THE ART MAKERS
50th Anniversar y Issue 1962-2012
The Lloyd Hall Scholars Program Arts and Literary Journal
The Art Makers Celebrating The Pilot Program and The Lloyd Hall Scholars Program
ÂŠ 2012 by The Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, University of Michigan
The Lloyd Hall Scholars Program: Celebrating a History and Community of Writing and the Arts In November 1961, nearly fifty-one years ago, Theodore M. Newcomb—a University of Michigan professor of sociology and psychology—published a brief but significant document, which he titled “A Modest Proposal.” Far from its satirical roots (think Jonathan Swift), his heartfelt proposal outlined what he saw as an increasing “divorcement of the social and intellectual life of students” at the University of Michigan. The University is simply too big, he lamented, to create a rich and consistent intellectual life for students. He noted, for example, that if students in a classroom “share an exciting experience, they tend to disperse, going their separate ways, and thus the opportunity to toss around, continue, and reinforce the excitement is lost.” The most significant effect of such disconnection occurs, he believed, during the students’ first year, when patterns of academic behavior are established, friendships solidified, old beliefs challenged and new ones formalized. His proposal was simple: “Suppose,” he wrote, “that in the fall of 1962, we were to choose one student house…. for purposes of an exploration in de-divorcement.” Students would take courses together, engage with targeted faculty, and attend occasional evening seminars. The University would become smaller as students experienced and embraced a more integrated college life. The timeframe alone was ambitious. Yet in the fall of 1962, the Pilot Program was launched. It began in East Quad for men, Markley for women. In 1968, the program consolidated and moved to Alice Lloyd Hall. Although most of us weren’t around to see its original mission enacted, so many of us have reaped the benefits. All of the University’s living-learning programs are indebted to the Pilot Program: the Residential College (founded in 1966), Max Kade House (1968), Women in Science and Engineering (1992), Michigan Research Community (1996), Michigan Community Scholars Program (1999), Health Sciences Scholars Program (2001), and, most recently, the Global Scholars Program (2009) and Living Arts on North Campus (2010). And the Pilot Program’s pedagogical innovations
influenced the creation of non-residential undergraduate programs as well, such as the Intergroup Relations (IGR) Program and the University Research Opportunity Program. Arguably, though, the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program is the community most indebted to the Pilot Program. In the mid-90s, the Program—hardly a “pilot” anymore—had its name officially changed to the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program. With the name change, its charge—which had always been to reconnect the academic and social lives of first-year students—focused more specifically on writing and the arts. As a program centered on writing and the arts, LHSP has sought out ways not just to develop but also to showcase student work. The first LHSP Arts and Literary Journal was published in 2004. The journal, titled “Other Homes,” was slim, only 84 pages. It was my first year as Interim Director, and I recall that we had a student editorial board of one, Carrie Luke, who singlehandedly solicited work, edited, designed, and proofread the book. Since then, the editorial staff has expanded and the journal has evolved, yet I am still impressed by the crisp, mature, and complex prose of Geetha Iyer’s essay, “The Other Home,” a piece written in her first-year LHSP writing class and published in our first literary journal. It is also appropriately included here. I’m so proud of these pages. As I re-read and remember each of these students and their enormous contributions, I am reminded of Newcomb’s original charge. The book showcases our students’ beautiful creations— poetry, fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and graphic arts. For the past two years we have also included a CD with music, readings, and spoken word. But for those of us living the program each day, we see not just product but process. Some pieces were created in LHSP classes; some in classes across campus; many others outside of class, late at night in the Alice Lloyd art studio, perhaps, or on a cold winter afternoon upstairs in someone’s (finally quiet) bedroom. Art Director Mark Tucker and his students spent countless weekends engaging in studio work, culminating in outstanding murals and public arts projects, including FestiFools. Our faculty and visiting artists and writers interacted with students during and after class time and served as generous and rigorous mentors. But most of all I see the students—those who went on to excel and win awards, those who inspired their peers to take risks and challenge themselves, and all who reconnected with their creativity and discovered, in writing and the arts, a sense of intellectual and aesthetic purpose, a newfound wonder. These pages are LHSP’s most recent contribution to the experiential, student-centered learning and civic engagement that the Pilot Program forged so long ago. In this book you will find two issues: the first, our Best Of selection, was chosen from the past seven issues by our student editorial board; and the second, Here Be Dragons, is comprised of student work from our most recent year (2011-12). Whether it’s an essay about a close encounter with a moose, a self-portrait in the style of Modigliani, or a poem about our first African-American president, the writing and artwork will not only transport you to different worlds, but will also provide insight into the
imagination of each maturing artist. We are grateful to Professor Newcombâ€™s original proposal, and to all those innovatorsâ€”too numerous to name hereâ€”who over the years helped develop, refine, and support its mission. And we are grateful, most of all, to the students whose work is presented here. Their work is evidence and a reminder that our mission still matters. We look forward to another fifty years. Carol Tell, Ph.D. Director Lloyd Hall Scholars Program
Table of Contents BEST OF: 2004-2011 Fiction
Heartbeat of the Townhawks | Katherine Goffeney.........................................8-14 One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Ornithorhynchus anatinus | Molly Ann Blakowski.........................18-24 Burning | Lily Bonadonna.................................................................................30-40 Water and Wood | Lauren Walbridge....................................................................77 Golden Arches | Matthew Berk........................................................................94-97 Of Penance and Monsters | Natalie Shields................................................102-107 A Day at the Pool, A Life of Secrets | Michael Lohr..................................109-113
Change | Langston Kerman.......................................................................................1 Learning Grandma at 64 |Langston Kerman|Caldwell Award Winner..........2-3 Fried Gefilte Fish | Langston Kerman | Caldwell Award Winner....................4-5 The Things I’ve Learned at the University of Michigan|Langston Kerman|Caldwell Award Winner..........6-7 Pericles | Sam Cunningham | Caldwell Award Winner................................15-17 Don’t Be a Tomboy | Molly Ann Blakowski..........................................................25 Frozen Waterfalls | Julia Mogerman......................................................................26 Sundress | Patricia White........................................................................................27 A Letter to My Mother | Degora Anderson | Caldwell Award Winner......28-29 Enduring Tokens of the Taxidermist | Kellen Braddock | Caldwell Award Winner......................................................................41-43 Poem 4 | Victor Jones | Caldwell Award Winner.................................................46 Ode to the Winter Sky | Sam Trochio....................................................................75 [under]statement/standing | Lauren Walbridge...................................................76 Shades | Jackie Kauza..........................................................................................80-81 Polaroid | Christina Hamati | Caldwell Award Winner......................................85 Morning Glories | Carrie Luke..............................................................................86 After a While | Alex Rodriquez..............................................................................87 More Oxygen | Helen Keusch | Caldwell Award Winner.............................88-89 Today | Helen Keusch..............................................................................................90 Your Kingdom’s Come | Rachel Sutton..................................................................91 Jerusalem | Erica Zviklin....................................................................................92-93 Mirror | Trevor Maat...............................................................................................98 Oatmeal | Trevor Maat............................................................................................99 Sugar High | Natalie Shields | Caldwell Award Winner............................100-101 El Horno | Danielle Taubman...............................................................................108 How to Get Him |Kristen Bialik...................................................................114-118 This Is Not a Dream | Noveed Safipour | Caldwell Award Winner.................119 Skin Covered Lightbulbs | Aubree Sepler............................................................122 Rescue Dogs | Aubree Sepler | Caldwell Award Winner...................................123 Aphrodite and Eros | Alexander Stuessy | Caldwell Award Winner...............124 Skinless Sunrise | Alexander Stuessy | Caldwell Award Winner......................125 The Promised Land | Illina Alam........................................................................134
The Death of the Canal Side Paradigm | Yucheng Cai..................................44-45 Paint Me Purple | Vishruta Kulkarni...............................................................78-79 When Moose Attack | Jackie Kauza.................................................................82-84 House of God | Sam Walker..........................................................................120-121 The Other Home | Geetha Iyer.....................................................................126-130 Dolores Moffat, Richard Careless, & The End of the World | Sylvia Gindick.........................................131-133
Tilt Shift of Dominica | Steve Chesney..................................................................47 Self | Jamie Goode....................................................................................................48 Self Portrait | Amber Ostaszewski..........................................................................49 War and Peace | Jolie Chang...................................................................................50 Spring Awakening | Jolie Chang.............................................................................51 Napepe | Krissy Pollock...........................................................................................52 Strength | Jueying Liu..............................................................................................53 Child | Felix Chang..................................................................................................54 Contrast | Felix Chang.............................................................................................55 Arches | Xueyi Yao...................................................................................................56 Paper Engineer | Xueyi Yao....................................................................................57 Untitled Painting | Maria Svidler...........................................................................58 Eden | Katelin Krieg.................................................................................................59 Two Face | Sarah Hall........................................................................................60-61 Sound of Silence | Kelly Gillikin.............................................................................62 Zebra | Hannah Wolfson.........................................................................................63 Topographical Trails | Lindsey Eldredge-Fox.......................................................64 Night of the Museum | Jae Jun Hong....................................................................65 Tiger Plume | Kristie Dzurnak...............................................................................66 Winifred | Kristie Dzurnak.....................................................................................67 Untitled | Rachel Pryde............................................................................................68 Untitled | Tara Boinpally..........................................................................................69 A Spot of Tea—No Milk, No Sugar | Carol Moser...............................................70 Daddy’s Girl | Kimberly Peven...............................................................................71 Untitled | Nicole Mancino.......................................................................................72 Untitled | Sung Hei Yau...........................................................................................73 Fallen | Ashley Allis..................................................................................................74
HERE BE DRAGONS: 2012-2013 Foreward | Hannah Torres, Jackie Kauza............................................................141
The Royal Embassy Goes to Red Lobster | Jennifer Lam.........................153-159 The Last Attack | Kaitlin Schuler..........................................................................181 Cassandra Speak | Katherine Goffeney........................................................222-223 Ancient Magick | Katherine Goffeney.........................................................224-229 Edge of the Dock | Tess Gatof.......................................................................231-234 Closed Casket | Nicole Dolney.............................................................................239 Morgan Couldn’t Swim | Nicole Dolney......................................................240-241 Avnish | Laura Goslin....................................................................................269-271 Alive | Maria Grekowicz................................................................................272-277
Plumbline | Kelly Edinger......................................................................................145 Engine | Kelly Edinger | Caldwell Award Winner......................................146-147 Peach | Kelly Edinger......................................................................................148-149 When I Think of Lincoln | Jack Foster | Caldwell Award Winner...................160 The Hospital Park | Jack Foster.............................................................................161 Diamond | Jack Foster............................................................................................162 How Long | Jack Foster..........................................................................................163 Normal Again | Jack Foster | Caldwell Award Winner.....................................164 He is Not the Type | Jack Foster............................................................................165 Past Midday | Jack Foster | Caldwell Award Winner.................................166-167 Rain | Merranda McLaughlin...............................................................................175 Lovely | Merranda McLaughlin...........................................................................176 I Stopped Waiting | Merranda McLaughlin........................................................177 Silent Intensity | Merranda McLaughlin.............................................................178 Statue | Merranda McLaughlin.............................................................................179 From One Mouth to Another | Merranda McLaughlin....................................180 On MOMA’s Revival | Madeline Berse................................................................221 Marcus | Tess Gatof................................................................................................230 Girls Becoming Screens | Chloe Reyes................................................................235 Here’s To | Chloe Reyes..................................................................................236-237 The Flowers Still Grow and It’s a Sin | Nicole Dolney.......................................238 When Streetlights Become Philosophers | Hannah Torres..............................258 Don’t Forget to Light the Candles | Hannah Torres..........................................259 Sailboat | Rachel Davidson....................................................................................263 Printed, 1979 | Alex Winnick................................................................................264 Michigan Minutes | Alex Winnick.......................................................................265 Mark Yourself | Laura Goslin................................................................................266 Fire Escape the Scene | Laura Goslin...................................................................267 The Heart Asks Pleasure First | Shu Lin.............................................................282 Lounge | Shu Lin....................................................................................................283 On Golden Gate Bridge | Shu Lin.......................................................................284 There and Back Again | Shu Lin..........................................................................285 Falling Leaves (translation) | Shu Lin.................................................................286
This Was My Detroit | Angelizmar Rodriguez...........................................143-144 Possibly Everywhere | Kelsey Dunn...........................................................150-152 This Table’s Not Big Enough for the Three | Mariah Pongor....................168-174 Zeidy | Shira Kreitenberg...............................................................................182-183 Dear Ramon | Alejandra Roel......................................................................184-188 Strength | Sarah Levy.....................................................................................242-243 Superman | Danny Schwaber........................................................................244-245 No More Than a Hug | Joshua J. Thilmany..................................................250-257 Wankil Cho’ och’ | Sulamita Morales...........................................................260-262 Endangered | Laura Goslin...................................................................................268 Written in Stone | Lindsay Ross...................................................................278-281
The Difference | Joshua J. Thilmany.............................................................246-249
hc svent dracones | Rachel Cole..........................................................................189 Sinookas | Rachel Cole..........................................................................................190 for Virginia | Rachel Cole....................................................................................191 Splintered Youth | Rachel Cole............................................................................192 and miles to go | Rachel Cole..............................................................................193 Drowning Murmeln | Rachel Cole......................................................................194 Metal Twist | Madeline Berse................................................................................195 Elk | Madeline Berse..............................................................................................196 Dynamics of a Sphere | Madeline Berse..............................................................197 Cemetery Weather | Julie Whinham...................................................................198 Cold Summer | Peyton Morris..............................................................................199 Eldersburg 6 a.m. | Peyton Morris.......................................................................200 Pretending | Peyton Morris...................................................................................201 Rinse | Peyton Morris............................................................................................202 Wutang | Madeline Berse......................................................................................203 The State | Andrew Roth.......................................................................................204 Nov 16th 2011 | Andrew Roth............................................................................205 Ink| Alexis Cobau...................................................................................................206 Water Colored|Alexis Cobau................................................................................207 Nude Woman Sketch #45 | Adam Kosteva.........................................................208 Copper Minded Girl | Grace Ludmer..................................................................209 Cap | Lacey Gardner...............................................................................................210 Shark | Lacey Gardner............................................................................................211 Pinecone | Holly Prouty.........................................................................................212 Weight | Holly Prouty............................................................................................213 Caste | Rachelle Linsenmayer................................................................................214 Memories Fleeting | Rachelle Linsenmayer........................................................215 Conflict | Rachelle Linsenmayer...........................................................................216 The Quiet Storm | Leah Sherman.........................................................................217 Ollie North | Robbie Small....................................................................................218 Fancy That One Was | Shu Lin............................................................................219 Funky Guy | Joshua J. Thilmany...........................................................................220
The Best Of The Lloyd Hall Scholars Program Arts & Literary Journal 2004-2011
The Best Of The Lloyd Hall Scholars Arts and Literary Journal 2004-2011
ÂŠ 2012 by The Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, University of Michigan
Best Of Editor-in-Chief
Brandi Collins Caroline Distefano Jack Foster Katherine Goffeney Laura Goslin Sarah Levy Connie Ly Ashley Manci Jamie Monville Sulamita Morales Peyton Morris Abigail Orrick Mollie Pester Connie Qi Aubree Sepler Ariel Silverstein Carly Skinder Armenthia Stewart Rachel Torres Gabrielle Valentic Sabrina Weeks-Brittan Julie Whinham Jackie Kauza
Cover Design/Graphic Layout
Art Makers Front/Back Covers: Alexander Weinstein and Breanna Hamm Here Be Dragons/Best Of Covers: Hannah Torres
Mark Tucker Ruth Marsh
Administrative Services Tina Kokoris
Student Administrative Assistant Jackie Kauza
Program Intern Carly Wilson Anna Chiang
Our mission is to create a studentrun publication that showcases vibrant and engaging work produced in the LHSP community during the academic year. The LHSP Arts & Literary Journal is funded in part by a gift from Jeanne and Will M. Caldwell to the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The 50th Anniversary issue is also funded in part by the Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan. Special thanks go to Daniel Herwitz. Special thanks to Philip Harbottle from Cosmos Literary Agency for allowing us to use the illustration The Sun Makers by Ron Turner. And to Breanna Hamm and Laurie Sutch for all their assistance.
& then the President turned black & the earth and the forest soon followed & then the tree stumps & next the leaves & close behind the flowers & the seeds & the pollen & the beesâ€™ honey burnt molasses & then stomachs grew darker & feet slowly tanned & noses spread to ocean floors & hair thickened like drying concrete & sidewalks mimicked asphalt & lips swelled dark like sinking ships & everyone sang jazz & everyone wore dashikis & held hands in the dark of day & the sun burned like a ball of incense in the sky & space turned light-skinned but just as black & the moon wrapped itself in leather & diamonds turned back to coal & the heart really was darkness & some people cried & some people smiled & a few just laughed in the mirror & they said we all looked just alike & the heart really was darkness & some people cried & some people smiled & a few just laughed in the mirror & they said we all looked just alike But the air did not change No the air stayed the same
Learning Grandma at 64 Lesson 1: My grandmother never learned to drive Figured if she cusses Uncle Mike enough he’ll take her wherever she needs to go
Every ride is the same He passes out bad lectures like assistant coach Tells her how grateful she should be while over charging for gas She reminds him He ain’t shit Sometimes he believes her Lesson 2: Grandma’s baseball bat fountains semi-husband’s head like half twisted sprinkler, for coming home liquor-logged, Mom says the “tramp” earned it: layed down with crazy Lesson 3: Uncle Mike taught Andrew
how to owe money He borrows two stacks from Grandma then dodges phone calls like operator on bathroom break No one mentions last person that didn’t pay got beaten empty bar stool sober Bloodied like sponge bath with scissors Grandma starts leaving threats Unanswered phone calls We all get nervous Send warnings Don’t want things to get too crazy Final Lesson: I drive 5 hours from Detroit Grandma passenger side Cranks up Tupac Talking my ear crooked In-between stories about rolling blunts Shots of “vokka” & a dude named Bigfoot who wants to stomp treasure out my cousin’s chest She tells me she loves me I turn, smile, & realize I’ve never believed anyone more
Fried Gefilte Fish
Somewhere in-between West-side Detroit & Cincinnati, Ohio My grandparents will get drunk together on accident My mother’s mom will get things started She’ll kick back a couple shots of Absolut snuck in her oversized handbag Light a cigarette with Menorah candles she found boxed in attic Throw some catered bagels & lox on grill just to show how much better everything tastes BBQ’d She will place a plate in front of my father Force him to taste test chocolatedipped Detroit He’ll smile at smoky flavor Grandma will love him for being a white man who knows how to savor Pig’s feet & Chitterlings They will sit and talk for hours about greens and crumbled cornbread Dust collecting in corners of conversation that somehow reminds them both of my mother Nana will watch in horror like Holocaust she doesn’t talk about Afraid to speak up She will swallow enough wine to forget
not to smile Papa will sip Quietly down enough Jack Daniels to apologize to my mother for the weeks my father spent in a hospital bed For refusing to console his son in the same room as dark flesh For believing black skin could only scar roots and empty trust funds Heâ€™ll reach out to her for a hug he never meant when sober Wrinkled arms shaking like teenager stretching for liquor cabinet My mother will smile Politely pat him on his back For a moment in his arms She will picture her father Wish he were here to get drunk Slam a door Yell out something awkward and racist Just to remember what father she never needed Tears blurring eyes They will sit together Each leaning tipsily like pickled fish out of water Passing out on eachotherâ€™s shoulders Closer than we have ever been.
The Things I’ve Learned at the University of Michigan 1. I will not blame the spoiled milk frat boys for missing affirmative action I will however discover a pet-peeve for shaking hands with white guys Awkward dap attempts to make me feel comfortable Palms fumbling crooked Searching for lost soul like Grim Reaper in a morgue
2. Without spray cans People can still make a powerful point of protesting the raised pinky constructs of our fathers Dorm hall bathrooms are an excellent example of this theory at work Toilet stalls graff ’d brown smears of mother’s un-flushed rebellion We will wallow in thick custard remainder of someone else’s turned stomach 3. Hip Hop will be a great tool for sparking conversation with the kid from Long Island at the end of the hall We will spend 3 hours talking
about how vivid Nas’ lyrics paint the hood He will admit he’s never been to any ghetto But can spit by verse how shitty it is He will come back drunk every night for same conversation We will talk him through his hangover A year later He will blame a black man for his rejected Business School application Vote Yes on Proposal 2 with Tupac in his head-phones Eventually I will see him on the Diag, or in a dining hall & we will pick up same conversation as if stumbling nights had never gone sober 4. Standing in line outside ballot box For the first time I will know what it’s like to be My mother Fresh from west-side Detroit 1987 waiting and pregnant as downtown Chicago bus stops Watching cars speed past knowing they will never slow down January wind massaging swollen feet jittery and raw For the first time I feel her tremble like an awkward hand shake in the dark
Heartbeat of the Townhawks
It was the Fundikon that began all of this hound-bwohk; pishfish and lodge-maukers the mauk-mauk lot of them. They made us all blig-krah, all of us. Mauk-mauk lodgemaukers were all playnyahs, and it is my humble opinion that it was their mauk-mauk Lingban that really did us in. Sorry, I just realized that whole thing was chock full of Hawkish. You probably don’t even know what I just said! Here, I’ll repeat it in Soc: It was the Fundikon that began all this shit; bastards and bullshitters the fucking lot of them. They made us all fucked-crazy, all of us. Fucking bullshitters were all liars, and it is my humble opinion that it was their fucking Lingban that did us in. It was a mauk-mauk blessing the day Sain-Dokka was born. If you don’t know who Sain-Dokka is then you definitely are not Townhawk. Sain-Dokka is a hero to the Townhawks, coz it was Sain-Dokka who came in and found a way past the Lingban, some thirty-five years ago. Without Sain-Dokka, I wouldn’t be able to say this: Fuck, shit, damn, bitch, bastard, motherfucker, sex. All of those words were banned. They were worse than banned, friend, they were censored. See, in Hawkish, censored is death. But not just death, it’s worse than death. Censored is the worst possible death. To censor someone isn’t just to kill them; no, to censor someone is to completely eradicate them from existence. To censor someone is to utterly and totally erase them, as if they never existed in the first place. That’s what the Lingban did to words. It was psychological conditioning, you see—from the womb. No kidding, that’s when that hound-bwohk1 began. Pregnant women would go for these sessions and they’d start the conditioning. Then, when a kid was born, they were conditioned more in the first two weeks. All of this set up the Lingban, but it wasn’t until the little tykes were five that it was finalized and actually activated. After that, well, then the weedaown2. That was it after that; those words they banned were gone, and they were gone for good. At least, that’s what everyone thought. Everyone, that is, except for SainDokka. Sain-Dokka knew that the mind was powerful, and Sain-Dokka knew that the mind’s powers of healing were awesome. It took Sain-Dokka many years to develop the cure, but it happened. She did it. Yeah, that’s right: Sain-Dokka is a woman. Perhaps the only woman the townhawks all respected unreservedly. You didn’t make any jokes about SainDokka; she wasn’t a woman like that. In fact, if anyone ever did make a joke about Sain-Dokka that was in anyway flobrin3, then any true townhawk who 1 hound-bwohk: shit (noun) 2 weedaown: shit went down, or the shit hit (phrasal word) 3 flobrin: sexual in nature or manner (adjective)
heard is obligated to beat the mauk-mauk hound-bwohk out of him! I say true townhawk because it’s understood: Anyone who’d joke about Sain-Dokka like that ain’t townhawk, no matter what they may say. They could be the best mauk-mauk fliter4 in the mauk-mauk world, but they ain’t townhawk, not if they don’t have proper respect for the woman who freed us all. See, without Sain-Dokka, there wouldn’t be no townhawks. We were her people, the first people she freed. We were the youth, we are the youth. The counter-culture, if you wish. In the days of the Lingban we were the least, the kids in the cities who had their boarding and their shenanigans: all in all hooligans, that’s what the markeys5 called us. Maybe it’s weird then that SainDokka chose us. See, Sain-Dokka was not a hooligan. She pretty much made the townhawks, but she weren’t ever a townhawk herself. No, Sain-Dokka was as markey as they come, a smoogilee6, only she is a smoogilee in the intellectual areas, not in the areas of the rithsith7. But if you really think about it, it’s not all that weird that Sain-Dokka chose the hooligans. See, hooligans are young people, and young people are rebellious (most of us anyway). Growing up without the “lewd words” that the Lingban supposedly destroyed didn’t make us any less lewd. No, all it really meant was that we had to be creative. I mean, I know it’s been like thirtyfive years since she toppled that hound-bwohk, but just pause for a moment, okay? See, I didn’t ever have the Lingban, I was born after it was taken out, but I’ve still imagined it before, so I want you to try that now too. So just imagine it. Imagine growing up without any intensely vulgar expletives to shout out when you cut your finger. Imagine growing up without any rudely offensive names you can call that person you really, really dislike. Imagine a world where you can’t even say the name of the process of procreation. I mean, what would you do with yourself if you couldn’t express yourself like that? The answer, of course, is simple. You make shit up. And that’s what the young people of the Lingban did. Well, that’s what the hooligans did, but I don’t actually care about the other kids. We—they— made up words. That’s how you get the word “mauk.” It’s really kind of a neat little process. Back during the Lingban some people wanted to say the word “motherfucker,” but that had, of course, been banned. So some smoogilee came up with a different term, “father-mauker”; and since the term “father” had not been banned and “mauker” didn’t mean anything to begin with, it got through. The guy who made it used it, probably in the same situation where he’d have used “motherfucker,” and it caught on. His friends picked it up, and then their friends did too, until soon it was a full-fledged curse word… one that the Fundikon knew absolutely nothing about. Sain-Dokka is a clever lady, as I have said, so she recognized that if there was anybody who’d be willing to defy the Fundikon and help her with her cure, it would be the very same folks who were already defying the Fundikon
4 fliter: one who engages in the townhawk activity of flite (noun) 5 markeys: people who are not townhawks (noun); things related to the ways and culture of such people (adjective) 6 smoogilee: an exceptionally smart or clever person; a smarty pants (noun); clever, smart (adjective) 7 rithsith: literally, “heartbeat of the city”; street smarts (noun)
in every way they could. Her first subjects were hooligans. And then, once the weedaowny’ng8, that is to say, once Sain-Dokka’s cure actually started to take full effect, Sain-Dokka found herself in a lot of trouble. The Fundikon didn’t run the government back then; no, in those days, the Fundikon was the government, and they wanted Sain-Dokka censored. We townhawks tell epic stories about this moment in our history, when SainDokka was discovered and hunted, because really, it wasn’t until this point that the hooligans became the townhawks. See, these days, when you’re a townhawk you’re a part of something. But back then, when you were a hooligan, you were a part of nothing. They had their little gangs and stuff, but not much after that. It was everyone for himself. But Sain-Dokka changed that. She freed everyone, and when she was suddenly hunted, the hooligans all got to work. They all had that “gang mentality,” see, the whole “you do me a favor, I do you a favor” deal, mixed in with the whole “no one fucks with one of our own.” When those two combined, Sain-Dokka suddenly had not just a few champions; no man, she had an entire mauk-mauk city of them! All the hooligans all across the town united. They hid and harbored Sain-Dokka, even fighting off the prawlie9 for her! Those maukers had guns! This was some pretty heavy hound-bwohk here! These were teenagers and twenty-somes—kids—but they weren’t playing around! Every single one of them understood that they were involved in something that would change the whole world, and maybe even fix the all fwumph10 the adults had put them through. They were all prepared to give their lives for this, and many of them did. Sorry, you’ll have to excuse me a moment. I know it might seem silly to you if you ain’t townhawk but, for us townhawks, we tend to get all kwopn’n11 at this story. See, we act all tough and we’re all a bunch of crass kids, but we got a sentimental side that we don’t really talk about. I mean, I’m talking about it now, but that’s because I’m telling a story to markeys. It’s okay when you’re telling stories. Stories are important to townhawks. We’re kids, we’re crazy about telling stories. And seeing as our entire culture formed in response to the worst blig12 censor in the history of blig censors, we believe that no story should ever be edited to save face. In this very story that I’m telling you, you’re seeing townhawks dying just so that we can one day be free to say what we want to say; so as you can see, this fwumph is important to us, really important! Okay, I’m all right, I took my moment. It’s hard to tell this story and stay dry-eyed, you know? I mean, not even considering the amount of bravery involved, just the fact that a group of confrontational and antagonistic hotheads would all believe in something so strongly that they’d be willing to join together, work together, and rise up against their parents and the 8 weedaowny’ng: shit started going down (verb, modified by progressive tense marker) 9 prawlie: the law enforcement; derived from “police”, extinct term (noun) 10 fwumph: shit, stuff, things, but in a vulgar way (noun) 11 kwopn’n: teary-eyed, weepy, emotional (adjective); to be moved by emotion (verb) 12 blig: in this context is used to mean “damned” or “fucking”
other adults who’d maukn’id13 them. I mean, nothing against teenagers (I am one), but since when do you normally see urban teenagers rising up for such a selfless action? You don’t, not normally anyhow, especially not now and certainly not then. But they rose up, and in rising up, in protecting the lady who was helping them all, they became something more than just hooligans; no, they became something, and a very specific something at that—they became townhawks. And that’s just mauk-mauk beautiful. So anyways, Sain-Dokka was on the run for a while. See, the city where the weedaown was the city of Newton-Quain. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Newton-Quain, but I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it, if not even a little bit about it. Newton-Quain is a huge blig city! I grew up in Newton-Quain, and let me tell you this: that ain’t the city you want to escape from! No, if you ever have to escape from a major city, any major city, you best make it a town like Newton-Yohrn or Newton-Primu, but you’d be krah-krah to try to make it Newton-Quain! For one thing, Newton-Quain wasn’t one of the converted cities. Newton-Yohrn was converted: It used to be a whole different city once, different name, different look, different everything, but when it was converted, it wasn’t like they could tear the whole thing down. No, they had to work with what they had, so some of it is actually fairly open and all. But Newton-Quain… It weren’t anything like that. They built Newton-Quain up from the ground, about a hundred years back. The legend goes that they did it in a year. And given the nasty brutal efficiency that the Fundikon were known for, I’m not too sure there ain’t some truth in that. It was built by them, from a plan of their making. If someone is in the city, anywhere in the city, and the government is after them, all it takes is a single call, just one little ping, and the entire city totally closes up in precisely two minutes. Walls and doors come up where you’d never expect them to, and the only way around them is to go either through the buildings or over them. But the thing was, when the city closed up, the prawlie dispatched, and they covered every building that touched the walls that had a front and back entrance. Put simply: No way through, no mauk-mauk way! So when the first townhawks needed to get Sain-Dokka out of the city, there was no way they could get her through the buildings. Luckily, the hooligans back then were just like the townhawks today (well almost, as they didn’t know how to flite yet, coz it wasn’t discovered just yet), meaning they were pretty much all boarders, vandals, and acrobats. They knew all the rooftops and all the back alleys, and seeing a cluster of them moving about or hanging around wasn’t all that strange a sight to see. In fact, it was totally ordinary, and it was ordinary to the point that no one even noticed anymore. Markeys have never given fwumph for what townhawks do, unless it’s to heckle us, of course, but that’s lykn’eh14. So here’s the challenge (and this, by the way, is the part where I’m gonna start giving you some names of some people who are considered 13 maukn’id: the past tense form of “fuck”; in this context, it means “fucked over”, so that the sentence reads, “other adults who’d fucked them over” 14 lykn’eh: of little or no consequence, a contraction of “like eh” (adjective); as an interjection it means “whatever”
really significant townhawks). In the central part of the city, there were these two guys: Benjamin Tyke and Hugh Thompson. Benjamin Tyke was called Badger. I don’t know why he was called Badger, but he just was. Hugh Thompson was just called Hugh, but after the Mauk-Soba15 Flight, he became known as something else. On a clarity note, it’s actually the Mauk-Soba Flite, but it wasn’t a flite like what townhawks do today. No, the flite we do today is called that because it’s in honor of that flite. I changed it a little, though, so you wouldn’t get too confused. But for sake of clarity, if you hear this again from someone else, that’s actually what it is. But back to Hugh Thompson. He was just called Hugh back then, but after the Mauk-Soba, he became known as Drag, which is like the biggest honor in Hawkish titles and all. “Drag,” see, stands for dragon, and for townhawks to say someone is a dragon at something is to say that they have mastered it totally. They are the foremost awesome person at that particular skill or in that particular area. It’s a big deal with us, and it started with Hugh Thompson. Hugh and Badger both grew up in the central city, near the academic district, where all the universities are. That’s where Sain-Dokka worked (she was an academic smoogilee, remember?) and this was how they met SainDokka. Hugh and Badger weren’t friends, though; no, far from it. In the central city, there were two gangs of hooligans: there were Badger’s Town Kings and Hugh’s Hawks. They had a bitter rivalry, but both Badger and Hugh, for all they hated each other, were reasonable guys. They realized that rivalries can be good things—sharing an enemy keeps a group together, after all—but they also knew that a rivalry that gets out of hand can end up exploding like a father-mauker. So they kept a tight rein on their people, and so they had a very successful go of it. Well, they each met Sain-Dokka independently, and so them and their respective crews were the first to receive Sain-Dokka’s cure, coz they were her test subjects. She had a general idea of how to reverse the Lingban, see, but she had to try some different things out to perfect it; and even once she had it, it didn’t work the same for everybody. Working with the different Townies and Hawks was how she figured it all out. Well, when the Fundikon sent out the ping condemning Sain-Dokka, the first to show up at her door were Badger and Hugh. They were both of them boarders and both of them urban acrobats, so they got there before the prawlie could arrive to take her. They took her out through the window, and that night they assembled their two gangs with a very simple directive to perform a very unsimple task: they had to unite that night in order to smuggle Sain-Dokka out of the city. And they did it too. Word spread quicker than a shorda16 social disease, and that’s when the hooligans united, and they did so under the leadership of Badger of the Townies and Hugh of the Hawks. Yeah, I see you: You got where this is going! They couldn’t get Sain-Dokka through the buildings, coz the prawlie were mauk-mauk everywhere, but the rooftops were the last place the Fundikon believed an educated academic smoogilee would go. See, the Fundikon and 15 soba: huge, vast; also, awesome (adjective); “mauk-soba” means either/both “fucking huge” or/and “fucking awesome” 16 shorda: bitch; derogatory term for a woman (noun)
all the people who still believe in the Fundikon ideals (yeah, they still exist), well, they all seem to think that respectable people (and Sain-Dokka, despite being totally against them and despite consorting with hooligans, was a very respectable person) all think and act like the Fundikon thinks they should think and act. This, of course, means that they think and act like how the Fundikon thinks and acts. This ain’t true though. I mean pish, man! Nobody thinks and acts like the Fundikon except the Fundikon! Well… that isn’t strictly true. But still, it’s far from everyone, I’ll tell you that! So in the Mauk-Soba, the Fundikon would have never in a million fwumph-wumph17 years have thought of going on the rooftops. That just wasn’t what respectable people did. Therefore, they didn’t expect that SainDokka ever would, and so they left the rooftops unchecked. I know, right? Ignorant pish18, the lot of them! Not that I’m complaining, of course; no, I’m definitely not complaining. To give you a picture of how mauk-mauk soba19 Newton-Quain is (in case you ain’t never heard), going from rooftop to rooftop on foot, from center to outer wall, took Badger, Hugh, and Sain-Dokka five and a half days. It’s a sith-mauk-sith20! Once they got Sain-Dokka out, it isn’t really clear where they took her, but they kept her safe. Hugh didn’t return to the city when Badger did, for it’d been decided that he would stay with Sain-Dokka, accompanied by a small detachment of the very best members of all the gangs. They would protect Sain-Dokka, and I don’t think there was ever any doubt that any of them would have given their lives for Sain-Dokka if it came to that. For some of them it did come to that, and they gave their lives readily. The gangs had already started to defer to Hugh and Badger (and, of course, to Sain-Dokka herself), and once they’d gotten Sain-Dokka to safety, the gangs gathered all of them together for the first time in one of the old ruined out small-towns that used to make up the old world21. There were thousands of teenagers there, and hundreds and hundreds of gangs. In the most miraculously united vote of like ever, all the gangs agreed that they would rally under Hugh and Badger. It was then that Hugh was given his moniker, and they became Drag and Badger, the two former enemies that became co-rulers. The two gangs of Drag and Badger were, if you remember, the Hawks and the Town Kings. The other gangs, in joining under the two, became both Townies and Hawks, although many also kept their original names as well. But together, those two names made them Townhawks. Made 17 fwumph-wumph: motherfucking (adjective) 18 pish: while it means “shit!” as interjection, in this context, it is being used as the noun, where it means “shithead” 19 mauk-mauk soba: fucking huge (adjectival phrase); use of “mauk-mauk” here instead of “mauk” is no doubt to distinguish this ordinary term from the proper name of the Mauk-Soba, the term for the Exodus of “Sain-Dokka” 20 sith-mauk-sith: “huge fucking city” (noun phrase); for the distinction between the different terms for large cities, please see the nota bene under “sithsith” in the Glossary 21 small-towns that used to make up the old world: as narrator was born after Upheaval of Urbanization, this is presumably how narrator’s generation sees the suburbs of the old world
us townhawks. Badger died after returning to the city. The Fundikon found him and killed him. They couldn’t find Hugh or Sain-Dokka, and kept on not being able to find them until it was too late. Sain-Dokka and Hugh and their band of protectors traveled far and wide, and everywhere they arrived they left having freed a sobamao’ent22 of people. By the time the Fundikon found Sain-Dokka and Hugh it was far too late. The Fundikon was gone within five or so years, and the government was back to the way it always been: corrupt enough on its own, not needing help from nobody. And the townhawks? Well, we’re still around too, of course! We’re no longer one nation, now that there’s no need for us to be. I suppose we could be again. We certainly would be if it were Sain-Dokka who called us. But Hugh? I don’t even know if he’s still alive. If he is, he’s old now, all that being over and done thirty-five years ago. He’s well over twenty-eight, so to townhawks, that makes him a full adult. He may even be bonded! No, townhawks don’t rally for full adults. Well, except for Sain-Dokka. See, she’s an adult, but she’s also Sain-Dokka. I mean, like I said, it’s totally possible that the townhawks could unite again, but we’re teenagers, lazy, irreverent teenagers. There’s no way we’d unite just to do it, coz uniting takes a sobafwumph23 of time and effort, a sobafwumph we aren’t readily inclined to give, most days. Given that, the person to call us together would have to be a very specific sort of person. If not Sain-Dokka, then they’d have to be kit24 beyond belief. The only person I know of who maybe could have come close to the sort of acclaim needed would probably be a man called Treius Piquescent, but whose name—whose townhawk-granted moniker—was Drag-Hawk. As his name suggests (given what I’ve already told you about the townhawk “culture” heroes), Treius Piquescent was a master, a man truly skilled and excellent in one area, for in his moniker he bore the title of Drag, or “dragon.” The area of his mastery? Flite.
22 sobamao’ent: a huge number, a huge amount, usually of people (adjective); a large crowd 23 sobafwumph: literally, “huge things”; a huge amount of things, usually of nonpeople (adjective); a large bundle of things (noun) 24 kit: cat (noun); also, excellent, cool, admirable (adjective). In the current context, the adjective is more applicable
Pericles attempts his concluding pirouette in A tottering stance, Atop a mound of porcelain dolls Pale in their eternal slumber, as Sparta shuts her pounding eyelids. The commended waterfall of speech Pours royally from Pericles’ mouth and Swirls unpleasantly inside my mind And my tongue snaps impatiently at his nerve to Proclaim an end to any form of chaos. But then a pesky pig wanders on the set And peers through moldy velvet to Complain of some imperfection. He Pastes on tawdry wings and flutters in Tight circles around my throbbing cranium And I pose my butcher’s knife carefully Determined to silence The roar of every person and pig and war general From the graves of deceased Peloponnesians to Old MacDonald’s decaying farm. But instead, some sort of graying mist Rots around my aching eyes, I swat furiously, and it chuckles, fading Into the now-fuzzy future of my Inflamed mind. And I wonder, as I so often do on these occasions, If I am pregnant. I glare at Pericles: he sticks his pointed nose in the air and Keeps rambling. My god, if I am pregnant… That impertinent rind of pork rests on his Haunches, and surveys Pericles with Infuriating patience as something red Behind my left eye throbs. And if I am pregnant, What would happen to that
Doomed clump of cells So lovingly discussed over school Books and vacant stomachs? And often these little tribes of Students, with Lying eyes and empty wombs, will Tremble at the idea of murder, of Death. Flat stomachs are not good proponents of truth I don’t care if it’s wrong. I sure as hell would be scared. Maybe not Pericles, that damn war king. But I am no champion and suddenly I am a little girl who spills her Lunch and her secrets on a Cotton shirt. Pigs and panels of ancients Flutter dangerously close to My exposed eyeballs and I back up quickly, hitting the wall in my haste, My tightened back against something I cannot bring myself to Turn around and face.
Women with flat stomachs cannot be trusted. The immigrant is welcome until he moves in next door. And to you, Pericles, Who said it would be fun to live in ancient Greece? Dirt mixed with culture and diaries of the dead Leave me no longing to cuddle with Odysseys and Odysseus. But In all his untimely trials, At least he was alone in his own body. Pericles…I know next to nothing about you. You pet my head with heavy pride and Pose in marble half destroyed by the Years and Perhaps you are responsible for the State of my social life. Perhaps you died so I might pine away At graying snow. Would you ever daydream about someone Who is no more than a half-remembered name From a superficial education? You glorified Athens, a city imperfect In many rights, inhuman in many others
You fought and you must have fallen at times For deficiency and freedom, yet I Stand here hating the freaking miracle of life For wreaking havoc on my Unsettled mind. But you might feel different, dear Pericles, Upon feeling a nudge in your stomach that Would lithify your heart into the marble from which You are carved. We women, we are soft, But we are liars. We are little girls who scrape their Skin to remove any traces Of red paint. We stare haughtily down at mistakes Until we are one ourselves And then, we Reflect that even The almighty Greeks Died. They spoke glorious speeches of Immortal cities and now, Only the cold of broken stone remains but Is that still alive? Can we be killed if we are dead? Or not yet living? The lights fall and my head pounds as The perpetually spinning actors Troop back onto the stage and Prance around on stupid pink ponies, Refusing to sink in frozen stone and shut up. I would like to kill Pericles right now Just for some silence. I want to be alone in my own self. We women, we are the affectionate, The genetically giving and gregarious We perform our part with the gift of any true actor We lie with our warmth, Yet Pray that our cold eyes Keep the needy at bay.
MOLLY ANN BLAKOWSKI
One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Ornithorhynchus anatinus
My wife doesn’t like it. In fact, that’s an understatement—she detests it. I brought it home the other day. Yes, it must have been on Tuesday—the Natural History Museum has reduced admission prices on Tuesdays, and I reap the benefits of this hot deal like clockwork each week. I punch out, zip my jacket over my dirty uniform, and drive the old Toyota downtown to my glorified Tuesday sanctuary. “My mother’s sick again,” my wife said with a voice as saggy as her gravitationally-tailored memories-of-breasts, mashing her utensils into our usual Wednesday night dinner. Meatloaf and potatoes from a box. “I’m driving over to stay with her this weekend.” “Oh. Send her my get well wishes,” I offered. What a joke that was. Things haven’t been so hot between my mother-in-law and me since last Thanksgiving, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t give a damn if the old broad finally fell over and croaked somewhere in her dusty, old ranch house on Featherton Avenue. The one that smells like sour cottage cheese and mothballs and everything else old and unpleasant. Serves her right. “I will.” You know, any sane person would let bygones be bygones after a whole year. But my mother-in-law, she’s definitely insane. What happened was, last Thanksgiving, after we’d polished off all five pounds of the post-feathery meal that Ben Franklin once wished to make our national bird, and had grown drowsy from the tryptophan, I’d slipped down the hallway and into her bedroom to…admire a few collectables while the ladies prepared hot coffee and pumpkin pie. And well, I’m surprised how she even saw that pink little porcelain cat tucked into my shirt pocket, what with her failing vision and all. Clearly, she overreacted. Anyhow, ever since, that old, senile bat has treated me like a complete criminal. I chewed my meatloaf loudly to compensate for my wife’s sudden silence. It worked for a few minutes, until she cleared her throat and gave me the look. “You know what I’m going to say to you.” She glared across the table with the ferocity of a rabid lynx, like the one I saw two Tuesdays ago at the museum. Though that particular one had no eyes—it’d been a mere skeletal representation. “Don’t you?” “Oh, sure, sure,” I rebutted casually. “Water the flowers, keep up the kitchen, sure, sure, I know the drill.” Phew. Safe.
“Phil. Don’t beat around the bush. You know I’m talking about that… thing.” “Thing? What thing? I certainly have no idea what you’re getting at,” I responded, twiddling my sweaty thumbs. Oh, Lord. She was going to say it. “Phil, you’ve got to get rid of it. All of it. Especially that.” Then I began to lose my cool. “Shelly. Please. Not that—it’s new! Give me some time, at least. This stuff, it’s sentimental,” I begged like a pathetic dog. “It’s got value. Don’t you understand?” Her plate not yet cleaned (which was utterly unheard of, since Shelly absolutely adores meatloaf), she rose from her seat and pointed a threatening fork straight between my eyes. “If you don’t get rid of that shit, Phil,” she growled, “I swear to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’ll leave you!” “Oh come on, Shelly! You said that last time! You wouldn’t dare.” Becoming cross-eyed, I watched as two forks trembled in her hand briskly like two evil hummingbirds hovering mere centimeters from the bumpy bridge of my nose. “Well, this time I mean it.” She stomped off, and I listened to her high heels clattering with the volume of a hundred drunken bridesmaids. I waited until they silenced, then grabbed her plate and transferred the abandoned meatloaf and potatoes onto my own. So wasteful, Shelly. I don’t see what the big deal is with her. After all, I could have brought home something far worse. In fact, considering the other options, I’d say my selection was quite reasonable. I’d begun my habitual educational visit this particular Tuesday by browsing the museum’s expansive fossil selection. I imagined the paleontologists who unearthed those prehistoric treasures high-fiving each other like big, meaty jocks at a university football game. I like to think that my job is a bit like that of a paleontologist. My job: a high school janitorialogist. Go ahead and laugh, but at the high school, I’m constantly digging up artifacts. And sure, I don’t always find something extraordinary—there will always be apple cores, empty plastic water bottles, and sticky Twinkie wrappers competing for my attention. Typical high school detritus. “DO NOT TOUCH,” read a sign mounted ahead of the towering allosaurus. Using my tiptoes as fulcrums, I leaned in precisely, at the rate of a slightly-caffeinated sloth, extending my arm as if to shake its ancient claw. I stroked its skeleton with my fleshy, pink fingertips. These bones were dug up in Utah, and I figure if I did this roughly 200,000 years ago in Salt Lake City, this guy would’ve stripped the tissue clear off my bones. Of the two of us, maybe then I’d be the freak show hanging in the exhibit museum. After that act, my hands became feisty piranha jaws. Suddenly I needed to touch everything. Everything. Like the bony tail of a mastodon. I wasn’t worried about the meandering museum staff members chiding me for my unorthodox museum conduct. No, I was more concerned about the giant sauropod foot a couple of exhibits to the left. That foot could’ve crushed me in a second, crushed me to punish me for the molestation of its fellow, fossilized friend.
But it’s all worth it, my toilsome janitorial efforts, when I find them. The Big Juicys. How I savor unwrapping those crinkly, loose-leaf gifts, with their reliable three-hole punches and teal and red lines. The mastodons were beautiful, but I realized my desire to kidnap them and claim them as my own was unrealistic. How on earth would I fit them into my pockets? I considered settling instead for the horns of a Pleistocene bison. These horns, I thought, they look like Viking hats, and I must have them. Bison preoccidentalis, bison rassicornis, or bison latifrons? How hard it was to choose between them. I scrutinized each like a genetically modified fruit at a grocery store. Any would be a great addition to the mantle above my fireplace, or to wear as a hat on various special occasions. It’s hard to believe that 10,000 years ago, these Goliaths grazed the lands of lower Michigan, along with terrifying, giant beavers depicted in the diorama to the right. I wondered if they might have even lived in my own backyard, a place that, today, accommodates no such creatures, besides the ceramic garden gnome with the pointy purple hat that my wife thinks I got rid of last June, when in all actuality I’ve hidden it expertly behind the tomato plant because I know she’s a terrible gardener and never, ever waters it or pays it any mind at all. I wandered over to another exhibit and squatted carefully in the Ojibwe dugout canoe, catching three violet-colored, reflected versions of myself in the sheen of jagged quartz crystals in an amethyst geode from Brazil. From within the shiny cluster of purple teeth, I saw three of me pick up the ancient oar, saw three of me paddle down the elegant, marble steps, through the titanic entrance doors and straight out to the ocean, white-capped waves, beluga whales, sunken treasure and all. When I’m lucky enough to find them, I read these rare gifts carefully, as if I’ll be tested later on their contents. “Dear Jake,” they may start. “U and I both no we need 2 talk.” Oh, the scandal! “Dear Debbie,” they may read in inviting shades of Sharpie pen. “I can’t believe what you did with Chris last weekend!” Chris? Debbie? It couldn’t be! “XoXoX, Leslie.” Entering the room titled “Life through the Ages,” I paid homage to the geologic time scale: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and beyond. I always remember the order because of a silly acronym: Can Orville see down my pants pocket? Tom Jones can, though I better never catch this Tom Jones character, or anybody else for that matter, staring down any pants pockets of mine. What a creep, right? Each glass case contained thousands of years of evolution. The Permian diorama, for example, depicted towering trees called annularia that resembled a concoction of equal parts bamboo and pine tree. How strange they were, those Christmas relics for Permian pandas. The simulated prehistoric waters, composed of dusty glass painted an opaque, murky green teeming with life. A diplocerapsis swam through the sea of Plexiglas, and out of it crawled a peculiar amphibian, an eryop. I doubt I’ll ever become fossilized. My backyard isn’t a great venue for fossilization, because fossils generally form in warm, lacustrian environments. Fossils and lakes really hit it off because the bones of dead organisms press
perfectly into the mud and silt at the lake’s floor. Later, these indentations harden into rocks. Of course, later means thousands of years. It’s a long process—much longer than waxing the gym floor at school (though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it). Besides, I’m not too fond of water. That’s another reason why I probably won’t ever become fossilized. Which is a huge bummer because I’m definitely important enough to be. I would be a great specimen. An excellent addition to a collection of any sort. I could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sometimes, I can’t help but feel left out, like the entire world knows what happened between Debbie and Chris besides little old me. Maybe, though, Leslie will continue leaving notes behind—just for me. I picture notes slipping from the neatly trimmed back pocket of her lightly faded, size four, denim hip-huggers, each perfectly destined for my reading pleasure. I like Leslie. I think she’s one of the only people who really gets me, you know? On the third floor, there were hundreds of birds in cases. Little gold plaques marked the specimens as “endangered” or “threatened.” Long-eared owl: threatened. Short-eared owl: endangered. I wondered what factors scientists take into consideration upon deeming a certain species “threatened” or “endangered.” I wondered if the birds would’ve flown away if I’d opened the cages. They really ought to be set free. Someone really ought to open those cages. Maybe, one day, I’ll be the one to do it. “I want one of these big guys!” chirped a pin-striped, rosy-cheeked fifth grader. It was a Great Horned Owl. I wanted one, too. I’d had one once, a few years ago. It’s so painful to think about, though. I mean, that owl was the very first thing I’d ever taken from the museum. My first adoption, if you will. I brought it home, and after a little rearranging, set it in the dining room cabinet and stared at it like a proud soccer parent. “Where the hell did you get that thing?” Shelly’d asked. “Oh, just some resale shop downtown.” “Well, I hope you can get a refund, Phil, because there’s no way I’ll have that creepy thing in my house one minute longer. I can’t even look at it. I think it might give me nightmares.” She’d shuddered. “Plus, it clashes with my father’s urn. You know how he was. You know he wouldn’t like that.” So I let it go. I let it free. I’ve never had any kids, but I wonder if that was what it feels like dropping your son off at college or walking your daughter down the aisle. I always wonder about that owl. I’ve never let anything go since. It’s all a big game. How will my next message be delivered? I never know; it’s all up to Leslie. Will she slyly toss it inside a garbage can? Maybe. Will she tuck it away with her gym socks and Number Seven basketball uniform in the girls’ locker room? Perhaps. Will she “accidentally” leave it behind at her table in the cafeteria? It’s a possibility. But the way we communicate, Leslie and I, is perfect. We never have any arguments. There’s never anything to fight about. We just really get each other, you know? We always have each other’s backs, you know? Like the other day, when some little, pre-pubescent punk puked in the athletic wing, and I had to mop it up. I practically saved her life.
“Floor’s wet,” I’d said heroically as I saw her running by, one hand motioning towards the dual, yellow “Caution!” and “¡Cuidado!” sign, the other gripping my mop handle tightly enough to give me permanent slivers. “Thanks,” she said, and continued upstairs towards AP Biology with Mr. Kuzinowski, which I knew she was running late for because she always takes cigarette breaks between third and fourth hour in the bleachers overlooking the football field. Smoking’s a dirty habit, but I’ll never judge her for it, of course. I’ll never judge that Leslie. Sweet, sweet Leslie. She’d never argue with me or tell me to get rid of things. She accepts people for who they are. She smokes Camel No. 9s. A glass case protects a wallet, a pair of boots, and a belt crafted from the skin of a sea turtle, all of which would be nice additions to my wardrobe. I pictured myself strolling into an elegant cocktail party sporting the Nile crocodile handbag and the Colobus monkey skin as a shawl. Porcelainskinned dames and mustachioed monsieurs kissed the air beside my cheeks and asked, “Wherever did you learn to dress so stylishly?” to which I replied quite coolly, “Oh, these old things? Darling, you should see the rest of my collection!” Still, I will always want to know about Debbie and Chris. I like to check out the stuffed animals, too—not to be confused with the sorts found in toy stores. I saw a badger: Taxidea taxus. It looked like a man I once knew who, coincidentally, made a hobby of killing badgers who happened to intrude on his one hundred and fifteen acres of land near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I saw a red fox: Vulpes vulpes. I shrugged, curious how the same word could mean both “red” and “fox.” Anyhow, I finally saw it. It was perfect. Genius. I knew immediately that I’d take it home and make it my own. I knew immediately that we’d hit it off just great. I knew immediately that I would kidnap the stuffed platypus. Also known as the duckbill, the platypus uses its broad and horny bill for dissecting and ingesting worms. It is mostly an aquatic animal; it has strong limbs like wrought iron paddles, and it’s small enough to zip into my jacket semi-inconspicuously. A few weeks ago, I consoled Leslie after she failed her history test. I dropped a crisp, five-dollar bill on the floor outside the senior girls’ restroom, where I knew she’d locked herself away in a stall, crying terrible tears of defeat into the school’s sandpapery toilet paper and smudging her Maybelline “Almost Black,” brown eyeliner and mascara. It cheered her right up, of course, when she found it lying there like an unopened Christmas gift. Yeah, I’m really good with those sorts of things. You know, the little things that make a relationship work. As soon as I returned home, I set my prize on the foot of our queen-sized bed. It looked nice there, beside the Least weasel: Mustela nivalis, (a weasel the size of a child’s fist), the faux meteorite samples, and the three-foot long, giant-puffball mushroom with its seven trillion fungal spores. It didn’t just look nice—it looked, well…perfect.
But once again, my wife hates it. She thinks I have a serious problem. When Friday arrived and she finally left to wipe her old broad’s ass for the weekend, we all had a real ball back at the house. A perfectly dandy time. We gathered in the living room to watch film noir and eat grilled mozzarella sandwiches, some with crust, and others without. We listened to Arlo Guthrie’s, “Alice’s Restaurant,” on my old turntable, and held intellectual conversations on key national events such as Watergate and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during her 2004 Super Bowl performance. I even bought a pack of Camel No. 9s to celebrate. Though I smoked them outside and made sure to alleviate myself of the stench with a lemony Lysol spray before reentering the party and situating myself on the sofa between Ornithorhynchus anatinu and the flakey slab of biotite. They’re intelligent creatures that are perfectly aware, I’m sure, of the harmful effects of second hand smoking, and under no circumstances would I allow them to suppose I’m putting them in harm’s way. Yeah, things were going really great until Saturday afternoon when I received that phone call from my boss, in which he alleged terms akin to “financial crisis,” “district pay cuts” and “you’ve served our school loyally for nearly eleven years, and it pains me to have to let you go, Phil.” Cowardly prick didn’t even have the decency to let me know in person. When I go in Monday to collect my belongings and turn in my uniform, I’m going to hide a hard-boiled egg somewhere in his office, somewhere where he’ll never find it, and it’ll smell, and it’ll be painful and awful, and he’ll regret ever firing me— ha! I’ll show him some decency of my own. I pray to God I’ll have access to the boiler room that day. That’s in the basement, where I keep a good portion of my stash, my collection of gifts from Leslie, dating back to the first day we met. I’ll never forget that day. It was the second semester of her freshman year (yes, I’m still shocked and embarrassed it took me that long to notice her). I saw stars when she approached me; her lovely blonde curls flouncing hypnotically with each step of her plush Ugg boots. “My locker’s, like, jammed,” she’d confided. I stared at her like I was Mary Magdalene, and she my newly resurrected savior. She coughed. Finally, I managed to utter my first words to her. “It is?” “Yeah.” My eyes lit up. “Oh, so your locker is jammed?” “Yeah. Can you, like, fix it?” she asked, twirling a curl between her fingers. It pained me to hear the utter sincerity of her concern. Right away, I knew she was an intelligent girl. Mature beyond her age, devoted to her studies. No way would I let an inconvenient locker hinder her from the valiant achievements she is destined to make in the world of academia. My collection of all things Leslie is modest. Just a few hundred Camel No. 9 butts, seventy-four notes, six tubes of cherry lip balm, and a couple of snapped hair ties. Oh yeah, and an Algebra test dated January 15, 2007. She got an A+, the best grade in the class. We were both so proud.
I don’t think she knows I have it, though. I swiped it from Ms. Dune’s classroom one time when she left to take a twenty-four minute shit in the faculty lounge, which may or may not have been the product of somebody slipping a subtle laxative into her coffee during lunch break, and made a copy for myself. Surely this won’t mark the end of our relationship, though. I mean, I expect things may be rocky for a little while as we adjust to seeing each other less. I’ll promise her that though my career has changed, I haven’t, and I’ll continue to attend all of her varsity basketball games. Home or away, I’ll be there. Front row. You betcha. Well, it’s Sunday now. Shelly will be home in a few hours so I’d better box everything up. The animals. The gems. The petrified plants. She’ll be upset enough that I’ve lost my job so I’d better just go along with her evil schemes. I’ll relocate Leslie’s notes to the attic along with my other treasures. Carefully, with several layers of protective bubble wrap. I’ll merge my cigarette butts with her cigarette butts and feel the nicotine spark. I feel terrible, that’s for sure. I hope the guys don’t think I’ll neglect them while they’re up there. Between you and me, some of them are pretty sensitive. Especially the volcanic rocks—they’re always getting heated up over nothing. Of course, I know Shelly is wrong. I don’t have a problem. There’s nothing wrong with me. But I won’t blame her. I’m not a bitter man. Some people don’t know good collectables when they see them.
MOLLY ANN BLAKOWSKI
Don’t Be a Tomboy For Jamaica Kincaid
Or do anything daring at all—you’ll just get hurt. After all, you’re prone to it, to getting hurt. What with your condition and all. No, nothing even remotely daring. So before you do anything, and I mean anything: picture me. Would I approve? If you have even the slightest doubt, don’t do it. Don’t think twice. The answer is firm. The answer is “No.” No climbing of trees. No climbing of mountains. No shoes without proper arches (and they must always be clean). Take better care of your shoes. I don’t even know why I buy them for you. They’re always ruined. Don’t walk in the rain, stop walking in the rain. Your shoes will ruin and you’re really better off staying indoors, anyway. If you walk in the rain you’re liable to catch a cold. Or pneumonia. And don’t think you’re going dancing in those shoes, either. I don’t want you out dancing and drinking. You’ll get too tired; you’ll stay up too late. Your friends will forget about you and leave you behind. And worst of all—your shoes, they’ll scuff. A proper lady keeps her shoes clean. Don’t listen to music loudly. Eat your food slowly. Order a salad. At home, clear the table. Don’t tell your boyfriend, “I love you.” I know you don’t. When you break up, wait a while before finding another boyfriend. Not long enough and you’re trash. Too long, you’re a lesbian. Don’t tell me you’re a lesbian. Your reputation is only as clean as your shoes. You have too many male friends, which makes me suspect you’re a lesbian. You spend too much time with them. You sweat with them. You’re going to get hurt if you carry on like this, with your hiking, your camping. You can’t live out of a backpack. You can’t just gallivant about the wilderness. You can’t fight the elements. Listen: You’re going to get very hurt, or maybe you’re going to die. The mosquitoes are terrible out there. I’ll bet you contract West Nile. Your asthma’s getting worse, too. And for God’s sake: remember your blood condition. I know you’re not drinking enough water. I know you’re picking your scabs. That’s why you have so many scars— don’t you listen to your dermatologist at all? If you weren’t gallivanting about the wilderness all summer, wearing your hair short in that bandana like the lesbian you’re becoming, you wouldn’t have these hideous scars. Or this sunburn. Don’t you wear sunscreen? And how many times do I have to tell you to reapply it? You reapply sunscreen every hour. That’s every single hour, reapplying your sunscreen. That’s the appropriate amount. But you, you’re red. Don’t you know that this family has a history of skin cancer? And would you please just stop and think a minute, about your condition? Jesus Christ, your condition! Well, once you’ve gotten another boyfriend I’ll continue questioning your sexuality on a semi regular basis, but you better not be having sexual intercourse. Slow down. Don’t blow all of your money on train fare. And especially not on airfare. There’s a lot of risk involved with air travel. Don’t go where I can’t follow. Don’t walk so fast in those shoes. They’ll scuff.
Frozen Waterfalls The dams were frozen waterfalls when you arrived, eleven avalanches of ice waiting to crash back into the river. You said the sun shines the brightest on the coldest days of winter, and thatâ€™s when you lit my monochromatic December on fire. My mind dripped with color. Too much color. Too much paint for my palette, too much oil on my canvas. Yet I was fascinated, captivated, high on the madness and the downpour that left my mind buzzing into the early hours of the following day. No matter how much color I had, I simply desired more.
I woke up and craved tangible tints and values, wishing for the ability to hold color in my hands, to feel the weight of the acrylics before I smeared them across a giant blank page as the excess built up between my fingers. I wanted to paint with the hues of everything I had ever touched, for the canvas to play the music in my head out loud, and I blame it all on you. Eventually the sun regained its authority, but you werenâ€™t there when I went to watch the rapids melt. So I sat there alone, My thoughts beautiful pieces of broken glass, glittering like the edges of the northern lights, as I waited for the sun to set.
Sundress I was a tiny show of a child sitting next to my Uncle Joseph who was and is 37 years my senior—He smelled older—I think it was the viciousness of his cologne that always made me think that. He told me I looked pretty in my dirty little sundress and it made me remember so I felt lonely and weak but mostly annoyed—Hughie—the cat made of beiges and whites wandered into the smooth-wooded room and meowed—Joseph turned to me and winked before he made that terrible man-sound that comes before spitting, which he then did—into the air and over that smooth wood and to my horror Hughie jumped and caught the pale substance. I yelled for my mother—wanting please to leave but she called back that we couldn’t go until she finished baking the cherry pie she’d promised to Joseph in return— a payment for babysitting, mostly sitting. He sighed and put his hand on my back—I heard myself whimper—I think— and after that... I don’t know.
A Letter to My Mother I been dying to write my mother a letter forged with a signature of approval from God just to be accepted... Dear Mommy, I was accepted to 17 colleges and fixed with four different scholarships and I never heard a congratulations. Suffered four years of bipolarity and question mark years of an undiagnosed sleep apnea. Becoming a child who enjoys breaking teeth more than building them and still... I stand here. Bloodied knuckles here, damaging an irritated cavity of innocent victims I am still begging to be friends with. Still moisturizing the fact that I cannot keep a friend even if they were to be my guardian angel.
I can never be this child from God, just Godâ€™s child. Just a child of God. I was trying to drill each lyric of the bible in this journeyed mind of mine but it has been impossible to adapt to a title that has nothing to do with what I hear. I was your child... your baby. But I am too slick to be the daughter of an angel. I can only smell the blood of your womb that I left damaged May 29th, 1992. I am the cause of an irritating echo that is heard every time I make you go hungry. You can mistake this letter as an apology but I swear that this is my own confession standing here with hand to heart since I do not believe bibles are fully covering an agnostic like me. I was your child who was taught that separating after 9 months and 11 days of sweating in a womb that compares to the fire of 9.11 made me the metal that tore down your spine to envelop what is left of its melting ashes. Mommy, I have been dying quicker than you think. The further from you I get the worse I twitch with an unfriendly heart
burn and it feels like when I was your fetus again. Your antidotes could not calm a fire of me actually missing you. I been missing the home my soul rested in before I became who I am today. I was never given the chance to endure crystallization to be tougher than any slave-traded diamond that JayZ supports and sports on his breaking wrists and cranking necks. I am heavier than that. So I salute you, greater than I did America in 6th grade, and I stand before you as a girl who did nothing but try her best to please you. An 18 year old, standing as a cylinder on this stage to make you proud as your daughter, another childâ€™s mentor, teacher and friend. Mesmerized by families and their taunts and stares to ruin me. I am proving that I am able to articulate a flow without having to swear or excuse a French that was never even spoken. I am a daughter, one who couldnâ€™t live up to her nameâ€™s definition but for once... I can say I am proud of myself and mean it. I know you are proud of me... So congratulations to your mothering natures. Love Degora... Signed your Father, (dont forget to capitalize the F) P.S. - This is for any mother who swore their children hated them, for any mother who thinks they are unappreciated. Do not weigh your head down...
A girl sits at a diner—it’s called Legends. It’s just her and a bunch of old people, the type that like to get up at 7:00 a.m. and make their way over to a familiar breakfast hub for some eggs with their paper. The place is a block away from her high school. None of the other kids come here because the McMuffins down the street far outweigh the smell of grandparents and peeling brown paint. This is exactly why she likes this place—it’s hers to be her. Above the far back table hangs a black and white poster of six friends laughing over a pot of coffee. They’re twenty-something, and each leans in to the other with mouths open and teeth showing. There is a kind of electricity apparent, the kind that only strikes between best friends. They’re happy, and they give the diner a kind of homey feel. She sighs a little, looking at the poster. She stares until the pixels blur into her peripherals and it loses meaning. Last night she had to read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” for English class and it puzzled her. She studied the poem in grade eight, and she learned it was about making the right decision, finding your own path, all that going-against-the-crowd kind of stuff. She even had to make a poster of what the poem meant to her, and she decided to do a collage of lettuce vs. hamburgers and cigarettes vs. lollipops. It made sense to her then—the poem, that is—but now, it seemed different. She was missing something important. As she thinks, her fingers stir a wooden stick in a tea mug. A bell rings at the front of the diner: a new customer is in. The sound pulls her out of her mind and back into her seat. She looks up and sees three girls from religion class. Great. They’re pretty loud, especially for the morning, and she sinks her gaze down to her lap to avoid eye contact. They sit near the front, where the coffee counter meets the glass window, and order some hard-boiled eggs with grapefruit. It’s 8:00 a.m. and she is about ready to leave. The schoolbell rings in fifteen minutes, but she can’t move now. She’s stuck. You eat breakfast alone and in here? No one wants to eat with you? You can’t find anyone, really? Not one person? The scene plays in her mind and glues her hands to her forehead and her feet to the ground. She is not moving, not while the girls block the door with fire tongues and judging eyes and ready claws. She glances to her watch again: five minutes have passed since last. Her stomach starts to churn a mix of bacon and orange juice acid. Little drips of sweat form in the crevice of her hands and a lump moves down her throat and past her belly. She needs to use the bathroom but that’s right by the girls, too. I don’t think I put on enough deodorant this morning. I’m going to smell all day long. She looks down her black blouse to see a bit of white buildup near the bottom. Her Dove must have rubbed off from skin to shirt. This is really noticeable. She tries to wipe off the residue with a napkin, but the stain remains smeared and white and blotchy. “Can I get you anything else, hun?” A nice white-haired women smiles at
her and waits. “No, thank you. I’m o-fine. I mean, I’m okay and I’m fine. Thank you. Thanks for asking.” She gives a little half-hearted laugh that sounds more like a forced cough. “Okay, sweetie, well just let me know.” The girl glances back at her watch: five minutes. She wants to move, but she has to sit. Her mind plays walking through the halls during the national anthem. All the teachers will know. She will walk into Algebra late—Mr. Moscone hates when students are late. She’s going to get a detention. She’s never gotten one. All the detention kids will make “ooo look who’s here” noises. Her cheeks burn red—there’s fire on her skin. Her sweater looks disgusting and stained. She needs to get up. Get up. Her legs shake, and she stands. Walk forward. She does, heels then toes propel her body past the stomach cramps and scattering dreams to the glass door. “Sarah, hey!” She turns to three smiling girls. “Oh, hey, guys. Didn’t see you. How’s it going?” “Eh, not bad. Monday morning, you know.” One of the girls answers for all three. “You heading off to school?” “Yeah, I have algebra. Kinda sucks.” “I bet. I gave up on math last year.” “Smart move, this stuff is way too hard.” There is a bit of a pause. Not long enough to be awkward—more of a stumble in normal conversation. “Will I see you in fourth?” one of the girls fills the air. “We can suffer through Mrs. Gratton’s lectures together.” Sarah gives a genuine laugh. “Yeah, for sure. I’ll see you guys then. Enjoy breakfast—the eggs are good.” They all smile and wave as she passes through the door. She reaches her car and exhales heavily. The back of her neck burns like coals against flame. She starts the engine. • • • The hallways of St. Anne’s are plain and unstimulating. The high school moved to a new building one year ago, and the administration decided to forbid the painting of murals and posting of artwork—they didn’t want to ruin the new walls. So beige brick piles on beige brick, but every fourth locker allows for a dull orange to sear the eyeball. It’s noon and Sarah sits in the middle of a classroom. Teachers always notice the work of kids in the front—in a glance they can read the pages of their spiral-ringed notebooks. And this is exactly why they are worrisome of the kids in the back—they are hard to get to and their notebooks are hidden. Everyone sort of forgets about the middle, though—so this is where Sarah sits. “What did everyone think about ‘The Road Not Taken?’” Mrs. Rozic asks. “It was about, like, dancing to the beat of your own drum, like that, right?” Michael Robinson answers. He sits on the opposite side of the room from Sarah. “Mhm, mhm, that could be one aspect of it. What does everyone else think? Try and consider the title.”
Well, if it’s “The Road Not Taken,” it’s about the decision you didn’t make, isn’t it? It sort of scratches at you—thinking about what you could have been doing while doing what you are doing. “No one has any ideas? Come on, guys, just think out loud a bit.” “Well, I think it’s trying to say what’s right for you is not right for everyone else. You know, a bunch of people may be walking one road, but that doesn’t mean you have to walk it, too.” “Okay, yes, try and give me more, though. Try and read into the lines, kids.” The sky lies void of hands. Just answer. Put your hand up in the air. It’s easy. Who’s going to make fun of you? You’re not stupid, come on. Look, the poem is not about one road over the other. They’re both the same, and no decision will be better. It’s about looking back. “No comments? No one. This is probably one of the most misunderstood poems on the planet. Try and think about it a little more than you did in grade school.” Raise your hand. Raise your hand. Raise your hand. Raise your hand. Raise your hand. Okay, okay, do it in one, two. “Well, if no one has anything to say, maybe you need more time to think about it. Read it over tonight and write a page about the meaning.” A muffled groan hits the air on impact of the words. Great. Ok, well at least now you can show her what you know. Check Sparknotes first, though—make sure you’re not a complete idiot.
• • • The school bell rings at 2:15 p.m. and every day a mess of kids pile into the halls and open lockers to stuff backpacks full of books and head home. Four to five minutes pass and clicking high heels replace the squeaking of sneakers and flats. In the student parking lot it’s always a race to get out first. Some cars shake with bass, and tires run black against pavement as they rush off campus. The smokers clump around the back fence for the last drag of the school day. The vice principals watch with disappointment—the kids are one foot off of school boundaries. Sarah stands washing her hands in the bathroom. Every day she takes an extra ten minutes before leaving. She enjoys the walk to her car without all the crowded cliques of kids and adults. “Hey, you’re Michael’s sister, aren’t you?” The sound startles her. She turns to her left and sees a girl. “Yeah, I am.” “I thought I recognized you. You look exactly like him.” “Really?” “Oh yeah, for sure, especially the eyes.” “They’re just brown like everyone else’s.” “No way, they’re like this deep chocolate brown. They’re different. Well, let me see.” The girl moves in really close. She lifts her hand and drags her thumb just below Sarah’s eye to the edge of her cheek. “Yeah, definitely.” Sarah’s eyes move a few seconds after touching the girl’s, and she lets
out a nervous chuckle. She doesn’t know where to look, so she faces her eyes downward as her palms start to moisten. “Sorry, I’m totally bursting your personal bubble here, aren’t I?” The girl backs up and offers her hand to Sarah. “I’m Kaitlyn. I’m in your brother’s calculus class.” “Oh yeah?” Sarah grabs the girl’s hand and lightly shakes it. “Yeah. He’s really smart, always helps me out with the homework. And on tests sometimes if you know what I mean.” “Ha.” Sarah’s laugh is short. “Well, that’s nice of him. He practically does my homework, too.” “Oh, I bet you’re just as smart.” “Uh, I don’t know about that.” “Can you play basketball, too?” “No, I leave that all up to Michael.” “He’s got a full ride to UConn, doesn’t he?” “He just signed last week actually.” “Wow, really? You going to miss him next year?” “I guess. I mean, he’s not really around much now.” “Right. Practice and everything.” There is a bit of an uncomfortable pause. “Well, I’ve got to get going—cheerleading practice. I’ll see you around?” “Yeah, see you.” As Kaitlyn moves to the door, Sarah washes her hands again. Walking in the same direction as someone after a conversation ends is always uncomfortable. She looks at the mirror above the bathroom sink. Straight pieces of light brown hair flow to her shoulders, and she pushes back bangs that swoop over her left eye. Her skin is olive-toned with a bit of acne sitting around her cheeks. Last year, giant pimples would grow like crops on top of her nose, and she could feel people’s attention drift down to the white flowering harvest if she talked. It was awful and humiliating so she gave up all sugar from her diet and invested her birthday money in some really expensive cover-up. Now she looks like any other pubescent teenager. “Any other,” Sarah thinks. Five foot six, one hundred and forty pounds. She wasn’t like the skinny, artsy girls who made funny, odd comments and wore clothes they bought at Salvation Army to look original. But she wasn’t like girls with boyfriends and a lot of friends who wore tight pants and baggy sweaters either. She wasn’t strange enough to be weird or friendly enough to be normal or popular enough to be cool. She wasn’t really anything, and she sighs thinking about this. It’s time to go home. • • • A house lies on the corner of two streets. It’s modest sized, with a pretty little garden in front and a white shed in the back. Most of the neighbors exchange friendly hellos when they pass. A Ford Escort pulls into the driveway and parks next to the basketball post. Sarah gets out and opens the garage. A plane flies above her; its jet stream tattoos the sky. “You fucking hate those kids. You just fucking hate them.”
Sarah hears shouts before she enters. An acid drip starts from her stomach to her intestines. She feels her chest tighten, the bronchioles restrict, her veins bulge with a faster heartbeat. She contemplates shutting the door, driving off to the library. They don’t know I’m home. “Someday, somebody is going to hate you as much as you hate John and Nicholas and then you’ll be sorry.” Her father fumbles with shoes and keys, and she knows he will be in the garage in seconds. It’s too late to leave. He passes her, jamming his toes into shoes, his arms swinging to find their sleeves. Their eyes don’t meet and his head doesn’t turn to her. He backs his truck away from their brick home and evergreen trees without hesitation. She hears her mother’s sobbing through the door. She knows the scene already: middle-aged woman bent over a countertop, clenching her forehead with both hands, struggling to stand. Sarah unzips her jacket and her fingertips take the doorknob. She has to go in. “Mom?” She comes into the kitchen to see a smashed coffee pot on the floor and chips of wood scattered from a now ruined cupboard. “Mom, Mom, come sit down. You might step on the broken metal.” She takes her hand and leads her to the couch in the living room. “Be careful, let me get you some tissues. Just a minute.” “Sarah, I always do this. Why do I open my mouth?” The sentence comes out long and staggered. A bit of saliva falls from mouth to couch, and mucous sits between her nose and top lip. Her mother tries to smear it away with her hand. “Here, Mom, use this.” Sarah hands her the tissue. They sit there for a long while in silence. Tears fill the tiny lines gathered from years of exhaustion beneath her mother’s eyes. She looks older when she cries. Sarah holds her hand, whispering, “It’ll be okay, Mom. It’s okay.” She doesn’t know what else do to. Her throat itches—she tries to scratch it with her tongue, by swallowing, but it doesn’t help. “I don’t know, Sarah. I don’t think your father and I are right for each other anymore.” “Okay.” “I was never strong enough to leave, but maybe now it’s time.” “Okay.” Sarah knows she won’t. This happens every few months. Her parents fight—usually over her two oldest brothers, John and Nicholas—and five days later they pretend to be a happy couple. Her father’s voice rises loud like the crack of thunder against her mother’s, then the rain starts. Sarah comes in the aftermath and re-plants the broken trees—to be grown until the next storm. The family is sort of a mix-match of parts. Her father knocked up his girlfriend Katie when he was twenty and married her out of respect. They ended up having two kids together, a dog named Rocky, and a blue house near the downtown area. Luckily, Ford Motor Company was hiring at that time, so he got in with a good job and a steady paycheck. Katie wasn’t fulfilled with the normal suburban life, though. She felt the need to recapture the so-called wild years when her oldest son John turned eleven. Sniffing and drinking her youth back, monogamy became too difficult and, one night, Jack
caught her in bed with another man. The kids were asleep in their rooms. Jack, with a good job and clean drug test, got the kids, but Katie received one half of his saving accounts: twenty five thousand dollars. So with the filling of her pockets came Jack’s complete abandonment of the word trust. He remained single for a few years until he met a pretty college girl named Mary. They met at a bar and fell in love. He was ten years her senior, and she gave up the idea of grad school to be his wife. So like pieces of broken fabric, they sewed together a family and had two children of their own— Michael, a future basketball star, and Sarah. Now, as her mother cries and her father sits at some bar shooting whiskey and smoking a cigarette, Sarah wonders if they were ever right for each other. Kids hate stepmothers and stepmothers hate stepsons, so why do they ever take a step in the first place? But of course, if they didn’t, Sarah herself wouldn’t be sitting here thinking these thoughts. She wouldn’t hyperventilate over seeing three girls at a diner, and she wouldn’t be scared to raise her hand in class. She’d be off in some world of could-have-been-but-better-to-nothave-been-babies. Life is all so confusing. “Mom, are you hungry? Do you want me to make you some dinner?” “No, Sarah. I’m going to throw up if I eat.” “Okay.” Her mother’s tears eventually dry and leave her eyes stained red before she drifts off to sleep. • • • Sarah’s bedroom is a soft purple with a white border circling the top. Her closet is filled with four pairs of dark jeans, a few plain colored t-shirts and a couple of hoodies. There is nothing too fashionable nor unstylish - just clothes. The only thing shocking about the room is a big mural on the back wall; Sarah painted it herself. It’s very colorful and complicated. It looks like people are running into the sun but melting before they reach it. The image isn’t dark or morbid. It’s beautiful the way the colors flow from people to the sun and back to people on the other side. Sarah lies on the floor listening to some soft violin music. Her fingers ache to play the instrument but she doesn’t know how. Maybe I should learn. She hears the front door open, followed by the smack of a bag on the ground. Michael is home, she knows his sounds. “Michael?” “Yeah?” He climbs up the stairs to meet Sarah face-to-face at her bedroom door. “Try to be quiet, Mom is sleeping.” “She’s sleeping? It’s eight o’clock. Where’s Dad?” “He left. He probably won’t come home tonight.” Michael frowns in understanding. “They had a fight?” “Yeah. Dad smashed a coffee pot on the ground. Mom was pretty shaken up, but she’s seems okay now.” “Okay. Uh, they should just get a fucking divorce already.” Sarah looks to the ground. “You know they won’t.”
“Yeah. Okay, it’ll be alright. You’re staying home tonight?” His question comes off more as a statement. It’s Friday, but Sarah usually stays home on the weekends. “I don’t know. Where are you going?” “This girl Kaitlyn from school is having a party. I’ll probably head over there in a bit.” “Kaitlyn?” “Yeah, you know her?” “I met her in the bathroom today. She’s a bit taller than me, red hair, really pretty?” “Yeah, that sounds like her.” “Do you think I could come with you?” The question sort of startles Michael. He isn’t used to his sister asking him for things, especially party invites. “You want to come to the party?” “Yes, I mean, I, I don’t really want to be home, here, right now.” He looks at her, so uncertain in her stance, leaning against the doorframe. “Sure, Sarah. You can come. I’m leaving in about an hour, so be ready then.” “Okay.” • • •
The walls of Kaitlyn’s house vibrate with bass and sweat with heat. A pool of adolescents swarm in the living room, connecting and disconnecting like the electrons of an atom. They are dancing the contemporary form of dancing which basically involves girls rubbing up and down against the male genital area and boys grabbing onto girls’ hips and thighs. The carpet is sticky with beer and vodka, and in the kitchen some young kid hangs face first towards a metal barrel with a black tube sticking out of his mouth. “You ever done a keg stand?” Some obnoxious drunk yells in Sarah’s ear over the music. “No.” “You want to do one? This guy’s about done.” “Maybe later?” “Okay, beautiful. You just let me know.” She stands against the wall with this boy progressively leaning closer and closer to her. Michael left downstairs with some basketball friends. “You want to smoke? Buddy o’mine hooked me up with some white kush – best weed money can buy. Better than medical, if you know what I’m saying.” “Oh, um, you know, well, I have, I have asthma.” “Shit, so do I, doesn’t mean you can’t hit a joint.” “Sarah!” Kaitlyn comes from around the corner to give her a hug. “Jacob, stop hitting on my friend. I’m so glad you came. Here, come on.” She pulls her to the refrigerator and pours together two white liquids that bubble and spew over the top of a red cup. “Drink this.” Her hand forces the concoction to Sarah’s lips. Sarah pauses for a moment. “You’ll loosen up, babe. Promise.” Sarah takes the cup from Kaitlyn’s hand and gulps it. It tastes like peroxide, but she doesn’t stop until
the glass sits upside down on her face. “Okay, now let’s go dance.” Kaitlyn pulls Sarah to the speakers and starts to move her hips against her. Sarah stands stationary as her stomach burns with the passing seconds. She feels dizzy and lights stray across her vision longer than usual. Her pores expand, and sweat oozes from the openings. Two boys approach her and Kaitlyn from behind, and they are squished even closer together. “Guess we’ve got company.” This is the first time Sarah’s been drunk. She starts to move a bit and mimic the other girls pressing themselves up against the boys. “You’re a good dancer,” the boy behind her says in her ear. Kaitlyn moves in close so their noses touch. “You should kiss her.” A deep voice plants the idea in her mind. Sarah’s head spins and spins so she sees faces move up and down in vibration. Her eyes lock on Kaitlyn. It’s not scary now. “Kiss her.” She moves an inch forward and touches Kaitlyn’s chin with her fingertips. The two girls touch lips and the boys move closer in to them. Kaitlyn pushes her tongue into Sarah’s mouth and moves her hand to her collarbone. This is Sarah’s first kiss. She feels the boy rise behind her and everything blurs in lights and sound and touch. She hears faded whispers. “Who is that?” “Is that that quiet girl Sarah?” “Look what she’s doing.” They’re all talking about you. What’s happening? “You want to go to the bathroom with me?” Sarah doesn’t know who’s speaking. Someone moves their hand between her thighs. She tries to stop them, but her mind can’t coordinate her body anymore. “Wait.” Her voice is weak. “I’m going to, I have to go to the bathroom.” Her stomach feels thick and a lump rises to her throat. “I don’t feel good.” She falls into Kaitlyn, and the heaving stomach pains become heaves of vomit. She passes out on the floor, eyes blurring in a stream of faces. • • • Sunlight bursts through ripped shades. The carpet is covered with cans and cups and the room is empty. A foot nudges at Sarah’s ribcage. “Wake up. Sarah, come on, you got to get up.” She frowns, and suddenly, feels everything. Her mouth tastes like rotting flesh, and her stomach feels weighed down by metal iron. There are little bits of dried throw-up around her mouth, and her nose is plugged with mucous and bits of carpet. More gunk than usual fills her eyes and she starts to rub them open. “Sarah?” She turns over and as her vision clears, she sees her brother standing over her, a hand reaching down. “Michael?” “We’ve got to go home. It’s morning. Mom’s going to notice soon.” “Yeah, okay.” Michael grabs on to her hands and drags her to her feet. “You can walk, right?”
“Of course I can walk. Do you want to drive though?” “Definitely.” Sarah’s throat burns for water—she’s never been this thirsty. “Here, I got you an Aquafina.” Michael hands her the bottle—the top is already open. “Thank you.” Slowly the liquid runs down her tongue to her gut, cooling the inferno of last night’s stupidity. The two reach Sarah’s Escort, and Michael opens the passenger door to let her in. They drive down the suburban streets in silence. “Why did you do that, Sarah? I was downstairs and someone comes telling me you’re throwing up everywhere. I didn’t think you would even drink. What’s going on with you?” Michael breaks the sound of air. “I don’t know, Michael, I’m just…tired of being this way, you know.” “I don’t get it. This is isn’t you.” “Okay, well, I don’t know how to explain it.” “Can you try and help me understand what’s going on? Come on, Sarah.” “Alright, well, you know when you’re walking down the hallway and someone is coming the opposite way as you and one of you has to move so you don’t run into each other?” “Yeah, okay.” “Well, whatever way I go, the other person goes too, and then I move right but then they move right too, so we start doing this awkward dance thing.” “Okay, that’s happened to me too, Sarah. It’s normal. It’s sort of funny, isn’t it? You can laugh about it.” “Yeah, but it happens to me everyday, Michael. I’m just an awkward person.” “Well, what’s wrong with being a little awkward? Some people find it endearing.” “There’s a difference, though. There’s the cool awkward people—they have friends—but then there’s just the awkward awkward people.” “You have friends, Sarah.” “Yeah sure, I mean, I can talk to people, I guess, if they start up a conversation. But yesterday, for instance, I was sitting in the cafeteria and a bunch of people were talking about going to a party Saturday. And they asked if I was going, but it was weird because they didn’t ask me to go with them. So what am I supposed to do? Go alone? Maybe call them up and see if they need a ride? But then that would be awkward too. It’s like I just don’t know how to be a normal, social person. Not even normal, I just don’t even know how to be a kid. I’m always going through this cycle in my mind, and it’s running and running, and I just can’t breathe and have fun for five seconds. And Mom’s always crying, and there are kids dying in Africa, and I just feel stupid for feeling this way.” Michael pulls the car off the concrete and to the gravel side of the road. There’s a park on the left where most of the neighborhood takes their pets for walks. “You want to play Frisbee?” “What?” Sarah feels flushed, and the question is odd to her.
“Come on, let’s go play.” “Mom’s going to wake up pretty soon.” Michael glances to his watch. “We have twenty minutes, and I know there’s a Frisbee in the trunk. Come with me, it’s a nice day out.” Michael opens the door and Sarah follows him outside to a patch of grass. The smells of early spring dampen the air. Worms squirm in new earth, and bees start their pollination. “Take off your shoes, Sarah. And your socks.” “This is stupid.” “Come on, Sarah.” Her Converse shoes fall from her feet, and her white ankle socks lie beside them. The grass is cool, and it tickles at first, but like anything else, she gets used to it. “Okay, now you just got to catch the Frisbee and throw it back.” “Michael, I’m not dumb. I’ve played Frisbee before.” “Okay, okay, just checking.” They throw without talking for a long while. The wind buzzes in their ears and the sun soaks their skin in light. Early morning pinks and oranges fade and clouds drift like puff balls around the air. “It’s kind of weird thinking Dad had a whole different family before us, isn’t it?” Michael says. “Yeah, it’s weird.” Sarah agrees without pause. “Do you ever feel like Mom is trying to erase John and Nicholas?” “All the time. Did you notice she took down all their pictures from the walls when they moved out?” “Yeah, I did. I think that’s why Dad was yelling at her a couple weeks ago.” Michael misses Sarah’s throw and runs after the Frisbee a few feet over from him. “You know, I’m going to miss you when I leave,” Michael admits as he bends to the ground. “You’ll make friends quick though. You always do.” “I’m still going to miss you.” “I’ll miss you too, Michael.” She doesn’t blush and her palms don’t sweat and her head doesn’t spin with ideas. “All of my friends say you’re pretty. You know that, right?” “Really?” “Yeah, of course. Alright, try to jump and catch this one.” Michael throws high above Sarah’s head and into the sunshine. “Run, Sarah, run back quick.” She sprints backwards, blind and with arms waving through the air. She can’t see the Frisbee or the sky—it’s all just a blur of bright yellow light. “Left! Go left!” She turns her heels to the voice. “Okay, jump!” Her bare feet rise from the ground, and her fingertips skim the edge of the disk. It is just out of reach. Her teeth clench as it skims the blades of grass and settles a few feet from her feet. “Aww, you just about got it.” “It was right there.” Sarah rubs her fingers against her thumb in frustration. “It’s all right, though. We still had a good game, right?” “Yeah, we still had a good game. Should we go home?” “If you want.”
Sarah lifts her chin to the sky and takes in the breeze. “Let’s go home.” “You going to be okay?” “Maybe not all the time, but for now.” “Call me if you want to play Frisbee, okay?” “Okay.” Sarah walks back to driver’s seat. She takes the keys from Michael and shifts into drive. The tires spin back home, back to her parents, back to Legends, back to school. Back and forward. Going and coming into the sun.
Enduring Tokens of the Taxidermist I. With a parallel cut, the elk becomes an object to us pickers as I portion down this place we call “the middle” rather than the universal gut. My hands lay down applications of salt and pull the moon knife, the shoe knife through this open sack of wet sapphires. No bones now. In a pelt of human charge, I flesh the skin upon my tanner’s frame. II. The immediacy of a fishhook, steel trap or 30-30 rifle… to provoke death
to postpone it, afterwards
I forget your process of arrival— every back story
of top branch and dirt hole buoys off
in my mind
and your mind
because your mind is in my hand. Next step, I gauge your legs— they could have only carried you this far,
plus or minus. III. We assign our samples to represent the greater species; #1a. through two-hundred hummingbirds. I glue poppy-eyes and babble beaks on a precise spectrum of shut and cocked. Embroidering this rainbow of dead gems—emeralds, rubies, topaz— into an artificial shape of flight has left a kaleidoscope of color beneath my fingernails— credit these scientific hands to this fowl sculpture of moving upwards. IV.
When histories, on behalf of the skin, are told through the older methods of wooden teeth and hay bellies— stuffing manikins with the phantoms of their would-have-been consumption: underbrush, dirt, field. Three goats from New England, 1850, bloat with rot along their grease holes and flossy stitches— this decomposition
as if only to mock us.
Frighteningly natural. by this anyways-aging.
Naturally, we are frightened
V. I post an apology next to the irregular hoof slip of mammal #63b and leave a pressing note to correct the spine of bird #34fâ€” these exhibitions arenâ€™t even a year old as we find errors
our own limitations. We make endurance tokens to forget the pelting weakness in our own bodies.
The Death of the Canal Side Paradigm
Each day, on my way to high school, I passed by road construction sites and building construction sites and the subway development project, and then went over a bridge where one lane was being repaved, then onto the street where the noisy cranes were operating from both sides, through dust and sand blowing in the wind, in the vain hopes of escaping from all of it. I always sighed. What I saw was my hometown Wuxi, a typical canal side city, which has lasted thousands of years, gradually disintegrating to give way to a modern city. Those histories, typical images and what should be the stereotypes of the eastern region of China, are now buried under the steel and cement of skyscrapers. All that are left are caged in tourist zones, for the purpose of showing, visiting, preserving, but isolated from where residents dwell, as if it is a dream that passed, without traces left after waking. At the time of my birth, most of the remaining traditional houses were already secluded from the peopleâ€™s daily life. But there were still some amid the cement of the city, like natives living among the Caucasians. I loved to roam with eyes open wide, full of appreciation, among those buildings with typical white wall and black roof tiles. Thinking back, I might have been worrying about those survivorsâ€™ future, so I wanted to imprint them in my mind. By touching the rough walls of the bungalows, I always felt that I was listening to stories, stories told to me by someone living in the past. Going through the narrow and dark passages, crowded by the bikes belonging to four generations, I could see an abandoned, worn stone mill and a mahogany square table and chairs in the courtyard. Through the yard is the house, three floors with an attic; those stairs in the house would make cracking sounds when stepped on, sounds from remote times. When my mum was a young girl, these bungalows dominated the city; the canal, rivers and streams were connected to each other, knitted in an intricate configuration. People lived on both sides of water. In summer, a cool breeze would blow across the canal into the windows that faced the water. Bridges and rowboats were the most common transportation methods, and at night, lanterns would be lit to brighten the roads. The paper lanterns with the candles inside would be dimmed by the wind from time to time, casting different shadows on the wall. It converted the white walls into a vivid show, like a traditional shadow play. And the kerosene lamps from the households shined orange light, flickering, creating a warm tone on the night street. The mutual connected houses made the neighborhood close and friendly. Housewives would babysit for free when both of the parents could not stay at home to take care of their children. They went to wash clothes together, usually in the early morning. The rhythmic sound of a laundry rod hitting the
clothes on the slate by the side of the canal was the morning call for those still in their sweet dreams. But to promote the development of the city, these historical and beautiful houses were destroyed one by one. The places they used to stand are now hosts to large shopping malls, supermarkets, skyscrapers, and apartment buildings. What is gone surpasses much more than these houses. Most of the rivers were choked years ago and now roads take their places. Children need to be driven a long way to access a swimming pool. I myself grew up in loneliness, accompanied by a radio and, in later years, by television and a computer. Living in our apartment, I only knew a handful of neighbors. We barely talked to each other. Concrete becomes the mask of modern men, shearing the mutual trust. Stainless doors constitute an insurmountable wall between people, even people who live just next door. Now, walking in my own city, I get more and more lost. Standing at a crossroad, I feel puzzled: is this the city that I have lived in for all my eighteen years? Itâ€™s something more than sadness that emerges when I find that the city where I was born is becoming distant even to me. The city now appears more remote than familiar. It is losing what distinguished itself and losing what distinguished us, its residents. It could be anywhere. Sometimes in my dreams, I am back, back to be that young girl, touching the tough wall with bare hands, staring at the architecture, trying to imprint it all in mind.
You could not find Haiti on a map before, You still cannot find it, the quake took it out. I looked for it and could not see it. We could not even spell it correctly, Or even knew if it had its own language or not. We never know what to call them, but Haitians it is for now. I found America though. It invaded the map; standing out like the sun Stands out from the other stars. Haiti must be Pluto then. Something seems odd when we have one less planet.
STEVE CHESNEY Tilt Shift of Dominica photograph
JAMIE GOODE Self acrylic
AMBER OSTASZEWSKI Self Portrait acrylic
JOLIE CHANG War and Peace rice glue, tempera
JOLIE CHANG Spring Awakening crayon, marker, plastic
KRISSY POLLOCK Napepe ink
JUEYING LIU Strength charcoal
FELIX CHAN Child photograph
FELIX CHAN Contrast photograph
XUEYI YAO Arches pen and ink
XUEYI YAO Paper Engineer paper
MARIA SVIDLER Untitled Painting painting
KATELIN KRIEG Eden photograph
SARAH HALL Two Face pencil and ink
KELLY GILLIKIN Sound of Silence acrylic on wood
HANNAH WOLFSON Zebra stippling
LINDSEY ELDREDGE-FOX Topographical Trails ink and sewn thread
JAE JUN HONG Night of the Museum photograph
KRISTIE DZURNAK Tiger Plume based ink on rice paper
KRISTIE DZURNAK Winifred silk screen print, acrylic ink
RACHEL PRYDE Untitled painting
TARA BOINPALLY Untitled painting
CAROL MOSER A Spot of Tea窶年o Milk, No Sugar teabags
KIMBERLY PEVEN Daddy’s Girl painting
NICOLE MANCINO Untitled acrylic
SUNG-HEI YAU Untitled painting
ASHLEY ALLIS Fallen photograph
Ode to the Winter Sky The sky broke apart today, a solid thin sheet of white glistened as it shattered, millions of shards sprinkled the tops of dead leaves, still clinging on. Its beauty demanded attention denied gravity this doesnâ€™t fall from the silent voices of the Sky it floats occasionally sitting still to peer inside the windows at the dreamy spectators I stare out of the translucent barrier into the floating flakes of freedom. I long to shrink and ride on the their backs as I stroll a normal path Your wind pinches my cheeks and you soothe them With an unexpected soaring kiss You distract me from the coldness infecting my bones Your blankets lie in vain no warmth will generate to the rooftops, Your coldness is not transferable it melts it blends falls into the warm, pumping thick hearts of lovers who stare into you With a demand for introspection
This’ll be the first way that this comes out. Published (not) accepted (maybe). The deadline beat of some jazzy incarnation of Hollywood & Vine. It’s me not coming through. It’s me being locked in and running in all directions at the same time. William S. Burroughs speaks with the same voice that my Catholic guilt admonishes with. He even quotes from the same book. He’s maddening about it – makes me mad. “You go numb from innerparalytic thoughts and bad chairs.” Grief is majesty. Finality. I’m not impatient I’m just insecure about time. And when someone is asking me things like, “Hey, what kind of medication can I take to make my heart stop hurting?” What am I supposed to say? I am not the type, the kind of person in a moment so intense and emotionally demanding in its stature that I am (like those people) suddenly full of convictions and thus spill out with perfect sentences at all the appropriate moments… Right? No, not right— We do not burst from the wings and eloquently defend ourselves and state our cases. We stumble and fall. Terribly. Us second types. In the middle, this is me being stuck in (the) fuck(ing) middle – I’m not rich enough to sport 7evens every day of the week, nor near edgy or skinny enough to buy my vintage 3 sizes too big and look miniscule yet important in it. I don’t have angles or a concave stomach and the colors both wear best against straight blonde or dark hair – if not straight, then artfully curled by heritage or ceramic curling irons. Mine (that likes to pull red from dyes) used to be blonde it’s never been dark now it’s in the middle. Just like me. My hair and my body and my family, and actually I’m not skinny enough for both, for either, but especially to be indie. Ginsberg said, “America is this true?” My door is open but my window shades are not. I’m letting in the fluorescent people from the hallways but not the shadows and cold bursts from beyond the glass beyond the shabby thin curtain material. It’s not a vacation but a momentary abortion of where we are. What we’re in, what’re we in, really? It can be a train wreck either way you look at it. With you/me/us/them and someone else, there will never be a situation where it works out fine and with no hurt feelings, a time without blackened egos or bruised tongues. The only way that can ever happen is if you’re both already in love with someone else. “Ginsberg,” America said, “is this true?” Why is this happening? Why is this all coming to a head now? Why, why when the sun is in my eyes and I can’t see a thing and it’s icy and why, why is this all coming to a head now?
Water and Wood In the early 1920s, a large group of Irish immigrants made their precarious way from the New York docks and down the coast, across the Appalachians and through the Midwestern flatlands to Oregon. Hyde Lake offered the seaside demeanor and its desirable comforts of home (without the hardships) and settling directly on its edges, their houses were filled with glows given by the same stuff that kept the rains off their heads. Having chosen dry heads over stable land without knowing it, their tipping hillside community soon began to slide with the clay-filled mud down towards the waterâ€™s edge. On April 3rd, Seamus Leary woke on his island of a bed to see his valise and socks floating by. Shouts, slamming doors, and broken windows later, a little more than half the residents stood on the hillsides and watched their modest village recede underwater. Bubbles pushed up a stray chair or two and other small buoyant objects; as for the missing residents, the bubbles were not enough. The heavy sleepers and the drunks sank to the bottom with the elderly and the sick, and despite rescue attempts, the only thing fished out of the water was little Colleen Darkyâ€™s sketchbook, filled with pages upon pages of ink, waterinduced to look like a book of what had just happened. The blurry sketches of their modest houses gave way to ripples and tides, slowly sinking to the bottom of the lake. The village at the bottom of a very small sea.
Paint Me Purple
Black is dominant, as much as white is pure. Red is extreme, blue is turbulent. Green is fertile, and brown is grounded. Yellow is optimistic, purple is powerful. Sometimes a yellow person ignites red, and a purple dissolves into brown. Transitions occur and colors change with people, with moods, with situations. The sky could be blue for a moment and then, suddenly, thunders grey shrieks onto Earth. It is the balance of color that creates the illusion of life. If I were a color I would be purple. Or maybe a little bit of orange. But nobody gets to choose. The cat that chose to stalk me on my way to school every day was black as soot, and the dogs I played with shone yellow. Brown is layered; many people say it is the color of the perfect boyfriend: sensitive, grounded, reliable. Boring. I want someone red, a bit blue too. I live in a world where colors tell stories, and a black and white one just doesn’t seem to describe things well enough. Apparently I eat in colors too. My broccoli was yellow and, oh god, my pizza was blue. Hunger escaped from my grip of reality; I couldn’t be eating this food. I walked back to my dorm, waiting for the blue of my room, the yellow of my roommate, and the black cloaks adorned by the stack of books on my desk. Tiredness was creeping deviously onto me, muting my colors and silencing my purple. In one moment everything was dull. My sepia-tinted glasses were off and all the vitality, vividness of my surroundings was gone. All colors almost out of sight now; everyone is dull and hazy. I used to be a red, maybe a green. Now I glow purple. Because people change with time, and experiences changed me. The struggle of parents, death, stress, imbalance; I went through phases where I was all black or all grey. Grey, it dominates in the subtlest way. A color taken for granted because it is so dull, almost non-existent, the in-between of white and black. But it finds people and presses them down, sits on them, waiting for them to fight hard enough to stand. People bathed in grey make me sad, make me wish to throw some color onto them, even give them some of mine. On the other hand, people with neon signs pointing to their heads, the ones saturated with narcissistic magenta, make me want to find their volume button and tone them down. Children make their own vibrant meld of shades with every swimming class they go to, every vase they break, and every piece of fluff they try to swallow. Experiences and age nullify most colors and bring out the one or two that truly define their personality. I know a few people that are still trying on personalities. They haven’t found their color yet, and so their colors are translucent, hardly present, like a fish’s eye. They adopt the colors of people around them. They do not understand the meaning of having their own shade, but live beneath the auras of others. White and black are possibly the most misunderstood colors on the spectrum: commercialized by the black of evil and the white of good. White
screams to find balance, struggles to include everything it can into itselfâ€” much like a prism, where white light is converted into a rainbow. Black is closure, abandonment and loneliness, but with a mask on. Those with false power cry black before the white of sleep overtakes them.
Shades Fresh spring light tr ic kl es through newly minted leaves. Crisp. Clean. Woven blankets of grass s p r e a d across the old, tired earth, transforming the weary winter’s hues. A vibrant suffusion Of a new season’s glory. Flower buds l t e i t r the fields and groves.
They haven’t bloomed yet. There’s no color spectrum, Only a range Of little monochromatic capsules. A thousand shapes and sizes. But even monochrome Isn’t so monochrome. The tiny maple leaves are Different from the baby oak leaves, still cloaked in brown. And the stately, enduring pine does not share its customary hue with the apricot. Or the apple. Fragile ferns peek out
from the darker moss. And the stems of Dandelions and thistle Refuse To confine their color To the accepted shades Of rose stems And lily stems And lilac stems. All those trite hues of those conventional beauties. And the clover. The clover. All three leaves. Everywhere. But only the one with four
When Moose Attack
I’ve heard over the years that vacations for other people are often relaxing affairs, that these people—we’ll call them “normal” people—go to one location, like Florida or Mexico, and stay there, that they find a pretty beach and lie on it for upwards of two weeks, just photosynthesizing and listening to the sound of the surf as it rolls along the beach and hoping they’re not below the high tide line. The one time we tried to do this, my mother and I got bored in fifteen minutes and went to frolic in the Gulf, while my father, trying to stick it out, was attacked by sand fleas. This, I believe, was God telling us that “normal” vacations are for “normal” people, and not the likes of us. So from the six-hour marlin fishing expedition in Hawaii (what we did not know is that, in Hawaiian, “tour guide” actually means “guy with boat, beer, and no food of any sort”) to the trip to historic Wounded Knee (we had known we were in trouble upon seeing the sign “Warning: Low Maintenance Road,” but Dad insisted that heading to the interstate would force us to backtrack a crucial three miles, and so we carried on over what seemed to be a half-dried riverbed, unable to stop for fear of getting stuck forever and having to abandon the rental car and become nomads, only to find that “historic Wounded Knee” consisted of a commemorative wooden sign and three Native American children with a lemonade stand) to the reversing waterfall in New Brunswick (which we drove two hours out of our way through treacherous fog and mist to see, only to find a murky-looking river swirling around in a decidedly unimpressive way, though the people at the visitor center told us if we stayed another five hours we could enjoy the spectacular and wonderful sight of the tide going out), some of our vacation adventures have been… interesting. And these are only the failed attempts at fun. Near-death experiences are also a crucial part of any family vacation! Take, for example, the white-water rafting trip on the Kicking Horse River. According to the rafting guide, the water in the second half of the canyon was at the absolute lowest level it could be for the trip to be considered safe. You know a river is powerful when it can completely submerge a large inflated raft for any length of time. Dad seemed unconcerned, even when a fiberglass paddle was sucked into an abyss and emerged several seconds later bent like a wishbone. Mom remained in the back of the raft, muttering prayers and curses simultaneously, determined, apparently, to ingratiate herself with either heaven or hell, whichever she saw first. And two of the other rafters got to “swim” in this water that was snow yesterday, and they enjoyed it so much that their eyes were roughly the size of party platters by the time our fun-loving compatriots dragged them bodily back into the raft. Danger follows even into the world’s cities. I speak, of course, of the time in Washington, D.C., on the Fourth of July, when my mother and I were
almost run over by a malevolent hippie bus, painted in bright colors and emblazoned with the words, “Peace, Love, Jesus” on the side. I think my favorite instance of vacation danger, however, was during our most recent trip to Alaska, when we were attacked by a moose. This is the sort of thing they warn you about when you go to Alaska. “Be careful!” travel brochures and helpful trail signs and informational videos veritably scream at you. “There is wildlife in Alaska! So you must be careful. Or you could be attacked by a bear or a moose, and then there will be no help for you! Because we warned you, we did, and if you were still dumb enough to get near a wild animal, it cannot be considered our fault! Did we mention to be careful?!” The Alaskan attorneys obviously work overtime. Allow me to say first that we were aware of animal-related dangers. My parents had lived in Alaska early on in their marriage and had encountered a variety of animals, many of which my father and his army buddies had summarily put bullets into. As far as I know, however, none of them ever menaced a moose, so revenge for past injustices cannot possibly be considered a motive in this particular incident. Nor did we go out in search of this moose. No, we merely wanted to go on a bicycle ride along Anchorage’s coast. It would be a wonderful way to pass the afternoon and see some of the beautiful Alaskan scenery, like scenic mountains, scenic trees, scenic mosquitoes, and scenic other-tourists-on-thebike-path. So we rented bicycles and helmets and started out along the path. It was actually on our way back that we encountered the moose. For the record, I had passed them up completely, and my father had called me back. The three of us huddled together beside our bikes, watching the moose alongside the trail. There were three of them as well, a little moose family, a moose mommy and two moose babies, all nosing around in the greens beside the asphalt bike path. Of course, they were attracting a crowd of eager onlookers, all of whom were undoubtedly tourists, as the native Alaskans were moving with purposeful haste in the opposite direction. They had obviously read their own brochures. Because my father is a wily woodsman, he gave me and my mother sage advice: “Don’t get too close to the moose.” And we were maintaining the appropriate distance, i.e., a distance at which the mommy moose continued to eat happily with her calves and did not jerk her head up and roll her eyes demonically back in her head. However, the other tourists did not have my dad’s instinctive “bushman” knowledge, nor had they read the brochures. One man, perhaps assuming he was at a zoo and Plexiglas would automatically materialize between him and the moose, got, to use the technical zoological term, “too close.” And, BAM! Up came Mommy Moose’s head, and her eyes rolled like pool balls in their sockets and then BAM! she was right at the edge of the bike path. She was staring at the tourists with murder in her eyes, breathing heavily for dramatic effect, obviously telling everyone present in no uncertain terms that if they did not clear out, pronto, they would be nothing but a remnant of human mush wedged into her hooves.
“We should leave,” Dad suggested, and Mom got onto her bike, and I started to turn mine back in the right direction, and Mommy Moose decided that she had had enough of our nonsense and lunged right at us. Mom took off like a shot, her jacket flapping behind her, while I sprang onto the bike in a feat of grace and agility I have never since been able to duplicate. Our legs pumped once, twice, and suddenly the moose was RIGHT beside us, her head approximately a foot to the left of my mother’s back tire. There was, however, divine intervention in the form of asphalt, and when the moose’s first hoof hit the pavement of the bike path, she slipped and stumbled, and Mom and I were able to get a head start, cruising out of there at warp speed as Dad, somewhere behind us, yelled, “GO, GO, GO!” We pedaled probably a quarter mile before we stopped beside one another and tumbled off our bikes and started laughing like goons, the adrenaline playing jump rope with our nerves. Dad appeared about thirty seconds later, stopping beside us, though I can’t recall having been worried about him for that half a minute. I think I knew, deep in my heart, that of the three of us, he was the most likely to be able to out bike a moose. That, or wrestle it to the ground and pin it in a full nelson. And so we had survived yet again. Another adventure to log away in our Big Book O’ Fun Times. Another tale to store in the archives of family lore. Another instance that, had we just bitten the bullet and lain on the beach, never would have happened. But where’s the fun in that?
somebody took this snapshot of us, sitting on the steps outside you’re laughing at me because i’m wearing my sunhat and reading my book and with my elbow i spilled the lemonade but it looks alright a reminder of what we had was sweet next to the world that we had yet to meet and written beneath: “what do we mean with these words that we say laced with sarcasm and love and radio songs?” sometimes i slept alone with the sheets that kept your scent captive, holding it hostage from the night before i used to turn on my side to see the moon on the lake i used to let down the curtains but i don’t anymore i play the piano sometimes since you’re gone making up melodies and singing along picking up chords and dropping them down arranging them for you in bouquets of song i call you sometimes when i know you’re not there just to hear the recording on the end of the line i go to bed at midnight but i’m still up at four so i creep to the window and open it wide i breathe in the scent of the inky black air, leaning out over the patio to see if you’re there i whisper to you, the words float on the wind do they go some place you are? or some place you’ve been?
Morning Glories Why do morning glories bloom only once? Do they just switch from vine to vine, trying on new colors and new outlooks from the same lattice, the same vineyard, the same patch of Earth under different clouds? That was the first time I ever saw her, in that cafe at Fifth and Main, but even now when yesterday has become a definite long-before, I still see her ginger intensity occasionally in my rear-view mirror, navigating my guilt from different venues on the trellis of my memory.
After a While After a while you learn The subtle difference between Holding a hand and chaining a soul And you learn that love doesn’t mean learning And company doesn’t always mean security And you begin to learn That kisses aren’t contracts And presents aren’t promises And you begin to accept your defeats With your head up and your eyes ahead With the grace of a woman and not the grief of a child And you learn To build all your roads on today Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans And futures have a way of falling down mid-flight After a while you learn that sunshine burns If you get too much So you plant your own garden And decorate your own soul Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers And you learn that you can really endure That you are really strong And you really do have worth And you learn And you learn With every good-bye you learn.
More Oxygen In the evening, cigarette smoke softens the light of the lamppost. Bare branches ripple in the reflection on the cement, more beautiful than reality, because life is easier in fragment. I make insecurity into a fulltime job, outthinking my own emotions, and sometimes I can’t tell where the world stops and I begin. The edges of the negative are undefined, and I find pieces of myself sometimes hiding in the pockets of old jeans or my mother’s purse. One was in the pantry next to the raspberry jam, and another in his teeth.
There is something instinctive in the way one needs another, and something old in the search. That night we lay in the tall grass beneath the black sky seemed like a good night to me. Like kids, we made believe that we were free, and you left my arms around your neck. You always look back at me as you’re walking away, and I want to know: are you and I something—something I can hold tight against my palm like a warm stone, and open to look and know that it is mine? Laurie told me I was something, worth something. Not to be sold to the lowest bidder, but I could never take in and feel those words of hers inside of me and so because they had no weight I couldn’t listen and was given away to the bidders and sinners and winners or losers—but, each coming away with more of them and less of me. And the right thing is hard to find when you not only don’t know where to look but how to look. How to even know yourself well enough to know what would be good for you. Because when I was small I would lift my feet up in my mother’s car when we drove over train tracks and she would say “make a wish.” And I think I wished for this.
And I wish there was a better word in this language for exactly what this is. You see, I wanted to finally be worthy of the secret, like I would hear it whispering in my ear you may now conquer me, but my ears and mouth remained full of only questions. But maybe now I know a little more than I did, because I know even a day is too long to go without you, and I know that shiver that ripples through me when that fingertip brushes behind my ear, I know all four of your different laughs, that when your breath lies heavy on my neck, the rest of the world shifts so that it is beneath me. I know that you bring everything from perfect stillness to roaring blaze, and that you must photosynthesize because when I am with you there is more oxygen in the world. When I am with you I am naked, mask-less, in my most unadulterated form, and sometimes it scares me, but it never scares you. Some nights I burn at both ends, and some nights I make sure I am alone so that I can cry in peace for the loss of her. I know that we both have changing to do and might very well grow away, but until the moment when we recognize that has happened, letâ€™s know one another. Like the old light from the stars that has a cut-off point sometime in the future, but until then is as bright as ever, let me have something to hold against my palm and trust its shape and color, and continue being able to feel that lift in my chest I hadnâ€™t even realized had been weighed down until youâ€™re here with me again.
The overhead machine exploded in Spanish class. The professor—she looks like a bird, I swear it— She screamed like she’d just been shot and smoke Began to pour from the machine, billowing toward the ceiling. Little shards had gone flying. It was terrifying. There are times in life, my love, when you realize How useless people really are. We all yelled To unplug the thing, but no one did. Finally some guy yanked it. Shrieking continued to resound. Exit sorority girls, pursued by a bear. (I wish) I thought we would get rained on By those fire-sensing doohickeys on the ceiling, But we didn’t. Now I’m ignoring my Astronomy lecture To write you love poetry, And I’m trying to hide it from the nosy chick next to me; I see her looking out of the corner of her eye, The slut.
Your Kingdom’s Come Your car’s silver paint met golden sun and were one. From that harsh burst of light, You were gone on the road to a life not here. Our children—my children—seem for you As faceless as that growing sphere under her dress. Such a tragedy in that my oldest bears your name. At Hall, I present our family as evidence For Heaven above to see the unity where broken, In spite of the brand you’ve burned us with. The masses kneel and petrify, identical to Stone gargoyles in the backyard cemetery Where your plot waits, years ahead of you. Though why the Lord doesn’t smite you With boils and lightning and plague Right this moment seems a monumental injustice. As my children pray for the life of thy neighbor, The youngest mumbling the familiar vowels, I sit in my righteous anger and beseech Jehovah: Never vindicate his godless name.
Jerusalem A Woman knits delicately, fingers trembling peering through fine glasses soft wrinkles hug her eyes, unveiling Depth, pain, wisdom. and beneath the corners of narrow pink lips A suppressed smile
A Soldier gazes at nothing, absorbs everything obedient in that olive uniform remarkably tall in those muddy boots sharp green eyes Expectant, expected, silent. Her rifle speaks for her A Father teases his son’s unkempt curls, leans with slippery complex words, but the boy Listens, understands, smiles. imagines what it will be like when he is a man like his father, wonders if he will ever be a man like his father
It is night, dead in the middle of of rush hour and we are driving, my eyes heavy with the weight of the day thinking I haven’t seen this many stars in a long time and even impatient horns fail to disrupt my complacent mind. Then— A sound too loud shakes the ground and sends my blood rushing head spinning and the car trembles What the hell just happened? But words aren’t coming and something inside me plunges to my stomach and words are spiraling from my father’s mouth but I hear only one: Bomb How can one word be so potent? It seems to echo through my body and I try to think, try to swallow but my mouth is dry so is my mind Maybe I can swallow this moment Maybe I can swallow
I watch as dusk drains color from old doors and late afternoon shadows blur the sharp edges of Ignorance, intolerance, hate. I suddenly feel the beauty of Jerusalem stone
Minutes later a surreal cloak of silence; a silent cloud of smoke. Faceless bodies sprawled on the ground, people staggering from their cars, eyes wide, whispering questions because they find solace in asking. Twelve injured, two dead. or at least that’s what they said later, our eyes glued to the television. Numbers I don’t even know who they are, who they were. It was too dark and I couldn’t see and there are too many questions. We drive. Everything is okay, now. My mother’s voice is calm, rational. meaningless mother-talk.I stare through the car window at a face I hardly recognize through my tears, so I close my eyes hoping to disappear. Hoping
The four of them sat at a five-person table. The fifth seat remained unoccupied and would remain that way for the duration of their meal, yet it sat at a curious distance from the table, as if someone had pulled it away expecting that soon it would be filled. Frank joked that perhaps they were waiting for Elijah, but garnered few chuckles from the somber bunch. Silence billowed like a thick fog over the table. Aside from the steam rising and dancing from their coffee cups, and the cashier, nothing moved that Sunday morning. The sunlight shone through the window and disseminated throughout the restaurant, illuminating the dust and unsettled air, a golden haze in that golden morning. Shaking the rain from their suit jackets, they sat and began to eat. It would only be a matter of time before Frank would pull them out of their murky mood with a rousing story or a heated debate, but even Frank could not fight the fog that suffocated the four men in its thick murky sadness. So instead they sat in silence, stabbing absentmindedly at their plastic eggs and their plastic sausage on their plastic plates. Drip, drip, drip. All that could be heard was the gurgling of the coffee pot. It was Eli who ruptured that eternity of silence. “You know my oldest grandson Danny was just accepted to the University of Illinois.” This seemed to raise the morale a bit and the three men responded in unison. “Atta boy.” “Good for him.” “WELL OF COURSE HE DID!” Norman, a U of I alum, was the one who shouted, and ‘leapt’ from the table in the best way a 77-year-old man could leap and hugged Eli in celebration. Norman hugged Eli and Eli knew he was truly happy for him. After all, the four men have been eating breakfast together every Sunday for over 20 years. They knew each other intimately and loved each other and their families very much. No one had ever missed a Sunday morning breakfast. Not until today, at least. “Well, you better hope your son the doctor has been saving money for the boy because that bloodsucking Socialist Obama is going to hold him by the ankles and shake every goddamn penny out of his pockets!” Frank loved berating the newly elected President, and, having found his segue for the morning, exploded into a rant, spitting ketchup and half-chewed hash browns every which way, the veins in his neck slithering like bloody snakes. Frank devotedly followed FOX News’ Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, a profoundly conservative duo, and never held back when something was on his mind. Norman, a retired Democratic congressman, naturally disagreed with Frank, and so they fought. The two men removed their suit jackets and prepared for battle. This typically made for good breakfast conversation, and Eli and Marty fell silent while the pair began to spar. For a little while the four men fell back into their habitual customs, and normal life seemed to resume, at least for a while. Frank fought because he thought he was right, and Norman fought
because he knew Frank was wrong. Eli smirked at the dueling couple. Always levelheaded and honest, Eli often provided support for both sides. Marty would just shake his head and eat his breakfast. Usually Ray would mitigate the fight and return the conversation to a more civil topic, but not today. Eli watched musingly, but Marty just gazed out the window, a quizzical look on his face, as if caught in the grey matter between thought and speech. Ding, ding, ding. The door chimed suddenly, and the four men spun around to see who had walked in. “Morning,” the stranger muttered with apprehension, not quite sure why four older gentlemen had been so curious and excited to see him, but none the less paid them respect, purchased his egg McMuffin and left. Defeated, the four men sank back into their chairs. Eli feebly attempted to resume the conversation about Danny, but Frank and Norman seemed disinterested, disconnected. Marty just stared at the window. He seemed to be muttering something, but his words were inaudible. Who had Eli been expecting? He knew it couldn’t be him. But he looked anyway. Maybe it was Elijah. Twenty years is a long time. A lifetime for some. Longer than a lifetime, actually. Multiple. They live vicariously through each other and their families. The soul reincarnated. Each soul well over 200 years old. Does a 200-year-old soul still like McDonald’s breakfast? Is it the food they hunger for on those cold Sunday mornings, or is it the company? Eat the pancakes, drink the coffee. Food is only sustenance for the body. What feeds the soul? For over twenty years, they have shared their lives with each other, in sickness and in health. Today was sickness, and they all knew it. Norman wanted to say something, but he could not bring himself to it. He fought back the tears, gazing expectantly at Frank. Bold Frank would surely say it. Good old Frank. He always spoke his mind. But not today. Frank sat with his gaze on his lap, pushing his food from side to side. Eli just watched as Marty whispered to Elijah, his hands trembling between murmurs. Another eternity of silence. Would they survive this one? Norman was 77 years old, Frank 81. How many more eternities did they have? Not many. The morning, like the men, grew old, and new patrons began coming into the restaurant. Some ate there infrequently, and some would be eating there for the first time. Strangers. They came and they went, sitting at tables and sharing the room with the four men, but none of them knew the golden haze of that golden morning. They would never know its splendor. Neither would he. Not anymore. Drip, drip, drip. The rain fell softly all around them, a gentle drizzle carried by the wind, innocuous in nature, yet it cut sharply through the brittle bones and tired flesh of the four men. The women cried like the sky, weeping openly, a path of saline destruction streaked down their windblown cheeks. Only Ray was sheltered from the cruel conditions, comfortably cold in his seven by three mahogany home. “Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba…” The Rabbi began into the Mourner’s Kaddish, his thick black beard buried deep in his thick black prayer book,
rocking softly in the rain as he chanted his ancient hymn, facing east. The rain and the Rabbi swayed in unison, religion and nature in perfect accord on that imperfect Sunday morning.The sun, though it fought, cowered behind a curtain of clouds, its golden haze held captive by that murky fog. They stood side by side, the rain collecting in a small reservoir on the damp shoulders of their suit jackets. Eventually the Rabbi’s prayers ceased, and the casket was lowered gradually into the ground. Moist, sticky earth lay in a pile where it had been removed, with a shovel protruding from the center, an earthy door welcoming its guest. The family, each with a rose in one hand and a shovelful of dirt in the other, moved in a slow progression toward the gravesite, like a broken down parade, bidding farewell to their beloved cousin, uncle, brother, father, grandfather. The four men were the last to say goodbye to their friend. Slowly, carefully, Marty bowed to a knee, peering into the darkness Ray would now and forever call home. He carefully examined the hole in the ground. That’s all it was. A hole. Dug eight feet by four feet. Earth’s hungry mouth gaping wide, awaiting its nourishment. Soon it would consume Ray. Soon it would consume all of them. Marty whispered to his friend, a low hum between sobs, “When we met a lifetime ago I never thought it would end like this. We were too young to think about death. Invincible, we were. Untouchable. Our kids and our wives and our work…there was no time…Where has the time gone? We’re old men now, Ray. Old men! Ha! When did that happen? Maybe while we slept…” He paused to wipe the tears from his eyes and shifted to his other knee. When he finally spoke again, he spoke slowly, carefully considering each word before it passed between his quivering lips. “It was really a beautiful ceremony today, Ray. You were a lot of things in your life, but above all else, you were a family man. Your kids love and respect you, your grandkids revere you. You may be gone, Ray, but the name and the family that you established will survive as a living testament to your outstanding character. I won’t say goodbye, dear friend; instead I’ll say… see you soon.” Marty rose slowly from the graveside, his knees cold and stiff, dark wet circles freshly formed on his slacks. He pulled the shovel from the receding pile and let it fall softly to the ground. Instead he bent slowly and scooped up a wet heap of earth, allowing it to rain gently from his hands over the nearly covered casket. Soon Ray’s plot was sealed, brimming with wet earth packed tight, but only after Eli, Frank and Norman had their turn to say goodbye. They knew that, in time, grass would grow over the naked patch of earth, sealing shut the gaping mouth that had swallowed their friend that Sunday morning. Soon Ray would join the rows and rows of indistinguishable headstones, his exact location known only by friends and family. Yesterday, Ray was alive. Today, he lay silent and motionless. An eternity of silence. The four men went home to their mourning wives and they mourned. They mourned for Ray. They mourned for his wife who needed him. They mourned for his kids, who loved him. They mourned for his grandkids, who
venerated him. And they mourned for their youth and vitality, which also died that day, and was buried right alongside Ray. And then they left. They had to leave, had to escape the house that they lived in, the bed they would probably die in. Away from the cemetery they would soon lie in and away from the friends they would soon lie with. They escaped to their thousand-calorie salvation beneath those golden arches. The four men filed through the door, the gurgling coffee pot and the cashier greeting them as they entered. They ordered their breakfast, and sat, shaking the rain from their suit jackets. The four of them sat at a five-person table. The fifth seat remained unoccupied and would remain that way for an eternity.
You licked your fingers and then pressed the flame I didn’t remember the licking part so I burned myself I held my fingers to my lips, I thought you just prayed and I reached out to pinch the yellow, orange glow I knew something was wrong when I felt the heat lick my fingers as they reached toward the candle stick I remember watching wax drip when I pinched the wick It felt cold, then hot. I was burning. I screamed. My fingers were beet red, like the tip of your cigarettes those you’d breathe in deep, and your eyes would close when the thick, gray smoke billowed from your mouth your blue eyes would search for me, you were happy
They were lighter than I expected, just rolls of paper they were thin, white, dry with brown leaves inside I tried holding it like you did, between my fingers Between my lips, like a sponge, it made my mouth dry Your eyes were wide, scared, like I broke something When you slapped it out of my mouth, I bit down the yellow tip, bitter leaves inside, rolled around my open screaming mouth. You washed it out with soap that night Never touch those! you yelled, one dangling in your mouth You don’t want to start smoking them! You can NOT end up like me! You shook me as you said this, crying You were looking in a mirror; it hurt to see yourself.
Oatmeal Bubbling, Babbling, Boiling Oatmeal splatters on the stove. Hissing, Sizzling, Popping It overflows. Her spoon has stopped stirring the whirring, swirling, whirling against the bottom of the pot was replaced by smacks. I wanted sugar in my oatmeal but all I taste is salt in its never ending stream into my mouth. The overturned table hides the TV I was watching and the broken glasses cut my hand. I stick it in the butter. Pop, PLOP! Thickening, sticky coagulation the oatmeal is well overdone. I grab a fallen spoon and stick it in my mouth. His steps creep closer. “Look up!” but I can’t. “Git that outta ya mouth and think ‘bout what you dun.” Watching him pace across the floor I hope he’ll slip and then sit on the broken bowl, the glass, the spilled milk. I reach up and turn off the stove and when I look at mommy’s skin I remember the dark, blue-black raisins I had wanted on my oatmeal.
Sugar High Mouth on mouth: a delicious t w i s t of give and take. Sickly sweet, to counteract the acid-lick and stick of those black cherry warheads you devoured.
“You’re giving me a toothache,” you said, sucking sweetened lint from hungry fingers. It makes me sick, how those words stream out like hot honey, that viscous bee spit concoction, and evaporate upon leaving the miasmic furnace of your mouth. Hurried, hushed, we exchange flavors: a tour de force of taste-testing skill, pinned against each other in the dim flicker-fast light of the deserted lot. Forsaken senses awaken at length. Smell reacts first
with the quickness of memory. It warns, pinpoints the distinct aromatics of gasoline. Candy-drunk eyes lull open. “We should go.” You growl and relent, cut your losses and take me home. In the mirror, under harsh incandescence, I count the sugar-bites on my neck. One, two, ten. Hungry little parasite! Nausea overcomes me, and I don’t know whether it’s the savage leech-marks or the saccharin. I settle for Cracker Jack car-cramped trysts. Is it you I crave or the lemon drops?
Of Penance and Monsters
I saw the sunrise today, so beautiful that I wanted to smash it into a million pieces and rearrange it so that it wouldn’t hurt to look at. So instead of breaking the sun, I broke my sister’s arm. I didn’t want to hurt her, but it was just too damn beautiful. The beginning of my fifth attempt at a short story sits freshly written in my notebook, begging to be worked on. But no matter how I begin, the stories never progress past the first paragraph, as if the rest is dormant, waiting to awaken. In truth I am thirteen, the unluckiest of all numbers, a cheerleader at a school of 200 kids grades Pre-K through 12th, my class consisting of fifteen: twelve girls, three boys. Everyone likes me, but I have three close friends: Sara, Liz, and Chloe. This is the last day of seventh grade. I am all smiles. No homework for three months and no bathroom passes. The taste of freedom hangs low in the air, dropping closer to me like the New Year’s Eve Ball with each second. The bell rings, and I shoot out of my chair, almost tripping over my own enthusiasm. “Anne! We’re going bowling tonight. My parents have to come, but it’s still going to be fun. Cosmic bowling! And then we’re having a potluck at the church.” I know it is one of my three friends who is calling me, but I am too wrapped up in thought about going home to see my dad, who has been tied up with business, to care about such a trifle as bowling. “Sure,” I throw my words in the general direction of the carbon copy trio, dressed in red plaid skirts and white-collared short-sleeved blouses. I reach home, but as soon as I walk through the door, my spirits drop. My father is carrying two suitcases, chock-full of clothes. He stops and looks at me, his eyes drooping after relaxing what looked like anger. “Are you going on another trip? Dad, you were already away for two weeks, and you promised to take me fishing the day you got back.” “Honey, I—didn’t your mother tell you?” “Tell me what? That you’re ditching me to slave away for ‘The Man’ to get a promotion and a salary increase?” “No, not exactly. Well, I don’t know how to say this, but—” “Michael!” My mother bursts into the room, cheery-eyed as always. “Why don’t we discuss this at dinner? You’ll be finished with things by then, right?” My father winces, his forehead furrowing into a strained expression. “What’s for dinner?” He forces a smile like the one my mother has on, and it makes me sick, like when I see couples wearing matching outfits. He sets his bags next to the overstuffed couch and turns on the television as if he has forgotten the conversation. “Chicken.” It comes out of nowhere after a minute of silence. “What was that?” My father snaps back into reality.
My mother’s smile goes at ease, a soldier letting her guard down while the drill sergeant is watching. That’s fifty push-ups and ten sprints around the field, I thought, to pass the time between responses. “We’re having chicken.” She walks away slowly, carefully choosing her steps and body movements. I notice a little blue mark peeking out from underneath her sleeve, and bite down on my tongue before I ask what happened. I hum and go upstairs, mechanically placing one foot in front of the other in the order I think they should go. I am in my room, thinking that it is far too cold in here to be June. I go on the Instant Messenger and ask what time we’re going bowling. Seven sharp. Something feels automatic about the way I am typing. Autopilot has taken over. The Captain has turned off the seatbelt sign. Feel free to move about the cabin. I picture myself standing up to get something out of the overhead. Turbulence strikes. I fall. The bowling alley is a blur of neon, flecks of light, and disco balls. I choke on the thick cigarette smoke in the air: kretek, Ultra Lights, unfiltered knockoffs, each brand just as suffocating as the next. I spot Sara’s parents and they look like they came out of a fucking storybook. All that was missing was the Golden Retriever and yellow curtains. They already had a mini-van and two sunny-faced children. I try to check my anger at the door, but it clings to me like someone else’s gum on the bottom of my shoe. I pick a team (the wrong one, as always, with three under-coordinated monkey boys) and throw my first ball into the other lane. I suck. The second bumps across five lanes to my left. I walk over to get it, and a little girl stares at me in horror, dropping her cheese pizza slice on my white sneakers. I look at my feet, then at my right hand, which she is fixated on. My ring finger is jutted sideways at a 45-degree angle. I can’t feel my body. I faint. I wake up on a bench, cool towel on my forehead. Sara’s mom’s eyes swell with concern, the kind that says, I hope her parents don’t sue. “I called EMS.” “No,” I said faintly. “I’m okay, really,” “But, Anne…your finger,” she said, pointing at my odd-looking appendage in disgust. “I just—I just need a shower. That’s what I need. This smoke…it’s so strong.” I stand up and hold onto the wall for support, making my way toward the door. Sara’s mother protests, but I have already disappeared into the carcinogenic fog. I count the faint bulbs of light lining the streets as I “Dawn of the Dead” my way back home, 165 in all. The house is pin-drop silent when I walk in and I can’t see straight. My hand must have fallen off. Father is sitting on the couch, so still that I wonder if someone had made a wax figure of him while I was gone and placed it there. Movement. No, still here. His eyes are glassy, sullen and fiery all at once. He looks over at me. “What the hell do you want?” Who is this? My father never speaks to me like this. Then the smell hits me. Whiskey, thick and undiluted. I walk around him, hoping that maybe he will think he is just dreaming. In my room, I pop my finger back into place after convincing myself that it is either the hospital (which involves waking up Benzodiazepine-Coma
Mom or Father Lush and is not an option) or doing it myself. It snaps back in nicely, but there is still no feeling in my entire body. Now I am anxious and tired, in need of sleep, so I walk down to my mother’s bathroom and grab the Klonopin, knowing it will calm my mind enough to help with sleep. The bottle is missing, though, and I settle for sleeping pills: the recommended two, and one for good luck. I lie in my bed, soft circles of nothingness trailing up my arms and tingling at my toes. I think, “Is this what Alice felt as she fell down the rabbit hole?” and close my eyes to sleep. Every night that summer, I took the same self-prescribed dosage along with occasional tranquilizers for an extra treat that I had taken from my mother’s bedroom. She never noticed. Every day was another semi-lucid dream. Bottled bliss, I called it. It’s a good thing that I was so out of it every day. I didn’t notice that my parents played me like I was a hot potato. Don’t get stuck with Anna when the music stops or you’ll get custody. But the music did stop, and my father got caught with the responsibility burning through his hands. The school I returned to in the fall was very different, like the house of mirrors. My “friends” acted as though they barely recognized me. I was clean, without access to the drugs anymore because I lived with my dad, but still everything seemed fuzzy. I was in the ladies’ room when I overheard Madeleine Pierce say the words that set the tone for the rest of my year. “Yeah, her parents divorced. It’s a sin, you know. Now she’s living with her boozehound father since her mother had a nervous breakdown and got thrown in the nuthouse upstate. I knew she was a weird bird. No wonder my parents never wanted me to stay over there.” She fixed her lipstick and stuck out her lips, checking to make sure that everything on the outside looked perfect. I didn’t move from the stall until an hour later, when I was sure that I had control over my hands. Otherwise I would have dug my nails into her pretty, pretentious face. That day, when I went home, I took out the sewing needles. No, I didn’t have a creative streak going on. I heated the needles with a lighter to sterilize them. The first poke stung a little. Then I began to think, the deeper the better. I felt a new lightness, better than any anti-anxiety pill ever gave me. I started making little red dot patterns on my hips, somewhere no one would look. I saw it as pointillism, an art form. Soon, I did it every day. Then twice a day. Eventually, I started piercing my skin during lunch and bathroom breaks in school. I kept thumbtacks in my backpack so that I could make punctures in the middle of class. At home I started mouthing off just so my father would smack me. Any pain was better than the consciousness of thought. I purposely banged into things, stubbing my toes, shins, anything and everything. Then I discovered the magic of razorblades. I was lost after that. Sometimes, I wanted all of them to see what they had done to me—the way I became their own personalized Frankenstein. It’s alive. Now stab it down with a pitchfork. But despite my hope that someone would intervene, no one did. Not even when Sara walked in on me cutting during lunch in the eraser room. “Oh,” she said, as if she had just found out that cheerleading practice was
moved to Monday. Her left eyebrow arched deviously, lips pursed in a tight smile holding back a verbal response. She turned and clicked her way across the floor in her new clogs, each foot pivoting slightly with renewed energy. I started laughing hysterically, which progressed into heaves and burning tears. Oh. So natural it killed me. Of course, Sara used this new information as ammo against me, the fallen cheerleading captain. Everyone acted as though I had leprosy, avoiding me at all costs. “Jesus loved even lepers,” I said under my breath, a little too loudly once when “they” teased me about my scars. “Well, Jesus never met you, did he?” These words repeated themselves even after the fact, spilling over into my current thoughts and corrupting the files like a virus. One day after school, I was sitting on the park bench near the playground, waiting for an act of God to happen and take me from this earth. A girl who looked about my age walked over to me. Her hair was chestnut brown with red highlights and fell just below her shoulders. Her eyes were unusually green, like alien orbs, matching her chipped Urban Decay fingernail polish. “Hi, I’m Jane,” she said after a moment. “Mind if I sit down?” “Sure,” I replied, clearing my bag from the bench. “I’m Anne.” “I know,” she answered blandly, pulling a cigarette from her right knee sock. “Want one?” I shook my head. “More for me. Anyway, I just got here today, and I noticed something about the people here.” “What’s that?” I asked, perturbed that she was smoking anywhere near me. “Isn’t it obvious?” Her arms shot up into the air and rested on her head, crossed at the elbows to make sure she didn’t drop ash on herself. “They’re all assholes!” After a few puffs on her cigarette, she scratched her lip with her thumb and said, as the smoke shot out from her mouth, “And I’ve only been here one day. I think I need to form an alliance.” I perked up a little more. “Meaning?” She took the last drag from her cigarette and flicked it to the side, smiling as the smoke flowed from between her lips. She took a swig of the Cherry Pepsi in my hand. “You’ll just have to find out, won’t you?” Over the next few weeks, Jane and I grew closer. One day, she found my “coping kit” tucked inside my backpack while looking for some Swedish Fish. “What the hell is this?” “Umm…that’s nothing. Just school supplies.” I snatched the kit back from her, like it was My Precious and someone was trying to take it from me. “No, no, no. I saw the movie Secretary, and I know what you do with that. You hurt yourself.” She pulled up my sleeves, and her face went blank in shock. “I didn’t think it would be this bad. Oh my God, Anne. You need help.” “I—I know.” I couldn’t say anything else. My knees shook and I started to lose balance. Jane pulled me to her, patting my back as I shivered and took in sharp gasps of air between sobs. She moved back slightly and grabbed my face with both hands, eyes intensely probing into my own, her hurt so close to the
surface that I could almost touch it. “You don’t want to die, I know you don’t.” And I realized, she was right. I looked back to every time I had cut, remembering that each time, I couldn’t go deep enough to bleed myself away completely. I stopped cutting immediately, but continued to use needles for a few weeks more, gradually decreasing the frequency. Jane routinely checked for punctures on my arms, and each time she found one, she cleaned and Neosporin-ed it, placing neon Band-Aids with sad faces penned on over each wound. It took six weeks of Jane’s encouragement and unconditional support for me to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Although I was skeptical about going, I knew that I had to do something to help myself. The doctor’s name was Julia Stark, and she had an Austrian accent. I didn’t tell her about the self-mutilation, but instead expressed my concerns about how I felt deeply depressed, about my “friends” and the hell I was put through. Eventually I spilled most things onto the table. She was understanding, but nowhere as perceptive as Jane. “What’s the diagnosis, A?” “Well, Dr. Stark says that I have Dysthymia.” “Congratulations. A four-syllable illness! So are you cured yet?” “No. She’s starting me on Prozac today.” “This one moves fast. She prescribed already? But it’s only the first date!” Slowly but surely, I began to feel the positive effects of the Prozac, although it did make me very irritable at times. “Geez, A! You’re acting like a pregnant woman! All I said is that Orlando Bloom is overrated and you took a swing at me!” “You’re right. I’m sorry for being this way. He is a little overrated,” I replied after realizing how moody I had been. “I’ll see if Dr. Stark can do anything about this.” A week later, on Boat Night, my father walked into the living room and sat down on the opposing side from me. “Time for a parley, Father?” I said. “Well, Anne, I have some bad news,” My throat closed for a second, but then I shook it off, comforting myself with, “You’re marrying that woman you’ve been dating for the past two months? Whatsername…Lola? And she’s a showgirl?” I rolled my eyes. My father swallowed his pride and redirected his thoughts. “We will pick up on that later. But that’s not why I wanted to talk to you,” “Gee, Dad. I thought you wanted to spend some quality father-daughter time with me, complete with a heartfelt chat and a pony ride to boot!” “Anne, I wish you would just listen to me. Save the witty remarks for Jane. We have to move upstate. I have a job offer up there that pays much more than what I am making now. We’re moving mid-August. I’m sorry. I know you and Jane get along so well, honey.” “Don’t call me honey! She is my only friend! And I can’t just leave her to fend for herself at that shitty academy. Those piranhas will eat her alive, Dad.” “Anne, I don’t know what to tell you. But we have to move. I can’t afford this house anymore, and I sure as hell can’t afford to send you to that ‘shitty academy’ you hold so near and dear.” I slowly stood up and made my way toward the door. “I’m going over to
tell her right now. I don’t want to put this off.” The doorbell rang in four progressive notes. E C D B. Jane came to the door. “What’s up? You’re not going to Boat Night, are you? All it offers are drunken churchgoers, Barry Manilow records, and boxed wine. Tacky. And don’t even get me started on the—” She cut off. “Something is wrong. You look sad.” “Let’s take a walk, okay?” I looked at the doormat, kicking imaginary dirt from the forest green converse that were either mine or Jane’s. I couldn’t remember. She grabbed two shawls, handing one to me and draping the other over her own shoulders. Jane walked silently, waiting for me to tell her. “It sure is cold for June,” I said, trying to ease my way into the uneasy conversation. “Cut the shit. Since when do we ever talk about the weather? This isn’t teatime at the Grand Hotel. Nix the small talk!” I drew a quick breath and exhaled. “Okay, but if I’m gonna do this, I need a cigarette.” “Oh, man. This must be terminal.” I told her the news, and she took it a lot better than I had expected. We spent even more time together after that, almost inseparable until the day of the move, when I saw her grow smaller and smaller in the reflection of the rearview mirror. Although I missed Jane, I began to like public school more and more. As was expected, there were assholes there, just like at the academy. But here it was more sporadic, and no one even thought to judge me for having divorced parents and a monthly appointment at the shrink’s office. I kept in touch with Jane. Every night I called her to see how she was doing. Every night, the same reply: “I’ll manage.” I couldn’t help but sense the grieving undertones in her voice. I could just imagine the things “they” were doing to her. The Christian Boys touching her with their blameless hands, Here, There, Everywhere, while she stood pinned against the wall in anguish. I saw flashes of The Christian Girls, their faces blurred in ugly blotches, lips moving double-time, cutting into her with every “slut” and “whore.” Sometimes during the day, my heart would beat irregularly and ache, as if tiny needles were puncturing it. Old wounds began to flare up more and more, and I knew something was wrong. Jane barely uttered more than a few words the last time I spoke with her. I heard her breathing, shallow and quick, on the other end of the line. “Jane? Are you cutting?” I waited, the silence so encompassing that I had to fight to keep above it. “Oh, Anne—” Jane sobbed. And the phone clicked down. She saw the sunrise today. It was so beautiful it had to be smashed into a million pieces and rearranged so it wouldn’t hurt to look at. But instead of breaking the sun, she broke her skin, over and over again, until no sign of beauty was left. In the end, what she destroyed became something in itself. “If the body is a temple,” she said, “I want to burn it down.” And she did.
The mother mashes corn to make tortillas Breathing in the kitchenâ€™s fumes The girl plays with her fatherâ€™s machete Unthinking The boy watches us The Americans Unabashed What do they think of me? Am I Gringo? Intruding Or am I here to understand? The farmer cries in his field The hammock snaps Held up by threads The midwife looks at her husband living next door with another woman The fifteen-year-old grasps his newborn child for the first time Scared Through the thin mattress I can feel the rough ground Sleepless Restless The government shuts the light off Prevents the town from showering No one is clean anyway The world is dirty always
A Day at the Pool, A Life of Secrets “Do you know this boy’s parents?” the nurse demanded. “What? Oh, yes, I do,” I replied, as her words snapped me from my daydream. “Then call his parents, and wait for them in the lobby.” I did as I was told and found the lobby, where I sat for the next five hours, my mind racing over the events. I could have stopped this! I am such an idiot! The warning signs were clear as day. I knew I should have told someone and stopped all this years ago, but that went against my promise to my best friend: I would keep this a secret, no matter what. I sat in the uncomfortable red chair in the hospital lobby, head down, mentally kicking myself, feeling helplessly responsible for the events that had unraveled. A million thoughts ran through my head as I awaited the arrival of Dave’s parents, but whatever came to my mind always led back to the first day I went to Dave’s house, back when I was eight years old. • • • “Now you be careful, hear me?” my worried mother lectured as she clamped my chin in the buckle of my bicycle helmet. “Mom, that hurt!” I yelled. “And stop treating me like a little kid; it’s only around the block.” I jumped on my bike, rode down the block, and like any other kid ignoring his annoying mother, closed my ears to my mom’s shouts of “slow down, you’re going too fast!” The warm summer wind blew at my back as I turned the corner and headed toward my third grade classmate’s house. We had been best friends all year, but he had never wanted to go to his house. I had convinced him that we should go swimming in his pool, since the temperature had soared to well over one hundred degrees. Sweat poured down my face as I kicked down my kickstand and left my bike in Dave’s driveway. I ran to the door and rang the bell, anxiously awaiting the cold water. No answer. I rang it again; still no answer. I guessed he hadn’t waited for me; he was probably already in the pool out back. I headed around the driveway alongside the house toward the backyard. As I walked around calling Dave’s name, I decided to peek in a window, since I didn’t hear anyone in the backyard. When I looked in, my heart dropped; I turned around and ran, tripping as I did so. I got up immediately, headed for my bike and jetted home, not turning around for a second, as if what I saw would get me. When I got home early, my mother wondered what had happened. I told her Dave had to go to the supermarket with his mom and that we were going to do something later. I knew my lie hadn’t worked, but fortunately my mom dropped the conversation. I went to my room and played video games until dinner time, trying to erase what I had seen.
Around seven, Dave came by to see why I never showed up. I told him I got in trouble and that my mom didn’t even let me call to tell him I couldn’t come. “You saw, didn’t you?” He could tell; I couldn’t even look at him. “I didn’t see anything. What are you talking about?” I tried to act surprised, but all that came out was anger that he didn’t buy my lie. “Listen, I know you saw what happened today, but it’s not a big deal, trust me.” “What do you mean it’s not a big—” He cut me off. “Just don’t tell anyone, you promise?” “OK.” “Pinky swear?” “Yes, I pinky swear.” My tone was still angry as we interlocked pinkies and moved on to playing catch on my front lawn, both pretending what had happened didn’t bother us. From that day on, I never said a word to anyone about what I saw, not even to Dave. • • •
I never saw Dave’s dad again until one Saturday afternoon in July, three years later. I was at the supermarket with my mom and, as we were leaving, I saw the same face I had seen that afternoon back in the third grade. I pointed him out to my mom; she was thrilled to finally meet my best friend’s father. She had only spoken briefly with Dave’s mother, when we would come by his house for car pools. My mother, the gossip queen, went right up to him. “Hi, Mr. Wright, you’re David’s father, right? I’m Taylor’s mother, Jean. Nice to finally meet you.” “Hello, Jean. Robert.” “Well, Robert, I see you’ve got a lot of bottles to return,” referring to the five garbage bags he was lugging to the bottle return area. “Yeah, you know how it is, the Fourth is real crazy.” He gave my mother a smirk. Those bottles aren’t from a Fourth of July party, I thought to myself as my mind immediately shot back to that hot summer day. As I looked in the window, I still saw no one. Maybe he forgot I was coming and went out with his parents. Just as I turned to leave, I heard something in the house; it sounded like something had fallen. I peered in again, and this time looked further into the house. In the kitchen, I saw Dave’s mother kneeling on the floor picking up a pot. She looked upset but I didn’t know why, seeing as she was the only one in the house. Why hadn’t she heard the doorbell? I figured maybe it was broken and decided to knock on the window when suddenly, my arm froze. What I saw couldn’t be happening, could it? I decided to go to the next window to get a better look. The window was a little too high for me, so I jumped. Something was going on, but I still couldn’t see what. I looked around for something to lift me up and found a basketball nearby lying on the ground. I positioned it under the window and stood on it. As I held onto the ledge and stared into the window, I was stunned. I tried to get away as quickly as possible, except I was still on top of the basketball and fell. I felt no pain; I was too shocked about the events I had just seen inside of Dave’s house.
“Taylor, say hello!” “Oh, hel—hello, Mr. Wright.” I gave him an odd smile. “Hello, Taylor.” He smiled at my mother and then gave me a look as if to say, you better not open your mouth, you little rat. • • • In high school, Dave always started fights and got into trouble, and as a result, he dragged me in with him. He would get detention at least once a week and got suspended on a couple of occasions. Every weekend he would get drunk and stoned at parties, and he even got me involved in drugs and alcohol, too. My mom didn’t like the person I was becoming; she always got calls from administrators and teachers about my problems in school and my poor grades. She hated when I came home past my curfew and when I refused to do my homework in order to hang out with Dave. But she kept pressuring me, as most mothers do, to get my act together. She threatened to punish me and not allow me to see Dave. During the first week of my senior year, these threats turned into reality. I had a couple of friends over to drink before we went to a party. We were all really drunk when my mom came home unexpectedly. She flipped! She kicked everyone out of the house and screamed at me until morning. My mom must have known that I drank and smoked, at least moderately, but she refused to admit it until she actually saw it. And when she did, she grounded me for a month and, even worse, forbade me from seeing Dave for two months. During those two months, Dave got progressively worse. He had detention on a daily basis and often came to school intoxicated. He would cut classes and go smoke pot with a bunch of guys I didn’t like. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help him anymore, especially since I could only see him during school, a place where he was rarely present. One day while in Calculus class, I looked out the window to see two cop cars parked outside the front door. I hoped it wasn’t what I expected, but I felt almost positive I was right. After a couple of minutes, people noticed what I had, and they all ran to the window to see. My teacher told everyone to sit down, but no one listened. I immediately walked out of the room toward the main door. As soon as I turned the corner, what I saw confirmed my suspicions; Dave was being questioned by two cops. I ran down the hall and screamed “Dave!” As I reached him, one of the police officers stopped me and told me to go away, unless I too wanted to get arrested. I asked Dave what he had done, but he just gave me a blank look as he turned his back to me and cuffs were put on his wrists. After the police took him away, I just stood there, unable to move. The principal later explained to me in private that Dave had been arrested because a custodian had found cocaine in his locker. I said that couldn’t be, but I knew the truth. Dave would be suspended for two weeks and his parents had to post bail, the principal told me. I knew that his arrest and humiliation at school that day would be nothing compared to what would happen to him at home.
When the bell rang to end school, I headed right for my car and drove to Dave’s house. His mother answered the door and said that Dave could not see me right now, and that he probably wouldn’t until he was allowed back at school in two weeks. I respected her and headed back to my car. Before I got in, I heard Mrs. Wright cry out, “WAIT!” “Yes, Mrs. Wright?” “When you can talk to him, Taylor, please try to help him. I’ve tried so hard, but I think you may be the only one who can.” She was in tears. “I’ll do my best.” Little did I know that before the two weeks were up I would be doing something besides talking to Dave in order to save his future. • • •
It happened the Saturday night before Dave could return to school and two months after my punishment. That morning we played our homecoming game, and my friends and I supported our football team by attending. During halftime, I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket. To my surprise, I had just missed a call from Dave. I thought he would never be allowed to touch a phone. I tried calling him back, but my call went straight to voicemail: “Hi, you have reached Dave’s cell phone…” I tried calling again; maybe he didn’t have service. Same thing. I called his house. No answer Something was wrong. I left the game and went to his house. All three cars were gone. I rang his doorbell, but no one answered. I went home worried that something terrible had happened. I called him repeatedly until dinner time. My mom had gone out with friends for the night, so I ordered in, just in case Dave stopped by. When the doorbell rang, I expected a man in a blue shirt and a red hat with the Domino’s logo, but the only red I saw was the blood covering Dave’s face. I looked past him to see his blue Oldsmobile parked half on my lawn, and he was holding an empty bottle of vodka in his hand. There was vomit on his sweatshirt, and he appeared strung out. “Are you alright, man?” But before he could answer, he collapsed on my doorstep. On the way to the hospital, Dave kept throwing up on himself. I kept talking to him in an attempt to keep him from passing out. As I looked at his swollen, bloody face, I saw the same anger I saw in his father’s eyes nine years ago. As I balanced on the basketball and held onto the ledge of the window, my eyes focused in on the kitchen. Dave’s mom was indeed on the ground picking up a cooking pot, crying. I looked further into the kitchen and saw Dave’s dad. He looked furious and was holding a beer in his left hand and a belt in his right. He took a chug of his beer and then slapped the ground with his belt, only he didn’t strike the ground. He struck his eight-year-old son right on his bare back. I gasped at the sight. At that very moment, Dave’s dad looked up and saw my innocent face in the window. He gave me a nasty stare. That’s when I fell off the basketball. • • •
“Taylor.” Dave’s mom woke me with a shake; I had forgotten where I was. “Thank you so much for taking care of Dave; we owe you our lives.” I still felt a little foggy about tonight’s events, but as the nurse explained to Dave’s mother and me what they had done to resuscitate Dave, everything came rushing back. “We pumped most of the alcohol out of his stomach, and we stitched up the cuts on his face. It’s a good thing you brought him in when you did,” the nurse said, looking at me. “Yes, I know; thank you again, Taylor.” Mrs. Wright then turned her attention to the nurse and asked, “Can we go see him now?” “Yes, you can, but I’m sorry, family only; he can’t go in.” “Please, after all he did, he deserves to see him, and besides, he is like a brother to my son.” “OK, follow me,” the nurse said and led us to where Dave was resting. Right before we entered the room, I asked Mrs. Wright a question to which I could already guess the answer. “Mrs. Wright, where is your husband?” “He couldn’t make it, too much work,” she replied, as if she really believed it. I knew he was far from his desk at that moment, sitting on a bar stool ordering another Budweiser. The only thing I didn’t know was how Dave kept it hidden all these years.
How to Get Him Iphis: The Great Change: Become What Your Lover Wants
Choices today. Mother Earth is no longer the end-all decision maker. Birth is no more the definition, fortunate for Iphis. Her mother told her the story of her origins, while pulling another boxy sweater over her baggy trousers. “I had to,” she said, “It was all I could to do keep you alive.” And mother cut her daughter’s hair too short for ponytails, too short for braids, boyish, as it had to be. “Your father needed a boy, to help with work, and dowries haven’t gone away, you know. I had a dream and knew I had to keep you, no matter what your papa said.” Little Iphis would pout when forced to play in the mud, when she wrestled with the neighborhood boys, or played with Tonka trucks and G.I. Joes, but she did it, because mother said so. “It’s the only way,” she reminded Iphis. Later, she would have to tape down her breasts and hang posters of girls, so no one would suspect. But now, years of role-playing have given Iphis a bride-to-be. Father is thrilled, but mother can no longer hide the truth with bowl cuts and tennis shoes. Revealing past deceptions would be impossible, but so would a marriage be with two brides. Most terrifying to Iphis is how deeply she wishes the charade could last, for in her time with Ianthe, she has fallen in love with the fiancée. She fears this unnatural love, this taboo. It plagues none of her friends, none of her classmates, and it is not seen in the birds who court in treetops or the cats cavorting in back alleyways. But Iphis has come to know and love Ianthe, she recognizes her laugh and warms at her smile, only she knows that their engagement is a sham, their relationship, a lie. Ianthe sees what the rest of the world sees: a handsome man, an athlete, a gentleman. The wedding draws nearer each day, mother cannot prolong it any further,
she has pushed the date, changed the plans, feigned illness, but no excuse can ever turn what nature determined so long ago. They pray, and the gods give them a doctor and the gods give him a knife and Iphis becomes what the world always assumed, what Ianthe always dreamed of. Her voice descends in baritones and her slender arms take on the curves of muscle. Iphis strides down the aisle, a man for his woman. Scylla: The Grand Offering: Give a Gift and Get His Heart An army child, Scylla grew up with soldiers and sailors at her doorstep. Her father was the great marshal, the admiral, her king. It wasn’t strange to see enemy soldiers where they were stationed and she liked to spy on them from her third-story window. That’s when she saw Minos. Peering out from her usual perch, Scylla thought he must be the most handsome man she’d ever seen. And she had seen many. An enemy of her father, how could she ever learn to hate him? What was the point, she wondered, hating someone because the colors on his uniform didn’t match the colors on her soldiers? Everything about Minos thrilled her, the way light seemed to dance on his buttons, and his determined stature, his strong strides. Worse, her heart jumped in ecstasy every time his blade struck one of her guys. Each penetrating bullet gave her more life. Scylla craved defeat by Minos’ hands, but still it was taking too long. Once the war was done and over, he could ransack the city, and hopefully, her too. So late at night, she went into her father’s bedroom, after doling out a heavy round of narcotic-laced nightcaps. When the drugs kicked in, she grabbed a pair of scissors and chipped off Daddy’s amethyst locks. This will serve his needs, she grinned, stuffing the bloody purple tuft into a gift-wrapped box. To: Minos From: Scylla with love, ribbons and all. Crawling into their camp, she finds the lucky tent that houses his body every night.
Minos jumped at the sight of her—dressed in some skanky lingerie, kitten heels, and clutching the shiny offering. “Open it,” she murmured. Untying the red ribbon, the severed locks spill out onto his lap, gleaming purple despite the dark. His face contorts in rage and he hurls the crumpled wrapping paper in her face. “You disgust me,” was his response. “I actually have honor, you filthy girl, what makes you think I would ever want this piece of purple trash anyway?” and for good measure, he kicked it across the tent floor before storming out with drowsy troops following. It wasn’t enough, she thought. Pity, she would have given up her entire self, given him her body to ravish however he pleased, her tricks, all of the secrets she possessed could have been his. Her soul even. But it wasn’t enough, her grand offering. A girl’s got to give it all today, she guessed, watching him sail away as she scissor-kicked to fight above the confused seas, stuck between scorned love and the sin ashore behind her.
Salmacis: The Great Pursuit: Never Let Him Go Alcithoe spread the gossip, hanging with the girls while the rest of the world was out drinking wine and cavorting around L.A. Reciting the tales of all the sinister swingers and flirtatious flappers made their little craft session seem glorified, righteous even And with dripping condescension she told the story of Salmacis: It was a new age, a new time, and a new way of life. There were no more Cary Grants, Romeos or Apollos certainly no bouquets of flowers and courting men coming to call. To be a girl this day and age required gumption. Salmacis knew this, and spent her time bathing in the sun on the beach always gorgeous, sending out signals while the other women chased dreams and careers with aspirations of power. Boys today were shy, afraid of rejection, intimidated by the no longer delicate water nymphs. Although it pleased her to stand there looking pretty, she was sick of the lot of them, that is until she saw Hermaphroditus. She thought he had to be the son of a god or a messenger
to have him sent there for her pleasure. He stood taking in all the tourist shops and crashing coastline with a curiosity-thirst that she longed to quench for herself. It was late and this end of the beach was almost empty but for this young beauty and Salmacis who held back behind the docks, observing the stranger. He was probably shy, she thought, like the rest of them. So she took a moment, to smooth her dress, smear on some eyeliner fix her hair, and perfect the expression so best to let him know of the lust that rippled out from her like rays from the sun, longing to caress him with this heat like the rays kiss and cook the sand, sand she could bury her toes in. And her love reached supernova state, about to burst she cried, “Handsome stranger, if I believed in such things, I would have taken you for a god or king. It sickens me to think of the delight of your mother, sister, and perhaps—a wife? I have spent all my years without sharing this joy unable to feast upon your beauty, the fullness of your lips, the endless space I could fall into your eyes. If it is true that you share a pair of rings, then don’t tell me and walk away so I won’t have to endure another moment of this jealousy. But if there is no other, significant lover, then let this stretch of sand be our unending mattress. Lie with me, and let the waves applaud while we make love and the clang of the lighthouse can be our wedding bells if we would only unite.” Although it was dark, the neon glow of the city and the phosphorescent moon cast just enough light to show his blushing cheeks, like ray-kissed apples, or a pink-flushed crescent moon. He was confused, a country boy in this amorous world of lights, sin, and power. She begged to be like the rays, for sweet kisses, to bite hard into the apples and thrust her tongue into their juices, even light pecks, anything to bring them closer. Hermaphroditus is horrified and pushes her away. “Beat it or I’ll leave you and this dreadful place forever.” So Salmacis retreated with downcast eyes, “If that is what you want, sweet stranger.” But instead she hid behind the docks and watched him move in the pink-flushed moonlight. And in his naivete of this city and this night and this woman he took off his clothes and dove into the crashing waves. He made long strokes and floated along the water, glowing like a spark in a glass bulb and his electricity coursed through Salmacis. Her veins pulsed with electrons, her heart felt
sudden shocks as if each long kick and arm stroke was a defibrillator. He pumped life into her body and ignited her. “Gotcha,” she gasped, casting aside her clothes and diving in after him. He tried to push her away but this time it was no use. She becomes a wave and he is tossed around in her. As he is pulled under, her body coils around him like ivy hugs those ancient scholarly walls and suffocates brick, or like an octopus whose suction-cupped arms ensnare its victim eight-fold. She clutched his flailing, gasping body and offered up her first real prayer since she came to this city, “God or gods may he and I always be together, I need him.” Someone was listening. And his struggling arms became one with her embraces, his kicking legs a part of her coils. He swims ashore, half-man half-woman and surrenders his new form to the L.A. night.
This Is Not a Dream Yesterday. while roaming around a town at twilight I discovered a replica of Magritte’s The Lovers in an art gallery’s window. It was a poor copy, for too much light shone down on the couple: the man in a suit, the woman a red dress, embracing one another and kissing as a sheet covered each of their faces. I knew it lacked darkness, for my parents had loved the original’s ominous tone. (They can’t feel each other Mom said, when she showed me it once, and I nodded blankly, pretending to understand.) I still didn’t understand the painting, but as I examined the copy. a homeless man approached me, bundled in sweatshirts but with a clean-shaven face and black slicked back hair, dripping with icicles. Then I realized that the man was Rene Magritte, for somebody had slapped a red and white sticker onto his garments that read Hello, My Name Is Rene Magritte, with his signature scribbled on it, barely legible. He grinned at me and proclaimed, “This is not a dream.” I rushed away from him, hurried down an avenue, where I passed a slender man with a 12·inch nose. He wore a black trench coat and carried a metal briefcase while blabbing on his cell phone, Yeah, baby, of course I love you, I just won’t get home ‘til ten tonight...
House of God “Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be The blood of paradise?” –Wallace Stevens, “Sunday Morning”
The House of God was born of destruction. As close as I was to my grandfather as a child, I always knew that he wore many faces, and changed who he was based on his elusive and unpredictable moods. My mother remembers not getting to open gifts on Christmas because my grandpa wasn’t in the right mind and getting left at Sunday School and never getting picked up. When my grandfather got angry, and when one of his kids went against his often ridiculous orders (tedious chores that could last many hours), he would react physically and emotionally. My mother once said that when she was a kid she wished that her dad would go away forever. My grandpa was a cold, horrifying power in the lives of his children. He would beat his kids just because he didn’t feel too good on a particular day. I’m not completely sure (because my mom refuses to tell even my father), but I think he beat his kids pretty badly. I’ve got an uncle who doesn’t talk to my family anymore because, as my mother tells me, my grandpa messed him up way too badly. There was little love or compassion in my grandpa’s interaction with his children. I venture to guess that simple fears and frustrations were not met with comfort by my grandfather, but that he himself was the source of the greatest and deepest fears and frustrations my mother and her siblings could have. I was born into the House of God. When we attended church with my grandfather, it was usually in an old cathedral in Saginaw, and it was usually because he had contributed to the mass in memory of my grandmother. Driving to Saginaw was never a pleasant activity. The skies are always grey in Saginaw, Michigan, and the brown and tan buildings and strip malls erected in the 1970s never do anything to improve my spirits. The church, however, is a very old and beautiful bastion of Catholic faith. Beneath high vaulted ceilings are rows of old oak pews and kneelers, and on the walls, shown in stained glass, are the Stations of the Cross. The beautiful, thin, divine figure of Jesus Christ carries his cross across the walls of the church until he reaches the point of his crucifixion. But when my family attended the shortened mass dedicated to my grandmother, we made our way up to a small white room in the back of the church. My grandfather’s funeral was held in the same Saginaw church where we had attended occasional daytime mass. His casket took the same place on the altar as had my grandmother’s before him. The snow that day came down constant and unapologetic, and made the roads indiscernible from the rest of the white landscape. Very few attended my grandfather’s funeral because of the snowfall. His only son turned his car around halfway to Saginaw from Lansing. The attendees were mostly my close family and relations. It was a disparate small collection of people from my grandfather’s past. I was
introduced to a Korean laundrywoman who had run a business next to my grandfather’s office in Saginaw, childhood friends of my mother and aunts, and any companions he still had left in the area. It must be lonely to get old. The few of us who made it to the service huddled together in the giant church, leaving most of the pews empty, a strange family of humanity drawn in from the winter cold. My grandfather’s casket was left closed because my mom always said that your last image of a person shouldn’t be their dead, pale face. I’m not sure what final image of him I keep inside of my mind. As the snow fell outside on the House of God, we eulogized a man whose life failed to fit into the traditional funereal statements. Sometimes they forget to heat the House of God. Heaven and beauty somehow live beside abusive fathers, wasted days, and stock portfolios. Everyday life finds us stuck in sterile and boring routines, not on some mountaintop finding the light of truth. Those of us who have had to undergo no true torture or trouble stand beneath images of the torn, gaunt, and holy face of Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns. These images of beauty seem in such discordance with the actions of human beings, and this gap between the ideal and the actual is great and visible. This ideal of morality and purity was introduced to me by a man who fractured his family and couldn’t cope with the turmoil of his own mind. Proclamations of deliverance entered my ears because of this man who dealt in self-destruction and the abject abuse to those who loved him. It is a strange and unsure House of God we now live in.
Skin Covered Lightbulbs we ride in on japanese water beetles and pretend to be fierce really, though, we’re miniscule. we are china dolls without the smiles still innocent, still fragile— just harder on the outside. just so we don’t look hollow. but every so often you see cracks if you hold us up to the light. we are skin-covered light bulbs with raw redness nudging through where fingers don’t intertwine. fleshy and rare, we have no structure, knuckles or freckles or wrinkles. we are brutal cranberry blobs, offensive. ignorant and unholy.
we smear orange peels across our faces. honest to goodness— we aren’t trying to be fashionable if we wanted rouge, we’d use fuchsia grapes, raspberries, red lacquer nail polish. we just want the appearance of summer we desperately want to glow. we fear not for our faraway futures. for we know not if we deserve, deign, desire to possess them. we are not safe from ourselves, so why bother rescuing us from the world. we just clap our hands together and clasp our hands together: we rejoice in our own destruction. we rejoice in our own whispering, our own silent screams. no need for introductions. we are your sacrilege. we were in the cave but we didn’t care. we stepped outside and we were lost.
Rescue Dogs We were just buying guavas that day The ones Rodrigo had bought were mushy Rotten and slimy when you sliced them down To their dried blood black core. Sliding the mushy peel off the fleshy fruit, I had a premonition it was going to be sour. The bus itself was packed with the kinds of Decaying odors one would expect from a fishery, A tannery, a public washroom. It was the stench of Hard work and desperation, trying to make it Past the officials, into the market, then back home Again. But there were barriers that day, borders. Natural disasters don’t need personal crises. There are no survivors, that’s for sure. Not even The guava was as rotten as our bodies will be After officials finally decide to move their pawns. We Tried to hold on, but for whom? Bloated bellies Filled with straining babies and pork long digested, our Intestinal juices churning acid. Our green bile matched That morning’s guava peel. Those wet, black intruders, Exhaling hot carbon dioxide on our bodies, sniffing for Survivors. Those noses smelled our guava tinged bile. Those noses smelled the charred rocks and dirty rain Staining our once-clean bodies. They didn’t smell our Families whose bellies were not bloated, but grumbling Back at home. Those noses didn’t smell our mail on the Table by the door, reminding us we were long overdue.
Aphrodite and Eros I said he was selfish He said I was wrong— He sold fish In his past-tense pretense On the streets of Our cities— He sold fish At good prices To good people. But what about her, I said— She was good, of course. Good and righteous and Conscious, of course, But he had no fish for her.
How—she could not pay— Her purse was full of napkins And none could equal Even the scales of Pisces Then I will take her, For I have no business here, To storms of frothy blue And jagged rocks of Tanzanite The home of the sea To see them breathing And free And she will not be hungry In the depths She looks hungry. Feed her to the trash, he said. But do not worry about her— She is good And good people may Waste away But are not wasted.
Skinless Sunrise Nothing flows thin like a passing breeze through my ribcage— wind sailing through bone and skinless you grin, undressed alone we are two white sticks. The empty clattering slide of our grease bone shuffle down a crowded street and in public, milky white— so breakable so bold, homegrown stalks of chalk we bend in an angled embrace we shimmy shatter in the airy cold, an eroding hold; here silence pours and inward soaks simple roadmaps, like pressed leaves on paper blue and red trails fading along our frames. Our skulls empty and rattle-full, led by hallowed black holes to see rain before dawn in constant fall, calls a substitute heartbeat for our empty chest-box— the day when wind breathes us.
The Other Home
Mid-morning, early August 2003: I was entrenched between doubledecker buses, huge trucks, and lorries transporting bales of hay, sheets of glass, and sweaty, disgruntled construction workers who gaped incessantly at us in our car until it became physically impossible to maintain eye contact any longer. This was Bombay during the rush hours, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., where the time it takes to get anywhere on wheels equals the time it takes to get there on foot, where traveling for five hours to get home is typical. This was Bombay from my childhood memories. I saw all of India as my wondrous, exotic, other home, where mere paving stones could have me riveted because they were so novel, so utterly unlike everything I was used to seeing in the real world, back in Dubai. I gawked openly at so little a thing as rain, hitting the trees, dripping off windows. Those construction workers did the same to me. The people here have a way of looking at you, of staring ferociously at you in your sneakers, you in your car, you with those wide eyes that they all know have not seen enough of the world to take it for granted yet. Catching their eyes means playing their games. And falling into their trap is unavoidable. You do the double take, and a glance becomes a gaze. Then it begins; they leer, relentless, taunt you with those unspoken questions: “Don’t you think I’m fabulous? Don’t you want to keep staring? Don’t I intimidate you? How long before you look away?” Painfully self-conscious of being a spectacle, you will always be the first to break away, to stare at the tires of buses instead. When at long last we’d cleared into the edge-most lane of the three lane bridge, I had already worn out the novelty of staring at the dried mud that coated the lower sides of the larger vehicles, but I certainly did not welcome the now-unobstructed view of the city below. Imagine a plaster block. Imagine it dribbled upon by a constant stream of water for six months. Obliterate every right angle. You can now appreciate the physical dynamics of anything that has been constructed over a year ago in this country. Anything that is not organic to begin with is well on its way to becoming so in less than two years. Exciting, yes. Fresh and surprising in its irregularity, Bombay’s general lumpiness never bothered me. Far from it. But now I’d come to associate the grime with the decrepit. No matter how I looked at it, everything here was unwholesome. Seventeen summers can make anything lose its brilliance, and I’d seen enough dirt for today. Count cows, I thought. Count dogs. Anything to stave off thinking about how much longer it would take to reach home. I started combing the passing street. We were on the highway now, and both roadsides were bordered by the slums. They looked like patchwork cubes, each house half the size of a small room, boards of corrugated iron for walls, and sheets of blue, plasticized fabric piled across the tops in stretches to form roofs. I pressed my face against the tinted glass of our car. People live here, I thought in fascination. Little children ran about from house-front to house-
front playing unidentifiable games, dressed in the barest minimum of clothing; the youngest were naked but for a piece of black thread tied across their bellies. Young men and women carried things, or carted them, to and from wherever they went each day. Old women sat on rickety wooden beds held together with string and gossiped with one another. They were the only ones who looked overweight, not because of fat, but more likely because their muscles had passed the point of resisting gravity and now rested in expansive folds under their flesh. The older men gambled outside one of the shops (which were indistinguishable in construction from the houses). Because there was typically only one room per house, people bathed outside, out of tin buckets. Children took dumps on the pavement. That struck a chord. Their lives were so simple, so blatant. People passed by in their cars continuously, but they still cooked and played cards in the streets. They ignored, and were ignored in turn; they had nothing to hide because no one cared to look. I watched two little kids wander past a dozen house-fronts, idly poking at things they found in puddles, accompanied only by a stray dog they’d half tamed. Call me naïve. Call me stark raving mad. But I wanted to live the way those people did, in a tiny house that flanked the road. I wanted the strange comfort that closeness of space brings with familiarity. I wanted that sense of adventure in stepping out of the front door into the world, instead of into the garden of a home inside a walled-in compound. Except for having to do my business in the streets, I could really get used to this, I thought. Ever the resourceful adventurer in my head, I imagined how wonderful it would be to thrive in what most people would call an uninhabitable environment, to experience every day with abandon because no one was looking. I don’t even need to worry about TV, I realized, as I caught a glance through one of the doors. Somehow, these people had tiny TV screens glowing from within their homes, or little electric lights framing the back wall, where they’d put up pictures of their gods. I nudged my father, asleep in the front seat. “How do those people get electricity?” He said that they tapped into the electricity illegally. That the slums themselves were illegal. The only reason why the government continued to let them exist was because they couldn’t afford to relocate so many people, to provide homes, food, sanitation. It was a delicate issue, something to be ignored, because if the laws were observed and the slums were razed, it would be a complete breach of human rights. Almost sixty percent of Bombay would have nowhere to live. He fell asleep again. I continued to stare out the window, entranced. Sixty percent, echoed in my mind, sixty percent. No sanitation. The tin house in my dreams fell to the ground. We’d stopped at the traffic lights. This always made me uncomfortable. We were immediately deluged by street hawkers, teenaged boys selling newspapers, roasted peanuts, garlands, and paper flags. Theirs was a job of canny footwork and impeccable timing, since they had to dodge from car to car less than a meter away from each other, pressing their bunches of wares against the windows, peering to see if any interested buyers were inside, and then hurriedly scurrying out of the way again when the lights changed. Along with them came the beggars: the blind, the lepers, the mothers
with children. Most people, nearly all in fact, refused to acknowledge them. It was their belief, I presumed, that if they pretended these people didn’t exist, then it would somehow soothe the awkwardness of ignoring them in the first place. I couldn’t ignore them, as much as I couldn’t ignore a slap in the face. A woman approached us, her baby hanging listless in the crook of her arm, asleep, drooling. She gestured to the child and made pleading faces, pushing guilt onto anyone who would look at her, and held out her cupped palm. “Shoo,” my aunt said to her. I cringed. “Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for them,” she told me. “Do you know what they do with the money they get? They buy sleeping pills to drug their babies so they can carry them around all day while they beg. Why else do you think those babies never move, never cry?” As much as I was disinclined to believe anyone who could “shoo” another person, I knew she couldn’t be making it up. The beggar was staring at me now; she must have realized I was the only person paying her any attention. “Sister,” she whined in Hindi and then rattled off a string of laments. I couldn’t understand the words, but I got the gist. “How could you be so heartless?” she accused me. I dropped my gaze and helplessly tried to study my fingernails, embarrassed that I couldn’t say anything she’d understand, embarrassed that nothing I could do would change things for her—we both knew that. The lights changed; she vanished among the peddlers. • • •
At home, my sister and I waited by the gates for our cousins to return from school. We hunted for frogs in the grass to while away our time. Bombay always makes me feel intrepid. Everything runs wild here. We’d been told not to play in the grass outside because we could get bitten. We were told not to wade through weeds. Not to crawl through bushes to pick wild flowers. Snakes, they said, or rats live there. Only mosquitoes attacked us, and they lived inside our houses. The mere thought of standing in knee-length grass felt exhilarating, because we were breaking the rules. And because only the rain could paint the leaves so green. The street had no curbs, like most streets here. Instead we have trenches about two feet wide along both sides and right against the outer walls of residence compounds, shop fronts—anywhere with roads. Because it rains so much, drainage is an absolute necessity. Hygiene and aesthetics evidently are not. The water collected is opaque—a grim, pearly grey. My sister cautiously edged up to one trench. “How deep are they?” she asked me, scrunching up her face, trying to ignore the smell. “I couldn’t tell you. The water’s never cleared up enough to see the bottom.” “You know, we learned at school that mosquito babies grow in pools of water. They hang upside down under the surface, and if you disturb the water, they fall down and die.” She threw a couple of pebbles into the ditch. “I bet there are baby mosquitoes in there. Look, see those bubbles. I’m going to kill them. Serves them right for biting me.” She threw in some more. I stared at her, bemused. She still hadn’t developed any immunity to mosquito bites.
Her arms and legs were covered in mountainous sores, and she had scabs over them from scratching. I knew how she felt. For a moment, I imagined her trying to disturb every pool of standing water in Bombay. I imagined the face she made now, one of controlled irritation, and thought of her walking determinedly through every street with a bag of pebbles slung over her shoulder. She’d make it. Give her a year and no sleep, and she’d have stirred up all the water in the city. And then she’d start all over again, because that’s how long it takes for anything to return to normal here. That week, I remember we walked some way along the same streets we’d traveled past earlier with our windows rolled up to block out the elements. This time, amidst the stifling exhaust fumes and the smell of rain and drainwater, we could smell corn cobs roasting on vending benches. That smell, the crackling of flames, seeing red-hot ash fly up off the cobs—it never grows old. You don’t get corn like that anywhere else, not even in my mom’s kitchen. It’s the sort of thing I lived for every summer, and I smiled at the vendors in appreciation. But when they tried asking me how many I wanted, I lurched. My mom bought us corn. I just watched. • • • Outside India, I invariably meet people who ask me where I’m from, whether I’m Indian. It’s a part of conversation, “Where are you from? Oh, really, I’ve been there once, wonderful food,” or “Oh, yes, I’ve heard it’s an excellent place for hiking.” “Beautiful country, isn’t it?” someone says every once in a while. I look at their beaming faces, expectant, waiting for confirmation. “Yes, yes, it is.” I smile, honestly. But I don’t know what beaten tourist trail you’ve taken, because it isn’t nearly all as pretty as you imagine. Of course I won’t tell you that because I don’t mean to be disagreeable and ruin everything they say in the tour guides for you. And of course you won’t bring up the subject of poverty, or grime, or neglect—all those things you’d find only in newspapers, things that I really don’t want to talk about because the shock has dulled off through repetition. “Will you ever go back there?” “Oh yes, someday.” Of course that’s the silliest resolution I’ve ever had. Sure, I’ve loved every summer I’ve spent there, but perhaps only because I’ve had my family with me. They’re immune to the city’s festering; they already know it would take a geological upheaval to cleanse the place. And I’ve always lived in that shelter, in that façade of believing that as long as we have running water and two cars, Bombay is still beautiful. • • • I don’t speak the language, and I’ve never lived the life that sixty percent of the citizens have lived. I couldn’t live it if I tried. I have nothing with which to relate to them. In their eyes, I don’t even look Indian in my jeans and sneakers. But Bombay’s still my home, India is home, if only for the fact that
some of my most vivid memories come from that place, especially because every time I go back I’ll be submerged once again in the unchanging intensity of life there. But some things should change. I want to be able to walk without rolling up my jeans to avoid the dirt. I don’t want to hold my breath. I don’t want to ignore the newspapers because all they’ll do is depress me. One day, after I’ve done all I need to satisfy my needs, I’ve promised to retire to Bombay, to do something, because I want to change all that. I’m not going to be selfgratifying though, and say I’m doing it out of charity, out of a belief that things can be better if I put my mind to it, that things should be made better because it’s the right thing to do. The real reason? I don’t want to face those needling eyes, to endure how those people can manipulate my sympathy, to sting because they don’t want my pity but my kind of life.
Dolores Moffat, Richard Careless, & The End Of The World My grandmother, Dolores Moffat, is seventy-nine years old and convinced that the world is going to end in one year. That she managed to survive for all these years despite the relentless threats of everyday life, like Salmonella poisoning or slipping on an overly polished floor, is an astonishing feat in itself. Dolores has always felt a certain foreboding, a sense that her time is drawing near, so when she shuffled out of her local grocery store a few years ago and saw the flyer on her windshield reading, “The world, as we know it, will end cataclysmically on December 21, 2012. How will you prepare?” she was comforted by the fact that everyone was doomed to go with her. One might gather from her stark white bowl-cut underscored by startlingly black and bushy eyebrows that my grandmother tends to hold divergent views from those around her. As an elder, she feels responsible for imparting the particular wisdom of her years to her grandchildren and our parents. So, once a month, Dolores will check in to make sure we’re well learned on whatever she feels to be critical information at any given moment. “Sylvia? Is that you? What a horrible connection.” “Hi, Gammie. How are you?” “I don’t know…” she sighs. “The end of the world is nearing.” “What?” “The end of the world is nearing, Sylvia.” “Oh, um.” “It’s happening. The earth shifts every 2600 years. Haven’t you learned about the Ice Age? How have you not learned about the Ice Age? I hope you at least know something about the Mayans, the most advanced ancient civilization. Their calendar ends in 2012. And then you have to think about Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami, earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, nineeleven…” “Nine-eleven wasn’t a natural disaster.” “It’s the disintegration of man and nature all building up to the end!” “Oh.” “When you go to college, focus on agriculture. Take survival classes. Do your friends know about this? Make sure they know. Tell your mother to buy a cow and chickens so you can produce your own food.” Phone calls like this make my grandmother feel she is doing her part. Dolores’s second husband is Richard Careless. Richard, a frail British man with a long face and a boyish, bunny-toothed grin, is fifteen years younger than my grandmother. Being of an awfully mild temperament himself,
Richard generally seems to respond to his wife’s unabashed nature with guilty delight. He will blush and chuckle at an unexpected, “My God, Richard, your nipples are showing!” But if Dolores yells from her pink armchair that “television stations should stop broadcasting fat people” because no one wants to see that—so that the neighbors taking a walk outside can hear her— Richard is silent, and the skin drooped over his jaw quivers slightly. Though purely speculation, I have often imagined that if one were to glance sideways through the slit of an open door and find Richard alone sitting in a chair, one might catch him in the most intimate of moments. The flesh of his fingers might stretch thin over his sharp white knuckles as he grips the arms of his chair; his mouth might twitch, and his sagging flesh might tremble around his thin white lips; his eyes might glint, wild and unfamiliar, as they stare straight ahead at the white wall; but then, Richard might snap his neck to the right, and whatever flame had surged through him might be quietly tucked away behind his soft disposition. While the holiday season is often the most frenzied and stimulating time of year for grandparents, it is the most peaceful and blissful time in the little blue house at the end of Lilac Street. At Christmastime the basement becomes Richard’s sanctuary. He glues green paper to the floor and sets up an intricate world of train tracks and tunnels, then sits contentedly on a stool in the corner, watching his train chug, chug, chug in figure eights, over Styrofoam hills, through plastic tubes, around, around, and around. While Richard is in the basement, Dolores is upstairs arranging a holiday village on the fireplace mantel, trimming the cotton ball snow if it extends beyond the marble, and arranging the tiny, happy people in some particular manner, perhaps by height, perhaps by hair color. Richard and Dolores share an intense desire to keep their home meticulously clean. In fact, every time I visit I cannot help but wonder where all their trash goes. Dolores becomes so anxious at the thought of germs that, when my mother was a child, my grandmother once held the cat to the floor and vacuumed its belly to keep it from shedding on the furniture. The cat may or may not have developed PTSD. More recently, my younger sister leaned against the living room wall in my grandmother’s house and, though Dolores had been very absorbed in her morning crossword puzzle just seconds before, her beady eyes darted up with reptilian speed beneath her menacing black brows, and she barked at my sister to move, she was getting the wall dirty. My sister moved, but she began to cry, for in Dolores’s voice there had been an alarming brusqueness, a near savagery, that one would never expect to reside in the cavernous depths beyond a grandmother’s pastel purple sweater. Richard shares his wife’s anxieties about hygiene and order, but his particular obsession is the garden. Richard and Dolores visit the nursery regularly and have the most abundant and colorful garden on the street. The last time I visited, I walked into the kitchen one afternoon to find Richard standing silently by the window overlooking this garden. I couldn’t see his face, but his fists were clenched and the back of his neck was deep crimson. The color burned slowly up his flesh, enflaming his ears and finally his entire head. Leaning forward slightly, I glimpsed the object of Richard’s rage. It was a rabbit. A rabbit, nibbling on Richard’s hydrangeas.
While emotions run high in the little blue house at the end of Lilac Street, I try to imagine the scrupulous routines of Dolores and Richard as they hide the trash and kill the germs lurking in their home. I try to imagine Dolores hunched over the kitchen sink, sponging the grime off each plate and polishing each to its purest state, only moving onto the next once she can see her own reflection in its shining surface. I try to imagine Richard on his hands and knees in earth, frantically digging hole after hole of varied depth and width, fit to each respective plant, only resting once he is sure that the roots can stretch as deeply as necessary for the plant to receive the nourishment it will need. I have found that after such considerations have been made, it becomes easier to sympathize with the rage bound to bubble up through the fissures of these existences, now and again.
The Promised Land it’s a wasteland out there, darling, a snow-covered wasteland, he tells me, pulling me closer, shielding me from it. aren’t you happier here, he says, where it’s dry and warm? but his hands are cold; i am thinking i’ll take my chances with the elements. he pulls the curtains, pulls my hair, it’s soft sheets and soft snow but we’re all sharp corners. we don’t fit & don’t flow but we keep forcing it, keep pretending if we try we’ll come easy like the snow in michigan, beautiful and painless, the way it is in normal years, anyway. and i overanalyze my undercooked theories about this relationship: success directly proportional to collective snowfall of the season. aren’t you glad you stayed, beautiful? he whispers, his hands now warm but my body is shaking because he’s got my heat along with my heart now, both won by sneak attack in the tangle of grey sheets and tanned legs. by night, the promises made against my back feel strong as ice. but in the morning, everything has melted.
Lloyd Hall Scholars Program Arts & Literary Journal 2011-2012
Here Be Dragons
Here Be Dragons
ÂŠ 2012 by The Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, University of Michigan
Here Be Dragons Editor-in-Chief
Alexander Weinstein Laura Goslin Aubree Sepler
Poetry Editors Abigail Orrick Jack Foster
Non-fiction Editor Jamie Monville
Mark Tucker Ruth Marsh
Administrative Services Tina Kokoris
Student Administrative Assistant Jackie Kauza
Carly Wilson Anna Chiang
Cover Design/Graphic Layout
Brandi Collins Caroline Distefano Jack Foster Katherine Goffeney Laura Goslin Sarah Levy Connie Ly Ashley Manci Jamie Monville Peyton Morris Abigail Orrick Mollie Pester Connie Qi Ariel Silverstein Gabrielle Valentic Sabrina Weeks-Brittan Julie Whinham Jackie Kauza
Art Makers Front/Back Covers: Alexander Weinstein and Breanna Hamm Here Be Dragons/Best Of Covers: Hannah Torres
Our mission is to create a student-run publication that showcases vibrant and engaging work produced in the LHSP community during the academic year. The LHSP Arts & Literary Journal is funded in part by a gift from Jeanne and Will M. Caldwell to the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The 50th Anniversary issue is also funded in part by the Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan. Special thanks go to Daniel Herwitz.
HANNAH TORRES JACKIE KAUZA
Foreward Here be Dragons. A phrase that decorated the corners and edges of ancient maps, demarcating the familiar and the unexplored. While this phrase still appears today, modern cartography and global positioning satellites have robbed it of its original connotation. As with geographical exploration, today’s artistic exploration risks abandoning the mystery beyond the horizon. In our post-postmodern world—where songs are remixed and movies remade—literature and art gravitate toward irony and familiar cycles rather than questing for the original, looking beyond those parts of the map already drawn. But art, and being an artist, is all about exploring parts unknown, unsailed seas, and uncharted lands. You don’t know what you will find or whether the creative quest will succeed. But then, being an artist is not about knowing what dragons you might face beyond the horizon; it is about daring to turn your sails to the wind and plunge into the unknown. That is exactly what the authors, poets, visual artists, and musicians of the University of Michigan’s Lloyd Hall Scholars Program do. They dare. They dare to leave LHSP’s port on expeditions off the edge of the map, where they encounter a diversity of dragons. The adventuring artists who persevere, and overcome the dragons of self-doubt and the wyrms of criticism, encounter a dragon of an entirely different breed—one wise and clever, coiled around a hoard of golden ideas waiting to be shared. Then they are free to sit beside the wise dragons, to talk and learn, to sift through the proof coins of inspiration before finally returning with their shining spoils: the stories, poems, essays, music, and artwork contained within these pages. Many thanks to all the artists who submitted work for the journal and to our hard-working editorial staff. Our student editors read all of LHSP’s past journals cover-to-cover to select works for the Best Of issue. They also read hundreds of pages each week to choose the pieces for our 2012 edition. We hope that these pieces give you a taste of what our artists found beyond the horizon and maybe even encourage you to venture there yourself. Because the best thing about the map of artistic exploration is that it’s an expanding universe with a perpetual edge. Just when you think you’ve reached its limits, you peer over the precipice of a flat earth to find an eternity of inspiration awaiting the arrival of motivated, passionate, and determined explorers. With pleasure, we offer you this journal, a map of the small stretch of eternity known as The Lloyd Hall Scholars Program.
This Was My Detroit
I lived my toddler years on Livernois in a red brick apartment that could occupy four families, but my family alone filled the place. It was always like a circus there. The apartment was a two-floor building, not counting the third, a common basement leading to a big parking lot, where we would play hopscotch and ride our bikes. There was a grass-filled field, where we played tag and imagined exploring in a jungle. On the second floor of the building, my mother’s brother, Uncle Alex, who always kept us entertained with his pranks and silly games, lived in an apartment with his girlfriend. Across from them were my father’s niece, Angie, and her daughter, Alyssa, my best friend at the time. We spent hours playing Barbie dolls and “mommies” all around the building. On the first floor lived my father’s brother, Uncle Don, who loved to cook and always had something to fill our bellies, especially popsicles. We lived across the hall, my parents, my three sisters, and I. All the apartments were generic; they all had the same set up. When you entered the front door, you walked into the yellow kitchen with its beige diamond floor design. Attached to it was a small room that was attached to the only bathroom, which had a black and white tile design. If you walked further through the house, you’d enter the cream-colored dining room, spacious with brown carpeting. I spent the earlier years of my life in this wonderful place filled with family and fun, running around carefree and having a good time. However, it all came to an end when my parents decided that we were outgrowing the apartment. Although I grew up in a safe environment among my parents, the community was unsafe and not one of unity. My block was slightly better than others in the area because we attempted to communicate, protect, and defend each other as our own little community. We had five neighbors. These were the people we relied on if ever we needed help or were in danger. To the left of us was the Galvan family: Rick and Penny with their three girls Jennifer, Jessica, and Julie. They lived in a petite white house, trimmed in pink and purple, rows of yellow daisies decorating the front yard. Next to their home stood two half-burned-down homes, one of which was their oldest daughter’s. To the right was the Ramirez family. Their house was made of brown brick and their porch a bright orange. In their yard they planted tomatoes, jalapeños, and green peppers, but along their picketed fence were the spray painted signs of gangs. Across the street to the right was the Gomez family. Their front yard was a small meadow; little shade trees and complementary bushes kept their bland white house from looking too bleak. However, they were the victims of a gang related drive-by. A bullet went through their son’s room almost piercing his head. Thus, the plants also served as a protective mechanism. Directly across from our house resided the Gonzalez family. They’d recently remodeled,
their house was now a caramel cream, and pots of purple pansies hung in the front yard. They’d been the victims of burglary on several occasions. Their house was invaded twice, and their garage, once. Lastly, to the left was the Tully family. They didn’t have a yard, just an old shack attached to their gray and black house. A couple of years ago, a drunk driver came up the street the wrong way and tore down their fence, smashing into their cars. This was my Detroit. Although we knew our neighbors and our block very well, my parents still didn’t trust my well-being in anyone but their own hands. They always said, “It’s not you that we don’t trust, it’s everyone else.” For this reason, I found myself confined to the big, white house I called home. With its small front yard, which the front porch consumed, there was always little room to play. As for the backyard, it was simply a field of patchy grass next to an easily accessible alleyway, so it wasn’t safe being out there. Besides, my parents never really wanted us out of their radar and I was too afraid to go, so I became one with my porch whenever I wanted fresh air. With all the limitations, I had no place to go, nothing to do, no place to play or imagine, no place to run carelessly. For a while, after we first moved in, all my little sister and I could do was play dolls in the bedrooms or the living room. Both were bland and dull, just rooms of four walls and doorways. While spacious, they weren’t big enough to roam. The furniture was in the way, and we had to be quiet all the time; we could be heard throughout the house. My sister and I needed an escape, somewhere we could run free and play all day without getting in trouble for being noisy, some place where our parents didn’t have to be afraid for our well-being. I cannot recall the when, where, what, why or how our curiosities overpowered our fears and brought us to this place, but it did. As we walked over the threshold and down the back hallway of our home, the floorboards creaked, and we froze. We continued, tiptoeing forward, and up the stairs to the dark attic. As we neared the top of the stairs, we peeked over the railing. It was a mystical place of terror—fear evoking—seeming as haunted as a cemetery, and we were there, frightened by the idea of it, but in awe of its cluttered spaciousness and gloomy happiness. It was a wonderland, the depth of the room our outer space. We adventured into the territory: the twinkling stars and the man on the moon, too afraid to explore as far as to encounter the life on Mars. The ceiling was the spacious skies, high as the mountains that the jagged tips of our castles reached. We didn’t want a prince to save us; we’d rather rescue ourselves, escaping the blazing flames of the dragon’s breath. And looking out, into the scenery of the outside world, the transparency keeping us from the cold relentlessness, we knew that inside this place of wonder, we were safe from the monsters and the depths of the unknown.
Plumbline oh, when I was young somewhere between the ages of too young to feel sadness and too old to acknowledge its power I wrote a poem about a hole that began, “I am slipping, falling down a deep, dark hole. No one can hear me and the sides are so slick I cannot climb back up.” it’s only years later I see my clairvoyancy there is something inside me that hangs, suspended, just below my diaphragm; a tiny lead weight on a black string—a plumbline. it doesn’t burn or sting, just hangs in the space between bits of muscle tissue. it is not Plath’s smothering bell jar not the dry, stifling nausea of madness. When I run my hand, fearfully, over my stomach I sense it—the deep, hopeless sorrow. somehow I became infested with this heavy little droplet of sad and when I skip, leap, dance, fly— I feel it anchoring me to the ground, pulling down (a gentle reminder) of my heart.
we are electric as one. pistons pumping the sweet smell the steam of coal. grinding gears, forging paths, metals, the human cosmos. we are cogs, forcing motion. it is a race, the flames of our conquering licking our blackened feet our ashes? Are certainty because we are the blessed children the fighting force we were born to shape the world.
and then I fear, I awake from these nightmares where the faceless cry “you are not enough of anything.” oh, Icarus child, don’t just throw yourself off the crow’s nest. don’t just swan dive off the hood of a tank. you’ll be crushed to death, trampledsplinters of white eggshells your fragile bones could be young and immortalwe forget we are trapped in temporary shells the world turns a little faster every day and the safest place to be is in the silent, terrifyingly calm eye of the hurricane. you may never leave the machine. you may NEVER leave the machine. “but” my lips whisper my heart pounding defiantly it doesn’t give a damn who hears it in the dead of night. but, when I fall from great heights
I donâ€™t burn myself alive to fuel the great fires. I simply unfurl and my words are the feathers that lift me toward the sun there is a possibility of something glorious under my skin and it is not heat, but sky, gentle and cool the gazing pool that douses any spark that turns to flame a possibility that I am art, that I have yet to become a miraculous possibility that I was created to be miraculous. we are the explosion, the flint and steel. we have destroyed everything that would get in our path because our smoke is divine, our fate written we are the trigger, the catalyst. the collision. we are powerful, the blessed creators, and we are not afraid to watch it all burn.
I. so apparently, when you’re drunk my hips are glorious. and maybe the sweetest thing your lips have said was that I should sleep furthest from your door so that if someone comes in in the middle of the night you would, well, protect me. and the rare times I make you actually laugh I like that feeling in my chest. so I picture my hipbones with the outlines of little angel wings carved into them. I picture a stranger in the night but not you rising to protect me, no— I rise to protect you, I get to be the knight. I the peach—hell, I the pear, the plum your naked Joan of Arc. I adore your hands on my ribcage the way you cup it and remark how tiny it is the way you trace your name on my stomach— not stealthily— because, let’s face it, I want your adoration I want you to dust off your pedestal and put me on it, because in a fleeting moment of honesty where you can see the web of veins under my transparent skin, I will admit: that’s where you are to me. II. I could have fallen in love with that look (the one when you opened the door and saw me standing there) your eyes wide like you didn’t expect me. eyebrows raised, I could see your desire to pick me up and kiss me all over and lay me down but I said hello and the moment broke.
play it safe? never do, not for me. I am thinking you practically proposed to me (even though you don’t remember it anyway) and I admit if you don’t tell a soul in my unresponsive silence, I was thinking about it. harmlessly, hypothetically foreplay with the thought, if you will— teasing, touching the idea of you and me. the more you are courageous, the more you let the ghost under your skin speak directly to mine the more you have me wrapped around your pinky finger. I am so afraid my wrapped self is merely fishing line, so thin and barely there and used to catch bigger, more important, real things. III. you are a man. and that would normally not be an issue except, no matter how hard I’m trying to prove the opposite, I am only a girl. I’m sorry, I’m trying so hard not to be. I’m trying to stretch myself to be a woman you can really dig your teeth into. a queen of hearts, a heartbreaker (no, that I am) a woman worth kissing who is not easily kissed. I want you to see me on the top of the stairs and say, “ah, yes, I remember you. you’re that lucky penny I found on the sidewalk when I was a boy.” all shiny and new. damned if Lincoln ain’t grinning. I want to be the only face you see in a crowd— I want to be the only thing you want for breakfast in the morning. forget the bacon, rediscover my body. perhaps I just want to win you over so I can gather up all the pieces of you and claim you’re mine, that I have conquered. but I don’t think so. why? because the person in power is the one who likes the other less— proof that I’ll always be losing.
The man-made structures that normally tower over the terrain on which they were built now begin to dissipate into a cartoon-like abyss. As I spring across the street,and ignore the angry truck horns provoked by my untimely crossing, I leave behind my allegiance as a resident of Bal Harbor Village and am fully ready to surrender to a different realm entirely. The small, ashy, dull bridge jutting out of the Bal Harbor building has been expecting me. It’s been a long day of miniscule nothingness and my thoughts are all tangled up. I steadily walk across this plank that merges my two worlds, to reach the untamed weeds that circle the entrance to the beach. I cautiously step around the prickly sand-spurs that have nibbled at my feet time and time again, trying to remain untouched just this once. Standing on my tippy-toes I can see a universe that belongs to me, over the rust-encrusted charcoal gate, and I prematurely stick out my hand as if to grab it. The air smells of earth and sky; I slowly inhale and then cross over. The outside world has left a thick layer of residue on my skin, similar to the dirt that cloaks your skin after a hike in the rain forests of the Amazon, a residue which only exposes itself as it seeps into the drain of the hotel shower some odd hours later. It is a heavenly view from where I stand. Dozens of seagulls line the boardwalk that runs parallel to me, and if it weren’t for their restless squawking I could mistake them for stalky bowling pins that have mysteriously been misplaced. The wind pokes at the ocean’s surface, generating a salty and sometimes fishy scent that stains the air and lingers in my nostrils—but I don’t mind. The sea is resting, as if longing for a break—it can get tiresome always being Miami’s most treasured possession. The sun has already faded into the lands of far away, leaving only a pale, crisp, icy blue mist to overshadow the paradise that is Bal Harbor Beach. Afternoon and evening are about to marry, and I am clutched right in the middle. I look beyond my own body to see that I am alone on this deserted island; the beachcombers have already cleared. I can feel my imagination tugging at me like a little child, begging to run free, and for me to run with it. I don’t know exactly where I run. Possibly everywhere. Everywhere that I cannot run in the real world, where labels aim to impede my progression, and stereotypes cave in on my potential liberation. I am not just Hispanic, or Jewish, or a troubled teenage girl. Here I am every part of me to every degree. I am not labeled, I just am. Here, when afternoon and evening are about to marry, and I am alone on this deserted island, I can think any evil thought and utter every unthinkable word. No one needs to acknowledge my kind deeds or admire my profound philosophies. I am a complete entity and nothing is omitted or pinpointed. I explore the unexplored; I explore myself. There are no regulations that aim to strip me of my less favorable qualities; I am still jealous and angry as much as I am genuine and loving. I flee to the eerie and animalistic depths of my mind only to escape to the passionate
and illuminated heights that coexist within it. Every part of my body works in unison to propel me, to allow me to travel the waves of my thoughts. As infinite as the ocean is, so too are the components that I am composed of. The ocean and I, we go on forever. If it weren’t for the reality that usually summons me I would live here, in this very spot, in the sand like the shells do. Or maybe I would inhabit the mammoth rock cluster that lives a few feet into the ocean, diagonally from where I stand. Their hard and crackled exterior gives off a convincing facade, although they lovingly father the fragile lives of loyal sea creatures. I have witnessed it myself. Every time I would run into the water, it would accept me as I am and make me feel sheepish for trying, even for a second, to be anyone but. No one has to feel ashamed here, no one has to lie about their jean size as they would to a friend, for here every secret is known but never told. This haven wears no cover-up under its sleep-deprived eyes and no coffee-colored bronzer on its milky skin; it wears nothing but every layer of its identity. When I am here I look out into the vast distance, and although it doesn’t answer back, something within me does. I release my thoughts into the water only to see them propelled back in my direction, shooting at me like a series of bullets fired from a Luger Pistol. My brain escapes my body. Each thought searches for a wave to ride or a fish to frighten, but here I fear not my thoughts escaping me, for they always come back, and in even better shape than when they left. As I wrestle the sand that attempts to pull me in, I recall a time when I was in this same place, around the same time, maybe about two years ago. Only this time I was not alone but in the company of a stranger—an older man—twenty-something feet away. He was tall—very, very tall. The pepperysilver tint in his hair gave me the impression that he was in his early fifties, about to approach that mid-life crisis age that calls for a candy-apple red Ferrari or signing up for Miss Maria’s salsa classes just down the road. From my angle, his face appeared worn, exhausted like baggy leather, and his thick black eyebrows drooped like they were trying to cover his eyes. He looked tired, tired of fighting the demands and expectations people had of him. He donned a jet-black suit and a black and white checkered tie accompanied by a simple white dress shirt peeking through underneath. The only sign of slight distinction was the chartreuse handkerchief that daringly sat in the upper-right corner pocket of his expensive ensemble. If I had to guess, he was a successful business man, maybe in real-estate, that had accumulated a massive tie collection; sophisticated suits were probably all he wore, and work was all he knew. As I stood there, blankly staring at the only other person on the infinite stretch of shore, he suddenly began to remove his layers, one after another. After a few minutes he was left wearing a deep, navy blue swim suit with some sort of insignia patch sewn on the bottom left corner. Without hesitation he flung himself into the floating turquoise blanket of iridescence that eagerly waited to breathe him in. He began to swim. Every synchronized stroke was propelled by the oceanic vibrations, softly pushing his body forward in smooth transition. His body moved militarily—every limb in perfect control. Control: he had all of it yet none of it at the same
time. He looked so liberated and comfortable in the water. The vast sea was at his mercy, its endlessness simultaneously becoming his, its infinite possibilities, his too. After maybe two hours he arose from the water, its salty residue glossing over his skin like shiny lacquer. He gathered up his clothes and bunched them together under his right arm, inhaled, headed for the boardwalk, and faded into the distance. He was no longer trapped. He was limitless. An abrupt gust of wind electrifies the sand, jolting it right below my knees, mimicking straggling popcorn kernels that have hastily decided to pop. I begin to shuffle forward steadily, using my toes to dissect the murky seaweed clusters and remnants of plastic water bottles that have permanently occupied the shore. I look to my left and to my right to see networks of cotton-white shell fractures generously sprinkled like snowflakes. I canâ€™t help but think now of the millions of trillions of shells that exist that I will never know. Of all the endless creatures and treasures and possibilities that such a haven contains. A sudden rush of frosty water pinches my toe. I have finally reached the waves of fragile glass. I am ready to go for a swim. The sea smiles at me, and I smile back. Where shall I swim to? Possibly everywhere.
The Royal Embassy Goes to Red Lobster Dear Tristan, All I can say is it was enchanting to meet you. I don’t say this very often. Actually, I’ve said it exactly once, to the President of the Legion of Superiors. And I’m not even certain that I meant it. I know it’s entirely too late, and this isn’t a letter, just too many jumbled words on hotel stationary, and not even stylish stationary, but I want to apologize. I don’t even know why I’m still thinking about it. It’s been over a month. I’ve recovered from worse in less. But you are still on my mind, even if it’s in the quiet part. It doesn’t help that I’m on break and have absolutely nothing to do until my next shift in twelve hours. Everything here is broken, like our place. No air conditioning, functioning TV screen, or foosball table. And no leaving the premises until our job is complete. No, I want to let you know what really happened that night. You were inebriated, and your account likely differs greatly from mine. I know you’re in no position to forgive me; I still want to recount the true events that happened in the Red Lobster Room. The grand opening of the new Red Lobster Room was stationed in Copley Place of Boston, Massachusetts. Originally, I’d been excited to attend when my uncle proffered a spare ticket, but I didn’t realize how slow it would be. I didn’t know 99 percent of the population, and there seemed to be a delay in the serving of the dinner, both of which were understandable, but dampening on my spirit. You don’t know this—we never got to talk much—but I’ve spent the better part of my life attending film premiere parties, and afterparties, and corporate banquets, and corporate banquet afterparties, and whiteout parties, and whiteout afterparties, and my parents’ agency parties, and their afterparties, et al. Those parties were entertaining; I’ll give you that. Especially when the champagne fountains and the delectable caviar come into play. They are as stimulating as everyone believes. They just get old after a while. The excitement doesn’t stop; it levels off. I always had difficulty with that. Asymptotes are too stagnant for me. However, I attended the grand opening believing that the Red Lobster Room would stray from the usual cocktail party. It was still the Red Lobster, after all, despite its new makeup and menu offerings and corporate funding. Most of the people I talked to were fairly friendly, but they gravitated, after a certain amount of time, to various spots in the room—the champagne fountain, the luxurious, imported preappetizers, the massive fog machine— while I was intrigued by the disco lobster, and the second batch of infamous Cheddar Bay Biscuits that were forthcoming, and the incredibly decadent white chocolate cake I could smell from the lobby. At the same time, I started to feel lightheaded and then I thought of why I hadn’t been able to eat for the
past thirteen hours and that made me think of what happened in London. It caused just the slightest tinge of sadness, and I didn’t want to sit down on the ruby leather couches anymore; they were just too red. So I wandered around a bit; I’ve been known to become lost for over 48 hours on account of wandering. They were setting up a tartar sauce fountain. That was tempting. They began with a foundation of chocolate, added an entire umbrella’s can of sodium, sprinkled in hints of cinnamon brown and white sugar, and finally aimed a sauce hose of gold into the pit. Edible glitter soon made a cameo, the finished product becoming a delectable physics phenomenon. How else could all of those dense items fit into the obviously flimsy paper fountain? I puzzled over this for a beat. My uncle, meanwhile, was officially MIA. Again. Even though we’d come together. I shouldn’t have believed him when he said this party wasn’t solely for publicity. But I digress. Sorry about that. Shortly after I marked the fountain’s location in my mental map, I entered the tunnel leading to the kitchen. You may remember this. You hadn’t started enjoying beverages until after Oliver, Denver, and Virginia joined us. Maybe it was despair. Maybe it was boredom, maybe disappointment due to the lack of organization at the party (we were supposed to have a white elephant gift exchange, if only the hosts had kept track of who had brought gifts instead of declaring an all-out finders-keepers game). Maybe it was pure hunger, despite the fact that I’d endured longer during the Shanghai field trip of 2006. Or it could have just been curiosity. It definitely was not apprehension, even though I saw you enter the dimmed kitchen as if you had something to hide. Whatever it was, something compelled me to draw closer to the room where you were. You looked as if you did not want to be interrupted, so I stood back, observing before making myself known. The first thing I noticed about you was your shoe selection. Outside the room, the soirée was bursting out of its confines, tonight being the night for unprecedented celebration. Per the invitation orders, ladies and gentlemen donned flashy, competitively ostentatious and obnoxious formal attire. All red, of course. Your shoes were rebelliously white. I respected that. As for the rest of you, your arms outstretched the length of the stove as you stared into the cooking pot imported from Australia. The tendons on your arms threatened to spontaneously combust upon impact, and a slight twitch existed in your right leg. I took note of your impeccable dirty blonde crop. It matched your borderline swelling emerald irises. There was nothing quite remarkable about this scenario, trust me, except for the split second vibration I felt inside as our eyes stumbled upon each other. I didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t a convention. This wasn’t one of Uncle’s speeches. And even if it were, I wouldn’t have been able to follow a script like this. So I stood quietly on the fringes of the historical, newly renovated doorway. I fought back my adverse reaction to the lonely lighting of one swinging bar. I sunk my ruby Pradas into the carpet. I found it strangely soft. For a second I almost believed we had made one another’s acquaintance
before. That we had arrived at the grand opening party together, and you had entered the room to retrieve a drink for me. Almost. “Are you here for a sample of the soup?” You spoke lightly. The sly simper suited you well, even more so than that classic black tie. “Are you impersonating a server?” I bit my lip and followed your playful tone. “Do I look like a waiter?” Your simper broke into a genuine albeit stealthy smile. After a pause, you let go of the ladle and turned to face me in a maneuver that both of us would soon regret. Or at least I would. I still don’t know about you. “Isn’t this section supposed to be reserved for the staff only?” I asked. “My father’s one of the associate chefs actually.” You brightened in such a way that made me appreciate your style, even if l wasn’t impressed by your words. “He couldn’t make the actual opening, so I’m taking over for him.” “So what happened to him?” I kept my tone steady. I didn’t buy your story—on the other hand, I didn’t want to offend you on the off chance it would prove true. That was perhaps the first time I’d ever had this concern toward someone. “He’s suffering an allergic reaction from crab meat. He didn’t know it was in the sauce he taste tested.” “That’s funny.” I took a step closer to you, which you reciprocated until we had slightly invaded personal radius without damaging the conversation. “The last I heard, crab meat was taken off the menu because of the recall.” We stared each other down for longer than a minute or so. “I was actually incredibly hungry,” you admitted sheepishly. “So am I,” I said. “What’s in the pot?” You opened your mouth then hesitated and shook your head. Up to this moment, the night was flawless. And the rest of the night was...near flawless. But of course... “Oh. I almost forgot,” you muttered. I watched in confusion as your head drooped to face the floor. I followed your glance to the pot. “Is that what I think it is?” That’s when we both registered the ruffles of grey bubbles foaming in the core. The salted rim that wasn’t a margarita. The unmistakable, sterile, floral, treacherous odor pervading the air. “Doily,” you said. “I’m sorry?” “The new Italian product,” you expanded. “Lilies and tuberose mixed in with just a hint of lime and alcohol—no, don’t.” You took hold of my arm before I could waft the scent toward my nose. “It’s not worth taking any chances. If it’s consumed, it’s automatically classified as deadly. Four of Sicily’s leading crime rings are in deep pursuit of this product because their current utilities for self protection aren’t strong enough for them.” You began to pace the breakfast island with the racing mentality of Otto von Bismarck. You spoke so well that, honestly, I would have chosen to spend the evening with you even if you didn’t wear that svelte simper. I was absolutely stunned. “How do you know all of this?”
“I’ve done a lot of reading, as well as the occasional trip to the Sicilian area,” you murmured. “So you’re really interested in this.” “Yeah. My uncle’s been on a case for the International Legion of Superiors in Sicily for four years. He’s only a warrant away from placing it on Legion watch.” Unwillingly and unknowingly, my pupils moistened and enlarged. I didn’t know why. That’s when we mutually decided to investigate the spiked cauldron. I don’t remember how it happened. Just a glance, a glint of the eyes, and we were off running to find the head chef. No more words were needed. As we passed through the main celebration room, I thought of something. “What’s your name?” My voice had become hoarse. You understood me anyways. By then, the Doily fumes had seeped out of the kitchen and forced, brief hushes were being exchanged across clandestine dining room pathways. The overhead crab-shaped lights and the disco lobster suffered a technological difficulty. A small gathering of people sprinted to toast beverages on the second floor balcony, but I managed to catch your response with great effort. You mouthed it fast, urgently, before accidentally colliding with me. Silently, I watched you curse the too-polished, too-expensive tiles. It was all so violent in the most beautiful way I’d ever seen. We soon caught up with the head chef, a man in his late twenties named Denver. We also ran into Oliver and Virginia, two of the Royal Embassy Joint Communications Committee members. It didn’t take much deduction between the five of us to realize that the biscuit batter, and therefore the biscuits, had been tainted before anyone could prevent the guests from devouring them. Security wasn’t immune because everyone had toasted biscuits directly after the serving of the beverages. After some makeshift clandestine inquisitioning, we reported back to the kitchen, where everyone had gravitated, despondent. “There’s no antidote,” Denver said sadly, perched on one of few neutrally colored barstools. Oliver and Virginia were playing mute checkers on the breakfast island. Oliver was winning. He looked too miserable to care. “How much time do we have?” Oliver spoke without removing his eyes from the checkerboard. You consulted your watch. “Two hours maximum. It could easily be ninety minutes.” Then you rambled on about how it depended on how many biscuits one had devoured in proportion to one’s weight, but I was through listening to semantics. I just wanted to take a nap and hope that some of the biscuits weren’t as strongly laced as others. As if in agreement, Oliver smeared his hand across his face in a massive groan, which led to massaging his dark Mt. Everest hair. “This is inefficient,” I heard you say. “I’m sorry?” Virginia asked. “You’re inefficient,” Oliver moaned. “We’re on a private piece of land. We’re isolated. By the time the paramedics come, we’ll be unable to be rescued.” He had now taken to building a hotel of cards. One by one, they fell onto Denver’s lap. Denver didn’t move.
That’s when you said, “We need to deduce who damaged the biscuits.” I think I remember asking if you felt alright. You said you were fine, despite the fact that you obviously weren’t. Your arms sagged beneath your waist, your eyes were bloodshot, your wrists swelled, and you couldn’t swallow very quickly. “Let’s enjoy some more champagne,” Virginia proposed. “No, you’re not supposed to do that; it will make the death more painful,” Oliver argued. That’s when you addressed everyone. “If we can form a cohesive story, we may have time to document it before anything else goes awry.” “What good would documenting do?” Denver took a break from caressing his Mickey Mouse forks. “It would serve as a warning for proceeding the Red Lobster Room grand openings and similar events,” you continued to fight. I think you even whipped out a map of the Red Lobster Room, blueprint style, but that could have just been the biscuits. “There’s a high probability that the culprit has already left; it doesn’t matter. No one initiates this sort of mass attack if they’re not part of a larger organization. We know they’re going to strike again if they don’t get what they want. It’s only a matter of time before the same group goes after the Community Aquarium Fishery & Cafe, or worse, our homes. They’re after us, or the restaurant entity, and, well, at least one of them can still be protected.” Virginia mentioned something about speculating over anyone who did not scarf a biscuit, to which Oliver countered that there were far too many guests to keep track, to which I responded that Oliver, Virginia, and myself had eaten several without any physical symptoms other than lightheadedness on my part. “Besides, don’t you want to know?” You looked at me with such earnestness; I couldn’t turn you down. I supposed I would want to know, too. You suggested we split up, which led to us and Oliver working to find other spiked foods or suspicious characters in the basement; Denver and Virginia searched the premises from the balcony down. We didn’t make it very far before Oliver began collecting coins from the ground. “What are you doing?” we asked in unison. “Look at this. Royal Embassy embossed.” A struggle, a dimmer atmosphere, and you and I found ourselves back in the kitchen. No, it was a different kitchen this time, slightly smaller, and fancier, with genuine ruby chandeliers and painted glass windows. We decided we’d received sufficient information about the biscuits for now. You stymied me when you asked for my hand, but played along. You wouldn’t remember this, but somehow we ended up performing our version of the tango at one half the normal speed across the room. The room was positioned directly under the lounge; we could hear every note of ”Stayin’ Alive.” Wonderstruck, I followed your lead across the miniature dance floor. The stereo cut after the third chorus, reminding us of the reality we couldn’t alter. “How many biscuits have you had?” you whispered as if you suspected. “Maybe five. Yourself?”
“I don’t think I’ve had more than nine.” A pause, then I saw your silhouette bridge the gap between us. “I like that watch you’re wearing.” You toyed with my diamond studded indigo accessory until your hand met my wrist. “I like that shirt you’re wearing.” I nudged one of your metallic crimson buttons. “Thank you,” you whispered back. It was almost the perfect rendezvous. Our heads bent ever so slightly toward each other in a combination of flirtation and sadness. Backdrop: Spare employees-only kitchen illuminated by small creme candles. Time: A little past nine. Mood: Somber. Attire: Formally ripped. Scene: Unscripted. Take: One. Tristan, this is the part of the story where I’m taking an intermission to tell you some of my comments about the next part. I should have known about the next part. I should have seen it coming without any excuse. I was sloppy that day. And apparently, so were you and everyone else. And I keep wishing you were at my door right now so that I could tell you in person how much that night meant to me, how it was so much more than my uncle’s idea for me to come, how differently my mind worked when it was with you. I wish I were back there, so I could take in all of the sparkling light sources again and find the courage to tell you all of this in person instead of in a letter penned on paper boasting greenery insignia. It looks like poison ivy. Back in the Red Lobster Room premises, we stood in front of the refrigerator, neither of us wanting to leave to meet Denver and the others. We’d already received his text informing us that no clues whatsoever had turned up. And it was approaching ninety minutes since you’d absorbed the laced carbohydrates. “Can I ask you a question?” You didn’t let me answer before stealing a cunning kiss. I nodded and broke away to retrieve a fallen fork. “What is it?” “How many biscuits have you really had?” “You go first.” You extracted a petite wooden spoon from your tuxedo jacket. “I lost count after twelve.” I thought about the question. “None.” I tried to ask you another question, but I looked at your face and you were clearly jaded, and that’s when the helicopters swarmed in together, and the piñatas were thrown down the stairs into our room, and we heard the first shot which escalated into a series of multiples, and The Slices of Glass crowned themselves the rulers of the Red Lobster Room by forcing the guests to abdicate their thrones. That was when my eyes found the cake in the corner. Denver’s. Wedding quality. Every layer sported its own frosting, its own hue, its own theme. The bottom layer was the floor of the ocean, a middle layer represented the United Nations Headquarters, and the very top layer, only a quarter of the way finished, was the Ritz Carlton. I didn’t have to say anything. I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to even look at you as the chandelier blew out and I left via the exit.
The spoon was supposed to be relocated to Denver’s jacket. I was sloppy. The best I could do was eat five decoy biscuits and fall into the worst ploy the agency could have set up for me. I’m sorry, Tristan. Immediately after the attack, I couldn’t sleep at all. It wasn’t uncommon for me to roam the halls of headquarters doing absolutely nothing except making breakfast food and reading about the International Legion of Superiors’ overseas operations. I don’t know how to end this letter that you will not read but will hopefully receive, except by releasing all of the words I held back as I was leaving entirely too soon. Every conversation we had that night made me want the Red Lobster Room to be the very first page in a novel all our own, instead of the stopping point of a cruel cliffhanger. I like to think you’re still alive, despite all evidence persuading me otherwise. And I couldn’t place my feelings for you until after the fact, after I had had time to absorb everything. I don’t know why I’m writing this. I don’t know your current location. I can’t even send this. I didn’t realize that until just now. In any case, I wanted to let you know the truth. No one else in the history of Red Lobster Room assignments from my agency has ever attempted to thwart a Cheddar Bay Island Storm. I wasn’t just impressed, I was enamored, something which no time frame will dilute. Sincerely, Munich
When I Think of Lincoln I think of old man Lincoln with a moustache-less beard, not little boy Lincoln reading by firelight on a stool with one foot stretched out for balance as he leans close, closer to the fire. Out West it can be hard to discern features, but you know
there is a path through the wild and those smudges of pink floating wisp-like over the trees and mountains, those are the fall leaves flying, leading you into another seasonâ€” spring I would like to think. Imagine an Indian chief. He is majestic and powerful. Alone on a ridge he can see for miles: unbroken.
The Hospital Park On autumn days I look out from my office window over industrial buildings. Smoke rises from towers This cold day the parents are out in the park mittens and bobbed hats, playing football, bundled up like their children would be on a Saturday during winter. The quarterback shuffles like the professionals drops back, shifting his weight that adds a touch, dramatic to his flare. He swivels his head left pump fakes and a man soars towards him in the air; the quarterback releases and is hit from behind. Itâ€™s as though the red and yellow leaves flying from the trees are a roar of celebration.
children slide under sleepy supervision of their mothers who fan softly the heat sun hats casting shade on their legs rocking crossed at the thighs and i stand in line between this makeshift diamond of dust where young boys throw curveballs and slide home. The woman behind the register hands me a dog and i scratch my beard, grumble about five dollars. it feels too long since i was on this diamond and dad says bend your knees. some motherâ€™s son clenches his fists at his sides, and i wonder again why i never had children. the dog burns the roof of my mouth and i curse, disturbing the tranquility of mothers.
How Long I cannot tell you how long I have lived in a garden in Paris. Long enough to see flowers bloom in red and white and yellow in a circle around a fountain. Long enough to get on my knees in the dirt and put my ear against the ground. My lips chapped because it is so cold窶馬othing good can last I suppose. I can hear the worm couple habitation below the soil. I want them to resemble you and me, both.
My head feels large on top and in the back, but my face feels normal, for what is normal. I want it to jiggle and wobble on my neck as if some gnarled finger is hitting my jawbone over and over. I am not the type who likes these sorts normal. When I was in prison they lifted my body upwards by chains around my wrists and the warden yelled, again again! My head hung limp on my neck but my feet danced the hurrah. Maybe prison is where I became sick. You know the doctorâ€™s table where the roll of paper is so cold on your nude body? They tell you to sit up, strike your knee and you jerk. They say, let us try this again.
He is Not the Type that gets drunk with wine and other men. his skin is not that smooth. there are no curls beneath his cap. he has a daughter and indeterminate baby. maybe he has a few friends that come over after work. and he drinks a tall glass of beer, just one, while his firend plays the fiddle and his homely wife reads aloud from the bible. his daughter tugs on his pant leg, saying, where have you been all day? i was so worried. trust me i was. when heâ€™s old and grey, heâ€™ll pinch his own cheek with one hand. he grinds his knuckle behind his ear when he does.
1 His fingers are yellow just from smoking cigarettes. Wreathed in thick mellow smoke he opens and lets me into his office with his hand on my hair. The smoke gets me coughing sand from the beach earlier with mom. Gazing out over you imagine land almost on the horizon. Vietnam. I pretend I’m in the jungle; my fists in the sand castles are like bombs my wrists coated in thick heavy watered sand. And now I’ve come full circle. There exists the need to return as if by command to my father sitting in the study. Aren’t these smoke rings just demands? I know how small I am— your hand on my sandy hair. 2 He said, it would give me what it would. 3 There was the dream again, reoccurring since my age then. A fallen tree bridged the two rock formations and long leaf bushes sprang up beneath its shade. The waters were clear and calm, rising but floating fishes with bulging eyes, fixed to stir, mouthed their silent entreaty: do something now. We are in pain. The water bubbled over the seat from between the stones it came and in two paths, split the neat land. I do not know how to help you. I gestured at the water, wild. Not flow, not so, too slow, not there we heard. I bent and beat my head twice, once more upon the grass.
4 Smoke rings floating. Smoke rings in my dark brown hair. Violent World is there anything to see? I am here and lingering, still draw breath. 5 They are grown men. Sit beside each other on the beach. Hold hands. Watch the tide. There is something to teach us, the wave, as it makes the gradual advance. A reach to pull back what is lost, take what it cannot have only for brief moment’s sake. A ragged blanket staves off the wind for the pair but his bones are stiff as the grave and the silver stubble hair offers little warmth. He will not return despite soothing fair stroking of his hard fought hands; gentle abrading care— slow circles the thumb around taut skin. Father and son rank the waves and the wind and sunny shallow sand bank. It’s past midday but you don’t mind.
The Table’s Not Big Enough for Three
She is embarrassing me again. My hands smother both of my cheeks as I pace the hallway of the newly renovated Dedham Country Day (DCD) middle school building. I quicken my steps as I pass the window that hardly mums my mother’s classic agitated and argumentative voice. Mr. Silvestri, the computer technician, appears annoyed, shocked, and almost amused, evident from the lopsided smirk creeping up one side of his ill-shaven face. I bet he’s never heard such a stubborn, one-sided argument. Parents at DCD do not argue. They do not raise their voices at their children’s teachers. They gossip in fast, elongated sentences behind the back of their hands, leaving no space for breath as their complaints stumble out of their mouths faster than their fellow gossip partner’s pearl-studded ears can decipher, and then straighten their backs and smile when Mrs. Valentine, the head of school, or Mrs. Tretter, the head of finance, waltzes by. Not my mom. She was furious because my middle school had just implemented a new regulation: every incoming sixth grader was granted a “free” iBook G4 laptop. (I use “free” as a relative term, considering our private school education cost $32, 350, the amount for which my cousins living in Ohio could attend a state college for four years of education while I sat in corduroys and an Abercrombie polo learning the basics of Algebra. This “free,” generous gift was simply added to our yearly tuition bill.) Leave it to my mother to view this new installment as another attempt for the school to negatively govern our lives, like forbidding us to eat peanut butter in the dining halls or wear dresses above our knees on a sweltering May afternoon. She stands in the computer lab, veins popping out of her neck, arguing at a soft-spoken Mr. Silvestri against her daughter receiving this computer that she had technically already paid for several months ago. My mother is a frugal woman, usually raiding stores for freebies and grabbing handfuls of free mints at the register at the Thai restaurant downtown. She wasn’t accepting the rise in our tuition bill with ease, especially after discovering the source of this increase: the laptop. I had never owned a laptop or registered for an email address, and Facebook had been created a mere year earlier, about twenty minutes away from where I stood. A wave of second hand embarrassment pigmented my cheeks red. Yet in retrospect, I think my mother could predict what this change meant for the future of my education. To make a long, loud, screechy story short, I did accept the laptop. The alternative outcome would have put me at an immediate disadvantage in every class. Or so it first seemed. What my mother foresaw on my first day of sixth grade were the implications surrounding immature, inexperienced, and untrained middle school students trying to effectively use a piece of technology with unlimited access, and to integrate its techniques into their learning styles. Not only would my
class of twenty-six students have to change the way our brains processed information, but we would also have to change our interactions with our teachers inside and outside the classroom. As it would unfold, the faculty’s experiment to incorporate technology into the classroom experience would change their personal relationships with their students. These relationships would transform from face-to-face into contact-to-contact through a third member—the computer screen—who would fail to transfer the same personal connection between student and teacher. Sixth grade was a miserable year for this new installment. Everybody knows that sixth graders have nothing figured out. We are all awkwardly hitting puberty, wear awkward outfits, and have awkward haircuts (I tried to cut my own side bangs and they looked like greasy French fries falling down the side of my forehead). We are smack dab in the middle of an adjustment period. What was my biggest struggle? Homework. I was used to watching three and a half hours of television every day (yes, I still watched PBS and fantasized about one day being on Zoom, run “by kids, for kids!” and, yes, I did audition for the show in sixth grade and did not pass stage one), and suddenly I had to incorporate five full subjects of homework. We have all heard of the excuse, “my dog ate my homework.” I do not own a dog. I am allergic to all dogs. This excuse would never work. Everybody at DCD knew everyone’s business because I had only twenty-six students in my entire grade. Mr. Pinola, my math teacher, Mr. Edie, my English teacher, and even Mr. Silvestri, all knew that I did not own a dog. Yet now, with the assistance of a laptop, finding excuses for unfinished homework became easy, so I could watch another hour of Dragon Tails. From a student’s perspective, laptops open an array of opportunities. From a teacher’s perspective, such as that of Professor Billie Hara, who teaches English at the University of Texas at Arlington, laptops open an array of access to foolproof lies. In a blog post concerning the assistance of technology in fibbing absent homework excuses, she lists some of the common excuses used by her desperate students. Some of them I had quickly expertized in my career as a slacking, underachieving, flirting-with-everyboy-who-sat-next-to-me-and-loving-the-attention-I-got-when-a-teacheryelled-at-me sixth grader. 1. The student’s computer crashed. 2. The student says he/she absolutely emailed it to you so you must have it (piece of crumb cake when command W means save to drafts and command E means send, “oh sorry, Mr. Edie, my finger slipped”). 3. The student can’t access the university email account and that’s where the document happens to be and he can’t remember the password or log-in information (piece of even crumbier cake when the DCD FirstClass email system, which is a type of email server that has instant messaging and other fancy features, is difficult to download on many computers). And, 4. The student’s home computer has Windows Vista (or XP or is a Mac) and is not compatible with the systems on campus, and she can’t print, access, email…). Professor Hara also describes two kinds of teachers. One group considers
these excuses academically dishonest, whereas others anticipate these problems and therefore incorporate policies regarding the insufficiency of technological mishaps as an excuse into their syllabus. The battle between teachers and students is not just about technology but also about how technology leads to a lack of trust inside and outside the classroom. Sure, a teacher can reprimand students in his or her syllabus so they understand the rules and expectations of the course. The teacher is therefore never pressured to make a deadline extension even for his or her favorite, A-level student. An innate sense of mutual trust is one of the most important qualities that I seek in a relationship with a teacher. At DCD, suddenly fifteen or so laptops were constantly open during class. Our teachers, perhaps subconsciously, began to roam the classroom while we were doing individual work, or say, “Eyes up here!” every few sentences like a broken track of Eiffel 65’s “Blue” but with even fewer lyrics. I remember on one of the first days of school, my Spanish teacher called me out for looking at something other than a Word document, but even after I had spun around my computer to prove her accusation false, she refused to accept that she had made a mistake. This interaction changed my view of her for the rest of the semester because we had laid the framework for our relationship on soggy ground. The physical presence of a laptop, not my behavior or performance in the class, would affect my grade and alter my attitude from the moment I stepped in the door of that classroom. Conversely, my high school politics and ethics teacher at Noble and Greenough School approached technology and her students in a completely different manner. For one, we were not allowed to take notes or have a laptop in class. She printed off her assignments so we always had a hard copy, and returned our papers with corrections made in blue pen (studies, she claimed, revealed that red pen deterred students from reading the comments because of its connotation implying that something is incorrect). Ms. Maldonado also was one of the only teachers in my high school who did not require us to submit our papers online to a website that scans for plagiarism. I had a few friends during my sophomore year who were suspended for plagiarism because seven percent of their papers technically matched sources from the Internet, even though they did not plagiarize in the conventional, “copy and paste from Wikipedia” way. This online plagiarism site is a flawed system at times, and Ms. Maldonado chose not to use it. Ms. Maldonado trusted we would uphold the school’s standards of academic integrity. After she placed this responsibility solely on our morality, I have never been less inclined to take shortcuts to complete my work. I, along with the other students with whom I discussed this teaching approach, wanted to reach our potential in order to “give back” our part in this symbiotic relationship. We wanted to reach a high achievement level because our teacher had faith in us, and we wanted to prove our integrity. Ms. Maldonado had scared me since the day I met her. She was the head of the Disciplinary Committee, always had students coming to visit her office, and when she sat at the proctor desk in the library, it was so silent you felt uncomfortable unzipping your backpack. Yet on the first day of class, I didn’t even think about opening my backpack. We didn’t take notes. We
didn’t open a textbook or write an assignment. We did not even sit at tables. We took our chairs and formed a circle in front of the tables and discussed, without any background information, the topic of illegal immigration. The forty-five minutes whizzed by. We fed off each other’s ideas, and Ms. Maldonado rebounded our insights, provided commentary, and maintained a neutral opinion. Engagement. It was something we could not, would not, have experienced with laptops in front of our faces. We respected each other’s intellect and looked each other in the eyes when we addressed a previous comment. That same year, I took an English class about American Literature with Mr. Raymond. Mr. Raymond’s appearance embodied the old school. He attended Noble when it was an all-male student body, rowed at Harvard for four years as an undergraduate, and then later rowed at Oxford and in the Olympic games. He served in the military and still wore a tie and jacket to class every day. I figured he would be the type of teacher to print papers and return them with handwritten notes in the margins, probably scrawled in some script that would be impossible to decipher. He was the opposite. He never printed or used a piece of paper in his class the entire year (perhaps due to the fact that he was also an avid environmentalist). When we submitted papers of any length, which occurred a whopping twice a week, they were returned over email as well. He used a program called track changes, which corrects papers directly on a Word document using red text and red bubbles in the margins. On one hand, this program enabled Mr. Raymond and I to send each other multiple drafts of one paper with corrected feedback back and forth quickly; we did not need to find overlapping free time in our busy schedules. On the other hand, we hardly ever met in person. If we had met outside of class, which was the prototype for every other English class I had taken at Noble, we could have had thorough discussions. We could have bonded on a personal and academic level. We could have resolved misunderstandings and vagueness in my analysis rather than wasting multiple exchanges over email to reach that level of understanding. These emailed copies of paper corrections were efficient but also impersonal and misused. The dichotomy of the track changes setting was that it was efficient but created an aloof relationship between Mr. Raymond and me. Ms. Maldonado wanted our brains, and our brains only, to engage in a collective intellectual conversation. She wasn’t anti-technology. In fact, she was up-to-date on the latest trends, which many adults attempt nowadays, like my mother and her New Year’s resolution to learn how to use Facebook, but she currently has seven friends. With a laptop in front of me, my brain becomes separated from my peers’ and my ideas become stagnant rather than affixed. Mr. Raymond, however, was unable to achieve this same goal of engagement because he overused email. When I entered sixth grade, my entire middle school was put on the same email site called FirstClass. There was a live list of students and faculty members who were currently online. I had never interacted with certain teachers or students, yet I felt as if I knew them personally because I saw their names listed on the online list that popped up in the corner of my screen when I logged onto the email server. I knew that Rachel Shay usually stayed
up past one in the morning, and that Brooke Phinney lived on FirstClass, even during class. Our teachers’ encouraged us to email or instant message them if we had questions throughout the night. Over email, teacher’s ages were stripped from their identity. I usually instant message my friends from the luxury of my bed before falling asleep, talking in a casual tone and using abbreviations. Now my teachers were in this same forum, but their status demanded more respect. • • •
Last summer, my mother convinced me to finally acknowledge the fact that I had summer reading after two months of lying on my lawn chair in the back yard, jamming out to Rascal Flatts, and breaching one step closer to skin cancer or dooming my forty-year-old self to a face of wrinkles. The article was called “Mind vs. Machine” and had a rather nauseating picture of a ghostly, translucent human with a glowing blue brain inside his bald head. Who was I kidding? There was no chance in hell I was finishing this. Yet I did. In one sitting. In 2009, Brian Christian participated in the Turing Test in Brighton, England. Its purpose: to convince “a psychologist, a linguist, a computer scientist, and the host of a popular British technology show” that he is more “human” than an AI computer program through a series of instant messaging conversations with a human judge. There were certain questions or statements that the judges could ask to prompt an “abnormal” human response and expose the AI program. There were also certain responses that the confederates (the contestants, Brian Christian among them, who are competing against the computers for the judges’ votes) can elicit to prove their humanness. One of the first winners, Charles Platt in 1994, won the Most Human Human award, “by ‘being moody, irritable, and obnoxious.’” He portrayed emotions that were impossible to script onto a computer program. Since 1994, the AI computers have evolved and become more complex and humanlike. The same strategy still applies, though. Fifteen years later, Christian took the test with an adaptation of that tactic formulated in his adaptive, very human mind. He had five minutes. Five minutes to make the “human connection” happen. Avoid stiff, grilling, forced conversation. Be careful with coyness, which is a “double-edged sword. You show a sense of humor, but you jam the cogs of the conversation.” Do not waste precious time. “Make as much engagement happen” in those five minutes as possible. Christian tried to give the unexpected, unpredictable response. (“I went out of my way to embody that maxim of ‘A bore is a man who, being asked “How are you?” starts telling you how he is.’”) Before his one-on-one session with the judge commenced, he sauntered around the testing floor, trying to appear nonchalant. He sneaked a peak at examples of the boring man. A nearby confederate was engaged in a conversation with a judge that Christian described as staccato: Judge: Are you from Brighton? Confederate: No, from the US. Judge: What are you doing in Brighton? Confederate: On business.
Judge: How did you get involved with the competition? Confederate: I answered an e-mail. Christian smiled confidently. He knew that his competitor, this confederate, was in trouble. Most likely, the judge would think that he was a computer because these stale responses showed no particular range of emotion. Christian used this conversation as an example of what not to do, and consequently won The Most Human Human Award that year. His triumph manifested itself in a notion of sensitivity. He says, “These Turing Test programs that hold forth may produce interesting output, but they’re rigid and inflexible. They are, in other words, insensitive—occasionally fascinating talkers that cannot listen.” Technology cannot yet replicate some innate human reactions and emotions. Screens cannot yet convey human emotion exactly as it is intended. Even the confederate with the staccato conversation, a real, living, breathing, typing-with-ten-fingers human could not convey emotion over this medium. I have personally misunderstood emotion in emails, particularly regarding schoolwork between my teachers and me. Email’s merit is its ability to expedite the task of communication. People have learned to use email like they use informal text messages, typing abbreviations, incomplete sentences, and incorrect grammar and punctuation. This becomes a problem because the computer equalizes age. It strips personal characteristics and attaches an identity to an email address, a few black letters strung together in a “to” box. There have been many occasions, particularly in high school, when I have forgotten to use formal etiquette when emailing my teachers. Similarly, I know that there have been times when teachers have forgotten that students ruminate on every single word in an email. • • • Mrs. Guy essentially oils the leaky gears in the hidden framework of Noble, more so than even our head of school or the provost. No one exactly knows her official title, but she knows everything about everyone. Gossip reaches her ears before it spreads between friends. Her general reputation is as an understanding mother who treats students like the children she never had; while at the same time, she holds the power to suspend and expel kids at her own discretion without sending them through the strenuous process of the disciplinary committee. After my best friend’s dad died this past fall, I had a breakdown during a math test (I had answered about half of the questions when the fake church bells rang to signal the end of class). It took all of three minutes, I approximate, for Mrs. Guy to hear of the incident. Before the next period, I checked FirstClass (everyone checked it at least twenty times a day, perhaps more often than Facebook). I had an email from Mrs. Guy. We had never had previous contact. It read, “Come see me in my office when you get the chance.” That was it. No, “Hello Mariah!” or “From, Mrs. Guy” or “Hope to see you soon!” or even “—Mrs. Guy.” No subject line, no formal greeting or small talk. It was a “cut to the chase” email with no implication of what the “chase” encompassed. I did not have a free period until the end of the day, so for the
next few hours, I sat in class psyching myself out, wondering about all the things I could have done wrong. Did I plagiarize part of my history paper because I did not know how to cite the textbook? It turned out that she just wanted to make sure I was surviving in the aftermath of the tragedy. She wanted me to know that I could come to her at any moment if I needed to cry or talk or even if I felt overwhelmed in class and needed an excuse to leave. Her email had intended to sound casual; however, to my uneasy and paranoid senior fall, crunch-time mind, it sounded threatening and urgent. Based on her email’s construction and lack of etiquette, I spent four hours worrying about the potential downfall of my future instead of reassured that Mrs. Guy was that understanding woman who others boasted about. Mrs. Guy exhibited the defect of email. Email and the presence of laptops in the classroom transform the personal tinge of education—interaction between students and their teachers—into an impersonal slate. Email asks one partner to first perceive, then interpret and analyze both the content and tone without any feedback from the sender during that process. Students are required to know what their teachers are implying, and vice versa, yet isn’t expectation unfair? Human brains are naturally prone to understanding emotion through face-on-face contact. Laptops challenge students to navigate communication with peers and teachers around these all-consuming distractions blocking their faces. Technology has not asked students to change the way in which we learn; it has, in fact, asked our brains to learn in an entirely new way, a way that has the same expectations as before but is now void of personal interaction. Intentions between students and their teachers and engagement between peers in the classroom are lost while technology, a third medium, generates new expectations.
Rain makes a mockery of men, how it plummets down, descending from the very place we pray weâ€™ll get to. Yet these suicidal drops come here to Earth and to dust, dying in a cascade that some say was made for us, but maybe, just maybe martyrs at heart, they plunge not for anything but the thought that life may continue.
Youâ€™re lovely in the dark In bleakness, brighter smiles I know those slender hips The way you move I have calculated Recorded the angles of your Limbs and tresses in Your hair. Quite unfair to anyone, how much I know. No one else stands a chance. I can find you in the dark. I see you in the dark Enough to know You donâ€™t look back.
I Stopped Waiting I was a gift to you Might as well have been the Embodiment of love Because I was empty Deliciously so. Coulda been anything Dark sinful pages, or light Stories rearranging the pathways The effort to lift a hand And touch the surface Was too much for you. We could’ve eaten mountains danced with rivers I didn’t see it when I was new. But now my pages Are filled with dust Rather than bold phrases Laughing lines, and Promises I wouldn’t have held you to.
Silent Intensity Wrong minds scrape all the time pretending not to care about presses. How I wish you looked at me. I may not have long tresses of hair or dare to whip my body across the dance floor, but I propose you glance at my eggshell face and determine whether I might be glorious.
You find deliverance in the solitude my body claims is a mere pittance of adequate nourishment. You donâ€™t walk in straight lines, yet your manner is not flippant or trite. Your soft smile waves gently like a banner capturing attention, purely by accident, as it is only your nature to exist. What some may consider demure and chaste explodes in the streetlights, dusk settling into the limbs of you, night drinking the meddling warmth, icing your vision until only shadows rise from your mind. I tried to be a shadow once but was lost in the fog.
From One Mouth to Another They are so dry and cracked. I half expect the blood to drip out and I’m certain you would lick your crimson lips without a second thought. Do you pray with those? It seems like only muted murmurings would be able to escape, because if you opened too wide, there would be no going back: a waterfall of sickly drops. The unwilling offering is a sacrament nonetheless; it must be, otherwise I surely would have been burnt on that mountain in that promising pyre made from my mind’s lack of precision. It’s evident someone offered you chapstick and you refused. I can see it in the way your fingers trace the upturned skin. So surely the moisture deficiency must be related to stupidity. Everything about you relates back to your bereaved normality. So I wonder as I sit desert mouth engaged… Do I look like that too?
The Last Attack
Walking around the lake in the early hours of the day was one of their favorite activities together and had been since they met. It lay in the middle of a forest preserve, and as dawn was breaking, all the animals slowly came out into the world again. Across the lake they could see a family of deer drinking at the edge; a swan cut through the mist. They walked, hand in hand, until they came to their place: the waterfall. It was man-made, but the calming flow over the rocks added to the quiet and the weeping willow shading the area gave the scene a natural feeling. They had placed a bench on the island themselves, in the middle of the body of water that fed into this waterfall. Although the weeds had overgrown the bench, they still removed their sandals, crossed the two foot distance of shallow water, and sat next to one another surrounded by weeds and peace. They didn’t need to talk anymore; they were enjoying each other’s silence. Years together did that. Their peace was disturbed by a rustling in the bushes to the left, and a little mallard duck emerged, followed by a pretty lady duck. The ducks were plentiful here, and had become accustomed to people walking around the lake. They waddled into the water surrounding the island, making sure not to get swept down the waterfall. They began to swim in opposite directions, almost as if they were circling the couple. Funny, the man and woman thought, ducks didn’t usually venture that far apart from one another when people were around. Soon they realized the circling was no coincidence. The male began to make a terrible screeching noise that would haunt grown men in their darkest dreams. The female joined in, at an even more piercing pitch. The couple clasped their hands over their ears, wondering what had set off this terrible siege of noise. Then the others came. Ducks rushed from bushes and trees in droves; male, female, teenage ducks with patches of down still connected. They headed towards the couple. They didn’t take their time; they waddled with every ounce of energy in them, determined to get to the man and woman before they could escape. Soon, the ducks took up every inch of water surrounding the island. The couple climbed up on the bench, clinging to each other. What could these birds have against them? The ducks surged towards the bench, on land now, and jumped onto the bench. A sea of ducks covered all the ground beneath them, and the man and woman clung to each other as the final airborne attack knocked them into the pit of hungry birds.
“Who are you?” demanded the SS officer. “Kreit-en-berg” responded the frail man lying on the sidewalk. “Is that German?” “Yes, sir.” That was in 1945, Nazi Germany. My grandfather, whom I call “Zeidy,” was eighteen years old, sick as a dog, waiting for his death. Back in his hometown of Tache, Czechoslovakia, Jews were deprived of legitimate marriages recognized by the government. All Jewish children were considered to be bastard children. Therefore, my Zeidy and his siblings were always identified by their mother’s last name, Yankelovitz, instead of their father’s last name, Kreitenberg. However, in a split second, when faced with the option of calling himself by his legal Yiddish name, or his father’s German name, my zeidy chose to go with the latter. For a second, he abandoned his true identity, but in the long-run, it saved his life. The soldier repositioned the gun that was originally pointed directly at my Zeidy’s face, and tucked it into his belt. He walked away. My Zeidy was liberated just a few hours later. Who is my grandfather? What is the name written on his birth certificate? Where are his parents? His siblings? His hometown? My Zeidy was born as Mendel Yankelovitz in 1927 to a Jewish family in Tache, Czechoslovakia. In 1944, my Zeidy was sixteen years old when his town was taken over by the Nazis. He was first transported to the Tache ghetto, then to Birkenau, and then to Auschwitz, until finally the war was over and he was liberated by the U.S. troops in January, 1945. A youth program in 1947 brought young victims of the Second World War to America to help them start afresh. My Zeidy, at the time was twenty: two years over the age limit of the program. Because of this he abandoned any piece of evidence that revealed his true age. He created a newer, younger identity of himself. He changed his name, changed his birth date, and flew to New York. Who is my grandfather? Is he 84 or 85? When is his real birthday? Where is his identity? A10193. The one and only thing that still remains with my Zeidy. This number is as emotionally engrained into his mind as it is physically engraved into his arm. A number—just an insignificant, dehumanizing number—took over his name, his age, his identity. Sixty-five years later, and it is 2012. Zeidy now goes by Mike Kreitenberg, and lives in Calabasas, California, alone. He has three sons and six grandchildren whom he doesn’t remember. He recognizes names but not faces. He memorizes prayers but not synagogues. He eats but doesn’t know why. He knows the holidays but can’t recall which day of the week it is. A sad life struck by Alzheimer’s is now slowly coming to an end, and we don’t even know which birth date to put on his gravestone. Was he born in April or was he born in September? Is his last name Kreitenberg or Yankelovitz? He doesn’t tell stories anymore from his childhood, or from the war. He doesn’t
remember who he used to be or even who he is now. But I remember him, and I pass down his stories. I am named after his sister, and in that way I am his family. I hold Judaism close to my heart, and in that way I am his culture. I went to Poland and marched through the concentration camps, and in that way I am his strength. I live a free life in America, and in that way I am his dream. I am here. He is lost.
Six hours is what it usually took us to get over our fights, as petty or critical as they were. It seemed as if once our internal timers raced from one minute to six hours it was time that we have another dose of each other. And so the texting would start up again, ignoring that we’d ever fought. Like junkies shooting up, we rushed back to the comfort of our conversations, getting our fix, disregarding our pride. But this time was different. I had two and a half weeks free after graduation and I chose to visit family in Texas. Summer term at University of Michigan was right around the corner and I would start sooner than later. Of course, two and a half weeks for us was an insufferable eternity. Even though all we talked about was nonsense, as best friends tend to do. The whole time I was in Texas, what I kept replaying in my head was the conversation we had at the swings at Clark Park the day before I left. “Our kids are gonna get picked on ‘cause of you, you know that?” you said, picking up a piece of woodchip from under your feet and throwing it at my face. “Hell no, they aren’t. Our kids are gonna be smart and gorgeous, just like me.” I swung back and forth, kicking the woodchips underneath my feet. “Don’t forget they’re gonna have their daddy’s swag though.” “Doesn’t your girl care that you’re planning a family with another woman? I feel like that might be something you’d need to bring up in conversation sometime, in the least awkward way, if that’s possible.” I honestly don’t know why you ever asked her out. You’d just graduated and you decided to ask a sophomore out. But I didn’t ask you why you settled for fugly girls anymore because you always said the same thing: “I’ve been asking you out since the 7th grade. If you want me to have a dime-piece kind of girl, just say yes already.” “I haven’t even told you what she did yet, have I?” You crunched your lips and shook your head; I could tell you were holding back from calling her something I’d slap you for saying. “What’d she do, dawg?” “Cesar told me yesterday she saw her making out with her ex at the movies. Can you believe that shit?” “And you’re still with her, you idiot?” I dug my heels into the woodchips to stop my swinging. “You’re still with that no life, Edgar? When has he ever brought you stolen flowers?” He paused, then answered his own question, “Exactly.” “I’m just saying. She’s pretty fugly and she’s cheating on you.” “Lia, if I really cared about her, I would have called you right when I heard about it, crying. But I didn’t. Besides, I asked you out in the 7th grade, 9th grade, twice in 10th grade, and again in 11th. Did you ever say yes? No. So don’t complain about me not having the girl I deserve, stupid.”
“I love you, Ramon,” I said, blowing you a kiss in hopes of a truce. Those lines kept repeating themselves over and over in my head those two and a half weeks that I was away. Why was I with that loser? Why were you with that slut girlfriend of yours? Why did we goof around flirtatiously so much? Maybe if we didn’t, I wouldn’t have started having new bubbly feelings for you during those two and a half weeks. Maybe I just missed you. Whatever it was, I was in a rush to get off the plane, to slap some makeup on my face, and make my way to your driveway so that we would be back to having those nonsensical fights that our friends deemed us notorious for, the same ones we would entertain them with later at Cesar’s party. I rushed to present you with the souvenir shot glass that I paid too much money for. To be quite honest, I just bought that shot glass because you wouldn’t shut up about me never getting you anything. But, I will admit, when it came to presents, I owed you big time for making my day on Valentine’s Day. When Edgar decided to be a jerk and dump me days before the 14th and I sat alone at home, you surprised me with flowers freshly stolen from your next door neighbor. So I made sure I presented you with my gift the same way you would. “Guess what I brought you, my love?” I asked as you plopped into the passenger seat of my ’97 Ford Explorer. You always made fun of me for driving that rusted-up bucket, or so you liked to call it. “What’d you bring me, mi amor?” you said, winking, probably hoping this time I’d take our flirting seriously. I whipped out the shot glass from behind my back in a motion that said, “Ta da!” I made sure I did it the same way you had, all those times you surprised me with whatever flowers you decided to steal for me that day. “You love it?” I asked. I remember thinking, Of course you do. You’d have loved a used diaper if my hands had touched it. “I love it,” you assured. “Good thing we get to break it in at Cesar’s tonight, dawg.” We arrived at the makeshift outdoor club scene set up in the backyard. The patchy green grass sat under the plastic tables where the clans of monthold high school graduates were to sit and eat before the underage drinking would commence. After we all had enough free barbeque food to fill our empty stomaches, we watched as our friends set up the beer pong table so that we could start to drink the night away. “Ramon was a mess without you, Lia,” said Cesar as he threw the beer pong ball to the premature alcoholics. “You need to get him to dump that slut girlfriend of his.” “Yeah, I heard about her. But, hey, Ramon likes what he likes,” I said, waiting for Ramon to reply, knowing whatever he said would be meant to flatter me and only me, even if we were talking about his very own girlfriend. “If that were the case, I wouldn’t be so in love with you, Lia.” “Whose ass are you pulling these lines out of?” I said, half laughing, “Cause not even Google can spit so many pick-up lines, dude.” To our dismay, the supply of beer was nearly drained before we joined in the fun. So we waited for a buzz that never came but I wish did. Eventually, everyone started to leave, you among them, but, before you
did, you pulled me aside and asked me what I was hoping you wouldn’t. “You know what would be really good right now, especially after not seeing you for a month?” “It was two weeks, idiot.” “A kiss,” he said, ignoring my sarcasm completely. I stood there, dumbfounded, thinking that I should have just accepted our friendship and not let our whims of being with each other seep through our flirtatious jokes. Everyone knows that you can go from friendship to love but not from love to just friendship. I swear I did want to. But instead, I deemed our friendship too valuable to sacrifice to the malevolence of love, and I denied you the kiss we both wanted and instead grazed your cheek with a petty peck. “No, stupid. A real kiss.” “Ramon, I can’t. You have a girlfriend, remember? And I have Edgar.” Our friendship then met awkward silence for the first time. “You can’t,” you said, squinting your eyes the way you do every time you get really pissed off. “You really can’t?” “It’s not that I don’t want to—” “After six years, you can’t.” “I love you, Ramon.” “That doesn’t work every time, Lia. Show me you do. Don’t just say ‘I love you.’ Show me.” I resorted to silence, my heart beating so loud I couldn’t possibly be able to talk over it. “What?” you asked, breaking the silence. “That boyfriend of yours taught you how to say I love you so many times without actually meaning it? He doesn’t love you. And you don’t love me.” “Bye, Lia” were the words you left me with as you turned and got into the car with Sergio. Your Facebook update that night was, “Fuck love. Out with my boy Sergio for the rest of the night.” I wish I was buzzed enough to kiss you without a second guess, but my judgment was all but impaired, so when you asked me for a kiss, I thought of the potential demise of our six-year long friendship before I thought about what I really wanted. But then again, I wish I was drunk, so that I’d have the courage to call you, screaming, asking you where the hell you were going to be for the rest of the night, and what slut girls Sergio was taking you with to console you. That fight didn’t last six hours. I counted. I decided that I’d let you come around and so I waited. I waited and waited, and as I did, my pride inflated as I kept telling myself that this was the stupidest reason to stay mad at a person, so I waited. That night, I slept over at Nallely’s house, hoping you’d call me drunk, apologizing for being such a jerk. Eventually, I fell asleep, phone in hand. Throughout the night, I heard the buzzing of my cell phone flooded with text messages in between half-awake, half-asleep trances but didn’t care to check them. You had your chance to call me while I was still awake. But, when I awoke, I saw that it wasn’t you who bombarded my cell phone with notifications.
I heard about what happened over on Scotten. Nallely was on the phone with Cesar, talking about your typical car accident story: teens in a Lincoln Navigator, racing, driver lost control, truck flips over, somebody died. Some guy came out of nowhere, you know, SUV’s flip real easy, they tried to get him out, it was no one’s fault. Nothing I cared too much about until I woke up and found out who was in the truck. “Lia…Lia,” Nallely whispered as she shook me awake. I groaned and gave in to Nallely’s shaking. I felt around the bed in search of my phone, as I did every morning. I got text message after text message saying the same thing. “I’m so sorry for your loss; I know you guys were best friends. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling.” Blah blah. If they had such genuine concern, they’d enable the first stage of grief by just shutting up about it. But, hey, at least they knew who to direct their condolences to: me, and not that girlfriend of yours. I need to talk to you. There is so much that I want to tell you. First, that you weren’t lying to me when you told me all those times that nothing would make your dad happier than seeing you married to me. I saved the last good-bye hug for him, wrapping my arms around his neck as I did to you so many times, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was, “Usted iba ser mi suegro.” You were going to be my father-in-law. He was in on the inside joke of our fake engagement. I know he still remembers all those times we would watch T.V. in your living room until we’d fall asleep on the couch together. He was so used to us doing that, that he didn’t even scold us when he found you had rescued me that one time, remember? Remember that night? Out of those six years, that’s the one memory that my mind tortures me with, through an ever-present playback. It was the night after you had to come rescue me from my house, after I called you, shrieking in terror, swearing that I had just heard gunshots going off in the backyard and both my parents were at work. You calmed me down with your jokes and flirting, then we went back to your house where we would share even more inside. There I lay, in the fortress of your lap, hushed to sleep by Chowder’s cartoon antics. And your dad let me sleep over, as if I was just another one of the guys. But like half of southwest Detroit, he really did expect us to get married. I showed your dad the picture of us at prom, your hand holding my waist tight as if you knew you would never get the chance to be that close to me again. He wept, staring down at our picture. And you, insensitive and indifferent as you are, just lay there as your father cried and told me about the many times that he would tell you, “Stay with that girl, she’s the one for you, marry her, mijo.” I thought he was just playing around, but he was serious. He told me that day. You could have gotten up and assured your dad that you would win me over, spitting one of your Don Juan lines to me that made me blush so many times. But you didn’t. Instead you just lay there and watched your father do all the talking. The song you dedicated to me years ago was the same song I blast through my earphones to mute the rest of the world. I’m making sure that the
only words I can hear as I stand over you lying there are those in the song: No one loves you more than I do, they don’t see you like I do, baby. They’ll try to, but if only they knew. As I let the world go mute and only let you speak to me through the lyrics, I don’t think about you lying there, cold and lethargic. I let my mind wander to the same thing it always does. I can only think of sleeping on your lap, cradled—not of the fact that you’re never coming back. I can only think of the times we would be at the mall and you would take me to “start looking at engagement rings.” I can only think of that time we skipped school to go buy chicken wings, and you told your guy friends (whom you were originally going with before you asked me to come along) that they were never actually invited but were interrupting our date. I can only think of all the times I would go to your table to sit with you, when whoever was in the seat next to you would surrender the chair the moment they saw me come by. But I cannot think of the fact that you’re never coming back. I won’t. As much as I want to cry, and scream, and yell, and shriek, and kick, and bury myself next to you, I won’t. I cannot think of the fact that you’re never coming back. I won’t. You deserve so much more than that. That fight didn’t last six hours. I keep counting. 3 months, 1 week, 2 days, 14 hours, 4 minutes, and 24 seconds.
RACHEL COLE hc svnt dracones photograph
RACHEL COLE Sinookas photograph
RACHEL COLE for Virginia photograph
RACHEL COLE Splintered Youth photograph
RACHEL COLE and miles to go photograph
RACHEL COLE Drowning Murmeln photograph
MADELINE BERSE Metal Twist steel
MADELINE BERSE Elk acryllic
MADELINE BERSE Dynamics of a Sphere acryllic, fabric, rope
JULIE WHINHAM Cemetery Weather photograph
PEYTON MORRIS Cold Summer watercolor
PEYTON MORRIS Eldersburg 6 a.m. watercolor
PEYTON MORRIS Pretending oil
PEYTON MORRIS Rinse charcoal
MADELINE BERSE Wutang pencil
ANDREW ROTH The State photograph
ANDREW ROTH Nov. 16th, 2011 photograph
ALEXIS CABAU Ink woodcut
ALEXIS COBAU Water Colored watercolor
ADAM KOSTEVA Nude Woman Sketch #45 charcoal
GRACE LUDMER Copper Minded Girl copper
LACEY GARDNER Cap copper
LACEY GARDNER Shark steel
HOLLY PROUTY Pinecone copper and pennies
HOLLY PROUTY Weight steel sheet and rods
RACHELLE LINSENMAYER Caste stoneware
RACHELLE LINSENMAYER Memories Fleeting stoneware
RACHELLE LINSENMAYER Conflict stoneware and wire
LEAH SHERMAN The Quiet Storm copper
ROBBIE SMALL Ollie North photograph
SHU LIN Fancy That One Was photograph
JOSHUA J. THILMANY Funky Guy photograph
On MOMA’s Revival And finally you can breathe again! Now when I walk through your white halls, I feel as though you have risen from the dead. I can feel your pulse, longing to gain strength, while I reminisce on days when you were a memory. Yet at the center of your revived body we can see conceptual and performance art have taken you over. It’s partly our fault, our deficits of attention, who are we to judge. One way or the other, it’s more about explanation than experience now, more about narrative than form. And you, the new Modern, are preoccupied with the latest history.
My name is Molly Bridgewater. I was sent up in the Fourth Wave with my family in the Space Craft Exeter. Like all others from Earth, we believed the heavens held answers. Terraformed planets, self-sustainable spaceships, resources aplenty for the excess of human population to start afresh. The truth, of course, was far more gruesome than we’d thought possible. The entire project a colossal failure. In the First Wave alone millions died. The terraforming wasn’t ready, the ships weren’t truly self-sustainable. Dehydration, starvation, disease, and then, as the engines finally shut down, suffocation and the bitter cold of space. The governments knew, and they knew the uproar that would occur if word got out. How else were they to solve the over-population of Earth? Reports of success were falsified. The people became so excited. The world powers prepared a Second Wave. With no time to fix the mistakes of the last time, they followed the same exact model. Twelve years later, millions launched out on the Second Wave, headed for the stars. The ships of the Second Wave were sent to the same coordinates as the first. How horrible it must have been for them to find the derelict ghost ships, floating dark and still in gentle orbit around moons and planets. Some ships had riots and mutinies. People died much quicker that time around. Millions, just as before. If the First Wave had any survivors, they are still unknown to us, but some from the Second Wave did survive. From ships of hundred-thousands, maybe four or five. Clever, resourceful, determined souls. The Earth powers didn’t send up the brainy or the brilliant. The ships were stocked with the “excess,” the poor, the lowly. These were people who were only alive because they were survivors, and in the harsh of space only the most resilient of these survived. Little communities formed, and even some babies were born. Humanity, beautiful humanity, surviving. It was never easy, but it happened. The communities of survivors started to find each other. Alliances were made, resources shared. Communication systems were repaired, and one naïve colony contacted the Earth, to warn them of the grievous error. Others recalled the broadcasts from “happy colonists” almost two decades prior and realized it was no mistake. And sure enough, the Earth powers received the broadcast and scrambled it. Drones were designed: computerized, programmed. And flawed. Forty-two were sent up to destroy the derelicts. Twenty-three malfunctioned almost immediately. Through that fatal glitch, they turned their weapons on every other vessel they found. Sent up with the Third Wave, the probes massacred thousands more. The Earth, it would seem, was no longer waiting for space to kill its excess humanity. The scourge-probes killed countless colonies. All in all, the Third Wave was decimated much more quickly than the previous two. But there were still survivors, in both parties. Some colonies welcomed the Third Wavers. The salvaged technology of the Second Wave colonists was now quickly becoming
more sophisticated. Loose colonies were gaining security, and thus developing identity. The pattern was recognized and the counters set: they had less than twelve years before the Fourth Wave hit. The board was changing, but the children of the abyss were still pre-adolescent. When they hit adolescence, the change would happen more quickly. The Fourth Wave went up, the biggest wave yet. Fifty-nine million people. The ships had gardens this time, inefficient but nevertheless present. They were topically “better,” improvements that were touted left and right. I was only seven and I still remember the glorious propaganda. The systems, however, were still the same, still designed to fail. Death machines. My grandmother called them that. She was right. My father was a hacker and an artist. A clever man, but we didn’t make much money. Our shuttle left from just outside London, the first and last time I’d ever left my beautiful isle. I held my father’s hand the whole way up to the orbiting space crafts. My brothers, Neal and Dylan, made like they weren’t afraid, but when Dylan took my hand to “comfort me,” his grip was a little too tight. We were headed to a world called Alathia… Alathia V. I remember loving that word; it sounded like a princess in a fairy tale, and it turned out to be every bit as fictitious. But I was seven then, and I didn’t know. I could never have imagined the death, the dark, the cold. The loneliness. I was seven, with my father on one side and my big brothers on the other. An old proverb says hope dies last. But I’ve witnessed repeatedly the death of hope. My name is Molly Bridgewater, last survivor on the Space Craft Exeter. What you have just heard is the forty year death of hope, played out by the “excess” of humanity. Earth has been slowly diminishing its excess, but as I see it, it long ago lost its humanity. Signing off.
The University of Elemental Magicks, the Mystic City, Mystic Isle, L. Mystion, the Potentiary Every year the Potentates of the Elemental Magicks held a conference for wielders of magick, and every year Faxús Méline had been invited, first as a formality and now as a joke. The masters of the “contemporary” magicks that assembled there, both elemental and otherwise, did enjoy ridiculing the last of the mystic sorcerers, with their “subtleties” and their passive aggressive scorn. Every year that he was invited, Master Faxús Méline attended, and every year he spoke, warning the other magick wielders of the impending crisis, the one that they all seemed willfully ignorant of. Perhaps it was an exercise in futility, but Faxús Méline did it anyway. He was not a young man, and he hadn’t been for at least a good forty years now. He knew that once he died all of it would be over. He had no more students. There were people gifted with the ancient magicks currently studying half-heartedly, but none of them were of the power or the caliber to take on the Mantle of the Ancient Rites held and maintained in the Mystic Citadel, where they had been maintained since each of their respective geneses. For some, this had been as far back as several thousand years, and some since before recorded history could tell. In the official records, many of these were written down in relation to the reigns of kings and queens now unknown, of kingdoms and tribes that had not existed in thousands upon thousands of years. There were even some rites there that had no recorded time of genesis. They had simply always been there, it seemed, and these were often the most quickly overlooked by those who did not maintain and study them. And so, Faxús Méline always attended the international conference and delivered essentially the same speech. It was always received essentially the same way, which was with blatant scorn and open derision. Not that Faxús ever expected a different reaction anymore. It frustrated him, of course, but it did not surprise him. Most of the magick wielders of today that attended the conference were damned good and damned competent ones in each of their respective fields, but few of them, if any, actually knew the true nature of magick. The magicks they wielded were stagnant, stale to the point where they were pretty much dead. This was the only magick they knew, so they had absolutely no concept of the truth, they did not know what true, pure magick was really like. Faxús knew, he knew it because he was one of the few in this day and age who could sense it. All true sorcerers could sense and feel true magick. The greater ones, such as Faxús himself, could always sense which others could feel and wield true magick. Most of these fools could not, and so it did not really surprise Faxús nor did it bother him that they should scorn him so. For all their education and their competence, they were, and always would be, ignorant fools. Their knowledge and experience would always be incomplete,
and they wouldn’t ever know it. How could they? Men of their level of skill and subsequent arrogance would not believe it if they heard it, that they did not know magick in its purest form, as a living entity. Oh, there were stories of it, of course, for those who could feel and wield pure magick always ended up becoming great and mighty in some capacity, and their fame soon became the stuff of legends. But that was all these men thought they were: legends, mere stories told to fascinate the young and entertain the old. They were not the things educated men studied, no, certainly not. But all the same, there were still a few. And that was why, when young Jude Tamerlane began coming to the conferences several years ago, Faxús began to have hope. Though he had heard the tales of Tamerlane’s colossal arrogance—rivaled only by his immense talent, skill, and power—the moment he laid eyes on the young man, he could see it. He could sense it from the lad as one can smell alcohol on the breath of a drunk. The boy positively reeked of pure and true magick. Finally! Faxús had thought. Finally an ally with some regard and standing! But that dream had died quickly, the moment Jude Tamerlane had opened his mouth, in fact. The first time that Jude Tamerlane was bid to address the conference, the first thing he did was aggressively defame Faxús Méline and all that the mystic sorcerer stood for. In fact, Jude Tamerlane was by far the most vicious opponent of all. All of Faxús’ hopes of advancing his cause died right then, and they had only continued to wither since. Some years had gone by, in which time Faxús began to feel his own health declining. Finally, it came time for the conference, and Faxús could feel it in his bones that this conference would likely be the last for him. This was it. Within a year’s time, all of this would be decided. If the magick wielding community continued to do nothing their entire way of life would very quickly die out. It fell now to Faxús to make this clear to the conference, for this would be his very last chance to do so. The head of the five Fire Magick Potentates opened the conference by giving the welcome speech and introducing the greater masters present. Both Faxús himself and the young Jude Tamerlane were introduced by name, each given the respect that the conference felt toward him. Then the Potentate opened the floor and immediately Faxús stood. “I would like to speak,” he announced. The head Potentate smirked but said nothing. Finally, the youngest of the five Fire Potentates, Gariniore Resthlieu, leaned forward. While Gariniore Resthlieu could not feel and wield true magick he was a good and honest man. He had never scorned Faxús, at least never openly or in any capacity that Faxús could sense. “You may have the floor, Master Méline,” Resthlieu told him, his manner respectful to a degree that Faxús could only ever guess was genuine. Resthlieu was a good man. It was a pity he did not have more standing amongst the Fire Potentates, as the lords of the Fire Elementals tended to dominate the grand council of all the Elemental Potentates. That was, after all, the nature of the element they controlled. If Resthlieu had more sway over the other Fire
Potentates and over the other Elemental Potentates in general, then perhaps he would have been a useful and worthwhile ally. As it was, however, he could not actually do much to help Faxús’ cause. “Thank you, Potentate Resthlieu,” Faxús said and cleared his throat. Out of the corners of his eyes, he could see the other masters and magicians shift about to look at him, those same smirks starting upon their faces. In his seat across the cavernous hall from Faxús, the youthful and handsome Jude Tamerlane sat back, his dark eyes unreadable, but his own slight smirk beginning upon his face. Faxús forced himself to ignore all of them, so that he could draw in a breath and address the conference. This was his last chance to say his piece, and so he had decided to say it directly, without worrying about coming on too strong or causing a fuss. The problem was now a crisis, whether they knew it or not: the time for causing a fuss was now. Indeed, that was very much the problem, no one had caused a fuss before. And hopefully the world wasn’t about to pay the price. “My fellow magicians and wielders of magicks—in this land of magick we have encountered a problem. The magick wielders of this world have grown impatient and they have grown greedy. In a world where magick chooses the choosers, we are now encountering a great and formidable problem. Everyone wants the obstreperous or the conspicuous powers, the ones that will be showy or bring them recognition in how well they can come to control it. They wish for the ones that are difficult to master only if the mastery of such will look impressive or give them immediate gratification and reward. Subtlety is dying out. Hard work for the good of magick and magick wielders is no longer considered a necessary virtue. We have fallen weak now, for this dangerous trend has done us in, and in the worst way possible: it has placed us without those who can wield the ancient mystic sorcery. “Even now, as I speak these words, I can see the sighs and the shakings of heads. No one wants to hear these words, no one wishes to think these thoughts. The opponents of this warning say that it is reactionist, that it is foolish to look at the change as a bad thing. There will always be old men to cast and maintain the ancient spells, they say. There will always be old codgers who can do the work and learn the lore that no one else wants to learn. The mystic sorcerers will always be there, they say. “But I am here, before you now, to insist that this is not so! There are old mystic sorcerers because there are young mystic sorcerers studying to one day become old mystic sorcerers. But when the young no longer seek to study the ancient ways and learn to wield the ancient magicks then the ancient magicks will someday, very soon, die out. “That is the crisis we are facing, ladies and gentlemen of the magick community. That is the crisis that each and every one of you are adamantly denying! I can only pray that you all are right and that I am the wrong old fool you all have been casting me as. Because then, within the next twenty years, there will no longer be any mystic sorcerers, no one to wield and maintain the ancient spells of binding, sealing, healing, or protection. Without those, the society you enjoy will crumble and fall.” His piece said, Faxús stepped back and sat down in his chair, folding his hands upon his lap. For a moment there was silence, interrupted
intermittently by a few muffled snickers. Finally, Master Resthlieu, his face solemn and contemplative, nodded. “Th-Thank you, Master Méline,” he said, in that manner that Faxús could not read as anything but sincere. “Your words and your warning have been enlightening.” “Oh, is that what we’re calling it today?” The voice that cut across the snickering was one that Faxús had come to despise, if even just a little bit. Everyone turned to see Jude Tamerlane stand up. The boy was, in Faxús’s eyes, simply that: a boy. He was twenty-eight, but already he was most clearly a master. In fact, he had been a master for some six or seven years, a true prodigy by all standards. He was a pure-composite magician, which meant that he could utilize almost any and every form of power, save for the ancient magicks. Pure composite magicians did not often occur naturally, and most who acquired it through study were never actually very powerful, something they made up for by using their powers cleverly and strategically. But when a pure composite magician did occur naturally they were usually ridiculously powerful, if not incalculably rare. Such was the case with Jude Tamerlane, who was, as fate would have it, the most powerful occurring pure composite magician alive, and maybe even the most powerful one who had ever lived. There were magicians out there who were more powerful than he—to be sure, there were at least a few—but none of those magicians could use the range of magicks Tamerlane could. On top of it all, the boy was positively a genius. Much came naturally to him, and that which did not, his keen and calculating mind was able to take apart, bit-by-bit. He was a rising star, that much was for sure, and the magickwielder community was practically in love with him. He was their very favorite darling. And, for his part, Tamerlane played along. Faxús was almost certain that the boy was really doing just that: playing them, but as to what he was really planning, Faxús could get no reading. The lad was powerful, intelligent, talented, arrogant, ambitious, and even a bit dangerous… all things that drew the masters of the conference to him like moths to a flame, with the very same end result. Right now, Tamerlane was playing the conference’s good little boy, but as to what his future plans would entail, Faxús doubted he would ever live to see it. Tamerlane played the long game, and Faxús’ days were duly numbered. “If it pleases the conference,” Tamerlane said, “I would like to address the assembled?” The head Potentate spoke up, even as Resthlieu started to open his mouth to reply with a weary look in his eye. Faxús noticed this about Resthlieu for the first time and had to curse the dreadfulness of fortune: what an ally Resthlieu would be, if only he could feel it! “The conference always welcomes the wisdom of Master Tamerlane.” “Speak your mind for us, master, and all shall listen,” the head Fire Potentate concluded, in a manner and with a tone that the pompous boy must have perceived as majestic. These fools all loved Jude; he was the vision of the future, at least that was what they thought. And it was true that he was… he just wasn’t quite the future that they all thought he was. Jude had his own plans for progression,
and when he attained them, charlatans like these would all be left behind. Those proud and puffed up birds on the high table would be the first to be shoved aside in Jude’s new way. They were not worthy to call themselves masters, having never felt the true nature of magick, having never even known what it was like. To Jude, Méline was more qualified to be a master than they, and the man was a doddering idiot. At least the spectacles that perched on Méline’s nose were there for function, unlike most of the bespectacled idiots at the high table. At least people like Méline, for all that they were the ultimate of fools, didn’t sink down to that level of showmanism. “Thank you, great masters,” Jude said, playing deferential by smiling and bowing slightly. The head of the Fire Potentates inclined his head in a manner that sadly passed for regal in this day and age. “Gentlemen and ladies, masters and magicians of the conference, I would like to take this time to address the words of the clearly esteemed Master Faxús Méline by first addressing what he says about the nature of the ancient magicks. He says that we wrongly accuse him of being a reactionist, but gentlemen and ladies, I ask if he has ever not been exactly that? Indeed, in the six years that I have been going to this conference, I have never known Master Méline to ever be anything but…” Faxús knew they were all looking at him once more. It was Tamerlane who was speaking, but no one was really looking at him. Resthlieu probably was, and maybe a few other ones who still remembered the proper respect, but that was about it. They had all of them fallen prey to Tamerlane’s charismatic spell. The boy had an impressive voice, and Faxús knew that he probably used enchantment magicks to back it up from time to time—as a pure-composite magician it was most certainly easy enough for him no doubt—but at a time and for a purpose like this, Faxús and Tamerlane both understood that he needed no such help. It was Jude Tamerlane’s charisma that really held them enthralled now, and it was his charisma that would damn the rest of the world. Well, damn him, the young fool! Faxús knew the words Tamerlane was saying; he was playing to the egos of the assembled and long-complacent masters, suggesting that they had become skilled enough and powerful enough to no longer need the “crutches of the ancient powers.” It was all a pack of extremely dangerous lies. Did he want all of contemporary society to fall into chaos within the next ten years or sooner? Was that in his master plan? Because if it was, then he should know that with the end of the ancient magicks there was one other consequence, one that Faxús doubted he would ever have anticipated and was certain he would never have wanted. “Furthermore, great masters, in response to these undoubtedly reactionist claims from elder and esteemed Master Méline…” Oh, so now the boy was bringing age into it, was he? Faxús had studied his craft for well over fifty years now. He had seen and felt and known things that the boy—no matter how gifted he was—could never have felt. Faxús had danced with the pure nature of magick, he had felt the kiss of the true spirit of mystic sorcery, he had swum to the bottom of Lake Mystion, where the Mystic City resided, and there, swathed in ancient and impossibly ancient magicks, he had communed with some of the eldest creatures in existence. These were things that Jude Tamerlane had not done, this Faxús knew without a doubt.
How dare the boy even imply that Faxús’s age disqualified him from speaking knowledgably. The conference was deferring to the boy’s wisdom? Ha! The boy had no wisdom! Oh great spirits, Faxús prayed now, I can really only wish that boys such as Jude Tamerlane and the men who blindly follow him will very soon be shown the error of their willfully ignorant ways! And it was right then and right there, in the heart of the Mystic City, in the grand conference chamber of the University of the Elemental Magicks, that the great spirits of magick and beyond did respond to this last desperate plea by the last, and now quite desperate, mystic sorcerer. He could feel them come to him, lightly touching his mind with a force that for them was as gentle as a single hair falling, but still strong in him like a blow to the back. He resisted the urge to crumple, cringe, or cry. Instead, he sat where he was, as his soul filled up once more with a wonder that—for true mystic sorcerers— never actually got old. LOYAL FAXÚS, FAITHFUL FAXÚS, WE HAVE LOOKED AHEAD, AND THERE WE HAVE SEEN IT, THE FATE AND FUTURE POTENTIAL OF ONE JUDE TAMERLANE, AND THIS IS WHAT WE SHALL REVEAL. THIS, LOYAL AND FAITHFUL FAXÚS, WILL BE YOUR FINAL REVELATION . . . And just like that, Faxús was hit by a true and greatly mighty revelation, at the end of which he could really only sit back and smirk. He did not do anything else; he did not look up from his folded hands on his lap and meet the gazes of those who mocked him with their smirks and with their eyes. He still did not speak, did not address the lies that Jude Tamerlane was spinning, but he understood that after today all would be different, all of it would be truly changed, and for young Master Jude Tamerlane there would be no going back.
Marcus You no longer control me but when the summer was young you consumed me, devoured me In a land of pick-up basketball and mid-day swims Of hand grazes and “Oh, I’m just guarding my man.” controlled me in place of, I’ll call you laters and sorry it got too late With the fire pit and the coals In the dead of summer you made me burn.
Edge of the Dock It was the last weekend of August. As the Maine alpine glow descended onto the faces of the eastern pines, Ryan hopped onto his rusty BMX bike and rode away from the Camden general store. I stood with my back against the worn, brick wall. While the four o’clock August sun beat heavily on my cheeks, I couldn’t get myself to leave. I wanted him to turn his bike around and trudge up Wiley’s road through the dust and come back and sit with me for a little bit longer. I wanted to ride over to the north end boat put-in and jump in together while his air bubbles mixed with mine and our feet grazed each other’s right under the surface where the sun stopped heating the water. I wanted to say I was sorry. But he didn’t come back and lock his bike on the white-washed fence that guards the country store, and instead I slid down the brick wall, sitting and dreaming of that day on the lake when time stopped in his hands. We’d meet at the north end boat put-in. He’d be helping the Masons load their boat back onto the trailer and I would lie out and soak up the mid-July sun with an old copy of Great Gatsby and my orange striped beach chair. When it got really hot, normally around the middle of July, I’d place my chair on the rim of the lake so the small waves would lap over my feet. As Ryan rode his bike down the dirt hill, creating a dust cloud behind him, I watched as he smiled and began helping Mr. Mason with his launch. I sat and stared behind my bug-eyed sunglasses. Corey Marcus’ red pick-up truck pulled right up onto the beach at 40 mph, as if no one else was there. I rolled my eyes and laughed, but got up anyway to greet him. Ryan stayed on the dock. Ever since my family started coming up to the cabin for the summer, the Marcuses were our closest friends. Since Corey and I were both the youngest in our families, our older siblings always ditched us, leaving the two of us out of everything. We were inseparable every summer and though we rarely saw each other during the winter, when we came back to the lake, it was as if no time had passed. He jumped out of the truck and leaned up against the driver side door. “Hey stranger,” he said. He threw his arms over my shoulders and kissed the top of my head. “Hey,” I replied. I wrapped my arms around his waist. Ever since we were little the entire town of Camden had their hearts set on us getting married, and up until this summer we both thought the idea was completely crazy. I turned around and saw Ryan watching. He wasn’t scowling, but he certainly wasn’t smiling. He didn’t seem defeated either. If anything, he seemed as if he were standing his ground, ready to step in if needed, but not too involved to look like he actually cared. “Are you coming tonight?” asked Corey. “I don’t know, maybe. I have to wake up pretty early tomorrow; Jenny
asked me to cover her shift at the farmers market.” But Corey knew the real reason why I’d rather stay behind. “All the Rockland guys are dying to meet the infamous Zoe.” “Oh shut up. I’ll call you and let you know.” “Ok. I gotta run. Mr. Robinson is paying me a shit load to change out the dock ropes, and he said if I got it done by today, he’d throw in an extra ten bucks.” As Corey grabbed the new rope from his truck bed, I turned around and started walking back to join Ryan on the edge of the dock. “Wait,” Corey called. I turned around. “What?” I asked. I could feel Ryan watching now, even more intently. “I really want you to come tonight. I think it would be a lot more fun if you were there. And plus, you never come to Surfside. You’re always too busy with Ryan.” “And you’re always too busy with Ashley.” “That’s so not true.” “Whatever,” I laughed and walked away, wading into the crisp lake water. As I finally came back up for air and jumped onto the dock, I noticed that Ryan had moved to the other side of the dock. I knew he hated Corey, the fact that we were friends, and the fact that my father would gladly take Corey for a round of golf at Camden Country Club but would only call Ryan if he needed the lawn mowed. “What was that about?” Ryan said with some sort of attitude, although I tried to ignore it. “Corey just wanted to see if I’d go to Surfside with him tonight.” I pulled my abs in tight, almost cringing, awaiting his answer. When he didn’t respond, I figured it was for a reason. “Why do you hate him so much?” I probed. “I don’t hate him, it’s fine. Go with him tonight. You’ll have fun.” “Do you want to come with me?” I asked. I prayed he’d say yes. It would make everything so much easier. “I have to babysit Chloe.” Chloe was 14 and completely capable of staying home alone at night but I didn’t contest it. “Okay, suit yourself!” I said and jumped back into the lake and splashed Ryan, trying to ignore any resentment he had towards my closest childhood friend. • • • I never cared about who got to play golf and who mowed the lawn because when we would lie on the edge of the dock and Ryan’s sandpaper cheeks rubbed up against my sun-kissed face, I felt no pain. When his rough hands that mangled Mr. Mason’s Nitro just moments before would grace my thigh, he was so gentle I could cry. So when people would whisper about how could a girl like her choose a boy like him, I used to laugh and remember the night when Ryan brought me to the edge of the dock and made me close my eyes. As I felt the slow rocking of the old wooden planks beneath my feet, he
whispered, “Open.” Opening my eyes, the light of the moon lit up the lake as if a thousand fireflies were dancing along the surface of the midnight water. We sat and listened to the sounds of the loons as we let our feet dangle off the dock, and he filled my July and August with fire. But as the last couple weeks of summer came to a close, I couldn’t help but think about the months to come, my future, and my life beyond the shore of the lake. • • • Corey called around seven and convinced me to go to Surfside even though Ryan wasn’t going to be there. “Ok, I’ll go,” I sighed. “Don’t sound too excited,” Corey said. “I’ll pick you up at nine.” I threw on my old jean shorts and an oversized t-shirt and stood outside to wait for him. I begged Ryan to come with me that night, but he didn’t. I knew he was angry, but Corey was my oldest friend and I promised him I’d go. Corey’s truck rolled around the corner of Maple, and I jumped in. As we drove, we didn’t talk. We passed the north end boat put-in and headed towards Surfside, his hand on the gearshift as I leaned on the armrest. I felt a strange closeness to him that night, as though if I were to rest my hand on top of his it wouldn’t have been the strangest thing in the world. But I resisted, and we kept driving. As always, Corey whipped into the parking lot, drove up on the sand dune, and parked his truck. Grabbing two cases of Bud Light from his truck bed, I followed him down to the beach. When we got to the sand, I grabbed a seat on the bench next to the fire, popped open a beer, and watched as the beach babes of Rockland swooned over the guys from Camden. Corey was normally the center of attention, but tonight he resisted. As the scene got louder and partygoers began to fall into drunken hazes, Corey grabbed my hand and led me towards the music. We didn’t start dancing right away. We just stood there looking at each other and smiling then, slowly, we began to dance. Corey got wasted that night. As I drove him home down Lincolnville Road, the summer night air passed back and forth through the open windows. He said he could make it into the house by himself, but I didn’t want to risk the Marcuses waking up, or at least that’s what I told myself. He stumbled up the walkway using me as a crutch. I didn’t think anything of it when he sloppily kissed me on the forehead as he always did. But when I felt his hands fall from my shoulders to my lower back, I knew the days on the lake with Ryan were over. He leaned in and grazed my lips with his, and I knew I was letting Ryan go. We slipped into the house and down to the basement; I hesitated for a moment at the top of the stairs. I thought of Ryan and our summer together, but I strangely resisted the urge to run back out the door. Corey stretched his hand out behind him and held mine, guiding me down into the basement. The TV was still on and reruns of ER danced across the screen. We lay down on the worn-out brown, pleather sofa and gave in to a temptation eighteen years in the making.
• • • I needed to see Ryan one more time before I headed home to Boston, but I couldn’t bring myself to meet him at the edge of the dock. So instead, I hoped the Camden general store wouldn’t awaken too many memories of that summer. But of course it did, and the four o’clock August sun beat down on us. We stood in silence for a while. There was still dirt under his fingernails from the boat launches that morning, and his skin was drenched with sweat. As I leaned against the brick wall, I prayed he wouldn’t see the tears welling up behind my sunglasses. I wanted to tell Ryan the truth. That Corey and I had made love the night before. That Corey was the easier choice. I wanted to say that my parents were right, that college was right around the corner and I had better start thinking about my future. I wanted to tell Ryan that I was in love with him, but that things would never work out because when people asked, “How could a girl like her choose a boy like him?”, the answer was always going to be, “Don’t worry, they won’t end up together.” But I didn’t tell him those things. I hugged him goodbye and buried my face in his chest and pretended that I would be back again soon, that we would pick up right where we left off.
Girls Becoming Screens there came a day when to prove their femininity, girls had to do physical things like grow their hair long nurturing things like have babies supple bodies struggling to become rectangular heartbeats suppressed under speakers human skin reduced to the glare of an LCD screen the poor girl thought that her eyes were liquid caramel her skin could be butter her hair something to envy believed her touch was something coveted her poses: curves igniting fireworks after all, as he entered her body she ran as deep as the scratches she made on his back and when he realized her breasts werenâ€™t the ones he last remembered her ass wasnâ€™t as full her hair was short and he remembered long hair he longed for a girl who had made herself into a screen. that was the day she packed up her body, the small of her back, the length of her legs, the fineness of her hair, the beats of her heart and stuffed them into a screen her voice became the clicks of a keyboard her love became D-cup breasts her passion became the alluring ass of something, or someone, unfamiliar the foreign moans of something, or someone finally better (to him) it became like it was on the screen it became fucking.
Here’s To Here’s to the young, the wasted youth, the proud youth, and the wishful elders that envy our youth. Here’s to the piano players, the painters, the skittish writers, and the hunters of everything we will one day feast our senses on. Here’s to those with direction, carry on. Here’s to the street rats, discovering aimlessly what scares those who walk on clean sidewalks. Here’s to those who call the pavement home. Here’s to the growers, the dealers, and the smokers, most of all, the smokers. Here’s to those who aren’t afraid to stare death in the face, but are just as brave when it comes to staring at life.
Here’s to those whose mental doors swing all day long, enveloping what others choose to shut out. Here’s to those who go places they don’t understand, write things they don’t see, say things that they don’t know exist. Here’s to those who laugh a lot, but more to those who know how to cry. Here’s to the sewers, the traffic, and the trains. Here’s to being slowed down. Here’s to riding the el all night long, because you’d rather call the train home, than the pavement. Here’s to feeling lost, because being so means there’s everywhere to find. Here’s to the romance of the lights, the night’s pollution prevents stargazing, so they stare up at the skyscrapers instead. Here’s to those who never knew how to behave. If you had a real vocabulary, you’d know that word doesn’t exist. Here’s to sore limbs, sore hearts, and excited streets. Here’s to hands dirty with diversity, turnstiles dirty with city, and minds dirty with opportunity.
Here’s to the thieves that know how to make it. Here’s to the challenged that had to reach for their own baby bottles. Here’s to women in suits, women on the train, women in heels, women in grime, women who can’t afford shampoo, women with goals, women with men, women with children. Women. Here’s to those of us who were mistakes, those of us who now know how to make them, and those of us who do so willingly. Here’s to the generation that raised us, and the one before that gave us history. Here’s to burned-out street lamps, the grid of despair, the faults we call home. You know where I’m talking about.
The Flowers Still Grow and It’s a Sin How long? One of the questions on his tongue. not sure he can last much longer; not sure he wants to. He’s supposed to be strong, he knows, but these forces could move the moon and he’s lost the strength to bear arms. It’ll be alright. A lie he hasn’t told in a time. A glance up, his chin is glued to his chest again. (Blindness would be a blessing.) No one seems human today. They’ll all be monsters by tomorrow.
Once upon a time we were free. The concept of a soldier changed from one willing to fight for his country to one with no choice but to fight for his life. Everyone is a soldier if they want to survive. Don’t cry. He’s told himself, and his ghost. Not a difficult law to abide by, not anymore. Emotions once volatile and irrepressible, overpowering his every last effort. One day he’ll stop feeling completely. It’s a fear he isn’t afraid of.
Closed Casket I am a murderer. I bawl when they lower your body into the ground. Well, not you, but the thing, the part of you that I used to hug is being buried under mounds of dirt and bugs. And you might as well be a mile in the earth. I feel sick and dizzy and words that haven’t even been invented. I feel like my heart is crawling up my throat, falling out of my mouth, landing with a thump in the wet grass, leaving me empty. Your mom tells me I can look. “Before people start getting here,” she says, and she leaves me alone in the room with the box that holds your body. My hands shake as I gently lift the lid. You look strange. Deep cuts cover your face, but they look different now, different than how they would look on a normal person, on someone who was alive. The lid isn’t fully open, still closed enough that you’re covered by a dark shadow. I don’t open it any more than that. I slip my head in to give you a kiss. You’re cold and feel nothing like you. I kiss you once more, closing my eyes and pretending that I’m really kissing what you were. My clothes are still covered in your blood. I leave them on, lie down on my bed, and tear holes in the blanket for hours. The doctor gives me a pity look and spouts the same old spiel that she recites every time someone dies. I shout “No,” punch walls, go into the general hysterics. Who dies before their nineteenth birthday? How the fuck could a semi stop your heart five minutes before we were going to see that new movie we’d been talking about for weeks? How could you die seventy fucking years before you were supposed to? We had plans for our lives. Our life. They stitch up my head. An older doctor with a long gray braid and kind eyes sews together the gash in my skull while you lie on a table with surgeons trying to put your body back together. They don’t let me ride in the ambulance with you. You’re stuck. Your upper body falls towards me, slumps onto my shoulder, and I cradle you in my arms, petting your hair, kissing your forehead. You let out a low moan, and I beg you to not die. There’s blood flowing slowly from your mouth, and I sob into your hair. “Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease.” You don’t speak and your eyes close, and I’m too afraid to check to see if you’re still breathing. When the semi hits, my brain doesn’t process it for a minute. One second we’re driving, and the next, we’re still. There’s no slow motion like in the movies. I look over at you and scream your name. We’ve sat at four red lights so far, the movie started two minutes ago, and I have no desire to sit at another one. So I speed up. It’s orange when we go through. No. Red. You’re talking, babbling on about your day and what classes you’re taking next semester, and I don’t even really know what you’re saying. I’m not listening because I really don’t care.
Morgan Couldn’t Swim
Morgan crouches by the edge of the pond. Her dark blonde hair used to blow in the wind. She used to be able to stand for more than ten seconds. The ducks used to make her smile. Today she bends her thin legs awkwardly beneath her and sits in the dirt. She hasn’t been to the pond since she was four. She had wanted so badly to swim out to the middle where the ducks gathered and the water was pure and the world was no bigger than that spot. Next year, Mo. Next year I’ll teach you. Sean had made his promise. That was two years ago. The sun sets and rises and sets again. We breathe in and out and in again. Until we don’t. He made his promise in the first breath of fall. Before winter, she was diagnosed. Started in the pancreas, spread to the kidneys. The ducks aren’t there. The pond is empty save for the dark water that fills it. The sun is hidden behind light gray clouds. Hopefully the ducks will be back next year. Her lips are chapped and dark circles engulf her eyes, harsh in contrast to her pale skin. Her breathing is heavy, as if the slightest movement is too much for her body. Her stomach is still churning from her last day of chemo. Sean watches as Morgan stares into the distance. Her fingers absentmindedly pick at the grass, and her nails dig into the dirt. Her left hand finds its way to her head, and she pulls off the purple stocking cap. She throws it into the water and watches its color grow darker as the water takes it as its own. She wipes her nose on the back of her hand and slumps a little lower. Morgan doesn’t believe in angels anymore, and Sean can’t tell her she’s wrong. Today, the doctor told them it had spread to her brain and liver. Pancreatic rarely spreads to the brain, the doctor had said. Like he was impressed. Like they should be excited that their little girl’s disease was rare. Like the silver lining to this death sentence was that the hospital staff would have something to talk about over lunch. A light breeze sends ripples through the water, and Morgan edges closer, sticking her fingers in to touch the small waves. If she fell in she would be too weak to even attempt to fight the icy water pulling her down. There would be no more chemo. There will be no more. Sean remembers the day she was born. He remembers the look on her face when she got her favorite birthday present: a tricycle. He remembers when, even after she was diagnosed, she would laugh and sing and play with her dolls and help Lisa bake brownies and insist on a bedtime story each night. He remembers the first five years of her life as happy, vibrant, full of life. He remembers year six as death. The sun sets and rises and sets again, and in between there is time.
Morgan lays her body on the ground at the edge of the pond and starts the fight with her eyelids. Daddy, Iâ€™m never going to learn to swim. He wants to comfort her and tell her, Keep fighting, youâ€™ll get better, but she is the only one willing to face reality with him, and he owes this to her. So instead he says I know, Mo, and lets the pain leave his body, swirling in the wind around the trees and through the frosty air. He wants the pain to leave her body, too. He wants the cold water to consume her, bleed into her skin, flood her lungs and take away every ounce of hurt and trepidation. He sits in the grass behind her and brushes his fingers over her cold, bare head until she falls asleep. The sun sets and rises and sets again. We breathe in and out and in again. The ducks will be back next year.
I stand, feet firmly planted in a pile of thick, endless snow that surrounds me. The wind pierces my ears, stings my eyes to tears, instantly blurring my vision. The cold seeps through my thick wool coat. My cheeks are frozen, tensed, numb. My own hair whips my face like small, stinging slaps, and at this moment in time, all I can think about is how you could have possibly survived this. You, with nothing but a sheet of thin cloth covering your naked body, rotten wooden clogs on your feet, and no substance within your shrinking stomach. Somehow you were able to miraculously persevere. I squint into the distance upon the many rows of bare, wooden barracks. They lie in deterioration, weathered by many winter storms. I shuffle my feet towards one of the decrepit buildings, away from the wind, and step through the rust-encrusted doorway. Heaters have recently been installed within the building, providing minor relief to my frozen limbs. The cement walls around me are cracked, streaked like the floors with green and brown stains that are harsh to the eye. As I stare at the rows of timber bunks, your face is again conjured. Within each empty crevice, your presence lingers, shivering, helpless amongst those around you. Here you lie, dying slowly, both physically and soulfully. Your body quakes with fear for yourself and your loved ones, who may, for all you know, have already fallen into death’s merciless grip. On August 25, 1939 you saved my life by sending me away to a completely foreign world across the ocean. We had just celebrated my twelfth birthday a week earlier. Kind and loving people took me in, yet they did not feel like family. Within those years apart I grew from a naive child to an insightful young adult. Liberation throughout Europe flooded newspapers and the radio in September of 1945. I had to see you, to once again be amongst my own flesh and blood. As I descended the steps onto the train station platform, I scanned the busy crowd for your figure. I soon caught a glimpse of your hair, those familiar black ringlets that fell smoothly against your thin frame. I ran into your arms with youthful delight, clumsily knocking you against bustling passersby. Your body felt bony and malnourished, your skin pale and rough like leather, your eyes defeated and fatigued. I wanted to hold you forever, to never again leave you to all that is evil and inhumane. You whispered in my ear with a choke of persistence, “Always be strong, mój córka.” Always be strong, my daughter. Arm in arm, we walked through the damp streets of Krakow, Poland. We passed many familiar shops and restaurants, conjuring small memories of childhood within my mind. I stared at what used to be our synagogue. Here it stood completely destroyed, vacant and decrepit. The glass windows were crashed, and the words “Idą do piekła Żyd” were written in red paint across the cracked wooden door. Go to hell Jews. We ascended the steps to your make-shift home, an apartment you shared
with two other female survivors. I kissed their cheeks in greeting and they give me weak, tired smiles. There were two small rooms: one bedroom where you and your companions slept and a barren kitchen. You sat on the bed and stared out the window onto the damp streets below. It was as if you had already forgotten my existence. As if even I, your own daughter, could not enliven your being. At that moment I made the decision to stay with you. To do all I could to nurture your spirits back to normality, back to the way they were before you endured a living hell. It is 1965 now, twenty years after your release from Auschwitz and five years since your troubled death. I stand here, among the empty barracks and calmly close my eyes. Within the chilling air I hear your voice. It delicately tickles my ear as it whistles with the wind. Softly I whisper those words you spoke to me on the platform that fateful day. â€œAlways be strong.â€?
For the first nine years of my life I was Superman. There was something about it that felt right. I wasn’t just acting like a superhero; I truly believed it was all real. Yes, I would fly around the house and my classrooms at school. I used my super strength to open jars of jelly for my sandwiches, my super speed to race up and down the stairs when I forgot my coat in my room. I did all of this day in and day out but it wasn’t a joke. I didn’t do it for laughs; I did it because it was what I had to do. Superman was me; I was Superman. The first day of first grade all I wanted to wear was my Superman shirt and cape, but my mom wouldn’t have it. She wanted me to dress like the other kids. But I wasn’t the other kids, I was Superman. She didn’t relent. She asked if I wanted everyone to see me wearing a red cape on the first day of school. I decided she was right. My true identity should only come out when I was needed. They couldn’t handle information that powerful yet. Still, I snuck my cape into my backpack on the way out the door. Just in case. When I arrived at school, wearing my pair of denim overalls and my plain white t-shirt, the nerves began to set in. I didn’t know how this day would turn out. I settled a little when the other kids approached me and began introducing themselves. “Hi, I’m Adam,” one said, “What’s your name?” “I’m Sup…(cough) I…I’m Danny.” The day went on, I met the rest of the kids, and they all came to know me as Danny. As the day progressed I thought about my life at school as Danny Schwaber. Every once in a while I would rush over to my cubby and open up my bag just to make sure the cape was still there. Thankfully, it always was. I smiled. This could really work. Everything was going well until I had my first play date. After school one day, Adam came back to my house. When we got home I darted up the stairs, as was my usual routine, to grab my cape and fly around the house until my babysitter got my snack ready. I grabbed it and put it on and just then I heard Adam running up the stairs. Do I leave the cape on and let him see who I am or do I take it off and not reveal myself? Those eight seconds of his climbing the stairs felt like an hour. My thoughts were racing as I tried to figure out what to do. I wanted to show him, but would he think I was weird? Would he even believe me? Wait, did I even believe me? Maybe I was just Danny. A sudden noise broke my train of thought. It was Adam. He was standing at the door staring directly at me in my cape. “Cool cape, Danny!” Cool…Cape…Danny. The words resonated. Maybe I wasn’t really Superman. Sure I could pretend I was, but at the end of the day I was still Danny. All my life I had thought others were mistaken. I thought they saw me as someone who I wasn’t, but it turned out they saw me for exactly who I was. At that point I realized I wasn’t truly Superman. Sure, I’d often believed I was, but even at nine years old, if I was being honest with myself, I knew it wasn’t real. When I put the cape on, it let me imagine a whole different life.
Years passed, I kept the cape. It sat in my closet and collected dust but it was always there. I grew out of the whole Superman thing but there was something about that cape that I couldn’t get rid of. While I was cleaning my room and beginning packing for college I stumbled upon it. Of course the first thought was, how do I sneak this to school without my mom knowing? But then I sat for a while holding the worn out red cape in my hands. I hadn’t been mistaken all along. Sure, I didn’t have super powers, but I had believed with all my heart that I was Superman. Did it matter what others thought? An identity is what you make of it. It’s my identity and I own it. It doesn’t really matter if other people see it the way I do. So, in a sense, I am Superman.
JOSHUA J. THILMANY
The Difference MARIE: A successful design editor for a bridal magazine in New York City. Late twenties. Married to the Chief Partner of an also successful law firm in the city. Average height with long brunette hair. Well dressed. Just found out she was pregnant. JOHN: A surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital just out of his residency. Tall, built, medium-length black hair. Well put together, usually wears suits when not at work. Known to sleep around. Lives in a considerably nice onebedroom apartment in the city. Single. Setting: JOHN and MARIE return to JOHN’S apartment from dinner at a new restaurant downtown. They enter through the door already making out. The apartment is dark besides a faint glow from the kitchen and the moon through the windows. MARIE pushes JOHN against the closed door; they are both breathing heavily. MARIE: (reaching for JOHN’S belt) Take off your pants.
JOHN: (undoing his belt for her) I have to be (pause to make out) back at the hospital in an hour. MARIE: I guess we’ll just have to make it count then (grabs his tie and turns around, beginning to pull him toward the bedroom door. Runs into a pile of boxes and shopping bags; the contents spill onto the floor.) What is this? JOHN: Just some stuff I picked up at the store (continues walking toward the bedroom, pulling her by the hand). You coming? MARIE: (reaching down) Is this a baby outfit? JOHN: We only have an hour! MARIE: John. JOHN: (sighs and turns on the lights) I was going to wait until everything was final to show you. I’ve just been so busy at the hospital that I didn’t have time to put everything away. MARIE: Until what was final? JOHN: Your divorce, with Jim. MARIE: John…
JOHN: I didn’t want to overwhelm you. You already have to tell him that the baby isn’t his, not that he even cares, but it’s a lot to handle, so I was going to wait. MARIE: John, I need to… JOHN: But now that you’ve seen it, I might as well show you. I know it’s too early to know the sex but I couldn’t help myself. I got mostly neutral colors; the lady at the store said that yellows and greens were the best. MARIE: Is that a crib? JOHN: And a changing station. I also got a car seat that fits right into the stroller. It even folds up to fit in the car! MARIE: You don’t have a car. JOHN: Plus all of the diapers and powders and creams and toys. My friend from the hospital, Margaret, you remember her, right? The one I scheduled you an appointment with? She told me all of the best stuff to get. MARIE: How did you afford all of this? JOHN: I’m an attending now, I used my first raise. MARIE: But where— JOHN: There’s a two-bedroom place on the 9th floor that’s perfect. I already put down a deposit. MARIE: John… JOHN: It’s fine! You know that the building manager loves me. I told him that I was going to be having two beautiful new roommates, and he gave me a great deal. MARIE: Stop. JOHN: What? Do you not like it? I can take it back. I know I should have waited but I just— MARIE: No, no. I love it (holding the baby outfit in her hands). It’s perfect. JOHN: Then what’s wrong? (moves towards her and puts his hands on her shoulders and kisses her forehead). MARIE: I...
JOHN: You what? MARIE: You shouldn’t sell your apartment, John. (Looks down at the baby outfit, putting it back in the bag with the others.) And you should return all this stuff. JOHN: It’s Jim, isn’t it? You told him about us and the baby, and he’s not letting you move out. I’ll talk to Jim, it’s time that he heard the truth from both of us. He’ll be pissed at first but— MARIE: No. Absolutely not. John, I, I didn’t… (PAUSE) JOHN: (disappointed and a little angry) You didn’t tell him. MARIE: He’s my husband, John. JOHN: Your husband? He didn’t know you were pregnant until a week after you did, and has he even mentioned it since? Has he done a single thing for you or the baby? Has he done a single thing for you ever?
MARIE: He’s busy! JOHN: Until 3 am every morning? The only legal matter he’s attending to is how to avoid prosecution for screwing his secretary. MARIE: And what we’re doing is so much different? JOHN: Yes! MARIE: How? JOHN: You only snore when you sleep on your right side. MARIE: What? JOHN: Your nose wiggles when you laugh. You have a scar on your chin from when you got stitches in the second grade. You hate tomatoes but you never order your dinner without them, you wait until it gets to the table to pick them off. MARIE: John, what are you talking about? JOHN: You play with your hair when you’re nervous. You sing Broadway songs in the shower, and you call your mom every other day to see how she is. The only picture you keep in your purse is of your dog, Charlie, and you’re
getting one just like him as soon as you get a place that allows pets. MARIE: You remember— JOHN: Our first kiss was under the Emergency Room entrance, and the first time I told you I loved you, you were asleep because I was too scared to say it to you when you were awake. (Reaches down and picks up the baby outfit.) You found out you were pregnant on November 2nd, and you’re hoping for a girl even though you won’t admit it to anyone. That’s the difference, Marie. I know you, and I love— MARIE: I was awake. JOHN: What? MARIE: When you told me you loved me. I was awake. JOHN: Why didn’t you… MARIE: Because it was just so perfect. It was the first time anyone had told me that in, well, for as long as I could remember. Besides, I didn’t think that you— JOHN: That I would what? That I would fall madly in love with you? That I would go out and buy the entire fucking baby store and buy us an apartment? You told me you were leaving him, Marie. You told me you wanted to be with me. MARIE: I do! (JOHN’S pager goes off.) JOHN: That’s the hospital, I have to go. (Hands the baby outfit to MARIE.) MARIE: I thought you had an hour? JOHN: (Grabbing his bag.) Sometimes you don’t have as long as you thought, Marie. MARIE: John, wait… JOHN: (opens the door, turns back) I already did. (Exits. MARIE is left holding the baby outfit.)
JOSHUA J. THILMANY
No More Than a Hug
You opened the door and only then did I see you the way you had seen me for so long. I had watched your figure approach the door through the mosaic glass window, a kaleidoscope that caused you to contort and move choppily, piece by piece, until your hand met the handle. And there you were, just as you had always been. But everything else was different. Boxes with bent tops which you had continually opened and closed, and basically every product from the Bed Bath and Beyond catalog that you thought you might find some spectacular use for in college, lined the entryway to your living room. I saw the corner of your journal sticking out of one of them, mixed in with the new heels and the short black dress you had just purchased, much to your mother’s dismay. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those pages I accounted for, how many tears I had caused to smear the ink. This wasn’t my first goodbye. The past few weeks had been full of them, so many, in fact, that it became more of a routine than anything else, going from one house to another, giving hug after hug, and somehow dealing with the fact that there were a few people I just wasn’t going to see again. It always seemed like it was supposed to be an exciting time—leaving for college, taking the next big step. And it was exciting, until the first of us started to leave. It was like we were all unsuspecting soldiers who had just been drafted, pretending like nothing was different but knowing that the day was coming, the day when our numbers would be called and we would have to say our goodbyes. At first it wasn’t bad, but I was one of the last to go. As night after night turned into goodbye after goodbye, I could feel it building up. Each goodbye was like a coin that you put into a piggy bank. The first few drop to the bottom, and you hear the clank of the coin against the porcelain. Then, as you start putting more coins in, they begin to pile up one atop another, sliding every which way down a mountain of other coins, crashing against the sides. Some were bigger than others, and some took up more space. And for a while you wouldn’t think it was that full, that you had plenty of room left and the coins were never going to reach the top. And then, before you knew it, you could feel the height of them without even having to see it. The crash of the coin on top of the last became almost instantaneous, and you knew that soon enough you would have to empty it, that soon enough no more coins would fit. I was trying to be strong, telling myself that it had to happen no matter what, telling myself that it wasn’t goodbye for good, telling myself that there was no reason to waste our last moments being upset when we could spend them being happy. It was all beautiful crap. Not that those things weren’t true,
but they can only last for so long. But you were a different goodbye. I wasn’t just saying goodbye to an acquaintance from math class or a friend from the swimming team. I was saying goodbye to weeknight Starbucks runs where our coffees grew cold as we talked for hours about anything and everything, testing out new positions in the distressed leather club chairs that grew uncomfortable but that we refused to leave because our company was comfort enough. I was saying goodbye to prom night, when I realized what all of my friends had been trying to convince me of for so long. I was saying goodbye to the first person on speed dial that I would call when I had something to share or something I needed to talk about. I was saying goodbye to one of my best friends. And it was supposed to be hard, wasn’t it? But as I stood there, nothing happened. There was no floodgate, no emotional release that would free me of agony. All that remained was silence, the empty space where emotions were supposed to be. A draft of cool air from your house engulfed my bare legs, causing me to straighten a bit as it traveled up my spine, an inviting sensation. You simply smiled, and as you embraced me, I felt the warmth of your neck against mine, the soft baby hairs like peach fuzz tickling my ear lobe and making me smile instantaneously. It was the first time in weeks that the smile constructed itself rather than me having to assemble it piece by piece, as if my muscles had forgotten how to do it correctly. We were big on hugs. In the hallway, in the middle of the classroom, in the middle of the street or in the middle of the cafeteria line, through seatbelts and over armrests, sitting, standing, kneeling, jumping, and running—we basically did it everywhere in every way possible. And when people say someone is a good hugger, you always have to ask yourself, is there really a such thing? Isn’t a hug just a hug? Hell no. Our hugs were magical, like the ones you get from the Disney characters at the theme park when you’re little, filling you with the sensation that comes from wrapping your arms around a character that on any other day was just a picture in a book, a figment that only your imagination could bring to life. And as soon as you touch them, your dreams are a reality, there for you to touch and explore. Suddenly the whole world is the glossy pages of a book, rife with smiling characters and vibrantly yellow suns that radiate across the entire landscape. That’s what happened when we hugged. And even on the night I asked you, clutching a bouquet of flowers and singing my lungs out, I never thought of our hugs as anything more. I remember scrambling through the sand, filling the paper bags with frantic handfuls to hold them down against the shoreline breeze that was growing stronger in between the passing storms I was cutting it dangerously close to. I dropped the tea light candles to the bottom of the bags, and my fingers slipped and shivered as I struggled to ignite the lighter in frenzy. From the view of the sidewalk above, the white paper bags spelled out ‘PROM,’ their soft glow matching that of the lantern by your front door. As you removed the blindfold, I fell to one knee in the middle of the ‘O.’ I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and began to sing—at the top of my lungs in the most Frank Sinatra-like voice I could produce—the song “At Last” by Etta James. “At last,
my love has come along. My lonely days are over. And life is like a song.” • • •
Before Jenna ran off with Kevin, she and I had been considered the perfect couple. The truth was the time we spent together consisted of purely hooking up, and the moments afterward were silent. That seemed to be the only thing we could get right. We would lie in my bed staring at the ceiling instead of each other. I would open my mouth hoping that by some miracle words would come out, but none ever did. It didn’t feel right, and it hadn’t for a while, but we ignored it, because we were us. We ignored it because we were too scared to admit that maybe we’d made a mistake. Too scared to show everyone else we weren’t perfect. But there you were. In the months after, in between class or after school, in the middle of the night when the sound of your voice lethargically answering the phone at 2 a.m. was comfort enough—you were there. When Jenna and I broke up the first, second, third, and fourth times, when I had to choose where to spend the next four years of my life, when all of my friends were drinking and I didn’t know what to do—you were there. And when boy after boy treated you as though you weren’t the amazing person you are, when your plans for the future were just as unclear as mine—there wasn’t a moment I wouldn’t have sacrificed to prove to you I’d never let you down. I would always be there. And yet I never thought of our hugs as anything more. It wasn’t until that night, when on the dance floor the rainbow glow from the lights seemed to illuminate only you, turning the rest of our senior class into shadows. You leaned back against me as my arms wrapped around your waist, your arms over mine, sliding your fingers between mine and guiding my hands gently across your body and down your inner thighs, the sweat on my hands adhering to the silky fabric of your dress, pulling it tightly against your skin. My hands traced the curves of your waist and glided seamlessly over your hipbone to your legs. Your head was turned to the side, and you looked down and back as if to admire the way your body moved against mine, the way our two bodies moved as one to the music. The hair you had spent hours getting done had broken free. Your bangs hung freely over your face and covered your right eye as strands clung to the sheer finish of your lip-gloss, blowing willows as you breathed. Your eyes were almost closed, as if your body wanted to maximize the sense of touch by eliminating the other senses. My face rested against yours as we moved, my nose against your cheek, my lips grazing it every so often when the music provoked a change in our tempo. As the music went on hiatus and the lights regained a singular color, the rest of our surroundings faded back in. Separating our bodies from one another at this point seemed unnatural, but we did so anyway as the rest of our class migrated to their tables for the meal. We followed suit, pretending that what just happened wasn’t significant, like it was nothing. And we kept pretending. We pretended as we snuggled on the leather couch in Dougie’s basement before we left for the lake house. We pretended as you sat on my lap while we looked out across the lake. We pretended as
we shared glances from across the room while we eagerly set up a table of booze that would mark, for all intents and purposes, the end of our sober senior year. The volume of the music grew in equal proportion to the number of shots being taken until our quiet lake house was a full-fledged ‘rager,’ the alcohol fueling the night and all of its shenanigans. Your body was moving with the music as you absently watched our friend throw back a few drinks, but your face was elsewhere. You looked like you were lost, but even more like you were waiting for something. “Collin, she likes you.” I jumped a little as one of my friends caught me staring. “She wants to hook up with you.” I took a sip from my cup, hoping that its bitter contents would wash down the words and make them easier to digest. All I could do was stare. Maybe it was because I was lonely. When we were dancing, I felt the connection that I had been craving ever since Jenna and I ended. It was one of those things where you think you’re doing just fine, and then once you get another taste, you wonder how you were living without it. You were my best friend; it was supposed to be easy and simple because it was us. What beautiful crap. There was nothing easy or simple about it. I stopped drinking so that we could talk in a clear state of mind. As I began to walk toward you, Alex, too drunk to perceive the awkwardly minimal space that now existed between his face and mine, asked me what was going on. I explained it in all of its sober complication, but as far as he was concerned, it was simple. “She likes you. You obviously like her,” he said, shaking his head and putting his hand up to stop me as I attempted to object to his statement. He knew me better than that. “You like her. Forget about what happened with Jenna. This is prom. Just go for it.” After an encouraging nudge, he went to resume partying, and you walked up to me. We made small talk. To be honest, I don’t even remember what we said, but the subtext was loud and clear. We need to talk. Let’s keep making awkward small talk until one of us finds the courage to actually say that. Oh, you’re hungry? How convenient, the kitchen is upstairs and nobody is there. So we made our way to the stairs, dodging our friends whose paths to the table got less and less straight by the moment. The soft carpet between our toes and the cool air of the next floor greeted us as we emerged from the humid atmosphere in which the scent of alcohol was as abundant as air itself. It was like walking out of a city subway station and being reminded that fresh air does, in fact, exist. We wandered for a bit, the space between our glances occupied by what we both knew but were afraid to bring up. We escaped into the guest room, but before we shut the door to talk, Alex came up to me and scrambled to find something in his pocket. He placed it in my hand. “Just in case,” he provoked. I chuckled. “I’m not going to need it, but thanks, buddy.” I shut the door and realized there were no lights in this room. I stepped forward only to find that all we had to sit on was an air mattress soft enough to make me seasick with the slightest movement. This conversation was off to
a great start. I went to lie down next to you, and you giggled as I fumbled and tried to gain my balance. “We should talk about this,” I struggled to begin. “Yeah,” you agreed. Your head was nestled between where my arm met the side of my body, and I could feel the warmth of your breath blowing across my cheek, caressing my lips as they struggled to find the right words. Your hand rested over my chest, and I had no doubt you could feel my heartbeat growing faster by the moment. “Ok, so here’s what’s going to happen,” I said with as much assertiveness as I could. “I’m going tell you what I think, and you don’t get to say anything until I’m done, ok?” I felt you nod your head ‘yes’ against my arm. And as I stared at the ceiling, I started wishing I had paid attention in those Sunday school classes, hoping that some god somewhere would guide me through what I was about to say. “Here it goes,” I said. The next words came in a single breath, a tidal wave of adolescent uncertainty and doubt. “You mean so much to me and I don’t want to screw that up, I’ve already tried this once and it didn’t work, and I just don’t want to put either of us through that; you’re my best friend, and I love you, just not like that, and I know the dancing and everything made it seem like more, I know it did, and I’m sorry, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” By the time I finished and collected my breath, I was actually confident it wasn’t a good idea, confident that maybe this would be easier than I thought. But it was your turn. “Collin,” you started. And anytime you start something by saying my name, I know that it’s about to make more sense than anything else in the world. Usually I would find comfort in that, but now it worried me. “I’m not going to lie. I like you, and I have for a little while now. And I get why you’re scared, I don’t blame you. What you went through with Jenna was awful and I don’t blame you for never wanting to experience that again. But Jenna and I aren’t the same person. I’m not like her and I’m not going to hurt you, like she did. I know you don’t want to screw anything up, and I know you wont. You’re not that kind of guy. All I’m asking is that you trust me and believe me and give this a try.” Shit. That is literally all I could think. Shit. “So you’ve liked me for a while and I’ve been too stupid to notice?” I asked. “Pretty much.” And believe me, I tried. I tried to convince myself that this was a good thing. I tried to convince myself that this could work out, that I was ready, that I wouldn’t break your heart like every other guy. But I couldn’t. I was afraid and you were optimistic. I was unsure and you were certain. I was content and you were eager. I didn’t feel that way, but you did. And that’s what we established. Over, and over, and over, just with different words and different phrases, hoping that looking at it from a different perspective would change something. We were lonely; the only difference was that I knew it and
you thought it was something else. “Look, Mia,” I could feel your hopeful and eager smile deteriorate, “there’s no easy way to say this, but I just don’t feel that way about you.” Your hand lifted away from my chest a little bit. “You’re my best friend, and if we did this, it would only be because for the past how many months we’ve been so busy complaining about our messes of relationships that we forgot to go get some, so now, well, we’re just really horny. I care about you too much to do that to you.” I couldn’t believe I just used being horny as a legitimate argument, but I figured it was over, the hard part, at least. “Then let’s just do that. Let’s just hook up,” you said more assertively than I could have ever expected. “Sure, I like you. But I am horny, Collin, and I want to hook up with you. I’ll just convince myself that I don’t like you. It’s not the first time that I’ve had to do that with a guy.” I couldn’t believe it. That would be any guy’s dream, but I knew better. You were starting the process of disconnecting. The process where you tried to convince yourself you didn’t have feelings because past experience taught you they led to nothing but pain. “Mia, I’m not going to let you do that to yourself. I can’t do this knowing that you have feelings that I don’t, knowing that afterwards you’re going to want more than what I can give you.” “I guess you’re right,” you half-heartedly admitted after a few moments of silence. The disappointment was loud and clear. And the silence resumed. We had said everything we needed to say a million times over, and yet there we lay. Who were we kidding? “Collin,” you said resolutely. “I don’t care.” I turned my head towards you and everything that told me not to disappeared. I rolled on top of you and your legs curled around mine, tightening and pulling me closer. Your arms reached up and around my neck and you ran your fingers through my hair. The sensation caught me by surprise and sent a shiver down my spine. We were so close that you could feel it too, and you smiled with the pleasure of knowing how easily you could take control of my body. My biceps were stiff as I held myself above you. I looked down, finding your green eyes that reflected the light poking through the flimsy door which separated us and everyone else. “Are we really about to do this?” I asked. Without saying a word, your arms pulled me towards you and I slowly let my arms out from under me. And, like our friends on the other side of the door who sipped from red cups, we did what we knew we shouldn’t do and yet wanted to do for that exact reason We talked, afterwards, searching in the dark for our various garments and agreeing that it was nothing and wouldn’t affect us. The dark was the only thing stopping you from seeing the pure regret that I couldn’t otherwise hide. It wasn’t you. You were beautiful. You were amazing. You were perfect. It was because the entire time—as our lips separated only to share a breath, as your body rose and you gasped in the scent of my body, while I pulled your shirt away from your shoulder and kissed your collarbone inch by inch—my eyes were open.
When we opened the door, there was no use in trying to hide it. You went to share everything with your girlfriends, and the guys greeted me with high fives and a congratulatory shot. I took the shot, but it was far from celebratory. And I continued to do so, we all did. When I woke up the next morning, I found myself shivering on the floor next to the coffee table. The sea of red cups and articles of clothing whose owners were elsewhere immediately reminded me of what had happened the night before. As the rest of the house awoke, we were horrified at what we found. The basement smelled like a liquor store, the living room looked like there was nothing that had shielded it from the thunderstorm that raged the night before, and the kitchen looked as though raccoons had been scavenging for food all night long. I left early to head back to school, but you stayed behind to leave with the group going home later. It felt like everyone was watching us as you got up from the sticky kitchen table to hug me goodbye. Everyone was curious as to what we were now, what our ‘status’ was. I was pretty curious myself. The next few days were awkward. I didn’t pass you notes during class or nudge you when I thought something was funny. I didn’t call you every night because I was afraid of leading you on. We didn’t hug in public anymore, or at all, for that matter. I was scared. Scared that I was no better than any of the guys I despised for hurting you. Scared the guys at Starbucks would forget my drink order because we wouldn’t be there chatting the nights away anymore. Scared that I let you down. So scared, in fact, that I never thought to ask how you felt. And after a week I couldn’t take it anymore. So I called you and asked you to meet me. “Please don’t tell me that I screwed this up,” I began. (I forgot to mention I was so scared that I forgot how to converse like a normal human being). “What happened, well, it happened. We can’t change that. I feel awful. I feel like I led you on. I feel like I let you down. I basically feel like one of those assholes that you would complain to me about but now you can’t because I’m the asshole. I feel like an asshole.” “Collin, you’re not an asshole,” you said simply. “I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew what we were doing was just for the sake of doing it, and that was my decision. I’m the one who started it. You have nothing to feel bad about.” “Yeah, but still,” I said. “I should have known better.” “Collin, it’s fine,” you reassured me with a smile. “Do I still like you? Yeah, a little bit. But I like everyone. It’ll go away. We’re still us, don’t worry.” You knew me well enough to know that you had to be blunt in order for me to take what you were saying to heart. And that’s exactly what I did. It wasn’t long after that I was sipping a cold coffee on a distressed leather club chair, listening to your most recent boy problems. I couldn’t help but smile, a reaction you thought was in response to your rant about how he sends the sweetest texts but never seems to act that way in person. In reality, I was smiling at us. And every so often I would drift off into space as you kept on ranting, wondering to myself, what if? What if it wasn’t just loneliness? What if I hadn’t been so afraid, so rational?
“Mia,” I would state. “I need a woman.” You chuckled and said, “Hey, buddy, you had your chance.” It was all in good fun, but I still couldn’t help but wonder, what if?
When Streetlights Become Philosophers He threw his bike over the edge of the bridge to count how many seconds until it hit the bottom of the river. He shook the streetlight and asked whether the leap was worth it. Its flickers told him that time always lasts a little longer than one wants it to.
Don’t Forget to Light the Candles No one sees you’re looking right at me through your eyelids, that your chest moves upward slowly like holding in a giggle that your fingers twitch to catch fireflies. Screams we exchanged as you ran from enemies turn into painful cries as mother collapses to the pavement clutching the bandana that made us victorious. No one believes me when I tell them you’re still awake.
Curiosity is a powerful drug. It pulls you in, slowly at first, luring you with small curiosities that you have yet to notice. Before you’re aware of what is transpiring, it’s got you in its clutches. You become dependent on it as it seeps from your every pore, a drug hard as cocaine; with each breath, your craving grows. It drives you to a point where you cannot imagine a world without the feeling and, as you become consumed, it opens up new doors for you. My first encounter with this entity was in the form of a black cat that called to my brother and me. It led us to play in a place I constantly go back to in my mind. In that small, feral yard, we allowed our minds to run rampant and guide us, helping us discover things about our small world and about ourselves that we had never known. Keeping low to the ground in the yard, I stilled my breathing in an attempt to stay hidden. The tall, dying grass pushed roughly against me, reminding me of my vulnerability. I had been too confident to think I had enough time. Trying to steady myself on the uneven ground beneath my dirtied, hardened feet, I kept my eyes up for any sign of movement. The tall grass, my greatest advantage at this point, which enveloped and hid me, could also give away my position with a single stir. Somewhere out there my brother was hiding just as I was, and it was his advancement that I hoped I saw creeping towards me. Suddenly, it changed direction and gained velocity. A few feet away from me, I heard my brother cry out in surprise. The grass rustled as they caught his lifeless form. Panicked now, I moved back slowly hoping not to attract attention. I never saw it coming. It had moved much too fast for my eyes to spot it, but by the time I noticed, it was too late. I turned just in time to see fierce emeralds surrounded by a shroud of black. The brilliant green was the last thing I saw as I was pushed harshly to the ground. The dead grass embraced me; its harshness coaxed and cuddled me into joining it. I acknowledged my fate, and as I felt the weight of the creature’s claw against my skin, I closed my eyes. Laughter greeted my ears, traveling on the wind. Standing up, I couldn’t see the creature that had just seconds ago held me in its grasp. Even at full height, I could barely see anything. A head with messy dark brown hair and giggling eyes floated above the grass and met my gaze. I cautiously took a step forward as my brother ran towards me. “I can’t believe he found us so fast,” he said, shaking his head. “Speak for yourself,” I said as I playfully pushed him. “Even I could have found you that easily.” Walking together, we headed towards the back of the yard where we had discovered the cat. The back of the yard was the only patch of land that wasn’t covered in dying vegetation. The thin-skinned fruit beneath our soles burst with bright colors, a sharp contrast with the yard. The only objects that dared to dress in colors rather than shroud themselves in gloomy gray and brown were a small tree and the multitude of berries that occupied its branches. In addition to the
minuscule tree was also a sole gray boulder speckled with purple by the same culprit that was now painting our feet festive shades of violet. Sitting on top of the rock was the cat that my brother had mentioned earlier. Spotting us, he yawned and stretched as if mocking us for our lack of experience. It was he that had lured us here with his emerald eyes, and it was he that allowed us to play. Purring now, he placed his head near my brother’s hand, begging to be pet. “You won’t make a very good hunter if you’re this friendly,” my brother said, running his hand over the moonless sky fur. The traces of the hunter that pushed me harshly to the ground were gone and instead stood a purring cat and a small boy. In the small realm of the yard, and in our imagination, we controlled reality. Yet, every now and again, we would allow both worlds, the reality of the world and that of our domain, to mingle. My brother and I had discovered this place together. Wandering the street where our house stood, we came across the small abandoned home with the feral yard. It was different from anything we knew at that time. At the ages of five and six, we knew only the green embodying life that surrounded the homes, the flowers that burst with color, and the powerful trees that overpowered the sidewalk, guaranteeing a cool yet uneven platform beneath our feet. We also knew the urban decay around us, the old store with uneven coats of paint, so that if you looked closely you could see the previous color peeking through. We knew the busy streets littered with trash, mostly sunbleached plastic bags and bottles, but every once in a while we would spot a broken glass bottle, its pieces kaleidoscoping the street. That is what first drew us to the yard: the foreign aura that seemed to surround the place. Its strangeness and the cat that lived in it called to us like sirens. Our curiosity could only be alleviated by exploring the yard. Once inside we played to our heart’s desire, molding the yard and its inhabitants to fit our purposes. We played a game with no rules, no obligations. We listened only to our instinct and let it guide us through the motions. In the midst of our childish games, we experienced a freedom that we had not experienced before. The yard seemed to transport us to another dimension, free of the obligations and rules of the world we had left behind. The freedom that we experienced here fueled our curiosity the more and more we played. What is there to be liberated from at the young ages of five and six? For me, it was the chores of the home and expectations of my household. As the oldest daughter and second oldest child I was expected to help around the house, do all the work that was considered “women’s work.” Washing clothes, picking up after my brothers, helping with the cooking, feeding the youngest, putting the clothes up to dry and then folding them all before the sun set. Needless to say my brother was made to work with me at times, but my father would scoff at the suggestion of him helping with the cooking. At that time there was a strict mindset in the household: there were jobs for women and there were jobs for men. None of these rules mattered in the abandoned cho’och’; there were no preset roles there. We ventured past the boundaries set forth and tried to discover our true passions. Yet all things cannot last for an eternity. Just as quickly as we had found something to quench our curiosity and to provide us with freedom, we lost it. It was a simple move, barely halfway across town, but to us it might as well
have been a state away. We had lost the one place that had granted us freedom and were once again beginning to feel the pains of a suppressed curiosity. The discovery of the yard had granted us liberation, and its loss left us at a standstill. We began to look for new ways to appease our curiosity. For me, this came in the form of books. Reading, much like the yard, allowed me to travel beyond normalcy and experience things which I had never thought of before. The sirens that had inhabited the yard manifested themselves in various things throughout my life. Always drawing me close, holding me and showing me something I hadnâ€™t seen before. The tall grass of the yard which had always reached for us continued to do so in everyday objects. My constant reading and wondering allowed me to advance faster than my peers in my studies, leaving more time for wandering and reading. My teachers suggested that I be placed in a higher grade; I refused, knowing this would anger my older brother and leave me with less time for wandering. I was never truly interested in school, or doing well in it; I only wanted to discover new things. College had only crossed my mind a few times, and I never dwelt on it much. Years before, when I had played in the old yard, I felt liberated because I loathed the idea of preset roles. There I was allowed to do whatever I wished. I loved the idea of choosing my own path, but as I observed those around me, I realized that we were beginning to fall into the roles of our parents. I saw how my friends around me slowly began to live the life that I loathed: working menial jobs for minimum wage, having just enough to get by, and even ending up in jail. I was walking along the same path and feared ending up the same. In my effort to appease my curiosity, I had begun to lose my own individuality, the uniqueness that I had felt in the yard all those years ago. In order to be different, to once again try to find my true passion, I decided to go back to my roots. I wanted to once again discover my true passion. The siren voices manifested themselves this time in the form of higher education. Calling to me they asked, what better place for a curiosity than college and the outdoors? What better place than that to allow your mind to explore? The tall blades of grass that had coaxed me to join them in eternal slumber now encouraged me to search for them elsewhere. I, as the child that I have never outgrown, followed after them and have now found myself here. In my mind that old rundown yard in which I played will always be wankil. It was perhaps in that very yard that my destiny was chosen as I looked for a means to satisfy my curiosity. The yard and all of its manifestations thereafter have continuously been calling me forward to explore new things and rediscover myself. Through numerous experiences, it has allowed me to evolve each time, learning more and more and growing as a poyanam. The yard, although now long gone, is a constant reminder of a different world, a world where I can make my own roles to fill; all I need is enough curiosity to find it. So now I traverse the world, sometimes in my own little world, sometimes in reality, but at all times on the lookout for the black cat that may lead me away.
Sailboat The air hits my face, bitter to the taste, enjoyable.
He died out here, I tell myself and I rub the R on my necklace, the lone girl rubbing her necklace sailing out into the ocean. he didn’t die in the ocean the hose, the car parked in the center of the garage skewed slightly to the left the door closed. He knew I was coming, He couldn’t have missed the big belly, The tenderness of my mother’s touch. The gas hit his face, Bitter to the taste, And yet, enjoyable, He ran his fingers through his hair as he glanced out at the shore. But for him, there was no shore. I look back at the picture in my hand, The shore in clear view, He had always wanted a granddaughter they tell me The lone girl, rubbing her fingers across the R on her necklace.
Printed, 1979 It started with a line A single black dash Through the letters Still legible Multiple scratchings Hid the meaning At first glance still decipherable Coats of white out Ironic Attacked again with scratching Wild, cloudy spots on the page Gray Against the yellow white
Generations of readers Following this progression till The ultimate removal Of the N word
Michigan Minutes They told me Michigan time is ten minutes late But I think itâ€™s ten minutes short As in, Michigan minutes Are shorter than other minutes Not short in the comical sense, Getting knocked around by the Taller, stronger minutes, Or short in the tragic sense, Lacking enough nutrients To be healthy minutes, But short in the sense that they donâ€™t feel Like real minutes Michigan minutes speed through the day, Barely allowing you to pause and think, Or appreciate the minutes, For being minutes, Instead of seconds. Michigan minutes make days feel like hours, Hours feel like minutes Minutes feel like seconds. Class starts ten seconds after class starts. Michigan minutes tumble, Push through crowds and dodge bikes Chasing that ten second deadline, Stuck in the vortex, Between one and ten after
Mark Yourself Wake up. You hear the whispering voices; they say your name. You’ve been found out. They saw your footprints in the snow. Damn it. It was supposed to snow last night. You sweat and close your eyes under your covers, awaiting the inevitable: the loud footsteps on the hard wood floor, the creak of the door. In the darkness you’re in a canoe. Alone. The river is calm, slow moving like time. You hear the water flowing, kissing the boulders and the banks. Tall pine trees engulf your sight. Green. But, the sky darkens. The water picks up speed. The rapids, the rapids, the rapids. Door opens and the question is asked. You spit out the truth, fire ignites and whips your tongue and lips, you can’t help but moan the words. They form a jumbled bubble around your head. Window. Out. Snuck. The. Yes. I. The water is untamed, foaming in the distance.
Get up—YES—get up. Go to school, get ready, scolding. You are no longer allowed to see him. You don’t deserve to go to college. Every good thing you looked forward to is going to be ripped from your life. You stumble to the bathroom, keeping your walnut eyes bolted shut. You feel sick with the news, your ears ringing. Everything is dizzy. Your throat burns with stomach acid. Numb—are you even yourself anymore? You feel the rapids again. You are surging down them, your canoe uncontrollable. There’s no one there, no turning back. All you can do is watch yourself being thrust into raging water that is thunderous, hungry for you. Spiral, spiral, spiral down your mind, into the crooked cracks and the caverns. Leave yourself behind, enter the omniscient entrance. The falls are coming, the jagged rocks are coming. You are numb; mark yourself with pain.
Fire Escape the Scene Comes springtime, comes new life, comes transformation. My body will stand its ground. I ascend the ashen fire escape, icicles melting, snow dripping from above, grasping for dear life on the cold, rusted rails. Using my limbs, I drag myself up the zigzagging steps. Three flights. My legs sprouting taller, body stretching. Give rest and install myself at the top of the stairs on the pointy, grated ledge. It sinks into the skin of my legs like a deer in a metal trap. Its teeth gnaw and crack my bones with a well-calculated force. It snaps, exerting 700 pounds to turn my bones into powder, sprinkling over the melting snow. Sun neutralizes the cold on my cheeks, dissolves into my freckles and pores. Evaporating. Evaporating. Evaporating away my skin. My feet of brown moccasins are next. They melt into waves, flowing into the mayhem of river and trees below. A rollercoaster hill of beige. My fingers are bleeding strawberries: juicing, exploding, and bursting. The juice, like red paint, drips down the metal along with the icicles above. My hair, waving and flowing, entangles with the wind. Red strands turn to vines and climb the crimson brick of the building. My eyes are all that are left. Raised chestnuts looking at the turning of the seasons, watch them as they arc towards the sun. My body did not stand its ground, but everyone has their melting points.
Endangered I am an endangered species. I can easily find my own kind, and you can easily find me. I account for 2% of the world’s population. I will be extinct by 2060. In history, I was persecuted for my appearance. I would have been burned at the stake. Hitler banned the marriage of my people. I evolved from Neanderthals, and I dominated Atlantis. You wouldn’t want to fight with me. In the UK, there have been hate crimes against me. I have been stabbed, bullied, murdered, sexually assaulted, and forced out of my home. There are two days named after me. One is for kicking. One is for praising my existence. People make jokes about me and call me names—it’s a type of racism, actually. Wendy’s, Christmas cards, and TV shows all antagonize me. I am considered to be unlucky, but you will want to pet my head.
I bleed more than most. I am colder. Bees sting me more. I frequently get allergies. I will most likely die from cancer. When you see me, your metabolism and heart rate will increase. I am a genetic mutation. But I will not grey, and everyone else will. I was a queen in real life, but I’m also one in Alice in Wonderland. Denmark honors me. No one else can say they were the first woman on earth, but I can. I have Russia named after me, my own town, and turquoise eyes. But they don’t. So you may ask how I accept others that are also different? Better than most. I understand their pain. I have been there, done that for almost 50,000 years. I will not judge, because I am like them. I am a redhead.
The first time I saw you, you waddled into the room, four years old, your fist held firmly up to your mouth. Your mother said, in her heavy Indian accent, “Avnish, this is Stephanie; she’s your new babysitter.” You nodded, staring intensely at me sitting on the couch in your playroom. Your grandmother, Aji, sat in her Sari, her gray hair matted back into an informal ponytail. She wore a glaring frown. Your grandfather, Baba, wore a grey suit that matched his silk gray hair. His eyes were shrunken olives hidden behind thick glasses. They informed me you had work books to go through in the summer, puzzles, reading. You said, “We are going to be best friends this summer.” And we were. On that first day I watched you from the porch as I crept my car out of the driveway. Your grandparents were sitting on the porch swing, one frowning, one with a mindless stare. I adored that you were so carefree, and I knew one day I wanted a kid like you. I think your mom and grandmother saw that. Your mother resented me for being able to control you, yet still be a best friend. She looked defeated as she said, “Come on now, Avnish, not at the kitchen table. Budka! Budka!” Your grandmother was the same; her frown grew and the wrinkles on her forehead folded as I got you to eat. She just yelled at you in Marathi, which you didn’t even understand. Her head would bob from side to side, side to side, her lips pouted, shoving the spoon in front of your face. You smiled and looked at me, waiting for the countdown, trying to show me you could always win in a race. Your parents insisted that even though this was summer, you would still learn. Every day we did puzzles, similar to the ones we did together the first time we met. They taught you the alphabet. Your grandmother took care of your learning of numbers. She would chant in her loud British-sounding English “One! Two! Three!” When you got it right she would grunt, “Good, good.” You’d try to hug her and nudge her chin with your head like you did with me, but she just responded with a pat on your back, soon telling you to get back to work. Your mother would say in her Hindi accent, “Avnish, if you do not pay attention and listen to Stephanie when she teaches you, you won’t go to a good university and get a good job. Stephanie is smart, she is going to a good university in the fall for school. You want to be like her?” “Yesss,” you mumbled, as you kicked the ground with your hands in your pockets.
• • •
The one thing I remember clearest was that I taught you how to ride a bike. Your parents bought you elbow pads, knee pads, gloves, and an oversized helmet for your tiny body. The first couple of tries I explained steering and peddling, how important it was to look where you were going. I held onto the back of your seat and ran beside you in the smoldering heat
of summer. When you started peddling faster, gaining balance, I let go, still running beside you. “You’re doing it, Avnish! You’re riding a bike!” I saw your grandpa watching from the porch, smiling and laughing, saying in his broken English, “You did it, Avnish!” His voice was proud of his grandson. You laughed, so proud of yourself, that is, until you had to stop. I watched in slow motion as you forgot to steer and ran into the curb. The bike plopped you on the grass. You scorned me for letting go, saying, “When I want to stop, you have to catch me.” You made me promise, but I would always break that promise, wanting you to learn how to stop yourself. At the end of the summer it was your birthday; it was also my last day of work. For your birthday I bought you a T-Rex costume. The soft plush, full body costume made your little body even more awkward. I tried to capture the last moment between us before I had to leave for college. I’d already coped with leaving my high school friends; now I had to deal with leaving you. Your mom was scorning you, saying, “Avnish, we don’t want you to ruin your costume before Halloween, if you do you will have no costume to go around with, and you will get no candy.” But that didn’t stop us. We examined every stitch and detail in that costume together, looked at your newfound skin. I looked down at you, sitting at the steps like when I first met you. After looking down at your lap, you stood up and held up your arms as I asked for a hug. You jumped into my arms when we spun around in circles. You still thought I was coming back in a few weeks, not a few months. Time at college was new and exciting. I fell into a rhythm and the schedule of being an autonomous college kid. Every time I saw a little kid I still thought of you, a fleeting thought, but it made me wonder how much you had grown up. Could you eat breakfast on your own? Were you still riding your bike? Did you now know how to read? Halfway through the semester I came home for Fall Break. My mom reminded me to call your family. She had gotten an email before from your mother, telling her that you really missed me; I was glad you missed me, too. I wanted to feel that tightness in my chest when I saw your excited face. When I rang the doorbell, I expected your face to be smushed against the window, waiting for your mom to open the door. Then I rang the doorbell again. I waited. Eventually your mom opened the door. I waited as she called you from upstairs. She sang, “Avnish, I have a surprise for you.” You came down the steps, rubbing your eyes. When you finally saw it was me, you smiled and blushed saying, “Ohhhh, it’s you.” Instead of giving me a running hug you sat on the stairs looking down at me. I asked you questions about preschool, friends, what you had been up to. You mumbled back: finger painting, your teacher’s name, how you wanted to play baseball. I sat down at the table, your mom asking me about college, but you were completely uninterested. You wouldn’t sit on my lap like you used to, just sat on the couch and watched TV. Once you found out I wasn’t going to take you to the pool to swim because it was closed, I wasn’t anything to you. When I tried to ask you questions again you were silent. Your mother exclaimed, “Avnish, Stephanie is here to see you. Answer her!” I was embarrassed that we had grown apart so quickly. Instead of me
telling you to listen to your mother, she was telling you to listen to me. The roles had been reversed, and it hit me that we weren’t best friends anymore. You’d grown up quickly. I wasn’t in your life like I thought, not like your mother. I was just a person in your life, easily forgotten. When it was time for me to go, I asked for a hug. You held out your short arms, and I bent down and picked you up. I squeezed you so tightly, trying to make you remember how it used to be. Wanting to force us to be close, if only for a little while longer.
I walk in on her watching it again. Sitting there in front of the computer, just watching. She used to cry when she watched it, but she doesn’t anymore. The life is gone; I suppose she drowned it all with her tears. “Kate, why do you do this to yourself?” I walk over, shut the monitor off. She, as usual, says nothing. “Come on,” I say, tugging on her sleeve. Her arm is limp, and she doesn’t look at me, but reaches for her cane and leans on it heavily as she stands up. I offer my arm to support her, but she ignores it. She limps to her room and shuts the door behind her. My chest feels like it’s caving in, but I’m used to that. That’s how it usually feels nowadays. • • •
“Oops, sorry!” The laundry basket tumbled out of her hands, sending its contents down the stairs. Her face turned a bright pink, and she scrambled after her fallen clothes, bowing her head so that her hair hid her from my view. “Clumsy, eh?” I joked, reaching down to help. I avoided touching the bras and panties outright, using faded t-shirts and jeans to scoop them into the basket. She avoided my gaze shyly, focusing too hard on the clothes. “Not usually,” she mumbled. “That’s okay, everyone has bad days.” “You could’ve fallen down the stairs, I feel really bad!” “It’s not a problem.” When all the clothes were back in the basket, she picked it up with a grunt. I could tell she was straining and offered my assistance. Her name was Katherine Lawrence, but she didn’t like it. She preferred to be called Kate, she said. “Nice to meet you,” I said. “My name’s Drew.” I would’ve extended my hand if I hadn’t been carrying her laundry basket. Her lips were small, but not thin—they had a beautiful, sculpted shape that I suddenly had the urge to trace with my fingertips. “What floor do you live on?” “Fourth.” “Mm’kay. Lead the way, milady.” I felt my face heat up then. But to my relief, she smiled at my chivalry instead of mocking me for it. Kate didn’t want me to go inside her room. When she got the door open she took the basket from me. She didn’t meet my eyes when her hands touched mine, overlapping on the basket’s handles. “Thanks, Drew, that was really sweet,” she said, still not looking up at me. “Of course,” I said. We stood in her doorway, not knowing what else to say. Finally, she cleared her throat and giggled nervously. “I’m gonna put this
inside.” “Yeah, okay.” I stuffed my hands in my pockets and took a few steps back. “Hey, wait.” She looked over her shoulder at me. “You wanna meet up for lunch tomorrow?” Kate shifted the basket in her arms. Then, with a hesitant smile, she nodded. • • • Rubbing my aching temples, I sit down at the computer. The seat is warm from Kate sitting there before me, and I briefly wonder how long she’d been watching. The YouTube window is still open when I turn the monitor back on, and I stare at the paused video. It’s the temptation. I rewind the video and start it over from the beginning, turning the sound low so she can’t hear it from her room. October 2006, the screen says. Katherine Lawrence. Lyrical Solo. The music starts and the camera zooms in on a folded body in the middle of the stage. I watch as her body twists and contorts—spinning, jumping, falling and gracefully rising up again. Her legs, slender and muscular, fly above her head. A controlled, perfected move. She falls to her knees, only to whirl to her feet again, her body silently singing in emotional and physical ecstasy. I close the window, unable to watch any more. • • • Kate, I soon found, wasn’t as shy as she’d first seemed. She confessed to me that she was quiet around strangers, especially guys, but opened up quickly once an acquaintanceship was established. “What’s your major?” she asked. I shrugged. “Eh, I’m not really sure yet. I figure I’ve got some time to figure it out. I mean, we’ve got more than two whole years left.” “Okay, well, what are you into?” She began to tap a rhythm on the table with her fingers. They bumped her dirty fork, causing a metallic clink that made her wince and mouth, “Sorry.” “Science.” “Are you nerdy?” she asked, grinning. “No!” I pretended to be offended, folding my arms across my chest. “Scientists are not always nerds!” “Oh yeah? Prove me wrong.” She pressed those perfect lips together, leaned forward, waited for my response. “Well,” I began. But I hesitated, not knowing what to say. “Ha! Told you!” “Give me a second, will you?” I said, but we were both laughing too hard for me to think straight enough to come up with something. “Fine. Whatever, you win.” “I know. I’m awesome like that.” Her laughter still lingered in her eyes and
played at the corners of her lips. “Alright. So I’m some kind of science major and an automatic nerd. What about you? Do you like science, too?” “No, not me. I’m a very musical person. I’m not going to major in music,” she said, “I just like it a lot.” “What do you want to major in?” “I’m in the school of dance.” I choked on my Coke, and she looked at me strangely. “Kate,” I said, laughing, “you almost knocked me down the stairs when we first met. How is a klutz like you in the dance school?” “Gee thanks,” she said, rolling her eyes. “For your information, I’m not usually that clumsy.” “Sure,” I said good-naturedly. She was fun to tease—not too oversensitive, and fun enough to tease me back. “I’ll prove it to you. There’s a dance jam in three weeks, on Saturday. I’ll email you the info. Be there.” • • •
She was amazing. She had such control over her body, she almost seemed mechanical, but the grace and smoothness of her movements sang to me of her humanity. Kate was spinning on the dance floor as quickly and easily as an Olympic figure skater, kicking so far above her head she could probably kick over mine, and dancing so hypnotically I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Not that I could take them off her anyway. I was really glad that she’d invited me; now I knew why she was always tapping her fingers and her feet, always half-dancing when we walked around campus together. “I guess I can’t call you a klutz anymore,” I told her after the performance. “No, you can’t,” she said, grinning. Her forehead glistened with sweat but her eyes sparkled with life. “You did knock my socks off. Look.” She laughed, not even looking at the foot I’d brandished as proof. “You’re such a dork.” “No, seriously. That jump where you do the splits in midair?” “Those are so much fun! This is what makes life worth living. At least, for me.” “Do you ever get nervous before you dance in front of people?” “No.” Kate hesitated. “Well, I did this time, which was weird, because that hasn’t happened since I was little.” Her face turned pink and she shyly looked away from me. We walked in silence for a little while, watching the sun’s colors bleeding out into the sky as it set. “Why were you nervous this time?” I glanced over at her again and she was biting her lip. “Someone special was there this time.” I pretended to scratch my head. “Now, who could that be?” She didn’t respond, just looked at the ground as she walked.
“Hey,” I said, nudging her arm. She looked up at me, her blue eyes shadowed with a doubt I hadn’t seen since I’d met her. “You wanna get some dinner with me tonight?” Relief flooded her face. “Sure,” she agreed. “I’m starving.” “And by the way,” I said mischievously, “this counts as a date.” She debated with me for a while about what counted as a date, but I refused to back down. I was paying for her dinner, and it was a date. She gave up with a dramatic sigh but then smiled shyly and said something about male chivalry. After dinner, we walked together back to the dorms. “Have you ever had a girlfriend?” she asked. Taken aback, I found myself stammering. “Sorry,” she said quickly. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.” “No, it’s okay,” I finally said. “I just don’t know what you’ll think.” “I’ll reserve judgment,” she said jokingly, but her eyes were serious. I didn’t blame her for asking. I wanted to know her history, too. “No.” I felt my face heat up. Her face softened, and she leaned toward me. “How come?” I swallowed, nervous. “Never felt right with anyone before.” I felt so lame, answering like that. But it was true. I’d had crushes during high school, had even taken girls to dances, but had never felt any kind of spark. My mom always told me stories about her and my dad, and she claimed that when you meet “the one,” it’s clear as day. And the first kiss says everything about them. “I admire that.” Shocked, I glanced at her face. Her deep blue eyes looked back at me warmly. “Too many guys think it’s manly to sleep around, get as many girls as possible. I think it’s special when a guy values love enough to want to find the right person. It doesn’t happen much.” “My mama taught me right,” I said, only half-joking. Kate bit her lip, hesitating, and then reached out and took my hand. “I really like you,” she whispered, looking away as a deep blush crept up her neck and into her cheeks. I stood there, my insides warm, and my hand touching hers. I squeezed her hand. “Kate.” She looked up at me again, and I felt my stomach flutter strangely. Kiss her, said the butterflies. When our lips touched, I felt my heart melt into the rest of my chest. Kate’s lips were soft, gentle, hesitant. Her face lingered, her mouth trembling slightly. I touched her face gently, and pulled away so I could look her in the eyes. They were so blue. They shone like light reflecting off a puddle in a dark street. “Wow,” she breathed, letting out a small moan as I caressed her lips with mine again. “Yeah,” I said. “Wow.” • • •
We sit at the table, eating dinner in silence. Kate picks at her food, poking at it with a look of disgust. I stare at her for a moment then go back to eating my tuna casserole. She used to love my cooking. Kate always said there was a kind of love and tenderness put into homemade food you couldn’t get in a restaurant— even if the food didn’t taste as good. The effort made it that much better, she would say. Now nothing I make pleases her. She sits there, picking at it, with the same distasteful expression every night. “Are you done?” I ask wearily, offering to take her plate to the sink for her. She pushes the plate away from her and heaves herself to her feet, not answering. She limps to the couch, her metal cane helping her to stumble along. I watch her and my heart drops. Her hair, once long and shiny, is now short and matted. Her body, once lithe and healthy, is skeletal, almost emaciated. Her legs don’t match each other. Her left leg is twisted unnaturally, and she grits her teeth as she sits on the couch and adjusts it to a more comfortable position. I often imagine her dancing down the aisle, the way she did in grocery stores and shopping malls. Spinning and twirling in her beautiful dress, before leaping into my arms. I find myself missing the way it felt to cradle her in my arms and feel her warm breath on my neck. With a sigh, I head to the sink and dump the dirty dishes in. Later that night, I can’t sleep. I sit at the computer, browsing the internet. Kate’s sleeping. It’s three in the morning. My disheveled, mud-brown hair mocks me in the reflection on the computer screen. I heave a sigh and rub my eyes, wishing I wasn’t me. Nothing new on Facebook. No one else is on right now. I click on my messages. The letters, videos, and pictures Kate and I sent to each other while we were dating are still there. I never deleted them. I’d sent messages back, usually love letters, long and thoughtful. She would respond by kissing me the next time she saw me, one kiss for every time she had gone “Aww” out loud. A twisting in my gut forces me go to the search bar. Katherine Lawrence, I type. I click the first link that pops up. A picture of the bus is the first thing I see. It’s flipped on its side, in a huge ditch, both sides dented in as though a Titan had bashed it with clenched fists. I scroll down and read the names of the dead. Warren Stone, Olivia Brenner, McKenna James . . . This isn’t the article I’m looking for. I go back to the search page and click the next link. “Dreams Shattered by Tragic Bus Accident.” When the article loads, there she is. A comparative photo of before the accident and shortly after, when she was still in the hospital. The photo of her from before is one that was taken after her last performance, toward the end of our senior year. The one she watches over and over, torturing herself, wishing she had the chance to do this move better, to correct this spin, to make this portion more dramatic. Next to it, she lies in a hospital bed. • • •
Her face was swollen and cut in places, her lips misshapen and bruised. I couldn’t bring myself to look at her left leg, which was in a cast from her foot to her hip. “I love you,” I whispered, and I wished that I could kiss her, make it all better. But she couldn’t even hear me; she was unconscious. And I didn’t know which parts of her were unharmed enough for me to kiss. When I woke up at her side the next morning, sore from being bent in half over her bed, I was met with a doctor. “She’s stable,” she said. “She got tossed around a lot, and her tibia was almost shattered. There’s quite a bit of nerve damage, too. The firefighters who pulled her out said that one of the bus seats got dislodged from its place and crushed her leg.” “She’s gonna be okay, though, right?” My hands were so tightly clenched together, I was losing feeling in the tips of my fingers. “She’ll live.” The doctor looked tired, and she rubbed her temples. Confused, I asked again, “But she’ll be okay?” The doctor sighed. “What do you mean?” “Will she be able to dance again? That’s… that’s everything to her. It’s who she is.” The doctor closed her eyes for a moment and then looked at me. My heart dropped when I saw her expression, and I fell back into the chair. No. Never again. • • • She’s watching the video. Sitting there, motionless. I stand in the doorway, watching her watching. My teeth are gritted so hard together, it hurts. “Goddamn it!” I throw my coat at the window, toss my workbag at the kitchen lamp. I pick up anything and everything I can get my hands on and throw it as hard as I can. The sound of shattering glass fuels me. “What do you want from me?” I grab her by the arm and make her face me. For the first time in months, she looks me in the eyes, and suddenly— suddenly, my anger drains out of me, leaving only despair. “What do you want from me?” I groan, feeling my eyes fill. She looks afraid, her lips slightly open, but her eyes are still dead, still flat and colorless. She doesn’t answer me. “Do you really… really…think you’re the only one who’s hurting?” I release her arm and sink to my knees, my mouth issuing wordless moans. Sheer, wordless pain. And then her arms are around me, pulling me into her lap. I collapse against her, letting her cradle me, quaking and sobbing. I can feel her stroking my hair, rubbing my arm slowly. “Kate,” I sob, pressing her mangled leg against my face. “I’m here,” she whispers.
Written in Stone
I stand on the ledge of a rusty peak and stare across the cavernous gorge towards the escarpments of Grand Canyon National Park. A river has carved out these mile-high cliffs, yet it looks as though God has traced through flatlands with his finger, separating rust-red pyramids between the emerald Colorado River. I have reached the second mile mark along Hermit Trail and am already second-guessing my decision of choosing the Grand Canyon as my first backpacking experience. After finishing high school, months of research, and a desperate desire to behold this spectacle of nature, I begged my parents to sign my twenty-two-year-old brother and me up for a three-day tour of the National Park. Yet as I stand next to my fellow hikers, I suddenly wish to be back in my air-conditioned room, relishing in the glossy eightand-a-half by elevens of the scenery before me. My camera could never do such a monumental panorama any justice, and as I glance further down the meandering trail, it’s either the weight of my thirty pound backpack or the reality that it’s nine miles to the first campsite that causes my legs to wobble. The loose stones crunch nervously under my stiff hiking sneakers, and I can already feel the ache in my hips from the weight of my pack. Among the six of us, we divided the provisions out equally, yet add in my five-pound camera, and I’m easily carrying the most for my weight. The two guides skip along in their fedoras and distressed shirts, pointing out various rock formations and the mineral components in each of the strata like they were multiple flavors of an ice cream sandwich. “Yep, we’re still in the limestone, which is rather soft and has a sort of yellow tint to it.” I have a difficult time paying attention as I try to keep my balance and simultaneously enjoy the view. I slip and slide on the gravel, my walking sticks unable to dig deep into this loose sediment. I begin to fall behind the group, and I can barely distinguish their voices as the crunching of my feet and my heavy breathing soon become the only audible sounds. One of the first difficult parts of this trail is now straight ahead, nicknamed the Cathedral Staircase. I can understand the latter part of the name, as the path suddenly turns into a downward stairway, yet the religious aspect of it can only be experienced. I lead with my hiking poles, driving them into the chalky sediment below as I slowly lower one leg from a lofty step down to the next. If I lean too far forward, the weight of my backpack will cause me to topple over, but I’d rather roll down this trail than strain my wrists and knees, which have already become numb with pain. Injuries are not an option down here. The only way to get help is either to radio or call in a helicopter (which aren’t even allowed to fly over certain areas of the canyon because of its disruption of nature). I accept my physical weakness and try to ignore my bodily discomfort as I continue to descend. The only other people I’ve seen on this trail are the dayhikers who have passed us, red-faced, scrambling back to the top. It was only after the trip that my brother told me that the trip leader had asked him if I was fit enough to complete the trek. I’m not expected to survive. All I can do
is pray. My thighs creak with every downgrade step, and I’ve become increasingly dizzy from the countless switchbacks. Suddenly, I feel a pronounced temperature increase. The rocks on which I walk have evolved from felsic to mafic, heavily compressed stones from deep in the Earth’s mantle. I slow down to survey the surrounding walls that encircle the gorge, and I observe the rainbow of browns and reds, each representing thousands of years of transformation under the surface of the Earth, before being exposed by the meandering river. The power of the Earth and the metamorphism that has happened in the planet’s crust is contained in these rocks that I, a teenager from urban Michigan, am stomping on. I am but a miniscule mark on the globe: a speck, not even comparable to the protozoan fossils that have been discovered here. I can imagine the volcanic turmoil that happened when these structures were created. These red rocks formed in hotter temperatures, hence the temperature increase, and the distinct color comes from the oxidation of iron present in such mafic materials. How interesting, yet the travel guides did not mention how sleeping in such conditions can be a little less comfortable, especially if one is unsure of the deodorant situation of one’s tent mates. I try to think less about this and focus on the next obstacle: rock slides. One of the tour guides has dropped behind the group to monitor me. Ty is a professional reptile handler, and his resemblance to Steve Irwin is unmistakable: the straw hat, the open shirt, the khaki shorts. At first glance, his bronze skin, alert eyes, and mature muscles will convince you he’s twenty, yet he’s almost fifty. I have the utmost trust in his experience, until I ask whether he’s been on this trail before. Nope, never. First time, too. I ask no more questions. We quietly tramp along in single file, as the trail’s width is more comparable to a bike path than a sidewalk. Unexpectedly, it dead-ends into a conglomerate of sandstone boulders which could have easily broken off from the towering escarpments the day before. I cannot see to the other side. I stand in shock, waiting for the construction workers to wave me onto the paved road, yet I’m helplessly left gaping up at this impediment. Like stairs, these rocks are stacked, yet with gaping breaks in between that lead down into a mile-drop abyss below. I timidly place my leg on the wall, thinking I can use it as a springboard to reach the taller rock, but it becomes obvious my legs aren’t long enough and I lack the necessary spring because of my backpack. “Want me to go first?” Ty asks. I admit defeat and move aside. He throws his pack and poles over before bouncing off the sidewall onto the above ledge. Reaching out, I grab his fully extended arm and haul myself over the boulder. I could not have trained for this. My soccer statistics and track times are no match for nature; all I can do is scramble up these humbling formations that teach me patience is necessary, whether you’re creating a planet or just trying to live on one. Mile five. I cannot see where we are headed, and I cannot see from where we came. This trail snakes around the edges of steep hills, and after rounding one hill, another shows itself about a quarter of a mile away. I cannot look down either as I tiptoe along the steepest slope of the hill. The trail disappears, and all I have for guidance is the discoloration in the sediment to keep me centered. My feet step one in front of the other like a cat, as this is the
only room given. I keep both my poles on my left side, where the hill slopes down into the canyon. I kick up a rather large stone and hear it avalanche down and slam into more rocks. I can now understand how these massive formations have developed over millions of years, yet also, I could slip down and crash just as easily if I don’t concentrate. I stare at my feet, cognizant only of what’s approaching. My thumbs are purple now from my tight grip on the handles of the walking sticks, and throbbing calluses are beginning to form. After fifteen minutes of sheer terror, we arrive at a plateau, which provides a fantastic panoramic view that overlooks the Colorado River. I hear the rapids: the tumultuous battle between converging currents and the surrounding rock that tries to stand strong against impending erosion. That daunting trail was well worth this view. The afternoon sun beats against this red rock, creating a gold tint above that evolves to the dull gray-green of the next strata which has become home to a whole different ecosystem, namely, foliage. The wind is strong here, and I battle to keep my hat on as I quickly snap picture after picture, as if the view before me is a mirage waiting to vanish. Only a few minutes are spared for sightseeing; the goal is to reach camp before sundown. I clip the straps of my pack around my bruised hipbones, and I suck on the water tube that connects to the Camelback that sloshes inside my backpack. I hope my dizziness is a result of the view versus potential dehydration. After an hour of straight sun exposure, where the slate-colored shale reflects like snow, our group stops beneath another overhang. Over the edge of the trail lies a large chasm completely encircled by rock walls, which, if you look closely, have been slowly chafing, creating taluses, or piles of rock fragments that have fallen off the side and now lie at the base. All around me this place is changing. In the middle of this chasm is a lone rock pillar jutting out of the pale white ground where fern-like cacti choke the boulders and demand more room. This stone pole looks completely out of place, as if someone took a column from the Parthenon and stuck it in the center of a desert gorge. Our guide explains that it is simply called “Monument.” He then goes into the specifics of how to create a system of ropes and hooks to hike down this ledge into the chasm itself. One of my fellow hikers is next to me, bandaging his second blister, while Ty has run off because he forgot his camera at the last rest stop. My mind wanders as I stuff my mouth with warm, sticky trail mix. I see my pants are stained with the rust-colored rocks under which I’ve been seeking shelter, and I feel the imprints of thorns on my shins from the hostile and barbed vegetation that seem to be the only plants living in this baked climate. It is truly survival of the fittest out here, but it makes the journey twice as rewarding. I feel slightly out of place amongst the grandeur, as if suddenly allowed to touch all the exhibits in the Louvre Museum. How can I possibly lay a hand on a historical item that took numerous years and dedication that few can replicate today? This place is not timeless, yet that’s what makes it so enchanting. Getting hands-on, however, has brought me to a greater appreciation, versus memorizing the same information from a textbook. I remember when my older brothers and I sat in the living room and pored over the labeled stones from a cheap introductory science kit. I held each colorful and polished strawberry-sized rock in my eight-year-old hand,
staring at them like I was watching the beautiful Earth itself forming. As I stand in the center of the Grand Canyon, not only do I have the privilege of witnessing the Earth change, but I also can understand how. Earth’s timetables come in the form of rocks, and for those of us who find our Earth’s history fascinating, a trip to the depths of a place such as the Grand Canyon is not only tantalizing but also important. We begin to descend further until reaching the monolith that easily looked like a toothpick from back up on the cliff. Now its shadow completely envelops me under the evening sun. The plants here, a mile below the top ledge of the canyon, are more abundant, almost jungle-like, and I whack through the long grass and pervasive vines that suddenly consume the trail. Past the greenery is the campsite. The nine miles seemed like a blur. I take off my sweat-drenched hat, lie on the gravel, and stare at the surrounding pink and tan granite that I will awake next to in the morning. I smell the couscous, spam meat, and cheddar cheese concoction that the trip leader is cooking. I taste the appetizer: slimy bacon strips on an over-processed, white English muffin. It melts in my mouth, not because of the heat, but because it’s the best thing I’ve tasted in my life. “You’re just starving,” Ty chuckles when I compliment the food. This feels like home; the rocks as my family. It is like spending time with loved ones; the company itself is enough for us to feel safe and honored. Like a wise relative, the canyon shows us what once was, the earth before we were born: the evolution of the ages.
The Heart Asks Pleasure First How much do you love? No, not a question for happy times; But for times when everything is wrong, Or everything is just like another day.
Lounge How I wish you could hear what I hear, see what I see if there is one person who understands the falling rain, the changing tone, and the trembling leaves, in the night breeze.
On Golden Gate Bridge How curious, the vast deep blue, With its waves soft as silk, easy as leisure, like the feet of a pearly beautyâ€” How they can dance, dance like her absent eyes! Upon aged floor, amid shadowy figures; Or under limitless sky, In the flawless rays of sunset.
There and Back Again No longer doubt which path to take, The trees, the hill and the lake. Also the patch of sky, Where we counted stars. When again, the moon’s over the grass, We’ll arrive, to our old home’s door.
Falling Leaves (Translation) 蘀兮 蘀兮蘀兮 風其吹女 叔兮伯兮 倡予和女 蘀兮蘀兮 風其漂女 叔兮伯兮 倡予要女 Falling leaves, falling leaves, Wind is blowing you. My dear, my love, Sing! I join you.
Falling leaves, falling leaves, Wind is taking you. My dear, my love, Sing! I invite you.
HERE BE DRAGONS
2011-2012 LHSP Music and Spoken Word CD
Track 1: Pass the Soap | Shira Kreitenberg Track 2: Plumbline | Kelly Edinger Track 3: Statue | Merranda McLaughlin Track 4: Firefly Island | Erik Gustafson Track 5: When I Think of Lincoln | Jack Foster Track 6: Cassandra Speak | Katherine Goffeney Track 7: 14 Knights at 12 O’Clock | Erik Gustafson Track 8: Girls Becoming Screens | Chloe Reyes Track 9: Michigan Time | Alex Winnick Track 10: I Stopped Waiting | Merranda McLaughlin Track 11: Engine | Kelly Edinger Track 12: So Was He Worth It | Rachelle Linsenmayer Track 13: Alive | Maria Grekowicz Track 14: Sailboat | Rachel Davidson Track 15: Untitled Piano Solo | Belle Valentic Track 16: Fire Escape the Scene | Laura Goslin Track 17: Rain | Merranda McLaughlin Track 18: Here’s To | Chloe Reyes Track 19: Lay Down Your Head | Rachelle Linsenmayer