Bellow comments, “there is still an open channel to the soul. It may be difficult to find because by midlife it is overgrown, and some of the wildest thickets that surround it grow out of what we describe as our education. But the channel is always there, and it is our business to keep it open, to have access to the deepest part of ourselves--to that part of us which is conscious of a higher consciousness, by means of which we make final judgments and put everything together” (Ozick xxi).
When I was little, I loved to write. My father encouraged me to write stories
and enter contests and my mother emphatically praised the good, the bad, even the garbage. But as I grew older and began following the complicated patterns of life, my childish imagination and dreams of writing were lost under the pressures and expectations of becoming ‘successful.’ The guidance counselor would say, “Why, dear, a writer makes no money. You should become a nurse or physical therapist perhaps? You like sports and the body, don’t you?” Looking back, I feel insulted. It has taken me close to a decade to finish my undergraduate degree and after years spent trying to fit into subjects that don’t suit me, I decided to return to studying what I love--English Literature.
The novella, Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow, struck me as a profoundly
inspirational piece of work. The descriptive language Bellow uses and the simplicity of the poignant plot exemplified the cycle of human suffering. It is Wilhelm’s skeptical consciousness and his unexpected revelation of “his heart’s ultimate need” (Bellow 114) that completes Bellow’s story. In life, it is a commonly shared experience--suffering--but the subtle and pervasive hopefulness of Wilhelm’s complex character allows the reader to “look for something else altogether: call it wisdom, call it ontology” (Ozick xxii) in this story. That something else is individualized through perception, and perhaps that perception is the final piece to the puzzle that reaches a higher consciousness.
If I were fresh out of high school and reading this book in my first or
second year of college, I am certain that I would not have the same appreciation for it that I do today. Wisdom is gained through experience, and as I continue the experience of learning, I recognize the gain. And perhaps harnessing it, the channel to our soul, is Bellow’s aim in this novella.
I appreciate Bellow’s description of people and how he addresses
judgments on appearance. Wilhelm does not seem comfortable in his own skin, as if his age and the marks of failure are visible beneath his charming surface. Indeed they are visible, but only to the sensitive observer. College kids assume that I am a freshman or sophomore, when I am a few years shy of thirty. With a baby-face and the easy excuse, “I’m here in Jamestown to finish up my degree,” I am able to protect myself and avoid unwanted sympathy. In contrast, Wilhelm yearns for sympathy in his situation, but perhaps sympathy is indifferent to the depth of suffering. Before moving to Jamestown, I was living in Colorado and training for the 2012 Olympic Games. People think of wrestling as a brute battle of brawn, which is an accurate image, but in reality wrestling is like chess, a mental mind game. It is a physical sport, yes, but it is one of the most mentally demanding sports there is. No team is on the mat when a wrestler competes. She is held accountable for the outcome. Preparation is the key for any athlete, but a wrestler has no safety net to catch her on a bad day, no goalie to save her when she loses position. Whether she is sick or sad, tired or sore, she must be ready for battle. She relies solely on her own body and mind to carry her. The sacrifice and loneliness she endures are worth it. The dream is her only solace in life. But what happens after defeat? Just as Wilhelm feared his failures defined him, there came a point where I feared the same. Wrestlers, however, are taught that fear is weakness. It is debilitating and
it will sabotage your focus; therefore fear is not a characteristic of a true champion. This ideology reminded me of Wilhelm’s father, Dr. Adler, and how he refused take pity on his son’s misfortunes and simply dismissed his pain. This tough love by Wilhelm’s father resembles any coach-athlete relationship; athletes must earn the respect of their coach through hard work, dedication, and patience. But at the Olympic Training Center, the national coaches are only concerned with improving their top athletes in each weight class and I was not even on the ladder. The more pressure there is to succeed, the more fatal failure becomes. Day in and day out, I was tossed around like a rag doll in practice, just as Wilhelm kept revisiting his relationship with his condescending father--a credulous hope, perhaps, but blatant self-abuse. I willingly chose to endure unimaginable amounts of pain and manipulation, mentally and physically, to get through training. Wilhelm perhaps knew, just as I did, that suffering is part of the process. Subjectively, life is suffering because death is inevitable.
There is little difference between failed dreams. Be it Hollywood or the
Olympics, failure is difficult to embrace. It was eight weeks before the 2012 Olympic Trials, and I was finally peaking in my career. I was beating the thirdranked girl in the country at the Olympic Trial Qualifier. But with seconds to victory, I posted my arm in a scramble and SNAP! went my ulnar and radius. I tried to recover before the Trials but fell short. That excruciating physical pain will never compare to the pain I felt in my heart when I realized my Olympic dream was over. The desperate attempt to alleviate suffering through profound understanding is not Bellow’s focus. The art of dealing with suffering and embracing misfortunes help create significance and meaning to life. But the complexity of darkness offers comfort through self-epithets--You fool, you! It is easy to lose sight of hopefulness when faced with endless adversity. But in my
experience, enough failure humbles the self and allows vulnerability to color ‘some truth’ within the soul. The novella, Seize the Day, affirms my belief in the significance of growth through suffering and Bellow’s encouragement to use the “open channel to the soul” has become the inspiration to my long lost dream of becoming a writer.
Bellow, Saul. Seize the Day. Intro. Cynthia Ozick. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Plainsong, No. 28: Spring, 2014 Contributors Levi Brown Kayla Byle Brittany Cochran Hannah Erickson Mike Findlay Deb Gideon Alicia Hubbard Lance Johansen Taylor Lammers Brooke Lietzke Matthew Nies John Peterson Debi Piscitiello Laura Sieling Jim Stone Garret Tenney Annika Vernon Briana VinZant Kylynn Walker Dacotah Wealot Larry Woiwode Laurel Woiwode Zachary Wolf
Funded by University of Jamestown Published by the Department of English, University of Jamestown
Plainsong is available digitally at www.uj.edu/plainsong. Submissions for Plainsong are accepted from the beginning of the fall semester until February 1.