The Merrimack Review Fall 2019
Managing Staff Calvin Evans Dan Roussel Associate Editors Grace Bellefeuille Shai Bigelow Emily Burke Phoebe Chetsas Kristin Cole Kerry Reynolds Advisor Andrea Cohen The Merrimack Review is a student-run literary magazine. We accept submissions from undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of academic institution or program of study, with the purpose of giving new and emerging writers/artists a space of their own. We are proud members of The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and are sponsored by The Writer’s House at Merrimack College. www.merrimack.edu/academics/the-writers-house www.merrimackreview.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Front Cover: Self(?) Portrait by Justin Li Back Cover: Forever by Justin Li
Table of Contents 6
7 8 10
Haley Barthuly Lee Brady
12 15 16 17 18
19 21 22 23 24 25
Mackenzie Coburn Emma Converse
27 28 29 30 31 35 36
Taylor Denton Sean Desautelle
Joseph L. Dahut Benjamin Davis Larissa Debski
Aryanna Falkner Lauren Hallstrom
37 38 39 40 41
Annabelle Harsch Omair Hasan
44 45 46 47
Rebecca Justiniano Lilly Klahs Justin Li 3
Song, in the Food Lion parking lot What It Takes To Heal Underlying without trauma: a queer resurrection in many parts lessons from the psych ward spirit commended even lost things have homes juvenile heresy Anonymous New York White Lace Dead Dreams growing pains dormant. How to Spell Loneliness Psalm 79 The Silence Between Words Hope & 3:14 AM Snow Storm After the Fact Watercolor Boy Of Soft Bones Reading Ingredients El Problema con El Lenguaje en La Escuela While Browsing a Little Corner Bookstore The Shell You Lost Terminal 2 My Heart Advanced Human Anatomy 3300 The Missing Hours Words Will Never Be Enough: An Apology Milk Carton Kids when flowers die Pull Like This?
48 49 50 52 53 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 68 69 71 72 73 75 76 77 82
Tim MacKay Anthony Miller Kyle Moon Mikayla Morell Elizabeth Muscari Michaela Norman Dana Parker W. T. Paterson Pratyusha Pan Alyssa Quinones Caroline Richards Colin Sowers Elizabeth Stanfield
83 84 85 87 88
89 90 96 103
Misty Yarnall Calvin Evans & Dan Roussel The Merrimack Review
So What? Your Blood + Mine Creation Myth Moon in my Closet Two Worlds Become One Salmon Bones Shadows Rosalie Werewolf Washed Away The Centipede Atlantis Oh Ophelia One Last Poem About You (?) reflection My Soul Hates Me First Date (Unsuccessful) Ode to my Mother’s Closet Home (Far) Away From Home [CRISEYDE:] We sit underneath a wooden bridge and Honey How to Make Guacamole Midgard:A collection of daydreams from the 72 hours after a loss [PANDARUS:] I am ten years old and Troi is eleven For that time in class I answered a question in class and got it wrong. “why in the world would you study to be an artist?” Wrapped in Flame An Interview with Teju Cole Contributor Bios
Song, in the Food Lion parking lot Caleb Bartholomew Unusual snow, too early for NC, falls & rests against my windshield. Inside the idle car, we skip songs, sit low in our seats, & pass sweetened coffee back & forth, sipping from a shared cup. Mothers sigh warmly, chase kids with their fingers wrapped tightly around plastic bag handlesâ€” like my fingers around your fingers. Our toes press into the ventsâ€™ hot exhale; you start reading poems you did not write, but you speak them, out loud, & they are yours.
What It Takes to Heal Haley Barthuly Because there was only one word on the arrow of his tongue, I shot myself with it. Because blood shone red when mixed with oxygen, but blue beneath the skin, I thought, God must be good. Good enough to stab through the layer of years accumulated, and gift me a fresh wound to make sense of. Because I used other’s bodies like bandages for my own, I knew a tongue had adhesive powers. Because the power went out on the night globs of oil blotted the stars, we had no choice but to kiss each other’s bodies clean.
Underlying Haley Barthuly because our bodies wore so many unforgettable strangers. Say, I’m not a stranger after all, and these eyes never mistook smoke for fog. Say, the Truth should be enough even if it’s told only once; you don’t have to crawl over bags of trash, the frenzy of mice writhing inside of them, in order to understand each head holds a microcosm of the world, and the churr of maggots feasting inside the fallen tree is not the sound of death. Tell me, your bead black eye had the precision of a mortar man and the bomb exploded 100 meters past the city. I never had two lips too many and you didn’t startle me awake to say they had come to visit you again, so I had to lock my tired tongue to yours to make them leave. I’d say, much better now, baby, lay down your head. the voices say what voices said 8
a long time ago. Youâ€™re mistaken if you think anything isnâ€™t a mouth.
without trauma: a queer resurrection in many parts Lee Brady she died in a hospital emergency room handcuff bruised wrists and needle bruised hands from blood drawn — blood stolen from veins buried. she died in a first grade bathroom stall another kid’s tongue pressing in, invasive on her skin — inside her skin. she died in a high school classroom five-oh-eight, the only place she felt safe for four godforsaken years — four years bulldozed this march. she died in a low branch of a red maple perched on the edge of a drain pipe creek, bleeding into the stream — bleeding out in a stream from one arm. she died in a child’s pastel blue bedroom cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by letters from well wishers — she wished she could wish the church away. i am born again in a hospital emergency room the wounds on my skin and in my head are stitched closed — and i am healed here. i am born again in a first grade bathroom stall adult eyes seeing a child’s ignorance, adult arms giving comfort hitherto unknown — and i am healed here. i am born again in a high school classroom the pain is turned to dust with the cinder block walls breaking down — and i am healed here. i am born again in a low branch of a red maple the stream is dyed crimson in tessellations of autumn leaves. i don’t bleed — and i am healed here. i am born again in a child’s pastel blue bedroom hymnal open, my guitar carves out a faith of my own confirmation be damned — and i am healed here.
i have died i am born again and i am healed here.
lessons from the psych ward Lee Brady 1. everyone looks older than they are it’s remarkable, really, the effect that trauma can have on the body you would have sworn that boy was out of college but he tells you he’s fourteen, tells you his father threw him out of the house he doesn’t want to live anymore you look in the mirror with seventeen year old eyes and the pair looking back have got to be pushing forty you can almost remember joking about your eye bags but now you look like you’ve been hit by a car and you almost wish you actually had been 2. they tell you no touching no swearing, no coffee if you’re underage they tell you not to share last names but your town is so small, and so messed up that you wouldn’t be surprised to see your best friend in the same hospital you’re not sure whether that says more about the town or about you 3. her name will lodge in your throat when she tells you how it’s spelled the last five letters a mirror for the you you tried to forget the name you tried to burn tried to rip off your wrist where it’s printed where the paper plastic hospital wrist band cuts into your skin 4. other people forget your friends will forget they won’t understand why your throat closes at the feeling of a paper-cotton gown they’ll poke fun at you for carrying chapstick everywhere you go but they won’t know that was the only thing you had left to hold onto for three god forsaken days they’ll keep telling you to go to the hospital to get that shot, do that test, treat that flu they don’t get that you’d sooner swing from the limb of a tree by your neck than step through those doors again 12
5. the flashbacks don’t stop they never fucking stop it’s been years, and not a single goddamn day goes by that you don’t remember crying, screaming for the one person in the whole fucking world who knew how much it hurt 6. the bruises from the handcuffs will take a few weeks to heal the ones from the needles that drew blood from each hand, each elbow will take months the ones behind your eyelids and in your head and on your lungs will not heal they will not go away they will not leave you alone they will ache every minute of every day until you think you’re ready to explode and then they’ll ache even more 7. the syringe sitting in the doctor’s breast pocket needle down, plunger up, perpetual threat will imprint itself on your memories you’ll dream of it you’ll feel yourself backed into the corner shoulder blades pressed against the wall like in the library, like in the ER the raw cotton blankets encased in white knuckles clutched to your chest, the last lifeline you have
8. the nurses do not care they do not turn when you scream they do not flinch when you swear their eyes are just as glazed over as the alcoholic old men sleeping on the windowsill because the rooms are locked locked until 3:30 locked to you and to the world the ward and heaven are much the same in that they both claim not to be prisons but the doors are still locked and you cannot leave
spirit commended Lee Brady i want to be a teacher in the high school where i graduated where walls are being torn down slowly brick by brick and falling into dust. i want to be what she was for me for some other lost queer kid. i want to rebuild a home for them where theirs have been torn down out of cinder block walls lined with blue-tacked posters. i want to be a therapist in the town i left behind where trauma holds hands with children. i want to root myself between their fragile forms and the hands that reaching for their throats. i want to pry from them the vices pressing in on their temples and on their chests and hold that ache in myself instead. i want to be a pastor in the church that abandoned me that i abandoned at first chance. i want to wrap my arms around JJ Warrenâ€™s waist and squeeze all our pains and fears and broken hearts into each otherâ€™s shoulders. i want to stand next to him and have rainbow ordination stoles placed over our heads in turn. i want to be a martyr to fix their brokenness. i want to break myself to make them whole again.
even lost things have homes Lee Brady the doors in the chapel are locked the organ covered, the pews vacated at night, when God has checked out, gotten in a car with the chaplains, and gone home until morning. but the keys are not well hidden, and we spend the night climbing the rusted ladders into the steeple, where smudged windows look out over streetlights and nightlife. the carillon bells hanging above our heads ring in each hour in turn and vibrate our bones and the floorboards shake with the music of the setting sun at the edge of our world. we scratch our initials into the walls my house keys our chisel until the bricks are a relief sculpture of scrawled letters, and our desperate hearts and hands grabbing each other by the waist become stained glass in the window panes.
juvenile heresy Lee Brady the hands of god were not wrapped around Me in loving embrace, she was squeezing the air from My lungs, My throat. her arms broke each of My ribs, and unwound each muscle in turn. she ground Me down, slowly, into a fine powder â€” she told Me remember that You are dust and to dust You shall return. she pressed bread and juice down My throat, her fingers slicked with a childâ€™s saliva, she pressed down on My tongue until My stomach convulsed, and the years of hating Myself streamed hot down My face, and washed away the war paint that had disguised itself as sin.
Anonymous New York White Lace Nina Chabanon the anonymity of New York like nameless bugs in a nameless garden and you can call yourself something and that means as much as if I did to choose, to be chosen to be in love, to be named the anonymity of New York at 8am on a Saturday a quiet connection like a thread because we all have lovers and places to be past, present, future, platonic, tragic the anonymity of New York like white lace falling from the palm of my hand I always tear it off myself for you in whatever shape I can but you say I have more use for it so it is mine again I hold it to give to you but you say "no" again You're holy and I want to give you everything again and again but you insist I keep it all "no" again white lace falls from my palm to the ground without a name I fall into the anonymity of New York, to be in love again
Dead Dreams Mackenzie Coburn “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” - Dolly Parton -
See the northern lights
Own a Polaroid camera
Go hang gliding
Go skinny dipping
See the Sistine Chapel
Ride in a hot air balloon
Rescue a puppy
Sleep on the beach
Go bungee jumping
Watch a sunrise
Ride in a helicopter
Write a message in a bottle
Drink beer in Ireland
Drive a racecar
Eat pasta in Italy
My mother has a list just like this, I found it when I was 12 years old snooping through her dresser drawers looking for a Red Sox shirt she owned, that I felt I needed to wear. I remember my eyes jumping halfway down the single sheet of paper to avoid being caught. My eyes quickly scanning the page searching for something to tell my siblings about. There, at the top of the page, I found everything I was searching for. The list was titled “Dead Dreams.” I remember stopping and staring in shock that my mother had given up on something; she was walking away from things that were far from dead. I remember the two most
powerful items on her list were “go skydiving and drive a racecar.” These two items created an adrenaline rush. People take part in activities like this so they can feel alive; did my mom not feel alive? Part of me wanted to hug her, the other part wished I wasn’t alive. Did she give up on her dreams because she had gotten married and had children at a young age? Your kids are supposed to be your life. All I could think was we were keeping her from living hers. Did my father know? Would he feel like a stopper in a finely aged wine? Would he reconsider proposing at a young age? Would he question his choice to have four children? Would he too wish he wasn’t alive? It wasn’t until October 14th, 2018 that I took the time to think about my mother's list of “Dead Dreams.” A “bucket list” is what my friend called it when she told me the things she wanted to do before she died. I had never really thought about my life in that way. I never really thought about what I would want to do before I died. I am 21 years old; I have my whole life to live. Then again, what if I don’t. What if I don’t achieve my goals; or live my dreams? What if the life I am living is not enough? What if I one day have a list of dead dreams hidden in my dresser? I was left uneasy, thinking about what was worthy of putting on a bucket list? I started my list that day; it was cliché but by the time I was done I began to realize that my list wasn’t just fun activities. They were reasons to live passionately. They were activities and life goals that helped define who I am and whom I want to be. The reason I want to get married, have kids, sleep on a beach, rescue a puppy, and go skinny dipping wasn’t because they were my goals. It was because they were all experiences that people take for granted. They were the small parts of our lives that so many people forget to cherish because they are so focused on Ireland, Italy, Australia, and hot air balloons. In case someone is reading this, I don’t think focusing on those luxurious places is bad; I think it’s all part of our journey. Then I thought, what if my mother's hidden list represents just a portion of things she didn’t get to achieve? What if her list was like mine? What if she achieved her more important life goals and when she was done falling in love, marrying the man of her dreams, having and raising four children she realized that she didn’t need a list of materialistic activities to do before she died. Maybe she was so busy making a life she wasn’t worried at all.
growing pains Emma Converse no one tells you where the pain comes fromThat ache in your chest in your bones, in your blood as it slides like sludge through your frozen veins no one tells you that your fifteenth birthday was the last birthday that felt like anything other than damnation, just another year spent spitting out poison instead of words they tell you that itâ€™s normal to get emptier with age losing days like baby teeth a quarter slipped into a parking meter instead of under a pillow they tell you how to pretend, then to follow your heart but no one ever told you how to make it beat again.
dormant. Emma Converse how do you know if a tree is dead or alive? peel back the bark and look inside. is it green still, pale and malleable? peel back the bark to watch the sap ooze, slow as molasses and black as blood, itâ€™s leaves scattered around, crunching underfoot, its branches bare and stretching upwards to the sky. wanting always wanting. and how do you know if you are dormant, your bare, wanting branches, bending against the wind bending against words, your words, your heavy head. wanting to know if you will come alive again in springtime or if you will stay bare.
How to Spell Loneliness Joseph L. Dahut In the parking lot, chipping paint rumbles with rusted mufflers fallen to fold in misty rain. From a frame, this reminds you of a hollow foam rimming a dirty diner mug. On a page, you spell loneliness with six dollars on pump seven, sputter of gasoline beside you. With two pedals, I can mock the noise a worm makes dragging charred body along the pavement. In the parking lot, a sparrow shakes her ass in an oil puddle, neon like the glaze of a forest fire on passenger side window.
Psalm 79 Benjamin Davis “Is there a nation founded on love— I mean, on the love of foreigners?” the mystic Simone Weil once asked. This nation acknowledges you, God it calls on your name every goddamn day more worried about taking the Lord’s name in vain, the new Costco opening in town than the poison in the condemned’s veins —thou shall not kill but the State shall— and the border’s closing. Help us, God, to remember your name is not on a flag but a cross not high in the wind but low on the ground not banging the gavel but in the yard—barbed wire, dust, gravel. Then we will praise you, God we will pledge our allegiance to the meek. We will sing not our anthem but your songs.
The Silence Between Words Larissa Debski Even her death was an inconvenience. Ellie woke me up with a tap to the foot that poked out of the blanket. “Go away, you asshole,” I grumbled, turning my head the other way. She tapped again, then waited until I rolled to a sitting position to take a seat next to me. “She’s dead.” I turned to her, wondering if I was still asleep. “Grammy. She’s dead,” Ellie repeated. “Where’s mom?” “Pepin’s bath appointment at Petco and shopping at Costco.” She flopped back, stealing one of my pillows to clutch to her chest. We lay, not crying, not speaking. I wanted to blame it on the sleepiness, that half-pull that the dream world still has on you for the first half an hour after you wake. That uneasy feeling that nothing in this world is real squirms through your mind, and for a second, you swear you knew the meaning of this whole chaotic world, but it’s slipping away with the dream, and soon you’re just another human, just yourself. I wanted to blame it on that. But I knew that had the news come any other time my reaction would have been the same. I grabbed my laptop from the floor and opened up Netflix. “Glee?” Ellie shot me a sideways look then returned to staring at the ceiling fan. “Yeah… guess it feels wrong with a dead body two rooms away.” I closed it back up. I propped myself up against the wall. The too-loud ticking of a clock. That itch in the hollow at either side of my neck — if I don’t use both hands at the same in the same motion, it shadows up my vertebrae and into my mind. Now too aware of body. Now too aware of self. Now fidgeting, readjusting, but it’s no use—now don’t belong in own body. “Should we text mom?” I asked. Ellie again looked up at me. That her mom’s dead? “She wouldn’t get it anyway.” Ellie shrugged. “She should be on her way back by now, and you know she puts her phone on silent when she drives.” The silence wore on between us, tired, old, exhausting. “When did it become so normal?” I asked. “What?” “Death.” “Oh. It wasn't last time.” “Wasn't it?” “No,” Ellie said, shaking her head. “Papa was different. I didn't even find out 'til after finals— mom didn't want to distract me.” “‘Least you got to go to the funeral,” I said. “Why didn't you go again?” “Uh, ya know, classes, volleyball practice…” “Oh yeah, you couldn't miss volleyball practice.”
I shifted my elbow to my other knee, leaving a red bullseye that would fade before anyone could see. Other knee now. Always equal. Always balanced. “Did you cry?” Ellie blurted out. The picture frame above Pepin’s bed was crooked again. Just the tiniest bit more to the right, and it would be perfectly diagonal. “Yeah. Not like a snotty-nosed sob, but I cried… that was all I knew him enough to do, ya know?” Ellie shifted at my bluntness. “But, uh,” I stumbled over the words, feeling them bubbling out of me, pushed by something, some need. “I still did cry—for, ya know, someone dying, I cried for mom—god, she loved her dad—I cried for, for—” for the fact that I felt bad for not crying. Ellie just nodded. “Thana? All those reasons . . . why don’t you cry now?” Dry eyes stared into dry eyes. “I knew her too well.” The creaking of the garage door was our only warning before we heard mom’s call, “Grocery helpers?” Sock-covered feet were shoved into flip flops, and we shuffled out to the car to meet her. “How was Pepin’s spa day?” Ellie asked as she lifted the gray-whiskered, chubby pug out of the front seat. “It was go-” “What the fuck?” “Thana!” Mom admonished in shock. “Ellie, this isn’t something we just make small talk around.” “I wanted to tell her the right way,” Ellie muttered. “Oh? The right way, huh? How’s that work?” Pepin wiggled in Ellie’s arms, reaching out to me with excited kisses. “Tell me what?” Mom looked between us. I busied myself taking Pepin from Ellie, and he snuggled his fuzzy face into my chest. “Mom, uh,” Ellie took a slow step closer as she spoke, as if approaching a wounded animal—or one about to be, “Grammy’s dead.” For a minute it was silent except for Pepin’s snuffles. Mom looked toward me, as if expecting me to break out my signature sarcasm and explain my latest and worst joke. I said nothing but walked closer and plopped Pepin in her arms. She stood still, clutching Pepin, who wagged his curly tail and nuzzled into her neck. “Okay.” We continued to stare waiting for her to say something more. “Well, I guess I should call the others. And an ambulance.” Do you call an ambulance if they’re already dead? Seems a helluva price to pay for someone who’s in no rush. “Thana, will you get the frozen stuff out of the trunk and put it away? Don’t want it to melt.” “Got it, mom.” I nodded and plodded out to the car, feeling a preliminary raindrop hit my sock-covered toe. I wrinkled my nose at the sky. At least someone could cry.
Hope Taylor Denton Once there was a butterfly with a broken wing, lying bent and twisted over the concrete of my neighbor’s driveway. It was the depth of summer. The butterfly’s colors were still vibrant with fluorescence, yet it’s body was crumbled in the hot sun. I peeled it away from the surface of that driveway and brought it home in the palm of my sweaty hand. The only reason I knew it was still living was because it’s legs and antennas twitched. I made a home for the wounded butterfly in a Tupperware case with bundles of grass for a bed. I fed it purple flowers by hand, and I watched it’s little tongue drink the nectar. I named it Hope. Hope never moved unless I was there, Hope never ate unless I fed her. Hope never flew again, her wings could not mend. When it came time for Hope to die, I set her on the same purple flowers I’d always fed her by hand. I did not watch her die. But I know that she died in the sunlight, she died free. I like to think that she died looking at the sky.
3:14 AM Taylor Denton The beach had been emptied for two hours, silent save for the gentle rolls of water onto the sand. Below the black sea, sharks and eels awakened and hunted for flesh. The moon was a thin crescent, flies hummed over a small patch of land. Pale blood mingled with frothy sea foam, nearly pink. Her hair floated submerged below the shallow surface of the water, rubbing along the rocky sand with every breath of the ocean. A fly buzzed over the broken skin of her arm before landing within the crook of her neck. Very soon, the fly would lay her eggs, and they would feast. Her left leg laid on the other side of the shore, her silver shoe still cocooned around it. One eye was opened and angled toward the clear sky, the other watched the line of hotels. Bright windows, soft music. Twenty miles away, her parents were laying, asleep, on their sides. She had died hours prior; her blonde hair had been curled and pinned up. She wore a dress decorated with fake jewels and golden sequins. The tide had pulled her to the space on the empty shoreline. Her skin had grown taught, her limbs were stiff and hard like a storefront mannequin. The dress was ripped at the back, exposing the red blotches that covered her flesh. Glittering rhinestones littered the ocean floor where she’d died. The gold sequins still attached to her dress shimmered, and it would be that shimmer that would call a drunken man and woman to her that night. Before the sun would rise in the morning, police would arrive. Men in uniforms would walk awkwardly along the sand to retrieve her and slip her into a black bag. Yet, in the hours when the crescent moon cast light, her hair still dusted along the sand. The eggs of the fly would be nestled within the crook of her neck. Her left leg would be found five days later.
Snow Storm Sean Desautelle You have synced your footsteps with my breathing when I awake and find you’re not in bed, but rather far gone between our white sheets and the blizzard There’s strong, dark coffee still in the pot and I stir mine with three teaspoons of sugar because I know that much should sicken you But you leave without much to say, stating you might be late because of the snow and chuckle when I suggest you stay home After you leave I don’t know where to picture you, somewhere in a ditch off the side of the road, somewhere in bed with a man you know and I don’t It’s silly to think such things, yet my tremulous mind could never be at ease when it’s not flurries but inches and feet that cascade from above Maybe it is just the snow that’ll keep you late, and has kept you before, and will maybe even keep you for time and time to follow I consider inviting the plow man in for a drink when he comes, but I don’t, and instead start a soup on the stove that I’ll have ready for you whenever you choose to come home
After The Fact Sean Desautelle Would it be in bad taste? After all, it has been a year, twelve calendar pages and one orbit of the earth that now separates this day from the one that put six feet between you and I I kept to myself at the service, looking straight past the tears of my mother and then down at my twiddling thumbs Although I did not mourn the end of your life, it still felt appropriate to wear black In the grave where you lie, so does my childhood, the innocence you stripped me of with your crooked hands and my four year old ignorance I have never spoken on the topic, and still I struggle with the ethics I know too well that you do not deserve the reputation that survives you, but how should I speak poorly of the dead? Perhaps it is best to keep to myself, for whether or not I come forward I know you do not reside over the clouds where my familyâ€™s prayers will fail to reach you, but rather far below beside those just as vile.
Watercolor Boy Sean Desautelle He was a watercolor boy hung on the wall of a most exclusive museum. Delicate strokes of ivory skin blended into his sculpted jawline underneath crafted cheekbones. His eyes were painted a vibrant teal that sent chills down my spine. I admired him for what he was: a piece of art. From a distance I was left to watch as more accomplished bidders strived to attain his perfection. In a shadowed corner I counted the scarce change at the bottom of my coat pocket. When I collected all the coins, the truth dawned: he would never be mine. I imagined the looks I'd get carrying such a gem in my arms. How I would have framed him for all to see. The puzzled looks and whispers coming from those who had more than I. The awestruck looks all would have sported as he was loaded into my car. The acclaim I would personally award the watercolor boy. Yet, I knew the cold truthhe could never be mine. Never would I be of the class to display a true work of craftsmanship in my life. Eventually, I left the museum sparing him one last longing glance.
Of Soft Bones Aryanna Falkner Sarah found the first kitten crying between the cracks of wooden boards that had come loose from her front porch. It was a swirl of orange and white when Sarah pried the wood away, scooped it out, cradled the tiny thing in both hands, though it could fit in one. “Brandon, look at this.” Sarah walked through the front door. She brushed away dirt and fleas and dry spiderwebs from the mewling baby. Her husband was working at the desktop computer in the corner of the living room. Sarah noticed that he was in need of a haircut, as it hit his shoulders and flipped outward like brash waves crashing stone, and she wondered if since the procedure, he, like her, simply stood in the shower rather than washing, confused and forgetful of what to do. “Why, hello,” Brandon said, turning to scratch the kitten under its chin. It vibrated in Sarah’s palms and she pulled it closer, tighter. After bathing the cat in the kitchen sink and swaddling it in one of the receiving blankets they hadn’t gotten around to donating yet, Sarah drove to the PetSmart downtown with the kitten sleeping soundly in her biggest tote bag, zipper left open in case the little thing wanted to explore. At the store, Sarah bought flea treatment, a scratching post, and canned wet food, and that was it: the kitten, named Creamsicle, Sarah decided, was theirs. He grew bigger in days, fuller, became more demanding, always nipping at Sarah’s fingers and rubbing his cheeks against hers, squeaking at night in his crate until Sarah unlatched the metal, tucked him under her arm and snuggled him into their bed. The kitten hadn’t quite taken to Brandon the same way, but Sarah didn’t think her husband minded much. He worked away at the computer, paying bills, budgeting, every so often tossing a medical term over his shoulder to Sarah and Creamsicle who played on the couch, saying that lots of women experienced it after late-term miscarriages and did Sarah feel okay? Well, yes, of course she did—it had been almost a month—and no she did not feel any residual nausea. She only felt the soft undercoat of Creamsicle on her skin. Not long after these initial days with the new kitten, Sarah took the recycling bin to the curb and peered at movement across the street in her neighbor’s hedges. When she crossed the road, she noticed four more kittens, a little bigger than Creamsicle, huddled together, tearing at a dead bird with their small teeth. They chattered at her as she parted the greenery and reached in, but they didn’t hesitate to crawl into her arms. They had flea treatment left over and plenty of food, and Creamsicle rolled around with them and seemed happier, even, than when it was just Sarah and him. The first evening, Brandon scratched at his head and crouched down to the makeshift litter. “We could put some up for adoption. Pauline at work just lost her cat. I’m sure she’d want one of these guys.” But as he said it, he softened to the five babies in front of him, wiggling his fingers for them to chase. Later that night, as Sarah straddled her husband, rocking back and forth, they had to nudge away the kittens who wanted to climb Sarah’s loose, long curls, which were still thick and coarse from when she was pregnant. Brandon whispered moans in a shuh, shuh, shuh sound, as though that would soothe both the animals and Sarah, who cried now when they started trying to get pregnant again after the go-ahead from the doctor. Sarah leaned down and pressed her lips to 31
her husband’s, tasting salt and fur and a raw, sour taste she couldn’t identify coming from both of their mouths. * Sarah returned to work as an insurance agent after a physical examination and posting the Facebook announcement to her family and coworkers that they had lost the baby, but they were stronger, and closer, and braver because of it. The status update was paired with a picture of a hand-lettered quote about patience, sunshine, waiting for the rainbow sure to come. Her coworkers were relatively quiet about it all when she went back. There was a sympathy card waiting on her designated cubicle, signed by the office. Sarah pinned it onto the corkboard along with blurry pictures of the kittens. She looked at them throughout the day, and worried the corners of the photographs with her thumb as she spoke to costumers and pitched packages and prices. On her way home, she stopped at a store to get more food for the kittens and some ribbon for them to bite and follow. When she walked to the pet aisle, she noticed five small tanks of fish. Sarah smelled the staleness of the water, the mildew buildup on the sides of the glass. When she looked through the algae and floating fish scales, she saw a group of them doing what she can only describe as pacing, going from one wall to the next. The fish were agitated, whipping heads to tails quickly, running themselves into their own reflections. On the bottom of each tank were skeletons of dead fish that must have served as the only food source for the rest. Sarah looked at their soft bones and felt something hitch in her chest, in between each of her ribs. She put her hand to her breasts and felt the emptiness of them, of the loss of milk, and she had to brace herself against one of the tanks. When she stood up, she marched directly to the cashier, a pimply teen whose lips looked quite ravaged from the two brackets of braces on his front teeth, and set up a delivery time for a fifty gallon tank to be delivered to her house that week with every living fish left in the store. When the delivery men, a few days later, fit the tank against the far side of the wall in the dining room, scooting away the swarming cats from their ankles, Sarah made sure to find the right rocks to settle in the bottom, distilled water, a filter. She drank flat wine from a mug and watched as the fish acclimated to the tank in their plastic bags. They bobbed in the water, mouths forming dramatically large O’ s as though they were pulling in as much air as they could, holding on, sucking in, filling up. * Sarah didn’t mean to find more. At least, she that’s what she told Brandon as he worked over spreadsheets that color-coded their monthly budget and spoke of the savings they’d need if they were going to try IVF. But what choice did Sarah have? There were two older dogs, sisters, who would’ve been euthanized the very day Sarah went to the shelter just to see—just to peek at who was there, waiting. The kittens scuttled around the dogs’ legs, but the old gals huffed and laid down, real low maintenance. One scoop of food a day, that was it, and ten-minute walks were all they could handle. “Okay, no more,” Brandon said. “Cats, fish, two dogs, for god’s sake. I think we’re good now.” He let out a nervous bubble of a laugh. His eyes were wide, his breath smelled like beer foam, but he kissed Sarah on the top of her head and rubbed at her shoulder with the pad of his thumb. She leaned into him. No more, she thought.
But each month, Sarah found herself scrubbing the sides of her bloodied underwear together in cold water, hanging them to dry on the clothesline outside, and finding more animals to save. A rabbit with a broken leg, an abandoned sparrow. She would rehabilitate them, she told Brandon, but as they got stronger, she became more attached. Their home began to smell like pet dander and mulch. The bird hopped around in its cage and somehow managed to shoot its excrement through the bars. The cats tried to lap it up and Sarah let them, sometimes. Brandon started looking for listings of larger houses than their starter. Sarah brought jars into the yard, cupping in daddy longlegs, red mites. She fed them bits of stale bread and if one died, she would go back out. There was a never-ending supply of insects. Millipedes, crickets, fireflies. She kept them enclosed in glass on her bookshelves. Once, the cats tipped over the bigger jars, releasing a collection of wolf spiders. Sarah found Brandon posed over one that had housed itself in the corner of their kitchen. He brought his shoe down onto its thick, coarse body and shuddered as he wiped it away with a paper towel. “Why would you do that?” Sarah asked. She felt lightweight, as though she would float away any minute. Her cheeks were wet and sticky from tears, and Cincinnati humidity, and runny mascara. “That thing was a fucking monster,” Brandon said. His face was twisted, soured. “Hey,” he said on seeing Sarah, shoulders hunched in, snorting in sobs. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay. I got it. We can get an exterminator in here so this doesn’t happen again.” Sarah only cried harder, and Brandon went to examine the rest of the house in case of an infestation. From then on, Sarah had to stay away from the bugs. She would rather not have any at all than watch her husband and the man he hired spray a poison shield around their garden and the blades of grass that poked her bare feet like splinters that summer. Instead, she patted the dogs’ graying heads, pinched catnip in her fingers and spread it out to watch the cats roll around, peaceful, lazy. She pretended to read and watched her fish swim in circles until she became dizzy. The animal shelter where she saved the gals called to check up a month later. Sarah told them that the dogs were good, fat and happy, and they asked, a little breathy, if she knew anybody who was looking for a teacup piglet. It was smaller than the cats at this stage, and she named it Button. Brandon suggested couple’s therapy. They had sex over the bathroom counter, the animals all scratching at the door. As soon as Brandon came, Sarah pulled away from him and went to them, toweling off between her legs, slipping into a robe. Brandon tried harder to draw a line at the snakes. Corn snakes, at first, small and harmless, who would tongue Sarah’s fingers lightly, but then bigger, a python and boa. Sarah liked to let them run over her shoulders and into her hair. The lizards were fast, so she was extra careful not to let them escape from between her fingertips. Sometimes, she wondered if she knew how Medusa felt with the snakes and scales in her locks, and she tried not to look at anything when holding the reptiles in the event that she might turn Brandon or herself to stone. After half a year, Sarah knew how to navigate the crates and squirming, furry bodies laid over the hardwood floor of their living room and kitchen. She made pesto and salsas while sidestepping all the bodies, all the animals that owned her space, now. She had the same conversation with Brandon every day and she watched him change, crystalize, rebirth himself to somebody new. She quit her job to care for the animals, and Brandon rescheduled their consultation appointment with the IVF doctor three times before pushing it to the following year.
One night, when stumbling down the stairs, half asleep, Brandon stepped on a pair of geckos who had sneaked from their enclosures. Sarah buried them under the largest tree in their yard, which was decorated in empty cicada shells like jewels made of hardened sand, and Brandon packed in the background to stay with his brother in Cleveland until they could work through whatever was going on; and Sarah didn’t know what was going on, really, because he was the one who had killed her geckos, and shouldn’t she have asked him t o leave? She pressed her fingers into the dirt of the burial spot hard, pushed them in a little too far, felt the rubber of worms, kept pushing her hands in, further, farther. She heard her dogs bark, her sparrow chirp, the cats hit pens off of tables and clack over the keyboard of the computer Brandon wouldn’t take with him. She massaged the soil. It was cool, and soft, and she thought that this is where all of her animals would go, someday before her—born, raised, and laid to rest with her own hands.
Reading Ingredients Lauren Hallstrom CONTAINS doubt. Contains standing in front of a mirror watching my skin turn blotchy, wondering how we could be so temporary. Contains breath that thins and spirals and draws invisible curlicues and question marks in the air, contains cells that push and shove for attention. Pull the pin, outer thigh. Prepare for the puncture of the needle through each layer of skin. News articles on dying by Rice Krispie in the dark, early boarding, know how to say peanut in four different tongues. A classmate asks if that means we can still sit by you at lunch and the teacher says yes at the same time you say no. A first grader wonders what happens if we make her eat it. CONTAINS mistrust, not even doorknobs are safe anymore. There is dust in the air that wants to get in, can’t you feel it? Restaurant employees joke you’re just like the gluten fanatics. You weren’t hungry anyway. We’re all processed in a facility that threatens to unmake us. MAY CONTAIN a heat that fills your mouth with stars till there’s no room for words. May contain this space that you inhabit. May contain blue fingers, hours after it was all okay.
El Problema con El Lenguaje en La Escuela Lauren Hallstrom Erica goes to Spanish immersion kindergarten. This is for white parents who want to round out their children early, she hears the office assistant say. There are reglas in Spanish kindergarten. Don’t repeat the palabras the teacher says to you. No las repita. You might say them wrong. You may answer the teacher’s question in English—las respuestas en español are for first grade. The teacher has rules to follow too. Habla sólo en español, even when you are with students in the hallway. The teacher is okay with this because her tongue does not make her a target here, within school walls. Erica reads libros de cuentos ilustrado. El cuento español on one side of the page, the English story on the other. She wonders why the Spanish is always put at a slant, written in script. As if someone must set it apart. As if it was a foreign object, a pebble in a box of buttons, to be set aside, labeled and contained. Estas cosas que la maestra no te enseña.
While Browsing a Little Corner Bookstore Lauren Hallstrom “When the Author has been found, the text is explained…the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” -Roland Barthes
I find my book covered in plastic, the kind librarians cut and fold around the covers to protect from grimy hands. I notice this while browsing in a little corner bookstore-slash-coffee shop, too small to own more than one copy. I sit to read the words my hand already knows the shape of, and I see they are wrapped in plastic too, each sliver-page. why can’t I get through why can’t I say what I mean
next time you find this second spine of mine on the shelves, Reader, i will be beneath this clear cover too, this 4th wall turned to glass. you can see the lips move, but you must break the glass to get the words, like those fire extinguisher boxes (in case of emergency, break glass). but the glass doesn’t break; it holds, it holds me. sometimes it is a mirror and sometimes it is a window. sometimes it reflects and sometimes it reveals; be warned, (objects in the mirror are closer than they appear). beautiful words are like running water, but for me it has run too long—the glass fills with fog, steams up, obscures the hard edges.
why can’t i get through why can’t i say what i mean
if you are watching me now, you will find me bent over my coffee cup, following the steam with my eyes as it peels away, as i whisper please, me too.
The Shell You Lost Lauren Hallstrom If you were a snail you could take your home upon your shoulders and carry it with you, shield yourself from the environment with it, use it to keep you safe. If your home breaks, at least then you break with it. But no, your house is made of waterâ€”it must be protected. When you come back one night from poker and the fire alarm is flashing and everyone is huddling by the street, you wonder how temporary student housing could ever have felt like home. Your roommate was sleeping; she ran out the door. There was a drill last night, so this one must be real. It is almost worse to be the one coming back than the one awoken, for she has time to grieve. She has time to imagine how three inches of water will soak through her slippers, come down the walls and make the paint pucker, time to curl into a new sort of shell, suppose the pages of books will wrinkle, ink run, time to find a flashlight. Not you. You return to a house that was once a home.
Terminal 2 Lauren Hallstrom The airport is an in-between place, not meant to be a home. It is for going and coming back, for knowing what’s ahead and already having a way to get there.
I am like these mechanized birds, always going and coming back. My mind is deeply rooted in backyard aspen trees that no longer exist; my feet take me to learn, put books on shelves, come back to a new house each time.
My dirty dishes come back once I do them, my letters are returned lacking correct stamps. My lover paces the floor, wondering if needing is wanting.
At night, the airport is quiet. My gate goes nowhere yet, so I sit back and listen to the A/C rumble, watch two out-of-place birds hop and peck at strands of carpet, push around a hazelnut like a soccer ball on the floor. There is a nest in the corner— they need no going or coming back. They are the smart ones, for they understand why terminal means end.
My Heart Annabelle Harsch walked out on me without a notice. Again. It broke away and leapt, attaching itself to the possibility or the hope. It attached itself to a glance, an accidental touch, forever distracted. With a tendency to hold on to the possibility my heart works, mine but not mine. Within me, but five inches away, behind me, in front of me, beside me. My heart walked out on me again, not expected to return.
Advanced Human Anatomy 3300 Omair Hasan F, 89, Heart disease We say body donors. Not cadavers. To respect the donors, we must cover their faces. Striated muscles stretches across bones like bedsheets; Sturdy to the eye, soft to the scalpel. Twilight blue gloves cling to skin, refuse to release, ask for too much. We hold the heart. Authentic, visceral, faded gray by age and formaldehyde. Heavy with honesty, veined with open life. I wrap my fingers around the aorta and feel the echo of pulse. Thin arms and slender digits. Fingernails still painted. Life is so beautiful. Even after itâ€™s over. Thank you for your donation.
The Missing Hours Sarah Huang We are having a romp in the woods. Moss mottled grounds Stain my knees as I kneel and offer devotion. In several colors, your face, in light Of the ritardando sun, distorts, flickers, and fades. In the cusps of twilight, we are indecent. We bless each other’s bodies. We sanctify this moment and concur: “They may be more beautiful moments in life but this one is ours.” You spill into me, and I am filled to the brim. Your body taut and void as an hourglass drained of sand. The stars may align when we want them to But the universe knows the limits of mortal intervention. Later, when you leave me cold, I will exhale And see your silhouette in the smoke. Later, the question will rise like a rejected splinter: What is this ineffable desire?
Words Will Never Be Enough: An Apology Sarah Huang When I told you the truth three weeks Too late, you sucked your cheeks and spat Out sharp, pointy words. Forgiving by nature, You found yourself stretched. I don’t know why I did the things I did. Late night drives. Sweaty couplings in The back row of movies theaters. Letting your phone calls slide By unanswered. Everyday my conscience follows me Around asking for things. I try to find the right words but Mere words do little to soothe the image seared Into your mind of me with another man. And actions Are only as strong when tenfold those of wrong. Like in Wake of a bad dream, we hold our breath and tiptoe In each other’s presence. The worst is the wait. Because Time moves in the only way it knows how: slowly.
Milk Carton Kids Rebecca Justiniano Today’s isn’t a girl – “he’s tall for his age,” says the little print, “with flaxen hair” like pressed Wheaties that the black-and-white ink can’t portray; his last milk tooth not popped out just yet. Jaime reads about them alongside his Calvin and Hobbes Sunday funnies. He takes a scissor once the milk runs low and cuts out boys with hats, and girls with headbands; saves them in the Macy’s shoebox under his bed. The kids never look like Jaime — he knows this even without colored ink; with his brown skinny legs, and the cocoa flake curls cropped on his brow, dark cow eyes. Milk carton colored kids don’t look like him. Sometimes, he thinks maybe he’ll find one of them – he daydreams about grayscaled white children underneath his desk, crouched in the school field bushes, or in the freezer aisle in the supermarket, holding eggs and the meat for dinner behind glass sealed doors. It’s always the milk-colored kids.
when flowers die Rebecca Justiniano Things wilt – the poinsettia from mass last year, blood red once and fat with days on end – a timepiece still standing tall, a smiling girl with rollerblades on wobbling feet, a pup with a satin bow round its neck, a man with strong hands outstretched – now bleeds with black and rot –a yard of scrap metal, rust coated pearls, a watch that does not tick, a canary yellowed with no voice – No longer does snow cake the world and the eve does not speak of three kings wandering the earth in search of something greater. To keep it means to know that what was once livid and vital among snow and ice and black night has mottled and weathered and passed into the day. You’re allowed to throw out dead things – that’s your right.
Pull Lilly Klahs Donâ€™t let them know That youâ€™ve lost control So pull yourself together A puppeteer of sinew & bone
Like This? Justin Li
So What? Justin Li
Your Blood + Mine Justin Li
Creation Myth Tim MacKay She was one of those girls with a drunk dad, and she’d moved by herself to one of those chopped-up houses on Center Street. I’d never seen her before. We would have been in the same graduating class, but I went to Brewer and she went to Bangor. Just one of those tragedies of chance. Or maybe it was better that we met when we were twenty-six and not eighteen. According to PBS, every religion has this thing called a creation myth, some story for how the world began. I was in Hannaford’s buying a case of Keystone, and she was in Hannaford’s buying a bottle of Allen’s, and we got to talking about which was shittier, and she asked if I had weed, and I gave her some, for a huge damn discount. Because she was really something, and that’s no myth. She wore ripped jeans and a tight T-shirt. Big earrings glinted from brown hair dyed blonde. Her eyes were bluish around. I mean her mascara, but she didn’t need it. Her irises were calm and steady like morning on Penobscot Bay. Her hair fell over her eyes. She brushed it away when she smiled, for a pretty glimpse of something sad. Then gravity intervened, and we were still in Hannaford’s. Anyway, I told her that my brother Mikey and I had a house over in Brewer, and that we were having some people over later, which is why I was buying beer, you know, and she said, OK, but she didn’t have a car. She’d taken the bus to Hannaford’s. I told her I could give her a lift and that I wasn’t a serial killer or anything. It was only five or so. We each smoked a Pall Mall in the lot before leaving. It was one of those Maine summer days. The Saturn didn’t have air conditioning, so we rolled down the windows. Kids were shouting, walking home from the pool, and high school boys crowded around girls at Nicky’s, drinking malts. And passing downtown Bangor, everyone was fleeing work, past us or together over the bridge to Brewer. “You want to go down to the river?” she said. “Sure.” So we pulled off on the Brewer side and climbed over the guardrail. I helped her. That was the first time we touched. She held my wrist, not my hand, and that’s when I knew. I gave her a cigarette and lit it for her. I was going to light another, but she passed it to me, exhaling in a thin stream with her eyes on the water, through the smoke. I can’t say what it was about her. In all these great novels and bad movies and awful songs there’s this part where the guy is like, woah, this girl’s something, and when the moon grows in its precocious sky, life itself is rewritten, et cetera, but I think it’s just as good to say that I was certain. I don’t know if she was special—we all are, or aren’t—but of course she was. Just chemistry, I guess. We talked about people we both knew, because she worked part-time at Marden’s, and I knew some guys who used to be over there. It’s this big store on the Brewer side where they sell Nerf footballs and self-help books and a thousand different shoes in one size for each pair. I told her I was surprised that I’d never seen her there, because I go there a lot. Marden’s got us onto Governor LePage, because he owned it or used to run it or something, and some lady had just chucked a jar of Vaseline at him at a town-hall, which made for good enough conversation, and which got us onto her ex-boyfriend. It can never be too easy with a girl like that. She said, “He must be the only guy who ever said, “Suck it, bitch” and meant it, like, literal.” “Christ,” I said, at both of them. 50
“Nuh, he’s a good guy, basically.” Girls like that could spend a month looking at a boat and swear it was a squid. Not that I could tell whether she w as a boat or a squid, either, just that I’ve known a million girls with the same blind spot. We smoked in turns, finally with her pushing smoke past my fingers, up into twilight. She turned and looked away from me, far downriver where it was bluer. Out of sight, the Penobscot emptied into the bay, and I just knew that in her head she was watching it stitch into the Atlantic. She said, “When I was a really little kid, my ma used to take me and my sister down to Round Pond. They had this lobster pound where you could get a hardshell and an ear of corn for like seven dollars. After dinner, she always took us to this candy store in a house up the hill. I remember the grass outside was real thick and real cool. Me and my sister would roll around and trade penny candy. Then we’d go down to the wharf to skip rocks and try not to hit the dinghies. Once there was this huge black dog who let us pet him, and he went swimming, and we didn’t skip rocks that time. That time, Ma let us take turns sitting on her shoulders. And I looked out and squinted my eyes up because Ma said, “If you look real good, you can see the Eiffel Tower.” And you know how kids are, I’d squint so hard I’d finally see it, and scream “there it is!” And I really believed it back then. Then she died.” I didn’t talk at first, and she kept a kind of indifferent look throughout it. But I dropped the burnt-out cigarette, and her hand curled into mine. “You don’t have to tell me how,” I said. “It’s fine,” she said. Then she kept it to herself. But she didn’t let go. “I don’t have a mom, either,” I told her. I said, “I saw this thing on PBS that said that during the Khmer Rouge, a quarter of the whole country died.” “What country’s that?” “Cambodia.” “Where’s that?” “By Vietnam.” “They got an ocean?” “Think so.” “I wonder if they try to see the Eiffel Tower.” “Probably,” I said. I had this mental picture of everyone in the world standing at the edge of their country, holding up their children, the kids straining their eyes to see the Eiffel Tower. She was looking again down the river toward Penobscot Bay. It was blue when I turned her cheek with my hand, blue when she faced upstream and beyond it to the pine forest growing north forever, blue when I tilted my head and leaned in. “Not yet,” she said, and she took my hand from her face. But she didn’t let go. And we sat silent for a long time, until it was night, until she whispered, “Try again now.”
Moon in my Closet Anthony Miller Thereâ€™s a moonrise in my closet I see it glowing behind the door attracting stars to my bedroom window, I hear them twinkling against the glass I open the closet and step inside and float right up like one of those stars, Dodging a coat hanger catching a sock, hung on the moon tip and I climb yellow polka dots Up twines of purple thread to watch my bedroom from the bow of the crescent Iâ€™ll sleep in the pools of soft moon sand and wake and wish it was night again
Two Worlds Become One Kyle Moon “It’s hard to have compassion for people who are downright self-destructive,” he tells me. I shut the door and sit down with a 30 year old man, who has struggled with a substance use disorder (SUD), or more commonly “an addiction,” for over a decade now. The summer after my freshman year of college I began working at a harm reduction clinic in Franklinton, a neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, that has been nicknamed “The Bottoms”: home to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder and characterized by its low-lying geography that enables frequent flooding. Poverty rates soar in Franklinton, and it’s evident once you’ve driven just far enough past the Scioto River. People lean against abandoned storefronts, wander aimlessly about the litter-strewn sidewalks, and search for anything that helps the minutes of each day tick away. Yet just a few miles down the same road, people flood the streets, scurrying from work to dinner to the theater to every place in between, trying to make the most of each minute. The old railroad serves as the demarcation between these two contrasting worlds. I set foot in the clinic through the employee entrance and enter into a room filled with syringes, sharps containers, fentanyl test strips, cookers, cottons, tourniquets, band-aids, alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, saline spray, naloxone, and additional supplies for those who are homeless. Clients approach the glass window, similar to what you’d find at a reception desk or a pharmacy counter, to obtain clean needles after bringing back used ones. Peering through this window is my glimpse into this “other world,” but within a few weeks, I have entered in, working beside those inhabiting it. Escorting clients from the waiting room to a private room, I carry out conversation, conduct a risk assessment, provide harm reduction education, and identify what their needs are, ranging from health navigation, referrals, and linkage-to-care for treatment, primary care, counseling, housing assistance, food assistance, clothing assistance, etc. The stories clients have shared with me have left an indelible mark on my memory and have guided my steps ahead. I have sat with a man from a rural county who makes the commute once a month to participate in the syringe exchange program (SEP), where he returns used needles in exchange for clean ones. Programs like these exist across the country and are funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to mitigate the spread of Hepatitis C (HCV) and HIV, but there is only one SEP in central Ohio. He tells me of how since participating in our program, he has realized how many used needles he sees on the blacktop outside his apartment complex–the same blacktop where kids play, where residents walk from their car to the building, and where waste management comes to collect the trash each week. Even worse, he sees people shooting up with a syringe that has been used so many times the numbers have been worn off the sides of the barrel. It’s sights like these that not only remind him of the importance of the program but encourage him to educate others about the program. He tries and tries but for too many, it’s two hours they can’t spare in their day, and they refuse. Rather than leaving these people to use the same needle again and again, he begins distributing his new, clean needles to them to lessen the risk for the community. As a result, he is left with fewer and fewer syringes to himself, causing him to have to reuse syringes, a frequent cause of abscesses, infection, vein collapse, nerve damage, and injury. This same man tested positive for Hepatitis C and was abstinent from drug use for six months to receive treatment. It was at his doctor’s office when his insurance denied 53
coverage for the treatment because his viral load wasn’t high enough. He sat in the exam room with his doctor who spoke with an insurance representative over the phone. His doctor’s voice ascended, “you’re telling me you won’t cover treatment for my patient until his viral load is so high that he will die. ” Two years later, and he still has been unable to access treatment. I have sat with a man who shares that he had completed inpatient treatment and had been sober for over six months, only to be dumped by his girlfriend and cast out of their shared home, leaving him to the streets and the violence that accompanies them. He soon fell back into the depths of addiction, as he worked to find a job, a home, and solace in his suffering. Faced with the heat of summer, he began sleeping on an abandoned porch, only to be awakened in the middle of the night when a car began shooting pellets at the man, leaving him with only more pain—an eye swollen shut, a cut forehead, and a wounded face. I have sat with a man who, before getting up to leave, looked me in the eye with the deepest sincerity and said, “thank you for being so respectful of me and my situation.” Words that ought not be necessary, as respect should be the standard, but for too many of these people, it’s not. Clients frequently request referrals for a family doctor because they have either been ostracized from the traditional medical establishment or cannot openly discuss their SUD without facing discrimination. This man shared with me that before participating in the program, he would buy his syringes from Walgreens or CVS, but the employees would only sell them to him if he was dressed in professional work attire and driving his mom’s Lexus. If he had shown up any other way, the cashier would tell him, “I can’t sell you these because you’re probably an addict.” Her use of the word “addict” causes me to shudder because of its reductionist nature; it reduces someone to something less than human and redefines them in a way that alters that person’s own self-concept. It’s simply dehumanizing to reduce someone struggling with addiction to a mere “addict.” What’s more heartbreaking is hearing how he responded to the cashier, “I get that we’re fucking disgusting, but that’s more of a reason why we need clean needles.” His response demonstrates how inhumanely we discuss the problem of addiction: his negative self-concept as though he is dirty, less than human, or a moral failing, and yet he is so devoted to minimizing the burden he could pose to the community. Countless others have shared this same scorn, guilt, and shame towards themselves, and many of these same individuals have also shared that it started with either (a) their family member hitting them with heroin or (b) they became addicted to opiate painkillers that had been prescribed to them (as a result of negligent medical practices) and once they had eventually been written off by their doctor, they made their way to heroin because it’s far cheaper than buying heroin on the street. The problem is that addiction isn’t treated like other conditions, and the effects of social context are often entirely disregarded. We don’t write off a diabetic patient for eating a piece of cake, we don’t disown a cancer patient for refusing chemotherapy, and in the same way, we shouldn’t abandon those suffering from addiction once they have relapsed or decided to not yet pursue treatment. I have sat with a man who offers up that “if it weren’t for this place, I wouldn’t be in recovery. I don’t know if I’d even be around.” Others have shared that this clinic is the “only support” they have, with several having been written off and disowned by their family because of their use. I have sat with a woman who shares that she has overdosed fifteen times in the past month. I have sat with a woman who was evicted from her home, endured the death of her uncle, and watched her rescue dog get shot all in the same week. I have sat with a man who explains that “with no home, no family, and no purpose,” he has no reason to pursue treatment. 54
Even with resources, treatment in the United States is tremendously difficult to navigate, and one of the greatest preliminary obstacles is insurance, with so many people falling in the coverage gap–earning too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. I have sat with a woman who was shot in the leg and didn’t have insurance coverage for a wheelchair. I have sat with formerly incarcerated individuals and sex workers. I have sat with individuals who only get to quench their thirst with water when they come through our doors because soda is significantly cheaper, and they remind me that every cent counts when you only have four dollars to your name. I have sat with a man who broke down into heaving sobs after sharing that he had detoxed and been clean for three months before relapsing. His sorrow and grief are more than just shame and lend credence to his belief that he has failed others, that he has been nothing more than a public charge. I have opened the pounding door to a man demanding a point, crying that he feels “so sick and just needs a shot of dope before trying to detox the right way.” He quickly becomes violent when we inform him of our restrictions and that there is nothing we can do. He wails, rocking in his chair, before hurriedly leaving. I have seen the way so many others twitch, the way their eyes dart around the room, and even struggle to stay awake upon getting the chance to sit down. I’ve seen how addiction physically changes a person, taking over their body and governing their behavior. I have seen firsthand how addiction devours one’s life by the year and even the decade, evidenced by the tracks lining both arms and echoed by the words, “it’s getting hard to find a vein at this point.” Where you see couples that come in weekly and seem to have aged years within that time. One couple, in particular, has been coming for several years now, and the two grew up on the same street as kids—a street just a block away from the clinic. I see clients come in as families and mothers who carry a three-year-old in one arm and a bag of 130 syringes in the other. It’s clients like these that remind me that addiction is an intergenerational problem. It’s embedded in the cycle of poverty and violence that requires more than just a valiant effort to combat. It requires systematic change that can only be made by our own doing. My journey alongside these people in this “other world” only goes so far because at the end of the night, they retreat to the streets, and I drive home, where I have not only a roof over my head but a mattress underneath. The more reflecting I do, the more I come to realize these are not two separate worlds. This is not an alternate world, nor is it a world apart from my own, despite how far apart or backwards it might seem. This world where the people who need help the most face the most obstacles in accessing care at the hospital down the road, where people spend a decade on a waitlist for government-subsidized housing, where many food pantries require a zip code or an ID and subsequently alienate those who are homeless or undocumented, where those who need help are afraid to ask is my same world. My world is the clouded world, where logic becomes illogic, and justice becomes injustice. And if this is my world, then these people are my people, my neighbors, my brothers and sisters. If I am to really be my brother’s keeper, I am tasked to carry Narcan because every life is worth saving; to give a voice to those who are left silent and stigmatized; to walk in solidarity with those whose lives are ravaged by addiction, one of the most destructive and pervasive disorders for individuals, families, and communities alike; to share the stories of those who have taught me resilience, gratitude, and compassion; to vote; to pray; to act; and 55
most importantly, to advocate on their behalf. Telling stories like these are always met with fields of questions, and the questions asked are telling of how difficult it is for others to have compassion for these people. “Do you believe them?” “Why don’t they just stop?” “Why don’t they start treatment today?” People struggling with addiction are helplessly misunderstood by our society and the rhetoric that has been politically ingrained as a result of the War on Drugs, but these are people that demand our compassion more than ever. It begins by recognizing that addiction is not a self-destructive behavior; it’s a disease known in medicine as a substance use disorder, but at the same time, the use of the word “disease” can be problematic because it can perpetuate discriminatory drug policies and law enforcement by overemphasizing the biological components and mitigating the influence of social factors, which are pronounced. Some are genetically predisposed to addiction, others are born into it, and others fall into it by way of social inequality. Regardless of its cause, addiction poses the greatest public health crisis yet, demanding better-informed policies than the War on Drugs rhetoric on personal choice and morality that is largely responsible for the stigma that accompanies addiction. We need policy that offers treatment over incarceration, especially among communities of color who have always experienced rates of incarceration markedly higher for substance use than white communities. The truth is that once you begin to view addiction for what it is, and see the humanity behind the numbers of the crisis, we can offer accompaniment rather than isolation. We can offer compassion rather than judgment. And with compassion, two worlds can become one.
Salmon Mikayla Morell We sipped sink water from tea cups and called bread heels crumpets. I wore your salmon scalloped pumps, three sizes too big. We stole Mom’s blush, patted it chunky on our eyes with our ring fingers. I found your love letters tucked in the hinges of your bureau. I wear the salmon pumps to homecoming, they’re a half inch too big. They fit you better but there wasn’t room in your suitcase. You were supposed to put on my blush–the right way this time. I sip watered coke from solo cups, allergic to bread heels now. I tuck letters where your bureau used to be.
Bones Elizabeth Muscari The doctor calls to say my mother’s bones are no good anymore, brittle as the paper on which he writes her prescriptions. I’ll be careful, s he says between bites of calcium chews, though I know fear has lodged itself between her tissue. There is no word for when a body becomes tired of holding life together, resisting the moments it may fall apart. We arm ourselves with the what we can find, climbing underneath Google rubble in search of skeletons and X-rays and treatments. I guess it’s hereditary, s he says remembering the women in our family who died from weak bones. Our tissue must not hold on the same way we cling to one another. We keep these women in the milk they’ve passed down to our marrow. We keep vigil in the place of almost death, ready for the moments our bodies may fail us. Be gentle, s he says. And so I hug her loosely, draping my skeleton over her frail one, praying her bones will hear me say, You are strong, you are strong. I will hold you together. I carry you in my bones.
Shadows Elizabeth Muscari A choir of raspy men chants through my joints: droning aches and bellowing pops stiff with rust. A honey unrest oozes from dusty corners and snakes down walls until even my heartbeat waltzes through these late hours. Silence makes love to the night. Moonlight whitewashes the window, illumined specks transform into small stars, the soft glow of the overhead light makes this shack look like champagne: dust bubbles floating in the faint yellow space. I am drunk on old church hymns. I repeat the words my mother whispered to me long ago: a hushed scripture against my forehead. The sun rushes from behind the night-film and I look to the fields drowned in morning bronze. I am learning to build myself in the shadows, where we stalk the American Dream. quietly gluing shattered language into a pitcher so this country can pour itself into me.
Rosalie Elizabeth Muscari My dead grandmother is the patron saint of the invisible. Sometimes I can hear her stirring the pot: literally when I smell heirloom tomatoes and figuratively when I hear someone with an Italian accent yelling, a voice coated in drama. After the floors have been cleaned, I can hear her house shoes squeak across them, the sound resembling a rusty faucet being turned on for the first time in a long time. Andrea Bocelli enters the radio and I hear her early morning singing buried beneath the track. And when I am in church, as the priest consecrates bread and water into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, I can feel her shawl brush against my arm, a slight nudge, and a whisper of the word wow because no matter how many times she had gone to church, this moment was the most magical. I feel her for a minute and then I don’t. I remind her every time the room feels empty again she doesn’t have to go so soon. The last time I heard her voice was over the phone. She said “hello,” and I have been responding ever since.
Werewolf Michaela Norman What you are, John, is a wolf: and a wolf is just a hangnail with a bite, which is just a rotting cornfield. And when the cornfield sways at night beneath a drip of stars it’s just a boat, which when it rocks against the shore might tell me I won’t fear you. And o, my fear is just a dusty button on a dresser, which, when it’s lost, is just a caterpillar. And when the caterpillar cocoons it’s just my heart after you, John, which is what is, what is.
Washed Away Dana Parker The exciting uncertainty, before the rainstorm, passes by too fast; It unexpectedly crawls over the sky, Blanketing everything in its embrace Like a fresh bed sheet draped over a naked mattress. You didn’t see it coming, but You’re blinded by the comfort in the air, The way it curls up in every corner, like he tucks your softest blanket in Perfectly around your body, Blending organically into all that you see and touch and know and feel, As if it was always supposed to rain. The first few drops of the baptism wash any doubt away, Scrub the uncertainty off of your skin and the confusion out of your mind; The storm is here now, and it’s pouring. Buckets cascade down from the heavens, Stripping you excitedly out of your safe, dry, clothes; Peeling off your secured layers Until your thinnest, white shirt is sticking to every crease of your shaking frame And you cannot cover the lumps you thought you detested And the curves you forgot you loved. It’s raining and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Then after the storm passes you’re left standing outside with goosebumps; the soft, final droplets seeping through you, the air seeming sparklier than before, He has beautifully drowned the both of you in his wake; Leaving you overflowed, spilling at your sides. It is still and silent, the sky is processing the intensity that lingers; Moments ago you were washed away, flooded with love, Floating in waters you felt would be too strong, but turned out to be created just for you. Refreshed and reinvented, the warmth trickling back into the air, Through your veins and into your heart, Pulsating at the speed of light every time he appears on the faraway horizon.
The Centipede W. T. Paterson Oscar Fritz sat behind the long foldable table as music crackled through the record shop’s sound system. He tapped his eight-fingered left hand to the beat as an employee with narrow eyes watched from across the store. The line for the meet and greet was dangerously close to spilling outside, the same entitled and unfiltered fans that had shown up for over a decade to gawk at the musician. It got old, fast. In his right hand, the two fingers pinching like a claw, Oscar held a sharpie. Glossy posters were neatly piled on the corner of the table showing the Centipede Man – his fingers working the neck of a guitar like a hundred tiny feet stamping out notes. Beside that was a framed article from Rolling Stone Magazine hailing Oscar Fritz as a musical prodigy, his latest guitar-driven album Freak Show an instant classic. Corn Salsa Rob stood beside the table facing the line, counting bodies. Friend turned manager, his blue zoot suit and bald-head sparkled under the humming fluorescents. He flicked his split, serpent-like tongue over his pierced labrum and calculated the potential profits for the day. Growing up inside of a traveling circus’ sideshow, Rob knew how to turn people’s macabre curiosity into profit. “No more little incidents today, yeah?” Rob said, loud enough for Oscar to hear. “I hate these things. I hate these people,” Oscar said, thrumming his eight fingers against the table. The pack bustled, craning their necks for a peek at the freak. Large crowds, even at shows, reminded him of getting surrounded at the orphanage, or at school, or at the grocery store when all he wanted was to blend in. Events like this seemed to further that divide and make him see exactly how different he was. And then there was the fire… The employee herded the onlookers into an aisle, the line from the center cashier island to the sidewalk outside. The two guys in the front whistled to grab the attention of the worker. “Are we allowed to shake his hand?” one asked. “If you want to, dude,” the employee said. “But if you do, don’t jump or cringe. It drives him nuts.” Oscar overheard and looked at his left hand. Three extra fingers allowed for innovation across the fret board. New scales, sweeps, phrasing, and positions created a body of work that was unmatched by every other professional working the road. He was sure the people in line listened to his album at home, or on the way to work, or, if he did his job well, while they were having sex. How many five-fingered babies had been created through an eight-fingered form of expression, he wondered. Would they ever know the terror of fleeing their home in the middle of the night as a fire ripped through their lives, the only means of survival - the kindness of a traveling circus? They would not, but they would still cheer him as long as he kept putting out albums. Yet when it came time to say hello, to see him as a person beyond the notes of a song, to get their picture taken, each one of these fans not-so-subtly cringed when Oscar put his hand on their shoulders. Oscar wasn’t a bad looking guy – tall, dark and tortured with thick, expressive eyebrows – but it was also clear that something was off. Perhaps his cheeks were a little too sunken, his skin a little too ashen, his lips a little too purple, but onstage it didn’t matter. Onstage, it was expected. It was elevated. 63
As the line wound outside and around the block, Corn Salsa Rob nudged Oscar. A young woman bumped through the doors swinging a white cane. She wore a long floral summer dress, white fabric with yellow and orange blossoms. Hairy legs led into wool socks, which filled out open toed sandals “She’s got no eyes,” Rob smiled. “A place for ‘em, but they ain’t there.” “Is he here yet?” the woman asked. The people in line looked at her, their silence speaking volumes. Each person stepped aside as the young woman with frazzled hair and crooked teeth moved toward Oscar’s table. “Welcome, love,” Corn Salsa Rob said. “To what do we owe the honor?” “I’d like to speak with Oscar Fritz.” Oscar looked at Rob, and Rob nodded. “I’m Oscar. What’s your name?” “I’m Hailey,” the woman said. Oscar leaned back in the chair and looked into Hailey’s hollow eye spaces as her lids flitted over nothing. He watched as she shifted weight between one foot, and the other. Something about her seemed familiar, though he couldn’t place how. “What can I do for you?” Oscar asked. Hailey didn’t respond. Instead, she reached into the thin blue purse hanging by her waist and pulled out a long cigarette. She popped it between her lips, lit up, and took a drag exhaling exclusively through her nose. “Tut-tut,” Rob said, and plucked the fresh cigarette from Hailey’s mouth. He stamped out the glowing-red tip with the heel of his snakeskin cowboy boot. The crowd looked on, treading the razor-thin line between waiting around and giving up. Oscar noticed Hailey was also missing fingers, though they looked to have been removed. Crude scars stitched the skin at the knuckles. “Alright ladies and gents,” Rob announced. “Come meet the Centipede himself, the man who re-imagined the musical landscape as we know it! Autographs are $100, pictures are $100, picture and autograph are $185. This is a once in a lifetime talent, folks. Don’t shortchange yourself.” The two teens at the front of the line stepped toward the table and stuttered over their names. Something like Taylor and Brian. They paid Rob in full, got a signed poster of Oscar shredding the guitar neck under purple and green lights, his face awash with sweat, and tried their best not to flinch when he stood beside them for a photo. One of the teens held out his hand to shake Oscar’s, but pulled it back when he saw the two-fingered palm up close and instead acted like he was just stretching his shoulder. “Your first album gave me purpose,” Hailey said. “Chopper did that?” Oscar asked, signing another set of posters for two giggling women in tight shirts that read Finger My Fret Board and Pluck My G-String. “No, your first album. Dark Mind,” Hailey said. “Where’d you dig up a copy of that?” Oscar asked. It was a self-produced album that sold fewer than five hundred copies before the mastered tracks were lost to a studio fire. “I’ve been following you for a while,” Hailey said. A dad with his small daughter clinging to his leg stepped forward and held out his knuckles for a fist bump. Oscar obliged. The little girl hid, her wide-eyes curiously scanning the room and its occupants.
“I used to put my daughter to sleep with your song Death of the Swan. I’d never seen her so peaceful,” the man said. He wore a blue polo shirt tucked into his jeans. No belt. “That’s…an unusual choice,” Oscar said. “You think? I guess maybe a little. I’ve always taken it to mean that things change, and change is a part of nature. Seemed like a good lesson to me,” the man said. Hailey chuckled. “That song is about how people destroy beauty,” she said. “How they feel inferior in the face of something truly special, and lash out.” “You think?” the man laughed. The little girl watched Hailey’s face, looked at her hollow eye sockets, and then touched her own face. She tugged on her dad’s empty belt loop and pointed at Hailey. “She’s bad,” the girl whispered. The man’s face exploded into patches of bright red. He knelt down and grabbed his daughter by the shoulder. “Hey, she’s different, and that’s a very r ude thing to point out,” the man said. He stood up and apologized, then yanked his daughter toward the door where people had pressed their faces against the glass to catch a glimpse of the eight-fingered wonder. The signed poster was left on the table, the signature glistening under the humming fluorescents. “And that, my friends, is why I take the money up front,” Corn Salsa Rob said. “How are you holding up, Osc? Water? Tea? We’re in it for the long haul.” Oscar waived away the suggestion. He tapped the sharpie against the edge of the table and looked at Hailey, still trying to place her. “People have no filter sometimes,” he said. “You’re not like them. They can’t relate to you,” Hailey said. “Cheer up, mate. This is good coin we’re bringin’ in,” Rob said. He flicked his serpent tongue. Oscar waved forward the next group and bent over to sign his name for a handful of un-showered teens in black hoodies. It made Oscar remember the night he ran away, the orphanage ablaze, dark bodies giving chase through the woods. His chest trembled. “You boys kind to others at school?” Oscar asked. “Sometimes,” one of the kids said. “I mean, mostly yeah.” “When are you not kind?” Oscar asked, sliding them the poster. “Can’t we just, like, have the poster?” the same kid asked. Hailey grinned. The teens walked away, poster in hand. Oscar waved forward the next person in line and looked at the clock on the far wall. “I have a question about Freak Show,” said the approaching woman. She smelled like perfume sold exclusively at mall kiosks, and had a sixty-dollar haircut. “Awesome,” Oscar said. “It feels like this album is incredibly self-aware, like you’ve finally figured out your place in the world,” the woman said. “Is there a question in there?” Oscar asked. “Am I right? Have you settled into yourself? Into your role?” Oscar re-capped the pen and put his palms on the table, the fingers spread out like uncooked Irish sausages. “Would it make you feel better if I said yes? For you to hear me say that I’m a freak?” Oscar asked. 65
“I mean…” the woman shrugged. “That album isn’t about me. It’s about what I see in people like you, the people who need to give other people labels, put them in boxes, to tell them they’re different just so you can tell yourself you’re normal, so you can pretend you’re ok, so you can go to sleep and say ‘well at least I don’t have eight fingers on one hand so yeah, life could be worse.’” “Let’s give the woman her poster,” Corn Salsa Rob said, smiling through the side of his mouth. He whispered, “what did I say about incidents?” “Somehow I’m the freak. It’s me who lives in a ‘circus’ just because I’m a little different, just because life handed me a challenge different from your challenge. What gives you the right to tell me anything, lady?” The woman bent over and balled fabric from her pants into her fist and pulled up to expose a leg. Just under the knee a small, limp baby leg pushed out from the skin. The flesh was pink, the tiny toes curled toward the shin. “I used to be a twin. In the womb. Spent a long time believing I’d never be accepted by others, that I’d never accept myself. Then I heard your album and, until a moment ago, felt truly seen, truly understood. Sorry for making you assume.” She let her pant leg fall as she turned to leave. The person behind her gagged so loud that he had to apologize and step out of line. “Hold on,” Oscar said, and pushed away from the table. He ran up to the woman and stopped her, all ten fingers on her two shoulders. “I didn’t mean . . .” “I know,” the woman said. “It’s just . . .” “I know,” the woman said. “It’s hard to love myself when the rest of the world thinks I shouldn’t,” Oscar said. “The reason your music is so great,” the woman said, closing her eyes and leaning into his fingers, “is because you figured out how to turn your pain into art for everyone. No one else here can claim that.” Oscar let go of the shoulders and felt something inside of him move, a paradoxical shift that proved his difference as a uniting force. “Can we take a quick five?” Rob said. Oscar nodded and hung his head. “Folks, my apologies. One sec.” Oscar sat down as the line milled near the door. Hailey inched closer to the table. “We’ve met before,” she said, reaching into her purse. “Back when I had eyes.” “I appreciate your gusto,” Rob said, “but you’re starting to overstay your welcome, Miss Hailey.” “Of course he doesn’t remember me. He only thinks about himself,” Hailey said. She pulled out a bottle of lighter fluid and popped the top. The pungent smell made Oscar cringe. “I was at the orphanage the night they came for you. When those kids lit the house on fire, I was in bed while you ran away. The fire took my eyes, my fingers and my soul while you ran off to make millions.” The crowd fell silent as Hailey dumped the fluid on the floor, dousing herself in the process. The yellow and orange blossoms on her dress began to wither. “Whatever you have planned, mate, now is not the time,” Rob said, pointing.
“Do you know how long I’ve planned this? Tracked you down? What’s worse is that when I heard your music, I actually liked it. It made sense to me, the pain was real, it was misunderstood. But this latest album? It’s like you found peace, like you’ve experienced acceptance and I’m left to suffer!” Hailey flipped open a lighter and breathed against the flame. Oscar looked at the crowd and had flashbacks to that night – the quiet creeping brigade, the death threats, the way they chased him through the dark forest until the smoke from the fire blocked the light of the moon. He never thought about the other people in the orphanage, the other people that were in danger through association. Collateral damage never seemed to be a possibility. Now, he had unknowingly endangered his fans and the guilt began to stack. “Cap that lighter,” Rob said, pulling his suit jacket so hard that the buttons popped. “This is what the world wants for us!” Hailey said. She dropped the lighter and laughed as flames buckled her knees and ripped the air from her lungs. Her white dress caught, wrapping the woman in blue fire, which slithered across the floor like it was alive, the whoosh and crack like an arthritic body. Corn Salsa Rob kneeled and tried to pat out the flames with his zoot suit jacket, but Hailey’s lifeless body fell on top of him and pinned him to the floor. The fire climbed, reaching up the walls melting the record store vinyl. The people by the door watched horrified as the world around Oscar became engulfed. “Don’t move,” they called out. “We’ll save you!” Oscar felt his legs buckle. He started to cough. The orange heat made waves of the air and fired panic into every receptor of his brain. But he couldn’t stop moving, he refused to meet his end like this, in front of the only people that had ever showed him love, that had ever made him feel worth something. In the next moment, four bodies jumped through the flames and picked him up and rushed him to the door. Cool air pushed across his brow as Oscar was heaved into the wide-open air. They placed him on the gray concrete. He coughed. He shook. He saw the flashing reds of an approaching crew. People screamed like they did at his shows. “Why?” Oscar said, over and over like a broken record. “You’re safe,” his fans told him. “We’re here for you.” An EMT arrived and told Oscar to sit back and relax, that he was going to be ok, and slid an oxygen mask over his face. They rolled him onto a prone gurney, and as they popped the wheels and carted him to the back of the ambulance, Oscar held up his hands, eight and two. One by one, his fans came over to give their thanks, each one holding the palm as fingers wrapped their wrists, not one of them flinching or pulling away.
Atlantis Pratyusha Pan Think of the day when Atlantis fell, out of favour with the gods and Plato's curse on it's head. Someone must have been on their way to work, bodies in a public bus where sweats and odours mingle. A lover waited by the crossroad, one searching familiar face in a sea of irrelevant, faceless ones that walked past, soaked in the lights, sometimes touched each other convulsively to make sure the other one was real. Others were making their way home on tired bloodless feet, and yet others, must have been making love. Someone was learning to cook. Someone was masturbating. And someone, like me, was contemplating suicide. The sunless rundown streets stretched far beyond forever to lead wandering strangers nowhere. Atlantis, just before she drowned, was ecstatic. The sun shined the same on the day the ocean swallowed a city whole. Atlantis waits, somewhere where words don't hold their sway, where only peace reigns and everything is forgiven in oblivion and dreamless sleep.
Oh Ophelia Pratyusha Pan One Saturday afternoon, drunk on the haze heat and ennui you wanted to draw a tattoo on my shoulder. I let you. You tried to draw my face. You said it would be a parallel portrait, so that when I looked over my shoulder I would be face to face with myself. You thought it was a brilliant idea. I don't think you even knew what you were talking about. I said it was dumb, but you drew on anyway. The dust swirled in sunbeams almost conversing, whispering of star-secrets, how moons fall on foamy seas. Outside, the afternoon dragged on the sidewalk, People shuffled their feet and looked for the meaning of life in exalted abstractions. Oblivious to us, a world of our own on this side of the window, a moment, laughter and snow-quiet sleep our voices, hushed and seeped into yellow walls. When you were done, the girl on my shoulder looked nothing like me. Her one eye was bigger than the other, and she had no feet. You said it was symbolic. I decided I'd call her Ophelia. She washed away the next time I had a bath. I remembered the summer, the year before last we had run away to the mountains. Did we really run away, or did I just dream of it? 69
You said it didn't matter, pulled me in closer till I shivered, fell apart like a lover in your arms. That Saturday afternoon, we lay back to back and talked of love stories in dusty book-fair paperbacks till the shadows danced on the landscape of your face like a reverie, a dream recalled from another time, of another universe where perhaps suns never set. But the sun set over the city, and it was time for me to go.
One Last Poem About You (?) Pratyusha Pan I had a dream about you the other day, we were in a room with a window with trees outside. You were there, and then, you weren't. A colour from the dream escaped and spilled on the day in the streets on trains and on buses and everywhere it could be, and a whiff of it remains on my fingers, still, even today. I wish I had told you about the dream, back when it was October and you were still in love with me. I fold it up like a regret and keep it, next to the time you called me and I wasn't home. Even my regrets are silent and sound like you. I wish they would rage. I wish they would howl and weep like regrets are supposed to. Winter creeps in like a shadow, I can't believe itâ€™s November already. The cold cracks, even the air has stopped breathing in this part of the town. Tonight, I want to break. I want to do something reckless. I want to tear my limbs out one by one, gently, like a flower.
reflection Alyssa Quinones One day I visited you in your new dwellingâ€‹â€” an undisturbed labyrinth divided by suspended earth and pallid stone, and on one of them your name is engraved. Pray steadily to grass near your headstone;
the blades of
ask for their blessing and a kiss on the cheek and they turned a bit greener, I believe that pigment was you. She joined me slowly without a sound; smoldering fingernails rake their way through my scalp. She told me I could see myself in your immense altar if I tried hard enough, but a reflection only goes as far as light can carry it, and the sun does not rise here.
My Soul Hates Me Caroline Richards I saw my soul the other day at a party in a frat house. She wore white cowboy boots and a pout and she didnâ€™t drink the beer. I saw my soul in the supermarket, buying soap and Fair-Trade cold brew. She didnâ€™t take off her sunglasses, or stop to say hello. I saw my soul in the stairwell beside her friends. Glittered ghosts gloated through smoke and entitled eyes, bloodshot, sent me breathless back down. I saw my soul Sunday morning, coming out of an unknown room. She stood, her face shining with a drunk powdered glaze. I knew if she smiled her lips would bleed. I see her, lordly strutting about inside this crude capsule, unrecognizable as her desires. Floating around somewhere inside herself (myself) a pill shell is loose, left to soak, in turn poisoning us both. Blood vessels unstuck, struck ill with addiction. I see her, this stranger, pupils dilated, dilapidated by disdain.
First Date (Unsuccessful) Caroline Richards At the table I imagine your tongue is a sapling seed. Potted in a planter and watered plenty by wine decanter, but growing nothing. No green stem. No golden spice. A ghost of a plant, picked by phantom hands at night. Tightly knifed on a board, albeit quite confident, the invisible sprout, now a bored confidant. Touting its emptiness as minimalist— an artist, it spouts— becomes like a devout Pagan, pouring poison down my windpipe (the wrong pipe) chanting, for passion! for passion! Soulless sermons performed under guise of brown eyes, searching my face when you ask 74
how dinner tastes.
Ode to my Mother’s Closet Caroline Richards In the beginning, there was my mother’s closet. Clothes cross-legged on the carpet, dresses dangle off hangers, hovering between Heaven and Earth, a Holy place. Buried beneath the myriad of racks, they spun stories. The sultry silk slip, still smelling faintly of cigarette smoke, steered me through sparkling streets and down to bizarre dive bars, champagne splashed onto filthy sidewalks and left stains, a scar on her hem to prove it. The boisterous black blazer reeked of stress and sleepless nights, of success. She beckoned me into offices and interviews, past handshakes and bitter black coffee. Caffeination is key, darling she ardently advised me. The ruby red cashmere shawl comforted my small form from her place of power atop the high castle tower (the top shelf). I could taste my father’s cologne, long faded even then, as I savored her tales of romance and kisses. I still visit this place sometimes, seeking advice. They clamor with delight when I, returning anew from the desert, descend into their embrace. Yet seldom sigh when I must say goodbye, surmising, I suppose, that they cannot come with me.
Home (Far) Away From Home Colin Sowers My eyes, as heavy as boulders, suddenly allowed the passage of my sight as the overwhelming scent of bacon and syrup hits me straight in the face. It takes me a second to fully shift my conscience into focus. As I lift my lead filled body out of bed, I spot a blurry figure standing by the door of my bedroom. “Wakey wakey John… Ya gotta get ready for work,” my wife tells me. “Oh, what time is it?” I half shout. I was not fully aware of how loud I was. “Its half past eight, honey. You’re fine,” she reassures me. “Is that bacon I’m smelling?” I almost never wake up to the smell of bacon. “Well since you always make breakfast for me, I thought I’d return the favor this time,” She says with a proud smile. “Thank you, I’m starving.” She leans in to kiss me on my forehead. “Of course you are! You’re always starving. My hungwee wittle astronaut!” she responds in a demeaning voice. I hate when she calls me that... After I finished getting ready for work, I ate my breakfast and watched some news before leaving. You know, the typical depressing stuff that news channels always seem to cover. People dying, the planet withering, the usual. Once I’m done, I pack my things, kiss my wife goodbye before she heads out to her veterinary clinic, and I head off to work. As I walk into the mission control center I say hi to the boys. We shoot the breeze about sports and our naggy wives. One of them mentioned a rumor they heard about a last minute mission to Mars but everyone thought he was just full of shit. Just another day at work, or so I thought. Once I settle into my seat, I go to analyze NASA’s current mission, Apollo-14. Check their oxygen levels, make sure they still have sufficient supplies to make it home. Very fun stuff, I know. After I do the essential check-ins I take off to the breakroom to get some coffee. Unfortunately though, my quest in getting my daily caffeine fix was interrupted by my boss. “Hey John, can I borrow you for a sec in my office?” he shouts from across the brightly lit breakroom. “Yeah, sure… What's this about?” I say as we head towards the exit. There's a long, deliberate pause as we walk down the corridor to where his office resides. Once we reach his oversized cubicle, he turns to me and says, “You uh.. May wanna sit down for this one,” In a low, deep tone. I grab the nearest chair and sit in anticipation for what he is about to say. Before he speaks, there's a long, drawn out sigh. “How's your wife, John?” he asks attempting to change the subject or break the ice. “She's great. Really good as a matter of fact. We actually found out she's pregnant just the other day!” Was I oversharing? My boss and I aren’t that close. He’s a very matter-of-fact kind of guy and almost exclusively business oriented. “I don’t mean to change the subject sir, but you didn’t call me into your office to talk about my wife, did you?” I add as an afterthought.
“As I am truly glad to hear the news, no, I did not. You were hand picked to go on another mission. This however is not like any mission you, or anyone else for that matter has done before... So do you want the good news or the bad news first?” “Good news sir,” I responded. “You’re going to command the first mission to Mars,” He says in a non shulant manner. I could feel all of the hairs on my body stand up. Hearing this filled me with overwhelming excitement. But then I remember that there's a catch. I try my best to maintain a casual composure to match his. “...And the bad news, sir?” “You’re piloting the Russian, Foreigner-1 to colonize Mars. You will be partnered with a Chinese Taikonaut and a Russian Cosmonaut. Its a political stunt to make people think our countries are at peace.” My excitement quickly descends to worry. “Wow, um, I uh… don't want to sound disappointed but how long is this mission? I don’t want to leave my wife with our newborn child for too long,” I become aware of how hard I was squinting my eyebrows and force myself to relax. “It won’t be any longer than a year. You’re unloading gear and equipment on a preselected site on the northern ice caps of Mars. You will be setting up the equipment, and flying back once everything is in order. Like I said, this is just a political stunt to make news headlines. We’re sending out a larger shuttle a few years down the line. Your task is to just set up everything that couldn’t fit on the shuttle we plan to send a little later. In other words, your job is to uh, make sure the table is set, so to speak,” He flashes a forced smirk. “Oh, and you’re leaving tomorrow. First thing in the morning. Dismissed.” Tomorrow?! I guess my co-worker wasn’t kidding . . . “I - Understood.” I say reluctantly. How in God’s name am I going to explain this to my wife? I have never been so conflicted before. I’ve dreamt about flying to Mars as a kid countless of times. This was a dream of mine since before I could walk. But I will be missing the birth of my child and my poor wife will have to raise our kid alone for upwards of a whole year. I simply cannot pass up this opportunity, even if it means I miss the birth of my child. I hope my wife will understand, but something tells me she won’t. As I walked out of my boss’ office, my mind was practically spinning with thoughts but there was one thing I couldn’t quite shake. I couldn’t help but feel like something was off. As if I was given a puzzle set still missing some pieces. A mission of this caliber done in collaboration with three of the biggest nations in the world set off to fly in a less than twenty-four hour notice. Saying it out loud to my wife later that night sounded even more ludicrous. It just didn’t make any sense. Why the urgency? Why such short notice? I dreaded coming home that afternoon to tell my wife about the news, but I had no choice. “What the hell John?! You have a pregnant wife and a FUCKING kid on the way and you’re telling me you cannot pass up on YOUR dream!? WHAT ABOUT OUR DREAM JOHN?!” My wife screams at me with tears running down her cheeks. “Pleeease don’t do this to me. I can’t do this alone!” She begins to weep uncontrollably. It was hard for me to talk from the lump forming in my throat. “Honey, it’ll only be for a year and hell, I’ll take over being full-time parent for a year to make up for it. Being a part of a large scale colonization effort is a big, fucking, deal. The money we’ll get from this mission will even help us with raising our baby! It only makes sense that I take this opportunity while it's hot.
Something like this is once in a lifetime,” I respond to my wife in a soft tone. It began to feel like I was trying convincing myself too. “Yeah? Well the birth of our child is too!” she shouts back clearly unconvinced of my reasoning. She walks off towards our bedroom. “W - Where are you going?” I ask already knowing the answer. “To bed,” my wife responds impatiently. Before I could say anything more the door to our bedroom closed with a hard ‘Slam!’ Guess I’m sleeping on the couch tonight… The night came and went but I didn’t get a lick of sleep. Luckily for me, however, the adrenaline of excitement and nerves kept me plenty awake for the early morning launch back at NASA. The Taikonaut, Cosmonaut, and myself all loaded up into the oddly large ship, suits and all. At this point I couldn’t help but think about how strange this all felt. I don’t think I was alone either as my fellow passengers looked just as confused and nervous about this whole thing. None of us spoke to one another minus the cues and questions we would receive from mission control. We proceed to go through all of the testing stages and safety protocols. That alone took an eternity. But, you can never be too careful with billion-dollar equipment. The launch was almost under way. My head piece clicks for a moment followed by a static sounding voice, “T minus 10 - 9 8 - 7 . . .” I took a deep breath, and close my eyes. I imagine my pregnant wife. Her outstretched belly, her sky blue eyes, her shiny blonde hair. I feel a dampness under my eyes and a rock form in my throat. Oh my god… I was going to miss the birth of my child! And like a sudden wave forms along the shore of a beach, my damp eyes began to flood as the gates of my inner emotions burst open. “... 2 - 1 - Liftoff!” The violent shaking rocks me back into focus before I could cry any further. The cockpit’s heavenly white lights shuddered with the quaking. The room at this point was dimly lit by the red, yellow, and green buttons dotted throughout the control panels in our claustrophobic metal ball. “10,000 feet . . .20,000 feet . . .30,000 fee- . . .” the lights in my eyes went dark. “Чертова американская киска вырубилась!” I hear in a Russian accent. “Просыпайся!” “Alright, I’m up, I’m up!” I shout back at the nonsensical noises. “Ты говоришь по русски, сука?” He shouts back in frustration. “I - What?” I sound almost drunk as I was still regaining my bearings. “Are you fucking. . . . All Americans the same. They speak one dumb language! Everyone should learn Russian, da?” he says in a foreign accent pointing his body towards the Taikonaut. “Of course he doesn’t speak your native language, dumbass! He lives on the other side of the planet!” She tilts her helmet toward us revealing her feminine features. “Oh shit we have woman in here too?! She stink up cockpit with her -” It's like this man only spoke in one obnoxiously loud volume. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence!” she angrily interrupted. I was just as surprised. Neither of us noticed she was a woman when we were preparing for launch. 79
“Hey, you gotta get up, we just received a message from HQ on our current mission,” the Taikonaut commands in a monotone voice. She sounds just like my boss. “I thought I was commanding this mission.” I say half joking. “Yeah? Well that changed when you decided to take a quick nap on the way up,” she responds sarcastically. Great. I’m stuck in a confined space with an obnoxious Russian man and a smart-ass Chinese bit“I said get up! We got a mission to do.” “Alright, alright. What's the big rush? You do realize it takes half a fucking year to just fly there, right?” I ask impatiently. “Of course I know that. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be up here babysitting you two,” she snaps back. “And this message is labeled as ‘URGENT’.” Jesus I miss my wife already. “Urgent, huh? That sounds important,” says the Cosmonaut “What does ‘URGENT’ mean?” he whispers to me. “It means we open it as soon as sleeping beauty gets out of his chair,” she responds. “Hahaha… She got you. Sleeping beauty,” says the Russian to himself. An urgent message from NASA so soon after take off? My suspicions only continue to grow. “Alright then, let's open it,” I say to the Taikonaut as we all gather around the small monitor by the wall. With a single click the video file opens. We’re met with none other than an image of my boss. In the background I instantly recognize his large office. This time when I look at him though, I notice his expression is even more serious than it usually is, if that's even possible. “Good morning. If you are hearing this message, it means that you successfully made it into orbit and are currently en route to Mars. Congratulations space pioneers, you three will be the first humans to ever step foot on the red planet. As you might remember, you three were all briefed on a one year mission to set up equipment on Mars for a colonization effort and you were told that you would be returning home soon after… I hate to say that this is no longer true”. I begin to notice his serious expression morph to something that remotely resembles sadness. “It saddens me to say, you will be that colonization effort. As you may or may not know, our planet is dying. But it is withering at a much faster rate than we ever anticipated. The reason for the urgency of this mission was strictly due to the rate at which our ozone layer was deteriorating. We needed the healthiest space cadets in the air before any harmful radiation could reach you. You three are the last hope of humanity’s survival… Good luck to you all, and God bless…” Before my boss breaks into tears he turns off the camera and the humming of the monitor stops with a click. The room fell eerily silent. I look over at the Taikonaut and she looked as if she was staring off at something millions of miles away. I turn around and see the Cosmonaut shaking his head in disappointment and mumbling something incomprehensible to himself. I was still processing my boss’ words… As I try to contemplate what he said, I look out the nearest window of our spacecraft. My eyes behold our beautiful blue home, still clearly visible, now left to ruin. I close my eyes and imagine my wife. My pregnant wife. I imagine her large belly. Her bright blue eyes. Her silky blonde hair. And the expression on her face when she realizes that I’m never coming home. I drag my heavy feet to the window right across from the first and see a red glowing dot in a sea of never ending black and white. I begin to feel something wet on my 80
cheeks. “That's going to be our new home,” I whisper to myself, “Our home far away from home.”
[CRISEYDE:] We sit underneath a wooden bridge and Elizabeth Stanfield We sit underneath a wooden bridge and He is inches away from my lips When I hear the shouts of boys come Dancing over the green hilltops Beacons of youth Thirteen-year-old Lighthouses Pandarus says I will never be as Young as them Ever again The boys crawl into the belly Of this bridge and scale it Whooping And hollering like the gulls above the lake Like they will never creak like This bridge’s moss covered supports Still high off of their own invincibility And Troilus is still inches away from My lips So I quickly say They must be looking for bridge trolls And Troilus says We are the bridge troll And I ask Just one? And he says just one And he pulls me out of me When he kisses me When he touches me I want to wash my hands I want to burn the red flag cape he wears And maybe then I’ll look at him Guiltlessly But Pandarus is over my shoulder Reminding me that I will never be As young as this ever again
Honey Elizabeth Stanfield I like the way you say my name, how you set it down at the end of a sentence like itâ€™s become too heavy for your mind to carry any longer. You drop it like a heavy bag, like they do in movies at the airport as they rush into a loverâ€™s embrace. My teeth have never been strong enough to hold your name back. My jaw is weak, my lips and tongue traitors, and often it slips without my knowing. But saying your name tastes like sweet honey, and the smile and soft laugh it earns me smell like lavender, and for long minutes afterwards I imagine that I am the lover you are rushing to embrace.
How to Make Guacamole Elizabeth Stanfield Late September, 2017. An alley behind a restaurant. In my right hand, a garbage bag full of shit that smells like shit threatening to leak onto my shoe. In my left, another fistful of black. I need both of my arms to lift it. I was small then, I am small now. But the street lamps behind me throw my shadow a hundred feet in front of me. Under their glare I am taller, wider, stronger. My hair is up under a hat. Jeans, baggy. I look at my shadow: genderless, shapeless, featureless, soulless. A metallic clamor, succeeded by a giggle. I look. A hundred and one feet in front of me, two women, both young and small. One fumbles with the keys to her apartment —the clamor, I register—and the other notices me, stops laughing, stares. Her hand goes to her pocket, probably to grab her own keys. Probably to raise a serrated middle finger, to eulogize my right eye if I take even one step closer, a forever fuck you carved into my skull. Just like Mom taught her. I imagine: This is how you hold a knife When you want to slice an avocado open And this is how you hold a knife When you walk through empty parking lots. The first one is looking now, too. Quickly, she drops her eyes to the doorknob, opens the door, pushes her friend inside. A slam. The frantic turning of a lock, faster than it had opened. I stand alone in the empty alley. The garbage bag drips shit onto my shoe. I want to apologize to the hollow air and the bricks and square window panes
that watch me in my shame. But what would I say? How do I tell you that I am just as afraid as you?
Midgard:A collection of daydreams from the 72 hours after a loss Elizabeth Stanfield Midgard is defined as the equivalent of Earth in Germanic cosmology and is one of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology. It is the only world that exists entirely in the visible domain; aside from the odd intersection, all other worlds are mostly invisible to man. The sun that warms us and these thinning sheets and the green-jacketed sycamore in the yard is the same sun that wakes the shopkeepers and grocers of Boston or Minneapolis or Atlanta, maybe. We have nowhere to be this Sunday. We make coffee. We go back to bed. We count all of our somedays and name the birds on the windowsill. A dog or Seattle would be nice someday. Robin. Finch. It’s just pillow talk. Typically, Midgard is described or otherwise portrayed as a celestial body surrounded by a world of water or an impassable ocean. The serpent Jormungand lives in the sea and, according to mythology, is to one day overtake and end the world as it is known. You trace your thumb down the ridges of my spine and Boston fades into already harvested cornfields. Wildflowers wilt and juniper sprigs shrivel and you show me how a woman can swallow the ocean in just one gulp. You whisper when you tell me how the orange rinds cease to smell of sweet and how the glass greenhouse roof splinters. This is just your parents’ house anyway, and we’re far too young for dogs or Seattle. I dream of a parallel line in which the sun shines upon Boston or Minneapolis or Atlanta, maybe. We count our somedays instead of our eventuallys, until thens, maybes. We just make coffee. We just go back to bed.
[PANDARUS:] I am ten years old and Troi is eleven Elizabeth Stanfield I am ten years old and Troi is eleven and we are spitting on the ground outside of the middle school and he says hey Pandarus did you know that a guy killed himself in there his name was mister uh mister something I don’t remember but he hung himself in the bathroom and I twist the handlebars of my Schwinn back and forth as the dead man’s fingers pull at my collar and Troi says let’s go find his ghost so we pull on every door handle and slam our shoulders into them and I get scared so we race our bikes down the hill screaming and I feel like I’m part of something I am twelve and Troi is thirteen when he punches the boy who calls my Uncle Cal a retard and me a queer and he’s right but Troi turns his face ugly shades of purple anyway and then he looks at me with blood on his knuckles and smiles and turns my hue pale then red and pale and red and I am thirteen and Troi is fourteen when he leaves me to go sit with his teammates at lunch and when he goes to a party and drinks his first beer and he always comes back but he seems a little less like himself every time I look at him and I don’t know how to tell him I miss him I am sixteen and Criseyde is sixteen when she asks me if Troilus is single at Christmas--we stopped inviting Uncle Cal this year--and I say yeah but you’re not his type and she asks what his type is and I say pretty girls a nd she cries and I leave because I’m not a pretty girl either I am sixteen and Troi is seventeen when he calls me at three in the morning and I haul him out of a kid’s front yard and his own vomit and he tells me he’s fine when he dry heaves into my toilet I swear that I will never pick up his phone calls again never again never again never again never I am seventeen and Troi is eighteen and he has a halo of crushed aluminum under his foot when he says can I ask Criseyde to homecoming and I say yes she would like that and he says you should ask Cassandra a nd I say nothing but shrug and he swallows again and births more angels I am eighteen, nineteen, twenty-four, thirty-seven and Troi is eighteen forever and the middle school was torn down years ago but hey Pandarus did you know that there’s a nest of mourning doves in that tree at the bend in the road by the bridge people say he shouldn’t have been driving
For that time in class I answered a question in class and got it wrong. Sarah Wruck I can’t get close enough or reach very far. I finally grasp something, but quickly lose it, plaguing myself for not being smart or strong enough. As my mind muscles wear down my hand hesitates in some odd position. I suddenly notice my mind has become static. I’m prepared to absorb a lecture but instead begins an explanation with a sprinkle of what I meant which means that I’m not done learning yet.
“why in the world would you study to be an artist?” Sarah Wruck “i plan to pour my heart into the world & bring color to where there’s darkness.” “i am going to make a poet’s paradise of my conceptual reflections on life and all that’s good and lovely.” “for once in my life i will create something that is greater than me.” “i don’t know” -
and it’s okay that i’ll never know
Wrapped in Flame Misty Yarnall Today is Sunday. I wake up in bed alone. On my nightstand is the scented candle Daryl bought me when we first met. It smells like soap and has a giant hole in the wax where the wick has burned. * I was working at Yankee Candle, paying attention to an older woman sniffing each individual package of tea lights, when Daryl walked in. He wore a baggy white dress shirt, black pants with hints of dog hair, and scuffed dress shoes. He introduced himself and stated that he was there for an interview. I recognized the smell of smoke radiating off his clothes, and the smell tempted me. * I walk across the bedroom, which is still a mess. On the dresser are scrunched-up bras, an unopened pack of Camels, and a stack of First United Methodist Church of Tovey bulletins. On the covers of the bulletins is an image of a cross wrapped in flames. * Not long after that first day, I hugged the crumpled sheets to my chest and rolled over in bed, kissing Daryl’s cheek. He was facing away from me, studying the flickering candle on the nightstand. I wrapped my arms around him. I kissed into his neck. He smelled like sweat, and I’m sure I did too. He mumbled something about church, and I nodded, distracted by his salty taste against my lips. The sanctuary was covered with a stuffy, pink carpet. The altar was made of wood, with purple banisters reading "Peace" and "Good Will to Men" embroidered in gold. A couple of older women sat in the front, close to the ends of the pews, wearing sweaters. A stitched tapestry hung on the wall, probably made years ago by one of the members of the church. It showcased the United Methodist symbol— a cross, wrapped in flames. I wore one of Daryl’s hoodies and an old pair of leggings. My hair was tied back in a messy bun. The congregation shared their concerns of a brother in the mental ward and a nephew going through chemo. Daryl, while being attentive to the preacher, held my hand in the small space between us, like we were hiding something from the Lord. * I open my underwear drawer, which is nearly empty since I haven’t done laundry in longer than I can remember. Batting against the sides is one of Daryl’s lighters and my wedding ring. I nearly forgot I tucked them away after Daryl left, but there’s nothing in the drawer to hide them now. I want to get rid of the ring. I can sell it to a jewelry store, or to a pawn shop. Maybe I can sell it for the gold. They can take fire and heat and force to it until it warps, they can form something different, something new. * Long Bay was a small, secluded beach without a lifeguard on Sundays. Cigarette butts burrowed in the sand like crabs and Pepsi bottles floated on top of the water like dead fish.
We settled at one of the picnic tables, red paint chipping off its splintering wood. After snacking on Cheetos, condensation collecting on our half-drunk Pepsi bottles, we held hands and talked about how hot the day was and how careless we were to forget sunscreen. Eventually we took a walk, hand in hand. The rocks and bottle caps crunched under our sandals. We chatted about how we were stocking fall fragrances on the shelves midway into summer, and next would be the Christmas displays. I told him how I lit a balsam and cedar candle every Christmas Eve alone in my apartment. He promised I’d never spend another holiday alone. He took a small jewelry box out of his pocket. As the sun began to set, we settled on the opposite side of the beach at a small firepit to celebrate our engagement. Daryl spent several minutes fascinated by the sparks he’d created between the twigs and brush. I sat on the sand, teasing him about how long it was taking him to start an actual fire. Eventually, flames engulfed the pit. By the time we got home, my body was sunburned, all except for bikini lines and the small band of skin around my ring finger. * I step into the kitchen, wearing only an old t-shirt and two-day-worn panties. My feet are cold against the linoleum. I haven’t felt like eating in days. Opening the pantry, I notice the choices are slim. I find granola bars, canned beans, potato chips, and an opened bag of Lucky Charms. * On Sundays, our daughter Laura would climb into bed with Daryl and me. She would wedge her squirmy little body in between us, puff out her lip, stare me down with her lazy eye, and tell me I needed to wake up because she was absolutely starving. I was never much of a cook. The pancakes were always a little too black and the bacon a little too soggy, but Laura was satisfied with Lucky Charms. Daryl would join us dressed in tan dress pants and a polo. He would kneel, handing Laura a tie that matched his shirt, and she would knot it for him. Then, she would put on her sparkly sandals because they made her feel like a princess and because she insisted she had to look nice for church. Daryl always offered to let me tag along with them, but this was Laura’s time with her father. I would meet them at Long Bay for lunch. * I open the freezer. TV dinners are piled on top of each other. I take one: chicken, broccoli, and mashed potatoes. The cool air from the freezer leaves goosebumps on my arms, but I barely feel them. * “Mommy, I’m cold.” Laura shivered as I dried off her arms and legs and wrapped her body in a Mickey Mouse beach towel. Her hair formed into peaks on her shoulders. A breeze tickled her legs and goosebumps appeared. “Daryl, I think her eye looks worse. Look at this,” I said. I planted her damp body on the picnic table next to a pack of Daryl’s cigarettes. He sat at the table, flicking his lighter on and off. “Sweetie, look at mommy.” I lifted Laura’s chin. “I think we need to take her to a doctor.” Daryl shrugged off my concerns, finally lighting the cigarette. Kids got bumps and bruises. She probably just hit her eye against something. It was nothing to worry about. 91
I balled the used cling wrap in the lunch bag and tossed the crusts of Laura's sandwich to the seagulls. I picked up the bag and Laura and walked to the SUV, waiting for Daryl to take the cue, toss the butt, and follow. * I rip open the cardboard and slide the plastic tray from the box. I toss the tray in the microwave and press start. The microwave hums. I walk across the kitchen to the corner where Laura’s doll house still sits. I pick up one of the dolls and a tiny hairbrush and comb through the doll’s hair. We used to dress up Laura’s dolls while I made dinner. Now, her Barbies sit in the bathtub, stand by the stove, lie in their beds—carrying on. * At home, Laura was sitting on her knees in front of her doll house. Daryl was settled on the couch, cigarette perched between his fingers. Typically, I’d tell him to take it out on the porch, but today I needed him inside with me. I sat next to him, wrapping his free arm around my shoulders. The CAT scan had come back positive. They called it retinoblastoma. After a long explanation about autosomal dominant gene patterns, they said a tumor was growing on her left eye, making it heavy and lazy and darker than its natural brown color. She would need weekly treatments. It was a genetically inherited cancer. There was a 50% chance any of our future children would inherit it also. At that moment, I knew I would never have another baby. Daryl didn’t object. He smudged the butt in the ashtray on the coffee table and wrapped his arms around me. * After brushing Barbie’s hair with one of Laura’s small, plastic brushes, I stand. I walk into the bathroom. It still smells like smoke. Daryl’s work clothes are piled in the hamper in the closet. It’s almost as if he’s here. * The SUV sat in the driveway for a few minutes, headlights hitting me through the bedroom window’s blinds, before I heard the front door of the house clasp shut. I never locked it anymore. He shuffled past the bedroom. The nursery door creaked open, catching slightly on the carpet. He was checking on Laura, since he’d missed tucking her in and giving her a kiss goodnight. He came into the bedroom, smelling like smoke. I could only see shadows of his movements—shoving his jeans down to his ankles, fishing a T-shirt from the overflowing laundry basket. He lifted the covers and slid into bed. His hands were ice cold. The little hairs on my bare legs bristled. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d shaved. If Laura weren’t sick, he wouldn’t have been trucking loads this late at night. He’d have been here, helping me convince her to brush her teeth before bed. If Laura weren’t sick, simple chores like dishes and laundry might have topped playing with Littlest Pet Shop figures in the living room. And if Laura weren’t sick, I definitely wouldn’t have felt the need to go to church the next morning. “Good morning, Laura,” the greeter said, handing her a bulletin with the image of a lit candle on its front. 92
“Good morning, Mr. Parker,” Laura replied. Daryl took a bulletin from Mr. Parker and wished him a good morning as well. I faked a smile and accepted my bulletin, holding Laura’s hand. She led me to where she and Daryl sat every Sunday. Laura sat between Daryl and me. It was just as I remembered: same stuffy smell, same shriveled people, same dusty tapestries of crosses wrapped in flames. The service began. Daryl took a pen out of his front breast pocket and handed it to Laura, and throughout the service, they played tic-tac-toe on the back of her bulletin. She let me play a few rounds, too. During the concerns portion of the service, Daryl held onto my hand as he updated the congregation on Laura’s treatments. All eyes were on us, the struggling family with the sick daughter. They followed his petition with “Lord, hear our prayers.” I began to sweat. At the end of the service, the people rose from their seats, hugging one another and starting conversations. When Daryl started chatting with the man sitting a few pews ahead of us about a trustees meeting, Laura showed me around the sanctuary. Each stained-glass window had a candle lit in its sill, and Laura got to blow each one out at the end of the service every Sunday. “I don’t know who does it when I don’t feel good,” Laura told me. Once the sanctuary was nearly empty, Daryl asked if I was ready to go. I suggested he take Laura out to the car and get her buckled. I’d be out in a minute. He obliged. I approached the steps to the altar. I knelt on the pink carpet, and stared up at the Methodist cross. The cross was dim. The candles surrounding me were extinguished. “Dear God…” I began, then stopped. One of the altar candles was still lit, one Laura must’ve overlooked. “She’s just a little girl . . . just a little girl.” I squeezed my hands together, not bothering to wipe away the tear under my eye. “This can’t be how it ends. Please.” I stood and approached the altar, blowing out the single flame. * The microwave beeps. I leave the bathroom. I open the microwave and pull out my dinner. The plastic tray burns my hand, but I don’t notice until my skin begins to turn pink. Setting down the tray, I run cold water and let my hand sit. I dry my hands on the dish towel wrapped around the refrigerator handle. On the door, the number for the hospital is scribbled in my messy handwriting on a pad of paper with floral borders. I rip off the top sheet, crumple it, and toss it towards the wastepaper basket. The next sheet has more scribbles. I rip off that one too, and the next, and the next, until there is no trace of any scribbles. I am surrounded by balled-up paper wads. * Daryl asked me if he could take a turn taking Laura for her treatment. The day before, he had taken Laura to the park to play catch. She had come home exhausted, but before I could mention to Daryl that she didn’t have the energy of a typical three-year-old girl anymore, he had turned on Sesame Street in the living room and she had fallen asleep against his chest. “You need to bring her straight home afterwards.” I told him. “She needs her rest if she’s going to recover.” He questioned if she was ever going to recover. He couldn’t remember the time before she was sick. The medical bills were piling. The odds of climbing from debt were questionable. He was working all the time to pay for her next treatment.
Laura needed an escape from the cancer, he said, a small glint in his eye. I needed an escape from chores and doctor visits. He needed an escape from long hours on the road. He could take her out for burgers after the treatment. I always took her through the Burger King drive-thru on the way home, knowing I wouldn’t have time to make something, and Daryl would pick something up from the gas station on the way to work. But he meant real burgers, at one of the sports bars. Loud, drunk sports fans hollering at televisions. Then he would take her somewhere fun. He Googled some parks close to the hospital with playgrounds and beaches. He found a tackle shop, where he could take her to buy her first fishing pole. He could teach her to cast off the dock. I said no. “Don’t force her. She doesn’t know her limits. As her dad, you have to recognize when it’s too much.” I gave him a hug, wanting to feel him wrap his arms around me. I missed him. It takes him a minute to reciprocate. He holds me down, and I feel like screaming. I want to see her play again. I want Daryl to teach her how to hook a worm and catch her first fish, but now’s not the time. When I let go, he told me he needed a smoke, and stepped outside. I let him take her to her next appointment. * I open the junk drawer at my kitchen island. A marble rolls across the base. A pair of scissors slides, running into an assortment of crayons and rubber bands. I take out another pad of paper, this one with stars around the border, and put it on the fridge. On the fridge are an assortment of letter magnets. Laura used to sit on the floor, customizing words with the letters while I boiled water for spaghetti on the stove. There’s also a crayon drawing of Daryl and me on each side of Laura outlined in red, holding onto her hands, the way we used to swing her between us when walking down the sidewalk. There is a sun in the top curling corner. I remove the small magnets in the corners of the picture and take it down. * While they were gone, I stopped at Sam’s Club and stocked up on Laura’s favorite treats— strawberry yogurt, pistachio ice cream, crunchy Cheetos, bananas, and chocolate milk. I picked myself up a TV dinner and made it home in time to watch soap operas. It was getting late, and I decided to take a quick bath before they got home. After filling up the tub with steamy water and using a few drops of Laura’s lavender bubble soap, I set my ring in the dish on the sink, sat in the tub, leaned back, and relaxed. The water was hot against my skin. My hands and feet started to prune. I barely noticed it had been over an hour before I got out. Typically, Laura and I would’ve been home by then, but Daryl probably stopped somewhere to treat her for dinner. I wasn’t prepared to fight him over it. But soon it was after nine and they still weren’t back. I got out of bed and walked through the house to the kitchen. On the refrigerator was the phone number for the hospital. I dialed. I explained to the secretary I was just checking in to see how Laura’s treatment had gone. The secretary informed me that my husband had called earlier to postpone the treatment until tomorrow morning, that our family wanted to spend the day camping alongside the bay. She emphasized the excitement Daryl expressed to be spending time with us, since our lives had been consumed by long hours of treatments and work. I thanked the secretary and hung up. * 94
On Sunday, court is not in session. The judge puts aside the fact a three-year-old girl was murdered. He travels off to his beach house along the bay, bobs across the water in his boat, and pokes a plastic fork around a fruit platter. I thought if Laura was going to die, it would be in a hospital bed. Instead, the charred ashes of her body were found floating in a plastic storage box on Long Bay. Daryl’s body wasn’t found until three days later, with a bullet in his head and a lighter in his pocket. Forgetting the TV dinner, I head back to the bedroom with the drawing folded into a square in my hand. The bulletins sit on my dresser. I can’t stand to see the cross. I take the pack of Camels off the dresser. I tear through the plastic. I open my underwear drawer, I take out one of Daryl’s lighters. The scented candle still sits on my nightstand. I flick on the lighter and light the stub of the wick. I sit on the bed. Slipping one of the cigarettes out of the box, I flick on the lighter again. I study the flame. I set down the pack. I unfold the drawing of our family. I set the flame to the edge of the paper. The corner curls up first, the wax of the crayoned sun singed black. Then the flame engulfs Daryl. Now it’s just me and Laura. The flame takes her next. It’s too late. I put the page on the floor and stomp out the flame.
An Interview with Teju Cole conducted by Calvin Evans and Dan Roussel Teju Cole, the Fall 2019 Writer-in-Residence at the Writers House,, is the author of five books. In addition to writing fiction, he is a photographer, critic, and curator. He was the photography critic of The New York Times Magazine from 2015 until 2019, and is currently the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard University. The Writer-in-Residence program is made possible with generous support from the Andrea ’79 and Ken Robertson Writers House Innovation Fund.
Dan Roussel In 2017, you put on a performance piece called “Black Paper” for Performa 17. What was the creation process for this, and did anything surprise you about the response to it? Teju Cole The impetus for that piece came out of the dismay of the November 2016 elections. I asked myself what a rapid response would look like on an artistic level. Art usually takes a long time to figure out what it thinks of what's going on. And yet, at the same time, it's always possible to respond rapidly. So, I started to look for a form. One of the first things that came to me, in January 2017, was the title “Black Paper.” It was this idea that there’s information hidden inside what you're looking at. Then I started taking a bunch of photographs, and then I was invited by Performa 17. In the summer of that year, I had a photography exhibition that included a large collage work called “Black Paper,” but I already knew that the project was something that would have an ongoing life. Then I did the performance. I'd never done a performance piece before. It was very visceral, very personal. I think some parts of it worked very well. I really, really liked the soundscape I made. I'm not a professional musician, but I made a 42 minute soundscape that, for me, really holds up as a piece of work. The physical body performance aspect was okay, for that moment. I got some good reviews, and some not so good reviews. Interestingly, the not-so-good reviews were in very small places. And the really good reviews were in the New York Times and places like that. As an artist myself, I know that it was a work in progress. I'm now taking some of those complex ideas and working on a book that is also called Black Paper. I remain curious to see what can be generated out of political darkness, but I also want to engage in these meditations on the color black, on shadows, and so on. Dan Roussel So, coming up with the concept of “Black Paper” was a really pivotal moment for you. Teju Cole It was, and it came out of a dream. I had a dream that just scrolled out the words, "black paper," and I seized on that.
Dan Roussel And you also mentioned the soundscape? Teju Cole The performance had flashing images, my body on the stage responding, static for long stretches, but then responding like a performance of a dream. And then there was a soundtrack that I made with production software, and on which I performed several instruments and did loops and used many different musical styles. There was a lot of vocalization, and I used some found audio as well. It was super intense! It also confirmed for me the hunger and the need to always find a new form in which to do the work: to respect what the work required, not to phone it in, or do whatever it was I did the last time, but always to find the next thing. Dan Roussel In one of your essays in â€‹Known and Strange Things,â€‹ you write about your encounter with Vidia Naipaul. The essay lays a pretty critical eye on him. He's since passed, but how do you navigate that honest storytelling about people who are pretty influential in writing? Teju Cole I don't really like the genre of, "Oh, I met somebody and this is my tell-all." In that piece, which did feel a little bit revealing of him, two things justify the telling for me. One is that the piece was also very revealing of myself, and exploring that vulnerability of meeting a literary master and trying to impress him. I wanted to write about that because it was uncomfortable to see myself in this way. But secondly, our encounter ended with a direct provocation from him, where he said, "Oh, you should write about meeting me. It'll be good for you." And I was like, "Oh, really?" So he was kind of egging it on a little bit. And as it turns out, he did read the piece. I canâ€™t imagine he loved it, but he described it as "tough, but fair." Dan Roussel As you mentioned, Patrick French wrote a biography of him that wasn't very favorable. And he said the "record would correct itself." Teju Cole Yeah, he gave this guy total access, letters and everything. And he must have known that some of this stuff would make him look bad. And yet he let it be, and then, when the book came out, he was wounded by it. He was a tough old bird, Naipaul, he was not the nicest person. A brilliant writer, and very, very perceptive, and I think a lot of his writing was also a process of negotiating his relationship with his own cruelty, of recognizing that in himself and trying to understand what to make of it, without necessarily being repentant about it. We tend to have quite simple responses to people like that, these days. You know, so and so is a bad guy, he's "cancelled." The judgments that we need to make when somebody is misogynist, or racist, or whatever, are obvious. What's less obvious: what are we supposed to do in the space that's been opened up inside an interaction with a particular person? And that's a real challenge, a writerly challenge. Nobody has to tell you that racism is bad. But interacting with, or assessing the emotional or
intellectual content of somebody, or somebody's work—that takes real work. That takes some digging, and finding what is valuable in the work and what's not. Dan Roussel And does that take a lot of practice, learning how to sift through? Teju Cole It does. But I believe that part of the writerly role is to go to the place that other people don't want to go to. I think most people don't want to hang out with Vidia Naipaul. Dan Roussel You are the Gore Vidal Professor of Creative Writing at Harvard. How did you come into that position? And what has the experience been like for you? Teju Cole So I've been teaching at Harvard for a year. I came into the role based on the invitation of the English faculty, who were looking to expand the offerings in creative writing. I did not have some grand plan to become a professor at Harvard, or a photography critic at the New York Times Magazine. But when the opportunity comes along, you're answering two questions. You're saying, "Am I interested in this?" But you're also saying, "Am I prepared for this?" In both cases, I felt the answer was yes. I don't know what comes next for me. I might be there for a while; I might go do something else; or while I'm there, I might be doing something that is challenging in a different way, and preparing, but I don't know for what. But the thing is to have your work be focused and serious, to have it be ready, so that when opportunity comes knocking, you're not scrambling. When the English faculty approached me and said, "Can you put together a dossier of your work?" I was able to do it rapidly. Even though I had not been job hunting. So, that's how that came about. I had taught at Bard College for many years, but I'd taken a break from teaching in order to write. When Harvard approached, it seemed like a good opportunity to wind down my photography column at the New York Times Magazine and go back into teaching. Dan Roussel Does your role as professor ever conflict with your role as a writer? How has teaching changed your relationship to writing? Teju Cole Yes, it can potentially create a conflict. Sometimes part of what a teacher is doing is actually being a bit of a manager. You're working at an institution and following rules. Meanwhile as a writer, you're trying not to be too bound by other people's rules of how your thinking should go. Potentially, they could be in conflict but, for me, they're not. I've taught for a long time. And I know what I want to present in the classroom. And I also know how committed I am to my artistic freedom. What I'm actually finding, more and more, is that the things I'm teaching—the way I'm talking to my students, the thinking I'm doing with them, all of this is influencing the way I write. Articulating to them what is happening inside a prose work: that knowledge and 98
information has come out of my writing, and own reading, even though, of course, I don't assign my writing to them. But the fact that I have been a writer, the fact that I'm an avid reader, these are feeding what I teach in class. But then what I teach in class—struggling to find the right language to describe what's happening in a work by Michael Ondaatje or by Anne Carson—putting that into words means that next time I sit at my desk to write, that articulation is still echoing in my head. In a work of prose, one of the fundamental questions we're asking is, "How does one sentence influence the next sentence?" Or, more simply, "What is the next sentence?" And so when I sit down to write, some of the things I've articulated in class help me figure out what the next sentence is. Questions of content, cadence, rhythm, and so on. Dan Roussel Have students been receptive to your teaching? Teju Cole Yeah, the class is an exciting space for all of us. It's emotionally charged, but you walk away having learned something that will sit with you for a long time. Dan Roussel And you're not just a professor and a creative; you're a novelist and memoirist, an essayist, a poet, a photographer, a curator, a critic. You have many different roles, and how do you manage them all? Teju Cole I've written a couple poems and hardly ever published any, so I'm not really a poet. I read a lot of poetry. And out of that reading, I’ve become a bit of a poetry critic. And I was an art major in undergrad. I have an Art and Art History degree, so I can draw and paint. My senior project in undergrad was actually sculpture; but in terms of regular practice, I'm not really a painter, I'm not really a sculptor. Now the reason I say this is that I really believe in freedom. But I also really believe in honing your craft. And I don't have the craft right now to declare myself a poet. So the things that I do, being a curator, being a photographer, being a novelist, being an essayist; these are all crafts that I really work on, making sure that my skills are up to snuff. It's not just, to imagine the voice of someone who’s critical of me: "He wrote this novel, it did very well, and now he thinks he can just phone it in, and do anything." I'm not just gonna suddenly show up and be a choreographer. If I wanted to be a choreographer, I’ll go learn. I would really pour myself into it. I'd learn something about it, and learn something about what choreographers are doing now. I don't think, as photographer, it’s enough to say, “I'm going to take some pretty pictures.” No, I'm interested in what's happening in the world of photography. What is good work? What is interesting work? Dan Roussel Do you feel like you're willing to expand into these different fields that you say you haven't honed the craft yet? Or are you content with what you really have worked on? Teju Cole 99
It's neither! For any given project, I ask myself, how does it want to manifest in the world? What skills do I need to help that happen? So, I spent a lot of time in Switzerland traveling around the country. And I pretty much answered the question for myself; that is, I don't want to write a book about Switzerland. I don't want to write stories about it. I don't want to do poems about it. I didn't want to write critically about their politics. What I want to do is respond to that landscape through photography. And so that's what I'm doing, and I'm working on a book about that, which will be out in March 2020. I go to Nigeria every year; I grew up there. I'm trying to base a new work on there. I've photographed a little bit, and I'm actually photographing there more. But I know that what I want to do is write prose about it. But I want the prose to be experimental. So then, that form is dictated by what the subject requires out of me. And maybe the next time around, I'll say, "I want to do something based in Boston" or something. Maybe the outlet for that will be a novel because maybe, photographically, it's not that interesting to me. Just finding what the stuff requires, like "I’m thinking a lot about my late grandmother, but how do I want to respond to that?" Maybe I'll do a series of paintings, but then I'll have to get back into that and see. So, the versatility is not a performance of “I can do everything.” It’s more about wanting to serve whatever the material is that's asking me to engage with it, and finding the proper form for that, and doing whatever I can to learn that proper form. Dan Roussel Speaking of outlets, and figuring out how to process experiences into your art, how do you feel like your visual work has influenced your writing, and vice versa? Teju Cole I used to say they had nothing in common with each other. And now I realize that they have everything in common with each other. They're both expressions of the same spirit. And that spirit is one that seeks to testify to the multiplicity of the world. It’s a spirit that is very interested in conveying complexity via apparent simplicity. My photos are very quiet. The implicit question in them is: "Why is this interesting?" I think a lot of my writing is like that as well: sort of densely descriptive, very slow paced. A lot of my work seeks to be more contemplative and less antic—the work seeks to be politically engaged, but in a very cool way. With the volume not turned up loud but set to "medium," because I don't want to shout. Dan Roussel And do you think you've found the balance between your visuals and your writing yet, when you bring them together? Or is there an ideal marriage for you? Teju Cole I think I've found a balance, but it's a dynamic balance. So the balance that worked for the last project has to be re-confronted for the next project, and a new balance has to be found. Calvin Evans
More specifically about â€‹Blind Spot,â€‹ what was the process like of marrying those photographs with those essays? Would you take photographs and think of something to write? Or write before the photograph? Teju Cole Marrying is a good term for it, because a lot of it was just matchmaking. I had a whole bank of images, a whole bank of notes and embryonic writings. Then I started to think about this idea of blindness. So, for instance, when I go to Lebanon, I have a bunch of thoughts there that connect to this project. Meanwhile, I also shoot several rolls of film. But I'm not just picking my best pictures from Lebanon and then picking my best stories from Lebanon and yoking them together. I have a picture and I ask if I have something that's worth connecting to it. No matter how good the picture is, if it doesn't work with a narrative, it doesn't go into the project, and vice versa: a narrative without an appropriate picture wouldnâ€™t make it into the book. Lots of interesting things happened in Lebanon, but if I did not have a good image, no use to me. So it ended up being a coherent work, in a certain sense, containing some images that were actually rather quiet and would not hold their own on a wall. But that was not the point: to have a kind of organic rhythm. So matchmaking is how I connect things. Calvin Evans How do you feel that taking photographs affects your memory of a place? What is your relationship with photography? Teju Cole A photograph intensifies my memory of the photograph of the place. However, the photograph of the place is a mere aspect of the place. And therefore, in that highly limited way, a photograph intensifies my memory of the place. It intensifies my memory of the photograph, intensifies my memory of the act of photographing, it intensifies my memory of the moment in which the photograph happened. And if there are enough of these strung together, it actually makes the place richer, more memorable. But of course, what then falls away are all the moments that were not photographed. I lose those details very quickly. If you don't photograph it, or if you don't immediately write down notes about it, you'll forget. But if you write down notes about it, you'll remember what you wrote down. Whatever you did not write down, you'll forget that. It's funny. Calvin Evans Out of all the places you've traveled to, which would you say was the most impactful? Teju Cole So I'm Nigerian and American. So those are the two countries of my life, in a sense. But I've now had the opportunity to visit 43 countries in my travels. The three I think about most are probably Switzerland, Brazil and Lebanon. For all three opposite reasons, like a three-cornered hat. They're all very different from each other. But they were the most vivid to my heart. Lebanon, I only went once. Brazil and Switzerland, I keep returning to.
Calvin Evans Would you want to go back to Lebanon? Teju Cole I think so but I'm uncertain. I was there in conditions that made it really convenient to be there. For three weeks, and it was very, very interesting. And now that that cohort of people I was there with has moved on, and now that the political situation is in upheaval, I don't know. Dan Roussel Do you feel like there's one piece of art or writing that has impacted you in a way that nothing else ever has? Teju Cole I think it was the first time I saw 8 1/2, by Fellini. I'm very open to influence and I have lots of artwork that I love, and many that I love very deeply. So this could be one out of ten possible examples. But when I saw 8 1/2 by Fellini, it happened at an interesting point in my life. I was already my mid 20s. And I thought I already knew what my favorite films were. That list had been solid for ten years: Kieslowski, Malle, Tarkovsky. I saw this Fellini film, and for three days afterwards, I could not think of anything else. I felt like I had been brushed with liquid gold. My life was utterly transformed. All the choices made in that film—the music, the way people moved on the screen, the lilting dance, and the particular approach of the narrative, joining this to that, to that, to that—it was like a comedy, or a tragic comedy in a way. It ended up being very influential on the structural approach I took to writing Open City which is also very associative. We talk about “free association,” but I’m as interested in the mechanics of the “association” as I am in the “free.” Open City moves through the point of view of one protagonist moving through a city, one person's life. Fellini's 8 1/2 reintroduced me to the sheer pleasure of a complete and powerful work. It's great when you find something like that that just recharges your sensibilities, and changes whatever it is you go on to do. We're always searching for that experience, and it doesn't happen often. The older you get, the less it happens. So it's always very special.
Contributors Caleb Bartholomew is fourth-year student at North Carolina State University, studying English with a concentration in Literature. He has minors in Philosophy, Economics, and Creative Writing. Haley Barthuly is a bartender and pin-up enthusiast, who aims to write poetry that is as ironic as female Trump supporters. She is in her final year at Montana State University Billings, where she studies English and Political Science. Lee Brady is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying sociology and LGBT studies. Lee is a queer and trans writer, and he would like to use his writing to make a career in LGBTQ+ advocacy in the future. Nina Chabanon is a third-year student at New York University, studying Feminist Storytelling at the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies. She has had a short story published in NYU's Liberal Studies literary journal, West 4th Street Review, and runs a blog where she posts her poetry and stories almost daily. Mackenzie Coburn is a senior at Westfield State University working towards her Bachelor of Arts in Communication, with a concentration in public relations. Having an English minor has given her many opportunities to work creatively. Emma Converse is a junior at the University of Mary Washington, double majoring in creative writing and psychology. She is the current art editor (for Fall 2019) of the Rappahannock Review, a literary journal published by UMW and writes mainly poetry and fiction. Joseph L. Dahut is an MFA candidate in poetry at New York University whose work has appeared in The Drake, Tail Magazine, and The Sand Canyon Review, among others. Joseph lives in Brooklyn as an educator, poet, and fly fishing guide. Benjamin Davis is a PhD Candidate in Philosophy at Emory University. He works in the traditions of Latin American philosophy and liberation theology. Larissa Debski is a junior English major with a creative writing emphasis at Colorado Christian University. She has had poetry published in Paragon Literary Magazine. Besides writing, her hobbies include sewing and clothing design. Taylor Denton was born in Springfield, Missouri and is currently a student in Boulder, Colorado, working to complete a degree in English. She was born on March 22nd, 1998, in Springfield, Missouri. Sean Desautelle is a rising junior in literary studies at the University of New Hampshire's Manchester campus.In his free time, he is an avid reader and enjoys baking and cooking.
Aryanna Falkner is a disabled writer from Buffalo, NY. She is currently an MFA candidate for fiction at Bowling Green State University and assistant prose editor for Mid-American Review. Her work has been published by Blanket Sea, Enslow Publishing, and elsewhere. Lauren Hallstrom is an undergraduate student at Colorado State University. Her young adult novels Dreamweaver and One Hundred Words. Received and the CIPA EVVY awards and her poetry has appeared in Spiritus Mundi and The Greyrock Review. In addition to her writing, she enjoys working at a public library and teaching the Spanish language to elementary school children. Annabelle Harsch is a junior at the University of Dayton where she is an English major with a minor in marketing. When she's not writing she's reading, exploring the outdoors, or embroidering shirts from Goodwill. Omair Hasan is an undergraduate student at The Ohio State University who deeply enjoys reading and writing poetry. He has work published or forthcoming in Oberon Poetry Magazine, Encore Prize Poems, and other publications. Sarah Huang is a native of NYC and is currently studying creative writing and philosophy at the College of Staten Island. She loves reading, especially literary fiction and poetry. She can also solve a Rubik's Cube in less than 30 seconds. Rebecca Justiniano is a Creative Writing major at Adelphi University. A junior in the undergraduate English program, her focus is on poetry that fantasizes and glorifies the mundane and the tragic elements of everyday life. Lilly Klahs is a graduating senior at Truman State University who will begin medical school in July. She has a love for the written word and biology. Justin Li’s work explores themes of identity, coming-of-age, and heritage. He is strongly inspired by the LGBTQ+ rights movement and queer activism. Justin's portfolio can be found at jvstinli.com. Tim McKay is the author of The Admirers, a collection of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Voiceworks Quarterly (Australia), Uptown Mosaic, Aura, The Rusty Nail, and Fiction365. His nonfiction has been published in China Daily and reprinted in Harbin Daily. He currently serves as a senior editor of Washington University School of Law's Jurisprudence Review. Anthony Miller is a student at SUNY Fredonia with a major in English and a minor in creative writing. He enjoys writing, listening to music, fishing, cooking and playing golf. His favorite book is Stardust b y Neil Gaiman. Kyle Moon is an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, studying neuroscience and behavior. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, he enjoys spending time outdoors–running, biking, and walking his dogs. 104
Mikayla Morell attends the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she studies creative writing. She is allergic to gluten and poetry, but even though they both give her an upset stomach, she still loves them. Elizabeth Muscari is a poet originally from Dallas, Texas, but now lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She studies creative writing at the University of Arkansas. Michaela Norman is a senior at Colby College, studying American studies and English, with a concentration in creative writing. She hopes to pursue her master’s degree in English after graduation. Her fiction has been published in Maine’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology. Dana Parker is a sophomore at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. While not an English major, she has absolutely loved every English course she has completed at Trinity, and her creative writing course has been a much needed relief during her busy week. W. T. Paterson is the author of the novels Dark Satellites and WOTNA. A Pushcart Prize nominee and graduate of Second City Chicago, he has published work in over 70 publications, including Fiction Magazine, The Gateway Review, and The Paragon Press. A number of stories have been anthologized by Lycan Valley, North 2 South Press, and Thuggish Itch. He is currently an MFA candidate at UNH. Pratyusha Pan is a literature grad student from Kolkata, India, pursuing a Master's degree in English literature from Presidency University, Kolkata. She has recently completed her Bachelor's degree from the same. Poetry in the use of language and interpolation of culture, particularly the articulation of a female voice expressive of a feminine subtlety interests and fascinates her, and she plans to pursue it in the future in both her academic and non-academic writing. Alyssa Quinones is a third year undergraduate student at Florida SouthWestern State College. She is a queer, latinx poet from Fort Myers, FL. Caroline Richards attends Trinity College, Hartford and is currently in her sophomore year. She grew up on Nantucket, MA and her favorite place in the world is Madaket Beach at sunset in late September. Colin Sowers is a 21-year-old college student currently enrolled at Saddleback Community College in California, and is transferring to the University of Alabama in the fall. He is a competitive swimmer and he loves reading and writing. Elizabeth Stanfield is an 18-year-old emerging writer from central Wisconsin pursuing her B.A. in biology and Spanish at Ripon College. She is the recipient of the 2018 Council for Wisconsin Writers Young Writers Award. Her work appears in Canvas Literary Journal, Vita Brevis and the Ricochet Review.
Sarah Wruck is an art education major at Southwest Baptist University. Her poems have been published in The Spare Mule Poetry a nd The Internet Void, Misty Yarnall is a creative writing major at SUNY Monroe Community College. Her story, "Wrapped in Flame," won first prize in the MCC English/Philosophy Department Writing Contest in the fiction category. Misty is currently working on a novel.
Established in 2013, The Merrimack Review is a student-run literary and art magazine that publishes biannually. In the words of our parent...
Published on Jan 26, 2020
Established in 2013, The Merrimack Review is a student-run literary and art magazine that publishes biannually. In the words of our parent...