The Merrimack Review
Spring Issue 2017
Editorial Staff Managing Editor: Catherine Tenore-Nortrup Editors: Rachel MacKelcan Jacques Denault Lauren Bertoni Bridget Kennedy Caitlin Saad Christina DiMartino Rosemary Morton Jolene Buczala Emma Leaden 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 a proud member of The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and are sponsored by the Writers House at Merrimack College: www.merrimack.edu/academics/the-writers-house.
www.Merrimackreview.com Merrimackreview@gmail.com @merrimackreview
A special thanks to Jill McCorkle for her time and a wonderful interview. Front Cover: washing machine romance by:Rachel MacKelcan Back Cover: the place that ends in k by: Rachel MacKelcan 1
Table of Contents 3| Interview with Jill McCorkle 8| Porcelain Woman.…………………………………………………………………………...Talia Green 9| Snowwoman....…………………………………………………………………………….Lydia Renfro 10| Sleepless Nights..………………………………………………………………………...Paul Sevigny 11| Walking Home from Your Grave…………………………………………………..Kimberly Simpson 12| Twenty-Nine………………………………………………………………………………Colin White 13| If Today…………………………………………………………………………………..Ryan Khosla 14| The Girl on the Stairs………………………………………………………………..Ryan Stembridge 15| The Great American Civil War: Part Two………………………………………………….Sara Sands 18| Built on the Breeze…...……………………………………………………………….Becky J. Boban 19| 3:40pm on a Tuesday…………………………………………………………………….Lydia Renfro 20| France Called, They Want the Statue of Liberty Back…………………………………..Paul Sevigny 21| In the Morning, Bettolle………………………………………………………………….Angela Siew 22| Caesura………………………………………………………………………………..Katie Stockdale 25| Mo’Ai……………………………………………………..………………………...Christian Warrick 27| Encounter with Whiteness (Wearing the Face of My Best Friend’s Father).........................Evan Cutts 28| When I Picture My Anxiety…………………………………………………………...Megan Subsick 29| Doll………………………………………………………………………………………Chloe Steinig 30| Grandma’s Do-It-Yourself Recipe Book………………………………………………….Tara Walker 32| Beyond Glacier Basin……………………………………………………………………Lydia Renfro 33| Georges Blind vs. German Firing Squad, 1944……………………………………...Ryan Stembridge 34| Midwinter………………………………………………………………………………...Ryan Khosla 35| Angels …………………………………………………………………………………..Chloe Steinig 36| Longevity Noodles……………………………………………………………………….Angela Siew 37|Two Perfumes…………………………………………………………………………...Kathleen Zhou 40| The Perfect Girlfriend………………………………………………………………..Gwyneth Sacaris 41| The Truth about Perfection………………………………………………………...Kimberly Simpson 42| On Destruction ……………………………………………………………………...Christian Warrick 44| Like It Were a Hymn………………………………………………………………....Becca Lambright 46| Fire Island Beach…………………………………………………………………………Ryan Khosla 47| Beyond………………………………………………………………………………...Mary Hanrahan 48| Contributors’ Notes
Interview with Jill McCorkle Conducted by Catherine Tenore-Nortrup and Rachel MacKelcan Interview transcribed from digital recording and edited for clarity (Interview questions written in bold.) How much of your own life goes into your stories and characters? Are the stories inspired by real life, or do you build them from scratch? It’s a little bit of both. I write from experience, but I like to define what I mean by experience. It’s my life exactly as I’ve lived it and everything I know. Much to the horror of friends and relatives, it’s also their lives exactly as they’ve lived them and everything I know from witnessing, but the part we often forget to factor in is the experience of our own imagination. So all those times that you get a little distance from an event and think of what you wish you had said, or how you wish you had done it, or what you could have avoided, and by way of that desire you go up onto that stage where you’re the star twenty-four hours a day, each and every day and you rewind what really happened and you decide to play it again. And by way of your imagination and all those times you’ve actively imagined yourself in situations that did not happen, but might have, happened. I think it becomes a kind of experience, you know, that often finds its way on the page. I also said yesterday that our emotions are limited, and you start out with this very clear palette of feelings. The analogy I like to use, is the crayola five pack. When you’re in kindergarten and have those big fat waxy crayons and there’s no mistaking this color from that, red, green, and in the same way when you’re really young your feelings are just that clear. You hate it, you love it, you’re happy, sad, mad. Then I think in the name of education and sophistication you grow into that crayola 68. Suddenly you’re wrestling with very difficult things like periwinkle or burnt sienna, or puce, but the truth is that if you boil it down you’re going to come right back to those primary colors. In the same way I think we all rely on those primal emotions. And so I look at a class in college and think, okay, no one in here is old enough to have spent the past sixty years with the love of your life, and now something happened yesterday and you’re having to get up today and you’re all alone, but everybody knows loss, and everybody knows grief. Maybe you first experienced it with a pet, or a grandparent, or a neighbor, or the favorite blankie that you had carried around with you since birth, but you know what it feels like. So I think that you can locate the emotion, and again it’s a pretty simple palette, we know joy, we know grief, we know fear, we know sadness, we know anger, you have early early memories where you’ve experienced all of that. And so for me the experience of my own early emotions becomes part of the toolbox for something that I might give to another character. I think it works. The writer Flannery O'Connor believed that by adolescence you had all the emotional equipment that you needed as a writer and that’s always been so liberating to me, that you don’t have to have traveled the world and had all of these exotic sophisticated experiences in order to be a writer, that you can find these very real, universal stories right in front of you, in whatever neighborhood you grew up in. You have this aptitude for detailing your characters, laying their lives and personalities just out in the open to grab up. When these characters are born do their names come to you, do you just know that she’s Eve and he’s Adam, or is there a method behind it? Are they born around the name or does the name just fit? Do you invent your characters around a name or do you kind of birth the character and then name it? 3
Well it happens both ways, in that particular story it was just funny to me to have Adam and Eve and to do some kind of contemporary play with it, and it’s hard not to. You know if you had Fred and Wilma in a room it would be real hard for us not to talk about the Flintstones, and Lucy and Ricky, you can just go on and on with sort of famous couples, but usually I just start with a name, and if it just doesn’t fit the character, I go back in and rethink it, or I make that mistake that I make often where I name everybody in the story a name that starts with the same letter of the alphabet. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that but it’s pretty common, you get Steve and Sara and Stephanie. When that happens I go in and rename people. I enjoy visiting cemeteries, you can get some great names on tombstones, or the last name here and the first name there, and baby lists, the phone book . So you just kind of pull them from everywhere? I do, and then I told one of the classes yesterday, I sometimes get stuck on using the same name too much, like for years if I had a guy on the page that I really liked, Tom was sort of my go-to positive guy name, and then I married somebody named Tom, so that’s why I stopped doing that! Everybody would think I was writing about him. What are the your favorite parts of writing? What are the hardest moments to get through? You know my favorite part… I really love what I do. And I feel lucky, I think I said yesterday that writing can be like the adult version of make-believe, because it’s not a team sport. It’s the individual sport. You’re in there by yourself, you need the time alone, and I actually enjoy that solitary endeavor. Getting lost in a train of thought, or like yesterday doing the in-class writing, where it’s so amazing that you can start with a sentence and it’s like opening a door, or following a path, and not knowing where it goes. The hard part is then making sense of whatever has come out in that first time. I think of the first draft as just this really fun adventure, and the second draft is all about finding the logic, and the sequencing, and the best way to tell the story that you found. And I really love the revision process, maybe more than that initial exciting time. I’ve often told students that the first draft is the infatuation, or maybe even the one date wonder, the one hit, and then the revision is more like, oh, well this is a relationship I want to keep! So let’s find everything good about it, what can I keep, what can I make work, and then what do I need to get rid of or improve, and so for me its back and forth between the two, the hard parts are sometimes finding the logic, finding the sequence, and the best way to tell it.
Did you always love English, did you choose something else, what did you study and why? You know, I always wrote as a hobby. I grew up in a small southern town at a time when they didn’t do much creative writing, at all, in school, and so for the most part the writers I knew about were dead. That’s not what you’re not going to aspire to as a kid, and so for me that was just something I did that was fun. I was totally shocked when I got to college and realized that there were classes you could take, and that there were grownups teaching these classes who actually were respected by their community and not thought to be these loonies, just wandering around in their heads. I was hooked after that first class. When I discovered that creative writing class in spring of my sophomore year I was in the process of majoring in physical education. I wanted to teach dance or coach tennis or something, and then I took this creative writing class and I was just hooked! And so one semester running back and forth between the gym and the 4
English building, always with wet hair and half dressed, it made more sense for me to be an English major, and I switched over. So it worked out, I wish I had continued more physical exercise at that time than I did! My body would have been better off for it. In your book “Life After Life” All of your characters have incredibly detailed personalities and lives, each interconnected with the others. What was it like to build that community, were there any characters that you connected to more than others? How do you balance the love and the loss? You know again that’s part of the process and a lot of discoveries are made in that first draft. A lot of times I’ll make a note to myself that I need to go back and investigate this or that, or do more with a character's life, and add and fill in. I’m back and forth with that but I come to the page with the idea that I want you to believe in these people, so I’m always looking for what can keep them in balance. I’m very suspicious if I ever have a character that I feel is all good, or somebody who's all evil, because I just don’t believe that’s who we are. And so if I have this character who’s starting to feel like a saint, I think well somewhere in this person’s life there’s a regret, there’s a mistake, there’s something they haven’t dealt with, and I try to plug that in. And in the same way if I have someone who I think is completely awful, every now and then there’s somebody I just can’t redeem. Kendra? Kendra, yes. Kendra was hard to redeem and also the doctor Andy? Yeah Between the two of them I was constantly thinking, I hate their characters so much. Yeah, and I did too. You know probably if I were going to rewrite it I might try to make Kendra a little more complicated, you know she is Abby’s mother, I hated doing that to Abby. I feel like I know, or have witnessed, people living so superficially and sometimes in the worst cases I try to think of something, but those two I let hang out in the evil land. I like to tell my students, even if you take the most despicable people who might come to mind, I mean Charles Manson, somebody like that, at one time he was a newborn. If you just allow your mind to wonder, how did that person get from there to where he went? And it would never excuse them, an explanation is not an excuse, but there’s a way that when we as humans start looking at another human’s path, and start recognising something that would be familiar to us in this or that way, you know was he the kid in elementary school being picked on? Or the one doing the picking. We know he was abused. Suddenly the lines get blurred and it becomes harder and harder to absolutely judge and condemn. I really didn’t give Andy that sympathy, Andy and Kendra are just these narcissists who are totally putting self first, and I actively went that way because I liked how stark that is on the backdrop, of all these portraits of people who have come to the end of life and all they want is to find a kind of balance. Then you see somebody like Andy and Kendra where the scale is just so out of whack, you can’t imagine. And that’s it’s own kind of tragedy. I mean, I see where they are as far more tragic than say someone like Sadie, who’s death is in my opinion kind of beautiful, because she’s lived a very good life. That was definitely one of the most interesting parts of reading, because you would go from Sadie or Rachel directly to Kendra, or Abby, and they all had opinions on each other and different ways of seeing everything, and it made it so real, which isn’t easy to do. You know it is a way that you can kind of trick yourself into writing a novel, if you’re experimenting with all of these different kinds of voices.
Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s coming next? Sure, I am working on a novel, and again my novels have become more and more like a lot of short stories put together under one tent. The one I’m working on is the same, there are four primary characters whose point of view you get. One is a kid, so his parts are sort of limited, so there are really more like three major voices. They do bump up against each other in passing, it’s the same physical place. So many people were mad at me at the end of Life After Life for leaving a mystery unsolved, even though I maintain that every day there are people who die or disappear and we never learn the truth, even though somewhere, somebody knows the truth. It always intrigues me, you know, when something like that happens. In this novel the trial is in the background. You get the end of it, because one of the major characters is the court reporter... But her life is more fixated on her kid and her life. You don’t have to have read Life After Life, but if you have, you’re going to hear all about it. The truth is coming, I find it interesting that the most inevitable fact of life is that it will end. And yet we spend all of our time here avoiding thinking about it, and talking about it, and if you compare I guess I would say that someone taken so suddenly and so tragically like CJ is the worst imaginable. I needed that in contrast with someone like Sadie. But you will see justice in the next novel. A point that I really wanted to make is how CJ is that type of person in our society who just is overlooked, always. Even her death was kind of overlooked. The kid of the reporter is obsessed with the crime so you kind of feel like CJ is sort of there.
Porcelain Woman When the woman in my music box dances me to sleep on soundless nights, my dreams stand stretched in arabesque. Long, slender stories, lulled into being by a ballerinaâ€™s song - balanced and balancing but when her simple symphony slows, softens to match the soundlessness of my bedroom, my dreams lose their footing and stumble to one side. And I feel sorry for the woman in my music box, in such a stationary stance, with an unchanging soundtrack and such little room to dance. -
Snowwoman Moon breaks into thousands of crystals Reborn as midnight snow; Spruce and Fir lean into the air And breathe And the shadows, they are velvet And taste clean. I pull this night deep into my chestThe cold touches all my corners Turns my blood frost and My voice to steam. And I, Wake Up. Now I can come to my family’s home, Sit by the fire and truly say For the first time all year “Here I am. It is me.” Solstice ice begets urgency For soon Winter will pass and I will fail into Sleep once again. -
Sleepless Nights There can’t be anything intimidating about a wall When you have already crossed four borders In the past two weeks, ridden a freight train Where young girls get gang raped then thrown to the tracks-La Bestia I think they call it, been robbed by corrupt police, And taken countless caffeine pills to survive day after day without any sleep. But there are some who will not sleep Until they build a two-thousand mile wall; Some who want to see all the police Sending people back across the borders, Like it would be easy as retracing your tracks In a long, winding, human train. I think about this as I look from the windows of the passenger train Instead of getting my own much needed sleep. Barreling down the tracks, My heart racing like I’m heading for a brick wall, I wonder why this train doesn’t slow at the borders And why I am never stopped by the police. And just yesterday there was a story about police Who, without ever being given the chance to properly train, Were breaking their own laws-- crossing boundaries like borders. Is it their fault they can’t soundly sleep After slamming a stammering non-American against a wall And being forced to cover their tracks? Now I am running out of track. I exit the passenger car and walk past police Leaning surreptitiously on the station wall, Nodding slightly to the businessmen and women coming off the train, As a homeless man tries to find sleep Under a massive, abstract mosaic without borders. There’s nothing mimetic about this absence of borders. I see myself reflected in the glass tiles, on the other side of the tracks, And remember how I need some sleep. Back home, outside my window above the city, sirens blare from police Cars bearing down on those who have left their homes. I want to be back on the train Instead of sitting up in bed, staring at my faded wall. In the city, the jail borders the police station. Behind it run the tracks where the whistling trains come and go As people like me try to fall asleep inside cold, concrete walls. - Paul Sevigny
Walking Home From Your Grave The moon hid behind clouds, but I still saw its thumbnail glow. Despite darkness all around, bright stars lit the pathway. I still saw its thumbnail glow— touched my finger where my ring would be. Bright stars lit the pathway, and loneliness consumed me. I touched my finger where my ring would be— the ocean now its home. Loneliness consumed me as I walked the pathway alone. The ocean now its home— you would be angry with me. As I walked the pathway alone, I embraced the silence surrounding me. You would be angry with me— thousands of dollars buried at sea. I embraced the silence surrounding me; eroding, eroding, I am lost and eroding. Thousands of dollars buried at sea, darkness surrounds its entirety. Eroding, eroding, lost and eroding. The moon hid behind clouds. . . -
Twenty-Nine The floors were foreign & midnight black drapes hung consumingly like wet rags over a clothes-line devouring every inch of light that peeked through the broken window behind my bed --on any normal day diffused: the sun would peek through --and when it was given an opportunity to do so, would transform the room into prismatic colors; though, I would not notice that day As I left for work to slave away without question If i should stay the Earth was familiar, yet I tripped & bloodied my face; on the same curb I crossed each day. It was only this event that slowed my actions to thought so I sat... & watched the familiar streets become encased by bouncing beams, and refracted glows of Ra, reflecting on green Earth, beyond the asphalt and developments that surrounded me So i sat... & watched the unfamiliar day turn to night For the first time In twenty-nine, of my twenty nine years. -
If Today What if today I sang myself absolute? If today I wander for a sense of touch, but all of the atmosphere is weary and in disarray. If I wonder about what causes the passing shadows on the wall outside. If I am with you and you are with me, then where in this world could mistrust and hate lie. If the stars crash and chomp through the earth, and we see each other on opposite sides and meet in the middle. If I took matter and turned it into meaning or meanings or radical discourse or time. If I sing myself open and free, running through the cold winter air. If I stare at a bridge and wonder how it was built? If I wonder how to build? If I stare at the city lit up and think about all of my friends back home, the city lit up and them alive and vibrant; drinking, joking, and raging against the dying of the light. If each line gives me hope and thatâ€™s enough. If the morning is vague and caustic and you pick me up, and we hold each other for a moment, feel an exchange of heat between our bodies and then go smoke a cigarette and complain about work. -
The Girl on the Stairs Swath stairs of toy truck red twist and fade distant, small above. Wide curved things, each step a platform, a vista stretching far and wide. Bathing suited searching with hair, teddy bear brown, pulled back in a careful braid. She sits, dangles one hand to splash and play below the stairs but shadows rest around in silver greys and deep, dark holes, and gold that seeps and shines. Her shadow sits besideâ€”no, behind, rolling back and up the step darker than it should. It waits, prepared to move in sync. It sways with her and the stairs as she sighs a childâ€™s tune and pretends a pool extends past her wide last stair. Sheâ€™ll dive a stroke graceful blue and clear where gold and silver lies or splash and laugh in the depths frog-stroke her way to distant shores. Or will she stand and skip follow each scraped-knee step of red with their twisting of the eye that narrow and fade to clouded sky. Whether swim or sky, her shadow twitches, false starts in mistaken anticipation always to be left behind to drag and cling and worry. -
The Great American Civil War: Part Two The drive from my parents’ house in New Orleans to Roxy’s house in Picayune, Mississippi is only an hour and half, yet every year it feels longer. Roxy and I met at volleyball tryouts in sixth grade, during which we spent more time missing the ball and laughing than actually playing volleyball. Instead of getting jerseys, we traded friendship bracelets. When we were fourteen, her dad decided to exercise his custody rights and moved her out to Picayune. Ever since, we’ve had an unspoken agreement that whenever I come home, be it from London or, nowadays, New York, I make the drive to see her. This time, I force my little brother, Josh, to schlep me there, both because I no longer like driving and because I don’t want to go alone. “Welcome to Mississippi,” I tell him as we near the stateline. “Where it is easier to buy a gun than deliver a baby or buy tequila.” As we walk up the driveway, we see through the window a welcoming party of dinosaurs, ages 8, 4, and 3, running to the front door chanting “Aunt RaRa.” Troy, Roxy’s husband, follows them, sporting his best white wifebeater and basketball shorts. There are awkward hugs. I’m supposed to be happy that my friend is with him because he supports her pharmacy career, reads to his children, and is not a deadbeat like her first baby daddy who showed up at the custody hearing in ripped jeans and flip flops and told the judge that he dreamed of becoming the manager at the local Hardee’s despite the fact that he barely finished high school. Oh yeah, and Troy loves Roxy and Roxy loves Troy, which is apparently an equally important reason to support this union. For the sake of politeness, I enquire about his business. Troy and his father train people to get their concealed carry licenses. Mowing his neighbors’ lawns is actually Troy’s primary source of income, but “his business” is the one where he teaches people to shoot guns safely. As though what went wrong in the nearly 1,000 cases of children accidentally killing or injuring themselves or others over the past two years might be attributable to an inability to shoot guns safely. As though his right to his life also implies that he has the right to take someone else’s should the occasion call for it. “Well,” he starts, “business is good, except that the law making it easier to get a license hasn’t passed yet in Louisiana so you know, that isn’t good.” “As though it needs to be easier?” I reply, rhetorically. “Louisiana and, I would bet, Mississippi have some of the most accessible gun laws in the country. It needs to be easier?” I, again, ask rhetorically. Over the next 120 seconds, there is an exchange about our constitutional rights to carry weapons, my belief in the need for law enforcement to be better trained to wield weapons, and the dubious need for civilians to require guns as a means of protection that culminates with Troy announcing this: “Trayvon Martin was a nigger and a criminal who deserved it and had it coming.” I nearly throw the 3-year-old and his new book, courtesy of Aunt RaRa, out of my lap. “Oh no no,” I say, rising with my voice, launching into a tirade on the rights of Trayvon and the overt racism of the matter. “He had it coming? As though to be killed for wearing a hoodie while being a black man is a matter of desert?” “And George Zimmerman and every other police officer had a right to shoot every person they did to prevent a threat to society. They were a threat. That ‘because they were black, they got shot’ argument is a load of crap.” I can’t breathe. 14
“We can have this fight, sir, but I have all the facts and all the figures and I am absolutely right in this case and you will be wrong. So we can have this fight right now, but it will end badly for both of us because you will lose, and I will walk out of this door right now and not come back and your wife will be mad.” Roxy sits at the kitchen table, turning through the newspaper, silent, while Troy and I face off to each other. “Let’s talk about something else,” he decides. Troy and Josh go outside to grill. Roxy and I are assigned the children and the kitchen. I would like to ask her if she too believes in spoon feeding their children the same diet of vitriol and white supremacy everyday like Honey Nut Cheerios and peanut butter, but I am clumsy and can’t manage to work the words into sentences. I want to know if she sat silently because she didn’t want to challenge him in front of company or because she believes he is right. “What do you want to drink?” she asks. “Well, I think being together at least calls for the champagne you mentioned,” I suggest. “Cool. It is in the fridge.” I rummage around for a second but can’t find it. “Move the OJ,” she instructs. I move it, revealing a bottle of Andre - the stuff my college friends and I drank at Tulane in the parking lot next to The Boot Store because it costs five dollars and you could buy it with your fake ID, if they carded at all that day. However, more recently, I sent a glass of Andre back at a bar when I realized it was the poison in my $12 glass of champagne. “You know,” I say. “We should do champagne cocktails. We have tequila and OJ. I’ll just mix us something up.” I’m mixing “grown-up juice” when Roxy asks Houston, her eight year old, to tell Aunt RaRa who his favorite person is. “Guess,” he says. “Is it mommy?” “No.” “Is it daddy?” “No.” “Is it other daddy?” “No.” “Then Aunt RaRa doesn’t know. Who is it?” “Jesus. I love Jesus.” I pause. “Man, Aunt RaRa wishes she could be Jesus. That guy has quite the following and sure gets a lot of love from people.” Roxy doubles over in laughter. “You think that’s funny. You should hear Bud.” “Why?” “Troy says nigger so much, Bud has started saying it to the white ladies pushing their carts down at the grocery store.” I grimace and pour more tequila into my juice. “If he’s such a sponge for language, which they are at that age, you should be teaching him something that won’t land him in trouble,” I say, “like Spanish.” I call Bud over. “Hey, Bud. Repeat after me: Como estás?” “Como estás?” “How are you?” “How are you?” 15
“Bien.” “Bien” “Good.” “Good.” I drain and refill my glass. At 11 PM, I yawn big, stretching my arms high, and exit with Josh through the door stage right to cross back over the Mississippi-Louisiana line. I get in the passenger seat and quietly cry myself to sleep. At breakfast the next day, my mom asks how it went. This time I sob. “I think I need to break up with Roxy.” More sobs. “She’s married to a racist.” “Are you sure?” my mom asks. “Your friendship is with her, not him. Just talk to her.” “His children call people the n-word.” “Just talk to her. Things might change.” I return to New York without a word passing between us. For a month, I hide in my apartment and religiously listen to Michael Barbaro on The Run-up dissect what went wrong with America and the Golden Age of Donald Trump. Then, Officer Betty Shelby fatally shoots Terence Crutcher. I share the video via Facebook and the first comment I get is from Troy: “Reached into his SUV. Did not comply!” I text Roxy: ”We have to talk about race and policing in this country.” However, I tell her, “we need to have the same fact base.” So I write an e-mail, a carefully constructed letter to her and Troy, ensuring it is as non-accusatory as possible. It is a teaching resource, not a shaming tool. I use a mix of bullet points, short quotes, and block quotes, and provide links to a robust set of sources of varying lengths and reading levels, all to promote accessibility and digestibility while also confirming the validity of my facts and the transparency of my fact base. I’m not naive enough to think that from a single e-mail they will abandon their racism. But I am naive enough to believe that they will accede to my plea: Facts are friends, and friends have facts. Please partake in the sharing of facts with me. In the name of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, amen. “I know this is difficult because I’m asking you to challenge your beliefs. I know this is uncomfortable. Just think about it and call me,” I conclude. At first, I get no response so I text to ask her if she’s read it. She hasn’t. I ask her again a few days later. She still hasn’t, can’t, doesn’t. She texts me a laundry list of other things that take priority. The hours of the day would need to add to up to something greater than 24 for her to read it. In other words, she won’t. But then, the silence lingering indefinitely, I think maybe she does and maybe Troy reads it too, and she just doesn’t tell me because ultimately, no matter how well researched, cited and factual my arguments are, there are only two “truths” that matter: how guns and black people make them feel, the former more powerful in the face of the latter, who make them feel powerless. When I turn out my lamp every night, I look at the frame on my bedside table holding the photo Roxy and I took together over six years ago before I left for England. In the morning, when I rummage for my gloves, I find her Christmas present, which I bought early living for now in my IKEA dresser drawer - $50 matching Viralstyle Dirty Dancing-themed spaghetti strap tank tops redefining in Times New Roman font the word “corner” (where nobody puts Baby.) I start planning my next trip home, but this time, I don’t tell her. On my birthday, she sends me a text message: “Happy birthday beautiful!! I hope your day is wonderful! I love you and I miss you!!!” It takes me twelve hours to decide what to do. “Thank you,” I reply. “Miss you too.” -
Sara Sands 16
Built on the Breeze The wind is like thunder without the light show. It sounds the same against the walls of this old house. I had the light show yesterday, flickering with the groan of a piano as its keys crept up and up, the light zig-zagged. The instrument offered a perfect substitute for what the storm of silent electricity was missing. You can try to make thunder on your own. You can holler and stamp, bang rusted nails into wood to make a hasty shack for shelter. You can try to make your own lightning. You can strip it from the gray basin in the mountains and harness it for all the world through wires and murder the neighborhood fog with your lights. Its blood slickens the pavement. You can try these things, but theyâ€™ll never sound like the piano. The night will never be what you wish it, unless all the lights go out and the trees offer their sighs to the world, creation longing for the new soil the wind whispers of in other lands. And in one solid moment, one old night, without streetlamps or distant concerts, banging in the distance, the world will be exactly what you want it to be. -
3:40pm on a Tuesday Little city Sparrow Give me your history and I will give you mine. I promise to listen to the portion of urban noise that is youtake it right through my chest and let it change the color of my hair. We are noticed by Divinity. Do you trust me when I say that is truly written in the Holy book? All the same, there’s not much here for us but stale leftovers of strange people’s pleasures: unpleasant, necessary. Nothing grows but instead must be built. And still you are ignored. And still I am other-ed. After a time, we’ll both recall the Eastern Bluebird and envy his green life in a quiet copse. He has found eternity in the woods but Sparrow, you and I have come to the city and we are mortal. -
France Called, They Want the Statue of Liberty Back Do the broken chains at your feet And tightly clutched tablet of the law Taunt those who need you most As they are turned away in droves So the last sight they see are weathered streaks Like salty tears on your green copper face? Have you been trying to show all along Even you have lost hope In the drone of the privileged masses shouting I’m American, that makes me better than you! Because you know we are all just people And they are people, too? -
In The Morning, Bettolle after Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill
It’s all the same to morning what it dawns on. You pull the gate closed behind you walk past the cream houses, their roofs of umber tile, the rounded archways, the roses in mid-bloom. You wait at the piazza for the bus to work before the sky lightens. When you begin your day I am about to sleep. We always seem to be saying goodnight, always waiting for a common morning. It’s all the same to the sun what it rises on. The distance across the ocean the lone bird on his transatlantic flight the trade winds that give way to light emerging against sparse clouds, and the words we mistranslate, like soon and after. But it’s not at all the same to us-that when I wake, I won’t be able to turn to you, turn away from the gusts that suddenly speak, the wind that enters the house, swinging the half-open door in and out of its frame. -
Caesura Sunlight burns like fire, whiting out the tombstone, obliterating the priest’s voice. It is inside of me, becomes my blood, fuses my bones. Its hungry roar drowns out everything except the scream inside me, one long, unending note that has lasted for hours, for days. The perfect blue sky laughs at me. If I were in a better condition, I’d be able to appreciate the irony of sunshine at a funeral. But if I were in a better condition, we wouldn’t be here at all. “We all feel the pain of a life cut too short, but we must remember that Isaac is in a better place now. He is beyond bodily and spiritual harm –” The priest’s empty words break into me and I roll my eyes. Isaac wouldn’t like that. He’d tell me it’s disrespectful and to open my mind past my preconceived ideas. But then, Isaac always believed more than me. As I think of him I find that I can’t breathe. I cannot breathe. My mother is dabbing her eyes with lace; my father stares at the priest, his face suddenly lined, unshaven, gray; fluffy clouds scuttle across the sky. I find that I hate them. I hate all of them. I turn and walk away. Isaac is not here. Isaac is not anywhere. He is gone, ripped away. Dead is dead. The world blurs past my eyes as the sound of the priest’s voice grows distant. People might be calling me. I ignore them, walking into the light summer breeze that blows the tears from my eyes so they can fill again. I pass tombstones and grave markers, slipping as my heels sink into the grass, suddenly graceless. Isaac would have given me his hand and told me to be more careful. Pain shoots through my knees as I come to a rocking stop, having walked into gravestone. I stare at the gray weathered marble without really seeing it. There’s an emptiness in my stomach, fear at the base of my spine. Isaac would have… would have. I cannot breathe. And then I do, rich lungfuls of oxygen tearing into me, making me bleed – and I don’t want to. For a moment I cannot remember his face. I push the air out. We don’t eat in the kitchen anymore. We don’t eat as a family anymore. Not with the empty chair. The air rushes back in. But I want it out. * I bounce the baseball up and down, up and down. Light gleams off Isaac’s cello, catching my eyes as it rests on its stand under the window in our music room. Leaning against the door frame I toss the ball from hand to hand. The room smells like rosin, even from the door and I can easily remember the hours we spent here when Isaac first started teaching me to play. My fingers hadn’t been strong yet, so the notes were almost always flat, and the bow would jump off the strings, and it was in general, horrible. I remember my mother’s calm voice telling us that maybe siblings shouldn’t be teachers. I never got that. I did have a teacher, Isaac’s in fact, but Isaac would just help me practice. It’s what he did. It’s what he does.
He’d been so happy when I’d chosen to follow him to the cello, though I’m not quite sure what else he expected me to pick up. He’d gotten me into music and caused me to fall in love with rich timbre and smooth sound of his favorite instrument. I smile as I give the cello a last glance and turn away from the door. I guess I have a soft spot for it. I do have my own, but Isaac’s was the one I learned on, the one where I started mastering scales and positions. Plus, Isaac’s is better than mine. Walking down the light filled hall I start bouncing the ball again as I pass our family pictures. Isaac, a grinning five-year old starting kindergarten with no front teeth. Me, standing by his side a few years later, clutching a backpack and lunchbox with my hair in pigtails. Us in front of Christmas trees, all colored lights and homemade ornaments. One year, Isaac holds up the angel proudly and I clutch paper snowflakes. All of our vacations are represented, us sunburned and snuggled up to Micky or Pluto, in front of the Statue of Liberty striking vogue poses, and at a lodge in Colorado, clutching giant cups of hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire, ignoring the snowboards behind us. We have every variation of picture style: from angel to devil. My parents like to tease us, sending our friends down the hall to see all of the family glory. At the very end of the hall, where it spills over to the kitchen and our living room, I see a new photo. It’s only a couple of months old, mom must have finally gotten the frame. It shows me, Isaac, and Isaac’s best friend Will, on a rock climbing wall. I’m at the top, in the middle of exuberantly waving a flag and the boys are feet beneath me, both looking similarly annoyed that they lost, but trying to smile anyways. I’d lorded it over them for the rest of the day. When I’ve had my fill of the picture I walk into the kitchen, bouncing the ball and pulling my phone out. No response back from Isaac. I sigh and open the refrigerator, but there is still no milk in it, just like there wasn’t when I’d texted him. I hope he sees it before he leaves the store. Maybe he’s just not going to answer me. Shrugging I let the door to the refrigerator swing closed, cutting off the coolness and turn, heading for our back porch. Before I can open it, as I’m waiting for the ball to come up from its bounce, the phone rings, loud and sharp from the silence. I jump and fumble the ball, watching with annoyance as it hits the ground, each time with a sharp smack and then as it rolls away under the couch. Muttering a curse, I kneel down and call, “Mom, could you get that?” The sound of her heels clicking on the hardwood intersperses with the rings of the phone as I wriggle my arm in between the floor and the couch for the ball. The musty smell its strong, pungent, as I feel my fingers start to brush its surface. I manage to wriggle it into my hand and am tightening my grip on it when my mother screams. I jump, hissing, as my arm hits the bottom wood frame. My mother is still screaming, her voice high, loud, feral. The sound of the phone striking the ground echoes like a gunshot. But it does not stop that loud, high note. * Blindly, I walk away from the graves. Away, away, away. I near the woods and walk along their side. The breeze is stronger here. It pulls my dark hair out of its curls, letting them fly. My scarf gets whipped around too until I yank it off, letting it blow away haphazardly. Everything is blurry from my tears and I stagger, my path veering. I hate feeling this way. And then I hate myself for that thought. Impatiently, I rub the tears away and look up. The sun and clouds smile at me. 22
Anger and loss and pain dig into me, and I look down from the cheerful sight, burned. The grass becomes a blurry hue of green until I can get myself under control. I keep walking, I have nowhere to go and nowhere I particularly want to be. I don’t register the ant pile. Or maybe it’s that I don’t see it until it’s too late. It breaks open, crushed, under my heels, as squadrons of ants pour out of it. My first instinct is to stagger back, kicking off my heels as I do so. But then I pause. Something about the carnage holds me. They swarm back and forth, back and forth over the pile, as if they can’t comprehend this tragedy that has befallen them. The ghost of metal screeching comes over me, the sound I didn’t hear of burning rubber, what must be the awful silence of death. I fall to my knees. The grass itches and scratches and I dig into it. I am not far from the pile and the ants come rushing at me. This is a fact. No need for emotion. I cannot picture his face but for the last time I saw it. Bloodied. Head cocked at an impossible angle, neck broken. White. So white. Whiter than a new piece of paper, whiter than snow. The combination of all colors, the absence of life. The ants bite into me, a million hot needles digging into my skin, pinching, pulling. Penance for those I killed. Those I killed. And then the scream in my brain is in my throat, out of my throat in my mouth, out of my mouth, shattering the air. It goes up, up, up, shattering the clouds, shattering the sun. It spreads outward, me as its epicenter, spreading ripples of pain. I rip the grass from the earth, again and again, until there are piles of murdered roots around me. Draw breath. Scream. My nails dig into my arms, then my hair. I grip it as if this will hold me together. The screams fall out of my mouth, one after another, and are there tears now? I shake and rock as the truth threatens to rip me apart. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry. Tears cascade down my face, into my mouth, and I cannot breathe without making disgusting noises. The ants crawl over me, their bites injecting fire. It isn’t enough. Another sob erupts, erasing the sound of footsteps. A hand falls on my shoulder. “Viola, sweetie . . .” My mother pulls me up, and I see the details of her face in sudden sharp detail. Her makeup has been applied too heavily, making her look over-pale, her blush almost clown like. The eye lashes that surround her hazel eyes are unadorned with mascara. I notice for the first time, little lines around her face and mouth. Her lips are dry, her nose red. She shrieks when she notices the ants. I go silent and still as she attempts to hit them off me. I watch the ground, imagining that I can see the little ant corpses. Maybe one or two ants still scuttle around the pile, looking for survivors. There won’t be any. Not after the black hole touched it. My mother’s French manicured hand digs into my arm, dragging me away. I go loose, letting her drag me. My heels are lost and I feel the tread of the grass under my feet. I look up and wonder, if I could burn forever in the fire of the sky, would that be enough? -
Mo’Ai Drowning is the softest kind of death There’s something beautiful about the way you fall into it all How something consumes you so much you can’t breathe It traces its thin fingers against your throat Strokes, a soft song out of your screaming Cracks a smile so wide it deafens you And whispers “Why do you bother” “Just stop struggling” A girl in my gender studies class asks me what it’s like to lose your virginity I couldn’t control my cringe fast enough Something in me shattered against her inquiry Her words felt a blade’s edge at my tongue Begging me to spill something So I gave it all away Just like I’ve grown so used to I told her That it takes a special sort of sick to give up the only thing you have left And there is no cure for emptiness I felt her push deeper Could taste the whisper-edge of her fingers against my skin Peeling, until I looked naked enough to stop faking feeling She sees my scars as a treasure map And watches, while all the water within me spills out from them I flood the classroom with all my demons I feel their faces shrink at the thought of me dancing in a room full of broken mirrors I just like to feel at home sometimes I move my lips to say “I’m sorry” My voice bends itself into submission And comes out as “please don’t touch me” The white girl glances She is not used to seeing a beast lapping at its own wounds She expects me to bite back She barks bullets from her lips Spits questions with too many answers faster than I can block them “Did you like it?” “Was she afraid of you?” 24
“Were you gentle with her?” Every cell in my body screams for an exit I think, that if I can pull myself apart fast enough I’ll lose track of how I’m put together I beg, to be broken into pieces too small for her to pick at But I’ve never known denial in the present tense So I swallow each breath before it breaches the dam Drown, every sunken memory until it’s skin turns to something pale Something empty Something familiar I don’t question why it smells like burning I just hope it’s me this time The questions tear, at every wall I’ve given up on rebuilding Every piece of me, is a bit of chipped glass just pretty enough to be alluring My body, is a safe, only in the barest sense I take solace, that the only thing I have left Are the shadows of that room I tried to pick my dignity out of She runs from me, afraid that all my overflowing wounds will wake the dead With clammy hands that beg to drag down another thing with a heartbeat I don’t try to swim anymore I lie naked, all scream and scar tissue With eyes sewn shut, and tell her That drowning is easier once you’ve stopped fighting -
Encounter with Whiteness (Wearing the Face of My Best Friend’s Father) — Brookline, Massachusetts. December 7th, 2016 In the dream, I saw a man’s face turn / Black as me... A bruised fume ballooned / inside Whiteface. Fear was Black / smoke fleeing an iron’s scathing kiss / His Outrage was terror / masked—was I unannounced? alive where I shouldn't be? My death was a matchstick burning the North / & South / ends of our country. … After waking, I wondered if I could call the man / Brother After all, / fear birthed us both. would’ve cradled me to sleep / if Not for my eyes searing open to so many stars / & he, might’ve slept just As easy knowing what raised us victims of prejudiced thought / irrevocable skin Be the same / harrowed lullaby… / them blues Ol’ Ma used to sing. -
When I Picture My Anxiety When I picture my anxiety I imagine millions of wideeyed, black, nearly microscopic balls bouncing around in my stomach. They fling themselves off my ribcage, like countless bouncy balls thrown in tandem. They hang off my organs and use the rest of my body as their own personal amusement park. When I picture my anxiety these nearly microscopic creatures whisper woes, worries, and dreads to each-other, which travel to my brain and manifest in beads of sweat and an inability to draw breath. I roll the ovular blue pill over and over between my fingers, then I put it to my lips and swallow it. When I picture my anxiety I want to picture these unwelcome inhabitants lying permanently dormant under the warm shroud of the ovular blue pill. But I know it can only subdue them for so long. -
Doll The porcelain doll has sat on her shelf for her whole life. She was taken down and admired from time to time, But she hasnâ€™t moved in a while. What do those glassy eyes see now? Does she see that the little girl still has the same golden hair? Would she miss her fingers trailing through her hair with a fine tooth comb? Might she wish that she could grow alongside her? Did she notice that although the little girl is older, All she wants is to go back to the time where the world was still, The rug wrapping her up in a bubble, While she held her most prized possession? Would she remember the extravagant outfits that were part of a much bigger show, Used to shut out the blaring noise outside the wooden door? Small and fragile, She must see it all. Dust may circle her stand, Blanketing the shelf she resides on, But the love she has for the girl still shines. Now and again, They lock eyes, And she recalls the first time the doll winked at her. And for a moment, The girl is small again. Blue eyes reflecting the same, She realizes the happy times will always outweigh the bad.
Grandma’s Do-It-Yourself Recipe Book My grandmother was the only person I have ever known who made aspic. She was the only person I’ve ever met who knew what aspic was. According to Betty Crocker’s picture Cook Book, aspic is “colorful, piquant, refreshing.” And there are such varieties as chicken-tomato aspic, seafood in tomato aspic, holiday tomato aspic, and my favorite, festive salad mold, which requires the cook to place deviled eggs and olives at the bottom of a gelatin mold. My grandmother stuck to the more traditional tomato aspics. Hers were oddly beautiful abominations– jewel tone tomatoes and avocados shimmying in a Jell-O mold. My mother made me try it, to my horror. Imagine gelatin – but with celery salt. Luckily, for the rest of the family, she didn’t make it very often. Aspic marks a strange chapter in the history of American foods that has all but vanished from the dinner table, along with using mayonnaise as salad dressing. When I think about it, my grandmother was always eating things that made me hide my gag reflex behind a strategically placed napkin. Maybe it was that depression era waste-not want-not mentality. Grandma’s family had been pretty well off, even during the depression, but she eschewed wasting anything – and had a taste for cheap food despite her upper-crust upbringing. One night she put leftover pizza in the toaster for dinner when I came to visit, and left it in there too long. When she brought it to the dinner table, the stuff was charcoal-black. I wrinkled my nose and said, “Uh… Grandma?” “Yes?” she said, smiling and biting into an ashy pepperoni. Grandma was a good cook, don’t get me wrong. Thanksgiving turkeys were always amazing – juicy, perfectly cooked and timed with the mashed potatoes. But her food choices were like her clothes. She could wear Chanel one day and a Denver Broncos sweatshirt the next. She wore diamond bracelets and light-up Christmas tree brooches. Similarly, she could eat lamb chops for lunch and canned spaghetti for dinner. Canned spaghetti, she told me, was her ultimate comfort food. As a child, it had been a special treat. I felt guilty when she offered me a plate of it and I stared quizzically at the sloppy looking noodles. “Yum!” she said, twirling the worm-like pasta around her fork. One time when we went out to a restaurant, she ordered a purple soup with a dollop of white cream on top. 15-year old me couldn’t help but ask “What’s that?” my face probably turning white with horror. “Borscht,” she told me, matter-of-factly. “What?” “Cold beet soup,” she told me. “It’s delicious.” I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and grabbed a toothpick on my way out, mining the food out of my teeth. “Ladies don’t pick their teeth in public,” she said. Grandma was certainly a lady. But she kept her hair cropped short and could out-fish any man in the state of Colorado. She was the perfect combination of old-fashioned upper crust femininity and tomboyish outdoorswoman. She had a different set of dishes for every possible occasion from Christmas to birthday parties. She collected arrow heads and she collected recipes. Inside her “Do-it-yourself” recipe book are envelopes for placing clipped recipes and blank pages for notes. The cover is cloth with images of coffee pots and tomatoes. As you thumb through the book you can watch the decades pass by: Post-war potluck picnics, Eisenhower-era eats giving way to Kennedy-inspired concoctions and Ladybird Johnson’s favorite luncheons. 29
Every Sunday she cut new recipes from the pages of the Denver Post’s weekly magazine. Their browned edges were cut crisply, and often annotated. Some of the recipes almost sound personified with names like “Stuffed baked chicken Mexican” and “Big Bertha tasty treat.” The book is full of mid-century marvels like “Honeylulu Chicken,” and “Mystery Mocha cake.” Some of the recipes sound especially heinous, like “Fish roll-ups with almond sauce” or “Tuna Hawaiian.” There are numerous loafs in the book, including “Ham-beef Loaf” and “Mexicali Meat Loaf.” But she drew the line at the infamous “Hearty Tuna Loaf,” which must not have been as “delicious served cold” as the recipe claimed. That recipe clipping features a large red x marked over it and a one-word caption in her handwriting: “NO.” Her handwriting brings her back to life for me. Upright cursive letters squiggling across the page in near-incomprehensible hieroglyphics. I can imagine her grade school teachers docking her on penmanship and the lecture that must have resulted from her mother. My grandmother was both rebel and conformist. A Republican, god-loving, hymn-singing woman, who didn’t turn down cigars at weddings or fear standing in the middle of the gushing Roaring Fork river, casting her fishing line. She was the only person I’ve ever met who made – and enjoyed – eating aspic, and couldn’t understand why the rest of us didn’t delight in the “colorful, piquant and refreshing flavor.” My last memory of her is from 2008. She sat up in her hospital bed, her short white hair fluffed like bird feathers, when her tuna sandwich arrived from the cafeteria. I thought the thing looked loathsome – thin slices of white bread with fishy-smelling paste gluing them together. But she smiled, and bit into that tuna sandwich. She chewed it thoughtfully and just as I was about to say something about the terrible quality of hospital food, she said, “This is really pretty good.” -
Beyond Glacier Basin We stopped for a breather at The crest of the hill, iced canteen water As reward for the morning’s hike. The quickly dissipating breakfast of Oatmeal and campfire coffee replaced With granola bars and nuts- I leaned Against the red bark of a Ponderosa—smoky, Cinnamon, like Christmas Morning—and Got sap on the flannel tied against my Waist. A Mountain Bluebird eyed our Snacks, Hummers chased each other, Through branches, the sound of their wings Heard more through our jaws than our ears. Springtime usually brings more green, But looking towards the brown pines around Sprague Lake, they scream “Beetle Kill!” And not half a mile ago, we found a Disgusting, empty can of RedBull, next To a violet Columbine and Buffaloberry Shrub. Our favorite trailhead has been Sectioned off with signs commanding Hikers to stay off; soil corrosion at 40° 18’ 46" N, 105° 38’ 47” W . We keep Going anyway, past timberline, until only Subalpine firs brave the altitude. They Use their cones to point us up to The sky, blue in a frosty, sharp way. Before there were campers and bonfires, Airstreams, and Coleman propane lamps, These Big-Horn sheep beheld the wild Beauty of rock, forest, lake, meadow And never said anything about it. -
 In Rocky Mountain National Park  Bear Creek Trailhead 31
Georges Blind vs. German Firing Squad, 1944 Fifteen rifles stare down his smile. Shirt open, back straight, not even cloth for armor. Skin and crumbled brick behind burns under too bright sun. His hands grip a loose rock below wired wrists. The gritty, old stone steady. He stands away, but fingers feel the crumbs from age and worry. This corner, its walls have stood far longer and shots will chip and bite, but it will stand when he falls. His fingers feel that strength, leech it into his teeth. Fifteen rifles aim at wallsâ€”one white, though blemished as the otherâ€”it shadowed, grey and full of windows. He knows each well, from desperate naps between attacks, a mite to the German bull. Each feels the same to searching fingers, he wonders which is which or if it even matters. He stares down each darkened face below their helmets, squints from the burning sun. A countdown would be nice, he thinks, to time his last smile. -
Midwinter I re-read the book, and in return I see it in new colors, see it with a new face, see it in new light and new life, autumnal and springing, feeling wholly justified in a whole location of locating thing to thing, eye to eye, life to life. Fluorescent light beaming beating buzzing charged with new airiness, froth, and brushstroke. Crusty sliver of sunrise, a telephotography of orange blue other-worldliness horizon. My heart beating for the day, my blood pumping for the skyline, my stomach churning for the present, and everywhere in the world people are breathing.
Angels Angels exist. She watches over us from the kingdom above, pure white wings fluttering in the wind, as big as the space she left when she departed. The couch she sat in moves. Her memorial ornament on the tree spins. The sky glistens from her halo. As beautiful as the halo is, greeting me everyday when I awake, it is nothing compared to what we all had. The backyard of the house still has the swings she built by hand. Old and splintery, they still hold me up. Kicking my legs to pump, I try to reach her. The swing detaches from the oak it is hung from, and I float. I reach the clouds. They are not as fluffy as I thought they would be, and nothing is in sight. My swing drags me down, and I donâ€™t fight it. I let it drop me back at the oak tree. I swing again, not as high, but try to continue to move on. -
Longevity Noodles Symbolizing a long life, this is a popular Chinese dish on birthdays and other celebratory occasions. Their length and unsevered preparation are also symbolic of the eaterâ€™s life. My mother and I order the same soup the afternoon before I leave again. She searches for advice to give her grown daughter as we sit face-to-face, trying to eliminate our distance across the table. I look into my bowl, imagine the noodles before they were submerged, bundled into spools. I see my motherâ€™s hair as a girl, unwound, long and silky, and wonder what made her happy, what she dreamed of, if she would have chosen a different life. If the life Iâ€™m living is the one she would have chosen, and if I fail for me, do I fail for her too? I note the cross-hatch lines on my knuckles that count the times my fingers have bent, grabbed, pulled, done the tasks of daily living. Suds have sunken rough patches on her hands, what used to be jaden skin, before the baths she prepared for us. When did the veins in her hands grow so deep? Our hands bring the bowl to our lips, and our mouths part to drink. -
Two Perfumes i. Seattle & Trésor Trésor is a loud perfume that announces my mother before she appears in the walk-in closet holding a blazer by Calvin Klein and one by Jones New York, demanding which one goes better with this dress? I nod at the Jones New York blazer with the solemnity of a sixteen year old who is far too proud of being her mother’s style consultant. My mother tosses me the Calvin Klein and disappears to find her nice pearls, leaving a musky trail of Trésor in her wake. I hang her blazer and go back to sitting crisscrossed between a box of baby photos and an ancient yellow cross-body bag that once accompanied my mother from China to the United States, breathing in the layers of my mother’s potent, floral perfume, the odor of mothballs in my father’s wool suit, and faintly underneath, the earthy, anise fragrance of our little white home in the Seattle suburbs. My parent’s walk-in closet smells like years of Trésor pressed into the fine wools and silks of my mother’s suits and dresses. Over time, the perfume has faded to leave only the base notes – rich amber, sandalwood, and vanilla – becoming the dominant smell of my mother’s work uniforms. Trésor falls on the fruity-floral side of perfume, with scents of apricot, rose, lilac, iris, and peach. It was perhaps created with the idea of exalting femininity, but flower and wood and fruit clamor for dominance and result in a near-masculine musk. My mother calls for me to help her fasten her pearl necklace; I find her by following the lingering traces of ripe apricot and amber. Trésor is a heady perfume that settles into open space with a sort of ease that even at sixteen I knew would never be for me. It suits my mother the career-climber. My mother, nervous to interview with her boss’s boss’s boss for a role in Shanghai, has armed herself with Skin Food concealer, a half-off Ralph Lauren wrap dress from Macy’s, and her Trésor perfume. Trésor’s bottle, an inverted, crystal pyramid, and its golden honey color, are meant to evoke a robust, rounded femininity. Perhaps that’s what drew my father to it. It was my father who bought the first bottle of Trésor, some ten years ago or so, when my mother was readying an important presentation, because he thought the bottle evoked some subtle, womanly regard and because this was back when he did things like buy her perfume in silent support of her career advancement. My father didn’t actually test the perfume, so he didn’t realize the dewy combination of flowers and fruits results in a rather powerful scent. Final sale meant no returns. The first time my mother tried it, she asked him, don’t you think this is a bit strong? Then it suits you, my father agreed, in his own way. This is one of my mother’s favorite stories. I don’t know if it truly happened the way she tells it, or if she has softened the memory in the same way that she presses a tissue to her lips to soften the red color of her tinted lip balm. Before my mother leaves for her interview she sprays another splash of Trésor onto her wrist, at the base of her throat, and behind her ears. The bathroom nearly tastes like an overripe bouquet, and I, sixteen and eyes watering, wrinkle my nose, ask her, why do you always use that perfume? My mother inspects herself in her bathroom mirror. Oh, I guess I’m used to this one. Later that evening, when my mother returns, glowing , from a successful interview, my father rebukes my mother for wearing a risqué dress – her black, V-neck Ralph Lauren wrap dress – to her interview. My mother changes into baggy jeans and a loose sweater. My father 36
then disparages her perfume – says it’s too overwhelming for his nose – says her perfume is cheap, gaudy. My mother cries.
ii. Shanghai & Chanel No. 5 I am, all and all, ambivalent towards Shanghai. All my old high school friends are asleep when I’m awake, and I have none of my freshman hallmates on Skype. I spend so much time in my mother’s new, swanky Xuhui apartment, or fighting the mobs of people writhing to and from subway stations, or getting lost between glittering skyscrapers, that I become almost fond. The smog, though, still unsettles me. Shanghai in the winter stinks like cigarette butts. My mother combats this bitter miasma by dabbing a bit of Chanel No.5 onto all the gleaming window frames in her three-bedroom apartment. I tell her it’s a waste to use it in a losing battle against the smog. My mother says she only uses a little bit for the window frames, and besides, don’t I prefer my room perfumed with Chanel to the sanitizer reek of the air purifier? It is still the air purifier I smell, and under that, the subtle aromas of dried ginseng, courtesy of the elderly couple that rent the apartment to my mother. Chanel No. 5 is far less ostentatious than the Trésor which my mother wore in Seattle. Its soapy flowers are most pronounced in my mother’s bedroom suite, and its top floral notes are strongest in my mother’s closet, entirely composed of work-appropriate grey or black wrap dresses, some Ann Taylor, some Ralph Lauren, a few Calvin Klein, all sale rack. Mild, classic florals – jasmine and rose, I think – a soapy scent, and the tiniest whiff of vanilla: this is what lingers in the new clothes my mother has purchased for her new job in Shanghai. Sometimes I catch myself taking deeper breaths in my mother’s bedroom suite, expecting those musky floral trails of Trésor, and instead meeting the ambiguous, soap-floral-citrus notes of the aldehydes in Chanel No. 5. I don’t know if I should feel pleased or disappointed that my gift has supplanted the lone bottle of Trésor loitering at the back of a drawer of my mother’s old, unused cosmetics. A few times I am tempted to spray a bit of Trésor around the room I’m staying in, but it feels wrong, somehow, to take the old and use it for this new city, so I leave the Trésor in its place. In Shanghai, my mother works twelve hours a day, five and a half days a week, gets weekly facials at a quaint spa near her office in Caohejing, and goes everywhere trailed by her indecipherable perfume, faintly smiling when people ask her why did you come back to China or why did you husband stay in Seattle? My mother gives half answers every time and finds some reason to drift to an easier conversation. I wonder what her doorman, her favorite esthetician, her employees think of my mother, this Americanized Chinese woman living alone in Shanghai, working up to an executive role, wearing her distinctive, demure floral perfume. Most of the women that my mother knows, if they can afford it, prefer perfume by Gucci or Marc Jacobs; someone once asks my mother is your perfume that new Daisy one? and my mother laughs. One cloudy day, before I head out to restlessly walk around Shanghai, I wander into my mother’s bathroom to borrow a chap stick and spot the Chanel No. 5’s simple bottle in its place of honor next to my mother’s Skin Food foundation and tinted lip balm. In the weak winter morning light, its color is sunflower-yellow, surreal next to the muted beiges of my mother’s cosmetics. Impulsively, I spritz a bit onto my wrists. I stand still, eyes closed, as if the flowers, the aldehydes, and the just-there-hint of vanilla could seep past my cheap clothing and settle into my bones. The saleswoman who’d sold me the bottle had called Chanel No. 5 a perfume for now and forever, a classic, timeless gift. The saleswoman had me try it and I’d sneezed. I open my eyes and I’m eighteen still, standing barefoot on the white granite tiles of my mother’s 37
bathroom, the smell of Chanel No. 5 mingling with that of the cigarette-smog. I donâ€™t borrow my motherâ€™s perfume again. -
The Perfect Girlfriend her mortality is etched into each knot of her spine that ripples under the paper-thin down of her flesh, the taste of Pedialyte on her bloodless skin, dehydration in every kiss that dances across her lips she is the perfect girlfriend self-loathing, the corset that binds her together her breath is sweet as acid as her lips meet yours, the taste of starvation present on her tongue be careful that you do not snap her spine when you fold your arms around her for her bones are hollow as a baby birdâ€™s, ready to fracture at the slightest hint of love worry not that bruising and swelling stains her face, and vibrant red veins paint the inside of her eyes, paying homage to the violence she subjects herself to, for she is the perfect girlfriend, and she will die thin -
The Truth About Perfection Wired in intricate ways, told through media what to think, feel, and say. Her “help me” eyes cry out that she is trapped. Her head tilts in longing— keeps us from turning our backs. Secret-holding lips, pursed—forever pouting they will be. Bronze skin is a shield that blinds me. Her metal face feels strong, but her blank gaze deceives us. I ask her, “Why wear a mask?” “These madmen,” she says, “cannot risk me breaking. They built me like this, a flawless woman—no mistaking. My heart, it aches for freedom from the robot I’ve become. I once thought I was perfect, but my mind is merely numb. I cannot voice opinions; these madmen’s views will be my own. If I malfunction, I’ll be tossed into a world of the unknown. I will be upgraded, like your phones and cars and toys. I will be forgotten by little girls and boys.” -
On Destruction So a girl came to my Starbucks today I wouldn't have noticed her amongst all the rush (But she stood out kinda) The kind of standing out that spotlights cause I'm not gonna write a poem about it But if I did It’d be about the many ways light can be used to heal The way it contours a face and makes scars seem lighter I mean makes weights seem lighter I mean makes life feel a little lighter A girl came to my Starbucks today ordered an Americano seemed unsure about the choice Her expression made espresso and hot water Seem to mean so much more If I had to write a poem about it It’d be about how to treasure things that don't matter (I guess I'm good at that kinda thing) I’ve always celebrated things that need repairing (I guess that means I damage them And I hate feeling guilty about it) So I write 6-stanza eulogies for people who haven't stopped breathing yet Hope to pull an apology from my own lips So I don't have to say it So I don't have to write it A girl came to my Starbucks today She waited by the bar for her drink We made eye contact for a second She laughed The kind of laugh baby’s make when you stare at them too long I doubt i’ll write a poem about it (But if I did) It’d be about how everything’s funny sometimes My crooked smiles have become twisted laughs And they aren’t the best medicine for anything But they numb the pain for awhile So we laughed Me and the girl who came to my Starbucks my Starbucks And she asked me about my girlfriend The night before, I asked my girlfriend
If we’d make it to see a year together She patted my shoulder and didn't say anything I'm not going to write a poem about that (But if I did) A line would say that optimism is a shitty drug and I'm too high on it The kind of high a patient feels before someone puts their hands in their chest cavity So I told her, the girl who came to my Starbucks That it’s complicated And it is, because I want it to be Because no one writes poems about the simple things She laughed, again And I smiled The kind of smile that stops someone from laughing And in the silence, she found a fragment of me She told me That I smile like I just learned how to She grabbed Her Americano She left I left And tonight, my girlfriend asked me if I was sad The kind of sad you keep locked up because it leaks, and spreads, and gets all over the place (I mean) the kind of sad that’s messy (I mean) yes, I'm sad, and I'm not always sure why I'm not gonna write a poem about it (But if I did) It’d be a persona piece I’d be my smile And the girl from my Starbucks would be me And she’d tell me That i’m the best thing to happen to me since me And i’d be me (I mean I’d smile) The kind of smile you get when you see something beautiful I mean the kind of smile you cherish And tonight, my girlfriend texted me 20 selfies (just so i’d be happy) I mean the kind of happy that happens when you see the most important thing in the world So a girl came to my Starbucks yesterday She told me I smiled like I just learned how to I might not write a poem about it (But if I did, it’d be about how pretty broken things are) -
Like It Were a Hymn In my life I’ve had very few interactions with true faith; growing up in a family of Evangelical Christians and radical lovers of Jesus, I pushed back against tradition and prayer from a young age. Really, everything I’ve learned about religion came from Warren. I met Warren in the fifth grade because she played French horn and I played violin so we would walk from gym class to orchestra together, blonde and awkward with our feet facing inwards—two little ducks bad at conversation. Looking back, I think we mostly got along because we didn’t like anyone else, and over the years, after inviting each other to birthdays and family parties, it became clear that we had simply fallen into being best friends. Along with two other girls, Liz and Megan, we found our people and we were happy. There wasn’t much that Warren and I shared in common. She came from a good family of strict, New Englanders that cherished baseball games and tweed. I came from a family where dinner wasn’t something you could count on and necessities were rationed out carefully. Warren’s family often took me in: feeding me without question, letting me stay the night when our power and hot water got shut off, giving me hand-me-down clothes, and taking me on their family vacations to a lake cottage up north; they knew things weren’t good for me at home and said it was the Godly thing to do. *** Our sophomore year of high school was kind to us; Warren inherited the crappiest, beat-up Honda 2004 CRV that had survived both of her older sisters’ terrible driving habits. (Mary had been in three accidents in a single year and amassed more parking tickets than most people do in a lifetime while Sarah was known for driving ten miles under the speed limit on the highway as she hot-boxed the vehicle with her boyfriend, Paul). The four of us loved this car and all that it did for us—every prom, concert, birthday, and party, was attended in that car which we often called the Honda La Honda to make fun of other similarly named automobiles like the Ferrari La Ferrari. We took reverence and solace there, something that could never quite be understood by outsiders. When Liz got her first serious boyfriend, Daniel, we let him ride along with us to the Sonic on Solon Street. It was a tradition that we would always get Sonic after any sort of outing, eating massive amounts of food in their dine-in parking lot until we got kicked out by a tired looking employee in rollerblades. Daniel, originally from South Africa, was audibly disgusted by the concept of eating mozzarella fries and washing it down with a malted root beer float—he was not invited back into the Honda La Honda after that. Over the final three years of high school, the car became a haven for us. It was where we opened our college acceptance letters (Warren got into NYU, Megan into Saint Andrews, Liz into MIT, and I was deferred from UPenn—ouch). It was where we went to skip gym class because none of us knew how to play sports. It was where we filmed makeshift music videos for bad Blink-182 remixes. It was where we said “fuck”. It was where I hid when my boyfriend, manic and violent like hot oil, searched for me after our six-month anniversary dinner, after my 18th birthday, after my senior prom—a dark bruise blossoming each time on a different part of my body as I whispered psalms into the backseat floor. It’s where we went to let her cry when Warren realized she was in love with a girl. It was also where we went when she eventually broke up with that girl. It’s the car we took on my 19th birthday when I decided I wanted to see Niagara Falls and we drove all night just because we knew we could. That car was a religious place for us, prayer and deliverance and community all in one: we needed that car, and by default, that meant we needed Warren. Obviously, we needed her otherwise, for her fantastic 43
ability to finish crossword puzzles and her incredible knowledge of types of pasta, but this was different. Warren took this role with great pride, being the owner of this car and transporter of friends—she needed it just as much as we needed her. An insomniac who suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, she often struggled to meet everyday goals. Frequently exhausted and unable to concentrate due to intense migraines, it was normal for Warren to miss school weeks at a time. She required complicated test schedules and continuous meetings with teachers, dozens of doctor’s appointments, and a medley of medication. There were a lot of things that gave her trouble, but driving us all over northeastern Ohio was no problem for Warren. Being the person who lived closest to her, our adventures would always end with the two of us, Megan and Liz long gone, crooning softly along to some overrated indie band like Neutral Milk Hotel like it were a hymn to keep us safe as we careened over backwater hills and farmland roads. *** Our freshman year of college was not as kind to us as high school had been. The first few weeks were hard and we all felt a silent, collective fear that we would never make friends as good as the ones we already had. Eventually this feeling passed and we all began to settle into our new routines, our new homes, our new lives—at least all of us except for Warren. By winter break, it became clear that something wasn’t clicking. A quick scan of her social media showed that she hadn’t posted any pictures with people, nothing besides a few quick shots of aesthetic New York streets and quiet coffee shops; I couldn’t find any sign of her in other people’s photos either, no proof that she did anything besides go to class and study in her room. In person she seemed happy and showed no sign that anything was wrong, and even though I didn’t believe it I didn’t say anything, didn’t push farther than I felt necessary. I would later find out, thanks to Mary--the older sister with the alarming number of tickets--now a lawyer recently graduated from Cornell Law--that Warren had failed out of NYU. She had not gone to class since February, she had not shown up to her finals, she had not left her room in months. I would allow myself a short and pathetic cry in the bathroom of a bookstore after hearing this, realizing that Warren had been just barely treading water all along. Eventually, Warren would tell me herself and we would sit in a sort of quiet silence while she explained all the reasons she needed to come home, a confessional tone hanging in the air around us. Without the three of her friends constantly checking in on her and expecting her presence, Warren had allowed herself to slip into something that looked more like existing than living; she hadn’t been ready to not be needed. It was a hard thing to come together, let our heads rest on each other’s in the aftermath of our exhausting exorcism of guilt—mine felt for not reaching out, hers felt for not telling. It felt suspended, the breath between us. But eventually, our breath fell back down like anything that goes up must eventually do. All came and went and it was good and we felt resolve like communion. Yet, in that space of winter, I knew none of this. So instead, I did all that I felt I could do: I prayed that all was well and let myself settle back into the Honda La Honda as Warren and I followed our usual routine, spending New Years driving to her lake cottage with a bag full of Sonic fries and a sense of being home. -
Fire Island Beach For Frank O’Hara So tired early in the morning there is a heavy fog over Crown Heights and most of New York. I rush to the S and wait outside, where I stare at the backside of the elementary school (at least that's what I think it is) across the tracks like I do most mornings or afternoons. I wait, as the rest of the population hops on the Prospect Park bound train and it pulls out and leaves the station, to board my train towards Franklin. I transfer to the C towards Manhattan, the train is packed like sardines and I’ve never actually had sardines nor have I seen their packaging so I don’t know if that analogy means much to you or I. Recently I’ve been rereading Lunch Poems on my transit between home and school and I’m thinking about Frank O’Hara, what his life must’ve been like in 1959 or 1960 before mass communication, telepathic causeways, the fall of the Soviet Union, or the internet. I imagine him eating his lunch outside some cafe on some brisk summer day watching as all of the people walk up and down 6th ave going to whatever job or place or park. I imagine him as the Frank O’Hara of the photograph of him phone in hand, smoking a cigarette, sun slashed contemplating “the enormous bliss of American death.” I imagine that we have both walked down the same street and seen similar things and contemplated their meaning or placement in the world. The old women pushing babies down the street to their homes in the West Village. The dog walkers. The men playing soccer in the park in Chinatown at night with the bright fluorescent lights shining down on them, giving them a few extra hours of daylight. I sat there and drank whiskey and ate pork pancakes and listened to the John Coltrane radio on my phone. I thought about Frank O’Hara or at least I’m thinking about him now and his life, ended by a jeep on Fire Island Beach. -
Beyond I see it dawn and break the subtle textures of the morning rain. Mist rising from the saturated leaves soft drips syncopate the silence. Needles, like forgiveness, fall from a distant evergreen. Yarrow flight and heathery bright note hanging on the wind. I see it there â€”mercy, nothing more. A temporary sparrow I can catch and hold like the rain then watch it hover briefly as it slips away. -
Contributors Notes Becky Boban is from Madison, OH. A northeast Ohio native. Becky majors in Art and Writing, with a minor in Chemistry. She currently is reading Making Poems to enhance her poetry skills and become familiar with other poets' work. Her favorite book is Fahrenheit 451, and she also admires the work of Flannery O'Connor. Becky enjoys drawing, biking, checkers, and playing badminton. She writes poetry and fiction. Evan Cutts is a 22-year-old Boston native. He occasionally hosts the open mic at the Cantab Lounge on Wednesday nights and facilitates creative writing workshops for Writers Without Margins. Evan is completing his BFA in writing, literature, and publishing at Emerson College. His work can be found online at threelinepoetry.org, voicemailpoems.org, and mapsforteeth.com. Talia Green is a sophomore Creative Writing Major at Emory University. Talia graduated from the Bergen County Academies in the Theatre concentration, providing her with an education that allows her passion for the creative arts to flourish. This past year, Talia received national recognition in the Shakespeare in the ‘Burg Playwriting Competition for her one-act play Public Transportation, a piece which she co-directed during her senior year in high school. Additionally, Talia recently received nine Regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and a National Silver Key for her poem, “Past”. All of Talia’s work is featured on her personal blogspot: InTaliasWords.com. Mary Hanrahan is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at Ashland University in Ohio. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Bitterzoet, Haiku Universe, Black Cat Moon Press and elsewhere.
Ryan Khosla is a poet, artist, and student at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. He is a co-director of the Courage Friends poetry and art collective. Becca Lambright is a rising junior studying Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Textploit, Polyphany HS, Aerie International, and plain china’s Best Undergraduate Writing 2017. In her free time she performs as a member of an all-female comedy troupe. Lydia Renfro is an MFA student at Adelphi University. Her poetry has appeared in Greyrock Review. When she's not writing, Lydia enjoys hiking and travel. Gwyneth Sacaris is an anthropology student at the University of Houston. She is deeply passionate about promoting eating disorder awareness, providing resources to those in recovery, and advocacy within the LGBT community. Sara Sands, a New Orleans native, now lives in Manhattan where she is pursuing her doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University, in Politics & Education. She studied creative writing at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Tulane University. Her nonfiction is forthcoming in Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies. She is the co-founder of and a regular contributor to the website Bellions.com. Paul Sevigny is a woodworker and writer at SUNY New Paltz as well as the chapter president of Sigma Tau Delta Honor Society. On a sunny day you might see him driving around New Paltz in his Miata with the top down. Angela Siew is about to complete her MFA in Poetry at Emerson College. A former English 47
language instructor, she now teaches poetry to Boston high school students. Angela is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and has work forthcoming in Rock & Sling and other journals.
Megan Subsick is currently a senior at the University of Massachusetts Lowell working towards a degree in English with a creative writing concentration. Megan is a huge Harry Potter fan and enjoys fly fishing in her free time.
Krissy Simpson is a Business Administration major and Creative Writing minor attending the College of Charleston. She will graduate in 2017 and aspires to become an editor. She works at a cupcake shop, and when not writing or reading, she is drinking coffee and wishing she were writing or reading.
Tara Walker is a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She received her MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her chapbook, "Pill," is forthcoming from The Lune, and her work has previously appeared in The Columbia Poetry Review, and Magnolia: A Journal of Women's Socially Engaged Literature.
Chloé Steinig is a Communications Major at Niagara University, and loves to write. When not writing, she dedicates her time to her radio show on campus "It's Only Rock and Roll", which features classic rock music. Ryan Stembridge is a third year MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Memphis and expects to graduate in the Spring. Over the last few years, he has worked as a senior editor in fiction, CNF, and as the contest coordinator for The Pinch Journal. Through the Pinch, he has also taught creative writing for community and high school workshops. Before going back to school, he worked for five years as an EMT in and around Memphis. Katie Stockdale is an undergraduate student at the University of Tampa, studying writing and history. When not studying, she enjoys reading, writing, and working at her school's paper, The Minaret.
Christian Warrick is an Afro-Polynesian student at the University Pennsylvania, pursuing a major in English and a minor in urban education. His passion for poetry began in high school, when he join the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement. After doing slam poetry with PYPM for 4 years, Christian now participates in mentoring programs to bring the same freedom and healing that poetry brought him to other people. Christian's hobbies include tree-climbing, imagining all the ways he could exploit super powers, and dreaming of a dystopian future in which humanity necessitates the building of giant mechanized war-machines. Robert Colin White attends the College of Charleston;he is a third year student, and son of two english teachers. This has inspired him to create and write at every moment possible. Kathleen Zhou is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. She regrets it 40 percent of the time.