Copyright ÂŠQuarto by Quarto Literary Magazine Quarto accepts submissions of literary nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and visual art created by Columbia University undergraduates. Submissions accepted at quartomagazine.com For other queries, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists upon publication. Cover art, Proverbs Girl, by Denver Blevins: Proverbs Girl is a collage created in reference to Proverbs 26 and with images cut out of National Geographic. This collage dissects the discrepancies between reports of major news outlets and the reality of current events.
Columbia Universityâ€™s Official Undergraduate Literary Magazine
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS To our guest judges: Jenny Zhang, Jericho Brown, and Rebecca Curtis, thank you for your time and discerning taste. To Joe Fasano and Heidi Julavits, thank you for your invaluable encouragement, advice, and mentorship. To Dorla McIntosh, thank you for your unyielding support and guidance. To Columbia’s Creative Writing Department, thank you for providing Quarto with the space, resources, and opportunity to showcase the work of Columbia’s undergraduates. To our writers and readers, thank you for building this magazine. We couldn’t have done this without you.
STAFF EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Samantha Caveny Alison Peebles
EVENTS CHAIRS Priya Pai Emma Tueller Stone
WEBSITE EDITORS Priyanka Mariwala Priya Pai
ART & DESIGN EDITORS Charlie Blodnieks Lily Ha Cameron Lee Katie Mimini Dora O’Neill
MANAGING EDITORS Andy Haas Elizabeth Merrigan
VIDEO EDITOR Kyra Chen
SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR Philip Grayson
Zhaneque Craig Hannah Liberman Viviana Prado-Núñez Neeraj Ramachandran Tova Ricardo Catherine Valdez
1 EARLY BLOOMER Amber Lewis Poetry 2 TWINS NUDE Denver Blevins Artwork 3 ALL EYEZ ON ME Angelo Hernandez-Sias Fiction 14 SELF-PORTRAIT (19) Oscar yi Hou Artwork 15 THIS IS NO JOKE Perry Levitch Poetry 17 EXPLORING YOUR OPTIONS Laura Elizabeth Hand Artwork 19 FRAGMENTS: ON A FOOTLONG Hannah Kaplan Nonfiction 30 LET LOOSE Claudia Chung Artwork 31 I WOULD DIE 4 MY BETTA FISH Corinne Rabbin-Birnbaum Fiction 33 AIN Lipa Schmeltzer Artwork 35 THE HEARTS OF YOUNG GIRLS Amanda Ong Nonfiction 46 MY DIARY Clara Hirsch Artwork
47 TO ALLOW IT TO HAPPEN / TO TOLERATE (AN EXCERPT) Glynnis Eldridge Nonfiction 55 UNTITLED Ethan Barretto Artwork 56 HARVEST SEASON (THE END OF THE WORLD) Melissa Ho Poetry 57 A WHITE BOY FIGURES OUT HE DIDNâ€™T GET INTO HEAVEN Asha Futterman Poetry 61 CAROUSEL Virginia Gresham Artwork 63 SHINRAN SHONIN, OR, A HIDDEN BUDDHIST STATUE Julia Flasphaler Nonfiction 68 THREE TREES Tiffany Troy Poetry 69 LA LIMPIADA Julia Angelica Sierra Nonfiction
TABLE OF CONTENTS
EDITORS’ NOTE We set out this year to create a community founded upon the sharing of art. We hoped that the communion of art and voices would shower the Columbia community, and it’s been a pleasure to take on this endeavor. This year, various members of our staff have spearheaded the relaunch of our website, the creation of illustrations to accompany our pieces, the design of a marvelous chapbook, and events that engaged our community, whether in sharing new voices or coming together to resist. We are so proud of the daily work that our staff has done to enrich the greater Columbia community. We have also collaborated with other on-campus publications to foster a sense of community that spans all readerships and voices, and we are grateful to the staffs of those publications for their commitment and energy. We hope that creating art on this campus has become a distinctively collaborative endeavor, just as the creation of this print edition has been. This print edition is a marker of what we’ve been able to accomplish during this academic school year, but it is by no means an end to this endeavor. We hope the collection in this edition will be a springboard from which you jump to continue to believe in both the power of art and the joy that sharing it brings. Sincerely, Samantha Caveny & Alison Peebles Editors-in-Chief
Alison Peebles & Samantha Caveny 4
GUEST JUDGES FICTION Rebecca Curtis
NONFICTION Jenny Zhang
POETRY Jericho Brown
EARLY BLOOMER Amber Lewis
They called me an Early Bloomer, cramming tits into ill-fitting bras before middle school, hips widening to a tentative smile — nappy hair wound tight by Mama’s milk hands —
I do not look like my Mother, though you’ll notice we share a smile.
White Mothers hissed I wish I had your figure at pool parties, sipping Mike’s Hard by the water, dripping condensation, when I was Thirteen. Would their husbands rather fuck a Little Black Girl? We learn young that our bodies aren’t our own.
Twins Nude combines watercolor and pen, and its subject explores female acknowledgement of the male gaze. 2
ALL EYEZ ON ME Angelo Hernandez-Sias
2018 FICTION WINNER, CHOSEN BY REBECCA CURTIS
FUCK COKE First job I took after active duty was as a security guard at the Coca-Cola plant in Moanalua. It wasn’t what I lived for. Work had never been that for me or anyone I had known. What I lived for in those days, I thought, was college. I had just enrolled part-time at Honolulu CC. I might have been half a decade older than the kids sitting at the front of the room, and I might have been dumber than them, too— high school math in Panama isn’t what it is here, not even for you suburbanites who spend adolescence too drunk to apply for university—but every time I walked into that building, I felt as if I was getting payback against those predatory fuckheads who had recruited me on a promise that I’d be able to go to school while serving in the infantry. After I had spent eight weeks crawling in the mud and busting out of dryers which confederate grandsons had shoved me into and then turned on, I asked the fuckhead recruiters how I could start classes. And what did they say? Nothing. They were busy cackling. But that’s another story. The point is, I thought, and would tell Maria this during our late night phone calls, that I had finally found some kind of purpose. And that much was true. What wasn’t true: school wasn’t really it. Ass was. This was nowhere clearer than in my spending. Maria’s income had been nominal, so when we split, I didn’t lose much. No dog food, more money, and even with the new cost of rent, you’d expect my standard of living, or at least the amount that I was sending home—same shit—to go up. But I swore, long distance calling cards got more and more expensive, and even when I did make time to call my mother, her complaints grew louder and more incessant. Julianita es la mejor en la clase con pies llenos de vejigas porque sus zapatos no le quedan, she’d say, or Renato está creciendo como futbolista, y como quisiera poder meterlo en una liga—both of which meant the same thing: wasn’t I going to send something their way again soon, or, if you want to go deep, I hadn’t forgotten about them, had I? And man, how I wanted to send more, how the heat hit my 3
face every time my card bounced in line at Moanalua 99 with only eggs, spam, and rice in my cart. It hadn’t occurred to me that the money I spent at nightclubs was real. I saw no connection between my being broke and my clubbing. Even my friendships were about ass. Some friends are brought together by music, others by drugs, and while those certainly brought us together too, they were only our ayahuasca— there to enhance our worship of the Ultimate Good. It was what we talked about, what we chased, and why we hung out: collectively, our individual stocks rose. The only dude in my friend group more sexcrazed than me was this salvadorian guy named Yeffrey. I met him through another buddy, Tommy, who had been in my platoon and who had met Yeffrey I don’t know where. Tommy and I had been tight until I found out that Maria was fucking him, along with some other dudes in the barracks, and from that point on, even though I never brought it up to him, I kept a distance between us. Again, another story. Yeffrey, on the other hand, I drew myself to. We would work out together, hit the beach together, and, of course, club together. He was the kind of guy who would scream while he lifted and who would let his free weights crash onto the floor, the kind of guy I had always fantasized about punching in the face, but he got more ass than me, and so, for a brief while, I became his loyal, albeit hesitant follower—more witness than apprentice. I couldn’t dig the tight-fitting neon-colored t shirts he wore, and I would always refuse when he offered me the syringe that he’d jam into his ass cheek— and, except for once, I never did coke with him. Yeffrey was the kind of guy whose compliments didn’t depend on the amount of respect you had for him. One moment, you’d be cringing at him for eating cereal in water, and the next you’d be red in the cheeks, glancing down at your biceps and flexing lightly or toying with your crucifix pendant because he had said you looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tupac. Maria was like that too. I think I liked hanging out with him because he was the only person I knew who appeared to feel emptier than myself. Aside from what I could observe during our weekends out, I knew nothing about his personal life—what he actually did for a living, why he had immigrated to Hawai‘i—and I didn’t ask. I prefer to keep people out of focus. PETITE There was nothing special about the night I met Maria. We were 4
at Rumours—and then we weren’t. After we’d finished, she put her hands on my waist and giggled the word petite. I got pissed and put on my clothes and left. The next day, I called and apologized. So began us. HAND IN HAND “You’ve got to quit that shit, man.” Yeffrey poured skim milk into two jars already filled nearly halfway with chocolate protein powder. He twisted the cap onto the carton and put it back onto the shelf in his fridge, which he had left open. When he shut the fridge, a few droplets of the protein shakes spilt onto the white countertop. “I know,” I said. “I know.” After tightening the lids on the jars, he shook them vigorously, as if there were stones in them that he was trying to grind to dust. “Moving on. Fucking your ex. The two don’t go hand in hand.” He offered me a shake. “Thanks,” I said, grabbing the jar from him. I took a swig. The powder clumped at the back of my throat like small chunks of mud. “You married too young.” “I know.” “You always do, don’t you?” NEIGHBORS I didn’t consider telling Maria that we should stop seeing each other for good until I met Mamaisa at my first AA meeting. She told the group a story about her last relapse, which had occurred a few weeks prior. She had started drinking again—in secret. She would hide in her car in the parking lot outside her apartment and get drunk while her husband, also in recovery, and eight-month-old slept through the night. Me, I gave few details about what had brought me there. After the meeting, I approached where she sat alone at a table on the other side of the hall. She wore a Death Row t shirt and a pair of over-the-ear headphones, and she watched the wall on the opposite side of the hall like it was a tv. When I sat down next to her, she pulled one headphone off her ear and sipped the brown liquid in her dixie cup. “What?” she said. “Oh, I didn’t say anything,” I said to her. “You can keep listening.” “Thanks for your permission,” she said, pulling the head5
phones down onto her neck, “but it’s all right. I should, er, interact with other humans.” “I’m not human.” “Me neither.” “I fucking knew it.” She smiled and set down her coffee. “So you have a....” “We all make mistakes.” “Jeez,” I said. I took a bite from the stale wafer on my plate. “You’re....” I held out an mmm sound. “Mom-eye-suh.” “What a name.” “Hitting on married woman at an AA meeting, are we?” she said, reaching for her headphones. When I blushed, she pulled her hands from her headphones and said, “I’m fucking with you, dude.” I laughed sheepishly and immediately hated the sound that emanated from my throat. “I just liked your t shirt.” She held it between her thumbs and examined it. “Have you heard Pac’s new album?” I shook my head. She reached for her headphones and actually put them back on. We both laughed, the noise in my throat now warm and round. The shuffle of the other members filled the hall. “And you are?” “Alone-so,” I said. I studied her face. “You look familiar.” She brought her lower lip and her brow toward her nose. “So do you.” “Really?” “Yeah. Another guy who thinks Asian women look alike.” I blushed again. After laughing, she said, “Nah, you’re right. I think we’re actually neighbors.” PARAKEET It wasn’t until I learned that we lived in the same apartment complex that I began noticing Mamaisa—on the elevator, in the laundry facility, you know, the usual spots. That was the extent of our contact, and yet, especially given the nature of my job, which involved little more than staring at a clock for several hours a day, be it in a factory or a classroom, this was more than enough to send my mind into long bouts of fantasy. What was her life like? I only knew what little 6
I’d learned from our conversation after that AA meeting, the first and only I had seen her at. Her mother was from Guam, her father from New York, she had graduated from the University of Hawai‘i a few years back, and she worked for a nonprofit downtown. She drove away from that meeting in a run down Mazda. I pictured us rolling down the highway, her car rushing into the green mountainscape like a parakeet into a hurricane. EATING ALONE On workdays, I would eat small meals during lunch breaks—rice, tuna or spam, a hard boiled egg, a strip of seaweed—all heated in the microwave of the office in the facility where I worked. The office workers would give me dirty looks, so I wouldn’t eat at their table in the office kitchen. I’d take my lunch to a bench outside, where some of the factory workers would smoke cigarettes during their breaks. I’d eat silently, looking beyond the city’s skyline toward the landscape’s jagged green peaks. They were similar to the ones I’d stared at growing up during my walks home from the bus stop, though I’d learned to stop staring when one time I awoke from a daydream with a knife at my neck. I gave him the fifteen cents my mother had given me for the day and went a little hungrier than usual, which wasn’t saying much. I had always looked forward to meals, then. That might have been because they were infrequent, meager. But it also could have been because they had reminded me of the people in my life, and now they reminded me of my solitude. Now, I ate quickly and savored the skyline. ONE WAY OR ANOTHER Dozens of messages on my answering machine. Some of them from Maria, most of them from Yeffrey. A few times, he banged on my door and shouted, “I know you’re in there!” while I sat in the living room on the couch and held my breath and hoped he didn’t kick the door in. I wondered why he was so desperate to see me. Throughout our friendship, he had given me the impression that I was an accessory. There was a part of me that enjoyed what I wielded over him. This newfound power, inevitably, was short lived. I got home from work one night and found him sitting on the bench outside of my apartment complex, his buff calves glowing in the yellow light of the streetlamp, the toes of his sneakers barely touching the pavement. He pulled off his sunglasses and cleaned 7
them with his shirt and asked me where I’d been. Before I could answer, he told me to shut the fuck up, he knew where I’d been, I’d gotten a new girl, hadn’t I? Why was it that every time I got a new girl, I forgot that he existed? When was I going to learn who the real people in my life were? He might have pushed things a little too far the last time we hung, but he wouldn’t do it again. That was the difference between me and him. He learned from his mistakes. He was gonna teach me, one way or another. This Friday night. He wasn’t taking no for an answer. LINEUP Eventually I stopped seeing Mamaisa around the apartment building. I wondered if she had moved, or if she had started drinking again again, or if she had abandoned her family. Whatever the case, she ceased to be the subject of my fantasies. This is not to say that I stopped thinking about her. It was just that she eased into the realm of nightmare. We’d be in that Mazda whizzing through the hills—only she’d be tugging on the doors and crying for help as if I had trapped her in the car. I would push on the brakes and the car would accelerate. The doors would unlock and fly open and she’d get sucked out into the gray night and skid along the concrete, smearing burgundy splotches where her body bounced. I’d pull over to the side of the road and dig through the wet brush, which basked in the blue and red lights of the police cars that had pulled up behind me. They’d arrest me and toss me in a lineup with five other suspects who were clones of myself. Through the one-way window, I’d see Mamaisa, smiling as she picked me out. BAITING Maria’s calls had dwindled. One morning, after a long night of dreams, I called her back and begged for forgiveness. For what, I wasn’t sure. I wanted an apology from her, and I (stupidly) expected one in return. After she forgave me, she asked me out. “Yeah,” I said, my jaw clenched, “Friday works.” BOTTOM HEAVY As he had done during the last night I hung with him, Yeffrey got the evening going with a couple lines of coke, snorted from my countertop through a protein shake straw. He didn’t offer me any. Those 8
were my terms. I was to hit the club sober. I offered to drive. He refused. Yeffrey, as usual, was on some boys-come-first shit, which I found hypocritical, since his unemployed ass had every other night of the week to chase pussy. I hadn’t told him about my reconciliation with Maria, so he spent the whole pregame and the dangerous drive that followed talking about how much I needed this, a boys’ night out, to get back on my feet. I was young and soon I would learn that bitches weren’t shit, he shouted over Danny Tenaglia’s “Bottom Heavy,” which ricocheted throughout the car’s interior. Once I understood this fact, I would understand what it meant to be a man. I half-listened and said nothing. All this talk I knew he’d forget as soon as we walked into Rumours and he locked onto a target and rode his own heat-detecting dick to her, which was no mean feat considering the magnitude of that club. A dance floor with two cylindrical cages which propped up on each side sprawled out from the heart of the club, and a waist-high wooden ledge traced the dance floor’s borders in a sad effort to contain the bodies which coagulated on it. Cushioned armchairs wrapped around this ledge so that the idle could watch the dancers while they drank. The whole square—dance floor and surrounding ledge included—was insulated by several layers of tables on each side. On the half nearest to the entrance was the full bar, behind which several bartenders toiled, and in front of which the regulars clustered. I walked to the bar and quietly ordered a cape codder on the rocks. “What was that?” the bartender asked. The woman next to me repeated my order for me, adding, “He’s embarrassed.” Her voice was familiar. “Mamaisa,” I said, “what are you doing here?” OH, THE USUAL “Wrecking myself,” she said. “Aww, don’t say that!” I told her. When the bartender set a drink before me, I took a big gulp and then asked, “Where have you been?” “You ask good questions.” “And you give generous compliments,” said Yeffrey, who had somehow appeared next to me, a blonde woman by his shoulder. Mamaisa gave an uneasy laugh, which intensified when he offered his hand to her and introduced himself. “You know Alonso?” 9
she asked. “Oh, yeah,” he said, rubbing his hand into my shoulder. “I know him better than he knows himself.” My face grew hot. “Is this the new girl you’ve been ditching me for?” he asked me, loud enough for all to hear. Mamaisa appeared not to notice. “And who is this?” Mamaisa asked about the woman standing beside Yeffrey. “Oh! I’m glad you asked,” Yeffrey said to Mamaisa, wiping the sweat from his forehead, “this is, er, this is....” “Go on, Yeffrey, introduce her,” I added. The woman smiled a smile that said that this wasn’t the first time she’d done this, and began, “I’m Tiff—” “Tiffany!” Yeffrey said, though the fact that he had forgotten was already clear. “He’s a classy one,” I said to Tiffany rather loudly, my hand cupped next to my mouth. Immediately, I regretted what I’d said, but before I could apologize, Tiffany glanced at his crotch and said to me in another fake secret, “It’s not his money I’m after,” at which point all of us—all of us except for Yeffrey—burst into a laughter half-mortified, half-spiteful. Tiffany then said something into Yeffrey’s ear and left the three of us at the bar. I ordered a third drink and downed it. As I set the glass back onto the countertop, I asked, “Where’d she go, Yeffrey? The bathroom?” “Yeah.” “To hide until you leave?” “Oh, fuck off,” he said, brushing off his nose and leaning onto the counter to order a shot. “You two bicker like an old couple,” Mamaisa said. “It’s adorable. And sick.” ALL EYEZ ON ME
Live the life of a dog nigga Till the day I die Live the life of a boss player The future’s in my eyes
I sang with the voice that emanated from Mamaisa’s sound system. She looked at me, tossed her head toward the wheel, and laughed. 10
“That’s not how it goes, dude,” she said. “Fuck you,” I said, “talk to me when you know another language.” “Buenu,” she said. I stared out the window at the black mountainscape. It inched against the star-speckled sky as we drove along the highway. In the window, the lights of the city blurred into the white and red reflections of the speedometer and the blue light of the stereo control panel. “What is it, then?” I asked her. She sang along with the next chorus:
Live the life of a thug nigga Till the day I die Live the life of a boss playa We been gettin’ high
Then she said, “I like your version.” I felt something open up inside of me. I wondered how she could fail to hear questions like are you drinking again? and where have you been for the past month? yet distinguish dog and thug in the uncertain and accented English in which I rapped. I didn’t ask. Part of me didn’t want to know. I was staring my fantasy right in her face. I could touch her, smell her, let her laughter ring in my ears. I didn’t want to know. She was perfectly out of focus. “Of course,” I had said when she asked if we could go back to my place. It wasn’t until we entered the apartment and found Maria twiddling my pager between her thumbs at the kitchen table that I remembered that I had made Maria the same promise only a few days earlier. OUCH “What are you doing here?” I asked Maria. “Who is she?” Maria asked me. “I should go,” said Mamaisa. I grabbed her by the shoulder. “No, no, stay, please. This isn’t what it looks like. I can take care of this, I—” “Alonso, who is she?” “How did you get in here?” Maria dangled a key in front of her face. “I really should go,” Mamaisa said, and tried to pull away from my grip, but I held on tighter. “Ouch,” she said, “let me go.” 11
I didn’t. “Mamaisa,” I said, “please, just give me a second, this isn’t—” “It’s exactly what it looks like,” Maria said to her, “and you’re right. You should go.” A piece of Mamaisa’s dress tore when she finally tugged hard enough to escape my grip. “I’m so sorr—” I began. But she had opened the door and there on the other side stood Yeffrey, his chest rising and falling with his heaves, his eyes completely open and as red as his face. GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE Mamaisa didn’t dare squeeze past Yeffrey, whose body filled the whole door frame. She retreated into the apartment on her tiptoes, as though he were approaching her. But he didn’t notice her. He only noticed me. Indeed, everyone seemed to be watching me, waiting— for what, I don’t know. “No,” I said, unsuccessfully suppressing the quiver in my voice, “You come here.” Yeffrey didn’t hide his quiver. “I’m not going to ask you again,” he said, “you ungrateful fuck....You don’t get it, do you? You and me, we’re the same. No matter how many fucking books you read. You are me. And I ain’t shit. Now, get your ass over here so I can show you.” My eyeballs swelled. “No,” I said. “You come here.” “Ah,” he said, “who am I kidding.” And then he unballed his fists and left the doorway. I made eye contact with Mamaisa and laughed nervously. She didn’t crack a smile. It was as if I had become invisible, as if she were looking through me at some grotesque occurrence—a conquistador throwing an infant to canines. She shook her head, then left. There was only me, Maria, and a heat so heavy that it seemed to make the floors sag. “Baby,” she said, “It’s not your—” “Go,” I said. EPIPHANY A few months later, during my first visit home since I had come to the U.S., I finally understood Yeffrey. I pulled my face out from the gap between the wall and the bedframe where I had been retching and 12
wiped my mouth off with the covers. My high school best friendâ€™s older sister lay in bed half-naked beside me. Letâ€™s keep it, I said. She smiled in her sleep.
Oscar yi Hou This piece deals with identity amidst the transition to adulthood (the last adolescent year) and university (the last buffer before true adulthood). These bring alongside themes of identity such as masculinity, sexuality, mood, and confrontation.
THIS IS NO JOKE Perry Levitch
2018 POETRY WINNER, CHOSEN BY JERICHO BROWN
seriously this is spooky it worked for me if you stop here your crush will fall in love with someone else and you will be cursed to eat broth with a fork it worked for me but only mostly this is no joke one time a girl was walking homeward with her friends and her name got in a stranger’s mouth he insisted he was the one meant to sink a spork prong-deep in her she said ok to that I guess so he did so she turned into a cutlery rack for five months which was a change of pace at least if you don’t forward this by midnight to a friend then your reflection will always lag a minute behind your body if you forward it to a friend then you will get on the jumbotron next game don’t laugh at this if you send it to five friends please add your name to the bottom and pick mostly b’s if you 15
send it to ten friends then your kiss will crush you or rather your crush will kiss you tomorrow
Laura Elizabeth Hand 17
Exploring your Options is pen, colored pencil, and watercolor. The piece is inspired by the issue of mass incarcerations and a friendâ€™s experience in solitary confinement in a Cuban prison. 18
FRAGMENTS: ON A FOOTLONG Hannah Kaplan
1. We mutate and expand, shrink and multiply, the names of those we love. We test the limits of recognition, staking claim to our addressee’s conception of self – widening it infinitely, then anchoring it in the cadence of our voice. * I got Schween when she was six months, and I was ten years old. Her name, like the frequency with which I walk her and her precise familial relation to me (she is my daughter, sister or best frenemy, depending on the day) is constantly in flux. At the time we bought Schween, her name was Kelsey, and it took us about a year to fully reject that in exchange for “Dwenas,” which was derived from the nickname I use for my father: Dud. Through some etymological roller coaster, Dwenas morphed into Schween – a fitting euonym for a miniature weenie dog. 2. The dachshund is a barrel-chested bobblehead with legs the size of chicken nuggets. In height, the average doxie is about one third of its length, and as a result of its enlarged chest and elongate snout (over which it thoughtfully gazes) these creatures appear to be looking past an imagined interlocutor. Their posture would reek of haughtiness, were it not for the fact that among their species, there are few who reside below them. When up on all fours, the mini stands at approximately six inches, and the standard at ten – top of head to ground. Lying down, the doxie is a dwarf sphinx with two nubby, feline paws. hat.
The dachshund has a wedge-shaped head fit for a tricorne
There is something about this breed that suggests the hu-
man and something that, at the same time, defies its every property. I will often walk into my living room and find Schween at its center, staring off into the distance with a look of such sophisticated contemplation – one, to borrow Mark Twain’s description of the first dachshund he beheld, “so resigned and pious” – that it belies her bratwurst physique. From Richard and Lady Dondorff of Windsor (Drive),1 to Scarlett and Hazel Judy (all of whom I am acquainted with), there exists a propensity among dachshund owners towards nomenclatural personification – a desire to name their hounds something not human-y but also doggish like Lucy, Daisy, or Bailey, but something so human it verges on caricature. I however, chose to stray from this trend, and pursued nominative descriptivism instead: not only does my dachshund go by Schween, she also (and more frequently) goes by Weenie. It is a relief to know that I am joined in my departure from the anthropomorphic tradition by Dr. Anton Chekhov, who elected to name his two doxies Quinine and Bromine, in keeping with his scientific background. Napoleon Bonaparte opted to split the difference, naming one of his Fausette, and the other Grenouille, or “frog”. Due to a precedent of nominal elasticity that my family established early on, Weenie is constantly cycling through epithets; a most telling favorite, and one that’s stuck around for a few years now, is Corn Chip Susan (abbr. CCS). “Corn Chip Susan” came to me when, lying on the couch using Weenie as a pillow, I finally was able to pinpoint the odor she exudes when she’s warm and particularly fluffy, breathing shallowly, and has been sitting in the sun incubating in her own dogness for several hours; it’s a good smell, a starchy smell, and one that cries out for the accompaniment of salsa. Why “Susan,” you might ask? Why not. Lady Dondorff of Windsor (Drive) is the black and tan, short-haired mini who belongs to my friend, Adam. When I asked Adam for a sentence or two on how he felt about his weenie – could he briefly describe his relationship with her? – I got the following response: “My Lady Dondorff of Windsor (Drive) cannot be summarized so briefly.” In turn, I received a lengthy paragraph detailing his Lady’s idiosyncrasies – behavioral and otherwise –, concluding that LDOW is, in sum, “an empress of paradoxes.” I thanked Adam for his compliance and he replied the following: “I hope those sentences convey the Dachshund Owner Psychosis Syndrome that I suffer from. Suffer!!” 1
Weenie’s assumed some other, more off the cuff monikers, including but not limited to: Loretta Jones Jr. (of which there is no senior), Queen of Sheba Lorenzo, and most recently (and inexplicably) Nikki LoPinto – simply the name of a girl from my high school class with absolutely no relevance to my family, self, or dog. In contrast, Pablo Picasso elected to name his doxie something with remarkably fewer connotations and contours: Lump. 3. Weenie has four whiskers sprouting from her forehead, two above each eye. They are remarkably long and perpetually upright. I call them her brows, and often remind her that she’s due for a threading. Her nails are tiny, tortoiseshell shofars. Sllick click sllick click: these marbled macaroni make their way across the hardwood floor. When she runs, her legs soar out from under her in opposite directions and she becomes a line parallel to the ground traversed. You can always tell when she’s been in grass. It doesn’t take long before you begin extracting bialy-shaped nests of twigs from the dreaded fur on her thighs. Only recently did I discover that Weenie has just over half the number of teeth she’s supposed to. The way she theatrically tosses her head back when eating anything at all (hiking the food to her two lone molars) is arguably indicative of a Larger Problem. But the sight of her doing so – this odd, beyond-herself gesture – always made me think of a tiny drag queen laughing.2 4. Perhaps it is the humanness, perhaps the alienness, or perhaps, as I’m inclined to think, it is the tension of the two in one body, that has attracted so many artists and eccentrics to this breed of dog – both as a muse and a companion.
E.B. White was one among a range of literary greats to hold
I’ve never gotten a straight answer re tooth loss, but I have a hunch it has something to do with the toothpaste we use for her (albeit sparingly), which is jet black and smells like hot rubber. 2
membership in the Greater Dachshund Community. In an essay featuring Fred, White’s own dachshund, the author reflects: “I would rather train a striped zebra to balance an Indian club than induce a Dachshund to heed my slightest command.”
Weenie sits for nothing short of a fistful of food.
Andy Warhol was the father of not one, but two miniature dachshunds, Amos and Archie, the latter of whom was notoriously social. Archie would often accompany Warhol to human-only events, alongside distinguished public figures. In 1937, John F. Kennedy became the proud owner of Dunker, the dachshund puppy he purchased for his then girlfriend. Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated the president on November 22, 1963. Jack Ruby, the man responsible for shooting and killing Oswald two days later, had four dachshunds at the time (one of whom [Sheba] he referred to as his “wife”), and was rumored to have acquired up to ten at once. My Bat Mitzvah was on the anniversary of JFK’s death, 45 years later. I also have a dachshund. I’m not totally sure where to go from there, but I do feel somehow connected to this history. I bet Dorothy Parker cradled her dachshund’s head, angular as an alligator skull, and wondered what thinking feels like without the topography of language. 5. My parents agreed to buy Weenie in part because she was “potty-trained,” meaning she was taught to relieve herself on a “weewee pad” as opposed to say, on grass or concrete. With no intention of becoming part of the cohort of beslippered owners standing on the sidewalk at some ungodly hour, beholden to their dog’s bladder – my mother and father gladly accepted Weenie’s indoor predilection. I, on the other hand, was quite bothered by her lavatorial use of our livingroom, and desperately wanted her to be like all the other normal dogs – and my family, by proxy, like all the other normal families. So, on many a Saturday morning, I would station myself (treats in tow) about 20 feet from my apartment building, and wait with Weenie for hours, praying that she would miraculously decide to do her business outside. Often, I’d bring a wee-wee pad down with me as a sort of 22
transitional object, in hopes of easing her into the new environs. Placing the flat, square diaper on the sidewalk, I’d take a step back and order: “Go.” “Go.” “Go, Weenie! Go potty!” The wee-wee pad would catch wind and fly up on all sides of her body, encasing it like a puffed-pastry. As with many ladies, Weenie has difficulty using the restroom in the presence of onlookers – so I’d shift my gaze away. After about a minute of staring contemplatively at my building’s awning, I’d look back down at the wee-wee pad, eager to find a deposit of any kind. Not even a dime’s worth of pee, not once. Most times I’d look down to find her supine, thrashing around on the pad, tongue draped out of her mouth like a Slinky. “Weenie! No! Go! Potty!” Out of desperation, I’d press her rump down into squatting position. She’d look up at me like, Are you fucking crazy? and I’d slowly release my foot because honestly, she had a point. One time after a failed outdoor attempt, we got into the elevator and she peed immediately. “Weenie!!” – and kicked her in the gut. Two days later, when the give of her unexpecting belly was still on my foot, I wrote her a Post-it note apology and stuck it on her cage. We do so much for ourselves. 6. Weenie’s taken to wearing bandanas as of late. The current one looks like a swatch from a late-90’s Tommy Bahama shirt and on it reads in graffitied script: Martini Mondays, dirty and shaken. When she was a pup, I would, on special occasions, dress her. My garment of choice was a red, cable knit turtleneck. Had I been pressed to pick out a more challenging article of clothing to put on a year-old dachshund, I could not have. The piece was purportedly designed to accommodate the breed, however that’s like designing a pair of pants “for” an octopus. Hers was the sort of Christmas sweater my mother always refused to buy me, so presenting Weenie in this quasi-gentile, seasonal piece was a considerable thrill. By the time she was successfully encased in the sweater tube, I was rosy-cheeked, panting and covered in fur. 23
One time a few summers ago, in a radical act of rebellion, I took Weenie to the groomer and said, I’d like her shorn, please. And they said, What? And I said, Please, if you wouldn’t mind, give her a buzz cut? And they said, That’s not typically done for long-hairs. And I said, J. That day when I brought her home, I spent the entire afternoon staring at her, as she sat, squinting directly into the sun. She looked like a jaded Ugg boot. We’ve gone through four ThunderShirtsTM in Weenie’s 12 years. Touted on its website as The Better Calming Solution Already Helping Millions of Dogs, the ThunderShirtTM is a velcro jacket used to quell acute anxiety responses in canines.3 The garment works by applying slight, constant pressure around the trunk of the animal, similar to swaddling an infant. The ThunderShirtTM website suggests instances of potential use which include: thunder (unsurprisingly), fireworks, separation anxiety, car and air travel, restaurant etiquette, vet visits, crate anxiety, delivery truck noises, grooming, excitability and house guests. Among the suggested triggers, Weenie’s is nowhere to be found. I took to yelling when I realized my mother wouldn’t look if I didn’t. If for no other reason than curiosity, it’s hard to turn away from a screaming person. It used to be a matter of volume. If our voices reached a certain decibel, Schween would begin to shiver uncontrollably, little currents of vibration coursing beneath her coat. Into the ThunderShirtTM she goes. It’s kind of uncanny, how seamlessly it happens. My mother wraps Weenie in a matter of seconds, and begins stroking her in a feigned effort to calm her down. She coos acidic There, There’s. Who is this crazy girl yelling? she whispers as she passes her hand gently through Weenie’s coat. She’s making everyone so scared, isn’t she Schweenie. With my eyes I implore Weenie to stop, to abandon her doghood for just a minute and hear the words being exchanged, not just their decibel. Occupied solely with her own intense disquietude, she looks unsympathetically back, recognizing me, then, as the source of her tremors. It is worth mentioning, if for no other reason than my own puzzlement, that ThunderShirtTM advertises with the following oxymoronic, if not utterly petrifying slogan: Insanely Calm. 3
Weenie knows only of bodies – of hugs, kicks, kisses. Words, for the most part, fail her. She’s the filament through which my family’s energies course, and it is in these moments that I resent her for her conduit status; it makes me love her less, for it is sometimes hard to love a vessel. Four ThunderShirtsTM. That’s a lot of unwrapping and rewrapping. Split door frames and shattered mezuzahs tell of fights fought with no resolution. Day in and day out, we wrap and we rewrap. But Mommy, can we go over what just happened? You don’t really think that’s what just happened, do you? Weenie rises from her bed and begins circling my mother’s feet. If you think you’re going to crossexamine me, you’re damn out of your mind, Hannah. Weenie’s tongue leaks out of her mouth as she rocks her head along to full-bodied breaths. But I am just asking why you called me that. Just wait. Mommy, please just look at me. As a weather stick bends to rising humidity, Weenie swells and shivers with our heart rates and cortisol levels, burdened by an unerring ability to anticipate turbulence. * When even the jacket can’t calm her, Weenie takes to chewing her thigh. The saliva-matted haunch leaves a puddle beneath itself. 7. Topping Weenie’s list of Closest Friends are me, Mackey and Paul. Mackey has lived in our building for over 40 years and although she never married, this 445 resident is the proud matriarch of a long lineage of dachshunds – the last of whom relies on wheels for back legs, and wears a thick leather muzzle around his entire face. Mackey has an allegiance to ill-fitting lavender shirts, equally ill-fitting chino pants, and utilitarian footwear. Whenever she runs into Weenie, Mackey says, “Kelsey. My woman.”, in a tone that feels sort of like an inside joke. Paul, one of the building’s porters, crouches down on his knees and sings to Weenie in Portuguese at any chance he 25
gets. He calls her Chelsea. I approve of Weenie’s choice of friends – perhaps even envy their closeness. Paul is somewhat handsome, soft-spoken and speaks four languages, and Mackey is bold in spirit, makes meaningful small-talk and I have the feeling was a radical in her youth. Every member of Weenie’s genus is an enemy (save for her beloveds). Both of the dogs with whom Weenie has been romantically involved lived on our floor growing up. The first was Annie, the black lab-ish mutt who was always covered in sand, despite never having left Manhattan island. Weenie was nine years her junior, and they dated from around the former’s birth, to the latter’s death. Her next fling was with Willie, the Cavalier King Charles with three legs and one eye. Willie’s right eye was eaten by the neighborhood Jack Russell, and I am not sure what happened to his left leg. 8. Ethereal, perhaps even celebratory, a Weenie sneeze is a fine misting of fairy dust – mucus spritzed from an aerosol can. A decorous exchange follows: “Bless you!”, I shout, pause a moment, then shout again, “You’re welcome!” If sneezing feels the same for dogs as it does for humans, I am afforded about five seconds of uniquely physical empathy. She’s a creature who makes a lot of noise just existing. Simply lifting up her head to readjust position warrants a congested huff. Her yawns – even they crackle and cluck.
Weenie’s breath smells like acid reflux and fire.
On occasion I will wake up in the middle of the night and have the privilege of being exposed to a mid-slumber toot. In my mind, the fart bears some relation to a luxury vehicle – soft, cushiony, and has a smell that’s not, as it turns out, so bad. Once the scent escapes, it has been filtered through a lattice of warm, matted fur, an aura of doggy sweat, and the bottom left corner of my comforter, where a disproportionate amount of down has amassed. Weenie is a symbol, a synecdoche, a vessel and a hacky sack; a barometer, a muse, a plaything and a prop. But in these moments, when deep in slumber a plush little blow sneaks out, she becomes something 26
beyond me, beyond the signification with which I endow her; she is a whole being unto herself. A being that can sink into a snooze so sound not even a fart can startle her (whenever she passes gas during waking hours, she whips her head back to investigate what has sounded off just below her tail, fully oblivious to the fact that she is the culprit) – a being who, whether or not I wake up tomorrow would carry on licking legs, passing gas, whining whines, and hopefully, missing me. Nabokov once said of his own dachshund, Box, “he is so old and thickly padded with dreams”. For me too, it is this sound sleep that reminds me of the remove of her inner self. 9. Fingers, thighs, arms, feet, cheeks, lips, noses, knees – Weenie will lick anything human. By accident, once a night, my dad steps on her paw (which is inscribable within a snapple cap): “Fuckin’ a! Kelsey!...” He is the only person in my family who uses her given name. Weenie’s response is a quick howl of agony (which in turn prompts another “God fuckin’!”), then straight into ankle-licking she goes. A vet deemed Weenie’s oral tic pathological about nine years ago, however it hardly took a professional to realize that this compulsive behavior was not a manifestation of joy, but of internalized anxiety, woven bodily. My friends would come over in grade school and giggle when they’d place Schween on their laps and she’d locate a patch of skin and lick it tirelessly. “She loves me! So many doggy kisses!” But that’s like saying ants are dancing, in post-mortem spasm. Weenie’s eaten one quarter of her weight in Cheese Danish and has lived to tell the tale. She’s consumed in its entirety – cardboard, foil and gum – upwards of 15 packages of Trident.4 She has dislocated her back knee so many times that the socket has been whittled down into something smooth and too-forgiving. She’s had an engorged tick lodged in her skull nurse her blood for so many days without us noticing that it grew to surpass a raisin in length. She’s been high for 28 hours straight, having consumed an entire pot brownie for three (humans), in under a minute. Weenie chomps these packs like apples, splitting through the wrapping, into the meat of the gum, chewing very little, then swallowing one indiscriminating mouthful at a time. The component parts are nonetheless recognizable upon egress. Aftermath wee-wee pads are decorated by gum-wound turds, confettied with foil. 4
Nothing makes her happier than a Jumbo Smoked Pig’s Foot. Unwrapping the petrified hoof transports us both to an altered state of sentience – hers, one of singular ecstasy, mine of whole-bodied nausea. It is a smell at once bodily and processed; unforgivingly acrid, it is decay preserved. Weenie’s once-insatiable appetite is beginning to dwindle; the food in her bowl drizzled with water swells into tumid pillows, barely recognizable as kibble by 10:00 am. In her senility, she has taken to nibbling her own shit. The act is surreal in its casualness. 10. After almost 12 years, I still go to hold her paw like a hand when I feel she’s comfortable enough in her position that she can stand a little human nuisance; she still taunts me with that same one-second linger in my palm before pulling away indignantly. She’s normally lying on her side when I go for the paw hold, a long roll of back fat outlining her spine an inch away. When I lay next to her on the ground we are a big thing and a small thing, but it’s not always that comforting to feel big. There are times when I talk to her about things that I wouldn’t tell anyone with the language to pass them on and she breathes a big sigh out her little nose and I do the same out my slightly larger nose and there’s a sort of harmony in our collective breath that stands in quite nicely for words. When I cry into her belly at night she wiggles out from under me to get a better angle from which to lick my tears. I am not under the impression that she is doing this as a deliberate gesture to comfort me; these little salty water bombs are liquid gold to her. But the fact of the matter is that when I’ve cried enough to dizzy myself, and she’s licked enough to lose consciousness, we do end up falling asleep together, our bodies limp and interlocked. 11. In the past year, Weenie has lost both her sight and hearing. It’s been a long time coming, this loss of senses. Her role as my family’s barometer has fried her faculties, I suppose. Maybe their deterioration is for the best. 28
In her blindness, Weenie is found barking relentlessly into space. After a few minutes of railing against one void, she’ll reorient herself towards a new nothing, tense into the same pose and unleash another torrent of yaps. In King Lear, Gloucester trades sight for insight, and comes to see the world feelingly. Perhaps Weenie will grow to understand my family more meaningfully, without the interference of noise.
We’ve begun to call her Helen, à la Helen Keller.
12. We build these worlds around our dogs – construct realities in which we are, by default, the center and then note contentedly how, Secretly, hah, I know she loves me. My grandfather insists that you can’t love something that can’t love you back. But what about something that holds love so well? What about something that sponges up untempered feeling as it leak out of you – something that keeps love faithfully within its forgiving body, and perhaps doesn’t give it back in most senses of the term, but accepts it so kindly, which, in a way, is a sort of giving? According to Queen Victoria, “Nothing will turn a man’s home into a castle more quickly and effectively than a dachshund.” I agree, kind of, and mostly in the sense that there is a sort of grandeur in cohabitating with an embodiment of the absurd – in getting up every day and feeding, looking after and earnestly loving a tubular canine. That being said, the physical or even ceremonial enormity that this sentiment suggests is somewhat misleading – for the power of the dachshund, I would argue, lies in its very opposite. Weenie shrinks my world, and I appreciate her for that. When a front tooth is the size of a sesame seed, or a head resting on a leg fits comfortably on your outstretched hand, you are forced to take stock of things a bit more diminutively. The very height of the dachshund – or lack thereof – is humbling; it invites you downward. I get on Weenie’s level, stomach on floor, and only then can I truly look into her eyes – those milky beads of cataractic secrecy. 29
Let Loose is 18" x 24" pastel on paper. 30
I WOULD DIE 4 MY BETTA FISH Corinne Rabbin-Birnbaum
If a murderer broke into my apartment tonight and pointed at me and then to my betta fish and said “okay, who’s it going to be?” I would look at him like he was batshit crazy and point to myself, of course. At that time my fish would probably be fluttering around his tank hysterically, thinking the murderer was just someone new to feed him. The murderer would shoot me, and as I lay bleeding out red blood the color of the fish I lay down my life for, he might ask me, “why not the fish?” And I’d tell him, did you know in the wild, bettas swim in seemingly endless spans of shallow rice paddies? And that they can learn to recognize the vibrations that come from someone saying their name, and the face of their owner? Or, did you know that when my fish gets tired, he twines himself around the wire protruding from his in-tank heater? He has such a slim little body, but sometimes the weight of it overcomes him and he just needs to take a rest. But he’s not lazy, for sure. I’ve even trained him to jump and eat food from between my fingers. It’s quite remarkable, if I do say so myself. He’s a very talented fish, to be honest. And I would describe to this murderer how every night before I go to bed, even when I am so tired and anxious that my hands are shaking, I go up to his tank and say goodnight, and he flutters over and looks up at me and opens his tiny mouth for just a moment – like he’s giving me a goodnight kiss (though he’s probably just looking for food). But I can’t leave out the story of that time he got rot and his lovely fins started to shred and disappear, how I changed his water and gave him medication every single day, even though I could tell he hated it. And when his little body started to heal, I felt pride for the first time in so so long that I practically burst into tears. I think then I’d tell him about the way this fish of mine sits on the bottom of the tank and watches me while I do my work at the table, and how when I wave to him from where I’m sitting he starts 31
swimming around like crazy, almost like he’s waving back. “But I have a question,” the murderer would say to me then, after I’ve told him all of this. “If you die, who will take care of the fish?” And with my dying breath I would say, “but if he dies, who will take care of me?”
Lipa Schmeltzer 33
Ain is watercolor, pen & ink on paper. Ain is the Hebrew word for isnâ€™t, and my father isnâ€™t anymore with me. He passed on several months ago but the world continues to move on rapidly.
THE HEARTS OF YOUNG GIRLS Amanda Ong
This girl wears a skirt that hits her ankles, brushes against the tender space between her protruding bone and Achilles when she walks, moves around her as she goes, a thin, black fabric painted with rich blue flowers. She imagines the flowers are freshly plucked: that their petals turn wet when fingers are pressed into their skin, its life fading out of itself and imbuing the skirt in unfurnished edges—a fleeting of moment of life caught between the fabric of this skirt. She hopes she can carry the life the skirt possesses; she hopes it may save her right now. She wears this skirt walking across the parking lot of a minimart to her car holding one large bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, the hem occasionally brushing against the asphalt, while she charges ahead through the sprinkling rain as if her head is pulled by a string. She opens the door of her car, a hunk of metal seventeen years old and no longer quite alive with its windows that don’t roll down and its air conditioning that doesn’t work. It belonged to her father and was given to her when she got her license less than a year ago, an overeager sixteen year old looking for any kind of independence. The car is silver, almost mirrored looking as it reflects the rain— Ag, she knows, is the symbol for silver on the periodic table. When she learned the periodic elements she remembered this, Ag is silver, something precious among symbols of unknown liquids and gases, intangible things. She remembers reading in an encyclopedia once about the antiquated belief that silver possessed divine properties and people believed that silver warded off vampires and beasts. The grace of god lived in silver, pierced the souls of beings that lived less. She sits down on the grey leather seats and closes the door so that the world outside becomes muted, viewed through her windows like a television screen. She hopes that silver has the supernatural properties madmen once believed it to, that this vessel can protect her from the world that lies beyond even if to believe so makes her mad as well. She has already seen enough of that world 35
to know what there is to fear, what there is to lose, and will take the moments of safety she can. The band of her skirt pinches at her waist where a small roll of newly accumulated fat tips over. She is not as svelte as she was just months ago, but likes to think of herself as now possessing more heft, a stronger gait, before she would ever let herself believe she has grown chubby. She leans her head back against the headrest but cannot bring herself to start the engine, and closes her eyes instead. When she opens them she thinks she may have fallen asleep, and is not sure how much time has passed. She checks the clock on her dashboard, which reads 12:07. She had closed her eyes for three minutes at most, but sees already that the rain has moved from somewhere between a mist and a sprinkle to a drizzle as drops condense and slip down her windows, the sun shining through them from between the clouds. It is November. The weather in this time and in this particular part of California is meek and not yet decisive enough to be winter or even fall, it is characterized the most by its inability to fit one or the other. No clothes suit this weather, no styles, no bodies. Instead she finds herself a little too cold most of the time, a bristle of her skin and goose bumps the norm as she continues to dress down instead of bundled, just as she had in the four or five months before this change of weather. A moment passes and she runs the engine, and begins driving through the silence. Eventually she reaches the boatyard, where the people wait for her with his ashes. She is cold. The skirt she wears trails in her wake, its fine material probably not fashioned well for the weather or the place or the occasion, and grows damp and stained shades darker by the rain. The gathering is small, the dock shared between five people wearing shades of black so close to grey they vaguely resemble the clouds above. Three of them arenâ€™t important to her, nor were they to her father, and the only other there is the mother she wonâ€™t look at. This mother does not look at her either, stares at the ground somewhere past the dock through to the water, which pricks against light rain. The girl knows that if they look at one another they will only see how alone in the world they both are now. There is no acknowledgement needed for her to know that she and her mother both feel the burden shared between them, and the question of whether or not they can carry it feels impossible to answer now. They spread his ashes in the ocean. She doesnâ€™t look at the water as they fall because she read once that when ashes are thrown 36
in the ocean, fish come to the surface and eat them. She cannot lean over to look, cannot grant her self the knowledge that this is in fact what happens to him, but also can never object to them being thrown here because that is what he wanted. The rain still does not come down hard enough to really be called rain, but it is just hard enough that her hair both frizzes up and limply clumps together, just hard enough that she cannot tell what her face is wet from, cannot tell whether she is crying or if it is only this weather. After the ceremony she leaves the boatyard with everyone else but sits behind in her car, watching them all drive away. When they leave she grabs the Doritos she purchased at the mini mart that day, smashes the bag against her body and allows it to crinkle, breaks apart the chips inside as she walks back towards the dock. She stands in the spot they stood to spread his ashes and pulls at the back fold of the bag to open. Delicately, she throws the crumbs across the water as they had done before, and hopes for two things: that she is not too late, and that fish like Cool Ranch. 2. girl swallowed whole, in a steamed pork bun When she was still young enough to divide her life in inches grown, her mother dragged her feet between the pantry and the fridge and straight to the trash bins outside her home, hauling red cans of Chef Boyardee, bright yellow cardboard boxes of Eggos and blue ones of Rice Krispies, taking Snap, Crackle, and Pop with her. Garbage, she called it, trans fats, she yelled out. The girl cried the next day when a Chef Boyardee commercial came on while watching TV with her brother and sister, a can of Chef Boyardee autonomously rolling down streets and hills straight into the home of a family infinitely whiter and cleaner and stronger looking than hers— concerned that it was one of the cans her mother had thrown in the trash. “Home” had always been a hard place to pinpoint. She had wanted, at one point, for those gracious boxes of preprocessed foods to be home, looked for it watching TV with her sister, tried to see it reading book-upon-book aloud under the covers of her bed in the smallest room of their large suburban home. She did not see it at school, could not find it in the soles of her shoes, or lingering along her tonsils when she looked in the mirror and stared down her throat. She did not hear it in her own voice, or her parent’s Cantonese or Shanghai dialects that she couldn’t understand well enough to laugh in. 37
When she is fifteen her cousin passes away, the one who she once thought was her older brother and who had been her sister’s best friend, and she learns that she had in fact, always known how to eat her way home. Her cousin was several years older than her and a soldier, always serious, had just turned twenty-three when he had stopped on the side of the highway to help someone stuck with a flat tire and a semi-truck took the space of his life and drove away. She did not eat Kellogg cereals or Chef Boyardee after he died, but she did stow away in the back of her closet for eight hours and ate her way through four bags of chips and a pack of Oreos that tasted slightly salty with her tears, which endlessly seemed to drip into her food for all the table manners that she never developed. She swallowed without tasting or chewing much, looking to fill herself in some way, and then even full, still she shoved bite after bite in her mouth. She didn’t slow down until the day after his funeral when her family went to dim sum, because one can only eat so hastily using chopsticks. At their usual restaurant they are seated by their usual waiter. She takes her seat at the back of the table as they all wait for any word from her aunt, his mother, a woman with ash in her hair and smoke for breath, a woman who, in this moment, possesses the skin of a soup dumpling. The girl is not hungry. She doesn’t know if she can eat right now, doesn’t know if she will ever eat. Instead she thinks of starving until her body begins to eat itself, feasting away at her own muscles and bones and whatever is left of her, until it disappears altogether. She stares at her food, the dishes the same as they always order but for the first time in a room plagued by ghosts, everything silent while the food sits untouched, like an offering to be made to spirits not yet allowed to be dead. She passes time naming each plate. She has never been fluent in Chinese, but has always known enough to speak the language of dim sum. When she was small at family birthdays her grandmother spoke to her in her best English, which was always spattered with phrases of Cantonese. Her grandmother would point to the dishes and made totem poles out of them, all stacked upon one another in towers of bamboo steamers, each with a different meaning: the little peach-shaped steamed buns were for immortality, a whole fish was for wealth, orange slices for dessert were good luck. Long noodles were for a long life. She can only think now about whether or not her cousin had eaten enough long noodles. She tries to remember if he did, recalls 38
the weekend mornings they would so often spend right here, all the memories blurring into variations of themselves. She can see her seven cousins sitting in every combination, her grandma swatting at their skinny, tan little arms as they reach over the lazy susan. She can see them all lean over her sister’s lap to peer at a game of Pokémon under the table, and pour tea from as high as their tiptoes allowed them. She remembers how it felt to call this place, these foods, home. There was always a certain comfort in knowing the secret code to flip the cap of the teapot for a refill, the right way to hold chopsticks. It is correlation or causation, she isn’t sure which, but to be whole was to have these meals that always left her chest and stomach stretching for capacity. She remembers what is no longer, her whole family together, the home she realizes has always been right here. She stares at the array of foods that once brought a warmth that overwhelmed her, a warmth like the steam that rises from a fresh bamboo platter of soup dumplings, like the golden glow of an egg tart, like unfolding the lotus leaf wrappings of sticky rice. That warmth like childhood, like nostalgia, like home–a warmth that appeared in front of her, that had once stared right back at her, but today is not here. There is so much to grieve. A can of Chef Boyardee, the comfort of a cup of chrysanthemum tea, a cousin. Someone grasps her hand under the table, and she looks to see that it is her mother, carrying tender expression and chopsticks already poised over her plate. “Here,” she whispers, breaking the silence, taking a portion of whole fish from a large China platter. She puts it on her plate for her without asking further. “Eat it for good luck. Head to tail. Beginnings to endings.” Her aunt smiles at this in the slightest of ways, her cheek-muscles pulling upwards, her skin wrinkling in tiny indentations. Her sister begins to fight her cousin for the har gao, her youngest cousin pours them all tea. She sees still that thing that has given all, that has destroyed and created and made generations persevere. She sees hope: the feelings of home, family, and warmth can still exist, will always exist as long as the memories do. For this moment she allows herself to eat, as every bite reminds her of who she has been, of where she comes from and what this food means. It is the best way that she can begin to let herself remember. She breathes. She still knows how it feels to find herself in the pockets of a steamed-porkbun, and for all broken Cantonese she remembers too as her grandmother had told her, that dim sum means a little bit of heart. 39
3. girl without words She did not mean for it to happen. No one means for it to happen. Did she say no? She is not sure anymore. She had told him she was too tight, she told him she didn’t want him, that he would hurt her. But whether or not she had said “no”—that one word with whatever protections it could or could not have provided—she does not know anymore and does not want to bring herself to remember, even as it has just happened. She does not want to think there is anything “no” could have done for her. It should not make a difference. Either way, it is too late. She told him she didn’t want to go further, and he said he liked it this way as he locked the door, pushed her on to the bathroom floor holding her hands down against the cheap linoleum tile. It was a party in the house of a girl she was sure didn’t know her name. From somewhere beyond she could hear the sounds of Top 40 music and voices layered on top of voices in conversation, could hear people she had hoped to dance with dance, could feel their rhythms and noise vibrate through her body. She listened closely, tried to pick out the individual songs and their lyrics. Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” was playing. She hated that song, because she was never sure if he really wanted this girl to love herself or hate herself, was never sure if perhaps he believed that there were just some people not deserving of even self-love. She remembered the quote she had loved last year as a senior in high school, one she found on the internet by Mehreen Kasana, a writer she had never heard of but admired ardently: “A woman of color’s self-love is political and radical, and it is unsettling for the status quo because she is choosing bravely to dismantle the narratives of racist aesthetics against her.” She had only every wanted to find home in herself, in her tan skin and girl’s hips and the sway of her breasts that were, since fifteen years old, her favorite part of herself. But writhing under his body, she understood that she could never be granted such a privilege. She was not strong enough to make her body home, was even so weak she had allowed her body to be destroyed in minutes. She thought she already learned to know all that grief could be, and perhaps she did, but it did not compare to the sharp sting she felt in her own body as that boy stretched her in all the wrong ways. She listened instead to the voices outside of people she might know, focused on their sound over the grip of his meaty hands and the 40
weight of his thick body and his hot, wet breath lingering on her neck. When he finishes, he peels his body off of her and kneels over her, grabs her hand as he gets up, pulling her to stand on knees inverting upon themselves. He tosses her the clothes she had been wearing before all of this, and when he notices her shaking, asks what’s wrong with her and then leaves before she can answer. She decides she will make it home herself, cleans blood and semen from her body with toilet paper because she does not want to stain the hand towels in this unfamiliar house, and calls an Uber home. The friends she came with see her walking out and ask her why she leaves. They do not prod her when she manages only to say that she did not want it, they let her go even as she hopes they realize what she is trying to say. Part of her thinks they do, but do not want to deal with her realities. She wakes up in her own home the next day, and smells her mother cooking breakfast and her sister watching Saturday morning cartoons, and can hear her father making his coffee. There is some chafing and a bruise on the small of her back now from when he had pushed her down, from the way her skin had rubbed against the floor as he moved. Everything between her thighs burns whenever she so much moves, and she finds herself unable to speak, unsure how and with whom to share her burdens. She cannot tell her parents—she doesn’t know how would they think of her if they knew she was not so pure, was starved and dry and dirtied inside by a boy who was not supposed to touch her. She steps out of her bedroom and walks past her family in the kitchen and the living room unseen, walks out the front door and into their driveway. Her father’s pickup truck is parked on the curb, and pajama-clad and barefooted, she hoists herself into its bed and sobs. A week ago, she would think this was something George Saunders could twist into perfect fiction, that she would rather hear the romantic simplicities of this experience than its truth. She thinks of reading Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, the first book she found herself between the words of, and the vignette Sandra writes like this, a vignette she had thought was beautiful but is unsure now how Sandra could ever say what happened to her even in the vaguest terms. She thinks of all the fictions she has read of this violation, all the ways they could never compare to her now. She thinks of everything that has happened to her in just this last night, that she could not have imagined yesterday morning. It is then that one of her friends who had been there the 41
night before calls. She gets enough words out of her to understand what has passed, and is on her way immediately. Her friend arrives before the sun has yet budged in the sky, and she is still sitting in the bed of the truck. Her friend brings a hand over her mouth and points to her pajamas and she realizes then that she is bleeding, has bled through her clothes and onto the truck’s plastic lining, a small puddle of dark, discharged blood mixed with dirt and dust, and these are just the elements of life. In the end her friend convinces her to call their old teacher, the one who taught them sex-ed last year in grade eleven. The girl asks her friend to speak for her, the girl says that everything important is stuck to the linings of her insides, too thick to leave her body, but asks her friend not to say the word that begins with R. The girl has always thought that words were capable of carrying the weight that humans are unable to bare, but right now she cannot think of the implication of what that word can carry, not now after she knows what it means. “A boy did something to her,” her friend tells their teacher, tongue tripping over the “something.” “That she didn’t want to him to do. And now she’s bleeding all over, and please, please tell us what to do. I don’t know how to help her. We just don’t know what to do.” She and her friend have both managed to let tears fall down their faces, and she can hear now that her friend speaks in between gasps. She burns, and she does not know why her friend is allowed to be breathless when this has happened to her, when for her friend these words still lack their meaning. She can hear their teacher speaking slowly from the other line. “First, tell her I’m so sorry that happened to her. If she’s there she should know that this is not her fault. This does not change who she is. Secondly, tell her to go to the ER or Planned Parenthood, and consider calling a crisis hotline.” Their teacher gives them directions on how to see Planned Parenthood, on how she would report the incident. She tells them they can ask her for anything, to call her back every hour just to check in with her if they can. When they hang up on her, her friend drives her to Planned Parenthood. It sits in a complex that also contains a Taco Bell, perched on the side of a road that lives somewhere between street and highway and has not been repaved in a long time. The sun is already low and there is no AC in the Planned Parenthood, where they spend three hours in the waiting room sweltering under blinding fluorescent lights and walls the shade of newborn-baby-girl pink. 42
A nurse eventually takes her in, a young woman in pastel purple scrubs that against the walls starkly remind her of her childhood pediatrician’s office. When the nurse asks her what happened she just says that a boy was too rough with her, cannot elaborate on her lies. The nurse examines her, tells her that she is torn inside and bleeding. She tell her that it will take at least a month for her to heal naturally, that for that month she cannot use tampons or have sex or do any rigorous physical activity and should take Advil each day, that she could spot at any given moment and that there is nothing she else she can do about these things. The nurse asks her if it was consensual, and then asks her again, and then a third time. Each time she cannot respond but nods, and then starts to cry. The nurse holds her by her arms and rubs them gently, tells her that if this was consensual that she cannot let someone do this to her, cannot let anyone wreck her inside, cannot let someone hurt her like this. And then the nurse turns around and tells her she is free to go, moves on to the next walk in. She walks back into the dreamy-bright waiting room where her friend sits, reading People magazine. The moment her friend sees her she stands wordlessly and they leave the complex, walking past the Taco Bell and into their car. When she finally speaks, she tells her friend that she wants to report this boy, wants to make sure he knows what he did and can never do this to anyone else again. Her friend suggests she call the crisis hotline first, and she grabs her phone and begins to dial. A deep voiced woman picks up, her tone disinterested. Her friend tells phone woman the short of what happened, still avoiding the R-word. The phone woman falters, tells her she is sorry that happened to her, her voice sounding too much like grief and now-sunken desires to help others. Her friend asks what would happen if she reported the incident and the phone woman goes over the procedure, asks if she’s had a kit done, if she’s been to the ER, tells her the police would investigate and only if there was sufficient evidence a district attorney might pursue the case. “And what happens then?” her friend says. “Will he go to jail?” “I’m so sorry,” phone woman says, and the girl can hear her heartache, a miniscule reflection of her own. “I don’t know what will happen. In the end, it could be nothing. It could just be your word against his.”
ab extra: girl never empty-handed Your first boyfriend liked to draw you in charcoals—dark shadows and soft edges. You let him. You were only fifteen then, and you thought that perhaps if you could immortalize his love for you it would make it true, that it would make it stay. You were silly, too young for your love to be real but all too ready to participate in the aesthetics of it. All thick hair and doll eyes, a petite nose and delicate skin that possessed a translucent veil of youth and a warm glow off its surface, you were born ready to be a muse, to let men look at you, and, so young, he was ready to partake. You held small hands firmly sweating, pressed patchy dry pink lips to cheeks, and sat on floor with legs crisscross saying that love could look like this, love was meant for you. You later found love did not come packaged in Wes Anderson movies set and timed and screened to be perfectly looked at. Real love was messy, and you had enough mess. You wanted beauty. Selfish and greedy after being hurt for so long, you wanted the trim edges and flourished words, and only those. You broke up with your first boyfriend, and then you simply found another to hold on to, and later another, and then another, all loves that looked the part. You came to them all with ribbons in your hair, embroidered with dogs and pink flowers, mixed tapes labeled with lyric quotes in cursive, sweaters three decades old taken from your mother’s closet. You let boys look at you with your locks loose over your shoulders, swathed in your relics, and they believed then that you only let them see you like this, that this was your bare self and not curated from the history of you, not a regal presentation. And you knew from the way they looked at you that you would always have this. You had few people who you allowed to see you un-fashioned. One was a girl dark-haired and tanner, who smiled at everything you said and never wavered in the face of your faults or your false liabilities. When a boy does to your friend what young girls are taught to fear, fed statistics of “1 in 5 girls” before they have the agency to choose their own clothes, aesthetic love and beauty are not weapons that can be used, cannot be crutches the way you have always willed them to. So you reach for your friend’s hand and buy her a bag of Epsom salts, drive her to Planned Parenthood, and call for help. You realize then that she has crept up on you, that you care about her more than your boys and facades of love, that you love her bleeding and torn and that she would love you the same. As a child, your favorite book had been The Velveteen Rab44
bit, the story of the beautiful little toy’s search for realness in his world unscathed. The final answer is delivered by the Skin Horse, his words long silenced in your memory, but never lost to you: “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real ... Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” You do not know when you let things become real. You bring her gifts each day without pretension, after the salts the next day you bring chocolate because there is no heartache chocolate cannot soothe, and the next day you bring beets. You read once that red velvet cake was first made with beets during the Great Depression, a trifle of a delicacy in a world unbreathable, shrouded in dust. You decide that your friend must survive now too. And so you take flour and sugar and roast beets, peel and cut them until they dye your skin a thin red that is near pink, a translucent glow that settles between the indentations of your fingerprints. You beat in eggs and drive cream cheese to mix with powdered sugar, bake something not quite red and heftier on one side. Your frosting is chalky with sugar and weighs down the sides, uneven and lacking sheen. You use Betty Crocker Decorating Gel in 1980s-bright, neon purple and pink, and write the best thing you can think to say. It is no paragon as it should be, no perfect imperfection, but it is also uncalculated and real, and today, it is the only thing that you have. When you gift it to your friend, she smiles and cries and laughs and says it is all she could want right now, eats three slices and does not care that it is sickeningly sweet and a smidge dry, and nothing has felt better in all of your life. The cake reads, I LOVE YOU ALWAYS, MY BEST HUMAN.
Clara Hirsch My Diary is a 35mm photograph depicting the artistâ€™s diary in a window in Paris. A waterlogged old book fashioned by the artist into her diary by pasting over the pages with newsprint, it represents, to her, the same sort of history and nostalgia found in the streets and architecture of Paris. 46
TO ALLOW IT TO HAPPEN / TO TOLERATE (AN EXCERPT) Glynnis Eldridge 2018 NONFICTION WINNER, CHOSEN BY JENNY ZHANG
i have had a spot in my neck for a long time. it goes away sometimes, reappears for a few weeks, goes away again. slows my swallowing. i go to the doctor and they call it an imagined feeling. but i am at the age when shit starts taking its toll. s announces on the internet one day that she is having chemo so don’t come by today, she will be too tired for visitors. i was born a week before s and i forget to wish her a happy birthday this year. she posts photographs of her unicorn ice cream cake and of blowing out candles in a new blue wig. she says in a status that she doesn’t know what this next year is going to look like so she is “going all out.” i get worried about cells. i get worried about sand in my bed. i get worried about masses of things you cannot see but know are there. in high school biology class they showed us a short movie of zooming in and out on the world; how the eye resembles galaxies and how tree branches resemble synapses and strands of bacteria. i feel myself getting spots at the back of the throat. they sit there and cause pain. i watch videos of people removing their throat spots on the internet. when i try to copy their techniques i feel myself about to vomit with eyes watering and esophagus tightening. at age eight i find a tonsil stone in the middle of a grammar lesson in fourth grade. the stone is grey and smells terrible and i do not know what it is. when i find it i find it from coughing into my hand, feel it fall out of the back of the throat. i have seen pictures of brains in the library and all of the brains i remember seeing have been grey after being pulled from the body. i don’t tell anyone i have found a tonsil stone. i don’t tell anyone. i don’t tell anyone that i think my brain is disintegrating and falling out of my mouth in tiny pieces. i delete apps now. i stop thinking there is anything good about keeping up with the world. try to process just a little bit of it. today the 47
news is about north korea and how likely you are to survive a nuclear missile landing within a few miles of where you are located. in the app you can place the bomb site anywhere and the app will estimate the number of individual casualties and injuries. placed around the northwest corner of central park, the blast consumes all of manhattan, much of the bronx, new jersey, north brooklyn, and queens. i stop caring about aliens. i think it’s too late, though i had been in love with the idea for so long. i was so in love with the idea it scared me to think of. i explained it widely in moments of felt comfort, even pretended to welcome explanations that dismissed all mystery because why feed the fears that keep you up all night? they exist in everything: a wavering guitar string pressed by an elongated thimble, empty roads and wide horizon lines, between tall buildings at the openings of every city cavern. come in over the speakers, an indeterminable sound, that’s them, that’s them, then a bright red humming in the ears (and what does that mean? some rumor it signals you blossoming as a bulb in another’s head, some call it a disease you cannot get rid of.) do you want to be thought of? because they show up all the time and anywhere, nothing makes sense. a retreat becomes an opportunity to see them more often. point them out at night in confiding moments to laughs from who you wish would agree. sometimes someone who you would prefer to not have overhear does and says they think the same things and oh what does it all mean and does this weirdness designate a new friendship? you see them in movies set in places you’ve been to and in places you haven’t but places you think about. you see them in the way the curtain blows rhythmically from the window and flaps gently against the wall. you see them in the shadows of trees and the ways light from the tallest public sources comes through branches and smacks the side of the wall, how headlights emerge over the edge of a hill ahead of you and come closer, in the too quiet night off away from home, you hear them in the hum of anythings. reverbs and electric buzzes, the clicking of spokes, dial tones and alarm clocks going off in public spaces. you see them in the moon 48
and in the shine coming off the clouds. you see them on t-shirts. you see them in planes, lurking in lobbies and tunnels and by every party’s snack table, at the bottom of bodies of water, in people who look familiar but who won’t wave back. it takes confidence or something like it to walk alone at night: imagine them hovering as you walk between the edge of the continent and sea. they exist popularly in music and movies and through all of time and you keep hearing the denial of them, get a strange feeling of blame for bringing them to mind. you taboo yourself, think, it’s either something very wrong and feel bad, or curl inwards and don’t mention it and feel bad. some nights select boys try to creep closer by asking what i think about them and if i say the truth they inch closer still until the weird gets weird and the trope comes into full view and mimes a capture and fades from discomfort. one night in the lush valley i start to read a book about them and panic. i’m in the apartment and i feel all feeling pull away from the perimeters and move away from the windows and try to find a central spot and stand in the door frame of our windowless bathroom. i call e to discuss because she is in social work school and she says ok want to go to the movies and i say yes sure and i wait in the door frame until she calls again when she is downstairs. we drive to the mall with b and t. because it gets laughed off i quiet it, let it seep in further. the fear of being thought of as foolish and years younger. the fear of being thought of.
i am trying to put myself back into feeling. in efforts to recall fear i rewatch a movie i once hid from. the film opens silent. there are violins pressed low on the neck through the leader. all electricity jumps on in a house in a field. i think there is nothing so charming about holding hands with a predator or running straight into a maze. a mom had mentioned this would be creepy but this is nothing like what you could have predicted. the present day is all desert and lush 49
winds; a sandstorm enveloping the world. the president signed a bill to turn national parks into profits. what does it mean that i feel more safe walking anywhere with the company of my boyfriend or my male roommate or a dog than i do walking alone? i don’t want to go downstairs to check the mail alone. i don’t want to go buy milk from the bodega. i don’t want to have my face do something i don’t mean for it to and have you read it how you want to. despite self defense classes and snapping 4x4s with the side of my hand, i don’t want to go outside. i don’t want to say anything for fear of being misinterpreted. i don’t like the dark because i want to see. i don’t like the light because i don’t want to be seen. this is the guy who raped me dot wordpress dot com shows pictures of men who have been sent in by women who have been sexually assaulted. the men who rape. the men who assault. the men, who .i click on the FAQ page for how to submit photos of my own predators and i receive a message saying the site has been archived or taken down for a violation of terms of service. our bodies have never been ours, have never supposed to have been ours. our traumas are not meant to mean anything except a sieved life and a fragile navigation of the world. when i text both of my rapists on thursday afternoon only one of them writes back. the other waits until i post his name on social media and asks me to answer the phone so we can talk about this. he wants to know where this is coming from. he raped me two years ago. he raped me in the second week of july, the brightest month. of the two cases his was the one that was more violent, felt more definitively as a rape. he wouldn’t let me leave his room until i had sex with him without a condom. on thursday night i hear from r, my first rapist, and he doesn’t recognize my number. he says “what do you want me to do about this?” and “i haven’t heard from you in over a decade” and “you’re going to cost me all three of my jobs and possibly send me to prison.” i see r’s face on the npr music page. his music sounds like stomach acid 50
churning. his lyrics are about feeling bad about the current state of the world. the music video depicts car crashes and women screaming. there’s an image of a kid poking another with a stick over and over. why has he freaked me out for over a decade? i wonder. i want to watch videos of ice cracking and men falling in. i want to watch videos of men drowning. i find images of animals eating each other, a snake vomiting another snake whole. how do all men find ways to get out of their idiocy? a man skipping ice sheets and one cracks and he falls in and he hops out from what is revealed to be shallow water and onto another ice sheet and no one is concerned and everyone is laughing and this is just a funny scene because no one was concerned for his safety because no man’s safety is ever at risk. there are more scenes of car crashes and clips of men drinking and a man holds a drunk woman up and an office is on fire and there are more car crashes and a business man smokes a joint from the corner of his mouth and rolls his eyes. r appears on a rooftop with shaggy hair and a pout. he is tall. he wears tight-fitting clothes and there are sound waves depicted in light blue-green moving in front of him. r says “life will get stranger” to images of static, and, “days will grow dark” to more static. “faces will haunt you through your nights and waking hours” to a picture of r and then a white, blonde haired, young girl doll in a dress turning her head from left to right. foresee a rift. the doll faces forward. a changing shift the doll lifts its right arm. turning her head from left to right. something, maybe coffee beans, pile. a tongue caterpillars across a smooth surface. the aesthetic of dirty studio and dusty corners or the bunnies that gather around furniture wheels. we are going up stairs now with r slouched over in long-sleeved plaid and his bandmate in a t-shirt. they’re holding guitars on their way up. they decided to make this slow mo. they walk onto the roof and get silhouetted by the bright lights. now they’re still going up the stairs again and they’re running, taking two at a time. and cinematic, oh, the camera comes around the corner of a doorframe to see them on the roof, walking around, holding guitars and thinking seriously about their confusions or whatever. look, the sun makes an appearance and makes glares! they sway with their music. they love their music. they dry hump into their instruments, they love it, they nod their heads, they are so into it. how many dif51
ferent angles can we get of them playing their guitars on a rooftop in brooklyn? so many, so many! r is in profile now. his lips are agape, his nose is big and bulgy and his hair looks like mine and i don’t like this so i think about cutting mine. they zoom in on r’s face after he strums the last cord and looks at the camera angry like, do you like this or what? and it’s a grimace he’s making and this is meant to mean something because this song is so meaningful right? look out at brooklyn rooftops with forlorn. with so much disdain for the world a community sprouts around the desire to make slime. the internet gets covered in slime. i am being asked again and again if i am interested and would i like to become involved in slime building? i think i might be. i think, this could be a nice relief, a breath of air! slime! slime me! count me in! with my friend t we argue about the word for the process of melting. dissolve? liquification? this becomes funny. we don’t know the answer together. we set time aside to talk about the personal and the world. can you believe this? we ask each other over and over. as though we have each developed early onset alzheimer’s we keep asking each other the same questions. we cannot recite the traumas enough for them to stick. a butterfly cannot become a butterfly until the caterpillar it once was turns to slime. dissolves. mushes. regenerates from eating itself. i am sad tonight because i don’t have a jar of nutella to slurp from. i am worried i smell too much like myself, smell like dog food, smell like a stronger version of me. # a list begins to circulate in the office and between different offices with the names of specific men in the media industry to avoid but no one will show me the list. i ask why the list isn’t being made public and can someone please show it to me and i’m told it could start too much gossip. i try to make the case that this is a public health issue. no one shows me the list. my coworker suggests i ask around about 52
creepy dudes before accepting any invitations to get drinks. # a headline calls r derivative. this is accurate. it calls him derivative but promising. this is not accurate unless thought of in terms of whether promising as a rapist. a promising rapist. a derivative rapist. a derivative but promising rapist. accurate. am i doing this right? i am feeling i have to reinvestigate all my language i am feeling left to renegotiate my own experiences with myself i am feeling doubt of myself i am feeling doubt of my experiences i am feeling doubt of myself i am afraid of ruin i am afraid of their ruin i am afraid of admitting my trauma i am made to feel afraid of admitting this trauma i am afraid of their futures i am afraid for them # do i ask for support from our mutual friends? i start to retrace movements between 2007 and 2008. i go back to thinking about the friends who introduced us from a distance, the ambivalence i feel in asking for their support. though they were then who i thought of as my core group of friends, the trampoline of my adolescence and years of being a tween, i donâ€™t know who to talk to. but i felt so much adoration for the everything of then; even the font of the websites used to document the dailyness of tween years held a smell and feeling. and now, what would i like him to do about raping me? what would i like? 53
what i remember happening was a difference in physical feeling. a thin sheet of plastic tearing under the weight of dick and splitting for the movement of the thrust of full limb. what i remember was a difference and saying i don’t like this and asking to stop. and he stopped. he pulled out slightly and looked down. the condom is torn and wrapped around his penis like a skirt. he looks me in the eyes as he says you already have to take plan b anyway so let’s keep going. i don’t know what i said and he breaks eye contact and pushes himself back in and resumes movement. i remember the curtain above his bed was a thin cloth. i remember sitting on the bed under the blanket and crying. i remember him sitting on the other side of the room saying can you stop, you look ridiculous. i remember him asking me to go with him on a walk and sitting on a bench and crying again while he said something about it all being too much because i am far too dramatic but said in a blurry, not ending things kind of ending way. a man at the train station approaches me after watching r kiss and hug me goodbye. he gives me his phone number “just in case things don’t work out between us”.
Untitled is blue ink and gesso.
HARVEST SEASON (THE END OF THE WORLD) Melissa Ho
begins as a bedtime story. Annie surfaces for air, mouth leaking white things into the sink. She spills forward until I think she could split open: like all first children, she pretends to die. I do not ask if I can see this. In one dream, we slice open jackfruit, its belly a fresh storm under our tongues. This is what it is to kiss her: the seeds burn through my mouth for days. In Shanghai, we are sixteen, a new language cutting into the body of the jackfruit. We fold and unfold our palms to clean them. One night, we spend hours searching the dictionary for the word that means naked. She tells me she is scared. Me too, I say. In the living room, the television static is soft enough to swallow, like a child hungry for her own ghost. I learn that after the firstborn, girls are nameless. This is how religion is made. Annie, I call, and she nodsâ€”in the dark, we admit that we are sacred. That summer, the fruit is so golden it is bloodless: the beginning of the world, as knowing as this.
A WHITE BOY FIGURES OUT HE DIDNâ€™T GET INTO HEAVEN Asha Futterman
god hands you a magic 8 ball you shake it it says
signs point to no
a hole opens below you you fall
you hit a ground it looks like what you thought heaven would look like lots of white people all your shitty friends the dudes on that soccer team your grandmother you think
you misread the ball
maybe you were flying that whole time but 57
we’ve got it better up here i promise
we’re naked all the time
every concrete sidewalk
that rain will never wash away there are
swings at every playground
god is three black women
they run a radio station called the good word there are
but where you fell you get bored
the leaves can’t fall or change colors
it’s 55 degrees
you wonder why all the brown people are somewhere else we dance on clouds and shit every time someone asks
how you doing
we say real good 58
there are no white people to kick us out of places if anyone tries to take our fingerprints our hands will turn paper to flesh and form a big black fist also there are no white people i met jesus last tuesday he had dreads to the floor they smelled like incense we made up secret hand shake i would show you but itâ€™s secret you never met jesus you live in four story house with your parents
it is peach
like all the other houses we donâ€™t have houses here we beyond walls you look in the glove compartment of your range rover 59
where you hid a small sheet of paper with the words that appeared on the 8 ball years ago but we donâ€™t have to look for anything
my grammy is here
she finally learned how to swim
unfold the paper
start to cry you spot a phone in the back seat panic dial 1-800-INNOCENT and raise the phone to your ear like youâ€™ve done many times but this time god picks up you say hello
Carousel is 9â€? x 12â€? watercolor on paper. It stages a dream of childhood
â€”of tumbling without depth, diving through open air. 62
SHINRAN SHONIN, OR, A HIDDEN BUDDHIST STATUE Julia Flasphaler
The apartment at 332 Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side of Manhattan once housed newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies.1 It’s now home to the New York Buddhist Church, a markedly pious turn for the building and its residents. I know this fact about Hearst’s sexual exploits because Tony tells me, as I sit on a leather couch in the building’s foyer. Pink and purple tie-dye swirl on his faded shirt. He looks at me directly and asks me what I want to know. I’m not sure, I reply. I e-mailed the church about the statue out front and the President, Hoshina Seki, wrote that I could interview her for my class. So the statue, I guess I’m here for that. He looks at me squarely and I think he knows I’m lying. I know exactly why I’m here. I just can’t tell anyone. I first noticed the statue about a year ago, returning home from one of those long walks I could report to my therapist about— proof that maybe I was returning, that whatever brand of millennial mental breakdown I had experienced was real, but lifting. The large bronze statue looked down at me from its perch in front of the church. A placard read that it had survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. A few years later, it had been moved to New York as a symbol of peace. An angry red band near its feet told me that it was true, it really did witness the blast. Waiting for my interview, Tony shares a bit of personal history with me. He explains that a lot of the Japanese—in fact, many of this Church’s family members—were taken to internment camps in California. Because of Executive Order 9066, not only were Japanese-Americans relocated, but the temple was forced to assimilate. “Priests became ministers and the church took on a more Protestant form” he says, leading me to a long wooden table filled with fluorescent slips of paper. He leaves me by the pamphlets and calendars, when Hoshina comes down the stairs. “You should stay for the service!” Tony grins at me and leaves. CBROOKS. “#11: Odd Coincidence at the New York Buddhist Church.” Asian American History in NYC. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/asianamericanhistorynyc/?p=291 (retrieved 10/25/2017). 1
The statue survived, but did the Japanese people? Did the families? It’s a difficult subject to broach, and I’m trespassing into a space that doesn’t belong to me. Half-Korean from my mother’s side, I’ve grown up hearing hateful stories about the loss my grandparents endured during the Japanese occupation of Korea. They raped Korean women, my aunt said. They used bayonets and skewered them. But how different are bayonets and atomic bombs? I explain apologetically to Hoshina that I didn’t know where to meet. I am negotiating my welcome in this church, trying to assure her with my deference that I’m on her side. We take a small elevator up to the second floor and I think that Hoshina can hear my Korean aunt’s voice playing in my head, yelling at me about Japanese war crimes. I stifle my breathing until it clicks open, and she leads me to her office. Slight in stature but direct and articulate in speech, Hoshina says that my inquiry about the statue had been forwarded to her. I want to burst out, “But do you hate it here? Did your grandfather’s skin drip off his body when the bomb fell? Can’t you tell that I’m Korean?” I want her to console me. Hoshina says that the statue was made by a Japanese industrialist, Seiichi Hirose. It’s part of a set of six that he commissioned before the war. “He made these six statues in honor of his son. His son passed away, I’m not sure how he passed away but he died, it wasn’t because of the war or anything like that—it was something else, and he felt compelled to make these six statues,” Hoshina recites softly. “And when he donated the statue here to bring it over to New York, he had created a Shinran Shonin–who is the founder of our particular sect. He created a young Shinran Shonin—maybe about fourteen years old or something like that.” Previous research had told me that Shinran Shonin founded Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism in the 12th century. The branch is currently one of the most widely practiced forms of Buddhism in the U.S. and Japan. According to the Buddhist Churches of America, the path of Shin Buddhism is “one of simply listening and opening one’s heart”. Hoshina echoes this sentiment, “Basically our teaching is that—by reciting the name, which is Namu Amida Butsu—that’s basically all that we really need if we can give our full trust in believing that through Shinran, he will basically—I don’t want to say like Christ, he will save you, or something like that—but he will help you to find the way to Enlightenment.” I nod. “And what else can I tell you—well there’s not much to say about the statue, really. But well, the statue was originally dedicated 64
on September 11th and the keynote speaker D.T. Suzuki, who was a prominent Zen Buddhist at the time—he said basically that World War II and all the wars, particularly WWII, wasn’t a war between the United States and Japan. It was really a war that was brewing for centuries and centuries and centuries. And it just came to the surface.” This emphasis on a collective violence sticks with me. Part of the difficulty of breaking cycles of violence comes from the transmission of what’s come to be known in the therapeutic community as “intergenerational trauma”. Doctor M. Gerard Fromm explains in Lost in Transmission: Studies of Trauma Across Generations, “what human beings cannot contain of their experience—what has been traumatically overwhelming, unbearable, unthinkable—falls out of social discourse, but very often on to and into the next generation as an affective sensitivity or a chaotic urgency” (xvi).2 The unthinkable brutality of war is handed down from generation to generation by oral histories, but also by unaddressed symptoms such as anxieties and addictions. Oftentimes the experiences, as Fromm points out, are left unaddressed. And this is what has brought me here—trying to trace this trendy term—collective or intergenerational trauma. But mostly because I want to see that other people have reconciled their own traumas, so I can have proof that I will outlive my own. If Tony were to ask me again, why are you here? I wish I could say, in a gush—I am here because I lost my alcoholic father, after he victimized me, because he was victimized, and I don’t know how to make sense of grieving someone who is bad, of someone who is now the enemy. And the shame I inherited the moment my father’s fist struck my cheek, it killed me. And I was dead for years before I even knew and I think that is what they call trauma. I would say, I don’t know how to tell you in this language that isn’t my mother’s, how my parents failed me but because they were failed and so they failed themselves. I would say, please believe me, or give me a statue, or a sliver of comfort, because the violence I have witnessed and that has been inflicted upon me has robbed me of the very thing I need to be able to speak about it—belief in my own version of events. And isn’t there some kind of connection between the intimate dance of family violence, and the backand-forth violence of two nations? Or is this my arrogance, my twenty-something need to thrust myself out into the world, to understand everything through my own experiences of grief. 2
Fromm, M. Gerard, ed. Lost in Transmission : Studies of Trauma Across Generations. London: Karnac Books, 2011. Accessed October 25, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.
“Well, it’s almost time for service—but I have some photos,” Hoshina interjects. “Oh, right—yes, sorry! I forgot that I’m keeping you.” “It’s okay—this is a photo of the man who donated the statue. And this is the statue in its original location at the park outside of Hiroshima.” Hoshina gingerly pulls the photos of a black box I hadn’t noticed was sitting on her lap throughout the entire interview. “Is it okay if I take a photo?” “Yes, yes, of course.” Hirose’s slim face doesn’t show the death he must have experienced, losing a son. But I know that it’s there, somewhere, because Hoshina says it’s so.
Figure 1 Left: Japanese metal founder and Jodo Shinshu follower Seiichi Hirose who created and later donated the statue, dated 1955. Right: Statue at its original location in Hiroshima.
I return the next Sunday. Staring at a backlit rice paper wall, breathing in incense, a female Buddhist priest gives a short sermon about a sailor who falls overboard into the ocean and almost drowns, until he realizes that instead of struggling against the water he should give up resisting, and instead allow himself to float. The water buoys him up. He survives. On my way into the service, I cautiously pick up a square red service book. Leafing through it there are different mantras to recite and even a new musical notation system that corresponds to the different intonations and notes I hear 66
the other church members around me singing. The Church itself is an addition to the original apartment that Hearst previously owned. An ornate altar is placed center, with two large portraits on either side. Someone mentions who they are, but I forget. At lunch, I sit with three other new members who stood up to announce themselves during the service. This is an accomplishment for me, sharing space with strangers. Hoshina gives me a smile and a slight bow. She’s happy to see me back. I hold noodles that taste faintly of sesame oil in my chopsticks, trying to finish my meal quickly so that I can eat the sweet white bean cookies I purchased for a dollar. They were from the previous day’s autumn harvest festival. Leanne, a woman with softly wrinkled and blemished skin, is attending service in New York today because she’s visiting from Hawaii. She pronounces the name slowly, “Hawai‘i”, with the stop between the two ‘i’s that I’ve heard other native Hawaiians pronounce before. I ask her why there are so many Asians in Hawaii. People are mixed-race there, like me, I say. She laughs and uses the term “Asian diaspora”. Poor Japanese workers moved to the islands years ago for jobs on fruit plantations. And then they stayed. “You know—the islands are actually only one third haole—which is our word for white people—and the other two thirds are Asian or Pacific Islander. Which most people don’t know.” She smiles at me. The two other new members are a mother and daughter, Madeleine and Bobby. Bobby tells us that she’s going to cosmetology school, but has been learning Chinese and attending meditations and service here for the past two years. She’s nineteen. She has full cheeks framed by dark curls. Her mother, Madeleine, begins a conversation with Leanne about whether to visit Buddhist temples in Hawaii or China, and where they should go. I inch forward, trying to keep tabs on Leanne’s suggestions. On my way out I stop to pick up a bundle of mums that one of the Japanese elders brought from her garden in New Jersey. The newspaper holding the flowers crinkles in my hands. I try not to squish my gift. Walking over to the stairwell, I notice that Madeleine is sitting down with one of the Reverends. He has a service book in his hand and it seems like he’s explaining one of the lessons, or one of the mantras. They recite together.
THREE TREES AFTER MARY JO BANG Tiffany Troy
The winds swung open impenetrable, wheat-colored walls, draining garish feathers. Empty is locked silver, as outside sprinkles melt upon grey pigeon heads ecstatic in the sunset glow. Empty is locked silver, as outside snow-stained antlers burned like candles on an iced birthday cake. Oblivious to yellow, Memory, wrapped in Byzantium slept soundly, locked in the silver others left behind. Dark red violet vines turn green kites purple and maroon. In this winter foliage, I see Jimmy’s head of curly vines, fierce as we waded in and breathed in evergreens, quipped bright red cynicism for laughter, drowning out calls to run in our freedom. Pink fireworks, like Hisaishi’s music, are lighted antlers which wake Memory. I once rejected Jimmy so he came all black alone. Two months later, he wanted me to keep his pink secret locked in silver So I hid my dark red behind his pink, smothering the small pebble in my hand. Heart blossoms splendidly till wind blows out hope and the mobile’s light blue lullabies tucks love to sleep in warm Byzantium. 68
LA LIMPIADA Julia Angelica Sierra
Every time you broke my heart I was on a Queens-bound 7 heading towards Junction. The first time the tears came fast and heavy and loud and I was sitting in one of the seats that pressed up next to the window and by the grace of God faced mostly away from the other passengers. But they still saw. I clutched my purse deep into my stomach and I tried not to throw up every memory that was getting caught in my throat, tried not to scream them out onto the seat next to me. The first time, I was uncontrollable and a man got on at Woodside. He sat in the row of seats directly facing the one to my side and as I looked out over the city, the sun setting behind the delicate rows of brick and glass and steel, I could see him watching me in the reflection as the sky grew darker. I wondered what you were doing at that same moment, if you were with anyone, or if you were like me, isolated and alone, and yet somehow, still being seen. In the window, superimposed over the city I saw him watch me watch him pull the sleeve of his sweater up over his wrist into his thumb, saw him use the already dirty cuff to wipe the snot that dripped from his nose. I realized that I probably needed to do the same thing but I didn’t care. Let everything fall out of my body, let my tears flood this train, let the mucus fill my mouth and lungs and burst into the river running around my feet until I poisoned every last passenger who didn’t get off in time. The doors opened on 74th street and I wondered if I had enough time to get off, run across the platform, throw myself in front of the train, lay on the tracks, and wait to be rolled over into an oblivion. Where I didn’t remember you. Where we had never met. But there isn’t enough time. I don’t move. The doors close. The man with the snot covered cuffs is still watching me and I wonder if he can tell that just a moment before I had almost killed myself. I’m still keeping tabs on him in the window, a part of me secretly hoping he may try and rob me so I can halfheartedly try to fight him off and he can stab me through the stomach and leave me bleeding out between the rows of seats. Instead, we get to 82nd street and as I watch out the window, I see him use the quick pause of the train and the people shuffling on and off to come sit next to me. He’s so much 69
bigger than me, his thighs push against mine and his shoulders push against mine and I can feel the heat from his body in so acute of a way that it makes me more nauseous than I already am. I could feel the movement in his body as he took heavy breaths. His face turns to the window and he looks at my reflection. “I’ve never seen someone look so beautiful while crying,” he said quietly to the girl in the window. I wonder how many tears have been wasted on him. I hope the train fucking crashes and kills us both. I get off on 90th street, pushing past the thighs that he had pushed into me, saying nothing, leaving behind a little puddle of salt water. I wish I could have drowned him in it. The walk to Junction isn’t long and even though the train was a small enough space for me to cry quietly into myself, on the sidewalk I am exposed. There is a cigarette in my mouth before I even make it outside, and the moment the wind hits I light it. I feel sick. I don’t remember what I came for anymore. But I’m here now. I start walking because I know that I can’t just stand there, even though all I want is to not move, is to let time and space fall around me until nothing is recognizable and I’m all that’s left. Even though it is dark now, there are still people on the street selling everything from fruit to cell phone covers, I try to look past them, I try to avoid eye contact. I force myself to breathe like nothing has changed. And nothing has really, has it? I get to the next corner and it feels like maybe probably I should make some sort of decision, any sort of decision, and so I go left. There is a restaurant and there is a daycare and there is houses and I know that I’m walking away from where I should be going but it doesn’t matter. There is houses there is houses and then there is a botanica. I stop, on a broken square of concrete, there is no one else on the sidewalk and I can hear another train rattle behind me as my cigarette burns out in my fingers. I remember that we had fought before when abuela had taken me to get a limpia because I kept having nightmares. You told me that it was bad, that it was brujeria, that as a good Catholic you couldn’t condone it, that God wouldn’t condone it, that I still wasn’t clean. But it doesn’t matter now, does it? The sign says open, and even though I can’t see through the posters and the wares that cover the door and the windows, I can feel the people inside. I’m still crying, so I breathe in the air and the smoke and the smell of the restaurant and wipe my face off with my hands the best I can in the reflection of the glass, but I can’t really 70
make myself out. I walk in and a bell jingles above me. Zion y Lennox plays on the radio. There are two women in chairs in the middle of the store waiting for a consult, there is another woman behind the counter who is scrolling through Facebook on her phone. We can be a lot of things, can’t we? We can hold a lot in our hands. She looks up when I walk in, “Con que te puedo ayudar, nena?” She’s smiling and I wonder if there is still eyeliner on my cheeks or if the clean tears that came after had helped me wash them off. “Ay no, no mas estoy viendo.” I look around the shelves. A charm for mal de ojo, an ointment to attract love, loons for more peaceful sleep. As I read through labels and directions, the radio changes to Romeo Santos. I am too embarrassed to ask for what I want. Oye, senora, no tienes algo pa’el corazon roto? Disculpe, senora, pero no puedo respirar. Por favor, senora, es que no se mas que hacer. Two women emerge from a door I hadn’t noticed before. There is an older woman with short hair and beads that clack along her wrist. The younger woman holds a baby in her arms, bouncing him on her hip and is whispering quietly into the ear of who I can only imagine is the curandera. The baby starts to fuss and the mother begins to move towards me, towards the front of the shop. She pays the senora behind the counter and she puts her phone down to count the money. The curandera gestures towards one of the women in the chairs and she gets up excitedly and follows her into the room in the back. The door shuts tightly behind them. I wonder if that’s where hearts get put back together, where lungs are forced to move, where answers are given. I wonder if she would know what to do. But I am too shy, too scared, too involved in the memory of you, in knowing that you wouldn’t like that I am here. I am not ready to betray you yet. I walk out, back onto the broken sidewalk. I know that once I leave I can’t go back in. I remember the first time I told you my mom was a bruja, you laughed in my face. I laughed with you because of course I was joking. But I wasn’t. I have always known. When I was younger she and my father had got into a fight because I said I saw a ghost. They yelled at each other for a long time. After a certain point, I think they started talking about a different kind of ghost. But in the end, he left, as he always did, and she lay me down next to her on her bed and said she believed me. Said she saw them too. Said to not be scared 71
because they’re not all bad. On our second date I asked you if you believed in those things that come from the other side. You said that to believe in God you necessarily had to believe in evil, so yes you did. What do you think about ghosts? I wondered. You said it’s only the bad things come back to haunt us. In Chicago, we don’t have botanicas the way that New York does. Here they punctuate street corners like commas, offer little breaks in the story that Queens tells. Here they hold the neighborhood together like the thick twine around a bouquet of flowers. Here they make sense. In Chicago, we don’t have botanicas. In Chicago, we have my mother, who calls relatives in the middle of the night to warn them about a woman wearing the color red. We have my mother who everyone thinks is crazy. I am older now. I believe in a different kind of ghost. And I wonder if she knows that they laugh at her. Quietly during family events, loudly when she is not there but I am. I wonder what kind of daughter it is that I am that they are so comfortable mocking her in front of me. I wonder what she would say if she knew I didn’t believe her anymore. When I still saw ghosts, my mom would wake me up at five o’clock on Sunday mornings. She and her boyfriend at the time used to sell makeup and other small things, toy cars and records, sometimes shoes, at the flea market by our house. We would load the car up and I would curl up in between boxes and sleep on the way there and when I would wake up, she would have a donut and hot chocolate waiting for me and we would watch the sunrise with the other families that had begun to set up their tables. I would lay out little lipglosses shaped like dresses so it looked like a group of beautiful women dancing and she would come and arrange them in a more formal way and then right under tape a small, unnoticeable sign that said “Palm and card readings, $5.” For as much as I can remember, I don’t think I ever saw anyone with their hands outstretched, picking cards out of the pile, handing over cash. But the sign stayed up until the winter came and we slept in on Sundays. I think that you remind me of my mother because, like her, it breaks me to know I don’t believe in you anymore. I think you remind me of my mother because I know that it is going to take faith I don’t have to forget the ways you hurt me. I think you remind me of my mother because it’s only you that I love as angrily and as resentfully and as deeply as I love her. 72
I first noticed it when we went to Mexico this summer. Do you remember? It was our third day there and I had been having trouble sleeping because of the horses whinnying in the stables next door. I used to lay awake next to you, the wind from the open window moving the curtain, moving the moonlight in the room. It would have scared me but I don’t see ghosts anymore. I watched you breathe, trying to match the rhythm of my own breath to yours to see if I could lull myself back to sleep. But I couldn’t because I think I knew even then that we weren’t going to make it past the summer. I knew that if it weren’t for the fact we were a thousand miles from home you would have already given up on me. It wasn’t until the sun rose and the light filtered in and made everything yellow that I fell asleep. There is a magic in Mexico that you believe in. There are the spirits of saints that walk along the cobblestones and stand in doorways waiting for people that need prayer. There are spells that hold together houses that should have fallen apart a long long time ago. Here the bricks that line the streets tell you a new secret with every step. Here it is okay if I still see ghosts. I wonder if I had been having nightmares here if you would have been okay with me going to see a curandera. I wonder if it is only on the other side of the border that I sound crazy. I wonder that maybe if my mother had stayed here, on the streets with the secrets and the doorways with the spirits if people would still laugh at her. I wonder if maybe the moving moonlight was a ghost after all. On the flight back home you make fun of me for being scared of planes, for wanting to hold your hand so tightly. So I let go. I bought a rosary from a woman on the street. It’s the first one I’ve ever had and I buy it because of you. Because you want me to go to church with you. Because you want me to be closer to God. Because I love you I buy it. It is woven and white and holds its shape even though it shouldn’t. The day before I left back to New York that first winter we spent together, you said you wanted me to have something and you took your scapular off from around your neck, and you moved my hair back with cold hands and your face got close to mine as you closed the clasp behind me. For God to protect you until you come back to me, you whispered. You sit next to me on this turbulent plane and you sleep even though you know I am scared and I miss the boy with the cold hands and the soft words. I pray and you are still next to me, hoping that either God or magic will keep us afloat. 73
Every time you broke my heart I was on a Queens-bound 7 heading towards Junction. The second time it happened it was raining and the trains were running slow and it was no one’s fault. I had my books and my laptop and my headphones and I was content on my way to go write in a cafe I had found on Yelp because there is something in Manhattan that keeps my words under my tongue. Maybe I was sitting in the same seat in the same car. Maybe I wasn’t. But again, my head was against the window. I like the 7 because it goes up over the city and when the lights blur I can pretend I am in Chicago, I can pretend you are close enough for me to reach out and touch you. The second time it happened it took me by surprise. I haven’t talked to you in a couple of months now. I kissed some other boy last week and it shocked me how little I cared about it, about him. All I really noticed was that his cologne smells like yours. Do you know you left an almost empty bottle of it in my room? That I had to come home and stop myself from breaking it against the wall just so that I could hold onto every last piece of you. But I didn’t do it. I took the T-shirts I had stolen from you, and the three pictures we had together, and that basically empty bottle, and I threw them in a shoebox and put them in my closet. The second time it happened I didn’t cry as much. It wasn’t as dramatic. A text message from my cousin that said in all capitals that you’ve met someone new. That apparently she lives in Texas. I guess I of all people should know that you didn’t care about distance. I remember when I told you I lived in New York you said you would never come to visit because you were scared of rats. I thought you were kidding until you finally did come and we were walking and one ran out from the piles of garbage and into a building and you jumped behind me. For your birthday I bought you socks that had the words “New York” and little gray rats printed all over them. You laughed in that way I loved more than anything, that I can’t remember anymore if it was loud or quiet, and proudly wore them the next day. Do you remember that night you drove twelve hours non-stop just to see me? And deliriously tired you parked your car without paying attention and we woke up later that day and you had four tickets. Have you forgotten? You never did end up paying them. A man got on at Woodside as I gripped my phone to keep myself from throwing it as far away from me as possible. To break the screen, to make everything unreadable, untrue. My tears now are angry and so they move slowly and deliberately down my face. Maybe the people around me will think it’s the rain. We pass 74th 74
and then we pass 82nd and this time there is a fire in my body that keeps the seat next to me empty, keeps the eyes of the other passengers averted. I am clenching my teeth so violently I have to keep myself from purposefully breaking my own jaw. Breaking my own fingers one by one until all I can focus on is the pain of my bones cracking under my skin. This time I stay on until Junction. My body is so tense I have to unravel myself from the plastic seat before the doors close. I think about throwing myself in front of the train again. Of having everything end all at once. I don’t remember what I came for anymore. But I am here and I am angry and so I walk. The wind hits my face, the water sticking to my hair it is colder now and it cuts through my lungs. I am still smoking even though you had asked me to quit. I light a cigarette under the awning of a dollar store and it feels like I have saved my own life. My mother smokes Virginia Slims. Or at least she does when she is sad. Like at my aunt’s funeral when I was eleven years old. It was cold and raining and the gravediggers had started to move the supports away from the grave to fill it with dirt. Families began to move towards cars and I began to panic as I realized I couldn’t find my mother until I saw the small cloud of smoke moving with the wind from the other side of a tree. I had never seen her smoke before but there was something in the shape of the gray that told me it was her. She was sitting on a bench with her back to me and her shoulders were trembling so softly that if I didn’t know her so well I wouldn’t have noticed it. She knows I am there before I say anything and without turning around she pats the stone next to her and I go to sit down. I am so much smaller than her then, I used to like to sit in her lap and pretend that her belly fat would swallow me whole, that I could disappear back into her like I had never been here in the first place. She drags on her cigarette and asks me if I can still see them. The ghosts. And I say I can because I don’t want her to be mad at me. She points to the gray in the sky. La puedes ver mija? Alli esta tu tia y el cielo esta llorando. I wonder now how bad a heartbreak has to be to make the sky cry. I remember this street. And I remember these people and their fruits and the cell phone covers. I remember this feeling. At the corner I turn left. There is the restaurant and there is the daycare and there is the houses and I know that I’m walking toward where I’ve always needed to go. There are the houses there are houses and then there is the botanica. I stop, on that same broken square 75
of concrete, cigarette still lit in hand. I think that maybe the women inside can feel me standing here breathing in the smoke. It hasn’t stopped raining. The weather hides my tears and so I walk in without wiping my face, the bell jingling above me. This time it is Mana on the radio. There is the same woman behind the counter scrolling through her phone. There is the same moment before she looks up at me where I can take in everything. This time the chairs are empty, the air is quiet, and I can feel the water from my jacket dripping into a puddle at my feet. “Con que te puedo ayudar, nena?” I am still scared. This whole time I have been keeping you alive in my head. I have held you in my heart like you never left. I still pray for you the way you taught me. You said only the bad things come back to haunt us, but what if they have never left. What if you have never left. “Perdon, senora, necesito una limpia.”
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