IG NA TI AN
1 volume 32 / 2020
Cover Photos by Hannah Loftus
THE IGNATIAN LITERARY MAGAZINE
VOLUME 32 / 2020
TABLEof CONTENTS POETRY Masque by Laura Schulkind
essay on nostalgia by Bridgette Yang
No Self by Stephen Massimilla
Old ladies rowing through the Grand Canal docks by D.S. Maolalai Moon by Erin Mostowfi
Family Liquidation by Sharon Kennedy-Nolle dragon fire by Bridgette Yang
3AM Ghazal by Aalimah Raji
Dirty Dishes by Evalyn Lee
How things are going by D.S. Maolalai
One Day When There Are No More Christmas Cards by Evalyn Lee summer holidays by D.S. Maolalai
Friendship gone awry by D.S. Maolalai Gobernadora by Erin Mostowfi
Inventory by Sharon Kennedy-Nolle
Addendum by Sharon Kennedy-Nolle
The Hamster by Zoe Williams
The End Days by Will Walker
FICTION Running On About Mom’s Body by Vivian Lawry
Counting the Ways by Alan Gartenhaus (editor’s choice) Love’s Letter by Sky Garcilasodelavega
The Ravishment of Ember by Marcelle Thiebaux Playground Princesses by Marisa Montanez
Heaven Inc. by Alecsander Zapata
Oh, To Be Alive by Bex Brzostoski
Math Homework by Terry Sanville
NONFICTION San Francisco Shrooms by Eli Ramos
On Translation: The Angry Grapes and Chekhov by Franny Zhang 2% Milk, 2% American by JoliAmour DuBose-Morris Mirror Reflections by Angie Walls
Shifting the Borders: My Transbutch Herstory by Yansa Gardner
A Sixty-Something’s Guide to Morning Survival by Dvora Rabino The Dioramic Imagination by Josh Gidding (editor’s choice) Me, Him, and the Writing Group by Regina Toth A Catch in the Spokes by Maggie Harrison Little by Little by Jim Ross
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY Untitled by Rose Gluck Sit by Hannah Loftus
Crumbling by Mary Lou Grace Robison Lava Lady by Brinley Ribando
Foggy by Mary Lou Grace Robison
Lost Recipes by Mary Lou Grace Robison (editorâ€™s choice) Hard to Smile by Mary Lou Grace Robison
Lou by Mary Lou Grace Robison
An Open Invitation by Jim Ross
Summer Carneval by Jim Ross
We Are the Birds by Bex Brzostoski
A Letter to a Real Friend and a Fictional Lover by Bex Brzostoski
FEATURES Untitled by Sabrina Hernandez Out and About by Ricky Silva
32, 168, 218
My Mother by Sydney Summers-Knight Beyond Harm by Carolina Ocanto
What do you call the child of a mixed woman and a white man? by Michelle Dearden Waterfall vs. Pinhole by Alex Dellar
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
Dear Reader, When the Ignatian Team embarked on our 2019-2020 Academic year we could have never anticipated the joys and the unprecedented challenges, that will come to define this era. Most things have changed, seemingly irreparably now— which feels scary and uncertain. However, we knew that with minimal stylistic and moral casualties, that we could continue our passionate work to create a literary journal that we are proud of. While the purists among us fought tooth and nail to ensure you all a physical copy this year (as is tradition) we were truly unable to safely and financially accomplish this. Luckily, we have been able to create a beautiful digital version of the 32nd edition of our magazine which we hope can reach even more readers than our physical copies ever could and share the work we love with as many people as possible! Throughout the year we struggled to decide on a theme that could adequately represent the multiplicity of experiences and emotions represented in the unique body of work that we have complied. Our work was selected from hundreds of submissions written by the young and old. Both by writers wise… and still wet behind the ears. We toyed around with a few themes, wondering what commonalities all of our stories could share? How could we boil down all this art to one human experience? Little did we know the common trials we would all soon be facing together! In light of the “new normal” we reexamined our approach and focus; we were taken back by the prescience of the art that we had selected months earlier. Pieces that had resonated with our genre teams in November took on totally different meanings, they held so much more emotion by the middle of March. We were reminded of the incredible durability of great art, the flexibility of meaning that an essay or a photograph can hold. The experience of talking about a poem you love with someone and hearing the reasons they love it for completely different reasons. It was still difficult to choose a unified theme but we were able to narrow it down to one positive aspect. Which is why we have decided to mark this unprecedented issue in an unprecedented year with the theme of…resilience. We could not have put this issue together without our ever resilient team of editors, designers, artists, and writers, the University of San Francisco English Department, the MFA Department, Micah Ballard and Kimberly Garrett, our thoughtful and detailed faculty advisor Professor Omar Miranda and our wonderful, passionate T.A.s Nancy Sarafian, Tammy Lee, and Michael Lopez! Thank you to everyone who made this issue possible despite—and, we cannot state this enough—some adversity! It has been our pleasure to oversee this issue every step of the way. Best, Jamie Brown & Claire Ogilvie
by Laura Schulkind
Walking to the train, wildfires raging to the north, the rising moon orange. All of us with our face masks on, ho-hum, texting and earbuds, like this is already normal. We push into the crowded cars, sway, shoulder to shoulder, enveloped in the heat of all our bodies.
The display of face masks at every drugstore— whimsical with whiskers and snouts, fun with bright, bold colors, pink and frilly for the little girls, camo for the boys.
And in the sticky warmth, train rocking, I fall into a standing half-sleep, surrounded by the sea of masks, and dream.
And the designer face masks—Gucci, Chanel, Prada— we call them “masques.” So clever, so chic, so ironic. Crystal-embedded, hand-embroidered. Masques à la Italian carnival, with grotesque noses and twisted grins. Masques with an ethnic vibe, evoking the ancient masks of Africa.
And masks with tiny flaps that can be opened for a kiss, like nursing bras that open to expose a full, pink nipple. And along with this, the new gestures that communicate love and lust and intimacy and invitation.
Oh, what it means if I lift the flap, expose my lips to you for a kiss! Risk the danger of those moments of smoky breath to press my lips to yours. And of course the new slang— who is “fly” (flap-worthy), and who you’ll “flap” for. And there will be the delight of makeup companies, developing their new lines, focused on the eyes, the eyes. “Seduce him with a look.” “Tell her you LOVE HER with your eyes.” And we celebrate our magnanimity and cultural humility and human progress as we heartily support the growing number of Muslim Mary Kay consultants. Organize parties where we fawn over our Muslim “sisters,” and ask them to instruct us in the arts of masked flirtation, masked seduction. And we feel so enriched, so enlightened to have had them in our living rooms, painting our eyes with kohl pencils, distributing hand mirrors, and showing us the power of a raised eyebrow.
And the mannequins in the shopping malls, accessorized so smartly with matching sets— mask, boots, belt, hat. The malls, piping in precious, filtered air, touting, “Come shop, it’s good for you!”
And of course, there will be the ever-cheery meteorologists, telling us if it is a “mask advisory day,” as they report on the latest fires while distracting us from the dire bleakness of it all with their chuckles and technicolor maps, making it all sound so matter-of-fact, despite the whole new set of weather events they get to report: wildfire tornadoes and fire clouds— “pyrocumulus” and “pyrocumulonimbus,”— while they adopt “Fire and Rain” as the intro music for their weather reports. Suddenly, I jolt awake. A girl with a mask, painted to look like a cat’s face, is standing next to me, scrolling through her phone with a sweep of her thumb.
San Francisco Shrooms by Eli Ramos
Say the words “mushrooms” and “San Francisco” in the same sentence, and people will usually assume you’re talking about psilocybin, the hallucinatory component found in shrooms. It’s no surprise given the city’s reputation surrounding drug use, hippies, and the Summer of Love. Yet if you ask culinary, farming, or mycological enthusiasts, the insights they have about mushrooms in the Bay Area are as varied and colorful as the mushrooms themselves. Over two hundred and fifty mushroom species make their home in the Bay Area: high up in trees, low to the ground, pushing their way out from between cracks in brick walls. The combination of cool, damp weather, spring and winter rains, and an otherwise Mediterranean climate make for an environment replete with mushrooms if you know where to look. On fieldtrips through various parks in San Francisco, my fellow naturalists passed on the old fungophile’s adage, “get your eyes on,” meaning to scan areas carefully to accustom your eyes to well-hidden mushrooms. After a few weeks of walking through Glen Canyon and McLaren Park, I began to see fungi everywhere: death caps, witch’s butter, hen-of-the-woods, sulfur shelf. Even in the offseason, the variety of mushrooms was astounding. Supermarket mushrooms tend towards the ordinary and mild-flavored. The humble portobello mushroom, packed into blue Styrofoam cartons and covered in plastic, is a common sight, tucked
away in a refrigerated section of the grocery store. One might be lucky enough to find shiitakes with stems curving like a question mark, or oyster mushrooms with large, soft gills adorning their sides. At higher-end markets, the varieties abound. At San Francisco’s Ferry Building, the open storefront of Far West Fungi boasts an earth-toned medley. Tourists snap photos of mushrooms growing in a glass bell, like a mutated version of the Beast’s enchanted rose. Amanda Moore, an employee at Far West Fungi who uses they/them pronouns, commented on how they view mushrooms “It’s really beautiful stuff that we get to see, it’s very temporal,” they said. “There’s some things you have to wait for all year and then you only see it once.” Mushrooms grow and change with the seasons. While some are acclimated to damp and rainy seasons year-round, other mushrooms have adapted to Northern California’s long dry spells. Some species fruit only when certain weather shifts occur, while other species that haven’t been seen in the Bay Area for forty years have been spotted due to the new temperature and soil variations. Once those factors fade, whether bit by bit or all at once, then the mushrooms disappear until the conditions are right once again. Moore, captured by the beauty of mushrooms, illustrates them on their Instagram, @rootnoir. Some Far West Fungi coworkers make mushroom tinctures to drink or to dye their clothes with mushrooms at Counterculture Labs in Oakland. All Far West staff visit restaurants that buy their products to see what they’ve done with them. A couple of steps to the right of the Far West store is Stonehouse California Olive Oil, a store with locally sourced cooking oils and sauces. Between the mushroom mongers and the oil merchants is a counter with a small jar of salt speckled with black bits. An employee noticed me eyeing it. “That’s truffle salt. It’s sea salt with little bits of dried truffle in them—that’s a kind of expensive mushroom we import from Europe that’s found by dogs or pigs.”
I asked about what kinds of dishes people were putting mushrooms into. “Oh, all sorts of things. Mushrooms are really popular now because of their umami flavor.” The employee smiled. “I put this truffle salt on filets, on top of risotto, and on popcorn. And I really like it on top of mac and cheese. It’s really good.” Others seem to agree about that umami flavor—a savory flavor characteristic of broths or meats. Some tasters even report hints of spiciness and smokiness in different varieties of mushrooms. The mushroom stall at the Heart of the City Farmers Market in the Civic Center was bustling: people rushing past with full bags overlooked the apple samples but stopped to sample shiitake jerky. Sean Garrone, one of the founders of Far West Fungi, was working the stand. “Mushrooms have grown in popularity because of the beneficial aspects of them,” Garrone said. “You start to see them more in recipes, in cooking shows, and the health benefits—Dr. Oz had his hands on that one.” He filled another basket with mushrooms. “I mean, I have some customers where all they eat is mushrooms.” Garrone paused to think. “Not all they eat, but a good ninety percent of their diet is mushrooms because of the meat-like quality of it. And I see more customers willing to be adventurous.” Indeed, he had put out another basket of soft pink oyster mushrooms to replace the three that someone bought. A person walking by the stall shouted, “Those nameko mushrooms look delicious!” Garrone grins over the small amber mushroom bulbs. Unusual edible mushrooms are many people’s introduction to fungi. Theresa Haula, vice president of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, recounted her first time finding a mushroom she couldn’t identify. “Was it some kind of parasite on the tree or was it a plant? It certainly didn’t look like a mushroom,” she said. “After talking to about fifty people, trying to find people interested in the natural world, I finally found someone who sort of just knew it, like ‘Oh, that’s Sparassis radi-
cata and that’s edible, it’s very tasty. Somehow, I got really obsessed by finding out, what is this thing?” Haula, a mushroom cultivation professor at Merritt College in Oakland, still marvels at the diversity of fungi. “They have endless forms of shape and color and smell, you know. It’s as diverse as plants.” Mushroom diversity is part of why they are so important to the ecology of an area. For example, a reason that the redwoods on the West Coast get so big is because of the mushroom species existing underground. Mushroom spores called mycelium help gather and supply extra water and nutrients to the roots of plants, which in turn, provide the mushrooms with sugar and a base to grow on. Around ninety percent of plants have co-evolved with mushrooms in this way. The chemical signals that they send through the mycelium to other trees—essentially a conversation between forests—is a topic of interest for ecologists everywhere. As mushrooms provide additional resources to the trees, they grow larger than they would be able to on their own, especially when they are linked to other trees. Lichens, like the beautiful state lichen of California, (Ramalina menziesii), are formed by the combination of a fungus and algae. Lichens help absorb pollutants in the air. And mushrooms, when they grow on dead or dying things, are making sure that they don’t stick around. By breaking down compounds like lignin and cellulose, mushrooms help things to decompose. The presence of fungi helps invite bacteria to hasten decomposition and turn something rotting back into nutrients that plants and animals can use. Throughout decomposition, mushrooms can also emit pheromones that entice insects like flies and beetles to clean up whatever they can’t. Haula says, “If we didn’t have the fungi, we would be wading around in tree trunks. It’s that literal.” Scientists have been looking to mushrooms to combat problems in novel ways. The myriad forms of fungi can do things that seem beyond the imagination. For example, Pestalotiopsis microspora is a fun-
gus that can digest polyurethane, the main component of plastic. Scientists are investigating using this fungal feature as a way of biodegrading plastics in the environment more quickly.Â The growth of mushrooms can help to promote the growth of new plants and may be able to renew deforested areas. Mycoremediation, using fungi to decontaminate environments, has been used in industrial processes and, one day, may help to purify the water we drink. As far as eating mushrooms goes, researchers are trying to determine whether mushrooms might help with memory retention and improved vitamin D levels. And while some of these benefits may seem distant or from the realm of science fiction, theyâ€™re being explored right now in places like Counterculture Labs in Oakland, a community science laboratory outfitted for microbiologists to DNA sequence and cultivate different species of mushrooms. As interest in mushrooms grows in the Bay Area, the future of fungi holds promise from culinary delights to scientific advancement.
Untitled by Rose Gluck
essay on nostalgia by Bridgette Yang
after ocean vuong’s “essay on craft” because my past likes to snake her arms around my neck — i keep opening old texts to loosen her grip. history repeats itself, i say i’m learning for the better but i know i’m just looking for the wick in the wicked sparks that once lit up my life dissolved by time text messages are time capsules images of my old attachments caught in crystalized conversation sparkle now gone they linger too long under my skin so i take shorter showers so they don’t become a metaphor for what i’m trying to wash away try to believe shampoo is just soap instead of a sorry i’m sinking into scrolling has become a heartbreak type habit articulated ache saved in a screen 26 letters but now my thumbs know only of the space
the natural resting place biggest key for a reason senior year i cut ties into my own dress stopped believing in prom/ises learned to dance in the pearl of my own gleam but some days i am oyster shell splintered ghosted into a haunting but i’m the one disappearing palms still healing from the scar of an absent flame the one i thought could purify everything i tried to leave behind a justified burning but i am both unmarked and ash so i go too far dig up fossilized dialogue and become pep talk turned exhaust pipe i’m tired of my tendencies i claim i’m over it but then cough up a skeleton of who i used to be search up for names that held my broken knew my burdens i look for bones of myself by re-reading what i’ll never get back hold on so tight they become warm as flesh they threaten to melt back into me and i become twice as heavy a reconstructed reality wrapped in nostalgia
but if loosening my grip is closure who will hold my hand after these pixelated fingertips i have history threaded into software time stamps seared into smoke it’s hard to let go when the digital never dies instagram highlights survive in the archive maybe that’s why i’m a media studies major been analyzing the past of communication since i was born vessels of vulnerability turned to lost bodies i stare at photos until they turn black and white don’t blink when it fades into an lost era leaving me to question who’s next
Running On About Mom’s Body by Vivian Lawry
When Mom didn’t answer her phone or respond to texts for two days, I went to her house, and getting no response to the doorbell, I let myself in and found a neat, quiet empty house and garage, so I immediately called my brother, Chester, and Mom’s favorite sister, who hadn’t seen or heard from her either, so we canvassed the neighbors—to no avail— which left going to the police to report her as a missing person—the first time either of us had done such a thing—and right away we learned that her car was in impound, having been towed for parking all day in a three-hour zone day before yesterday, which raised our anxiety so much that when asked to list distinguishing marks, we laughed uncontrollably because, although she had none until age sixty-nine, after surgery for breast cancer she decided that rather than having the scarred area surgically repaired, she would redecorate it Mom always marched to a different drummer that way—and her oncologist recommended Carma Jane, a local tattoo artist who worked with plastic surgeons and lots of women who’d had breast surgery, a recommendation which resulted in Mom’s first tattoo, a blue fantasy fish, the divot left in her breast after surgery, being the mouth It opened when her arm was up and shut when her arm was down and because a mouth that size required a big fish, the tattoo ran from armpit to waist then she added three little fish, an octopus, and a seahorse, along with seagrass, coral, water, and several seashells, all of which, Mom said, left her other breast looking pretty
plain, so with water on the right, on the left she added earth, air, and fire in the form of a crow, an Eastern box turtle, a skull, hellebore blooms, and a phoenix, and ultimately she decided to join them in a wraparound and across her back she got stylized sun, moon, and stars, plus the planets of Mars, Jupiter, and Venus, another skull, a crow inside a psychedelic cat, a realistic chipmunk, plus a ram’s head for being an Aries and a psychedelic rooster for being born during the Chinese year of the cock, plus mermaids, a snake, and six Cherokee Indian symbols (in honor of her paternal great-grandmother), and having listed all the elements we could remember, we decided there was no need to go into colors, but when a woman’s naked, headless body was found in Deep Run Park, in spite of checking off all the torso tattoos, because we hadn’t mentioned the seven birds and dogwood branches on her left thigh (so recently inked we hadn’t yet seen them), the Medical Examiner turned to fingerprints for identity confirmation—which, frankly, I found ridiculous, but not my call, and Chester and I did all we could to get Mom’s body released (which took some doing because although cause of death was determined to be poisoning, it was still an open case), and by then all of it was plucking on my last nerve, so Chester took care of the arrangements, and of course that was before meeting with the attorney about the will, and it turned out that Chester had had a copy already (which he said Mom gave him years ago—after her first tattoo—because he was the older sibling, and I was a little hurt that neither of them had even mentioned it), but I wasn’t really surprised when the attorney said that Chester got all the houses, stock and bond portfolios, art, yachts, and personal property while I was willed my mother’s skin, and three months later Chester presented me with Mom’s tattoo tapestry as well as her thigh birds, preserved and beautifully framed, and suggested I hang them over my mantel and when I pointed out that the skin of Dad’s right bicep was already over my mantel and there wasn’t room for both of them, he offered to pay a contractor to enlarge my fireplace and mantel and I
accepted the offer, and I never suspected him of anything nefarious even though the police really zeroed in on him because he got all the money and on me because I didn’t—not understanding we each had what was most important to us—and in the weeks following, I looked often at Mom’s tattoos, weeping to see all the images and symbols so meaningful to her, until eventually I noticed the inking of the older wraparound was more vivid than the newer thigh birds, some of which were clearly fading, and I took both works to the police, who reanalyzed everything and determined that the ink on her thigh was laced with the poison that killed her, and since Carma Jane was the only person inking my mother’s body, police searches recovered poison-laced ink in my mother’s colors at Carma Jane’s studio and my mother’s preserved head mounted on her living room wall (along with an albino squirrel and a brown thrasher), and under intensive questioning, Carma Jane finally admitted everything and said it was Mom’s fault for talking about her will—not unusual for something so personal to come up during hours with someone’s hands on one’s bare body—implying a bequest for her charitable fund to support women who couldn’t afford post-mastectomy tattooing so that getting nothing enraged Carma Jane, and at the trial she shouted, “After all I did for her! She was all take and no give!” I still marvel that my mother’s tattoos not only led to her identification but also to her killer.
Untitled by Sabrina Hernandez
No Self by Stephen Massimilla
If I ask what I can get out of this poem I must be thinking of myself as the center of knowing. But if we’re each thinking this way, every one of us would have to be the center, which can’t be everywhere, so maybe we each have the poem— ourselves, the world—all wrong? Wouldn’t that thought—that we know we’ve been thinking that thought—be reason enough to rethink things? Maybe nobody in the world is thinking of me. Maybe there is no reason to think in terms of you or me. This might be the beginning of the abyss, you think, or what I think you’re thinking. And it’s exhausting. When I go to sleep, I lose this sense of mutuality. The next day, I wonder: how much—or in what way—do we need one another? Why think about how I or you appear to you or me? Isn’t the existence
of the ego a threat to creativity, besides? The goal can’t just be to get something out of this process. Surely a higher, less subjective perspective must entail a more giving sense of the mission, here in this life and in this field of speech.
from Out and About by Ricky Silva
by Sydney Summers-Knight Called me buddha because my tummy was so round; smoked cigarettes every few hours before quitting; took me to McDonaldâ€™s and got extra nuggets for a homeless boy. My mother dropped acid and hid the rest in her socks when she got pulled over; worked at Bank of America and let me into the vault; wore three-inch thick black sandals instead of heels. My mother wore brown lipsticks and purple eyeshadows; snorted meth for two months to lose weight; took me cruising with her friends to get donuts. My mother saved up to take all my cousins to the fair with us; could beat all my dadâ€™s friends in a keg stand contest; cared for a 97-year-old woman named Irene who lived up our street. My mother picked me up in a 1966 red Mustang on her lunch breaks; was afraid to leave our house for two years because of her psoriasis; earned her GED after dropping out of middle school. My mother was twelve years old, still sucking her thumb; fifteen-years-old and pregnant; thirty-three-years old and dropping me off at a dorm in San Francisco. My mother tells me I can never call myself ugly. I look just like her.
I remember the first time I put on my mother’s makeup without her permission. It wasn’t forbidden, but it was something done in the bathroom and therefore something private. I was in fourth grade and my mother had to yell at me almost every day for me to wear my training bra. I hated it, but I thought since I had to wear it that meant soon I would be wearing makeup. My mother doesn’t like to leave the house without looking entirely ready for the day. She was always like that. She told me she used to do her makeup before going to sleep because she didn’t want to be seen without it if the house caught on fire in the middle of the night and she had to go outside. I’ve always thought that was ridiculous. But I still wanted to look the way she did. We are mistaken for each other over the phone all the time, even by my father and sister. It’s worked in my favor many times, but it’s also resulted in my high school friends talking to my mom for minutes believing it was me. It isn’t so strange though. My mother and I could be sisters. My mother had me when she was very young, and I’ve been defensive about that since I was old enough to understand that our small-town booster moms treated us differently because of it. We grew up together. My mother was raising me, but she had a long way to go herself and she pushed through years of maturity fast. She told me, “Don’t be like me,” over and over. It was a warning. There was always meanness in those words but not directed towards me. I graduated high school the way she wished and then in college I started to actively try to become her. I wasn’t aware at the time at the time. I did the things she had done and told me not to do. I pierced my tongue and my nipples, as she had. I pierced my ears from top to bottom the way she did the night she got arrested when she was thirteen. I did poorly in school and couldn’t bring myself to care. I nearly dropped out. I smoked and I drank, and I sought after drugs and I thought I was being the person everyone expected me to be. Except I swore I’d never have children. My mother never considered aborting me, though I’ve thought many times that it would have been easier for her if she had. She is the mothering kind, even if motherhood came too early for her. This was the one thing I could not replicate. I can never know what it must have been like to have me the way she
did. She made sure of it. I started to question who was holding me up to these expectations I was compulsively fulfilling. I’d never sabotaged myself in my childhood attempts to be like my mother the way I did as an adult. I’d never disappointed her the way I did as an adult. I realized that at some point I had started to believe her warning. I did not heed the warning, but I believed in the way my mother saw herself. In elementary school, my mother would yell at me for forgetting my sweater or re-wearing dirty uniforms. She never wanted me to look poor. She was so worried people thought she was a bad mother. I couldn’t understand. That day she caught me putting on her eyeshadow in the bathroom she didn’t get mad. She walked up to the mirror and showed me how to do it. She handed me powder and mascara. When we finished, she asked if I wanted my own makeup and I said yes. She took me to the store and I picked out a brown lip gloss. It was just like the one she had and she laughed.
On Translation: The Angry Grapes and Chekhov by Franny Zhang
“Translator’s Note: When the violin repeats what the piano has just played, it cannot make the same sounds and it can only approximate the same chords. It can, however, make recognizably the same ‘music,’ the same air. But it can do so only when it is as faithful to the self-logic of the violin as it is to the self-logic of the piano.” —John Ciardi (trans.), Dante, Inferno (The Divine Comedy) When reading literature in translation, I wonder if any of us know what we’re in for. Sure, there are works of staggering genius that make you believe none of the original’s glory is being lost (see An Ermine in Czernopol), but for every literary luminary, there are works rife with awkward syntax and questionable word choice that all too clearly conjure the image of a poor laborer standing between you and the text, trying desperately to convey meaning across languages that cannot be conveyed. One particularly egregious case was brought to my attention when my mother casually asked me if I’d ever read an American classic called “The Angry Grapes.” It took me a moment to understand what she was saying, and when I did, I burst out with a horrified, “Do you mean The Grapes of Wrath?” She did, and ever since I’ve read literary translations with what is probably more than my daily suggested serving of salt.
If that much can be mangled in the title alone, imagine what atrocities are being committed in the text. Years later I had the chance to revisit the question of translation when I was given a chance to adapt a few Chekhov stories into an opera libretto. While doing background research, I discovered the hitherto unsuspected and fascinating world of Russian-English translations and translators. Historically, the first name that comes up regarding such translations is Constance Garnett. She was an English woman born in 1861 who took up Russian lessons in her thirties and went on to translate seventy-one works of Russian literature, including first translations of Dostoevsky and Chekhov. The volume of her output is impressive, and she continued to translate into her seventies despite ill health and blindness, but she remains a controversial figure due to her proclivity for skipping words or sections she found confusing and censoring passages she considered indecent. Given these practices, one has to wonder how much of an “angry grapes” situation we have on our hands. In spite of Garnett’s flaws, every Russian-English translator since she has had to contend with her legacy by either following her lead or striking out on their own. In recent years, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have emerged as translation powerhouses; they began translating expressly because Volokhonsky couldn’t abide David Magarshak’s Garnett-influenced rendering of Dostoevsky. The couple’s first translation was published in 1990, and they have won awards such as the PEN/BOMC Translation Prize for their work. Like Garnett, they have been criticized, but their translations are generally considered to capture more of the original’s flavor and have proved popular. Like, Oprah picked one for her Book Club popular. While the backstory is interesting, so is the actual story. I was curious to compare these different translations for myself, and I decided to analyze the Chekhov story I know best, “The Lady with the Dog.” This short story centers on a summer romance between Dmitri Dmitritch
Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna and the unexpected outcomes of that affair. Or at least it does in Garnett’s version. In Pevear and Volokhonsky the story “The Lady With the Little Dog’’ instead focuses on the characters Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov and Anna Sergeevna. It can’t be easy to translate Cyrillic, but I was not reassured by the lack of consensus on basic information like the size of a dog or the spelling of the main characters’ names. Cosmetic issues aside, there are also matters of substance that vary between these translations. For example, our protagonist Gurov starts the story as a dime-store misogynist who, in Garnett’s translation, considers women to be “the lower race.” This is not a promising introduction to our hero, but Pevear and Volokhonsky go even further. In their translation Gurov refers to women as “an inferior race!” with a break giving the statement the added emphasis of its own line. The word choice, punctuation, and break are all deliberate decisions that call attention to Gurov’s state of mind at the story’s beginning. By establishing his cynic and aromantic nature more strongly, Pevear and Volokhonsky give Gurov an extra layer to work against in his relationship with Anna and ultimately make his narrative arc more interesting. Garnett’s version is perfectly adequate, but Pevear and Volokhonsky’s is more curated, pointed, and precise. Pevear and Volokhonsky’s use of emphasis can also be seen after Gurov meets Anna. Following an afternoon with her, Gurov recalls her appearance in private, making note of her “delicate neck” (Garnett) or her “weak neck” (Pevear and Volokhonsky). While these words may turn up in the same thesaurus search, they give wildly different impressions to the reader. “Delicate” can be and often is used to praise women; “weak” generally is not. Garnett’s use of “delicate” makes it possible to read this scene as the beginning of Gurov’s attraction to Anna, despite his other critiques of her person and character. In contrast, “weak” has none of this attractive possibility. It instead harkens back to “inferior”
and creates a direct narrative line between the way Gurov views all women and the way he views Anna initially; a tie absent in Garnett. In addition, there is a visceral unpleasantness to the phrase “weak neck,” perhaps because it inevitably suggests a neck that can be easily broken. Body frailty and human frailty are both on display in this version, and this switch from “delicate” to “weak” was the change that struck me most when comparing the two translations—especially as it relates to the fraught situation Gurov and Anna will soon find themselves in. Near the end of the story, in the aftermath of various tribulations and epiphanies, Gurov finally comes to understand how much Anna means to him. Garnett portrays this scene as one in which “the shoulders on which his hands rested were warm and quivering. He felt compassion for this life, still so warm and lovely, but probably already not far from beginning to fade and wither like his own.” Alternatively, Pevear and Volokhonsky translate this scene as, “the shoulders on which his hands lay were warm and trembled. He felt compassion for this life, still so warm and beautiful, but probably already near the point where it would begin to fade and wither, like his own life.” The two translations differ in only relatively innocuous ways, but this passage is more effective in Pevear and Volokhonsky due to the choices they made beforehand. “Wither” directly recalls the bodily fragility of “weak,” which, in turn, recalls “inferior.” Pevear and Volokhonsky have consistently grounded us in Gurov’s awareness of flaws, and that awareness, even in this moment, is what allows his changed perspective to shine out with startling clarity. Even at the end of the story, Gurov’s focus on flawed humanity remains, but it is no longer what defines his relationship with Anna. Rather than scorning the weakness he detects in her, Gurov is moved to feel compassion and love—a transformation that might have seemed impossible for the man at the story’s beginning. This arc is still present in Garnett’s version, but the consistency and emphasis of Pevear and Volokhonsky allows it to emerge with greater strength and ultimately to the story’s
benefit. However, this is not to say that I’m wholly in favor of Pevear and Volokhonsky’s interpretation. For one, I find it impossible to accept that they translated the titular dog as “Spitz” rather than “Pomeranian,” as Garnett did. To my knowledge, Spitz is the name of a family of dogs rather than a single breed, and I find this lack of precision confusing. I find it difficult to understand why they chose vagueness over specificity in this case, even as they translated the title as “Little Dog” rather than “Dog.” This trading of generalities and specifics seems to offer little value to the story and is difficult for me to excuse, even as I celebrate Pevear and Volokhonsky’s other achievements. I may have been hard on Garnett, as so many people are, but I am grateful to her as well. The stories I used for my opera libretto are ones that only Garnett has ever translated. Without her I could not have read them, much less use them, and that would have been a distinct loss to me. In the end, this may be the great defense against all naysayers of translation. What else are we to do? None of us can learn all languages and read all originals, and we have to make our peace with translations that we know fall short of the original. Perhaps there is a lesson there from Gurov, Chekhov, and the history of translators as well: to know that flaws exist and will always exist, but to experience and love anyway. This outlook gives me hope even for flaws as laughable and tragic as “The Angry Grapes.” If Russian-English translation is any indication, the story does not end when the first version is published. It seems likely that someday a Chinese-speaker who loves The Grapes of Wrath will encounter the translation with dismay and take it upon themselves to improve it. They will have to navigate difficulties like there being no word for “wrath” in Chinese since there is no corresponding religious connotation, but I firmly believe that they will find a way to do better. I can hardly wait for the day my mother asks if I’ve ever read an American classic called “The Grapes of Divine Fury.”
from Sit by Hannah Loftus
COUNTING THE WAYS by Alan Gartenhaus
The thud sent me racing to look out windows closed tightly against frosty north winds. Abandoning my homework, I bolted into the evening’s dark without stopping for a coat. Tire tracks in a fresh dusting of snow led to a car smashed against an oak tree on our neighbor’s lawn, its front end crumpled. Inside a woman lay motionless; the back of her seat had collapsed. Since the driver’s door had jammed, I crawled to the passenger side. I waved my hand in front of the woman’s face. She did not respond. In the soft glow of the car’s dim interior light, and to my twelve-year-old eyes, the lady looked beautiful and quite possibly dead. When I hesitantly touched her shoulder, she moaned. “Stay still,” I told her, working to project a calm I did not feel. “I’m going to get help.” Unaware that the neighbor whose tree she’d hit was standing directly behind me, I was startled when he said, “Already called. They’re on their way.” I turned toward him. He shook his head. “I’ve been expecting something like this to happen. People take that curve way too fast.” The woman moaned again and tried to sit up but only managed to lift her shoulders and tilt her head back a bit. As she did, I saw blood seep out from a gash under her chin. I pulled off my shirt, wadded it up, and held it against her wound, hoping to stop the bleeding. “Don’t think you should touch her,” my neighbor said. “You could get in trouble.” Drawn by the woman’s vulnerability, I leaned over and kissed her forehead as my parents had done to me when I’d been sick. I whispered, “They’ll be here soon.” She smiled slightly. Her hand found my arm. Once the ambulance arrived, someone pulled me from the car and deposited me on the curb, draping a blanket over my shoulders. Everything from then on happened fast. What I remember best is shivering in the icy darkness as two men in blue uniforms removed the woman from the car and placed her on a gurney. They slid her into the ambu-
lance and drove away with the siren blaring while I sat with my arms wrapped around my chest, desperate for my parents to return home from their early dinner out. *** My father explained to the nurse behind the emergency room desk that I had helped the woman in a one-car accident who was brought in a few hours earlier. The nurse nodded, humming her acknowledgment. “Sorry, but I’m unable to tell you anything about that person without authorization.” My father had warned me that the hospital might not be allowed to tell us anything. Defeated, I dropped down onto one of the waiting room’s sticky vinyl chairs. “Wait here,” Dad said. “No sense in both of us freezing. I’ll get the car. Look for me in a few minutes.” After he left, the nurse walked out from behind her desk and took the seat next to me. She leaned near and, in a low voice, said, “You did the right thing, putting pressure on her wound.” The nurse held out a small pad of paper and a pencil. “Write down your name and phone number. I’m sure she will want to thank you when she’s feeling better.” *** Weeks passed. We’d received no word. The fate of the woman in the accident haunted me. Thoughts of her distracted me from my schoolwork. She woke me up at night. I dreamt of her modest smile, of her holding my arm, and of her frightful injury. Had I actually helped her or done something to worsen her outcome? Exhausted by the fixation, I went to my father, who was sitting in his den. “Can I ask you a question?” He removed his eyeglasses and pointed to the chair across from him. I cleared my throat. I could feel my cheeks flush. “How do you know if you’ve fallen in love with someone?” I could tell that he hadn’t expected that question. “Is this about a girl at school?” I shook my head. “It’s about the lady in the car wreck. I can’t
stop thinking about her. She’s on my mind all the time. Does that mean I’m in love with her?” My father closed his book. He began to chuckle but stopped when he saw how serious I was. “Caring about an injured stranger is called compassion.” He nodded. “It’s a good thing to feel. It’s the kind of concern that a doctor has for his patients.” He cocked his head. “Maybe you should think about a career in medicine.” “But what about being in love?” My father pushed himself back in his chair and sat straighter. “I guess compassion could be thought of as a kind of love. There are many kinds.” Before I could say anything, he continued, “You love Maxwell, don’t you?” Maxwell was our black Labrador retriever. “And you love your mother. Two different kinds of love. See?” He walked over and rubbed the top of my head. “And there’s a big difference between having love for someone and being in love with that person.” He returned to his chair and picked up his book. I nodded thoughtfully, trying to appear as though I’d understood, but his explanation hadn’t chased away my confusion nor did it diminish recurring thoughts of her. *** When told to report to the vice-principal’s office, I assumed that my lack of attentiveness in class had at last landed me in trouble. Since the accident I was often distracted. Mr. Morton, the school disciplinarian, was famous for making students wait in the hallway before seeing him. He referred to it as “stewing time.” While I was stewing, it occurred to me that I might be here because the woman in the accident had died. My next thought was that I had been responsible. I walked into Mr. Morton’s office, my stomach knotted and my mouth dry. A big man, Mr. Morton’s presence dominated the room. He wore dark-framed glasses and spoke in a deep, gravelly voice. He barely glanced at me before pointing at one of the two chairs in front of his large, mahogany desk. I sat silently, avoiding eye contact by staring at his
framed photographs, intercom equipment, and black telephone, which he picked up. “Have her come in.” A woman with pulled-back hair and plain features walked in. She sat in the other chair. Assuming that she was a counselor or psychologist, I returned her smile and braced myself for bad news. “Kenny, I imagine you’re glad to see this lady again,” Mr. Morton said. I had no idea what he was talking about. Besides wanting everyone to call me Ken and not Kenny any longer, simply hearing him say my name filled me with dread. When I didn’t respond, he seemed confused. “Ms. Blackburn is the lady who had the accident across from your house.” Now I was confused. This lady looked far older and not nearly as beautiful as the woman I remembered. “Ms. Blackburn still has some trouble talking because of her injuries, but she very much wished to speak with you.” “Hi, Kenny,” she said, her voice a breathy rasp. She lifted her head and pointed to a raw and reddish, raised scar that wrapped around the front of her neck. “They said that this is where I hit the steering wheel.” She traced the scar with her finger. “I don’t remember much of what happened, but I heard that you had helped me. I wanted to thank you.” The wound confirmed her as the person in the accident. I felt pride and relief but also disappointment. *** After that meeting life snapped back into place. Thoughts of Ms. Blackburn dwindled to few, eclipsed by homework, math and history tests, running cross-country, and a request from my English teacher that I audition for a part in our school play. I’d never considered acting before, and while her faith in me was flattering, it was also intimidating. The part was not the lead, but it was an important one, with quite a few lines of dialogue. In the audition scene my character proposes to his girlfriend
and kisses her. Laura Stadtler, who was in the class ahead of me, had already been cast in the part of the girlfriend. While waiting for the audition to begin, I confessed to her that I didn’t know anything about acting. She told me to believe what that character says and to try to feel what the character is feeling. Okay, I thought, amused, this is the girl I want to marry. Reciting the lines went well. We both spoke with conviction of our devotion to each other and of spending our lives together. But when it was time to kiss, I froze. I’d had little experience. I closed my eyes, hardened my lips, and puckered, the way I had when kissing my grandmother. I wasn’t sure how else to do this, especially with others watching. Laura set her hands on my shoulders and gently pulled me closer. She kissed me, though the script had called for me to kiss her. Unlike how I held my lips, hers were relaxed and soft and her mouth opened slightly. As we kissed, my whole body responded. “Wow,” was all I could say, although the script did not call for that either. After the audition I gathered my belongings and walked out of the gymnasium. “Wait,” Laura called, jogging to catch up with me. “I didn’t get to thank you for taking care of my mother.” “Your mother?” She nodded. “When she hit that tree near your house.” “That was your mother? I thought the lady’s name was Blackburn.” “Her maiden name. She uses it.” Laura leaned forward and kissed me again, this time on the cheek. “I can’t tell you how much my family and I appreciate what you did.” My heart hit against my chest. As I looked into Laura’s brown eyes, I again wondered, was this love?
2% Milk, 2% American by JoliAmour DuBose-Morris
I was probably going to write a poem or maybe even a screenplay. If I didn’t do that, most likely I would’ve sent in my “What is My Realism?” poem because it is the only poem that I’ve ever written about myself identifying as a Black pre-woman. I say pre because I definitely feel like I’m more than ‘girl’ but there is some knowledge to understand before I become a woman. Like, semi-colons. I believe I know how to use them but then when I’m trying to prove that I’m more sophisticated than I am; I just maximize on them. Semi-colons aren’t the basis of what I’m going to write about because obviously that says nothing about me. The way I thought I represented myself as a black pre-woman was by having a fro and making sure that I gave thanks to National Black leaders during the month we all infamously know. I joined Black Student Union. I bought an eighty-dollar kit from Ancestry that I never used. And I was so excited when it arrived because I could only imagine the answers that I would receive. Was I: Brazilian? German? Ethiopian? Ghanan? Italian? Zimbabwean? And then I opened it, searched it up on the internet, and for some reason, all of the courage that I mustered and the imaginations that I spent prophesying on what it will mean to be ‘Black’ soon disappeared and fell to the wayside. I gave it to Elias, an Argentinian boy that I met. He didn’t know if he was more white than Hispanic and for a while seemed comfortable calling himself ‘goya-boy’ or a Spicy-white. He was just confused as I was, and I knew from the moment I put it
away—I wasn’t going to use it. He sent me the results, and deep down I did fester a jealousy because ya know, those could’ve been my results. His twenty-two percent of Native American and German-Hispanic regions could’ve been my revelation. I could have been able to contact my mother and tell her, “We’re more than just Southern Black-Americans.” Yet, then I also think: does it really matter? Does any of it matter? Sure, I’d find out about what I was, but it didn’t have a map of where I was from. Would I be overjoyed or upset? Now knowing that perhaps so many percentages meant -- I don’t have a clue of where my ancestors rested their eyes. I didn’t have an idea of what home meant because it was taken away. And so, maybe, hypothetically if I did use that kit and I walked down the street and still wore headscarves like I used to in my Sophomore year and other Black girls asked what I was and I listed a whole bunch of shit to amaze them; what would it really mean? I was calling myself question mark black. I just moved here from New York. When you say New York do you mean like—the state or like, New York, New York? Honestly the weirdest question I have ever received. I didn’t really understand why it was a question, but it made sense. The people from the state do act different. It’s a strange sight to walk around campus and everyone comes from a different background. San Francisco apparently is the place where those who couldn’t identify with overcrowded competition; a massive amount of sometimes pretentious artsy liberals come. It’s because we were all a bit scared to try out our careers in places the cities were known for. I went to a Media Studies meeting where there were three girls—I never asked where they were from—talking about how San Francisco should be more advertised for its arts. All of this “LA and New York” but we all knew what we were getting ourselves into when a university has three hundred people for a major in Management and all of the Media
Studies kids fill up two small rows and we all look a bit unsure of what we’re actually doing here. When you search up San Francisco, you see: the Golden Gate Bridge, white people, Ghirardelli, homeless, and Haight Street. And if you’re my Media Studies professor, you search up other shit like summer festivals in San Francisco from the 1970s. Being here, for the past six weeks, I’ve started to understand how the Americanness that I thought I professed was very much different from others. Where girls from Portland bragged about their “cancel culture” and the lingo was “baby!” in a high-pitched voice—a sentence filler that somehow was supposed to expand on the conversation. Living here meant everyone waited to cross the street and smiled at the person who walked past them. Living here I learned that some people thought being a “broke college student” was a personality trait. Once I stepped off that plane my Americanness decreased and I barely even had it in the first place. Anything, any store that I depended on living in Jamaica, Queens was no longer just around the corner. I asked about beauty supplies stores and the answer was Ulta. I asked about 99 cent stores and they didn’t exist. Bodegas didn’t exist. Just tiny grocery marts that looked like the Manhattan version of delis. And then I realized that no one really living here had the experiences that I had. It seemed like now, every time I walked into a grocery store with other girls, I just became quiet. When they rummaged through the the aisles and picked out Kombucha, lime Tostito chips, hummus, cool whip and other things; I was just there. When my other friends who were on a hunt to scavenge their munchies in Target and they bought pumpkin themed cookie dough, vegan popcorn and sugar cookies and I was just there. I bought brownies because it seemed acceptable. At the other places I didn’t buy anything. In contrast to those who said they were “broke college students” I was getting low-amount Chase bank statements every time I purchased something. For a week I was going to and from with twelve dollars in my bank account. And the irony happens to
be that I’m the only one who spent the month of September trying to get a job, finally did and somehow still can’t think ‘grab and go’. I look at my food plan and think, “Maybe I’ve spent too much,” but then you add up factors like my mother only having $100 to buy me school supplies and how I was buying her lunch or the fact that I can’t store anything useful like fruit or milk because I don’t have a fridge and to top it all off—I live in a single. So you add that up, then you also calculate the Targets, the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods established throughout the Bay Area. Then you place me in one of those grocery store aisles and see that the only thing I can now identify with is now cereal and 2% milk. The humorously bitter part about this whole math equation is that there are Black Beauty supply stores. Yet they’re nowhere located near the suburban areas of Fulton. They’re not on Haight Street, or Church, or Eddy Street. They’re on Polk. My manager, Malcolm, says that’s an area near the Tenderloin. When I went there, that’s apparently where the delis were too. Yet I wouldn’t cross the street and see regular tourists holding ice cream cones and shopping bags. Every inch of space that covered the granite was cluttered by wheelchairs and tents. Dirty blankets and little huddles of homeless people. And if they weren’t white heroin addicts, they were black people that looked like my family members. And that’s the ironic part. The only stores I seemed to understand growing up, where you can get 50 cent brownies instead of paying $3.99 for a bucket of them, Cantu products, and little NIVEA cream happened to be in the worst inhabitance. And that every time my foot touched the pavement it was in a speed because I was scared. It was like I couldn’t be relieved that there were others who needed stores like me because I was afraid of their struggle. There weren’t just delis and beauty supply stores, there were liquor stores and
cluttered alleys, since obviously the tents which flooded across the sidewalk aren’t because people were camping. Like I said, when you searched up San Francisco you saw: The Golden Gate Bridge, white people, and the homeless. It’s ironic how a city with so many houses could have one of the highest homeless populations. The majority of those who looked like a version of me, or had hair with a kink like mine were in that unfortunate population. And I was afraid of their rage. They also seemed to have lost their Americanness. As if it ever existed. On Wednesdays, I would sit in the third chair of the first row for a four-hour class. That class being the only one that reminded me of my blackness. It also reminded me that just like how W.E.B DuBois once phrased; I too had double consciousness. This being, every time we watched a film, when the credits rolled I sat back and thanked God for the only information I knew about myself in an enrichment (me being black). Watching I Am Not Your Negro and feeling like all of the questions I had were finally answered. Yet, for every other day of the week, it was as if it vanished. That every other day that I wasn’t in Black Cinema, I was reminded that saying satirical things about white people were okay some of the time, because if you continued to scratch at the same surface, disdain would grow in their expressions and it became hard to overlook. And then you watched certain people, like this boy that had become infamous in our conversations, because he swarmed himself amongst white girls. There was a time when him and his friend had sat down at our table and we all talked about music and he expressed how Nas was one of the greatest artists of all time, and when I told him I adored southern rap and the 2000s era—we connected. With the girls that we knew not understanding the culture of hip hop (that wasn’t a bad thing) we simply were able to look at each other, wanting to say, “You get it.” But we didn’t. Since we both knew what roles we played, yet maybe
I’m being judgmental to say that I think he chose to be the token Black friend, and for him it did give him more freedom than I had to state opinions because certain topics he knew more about than his friends. But we still knew when we would have to water down what we actually felt. Moreover, there wasn’t really a moral or a message to understand. To simplify, Black people have never received a moral to their story, if anything there always seemed to be a problem and an overwhelming climax. Like how my Afro-Latina friend Averi and I felt the only way for us to understand each other is only if we talked about our hardships. Yet Black people in general are more than their hardships. And maybe I don’t identify with what it means to be an American, but for every welfare statement, every time I’ve stood in a grocery line and paid with a food stamp card, every ‘Dress For Less’ sale and cereal that came in a bag comes family reunions, awakening to house music on a Saturday and knowing you were cleaning the bathroom, going to Black church, the food, feeling empowered every time a Biopic about a Black leader is produced, understanding how to pop, lock and drop it-- there’s power. And so much love. The question to the poem that I had talked about earlier, “What is My Realism?” is simple. I’m 2% American most likely, I have a French first name, and I am Black from every minute to every hour. Percentages don’t matter because honestly, fuck math. I’m not question mark Black, it’s ridiculous to think I’d ever question who I was in the first place.
Beyond Harm by Carolina Ocanto
Thirty feet off the shore a hammock and two chairs float on a wooden block. The spanish word for waterproof is impermeable and my mother holds up a ruptured plastic bag. It is day, not the other time. Midnight of growing news not captured by the mint bush. I sink my book to the bottom of the bag. In the water my legs sting, but I’m mostly unafraid because my mother is fifty and a strong swimmer. She holds my book above her head, while we pass the beginning rocks only inches from our knees. Heartbeats travel to swallows, my body a surging flood and another living thing, my mother says, “only a fish”. I take the book from her. I can’t look up at it or I start to slip under the water. To anyone, it could be an epi-pen or Bible. On the block, I unwrap my book. My mother and I are leaking. Her hair is plastered around her face. The book is the very same. Miraculous and stone dry.
Mirror Reflections by Angie Walls
When I was four, my Chinese mother had high hopes for me to become a ballerina; her inspiration at the time had been the Rockettes. Eventually this would be one of many letdowns. For many girls, ballet was a rite of passage, a chapter marked by pink tights and fluffy tutus. It turned out different for me. Over years, I came to learn how ballet dancers on stage were part of a spectacular illusion, floating on the air as light as a feather, wearing smiles so fiercely burned into their cheek muscles. Peel back the satin pink shoes, and you would find the secret behind a dancer’s perfect balance en pointe, wrapped beneath bloody bandages. In the pursuit of beauty, there lies the required art of pain. Those early years were innocent, but the most impressionable. As young girls, we were taught to believe in the idea of transformation, every day we stepped onto the floor. How easy it became to bend over backwards, twist your torso, extend your arms and legs while you’re young. During warm-ups, we led with the seated butterfly stretch, one of many positions we were told would make womanhood more bearable years down the road. In the act of forming wings with our legs, our hips and inner leg muscles were gaining in strength. I could extend my right leg high into the air, while balancing tall on the other. Then as my range of motion grew with patience and practice, I found that this newfound command over my body redefined what I thought I could do. The mag-
ical metamorphosis seemed possible, but the deep transition into a longer journey towards perfection was just beginning. The passing of seasons did not offer more confidence or joy. And the longer I kept with the program, I found more to fear. The dance floor was quicksand. In the floor-to-ceiling mirror, the lights were blinding bright. From the moment I entered the room, the temperature chilled my bare arms, leaving behind a trail of tiny bumps. Although after a few minutes of leg warm-ups, the cold would be the furthest thing from my mind. The music would not stop for me, rather it plunged me forward into my discomfort. Around this moment, I found I had entered a more demanding level of instruction built around technical proficiency. I had to be confronted with and crumbled by my flaws. I was afraid to look into the mirror next to the barre, but it overwhelmed me in every direction. I could not escape myself or my mother’s unmistakable expression in the back of the room, where she sat among dozens of parents as we performed for them. Too many eyes were watching—some appeared to peer with curiosity or enjoyment, while my mother wore such rigidity all over her body, cringing at my inelegance. I was old enough to recognize this cast of disappointment, because it would always be there, with or without ballet. In the mirror, I did not know what I was, other than out of place. Seeing the blonde girls to my immediate left and right, there were the small differences I noticed being the dark-haired half Asian girl, that I was the oddity in the room. Over and over, I would feel the same firm hand on my back from my dance teacher, who prodded me because I had poor posture. She steered the corrections in my arms and back, not with soft suggestions but absolute warning. This simple touch to my skin, it startled me, because I feared my mother was counting the number of times I was being tapped on the shoulder. This was a standard expec-
tation of ballet class. We were to become movable dolls, being grabbed by the bare flesh and adjusted. Our arms rotated until they found the right position. While we were in the beginner stages, we needed to be instructed on form while we were in motion, from step to step, how we appeared; when our butts needed to be tucked, toes pointing, and our backs arched. In whispering voices, the other girls took notice while checking the placement of their own hands in the mirror. The distant stares and giggling were lemon juice to a fresh cut. For every time I got called out meant they did not, which was just another way of keeping score. When the teacher passed the line of us, I held my breath, and hoped it would not be my turn. The air stuck in my lungs. I felt my mother’s disappointed eyes follow me as I straightened my stance. The memory of getting caught with slumped shoulders did not end with ballet class. It was a panic that hit me every time I sat down in a chair, or stood in a long line, my mother would call me out on it. I had the worst posture for a dancer, and most of the time it was the fear of getting caught that made me improve. As the weeks led up to the performance day, we would anticipate the costumes, designed on a theme each season. There were sequins, lace, and tulle of many cheerful colors—often yellow, red, and pink—but conventionally constrained and prickly material. I spurned to think about the hours in the dressing room, my mother coating my skin with all the discomforts required by the pre-show rituals. I choked on the aerosol spray that thickened the air. My eyes teared up and burned as the mascara darkened my eyes. My scalp ached from my hair pulled stiff into a bun, fastened with hundreds of bobby pins to maintain its perfect shape. In the mirror, I did not know the creature staring back. With time, I had to learn how to see my own image in small parts, when I could not recognize the fullness of it. I focused on my dark brown eyes, apprehensive and afraid, counting down the seconds until the curtain closing.
The other dancers openly gravitated to the stage, graceful and delicate. The audience applauded for them, the beautiful ones. There was a confidence built in their bones as they stiffened their backs, arched their necks. While I, on the other hand, was the defective type of girl. I quietly stared at my feet on stage, with my head bowed down to the floor, searching for my tape (x marks the spot). I wanted to vanish, out of the light, behind the curtains, while the striving dancers awaited the music to set things in motion. In class, we were given the same colors, purple and green, though some were meant to be mermaids while I was the seaweed. As we neared the finale, the music became more arresting. The shock took hold of my fragile limbs, as hard as I was fighting it. When the tempo advanced, it was so fast I could not look to the girl next to me as a guide. I was falling behind the beat, causing disharmony on stage. I lost my place, drifting, unsure of my own limbs. At the end of the night—and then a second time in the next ballet class—I would be reminded of these flimsy moments on stage. My dance teacher and then my mother, they would turn out to be such exact recordkeepers. After I turned twelve, ballet taught me something unexpected: how frail the body could be. Apply enough pressure, and muscles proved to tire out. Toenails bled and tore. My feet were uninterruptedly sore. A burning, a pinching, or a sharp shooting pain. Weekly, I went through boxes of bandages, wrapping the blisters on my toes before having to shove them back into my dance shoes. Knees were weak and yielding, unpredictable when they needed to be steady. The day I began dancing pointe, I discovered the next level of suffering, perching on tiptoe. All the blood rushed out of your toes once it began, and the numbness set in. Numbness was a relief, that did not
come enough. Pointe shoes had been a terrible creation, dating back to the late 1700s. On the outside, looks could be entirely deceiving, as the shoe was pink, made of soft satin, with two ribbons that wrapped around the ankle and tied into a tiny bow. But inside, my toes were forced to mash into a rigid contraption called the box, in order to achieve the ideals of perfect balance. I won’t forget the sensation, like jamming your toes against a wood board. I found ways to grind down and bear such sensations, because pain was something to be learned and molded. It happened in waves, to go on an extra ten minutes or thirty, before I would let myself collapse from my feet. Then I could ignore the body’s signs of stopping, the shaking or the dizziness. When pain truly came in such penetrating bites, the best thing was to inhale. Thrust it down inside your gut. The worst thing you could possibly do was exhale it out through your lips and let it be heard. One day, strength would be found after calluses had formed and old wounds healed. The problem was how the act of changing oneself was fated to fall short. In the end, I could not shed my own skin and become something else entirely. I was fourteen when I gave up ballet, to her dismay. My mother, who had been a painter in another life, had an eye for beautiful things. Even if she no longer painted, there existed proof in various corners of our home, above the couch in our living room and the basement. I had come to terms with the idea that no matter how much I contorted my body, danced until I bled, or dressed in the glittering or jeweled costumes, I might never live up to the ideal. Through my understanding as I grew up, my mother seemed to have simpler terms of beauty. A clear division of the world, with no gray lines.
In those days of growing up, I would look in the mirror, but did not know how to see myself—what should be a simple image in front of me. Biologically speaking, the retina is constantly translating the visual information of the world to our brains. It commits hundreds of people and places to memory, only the image of myself has been the one I could not count on. Every occasion, it felt like a trick, that it could not be me staring back. As a child, I hoped for the real me to arrive. Five seconds used to be a lifetime, and sometimes I must force myself to look for longer without turning the opposite direction. Pain lives in the body, for years. It maps its way through the skin, muscle, and bone, never far enough away. Yet it is the emotional damage that tends to last the longest, and when I look in the mirror now, I tend to focus on my dark brown eyes staring back. In early adulthood, I felt this big sigh of relief, when I no longer felt the corrective tap on my shoulder or saw the reflection of my mother watching. But somehow, it manifested into a more troubling realization. It was me tapping my own shoulder. It was me staring back with critical eyes. Ballet, and the dreams of my mother, has left a lasting imprint on my life. So it continues to demand an unfamiliar practice from me: to entirely behold and know my reflection, and be satisfied.
Love’s Letter by Sky Garcilasodelavega
When you were little, we would jump and skip at the sound of the ice cream truck and your mom’s car door shutting at the end of her long workdays. We also jumped at the scary movies you weren’t allowed to watch, and the times the teacher called on you and you weren’t paying attention. We jumped a lot. Well, I jumped. And when I jumped, I would occupy the entirety of your chest cavity. I would expand like a balloon and pop causing your ribs to ache for a fraction of a second. And in that second you felt the most alive. The first time you kissed your crush, I popped the same as I had before but this time, I tickled your stomach. I sang merrily tunes down into your hollows, we felt dizzy and you asked him to hold you tighter to hold you steady. Those movies you always watched told you your first crush, your first kiss would feel like butterflies in your stomach. But what you felt had nothing to do with your stomach. It was all me. I did not send butterflies but rather filled you with whispers that had wings. Whispers that made you promises and kissed your innards and reinflated that balloon in your chest. The first time he kissed your thighs, I felt heavy, heavy like a sponge soaked with water. I dripped. You begged him for more and so more he gave. Your bedroom door was locked or so you thought it was until your father came rushing in quicker than the boy between your legs could rush out. I jumped. I skipped. I popped.
The first time he said, “I love you”, I stopped. I held your tongue and pulled on your vocal cords. I screamed so that your brain could not think, I dropped down into the pit of your stomach and your chest felt empty. I held on as long as I could, your mouth agape, hoping at some point a sound would come out. “I love you too” finally. You forced the words out as I settled back behind your ribs. I hid there while your brain did the work. The brain was always a much better liar than I was.
Old ladies rowing through the Grand Canal docks by D.S. Maolalai
there is this race on. in the dock boats pull like water beetles. some chinese-inspired dragon boat thing; the head of each boat is a carved face, tongue out like the mouth of a king charles terrier. the crew all old ladies—well, older than you usually see at sport; all in their 50s and 60s young enough to go rowing but beyond the age most people would expect
exercise. it is some charity thing thrown together for hobbyists. a drummer beating an easy rhythm and probably not much of a prize. the boats are 3 meters long and slim and the rowers get decent speed moving. on the shore people watch with the interest of nothing else going on. it’s dublin; none of the past tension once inevitable on seeing longships being driven to shore. the oars clacking like bricks being laid too late in a defensive wall.
Crumbling by Mary Lou Grace Robison
Shifting the Borders: My Transbutch Herstory by Yansa Gardner
Foreword This was an article I originally published in on my Medium account Bulldaggerblues in August 2019. At the time, this was my first instance of being public about how I have ended up identifying myself. I was nervous, but felt it was extremely important to publish. I know so many transbutches who remain in the dark and I wanted to let them know it’s ok to be themselves. This version is an edited version—mostly correcting for grammatical errors and fixing my delivery. If anyone wishes to contact me, you can email me at email@example.com. Enjoy. Introduction In figuring out what I wanted to write about next, I decided to write about a topic that has become increasingly relevant to me in the past year: transbutchness. In early 2018, I began to seriously consider medical transition, specifically testosterone-based hormone replacement therapy (HRT). At the same time, I felt disgruntled with labels. Non-binary worked for a while, but it never felt correct, not specific enough. I had also been told that the word “transmasculine” was not for me, so I avoided using it despite feeling fond of it. One day I randomly stumbled across the word “transbutch” but being used in a way that seemed
Portrait of Leslie Feinberg
so foreign to me. The author, Jen Manion, used it to refer to assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) butches who were dysphoric, had previously, or wanted to, undergo medical transition, bound, but retained their connection to butchness (a lesbian masculinity) and womanhood. In one way, I felt relieved to see a documented history of butches exactly like me, but I was also wary. I felt that I was treading into territory that was not mine, as I thought any combination of butch and trans strictly implied a trans butch lesbian â€” a group of trans women â€” many of whom very much exist in my life, and who I am deeply grateful for helping me come into my own. I did not immediately use it, but instead did further research to see where this history comes from. The most cited examples of transbutchness come from the works of Leslie Feinberg and Jack Halberstam, both authors and activists who have written about what could be described as transbutchness to varying degrees. Additionally, I came across the book, A Herstory of Transmasculine Identities by Michael Eric Brown, which is an anthology of transmasculine people detailing their lives and complicated herstory with lesbianism, feminism, transsexuality, oppression, and many other issues. I have since been exploring this specific niche of LGBT politics
and history trying to understand myself in a complicated and confusing world. I have not finished reading Brown’s anthology, but I will be using some of his words to help articulate how I and some other transmasculine, especially transbutch, folks like me feel in regard to our lives and identities. After months of questioning labels and experiencing close to a year of medical and social transition, I have now confidently decided to claim myself as transmasculine, transbutch, and a lesbian. I personally feel that I have spent too much time trying to shrink myself and make myself digestible to other people. As such, I am writing and publishing this article not just for myself, but also for those like me, for the other transbutches and transmasculine lesbians I know and love. Similarly, I hope that others with complex identities can find some solace in my words. I am done caring how others feel about my identity, my actions, my life. This is not about anyone else or any other demographic but me and those who relate to my words. If you are not LGBT, or are confused by my self-conception, that is ok. I merely ask that you do not try to use my words and my experiences to draw large conclusions about other people. This is specifically pertaining to me, and me alone. With that all said, I would like to thank all of the wonderful transbutches and dysphoric lesbians in my life for giving me the courage to put what I feel into words—you know who you are. Defining Our Words: Transmasculine Transmasculine is a word with many definitions. At its simplest, I have seen it defined as anyone assigned-female-at-birth who is trans or non-binary and identifies with masculinity. The use of “masculinity” here can vary from person to person. Some take it to mean “man” or “manlike”, that being that a transmasculine person is AFAB, but whose gender is “closer” to manhood on the gender spectrum. Others may use it to refer to certain AFAB non-binary people whose gender is mascu-
line but is not explicitly a man in the way a (trans) man is. Some do not really care how others define it and acknowledge its varied usage. For me, transmasculine is simply a word I use to describe my material conditions. I am someone who was assigned-female, is dysphoric, and has decided to undergo “masculinizing” transition, but do not specifically claim (trans) manhood, because I do not consider myself a man. I bind, I am on testosterone, and use resources used by trans men and transmasc people. It also helps me articulate the relationship and brotherhood I have with trans men and other transmasc people. I know a handful of trans men and transmascs, all of whom have helped me with transition when I have asked. They have accepted me as a friend, a brother, and as someone of a somewhat similar experience, even in my retained claim to lesbian identity and a gender unlike theirs. In A Herstory of Transmasculine Identities, it is acknowledged that the constructions and experiences of transmasculine people is complex. There are many intriguing ideas outlined first few chapters, but I am focused on two main ideas: transmasculine-lesbian identity and transmasculine claims to Herstory. I will explore these ideas in relation to myself later on. For deeper reading, I would highly recommend reading the words of Brown himself, as I am only using a sliver of such for this article. Defining Our Words: Transbutch Much like transmasculine, transbutch is a word with multiple meanings. For awhile I assume it referred exclusively to butch trans lesbians, whose own history sadly has very little accessible documentation. The first and really only documentation I found of butch trans womanhood was Xanthra Phillippa’s 1995 poem “‘Cause I’m a TS Butch”. I have known many trans butch lesbians in my life who I am forever grateful for for helping me come into my own. I do hope to try and undercover more trans lesbian herstory in the future. For the purposes of this article
however, I will be writing about my brand transbutch — that detailed by Manion, Brown, and Halberstam. My first exposure to transbutch came from Jen Manion’s article “Transbutch”, as published in Transgender Studies Quarterly Vol. 4 (2014). Manion opens the article mentioning liminal spaces of transbutchness, and its relation to the history of hostility between trans men and butch lesbians, which is described in more detailed in “Transgender Butch” by Halberstam. Manion defines transbutch as “[…] a gendered embodiment that is […] butch and trans, not tied to any singular definition of butch or trans but rather falling somewhere in between” (pg. 230). Further on, Manion describes three things characteristic of transbutch identity: 1. Transbutches “embody a third space”; one where there is both a rejection of womanhood and a celebration of it. 2. Transbutches accept our masculinity without denying our herstory and connection with those socialized as girls. 3. Transbutches embrace our relationships with trans men, and desire transition and/or do transition. The three above points are in essence our complex affiliations with womanhood, trans manhood, and transition. Speaking from my heart, I can say that all three resonate with me deeply. The first two points detail how I feel about my past, my present, and my future. There are other things Manion mentioned, such as the desire for top surgery, however it is important to recognize that not all transbutches are exactly the same in what we desire or how we self-conceptualize. How I Relate to Transbutch My past is full of conflictions about womanhood, and what it means to me and to society. Before I started transition, I used to reject
parts of my past that felt painful, specifically around gender. For a while I felt that I could not have been socialized a girl because I was — and still am — deeply dysphoric ever since I was a child. I spent my time rejecting femininity because I was afraid of being seen as a girl. I had wished I was “born a boy” many times and showed symptoms of dysphoria. Despite my internal rejections of girlhood, society never stopped treating me like a girl. I dealt with the stigma of menstruation, the shame of my puberty, the policing, the forced submissiveness, the sexualization of our bodies, internalized the idea that I was biologically inferior because of my sex, and many more things. Whether I liked it or not, the experience of girlhood and misogyny had never left my life or gave me a pass. No matter how I dressed, acted, identified, or wanted to be, misogyny would still follow me, and will do so forever as long as it exists. I had ignored the misogyny I’d dealt with because I did not think it was “meant for me”. In reality, oppression does not care what you think. I now believe and accept that I was raised and socialized as a girl, and that my status as both a dysphoric person, and a trans person, has affected how I have internalized that socialization. To say whether I do or not, accept or reject, womanhood is complicated. The answer is both and neither. Now, I think womanhood is a beautiful thing. It is painful, but beautiful. Not just as a transbutch, but as myself, I see myself forever connected to women partially because of my life experience. The other half of that equation is that I have always registered my attraction to women as the same. I feel a sameness with women and will no longer denounce those parts of myself. In the same vein, I do see myself as related to trans men as well. I have to say that for a very long time I was afraid of trans men and trans manhood. Not only because of the way parts of the LGBT community presents trans men, but also because I was afraid that any association would see people force me into an identity that isn’t my own. I have related to the experiences of trans men for a long time now. I re-
late to some of the ways they talk about dysphoria, the ways they have to cope with it, the experience of finally getting to be masculine when the world has denied you that for years. I feel genuine solidarity with and connection to trans men in what they go through. Yet, I felt like I could never bring that up without people assuming the worst of me because I happen to be a butch dyke. Sometimes people encourage solidarity to relieve any hostility, but it quickly gets shot down from what I’ve seen. Not all trans men have the same experiences, not all are masculine, and being denied masculinity is not an experience exclusive to trans men. Nevertheless, I have bonded with trans men I know over things we experienced in childhood, pre, and post transition. Ever since coming to college I have become closer with trans men and transmasc people. It was them who helped support me through HRT. It was them who went with me to shop for men’s clothes for the first time. It was them who told me to stop overthinking and to just live. It’s been nothing but encouragement and realness from them. I feel brotherhood with trans men and other transmascs. I do also deeply appreciate my friends of other genders, but I feel a special affinity with the trans men I know because of all they have taught me. Frankly, my fear of trans men and trans manhood has only hurt me. It has made me scared to want things like binders, packers, and HRT. Eventually, I realized something important: relating to people is what makes us human. It’s ok to relate to people with pasts somewhat similar to your own. Relating to others does not mean that your identity, existence, or differing experiences are somehow dissolved and discarded. I can still be me and do all of these things while accepting and knowing my friends for who they are. We can also acknowledge that some people will never relate to our own narratives. I have come to accept this, but I do hope others can accept that these other narratives do exist.
Butch/Trans Borderlands In Female Masculinity (1998), Jack Halberstam details the complicated subject of what he dubbed the “Butch/FTM Border Wars”. Briefly put, these “border wars” are what he had seen as explicit hostility between trans men and butch lesbians that came as a result of maintaining masculinities that are often conflated. Butch lesbians, often hypervisible, are assumed to be “playing man” or thought of as trying to “be a man”. Trans men, who have been mostly invisible, are assumed to just be “confused lesbians” or are the most masculine a butch can get. In reality, none of these assumptions are true, and butch lesbians and trans men are distinct categories. There are members of both groups with complicated pasts who may have had a foot or two in the other community for years, even decades. Helping to build a community would understandably lead one to maintaining connection to the foundations they lived on. Though the hostility is understandable, it is not the history or politics of such that I wish to focus on. Instead, I want to put my focus on Halberstam’s concept of “The Borderlands” and how it related to transbutchness for me. I interpreted “The Borderlands” with an understanding that the maintenance of trans masculinity and butch masculinity as similar to maintaining borders. A border is an edge or boundary that separates two things. In many circumstances, borders are thought of as being distinct and definable. For some, such as myself, however, I find the idea of a strictly distinct border between butch and trans to be hard to grasp. My social history, my sense of self, and my material realities have led me to understand that nothing has to be black and white for everyone. This is not to say that the lines and distinction do not exist — they do — but that some of us inhabit a space between butch and trans. We are not exclusively one or the other but are both — that third strip of land between them. To me, it is not necessarily a border, but an expanse of sorts. Most people lie on either side confident in their identity and not wavering.
Some people have been to either side and back, and back again. Some of us, though, exist in the middle. The middle space is a permeable membrane, a space wherein the edges of both groups blend and mesh. As a middle space, we may contain aspects of both sides. My experience of transbutch is one that is connected to, but also separated from women. My experience is one where I feel relation to trans manhood, but not to the degree where I feel that that encompasses me. I am on HRT, I bind, I deal with dysphoria, I plan to change my name, but currently will keep my sex marker an “F” and retain my lesbian identity. Some days I still wish I had been “born a boy”, and others I am ok with having been “born a girl”. Concluding Thoughts A state of fluctuation does not inherently mean a state of confusion. I am very happy with my transition. The changes that have come with testosterone have only made me more confident and have made me feel better about my body. Those feelings may change in the future as I age, however no one can predict the future. I am open to wherever the world takes me, but transbutchness does not have to be a temporary state. Though messy, we can exist as our lives without compromising other corners of our lives. All in all, transbutch to me is a mixture of aspects of butchness and transmasculinity. I am a complicated combination of two different worlds, and I am not confused about that. I have wondered many times why I cannot just “pick a side” and “settle”. I realize now asking myself such questions has both answered my confusions and made them unnecessary. Pondering for days and weeks about something I cannot change is useless. I know who I am, what I am, and how I live. Complexity is not necessarily a negative thing, nor it is a positive thing. It just is. Transbutchness has a rich history that has only been sparsely explored.
By Erin Mostowfi
a stream of brightness chilling in the hearts of those asleep we follow the glow we follow it through the crystal night liquid silver drop like a bleeding painting careless but motherly the bats and the monsters illuminated in its s i l h o u e t t e it cuts through the r a f t e r s like a knife, immortal it is peace and it drowns the hourglass in a stunned sickle a bloodletting pinprick of planetary presence in care of the sun, it throws back at us c l e a n l i n e s s somehow g o d l e s s n e s s ! we look at it and wonder what’s really going on out there 81
The Ravishment of Ember by Marcelle Thiebaux
Proserpine gathering flow’r, herself a fairer flow’r, by gloomy Dis was gathered Paradise Lost
Ember and her mom live in a tarpaper shack under the Pulaski Skyway. To pay the bills, Ember pumps gas out front while Sweetie shampoos and styles hair in her one-sink, one-dryer beauty parlor behind the kitchen. Late this afternoon, the two sit at the chipped enamel kitchen table. Sweetie, her pink and blue hair in aluminum clips—gives herself a manicure. “Come out partying with me,” Sweetie prods Ember, who is sixteen. “We’ll have fun at the club.” Sweetie likes dancing at Maud’s Nitely, and she’d love to take Ember along. Ember, restless, stares through a window at the lurid sunset bloodying the grasses in the Meadowlands marsh. In the distance she hears the muffled cries of animals in agony. Slowly she turns to face her mother. “You go, Mom. I hate that place.” Sweetie bristles, indignant. “What’s the matter with you? Lots of good looking men will be at Maud’s. Rich men. You might meet some-
one.” “Mom,” Ember whispers, her throat dry and faint “You met someone when you were younger than me, and look where it got you.” Sweetie jumps up. “Don’t you get fresh with your mother. I’d slap you one if it wasn’t for smearing my polish. I let you live, didn’t I?” Ember’s head droops in shame “I’m sorry, Mom.” She gnaws her lip. “I’ll sit out front by the pump. We might get some late-night Skyway business.” “Do what you want, you spiteful brat, but the next chance I get, I’m putting lotion on those cuticles of yours. And your hair looks like it’s got nits. When will you forevermore do something about yourself ?” Exasperated, she regards Ember’s dishwater mop skewered up any old how with a clothespin. Ember hides her hands and broken fingernails in her lap. Dazed and dreamy, she turns again to the window, heeding the phantom cries of slain animals rising from the marsh. Calling. Calling her to her destiny, she’s sure. These are mournful entreaties that only she can hear the panicked bellowing of ghost cattle being hustled to their mass carnage. It happened long ago when the Kearny Meadowlands was a slaughter yard. They clutch at her heart. The cries of piteous creatures hacked down by the bludgeoning ax and the butcher’s cleaver. “I’m showering,” says Sweetie. An hour later she comes out in a rose-pink halter top and a minimini that hits her at butt level. Her stiletto heels are silver, and her legs are long. “You look nice, Mom,” says Ember, contrite. “I don’t know why you have to be so stubborn and conceited.” Sweetie then drives off, escorted by an admirer for a night of dancing with the gentlemen patrons of Maud’s Nitely. Ember takes up her post. She flops on her bench by the red gas pump. The mighty Pulaski Skyway swoops overhead, its rusted-black
ironwork arching against the fiery crimson sky, connecting Newark and Jersey City. The Passaic and Hackensack Rivers course in an endless rush below. Spent workmen leave for the day. The Skyway is under constant repair, and it takes a big crew to reinforce the struts and pillars. Bridge engineers warn that the supports could give way any day and wreak a massive highway disaster. The crew has labored long. A man in a hard hat walks by the red gas pump. Carrying his tin lunchbox and heading for home, he passes at a wary distance as close as he dares. He throws a hot, sidelong look at Ember. He loves this dreamy girl he once knew not so long ago. This goddess of the gas pump, so sweet, so slummocky in her torn housedress tied at the waist with twine she doubtless found in the marsh. She doesn’t care to fix herself up. Her hands are grimy and so is the hem of her slip that hangs below her flowered Walmart dress. Her slim, pale legs are mud spattered. Her clumpy tennis shoes are untied, the laces dragging in the dust. But her face is ethereally lovely with the countenance of an angel. The smile she bestows on customers buying gas is pure heaven. She’s unaware of the man in the hard hat who adores her. She doesn’t know of his passing by day after day. She fixes her attention on the speeding traffic. Sometimes a motorist slows down to give Ember the once-over but few stop. Even naming their shack the Intimate Pump and Beauty Salon hasn’t brought as many customers as Sweetie hoped. By the time most drivers charge, breakneck, off the Skyway, they want to keep going, get out of the Meadowlands fast and make for the Holland Tunnel to the city. If a car stops, Ember gives unstinting service. She shines windshields, polish side view mirrors, and wipe away white pigeon dribbles. If motorists toss tips of nickels and dimes, she’s happy to pick them from the gravel and give them to her mother.
At her post by the pump, Ember stirs uneasily on hearing the low moans that rise again from the shadowy abyss of the marsh. She senses changes in the air. Pungent, metallic, volcanic. Her heartbeat quickens. She leaves her bench to hurry around the shack while shading her eyes against the fiery sunset. She feels that mysteries lie buried beyond the plumed marsh grasses and brackish pools. The animals summon her to the nether marsh. She longs to discover why. More than anything, Ember yearns to meet her mysterious destiny, for her senses tell her she’s meant for wondrous things, unique and strange. Down by a mud pool, in a bed of lotus, she spies a patch of savage hearted blossoms. They beckon, brazen in their eagerness to be plucked. They’ve sprung up since morning from the boggy runnels near the old slaughter yards. The giant petals of scarlet and magenta are gold flecked with points of flame. She runs to gather a bouquet for her mother as a peace offering for her undaughterly words in the kitchen. Wading in the marsh, she loads her arms with ardent blooms. Thunder rocks the earth. In a seismic convulsion, the sodden ground splits open at Ember’s feet, coughing up rock fragments, burning ash, and the pyroclastic ejecta from ancient volcanoes along with bottles, cans, shoes, and body pieces. She drops her flowers. Terrified, she can’t run. It’s here, in the blood-red twilight, where she beholds the coming of this Prince of Hell. The Prince guns his engine, roaring upward through the geological corridors from the deepest pits of earth. Tonight, he’s selected his Jaguar XK 120 roadster for the run. It’s a car he’s built out of found objects. Wrecked automobile parts tossed in the marsh by Jersey mobsters. The Prince likes driving fast. He likes getting out of his boggy kingdom for a tour of the upper world.
He’s Flegethon, a minor son of one of those big men of Hell, Kingpin Dis, aka Gloomy Dis. But Prince Flegethon is so insignificant among the junior rabble of bog-boys that his father barely knows him from the rest of his progeny. Flegethon hates his horny progenitor, especially when poets sound off about his old man’s libidinous exploits with girls. The poets churn out epics and encomia. But no poet has uttered a syllable about Flegethon’s feats of love, if ever he had any worth singing about. Anyway, the Prince doesn’t want to be touted as an old-school rapist like his old man, whose technique was to grab the girl, throw her down, jump her bones, and then drive off with her in his chariot to his murky grottos for centuries of tectonic fucking. For thousands of years, Prince Flegethon has moped in loneliness. He longs for a wife, a darling and companion, so that together they can establish his kingdom, however modest, in this dark socket of earth under the Kearny Meadowlands. It’s been foretold that his chosen bride must be a mortal, since he is a god. Born to divinity, he can’t escape his fated nature: to realize himself fully through the sacred fecundation of a terrestrial girl, as divinity impregnates earth. Earlier that day , a distant noise rattled his eardrums. His heart leapt with hope. Someone has picked the flowers he’s planted in her backyard, and he wants to see who she is. Why shouldn’t Flegethon, who’s basically a sensitive guy, reconnoiter the territory and be blessed? With a volcanic snort the engine’s growl erupts from earth’s center. The Jaguar shoots past the landmark precipices. Cambrian, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary. He makes good time, reaching rocky sludge to cleave through the last howling tunnel. Bolts flash. The earth spews up glowing rocks and broken slag, followed by prehistoric oyster shells and raw chunks of fermenting compost from the glacier age. Flegethon
blasts through the last gateway, surging into the Jersey Meadowlands just south of the Secaucus pig and watermelon farms. The tunnel closes behind him. He brakes and climbs out of the car, stretching to ease his muscles and inhaling. The fresh, damp air lifts his spirits. He likes the Meadowlands with its birds and bloodworms, its will-o’-the-wisp, and its sulfurous fogs and stinks. He likes surveying the endless black sky doused with stars. The huge horizons up here are a refreshing change from the grim ceilings down home. He scans the tall, regal cattails, the black-crowned night birds nesting in reeds. On spotting Ember, he is instantly smitten. Inflamed. She is enchanting, radiant, desirable with the bloody smell of her earthy humanity, rich and musky and mingling with the fetid marsh. She’s a girl of muck and mold, as he is a man born of the River of Fire. He vows he’ll win her, but he doesn’t want to frighten her. He earnestly wants her to find him fresh and irresistible in his sleek obsidian jacket, evening attire custom-tailored from the models they wear, the men of her species. He wishes she may feel something for him. Maybe she’ll like him and, if he’s lucky, even love him, assuming that’s not too much to ask the higher sphinxes. “Make no sudden moves,” he tells himself. He quietly waits by the flanks of the cooling Jaguar. Mute with shock, Ember stares at the stranger. Scintillas and aureoles of igneous energy leap from his shadowed hair. In confusion, she kneels to pick up her scattered flowers. She tries assembling them in a muddied bunch, afraid now to look directly at the blinding personage by the huge luxury automobile. He speaks to her softly. “Leave those, Ember. I’ll grow you prettier flowers. I can get you all the flowers you want.” This can’t be a man, she thinks, but a force from the bogs and fens. The crying of the beasts has long hinted that she may expect some
marvel, but it wasn’t this. “Be my cherished bride,” he gently pleads. “Can’t you see I’m sick with love?” Sick with love, for her? Who is he? Ember takes in the brooding eyebrows, the harsh good looks. His body gives off the dynamism of potent matter. He looks half naked. Oddly clothed in an inky Shakespearean coat, boots, and breeches, he bares the flesh of a solid neck and torso. “Don’t make me go away dejected and alone. Come with me.” Wide-eyed, ecstatic, she looks directly at him and steps back, tripping on one end of the rough twine around her waist. It falls in the mud, where her mother will find it. He holds out his arms to her. “Ember, my love. Won’t you come with me as my queen?” “Queen? Oh, stop glaring. I can’t stand all that brightness.” He understands and quenches his godly effulgence, dimming it down to a wattage she can endure. Ember laughs at how easy it is to get him to do what she wants. “Better.” She loiters, wanting to know him. “I’ve been waiting for something to happen around here. Maybe it’s you.” She’s fired by a dark, luxuriant hunger for him, knowing that from this day forth, her life won’t be the same. “Only I can’t leave my mother just like that. She won’t know what happened to me.” “Your mother will rejoice over this marriage of her beautiful only child. I offer you dominions, principalities, and thrones.” “Stop. It all sounds so stuffy and pretentious. I don’t even know you.” And yet she feels she does know him. She’s known him for ages. “I mean she’ll grieve. She has no one but me and she’s a good mother. She wants the best for me. I can’t hurt her.” “I swear to you as my treasured wife, my lawful enraptured love will be eternal. In our divine union we’ll have beautiful, immortal children. You’ll never want for anything. And you’ll visit your mother after
our marriage.” “Marriage? I’ll have to ask my mother.” And yet she already knows it will happen. Isn’t this the wondrous thing to come, that he’s my divinely ordained spouse? It must be. Yes, yes. I know it’s meant to be. Fated. I love him. How is that? I don’t know. Flegethon is importunate. “Please don’t go away. We’re here. There’s not a moment to lose.” He invitingly opens the door of his fancy car, burnished like his body. Ember knows she shouldn’t ever get into a car with a strange man. Like every Jersey girl, she was coached by the lesson ingrained by mothers, teachers, and guidance counselors. But the Prince fires her imagination. He stirs desires she never knew she had. He can’t be resisted. Ravished by his magnetism, her judgment is numbed. “I need you,” he implores, most winningly. “Maybe we could work something out? Please, Ember?” “Okay, let’s go.” Only a little ride. Around the countryside. She squelches her misgivings. What could happen to me that I can’t handle? She likes him. A lot. She hears shouting, loud, hard, and urgent. “Ember! Don’t!” A man sprints toward them, a man obsessed, intent like a diver plunging headlong into a raging flood to rescue a half-drowned swimmer by yanking the hair of her head. “Don’t go with him,” yells the workman in the hard hat. “He’s bad news.” It’s the man from the Skyway bridge who has been walking by, casting hot-eyed glances at Ember. He skids to a halt in a thicket of marsh grapes. He plants his big-footed boots, throws down his lunchbox, tears off his hard hat. His breath heaves as if his lungs may burst. Ember stares at the frantic workman in his canvas shirt, his khaki work pants streaked with oil and rust. “I can give you…” What is he talking about? What on earth does
he want to give her? “Give you my lifelong…” His words dissolve in the colossal roar of the Jag’s starting engine. Ember falters. He looks familiar. She knows him but he’s grown a sandy beard since she saw him last. He’s, yes, it’s Pete. Pete Lysander from school. Way back they used to ride their bikes on the sidewalk every day to P.S. 25 on Zabriskie Street. Sixth grade in Miss Tiresia’s class, they were reading storybooks, arguing about who they liked better, Mowgli or Enkidu, competing for grades before they lost sight of each other, each going off to different high schools. He to Stevens Tech, she to St. Perpetua’s. Ember’s lips part as if she might smile or speak, looking for words, but there’s nothing she can say to him now. It’s too late. She climbs into the cushioned passenger seat of the Jag, freely willing to fly to her destiny. Just then she notices a shiny, big car pulling up to her red gas pump. The driver honks, angry, peremptory. He wants gas! A tank! She harkens to the signal that would have been so welcome. Now it’s inconsequential. Let the customers honk their hearts out. She’s busy. She’s on her way. Lost in the love of her blazing cavalier, Ember forgets the honking motorist, forgets Pete and riding their bikes to make the school bell, forgets even her mother. Giddy with excitement, she holds tight to Prince Flegethon’s strong arm and never takes her eyes from him as they whirl downward on this momentous motor ride through rocky prehistoric caves. He’s so clever he can drive and look at her at the same time. She’ll wed her splendid underworld lord, who reigns over this one black hollow under the Jersey Meadowlands. As they hurtle downward at impossible speeds, Ember smiles into her husband’s wild eyes. The Prince’s halls have no windows. A musty wind wafts from the dark vastness where Ember walks all by herself. How is it she is alone? She wonders. Rugged, low ceilinged
vaults press close to her neck. Spectral lamps shine like pinpoints among the tangled corridors that radiate in all directions. Stone galleries stretch away to vanishing points. Of her own free will, Ember lets herself bedecked in her black wedding gown by a gaggle of flitting, twittering nymphs. They snicker and hover, wispy as vapors of marsh gas, gowning her in veils that flutter in spills of cold, iridescent flame. Ember is surprised to be enveloped in flames without getting burned, feeling only a delicious coolness. On her brow the nymphs set a coronet of snakes, spiders, toads, and adders. Her long, blonde hair ripples loose and lustrous, fluid as amber silk. The sedated living creatures knot together. Sluggishly they writhe and hiss, spinning sweet dreams of infernal love in her brain as she walks, light and serene. “Now you’re Princess Ember,” the nymphs melodiously trill in her ear before they blow away, shadows in the dusk. Princess Ember shivers in the ghostly drafts that glide through her husband’s halls. Glowworm lamps, fueled on human blood and tallow, shed a despondent red light to guide her footsteps. Feeling everyone and different, Ember smiles beneath her squirming crown. Fresh and young and lovely, she hasn’t yet figured out that she’s fallen through the mouth of everlasting death. On the threshold of the banquet hall, she sees that her entry is ceremonial and that her new husband is in charge here at the head of a long table. Tall pewter candelabras drop their light on the feast. Princess Ember surveys the banquet table. It’s laid for a wedding supper. An arterial wine stands violet dark in tall beakers. Dead, bloodied birds lie on crimson serviettes, their beaks parted in agony, plumage soaked and matted. Silver platters hold the furred carcasses of chipmunks, squirrels, and muskrats laced with blood and gray mold. A macédoine of earthworms, along with a whole
sheep’s head gravied in gore and pigs’ entrails mounded like noodles, embellish the menu. Pewter knives and forks are set before the rich, rotting viands. Magnanimously smiling, Flegethon rises from the festive board. More handsome than ever in his wedding tuxedo of black basalt, he bounds to her side to embrace her. The full force of the place hits Princess Ember. Aghast, she pushes Phlegethon away. She grinds her teeth. She gets control of herself and regains her senses. She wants to spit in his face, use bad language, but she doesn’t. “I’ve changed my mind. I want to leave. Take me home.” He tries again to take her in his arms. “But we’re married.” “I don’t remember that.” “Your agreeing to come with me was our wedding, my adored bride. Our nuptial vows were spoken then, yours and mine.” Maybe there was something about marriage. Ember tries to remember. She clenches her fists, jamming them into his chest. “We’ll get a divorce.” “My lovely wife, you don’t understand. In Hell, there is no divorce.” She gapes into his scorching eyes. Yes, he’s handsome, even kind and appealing, but did she marry him? “I don’t care what you say. I’ll kill myself.” Disappointed, devastated, he explains, “My darling, you’re already a princess of the dead and the living. You’ve passed the portals of death. You can’t ever be destroyed or undone.” “Oh, please shut up, I can’t listen to this. Where’s the car? Get somebody to drive me.” He gently smiles. “Forgive me, beloved lady, I’ve been too distracted by my own great joy to see clearly. We’ll send this stuff away. My kitchen flunkeys don’t know what they’re doing. They’re clods and
dimwits, but they carry on as well as they can. I’ll order something else.” “Don’t bother. I’m not eating a thing.” “Tell me what you’d like. Fruits and grains? Crystalline water of the well? Vintage wine of the grape? Down here we can order whatever you like.” Ember shudders. “Go away.” She tries to tear the wreath of vermin from her head, but it’s rooted in her hair. Creatures claw into her scalp and won’t be dislodged. Her diadem digs in. “I promise you, Ember, you’ll get used to our ways once you’ve been here a few years.” “Years! I won’t.” She takes a few steps away, but she doesn’t know which gloomy corridor is the right one. She turns on him again. “Once you’ve managed to love me…” He breaks off, saddened. “You’re out of your mind. I never want to see you again. This was a mistake, coming down here with you. I thought it was just a drive around the block. Down the block.” Ember doesn’t know what she thought. She can’t remember. Her momentary passionate infatuation now feels like a nightmare, ghoulish and poisonous. “You can’t say that, dearest. You’ll break my heart.” “Your broken heart means nothing to me. I just need a drink. I’m dying of thirst. A glass of water.” She spies a little ornamental buffet table of pure gold off in a corner. It holds a golden dish. In it is a heap of saffron hued fruits, rosy cheeked with the bloom of a spring bouquet. They look tempting and they look all right. “I’ll have one of those.” “Wait, don’t eat if—” Ignoring him, she reaches for one and pulls off the rind. Juice pours down her wrist, and she’s about to lick it. “Don’t, if you wish to go back. It’s a fruit to intoxicate.” “I’m thirsty. This looks good.” “Please, my beautiful wife, listen a minute.”
“I’ve listened to you quite a bit. I think I’d better do what I want.” She pops a dripping hunk in her mouth. It’s like a peach or a mango but far more luscious, so she takes another bite and a few more. She wipes her chin with the back of her hand and smiles at him at having bested and defied him. “I should tell you, I’m pretty accustomed to doing what I like.” “Oh, my darling Ember.” Her husband regards her with rueful love. “An elixir taken in worlds other than your own has magic properties to keep you here.” Ember hesitates. “What are you talking about?” All of a sudden she isn’t so eager to leave. “The nectar of this fruit is drinkable gold, what alchemists call aurum potabile, and a sovereign love philter.” “Are you always so preachy and knowitall?” “Let us salute each other.” He takes one of the saffron fruits, and with his own royal hands, he tears it open. From the yellow flesh pours a liquor of rosy gold, which he catches in a crystal goblet he grasps seemingly out of the air. “I don’t know.” Ember feels herself giving in. “But this juicy fruit is pretty good.” She, too, picks up a crystal chalice from nowhere and drops the rest of the fruit into it, beaming happily at Flegethon, who says he’s her husband. She’s feeling light as thin air. She picks out another lump of fruit. It tastes like rainwater on jasmine petals; it’s Xanadu and honeydew, summertime nectar and sunbeams. It’s making her look in a new way at the man she briefly thought of as her tormentor. She’s infected with that terrible desire she felt when she first saw him. Ember sighs. It’s a stupid infatuation, she tells herself. She’ll shake it off. Instead it’s getting worse. “You’ll need our godly ambrosia while you’re here. Our bridal night is still to come, and you must keep up your strength for our child.” “What child? Don’t be silly. What’s my mother going to say to
that?” Ember stares at Flegethon, strangely burning for his love, wanting him to take her, flailing and ecstatic, right here on the floor, but that’s all she wants just now. “No. I can’t do that. I don’t want any child.” “Tonight, you’ll conceive our son.” “But I haven’t finished high school.” Her husband kneels at her feet. “Dear Ember, this place is full of smart people, and more of them keep arriving. You can have your pick of the best, the most elegant tutors. You’ll learn everything there is to know in the firmament, on earth, and in Hell’s kingdom, more than you could learn in high school.” Ember tosses her goblet on the stone floor, watching it roll. Fruit bits and dribbles of juice seep into the paving under the table. The feast has vanished from the table, spirited away by unseen hands. All that’s left is a glistening cloth. Ember understands that she has to learn to embrace her otherworldly husband. She acknowledges the reality of their situation, hers and Flegethon’s. It looks as if their love belongs to the realm of sacred decree. It can’t be dodged. It’s fate. What the knackers’ cattle foreshadowed has become plain. She exercised her will to love within the boundaries of the great, hallowed myth. Their wedding chamber is a forge, since Flegethon was, from the beginning of time, never born but smithied in a volcanic furnace fed by molten rivers of fire. His veins are tritium, his muscles vitriol, his cock is volatile carbolic, his semen is mercury. An alloy of osmiridium makes up his skull. Endlessly ancient since the cooling of the earth, he is infinitely renewable, perennially new. He wraps her in rivers of white fire now that, through her, he’s attained his full title of Prince Flegethon of the River of Flames. He’s won Ember, a mortal bride whose name foretold her fate, married her, implanted her with a son, and immortalized her. In her old, dreamy way, Ember yields, unresisting, to her ardor
for her powerful husband. She holds out her arms and walks into the fire with him. She feels her human blood change to ichor, the living fluid of godly immortality, as she steps, unscathed, into his element. She’s willing to be smelted in his forge, in flames of sulfur and pitch, to have her earthly metal forepunched and sledged to a cherryred, then a yellow heat, then to snowball flames. Her metals and his are twisted into new shapes, both surrendering their separate selves to the conjugal anvil. Time in the Prince’s kingdom has its own momentum. Supple, it diminishes to a point. Ember awakens and yawns as if from a brief dream. She smiles at her husband. With them is their son, the young Prince Dionysus. “How long have I been here?” “We’ve been wedded these six months.” “How is it possible?” “Time’s flight tends to run askew down here.” “Oh! But it must be time to visit my mother.” “She’s never stopped searching for you. And you tasted only six bites of Lethe’s fruit before our marriage was forged. I went as a supplicant to my august father. I threw myself on his mercy and plead our case.” Ember is amazed. “I thought you and your august father hardly knew each other.” The Prince takes her in his arms. “My benevolent father has recognized me. He was greatly moved that I won you as my wife and that you willingly love me. His goodness was swayed. For us, he suspended the laws of Hell. Visit your mother and take our son with you. But please come back.” Ember enfolds her dear husband. “I will, of course.” She turns, recognizing Dionysus. He’s tall for his age. “Come on, Dion, be a good boy,” she bids him. “Wash your hands and face. We have to saddle up.” “Yes, Mother.” Does she detect a note of sulky irony? His young
hellboy eyes are preternaturally bright and ferocious. “And keep in mind when we’re up there,” says Ember, “you can’t go around looking fierce at everyone and scaring people.” “Please just chill, Mother.” Ember smiles, unperturbed. Boys will banter. As his mother she has the last word. “You’ll do as I say. Behave yourself or you’ll have to wear your dark glasses.” For her earthward ascent Princess Ember tells her nymphs to bring her a gown of iridescent anthracite that shimmers like a black rainbow. Long ago she set aside her bridal diadem of snakes, toads, and spiders. She calls for her circlet of black diamonds from the family safe. On the back of an underworld beast, Princess Ember, serene and shining, rides through Meadowland marshes to return to her mother. Alongside her rides her young son, Prince Dion, a slender, beautiful child, beautiful as the night. The Pulaski Skyway has finally been repaired and made safe. It happened while Ember has been away. The workman in the hard hat, Peter Lysander, has been promoted to chief engineer, in charge of the Skyway’s maintenance. It’s a respected job, a responsible one, and the pay is good. Ready to knock off for the day, Lysander considers hitting the bars for a couple of brews with his buddies before going home to watch the news on TV. He swings up into the cab of his handsome new, white pickup truck and happens to glance over at the sunset when he stops short, stunned. In deep shock, he leaps from the truck. He can’t believe what he’s seeing: this beautiful girl and a young boy riding a herd of cattle across the Meadowlands. It’s Ember, wearing something fiery, like a movie star at a gala, with black jewels in her hair. A spectral light falls around her, around them both. Even stranger and horrifying to Lysander, she’s riding over the
marsh on the back of a great, horned bullock whose throat is cut. The beast steadily pours its lifeblood into the earth. It appears to be both slaughtered and living. Mounted alongside her, on a bleeding calf, is a boy of about six, a handsome kid who looks like a holy terror. He’s wearing sunglasses. Surrounding them, escorting them, is a herd of thirty, forty cattle in the same slaughtered condition. “Jesus God,” mutters the chief engineer, “it’s a convoy of ghosts.” He experiences cold mortal terror, recalling the rumor of an abattoir in the Meadowlands, a rumor nearly lost in the annals of time immemorial. Just talk, he once thought. Now he marvels, shaken. These must be the slaughtered cattle, an entourage risen to accompany this lovely girl and her son. Slowly trotting in a phalanx, with the decorum of a royal guard in ceremonial ruffs of blood welling, flowing to enrich the mud of the Kearny marsh, these dignified beasts still amble. Sheep, cows, bulls, goats, pigs. They placidly bleed to death while trotting in his direction. He forces himself to think clearly. It’s Ember who matters, and she doesn’t seem to be in danger. His true attention is on her. He’s never stopped loving her since the day she took off with that tough looking thug in the Jaguar. Ember lightly jumps down from her mount and so does the boy. Lysander’s astonishment grows when the entire herd sinks into the ground and disappears, leaving him to wonder if he really saw them. She’s back is all he cares about. In her renovated bathroom Sweetie is about to shuck off her babydoll robe and get in the shower when she hears a commotion outside. She runs out, tripping over mud and roots, to meet her daughter. “Oh my God, Ember, you selfish brat. I never knew what happened to you. I looked everywhere. I thought you ran away or drowned in the marsh. Pete said you left with a man. I was afraid you were dead.
Did you really run off with some man?” She eyes the handsome Dion. “I guess you did. I should have known. Why’s he wearing sunglasses?” Ember hugs her mother for sheer joy. “I kept thinking the worst about you. I found a shred of your dress and that dirty piece of string.” “Mom, I’m sorry you had to worry. I wasn’t able to get in touch but everything’s turned out fine. I’m okay.” “You missed school.” “Dion and I had tutors. We learned a lot.” “You really must explain that.” “I will, Mom.” “Where did you get that dress, Ember? It looks like it cost plenty.” “It’s nothing, Mom. Has the gasoline held up?” “This is amazing. You won’t believe this but we get it free. It turns out we have an endless reserve in our area, right under our pumps. It gushes up, refined, from the ground and into the pumps. We don’t have to buy from the supplier anymore.” Ember carefully explains. “Down where I’m living, my father in law is an oil magnate, sort of, along with his other businesses. He’s quite powerful. He controls the oil and natural gas that’s been found under the Meadowlands.” “Well, forevermore! You are really full of surprises.” She touches Ember’s sleeve. “Now, I want to know. Did your husband buy you that dress? And that rhinestone tiara is, if you don’t mind my saying so, a bit much for daytime. I was showering to go to Maud’s, but with you here, we’ll celebrate in the kitchen. I really hope you’re home for good.” “We’ll have all of summer vacation together, then we go back.” “Back? Back where?” “Back there, with him.” “We’ll see about that, young lady!”
Sweetie is convinced that her daughter has shacked up in the city with some big money racketeer, though to look at this blue-blooded boy gives Sweetie pause. Slim, dark, patrician; could he be someone else’s child? “Did you steal that child? You’ve only been gone six months.” “I’ll tell you whatever you want to know, Mom.” “Well, honey, I’m glad you’re back. Come on in and I’ll make us a pitcher of pink vodka martinis.” “The new house looks pretty.” Instead of the old flapping-tarpaper hut, there’s a white shingled cottage with pink shutters and window boxes full of purple petunias. Out front are three silver gas pumps. “Pete’s been a sweetheart, lending me his workmen, and he’s got me a boy for the gas pumps.” “I loved Pete,” says Ember. “I guess I just got carried away.” This stumps Sweetie for a long minute. “Well, I’m not letting you out of my sight.” “I missed you, Mom.” “I must tell you, business has picked up dramatically with this windfall of all the free fuel coming up from the ground. It’s impossible to explain. Ember, honey, you’re staying for good, aren’t you?” “All summer while the sun is soft.” “Since you’re home, it’s turned balmy.” The chief bridge engineer watches Ember and her mother and the kid go inside the cottage. He turns away. He cusses himself out that he didn’t have the guts to talk to her back when she was living with her mother and pumping gas. What was wrong with him? Why hadn’t he spoken? Because he was trying to make it and didn’t want to put himself forward when he had no money. If only things had gone his way, his luck might have turned around, and he might’ve had a chance with her. Everywhere, the Meadowlands are in bloom. The fleecy, plumed grasses blush. Grebes and teal, egrets and ibis chirp and cry to one another, then find their nests. Birds and flowers fall silent before the homecoming of Ember. Earth holds its breath.
Lava Lady by Brinley Ribando
A Sixty-Something’s Guide to Morning Survival by Dvora Rabino
Mornings are for me what a pail of cold water is for the Wicked Witch and sunlight is for Dracula. I retired from my day job five years ago—less to write than to avoid the jarring brrrrring of an alarm clock and the dazzling glare of an ascending sun. And facing the day only got tougher for me after the second Tuesday of November 2016. But now I am an expert on getting through those difficult pre-noon hours. Not with (barf) sunrise salutations, gratitude journals or the writer’s seemingly obligatory morning pages, but with the following proven, self-tested steps guaranteed to help you, too, become a morning(-ish) person. 1. Redefine morning. Previously, I was a master of the snooze button. But now I let my internal alarm clock be my unerring guide to when I have achieved adequate sleep [hereinafter, “Personal Wake-Up Time”]. No matter how late your bedtime, I guarantee that your own Personal Wake-Up Time will be no later than 9 a.m. Ten, eleven at the latest. Maybe not in your time zone, but three time zones to your west. 2. Reach for the iPhone on the bedside table and power it on. The blue light is particularly critical after we fall-back our clocks here in the Northeast and are left with twenty-six minutes per day of sunlight. Feel free to stare into that source of luminescence throughout the evening and for most of the night, as I do, while crunching down on a superfood
that combines all four food groups1. But keep in mind that the wee-hour phosphorescence is no substitute for a long dose of digital sunshine immediately upon opening your still-unfocused eyes at Personal Wake-Up Time2. 3. Pee. But not right away, no matter how strong the urge—wait until you have scanned all your e-mails and started mentally composing answers. What’s more important: your bladder or your friends? Once your brain— and therefore urinary tract—are fully awakened, place your right hand, palm-side up, firmly in the pee-stopper position and run those six chilly steps to the bathroom. 4. Take a break. Return to bed and pull the blanket up to your neck. To avoid further loss of body heat, be sure that only your eyes and your typing hand remain uncovered. When you are awash in sweat from scalp to toe, throw covers on the floor. Then, when your teeth begin chattering again, retrieve the blankets from the floor and struggle to tuck them back in. 5. Correspond. From a prone position, slowly touch-type answers to each of your e-mails and your new virtual friends’ Facebook and Instagram posts. That junior high school buddy who dumped you and was just nominated for a Pulitzer? Two thumbs up. The op-ed about the im1 Salt, sugar, chocolate and fat. Eighteen chocolate-covered pretzels make for the ideal midnight snack. 2
Some folks swear by SAD lamps. My own results with this have been mixed. I first
bought the deluxe version recommended by the shrink who is guiding me through my Prozac withdrawal. Turns out this rectangle of dazzling light was the size of our living room picture window. I mailed it back in exchange for the trimmer model. That one was the size of our attic skylight. I placed the virtual skylight on my bed directly in front of me while I used my iPhone. For two and a half hours. I guess I feel less SAD now, but I am blind in one eye.
minent end of the world? Three hearts. And by the way, spending an hour—or four—replying to your friends and relatives does not make you a lazy sloth. No: You are engaging in the 21st-century equivalent of a Jane Austen heroine attending to her correspondence in her hoops and petticoats whilst sitting upright at a Victorian lady’s desk with ivory stationery, quill pen and bottle of ink. While listening to an e-book on her iPad. 6. Take a break. To recover from the waves of jealousy, floods of panic, and tsunami of dread that inevitably result from the use of social media, engage in a solitary restorative activity. Play a minuet on your harpsichord, then button up your boots and embark on a morning constitutional across the heath. If, perchance, no harpsichord or heath manifests itself at your manorial estate, do as I do: stay in bed and open the game apps on your phone. This morning, for example, I digitally assembled eight new jigsaw puzzles posted since I closed my eyes the night before. Alternating those with rounds of Free Cell, Tetris and Words with Friends will most certainly keep dementia at bay. 7. Read the news. At 11:56 a.m3. precisely, scan the dozen online news sources at your fingertips for the latest reports on mass shootings, collapsing democracies, and icebergs melting into the ocean. You may find, among the 99,999 shockingly horrible news blasts, one heartwarming story of a little kid saving her puppy. Or guppy. If you don’t—and you probably won’t—proceed to Step 8. 8. Take a break. You’ve earned a nap and you need it. So resist the urge to re-pee and instead close your eyes and relax yourself by visualizing a 3
A NASA study found that even a forty-minute nap improved sleepy astronauts’ and
airplane pilots’ performance by 34% and alertness by 100%. Imagine how much more beneficial an eighty or 120-minute nap would have been. Especially if the study subjects had something really complicated and important to do afterwards, like revising one paragraph of my novel.
babbling brook. Oops, no, not a babbling brook. And not a melting iceberg, either. Maybe a palm tree, gently swaying in the wind. In Vermont, now that it’s 83 degrees there. In the winter. 9. Inspire yourself to face the day. When, at 1:49 p.m., you awaken from your fevered nightmare about ICE agents barreling down hordes of refugee penguins, puffins, and polar bears while peeing on the U.S. Constitution, distract or motivate yourself with nineteen random things Facebook has decided to show you after spying on you all morning. A pop-up ad for Twyla Tharp’s Keep it Moving that details the 77-year-old legend’s sunrise workout routine. A news article about 82-year-old Jane Fonda getting herself handcuffed and hauled off to jail every Friday for protesting climate inaction at the Capitol. And the morning practices of the prolific author Haruki Murakami, who at your age wrote for five to six hours daily, beginning at four a.m., then decompressed with a ten-kilometer run. Take in the shame and resolve to take in the lesson. You will not waste another microsecond of this precious day. You will do it. For sure. Now. Any minute now. You will, absolutely, positively and for sure: 10. Shower. But first, you probably need one more break.
Foggy by Mary Lou Grace Robison
Family Liquidation by Sharon Kennedy-Nolle
How long does it take to get a cup, sip by sip, down the throat of my mother, who no longer knows how to swallow? About three hours, if I’m lucky. And how long is it, if you stare long enough, until eight ounces becomes a body of water, a reserve to ward off drought? Back aching after arching over, coaxing her soft, chill cheek, stroking her draperied neck, like my cat’s, without content to please, please, just swallow. Then the dribble comes again, lips pinch, eyes dried close: why try?
If only she could see out her window, where pink breaks out, apple blossoms leaf into fruit. Although it seems this time I’m on top, the high ground of things, eulogy done, casket picked, service rehearsed, the only real estate I’ve got is a graveyard spot. In fact, I’m buying up half the cemetery, —ten three-by-six plots, why not? Syllables flock and sympathy signatures scatter like the birds at which they fire on the hour, done to keep the dam clear —drinking water supply— Mother, do you hear, in between sips, the gunshot blanks echoing off that reservoir in which he sank himself ?
Playground Princesses by Marisa Montanez
Do you remember when we were little girls? When we swung so high on the swings in our backyard? Do you remember how free that felt? The wind in our hair and our tiny little legs pumping faster and faster? I miss those girls. The ones who grew up a little bit when they prank called Johnny’s house. The ones who grew up a bit more when they snuck a Lime-a-Rita into the woods and alternated sips on the swaying hammock. They aged even more when there was no more hammock but still so much swaying because of something much stronger than a Limea-Rita, but this time they lost each other at the party. The suburban blocks that separated the two young girls turned into thousands of miles and sometimes one girl will remind the other about their time on the swings. And this thought might hurt a bit. Because back then, it felt like the backyard was so big and the sky was so high, yet nothing was out of reach. They could just swing their legs and they’d get there. But now these legs are longer and that should mean they can go even higher but somehow longer simply means heavier and that makes it so
much harder to swing. These legs now have bruises and scars and sometimes they go numb. Sometimes these legs give out and sometimes they bleed. But these legs are uncrossed and unapologetic, and yes, they are heavy but they get us where we need to go. We step through and we step forward but we will never step down.Â Maybe we still are like those little girls. Swinging high and holding on for dear life.
Lost Recipes by Mary Lou Grace Robison
THE DIORAMIC IMAGINATION by Josh Gidding
For John Colligan (1955-2008)
When I first saw the trailer for the feature film Welcome to Marwen (2018), I was intrigued—and also dubious. A movie about dolls and Nazis, with computer-generated images (CGI) and live-action combined? Director Robert Zemeckis is known to be a great innovator in cinematic technique and technology, but this one looked like it might be over the top, and the critics seemed to agree. Welcome to Marwen got a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 31%, and the reviewer for the New York Times said it was as if a Wes Anderson movie had gotten stuck inside a Tim Burton movie, with the actors thinking they were in a TV sitcom. But then I heard that an earlier documentary, called Marwencol, about the same artist the feature was based on, was supposed to be good. I saw Marwencol on Netflix and found it utterly compelling. It sent me back to the feature film, where my fascination now turned to rapture. Welcome to Marwen, I thought, was utterly original, inspired, inspiring—unforgettable. Even before I left the theater, I had started to experience that excited, fluttery feeling in my solar plexus that signals the effect of true poetry upon my system. (When asked to define poetry, Emily Dickinson said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” For me, it’s all in the solar plexus.) I recognized the sensation from when I’d read Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens in graduate school; and, before that, the time my cousin John (may he rest in peace) took me to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan to see an exhibit on Joseph Cornell—an event I’ve never forgotten. I felt I’d entered a place of intense enchantment, wonder, and charm. In the case of Wordsworth (The Prelude) and Stevens (Notes toward a Supreme Fiction), I didn’t fully understand what I was reading; I only knew I had to have more of it. In all these experiences, it was as though I’d suddenly become
aware of a region inside of me, located just south of my breastbone, that had never been touched in quite this way before, and now was craving a continual reapplication of the stimulus. I could feel my mind opening up and drinking it in—whatever it was. The elixir of the imagination, maybe. Keats’s famous poetic description of his introduction to Homer through Chapman’s translation is a good expression of the kind of imaginative excitement I was undergoing: “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/ When a new planet swims into his ken.” No doubt there is also an intellectual component to this sensation, when it occurs—the mind feels like it is straining its bounds—but it is, for me, primarily a visceral experience. Something has set my engine going—a switch turned on inside, my inner receiver tuned to a specific frequency I didn’t even know was there before. I have the sense (following Keats) that a new territory, a new field of interest, has come into view and must be investigated, by me, right now. There is something impelling me onwards—an attraction and a stimulus both, a push-pull of the imagination that mostly bypasses the intellect but is unmistakably of the intellect as well. (For who, after all, is a more intellectual poet than Stevens? And Cornell’s exquisite and elusive constructions also appeal strongly—if only indirectly—to the intellect. The painter Robert Motherwell said of him, “His true parallels are not to be found among the painters and sculptors, but among our best poets.”) The intellectual appeal of these world-builders—and others of their ilk, like Proust, Mann, and the Hesse of The Glass Bead Game—lies, I think, in their ability to stimulate an intense curiosity and hunger. They provoke the desire to know much more of their worlds. I was feeling this desire with the Marwen material. I say “Marwen material” because while the movies had set me off, it was more the idea, or ideas, behind the movies that were now propelling me forward in hard pursuit of the world of the dolls; and I also had the feeling that these ideas were somehow connected with Stevens’s poems, and Cornell’s boxes.
Perhaps a little more background on the dolls and their world is in order. In April of 2000, a 30-year-old amateur sketch artist named Mark Hogancamp, who sometimes liked to wear women’s clothing—he had a special thing for women’s shoes, of which he had collected over two hundred pairs—got severely beaten up by five hoodlums outside a bar in Kingston, NY. One of his assailants was sporting a Nazi tattoo. He lay in a coma for nine days, and then spent another forty in the hospital, where he got reconstructive surgery on his face. Hogancamp’s memory was permanently impaired, and his hands shook so badly he could no longer draw the World War II battle scenes that had earlier inspired his sketches. But his artistic imagination was left intact, so he turned to dolls—Barbie dolls and World War II action figures—to express what he wanted to say. In the yard of his trailer home in Kingston, Hogancamp built and populated the miniature Belgian village of Marwencol (the name a fusion of his and those of two women, Wendy and Colleen, that he knew). This 1940’s-vintage doll world was as complete as he could make it, with a miniature and exquisitely detailed bar, church, post office, U.S. Army jeeps and motorcycles (some with sidecars), and even a central town square with a working miniature fountain—all done in 1/6 scale. The village was inhabited by dolls representing the local women and the American GIs stationed around the village. Periodically, Hogancamp would stage German raids on Marwencol, and the Barbies and GIs—fully armed—would combine forces to defeat the Nazi dolls. (In these battles, things could get quite gory.) Hogancamp customized all his dolls to look different, using model paint and doll clothing, and then mounted scenes in and about the village and local countryside and photographed them. The scenes and photographs were set up in painstaking detail and were always of high quality. Hogancamp’s work eventually came to the attention of David Naugle, the editor of an arts and culture journal, Esopus, and he was subsequently given a show of his own at a
gallery in Greenwich Village. Hogancamp became something of a celebrity in the art world—and something of a hero as well. But what gives the Marwen material its depth and resonance is not really what you can see on any screen, large or small. Nor is it the technical or aesthetic achievements of Zemeckis, or the documentary filmmaker, Jeff Malmberg, or even Hogancamp himself—captivating though all of these are. It is the way Hogancamp’s imagination has animated and inhabited his world. A number of the men and women he knew in Kingston have become the doll-characters of his imagination. He recreated himself as “Hoagie,” an Army Air Corps fighter pilot who was shot down and crash-landed outside Marwencol. He was rescued from the Germans and taken in by a band of local women—with one of whom, “Anna,” he fell in love. (Her original was a neighbor of Hogancamp’s, Colleen—married, with children—who lived across the street, and with whom Hogancamp was hopelessly in love.) And the vicious beating that changed his life was, in turn, transformed into the ongoing story of Hoagie’s personal feud with the Nazis. (Though much of his memory was permanently erased, Hogancamp never forgot the brute with the Nazi tattoo.) The Zemeckis movie is especially ingenious in the way it juxtaposes the live-action people in Hogancamp’s real life with the CGI-animated dolls of his fantasy world. (The doll figure of Hoagie bears an “uncanny-valley” resemblance to Steve Carrell playing Hogancamp.) But, as I say, it’s not really the Marwencol movies themselves that have gotten my solar plexus going. It’s more what the movies have set off in my mind: the idea of an alternative world —historical yet fictional, miniature yet entire and, in its own way, infinite—contiguous to our own, yet also clearly demarcated and separate. The kind of world you might experience, say, in a diorama. It’s the idea of the “Dioramic Imagination” that has been let loose and is fluttering around inside of me. Yet to say that the Dioramic Imagination has been “let loose” is
an oxymoron, since the Dioramic Imagination actually thrives (indeed relies) on constraint: on a miniature tableau of figures and scenes usually (but not always, as in the case of Marwencol) bounded by walls on three sides, and a glass partition—or simply an opening—on the fourth. But as is also the case with poetry, it is precisely the limits of the art form—in poetry, the constraints of poetic form (meter, rhyme, or, lacking these, the natural rhythms of language); in dioramas, the constraints of a severely bounded physical space—that unleash the imagination, in both the artist and the audience. You might even call a poem a kind of box of language, wherein an entire world in miniature is represented; or conversely, you could see a diorama as a box that serves as a poem in graphic form—a frozen snapshot set free to move into, and inside of, the viewer’s imagination. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and it’s the viewer who is called to move into the world of the diorama. When I was a kid, and my grandmother—on those trips I made to New York with my parents— would take me to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), I used to wonder what it would be like to actually be transported into the worlds inside the dioramas—into specific locations, at specific times of year, as labeled on the frames below the windows of the magic boxes: “The Canadian Rockies in June,” “The Adirondacks in October.” The specifics of the settings were for some reason particularly pleasing and comforting to me, as were the timeless, suspended worlds captured by the artistry of the dioramatists: the representation of a total world in itself, perfect and unchanging. Sterile, too, I suppose: frozen in space and time, and static, and hermetically sealed. (Not to mention full of dead and stuffed animals.) But I could ignore the deathliness of the environments in favor of their evocativeness. They were closely based, after all, on real-world settings, studied and recreated by naturalists and artists whose job it was to bring us into another world—a world within a world (within a world, as it happened): the world of the diorama, within the
world of the museum, within the world of New York City—a trifecta of transport. The transport was the main thing; but almost as important— and really part of the transport, when I come to think of it—was the awareness of simultaneity, of being at once in the museum, in New York, and also somewhere else: inside the perfectly imagined and achieved world of the diorama. Transport and immanence: the wonder of somehow being here and elsewhere, at the same time. Such separate little worlds have always had a strong appeal for me, ever since I discovered the pleasures of the stereoscopic View-Master® as a young child. (Cornell, it turns out, had an antique stereoscope as well—not as compact as the View-Master, but working on the same principle.) This toy seemed to hold out the offer of a tangible new world, just beyond the reach of my fingertips. I remember, in particular, a series of “Alice in Wonderland” slides in which, when you popped the circular slides into the viewer and pushed down the lever, seemingly three-dimensional models of Alice and her whimsical friends, in various settings, were tantalizingly laid out before your eyes. These settings seemed so real that I could not believe they were not somehow physically present inside the View-Master. How could I not touch and enter their world, when I could see it so clearly in three dimensions, right in front of me? It was as if I had walked through the fourth wall of a diorama and were suddenly present inside the display case. The world I had crossed over into—not unlike Alice moving through the looking glass—was complete, perfect, self-contained: contiguous with my familiar reality, yet utterly other—a world existing right alongside, but distinctly apart from, my everyday world. This double awareness, of both transport and security, was no doubt part of the curious feeling of comfort I received from the dioramas at the AMNH. And the possibility that I could return, in my mind, to the memory of the dioramas, was like the knowledge that I had available to me, whenever I wanted, at the touch of a lever, the perfect, unchang-
ing, and continually and mysteriously fetching alternative world of the View-Master. It was something both here and there. And therein lay its fascination, and the mysterious sense of reassurance that it conveyed. Reassurance of what? The reassurance, I think, of escape-and-return. The transport was both reliable and temporary—not unlike the experience of Disneyland, another scene of my childhood imagination, and itself a sort of giant, living diorama. For this reason, perhaps, I think what I loved more than anything else in Disneyland—not only as a child, but also today—was Main Street, and the dioramic pleasures of its 5/8 scale (which I read or heard somewhere is the secret of its appeal). The world of Main Street was miniaturized—but not too much: just a little more than halfway, which was enough to make it tantalizing and yet at the same time conceivably habitable, or almost. It was like walking into a diorama of the past—exactly as its creators and designers had imagined, no doubt—and being surrounded with the aura and atmosphere of another time. (And the “old-time” piano music broadcast throughout Main Street enhanced the effect.) Of course, it was totally contrived and artificial—as my parents, who were progressively anti-Disney, would see fit to remind me. And so my pleasure in Main Street was always somewhat diluted by my sense, imbibed from my parents, that I probably shouldn’t be enjoying it as much as I was. Yet I couldn’t help it. Who could? Main Street and the View-Master and the dioramas at the AMNH all spoke to a longing in my mind (and gut) for complete and miniature and self-contained alternative habitats that I could enter into. Places that were encapsulated and enclosed, safe and protected—parallel worlds that were contiguous to, but also separate from, my everyday reality. They spoke to me of an environment of order and containment, shelter but also escape, that I found deeply appealing. They were saturated with the atmospherics of another time and place. The dividing up of my experience, as a child, into separate,
self-contained but adjacent compartments was perhaps a precursor to what is now my (admittedly weird) taste for dividing up my life into constituent “periods,” which itself is an aspect of a larger (and perhaps even weirder) tendency to indulge in what I have come to call “biographization”—the seeing of my life as if through the eyes of a future biographer, to whom has been entrusted the task of giving structure and meaning to my life. And what the biographer does, it seems to me, is not dissimilar to the art of the dioramatist, in this sense: the biographer shrinks the life of her subject so it can fit into a kind of box—the box of a narrative—and attempts thereby to see and portray it as a whole—a kind of temporal diorama, if you will. This process of miniaturization and containment causes much to be lost, of course—just as a photograph, in stopping and isolating a moment in the life of the subject, causes that life to be removed from its natural context and continuum. But in the hands of an artist like Cornell, or Stevens, or Proust, there is life—the life of thought and feeling and imagination—injected into what otherwise might have been a sterile box. The Dioramic Imagination apprehends the world in miniature, and seizes and preserves its wholeness, the sense of its entirety, through this transformation. Old photographs, too—and, in a way, the sense of the past itself—may be seen as a kind of diorama. I am thinking of the old photographs and etchings that were so dear to Cornell, and formed such an important part of his art. To look at old photographs, for me at least, is to want to inhabit them, to enter into that world as you might want to do with a View-Master or diorama. The light of the world in old photographs is different: hazy, muted, diluted, separated from us by the “thick” air of time and history. Of course, we know there must have been brilliantly clear, pellucid, luminous days in the past — “New England June days,” as I like to think of them; but it never seems that way in old blackand-white photographs. There always seems to be a kind of light, faint scrim laid down between you and the objects, which you cannot quite
penetrate. No doubt this has also to do with the techniques of photography back then—the time of exposure, the quality and speed of the film, etc. But more importantly, it’s something about their aura and atmosphere, the ways the imagination recuperates and transforms experience in old photographs and creates a world within a world (within a world), that makes them dioramic. Memory and imagination are transformative—and also preservative. They preserve our pictures of things, both real and ideal, and at the same time bring us somewhere else, and invite us to bide a wee. Amid the here and now, they bring us also to the there and then, and lead us to inhabit, impossibly, that contiguous place. Memory “dioramatizes” the past, in the sense that it “boxes” it and transports you back into it. St. Augustine knew this, even though he did not have photographic technology at his disposal. Then again, he didn’t need it. All this I do inside me, in the huge court of my memory. In my memory are sky and earth and sea, ready at hand along with all the things that I have ever been able to perceive in them and have not forgotten. And in my memory too I meet myself—I recall myself, what I have done, when and where and in what state of mind I was when I did it…. From the same store I can weave into the past endless new likenesses of things either experienced by me or believed on the strength of things experienced; and from these again I can picture actions and events and hopes for the future; and upon them all I can meditate as if they were present. The “court of memory” that Augustine so beautifully evokes here is a sublime instance of the Dioramic Imagination, and hints at that “infinite” quality I touched on earlier, in discussing the Marwen material. The Dioramic Imagination combines the immanent with the transcendent— the here and now with the then and there—in a way that makes these
sublimities seem to be accessible, tangible, graspable. You may reply that the diorama is a homely, humble art form, and as such seems highly unlikely as a container for the sublime. Yet that’s the very paradox that makes the Dioramic Imagination come alive. It’s in the act of containment—of being “boxed”—that the imagination is let loose. It seeks the safe haven of an enclosed, protective, secure, and fictive world, where it is free to roam, and from which it can then return to its familiar, unbounded—and much less safe—natural reality. The older I get, the more real hell becomes, and the more I am in need of that contiguous, safer, fictional place accessible through the Dioramic Imagination. To love dioramas is another way of loving your childhood and wanting to hold onto the source of that love, futile as that impulse may be. To partake of the Dioramic Imagination is to see the things you love once again through the liminal plate glass window, or through the View-Master—or even from the inside of a poem. It is to inhabit a protected space of the imagination, bordering on —yet clearly demarcated from—our everyday world. But entering the Dioramic Imagination is always a bittersweet experience, perhaps because we know—even (or especially) in our child’s heart—that leaving it is so inevitable, and so imminent.
by Bridgette Yang
i am 8 years old. hungry for lunch i pull out my hello kitty thermos filled with rice porridge and open my ziploc bag of dried pork sung. suddenly my crush, the boy with blonde hair and blue eyes looks up from his corndog laughing, asking, “are you eating hair?” he puts a pinch in his mouth and when he spits it out the whole table erupts into laughter, making me want to spit out my culture. two years later and I am ten. i’m sitting in the backseat of momma’s car listening to KPCC when I tell her I wish I wasn’t asian. “momma,” I say. “don’t you think blonde hair is prettier than black?” “don’t you think europeans are prettier than asians?” she asks me why I think this way. i tell her, “that’s what all the magazines say.” at least, that’s what I thought.
because while other girls looked at models since they were skinny I looked at them because they were white bright, blinding pictures of these porcelain skinned, blue eyed angels“beautiful” america said. “plaster them across every media platform available.” “to be white was to be beautiful” I told myself. to be white was to have the stage and the job and the award and the world so to have the wrong skin meant you were never going to win. so i glued my mouth shut. my chinese was a dragon with too much fire so I english extinguished the flame. tried to whitewash down the ashes of a language i swore to never speak, tried to bleed out the history of my immigrant parents flowing in me like calligraphy ink, but soon my body felt sick. how could I forget the culture that has rooted herself in me? taiwan tattooed her sunrises on the backs of my eyelids, gave me fresh soy milksoymilk for a voice shine of her tallest building for a smile and i will not forget the culture that has shaped me into everything i have and will become. america, can’t you see? you’ve got a crime on your hands.
stole the dreams and confidence of asian americans nationwide, taught them that they will only be the sidekick and never the main character, said they need double eyelid surgery and white canvas skin to be a work of art but we cherry blossom into color, are here for each other, stronger than jadewe are a gem if you just dig deep enough. 所以我不要躲了。 我的中文不奇怪，而是音樂。 my chinese will water gardens grown for my ancestors, carry me into a new world, and glue my two cultures together. i am 16 years old. i ask my friend if i should get bangs and she tells me that i will “look too asian.” so i cut my hair. i talk to my parents in chinese in public even though they are fluent in english. you can’t erase race, and i wish i knew this sooner. i wish i knew how beautiful my small eyes, my black hair, my chinese, is.
because they are all a part of who i am and who I am is a proud taiwanese american. a whirlwind of poetry and song, the dragon fire girl with a bilingual tongue, standing strong, rooted. beautiful.
Me, Him, and the Writing Group by Regina Toth
In writing school, I mostly cared about what my teachers had to say. Occasionally, a fellow student would say something useful, and I would apply it to my writing. But more often than not they had little solid advice to offer, which didn’t surprise me, because they were in writing school, too, for a reason. Mostly, it was the teachers who knew how to draw upon any little thread that seemed to be going in the right direction. How you had the neighbor’s cat glaring at you through the window—that’s what I’m talking about. The students were a mixed group. Often, the worst of the group would give advice that tried to make everyone else’s writing look more like theirs, which meant that they didn’t know how bad their writing was, and what it was like to have to read it. The good writers were good in their writing and in their advice. They did not have that personality disorder that made them blind in their observations and deaf on the receiving end of everyone else’s advice. It was pretty straightforward, and you knew, in writing school, whom to listen to and whom to ignore, for your own good. The teachers were better at giving advice, as would be expected. They were also good at containing certain writers, so that their style wouldn’t get planted like a weed in the form of advice and choke out whatever good writing the rest of the students were producing. I vowed that I would never join a writing group, because without the
grounding voice of the teacher, I could see only chaos or a circular firing squad. Now I am in a writing group, and I am finding that I was wrong about the group without a teacher. It works okay, or it did work okay. Until he joined. I don’t know why I am the only one in my writing group who doesn’t want him there. It may not be him; it may just be his writing that I have a problem with, or it may be his genre. I think his genre is “action,” but I’m not sure if that even is a genre. His piece, which we are going through chapter by chapter, involves a billionaire, scantily clad women, politics, a yacht, and sharks. He wants it to be a book first, and then a movie. At our last meeting, we spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the sharks and whether they were behaving in a realistic manner. I wanted to suggest that the problem wasn’t the sharks behaving or not behaving, it was the plot that wasn’t acting normal, but I kept quiet. He doesn’t take suggestions well, and he never incorporates anything that is suggested into his writing anyway. He doesn’t want to, I guess. I have a lot of thoughts about his piece. For instance, I think that it needs less action. It’s hard to process all the action that comes at you in every scene. At one point, I couldn’t tell which character the shark was attacking. The plot is insane, or maybe it’s just that I feel insane when I read it, because I am the only one who needs to have it explained to me by the rest of the group. And I worry about the characters. They all sound the same with their short, declarative sentences, like action figures, each with a stock phrase and a move or two, and that’s it, even for the scantily clad women. I think they could all benefit from a greater interior life. Short of that, I can’t bring myself to care whether any of the characters live, die, or get mauled by a shark. I have developed a bias against him that is affecting my judgment. I didn’t want this bias; it grew on its own. At this point I’m not sure I can successfully keep it hidden from the rest of the group. It may be
too late. Weirdly, no one else in my group has these issues with his work, which may mean that there are no issues with his work; the issues may be entirely mine. Occasionally, other members, whose writing I respect, will tell him that they can’t wait to read what will happen next in his story. This makes me feel left out, because when it comes to his writing, I never want to read more than I have to. I also find it hard to watch him when he hears the feedback— how he loves to explain his process, how he comes up with his ideas. I’m envious that he is able to enjoy the writing, the presenting, and the hearing of the feedback. I can’t do any of those things gracefully. I look at him and wish that I could be as straightforward and innocent as he seems to be. We are polite as a group, and formal. We follow a system that we patched together from our days in graduate school—those of us who took that route—and things we picked up from workshops. My group produces some good work. When someone really nails it, we are happy to heap on the praise, because we think it benefits the rest of the group to have real talent on display like that. We never talk about anyone else’s writing if they are not around to hear it, and we try to stay supportive if possible. If we can’t, we stay quiet. Even if little is said, we have a way of knowing how a person feels about each piece of writing. My writing is uneven and divisive. Some people in my group love it, and some people hate it. I don’t mind if someone hates it—it’s not for everyone. And even now, after a full year in the group, with each piece I write, I still won’t know who will hate it and who will love it. Maybe love is too strong a word. I don’t love my writing—in fact, I hate it. It embarrasses me, and I like to distance myself from it when we workshop it in my group. He sometimes offers suggestions. At our last meeting, he helpfully suggested that I not use the word I as much. He even went so far as to circle on his hard copy all the I’s in my
essay, because he wanted me to be aware of just how many there were. There were a lot, and when I saw them with my own eyes, I felt like a narcissist and became self-conscious and even more ashamed of my writing than usual. He made it worse by saying that other people in the world had experienced the same things that I had in my life, but they, unlike me, chose to keep it to themselves. The leader and spiritual mother of the group defended me by reminding him gently that I wrote personal essays, and that my use of the word I was not excessive. He remained silent when she said this, which signaled to me that he didn’t believe her. The other members laughed because of what he said about the I’s, but he did not laugh. He only said that he never read personal essays, and he didn’t know that that was how they were supposed to go. I try to be nice. If I say something critical about someone else’s writing in front of the group, and no other person agrees with my assessment, I take it back immediately for two reasons: I may be wrong, or I may be opening myself up for some kind of writerly retribution when it’s my turn to read my work. I’m wrong a lot, so I am trying to tighten up my delivery and not get too caught up in minutiae, mainly because I want to survive the process and bring my little, deformed piece of writing out alive with me too. Once I wrote a piece about my daughter that I thought was funny. She is thirteen and can try my patience because she is thirteen. Rather than lay into her, I wrote an essay about her. I love my daughter, but he thought, based on my essay, that I hated her. And he admitted to the group that after he read my essay, he lost respect for me as a mother. He wrote, “The mother is evil” along the top of his copy and then handed it to me with a look. That was his only comment. Of course, I found this unhelpful. I spent the rest of the meeting feeling abused and thinking of ways I could demonstrate my love for my daughter and my hatred for him without making the rest of the meeting too much about me. I tried to explain myself by telling the group that
I wrote the piece, which was about my daughter’s messy, messy room, after a few glasses of wine and a lot of hours of my life spent cleaning up after her while she rolled her eyes. I was open to the idea that maybe I needed to nuance it more. I also mentioned that I thought the wine didn’t hurt the writing and may even have helped it flow better. The rest of the group agreed that it did have a nice flow. They made it clear that they understood what I was going for, and most important to me, they acknowledged that it was clear to them that I loved my daughter. He was not convinced. I want to drive him from the group, but I don’t know how. I think what will end up happening is this: he will be successful. People love reading about sharks, scantily clad women, billionaires, and politics, and people hate reading about mothers cleaning thirteen-yearold daughters’ bedrooms while the daughters stand by, rolling their eyes. So that may be the thing to drive him from the group—his own success. He never did have much to say about anyone else’s writing, except occasionally to offer his opinion about the moral state of the writer, which I don’t think we are supposed to do in a writing group. In observing him I suspect two things: He has never been in a writing group (I had never been in one either, so this is not an indictment), and he has never read any of the other members’ writing until the actual meeting, when we go around a circle to discuss it. I think this because he often asks questions that are clearly addressed in the pieces. The group confronted him once when it became evident that he hadn’t read my piece. He explained that it was his understanding that the custom of reading another member’s work was optional if it wasn’t a genre he was interested in. Everyone laughed when he said this, because they thought he was joking, but I knew that he wasn’t. I do know we have little in common except this: we are both writers, and we both have problems with each other’s writing. And then there is this, our major difference: he wants to be a serious writer and I don’t. I just want to be around them,
the good ones at least. At our last meeting, he looked pale. He carried his piece of writing rolled up in his hand, as if he had forgotten that it was there. This was not the way he normally acted, especially toward his own work. He seemed distracted. He went first, read part of his piece, listened to the feedback, and then got up to leave. I thought his cockiness had reached a new levelâ€”sticking around long enough to workshop his own piece, and that was it. But that wasnâ€™t it. He was sick. Our de facto leader mentioned it once he was gone. He had not felt well for a while, and when the diagnosis came back, it was something deadly. He would probably not recover.Â After I heard this, I looked at his piece again later, when I was home, and something weird happened. For the first time, I could get into it; even the sharks grew on me. When it was done, I realized that, for the very first time, I was able to follow the plot.
3 AM Ghazal by Aalimah Raji
What’s on my mind, that’s personal, that’s my business Can’t, don’t tell me what to do with my business. Dancing down the hall at 3 am, going eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Be a dolphin, do a jig down that hall on some funny business. Me, homelessness, drought, death, poverty, profit Structure, housing, water, healthcare, education, business. That story about wolves, can’t remember anything but sheepskin They laugh twisted, fangs hiding behind bah bah bwahaha business. What makes a girl mean, the angle of her brows, the steel of her eyes The way she walks in those heels to kill—and she’s all business. Headphones on to ignore, eyes on the ground to avoid, neck tucked Hands tucked neat, feet stalling, readily minding my own business. They push, pull, kick, you fall, stand, beat with fists, let them Know you ain’t playing games, you mean business. The color brown, don’t like that, don’t like a lot of things,
Wet doorknobs, people, noise, busyness, that kind of business. Why Iâ€™m not interested; no humor, no pull, kind of a fool sounds like a tool, not fun enough to do business. Almost forgot, the last line needs a name, despite Complaints Allie still did that, handled her business.
Hard to Smile by Mary Lou Grace Robison
Dirty Dishes by Evalyn Lee
to deal with dirty dishes I go to church washing-up liquid bubbles on a brush scrubbing the tea-stained rings of human mistakes I am a kitchen sink Christian dirty plates bowls saucers coffee cups beat up against a brave lasagna chopped onions slough off chopping boards moved by water and Victorian pipes fresh strangers sit down tabled hungry homeless life in rubber gloves is odd I am no surgeon a rota of organized unity hands me another pan breaks the shield of shyness discomfort touch sinners gather to be baptized beside the kitchen sink heads bowed by failure loneliness threat dark drains the waste we soldier on with clearing up bump into one another laugh as a living stream of water washes us clean and grace puts away each glass cup plate
How things are going by D.S. Maolalai
fingers, boned like chicken wings. and my feet run lumps of hamburgered steak with long veins and stringed fat. all night I lie on my right or I’m kept awake, hammering my heart in my ears. the world is a quiet place; nothing but sound muted by walls soaked with mold and damp bookcases. my wallet is mainly receipts, two condoms, expired debit cards and a photo of an old girlfriend, gone in a foreign country.
the phone has rang today - my gran is going into hospital. normally it doesn’t ring at all. normally I’m ok with that.
you are half-white but without the privilege. do you call your child white by default? even when you yourself do not look white? your child is a math problem. is your child just two-thirds white? even when you teach them your family and your mother’s culture? even when your mother’s culture is a diluted history lesson to you? do you still call them mixed? you know the box you fit in. what box will cage your child? when will your child ask about your accent? why is it different from the others? will your child make fun of your accent? you used to make fun of your mother’s accent. you never apologized. when you look at your child, do you see your child or do you see a citizen? will they see you as a foreigner? will your child feel they belong? will you? will the kids at school make fun of your food?
by Michelle Dearden
will the moms at the bake sale scoff? will they deride the way your child talks, the way you talk? you look like your mother. will your child look like you the not-white half of you? will they make fun of your child’s hair, ears, eyes, the nose their father said, ‘our child got from you’? you hear the stories but you have more to tell. how do you tell them you left everything you knew for their father? will they think you are brave? will they ask why? will they imagine what happened if you had never left? imagine a life where their father is not their father, someone who is the same not-white half, someone who is not. what do you call the child of a mixed woman then?
One Day When There Are No More Christmas Cards by Evalyn Lee
from me and all my best intentions glitter like stars or silver berries on the back of black winter water oh how I will miss the taste and waste of glue and the chance to lick the lip of one more envelope turn the pages of my old address book I hope the kids will keep in a drawer refusing to let the past die too all the lanes streets avenues cities countries drown in a flooding sea while I sit writing underwater by candlelight’s illuminating stroke love gulls and calls me back into a current of human yearning that pulps the last standing tree into paper on which I splash out all my lived mistakes in a forest of waves stunned shepherds glorifying angels bear the weight of a life lived passed hand-to-hand stamped posted carried delivered put on ribbons kitchen counters hung off trees until the pine needles drop and recycling begins ignited by a blaze of clouds the sun is my pen and I in joy write over and over the resurrecting words: Merry Christmas.
Lou by Mary Lou Grace Robison
by Alecsander Zapata
Michael’s eyebrows were crinkled, sending fissures through his perfectly maintained forehead. He looked over his shoulder where all of his Angels were standing in a line. “What...” he pointed at the orb that was in front of him, then turned back to his men, then back at the orb, and then once more to his Angels, “what am I looking at here? Can someone explain this to me?” He threw his hands into the air before slapping them at his sides. One of the Angels, with golden blond hair and eyes, stepped forward. He cleared his throat twice. “Sir, what’s confusing you?” Michael widened his eyes and bobbled his head around while pointing at the orb. He tapped his foot impatiently against the marble floor. The golden-eyed Angel gripped his pen a bit tighter. “Yes, of course… The Project. Well, you see humanity seems to be struggling to-” “Yes! I can obviously see that.” He swung his neck around back at the orb. At the moment, the view was sweeping through the cosmos—shooting past nebulas and galaxies and displaying the deaths of blue supergiants in the young universe. The orb, despite moving through space at trillions of times the speed of light, seemed to glide past celestial bodies at the pace of a lazy stroll. The orb was about to take the Angels right through what would come to be known as the Triangulum Galaxy when Michael tapped at his temple,
which caused his eyes to glow with an incandescent white brilliance and yanked the view back to the Earth. He zoomed in further. The few pockets of humanity that had been formed were not exactly going as planned. The human race was limited to small and unrefined tribes. Although the tribal phase was in line with the initial projections, their completely halted development was a massive concern. All of the tribes were dying off in what could only be described as a form of self-genocide. Some groups would migrate to the beaches and either sit in the sand or jump in the water, never to move again. Others would stay put but huddled in the tightest packs they could manage, their arms and legs interlocked until they starved. And some groups had devolved to climbing back into the trees, refusing to touch the ground again unless it was from a fall to their death. None of the groups had developed verbal communication, discovered fire, or crafted even the most basic of tools. The Project was looking like a failure. Michael ripped away from the orb, white flames pounding at the edges of his eyes. “What is happening?” The words were spoken without any movement of his mouth, and the sheer strength of its roar knocked several of the Angels down. Michael’s Presence was overwhelming his team and one by one they began dropping their heads. The noise became louder and louder and a clear liquid formed in their ducts. Only Raphael, Michael’s brother, stood unbothered. One of the lower Angels pleaded with his remaining strength on behalf of his colleagues. Pleaded for patience. Raphael spoke and Michael’s eyes returned to their tranquil and beautiful state and he smoothed out the wrinkles in his suit. He had not always been like this, but with each failure in the Project, he had to give more and more of himself to it. Michael had been chosen as the matter of the universe. His divine aspect, the energy of creation. As a result, the world had been collecting its toll, and it was a hefty one. Just the day before, Gabriel had approached his two brothers with a warning.
“Dad isn’t happy. He told me that if you,” he raised his eyebrows to Michael, “can’t get this back on track by the end of the week, then I’m going to have to enter The Project with a specialist. One who can fix your mess.” Gabriel made his way to leave when Michael stood up. “This is insane! Do you not understand how impossible this is? I mean, I want to do this right but how am I supposed to know how to do that if he won’t tell me anything?” Michael’s protests fell on deaf ears—Gabriel didn’t slow his stride at all. Michael flared with white heat. “The Humanity Project is my assignment—you interfering would be catastrophic. You can’t just interfere without my permission.” “Raphael can heal any malfunctions that I cause by going in,” Gabriel replied while waving his hand dismissively, “Either way, I have Dad’s permission. I don’t need yours.” He turned around to look at his brother. “I’m sorry. I know you’ve been working hard on this, but this is just the way it has to be. Good luck.” Gabriel walked out of the conference room and closed the door gently behind him. Michael, now collecteded, calmly asked again what was happening. The golden-eyed Angel regained enough confidence to speak. “Sir, they seem to be avoiding fertile land. Like, practically at all costs.” “What? Why? That’s completely illogical. We put that there to get them to civilization.” “We think it’s the grass, sir.” “The grass?” The golden-eyed Angel nodded and pointed at the orb. In it, they could see that a tribe had sent out a trio of its three strongest warriors past the edge of its huddle camp, which stood on a wide and circular expanse of weeds.
The warriors stepped past the weeds and onto a dirt path which took them to a short grassland. The men could not bring themselves to put the grass beneath their feet, to rip it from the ground and smell it and toss it into the air in an act of reckless and innocent revelry. Its white blades shimmered in the light and were simply too divine to touch. Man could not bring itself to work the land. Man could only stare and cower in a fearful and primitive worship. Man could only retreat from such an awesome thing. Raphael stepped forward. “They stare at it nonstop, but refuse to touch it. Something about the way it looks is deeply disturbing to them,” he said. Michael clamped his teeth together and put his right hand on the orb. “Then we’ll change it up. Change the way it looks.” The previous white color was simply too divine, too imposing for man to till for civilization. It reflected mankind’s nature as an image of something else, something greater, which had in turn placed upon them a great burden. Now, there was an idea to change the grass to a color that represented their mortal condition. As Earth coursed the sun once more, man awoke to begin the first day of re-genesis. A small settlement of primitive humans descended from the trees, touched the ground with their rough feet and crawled to a clearing where they could see across vast distances. Somewhere between the grass at their feet and the infinitely vague horizon, they could make out the hazy visage of another tribe. There was a stillness between them for some time, as both parties struggled to comprehend existence outside of their own. A general panic began to spread through the humans who had just descended from the canopies of tall sky-scraping trees. Never before had they been exposed to such powerful negative space. Never before had they seen creatures so akin to themselves. The sun was directly overhead when a leader finally emerged from the pack of tree people and slowly marched across the red and ver-
milion grass. A counterpoint from the group in the clearing was sent to meet him. The two collectives watched silently as the representatives attempted to reach each other. Hand signals and pointing. Sounds and imitations and physical language. A combination of these gestures formed a sort of basic communication between them and the leader of the clearing people pointed into a dense cluster of trees to the right and the open space to the left and then down at the grass between them and shook his head. The leader of the tree people stared at his feet for a long time. The soft and lush blades massaged his feet as something stirred within him. The grass called out to a base aspect, a starving and savage instinct. He curled his toes around them and yanked upwards. He ran into the leader of the clearing people and threw himself on top of him. He struck him in the face and bit into his neck and ripped away with a chunk of flesh between his molars. Blood splattered over the land, but it was quickly lost. The leader of the clearing people began to twitch violently, and his tribe, who were shocked stiff before, were suddenly overcome with and possessed by something powerful and savage and they stomped across the grass, tearing it away from the nurturing soil and into the blood-misted wind. Mothers clawed out the eyes of other mothers. Brothers smashed in the skulls of other brothers. Fathers held up the hollow heads of other fathers. Crimson-painted babies cried on the grass, but the people of the clearing were no more; and the tree people were reduced to a handful. When the sun sank below the horizon, the survivors limped back to their tree and scaled its branches once more. “Are you kidding me? That was a disaster.” Michael was pacing the room and squeezing his hands together. The Angels sat around a hollow square table, with the orb resting on a marble podium in the center. “We are so, so, so… far behind from our initial projections. You all understand this, right? You all understand that this has to be in by the – end – of the – fucking – week?” The Angels stared at one another,
murmuring incomprehensibly before slowly nodding in absent agreement. Raphael sat next to his brother’s empty seat, watching him with no expression whatsoever. “Okay good. I’m glad that we all understand how serious this situation is,” he said as he pointed to the orb, “but does anybody have a proposition?” Inside the orb, humanity was pacified on the second day – grass had been reverted to its original white color and the tribes recovered their numbers by returning to their fearful custom of huddling on dead ground and clinging to the safety of tree branches and withering away in deserts. Michael scoffed at the Angels’ silence but ultimately forcedied himself into formality. “Well… as you know based on the report, we’ve confirmed that the color of grass has an extremely powerful effect on human behavior and social interaction. As far as we can tell, it’s emblematic of their relationship with nature as a whole. The report also states, if you couldn’t tell for yourselves, that the color red was an almost complete disaster.” The orb now displayed images from the previous day. “While red grass succeeded in ridding humanity of its fear of the land and getting the tribes to interact, it incited an absolutely unprecedented level of physical violence. Every single instance of group contact resulted in a fatality rate above fifty percent. Not only that, but the conflicts were incredibly brutal as well.” Inside the orb were decapitations, severed limbs, half-eaten corpses. Anael, the golden-haired Angel, felt an acidic, gurgling sensation in his stomach. The other Angels began shuffling in their seats and wiping their foreheads. Michael relentlessly showed horrifying scenes from the previous day with each passing moment. The violence got progressively worse. “If no one has a solution then we can all just keep basking in our failure…” Raphael touched Michael’s shoulder and he was compelled to
sigh and momentarily change the view to a distant cosmos. Uriel cleared his throat and raised his hand. Michael pointed at him. “Sir, maybe we should lighten the shade a bit. Something between red and white. The white had them afraid and non-social, but the red had them aggressive and confrontational. So maybe like, a pinkish color will strike a balance and get humanity back on track. That might promote interaction, but in a restrained sense. I think it’d help us reach our goal on time.” Michael closed his eyes and it was done. Then he left the conference room and got in the elevator and took it up to the 68th floor and walked into his office to lay on the sofa and enter a deep sleep. The third day began much like the first: the scared and trembling peoples of before were no longer scared and trembling. They explored their world, crossing hills and valleys of supple grass that was now a light pink. Solitary tribes met one another for the first time, again. These encounters showed more promise than the first day – the pink grass maintained a degree of pleasantry and control. Yet the decorum was underscored by a clawing desire, an instinct just as powerful and base as the one which drove the red grass humans to kill and maim. The pink grass poked at the most obvious and painful desire of them all – the carnal appetite. And when that appetite could not be satiated, and one of the sons of the desert people violated one of the daughters of the ocean people, the thin agreements of cooperation and the feeble illusions of loyalty were tossed aside in favor of action which would paint the grass a deep red once again. And while there were no more decapitations, no more maimings, and no more cannibalism, an altogether new and worse violence had become etched into the history of mankind. A predatory and dangerous hunger was spreading like a bright pink wildfire. When Michael saw this, he acted in a quick and desperate manner, incapacitating every living soul on the planet. The tranquility of unconsciousness gave the Angels a new direction. They borrowed from the celeste skies and navy oceans and im-
bued the grass with an azure hue – the color blue covered the landscape on the fourth day. And on the fourth day, there was, sure enough, not a single instance of violence. Not a single violation. Humanity did not cower in fear or retreat to the trees or throw themselves into the oceans, either. Mankind was peaceful and content, but of course this carried with it an entirely new set of problems. Ambition and drive were completely absent. Not even the instinct to survive remained. The people simply gathered on the waves of calm, blue grass and rested. They could not even be bothered to open their eyes. Their chests faced upwards to the sky in a languid protest against the supposed achievements they were meant to want. They didn’t desire a single thing that was on the Earth created for them. They did not care for glory and they could think less of their own survival. They were devoid of wrath and filled with the opposite of lust. There was not a single desire in the entirety of their collective being nor a speck of weariness. They simply wished to float on blue pastures and let the warm wind tickle their skin. One man found some fresh and soft soil underneath an oak tree. He used the last of his motivation to dig a small hole that was about a foot deep and a foot wide. He stuck his head inside it and bent his arms in odd ways to be able to pack the soil on top of it. When this was done, he did not move again. On the fifth day, Michael overcorrected. If the soothing blue was the enemy of man’s success, then surely gold, the most grand and luxurious tone of them all—also the brand color of Heaven Inc.—would spur them to the chase. And it did just that, every individual was suddenly motivated to prove their existence and immortalize themselves in the fabric of the universe. Every man aspired to kingdom and wealth and fame and glory. They tilled their land, finally using the resource that was made for them, but they did so on their own. Tribes disbanded, families split, companions dismissed. Every man attempted to prove his individual brilliance. Reliance, camaraderie, and fellowship had no place in this world. There was a divinity in their self-reliance and isolated talent, a
form of ascension which took place. A man who lived by the ocean collected all of the rocks he could find and carried them to his plot of golden land. He lay the rocks down in a circle and when the border was complete he stacked them on top of each other until they rose to his knees. Then he cut down the largest tree he could find and whittled its trunk into the shape of his own face. He climbed on top of his wooden face to look out at the ocean â€”whose view he had now surely conquered with his installationâ€”but could not see the blue waters. One of his former tribe mates had built a house which was far taller than his own face of wood which, he now realized, served no real purpose anyhow, other than to look at. The man climbed down and threw most of his rocks onto the sand at the bottom of the hill. Then he walked back to his face and pulled out all of the gold grass that surrounded it until his hands bled. After many hours, he had killed enough grass to have formed a decently deep ditch. He climbed into the ditch and then with two hands picked up the largest rock he could find and proceeded to strike his face against it until he no longer had one. The man who had built the house was inside, eating his dinner and silently challenging anyone, even God, to strike down his mighty work. On the sixth day, the grass was white again. After an intense and volatile meeting, Michael had let his Angels go home early. Now he sat alone with the orb, staring at distant galaxies and the births of stars and the event horizon of a black hole. He closed his eyes and a cluster of photons escaped its gravity, a ray of light shooting across the void. His celestial body begged him to forfeit and reclaim every part of himself that he had given up. The Project had taken so much from him that he felt his body would combust at any moment. That he would crack open like the bottle of a Molotov cocktail and immolate himself as he ignited everyone else. What was expected of him? What was he doing wrong? What was he doing right? He didnâ€™t know. He was never told. Yet apparently Gabriel was told things. Apparently, Gabriel was given the authority to
introduce prophets and supplant Archangels. At the moment, Michael was stuck somewhere between the third day and the fourth. He existed between resigned sloth and wounded pride. Somewhere between blue and gold. A final effort. A prayer to the skies. Michael touched the orb and finally left the office and walked out to the street where Raphael was waiting to take him home. Humanity rose on the seventh day. The yellow sun and the blue sky sat atop an eternity of green Earth. Grass straddled the hills and plains. The people came down from their trees, and stepped onto the grass, for the first time noting the trees and plants and life which was rooted within it. Man put the grass beneath their feet, ripped it from the ground and smelled it and tossed it into the air in an act of reckless and innocent revelry. They planted seeds and gathered fruit. They developed systems of trade, advanced tools, methods of communication. The color of grass became the color of currency. They worked the land and in turn it gave back to them. The leader of the tree people said, “This land is ours.” The leader of the people of the clearing said, “That is fine. This land over here is ours.” They would work together at times. They would cooperate and push each other to succeed. Civilization. And yet, the leader of the tree people would still hunger. He experienced three kinds of hunger. The first hunger would make him run around the continent, staking his flag in every acre of land that was unclaimed. He would be gone from his home and his family for months at a time. The second hunger would make him run to each of his flags and gorge on every scrap of beef and crop that had been yielded there. And then he would plant more seeds and implore the exhausted Earth to have improved its output with the next visit, so that he might take even more. When he encountered the third hunger, he would look over at the flags of the clearing people. All of their meats and spices and treasures and land. And his stomach would growl. And his blood would boil.
An Open Invitation by Jim Ross
summer holidays by D.S. Maolalai
dusk went ragged like the end of a game of chess; purity torn like toilet paper and most of the pieces gone. we all went home hanging under rucksacks with books and pencils in them or some of us just had pieces of paper, a lunchbox or a change of clothes. we yelled at each other and stopped in the shops. bought store brand pepsi and cigarettes. said “faggot”, “paedo”, “spastic”, “gay” because we were fools: that was just talking and those were just words. we talked to each other. talked and chased at girls. threw stuff in the river. arranged piss-ups for july. school was over. that was the point. the point was we all went home.
A Catch in the Spokes By Maggie Harrison
For years, I was silent. I told no one. Today that changes, partly because of you, moving your eyes across this page, participating in my liberation. Or my re-traumatization. Or elements of each. I won’t pretend it’s just one or the other. While I didn’t speak it, I didn’t ignore it: I learned about sexual assault; I completed rape crisis training and worked on a hotline; I got trained in self-defense. But I never disclosed it. I thought I didn’t need to. What good would it do to talk about it? Whom would it serve? I didn’t see a beneficiary. The spectacle of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony changed my mind. In her opening statement to the U.S. Senate Judicial Committee in the hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, she testified: “Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life for a very long time. I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these details. I did not want to tell my parents that I at age fifteen was in a house without any parents present drinking beer with boys. I convinced myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should just move on and just pretend that it didn’t happen.” Why should a fifteen-year-old girl be too afraid and ashamed to speak of an assault? Because she broke the rules—underage drinking, just like the boys from Georgetown Prep were doing. She understood the
previously published in Entropy in April 2019
double standard excused them and blamed her. But the seventeen-year-old Brett had grown up to become a judge and was poised to become the most powerful judge in the nation. She felt it was her civic duty to share this with her government. She was present and certain. And there was a witness—a second attacker. A U.S. Senator asked this survivor of sexual assault, in the hearing on the fitness for office of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, “What is your strongest memory of the attack?” “The laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense.” “You have never forgotten that laughter, forgotten them laughing at you?” “They were laughing with each other.” “And you were the object of the laughter?” “I was underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another.” The Supreme Arbiter of Justice. The most powerful post in our country. Drunk as a skunk, gleefully pulling the clothes from and violently quieting a girl from another school—not from one of the Catholic girls’ schools with whom they usually socialized—when she showed up at his friend’s party in high school. The experience didn’t rate as significant enough for him to remember it. How would it mark a man to have behaved that way to a woman? Would such behavior disqualify him for the lifetime appointment? If he successfully forgot, what does his capacity to forget reveal about us? If he remembers even a twinge through the stupor, are we worse off, with a Justice who knowingly lied? *** proof, n.: the action or process of establishing the truth of a statement. Imagine, if you will, a high school junior, an athlete with a broad chest and a dirty-blond mullet. Let’s call him Charles.
Our Charlie is a student at a private prep school that served only white boys for about seventy years before admitting white girls and an occasional person of color. He’s a day student at an institution that boards students from wealthier families whose parents don’t want them to live at home. The school is in the South, but it’s not a simple “seg school.” Though it was founded long before school segregation on the basis of race was recognized by the highest court in our nation to be unconstitutional, this institution certainly benefited from the ruling, representing an alternative to public high school for middle-class families in the region who didn’t want their children in classrooms with Black students. *** proof, syn.: Authentification. Confirmation. Verification. Validation. This particular seventeen-year-old kid is not from one of the moneyed families in Floyd County, Georgia. His father runs a pair of automotive shops; his mother is a caregiver for the elderly. They see an opportunity for their son to advance. He’s not particularly smart, but he’s charming and devious, and he’s an asset to the football team—a point that secures his position in the school and social pecking order. He prefers baseball, but he understands the priorities of the place. *** proof, n.: a series of stages in the resolution of a mathematical or philosophical problem. On the baseball team, he befriends a senior and inserts himself as the negotiator between this shy teammate and his crush, a freshman cheerleader with whom they’d both been trying to flirt. The three of them begin to spend time together on weekends. She is flattered by their attention, and embraces the adventure of traveling aimlessly with them on country roads as they put their new driver’s licenses to use, the two boys bantering playfully with one another, the girl seated in between them on
the front seat. They chose her. She feels protected. *** proof, v.: knead (dough) until light and smooth. In the end, she is safer with the two of them than with just one. When the older boy graduates and disappears and Charles becomes a senior, he courts the girl, now a sophomore, inviting her to parties with upperclassmen and eventually his senior prom. He’s Chuck when he’s drinking with his teammates, and that year he engages in plenty of drinking: watery yellow beers in cans he would crush after he drained, but also inexpertly mixed drinks—plastic Dixie cups filled with Coke or Fanta and whatever grain alcohol he can get ahold of. Girls are more willing to sip the sweet stuff; he likes to have soft drinks on hand at parties. As soon as she swallows, she is complicit in the misbehavior, and their evening activities are a secret from the adults. *** proof, v.: activate (yeast) by addition of liquid. Before his senior prom, he poses for photos with the girl. His bowtie and cummerbund match her dress and her lipstick. She has chosen the one-shoulder, slanted-hem number and allowed her hair to be teased up. It complements the white tux and the mullet and the shiny ChapStick he shows up wearing. *** proof, n.: (archaic) a test or trial. She has set the limits thus far, in terms of her physical intimacy. A playful slap and a smile from her; puppy dog eyes from him. He stops. In the car after the prom, she makes out with him, and doesn’t mind his pawing at first. She can still hold his hand when she grabs it, but as soon as she lets go, he resumes the invasion. She tries to say, wordlessly, Kiss me, yes, and I’ll kiss you tonight, but I’m keeping my dress on. He ignores her protest. His hands are too big. His arms are too nu-
merous. The affection and admiration she was led to expect in the front seat of his car at the end of this evening is so distant from the animosity of a wrestling match that she struggles to mentally process what is occurring. He is the person charged with protecting her—her date. His friend’s former girlfriend. He won’t stop. The taffeta bunches up in a wad beneath their weight. She cannot keep his fingers out of her crotch, in spite of the pantyhose which create for him an obstacle, and for her a possibility of escape. She despises the physical pressure and show of his strength. She struggles to keep her vagina to herself, away from his mouth and chin, away from his stubby fingers, away from his swelling penis in his trousers that she won’t touch and refuses to see. Is it her protests or his conscience that keeps that vulnerable part of him away? That tiny victory allows her to exit the car and enter the house quietly in her wrinkled dress, to go to school and avoid him, to pretend she can ignore the truth, which seems infinitely simpler than saying it aloud. *** proof, adj.: able to withstand something damaging. Resistant. Like Dr. Blasey Ford, she makes a rational decision to tell no one, to try and forget, to remind herself it could be worse. But he had raped her. She knows it. With one hundred percent certainty. And now, nearly thirty-five years later, she recognizes that she will never forget. Trauma, like poverty, is a condition. The human condition. It’s not pathology or disease. We have mechanisms to cope in its face, to learn to avoid it when possible, to heal from the injury so we can carry on. I was the girl. *** proof, v.: proofread (a text). Who can forget? Who must remember? Whom do we tell?
Kavanaugh swore under oath he’d never been so drunk that he didn’t remember his actions. Dozens of classmates offered testimony that Kavanaugh was repeatedly “staggering from alcohol consumption,” “belligerent and aggressive” when drinking to excess, and “sloppy drunk.” Dr. Blasey Ford passed a lie detector test and offered her memory for the FBI—and the world—to investigate. The President of our country, at a rally in Mississippi on October 3, 2018, mocked her testimony by interrogating himself: “How did you get home? I don’t remember. How did you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs—where was it? I don’t know—but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.” This President turned to Brett Kavanaugh at the public swearing-in on October 8, apologized for his suffering, and said, “I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent,” a factual inaccuracy. A confirmation hearing is not an adjudication of guilt. *** proof, n.: the strength of distilled alcoholic liquor. A measure of the percentage of alcohol in an alcoholic drink, equal to twice the actual percentage of alcohol. Liquor that is 50 proof is 25% alcohol. A survivor doesn’t deny something by ignoring it. A perpetrator doesn’t escape it by evading it. He carries the crime in his blood and bone marrow. A wealthy white man with power—who is notorious for using his power to assault women without consequences (“When you are famous, they let you do it”)—selects another wealthy white man—who is known to use his power abusively, to demean and degrade, and then not even have the common decency to notice he has hurt someone and remember it as something he participated in—for a position of absurd
power. *** proof, v.: treat a surface with a substance that will protect it against something, especially water. Systematic violence—violence directed against members of a marginalized group by members of a dominant one—is a means of social control. It works to traumatize and terrify. Rape and the threat of rape are not merely individual crimes and transgressions; Brett’s and Chuck’s and Donald’s actions are spokes in a grand, quiet, constantly turning wheel of male privilege. What gnaws my soul is the way silence greases the axle. *** i.e., Bullet-proof. Waterproof. Wind-proof. Frost-proof. Why do you need to know? Why do I need to tell? If I continue to cover up the crime, to consider it a private injury, I turn my back on Dr. Blasey Ford, who offered her memory to us as her civic duty, whose memory has been challenged and questioned, whose reluctance to speak up was used to discredit her. She felt shame at fifteen, and now, a grown-ass woman, a professional, they want her to feel shame again. Let’s refuse. Me too. For years I turned away, disinterested in Charles’s life path as long as it did not intersect with mine. After watching Dr. Blasey Ford inform the Senate Judiciary Committee of Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior thirty-five years prior, I questioned that choice. Even now that Judge Brett Kavanaugh has taken his place on the U.S. Supreme Court as the nation’s 114th justice and his decisions increasingly impact our lives—even now, as the futility of the truth seems more apparent—I need to tell it. Does it make a difference if I do? Maybe or maybe not to you. Maybe or maybe not to Charlie. But for me, speaking it aloud, putting the words on the page, serves to verify—as if you didn’t already know—if your memory has failed you again, America—that no, I didn’t want your
aggression; I did not deserve this violence; this is not my shame to bear. *** proof, n.: evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or truth of a statement. I’ll never know what Charles remembers, but I know what’s in his blood and marrow. He’s never been held accountable for his assault. He’s never been “proven innocent”—my silence does no such thing—and no one has suggested we try. As Kavanaugh sits every day, and will for the rest of his life, with the power of a Supreme Court Justice, Charles runs an insurance agency in Polk County, Georgia. Risk management. He identifies, analyzes, mitigates, and monitors other Southerners’ risks for pay. What if a client approached him with a case: I can make loads of money for questionable behavior—potentially criminal. How much can I make and still get away with? What piece of this can I insure? How would he answer? Would you trust him to recognize what is at stake? *** proof, n.: the spoken or written evidence in a trial. If you are a potential client evaluating his services, I recommend you hesitate at number one: identify. Did he set a limit on his own willingness to force himself, to fight with me? Did he believe the fact that he didn’t penetrate me with his penis would protect him from being a rapist? This one nags at me: The vast majority of his clients, the men who pay him, are white straight men. Would he treat us differently, us clients who are women or Black or queer or otherwise hold less social power, than he would an old teammate from high school baseball? He might say we’re all individuals—a benefit of his service. But would he expect us to share risk differently, or advise us to retain an unwise relationship to profit? This suggestion is completely conjecture, I’ll have you know. No basis in fact.
*** proof, n.: a trial print of something in particular. A page. A photo. A coin. Take note: If he recommends a gag clause in your contract, itâ€™s not legally enforceable. Threats evolve. Vulnerabilities change. Charles knew Iâ€™d likely tell no one. His insurance was that if I did, youâ€™d hold him harmless. The risk he faces is that our truths will catch in the spokes.
from Out and About by Ricky Silva
Little by Little By Jim Ross
In September 1970, Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States (hereafter called 37), requested 1,000 more FBI agents to infiltrate college campuses to identify dissidents. Oblivious to 37’s gyrations, I occupied a 19th-century farm-style house intent on forming a commune with a ragtag quartet of strangers. We claimed we protested the war and the repressiveness of the traditional nuclear family. Housemates included two new divorcees and an Irishman, Paddy, who was on the lam after jumping ship from the British Navy in Montreal. Our forest green, wood-frame house, twelve minutes from the White House, abutted Rock Creek Park in an untrodden section of DC’s not-yet-hip Adams Morgan neighborhood. Aquarius House, a white farm-style commune across the street with seven members, whose leader bore a striking resemblance to Charles Manson, required entrants to be born under the sign of Aquarius. Pig Patrol, with five members, in a townhouse two doors up, said its mission was monitoring police brutality. Our alleged commune lacked explicit entrance criteria and mission. The rest of the homes on our block were 1920s-era townhouses occupied by low-income black families. It wasn’t unusual for the police to have business on our street. In mid-September, a housemate announced, “The Free Store’s moving into our basement.” The Free Store hadn’t been able to pay its
rent because giving merchandise away resulted in a negative cash flow. Within hours, a mauve VW bus pulled up. Two women started toting boxes filled with clothing along the house’s woodsy side and lolling them into our dirt-floored, walk-in basement. Its only door had a padlock, but we rarely locked it. After they left, I counted 32 boxes sorted at best by adult/child and male/female. Most weren’t even marked. I began haphazardly sorting contents in piles, repacking, and labeling boxes with thick marker. Because the Free Store’s traffic had been generated when passersby in the busy Dupont Circle neighborhood dropped in, it wasn’t clear how its reincarnation would generate traffic. We lived at the bottom of a dead-end hill. People didn’t “pass by” unless exiting or entering a 1,754-acre urban forest. To get the ball rolling, I selected a few casual shirts and a ROTC uniform I thought would be eye-catching at anti-war demonstrations. Our first sale! *** On other fronts, Timothy Leary escaped from his California jail in September. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” premiered. Ford introduced the Pinto. * * * In October, when a family who looked like they just escaped enslavement on a cotton plantation moved into the townhouse next door, we took action. We estimated sizes, and then delivered boxes for mama, papa, boy about seven and girl about five. Mama, nodding, flashed a toothy smile as she ducked inside weighed down with boxes. In the coming weeks, we noticed that the kids, Lucy and Edgar, wore the same outfits day after day. Lucy wore one dress until it literally fell apart. It didn’t help that little Lucy was getting even skinnier. One day, Edgar asked, “You got more clothes, Mister?” I led him into the basement where we selected a few more outfits for everyone.
*** In a nationally televised October speech, 37 proposed a ceasefire-in-place in South Vietnam. Previously, the U.S. demanded withdrawal of North Vietnam’s forces from the South, which the North rejected. In Quebec, the Front de libération du Québec, a separatist group prone to terrorism, precipitated the “October crisis” by kidnapping two high-ranking government officials. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced the War Measures Act to deal with the FLQ threat. The following day, one of the two government officials was found murdered in the trunk of a car. Doonesbury debuted as a daily cartoon strip. That first day, it poked holes at how colleges use computer-matching to produce less than ideal roommates. Here we threw together this commune without matching and look what we got! * * * One chilled November day, I noticed 13 boxes had disappeared from our basement. We hadn’t seen any genuine traffic yet. Was it possible somebody stopped by without telling? Without conferring, a housemate called the police. Later, Edgar cried because the police said I told them Edgar stole the 13 boxes, but he told them, “Mister’s my friend, he couldna said I did it, and he wouldna snitched to the po-lice either.” Edgar and I got past that, I think, but I never quite forgave the police. *** In November, 37 (aka: Tricky Dick) promised gradual troop withdrawal. His Vice President, Spiro Agnew, called TV executives “impudent snobs.” *** On our living room wall, somebody tacked a poster of a pristine British Columbia forest captioned, “Save yer ass. Escape to Canada.” The invitation gave me pause. A close buddy named Billy—an All-American
long distance runner—fled to Canada to evade the draft, dug ditches in Glacier National Park, dropped acid, lost his mind, hitched to El Paso, and ran 20 miles a day across Texas deserts. Billy befriended painted turtles, whom he named and carried for company in his backpack. When hunger exceeded filial regard, he roasted and ate the turtles, then found new friends. When Billy’s mother and big sister picked him up along a Louisiana highway, thinking he boarded knowingly, he asked, “Are you someone I knew in my childhood?” I spent August with Billy, his parents, and his twin sisters at the family home outside New Orleans. Prone to verbal sparring matches cascading into clawing fist fights, Billy had been in and out of mental hospitals since getting home. They said his fragile knitting had unraveled. When he defected from life itself, one of the twins confided, “I’m glad he’s gone. I hated what he’d become.” I held his demise against the war and the lottery. In December’s national draft—also known as the death lottery—the first since 1942, I lucked out with 351. *** Elvis the Pelvis, puffy-faced, strung out on speed, scribbled a six-page letter to 37 begging for a badge as Agent-at-Large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The White House received Elvis for a pre-Christmas meet-and-greet. Elvis pledged his support, denounced drugs, and convinced 37 to grant him that narc badge. Elvis reciprocated by giving 37 a Colt .45 pistol with a supply of silver bullets. Ironically, the year before, I was scheduled to interview in DC with the DEA for a narc position. Tripped out in Boston, I no-showed. Paul McCartney filed suit to dissolve The Beatles. The year ended with 335,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Vietnam and a body count of 6,173. *** In January 1971, we officially listed our commune as a crash pad to welcome anti-war protesters. It took time for word to get around that
we provided comfy mattresses, a safe environment, and strong coffee. *** “All in the Family” debuted in January. Housemate Barbara, who was black, predicted Archie Bunker would set back race relations to the 1950s. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced that “Vietnamization” was running ahead of schedule so the combat mission would end by summer. *** By February, we had one or more crashers almost nightly. We encouraged them to visit the Free Store. Some obliged. If crashers left behind underpants, socks, or other garments, we washed them, and added them to the Free Store. We invited Aquarius House, Pig Patrol, and assorted others to our inaugural soiree. We cooked up a storm and 24 “friends of the house” showed up, including three women I knew from Trinity College. Eighteen guests claimed to be born under Aquarius. That night those 18 Aquarians re-imagined humanity’s fundamental need for community. *** Carole King released “Tapestry” in February. UN Secretary U Thant signed a proclamation declaring the spring equinox “Earth Day.” *** In March, the sounds of crasher laughter coming from the living room caused me and my housemates to conduct an experiment. For one week, we expropriated the two queen-sized mattresses in the living room for ourselves and offered our bedrooms to crashers. Housemate Janis and I got into mutual, belly-nipping laughter. I can’t speak to whatever my housemates were doing. Meanwhile, the crashers tended to make themselves more at home. Women crashers said they felt safer in private
rooms. On occasion, we had to clarify that stuff found in our bedrooms wasn’t up for grabs as Free Store merchandise. Toward the end of March, Barbara moved out to re-marry the man she’d previously divorced. Judy moved in with one-year-old Maya. We’d been talking about getting a pet, but couldn’t agree on a cat or a dog. A human baby beat out either option. *** The Senate approved lowering the voting age to 18. Ignoring the recommendation of the U.S. commander general, the President of South Vietnam ordered the withdrawal of its troops from Laos, and suffered heavy casualties. The jury at a military court martial found Lt. William Calley guilty of the horrific, premeditated murder of 22 civilians, including children, in the My Lai Massacre and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Doonesbury debuted as a Sunday comic strip. *** In April, I took up with Judy. An ex-boyfriend from England brought her a green bottle of little white pills. I asked what they were and Judy said, “Heroin in pill form,” laughing me off as she left the room with Maya and the ex. Days later, she skedaddled home to Tennessee to introduce Maya to the folks. While away for three weeks, she hand wrote me four sweet-talking letters sent in airmail envelopes. I didn’t write back. She missed the big rally. Two weeks away from the Vietnam Out Now Rally, we were getting four to eight crashers nightly. Some overflowed from the living room’s mattresses to the dining room floor. Among non-Veterans, there was lots of talk about defecting. “You won’t see me in Canada. I’m not welcome there,” observed Paddy. Prior to the rally, during weeklong protests by Vietnam Veterans against the War, the first floor was inundated by eight to twelve crashers a night. Some Veterans had demonstrated at the Capitol Build-
ing, renouncing their medals by throwing them over a protective fence. Talking unquietly much of the night, the crashers defied sleep; sometimes, we joined in. *** 37 ordered Lt. Calley of My Lai infamy freed in early April. On April 23, Columbia University students went on strike for the fourth spring in a row. The University suspended all but emergency operations. *** On April 24, housemate Janis and I met up with 500,000 friends at the largest anti-war demonstration since November 15, 1969’s Moratorium March on Washington. After hours of singing, swaying, chanting, busting up fights, feasting, speechifying, tree climbing, and celebrating newfound power, the rally dispersed precipitously—at least our section did—after somebody threw tear gas. People stampeded over temporary encampments to escape fumes. Some fell, and were helped up. Others, trampled, screamed, stunned. The big challenge: scaling five-foot-high green barricades penning us in. Most women, especially those in long skirts, needed shoulder boosts; so did some men. Lots of arms and legs scraped, cut, bruised. I felt like an escaping desperado. Then I saw protesters bubble bathing in the Andrew Mellon Fountain across from the National Gallery of Art. I thought, we’re experiencing a Lamaze water birth. We made fast tracks home because, anticipating a crowd, we had borrowed some soup kitchen-sized pots from anti-war church St. Stephen and the Incarnation. I’d been trained there by Quakers to serve as a Marshall for the May 9, 1970 National Student Strike in response to the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State Massacre. We spent a bundle to prepare a feast, including seafood chowder and a nutty sweet potato soufflé, for 80-100 exhausted protesters. To our surprise, almost nobody showed up!
Toward the end of April, another new housemate moved in, a releasee from the Texas prison system who had served five years for possessing two joints. I hauled my queen-size mattress, schoolbooks, 12 LPs, black-and-white sheepskin bedspread, laundry bag of clothes, laundry hamper, and the ROTC uniform to the attic. I’d already been working on my World War II-era Royal typewriter at the World-War I-era oak Army desk that someone long ago fastened to the attic wall. The ex-prisoner occupied my room. Crasher traffic remained strong the final week of April. Two left with boxes full of clothing. We blessed them. After the chaotic dispersal from the April 24 rally, we sat on tenterhooks, hoping next week’s acts of civil disobedience would stay peaceful. *** As April ended, Father Phillip Berrigan and seven others were indicted in an alleged plot to kidnap National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and to blow up government buildings. Six years earlier, Berrigan’s poet brother Daniel, a Jesuit, led my high school senior retreat. *** The Mayday Tribe announced that, since the government had refused to stop the war, they would stop the government. According to The Washington Post, the plan was to literally, “halt the machinery of government by a massive act of civil disobedience.” On May 1, under the auspices of the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice, 35,000 protesters encamped by the Washington Monument. As rocked-out protesters planned being civilly disobedient, or being disobedient toward civil authorities, the administration swooped helicopters down low to terrorize and scatter. Anticipating this, protesters launched large helium-filled balloons tethered by cables and repelled the helicopters. Score one for the protesters. On May 2, the administration cancelled the protest permit. Before dawn, DC police invaded the protesters’ campsite, fired tear gas,
mowed down tents, forced campers out, and shut the campsite down. Many protesters jumped town; about 10,000 found refuge in churches and colleges. On the night of May 2/3, as protesters slept or planned the next day’s actions, the administration flew or bused in 10,000 Federal troops, including 4,000 paratroopers, and stationed them strategically throughout the city. These backed up 7,000 police officers and National Guardsmen already in place. A small segment of protesters, mostly the Yippies, engaged in hit-and-run tactics to snarl traffic and bring the city to a halt. In pre-dawn raids, the police arrested anyone who looked like they might be a protester. By 8 a.m., they had arrested over 7,000 people, including construction workers, on suspicion of being protesters. Arrestees were held in makeshift holding pens without food, water, beds, or sanitary facilities. On another front, police herded protesters and onlookers to the Georgetown University campus. Then, over the university gates, they lobbed tear gas and a second gas that made people vomit. On the University’s lower athletic field, sleeping protesters abruptly awoke after being bombed with tear gas. Police declared they had subjugated the protesters. On May 5, after protesters gathered on the U.S. Capitol grounds attempted to shut down Congress, another 1,146 were arrested. In total, 12,614 people were arrested in conjunction with the May Day protests, making it the largest “mass arrest” in U.S. history. (Eventually, nearly all of those arrested were released without being charged. Only 79 were convicted.) *** During the May Day fiasco, we had almost no crashers because protesters slept in encampments, were on the move, or left the city. Accustomed to the nightly presence of a revolving cast, we felt almost jilted when crashers stopped showing up. The empty nest made us ask, “What now?”
When Judy returned in early May, I wasn’t keen on picking up where we left off. She took up with Paddy. Pig Patrol’s members threw up their hands after trying to monitor and document the egregious violations by the DC police in inciting demonstrators to engage in defensive acts of violence and in pervasively violating the right of free assembly—the right to protest—guaranteed by the Constitution. Pig Patrol was beside itself, exhausted, disillusioned. Right-wing media unfairly characterized May Day actions as “The Peace Freak Follies” and as “more rampage than protest”. It seemed that the violence perpetrated by a small faction had distorted and discredited the very concept of peaceful civil disobedience. As May Day devolved into random actions, somebody broke into our house and stole our TV and stereo system. We called the police, who had been stretched thin by protests of the past week, but they came and dutifully took report. No, there was no way to enter the house through the basement. We didn’t bother to mention the 12 inch by 12 inch trap door from the basement into the first floor bathroom, which I nailed shut months ago. As a security measure, I screwed it shut after the police departed. Then, a week later, someone again broke in and took our toaster, blender, and other minor appliances. There was no evidence anybody tampered with the trap door. This time we didn’t bother the police. The next week someone went through the house with a fine tooth comb, taking anything and everything of value. After I moved into the attic, I had started burying my camera under dirty clothes in my hamper and keeping all my cash under a sock in a coffee mug. Even my camera and cash were stolen. Somebody took their time or knew what they were after. *** In the otherwise dismal month of May, the Stones released “Brown Sugar.”
“Godspell” opened on Broadway.
*** Feeling stripped to the bone, we thought there was nothing left to steal. In the first days of June, somebody unhinged our recently-installed carved oak front door and carried it off. Days later, I picked up what possessions I could carry—the black-and-white sheepskin bedspread, a laundry bag of clothes, the ROTC uniform, a dozen LP records, my schoolbooks—and walked over a mile to another commune. I stashed my stuff in the basement and crashed on the couch. It turned out the couch had fleas. Every commune in the DC area, and everyone who lived in one, became flea infested that summer. Natural insomniacs, the fleas bugged us all night long, bringing up urgent matters that usually could’ve waited until morning. We no doubt owed our thanks to the protesters who had been crashing for months in our living rooms. The place where I was crashing had previously hosted transient lesbians, who probably carried in lesbian fleas. Or maybe I’m wrong and the fleas were 37’s last-ditch way of infiltrating the ranks of dissidents. A week later, I returned to my disintegrating commune to fetch my manual Royal typewriter. I learned that two ground-floor window shutters had been stolen. Having emptied the house, somebody was tearing down the house itself, little by little. I felt like Billy Pilgrim returning to inspect the rubble of Dresden after the fire storm. *** On June 13, The New York Times published an article titled, “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement.” During the media hubbub following the leak of “top secret” documents, this article and subsequent installments were dubbed The Pentagon Papers. Tracing the history of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967, the papers showed that four generations of American Presidents—Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy,
and Johnson—had systematically misled Congress and the public. Specifically, they showed the real rationale behind military involvement in Vietnam was containing China, rather than ensuring an independent South Vietnam. They also revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scope of actions: bombing nearby Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and attacks by the Marines. Of note, LBJ was planning to expand the war even while promising “we seek no wider war” during his 1964 Presidential campaign. After The New York Times published three installments, 37’s administration threw an injunction at the Times. On June 18, The Washington Post took up the slack by starting to publish additional installments. Protests were re-invigorated by fresh evidence of the government’s pervasive lies. Before the end of the month, the government’s attempts to shut down publication of The Pentagon Papers resulted in a 6-3 Supreme Court decision supporting a free and unrestrained press. As one justice wrote: “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.” The U.S. Congress passed the Mansfield Amendment stating that the U.S. must withdraw from Vietnam “at the earliest possible date.” Never before had Congress called for a war’s end. Carole King’s “Tapestry” hit number one. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Muhammad Ali’s draft evasion conviction 8-0. *** Sheltered from the pervasive atmosphere of conspiracy, deception, fear, and castigation of the press, I spent the summer at the new commune baking bread with my six Trinity College housemates.
Tina, a poet/activist, had taken over the lease from the Radical Lesbians four doors up for what heretofore had been their “transient house.” Only once did I have a failed interaction with a former transient who returned to get her stuff, saw me sitting in the doorway, and kicked me three times. I ended up becoming the one who babysat for the Rads. At 24, I purchased my first car; a well-loved red-white-and-blue VW bus with sliding canvas sunroof and faux stained-glass roof windows. That impromptu purchase drained $700 from my savings, leaving $300 for a rainy day. Laurie, a dancer in town for a new program in modern dance, took some of us out to the just-opened Filene Center at Wolf Trap Farm Park to witness modern music. She snuck us in, claiming we too were dancers. The Joffrey Ballet was performing Green Table, about a bunch of grey-haired men who argued, gesticulated and pranced around a rectangular green table. They represented the world’s leaders and the table of our world. Choreographed by a German, Kurt Jooss, Green Table was first performed in 1932. Baking Anadama bread, breaking it together, and slathering it with butter, as we talked the politics of protest and poetry as activism, promoted an atmosphere of security, warmth, and hope. We were kept company by our pet mice, Mousie Tung and Emma Goldman, both communists. *** That summer, after the North Vietnamese displayed a willingness to negotiate, diplomatic attempts to end the war kept failing. Kissinger announced the U.S. was prepared to offer a $7.5 billion aid package to Vietnam, including $2.5 billion to the North, and to withdraw troops within nine months. After a quarter century of rampant deceit by our government, why should North Vietnam’s leaders have regarded any peace initiative as credible? Due to rumors that the South Vietnamese Presidential election
was rigged, all candidates except the rigger withdrew. The 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, was ratified. Lt. Calley’s life sentence was reduced to 20 years. The National Women’s Political Caucus was formed. George Harrison and friends—Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, and Eric Clapton, among others—held the Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden to aid homeless Bengali refugees from the Bangladesh Liberation War. Talk of releasing the “Bangladesh” album within ten days of the concert was revised to “by the end of the summer” and then to “maybe by the end of the year.” 37 announced a 90-day freeze on wages, prices, and rents. *** As summer’s end neared, two people Tina knew were arrested as part of the Camden 28. Like the Catonsville 9, the Camden 28 was a decidedly Roman Catholic action designed to wreak havoc on a draft board’s records for those classified 1-A, meaning “fresh meat.” One was a Trinity woman who had dropped out in January to focus on social justice and peace work. Her uncertain future weighed on us. *** By the end of August, my Trinity housemates moved back onto campus. The lease’s expiration approached. I needed a place to live. Tina wanted to create a weekend/emergency crash pad for her Trinity sisters to help them escape repressive hyper-control. She and I borrowed a baby to pose as a couple, thinking that holding a cooing baby would effuse us with credibility, even in the absence of an income stream. The baby behaved admirably for the rental office, but our ruse failed. I was allowed to remain in the house solo until the lease expired. Two days before E-day, somebody broke in and stole my black-and-white sheepskin bedspread, the ROTC uniform, nearly all of my clothes, and all my LPs including “Tapestry,” leaving behind only my manual Royal
typewriter. Fortunately, I’d been keeping schoolbooks and some clothes on the bus. I had no place to live but it was a dry, crisp September. For the duration, I took to passing my nights in a goose down sleeping bag on the leafy forest floor. Having no way for schools to reach me about substitute teaching assignments threw me out of work. Good thing I didn’t eat much. With some Trinity women, I began ushering at the newly-opened Kennedy Center four nights a week ($16/week). I shuttled them there and back. Sometimes, I showed up early at Trinity or lingered after I brought them home. Australia and New Zealand announced they were pulling out of the war. I gave up obsessing over it. There in my forest haven, I resonated to Dark Night of the Soul (“All ceased and I abandoned myself, leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies”) and to Teaching As a Subversive Activity (“Remember: in order for a perception to change one must be frustrated in one’s actions or change one’s purpose”). I shuddered at Soul on Ice (“I seek a lasting relationship, something permanent in a world of change, in which all is transitory, ephemeral, and full of pain”). As I read, the silhouettes of leaves hanging on against the autumn winds danced on the page. I lost my academic scholarship, but somehow got to class often enough, and dashed off papers on my trusty Royal typewriter in the back of the bus. “Tapestry” held on at number one. John Lennon released “Imagine.” I had no clue where all this was going, for me, my friends, 37, the nation, the planet. The government’s house of cards, crafted of lies, pernicious and pervasive, had to come crashing down. Except for feeling the earth move under my feet and imagining all the people living life in peace, things did not bode well. One certainty gave me comfort: for the foreseeable future, thanks to the Supreme Court, we could be assured of a press free and unfettered.
left: Lucy bottom: Judy and baby Maya
friendship gone awry by D.S. Maolalai
what to do, anyway? crossing the street you see someone walking who you haven’t seen in a very long time; you make a little wave and she waves back but neither of you stops for some reason - whatever, perhaps you’re busy, or just not interested in talking today. so now the next time you see each other, when you each have more time, part of the conversation will of course be given over to excuses
as to why it was that last time you didn’t stop and say hi. I think people should all have to wear blinders or else get electric shocks so we don’t look at anything we don’t need to see right now walking. it would save so much embarrassment— conversations getting right down to a nailed point. that way things will be simple. complexity reduced to just friendships gone awry. what is this? you want to walk around like an earthworm?
come on, you fucking coward, let her go on not wanting to talk to you anymore if she just doesnâ€™t.Â
Summer Carneval by Jim Ross
We Ate the Birds by Bex Brzostoski
Gobernadora by Erin Mostowfi
Gobernadora, making a home beneath star-shocked concrete on the hottest day in December, bleeding grease down the highway, a shooting star, cooking me scorpions for breakfast, blood dribbling out orifices, she makes me watch the road for the drag racers, one every Cold Moon, two every Worm Moon, at 2:57 am the smoke goes up to choke the moon and she and her sisters watch me, high, bleeding explosive purple grape flavoring, I hiss for them to want me, boys from the city, from what’s left of a country, left of an eon and a desert and a taxon and four chemicals that mix into my saliva that runs down my neck in the crevice of a boulder, the one I was born beneath and never saw but dream about, the Gobernadora was there still, her flowers gasoline, burning, sharptoothed smile of Mama, watching me high, watching me sink into the ground, growing over me, saying you don’t have to cry any more, the punishment fit the crime.
Oh, To Be Alive! By Bex Brzostoski
I know perfectly well what this is. I can’t move, I can’t see, and I can’t breathe. I might have thought that there was a demon sitting on my chest, if I were a peasant from the sixteenth century. Of course, there might’ve actually been a demon—neurologically speaking, reality is only what you perceive it to be. Colorblind? Perhaps they say that flowers are red, but red is greyish to you. Sensation is our only bridge to the outside world… assuming that the outside world exists at all. Yes, if I were from a different time, I would know this to be a demon weighing my entire body down, and I would panic. However, I am not a sixteenth century peasant. To be candid, I am a twenty-first century neuroscientist working on my doctorate, and this is a simple case of sleep paralysis. I know a lot about sleep paralysis. When you sleep lying on your back, sometimes the angle of your neck restricts the level of air passage possible, bringing your levels of oxygen intake to an abnormally low level. Ordinarily, this would force you to wake up and roll over to a position where you can breathe. If there is a crucial disconnect between lobes, however, it is possible for your brain to wake up while your body does not. This means that you’re wide awake but completely unable to move. You can’t even open your eyes. People generally describe it as a crushing weight. Sleep paral-
ysis is a breathless affair, insofar as you feel like you’re suffocating. After all, the human body needs less oxygen while sleeping, and in sleep paralysis, your body is indeed still asleep. So, you’re stuck there, unable to move, unable to breathe, and unable to open your eyes. Some people have hallucinations. Most importantly, people look dead. They aren’t obviously breathing, and their heart rate falls. One woman in Great Britain has been declared dead three times as a result of sleep paralysis. On several occasions, people have come back to their faculties while trapped in the refrigerator drawers in morgues. It certainly must’ve frightened the living shit out of employees when supposed corpses started screaming to be let out. I have been taught that sleep paralysis isn’t fatal. I can’t help but wonder, though—how many people could have been accidentally buried alive, accidentally cremated? If they’d already been declared dead, nobody would ever know. Thus, I am only lightly troubled. I know all about sleep paralysis. However, judging by the soft fingers on my neck and the stream of profanities that just violated my ears, it is reasonable to assume that my girlfriend does not know that much about sleep paralysis. I suppose that I should’ve seen this coming. Ellie is inhumanly smart, but not particularly well read, I have found. She’s an investigative journalist for the New York Times, with pencils stuck in a messy auburn ponytail and keen grey eyes always on the hunt for political scandal. She writes almost constantly but has never touched a book for the entire time I’ve known her. I have no idea how anyone can possibly stay sharp without consuming literature. I guess that’s just me. Ellie has enough character and charisma to get any information she wants, and any person she wants, for that matter. Needless to say, I’m still completely flabbergasted that we’re dating.
She has a voice like cold spring water, like the way snow must’ve tasted before the air was full of smog. Add to that a cute Chicago accent, and think about the flavors of gin and bubblegum, and you can hear my girlfriend pretty well. She has a lovely voice, even when she’s shouting profanities, repeating profanities, whispering profanities. She thinks I’m dead, and she’s freaking out. She’s hyperventilating and crying a little. Oh, it makes my heart hurt! She’s sad that I’m dead, and she’s crying. That’s so endearing, that someone would miss me if I died. If I do die. Who knows– this corporeal disability could very well be the end of me. Heh, I should really stop thinking about that. I hear the sound a mobile phone makes when it’s placing an outgoing call: that obnoxious brrr, brrr, brrr. “Hey Marco,” Ellie chirps, before turning her tone so sharply that the syllables bump their heads. “You son of a fucking bitch, what the hell did you lace those mushrooms with? Oh sure, yeah. Quit the act, I know you put something in… How do I know…? How do you think I know… My significant other’s dead, motherfucker. No, not Clarice! Jesus, get with the times! No, it’s Nick. Nick’s dead.” She blows her nose in what I hope is a tissue. “Yeah, they’re dead. Dead dead. Not breathing, couldn’t find a heartbeat. Okay, but you’d better come armed.” A plastic clatter. “Bastard.” Something creaks, and I can feel a cool breeze against my thigh. Ellie must’ve opened the window. I can feel the sunlight through my eyelids; I can almost smell the ocean. Oh, if only I could take a breath. If only I could move. Knuckles on wood. Marco, our friend and casual dealer, is probably the one knocking. Judge all you want, but from a neurological and historical perspective psilocybin mushrooms were likely the biggest causation of the cognitive revolution. You know, the leap from animal to human that flipped the paleolithic era to the neolithic era? You don’t? Study more history, then.
In any case, hallucinogens are scientifically advantageous to use as an intellectual stimulant if you don’t overuse them, so why not? The door handle clacks, and Ellie starts her violent tirade, “Now get in here and explain what the FUCK–” she stops abruptly, and intakes a little gasp of air, a silent oh. A wheezy woman whimpers, “G-good morning, ma’am, do you have the time to talk about our lord and savior Jesus Christ?” “Not today, no.” Ellie replies cheekily. “ If you check back some other time, I’m sure my atheist girlfriend would love to come and have a chat.” Door slams. If only I could smile. That lady will never return. The next knock on the door, though, is indeed Marco. I find myself regretting that I sleep in my underwear. And these are the lacy purple ones, at that. How embarrassing. They yell at each other for a long time. Were they contaminated with something? Were they the wrong mushrooms? Marco swears over and over that he didn’t know there was anything wrong, that it was his supplier’s fault. After maybe an hour, Ellie cools down enough to face the main issue: “Well they’re dead anyway, and if we turn them in, the people at the morgue will realize it’s from drugs.” “That could put us both in prison for life.” Marco adds. From what I have read, I’m fairly certain that Marco would be the only one in prison. Ellie doesn’t know that, though, so it makes sense for Marco to lie– the threat of a permanent sentence ought to dissuade her from turning him in to the police, which would otherwise be likely since she blames him for my death. Or rather, for my assumed death. “So what do we do? Bury them in the yard?” Ellie whines. Please don’t. “No,” Marco ponders. “We need to get them far, far away, where they can’t be traced back here.”
“So, we throw them in the river.” I can just imagine the headlines: ‘Woman’s Body Found Washed Up on Riverbank.’ I’ve always wanted to be in the newspaper, but anonymous, dead, and misgendered is not the way I planned to do it. “They could be traced back by the currents, I saw it on TV. And I.D.’d by the cops, if they found them, which they would. We could make them unidentifiable, but I don’t think either of us want to do any chopping…” I can hear Ellie start to cry again. “No, I couldn’t. What can we do?!” “I have an idea.” “What?” “We could sell them on the black market.” Oh no. “Makes sense.” Ellie admits. “They’d be untraceable, far away, and somebody else’s problem. Somebody who’s probably more experienced than us at keeping corpses away from the police.” “Exactly.” Fuck! A keyboard clicking. Marco has TOR. Damn it, of course Marco has TOR! Marco can get onto Silk Road, and now they’re talking. Bickering over who to send me to. There’s not much difference, just username, just pricing. Marco thinks that we should give me to the highest bidder, but Ellie feels bad enough as it is. Her lover is dead, and there’s no reason to sell me; they just need to get rid of me. Ellie eventually wins, and they agree to give me to the people advertising a “Free Corpse-Removal” service. Then, it’s a matter of waiting. They hope that the corpse removers arrive before the cops do, and I hope that they realize that I’m not dead. I mean, look at me. I’m still warm. I don’t have rigor mortis. Don’t be stupid, guys, please, realize I’m alive, realize I’m alive, please. Please.
A car door slams outside. “They’re here.” Marco mutters. Ellie has been holding me in her lap, stroking my hair, stroking my face. She lets me go, now, and leans in close. I recognize her perfume. Her breath is warm. She kisses me. “I’m sorry.” she squeaks. “I love you.” My own tears tickle my eyelashes, and I hope she notices it. She doesn’t. “Don’t be sorry, little sister. They’ve moved on to the next life.” Marco reassures her, in that fake-hippie speech pattern he adopted for probably no good reason. I never found it irksome before, but now I want to thrust my fingers into his tattooed, scruffy neck and gouge out his fucking vocal cords. Shit, if only I could move. They’re carrying me, now. Hoisting me into the air by my naked limbs, shoving me into a burlap sack. It’s rough against my body, scratching and poking into my back, face, ankles, wrists. Dust fills my nose, but I cannot sneeze. Idiots! If I were truly dead, I would be cold and stiff by now! Serves me right, for not dating a scientist. For getting psilocybin from a cosmic twat. I hit the inside of a trunk. It smells like cigarettes and rotting meat, it’s air conditioned, and it’s cold. It’s not my car. It’s not Ellie’s car. I have no fucking idea whose car this is. Fuck, am I being sold to the mafia? There’s probably a syndicate close by, and they’re here, I’m in their car in my underwear in a sack and the trunk slams closed and the engine starts, and I know that I am going to die. The panic is getting to me. I can feel it. I should be better than this. I survived med school, or, most of it; I ought to be better under duress. Will I ever be a half-decent doctor? How can I be trusted with a human life if I can’t even handle sleep paralysis? I’ll be a rubbish doctor. I’m never going to be a doctor at all. I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die. At least I won’t have to pay my student loans.
The smell of gasoline burns in my nostrils, and we’re moving. There is no passage of time in this trunk. There is no light except for the darkness, and no sound except for the roar of tires colliding forever with asphalt. I have fallen into a pocket of eternity. I try not to think, but there’s nothing else I can do, and my brain gets the best of me. The void might’ve been nice, if I were not wide awake and completely helpless, but here we go with the psychological self-harm. Shit. For the first time in years, I think about my parents. I think about how they wouldn’t let me wear comfortable clothes. Little girls don’t wear pants, because the Bible says. Little girls grow up and find a nice Christian man to marry, and have lots of children, because the bible says. Little girls learn to cook and sew, and leave the thinking and decision-making to the men, because the bible says. The bible says so many things. Go to Catholic school. We love you. Thirty hail-Marys on the old rosary before bedtime. Hug your grandma and grandpa. Keep your mouth closed; keep your legs closed. The blue pleated skirt they made me wear to school, longer than my thighs. The starched shirt, sleeves to the wrist, always to the wrists, even in the summertime. Even when it’s hot and sticky and we have to go to recess trapped between the sun and the blacktop pavement. I suffer alone in a crowd of children dressed exactly like me, groomed exactly like me, carrying the same pencils and the same paper. They are nothing like me at all. The other girls talk about their pets and their favorite boy bands, the brands of makeup they buy and the celebrity men they want to date. The other boys talk about sports and violent video games, the
porn that their parents don’t know about, and the guns that they’ll buy when they’re a little older. They talk about what they think, talk about all the people that don’t deserve to be in this country. All the people that don’t even deserve to exist. I hate everyone. I hate everyone so much. I don’t want to hate them. I want to laugh at their racist and homophobic jokes, I want to talk about having crushes on boys, and I want to belong somewhere, anywhere. But, they’re not funny. The only celebrity I would want to date is Selena Gomez. And I will never, ever, ever belong anywhere. Thirty hail-Marys on the old rosary before bedtime. Jesus make me like the other girls. Make me a girl, period. The only sex ed I received was from my mother. This is how you use sanitary pads, folding the sticky flaps over the edge of the underwear. Never touch yourself, or your time in hell gets bumped up by a few more centuries. Don’t let any boy touch you until marriage, or you’ll be impure. You’d be like a jar of strawberry jam that has the seal broken. No good Christian boy would ever want you, and you’d be so rotten that God wouldn’t even want you. But my mom knows that I won’t sell myself out before I’m married, because she trusts me. I’m her daughter, so I’m better than most girls these days, those unholy sluts. She kisses my forehead, gives me a hug. Girls have to keep their hair long, because the Bible says. I hate the way it brushes against the back of my neck, whispering that it will choke me in my sleep for not being what I was supposed to be. I want to chop it off. I hate it. Stockholm syndrome. My parents are the only logic I have ever known. Boys are boys, and girls are girls, but I am not. I am a mistake. Thirty hail-Marys on the old rosary before bedtime, God help
me, I don’t want to live, but I’m too scared to die. We say grace before we eat lunch at school. I don’t have friends. I sit with the lunch lady, Mrs. Stockman, and she tells me about her grandsons and their little league games. Church every Sunday, with singing and long sermons where good Reverend Gregory spits hellfire into my core. The ceilings are high and vast and the stained-glass windows are full of light, but I still feel claustrophobic. The scripture seems to condemn me more every week. I do not belong here. I do not belong anywhere, except maybe hell. Thirty hail-Marys on the old rosary before bedtime, I have prayed every night for years and I haven’t changed at all I’m not changing I’m trying I’m trying so fucking hard but I’m still the same. Am I a lost cause? Sixteen years old, in the middle of the chastity ball, I snap. All the rage pours out of my mouth and fills the entire room with a tension thicker than blood. I tell my dad. I tell everyone. I scream and I laugh, tears washing the makeup down my face, snot dripping into my mouth, onto my dress, speckling the floor. It’s all blurry, the crowd of frightened faces, the lights. Blurry. Everything is blurry, and I say everything. Everything I am, everything I’m not, it spills out like vomit: I’m not a girl and I’m not a boy and I fucking hate all of you because god is fake and so is gender. I go, and I hide in the broom closet in the hallway. I’m sobbing on the floor until my dad helps me up, helps me out, helps me into the car. The entire drive home, my dad is silent. He makes me a cup of tea when we get home. Mom and Dad fade to hushed voices in the other room, and I sit on the couch and weigh the possibilities and the options. The suspense tears me into a thousand bloody pieces. I need them to keep loving me even though I’m not like the bible says I should be. Maybe my entire life will be shit because of who I am, and maybe I won’t go
to their definition of Heaven, but I need them to accept me for who I am. I need them to be good parents. They come and sit gently on the couch beside me. They tell me that I am broken, but that I can be fixed. They tell me that God is testing us, and that we must persevere. There are people that can help me become normal. There are camps where I can focus on prayer and becoming well again. My parents are willing to pull me out of school and pay for this instead. They are willing to pay for me to get help coming to my senses. They kiss my forehead and tell me that they love me, that with enough work I can be fixed, that we can all be together in Heaven after all. They tell me to get some sleep, because tomorrow will be a long day. I go to bed, and I remember the words they used. Those words don’t leave me alone. Normal, Well, Fixed, Come to my Senses, they’re written in burns all over my body. Their words sizzle through my skin, fill my lungs, burn my eyes with smoke and ash and tear through so much of my heart that I feel the hemorrhage drip. I throw away the old rosary. I put on all my clothes. I take my savings. I pack my backpack. I take the city bus to the greyhound station. I sat there, pressed between terrifying people on the first greyhound out, early in the morning. I was in the news for a little while, but nobody caught me, so I started over. I went to a city, found the LGBTQ center and asked for help. I found a new family, a coalition of intellectual queers who built up my self-esteem and respected my pronouns. My childhood was gone. Forgotten. I buried it. I let it rot, and I planted a flower garden on top of it. I haven’t seen or spoken to my parents since that night. I’ve hardly even let them cross my mind. I left that house nine years ago, and I’m only really thinking about it now. I feel horrible for leaving them like that. Sure, they never loved me for who I was. If they saw me now, this person, this atheist, non-bina-
ry lesbian working on their neurological medical doctorate, they would probably call for an exorcism. Still, I could not have stayed. I would’ve killed myself, or else lived in mediocrity and suffering for my entire life. I did what I had to. Thus, I should logically regret nothing. But now I can see it all. It’s all back, everything I kept out of sight— all the horrible moments, and even worse, all the good moments. There definitely were good moments. My mom and I used to play with dolls together in the nook in my bedroom, making Jenny or Delilah get kidnapped and having them rescue each other. My dad was so proud of me when I won first place in the regional gymnastics tournament. The night that Luke the family dog died, we got Chinese takeout and watched reruns of the Simpsons hours past my bedtime, and all three of us fell asleep on the couch. They weren’t bad people all the time, my parents. They were capable of love. Just a little too inflexible with their moral compasses, to the point where it almost killed their kid. I may be stretching my authority, as a doctoral student, to make philosophical claims. But fuck it, right? I’m going to die. What better time to analyze my fucked-up childhood? So, I think that’s the hard part. We’re all just fumbling our way through life, trying to do whatever we think is right. Religions and social theorists can try to find a set of guidelines, but religious people have committed no less genocides or atrocities than agnostics or atheists. My parents were psychologically abusive solely because of their religion, and that almost defies the purpose of having guidelines in the first place. Argue if you want, but historically speaking, morality has followed lines by neither demographic nor philosophical background. I suppose that morality’s real source is just being lucky enough to end up with whatever sensibilities won’t hurt other people. My parents were not skeptical by nature, and they didn’t have any reason to be. For two rule-following, cisgender, heterosexual kids,
the disciplinary Catholic upbringing would have been tolerable, maybe even advantageous. Their error in judgement was to assume that because it worked worked for them, it must work for everyone— for example, their progeny, me. They did what they thought they should. I did what I had to. It was a question of which truths worked for who, but in the end, it would’ve been my life, not theirs, that wasted away in frustration or ended with a knife blade, a length of rope, or a late-night trip to the medicine cabinet. I just wish that I could’ve been born to a family that cared about my actual wellbeing, and not just what they thought would’ve been good for me if they were in my place. We’re not the same. No-one is the same. You should treat other people how they want to be treated, not how you’d want to be treated in their place. The Golden Rule is fucking bullshit. The car rolls to a stop, and an eternity finally ends. Whoever-it-is clacks open the trunk. I can smell fresh air. The ocean is gone, replaced with lots of heat and no moisture whatsoever. My body bag is hoisted into the air and carried. “Another one?” asks a muffled falsetto. A gruff Jersey accent confirms that yes, here’s another one. “I thought we agreed on four-twenty as the number.” “That was a joke. It has to be six six six. It just has to be.” “Fine, whatever. Just make sure you let Prissy know, so she can do the math.” “I will.” I crash onto the ground. I land flat on my back and my breath is completely knocked out, and I’m coughing and gasping for air. There’s dust in my eyes and my body is awake. My body is finally awake. My hands fumble open the brown potato-colored burlap and I’m out in the
blinding afternoon daylight. Sunshine licks my skin. It all comes in, second by second. Oxygen in my lungs, pictures in my eyes. All of me trembles and I spit out the dust onto the dry, desert ground. The world fits itself back together in front of me like a jigsaw puzzle. I am sitting in a desert. Flat brush land pressed up against a mountain range, as though I’m in a Green Day music video where the scrubby horizon stretches on forever. There are marks of civilization close by– a few cars, a dirt road, a massive pile of empty burlap sacks behind me, scattered across the land like patches on a punk’s jacket. To my left, a halfpipe porch gapes —perhaps the entrance to a mineshaft?— and to my right, a garden of solar panels gleam. A couple of people in front of me stand stock-still and stare. Or, I assume they’re staring. It’s hard to tell, because they’re both wearing full fursuits. “I’m not actually dead.” I announce. The sound of my own voice makes me smile. “It was only sleep paralysis.” “Oh!” exclaims the falsetto, who appears to be a neon pink ferret with blue antlers. “I read about that in an article in Psychology Today.” “Damn, so we wasted a whole trip for nothing.” scoffs the Jersey accent from within an angry purple panda bear. “I can pay you back–” I offer, and try to stand. Fireworks go off inside my head, my legs give out, and the furries run to my assistance. That’ll be my dehydration and dependence on three meals a day, coming to remind me I haven’t moved or eaten for the last eighteen hours or so. Luckily, I have help. With the aid of their strong arms and soft paws, I stumble across the yard and into what I thought was a mineshaft, which turns out to be a wheelchair-accessible elevator into a larger underground complex. They guide me down one of its warmly lit halls and sit me down at a cozy wooden table in a kitchen space. The pink ferret
disappears down a hallway and reappears carrying a baggy Anthrocon t-shirt and a pair of grey sweatpants. Meanwhile, the angry panda creaks open a cabinet and makes me a glass of water and some toaster waffles. I thank them, and dress and eat. What would this world be without compassionate furries? They introduce themselves by their fursona names, but I don’t judge. Buster is the name of the angry panda bear from Jersey, and Loretta is the pink space-ferret. Loretta explains that they, along with twenty-three other like-minded people and therians, are working to build an interfaith community stretching from here to under the mountains. They have a worldwide following on Twitter and Facebook, and there are certain wealthy people from predominantly Europe and Asia who supply monthly donations to keep the project going. Legally speaking, they’re a 501(c)4 to protect the identities of their donors. “So why buy six-hundred and sixty-six corpses on the Silk Road when it could potentially end your project and put you in prison?” I inquire, munching on a toaster waffle. “We’re trying to support as many people as we can.” Loretta tells me. “We already built a meditation gazebo on the top of the mountain, and this underground base is just about ready to house every religion known to the internet.” “And to support those like myself in the worship of Satan, Thoth, and other death-related deities, we’re putting together a crypt.” Buster adds. “But the state of Arizona has strict regulations on graveyard management.” “So we’re taking bodies off the black market.” “I admire your dedication to intersectionality.” I confess, holding back my unanswered curiosities. “And thank you so much for your hospitality. Would you happen to have a telephone? My girlfriend cur-
rently thinks I’m dead.” “Oh no!” Loretta sympathizes. “She doesn’t know about sleep paralysis?!” “How do you think they got here?” Buster sighs, and I can practically hear him rolling his eyes. “Oh, true.” It turns out that they do have phones, but they don’t have cell service. They offer to give me a ride back to the city, though, and I thank them. I feel a lot better now. That’s probably needless to say, but still. I feel really good. A little emotionally raw from my time in the trunk, but in a good way. Heck, I feel the best I have in my life. I ask if they need me to go back blindfolded, what with me knowing about the illicit body disposal and all, but they say it’s not necessary as long as I promise not to tell. I promise. A blue-green water dragon named Geronimo offers to drive me back to California, and both Buster and Loretta hug me goodbye and give me their contact information, for if I quoteI, quote: “ever need a break from the real world.” The whole commune comes to see us off, in full fursuits and partial fursuits and in every color you could imagine. They load Geronimo’s little red Subaru with a metric ton of snacks, and load me with enough hugs to last the month. I wave goodbye through the window, and watch as my new friends fade in the distance until they’re nothing more than a painter’s palette on the desert horizon. I leave the window open as we drive. I’m not dead. I’m here, with the wind and the sunshine kissing my arms and face, the taste of clementines bursting on my tongue. Geronimo encourages me to throw the peels and seeds out the window– maybe, one day, a clementine tree will grow there. I am aware in a way that I never was before. Every noise, every
color, and every sensation leaves me teary-eyed with awe. This brain might never have seen these electrical signals, these nervous-system wonders, had this strange and beautiful day gone any differently. But today lead me here, and I am alive. I am alive.Â
Inventory by Sharon Kennedy-Nolle
One iPod, plus earbuds One wallet (lichen-roughened) enclosing: One NY State Benefits card Grinnell College ID One Disability Metrocard One Citibank debit card Three used train tickets (to visit your girlfriend, 11/11, 11/14, 11/20/16) One business card of your apt. complex, “Search For Change,” Mgr. Mobile Outreach Team One deposit receipt, five years old One card of the Volunteer NY org. One health insurance card One card of a recovery specialist from the Mental Health Association One card from an AA sponsor, with the “Acceptance” creed, other side inscribed “One Day at a Time/ Pickup the Fragments that Remain/Let Nothing be Lost.” One card from the social worker at the outpatient clinic, on which you wrote: “For with you is the fountain of life/ In your Might we see Might/ Follow your bliss/In the Beginning was the Word/And God was the Word the Word was God.” One appt. card from your shrink One card of an attorney, Mental Hygiene Legal Services,
Appellate Division of NYS Supreme Court One unidentified phone number: 917-628-1565 One prescription, illegible One withdrawal slip One handwritten copy of your apt. address One Pilot Precise V-5 pen, still writes One empty pill bottle, label-less Twelve dollars, twelve lousy dollars
by Sharon Kennedy-Nolle
Only they forgot to include the rocks you used.
Math Homework by Terry Sanville
On a cloudy winter afternoon, Sister Mary Saint John sat at her desk and graded math homework. With a red pencil in hand and her grade book opened before her, she worked efficiently, marking wrong answers and correcting her fifth graders’ miscalculations. Of her 32 students, only Bobby Bruno hadn’t turned in the assignment. As punishment, she’d kept Bobby after school, kept him busy wiping down the blackboards with a wet cloth and dusting the portraits of Pope Pius the XII and President Eisenhower. Nearing the bottom of the stack of homework papers, she stared at lined yellow tablet pages turned in by Rodney Cochran. She sucked in a breath and froze. Splotches of dried maroon stained the pages. Some of the drops had run. A child’s fingerprints decorated the borders. Sr. Mary pushed her chair back and clutched the heavy rosary she wore around her waist, hands trembling. As she fingered the beads, troubling thoughts tumbled through her mind. Is the child hurt? Did something terrible happen at his home? Why didn’t he say something? There’s way too much blood to come from a scratch. A buzzer sounded in the schoolyard signaling that the third bus was about to leave for Santa Barbara’s West Side. Sister Mary stood. “Bobby, hurry and catch your bus. Your Mother will worry if you’re not on it.” “Yes, Sister Mary.” He dashed from the room.
“And do your homework,” she called after him. She collected the yellow pages and hustled down the hallway to the Principal’s Office. Her leather shoes clacking against the polished terrazzo. When Sr. Mary entered the inner office, she couldn’t tell whether the Principal was praying or napping. Sister Agnes Saint Jude leaned back in her oak chair and gazed at the ceiling fan. Sr. Mary cleared her throat. Sr. Agnes leaned forward. “Ah, you’re still here. I was just about to close up.” The Principal stared at her. “What’s wrong?” Sr. Mary sat in the chair used by wayward students and handed over the stained yellow pages. “What’s this? Looks like math to…oh my goodness…is this?” “Yes, I think it’s blood.” Sr. Agnes stared through the bottom of her bifocals. “Did you notice anything wrong with Rodney?” “No. Nothing. But he’s a quiet boy who sits in the back. Do…do you think we should call the police?” “Not yet.” Sr. Agnes called, “Mrs. Edwards, are you still there?” but got only silence. “No of course not, I sent her home an hour ago.” She rose from her chair. “I’ll see if I can find the phone list.” “Let me help.” “No, no. Sit tight, it’ll just take a minute.” From the outer office came the loud banging of file drawers and harsh mutterings from the Principal. But in time, Sr. Agnes returned with a manila folder and reclaimed her seat. “Looks like the Cochrans live on the West Side, on Calle Poniente. I’ve got a home number and a work number for the father.” Sr. Agnes pulled the black telephone toward her and dialed, drumming her fingers on the desk. She set the receiver back in its cradle. “No luck with the mother. I let it ring ten times.” She glanced at the wall
clock. “I’m calling the father…probably still at work.” Sr. Mary sat on the edge of her seat and fingered her rosary, glad that the Principal was doing the phoning. Sr. Agnes continued dialing. “Hello, can I speak with Walter Cochran? …Yes, yes, I’ll wait.” More finger drumming. “Hello, is this Walter Cochran?...No, I can’t hold again. This is important… You’re taking care of someone?...This is Sr. Agnes from Dolores School. Is Rodney there with you?...He is? Good. I need to talk with you about–…I’m sorry if it’s your busy time but–…No, he hasn’t done anything wrong, it’s just that–…You’re off in an hour?...Yes, that’s acceptable. Just bang on the door facing Anacapa Street. The janitor will show you to my office… Goodbye.” Sr. Agnes set the receiver down and sighed. “They’ll both be here in an hour.” Sr. Mary nodded. “At least we can tell if the boy’s okay.” “Yes, but I’m still worried.” “About what?” “The mother. She didn’t answer the phone. She should be cooking dinner. Maybe she’s the one who’s…” “You don’t really think…” “Maybe I should call the Police, have them check the house.” Sr. Mary shook her head. “If anything happened, it was yesterday.” “That makes sense. Go ahead and alert the janitor.” “Yes, Sister.” “And have him stay near the office when they arrive. I know nothing about the father… could be a handful.” “Yes, Sister.” Sr. Mary rose and hurried from the office. The sunlight outside had faded, the hallways transformed into dark caverns that amplified the
sound of her footsteps. The quiet school seemed strange and frightening without the sound and energy of its students. Maybe that’s how children feel when they’re kept after school, isolated, cut off, frightened. I’ve got to think of better ways to discipline them. Sr. Mary found Mr. Vasquez in the basement, mopping the cafeteria floor. She passed on the Principal’s instructions and hurried back to the office, glad to be in a well-lighted space. The two nuns chatted about the day, about the Open House being planned in spring, the influx of new students, including children from Mexico that couldn’t speak much English. But in a short time, they fell silent and the minutes dragged with ever-increasing slowness. A far-off door banged, voices echoed in the hall, footsteps approached. “I’ll do the talking,” Sr. Agnes whispered. The inner office door swung open and a man and boy entered. “Which one of you is Sister Agnes?” the man asked grinning, showing gold-filled teeth below a walrus mustache. “Please…please have a seat.” Sr. Agnes motioned to an empty chair. Cochran laughed. “Gotta admit, it’s been a long time since I’ve been called to the principal’s office.” Sr. Mary studied the pair. Nothing seemed wrong with the boy: his red uniform sweater looked clean, his white shirt had made it through lunch without being stained, and his salt-and-pepper cords still had a crease. Rodney looked frightened. But then, the Principal often had that effect on students. Walter Cochran slumped into the proffered chair and unbuttoned his heavy sweater, exposing a clean white shirt and tie over sharply creased slacks. He rested his big scarred fists in his lap. A bloodstained gauzy cloth encased his left thumb and was tied around his wrist. “I came as fast as I could. What’s the problem here? Did my son do somethin’ stupid?”
Sr. Agnes straightened in her seat. “Rest assured, Mr. Cochran, Rodney isn’t in trouble. Sr. Mary shifted in her seat. The man had a strong smell: the odor of sweat mixed with something rich and not altogether unpleasant. She stared at his shoes, heavy boots speckled with what looked like sawdust and bits of fat. Cochran leaned back in his chair. “So what’s the problem then?” Sr. Agnes gathered the stained yellow pages and handed them over. “Can you explain these, Mr. Cochran?” He studied them for a moment, looking puzzled. “What’s wrong with ’em? Did Rodney mess up?” “The blood, Mr. Cochran, the blood! How did it get there?” Cochran stared open mouthed for a count of three before bursting into laughter, the merry sound ricocheting off the walls. Rodney had stood frozen in place ever since entering the office. He joined in with a high-pitched squeal. “I don’t see anything humorous about my question,” Sr. Agnes said. The males quieted. Cochran sucked in a deep breath and said, “I’m…I’m sorry, Sister. Didn’t mean any disrespect.” “Well, you had best explain yourself, Mr. Cochran.” “Yes, well I cut meat at the A&P over on Chapala.” “And… and I used Pop’s order pad to do my homework,” Rodney said. “Blood gets everywhere in the cuttin’ room.” Sr. Agnes’s eyes widened. “That’s where you do your homework?” “Well, yeah. I gotta little table in the corner.” “Look, Sisters,” Cochran said, his face red from laughing, “normally Rodney takes the third bus. But he comes home with me on Tuesdays and Wednesdays ’cause his Mom is out helping with her sister’s new baby ’til after supper.”
“Yeah, we get ta eat at the Twin Burger on De La Vina,” Rodney said excitedly. “They’ve got these huge shrimp in a basket of fries that’re great.” “I’m sure they are,” Sr. Agnes said. “I’m sorry about the bloody pages,” Rodney continued. “I ran outta binder paper…and…and I didn’t wanna waste time just sittin’ there.” “Very commendable, Rodney. Very commendable. I want to thank both of you for coming in and explaining the…the bloody math homework.” Cochran grinned and fingered his injured thumb. “No problem, Sister, and I’m sorry about the blood.” “It did give us reason to pause,” Sr. Mary said and smiled. The two nuns sat motionless and listened to the retreating sounds of the boy and his father leaving the building. Their high raucous laughter of relief echoed down the hallways, chasing away the gloom.
from Out and About by Ricky Silva
nhole waterfall vs. expiDellar by Al
A hefty pile of journals from years past sit on my bookshelf, gathering dust. They hold novels worth of insights, feelings, worries, and hopes. Yet still, I feel that this body could tell my story better than my fingertips ever could. I have not found the words to honor it all. A waterfall trying to fit into a pinhole. I read about Mount Everest climbers reaching the top of the summit only to find that they were too exhausted and oxygen-deprived to take much delight in the view. A sobering reality. Down the well of acceptance into somber sediments. If only joy was in the arms I thought. My butt hurts on the chair, my oatmeal’s gone cold, everyone’s looking at me with sad eyes, and I don’t have the energy to lift the spoon to my mouth. I’ve got the opposite of a spring in my step—in fact, I’m not even going anywhere. It’s just me, under my blanket in my fresh new bones, weak, trying so hard to convince myself hollowness can be my fullness. I’d call this cocktail bittersweet, if only it had a taste. I embody the meaning I’ve lost: congruence at last. Pain on the inside leaking through to the outside, my powerful language and I. If only I counted sheep. Would that symphony of numbers have been just as comforting? Instead of counting calories ingested minus calories expended. Miles ran, pounds lost, bites taken. No good, if not shrinking every second. I still crave smallness, against most costs. If only I folded origami, learned how to respect my many forms. Doves, boats, stars, all the same substance at heart. I hid in my corners, refusing to leave even though I outgrew this shell.
Doctors told me where they looked for evidence of the pain, and so I spent my days chasing shivers, proudly wearing lanugo, cursing when the lab results came back clear, and smiling every time the world went black when I stood up. If only someone told me wanting to be the sickest was the sickness itself. Call me Rapunzel considering a buzz cut in a castle self- built. If only I wore short sleeves once in a while, opened my arms wide, let the sunlight warm me from the outside in. I found my beauty in the darkness, and now I fear I’m ugly in the light. If only someone told me desires were sacred compasses, maybe I wouldn’t have spent so long trying to go in the opposite direction. I look down and see these handcuffs, knowing that I have been holding the keys the entire time. If only someone told me I was meant to grow, I wouldn’t have tried to fit into a pinhole.
A Letter to a Real Friend and a Fictional Lover by Bex Brzostoski
The Hamster by Zoe Williams
the hamster, that runs the hamster wheel in my brain, is taking a smoke break.
The End Days by Will Walker
I feel for the prophets. Doom is always just around the corner, hovering in that safe you don’t see, suspended above your head. The sword of Damocles: ready to slice you in two while you eat your favorite chicken sandwich and watch the noon news. And rapture, maybe with a capital R: Don’t you long for it?––the golden tunnel of light, the smiling faces of the dead, lost loves festooned with glitter and promise, a victory lap with all your favorite saints, and then a banquet of centuries, followed by an eon of musical instruction from the immortals, preceding some fun learning ragtime and doo wop, and then recess. Imagine recess in heaven, all the newly young flashing their underpants, running the hundred in record time, playing dodgeball way past sundown under the lights, with the aurora borealis shimmering
in the backgroundâ€“â€“and the prospect yet ahead of juice and cookies, delicious naps, and some rhyming instruction in the next steps of the soul. Instead, the world shrugs off doom and transcendence, and the dogs roll over on their fur-covered beds and wait for you to leash them up and take them out to sniff the moldering, pee-stained neighborhood
Bex Brzostoski is a double major in Creative Writing and Performing Arts & Social Justice (PASJ) at the University of San Francisco. They wrote “Oh, To Be Alive!” in the spring of 2018 before coming to USF, and would like to assure the readers that any resemblance to living persons is a coincidence. Bex is non-binary/trans and came to San Francisco from North Carolina, to live a life they could have only dreamt of in high school. It is here that they wander, as a being of chaos and a witness to the city, ever curious, ever changing. Michelle Dearden is an English Major with a Writing Concentration who primarily writes poetry and fiction. Her poem, “what do you call the child of a mixed woman and a white man?” was inspired by Meghan Markle and the troubles she faced at the hands of British tabloids, as well as Michelle’s personal thoughts on mixed identities and motherhood. She is interested in including more mixed representation in mass media, and further exploring what this identity means in an ever-globalizing society. JoliAmour DuBose-Morris is a black pre-ish woman from Queens, New York studying Media at the University of San Francisco. “If you ever see me, I’m two haircuts away from having no hair, I wear a lot of purple, and I speed-walk because it makes me feel like I’ve glitched the matrix. That’s stupid, but I’m not taking that out. My piece is about me. I’ve come a long way though.” Sky Garcilasodelavega is a fourth year USF student studying English as well as Psychology. She is a published poet who enjoys the intricacies of literature and the power it has to move people to feel strong emotions. Sky hopes to continue getting published and continue her writings in all future endeavors. Yansa Gardner is a young transbutch dyke, and an aspiring writer, poet, and artist. They are most interested in writing on interests regarding lesbianism (identity, culture, etc), trans masculinity, butch experience, and other related topics. “Shifting the Borders: My Transbutch Herstory” is an autobiographical piece written about self conception as a transmasculine butch, or transbutch, and their journey to self acceptance. Specifically, they briefly reflect on excerpts from Eric Michael Brown’s “Herstory of Transmasculinity” and Jack Halberstam’s “Transgender Butch”. This is a love letter to themselves and transbutches like them.
After a thirty-year career in the museum profession, Alan Gartenhaus now lives on the Island of Hawaii, where he farms and writes fiction. His work has been published in Santa Fe Literary Review, Entropy Magazine, Euphony Journal, The Evening Street Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, and Smithsonian Press, among others. Josh Gidding is the author of Failure: An Autobiography (Cyan Books, 2007). He has published three essays in AGNI Magazine, including “On Not Being Proust: A Study in Literary Failure” (Spring 2008), which was listed as a “Notable Essay” in Best American Essays 2009. Rose Gluck is a senior Design major at the University of San Francisco. Maggie Harrison’s short stories have been published in New Letters, Blithe House Quarterly, Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly, and Sinister Wisdom. Their story “Everything I Know of You I Know From Your Warts” received a Pushcart nomination and an Honorable Mention for the Readers’ Award for Fiction. Their unpublished manuscript, Molehills of Mississippi: A Novel of Grace in an Age of Terror, was named as a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and for the Lee Smith Novel Prize from Blair/Carolina Wren Press. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing: Fiction from San Francisco State University. They are a professor of English, Women’s and Gender Studies, and LGBT Studies at City College of San Francisco, where they chair the department of Women’s and Gender Studies. Sharon Kennedy-Nolle holds an MFA and doctoral degree from the University of Iowa. Her poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, Sanskrit, and Chicago Quarterly Review among others, while her dissertation was published as Writing Reconstruction: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the Postwar South (University of North Carolina Vivian Lawry is Appalachian by birth, a social psychologist by training. She holds B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from Ohio University. Her career includes college professor, association executive, and vice president for academic affairs. She has ties to Ohio and Kentucky, to the North Country of upstate New York.
Evalyn Lee is a former CBS News producer currently living in London with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hawai’i Pacific Review; Amarillo Bay; Delmarva Review; Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts; Sheila-Na-Gig; Stickman Review; Typishly; Wax Paper; Whistling Shade; and Willow Review. Press, 2015). Hannah Loftus is a third year Media Studies major and Fine Arts Minor here at USF. She plays with photography, painting, videography and sculpture. Hannah draws inspiration from her own life and aspires to connect with others through art. D.S. Maolalai has been nominated four times for Best of the Net and three times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, “Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press, 2016) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press, 2019) Stephen Massimilla is a poet, scholar, professor, and painter. His multi-genre Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016) won the Eric Hoffer Award and many others. Massimilla holds an MFA and a PhD from Columbia and teaches at Columbia and The New School. For more info: www.stephenmassimilla.com and www.cookingwiththemuse.com Marisa Montanez is a senior nursing student but writes in her free time. By “writing” this usually means scribbling fragmented ideas on the small black notebook she keeps in her backpack. She’s incredibly dramatic and is even cited saying she wants to “Make the drive back home to Southern California after graduation alone. Just to longingly look at the rode.” When she’s not on the I-5, she’s usually baking pies or brewing tea. Erin Mostowfi is a senior Environmental Studies major at USF. She is from San Carlos, CA and began writing fiction and poetry at a young age. Her work has been published in various magazines and anthologies. Carolina Ocanto is a senior at USF studying English with a concentration in poetry. Some of her favorite poets include Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, and Mary Oliver. In her free time, Carolina loves to spend time with her chubby English
Bulldog named Bandit. Dvora Wolff Rabino received her BA in journalism and mass communications from NYU and her JD from Columbia University. Previous essays and stories of hers have been published – many under the pen name of Ariella Neulander – in Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Penmen Review, SLAB and Steam Ticket. Eli Ramos (they/them) is a biologist and science journalist. They love bugs, rock and roll, and the color blue. In their free time, they work on Aster Podcasting Network and write the audio fiction Under the Electric Stars. Aalimah (Allie) Raji has been interested in writing fiction since the eight grade but entered university as a business administration student; she only became an English student halfway through freshman year. Later she also became a sociology minor. She is currently an undergraduate Junior and this is her first time submitting her writing; she is using her junior year to experiment with her writing. Brinley Ribando is an artist based in New Orleans, focusing on Painting and Printmaking. “A vibrant depiction of the world I live in.” Mary Lou Grace Robison is an artist who has created multiple pieces encapsulating her grandmother’s experience with Dementia. Jim Ross resumed creative pursuits in early 2015 after leaving a long career in public health research. He’s since published nonfiction, poetry, and photography in over 100 journals and anthologies in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Publications include Columbia Journal, Ilanot Review, Issues in Science and Technology, Lunch Ticket, Kestrel, MAKE, The Atlantic, The Ignatian, and The Manchester Review. In the past year, he wrote and acted in his first play; and, a nonfiction piece led to a role in a soon-to-be-released, high-profile documentary limited series. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals and grandparents of five preschoolers—split their time between Maryland and West Virginia. Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and two plump cats (his in-house critics). He writes full time,
producing short stories, essays, poems, and novels. Since 2005, his short stories have been accepted more than 360 times by commercial and academic journals, magazines, and anthologies including The Potomac Review, The Bryant Literary Review, and Shenandoah. He was nominated twice for Pushcart Prizes and once for inclusion in Best of the Net anthology. His stories have been listed among “The Most Popular Contemporary Fiction of 2017” by the Saturday Evening Post. Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist – who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing. Laura Schulkind, a public education attorney by day, is entrusted with others’ stories. Through poetry she tells her own. Finishing Line Press released her chapbooks, Lost in Tall Grass (2014) and The Long Arc of Grief, (2019). Her writing appears in numerous journals, and at www.lauraschulkind.com. Sydney Summers-Knight is a senior English major at the University of San Francisco. Marcelle Thiébaux’s stories have appeared in decomP magazinE, Forge Journal, and Urban Fantasy, among others. She has published three books, including Dhuoda, Handbook for Her Warrior Son. She has received a Pen & Brush Club Award, a Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition Award, and a nomination for a Pushcart Prize. Regina Toth’s writing has been published in Gateways (a collection of writing from alumni of FDU MFA), Serving House Books, 2018; Reaching Beyond the Saguaros (an essay included in the travelogue), Serving House Books, 2017; and in Elephant Journal. She participated in a Catapult Workshop and the 92Y Workshop with Matthew Sharp. Will Walker’s work has appeared in Alabama Literary Review, Bark, Burningword, Crack the Spine, Euphony, Forge, Parcel, Passager, Rougarou, Salamander, Westview, and Whistling Shade. His chapbook, Carrying Water, was published by Pudding House Press, and his full-length collection, Wednesday After Lunch, is a Blue Light Press Book Award Winner (2008).
Angie Walls is a novelist and screenwriter who grew up in Missouri, near the Ozarks. She created/directed the award-winning web series “Redmonton,” and her writing has appeared in Carve Magazine, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Summerset Review, and others. She is releasing a new short story collection, Anywhere But Here. Visit her website: AuthorAngieWalls.com. Zoe Williams is a junior English major and African American Studies minor from Texas. Bridgette Yang is an Asian American spoken word poet and current university student. A GetLit Player for the nonprofit organization GetLit Words Ignite for two years, she has performed at various schools in Southern California as well as venues such as the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and the Getty Center in Los Angeles alongside John Legend. Bridgette has competed on the Classic Slam scratch team in 2016, won first place in the Arcadia Poetry slam, and competed in the international spoken word competition Brave New Voices in 2019 as the top pick on the Los Angeles team. She was also an honorable mention for the 2018 Los Angeles Youth Laureate Program, and collaborated with Wondros Studios to create a GetLit Now. Alecsander Zapata is an aspiring writer and an undergraduate student at USF where he is majoring in English and Spanish. A core tenet of his writing philosophy is the notion that nothing is inherently “non-literary.” He seeks a wide range of influences, genres, and styles across all media. Franny Zhang’s writing has previously appeared in Solstice Literary Magazine, Entropy Magazine, Mount Hope Magazine, and Five on the Fifth among others. They are currently a regular contributor to the Ploughshares blog and former Managing Editor at Solstice. In addition, they serve as Content Lead at a medical-legal partnering nonprofit and was previously a science writer at MIT. My other projects include writing a libretto based on several Chekhov short stories for a chamber opera. They hold a BA in Psychology from Swarthmore College and an MFA from Columbia University.
MEET THE STAFF
Isabella Albaisa (she/her) is a senior International Studies major with a concentration in Global Politics and a minor in Public Relations. She is an editor for the Ignatian Literary Magazine, taking part in the nonfiction, social media and marketing submission teams. On days that do not involve writing, reading, and creating, she enjoys listening to cathartic music, painting, and taking long walks on the beach. Brian Alegre (he/him) is a graduating senior Politics major in the honors program with a Legal Studies minor at the University of San Francisco. He is a member of the nonfiction and social media teams for the Ignatian Literary Magazine. He will be an Armor and Military Intelligence Officer in the United States Army upon graduation and hopes to pursue a career in Law following his Army career. During his free time, Brian loves playing with his two Flemish Giant bunnies, Blueberry and Muffin. He would like to commend the entire literary magazine team and those who submitted their work for their dedication in making this yearâ€™s publication a success. Payton Bailey (she/her) is an English major with a writing concentration at USF. She is working toward becoming a copyeditor or possibly a storyline editor for a book publishing company. She is an editor for the poetry genre team as well as the features team, while also taking part in the fundraising team for the Ignatian Literary Magazine. She will always enjoy reading a good book or writing just about anything. Claire Beyke (she/her) is a freshman English major and the nonfiction editor of the Ignatian. She is grateful to be inspired by a family history of writers, and hopes to join the tradition of great journalism coming out of San Francisco. She commends every submitter of nonfiction work to the magazine. Claire is lightly addicted to dark chocolate, and enjoys painting badly.
Jamie Brown (she/her) is a senior Design major from San Diego, CA. This is her third year working on the Ignatian, and she is excited to serve as Co-Editor-in-Chief. In her free time, she enjoys painting, vintage shopping, taking aimless walks around the city, and hanging out with her cranky elderly cat, Phyllis. Ezra Buck (he/him) is a Junior English Literature student in USFâ€™s Dual Degree in Education program, and the Deputy and Podcast Editor for the Literary Magazine. He wants to be a middle school English teacher who writes literary analysis on the side. Heâ€™d like to dedicate his work to mama cat. Alex Dellar (they/them) is a second year Psychology major, Neuroscience and Philosophy minor from Oakland. Within the Ignatian, Alex works as part of the poetry team and is so grateful to have had the opportunity to read through the treasures submitted. They believe that writing can be a powerful means of self-expression and hope to eventually work within the mental health field as a clinical psychologist, offering empathy and meaningful support to those whose narratives need a place to be heard. They enjoy cozying up with a good book, a newly self- crafted spotify playlist, and their toy poodle, Rosie. Zoe Foster (she/hers) is a junior psychology student at the University of San Francisco, with a minor in Public Service and Community Engagement. Her submission review genre for the Ignatian Literary Magazine is poetry, and she also works in the fundraising, social media, and podcast teams. Zoe is an animal rights activist who plans on getting her recreational therapist license to work with those with developmental disabilities.
Morgan Goldstein (he/him) is a Senior English Writing major at USF, and a member of the Honors Program. For The Ignatian Literary Magazine, he is part of the fiction, social media, and marketing teams. He wants to utilize his writing talents for a career in entertainment. Morgan is a Disney fanatic as well as an avid reader of all genres. He is thankful for being a part of the Ignatian team for his final semester at USF. Sabrina Hernandez (she/they) is a junior English major with a Writing concentration, and member of the Design and Nonfiction teams at the Literary Magazine. As a writer, artist, editor, and overall content creator, she hopes to tell stories professionally regardless of where she ends up in the creative process. Her work in the publication is for everyone who loves a good story. Grace Landers (she/her) is a second-year English Literature major with a minor in History, and is the Features editor for the Literary Magazine. She also worked on the Fiction and Design teams and loved every second of it! Deep down, sheâ€™s really just a big nerd armed with a red pen and a cup of tea, so she hopes to pursue a career in copyediting or publishing where she can apply those interests. Mia Martins (she/her) is a graduating senior majoring in Media Studies and the head of social media for the Ignatian. When not procrastinating (which is most of the time), you can most likely find her writing, dancing, or watching Netflix. Her pronouns are she/hers. Sofia Neville-Segura, (she/her) English major, fiction and podcast team. Once brought an aloe plant back from the brink of death. Interests include learning how to not burn food, the environment, visual art, big trees, and big dogs.
Claire Ogilvie (she/her) is a senior English major with a concentration in Literature. Originally hailing from the Oregon Coast, Claire has come to consider San Francisco her home. The best thing she read during her undergraduate education was â€œImitation and Gender Insubordinationâ€? by Judith Butler. This is her second year with the Ignatian. Eva Reyes (she/her) is a first-year English major with a concentration in writing. Coming from Southern California, she hopes to find the inspiration that San Francisco evokes for many young writers. In her free time, she likes to read, write, and draw dainty things. She is this yearâ€™s fiction editor and a member of the design team. Ricky Silva (he/him) is a senior Communications Studies Student and a part of the class of 2020 at USF. He played a role on the non-fiction editing team for the Ignatian and also contributed to the design of the magazine. Ricky has a strong passion for local music and the importance that it has on community experience. He also practices photography through which he works to capture all of the beautiful parts of life. Erikah Walton (she/her) is a junior at USF from Lakewood, Washington majoring in Fine Arts and minoring in English. For the Ignatian magazine, she is part of the fiction editing team and the fundraising team. When not studying or working, Erikah loves to draw and paint. She hopes that one day she will be able to utilize her skills and go into animation. She also enjoys birdwatching and spending time with her animals.
Made Yates (they/them) is a senior Environmental Science major from New Orleans, LA; WordNerd & Bug Enthusiast. They are the art editor and website designer for the 32nd issue of the Ignatian. They spend their time outside of Being Into Visual/ Literary Analysis collecting setlists, creating basslines with hot glue and found trash, & hanging out with the spiders in their room. They hope to leave the world a more patient place.
240 Bex Brzostoski Michelle Dearden JoliAmour DuBose-Morris Sky Garcilasodelavega Yansa Gardner Alan Gartenhaus Josh Gidding Rose Gluck Maggie Harrison Sharon Kennedy-Nolle Vivian Lawry Evalyn Lee Hannah Loftus D.S. Maolalai Stephen Massimilla Marisa Montanez Erin Mostowfi Carolina Ocanto Dvora Wolff Rabino Eli Ramos Aalimah (Allie) Raji Brinley Ribando Mary Lou Grace Robison Jim Ross Terry Sanville Laura Schulkind Sydney Summers-Knight Marcelle ThiĂŠbaux Regina Toth Will Walker Angie Walls Zoe Williams Bridgette Yang Alecsander Zapata Franny Zhang
volume 32, 2020