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The Merrimack Review Spring 2019

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Editorial Staff Managing Staff Calvin Evans Ashley McLaughlin Associate Editors Jolene Buzcala Cassandra Kacoyannakis Emma Leaden Kerry Reynolds Dan Roussel 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 Merrimackreview@gmail.com @merrimackreview

Front and back covers: Kate Netwal

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Table of Contents 5 7 8 9 10 12

Ramzy Abukhader

Erin Archbold

13 14

Liv Baker

15 16 18 22 23 24 25

Holdyn Bray Gabriel Benson Haley Biermann Christine-Carolyn Calimlim Anna Ciummo

26 27 28

Yael Eiger

29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45

Mary Everett Madeline Grigg

Marshall Farren Grace Henry Asher Joseph Lea Killian

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Numbing Avalanche Music The Table Genetic Ghosts Captive Reverberant anthem of an eighteen-year-old BULL’S EYE MY MOTHER ROLLED ME MY FIRST CIGARETTE Boys I Won’t Forget The Bridges Cul-De-Sac waxwing Hunter’s Moon Invocation The Rain Just Stopped in the End Friday Mutually Indistinguible Watching TV During Dinner Yucca Valley, California april may Objective Love Testaments To Light Leo Aspiration I would not change if I could I’ll Be Somewhere On Paradise Cornflake Boy Dr. Evans Said This May Help For My Grandmothers Reading August Chapters My Body Is Not a Temple


46 47 48 51 52 53 54 57

S.R. Knowles Virginia Laurie Meghan Lindsay Marc Livanos Eve Jimenez Sagastegui

60 61 62 63 65 67 69 70 73 74 75 76

Julia Martin

77 78 79

Nicholas Rattner

80 81 82

Carly Richardson Sarah Richter Reagan Shull

83 84 85 86 87 88 89

Alex Machado Ian Malone

Sherrel McLafferty Isabelle Mongeau Kirsti Motter Kate Netwal Lauren Puglisi

Olivia Reynolds

Olivia Stowell Nesla Vasquez Abby Williams Megan Williams

90 91 92 93

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Windows Distant Envy I Hate Your Guts Massacre Elegy for my ex-girlfriend. Laundromat Wild Water No Business Like Show Business What We Share An Atheist Reconciliation Pale Skin in the Stream Baby on the Brain To Be Kind The Answer Reality is Stranger Photos Apinine Spine We Were Birds Tequila Horoscope Reading for America Green Ice Capitalism [ In the span of a minute, 60 precious seconds, nine waves crash and spill upon the sand ] The Key Defense FIVE THOUGHTS ON ICE the church on south college and second street there’s no mountains in ohio Echo Ecstasy of a Former Anorexic Selfishness Youth in Cuba On The Gentleman’s Hat the ephemeral nature of friendship grievances of a devout optimist finding joy in theodicy water’s purpose the deadliest ammo


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Numbing Avalanche Music Ramzy Abukhader The mountain’s ​draft l​ eaks Through the glass door Into the room and swoops down Deftly, pressing itself through the fibers Of the carpet, slipping under And it slithers Singing as it swims toward my bed, sliding like Horsehair along the cords and threads holding the floor In place, producing a chorus resembling Boney children singing with weepy voices Wheezing out opera with cracked pitches Clashing with the icicled cello strings That throb unevenly under stiff bows Being pushed by their trembling hands The ​dissonance​ sinks Into the floor and walls, binding between their crevices And vibrating, traveling to my ears Entering my eardrum like a portal to my dreams And turns my sky an unnatural lavender-blue. Under it, I watch sheep with flesh red wool Bleating with the disturbing voice of children and cellos Exuding a choking smoke odor as they hurdle The fence and gather toward me Glaring with bloodshot, alien eyes that shake. Their smell burns my face, which I bury in my palms To keep from catching their vertigo It climbs my bed as I awake Slinking thinly beneath my back Peeling me up from the bed like a fingernail My heart beats a rhythm of resistance But it places its cool hand on my chest And sings Shhh Don’t interrupt me Its cool voice kisses my eyes Massaging the inside of my eyelids Pulling my lashes toward the glass door 6


As its clashing music continues Traveling from my ears to my nostrils Adding to the chorus by plucking my nose hairs And hiding the stench of those sheep And all I smell is the lavender I step out with it onto the icy balcony And watch the snow rumble down the mountainside With percussive crashes and grumblings Throbbing a rhythm to the winter ​wind’s​ song But the snow beats harder, grows bigger, rolls faster Towards a little cabin perched peacefully in its path With windows faintly illuminated By the nightlight in the child’s room My breath shakes to the rhythm of panic But that ​draft p​ laces its hand over my mouth Hushing me again, whispering Listen Without interrupting, I hear the screams of the poor family Fearfully resounding their final breaths As the avalanche splits their cabin Into broken logs that fall like drumsticks Playing a paradiddle against the frozen ground Amplifying the victims’ gut-wrenching cries My heart drops to the pitch of mourning But then beats correctly to join the drumming, deciding That their sacrifice completes the night’s music That no longer clashes with shrieks of children and sheep But embraces my ears with the symphonic wholeness Of beautiful music I close my eyes and smile As I’m calmed by the​ mountain’s​ song It takes me by the hand, pulls me Up onto the balcony rail Where I lean into the cushion of wind Overcome with ​wanting

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The Table Ramzy Abukhader Behind the maroon curtain Was the candlelit, cherry wood table Prepared with a lush dinner Freshly warm, releasing dancing smoke With a little chair beside Saying, “Welcome home, my child” The table stretched long Almost touching the soft walls of stone Wet with condensation Behind the table knelt a little child Lowly as a beggar as he held his cup Under the drip of scintillating rock And sipped with a smile as it filled While the lion strained against the taut chain Grazing the loose curls of the child’s head With serrated teeth and spine-chilling growls Who, in spite of it, kept his placid eyes shut As the tranquil rise and fall of his chest Mellowed in the ambient embrace And he pressed his sleeping face Against the breathing wall Whispering back to it

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Genetic Ghosts Ramzy Abukhader Lately my son stares past me I wave my hands in his face, thinking I can catch his eyes and pull him back But he casts his gaze precisely Projecting it through the tight spaces between my fingers And onto the wall He walks near it like a zombie With unblinking eyes looking straight While he shuffles crookedly Because he tilts his head toward the wall As though it was a magnet Tugging on a metallic skull Bending his brainwaves, contorting his thoughts Which he expresses with low mutters He talks less these days, except at night When he begins shouting in a foreign language He awakes crying, telling me of big red letters Flashing in his eyes as he floated above the busy street Where endless streams of toy cars speed by And of a corded video game controller That roots him to the floor as thick shadows fill the sky A dark being covering it, descending upon him as he plays hypnotically And the wall next to his bed is covered with blue colored-pencil etchings That shape branch like structures He is worse after the dreams Many times I find him massaging the wall Feeling the uneven layers of paint Mesh with the groves of his fingerprints as they run against it As he mumbles slowly in that other language It is only now That I notice you in our family photo My son stands with his spine and head against the wall And a discolored, grayed portion of dry paint behind us A shadowy, humanoid figure Looming, reaching its arms toward him And suddenly my mind is struck with memories Of conversations we had by the wall

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Captive Ramzy Abukhader In the desert, I saw your silhouette waving in the wind like the mane of a horse doused in gasoline. You weren’t far; I heard your feet slowly swashing the ocean of sand. But I couldn’t recognize your familiar presence, and it seemed you couldn’t quite see me either, because you continued to draw near. You drew near. My heart banged against my ribcage like a wrongfully sentenced prisoner. Seeing you again sent my thoughts racing faster than the gust rushing past me and into your flowing hair. Then you saw me. And your voice came to rest on my ear like tonight’s desert fog that breathes slowly, softening the prickled, silent cacti around us. We called each other’s names as we came together, and as you pulled away from our embrace, you allowed your dark, rainforest eyes lock with mine.

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Reverberant Ramzy Abukhader They push the man towards the pedestal Pressing the tips of their rifles against His lashed back that still bleeds Leaving a trail on the ground as he trudges The soldiers dip their fingers in it And splash it in his face, spitting Laughing at him Images of his wife and mother Flash on the television screen They wail in painful tears, covering the eyes Of the man’s crying children As they watch him being led up To the top of the pyramid shaped structure They shout violently in their native language Which I feel I understand, even though it is foreign When the soldiers arrive at the top They shove a microphone to the man’s lips And look at him waiting, although he is To recite rehearsed lines The man smiles, his head weakly hanging forward He moves dizzily, still losing blood After chuckling softly, his head is struck by The microphone, releasing a resonant boom A soldier points his rifle to the man’s face And the stirring audience watches patiently “Denounce it,” the soldier demands The man’s heavy breathes bathe my ears As though the speakers of the television Are transmitting his oxygen into the air And I cover my nose Feeling I can smell the stench Of his dying wheezes The soldier shouts the phrase again Pushing the muzzle into the creases Of the man’s wrinkled forehead The man casts his eyes down the barrel Smiling, then cries out a word in his language His deep, guttural voice rasping through The speakers, echoing in my house like a war cry 11


Before the soldier pulls the trigger The audience roars as the man falls Cheering, some raising signs and throwing sticks His family is shown lamenting bitterly And one last flash of the man’s dead face But there is something about those eyes That seems to glow like gold Buried under dull stones Even after they’ve been emptied of life My mom shouts my name And I snap into reality, realizing That the television is off now And those eyes are gone I go to the kitchen to help clean the fruits And the sink water looks a little redder Feels a little thicker And when I glance back at the television The black screen seems to have Two pale golden marks Where those eyes were Tonight I can’t sleep My dreams are disturbed by the sound Of that man’s cry, shouting that word Rattling my eardrums and waking me Like a hypnic jerk jolting me to consciousness And I walk back to the living room I can still hear him I press my ears to the television speakers And after a moment, hear his voice As if the sound has been entrapped and bound Into the speakers like stained rug fibers And is now an imprisoned voice, crying perpetually The golden tints are still there, this time more stark Permanently glowing through the altered screen bulbs Projecting yellow lights onto the nearby wall I crawl on my hands and knees To the glimmering wall That sings the word that man said It is a name; and something about it Draws me 12


anthem of an eighteen-year-old Erin Archbold teenagehood is a kind of semi-permanent state, a nail caught between our brace-straightened teeth, gripping desperately onto some notion of freedom and wincing through the first bittersweet taste of a vodka shot swung too confidently down our throats. we meet somewhere between the first kisses and late-night drives with friends, at the crossroads of lying to your mom about where you've been and choking on the smoke of a borrowed Marlboro cigarette (then swearing you'll never try one again). we try on personalities like trying on clothes, wake up one morning and pretend to be something new: a shameless self-recreation we take for granted, a lap of luxury we'll learn to cherish when we look back on old photographs and wonder who the hell we thought we were. but that concerns the future. and I only have a few sweet and glorious seconds of now. and while my bones don’t ache when it rains, these scars sting all the same. so I cut my hair in the mirror from the root to every strayed, frayed end, and wait for it to grow back again. still the same shade of platinum blonde– for now, at least. and I settle for these false guarantees while my blood's still warm and my skin's still thin and hang my every last high hope on them. because if life is only what’s ten feet in front of me, then come closer—and I promise not to blink.

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BULL’S EYE Liv Baker A contortionist's face reflects off beer sweat on counter, skewed and bent like twig bug’s legs. Split-halved oranges hang like neoned limbs from jowl, dripping blood orange on crisp white shirt. Claws on hip he pulses, hand on skin he blends like a gradient chameleon. Hungry dancer, trace fingertip on collarbone like dart, throw once, twice bull’s eye.

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MY MOTHER ROLLED ME MY FIRST CIGARETTE Liv Baker It reminded me of the elephant in Le Petit Prince, the way it ballooned in the middle. She said she was out of practice -I saw her for a moment: eighteen, bare feet propped on the dash of somebody’s car, rolling a cig on her bell-bottom jeans, licking the edges slowly. No snow fell that night, even though it was Christmas Eve. We smoked it in the living room of her new home, then we smoked one more.

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Boys I Won’t Forget Holdyn Bray 6. We were sitting on my trampoline looking at the clouds, you leaned over & kissed me, but I was the weird girl so you made me keep it a secret. I haven’t told anyone this until now. 17. I was thirteen, you were not. This was a fling, but the following spring you hung yourself. I still have your bracelet. 16. My empty stomach became a drunken sea;I took off my clothes to go for a swim. You were already in the same boat. Captain, oh Captain this ship went down. 18. You were my idol, everyone loved you. You had a terrible girlfriend, but we liked each other. You played one of the leads in my one act; I couldn’t tell if you had been hiding behind a mask this whole time. 20. You were in love with the idea of loving me, not knowing me. 21. You made out with alcohol more than you made out with me. 18. You were too talented for your own good, you were everything I looked for; tall, a write, an actor, musician, and an addict. You didn’t care about much, but we had similar tastes. We got so high at a concert that I couldn’t feel my legs, you took 3 tabs of LSD and I played with your hair while you were in another world. Maybe we worked out there. 23. You were a colorful DJ, and I’m just too grey. 24. You tried to drag me to your car, you didn’t get far. 22. You loved me because I’m the only girl who has ever told you “no’.

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The Bridges Gabriel Benson I’ve been driving for two hours, making my regular trek from one home to the other. My back is sweaty as it often gets on these long drives. In an attempt to aid this, I sit slightly forward and turn the air conditioner on full blast. This effect leaves my fingers icy, but the sun still beats down on my thighs, my own personal greenhouse. By now, I really need to pee, and the empty coffee cup from this morning is beginning to look more and more tempting as a release for my bladder. The ride from Willmar to Minneapolis on Highway 12 has only a few landmarks peppered in that I find to be worth noting on the drive. Once I left one home, I knew I was destined to nomadism for the following two hours. Like a turtle, I would own only what I carried with me within the silver Pontiac Bonneville. My suitcase, backpack, and a box of books all pile in the backseat. In Montrose, Minnesota, I pass the small side-of-the-road memorial to my old dear friend killed on his motorcycle in 2014, killed by a car that hit him head-on. It’s a knee-high cross, a picture of him placed in the center. It never gets easier to look at this cross, but it does get harder to see. It can be hidden in the winter by snow, and it was once carried away by a well-meaning Plow. But I know there are no spirits here. On these roves from Home A to Home B, Minnesota Public Radio is my constant companion. Today, it’s an in-depth story on the music history of Simon & Garfunkel, a duo I know little about—a couple songs, something about herbs and the fair perhaps. The piece itself is intermittently sprinkled with their songs and interviews with musicians and other members of the industry. As I enter Minneapolis, the skyline on the horizon, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” comes on. It’s familiar to me, like a song from an old movie. When you're down and out / When you're on the street / When evening falls so hard / I will comfort you. As usual, I follow the traffic into the underground I-94 tunnel. What was once bright sunlight is transformed, and I am plunged into darkness, the white rays replaced by the ambered lightbulbs that line up above me. When entering, the tunnel seems endless, stretching ahead indefinitely before me. Now, there is a strict ritual for these tunnels, and I have been practicing since I was a child, just like my mother taught me. When darkness comes / And pain is all around As my eyes adjust to the new light, I suck my breath in, the air that stops coming into my lungs matches the now crackling radio waves that barely filter through the speakers. One hand on the steering wheel, the other hand flopped up to lay my palm flat against the carpeted roof of the car. Several yards into the tunnel, the radio has been reduced to static, only a word or two from any number of radio stations is translatable. It’s in these moments—dark tunnel, amber light, breath held, hand on roof—that I truly pray. I grew up believing that these tunnels held a mystical propriety, that it was here where wishes could be granted, prayers answered. With air tight in my lungs, these messages to someone are thought loudly in my mind, for if they were spoken, my pact of not breathing would be broken, creating the possibility of these requests not being listened to, not being transmitted to 17


whomever receives them. Sail on I pray, thanking the tunnel for my safe drive. For the sun. For things going well. I pray, asking the tunnel for good health for myself and those I love. Row by row, I pass amber light after amber light. Are the cars in front of me, behind me, beside me, fixed in the same trance? they shine As I run down the grocery list of my wishes, my lungs start to ache. The sunlight begins to peek in front of the many cars ahead of me. The last wish in my head is always the same, vague, but it is perhaps the most important. Please have all of this be okay, I pray. The floodlights of the day’s sun rush back into the vehicle. I exhale, my lungs receiving sweet air, my hand falls back down onto the steering wheel, and the radio plays as usual. The song is almost done. I will ease your mind. And it does, almost always. I smile at the stretch of city before me, and I feel a sense of relief. Whether or not this all ends up okay, it’s out of my hands now. But inside, I think it will be.

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Cul-De-Sac Haley Biermann 25...24...23… I can hear my neighbor bellow out smaller and smaller numbers into the warm, summertime air. They travel up and down the paved hills, through the open screened windows of the moderately sized houses, circle around the cul-de-sac, and climb up the giant oak trees that surround the entire neighborhood like a natural fence. Anyone not actually on the street might hear the voice faintly, but it’s probably muffled by the choir of chirping baby frogs. Mom calls the frogs peepers. I never understood why the peepers sang so loud, as if each one was trying to sing louder than his brother. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I think about shouting out the window to pipe down, that it’s bedtime, but Mom says that peepers are a sign of summertime, so I guess they’re alright. But the peepers aren’t important right now. What’s important is that the numbers also fill the perked ears of eight or so kids hidden throughout the neighborhood, telling us that the voice’s owner is that much closer to coming to hunt us down. Some of the kids I know really well, the others are nameless faces I’ve only seen once or twice in previous games. The older kids usually pick which ones we play, but after that, it’s every man for himself, so no one really cares if you’re a girl, or live at the top or bottom of the street, or if you’re in preschool or kindergarten. We’ve decided on the base of the tallest hill to the top of the cul-de-sac as fair territory, and I’ve yet to find a hiding spot. I know Molly, who’s six months older than me and selected hide-andseek as her game of choice, already claimed the spot under my deck next to the wheelbarrow. I run to the big cherry tree in Molly’s yard, only to find John has seized its ideal coverage. He motions for me to get lost. He’s my best friend, but I can’t be too mad. There’s no room for loyalty in these situations. Tennnnnn...Niiiiiine...Eiiiiiight The voice raises its pitch and volume, lingering on the beginning of each number to add to the extreme sense of urgency that I already felt when we hit the final countdown. But before there’s time to really panic, another voice is added amongst those of the peepers and the seeker. My legs sprint toward the sound of Mom’s voice beckoning me to a feast of Butcher Boy Market Place hotdogs and burgers Dad grilled, Barker’s farm corn on the cob, and Annie’s mac and cheese. I barely notice the numbers two and one. ~ I sit next to John on the stone wall that stretches along the first few yards of the bottom of my street, letting its smooth surface cool my palms. I glance over at Molly. She’s laughing with Becca, a girl the same age as her. I probably wouldn’t get the joke because they’re fifth graders. They know things us fourth graders just wouldn’t understand. One would think it wouldn’t take so long for the school bus to make it down the steep hill to the right of my street’s entrance. If I were driving that thing I’d slam down on the gas pedal and soar down it as fast as I could like a rollercoaster, the red and yellow leaves on the trees above whooshing past us. But I can hear the brakes screech as the bus driver inches down the hill for an ensured, safe stop. Finally the red stop sign springs out of the bus’s side and we clamber up the steps. We crawl past Barker’s farm and cornfield, and pull out onto the highway next to restaurant row. You have your pick of China Blossom, a pub called The Loft which actually looks like a loft, 19


and the mustard colored Joe fish, all within a few feet of each other. Then there’s Casa Blanca, where the waiters laugh at you when you try out your Spanish skills on them. John and I walk together into Ms. Patrick’s classroom with heavy backpacks. We’ve been learning about fossils and rocks for the past two weeks. I was starting to get bored of looking at a bunch of grey circular objects that don’t serve much purpose other than to sit around all day until John suggested we go rock hunting after school. Suddenly we were archaeologists, like Indiana Jones, and would find ones that museums would be envious of. You know, features like speckles that form a cat, or sparkly enough to give Mom for Mother’s Day. I’m about to pull out a rock that looks like a camel and witness my classmate’s wide and admiring eyes when I notice everyone else has started reaching into their backpacks too. But they’re not pulling out rocks. They’re pulling out bears. Every bear is about one inch tall, and covered in felt of just about every color you can imagine. “Oh my gosh! Allie has a ​purple o​ ne!” Allie doesn’t respond but the corners of her mouth are turned up. Mine would be too if I got my hands on a bear almost as rare as the red one. I meant to ask Dad to take me to Michael’s Craft Store, which is the next town over from us, and the only place you can find them. But with all that rock hunting, I forgot. My stomach flips when I see Steven, the buck-toothed class trouble maker, even has the classic white bear. John nudges my arm. I look at him imploringly, and he simply looks down at the desk space in front of me, where a red bear now perches. “Didn’t know if you would have had time to get one,” he says with a shrug. ~ I’m happy that we’re going to the carnival tonight. Normally you’d find a North Andover Middle Schooler at one of the twelve pizza places in town. Stachey’s is the place to be right now. It’s in an old mill building and has an outdoor patio where both guys and girls like to casually throw on a pair of sunglasses, even when they’re not necessary. But it’ll probably change next week, and by the time I realize I’m not eating the ​right ​sauce and cheese covered dough and make the switch, everyone else will have already moved onto the next one. Last month the right pizza belonged to Taki’s. I was actually happy when that place was left in the dust. It’s not just that I find the over-sized dough somewhat overwhelming, especially when grease slides down it as if it started sweating at the thought of its own sheer massiveness, but it’s produced twenty-five minutes from my house on the opposite side of town. For the kids who live in what Mom calls the McMansions, Taki’s is a three minute drive. John and I sometimes make the trek, but often just swing around the corner to Pizza Factory at our popularity’s own risk. The carnival, however, is set up in two days toward the center of town in a field next to the middle school. Kids from the McMansions, downtown area, and farmlanders like myself convene for the bumper cars, star blaster, and games. Then of course there’s the fried dough, which replaces sauce and cheese with cinnamon and sugar, and is the main reason why I go. Not even the popular girls can judge you for eating that flaky mess of heaven. John, Jenny, Olivia, and I stride across the grass arm in arm. The smell of popcorn and sugar is almost intoxicating. With all of the blinking lights, laughter, and sounds of metal rolling against tracks, my senses don’t have the capacity to even attempt to distinguish friendly faces from those that have come to taunt me at school. I can just be. 20


“Hey man, win a bear for your girlfriend!” yells a woman at a dart game. It takes me a moment to realize she’s talking to John. I feel my face get hot when I realize I’m the friend of the girl variety she is advising him to perform this gallant gesture for. I feel like it’s about to explode when I think back to the time he gave me the little red bear, and I quicken my pace to get out of the woman’s range. “I liked what she was saying,” says John with a small smile as we get in line for the tilt-awhirl. I must have left my voice back at the game booths, and just smile and nod. ~ I sit on the cold bleachers with the rest of the high school’s marching band. The stadium lights illuminate the field like artificial sunshine, and reflect off our instruments. Stereotypical jocks, cheerleaders, skater boys, and drama enthusiasts travel in packs across the small aisle between the bleachers and black fence before the pristine, turf field. I watch a group of three black girls stride by, some of the only non-white students at my school. I’ve come to understand why my mom always called our town white-wonder-bread North Andover. As a kid I liked wonder bread with peanut butter and thought it must be a good thing. The school couldn’t afford to keep one of our English teachers, but it certainly couldn’t go without its skilled football coach, state of the art gym equipment, and brand new press box. It’s hard for me to take football seriously when I have so much else on my mind. I still have the last of my college applications to finish. Most of my school will end up at UMass Amherst, following in the tracks of their siblings. As I have no older brothers or sisters to speak of, nothing in the world could steer me in that direction. I also need a summer job. I know I’m not getting one at Mad Maggie’s Ice Cream. Apparently qualifications include being over 5’6’’, having blond hair that goes past your shoulders, wearing several coats of eyeliner and mascara, and being female. I have the last one nailed, but my lack of the others probably wouldn’t fly at an interview. I’d rather not work at Butcher Boy, a place whose fresh meats, breads, and cakes made it seem magical to me, but became less so when I heard about its supervisor deemed as “the dictator.” Something about handing out cream with a little bit of coffee to the girls in my class at Perfecto’s Café or Heavenly Donuts also makes my throat tighten. “LET’S GO KNIGHTS!” roars a fifty-year-old man who has probably been to every game since his own high school days. I realize North Andover has scored a touchdown and I’m supposed to be playing our fight song. I quickly stand up and am about to get out as much pep a flute can muster in a sea of talking, cheering, and tubas when I hear the announcer’s voice bellow into a microphone and ring across the stadium. “Touchdown for North Andover! Number 81, John Benson puts the Knights into the Lead!” I don’t think I’ve spoken to him since 7th grade when he made his way into the popular crowd. I’d tried to make eye contact with him in our high school hallways, to at least acknowledge that we once existed in each other’s lives, but he avoided my gaze. My fingers continue to hold down the buttons for the desired notes, but I can’t produce any sound.

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waxwing Christine-Carolyn Calimlim they told him: beware, fly too high and you’ll come undone. a flurry of feathers burning, buried by the sea. they didn’t say beware, fly too low and you’ll come undone. salt licking flight from wings, pinions pinned by waves. the sky was not open space, was not escape, just a line between certain deaths.

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Hunter’s Moon Christine-Carolyn Calimlim My witch friends say you signal symbolic ends, wrapping things up before the year closes. You are bright and orange in the autumn sky and I can’t shake the sensation that you are a hazard light. Tell me what to write out of this chapter, which someone or something holds me back in a way I cannot see in the sun. When you wane, will I still be waiting to see what comes to pass?

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Invocation by Anna Ciummo Hurry and look at the flock of birds bursting away. This may be the only chance for you to explore the space between them, now settling, perching two by two. Show me what you find. Throw it from the telephone wire through the mass of mist and out to my hand. I will watch you from below and don’t worry, I will catch whatever you send back down: whether it be a beak, a kernel, a shout, a sliver of fever or wistfulness. Let yourself exist in silvery homage, and I will use these birds as quotes and commas.

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The Rain Just Stopped in the End by Anna Ciummo A cheerless room, she a cheerless singer. A decent running streak of generally happy songs but sung with that death-ballad style, stripped back. I liked it. I liked all my music like it. Cheers. We’d asked each other if the rain outside had turned to snow yet. It hadn’t, still. There’s never no snow when you need it, a woman at the next table said. You could see a marimba of ribs between her breasts - her sequined, low cut dress. An off the shoulder sort of thing for floaty types. She’d had so much wine so far. You couldn’t easily tell, but I could. Because she’d looked so tearfully at the music, but also, she smelled of it. It and booze and unhappiness. The next songs were your typical rumpa pum pums and angels we’ve heard and all that. Stuff you can’t help but hum to, even though you love posting about how much you hate it when it first reveals itself in October. I get it. None of us can afford to be cheery when the time is right. But if you’d only heard the first three notes of her next song in that brownly-lit basement. You’d know. You wouldn’t know exactly what you’d know, but you would. You could tell she loved as quick as a card shuffle, that her youth had come and gone, that all she had left was this cheap-drink audience. The brick wall behind her was there so she could later paint it with a fist of her blood, but only after everyone filtered away. I knew we’d have to wash ourselves of her tune when we got home. Everyone felt she felt what she sang was true, but no one, not you, not her, not the Ribs, could really cleave themselves, bleeding and applauding, to the final note.

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Friday Yael Eiger I went to my first open casket funeral, saw the Walgreens light flick on at sundown, and a drag queen painting her makeup in the bus, rushing carefully, smoothing the contours of her face. The bus rattled over the road’s imperfections. The dead man’s mother told me this may be the last time she sees her grandchildren. I smelled the first lilacs of spring. The last time I saw my grandmother my mind fixated on memorizing the Marlboro Reds packaging and the shape of the morphine pooling on her nightstand.

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Mutually Indistinguishable Yael Eiger My great grandmother tricked the drunk pogroms, smashed her living room windows so the stumbling men after her would think they’d already had their way with her, her home. Her daughter, my grandmother, is alive because of this. The two of them spoke only Yiddish with one another until my grandmother started smoking forty cent Marlboro Reds at fourteen. Then they would converse by tracking the ribboning smoke with their eyes, each exhale slithering around the thoughts above their heads. This exhaust and every thought noticeable only when they’re gone. I know only lateral parts of the dark. Tatters of phrases from the Yiddish tapestry remain in me. The taut weave unravels each generation, and now there are clefts between the weft for my daughter to nervously fidget her fingers through.

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Watching TV During Dinner Mary Everett My father shuffles to the recliner, scolding the cat who is underfoot, weaving through feet for affection. Orderly like a priest vesting the chalice, he places on the side-table his napkin, his knife, his fork, his plate, a glass of milk. My mother clods out from the back of the house, evaluating the pots and pans on the stove as she walks to her seat, trailed by the cat. Her ​cat, my father says - though always she reminds and chides him: “You ​feed h​ im, you ​care f​ or him, he ​loves ​you.” On the wall there is a black and white portrait of my great-grandmother, broad-faced and draped in fur; a painting by my mother’s best friend of fifty years of her own daughter reclined across grass; a picture of my father as a baby, smiling. My mother, Patron Saint of Eating Pasta for Breakfast, Our Lady of Generously Filled Wine Glasses, answers correctly every biblical question in Jeopardy! and says “Not bad for a heathen.” My father’s answers are quiet but quick and always violent, all Battle of Little Bighorn and Bay of Pigs. When we are done eating, I wash the dishes, watch as my mother migrates to the back den and my father changes the channel: survival stories in the Yukon, mining for gold, men thrashed by grey skies and cold seas, hungry and needing.

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Yucca Valley, California Mary Everett The sky is dusking wide and wild, punctuated by lathes of light like soft and folding navy leather pricked by an awl. I am sheltered beneath, bathed in hundred-degree heat. My skin is salt, I am sweating in the dry, dry air, in the twilight cast shadows of a boulder field. Red rocks that throw titian shadows insist that I see how they rise like pinnacles to the stars . He is desert-handsome. His home is nested in the rocks of the lowlands. Sleeping naked in his spare bedroom I think of his hands, imagining I can hear the rustle of his sheets through the walls.

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april may Madeline Grigg in the night, the apple blossoms sprung— all of them at once, like white clouds across the sky all fall and winter, the trees were planning this attack, passing secret codes through turncoat light, and on the backs of dying bees the flowers were conceived in august— they were hidden inside their own corpses, see— and now sap runs like blood, and petals like popping bombs

30


Objective Love Madeline Grigg A measurement: my roommate’s hands hover over the blue teeth of a broken mug, not touching, afraid. It can hold nothing, but it is still there. At a rummage sale, an old man stares at the silent crank radio and he’s sorry, he can’t —there is white static in his blood. I remember when we burned the old oil paintings last fall. I remember my grandmother’s face lit with the chemical flare.

31


Testaments Madeline Grigg At brunch, my parents ask that I survive them, that I find people who can survive me. They ask this out of love, but my grandparents are still living, so we do not yet know that survival means eating a heart raw when you need it. Survival means resetting each bone yourself, means slitting a knife into a young animal and I will not survive well in the wild. I am horribly myopic and know nothing about the plants I cannot eat. My parents tried to teach me, but I can already see their ghosts, like a mirror with the reflection cut out.

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To Light Madeline Grigg Like people, moths rely on divine bodies for guidance: bright celestial objects like the moon, which is so far away that the change of angle between the moon and the traveling moth is negligible. Replaced with a candle, the angle changes remarkably, causing the moth to spiral into the light, as instinct demands. Take comfort: entomology tells us that in the moment of death, the moth feels no pain—only confusion and betrayal with its god, the moon. The moth has no means for cursing or prayer—all that remains of its mouth is a tongue redesigned for nectar.

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Leo Madeline Grigg I found a constellation on the beach, salt-rough and strained as hemp rope when I scooped it up it burned through my hold and hissed a hot tea kettle and this is when I knew that it would live I hung it over the heater with clothespins when it was dry it was still as wrinkled as lizard skin now on cold nights, it glows a dying fire in a hearth whirring along to the quiet chorus of the living

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Aspiration Madeline Grigg A knot snags about my sternum & fans out in all directions, taut & demanding as a parachute in use. I cannot imagine the end of each string—I only know the threads are there & that they keep me standing. Each breath is a lesson in tension, compression, & someday the knot will snap, a thunderclap, clean cracking ice, broken tooth & I will be cut loose, in motion, unstoppable as a moon plucked from a larger object’s orbit.

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I would not change if I could Marshall Farren This train leads to the ocean Not a station – the water When we sink we will be famous for a day Our names in the papers Our faces on the news like we always dreamed We play with matches We stare at the sun We are forgiven until we turn to ash like all the fools before us The ones we idolize The ones we mourn The spotlight dims The curtain falls The audience clears We become warnings given to children – warnings that go ignored No remorse No pain One-way tickets only – Rearview mirrors are cancerous

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I’ll Be Somewhere Marshall Farren So this guy you know The guy who wins He’ll be a good one All smiles With a haircut and a Rolex and a master’s degree and a love of children treadmills Thai food old movies And he’ll make a lot of jokes and some will be pretty funny And he’ll become a cat person even though he hates cats And the two of you will talk about your travels Where you’ve been What you saw But you won’t mention me Then After an appropriate amount of time (his timing is impeccable) He’ll empty his pockets for something shiny And he’ll offer you that or anything better The Northern Lights The Taj Mahal The seat next to his on a flight back home And your mother will find your eyes and smile when his back is turned And your father will want to have a serious talk with him 37


And you’ll have your hair down and fingers crossed And I’ll be somewhere laughing maybe But I won’t be with you

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On Paradise Grace Henry My mother grew up in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. She was raised in the valley, next to the Bay of Fundy. Her family lived in a little house, nestled in the curve of a mountain road. My grandfather built it by hand, after their original home burned down when my mother was five. I don’t remember when I had learned that my mother’s house had burned down, but it must have been when I was very young, because I grew up terrified of housefires. I also grew up believing that housefires were normal—my young brain took the logic of my mother’s burning house, and applied it to everyone—everyone’s house burned down, didn’t it? It was a run-of-the-mill thing, as common as the first day of school. I was shocked to learn that I was wrong. I ​was w ​ rong, but not so much anymore. On the opposite side of the continent, Paradise is on fire, quite literally; Everything in Paradise, California, burned to the ground. It’s a kind of irony that is so blatant it feels like a bad joke—a place named “Paradise”, filled with fire tornadoes, according to a video on Instagram. It feels like a joke, but its not. I have a friend from Agoura Hills, California. Last Thursday, she received a call when we were at the bar. She excused herself, stepping outside to answer. She came back five minutes later, teary-eyed and shaking. “Do you need anything from your bedroom?” her mother had asked her. She could hear the Sheriff’s megaphonic voice in the background, she said. I could imagine him, driving up and down the street, screaming into every Agoura Hills’ mansion, demanding the residents’ immediate evacuation. I have another Californian friend, one born into a family that became wealthy off their business, some obscure company that sells toilet paper to public restrooms. After her freshman year of college, she spent an extensive period of time in a SoCal rehabilitation center for cocaine addiction. That center, I was told, has been burned to the ground. Everyone’s house burns down, a four-year-old me thought confidently. Every night, checking my parent’s bedroom to make sure that my mother’s curling iron was unplugged, that every stove was turned off. Every spring, praying through lightning storms; of course, my mother took the precautions, but my naivety didn’t allow for that kind of pragmatic realization. Before, nativity—an innocuous assumption. Now, the assumption proven right—The actualization of childhood fears, as Paradise, burning. I remember the last time that I visited California. I remember Encinitas, and the way that the humidity hung in the air, forced my hair into thick ringlet curls. I remember lying on the beach on my birthday, talking on the phone to my grandmother, for the last time ever. So much has changed; Life has become not only painful to experience, but also to witness. I spend my Thursday night dancing with a sobbing friend in an almost-empty bar; Wiping the tears from her eyes; Asking her if she wants to leave, and when she says no, buying her another shot; Telling her that her dog will be fine. Trying to comfort her as she lives through a nightmare that I’ve had every night, since I was four or five.

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Cornflake Boy Asher Joseph after Jamie Mortara and Tori Amos I have known since ninth grade I will never be afforded the opportunity to be a standard suburban dad. Years of mislabeled little boxes taught me to live in fight or flight mode. I cannot be a cornflake, a rabbit. “Where’d you put your keys, girl?” used to be fighting words in my household. I never learned the keys part. I learned plaid skirts are a fundamental part of catholic school, and plaid skirts (by definition) do not fit me. I was forced undercover. I accepted boyish because it was the closest I thought I could ever get to man. They whispered in my ears “this is not really happening.” When I was thirteen, I saw my chest. I felt betrayed. And to this day I do. My body split into its own entity and never gave a reason. The man with the golden gun Let this happen as if it was intended For me to be chasing normal Instead of myself. I bet my life on it. I don’t want to be the man who knows too much. The man with the golden gun thinks he knows so much when he says rabbit, where’d you put your keys girl? I swallowed them. I swallowed them whole.

40


Dr. Evans Said This May Help Asher Joseph I have tried to write about you so many times. You, once with fists like tightened zip-ties, lay open-handed and ask who I am. I say that’s a loaded question. Most of our interactions go this way. You’ve been too cold and pale for six months, and I’ve been spitting up white noise like I don’t remember how to speak. I sleepwalk into my old bathroom Knowing I’m missing handcuffs. You join, reminding me my cheeks are too dry. I never asked why you acted the way you did. I don’t hold it against you; it feels wrong to share sometimes. Memories of you skip through my mind like Frank Sinatra. I’ll learn to ride a bike someday, I promise. I’ll go back to Washington Avenue and 11th street in better dreams and trace the placemat maps like we used to. The old red booth asks where you are every now and then. The syrup bottles squeak like abandoned houses.

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For My Grandmothers Lea Killian How I ache for the dirty feet and tangled hair of childhood. In the Summer, do you not remember how the sun set upon our faces? We opened our eyes to shooting stars, hoping to catch them on our tongues, like snowflakes in Winter. Instead, we settled for wrangling fireflies into crystal mason jars. Springtime sprouted clouds of dandelions from the ground, and we blew our wishes into the fields behind our house. I do not remember what I wished for then, but I know what I would wish for now. Running through the Autumn leaves of youth, grasping memories, I realize we’re all just children who miss climbing trees.

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Reading Lea Killian Words lift from pages like black birds flying into cloudless skies. They pepper my skin in a forest of freckles and scars. I am a pearl sea, and words sink into me like shipwrecks. Translucent, I watch them float to the ocean floor, but they get caught in the current of my veins. They reshape me, and I find that I am many things. I am graceless, cradling the history of land, sky, wind, and sea.

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August Lea Killian August has soft, wild eyes when he sees the horses. Lit by fierce curiosity, he howls. Bolting toward the fence, unapologetic, he finds a sweet spot in the grass and stares. Their eyes, he finds, are wild, too. Bright yellow, like his. Facing each other in the fields, they dance. Paws, hooves, it’s all the same. The horses laugh at his graceless steps, but they can’t help their fondness. August looks back at me, a smile spreading across his brown face. He wants me to meet his friends.

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Chapters Lea Killian When you asked to borrow the book I had been speaking so highly of, I hand delivered it to your doorstep. You told me you used to read, but didn’t anymore. I wanted to help you rediscover good books and warm coffee and rainy days. I wanted a friend I could share those things with. We always talked about how working retail was killing us slowly, suffocating our too young souls. You seemed more likely to accept that than I was, but I couldn’t leave you behind. I would arm you with a book. A book about fame and robots and becoming inhuman. It’s far more serious than it sounds, I said. It’s a work of art, I said. It’s so relevant and modern, and just… so... lovable, I said. In thirty days, you only read four chapters. And then, I had to quit retail. We will still be friends, we will still hang out, you said. But I hadn’t seen you in two months when you canceled on me three days in a row. I said, never mind, I’m sorry, don’t worry about it, you have a lot going on. No response. I messaged again two days later, apologizing, because friends have made me feel like I was easy to leave before. It still haunts me after all these years, thinking about the marijuana smoke filling her lungs on the riverbank when she told me she had outgrown me, and I... thought you might leave, too. No response. Later in the week, I drove to the store, your silence filling my head, and there sat my book on the shelf. I thought about messaging you again, just a gentle reminder. You still have my book, I would say. Instead, I reached for the new copy, pages unturned, spine unbroken. It was signed, just like mine. I gave the cashier a twenty and asked him if he liked to read. Not really, he said. I walked to my car in the Oklahoma wind and our book felt like a goodbye I could hold in my hands. I still hope you read it.

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My Body Is Not a Temple Lea Killian My body is a desolate landscape ravaged by war. It is a battered lighthouse shining, leading sailors ashore. My body is a sunken treasure beneath feral waves. It is an ancient river flowing through canyons and caves. My body is a firework that illuminates night skies. It is a tattered journal choking on secrets and lies. My body is the cloud broken horizon at the dawn of day. It is the writing in the sand before grasping waves wash it away. Painted with storm clouds and crescent moons, I burst to life suddenly like a wildflower as it blooms. My body is everything beneath the knowing sun, and you have just pulled the trigger of a loaded gun.

46


Windows Distant S.R. Knowles With the rain that fills up the glass Leaves a kaleidoscope of color A mosaic of reality distant Within my slumber solitude, I wonder why On the inside days seem brighter I think of higher arches vivid A patchwork of saints and stories haloed Admired by generations of shuffling feet Yet the clarity fills me with the realization That the windows feel like eyes staring back at me

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Envy Virginia Laurie The monster hibernates, nestled in my pulmonary artery like a hollowed-out log. The veins in my heart also eroded by climate,chest an ecosystem where fungus, mold, and rot flourish like wildflowers. When the monster awakes, there is carnage. It detonates in my left atrium, shrapnel shatters my sternum, leftover debris clog my esophagus, constrict my throat, threatening what’s left of the mangled heart. Dust and rubble coat my tongue. When I try to speak, more wreckage pours out.’ I swallow the toxic waste and say nothing​.

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I Hate Your Guts Meghan Lindsay My bedroom curtains are so sheer you can see right through them. The late November sunrise filters through weakly, making your nose scrunch in a way that makes me smile as I pull at your arm. You’d been using it to cover your eyes. “Bright,” you groan, voice scratchy with sleep. The heat has just kicked on for the winter and the radiator is whistling. I get up and yank at the window closest to the bed. It opens with a shudder, and the lazy city sounds of a Sunday morning ease inside. I lean into the chilly air. All my clothes are in a heap on the floor and I’m still sweating. I can feel your eyes on me. I close the curtains, but there’s no point. I slip back under the sheet that’s tangled around your waist. It’s too hot in the apartment to get close, so I settle for pressing my nose into your bicep. My fingertips graze your shoulder. Your arm is over your eyes again, even though I moved it. We don’t say anything. The silence feels warm and heavy in the rosy light. I roll over and try to ignore the hungover ache in my head and the hopeful, insistent flutter in my chest. You only nestle back into my side once your breathing has evened out and my eyelids begin to feel heavy. You’re a snorer, but that only makes my heart pound fondly. I’m not a cuddler, but there’s something about the soft, open look on your face that makes me want to pull you in. I don’t. It’s easy falling asleep again. --I barely even knew you when I first met Andrew. I’d been sinking into the cushions of a beat up, old couch in an apartment somewhere in the depths of Allston. I was tangled up with my friends, arms and legs overlapping, giggling and alternating sips from someone’s flask and the beer in my hand. He slid down next to me, arm slung across the back of the couch as he leaned in and clinked his bottle against mine. The late August heat had simmered to almost bearable by midnight. The windows were wide open and the living room was doused in black light. The neon stained his smirk a bright white. He was easy to talk to. Every sip made it easier to fall into him. We took turns drawing in close, lips lingering too long, trying to hear each other over the music. The night rushed by in a drunken blur and by three a.m. Andrew had sweet talked himself into my room. His mouth and hands were rough and I didn’t mind it. I was so caught up in it all that I left the lamp on and the curtains wide open. He had me caught between his body and the bed when his elbow knocked the lamp off the nightstand, into my nose, and then finally the floor. The bulb shattered and I gasped. Everything flickered out after that. It was probably for the best. “I should get going.” He said, afterward. I laid out next to him on my bed but everything was so dim I could barely see him. “It’s late,” I yawned. “You can sleep here if you want.” I didn’t mind. He slid off the bed. I watched the outline of him as he tied his shoes. The blond of his hair was still slightly detectable as I squinted. “I’m being an asshole, aren’t I.” Andrew sighed, and turned toward me. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me or out the window into the night. Through me, maybe. “No.” I said. ​Yes​ I thought. I bit back on my confusion and irritation. I chewed my lip instead. After Andrew left, I 49


laid down on my rug and kicked my feet up on the windowsill. The windows were pushed open as far as they would go and the breeze was warm on my face. The bed felt too small to sleep in. I closed my eyes and was grateful he hadn’t been able to see me in the dark. --The first night I spend with you it’s pouring rain and sticky outside. Almost a year has passed since Andrew broke my light, and I wear a sweater even though it’s June. You have the front door open before I even step out of my car, and I run up the driveway to avoid the rain. You pull me inside and shuffle a teasing hand through my dampened hair. Our parents are old friends and I pause at the wall full of family photos in the entryway, grinning. I’m pulled onto the back porch, attention successfully diverted from framed snapshots of baby you. No one else is home. Rain pelts soothingly against the roof and drips in through the screened windows. The only light provided comes from the TV, volume only a murmur. You sprawl out on the couch. I sit up straight. The soft sounds of summer ooze inside with the rain and it’s easy to curl into you as we keep talking and you flip through channels. You change the show quickly if I show even the slightest distaste. We laugh about shared childhood Easter egg hunts and gossip about our families. It’s easy and unnerving at the same time. I’m very aware of every word I say and how I move. “You can’t stop fidgeting,” you laugh, putting a hand out to stop me from bouncing my leg. “Are you nervous?” “No.” I say. My heart is in my throat. “I know how to make you stop,” you hum in my ear. When you kiss me it’s soft. The TV is muted and the rain hasn’t let up. The crickets are singing. I stop fidgeting. You slow me down every time I try to speed it up, and I can feel the twitch of your smile against my lips. “I was right. You’re not nervous anymore.” you decide. I roll my eyes. You watch World Cup reruns while I doze against your chest and twist our fingers together. The sound of your heart and the slow drizzle against the roof feels grounding. I’m home for the summer and it seems like a good idea to get tangled up with you. I don’t want to move. --I leave a bar with Evan when I’m trying to convince myself I don’t care about you. It’s still hot outside in early September and I’m just beginning to feel the difference between Boston and home. Evan finds me when I’m lodged in a crowd, waving for the bartender’s attention. I’ve already lost my roommates to boys and the pub’s shadows, so when he offers to buy my drink I don’t say no. Evan is tall and dark haired. We try to talk, but it’s so loud I can barely hear myself think. I keep missing half of his sentences. ​Come on Eileen​ plays and he kisses me. The small of my back is pressed bruisingly against the bar. I am uncomfortably aware of the people all around us. Evan lives in a frat house in Roxbury. The second I step into his room I’m longing for my soft sheets at home. The heavy blankets he’s using as curtains allow no light to peek inside. He kisses me softer than Andrew did, but it almost feels like he’s barely there. “I can’t believe how beautiful you are,” he breathes, hands sliding up my shirt. It’s so dark he can’t even see me. 50


Later, when I blink awake, it’s hard to discern what time of day it is. Evan is crowded in behind me, arm heavy over my waist. It’s so hot I feel like I can’t breathe. I pull at the blanket over the window. The sunlight is blinding. I squirm out of bed and shake him awake. “How do I get out of here?” I ask, voice hoarse. He walks me outside and I don’t look back. The sunlight is harsh. The whole thing feels like a nightmare. I’m halfway home when I realize I don’t have my keys. --I lull awake to the curtains getting caught up in the gentle November breeze and the sun seeping in like honey. We’d shifted away from each other after dozing off, so I squirm in your direction to watch your eyes crack open blearily. Your hair is a dark shock against the white of my bedding. There’s a split second where you contemplate diverting your gaze, but instead you keep blinking sleepily at me. You must be able to hear my heart rattling wildly against my ribs, because you lean forward into the fluffiness of my pillow and laugh softly -- a breathy, happy sound. You lean so far into me that our noses brush, and I laugh back. I want to say something, but I don’t know what. I have no words. I feel like you can see right through me. We talk about getting up, getting breakfast, going for a walk in the dog park down the street. ​We should, we should ​I think. I want to. We stay tangled in bed instead. “I should leave soon,” you say eventually. Your phone has been buzzing. I lift my head, hair a mess. Suddenly alert. “You’re leaving?” I ask. My face must be transparent, because you grin at the sight of it, all straight white teeth. “You don’t want me to leave?” You look way too pleased with yourself. I frown, narrowing my eyes. “That’s not what I said,” I say, but it sounds whiny and childish even to myself. I feel raw and strangely vulnerable. Your lips press against my temple. It should feel condescending, but it doesn’t because it’s you. I want to laugh and cry at the same time. You get up, pulling your clothes on as you go. I watch you analyze my bedroom in the daylight. Your fingers run over the piles of books on my desk and the calendar taped hastily to the wall. Then you poke your head into my closet. “Don’t look in there! It’s messy.” I say, slightly frantic. I want to slam it shut on your fingers and tell you to get out. My heart is pounding. You look at me like I’m crazy. “Why? I don’t care.” You say. It’s so offhand it almost stings. You look at the family photos pinned to my wall and I contemplate deleting your number and pushing you out the third floor window. You tell me that you dreamt about my parents coming to visit me in the city, and that dream-you had to hide naked under my bed. “I hate you so much,” I groan. It comes out soft, not loud and definitive like I wanted. You smile slightly. I stuff my face in a pillow. We both know what I mean.

51


Massacre Marc Livanos I stand tall on my mower ready to take down an enemy in the thousands The mower awaits my orders extend blades, engage clutch. Thrusting the mad machine forward, each row shudders under my will till nothing is left standing. The annihilation complete.

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Elegy for my ex-girlfriend. Eve Jimenez Sagastegui When my father asked, “Where’s my Reina?” I would grin, a cheeky grin, and declare, “not here.” Call me a princess, I’d insist. ​They w ​ eren’t leashed to a fat ring. Marriage was on the top of my list of ugly words. Its vowels chained the consonants the way marriage licenses bound you to a man who could not take care of you. Weddings are fun but ​wait ‘​ til you catch him cutting your jeans at the honeymoon whining “mi amor, these are way too tight on you.” This I told you on the phone in one of our late night conversations. Holding my legs to my chest, eating water fountain ramen I microwaved at 4am. I’d slurp at my noodles. You’d laugh. Tell me another story about your crazy Aunt and her soul gems. When I’d trudge to bed as the sun’s rays invaded my room. I thought how nice it’d be to wake up next to you. Your laugh a more gentle alarm clock than my phone’s, your hair more dismantled than my own. You’d say let’s print our best texts hang them in pictures frames. Paint our walls with our laughter You made marriage sound free. I almost told you. Twice--or four or five? I’ve lost track of how many times. You have affected my life to a degree that naming you in this poem is far too bold for me. Your name must be said in whispers in my mind, never too loud so I don’t wake you. Rest now under starving worms and heavy dirt. And please know that you taught me how marriage is not meant to be violent nor empty.

53


Laundromat by Eve Jimenez Sagastegui To the late nights after dad left A prayer for warmth was on my lips as I hit the button on the elevator. My hands soothed cold bumps that gathered on my arms from the overworking ac. I stepped inside the humid elevator that made me sweat the way that 24/7 laundromat at the corner of Penndel did. That always smells like burned dryer sheet laundromat. That another-second-longer-you’ll-boil-in-here laundromat. A summer night hotspot for my mother and me. My head would bob to the rhythm of soapy wet t-shirts swirling and bumping on the old groaning machine. Jiggling the coins in my hand, while she was on the phone, sweat dripping down her neck. Her eyes darting to the door at every count of four. She’d rub her arms too. Goosebumps, I could tell. My head tipped back, snapping in half to listen in. But the loud drum of the washing machine swallowed up her voice. She dropped her body on the bench, “Que dicen?” I’d ask. “No mucho...:” she looked towards the entrance. I squeezed her hand tight, “Don’t worry, he’ll stay away. We’re going to be okay.” The machine’s low BUZZ made us jump. Though the elevator ding was quieter, I jolted just the same.

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Wild Water Alex Machado In the South of France, there is a picturesque town named Saint – Pierre La Mer. There you can park your car, sit at a café overlooking the great Mediterranean and you can drink cappuccinos and eat crepes. This, like every singular moment in France, will be like a dream to you. After you sit and talk or listen (because you do not speak French), you can walk across the Boulevard des Embruns and have your feet in the warm sand. Once you lay out your towel and glance around for the perfect position to face so your body gets just enough sun, you will see all of your glorious new French friends lying topless. Soon, you will realize that no one cares. So, you untie your bikini top, the only object separating your American breasts, and you relax. ~ After a lunch of Sancerre and Mussels, Marie translates for the group and tells me that we will be heading a few kilometers down the road to a place called ​L’OEil Doux​. “What does that mean?” I ask Marie, naïvely. “Sweet eye,” she says with a smile. We buy a bag of cherries on the boardwalk from a jubilant youth and head to our cars. The drive to L’OEil Doux is exquisite. My backseat window becomes a gilded frame showcasing a multitude of exposures in twenty minutes: cerulean water with a thin line of sand and motionless horizon, grape vines geometrically lined with a man bending down to feel the fruits progress, and colorful villas stacked atop one another like a bourgeois game of Tetris. After what Marie describes as a “short walk”, we arrive at the top of a hill, overlooking the vast expanse of Saint-Pierre La Mer. She points down to a glowing opening in the tree tops and says coyly, “That is the sweet eye”. It appears as a viridian abyss, geologically baffling and exuding provocateur—foretold to be bottomless with a tiny stream that leaks into the sea. With the excitement of a child, I rush down the hill towards the bath. Through the brush and branches, I begin to hear splashing. And as though a set designer tailored the experience, I see breaks of color I have never seen through the clearing. A variant of marble swirled rocks, blues and greens spanning the color wheel. I half expected a Greek chorus of nymphs to be awaiting me, golden in skin, poised and brushing each other’s hair. A fanned curtain of leaves had to be drawn back to reveal the eye. I grabbed at the nature with gentle curiosity, as I do the shower curtain at home when my lovers behind it. And with the same excitement and hesitance, I revel in the secrecy and remoteness of this place. ~ The water is warm. A few feet away from me is a mother and child playing and speaking excitedly to one another in lyrical sentiments. My friends quickly decide they will swim the length of the basin. I decide to follow them, it doesn’t seem too far. The sun is shining directly above us into the middle of the eye, the rest of the body is surrounded by shadows of chalky gray cliffs where prospective divers toil on the precipice, weighing their options while ignoring warning signs of death. I also ignore these signs. As I am drawn to bodies of water, there is also nothing more I fear. With roughly sixty percent of my body as water, the other forty of me does not understand it. It may be the beauty that compels me—my friend’s figures, strong and illustrious, galloping formless into the eye, pulling me with them. French women are magic. Nothing sticks to them. Tobacco smoke exits their pursed lips and resumes back on their skin as lavender. None of them waiting to be saved. 55


Walking into the shallow edge, I kick off as though I am at the beginning of a sprint. My first mistake. I am rushing through the water as I realize I am falling behind. I begin to feel heavy and soon panic. Like a cartoon moment when the character only falls once they look down to see the ground beneath them has disappeared. I yell out to Marie that I cannot make it to the end. She offers to go back with me and I decline. “No, I will go with you,” she persists, ignoring my poor attempt at consideration, a peeve of Marie’s. She is always saying that Americans would sooner die than say what they truly mean, she is right. At that moment, I slip under the surface, the endless bottom tugging at me, wanting me to join with it. ~ I was seven when I learned to envy courage. I would take baths with my Barbie dolls as they did a swan dive from the shower head into the water, an activity I could never imagine engaging in. I couldn’t even swim yet. Even though I controlled their every move, I was still jealous of their freedom. Not to mention their anatomically incorrect figures that seemed to mock my soft girl areas. Mommy would come into the bathroom sometimes, use the closed toilet as a chair and join in on my Olympic diving make believe. I always made her play Ken. I was ten when I discovered water muffled sound. I began submerging myself into the liquid comfort where the yelling wasn’t as loud, or at least I couldn’t make my name out in any of it. I would wrap the bath water around me like a security blanket, contorting my body any way it had to in order to be fully submerged. One evening, the sounds were so loud I held my breath to stop them. Bath water eventually turns cold, and I couldn’t be caught running another one. So, out and into the wild house I’d go. I was thirteen when I discovered the pleasure of the faucet. This was also the same time I found out, contrary to my mother’s advice, I didn’t need anyone. I read in a book somewhere that this could be attained quite easily and autonomously. My baths changed after that blissful realization. But the faucet, like the bath, could not protect me from the wild eyes of the world. The ones I was warned about, the reason I stayed in the water until it turned cold. I always loved baths. I take one every chance I have. But never do I open my eyes under water, I can’t make sense of the barrier, the discomforting pressure. It’s a curious thing that I grew to fear water. The insatiable paralysis that morphs itself into my beach days. I pretend to be concerned with the progress of my skin tone and whatever book I’m reading to avert my true intentions, which are always to stay on sand. I’ve often thought about what I would do if my lover were confronted with danger, watching her brave body dart under waves and pop up right before my anxieties get the best of me. I would either run at full speed into the foaming mouth of the lion, or I would stop knee – deep, rejecting the comforts I once sought. “It’s fun, baby. Come in,” arms open, my girlfriend, Kate, stands on the shore, dripping with a drunken smile. Tantalizing my incapacities, though no amount of coaxing could ever do. She is free, that’s why the water takes to her and her to the water. She’s even had the waves tattooed on her wrists. They understand her, knew her in her adolescence, watched her body grow and her hair shorten. I am a stranger. Wild water is defiant. It can knock you over when you least expect it, grab you by the feet and drag you on the floor with no promise of release. And what’s worse is drowning. I’ve 56


heard it described as ‘the most painful way to die’, then seemingly glorified in cinema as the peaceful release. The moment that the victim goes still and the eyes widen, arms float out as the body seems to have accepted its fate. But what really happens when the larynx spasms and breath can no longer be held, a deep inhale? Where then is the drain? A mirage of water is far more familiar than the real thing. The sun reflecting on the steaming tar, the long stretch of highway that brings me into the desert. I couldn’t fall into that which wasn’t really there. We grow accustomed to our biomes. I grew to love the tall cacti. Their arms reaching in every direction, arms that couldn’t be held because of thorns. I once heard that a cactus must live seventy years before it sprouts its first flower and one hundred years before it grows its first arm. It takes its time, nothing is crowding it, eroding it, submerging it, asphyxiating it. The cactus stands alone. Vacant. I found comfort in vacancy. As a child, I grew up outside of an Air Force base in the inland valley of Southern California, eight hundred and twenty-seven feet above sea level. Drought was my neighbor. I lived in a stucco community of track homes that suffocated one another. When the sky decided to rain, the levee behind my house would fill up with rushing water and I’d pretend it was a raging river, naturally flowing. Nature was in the mountains of Big Bear and the ocean to the far west, the desert to the East. I was trapped in the arid valley, shriveling like a raisin in the sun. My minimal exposure to wild water grew into a fear and then morphed into something else. So, the courage I seemingly found in the “sweet eye” was a fantasy. A fetish of sorts, where I am relaxed and full of assured trust of the wild. ~ Back on the shore of L’OEil Doux, I am lounging eating cherries and drinking wine: a remedy offered to me by my new friends to help mend any broken heart or brush with death. I try thanking Marie, apologizing for my incompetence, explaining how my legs must have given out due to jet lag. I explore every possible excuse to justify my failure to swim through the eye. Marie is not interested in any of it because to her, this is not a failure. She graciously looks into my desperate face, sensing the approval I am seeking and says, “Alex, it is no problem. You are simply tired. I am not a great swimmer either, you know.” I didn’t know. I didn’t bother to think about it because that is what my fear has done to me, made me too involved with what affects me that I didn’t stop to think about how it may have impacted Marie. That her telling me to wrap my arms around her neck was not something she was prepared for, her own fears shuffling away to make room for mine. I sat in the heat of the French July sun and I closed my eyes. Victory is still sweet, I thought, even when it is wrapped in a towel. For a moment, my fears dissipated, they sunk to the bottom of the abyss and only surfaced when I called upon them—when I had realized the nature of what I was doing. I do not think this fear of wild water is rational, I’m not even sure it’s a real fear. It is the pilgrimage towards the undiscovered country of a woman who hasn’t yet allowed herself to become wild. Or maybe something that lives in a bathtub, years ago.

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No Business Like Show Business Ian Malone Used sponges litter the makeup table, discarded clothes and unused costume pieces take up most of the couch, and someone in the other dressing room is humming the first few bars of “Do-Re-Me” from ​The Sound of Music:​ A play is about to start. A veteran actor applies eyeliner to a freshman boy, who has no idea how to do his own makeup and will not have learned by the end of the show. One performer is already fully dressed in his green tights and satin military uniform before another has even taken off his jeans. One of the older but inexperienced actors struggles to put on his pumpkin pants and knocks over one of the several floral paintings that attempt to hide the seaweed-green walls. The dressing room is crowded, everyone is sweating, the smell of hairspray is impenetrable, and the humming has evolved into a full-blown cover. Welcome to the theater. I hope you like showtunes. “Thelma is being a bitch!” moans a voice through the backstage intercom over the whine of the cheap fluorescent lights. “What happened this time?” replies our resident lighting expert, star of the show and token ginger, Sam Edgren. “She just stopped working.” “Does Burke want me to fix it?” “Yep, you have half an hour until house opens.” “Thank you, half an hour. I’ll see what I can do.” As he walks out of the men’s dressing room into the wings of the stage, I hear him mutter, “Those lights are being held together by duct tape and a piece of string.” Performing onstage with the Union University Theatre Department has taught me that our moving lights, Thelma and Louise, are the least of our problems. Right before the show, the concern on everyone’s mind is hair, makeup, and costumes. The outfits are rarely durable enough to last through all seven shows, so the dressers and customers run between actors, safetypinning the pieces together and sewing holes as quickly as possible. My Hamlet costume is one of the worst offenders, requiring several pins to keep the overly long scarf in place, half a can of hairspray to make my hair stay unkempt, and multiple people to get the ungodly amounts of black guyliner just right. Queen Gertrude’s headwrap is so complex that it takes almost an hour to get the twisting fabric and gold jewelry to stay in place, leaving the rest of the cast to their own devices when getting ready. The play itself, Tom Stoppard’s ​Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,​ is a witty absurdist comedy that follows two gingers as they bumble their way through being minor characters in ​Hamlet​, a journey which involves flipping coins, asking questions, meeting the Beatles,​ blowing raspberries, yelling at the audience, running around with knives, pretending to die, actually dying, pretending to be actually dying, and talking. Lots and lots of talking. The gingers and the ​Beatles a​ re the creative input of our director, David Burke, but the rest is standard Stoppard. The problem with this play is not its quality but whether or not people will watch it. Will anyone leave their homes on this uncomfortably warm November night to see a play that they have not heard of and probably will not understand after one viewing? The question hangs over the dressing room as everyone rushes to get ready. No one says it out loud, but we always worry that this chaos could be for nothing. 58


“Knock knock,” calls a woman’s voice from the other side of the saloon doors made of old white window shutters that divide the men’s dressing room from the rest of the backstage Area. “We’re all naked,” replies a smirking freshman. “Just kidding. You can come in.” Mary Grace, the main Player in the show, storms into the room wearing her own t-shirt and the bottom half of a sky-blue general’s uniform from the cover of ​Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. ​Her curly hair has been brushed into a frizzy mess contained by only a few clips on the back of her head. Her purposefully overdone blue eyeshadow clashes with the look in her eyes, like that of a soldier who has just escaped from a warzone and has no intention of going back. “If they sing ​The Sound of Music ​one more time, I’m going to wish ​I w ​ as killed by Nazis.” All her complaints are directed to me because she knows I empathize. “Which one of them is singing?” She breathes in slowly and punches each syllable. “All of them.” Sure enough, the cover of “Do-Re-Me” that has been emanating from the girls’ dressing room for the past five minutes has become an ensemble piece. We leave the room and wait on the stage at my suggestion. The singing is barely audible and the only sign of chaos is Sam running through each lighting cue, trying and failing to convince Thelma to move. Through the working lights, I can see the rows of chairs that will hopefully be full within the hour. The theater is a black box, a dark, intimate space that only holds around 200 people, where the audience surrounds the actors on three sides. The minimalist set on which Mary Grace and I sit is a gray collage of asymmetrical ramps, staircases, and arches, colored by pink pastel lights. In less than an hour, the set will represent a country road outside Elsinore. Thirty minutes later, it will be the interior of a castle and then the deck of a ship. We hope the audience has a strong imagination. The stage lights cut off suddenly, leaving Mary Grace and I in darkness, before the house lights bring the audience into full view. Sam leaves the tech booth, which sits surreptitiously behind the audience, and walks onto the stage. “Did you fix Thelma?” I ask. “Nope,” Sam punctuates his answer with a short, exacerbated sigh. “But, house is about to open, so we have to get backstage before anyone wanders in and catches us out of character.” “That means they have to stop singing!” Mary Grace interjects before rushing backstage to end the impromptu musical and get the rest of her costume on. “How’s Louise?” Sam shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. Without Thelma, the lights would look unbalanced, so I had to go through and change every light cue to work without either of them. Burke wants me to come in tomorrow morning to fix them, though.” He takes another look at his handiwork, the sharp edges of the stage he helped build, softened by the lights he just redesigned and will have to alter again the next day, and trudges backstage. The singing has stopped by the time I enter the girl’s dressing room. The rush to get ready continues in silence after the intercom above the couch announces that house is open and the show will start in thirty minutes. Cayley, my close friend and my Ophelia, presses the Talk button and replies “Thank you, open house and thirty minutes” before turning off the dressing room lights, leaving only the dull glow of the fluorescent bulbs above the makeup table mirror. 59


Only three girls are left at the makeup table, blending the last of their highlight up and their shadow down like the instructional poster on the wall suggests. One girl, who no doubt finished getting into her orange ​Sgt. Pepper​ uniform before the rest even showed up, is pacing the room, muttering her lines to herself while another girl sits huddled in the corner, playing Minecraft on her laptop. The soft clicking of the keys and the muttering of lines distract from the awkward shuffling of audience members taking their seats in the next room. I sidle past the pacing girl, clear away the old clothes and assorted backpacks left on the couch, sit next to Ophelia, and rest my head on her shoulder. I let her play with my prop dagger, which brings her a disconcerting amount of joy, and close my eyes for a brief nap before show time. I hate the theatre. Being an actor is stressful and exhausting. The constant showtunes never become less obnoxious. Sometimes, only thirty people come to a performance. The lights break constantly, the costumes are itchy, and every time a problem arises, all anyone can do is put enough duct tape on it to last until the end of the show. Working backstage is like trying to plug the holes in a sinking ship with your fingers. But holy hot damn, I keep coming back! I come back for the cool rush of satisfaction that hits me after I make the audience laugh. I come back for the heart-exploding adrenaline that builds up in my chest the second before I step onstage. I come back for this moment, when I nestle my head into the crook of a friend’s neck, knowing that no matter how often the play feels like it is falling apart around me, I can always find a comforting touch backstage. Actors are loud and obnoxious; they try too hard to be weird and think “quirky” is the highest compliment. They never stop singing, and I hate showtunes. But, I have never met a group of people who love as quickly. I hate the theatre. I hate being an actor. But I love these people. Even when the dressing room is smelly and sweaty and crowded. “Places,” calls a voice over the intercom, causing me to sit up. I press the Talk button and reply, “Thank you, places.” Sam, in his gray tunic and blue side-cape, enters the girls’ dressing room, holding his leather hat. Before he leaves to get into place, I ask him how many people are in the audience. He opens the door and looks through a hole in the curtain that separates the wings from the Audience. “Most of the middle section is full, and I saw a few guys on the right, so about a hundred people,” he replies. “Not bad.” “We’ve had worse,” he whispers, putting on his hat. “Break legs.” “Break legs.”

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What We Share Julia Martin My sister serves me a mug of hot tea and sits down with her own. We both prefer coffee. Our mugs mirror each other on the table, steam swirling above the rim, dancing like a ballerina in a pink music box, the matching kind we received as children. She blows on hers, leaves it untouched. I can’t stand this place​, she laughs without humor. She stands up, dumping water from the urn into the kitchen sink.

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An Atheist Reconciliation Julia Martin My old divine tutelage, several years soaked in servitude have stained me in discolored patterns and various shapes resembling handprints, smiles, and cerges. A toast to the sinful influence that tore me away like an infant from its mother’s breast, stripped my innocence, planting a seed, a question, that would bloom and infest me. In my gormless ignorance and defiance, I now baptize myself in the turbid water from the shallow pool I dug in my own backyard and wallow in my own hierophobia.

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Pale Skin in the Stream Julia Martin We never cared to be refined children in our one stoplight town. Wind sifted through the swaying golden grass sea as we rolled down hills on our stomachs, gorging ourselves on belly button seeds we plucked from their stems, whose name we never cared to ask. Rolling and twisting, shrieking and howling; we were almost mad enough to be your cousins from the crick—that strange world where cats and dogs are friends, and mink bred to be trapped for their pelts. In that creek which stole a boy and his dog two summers ago, we were only taught to swim with our heads under swift water—to laugh at thunder when it crackled around us.

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Baby on the Brain Sherrel McLafferty I dream of our future son. He is blonde and sparkling in the backyard behind the window of our coffee table. He shrieks and throws eyelashes the size of your pants at me. I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes and arms open. He is fat and needy and he wears my lips backwards, the only thing that is mine. He shits so much, it comes out his back and down my lap. You chase me with wipes through the bathroom until it becomes summer while I cry about the four-legged creature waiting like an ape, with arms long, somehow clinging to both our stomachs. I am acutely aware of his weight as he shifts from animal to boy. When we try to kiss, he is a diaper scraping the carpet around the bed. He opens and closes his mouth, mimicking your breaths, when I read to him. He tires me. When I wake, I tell you about all the ways he will stretch my skin and know my breasts, how I imagine him appearing asleep on the dog’s bed, or screaming from the closet, on some top shelf where we’ve forgotten him.

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To Be Kind Sherrel McLafferty Who will write songs for my sons and tell them they are breakable with their mother’s skin and curves? They waddle with hips and tempers, too thin and soft to forget they are men, too stout and rotund to forget their strength. Who will teach them to strengthen their spines? When I look at my sons, I remember they will someday be men, crushing rocks on their foreheads, breaking earth into colors, showing what tempers can be. Meteorite incarnate they curve toward the world, their heat carves inward, replacing hollow with strength. Someday, they will not be easy to tamper, their bodies won’t burn because my sons were bred from clay, made to be broken. Who will glue them, my stationary men, their grey skin and dull eyes, into human? Who will kiss their cracked curves, apologize for the mess of breakdown, and cure them when they lose their strength? What collateral will love bring my sons, when they are ugly and their tempers escape, bubbling with volcanic temperatures? Who will flee, who will rebuild? As men, they have forgotten they are my sons, they have forgotten they are my curves, there are no molds left of their old strength. Who will tell them they are broken, even when they are the ones breaking? Who will chisel down their tempers, inching out every marker of strength, and convince them stillness is a test of men? Someday these men will demand a carving of their own, miniatures from masons? Someday the strength of tempers 65


will curve back, my sons will have no choice but to be men or break themselves trying.

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The Answer Isabelle Mongeau His phone buzzed in the dark, the screen lighting up his pillow. He squinted and dragged it up to his ear. He listened to her take a shuddering breath. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Where are you?” “Where are you?” He rolled out of bed and grabbed his keys. He could tell from the heavy slur in her voice that he needed to pick her up right then. He slipped on two different shoes in the rush out the door. After several calls and some misspelled texts, he located her sitting outside their favorite bar, with drunk, laughing friends stumbling around her. She was slumped against the bar’s brick wall, weighted down to the earth’s core in a way that the other girls weren’t. He drove her friends to their respective homes, all the while glancing over at her pale face in the passenger seat. Normally, she giggles at the babble of her friends in the back. But tonight, she said nothing. A new song filtered through the radio, and a friend in the back seat shrieked. “Turn it up!” He did, and a chorus of drunk girls belted out the lyrics behind him. Normally, she warbles and sways in the passenger seat. Tonight, her eyes just stare at the yellow line in the road. When it was just the two of them, he drove her to his apartment. When they walked in, she treaded towards the bathroom like a waif. “You okay?” he asked. She slammed the door shut. He hovered in front of the bathroom, wondering if he should just go to bed. But when he heard her getting sick, he shuttered open the door. He rubbed her back. He did this on the night they met, too. Two of twenty freshmen crammed into someone’s dorm room, they stared down at their bitter beers in red cups and sipped like they enjoyed them. She started to feel too hot, so they slipped into the hallway. They treaded past a few doors until she grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him in for a kiss. It was sloppy and sweaty, but it was perfect. He held back her hair ten minutes later in the handicapped stall. Sophomore year, he would visit her wine Wednesdays, five kids sitting on dorm beds, slurping wine from plastic glasses, and debated over which rapper was best. When everyone had left, they would kiss deep and slow, her lips stained purple with red wine, and it was overwhelming. In the morning, he would walk to CVS and pick up Gatorade and saltines for her. Junior year, their friend group would rally to bars. Her friends would request Screwdrivers and Cape Codders, shouting into men’s ears over the sound of the music and the crowd. But not her. She would whisper ​a long island iced tea, please​ to him, her soft hand gripping his shoulder. She needed something harder, rougher, than the other girls because she had started at 3pm and the buzz was wearing off. Those nights, they would go home together and kiss hard and fast, and it was intense. In the morning, he was never really sure if they had spent the night loving each other or hurting each other. When she woke up, she would roll over, beam at him, and ask for Advil. He would feel 67


Worse. This year, they took an English class together. The professor had students take turns leading a discussion each class, and when it was her turn, she soared. She was vivacious, engaging, made everyone laugh, got them to think, only taking a pause to swig her water bottle. She was brilliant. He watched her from across the room in awe, that excited flush in her face. After class, he pulled her in for a kiss, but jerked back when he caught the smell of gin beneath the taste of orange juice. He gaped at her, stunned. What’s in that bottle?​ he demanded. Oh, relax— It’s barely 11:30am! What the hell— Come on.​ She laughed. ​Everyone has gone day drinking in college. He turned and walked away. In the bathroom, he held her tight. Maybe he should ask her tonight. He wanted to know, and tonight, she seemed different, perhaps willing to talk to him. She didn’t seem elated like her usual drunk self, but rather tired. Or was it defeated? Maybe another night. “Was it the tequila?” he asked. She nodded and jerked out of his grip. She heaved over the toilet again. “It’s always tequila.” “Sorry.” “It’s fine.” “What do you want me to say?” She sat back on her legs. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Nothing.” He sighed and leaned against the cool wall. She lurched into the bowl again, and he cringed at the sound. She got sick, and he gripped his stomach and Breathed. “I’ll get some water.” He stood. He filled a glass at the kitchen sink, but paused in the threshold of the bathroom. Her cheek rested against the seat of the toilet, dark hair plastered against her wet forehead, neck flushed. Her eyelids drooped shut. As an underclassman, he observed the wounded culture pretty quickly: the more damaged you were, the cooler you appeared. ​It’s not alcoholism until you graduate! ​But did other college kids get it? Did they get that you weren’t cool, weren’t more interesting, weren’t special—you were just a twenty-two-year-old falling asleep on a toilet seat for the third time that week. “Why do you always do this?” he asked. “Not tonight,” she mumbled. “No, tell me.” “Why?” “I need to know.” “You’re just saying that.” “No, I want the truth. I don’t care what it is. Just give me an answer. Anything.” She opened her watery, red eyes, mascara smudged around their corners. She looked at him. “It’s the only thing that makes me happy.” He wanted anything but that. 68


Reality is Stranger Kirsti Motter A beetle’s mask, its twisted, wicked crest Inspires the monsters designed to hunt you. A baby cuckoo cleans its hosts’ nest Of their eggs, thrown to shatter far below. The blobfish is named for its thick bloating In air; a wet flesh pile, face human-like. Confessing to the boss a friend’s misdeed, Pointless, the human smiles as it lies. Predators, prey, parasites, weeds, pests, hives; The artist’s pen can’t imagine to page A match for the ugliness that survives To today against Mother Nature’s rage, Nor catch breath stolen by solar eclipse, Nor infant’s snoring hug, latched to the hips.

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Apennine Spine Lauren Puglisi Leafing through my grandpa’s photos of the stern mustachioed man he once called grandpa and the rugged region he called the motherland, I can’t help but think even the mountains have machismo. The Italian backbone of the Apennine arching, but never breaking. Withstanding the rain and the reign of Rome, and the fall of Rome, and the snowfall. What a heavy load for the mountains, each vertebrae vital, each a mini-Atlas, never once asking permission to lift their load or erode. My grandpa came here by ship, lost the Italian on his lips. Became Americano, covertly carried the Apennine in his spine, a mountain-made man. Took a bullet in his side in the great war against his own country. He never showed me his scar. He never told me how much it hurts to be amputated from his ancestry. And I want to carefully cultivate every possible acre of those mighty mountains, searching for that soft layer underneath where roots gently grow. 73


We Were Birds Lauren Puglisi We sit four around, watching smoke slither into sky and the crackling embers rise into stars. We come here every summer like birds in reverse flight. All around us there could be bugs and your dad somewhere in the distance building bird houses, and your black dog pissing somewhere in the black woods, but right now it is just us and the universe illuminated in a red glow. I lose understanding of where our bodies end and the shadowy land behind us begins, and realize it doesn’t matter. It is all matter. We are all city kids and this is the closest we felt to fire and wind and being humans in a while. Once, I dreamt we were all animals. Less day jobs, more feathers, more wilderness. But, we are just four humans with a vacation away from young adult responsibility and anxiety, who wished to be birds. We migrate back, our dreams tucked away in the folds of our feathers.

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Tequila Lauren Puglisi Friend, I remember your mother teaching me to drink tequila like they do in her country. She spooned the salt on to a pepper red plate, measured two shot glasses, sliced a lime, lined everything up carefully on the cluttered counter. Do you want complex? ​she asked. Yes.​ And her arms moved as if in prayer. Arriba,​ she said, toasting the roof above, Abajo,​ to the solid ground below, Al centro,​ and we clinked to each other, Y para dentro,​ and she raised her holy water to her lips. When I returned to the kitchen, she didn’t notice me watching her refill her glass, getting more salt and lime to mask the burning in the back of her throat. She didn’t notice me watching her refill her glass again, this time forgetting the salt and the lime. When I left, she was whispering songs in Spanish, to her ancestors, hidden somewhere in the dark.

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Horoscope Reading for America Lauren Puglisi When you're out here in America, you learn that planes overhead don't always land where they're supposed to and that learning is for legacies and upper-middle classrooms aren't colored. When you're out here and hear fireworks, they're probably firearms so run. And if they really are fireworks, they're from patriotic parrots so run. Be suspicious of anyone celebrating anything here because there's bullet holes in the news and on the walls and I pray for peace not pieces and I hope for less holes and less walls. These bullets are like stars in the constellation of a new zodiac sign, one body for each celestial body, and I ask if this is our destiny, written in our stars and stripes

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Green Ice Nicholas Rattner If it were possible for the mind to reveal only what’s already here, the color of your breath would be the color of the snow, a color so exact that it’s endless. The mind is given to many things, and I am glad to walk with you, as the snow accumulates on our clothes like badges of a fallen law. By the Gihon, a river with its face hid behind a bandana of snow, you keep saying how the water, gasping and thawing over itself, owns its quantum of ice, and there’s the danger in thinking you know nature’s law. It sounds to me like laughter, like an outlaw getting away, but the rasp in your voice carries its conviction. In the cells beyond words, I can see with a slight shift porch-light pleating the current, and a body of dark water as the bender of a thousand wills that seek its name. Look, a fox on the other shore!

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Capitalism Nicholas Rattner The world of chipped stucco speaks from the burned-down-house-black background meant to approximate deep space in an ad on the bodega wall, its voice forming in the blue curls an earth, chipped and stained by runoff from a gutter overhead, fruit-like, made of dye and glycerin and distance and many days in the real sun without repair, so beautiful that on my other earth I stand, listening to the brick-reflected whorl of traffic, not ready to pass through the carwash curtains toward bins of peaches, and the even hanging light, and the pearls of automatic mist. Then, payment cleared, it is impossible not to feel like a kid when the unreal delicious juice of one runs down my chin. Though around my body gnats are vibrating, my shadow, all cut into separate beings, figuring my proper shape, drinking blood.

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[ In the span of a minute, 60 precious seconds, nine waves crash and spill upon the sand ] Olivia Reynolds Swell and break at the base of the feet covered slowly sinking, run away like children towards the neighborhood ice cream truck. A wild pattern Purely free My ears ring the relentless I refuse to let in the chaos wild but isn't that what they want? Nine waves per minute predictable pure and placid. There is sand caught in the wind caught in my toes in my hair and salt on my skin and skin the waves caught in my eyes Two girls in flowy dresses laugh, whisper as they perch in the middle of the careless crashing Envy and regret crash through my eyes a perfectly still horizon. In the span of a minute, 60 precious seconds, seven waves crash and spill upon the sand.

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The Key Defense Carly Richardson Punctuate my comings and goings with a hard click ​of a lock, start my ignition only after I’ve checked down below and in the backseat. Let me hold your hand at night. Your cool pointed metal fits just right between my sheet-white knuckles. Let them know I am ready if they are. But you alone feel insufficient and I am scared. So, I found you a suitable companion. Not a replacement but an accomplice. A cylinder attached at the ring, bedazzled with pink gems. Its ruthless purpose kept hidden from the ugly truth that I am scared. My mace is made to make fear an accessory.

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FIVE THOUGHTS ON ICE Sarah Richter i. star-shaped blocks mingle in my lemonade. they caress my lips and relieve the perspiration from a humdrum summer day. ii. bits of glass preserve the little buds that arrived too soon, a slick cocoon protecting the eager from the chill. iii. blades carve the ice like my nails on your back, tracing infinity before the chill prickles our skin. iv. night sky reflects off the blacker asphalt, slips off into the trees and sleeps in a metal nest. v. death is outlined in a crisp layer of frost. it tries to comfort but the warmth has since slipped away

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the church on south college and second street Reagan Shull communal bread is broken over my brow i find crumbs under my fingernails from the half moons carved into my palms and wear away at the skin stretched over them i age and i am reborn and i age once more as i am consumed and spit back out i hope to find a day when the plate of my skull can knit together and close a spoon’s reflection of myself covers the deep hollow of your eyes though i am right side up i am upside down as i brush eyelashes off cheekbones and think about all the places i used to hide in kindergarten a slow grind of sandpaper against my left calf is all that remains from the church parking lot though it goes slightly faster when i pass second street and the press against the bone makes me wince i am left with high hopes and many wrinkles scars that have faded out to divots only seen in sunlight and curling smoke on yellow sweaters from cigarettes now and long ago maybe i will take it up, i think perhaps it will remind me of tears that spring to my eyes when the chill in the air becomes too much and i cry not because I'm sad but because i have to

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there’s no mountains in ohio Reagan Shull circle tables in kindergarten primary colored plastic chairs and the dresser that was so low to the ground i’d slide under it it was so low i could only lie flat on my stomach and stare out at the feet that would pass for hours minutes, days and the kickball field at the side of the school removed from the playground by grass and dandelions i wouldn’t go near because only the fifth graders played there but after school when my dad was late picking me up i’d walk on it and draw my name with my shoes and look through the gravel to try to find diamonds i don’t know why you remind me of these things i think it might be the way your hair falls all in different directions and types of curls or the way you laugh, how it fills your limbs and breaks through your eyes like dust in windows or maybe it’s just you, something i can’t define you remind me of kindergarten and the way it felt to stare at the sun before my eyes burned black

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Echo Olivia Stowell in the kitchen you cut rainbow carrots picked for beauty over taste poring over the frying pan like a pool as you dump in vegetables haphazardly chopped and forget the salt you put a record on the record player its tracks running like ripples record player hand, touching, teasing songs you swapped fingerprints with other girls to eating together from one pan soft sounds slapping the shores of your bedroom too lazy for real dishes too cheap for two forks touching me with foreknowledge of how this will lodge into my core replayable ready to be torn, retorn i write toward the ways you haven’t hurt me yet tender revenge for whatever comes next becoming a voice no body at all.

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Ecstasy of a Former Anorexic Olivia Stowell to find a new bone peeping out from the swirling of muscle, ligament, vein, skin like a small rock in whirling waters to feel the body’s scaffolding present and half-holding back the shapeless unlanguageable matter making me is to feel both glory and regret in the worry and magnetism of a former time animated with unholy, bodily, placating solipsisms, and strange pride, gulping joy down as if enough air could hold back the need for anything else.

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Selfishness Olivia Stowell they say drinking hot water helps with digestion. but i’m 48 ounces in by 11 am. and my body still can’t stop trying to expel itself. dry heaving in the bathroom. trying to get the pain out. today i will remember the look of my eighth grade gym teacher. the eye of the scale. the first and last time i forced my fingers into my throat. i refill my mug at the office’s hot water dispenser. burn my tongue on purpose. it all tastes sour. it all is tasteless. praying in the bathroom to a sad altar corporate vessel contemporary jar of clay. they say green tea helps with indigestion but it does not unhurt you. they say hot water will ease my indigestion but it will not return you or stop my body from fighting you out.

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Youth in Cuba Nesla Vasquez Milky skin evenly coated in olive, baby hairs seared light by unforgiving rays, tiny fingers dove to scoop a cup of beach while sharp winds swept the mellow shore. Timid feet carried her back to a raggedy umbrella. Behind the shade, a wrinkled smile offered a hand. Tools scattered beside an increasingly towering edifice while the moon prepared to steal a morning’s worth of work. Inside a library, skin no longer tan and hair no longer blonde, her stress-hunched shoulders fix a glassy gaze on a polaroid memory. Chest tightening, throat swelling, reflections of a semi-toothless smile dancing across amber pools.

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On​ The Gentleman’s Hat Abby Williams The brim looks like a trampoline you could lie under and see footprints, as they pound into the netting in a loop, and hear the springs creaking, a friend huffing. It also looks like a perfect saucer because it is indented around the hat band, It lifts the hat like a mug full of black, ground coffee. For others it’s a triumphant ring Tossed that lands, by fat chance, impossibly tight around a can To win the prize. Two netted strings hang from the brim And meet in a bow so taut it would sooner choke a man than break. One bunny-ear is hunched over, to the ground, and the other is like a young fiddlehead plucked in the spring and ready to be served.

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the ephemeral nature of friendship Megan Williams autumn leaves scattered themselves across the pavement and through the air. you heard the yellow crunch under your feet and the orange breeze past your ears, enveloping your spirit with peaceful fall. the leaves you rustled shared in your complete calm. everything was the same. those trees don’t produce leaves anymore. the branches fall, soon creating a tomb for themselves under the cold white. with each firm trudge, your feet fall deeper and deeper into their own funerals. look down into the frozen abyss below–catch a view of your bluing fingers like the icicles floating above you. everything is the same. you know leaves will grow on the trees again, and the candy-sweet of tulips will poke through the remaining winter and overwhelm your nose; their aroma will remind you that you are here. the bitter rain seeking refuge on your tongue will remind you that they are gone. there will be a beautiful new garden for you, but no living thing from your past will remain. everything will be the same.

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grievances of a devout optimist Megan Williams the internet tells me that this affliction “reduces stress and increases longevity”. but it really sucks when you try to look at the glass halffull... before you know it, the glass is completely empty. if you have the affliction, you didn’t give yourself the appropriate mental preparation for the cup’s emptiness, and you also forgot to replace your water filter so you can’t fill the cup again and buying bottled water is overpriced and out of the question and there are obvious issues with walking to the backyard and lapping up the probably-cholera-contaminated water from your grossly-green pond and sometimes there’s no one around to reassure you that “it gets better” but also it’s pretty annoying when they’re around because that statement just comes across as insensitive (which is a more fitting term for this affliction) and i wish i was a fully healthy pessimist so i could be pleasantly surprised but instead i am always feverishly let down.

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finding joy in theodicy Megan Williams my hands push themselves into my pockets. the laptop stands light-years away from me, staring me in the face with eyes like the Son of Man. i offer only vacant looks back at Him. i forgot the word for it– blindness? blackness? bleariness? the popsocket on my phone is like the nebula of secularity exploding out there. it’s destructive. fidgeting with that stupid thing distracts me from the essay i’m only halfway through writing, yet my eyes have become bloodshot, scarlet orbs. the thought is blasphemous to me–i could be anywhere else praying or worshipping Him, but instead i’m as apathetic as the blindfold buried under my bed. i thought i had forgotten about the time i didn’t believe. now i have something else to stress me out, and the screeching hue of cherry-red bloodshed spreads, the pool of loneliness in my mind. i want to be with Him.

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water’s purpose Megan Williams a single drop couples with itself (cohesion) and with other things (adhesion). no matter what, water exists to bond with everything around it. i’ve seen a drop travel against gravity up a napkin–capillary action at its finest. i’ve seen a drop frost over with its friends, transforming into a glacier stronger than the ocean of loneliness underneath it. i’ve also seen a drop drip down the side of the cup, following the status quo, wasting itself, to cling desperately to something instead of being alone. bonds are natural–until the drops drown themselves.

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the deadliest ammo Megan Williams bullets don’t know where they’re supposed to go. the person holding the gun decides where each one goes. and even then... sometimes we commit accidental crimes by delivering a fatal blow to an unintended target. so, without a second thought, i keep my weapon concealed, so my bullets don’t fire themselves into that stranger over there, or my new friend, or maybe even you. instead, i much too often let the bullets lodge themselves in my own chest.

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The Merrimack Review Spring 2019  

The Merrimack Review Spring 2019  

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