RE:VISIONS 18TH EDITION
RE:VISIONS 18TH EDITION
This representative collection of writing by Notre Dame students is published through the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English. Each year, a new editorial board consisting of graduate students solicits and selects manuscripts, and oversees the production of the journal in order to encourage creativity and recognize student writing of notable quality. Editor-in-Chief: Valerie Vargas Design and Layout Manager: Chelsey Boyle Graduate Editors: Jillian Fantin, Mary Dwyer, Misael Osorio-Conde, and Valerie Vargas Undergraduate Editors: Chelsey Boyle, Caroline Kranick, David Duwal, Hannah Tonsor, Angela Davis, Jing Tong, Clare Barloon, Cecelia Swartz Cover Artwork: Low Poly by Brennan Gould John Huebl named Re:Visions in 1986. Re:Visions, New Series began in 2002. This is Re:Visions, New Series 18. Copyright 2021 by Re:Visions
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
Dear Readers and Contributors, Thanks for picking up this 18th edition of Re:Visions. The editorial board is pleased to have witnessed and selected a collection of beautiful texts by the undergraduate student population on Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross. Sincerely, The Editors
Seeds Renee Yaseen
Apocalypse Renee Yaseen
Growth Renee Yaseen
hija mia Alejandra Calleros
Icy Roads Do Not Lead to Greener Pastures Anna Falk
Short and Sweet Sarah Kikel
Galleria di Hesburgh Sarah Kikel
To Heaven Lina Abdellatif
Limintal Illness Lina Abdellatif
The Coroner John Salem
7 Sailor Taylor Batilo
breathe Isabel Niforatos
compartmentalization Isabel Niforatos
A Grizzly Bear in a Nice Hotel Room Natalie Munguia
I Am a Highway, Tornado, etc. Natalie Munguia
Stasis Alena Coleman
The Moth Prince Joseph Carper
A Man Drops a Dessert from the Dining Hall and Nearly Falls on His Ass Joseph Carper
His Verse is like a Machete Alena Coleman
Echo’s Song Anna Staud
hark i hear the harps eternal Anna Staud
Eve Mary O’Toole
Introduction to the Carnival Veronica Kirigios
Summer 16 Veronica Kirigios
Testing Rachel Hartmann
Genesis 2:22 Hannah Tonsor
My Grandfather’s Attempt at a Pittsburgh Praise Poem 53 Chelsey Boyle cinema paradiso Caroline Kranick
Sinking Noah Cha
Prose On Time and Thanksgiving Taylor Batilo
Open Water: A Journey Through Surfing and Autism Matthew Ellison
When Silence Becomes a Song Felicity Wong
Blinded in Plain Sight Payton Oliver
Floating Boars Julia Yuxuan Yang
Corduroy Vol. 1 Victoria Dominesey
The Saga and the Seidhr Ethan Osterman
The Hermetic Impulse Ethan Osterman
Skyline Chili: Cincinnati’s Claim to Fame or Place of Blame? Payton Oliver
a conversation Alexandra Calleros
ART Low Poly Illustration Brennan Gould
Personal Connection Photograph Brennan Gould
Sadness Solidified Drawing Chloe Oronato
Inscriptions Digital Illustration Christina Oronato
Texting Digital Illustration Chloe Oronato
Digital Collage Illustration Brennan Gould
Renee Yaseen After Fairuz and Khalil Gibran When Gibran sang through the voice of Arab nations the spittle grew flowers. We and the ground were brave and watered. Of flowers and fruit, to Fairuz, the sky was close, Heaven, she meant, was close. the desert rose never needs much Miracles lined each stem. My forefathers plant. I come from where land means Pomelos, bright juice, sweetened sun, where Fruit is fruit. Ten years ago, my uncle promised me a turtle and a handful of snails From our orchard. So much has changed. But turtles still eat tomatoes. I grew up with mentions of seeds ringing in my ears. From the news. The prisoner Behind my eyes beat against the walls, berserk, and cried out: Where will you plant them?
In the burning field, or in its ashes— Will you press them to the belly of a rubber tire seen on fire. Thrust into the river, Will you run? Or will you warn? By the time there would be time For time, The fields would be dry and barren. The seed of democracy Doesn’t grow on scorched earth. We know, That a poet sang earsplitting to the horses and the sheep. In earnest in a valley. Cut scores of silence across the Earth, reduced, Into pieces to play and re-play on the radio. We are the ones who do not hear. And I have not heard since, Embraces from a wind Ten years old and aimless Behind orange trees, White snails sunbathing And dipping in dew That drips from my home. Oh, how it aches inside of me.
Apocalypse Renee Yaseen
After Sara Teasdale My family says, “Al haraka baraka” Movement is blessing. Ends of the world are Brief and so am i, the death Of my stars! Look up At the sky, the times The sun sets and spreads its arms Over birds and hair i may never stay, i know, but i won’t be lost Motion, i am born From hope, does not die. Does not “perish utterly” The end of the world Is long beginning Before you, before me and From hope, does not die.
Renee Yaseen the chairs were still in puddles cuddling an empty hearth Damp, faceless men huddled into a conversation. I stopped outside their circle, And prognosticated: Rain, blust, vicissitudes and blistering. Winter’s decay eaten open the wounds of shredded land, The sores of illness stinging Saying, “this was a bad idea. You never should have come.” And I stayed. Like a barnacle. Affixed betwixt where two currents met and never mixed. From my place I always liked seeing the birds in tough spring. Soft robins, Barrels of their chests puffed like strongmens’ cigar smoke and rolling bullets, Like my Julia chirps her times tables: Smoothed hands back in a shoelace bow, Proud and eliciting pride in the way that dainty bracelets echo wrists — How a song is shaped by an archway.
Alexandra Calleros To be the daughter of an immigrant is to lie in a field of thorny cactuses and hold your breath. To see the desert as home. A familiar cold sweat. Condensation. A silence between nations. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to have a key to your father’s prison. To see the sun rising but never shining. She laughs at your little heart. Your little heart wishing and breathing. Wishing and breathing for truth. Or retribution. Asking questions meant to shatter, meant to die unspoken. Tangled tongues and bottled oceans. A sense of belonging once again stolen. How long have you lived like this? For generations. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to swallow clumps of sand and lie weightless. To breathe air with no lungs and float to the edge of the Pacific. Your face approaching the quivering surface, but never intended to reach it. Never meant to breathe in that abundance of air. Never meant to rise that far. How tall will they let you stand? Just to where the breeze teases the wrinkled palms of your hand. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to hear whispers from below this nation’s skyscrapers. To follow the hums of hushed rage to nameless graves that hold your lineage. To find spirits
17 peeking from behind the moon’s mockful face. Warning you. To turn away. To walk away. To step onto a vanishing surface and fall cyclically. To have blood flow away from your blanched heart. Does it live to the north or south? It lives in the cracks, rupturing rivers of red, green and white. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to think in two languages. To live in two worlds. To speak with two tongues. To kiss and make love with the enemy who haunts you. To love him with half of your heart, the other half wandering about. Trapped in a land between past and present. Where is the line that separates them? Blurred by injustice. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to find a good man. What is a good man? A white man with papeles. Lord forbid I go the route of the undocumented! Lord forbid I do what my mother did! To be the daughter of an immigrant is to birth children of mixed origin. Hopefully güeritos to validate your father’s sacrifice. Hopefully with a light complexion to justify why he left the motherland. Why did he leave? To give you breath. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to know better. To do better. To be better. To pluck the thorns from your father’s back and then marry the son of the man who put them there. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to cure Apa’s wounds with pink salt and pack them in Malinche ash. To kiss his tender
18 forehead and say “Apa, I love you.” To visit his grave below his stolen land and whisper “Apa, where are you?” To bang your head against his ragged stone until it bleeds. To crack open your veins and pour out the glistening colors of his querido Mexico. De donde soy? Only time will tell. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to visit Mexico as a tourist. To view the Mayans and the Aztecs as your Apa’s ancients. To view them as insignificantly significant. To view them as integral to Mexican history, but never a part of your story. Never sensing the trace of their blood that nourishes your body. Always failing to admire them as humble innovatives. Admiring them selectively without seeing the whole. Without seeing your face. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to learn of indio stories from inside American museums. To learn your ancestry through the white man’s point of view. To pity them like your fellow white men say to do. To ignore the fact that you are an indía’s daughter. To walk in circles and never reach the center. Where is the center? You’ve worked hard to avoid her. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to forget. To forgive. And to forget again. To remove your right eye and see the world in a half light. To water your mestizo blood with whiteness in hopes of concealing your indía scent. Is this how you become one with this nation? If you choose to live. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to solidify your father’s sacrifice with your last breath. To offer your flesh in exchange. To
19 increase your chances at success by losing your accent. To skin yourself alive and assimilate. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to lie on your back. To seduce that good man with your brown skin and brown hair and brown eyes. Give him something different. Give him children. Earn your place in his country and you’ll be golden.
To be the daughter of an immigrant is to have his white hand caress the nape of your neck, your dark curls tangled around his thick tips, while the red bones of your elders lie below your precious bed. To be the daughter of an immigrant is to split your own flesh and say, “I am American.”
Icy Roads Do Not Lead to Greener Pastures Anna Falk
like that one song I heard when snow fell and dazzled in the light of the street lamp, reminding me of happiness and of danger. the words were muddled by my father, who droned on loudly in my ear you know my hearing is fading and my car stereo will need fixing. that song had a melody I couldn’t recognize, but it made my night, aiding the magic of precipitation and making me plead for peace. like that one song I heard, once on a frozen and slippery evening, you faded into my life and then disappeared. your tones soft and pleasing, accompanying the many joys of life, muffled by life’s noise and gone before I could find you. if you find my Spotify, you’ll know of my fondness for you.
Short and Sweet Sarah Kikel
Evie chopped her hair in a drunken rage. It was no Jo March moneymaking act for Marmee. It was summer, cherry, crime of passion, corn syrup dripping down her arm. In the bathroom, the lightbulb flickered violently as she mutilated with a grimace. Outside, the popsicle melted into the grooves of the patio stones. Mom thought safety scissors weren’t that sharp.
Galleria di Hesburgh Sarah Kikel
at night, the lights in Hesburgh lose their phosphorescence, tainting the second floor in dusty haze as we descend into antiquity. all around me are marble pillars surrounded by chairs of stone, rigid monuments to the pursuit of truth—or knowledge— remains to be told. within the paper walls, my companions, statues, posed in traditional form. pursed lips, carved in silence, awaiting the final chisel to be set free. still, in evening, emerging from stone in various stages of completion on the holy ground as Olympus slumbers.
23 gone the Peripatetics gone the two-horse chariot gone the Lucretian swerve instead here Solon here Euclid here Apollonius with regal curls resting on cloth of painted gold, muscles taut, profiles posed, chipped around the eyes— weathered by the old nights. though alive in visiting hours when the tourists come to gain a glimpse of the myth, tonight, the hall of prisoners, after visitors all returned to hotel quilts. somewhere outside, Poseidon’s storm rages, but here, Moses guards the door to academia, protecting monuments to the regal graves that will be opened soon, as they stoically approach the Trojan field for the night.
Lina Abdellatif Some say Nature made humanity so appallingly. Dear, am I a coward? For NATURE drives his purpose, His love a window To his WILL and ESSENCE. I loved you. You made me believe To hold NATURE, To show VIRTUE her own image, It would fracture the free, Translate beauty into likeness, Force the soul from one’s Eyes, Voice, and Body. And though paradoxical, He would weep had he the motive that I have in the Mind To suffer—
25 —the silence in the heavens —the obscurity of the cave. Show me how a prodigal soul will reform through passion. Crucify me with your love, Guide me on the thorny path To Heaven, So that I understand why Nature made humanity just as fleeting as his love.
limintal illness Lina Adbellatif
Picking at the adhesive again Chasing two highs on opposite ends pain cultivated by— —light incessantly burrowing riveting crescendos occurring— —illusions of spatial duration scorched, succumbing, we spiral; And I’m never good nor bad nor mid —but trapped in the liminal.
The Coroner John Salem
The Country Coroner is a very important job He spends a lot of time surrounded by death, so the pay is naturally quite good. Many people do not know this, but the Coroner is an elected position. That makes the Coroner just like the President! No, actually, the Coroner is better than the president, because the president only has control over all that are living, while the Coroner has control over the dead. What’s that? Lonely? No, I don’t believe the coroner ever gets lonely, he is always surrounded by people after all. God created man and gave him life, that is true, but the Coroner is free to do with death as he wishes, if he wanted too, he could dress up his playthings in funny hats, or draw mustaches on them. Pretty sure God can’t do that….so Now that I think about it, who corons the coroner when the coroner dies?
Corons, that doesn’t sound right Coronies Coronum Coronate! That’s it! Who coronates the Coroner when the coroner is dead? That’s up to the voting public, I suppose.
Taylor Batilo Until that Time when the Captain had spoke, Solely, on the wind-battered deck I stood, Upon the tides, wrecked ships with waters choked, The manic winds, no man stayed nor could. To salvage thine skin, bitter Death embraced. “My Boy, to what shambled life shall thee return?” “To that of family.” Reversed, I raced. Wretched and with grim-brow, the seas churn. With foothold on the bow, with pride and gaze, I sailed...and paced...and paced.
Isabel Niforatos inhale. dreams, cloud-violet, the tang of tears driving up like rain. what it tastes like exhale. shared oxygen, comatose, sweet skin that shivers and sweats, $6.99 wine and gas station clothes: ill-fitting. it’ll stop and when it does inhale. bus rides out, piano lessons without lesson without sound, the smacking of tongue against cosmos. endings. beginnings. stretched out skinny middles. exhale. exhale again.
compartmentalization Isabel Niforatos
she isn’t here for you but burnt, paper, receding in waves that knife & tickle your stupendously hurt feet hurtful—crunching, bone-wavering, the sickly cremation of held breath—where did she go because after all she isn’t here & he is here but just a shell like you the stairs leading to a quiet nowhere, dusted off the twisted lemon-sour sharp of no repeatedly in 1000 refrains: no is yours for the taking the taking he took your dreams, neatly stacked suitcases which hurt to unzip: all empty now like you the idiopathic succumbing to the ritual the dumpster notions of a life, shh, stop, enough it’s never enough shavings of soul cluttered in your eyelashes : too luscious for crying it takes autumn to bring out depth but it’s all falling from here the crumble of human; the catastrophe of please, of prayer, and quietly: blood vessels tripping your weary legs
A Grizzly Bear in a Nice Hotel Room Natalie Munguia
Remember when we wrestled in the basement? All I had to do was - Tap out! Tap out! Socks sliding across white linoleum; we were the savages of the kitchen, until I cut my head open on a desk. See, you are the chronicle of me and now I try to chronicle me too. in red lines leaking from my hairline, stitched up with black words. I shatter myself like glass to see which shards match yours. I put my mosaic self together into a transient song floating through stanzas. I wonder what words would be strung to create the tapestry of shirts with all those years woven in, hanging on mama’s drying rack.
I wonder if I know you. A grizzly bear in a nice hotel room, a facade the crumbles on the weekend. All I know is you buy me enough food, you always have.
I Am a Highway, Tornado, etc. Natalie Munguia
Have you ever seen your mom cry? I have. She was washing dishes, facing the window, trying not to let me see. I am the tear-tornado made of salty door-slammings. One time I climbed the poplar tree by the fence, fell through and saw scratches down my back in the mirror. I hid them. I am the sea of scabs trying to cover my mistakes with clots. My preschool sold tulips to fundraise and my favorites were the flowers with fringed petals because they were beautiful broken. I am the margins marred with broken bottles; can I offer them to you? In fifth grade I cut my leg open playing tag. I thought it was just a bruise but when I lifted my pant leg all I saw was red. I am the road of blood spilling out of me and spilling out of you too. I’ve been here two decades and yet I’m still learning to walk leaving disasters in my wake as I wake wishing my head could stay on this gray pillow. Because I am an avalanche of sweat and I’m tired of fending off nightmares.
After Movimiento by Octavio Paz, translation by Eliot Weinberger
His Verse is Like a Machete Alena Coleman Song for José Martí Mi verso es como un puñal says the poet-revolutionary to Jimmy Kimmel My verse is like a dagger. Later in New York, the poet-revolutionary smokes a cigar in the dry season and Smokey the Bear is on Today screaming, and the poet-revolutionary holds up his hands to the camera, fingernails swarming with ink and blood and blows the smoke from his lungs “la culpa no es mía.” No fault of mine, no fault of mine, But the fault lines are hiccuping, heaving the Atlantic Red-Sea style, And the poet-revolutionary is holding his dagger to his breast— a star-crossed lover of liberty growing a Moses-beard
36 and a cigar ember catches in a cane field— Santiago, Guantánamo, El Cobre— blood turns to sugar turns to blood What a transfiguration! what a spectacle! The poet-revolutionary is a magician too! and he holds out his dagger plunges it through his hand— gasp! how? why?— the audience laughs as he shows them his palm, stigmata free. a trick! a fake! it’s just paper! and the audience laughs and on the hill outside Palma Soriano the Spanish are laughing too as the poet-revolutionary holds out his dagger watches it turn to ink and pulp in the rain, as the poet-revolutionary falls backward, and keeps falling, falling, into an unmarked grave. But the Bronze Titan is already rolling a cigar on the flat of his thigh, and there is a snake of fire
37 slithering from Santiago to Matanzas, and Smokey the Bear asphyxiates. Then the mambises tear a thousand pages from the poet-revolutionary’s spine, and fold them into, not daggers, but a thousand machetes— blood turns to sugar turns to blood.
Alena Coleman Three Tanka for Early Spring I. I hold pond water in my mouth until it warms, hot as saliva, then let it slip through my teeth and crash on beer bottle mud. II. The wind smells like rain and cigarettes as it rolls against split lips, swirls on tongue, slip-slides into lungs, and rustles my redbud bones. III. At the graveyard woods daffodils and dogwood ring their sacred bells, hum their melody of color. All their ashes now ablaze.
The Moth Prince Joseph Carper
Text Across the barren plain that knows no sound but for the moaning buffet of the wind and rustle of the battered swaths of grass, there tow’rs a streak of black against the sky. Three thousand feet of stone as dark as pitch remains the only structure left in sight, concealed with twisting vines adorned with thorns that guard the tower’s solitary guest. Within the tower’s highest chamber sits a figure scrawling symbols on a page, stopping now and then to wipe the dust that’s fallen from his iridescent wings. His eyes creep toward the thin slit in the wall through which the faintest moonlight percolates and falls upon the heap of pages piled deep atop the gnarled wooden desk. He gathers them into his wooly arms and starts to bind them with a strand of twine, but not before he spots a mass of black conglomerating on the pale horizon. The swarm of moths assembles into form
40 then plunges down like lightning from the sky. With shock he looks and finds their hopeless prey illuminated by a torch’s light. Before the victims have a chance to scream, the moths surround and tear their skin to shreds, and where the victims once had life and blood, a pile of bones and heaps of dust remain. The moth prince murmurs words of rev’rent mourning but ought not spare the time for decent prayer. He has a task to do and cannot stop lest all the future never come to pass. He takes the bounded pages down the stairs and raps upon an ancient wooden door, which opens to reveal an endless pit that holds a pulley system filled with tomes. And opening the tome that’s on the top, a future year inscribed upon its spine, he slips the pages in and ties them taut, another year secured for humankind. Returning to his desk to write once more, a shadow falls upon his wrinkled face. He stares aghast at what has filled the frame: the pupil of a herculean moth.
A Man Drops a Dessert from the Dining Hall and Nearly Falls on His Ass Joseph Carper
A blur in my peripheral vision. An incredulous gasp, filled with an entire day’s worth of clogged shower drains, forgotten homework, and “House Lo Mein,” mixed with the tin squeal of a door hinge. I glance lazily at the scene unfolding, as one might glance at an obscene image carved into a library desk. There it is. A raspberry cheesecake tucked neatly into its black dish, suspended in the freezing air. Then the desperate attempt at athletic ability, the game-saving catch in the bottom of the ninth. Onlookers spectate with bated breaths. The dish has completed a quarter turn now, so that the red jelly absorbs the light of the lamppost and glows like a fluorescent goldfish. His fingers and the dish make contact in a brief but intimate embrace, then separate barely. Like Adam and God in the Sistine Chapel. The last touch of the Creator before the Fall.
Then the misplaced foot on a clear palate of ice. The sudden shifting of weight. An attempt at interpretive dance composed entirely of arm waving. The raspberry cheesecake meets the concrete and explodes spectacularly. He reaches and finds an elbow to grab onto, clinging to it like a koala. Tragedy strikes on a February evening.
Echo’s Song Anna Staud
The pale lake floats like glass while The forest pliés in a dew and honey affair. You look like a god sitting there – Spring-kissed by sun, back against the willow tree. My rivered veins and ocean eyes Course in awe, could mirror your heaven. My lips bud open in wonder (You who are there!) But generations clamp my jaw Steal my saliva, wring my words. My tongue bites silence and salted tears (Look! I am here!) As I, mute and aching, Watch you stare and not see. You whisper an epithet of love I promptly repeat in vain. But transfixed by your image, You drown in stolen diction. I now refuse to echo.
hark i hear the harps eternal Anna Staud
tuesday at rehearsal she said we sounded like a choir of angels, the way our voices rang. it’s monday now and roses suffocate the packed church draped in black and thick silence cuts like shards of stained glass. wrapped in a white dress silk pearls ring her neck – no one expected an open casket. earlier at the wake her parents looked so small, shaking hands with strangers as we watched a slideshow of pictures: family vacations school headshots the nutcracker – i didn’t know she danced. outside the lake haunts each breath january shivers asking: how much pain how long did it take – there is nothing to say so we sing salt blurs the notes and her flute is missing,
45 but our harmonies fold into each empty space, each pool of loss until i hear what might be the flute ricochet with each chord, and somehow we sing louder and higher this song our gasp of hope of hurt and throbbing in f major something inside lurches within me and i think: this must be my soul.
Molly O’Toole It begins: searing salmon, sweet potato skins and cinnamon sacredly baked And so many hands to help now, to make dough give in to heel to halve the oranges to hug from behind, to hold And the incessant whining of the dog, sometimes guttural, like a whale’s song she has her place here too All seven in the kitchen.
Introduction to the Carnival
The carnival hits the road every spring Wheels only stopping When it’s ready to let new people in The loneliest people have always found shelter in me People come and go, with their Arcade rings and Sticky fingers. Planning for next year My refuge is temporary & solitude is a friend whose hand I haven’t learned to hold yet Edges of the tent fraying, unraveling Ever since 16 Winds never stopped pulling alive
This is how I’ve been destroyed, and how I’ve been kept
Never-ending ferris wheel lines shaking For the highs And then eyes closed at the top, swaying
All I’ve ever known is how to prepare for the comedown
There’s a vendor in the corner selling happiness Signs flashing Peddling lemons til they’re sold out
I lost the recipe for lemonade years ago, and who cares
48 I never had any sugar to begin with Trick roping areas scattered throughout Spinning and spinning Hands trembling, lassoing heartstrings about How many hearts have I held in my own? I remember I can only have one Everyones bumping into one another Collide, Stick, Separate Losing things that will never be found less
I don’t know everything and one day I will know even
And there’s somebody singing in the distance Can hardly hear Because there’s a baby crying in your ear I focus on what’s gone wrong before it can never become right A film reel plays over and over Mistakes that have been made and words left unsaid My skeleton, a temple of apologies, brittle bones splintering under the weight of regret The carousel never stops turning Going round and round Horses galloping after hours
Sometimes I wish I could just get off
Veronica Kirigios Summer 16 my paper airplane sailed over blue seas Soft cotton candy skies stretched out before me, invitingly My land was still new to me then, untouched, unbroken Unexplored hills and valleys of soft flesh We stole red lipstick from our sisters, And clambered into his car, limbs Trembling like newborn foals. No headlights, Headfirst into darkness. He took us to the abyss, the mountainside beckoning. He’d seen 23 summers before this one--he knew How to show us a good time. He watched the amber liquid spill over the rim, Sliding down my throat like a showman’s sword Crossed fingers behind his back, he took my trust City lights, twinkling stars, hiding and seeking in his eyes Ink black pools, wretched & wondrous A flurry of moths threatened to spill out of my mouth Led me to a hiding spot so good, I couldn’t find myself His mouth was bourbon and menthol cigarettes His pawing hands promised adventure--or was it danger?--
50 My memory is a grainy film reel, the fuzzy details burned in my brain My cross swinging like a pendulum before me, then hitting my chest, echoing the sound of “mea culpa, mea culpa” His bragging body, breaking & entering & releasing pollution. An eruption, an interruption: I watched a blade of grass fade to grey. He gave me a cigarette. For my time. I walked back to the car. A watermelon between my thighs. Curled into the corner of the passenger seat In the car he treated better than me: Don’t slam the door (but he shoved my legs wide) Don’t lie like that (but he held me down) Don’t make a mess (but he made me feel dirty) Hours scrubbing the feeling off of my skin, Rorschach test of bruises I thought it looked beautiful and then cried The examiner called. He said I lost my mind.
I stare at the paper with a perplexed look Back and forth as pencils dance around the room The page in front holds secrets in printed ink Symbols, equations, and long words unknown The page seems to move as the black melts Too many numbers sink onto my desk And spill across the floor I try to scoop them up, but they are too fast The paper is blank and I feel my mind spin I hear the clock ticking away But what does time matter when the numbers Are puddles on the floor?
Genesis 2:22 Hannah Tonsor
Maybe Eve is foreshadowing She reached for one apple And constipation Self-discipline Now our kidneys are raisins Our mouths When we die we’ll meet And see their figures You called Eve a bitch
Of little girls being told not to eat And we crumbled into rice cakes Our stomachs hurt Is a diuretic The looking-glass a laxative Their own litigators The dead guys in the ground And wish we’d decay sooner So we’re trying not to be
My Grandfather’s Attempt at a Pittsburgh Praise Poem Chelsey Boyle
The Steel Mill stacks spin gentle whips of clouds— Heaving against the grit lodged in my pipes, I stagger against the slippy smoke of the coke that thins the air, reeking of rusted eggs. For Roberto our radio roars: “Arriba” — My joints chipped up like ham from wrestling liquid iron, Still blazing with the gunfire Pinkertons smelted from unions past. Their valor dried up with Carnegie’s carcass. The Youghiogheny whispers like a dream— Dark and foggy is fifth avenue at noon, Street lamps slice through the smog Blurring churning rivers of sewage and sludge. Your steel embrace is where I need to be— Our forge closed that January. Now just rust. My praise poem still needs finished, But nothing in this city has rhymed since.
cinema paradiso Caroline Kranick
to see your eyes light up with passion your hands fly in an agitated frenzy, articulating through movement the words your mouth cannot find, grasping wildly at straws and strands of your hair, mind moving faster than lips it could be about cars or trees, the theory of relativity or the five o’clock news. perhaps it’s something I find mundane as the chipped beige paint of the waiting room wall, or maybe the things that make your heart quicken do the same to mine — it’s just good to know that there are still people who care about things, that there are ways to bring back that childlike spark thought to be stolen so long ago
Noah Cha To sink until you reach the bottom of an hourglass you had no intention of turning over Pulling threads from the fabric of time Until your pillow fort becomes a townhome
On Time and Thanksgiving Taylor Anthony Batilo
Like the fine and myriad dust particles that invite themselves into visibility when passing through a golden ray of light that pierces the glass windows of a well-lit abode, the concept of time seems to suspend our very being, exactly. Its gaze cuts through all it observes — our actions and desires. It lays aside our origins and differences to remind us of our humanity. It lends us cause and galvanizes us to immediate action, betraying fools that resist its inevitable course. As a towering and august tree which touches the heavens in the springtime and shouts memento mori in the winter, time is ever-changing and comes in as many outfits as any wealthy wardrobe can attest to. It is as elusive as a crafty fox when summering on distant and white-sand beaches or dilly-dallying fancifully as a young child. It is slower than rush hour traffic when holidays are overmorrow and nothing of substance can be done or those fun times have ceased to abound. It is quicker and more witty than the experienced thief when it comes to snatch away blissful memories and good-willed people. It is a beginning, and it is an end. Yet, with all that time strips us of and digs out of our pockets, it remains a faithful and diligent child of the human race. As children are born of love and togetherness, time is born of a need for organization, control. Time, a fair and demanding drill sergeant that marks off our trips and tumbles, keeps the trains in locomotion, schedules in order, and happenings
59 happening. It bids us stand down as we dread the 8 a.m. class come morning or become puzzled as to where the weekend wandered off to. However, with its cruel cadence and temporal tempo, time remains ours to command — given the right tools or, perhaps, watches. We can narrow down, it seems, the varied faces of time to two recurring scenarios. On the one hand is “time well spent.” It is a crowning achievement and prized possession and a concoction that appears to be a chimerical mixture of time spent in the company of friends, family, and loved ones and time spent towards “getting things done.” On the other hand, lies the wasting away of time. Perhaps, this familiar friend comes as the struggle against the meandering afternoon that lazes around and gobbles up productivity like the quickest of quicksands or the moments where, in fact, you are the meanderer as the result of a wrong turn being taken and an impossible paucity of maps. However, these two, diametrically-opposed faces seem only but prominent cast members of any lived-out life. They characterize the ups and downs of it all, the march on the well-beaten path or the sojourn far off the same. What appears most apparent, however, is that recent events have moved all of us to reconsider and rethink how we come to terms with these two companions and how, indeed, we spend our time. The pandemic has really quite been a sort of global stick-in-the-mud, a ruthless and omniscient figure that has had its way with the zeitgeist of this generation. It has upended the social norm, played beautifully the role of the “iceberg” that has sunk both established economies and budding businesses, and sequestered many of us into our own personal groundhog holes. More than all of this, I suppose, the pandemic has placed an extreme, diamond-forming amount of pressure on our notions of spending, keeping, and cherishing time. The brightness of the
60 mornings seems to melt and mush together with the lazy river of the afternoon. The luminescence of electronic screens has become so familiar, so ingrained, so nauseous and sickening. I think that the latter face of time, its “wasting away,” has been defining this past year, in spite of our disapproval. This viscous and amorphous time-fluid that has swept us up and flushed us down from 2020’s start to its end has seemingly reduced us to sedentary spectators of Mother Nature — humans, more than ever. I am brought back to Art History at Westgate Elementary. An intriguing class with an even more intriguing account and array of artistic events that ran the gamut from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to Picasso’s misshapen shapes. It was, perhaps, Salvador Dalí’s surreal and ubiquitous masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory, which struck such a powerful chord with me as a child. As a student, a fervent adherent of due dates and deadlines, seeing those stopwatches flop and melt under the sun’s severe heat and amidst the cape-curtained coast captured in the picturesque background appeared a breaking of the rules. How could time, something so mighty and majestic, be reduced to the stature of something like a wet rag being dried out in the open air? Maybe, I thought to myself then as I think to myself now, such an abstraction of time points to the fluid relationship between time well spent and time wasted away. Perhaps, both must be cherished as children born of the same flesh and blood, patches of the same fabric. And maybe, just maybe, given the relative nature of time and its many heads and faces, we are called to realize that a universal constant remains in those around us, those that keep us warm in their company against the cold, unforgiving, and endless march of time.
61 Yet, clearer than what this pandemic has led us to cherish is its pressing admonition and unabashed highlighting of what exactly we lack as a society. Whether it be broadcasted via popular media or played out realtime in the game of life, the bins of race, color, nationality, sex, and religion seem more prevalent and more separated than ever. Notwithstanding those divisions, however, we have also crossed paths with the barrier of distance and of the screen. What once were joyous gatherings with hugs and embraces are now events bound together by a singular hyperlink and the lens of a camera or, perhaps, demarcations measuring six feet and empty chairs marking the in-between. What is hoped, however, is that this time of distance, separation, and isolation, makes, as they say, the heart grow fonder. Let us give ourselves time to reassess the time we lend others and analyze to whom we give that time. Let us grow in appreciation of the time we are given and the individuals that accompany us through these “downs.” And, if we come to a ditch in the road as we have now and feel like mere cogs in the machine of time, let us say we might as well enjoy the ride while we’re at it. When we round the turn and all is said and done, maybe, just maybe, there is a time and place for getting things done and meandering around aimlessly. It is, after all, the journey which gives luster to the destination. This is the inescapable duality of time and its nature. Sometimes incessantly important, sometimes an afterthought. The concept is so important, in fact, that I can do nothing but defer to the words of the character Chidi Anagonye on the show The Good Place: “This is what we’ve been looking for since the day we met. Time. That’s what the Good Place really is — it’s not even a place, really. It’s just having enough time with the people you love.”
Open Water: A Journey Through Surfing and Autism Matthew Ellison
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. -Jacques Cousteau I do not know Connor Ford, but I can see him. He is 5’9, 165 pounds and riddled with anxiety. He perseverates on small things: his daily schedule, the color of his clothes, and the amount of moisture in the air. I do not know Connor Ford, but I can hear him. He is with his mother, La Donna, driving through Northern California and toward bohemian idealism, toward oceanic bliss, toward Bolinas and Natalie Pepper’s Spectrum Surf Camp. The windows are slightly ajar, and the smell of salt water and pine gently roll through the car. The sound of the waves has yet to come into focus but the adrenaline builds, and the world feels quiet. I do not know Connor Ford, but I can sense him.
63 La Donna lightly grips his hand as they descend over rocks and make their way to the beach. Originally from Arkansas, she quit her career as an anesthesiologist after Connor’s diagnosis. As they approach the water, he looks at the waves, and then he looks at her, then back at the waves. It’s a process that repeats itself and is known as joint attention. He wants to smile. He wants to share his happiness with her. He wants to laugh and to scream and burst through his body. He just doesn’t know how. California is known for having some of the best surf in the country -- Bolinas is no exception. And in a different life, it’s 10 am at Bolinas Beach. Connor is already in his 5mm wetsuit, a 9-foot longboard is safely secured underneath his arm, and he is briskly walking along the water’s edge to gage set times, temperature, and to wake up. In a different life, I can see our friendship. We’d drift down Wharf Road toward Bo-Gas, the only station in town. We’d turn on Brighton Avenue and get wax for our boards at the 2 Mile Surf Shop. Maybe in this life, I live without my anxieties. Maybe in this life, Connor lives without autism. In this life, we are bonded through surfing. It heals us. It protects us. It frees us. In this life, we’re both volunteers at Natalie’s camp.
64 I’d tell the more than 100 children, all of whom have autism, that the moments leading up to the first contact are my favorite, especially in the early morning. You hear the crack of each break, you smell the salt more intensely, your body feels and anticipates the water, and your mind begins to actualize the experience. Then you have transcendence. The water is liberation. The board is freedom. The combination is a drug. We would continue and tell them that there is something primal about the water. It’s vast and blue and untamed. It is a catalyst for life, for romance, and for healing. It is inescapable. And it’s pure. After the final session, we would catch up with Natalie. We would drink beers by the water’s edge and reflect on the non-verbal kids – the children who were able to smile for the first time because of a surfboard. And we would cheers the parents, who if only briefly, found refuge from their anxieties through a book or the organized chaos that is surfing. But this is not a different life. I won’t pretend that my struggles parallel Connor’s. I’ll never know how autism feels, how Connor feels. But sometimes, in my quieter moments, I imagine that I’m 20 feet below the ocean. I imagine waiting until all of the air has left my body and then bursting through the water’s surface. That feeling exists for Connor as well, and surfing facilitates it.
The healing powers of the ocean, of water, have been analyzed
65 for hundreds of years. Wallace J Nichols is a marine biologist and author. In 2014, he wrote a book entitled Blue Mind that sought to uncover why water induced relaxation. He found that the weightlessness of water calms the mind, slows brain function, and alleviates external stressors by blocking out excess peripheral stimuli. Moreover, he explains that cold ocean water activates receptors beneath the skin that release adrenalin and endorphins. Consistent exposure strengthens the immune system and can augment digestive function. In this life, the ocean is being used in tandem with surfing to offer therapeutic alternatives to children in need. In this life and in this moment, we are at the beach. Connor is lying on his surfboard, unable to stand up. A volunteer guides him into the water. The waves gently crash against the board. Salt water sprays his face. In this moment, I can see La Donna. I can imagine her standing alone on the beach away from the other parents. I can imagine her with her arms folded, black sunglasses adorning her face, and a paperback book, whose spine is yet to be cracked, tightly rolled in her hands. If anyone were to approach, she would tell, as she told me, that Connor is happiest in the water. On land, Connor has difficulty knowing where his body is in space. He’ll walk along and come into contact with trees, with people, with the world. As it relates to navigating his physical reality and physical spaces, his body does not work.
66 If you approach her, she’ll tell you that it doesn’t matter if he is on medication or adhering to his schedule, Connor is always anxious. She will tell of you the fleeting moments when he seems to be at peace -- the moments when he is able to escape himself, his mind, his anxiety. And she will tell you that these moments happen in the water. She will tell you that these moments happen on the surfboard and on the beach at Natalie’s camp. She will tell you that the world is hard for him on a day-to-day basis and to see him on the board, as happy as he can be, will grab your heart. In this life, it doesn’t matter that the Fords are not a surfing family. It doesn’t matter that Connor cannot stand up on the board. It matters that he feels connected to it. It matters that he lies on the board in the water and floats, mentally and physically. It matters that he smiles. It matters that she smiles. In this life, what is important is that the young man who grew up watching the surfers in Santa Cruz is no longer a spectator. In this life, and on this beach in Bolinas, there is a connection between a mother and her son that is assisted by the ocean and surfing and a camp meant to bring all of these elements together. When pressed, I always tell people that surfing is magic. The science behind surfing therapy is vague. However, the feeling of being in the water, duck diving beneath waves as you make your way into the ocean’s unknown vastness – that is pure. I do not know Connor Ford, but he is my brother in the truest sense. We are connected by something ethereal and powerful. We are connected by a piece of polyurethane foam and fiberglass layers of boards. We are connected through magic.
When Silence Becomes A Song Felicity Wong
The elevator doors opened. I didn’t know what to expect eight years later. When I got out of bed this morning, I remembered the last words you said to me in your cursed Tribeca apartment. And as you walk out of the elevator, those are the only words I’m thinking about. Nothing about you—the sound of your heels hitting the ceramic floor tiling, your starch collar standing upright, the stacked brass rings on your long fingers— seems like the girl he left me for so long ago. I’m standing by the front desk, watching your every movement. Your eyes skim the people walking in and out of the hotel lobby. It’s the moment you recognize me—you turn your head, glance over, and immediately walk in my direction. And finally, you’re standing six feet away. You look right into my eyes. “Caroline.” “Ava.” We both nod at each other. There’s an awkward pause in the air that drowns out the dreary, nondescript hotel lobby music in the background. “How’s John?” I ask without a smile. You smile back. “I gave you that call yesterday, actually, because I want to talk about him. It’s about John.” As soon as those words escape your mouth, you stiffen up. I stiffen up. People swarm around us, oblivious to the tension brewing. I guide you to one of the leather couches in the lobby. You refuse to sit down until I motion you to. “What is it?” Whatever you say next, I’ll try not to care about. If it’s a “John and I are deciding to have a child, and we
68 want your blessing” or a “John and I plan to move across the country,” I know I’ll scoff and escort you out of the hotel quickly. But you traveled all this way to talk to me, so I’m curious. After the thirty seconds that feels like five minutes, you look up at me with your brown eyes. Your confidence and poise is long gone, almost like the girl I knew many summers ago. Suddenly you grab my left arm with clammy, shaking hands. “Caroline, John’s dead.” *** The day you received the call about your mother was probably the worst day of your life. For every week of the past six months, we visited her like regular clockwork. Alice wasn’t like a second mother to me after mine left. She wasn’t even really a mother to you—eighteen years of missed recitals, silent dinners, empty voice mailboxes—yet, even still, Ian drove us in his car to Presbyterian every Thursday. We’d see Alice, and immediately, this tight knot of weights would sink to the bottom of my stomach because I know we’d spend the next two hours watching her wilt—this poor woman, fighting for a life with every ounce of her body for a life she barely enjoyed. Sitting next to Alice made me think about how short my life was, and I didn’t like it. The day you received the call about your mother was my birthday. It was just you and me, lying on the living room rug, reminiscing about our unrequited loves. We laughed about Isaac and Ben, Elliot and Noah. For a moment, I forgot about all the girls at Episcopal who drunkenly spent their birthdays in vacation homes, happy with their best friends and family. You and I had no one, least of all Alice. The house was empty except for us, and then the phone rang. “Is this Alice Lee’s daughter?” You dropped the phone to the ground. The day you received the call about your mother turned into tomorrow’s twilight. You had Ian on speed dial, and we
69 made our final trip to Presbyterian. In the car, you were numb as I held you in my arms. As you sobbed loudly, I stared out the window, thinking about how just two months ago, Alice asked you to leave your home. When we sat in the waiting room, we didn’t speak to each other. I could have offered you soothing words of comfort. Instead, I simply held your hand. It’s funny, because you never talked about how much you loved Alice. You didn’t have to, because we both knew. *** I’m sitting on your rug again, facing the set of blue futon couches in the corner of your living room. The silence swells beneath the thin walls of the room. But it’s not unfamiliar or uncomfortable. This silence is like rediscovering the kind of song you put on repeat for a month straight and then stop listening to because it gets old. It eventually becomes catchy again. “Caroline?” The silence shatters into a million pieces. I turn my head towards you. You’re on the futon—a cocoon of blankets and grief. Then, you ignore the fact that we haven’t known each other for eight years—you lean in and whisper, “Some people are saying it’s a homicide.” “Who do you think did it?” “I never said I thought it was a homicide.” “Well, do you?” “John didn’t have enemies. It doesn’t make any sense.” You retreat back into your cocoon. I look up at the ceiling. The silence starts playing on the radio again. *** “Every night, I have these nightmares. I only ever dream on this blue futon couch.” You adjust your legs so they’re swinging off the bed. “What are they about?” “A lot of them are about Alice.” “Alice? Even now?”
70 “In some of them, Alice keeps on dying. I’ll be in the Presbyterian hospital room and then she’ll stop breathing, the machines will go silent, she’s gone. I’ll leave the room paralyzed, open the next, and she’ll be in that room too. It never stops. I rip open door after door, and Alice dies in front me a thousand times over.” “And John?” “They’re always about Alice, never about John.” You start whimpering. I hold you in my arms. “There’s another dream I keep having.” “Do you want to tell me about it?” “In the dream I look like a little girl and I’m in this room where all the walls are made of mirrors. I’m drawing on the mirrors with red markers, but every time the tip of the marker hits the wall, thousands of little, screaming faces appear on the walls. And then I faint, the ink seeps into the mirror, and I’m back in bed. In the dream, I wake up in pools of red ink every time. And then I actually wake up, and I’m horrified.” You must have seen my face, because the next thing you say is, “Caroline, do you ever have dreams like that?” Before I can even answer, you start whimpering again. So I hold you in my arms. We rock back and forth as you tremble. We talk about your nightmares and I tell you it will be alright. After a while, you look up at my face. I know you have something else on your mind; the mood has shifted. The light seeping through the venetian blinds are hitting your futon at a different angle, bathing it in light. “Do you forgive me?” We look at each other. I walk across the room, away from you, and face the blue futons. It’s silent again. *** I take you up on your offer a few hours into that evening after you fall asleep on the futon. Your kitchen is clean, ceramic,
71 pristine, and your fridge is built of stainless steel. The bitter part of me smirks internally, knowing how much money John must have spent on it for you. I grab the door, swing it open, and stare. At first glance, everything seems normal. The top shelves are stocked with peanut butters, salsas, mysterious Tupperware containers, eggs, and miniature cartons of fruit. Green produce fills the bottom two transparent drawers, as do the milk and condiments along the rows lining the side of the fridge. My fingers reach around the miscellaneous jars to check the unlabeled Tupperware with the hopes of finding leftovers from a few days ago. I peel the lid off a white oblong one. A powder pink post-it note that had already lost its stickiness flies into my face. “We give our regards. Call our home phone if you need anything - Tracy & Family.” An untouched green chile sits sullenly in the ceramic, top glazed over. Immediately, I search for the other five Tupperwares in your fridge, opening them one by one: chicken parmesan from Eric, a bacon and egg casserole from Ananda, beef curry from Cecile and William, another green chile from the Czaplewski family, and pasta salad from Lulu. As I glance at their notes, sending regards and sharing their sympathy for you, I realize that my eyes are the first to ever see the scribbly handwriting. Strangely enough, there’s a half eaten shrimp scampi and chocolate cheesecake sitting next to the untouched medley of sympathy meals. So you’re eating. You’re eating well. I stand in front of the opened door for a few minutes, listening to the humdrum buzz of the stainless steel fridge—a fridge powerful enough to kill the mold begging to grow and mask the raging odors waiting to explode. Just like you. I peer into the living room again. You’re sleeping, dormant on the couch, hiding from the rest of the world, waiting to erupt. Looking at you, melting into the mattress of the futon— that’s when I know. This is not the fridge of a grieving woman. I slam the door of the fridge shut. I walk back into the living room,
72 combing through these thoughts like a boy running his fingers through his lover’s hair. *** When I arrive at the cemetery, I stay in my car, watching you stand with Ian and Isabela at your side. I know you’re tired, from the way you hold your head because your neck is sore to the dark circles under your eyes. Groups of people ebb and flow from you, giving you a kind word or a kiss on a cheek. But you’re not paying attention—your eyes are cold, staring into the distance. When the men arrive to dig into the dirt, you don’t cry. When the Father arrives with his prayer book and mutters a few words, you don’t cry. When they lower John’s coffin into the ground, you don’t cry. After everyone has left, I unbuckle my seatbelt and walk towards you. As soon as you see me, you’re startled. “Caroline, I didn’t know you were here.” There’s sadness, but no surprise or anger in your lilting voice. “You didn’t stand with us.” “I couldn’t. I watched everything from my car.” I take a sharp breath. “Where’s Ian and Isabela?” “Isabela left with Ian to go visit Alice.” You suddenly reach out to grab me. Your hand is supple, warm, kind. “I never thanked you. For that morning in the Presbyterian waiting room, or that afternoon at the coroner’s office.” I don’t know what to say, so I simply look at you. Dead silence is music to our ears, unforgettable and familiar. Your eyes flash, then soften. “I think there’s someone waiting.” My voice cracks, and I smile a bit. You turn around, step into the car, and drive away. *** The heat in the room we’re sitting in at the police station is suffocating. None of the windows are open. You sit in the chair across from mine, legs crossed, lips pursed. You fidget with the
73 stacked brass rings on your fingers, trying to distract yourself. But it’s all a facade. I know, because I also sat across from you in the Presbyterian waiting rooms for months. Finally, the officer walks in. A curt “appointment for Ava Lee?” and we’re walking down a dimly lit hallway. After a few twists and turns, we arrive at the door of a dingy room that features walls lined with file cabinets. A man sits behind a wooden desk covered with his desktop and reams of paper. There is nothing notable about his physical appearance except for an ugly pair of horn-rimmed glasses that sit slightly high on his nose. As we enter the room, he stands up. “I’m Matthew DeLuca, the coroner for this case.” He pushes his glasses even higher up on his nose. “We did an autopsy of John Akana’s body and consulted several detectives to determine the cause of his death last week. We thought you might like to know what we found.” Both you and Matthew stoically stare at each other. The words he says seem to hang in mid air between your two bodies. I’m just a bystander in the corner of the room. Matthew DeLuca draws a deep breath. “Ms. Lee, we think it was a suicide.” As soon as those words leave his mouth, I tune the rest of the world out. Relief washes over me like crashing waves at a beach. It’s not exactly a victory to be celebrated, but I had hoped for the worst and fate dealt me the best. I briefly glance over to watch your reaction. Nothing is different. I see the tension in your shoulders, the hollowness behind your eyes, the anchor holding your body down. You don’t glance back at me, so you don’t see the relief on my face. *** “I had the dream again last night. The one with Alice.” “In Presbyterian?” “Yeah, and you were in it.” “What was I doing?”
74 “It started in the waiting room. Nobody even told me she was dead. In the dream, I don’t have any recollection of a phone call. I walked into Presbyterian that day thinking it was just a regular visit. The nurse escorted me to that room to see her, and when I opened the door, you stood there over Alice’s body.” “Oh. How come?” “You pulled the damn plug, Caroline! You were the one who killed her.” “I wasn’t in the waiting room with you, in your dream?” “No, and when I saw you there, I started screaming. So I ran down the hallway, opened another door, and I saw Alice again in that room. And you stood over her again like a fucking murderer, and I started yelling at you. It happened over and over again. But I can’t remember what I yelled at you or what you yelled back, because I woke up.” “Why do you think I killed Alice in your dream?” “I have no idea.” “Aren’t dreams the manifestation of your subconscious thoughts?” “If I could explain to you what my subconscious is trying to tell me, I wouldn’t talk about my dreams with you.” “Fair enough.” You roll back into your cocoon, and we sit in silence again. But there’s a song replaying in my head. It’s persistent, on repeat. I’m thinking. *** Jazz music plays softly in the background as people move around the room. The heels on the bottom of my shoes feel as if they are about to fall off, my mouth is dry from talking to strangers, and I want to go home. But this moment has been in the making for the past two years, and I need it to happen tonight. “Where is she?” John puts his right arm around me in an attempt to help
75 me hobble around. “She called me saying she flew in around an hour ago. She should be here.” I look down at my watch. 10:54 PM. “It’s four minutes past.” “Is that her?” I spin around to face the elevator, and you’re there— wearing a baby blue taffeta dress and your heart on your sleeve. I run towards you. There’s squealing, hugging, “I’ve missed you so much”-ing. We finally untangle ourselves. “I hope you didn’t forget about me, Caroline.” John reaches out to hold my hand, smiling. I smile back and put my arm around him. “Ava! This is John. John, my best friend from the Lower East side, Ava.” He smirks at you. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” “Don’t worry, I’ve heard a lot about you as well.” You smirk back. “Caroline and I have known each other for nearly quadruple the amount of time you’ve probably known her.” I throw my head back in laughter. You start laughing with me, and John looks at both of us in awe. *** The woman opens the bedroom door gingerly as if not to disturb anyone, even though she knows there is not a single person in the apartment. She walks over to the bathroom and flips the switch on. She spends thirty seconds surveying the two sinks in front of her until she turns to her right and walks towards the wall. Her gloved hands open one of the mirror cabinets nailed onto the bathroom walls. Lining the shelves are rows of bottles—some are skinny and transparent and orange, others are gargantuan and opaque and green. Her hands hover over each bottle as she reads the fine print labels. Finally, her hands stop over one. This bottle is transparent and pink, with a white sticker covering two thirds of its surface. She runs her thumbs over the ridges of the medicine cap. Slowly press down
76 and release. Twist the cap off. Pour the remaining two pills out into her dry palms. Drop the two new pills in. Twist the cap back on. Put it back into the cabinet. She looks at herself in the mirror briefly. Then she flips the switch back off and leaves. *** “The dream was a bit different this time.” “The dream about Alice?” “Yeah, but it was strange. I got called to that cursed hospital room by the nurse at Presbyterian. I think I lucid dream, because I’ve dreamed this dream so many times, so now I prepare myself to look at Alice’s dead, limp body on the bed.” “What was different?” “Well, I open the door expecting to see Alice. But the bed was empty.” “Did you look inside the other hospital rooms too?” “Of course.” “And?” “She wasn’t in any of them. I ripped open door after door. She wasn’t there. The beds were all empty. She was gone.” “Ava, she is gone.” With that, you roll back over into your futon. Cue the silence that plays like a song, a masterpiece without a melody.
Blinded in Plain Sight Payton Oliver
It growls, it grumbles, it groans as if channeling an incessant desire for the unruly inside of me. It wishes and it washes. It flops, it fizzles, it flares to warn me of the impending domination of just one small portion on the rest of my day-so much so that I’m hesitant to accept any sort of possible imposter into the weak contents that form the function of my nourishment, although it is failing to do so as required by a man of my stature. With a height associated exclusively with the beasts of our time and a weight reserved solely for those that willingly throw it around, I had the two greatest standards of physique...each slowly being taken from the very bones on which I, myself, grew. Distinct grooves defining the isolated borders of muscles once conjoined to outline a profile that most men could only fancy, but never have for themselves. I was the proud owner of the Cadillac, or perhaps muscle car, of all frames. As the days passed, the position that once allowed me to tower over those below, began to crumble. Calves formerly as strong as the cement on which they ran softened to that of a toddler’s. Shoulders always ensuring straight posture found a new permanent angle, too hunched to display my enviable figure. Glutes no longer hefty enough to hold a bridge higher than an inch off of the creaky cabin’s wooden slats. After consulting mystics and apothecaries, witchdoctors found by word of mouth, and so-called miracle workers to stop or, at the very least, slow down the constant shedding of fat and
78 muscle, pounds pouring off the calcium-lacking bones jutting from beneath my wan skin, I was prescribed herbs and potions. Many lacked in the scent department; one could even argue that they were odorous, for even the women around me shielded their eyes. Deafening whispers, widening pupils, and persecuting glares ate away at me like the sickness itself gnawed at the little substance I could still call my own. At the top of each hour, the kettle hopped from the wood-burning stove, alarming me that it was time to refill my porcelain tea cup with the next concoction on the schedule. 12:00 was elderberry, 1:00 marked dandelion root, 2:00 for yarrow...14 different teas to sip on for the hours I was assigned to be awake. After looking as monstrous as I had under the spell of this sickness, I was forced to tend to myself mixing my hourly drink and 5 daily meals without a woman to share the burden with, as few would even bat an eye at the once most eligible bachelor within city limits. Fat and protein were to be the main components of my heavy-handed diet, yet nothing truly tasted as it used to. My menu favorites soon became most gag-worthy in comparison to their former glory. It must be due to this sickness. Ever since I had fallen into the marshes on a hunt with some of my comrades, nothing has been the same. I can’t see like I used to, nothing tastes as it once did, and my body repels what it previously attracted. No matter the amount of turmeric and black pepper I poured on my specially curated homemade meals, nothing and nobody could resolve the overwhelming loss that consumed my day to day. Much overdue, it was time that I put out the shekels to be properly examined by a professional medic. The closest was half an hour outside of town. I stuffed myself with as much of the deterring food as I could prepare, pouring my tea for the next several hours into a handy, and might I say, much too heavy, to-go container to keep up my nutrients. I was
79 afraid that if I stopped all of the sudden, my condition would worsen even more with the passing hours on my journey to the doctor. I prepared myself to be seen by outsiders, covering my frame with a wool coat so as to not draw any more attention to myself. In the late-spring heat, the outfit swallowed me, but I was comfortable having the extra fabric between me and the breeze that threatened to chill me to the core. Upon exiting the carriage, I tipped the director, asking for the way to Dr. Alio’s. He rambled off street names and benchmarks, but details had become incredibly difficult to tether in my mind. I found myself wandering through the throngs of wives bargaining at the street market, hoping one of them would be kind enough to direct me to the office. One named Marina, or perhaps her name was Michelle, it’s hard for me to recall, led the way, noticing that I was clearly in desperate need of medical attention. She even kindly took me by the crook of my bony elbow, escorting me through the crowds just a few blocks away to the mahogany wood door of Dr. Alio’s. How was I to afford such a luxury? Stumbling into his office, I subconsciously sipped from my cup, the bitter, acidic taste no longer inciting the reaction it once did. “Sir, what is it that you’re drinking?” “Why, it’s just some peppermint leaves steeped in water. The apothecary encouraged me to use it to help diminish the effects of my illness. Look, doctor.” I built up the strength to pull the cloak off of my shoulders, revealing the skeleton of a once unshakeable man. But, Dr. Alio did not flinch. He took one step closer, forcefully robbing my grasp of the warm cup I had been yet to release since I set afoot on this journey. “What happened to your eyes?” From the little I could tell, he was approaching my face, shining a light near my eyes, searching them with his own. I didn’t understand. I came here for my ever prominent weight-loss issue, and he had the audacity
80 to ignore my needs and focus on my eyes? “With all do respect, doc, I’m here because I’m losing pounds by the minute, and I cannot bear to be isolated like this for much longer. I’ve tried every possible food and potion, but they have gotten me no further than I could’ve gone myself.” “I see. But, you certainly can’t. You’re drinking muddy well-water. The snack you have resting beside you appears to be full of tree bark and...turmeric? How long have you been doing this to yourself?” “What do you mean? That’s my tea and some nuts slathered in herbs for a snack with healthy fats. I mean they have tasted weird, but I’m used to it by now. That stumble into the marsh has transformed my senses.” “It’s your eyes. They’ve become infected and limited your vision. You’re losing weight because you can’t see that you’re eating like a woodland creature, not a human being. Why hasn’t anyone told you this?” “ I haven’t been around people. They’ve all been scared away by all of this” I sighed, motioning to what remained of my feeble figure. “It’s your eyes. They’re pink, and they’re puss-filled. They’re afraid of you. Allow me,” Dr. Alio came closer, tilting my head back gently, squeezing in 2 drops of solution into each of my eyes, creating a burning sensation. “Two drops in each eye, once in the morning and once at night. Come back in a week if the problem hasn’t subsided.” Never have I felt so frivolous to be prescribed eye drops for a stomach ache.
Floating Boars Julia Yang
It began as innocuous as any flooding in Houston. The facts of life here are simply: One, it is wet; Two, the roads always flood; Three, Houstonians take it in stride— we rehash the same jokes, check if Waffle House is still open, and remind each other to avoid the roads that flood the worst. So really, Hurricane Harvey began as innocuous as any flooding in Houston. On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall. We got a few days off from school. The neighborhood streets caught a few inches of water. Some of the kids set up a slip ’n slide. At one point, cars could no longer drive out of our neighborhood because of the flooded intersection, but this was nothing new— the roads in Houston always flood. However, as the days passed and the rain kept falling and the waters kept rising, my family and I watched black water creep up the curbside and then up our front lawn and then up our driveway. This was not normal; the roads always flood, but it was supposed to be only the roads that flood. I kept watching. The water heaved up into our front garden— how unfortunate, my dad loved those flowers. I kept watching. The days stretched, and we waited, unable to leave by car and waiting for the inevitable, helpless in our house. (It was the same house I hid in during Hurricane Ike, my first hurricane, when I was eight years old. The winds had been fiercer and louder then, and I had been a scared little child, but now, this watching and waiting felt much worse.) Three days before the water hit, we moved our things upstairs. Two days before the
82 water hit, we packed emergency bags. The night before the water hit, we placed sandbags outside the door to attempt to seal off any water. It felt futile, trudging back and forth from the garage, carrying forty-pound sandbags in the rain. It felt futile, trying to seal off a trillion-gallon act of God. The next morning, I smelled it first. Having torn through wildlife and sewage by the time it entered our home, the floodwater smelled horribly of decay. It lay deceptively still, a few inches above the baseboard; but a few inches today meant many more tomorrow, so we had to leave. In a daze, my family and I ate granola bars for breakfast, stuck our feet into our rain boots, and carried our bags onto a neighbor’s motorboat. I greeted the two men on board but couldn’t bring myself to make small talk. Ours was not the only neighborhood flooded. By the time it touched down on the Texas coast, Hurricane Harvey was already a category 4 hurricane. After landing, the slowmoving hurricane stalled over the Texas coast for several days. During that time, Hurricane Harvey blew 130-mile-per-hour winds, dumped over 60 inches of rain, and triggered widespread catastrophic flooding across southeastern Texas. Again, Houston was no stranger to hurricanes and flooding. However, before August 2017, the city had yet to meet a magnitude of devastation comparable to Hurricane Harvey. While the storm hovered over Texas, major highways became submerged in water, over 300,000 structures flooded, and an estimated 40,000 flood victims had to be evacuated. Houston received a year’s worth of rain in the span of a few days. Ultimately, Hurricane Harvey generated over $125 billion in damage, making it the second costliest hurricane in United States history after Hurricane Katrina. In Houston, the roads always flood, but never before like this.
After transferring onto a military evacuation vehicle, and
83 then evacuating to the local elementary school-turned-temporary shelter, and then making some rushed phone calls, my family and I eventually took shelter at a family friend’s house. To this day, I can hardly remember anything about that house or the time we spent there. I lapsed through days mostly asleep, for nearly fourteen hours at a time. Some days I just lay on the air mattress or the floor, staring at the popcorn ceiling, occasionally finding a smattering that looked like a disfigured baby or a mountainous landscape. When I wasn’t in bed, my choice of daily activity rotated between staring at my college essay drafts (mostly blank and blinking), cooking spaghetti (the only meal I knew I wouldn’t mess up), and walking the family friend’s dog (Bailey, a black and tan mutt of some sort). While walking Bailey, I spent a lot of time looking out at the neighborhood’s master-planned lakes, each with a gently spraying fountain. The uniform streaks of water flew exactly twenty feet up and twenty feet out, as if rain had somehow been plucked out of the sky, flipped upside down, and contained to an enclosed diameter— tamed. I was here because I had suffered the intensity of water— its turbulent pouring and flooding— but now I stood on manicured grass and watched the water from a distance, spraying earnestly but never reaching more than the twenty feet in front of itself. It was all a very muted existence. One day, we learned that the water level had lowered, though not entirely, and some neighbors were offering to boat people back, to pick up belongings or just see the outside of their houses. My parents went the next morning. While they were gone, I found the shape of a hockey player in the ceiling; I let the dog walk me around the neighborhood; I cooked spaghetti. Over dinner, after my parents came back, my mom told me about seeing two wild boar carcasses floating in our neighborhood. Drowned by the storm and the flooding, their bodies had
84 somehow been carried by the floodwaters into our neighborhood. I knew there were boars living in the forests around our neighborhood, but it hadn’t occurred to me that— that what? That their homes flooded too? That they had no motorboats or friendly neighbors or church ladies bringing home-cooked meals? That this could kill them too? I pictured the pair of boars— massive and bulky beneath brown fur, with sharp tusks and sharper eyes— subdued into absolute stillness in the water. Their lumbering and feral bodies floating gentle and light like leaves in a puddle, their black and clever eyes unmoving. Amidst the rows and rows of suburban houses, two wild animals meeting a divine storm. Life picked back up, eventually, even if slightly offkilter: the floodwaters cleared, a school counselor I had never met before called me “resilient,” and my family and I began demolition and renovation on our house. We tore out the floodwater-soaked drywall, aired out the moisture and stench, and rebuilt our house. Located a five-minute drive behind our house is George Bush Park. It’s a pretty unassuming park; my brother played little league soccer there, my mom still goes for walks there. You might notice all of these are dry activities, which is why for a long time, I didn’t know that George Bush Park lay entirely within Barker Reservoir. Barker Reservoir is part of Houston’s network of flood structures. The dam and its twin Addicks Reservoir were built in the 1940’s, designed to hold water and prevent flooding of downtown Houston. However, because the dams were built over half a century ago with a smaller intended capacity, they have become much less effective than they were in the 1940’s. In fact, in 2009, the United States Army Corps of Engineers deemed the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs two of the six most dangerous dams in the country. Additionally, when the reservoirs were
85 first constructed, the land surrounding the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs was relatively unpopulated. But now, the area has been developed with businesses and local schools and suburban homes— including mine. Unbeknownst to my family and most of our neighbors, our neighborhood is located directly within Addicks’ and Barker’s flood pools. Flood pools are areas designed to flood whenever the reservoirs fill to capacity— like they did during Hurricane Harvey, filling many upstream homes and businesses with reservoir water. In the midst of the hurricane, it didn’t occur to me to wonder how our neighborhood flooded. It seemed like a freak accident, an act of God, some sort of entropying karma from the universe. So when the neighborhood rumors began and the news eventually broke— that many of our homes were built in the reservoir’s flood pool, intentionally designed to flood— it shocked me. In all my time spent watching the muddy water, staring at the ceiling of someone else’s home, and tearing out our soaked drywall, I had thought of Hurricane Harvey as some force beyond human influence. Whether it was nature or God or the devil, I felt so earnestly that nothing we did as humans could have made an indent on those violent winds or trillions of gallons of rainfall. But my own house— lying just inside the edge of a man-made reservoir designed to flood, and thoroughly wrecked by that flooding— was evidence to the contrary. Barker Reservoir was not the only human influence on Hurricane Harvey. Houston’s urbanization and city planning also exacerbated the flooding. Houston has undeniably been growing in recent years, achieving the largest urban growth and the fifthlargest population growth in the United States from 2001-2011. My family, who moved to Houston in 2007, was part of that growth. And as Houston grew and more condos and parking lots and highways popped up, so did asphalt and concrete. From a
86 flood perspective, asphalt and concrete pose serious problems because they cannot absorb water. In Houston, which is naturally dominated by non-absorbent clay-based soil, the acreage of land that can’t soak up rainfall increased by 32 percent from 2001 to 2011. With the introduction of more and more non-absorbent concrete, Houston’s ground cannot absorb significant amounts of water, resulting in considerable flooding risk for the city. To mitigate this flood risk, Houston makes use of its roads. The city designed roads to flood during intense rainfall events, directing water away from buildings— better to flood a street than a home. And while this strategy often suffices in ordinary storms, during severe events like Hurricane Harvey, roads can only serve as secondary drainage, and flooded ones make evacuation more difficult. My mantra that “the roads in Houston always flood” was apparently not the quirk of haphazard city planning or the city’s especially rainy constitution, but a deliberate choice. It wasn’t just Hurricane Harvey: the semiregular street flooding, the Memorial Day flood in 2015, the Tax Day flood in 2016, and the other Memorial Day flood in 2016— they were all results of deliberate choices. The deliberate choices of a city too enamored with its own development— the 20-lane freeways, the master-planned suburbs, the hundreds of billions in economic growth— to let go of the concrete and asphalt that would literally drown it. Hurricane Harvey’s intensity was also exacerbated by a broader, global force: climate change. Over the last century, human activity has generated an increasing amount of greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions have raised the temperature of much of the earth— including the earth’s oceans. Ocean heat content and sea surface temperatures have both significantly increased as a result of climate change. Because hurricanes develop in warm and moist conditions where they can gather atmospheric moisture through evaporation, the warmer
87 ocean creates more intense, bigger, and longer lasting tropical storms. According to various scientific analyses, human-induced climate change increased Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall by as much as 19%. The world’s emissions and the world’s climate crisis hit Houston sharply. But part of the fault for climate change falls onto Houston’s shoulders, as well. This city claims the title of energy capital of the world. I wouldn’t even be in Houston were it not for the oil and gas industry: my dad is a petroleum engineer, and it was his job that first moved us to Houston. However, the oil and gas industry is responsible for as much as two-thirds of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions over the last 200 years. Some oil and gas companies have even funded and provoked denial of climate change, exacerbating the world’s climate crisis for their bottom lines. And all of this circled back to Houston in the form of Hurricane Harvey. The hurricane’s magnitude of destruction was not born out of nowhere. My home— this beautiful, ambitious city, the biggest in a state where “everything’s bigger in Texas” — was swallowed by much of its own hubris. Years and years of emissions from around the world, fueled by Houston’s own oil and gas industry, fell onto Houston in the form of trillions of gallons of rain. In the years since Hurricane Harvey, I’ve made peace with a lot of what happened: we repainted the walls and installed a bigger kitchen counter; my friends and neighbors became essential sources of support and community; and whenever I’m back home, I still drive down Fry Road and take walks in George Bush Park. And yet, that last piece still sits unsettled in me: Hurricane Harvey, despite its otherworldly magnitude and destruction, was marked by a human imprint. For all that my house was flooded by Hurricane Harvey, it was also flooded by the Barker Reservoir engineers and Houston City Council and
88 the oil and gas companies and my dad’s job— and me. I’m not trying to take personal responsibility here; more carpooling or more recycling from me wouldn’t have changed Hurricane Harvey, wouldn’t have saved my house. And I’m not trying to distribute blame— not entirely, at least. But you and I and Houston City Council and Exxon and BP and Chevron are interconnected; we are not wild boars floating in the water, untethered from the land and from each other. By grace or wrath or indifference, those boars do not live and we do. They can rest and we cannot. As long as we can make an imprint, even on the force of a hurricane, we have the responsibility to make it a good one.
Corduroy Vol. 1 Victoria Dominesey
Tuesday. 4:15 pm. “Waking up in the morning is the worst part of the day,” I say. My eyes are focused on the yellow wall behind his head. God, I hate yellow. “I see,” he responds. “And what makes you feel this way?” I scoff, kicking my foot out. I am sitting on a blue plastic chair. It’s like the kind from every classroom in America. Probably every classroom in the world. “It’s like...ugh,” I say. This is harder than I thought it would be. Everyone says these are judge-free zones, but I can’t help but feel like this man is going to judge. I suddenly feel like my fifteen year old self in the confessional again. Sitting in front of the priest, telling him that I lied to my mom and let the boy down the street feel my tits. It’s just awkward. I want this man to give me my penance and send me on my way. “You know,” he closes a notebook and crosses one leg over the other. “I can only help you if you let me. That’s not to say that coming here wasn’t a good first step. And maybe you’re not ready to talk, but something is giving me the feeling that you are.” He’s wearing dark blue corduroy pants. I feel the urge to touch them. “Waking up in the morning is the worst part of the day,” I repeat, “because it’s when the cycle starts all over again.” I look around the room. The yellow is met with a various assortment
90 of frames. Some small, some large. Some ornamental, others looking as though they were salvaged from the Goodwill--many giving off the vibe of both. The frames host a collection of abstract art. None of the pieces are clear. None of them make any direct sense. This comforts me. “Can you tell me about this cycle?” he asks, reopening the notebook. I move my eyes back to the wall. “I wake up and I feel empty. Just really empty. It’s like I’m expecting something, and then when I wake up and it’s not there, I get this pit in my stomach. I don’t know why. But it just doesn’t go away. Not until I’m asleep. Or maybe I just can’t notice it then because I am asleep. “And then, throughout the day,” I continue, “I feel really nauseous. The sight of food in front of me makes me want to vomit, but I force myself to eat it anyways.” “Would you say this cycle is something you feel physically more so than you experience mentally?” he prompts me. “Maybe? No,” I say. I can feel my eyebrow furrow. “No, I cycle through the same thoughts throughout the day, too. It’s both. Definitely both.” He begins to speak to me, but the words become slowly less audible. My gaze has moved to one of the frames. In it, I think I see a girl unbuttoning her corduroy pants. Thursday. 5:00 pm. “I slipped up,” I say. Saying the three words to him feels relieving, but I’m not too sure why. I have yet to elaborate. “Now, why would you say that?” He asks. We are in a different room from last time. This time, I am sitting on a long, manilla couch. No, sitting is an overstatement. I’m hovering. I miss the art.
91 “I went crawling back,” I say. “One thing I wanted didn’t work out for me, so I retreated to what I knew I could have. Not even after 24 hours, I went back to him.” His pen scratches across his open notebook. Maybe I should call it my notebook. “And why do you consider this a slip up? Do you regret seeing him? Did you do something that you regret?” His eyes don’t leave the notebook as he asks me these things. “No, I didn’t do anything I regret. We just talked,” I say. “It’s just the principle of it. I wouldn’t have even considered letting him back into my life if things had worked out. If I hadn’t had the morning I did.” “I see.” “Yeah,” I laugh. “And you know what else? He admitted to playing mind games with me. And I just laughed. I laughed. And then I hugged him. I was inches from his face, just like I was a month ago. And I wanted to kiss him. I really did. But he told me to go home.” “You say you wouldn’t have considered letting him back into your life if things had worked out, but was he ever really out of it?” he asks. Damn. I know I’m paying him to be right, but I suddenly feel like requesting an unjustified refund. Monday. 3:33 pm? “You know what I hate?” I ask a question, but I do not expect nor want an answer. “I hate how quickly two people can become strangers again. It’s like you could be naked in bed with someone one night. You could tell them about your fear of vulnerability and the comprehensive list of things you’re bad at. And then the next morning, you don’t even acknowledge each other’s existence. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.” “Do you feel as though you know a lot of strangers?” He
“No, not a lot. But way too many.”
Someday. Sometime. “You’re wearing yellow today,” he says. “I am.” “Have you been doing any of the exercises we went over?” “I have. Can I ask you something?” “I don’t see why not.” “Do you think that time heals or destroys?” “I think that time can be a great tool for healing, for moving on. What do you think?” “I think it heals and destroys,” I say. “But I’m starting to think the two could be the same thing.” That night, I go home and throw away my corduroy pants.
The Saga and the Seidhr Ethan Osterman
Already a fictitious past has supplanted in men’s memories that other past, of which we now know nothing certain J. L. Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius Universal history, in the most general (i.e., most abstract, i.e., most fitting) sense of the term, concerns itself only with those archetypes which we have allowed it. The ability (rather, the compulsion) to recognize categories is not without evolutionary benefit—foods of this sort are safe, creatures like that deadly, and so on—but it would be a disservice to ourselves to consider this a total analysis; the deepest recesses of the human mind cannot be explained by mere Darwinism. On such a view, we are left, for example, with the following question: why do we see patterns where there are none? I will attempt an answer, if only in the hope that its inadequacy may point towards stronger, more well articulated conclusions. From an early age—say, around the time that we first begin to form lasting memories—we acquire an almost paralyzing fear of the unknown; why else should children begin to fear the dark, or the first day of school, with such intensity that it brings them to tears? Having had a taste of certainty, its absence becomes that much more terrifying; we become drunk on the power of our own intellect; we create (as if out of thin air, as if without desperation) the grounding principles of universal order: the One of Plotinus, the assumption (by Kant) that objects must conform to our cognition, the vast conspiracies of secret
94 and otherwise invisible societies… and so on. To put it succinctly: we see order everywhere, not because it necessarily is there, but because we need it to be there. Such a framework may shed some light on universal history: its traitors and heroes, warriors and captive maidens, outcasts and their opposites… all of these categories are developed and reiterated for the sole purpose of making the past digestible.1 Without such a conceit, the vast history of our ancestors would be overwhelming; without Caesar, for example, without Alexander, what are we to make of Napoleon? Without the myth of the west, what groundless abyss must we now inhabit? To include a third example would be to indulge my reader in his own prejudice—and history is just that: a prejudice, a facelift, a post hoc imposition—but how vital, this fiction of ours! Footnotes are especially egregious, intimating at their farflung sources, drawn out from an infinite library, suffocating the mind with an excess of data… In the next few pages, I hope to add one chapter to the extensive volumes of our redacted past. It may at times meander, but I assure my reader of its essential truth. If, instead of little fragments, I busied myself with something more comprehensive, I might make what follows a section of a chapter titled Homo Sacer, Outcast, Oath-breaker. I could write a number of variations on the theme, but such a task seems redundant. For now, I will settle for just one. … A sepulchral mist, thick with the extinguished spirits of the drowned, had fallen over the rocky coast. The shadow of the sorcerer mingled strangely with the fog; his lips worked tirelessly over an incantation or a prayer; his cupped hands waited coolly 1 We may find parallels with the supposed magical tradition of true names, wherein the ascription of a name to a thing gives us power over it. We may also recall the biblical tradition of Adam naming (and therefore gaining dominion—or stewardship—over) the animals.
95 on the fire. It was a paltry flame (and a paltry shadow), borne of dampened twigs and dewey brambles, but it suited his purposes well enough; it warmed him through the night, although it burned not bright enough to draw unwelcome eyes. In spite of its association with Óðinn, the all-father, we are told that it was unbecoming among the Norsemen for a man to practice seidhr2—a magic art which supposedly gave one the power to tell (and, by extension, to shape) the future. For this reason, the sorcerer (whose name has been lost or otherwise obliterated) had been condemned a níðingr—that is, one lowered in social standing; an outlaw. The exact circumstances of his exile have been forgotten, largely by virtue of the “unfortunate success” (the phrase belongs to Isaac Disraeli, although I have coopted it here for my own purposes) “of the first christian missionaries.” We might speculate—but it does no good to mingle fact with fiction. What we know is this: to protect, house, or feed a man of his standing was forbidden; as one source puts it, “he must seek shelter alone in the woods like a wolf.”3 And wolflike he was, decked in furs and covered in grime, choking out the embers in the dawn. But the sun had risen to overtake the dying flame, her indifferent rays bleeding out across the earth to lighten the loamy soil. That same soil, according to the beliefs of his former kinsmen, was cursed by his mere presence. He spat at the earth, kicking dirt over his makeshift fire-pit. Again, an incantation crossed his lips. These were the most uncanny moments; for although the night was dark and still, yet greater stillness seemed to prevail in the witching hours of the dawn, when the sun had risen but life had yet to stir. He shook himself. Such thoughts, polluted as they were by dreamish deliriums, were unbecoming. It would do no 2 See, for example, the Lokasenna, in which Loki condemns Óðinn himself for practicing such an “unmanly” art. 3 Schwerin, Claudius v. (1950). Grundzüge der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte
96 good to stay in one place, lost in thought or otherwise; wolf that he was, they were hunting him. It has been well established that the coastline, when measured in broad strokes (say, by the mile, as the crow flies) becomes strangely smaller than it would be when measured with more fine-grained instruments; for, in order to measure with larger units, one would have to discard the minute details of the immediate coast—and so, for all intents and purposes, they disappear. The dilemma persists for an infinity; for no matter how small the measurement, an untold multitude of details must remain unaccounted for; the rounded curvature, for example, of a trillion pebbles. In describing the phenomenon, Mandelbrot mysteriously remarks that “each portion [of the coast] can be considered a reduced-scale image of the whole”4—that is, can be understood as a fractal, iterating the same patterns for an eternity. Although he would have been completely in the dark regarding these mathematical peculiarities, the outlaw must have been struck by a similar thought: how wonderful it would be to secret himself away into a forgotten corner of the coast, to disappear there, to die there, so that his shame and his solitude could evaporate like so much dust! Again, the incantation—and the water beat interminably, indifferently, gradually reshaping the glacial scars along the coast of Norway (and across the north sea, across the centuries, the port of Dunwich was ultimately borne into the open sea…) but, wolf that he was, they were hunting him. Over the course of weeks, harried by the cold and the mist and the fear and the shame, a dream was percolating in his heart—and so every night, his shadow mingling strangely with the fog, his hands waiting silent on the flames, he worked this 4 The quotation is from Madelbrot’s paper “How Long Is Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension”
97 magic spell: that his name might be erased; that his deeds, and those of his enemies, might be forgotten and obliterated; that he might die, and die completely. What magic act may have sealed the spell, I cannot say. In Faust, it is a signature writ in blood; in other traditions, a wringing of the hands or a historied dance would suffice; for the Kabbalists of ancient Israel, the letters of the alphabet—without which no thing may be expressed—may have exerted some magic influence. In any case, his pact fulfilled, his spell enacted, he slept an often dreamless sleep; the night was filled with almostsounds, hinting at the threat of an unseen enemy. But nothing emerged, enemy or otherwise. In his sleepless delirium, he wondered whether the gods, too, had abandoned him. But again, such thoughts were worthless; unbecoming. It would do only to keep going, plodding along the rocky coast, shrinking from the light, shying from the sound… On an afternoon like any other, they found him; hardly a word could have escaped his lips, ‘ere their weapons pierced his borrowed hide. Fearing that his vengeful spirit might return, that his cursed body might pollute the land, his hunters set about building a funeral pyre. For a day and a night they labored, and on the second dawn, they set his corpse aflame. Perhaps they left a memento, although no trace remains. They would have returned home, triumphant, indulging in laughter and drink, cursing the nithingr in their cups, toasting to the health of their families and their gods, living their lives and dying their deaths… And over the course of the centuries, the old faith was whittled down and obliterated; the faith of the cross pushed steadily northward, the sagas were replaced with the bible and the lives of the saints, Valhalla with heaven and the garden of Eden, a warriors spirit with original sin… and save for these sparse misremembered fragments, the culture of the so called Vikings (what a name, Vikings, what a dumb lie…) no longer
98 exists. And the waves beat on, and that desperate word was made incarnate, and the coasts and the past were rendered incomprehensible, and now we are here, and that sorcerer’s saga has been forgotten, as was his wish. His sole indication is this dream of mine, conjured up in the magic hours of the dawn.
The Hermetic Impulse Ethan Osterman
What a relief to come into the light, even if it’s a shadowy half light, what a relief to come where it’s clear Roberto Bolaño, the Savage Detectives My first encounter with Morrell was immemorable, either in a library or a café somewhere—not that it makes much of a difference to you, or even to me. The inclusion of insubstantial details, he tells me at some point, is a nervous habit of all liars, and also of all truthful men. How do you tell the difference, I ask, already aware of the answer, already ashamed of my stupidity. But that’s beside the point, too. It’s a dreary afternoon; I’m reading (or really, rereading) Borges while the rain runs down the glass in little rivulets, forking and coming back together again, sometimes beading up, sometimes suspended in the dead air like vagabond constellations, before retreating again to the window sill or the damp earth. Really, I guess I’m mostly watching the rain. It’s a shame, or a dishonor, that he never won the Nobel, he says to me. His voice is soft, and the lines of his face are like the ridges of an antique globe. His English has the unmistakable affectation of a Spaniard. It takes me a moment to realize that we’re having a conversation about Borges—it takes a moment to realize that we’re having a conversation at all. But I eventually respond; I’m far out of my depth. Later on I tell him: I can’t even find a
100 translation of Macedonio—as if to show that I am not completely clueless, as if to blame my ignorance on someone else. He laughs and says something, I don’t recall what. The sound of the coffee press (I remember now: we’re at a second rate café on Capitol Hill, where I used to sit and read Bolaño and imagine I was an avant-garde poet from out of Tenochtitlan) is overwhelming. At some point, we exchange names. He orders a drink, I forget what kind, and not long after our conversation ends. I go back to watching the rain, thinking all the while about labyrinths of glass. That night I see my friends, but I don’t feel like smoking. I’ve grown out of it, I tell them. What I don’t say is: I wish I hadn’t. Morrell and I cross paths from time to time in the café— and maybe once or twice in the library, although it’s a ways away. I admit to him, but only after he asks, that I’m studying philosophy. I once had a friend who studied Wittgenstein, he tells me. I confess that, aside from the last lines of the Tractatus (whereof one cannot speak, etc.), I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about what he thought. Morrell laughs (an old man’s laugh, somewhat tired, almost sad) and agrees. He was a true German: logically rigorous and utterly inscrutable all at once. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Outside the window and beyond its film of rain (so melodramatic, so 90’s) he gestures to a victorian house painted jade, with wide windows looking out over Lake Union. I used to live there, he says. With my aunt. His father, an American, had taken part in the Spanish Civil War—on the side of the Republicans, thank God—and settled down in Barcelona with an anarchist woman; Morrell himself was born in the aftermath, when the dust had settled and Franco had taken power and everyone had returned to work and to tedium. I gather that he takes this to be a personal tragedy, or at least an inconvenience—
101 although whether it’s the one or the other or neither at all— perhaps the contrivances of fate have treated him, on the aggregate, well enough—he never says. He asks me if I’ve ever read Hemingway. Only the Sun Also Rises. But my grandfather,—who, for what it’s worth, I never knew—helped to treat him at the Mayo Clinic. Morrell retorts: it may be that your grandfather helped to kill him, depending on who you ask. On that line of thought, we circle back to his parents; for their affiliation with that dissolute menagerie of political dissidents, they are arrested; thus Morrell ends up on the other side of the world, living with his aunt in an otherwise empty house which to him must have at first seemed infinite, or labyrinthian. He describes at length the ancestral (in this corner of the world, this amounts to two or three generations) heirlooms, his grandfather’s antique swords, the modest library, the mirror at the end of the hall which so frightened him as a child… One day, Morrell asks to see some of my writing. I wrote a little prose poem not long ago in a bout of insomnia, I tell him. (Although there was no need to do so, I have included it here out of a dumb sort of vanity, as if I could absolve myself of it): And we were grabbing at the curtains, looking for a tear to let the light in, for a sort of revelation, for a purifying glare to kill our confusion and to leave it writhing in the inimical light; and we were begging to be sold a dream, arms outstretched like paupers and laden with the creeds and the dogmatisms of the truth, minds cluttered by patterns, by structures, by an order writ by dread divinities; and we were dumb and we were blind and we could speak and we could see, and that was enough for us. He tells me it’s very good, that it’s interesting, and out of sheer embarrassment I avoid the café for a month.
102 The last time we meet, he seems agitated, or at least disturbed. He asks if I remember his friend—the one who studied Wittgenstein. I remember, vaguely. The corners of his eyes wrinkle a bit: all of our memories are the images of images; vagueness is the name of the game. Having said this, he begins his story; a long, rambling thing which, to my recollection, went something like this: He was a real iconoclast; a brilliant, dispassionate sort of guy, does that make sense? Always working on some project or another, staying up too late, forgetting to eat… always forgetting to eat, it seemed, although he wasn’t too thin, either. It took some real effort on my part to get him to eat, you know? Just one of those guys who didn’t really care about food; a real ascetic; a real iconoclast… my favorite project of his—although he never quite wrapped it up—was a poem, only one word long, said with such pathos, such intensity (it would be enough, he thought, if it could be murmured in the ear of a drunk or dying man—it would be enough, even if no one else understood, if no one else could ever understand) that it’s sheer brevity would become it’s sole virtue. There’s something almost Eleatic to the thought, no? Something Parmenidean, something universal in its simplicity, something simply universal about it. But to be honest, he failed; he told me once that if he were German, or if he were a Skald, it would’ve been easy—but to compose like that in English was a joke, it was an impossibility. He settled for this phrase, which he wrote in the margins of Augustine’s Confessions: oh life, oh elegy… it’s an interesting thought, no? A circumlocution, a mote of meaning reaching out beyond itself, saying things it has not said. After all, what of life, of the elegy which is life? That is left unsaid; the true address is left drifting in obscurity, in the imperceptible, like a dominant chord waiting perennially for the tonic to absolve it of itself. In his honor (how strange, these rituals!) I once composed a song with only one note… but I don’t want to talk about me. He
103 was a naturalist, in a way; a sort of misanthrope, a primitivist; a critic of the world, of the iron laws of civilization, like a cage rapidly shrinking, like a horizon melting into oblivion with the setting of the sun, like an incremental and unconscious suicide; you know the type. Obsessed with “rewilding,” with the return to nature and all of that… the whole thing was always a bit unclear to me. But it was important to him. And so he started taking these trips, these hikes, out into the mountains, trying to live off the land for a while—and one time, a snow storm rolled in while he was out there and he never came back. An author—his name escapes me at this veritable twilight, like so much else—once asked why we don’t lock our doors and force ourselves up to die alone, with lucidity and with terror. Lucidity and terror, those were the words he chose. There is something terrible about death, no? But something vital, too. Whether he liked it or not, my old friend would have done just that, lost up there in the mountains, trying to start a fire and freezing to death to the tune of the wind’s dirge, the flame not taking, the charcoals staining his fingers black. Otherwise, it would be frostbite darkening the skin. In any case, doom prevails. A search party was eventually sent out, but by then it was too late; the storm had come and gone. All they ever found of him was a frostbitten ring finger, cut off and hidden in a fire pit. There was some talk, later, about whether it was a suicide, or if it had been an accident, or if he even survived and emerged on the far side of the mountains; I for one maintain no illusions as to what happened. He wanted to disappear completely, to erase his name from time; he wanted to be forgotten, unjudged, unjudgeable—but I remember him, I can never be rid of him, though, to all appearance, he has died and is dead... He gives me a long baleful look, his shoulders sagging and robbing him of height, as if to say it really doesn’t matter, anyways. I want to disagree, but I sense that he is lost in thought
and begin to fear that I might intrude on a secret congregation of his dreams, that I might barge in to that solemn, wordless exchange, that I might tear the curtains from the interior, bringing with me a light which is blind and purifying and anathema to his solitude, and so I say nothing, but look back at him sadly, with a look of misunderstanding on my face. What a dull dream, he finally mutters, thanking me for my time, turning to walk out into the street, and as he reaches for the door I notice for the first time the missing finger on his left hand. I haven’t gone back to the café—and somehow I know that he won’t, either.
Skyline Chili: Cincinnati’s Claim to Fame or Place of Blame? Payton Oliver
A city glorified not for its regality, nor its accessibility, but rather its weight in shredded gold, finds itself seeking the inquiries of insiders, outsiders, and inbetweeners. The byproducts of Greek heritage define this community’s insatiable hunger for its authenticity and will seek out such homely cuisine more than is advisable. As demand persists, the documenting of your verdicts on our establishment will enable us to move forward in amelioration. Fill out a suggestion card and place it in this box to be entered into a drawing for a week of free Skyline Chili! The Daily Indulger I pull up to the same spot, two to the right of the handicap space, with expert grace to not nudge the curb in front of my trusty pickup. I could do it with my eyes closed, and I’ve tried that a few more times than I’m proud to admit after a late night. It’s 12:17--I’m two minutes late for my date with a royal blue barstool at the Skyline counter. It’s Wednesday, so Dorothy is working until 2:00, but oh wait, why’s Tim serving? Oh right, Dorothy’s mom just passed away. I’ll have to get her a card. I cop a squat at the usual spot, and Tim divvys out my 3 cheese-coneys (mustard, no onion) with a heap of oyster crackers on the side. I rip open the straw wrapper (despite the stares from the so-called environmentalists) to quench my hankering for pink lemonade. A luxury if I’ve ever heard of one. From my perch, I yell at Freddie Benavides and Zac Taylor on the 16-inch TV because they’re
106 almost asking Cincinnatians to not be hometown fans. How can I support such god-awful records?! Anyways, that’s what I do at Skyline, for exactly 25 minutes, until my meal is put on my tab to be paid on Friday. 5 days a week, Patty Blessing’s “Skyline Time” rings from my alarm to make my way home. All of that goes to show that I’m here. You’ve never failed me Skyline, you’ve been my rock. See you tomorrow! The Frequent Flyer Ugh. I land in CVG only to be bombarded with texts from my client. “Welcome to Cincy! I hope your flight went well.” “We booked your usual room in The Hilton and will have our first meeting with the investors at Skyline at 1 o’clock, sharp.” “See you then, Chief!” “A driver will be waiting for you at 12:40 tomorrow for pickup.” Why is it always wicked disgusting Skyline? Down on the Cape, we have lobster rolls, mussels, and every foodie’s delight, but they ship me off to the Midwest to eat chili for a week out of every month. I’m over it. You’d think a CFO, like myself, would be going to the city’s finest steakhouses and rooftop cocktail lounges. Everything I do is comped, yet they give me $5 bowls of chili and neon yellow cheese. I’m better than this. Let me just tell you Skyline, your food may work for the simpleton suburban families living in Ohio, but quit marketing it to everybody. A line needs to be drawn somewhere when it comes to greasy guilty pleasures and formal business negotiations. Don’t keep subjecting me to pressed-particle tables and shiny-from-the-spilled-grease chairs. They say that everyone here is so friendly, but it seems a bit too comfortable to me. Come on, I spent four years at the Ivy League Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to buy the finest suits to be worn beside the prettiest women at the most exclusive establishments. At least this hotel has a TV. Cincinnati is doing one thing right. I pick up the clicker to drown out the misery ahead.
The First Timer I’ve heard so many things about the glorious chili served up at Skyline--it’s liquidy, it’s cinnamony or chocolatey (no one knows for sure), and it’s surely cheesy. I am trying to visit all of the states and their defining restaurants with my wife Sue. We’ve been driving in our Airstream for over 2 weeks now, from munching on Seattle’s salmon to Denver’s rocky mountain oysters to Omaha’s Runzas. And here we are! With my brown leather Moleskine in hand, we venture into the restaurant, seat ourselves, and are greeted with a plastic white ramekin of oyster crackers, hot sauce, and a solo fork placed atop a napkin. Let me tell you, it’s nothing fancy. The grub is cheap. The hot sauce is pretty much just Tabasco. But, the place is hopping! I look about to see teenagers, families, sports teams--the works. The funny thing? They didn’t even give us a menu. The people here just know exactly what to order. When we asked for one, the locals gave us side-eye, blowing our cover as the newbies, the Skylinevirgins. But anyways, we got the signature cheese coney and 3-way. And let me tell you, it was divine! I understand the hype now. Skyline, you do it right. I reached for my journal, bubbled in 5/5 stars and wrote 3 words: simple, homely, satisfying. After we try Montgomery Inn for dinner tonight, I’m sure we’ll be back for some late-night cheese fries. At least that’s what we’ve heard everybody does on a Saturday night. The Overworked Employee I stumble into my apartment at 2 am. 2 am. I reek of cinnamon from the vats of chili I stir for my entire shift as if my actual role is the witch of the restaurant, preparing potions in my caldron. At least they travel via broomstick. I am left to my 1995 Corolla. I make it to my three jobs on a wing and a prayer. But, who else is gonna be there to see Mr. Wright’s dentured
108 smile and matching “Hi honey” every day at noon, the extra 25 cents added to the customer’s bill just to buy me a York Mint at the counter. I do it because, yes, I totally need the money to pay rent (I can’t piss off my landlord again this month). And yes, at the end of the day, it’s nice to not worry about having to go to Kroger’s, see everyone in the town I’ve known since birth, and come home to prepare a meal for 30 minutes, only to eat it in 5. But, Skyline has been an institution--a safe haven. After 9 innings in Great American, 1 am keg parties, 3 breakups with the same ex, I came here. So did my grandparents and parents. Maybe my kids will one day, too, if I can ever get my act together. But hey, keep doing what you’re doing Skyline, but for the love of God, please raise the wages. I’m tired of wearing the same red Chucks I’ve had since high school. The Local Hypocrite Yeah, yeah, I am from Cincy, but that doesn’t mean I’m like every other mainstream local that’s obsessed with Skyline, or even Goldstar for the people who like to go against the grain. Don’t get me wrong, the flying pig statues all over the city, the Purple People bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky, and the Coney Island sunlite pool across town are all fine and dandy, but chili? Count me out. It looks like straight diarrhea, not to create a vivid picture or anything, but if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. Skyline is a stain on the Cincinnati food scene. We have Graeter’s, LaRosa’s, Aglamesis’s, Quatmans’s, Zipp’s...the repetition of restaurants after family names goes on. But, Skyline? First, that doesn’t fit the last name trend we have going on, and how could I support such a rebellious entity? Second, gross, just gross. It’s not like you’ll never catch me at the Kenwood location. I’ve been known to order some cheese fries after my boyfriend’s soccer games, late night homecoming dances, and hectic times babysitting the brats down the street,
109 but it’s not called “Skyline Cheese Fries.” It’s called “Skyline Chili.” And that’s blasphemous. Yes, I know I’m an oddity and blah blah blah, but that’s just me. I fully support those who patronize our local businesses and I’m always known to leave a decent tip and all that jazz. But, it’s my taste buds that just cannot get behind the sweet tanginess of something that should be hearty and savory. Skyline may be an enigma, but so am I. And I won’t be cracked.
a conversation Alexandra Calleros
Beauty lives in solace, in the silent hum of subtle heartbeats. My heartbeat. In the solemn chords of a piano playing quietly. In the art of being my own. In the art of driving down open roads and staring into the unknown. I am a long way from homesomewhere along the thin lips of the city and the country- when I recall mourning Ritchie Valens and everything he briefly came to know. I recall hating him for singing about some white woman named Donna and not a paiza girl like Maria or Alejandra. A girl with some color, something a little familiar. A girl of our own kind. He was another paiza trading us for the other side. But maybe I’m the biggest hypocrite yet because I too have loved a white man instead of Mario or Alejandro. So while I left those feelings to simmer underneath the surface, I remember the liquid quick rush of falling into the craze of him. He was still, for all intents and purposes, completely paiza and proud with one slick piece of black hair that curled against his skin like the perfect color of warm baked pan. He had a voice that flowed from the United
111 States to my beloved México and to the rest of the world- and he made all the white folk shake their out-of-rhythm, bone-studded hips to La Bamba. Who knew you could do that? Who knew white people with pleated collars and pastel yellow sweaters the color of banana popsicles tied around their blonde-frosted necks could wave their ivory-thin wrists, and mouthe the words to a song in a language they couldn’t even speak- the same white people who told my mother that having a bilingual tongue would inhibit my learning abilities and the same white people who told me to go back to Mexico even though I was born at the local St. Joe Hospital- but I guess they could speak the language of Ritchie Valens. And I guess I’m a little bitter or fascinated or both. But I hated Ritchie Valens again when he died and left his mother to scream something like “no, not my Ritchie ‘’ in the backyard of their first real home and that hurt. It did. Her hearttorn howl scarred my soul. And I hated him even more for dying in the middle of a beautiful corn field. The audacity of him- to die in a plane crash in the middle of a field which once fed the bellies of our ancestors. His soul seeping into the soil of a field that kept our people bright with life. A soil fermented by their strife. Yet there is a particular art in arriving at a destination without recalling the road that led you there, only the voice that accompanied you there. I live in a world now which prizes the chase: the chase of a good life and the chase of riches. I’ve settled beneath it all, as if this body hasn’t floated in the salty Pacific- floating above it all. And there’s a swell in my heart longing for the freedom to live that way once more. To pluck corn from its straw husk with my soiled-soaked fingers once more. My tips ache to trace the roots of my bloom to my indigenous México. How did I fall so far from it all? How did I forget its scent and its essence and its cactus prick against my dark-haired neck? I feel like I’ve lost
112 something. Like this freedom I enjoy was paid by a price greater than I and it’s left me indebted to something like the dead. Dead women. Like I’m selectively living in ignorance for the sake of bliss. Something leaking from my nail beds-I feel something like a bitter taste coating my open glands as I try to live. A history so rich and so deep and so dark and so light and so heavy and so frightening that I want to turn a blind eye to what lies behind me- to the bones underneath my sinking feet. To the corn fields staring back at me. Jarring. An ominous form that lacks angles but overflows in a prophecy with dimly lit curves. One that whispers in my ears and laxes the fibrous strength surrounding my white bones. Rendering me silent. Maybe it’s a call to the past- a call to the lineage that precedes me. A call to the mujeres that birthed me- to the indía girl that carried me in her small womb and surged me forth some time along the breadth of long ago. So I think of her- that indía girl- and I think of mi abuela and mi ama and myself. Mi abuela climbed trees each day. She betrayed them, too; chopping their tender wood and stacking it thirty feet high for the men to buy. I can picture her now: a stubborn girl loved by the sun, freckled and stern, but free. A free spirit. One the moon missed when she went away. One that climbed fat, old oak trees in tattered skirts while the thick soot of wooden flames settled within the tissues of her young lungs. Silently filling her inner crevices with a smoky blackness from the crackling wooden fire atop which she warmed tortillas de masa each morning and each night. I think of her long thick, dark braids tied at the ends with chocolate brown leather strings resting against the heat of her curved back. I think of all the mujeres that birthed me- of their sanded kitchen table rocking back and forth as they amasar; a large chipped stone is positioned insecurely under one leg and it can hardly keep it afloat. I think of the unfettered corn
113 husks soaking in our largest clay bowl filled with clear water- the bowl never moved yet the water still reached up to tease me ever so- and I can taste that rich, warm smell of nearby steaming onions, pork and garlic. Perfect. I feel the ache in my jaw and the tingling against the inner stretch of my cheeks and I think of the familiar pricking of my squinted eyes from the roasting guajillo chiles and cebollita cambray. Small pleasures living an unworthy life. This is something that will never end, I told myself. How ignorant, how oblivious of a young girl to dare and dream. Dare to dream that this life was one of beauty and nature; one to be respected by all. I think of the roasted chiles and their blackened flakes shedding into the soft flesh of my small hands as they’re rinsed under cooling water. How it feels to peel back their wet charred skin with my slippery hands. Their hands. Our hands. There’s a pride in me that develops; beating within my young chest. A pride settled deep somewhere between my ribs and the crevice of my beating spirit. It’s a natural kind. One that calls to the organic ways- the ways that brush my fingers against fields of corn to pluck golden kernels and and prepare a million platillos for our pueblos and for home- for when we realize that indeed we are far away from México, her colors and scent are nowhere near. So we refuse to leave the thought of her in fear that we might forget her- as if we could ever forget her. Now I hate to speak of this, it’s something along the lines of foolish. But as I look onto the American road and see the hundreds of acres drowning in corn, I think of all the meals my people have made. I think of our caldo de res con elote y papa, tamales de elote con fresas y queso, tamales de chile verde y pollo, our gorgeous tortillas de masa, elote con queso y chile, caldo de pollo con elote and everything else. I especially think of
114 our sacred atole de masa- this is a hot and creamy and thick and filling and healing latte-version of ground corn. It can be starch white or pale yellow depending on the corn’s complexion. Maybe even a pastel hue of lustrous purple speckled with cinnamonlaced foam if you’re lucky. The mujeres at the kitchen table make this drink from scratch- for me and for you and for them. It heals the sick and fattens the skinny. It’ll fatten the fat, too. But the mujeres at the kitchen table don’t care much about that. They sip this drink each day and it settles into their overflowing breasts and rounded hips and pudgy arms and they enjoy it. They used to tell me that this revered drink would make me look like a real woman one day- and they were right- I guess it really did. They’d take silent sips between loud laughter and hushed secrets. The hombres would enter at dusk and down this hot drink in gulps. The atole smoky and soothing as it laced their ribbed throats. They’d slam their clay mugs onto the rocking table and return to where they came from. The mujeres would resume, sipping and cooking and laughing and breathing and never stopping because leftovers weren’t a thing. And when they briefly settle into a quiet sip, mi abuela looks past the sheer curtain and into the lazy horizon. She measures time with her eyes and pain with the colors of the sky. She bows her head to God, and takes a sharp breath- remembering. She lifts her eyes and begins to speak in that same hushed town that quickly shuts our lips to listen to her accented words. “Ay, Dios. Your ama, aguanto mucho,” she starts. There’s a thin blue line around her dark brown irises that brightens when she recalls home, “I remember the smell of Guanajuato- like moving dust, a warm sun, and dried chile de arbol.” She shutters, “But more than anything, I can smell the cold of winter- frío cannot describe it lo suficiente. I still feel it in the marrow of my old bones. It pierced us- made us prefer a
115 grave over the aluminum shack we called home. The grave, we dreamed, was warmer than what we had here on Earth. Nestled in the cracks between hell and hardened crust,” she breathes. Her hands rest firmly on the edge of the steel sink, they always did. “But your ama was thirteen when she first gave birth. The baby. She was named Martha, she died. So then I became Martha. I was the first of seventeen who lived for more than a few months. But then I became the first of eleven who lived past a few years. Pero Ama and Apa had no way to feed us all- so they left to the otro lado- to el norte. And I was left to raise the rest. But Ama, she suffered, ” she placed a freckled, wrinkled hand on her rounded hip and continued, “Apa left me alone, but not Ama. He always went after her. She lost her biggest baby, almost a year old, when I was eight. The younger ones saw the flies buzzing near his eyes and thought they were too many. They covered his baby face in plastic. To help. I was flipping tortillas inside and Ama was away to el norte. But she knew something was wrong. She came back the next day, the baby was still warm like a straw mat that was sitting in the shadow of the sun. But Ama was still very young and I was young and Apa didn’t care enough so the baby died slowly, losing one breath after the other and after the other until the wind took his last one. Apa took her away for a while then, she lost so many babies she couldn’t be a mother to those in heaven and those here at home.” She purses her lips to pause, but never to finish. And I watch this process, the mujures of the kitchen table, until the day they die and leave me to rock the table back and forth alone- their mindful use of our land coats every splintered fiber in the table and in my bones. Their souls float in the kitchentelling me which way to go- when to turn the masa over and knead some more- when to coat my hands in scorching hot water to prevent the masa from sticking. Their red-brown hands
116 grounding blue corn in a speckled molcajete are now my light almond ones. Satisfied yet now fully alone. A beautiful blue masa- exotic and familiar buries itself between the spaces of my short fingers. Longing for here and for home. Shaped by our skilled palms into imperfectly perfect rounds then lightly seared over a fire and filled with melting Chihuahua cheese and bright orange squash blossoms. The flavors combine to form a crisp bite as a reminder of who I am and of what land I derive. From where do you derive? And then I think of Takaki and all that he learned now that I’m nearly alone. He’s a good writer- Takaki. He tells the truth in all of its ugly. He’s a man. Not the kind that justifies colonization, but the kind that question every type of privilege; especially the white kind of privilege. He’s well-read and wellversed and intelligent. He believes in teaching history- not the fallacious history taught by old white men to defend a genocide of Native Americans for the sake of “birthing capatilism” or the lynching of the black man for a reason I still have yet to be given- but history in its entirety. In its full state of sinister countenance. And amidst his thick pages of good words, some were particularly foolish. Some caused the blood in my veins to pulse and the fluid in my spine to coagulate, if for just a moment. On a particular page of his work, I found words that said something like the early English pioneers on Turtle Island began to eat one another for the sake of survival. My eyes scurried further and found words that cohesively formed phrases which spewed something about husbands digging up the carcasses of their late wives and children to eat the soiled, shredding meat surrounding their decaying bones. They were facing the hollowed face of starvation. I kept reading. At some point between his ugly words, I began to comprehend. The white man starved in the middle of a corn field. I laughed at the sick irony. But then I began to pity the white man that came on a ship and birthed sons after sons that killed parts of me- early parts of me. Parts of
117 me that belonged to the child womb of that indía girl- grinding corn into dreams. Parts of me that belonged to the poverty which drove my ama and apa to work as braceros and abandon their children in the solemn parts of a lonely pueblo- leaving their children to be raised by wolves and elderly neighbors. Leaving their children to meet graves before even school age. Parts of me which are bitter and angry and desperate for something like historical reprieve. For a rewriting, for a revision of what we are as humans. I can’t say that I forgive history for my light complexion and the continuous praise I receive for it in my own pueblo- despite it being the proof of my lineage deriving from rape. Or for every time I’ve been asked, “where do you come from?” when my lineage is traced to the roots of Turtle Island and theirs from across the ocean. But we avert our eyes from that. We live in bliss, selectively. Purposefully. For the spreading of the india girl who is my mother’s mother’s mother’s pain too hard to bear. Like a rose thorn in the center of a palm, we pluck its body and rub its scar. For pain grows too heavy in knowing that she was taken against her will to birth the generations that birthed mine. That birthed me. I can’t say I forgive. I can’t say that today. But maybe that comes with the grave.
Personal Connection Brennan Gould
Sadness Solidified Chloe Oronato
Inscriptions Christina Oronato
Texting Chloe Oronato
Digital Collage Brennan Gould
Noah Cha is a junior studying Finance at the University of Notre Dame living in Stanford Hall, originally from Southern California. Lina Abdellatif is a freshman Posse and Questbridge Scholar at the University of Notre Dame. She is majoring in Neuroscience. She is known for her groundbreaking research on how the skeletal system is a myth, and she intends on fabricating data in order to support her position. She cannot read. Sarah Kikel is a junior majoring in PLS and minoring in Sustainability. She is commonly found swinging on Sorin’s porch, singing the praises of reusable cups, and hyping up The Observer. She likes Virginia Woolf. Veronica Kirgios is a junior majoring in Honors Mathematics. Growing up in a household that speaks three languages has given her a deep appreciation for words and this past semester especially she has begun to recognize her love for expression through language. Most of her poems are deeply personal and revealing, as they reflect on difficult moments in her life and how they have shaped her. Through poetry, she has begun to heal. Perhaps someone will read them and feel seen or understood in her writing, that would give her great joy. Molly O’Toole is a first-year English major. She is from Arlington, Massachusetts, and lives in Welsh Fam. She loves baking cakes, reading Mary Oliver and Sylvia Plath, and going for long walks. Molly wants to thank her roommate Tara for staying up with her all night to talk about fate. Hannah Tonsor is a sophomore studying English with minors
129 in Musical Theatre and Digital Marketing. Plans to pursue a career in publishing. Lover of coffee, but can’t really tell the difference between a good and bad cup. Anna Staud is a junior at Notre Dame studying Economics and English with a Concentration in Creative Writing and minors in Theology and Latino Studies. On campus, she sings in the Folk Choir and is a proud Wild Woman of Walsh Hall. Joe Carper is a freshman living in Alumni Hall. He is majoring in Philosophy and planning to minor in Constitutional Studies. Joe is involved with Liturgical Choir, the Alumni Hall Most Dangerous Mass Band, and the chess club. Alena Coleman grew up in New Harmony, Indiana-- a utopian experiment turned living museum. She studies English and Spanish, but she wishes she could be a puppeteer. She hopes that all your fences have gates. Chelsey Boyle is a junior English Major and Computing & Digital Technologies minor. She plans on adding the Honors Creative Writing concentration to her Major and completing a poetry collection for her Senior thesis. She enjoys skydiving, mansplaining the stock market, and catfishing flat-Earthers. Caroline Kranick is from Jessup, Pennsylvania and currently resides on campus in Ryan Hall. She is currently majoring in English and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, after which she hopes to attend law school or engage in some other form of graduate studies.
130 Natalie Munguia is a junior studying Neuroscience and Behavior with a minor in poverty studies from Yakima, WA. When she’s not on the 10th floor of the library, you can find her running around the lakes, baking in the Lyons kitchen, and spending time with her friends. Anna Falk is a freshman from Cincinnati, Ohio majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior. She intends to double major in English and minor in French. While she thoroughly enjoys music, dancing, and baking, she is known for her love of Dr. Pepper and her anger that ND only sells Mr. Pibb. John Salem is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame who is majoring in English and Philosophy. He has been writing poetry since he was 10 years old, making the low quality of his work all the more abhorrent. John is from Cleveland, Ohio, and often uses the innate beauty of the city to inspire his poetry. He is interested in all forms of writing, ranging from prose to journalism. Bella Niforatos is a Psychology and English major from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She feels compelled to write in order to satisfy a primal hunger inside of her that demands words as tribute. She also enjoys dancing, immersing herself in the mountains, and dreaming about outer space. Renee Yaseen is a junior studying International Economics— Arabic. Her opinions can be found in the Wall Street Journal (May, July, and October 2020), and in The Observer. Her poetry appears in Bluing the Blade (2020), Open: Journal of Arts & Letters (2020), and Overachiever Magazine (2020). Taylor Anthony Batilo is a freshman from the Philippines but
131 currently lives in Aurora, Colorado; He is in pursuit of a degree in Chemical Engineering and resides in Fisher Hall (YGR). He will also ignore your collective groan at the phrase “Chemical Engineering” as he carries on reading and writing. Alexandra Calleros is the founder of the American Dream Project- a local nonprofit focused on minorities, especially firstgeneration students, achieving their dream careers through college planning mentorship. She is currently a senior Pre-Med and English Writing major at Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame and writes in pursuit of social justice. Felicity Wong is a freshman from New Jersey and Hong Kong, but she calls Lewis Hall her home. She intends to major in English and minor in philosophy and public service. Her love for creative writing began at the age of five when she wrote and illustrated her first story. Ethan Osterman is a junior philosophy and statistics major from Seattle Washington. Matthew Ellison is a writer/filmmaker and current MBA student at the University of Notre Dame. His films have screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, TIFF, Venice Film Festival, Champs-Élysées Film Festival, and on Short of the Week. Matt has also directed short documentaries focusing on issues ranging from the relativity of success to the push for equality amongst coaches in professional soccer. Payton Oliver is a first-year undergraduate student, currently majoring in Finance and minoring in Collaborative Innovation. Outside of class, she is a part of the Mock Trial team and enjoys reading and creative writing when her schedule allows for it.
Julia Yuxuan Yang is a junior Accounting and English student at the University of Notre Dame. She is from Houston, Texas. Chloe Onorato is an English major with a Creative Writing concentration and Studio Art minor at the University of Notre Dame. She has published writing and art in The Juggler and enjoys the Mustard Creative Writing Club. Her dream is to be a professor who writes and illustrates her own books. Victoria Dominesey is a first-year English major at the University of Notre Dame. Having moved frequently throughout her life, it’s difficult for her to declare exactly where she is “from.” She has a passion for writing and hopes to pursue it further during the remainder of her time at ND. Christina Onorato is a second-year Visual Communication Design major and Business Economics minor studying at the University of Notre Dame. Artistic expression has always been an important part of her life. She loves painting, photography, digital media and design, drawing, sculpture, singing, and playing the piano. Brennan Gould is a freshman engineering student from Richmond, Virginia. He is a resident of O’Neill Family Hall and is planning to study computer science. Brennan works primarily in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and also enjoys creating 3-dimensional elements to be brought to life on the 3D printers at Stinson-Remick.