QUARTO THE LITERARY MAGAZINE OF THE SCHOOL OF GENERAL STUDIES COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY VOLUME 3 I
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Eor information on becoming a patron of Quarto, please call the office of the General Studies Writing Program at (212) 854-3774.
AMELIA KAMBIC SARAH MILLER KERRY MULLETT URANIA MYLONAS GENIE NEAL FAYGE PAM ANDRE VIDA MATTHEW TROKENHEIM ALEXA WILLIAMSON
FACULTY ADVISER LESLIE T. SHARPE
Set in Benibo, Grotesque Condensed and Engravers Gothic.
DIRECTOR, WRITING PROGRAM ALAN ZIEGLER
Cover: Janice L. Sugarman, Miriam, 1982, hand-colored photograph Inside back cover: Gabrielle Fell, Wheel and Broom, 1995, photograph Copyright CO Quarto, 1995 All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists upon publication. ISSN 0735-6536
THE BOARD GRATEFULLY ACKNOWLEDGES CHRISTOPHER STROM FOR SHARING HIS DESIGN AND TECHNICAL EXPERTISE.
QUARTO PRIZE 1995 FOR OUTSTANDING LITERARY ACHIEVEMENT
POETRY LAURE DE MONTEBELLO " A B O U T MY GRANDFATHER" "SOMETHING LIKE DYING"
FICTION LYDIA RAURELL "BETTINA"
CONTENTS The God-Child
The First Day of School
R U P A VISWANATH
TING B E L L
The Colorful Gold
TING B E L L 13
The Son of the Dragon King
TING B E L L 15
When One Is Four Years Old S A R A H B E R N E Y S K U T E L 21
Perspectives on the Human Form P O R T F O L I O 22 Bettina
LYDIA R A U R E L L
The Society of San Lorenzo JESSICA NEPOMUCENO
S A R A H GYLLENSTIERNA
Annual Disco Dance
Perspectives on the Familiar P O R T F O L I O 62 Jake SclaVUS Kitchen
S T E P H E N P A G E 71 S A B R I N A ORAH MARK 76
STACEY M I L L E R 79
Raven and I Getting the Hell Out ,
METTE BOM 81
of Santa Fe, New Mexico Daddy's Girl
Rosario Castellanos in Mexico City
A L B A D E L I A HERNANDEZ 83
N A N C Y R O S S 85
Jonicia Antonia Cordes, Love Your .....
Neighbor as You Love Yourself About My Grandfather
L A U R E DE M O N T E B E L L O 92
Something Like Dying L A U R E DE M O N T E B E L L O 93 Perspectives On Poetry
INTERVIEW WITH C H A R L E S S I M I C
1 The God-Child RUPA VlSWANATH
Menaka awoke early as she always did, to pick up the rice rations and heat the milk before her husband Manu and her mother-in-law Amma arose. She was not one to shirk her chores, but that day, her limbs felt leaden, and she felt a churning deep in her belly that made her hesitant to rise from the bedroll. She turned to see Manu, asleep on his stomach, his calloused hands spread before him as though in supplication. He snored sottly, and over that sound Menaka heard Amma's snores, which seemed as disgruntled and irate as Amma often was. Menaka tried to focus on these things to ignore her nausea, but then a wave of it caused her to shiver, and she scampered to the toilet where she vomited what remained of the previous night's dinner. Smiling after she rinsed out her mouth, she woke Manu. "What is it?" he asked gruffly. "I think a baby is coming!" she said. Manu was awake now but still skeptical. "Are you sure?" he asked. She nodded confidently. Her "barrenness," as Amma had called it, had cast a pall over their house. Menaka had conceived once, a year after the marriage. Amma had called all the relatives, and great feasts were held. Then the clinic told Menaka the child would be a girl, and most of Amma's enthusiasm wore off. Menaka was not given much rest, though the doctors advised it, and about three months into the pregnancy, while grinding wheat in the millstone on a sweltering afternoon, Menaka miscarried. When Manu was around, Amma pretended to be sympathetic, though during the greater part of the day, when Manu was away at the quarry, she allowed Menaka no time to recuperate. Menaka had even heard the woman saying to a neighbour, "What does it matter, it was only a girlâ€”we have no money for a girl now anyhow." Menaka tried not to think of this, but as though to further estrange her from her mother-in-law, her body had stubbornly refused to conceive for the last four years, her monthly blood coming with a regularity that convinced even Menaka herself that she was indeed barren. Now Manu stroked her arm, and she basked in this unsolicited, rare show of affection. "I'll drop you off at the clinic this morning," he QUARTO
said. Menaka nodded and she went to fetch the rice. Making her way outside, Menaka saw that the sun was emerging on what had been a night of the new moon, an auspicious sign for the arrival of good news. It was later than the time she usually left the house, and she anticipated the long queues that would snake their way all along the mam road of the village to the ration shop. Oddly enough that morning, she was the only one there, the first time that this had happened in her memory, and the owner, usually a grizzly man of ill temper, smiled benignly at her. Menaka saw it as another omen that augured well for this birth and returned home. "Menaka, coffee!" shouted Anima querulously as soon as she heard Menaka's footsteps approach. Menaka pushed aside the straw curtain that hung in the doorway, and smiled so radiantly at Amma that Amma was momentarily taken aback. "You are with child," she scoffed, as though she did not believe it. Menaka scurried into the kitchen without responding, and prepared the decoction, humming to herself. After the three had breakfisted, Manu borrowed the neighbour's cycle rickshaw, and took an excited Menaka to the next village where the clinic was, telling her he would return that evening. The doctor was in that day—he visited twice a week from the city. He was quite young and kindly, and he remembered Menaka from her first pregnancy. After performing some tests, the doctor confirmed Menaka's hope—the child was to be a boy. He proclaimed her healthy as well and as he said it, she felt renewed vigour. Menaka considered then that the child was more than just a reward for her years of pious living—though she could not name it, she knew already that there was something extraordinary in this child. She would ask that they name him Krishna, the divine Child. When Manu returned to fetch her, his body tired and ashen from his labours, she told him the news. He smiled at her and she smiled in return, thinking that he so rarely showed happiness. Perhaps a child's unbridled laughter would remove the gray pallour of his skin, the pallour that seemed to remain even after he bathed and seeped into his mood as well. Amma, too, seemed visibly cheered by the news. As the days passed, she more and more frequently referred to Menaka by the epithet of daughter, at least in the company of others. She even allowed QUARTO
her, though grudgingly, to put her feet up on the occasional afternoon, as a break in her day. As Menaka's belly slowly grew rounder and shiny as the moon, Amma and Manu began to ply her with sweetmeats and expensive fruits they could ill afford, as though she were some goddess they must propitiate. Though Menaka knew it was only to keep her healthy, at least on Amma's part, she reveled in it. And then Menaka began to see the signs, the signs that made her completely unconcerned with the reasons behind what Manu and Amma did. One morning Menaka awoke, startled, earlier than she normally did. She had dreamed of something she could not quite recall, but on waking, the heady scent of jasmine assailed her nostrils. She wrapped her sari about herself more tightly and peered outside. There in the garden stood the jasmine tree, in full bloom, though she was sure it had been barren the day before. The flowers were spread opulently, defying the season—it was much too late in the year tor the jasmine to bloom. She blinked a few times, not sure what to make of it, then went outside. The leaves were thick and cool, wet with dew, cooler, she thought, than anything she had ever touched. She pressed a tew against her forehead in delight. Then, chiding herself, she went inside to do her chores. If Manu and Amma noticed it that morning, they said nothing, and she felt too timid to bring it up. She was ready to forget about it, to ascribe it to her flightiness, when the vegetable seller noticed it. "A lovely jasmine tree, I've not seen it before," he remarked. Menaka imagined Amma turning to look at it, for she could not see the two. She heard Amma make a clucking noise with her tongue, and then Amma said, "Hmm, that Menaka can tend the garden at least." She heard the two laugh, and then she heard the vegetable seller's bicycle moving away. Amma came inside with a basket full of eggplant that looked to Menaka, like the jasmine, to be unusually healthy, especially for the season. "You spend so much time in the garden, it's no wonder the housework never gets done," snapped Amma. Menaka took the eggplant from her wordlessly and began chopping them. They both knew Menaka rarely stepped outside, save in the mornings, and whatever Amma chose to believe, there was no mistaking it for Menaka— QUARTO
these blessings from Nature were clear indications that the child's birth was to be a momentous event. As Menaka sat on her haunches, mechanically chopping, she recalled the astrologer who had visited her house when she was a child. He told her parents that she was to become a woman of great importance. When her father asked him for more details, he had become vague and philosophical. Her parents sent him off in a storm of insults, sure he had said what pleased them just to steal their money. But Menaka saw now that he was right. Soon she would be revered, even feared, rewarded for her years of staunch devotion to the Lordâ€”it seemed clear to her that the child, to be born from her womb in just a few months, would be the Lord himself, incarnated as a divine Child. As though to confirm her suspicions, each day seemed to bring some new small stroke of luck, and Menaka felt regal. Usually a shy creature, she learned to look into people's eyes when they spoke to her now. The fruit seller in the market became so charmed with her that each morning he would save a few of the choicest items, and slip them in with her purchases as a gift. No one had ever called her beautiful, indeed she was quite nondescript, but now she saw a frank appreciation in their eyes. She reasoned that, unlike Manu and Amma, they could sense the divinity of her presence. If she had any residual uncertainties as to the identity of her child, the events that took place soon after put them to rest. One evening Amma's shouts shattered the silence. "Thief, thief!" she yelled. Menaka came running out in a panic. She saw Amma standing with her hands on her hips in the doorway of the shed where they stored grain, or when they had it, butter. The urns of butter had been overturned, most of their contents were missing. "It must be local schoolchildren, Amma," said Menaka trembling, "or maybe the pye dogs." But Menaka knew whose work this was. The Lord Krishna had been such an incorrigible prankster as a boy, so fond of butter and sweets. When his mother Yashoda would try to scold him for stealing from her larder, he would flash her a smile with his luminous eyes, and she, enraptured, would be unable to hold on to her anger and draw him lovingly into her arms. God was giving Menaka a QUARTO
glimpse of what her life would be like with the Child, and she shivered at the thought that He had come so close to her that day. Amma calmed herself a little, and then Menaka lied, "I'm feeling sick, Amma, I'm going inside to take rest." Amma would normally have argued, but she heard an uncharacteristic boldness that made her mutter instead, "Lazy thing!" and leave it at that. When Manu came home that night, Amma told him ot the theft. Manu promised to buy a lock for the shed when he returned the next evening. The next day, sure enough, the butter they churned went missing again, but this time Menaka swore she saw silhouettes, not footprints really, of a child's small, perfectly formed feet near the urns. Just as she was about to say something, she decided to keep her knowledge to herselfâ€”let them feel sorry once she gave birth. Besides, they would not believe her since it would not happen once Manu fixed on a lock. The Lord would not stoop to making his signs so glaringly obvious, for all and sundry to see. They were for the pious few, like her. Amma ran in the shed before her, sullying the marks, and by the time Menaka reached the spot where she had seen them, there was nothing, except perhaps a faint indentation showing a beautiful toe, shaped, it seemed to her, round and plump as a berry. Menaka felt dizzy with excitement. "I'm going inside now," she said to Amma. Amma was not so easily subdued that day. "My son works day and night for you, and you can't be bothered if costly things are stolen." "Amma, I wouldn't speak like that if I were you," replied Menaka, in the voice of a mother gently admonishing her child. Amma was startled into silence, and Menaka went inside, soon falling into a heavy slumber, as though her body knew it would need to reserve strength to nurture and raise the God-Child. She was awakened by the sound of arguing. "That girl is becoming much too smug, Manu! She doesn't show the proper respect for me," Amma was saying. "Speak to her yourself, Amma," she heard Manu reply. "I have no time for women's quarrels." Manu's voice sounded tired and defeated. "I hear she talks to shopkeepers and all other sortsâ€”she's becoming QUARTO
vain, you'd better watch out, Manu." It was Amma again. Menaka heard Manu sigh deeply, and then she stood, made her way around them. They were silent the moment she entered the room, but now they
The months of pregnancy flew by for Menaka, and on the first day of the month of Lord Krishna's birth, Menaka's water broke. The anticipation of bliss, the baby, was almost more than she could bear, and tin-.,
stared in astonishment as she left the house, and she turned around to yell
along with her contractions, made her almost speechless. It was well
blithely, "I'm off to the temple." Menaka giggled then, and made her
before dawn, and she pushed Manu awake with a roughness she would
way to a low hill at the edge of the village on which the Krishna temple
not have dreamed of nine months agoâ€”she was soon to be glorified, her
was set. She entered it, struck the heavy brass bell, and made an offering
impatience was excruciating. "The baby's coming," she gasped between
of fruits and flowers after praying for a time. She gazed up then at the
laboured breaths. Manu awoke immediately and helped her outside.
statue of her Lord, which seemed to have been fashioned by someone
Again, Menaka saw that: it was the night of the new moon; the sky
who loved Him as much as she, for each finger, each eyelid, every shadow
was dark and loving and the constellations seemed to embrace her. On
of muscle, was exquisitely carved. It was a real enough image that she
the cart, which heaved and lurched, Menaka envisioned the Lord's face
imagined it could come to life, and at that moment, Menaka felt the first
in her mind, and could almost forget her pain. When the two arrived at
determined kick of the Child within her. She gasped, and prostrated her-
the clinic, Manu held Menaka's hand in a gesture she could not quite
self as best she could, almost weeping with devotion.
understand. Deference perhaps? Already?
She slowly stood up and went to speak to the priest. "Sir," she began timorously, "I was wondering. ..well..."
He pressed a large sheaf of bills into her hand to pay the clinic. which performed free tests, but not deliveries. She beamed at him and
"Yes, yes, go on," he urged.
told him she would see him in a few daysâ€”she knew he would not
"Well," said Menaka, gathering her courage, "I was wondering
have time to fetch her until then and cherished the thought of those
how Yashoda knew that her Krishna was the Lord." "The scriptures foretold it, and astrologers," he began. She nodded. "Then of course his beauty, and finally his miracles."
days of solitude she would have with her tiny God. Why, in a tew weeks time even, people would be filing in and out of their home, she imagined, their arms heavy-laden with oflerings, their heads bowed m
"But," she said, not sure how to broach the subject, "if he was still
reverence. Perhaps a temple would be built at the site of her home, and
an infant, how could one be sure? He performed few miracles until he
there was no telling what sorts of miracles the boy would perform
was a toddler."
throughout his life. The doctor was not in that day, but the midwife, Menaka was
"It was always known," the priest replied sagely. "Holy men of the time I am sure could see the truth, even if it was overlooked by commoners. Why, if I had been alive at the time...," he mused.
baby," shouted Menaka.
"So you could pronounce a child divine?" she asked, barely containing her excitement.
important." The midwife led her to a small cubicle separated from the
"Of course," he answered confidently, raising his chin a fraction. Menaka was ecstatic. She would not have to wait until her child was a toddler, all would know of Him, and of her, as soon as the priest made his pronouncement. Mumbling a few hasty words thanking the priest for his time, Menaka hurried home. Amma glared at her, and Manu looked up reproachfully. Ignoring them, she went to the kitchen to begin serving their supper. QUARTO
assured, was a very experienced one. "But this is a very important "Calm yourself, dear," said the midwife soothingly, "they are all others by only a thick cotton screen. Some two hours later, after pains Menaka could scarcely recall tor her excitement, Krishna was born. Menaka's eyelids began to swing heavily shut, but as the midwife prepared to take him away to wash him, Menaka's eyes snapped open. "Don't take him," she ordered. "Let me see him first." The midwife wiped the baby's face and hands with a cloth, and presented him to Menaka. She tried to stifle a gasp. His face QUARTO
shone like a jewel, and his eyes were not full of wonder as most babies' are—rather, they expressed a powerful wisdom and contentment. His lips were the perfect buds of the lotus, just as they had been described in the sacred books. Menaka felt dizzy, almost overcome with emotion. She returned the Child to the midwife, and fell asleep, exhausted. When she awoke, it was the middle of the afternoon—she could tell by the silence. She spied the cot in the corner of the cubicle, and from her bed she could barely discern the thin wisps of velvet black hair that framed the child's face. She went to the cot and lifted him gently out of it. He made a gurgling sound, and nestled against her breast, and again she was disarmed by his beauty. She lifted the swaddling clothes from him and noticed the almost timid flutterings of his chest as his tiny lungs inhaled and exhaled. She kissed his chest and then a nurse entered, remarking, "Your child is truly a beauty," chucking him under the chin affectionately. "You see it do you, his beauty?" Menaka asked, not really expecting a response. The next day passed in similar bliss. Menaka planned to take the child to her temple the first day she reached home, and there she knew, the priest would proclaim Him to be what He was. Already many of the nurses had begun to peek into Menaka's room, beguiled as they were by Krishna. On the morning of the second day, when Menaka awoke, she realised Manu would be there to fetch her the next evening, so she was determined to enjoy this last full day alone with Krishna, though she of course anticipated with glee presenting Krishna to Amma and Manu and her parents. She strode to his cot and gazed down on him from above. Only his head was visible and he was asleep, his eyes shut and lined with thick black lashes, his mouth slightly open. She lifted the coverlet and stared at his skin, golden and supple, amazed that he was the product of her womb. Then she noticed that the delicate movement of his ribs, which had so endeared him to her, was absent. "Nurse!" she managed to shriek, and then Menaka felt an overwhelming blackness and crumpled to the floor. As she slowly came to, she realised she was lying on her bed again. The midwife had taken her hand and was muttering soothing words to QUARTO
her. "Crib death is not such an uncommon thing," and "You're so young—there will be plenty of beautiful sons for you." But Menaka was not listening. "Where have you put him?" she demanded, with a lucidity that surprised the midwife. "We have him on ice, awaiting your instructions. We will help you transport him if you wish to have him cremated at your family grounds," she replied. Menaka had heard of ice before. She heard they had it in the cities. It had been described to be as glittering and magical as diamonds, and indescribably cold. City people cooled their water with it in the summer months. Menaka felt suddenly compelled to see it. "Show him to me," she demanded. The midwife nodded and led her to a small room. Krishna, still in his swaddling clothes and a basket, lay on a slab of ice that seemed ludicrously large compared to the size of his body. Menaka tried to ignore the body, only staring at the ice. She leaned towards it. wanting to touch it, but then she saw Krishna's face, and now his skin seemed to be wrinkling at the edges, as though he had somehow grown centuries old. Menaka clutched the midwife's arm tightly, who then led her away. The grip though was one of resolve, and not unsteadiness. Menaka bided her tune until the afternoon, when all would be asleep, save for the very old and the very young. As she felt silence fall over the village, she stole into the room where Krishna lay, and picked him up. He was as cold as the dew on the leaves of the jasmine had been, as cold as the ice itself must be. She secured him to her chest with a cloth, felt in a fold of her sari for the roll of bills Manu had given her, and carried Krishna to the outskirts of the village, towards the distant city. If anyone was watching, they saw only the innocuous silhouette of a woman with a baby strapped to her chest. She stopped along the way for a few provisions—the shopkeeper could not see the child's face; he did not question her. After walking for a time, the village appeared far away, her own village she could not even make out on the horizon. She knew only a bus depot lay in the distance. Soon Menaka found a circle of eucalyptus trees, and she began to dig a grave in the loose earth. She had purchased a pick, "for her husband," as she had told the shopkeeper, and it QUARTO
did resemble the one with which Manu struck the stone. This pick was new and sharp, and she dug into the earth effortlessly. She was placated by the fact that she would not have to survive the misery of erecting a pyre and placing Krishna on it, a pyre that would seem as hideously large for his body as the slab had been. She would not have to observe Manu and Amma beating their breasts in sorrow, and casting reproachful looks at her. And if burial went against the sacred law books, it no longer mattered, since her gods had forsaken her already. Menaka was pleased by the thought that the pile of rupee notes Manu had given her would carry her far into the cities, and she had enough, too, that she could finally have a taste of ice, touch it as she had so longed to before. When a small shallow grave had been dug, she laid down a pristine white bed of rock salt and, placing Krishna on it, she tenderly blanketed him in gravel.
The First Day of School TING BELL
An eight-year-old city girlâ€”Qingyunâ€” during the Chinese Cultural Revolution following her "problematic" parents was sent to a flat, Manchunan village to become a good peasant. In the morning of the first school day, Qingyun put on her best white floral dress and her red leather sandals. Mother told her: "Be nice to your new classmates." Father told her: "Do well, don't disgrace your family." When Qingyun stepped into a mud-walled classroom, the thrust of thirty-two pairs of eyes pushed her back three steps. Guided by her smiling teacher, she sat down with her flushing face and sweating heart, jumping like a rabbit. One girl with a patched shirt sighed: "Oh, what a pretty dress!" One skinny boy remarked: "She must have a lot of meat to eat, look at her chubby, shining face." Another muddy-faced girl muttered to her deskmate: "Her shoes are clean, but I heard her family has some political problems." Qingyun stared at the blackboard, answered all the mathematics questions, accurately recited Chairman Mao's poems.
THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
By noon, with her chin slightly upward, she peered at every curious face in the room.
The Colorful Gold
The afternoon session was held under the sun. Every pair of small hands had to pull weeds out ot a half-mile long and half-mile wide cornfield. The village students hopped through their rows, leaving behind neat corn sprouts and Qingyun waggling like a tail.
Ten-inch hard snow covered cutting mud-roads. Thin ice coated wooden well-cranks. Siberian wind licked brown paper-windows. A gray sky smothered the Manchurian village.
Her face smudged. Her hands painted with muddy cuts. Her back bent like the bound feet of her grandmother. Her dress spotted like a floor mop. Her ears filled with bees' buzzing: "Reciting poems doesn't help grow crops." "City girls are good for nothing." "That's why she is here to learn from us." "Oh, no. We'll have to finish her leftover lines." Walking home in the sunset with two broken sandals dangling in her swollen fingers her face hanging like a bowed sprout's head and tears tapping on her brownish feet, Qingyun asked her teacher: "What should I tell my parents about my first school day?"
Dragging a sled with an empty wicker basket and balancing a long shovel on her shoulder, the schoolgirl, Qingyun, wandered around the mud huts. Her face was flushed like a rooster's comb eyelashes laced with tiny icicles. Two streams of white steam from her nose braided frost with the threads of her red, thick cotton scarf. Her eyes swept every inch of frozen paths searching for droppings of dogs, pigs, horses, or cows to accomplish her winter homeworkâ€” collecting fifty pounds of animal dung to fertilize the village's fields. Trailing every horse-cart rarely passing by, she stared at horses' tails, praying that some daring horses would flip out some yellow gold on the ground by chance instead of into stained cotton-bags dangling under their rumps. She lingered outside the cattle corral throwing pieces of soil at sleepy cows. Lucky to move one or two she then stretched her shovel to scrape out their black, fat gold.
THE COLORFUL GOLD
Pulling her small discovery with a smile, she gazed at the edgeless barren fields seeing wheat, tomatoes, green beans, sunflowers. rising from her collected, colorful gold.
The Son of the Dragon King TING BELL
On a moonless night Qingyun met a short, ageless man, In the middle of a road In front of a small, black river. Oh, limber he was Like a wandering leopard; He leaped across in front of her.
"Why are you in white in this jet black night?" she asked with her hair standing up. "Why snow-colored, as if you're mourning for your family?" "You little foolish girl!" He answered, "I'm the son of the Dragon King and in charge of this river. Without paying me respect, no one could see the other end, no one could pass life to Heaven." "Oh! then you are a dragon prince with silver skin! Is your palace in this river? Do you have a beautiful lady cooking for you day and night? I adore you and your lady, will you carry me to the other side?'
THE SON OF THE DRAGON KING
One long, crystal whistle, a small, wooden boat led by a shining dragon head twisted through twined bushes. Riding on the dragon's back with the Dragon prince, Qingyun crossed the black river on a moonless night.
Crosstown JENNIFER LEIGH
"Damn!" The man sitting next to me slapped the back of the seat in front ot him. Unless I'm sitting next to a blind person or a tourist who needs to know when we reach their stop, when I take the bus to work, 1 get twenty minutes to myself; 1 don't have to worry about talking to anybody. This is New York at 8:30 in the morning: everyone on the bus is at least as hostile as 1 am, so I get some peace to read or think. If this guy wanted to talk to himself, fine with me, as long as he kept it down and left me out of it. "Damn if that don't look like him." I turned my head and gave him the raised eyebrow. He was neatly dressed and wore an old-fashioned tweed cap like I imagine my mother's uncles wore when she was a girl in Brooklyn, and the whole family lived in the neighborhood and crowded into my grandparents' apartment on Sundays for pinochle and platters of smoked fish. My aunt tells me my mother lives in a fantasy world and makes this stuff up: all the relatives feuded constantly and were never speaking to each other long enough for a card game, but I like my mother's version better. "Looks just like him, be damned if it don't," the man said to me, pointing at another man sitting ahead of us toward the front of the bus, facing the aisle. 1 lifted my book in front of my face and turned my body away from him. Cap or no cap, I wasn't getting sucked into this. He tapped me on the arm and pointed again. "We were in the Air Corps together down in Virginia, going on fifty years ago," he told me in a confidential stage whisper. "If that's him, that is. He vised to gas up the planes. Gassed 'em up good." I nodded behind my book and shifted away from him a little further. If he keeps this up, I thought, I'll end up tumbling on my ass in the aisle. I used to tell myself that reading on buses gave me a headache so that I had an excuse for daydreaming and looking out the window. I was always seeing people I thought I knew, either from my past or people I'd seen in the movies or on TV. Once I saw Donald Sutherland waiting QUARTO
to cross 57th Street and I swear he winked at me when he noticed me
was twenty-six the last time I saw her, the night of my wedding. She
above him with my face smushed against the glass. And a couple of
was wearing a polka dot dress I could tell she'd borrowed from her
years ago, after working a few too many sixteen-hour days, I thought 1
mother, and she had taken the gold earring out of her nose. I have
saw Orson Welles wearing a sandwich board that said "MINI STORAGE
dozens of photographs of my husband's sisters, who can't stand me, in
WILL C H A N G E Y O U R I . I H L . "
their hideous bridesmaids' gowns, and only one picture of Dawn at my
Even when you're not actually hallucinating, there's something
wedding. She's holding a lit cigarette and smiling in disbelief at the
unreal about seeing a familiar face from the window of a moving bus,
whole scene, me in a big white dress like Glinda the Good Witch, the
and the time I saw the younger sister of my best friend from grade
band, video guy, photographer, flowers, the whole shebang. When we
school it gave me a kind of spooky feeling. I hadn't seen my friend
were roommates, she told me she saw me getting married one day in
Andi or her sister Carrie since I was twelve, and there was puny little
my black hi-tops and nasty old leather jacket.
Carrie, tall and beautiful with a stride like a track star. When I got
Since I started seeing my dead friend standing around on street
home that night, I looked her name up in the telephone book, and she
corners, I ride the bus the same way I ride the subway: I don't look at
was in there, with an address up by Columbia near where I'd spotted
anyone or anything. Once m a while on my way to work I'll see some-
her. I thought about calling, but I never did.
one from my building waiting for the bus: like me, they nod and
"Must be seventy-five years old now, if that's him, that is." The
immediately look away as though recognizing somebody is somehow
man tapped my arm and gestured with his chin toward the front of the
unseemly, intrusive. There's a guilty attitude New Yorkers have in
bus. "Fifty years. Unh-uh, no, it can't be." I smiled without looking at
public when they are forced to acknowledge a stranger. But not this
him and turned a page I hadn't finished reading.
man who sat next to me; he seemed to think it was the most natural
One afternoon a few months after my friend Dawn died, discon-
thing in the world to pester a woman when she's trying to read. I
nected from life-support after a week-long, brain-dead, drug-induced
wanted to tell him that it's no use looking for ghosts; when you see
coma, I was riding an uptown bus on Amsterdam Avenue and I saw
them they only break your heart.
Dawn's sister Lindsey on a bicycle. She rode next to the bus for a cou-
"Tell me, you think that man is seventy-five?"
ple of blocks and I stared down at her, wondering what she could be
"I really wouldn't know," I muttered into my book.
doing in New York when she was supposed to be in California, her
"I'm seventy-six myself."
mother had said, or maybe Italy. Then I realized that the girl on the
I shot a quick glance at his face; his dark skin was smooth and
bike was a chubby teenager with chopped-up bleached hair, like
glossy, like polished wood, and his rough hair was white, clipped short
Lindsey back when Dawn and I were in college, lint Lmdsey's grown
beneath the cap. I squinted to see the other man ahead of us, got a little
up now, and when I'd seen her at Dawn's funeral she had been slim and
curious, I guess, in spite of myself. He was also neatly dressed, his brown
her long hair was the same light brown her sister's had been. During
face a bit more pleated with time, a fedora tilted back on his head.
the service, I sat a few rows behind Lindsey in church, and the back of her head was smooth and round like a baby seal's, just like Dawn's. After that 1 thought I saw Dawn herself a few times, once getting into a Mustang convertible, and once standing on the corner of 23rd
"Well, you don't look seventy-six," I said. "Now you know that's not what I'm asking you!" I le struck the back of the seat with his fist. A woman in front of us with a pierced eyebrow turned and sneered at him.
and 7th, leaning against a lamppost, smoking. As the bus passed, I
"OK, you look about the same age." How did I get into this ? I'm
slapped at the window with my palm, until I grasped that I couldn't be
not one of those women in an Anne Tyler novel with flyaway hair,
seeing Dawn; the girl smoking on the corner was just a kid, and Dawn
always getting involved with strangers and having quirky adventures.
"That's right. That's him all right, gotta be. You know, I believe he was there the night 1 met my wife." I had to admit, this was pretty good. I mean, just because I'm a stony-hearted New Yorker who hates humanity doesn't mean I don't have a sentimental streak a couple of miles wide. "Go ahead, ask him," I urged. The bus lurched to a stop and the man lurched, hitting the back of his seat hard, a look of horror on his face. "Oh, no. No. Wouldn't want to go making a fool of myself now." Since several people were looking our way already, including the man up ahead, I didn't see the sense in this. But my seatmate shook his head and continued to look at the man in the fedora. "Fifty years, hunh-uh." "C'mon, go ahead and ask." "No, no. He must be going where I'm going, over to the V.A. Hospital. Knee's been troubling me some. I'll just wait and see where he gets off, then I'll know it's him." My stop is a few blocks before the hospital, and I considered riding along for the extra stops to see how it came out, but it had begun to rain and I was running late anyway. I stood in preparation to get off and looked down at the man. "I'm not afraid. I'll ask him myself if he was in the Air Force." By now the other man at the front was standing too, staring at me and my seatmate, who rose suddenly, knocking the book out of my hand. "Air Corps," he corrected me. "No, I'll do it. I'll ask." I moved aside, and as I bent to pick up my book, I saw the two men shake hands, nodding and smiling in recognition. I heard the words "Air Corps" and "fifty years" as I left by the rear door, my book clutched to my chest like a shield.
When One Is Four Years Old SARAH BERNEY SKUTEL
When one is four years old and best friends with a chicken, the coop smells less putrid on early-morning egg collections. One is not scared to shove small hands between coarse hay and downy underside, to risk angering the poultry for stolen breakfast. Even the crazy rooster, strutting his testosterone around the yard and slowly losing his mind, attacking his offspring in confusion and maniacal rage, even he feigns indifference. For a chicken there are much worse things than having a friend who, alone, sees beauty in dusty feathers, pebble-blind eyes, and razor beak. There comes to exist a language in the subtle movements of fowl-scratching, one takes pleasure in teaching a chicken stillness so it may be lugged in love-grip by a small body, not much larger than itself, who is four years old and best friends with a chicken.
PERSPECTIVES ON THE HUMAN FORM
UNTITLED, OIL ON CANVAS, 8" X
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PERSPECTIVES ON THE HUMAN FORM
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GRACE ROSELLI FAT PROJECT, I 9 9 4 PHOTOGRAPH
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• • • • - - .
Bettina LYDIA R A U R E L L
Bettina Greenwood lived alone. The memory of a human presence had long since faded like an old slip in her closet. She sat by the window, her elbows crooked and sharp on the sill. Pigeons came to rest in the darkness of the alley. Bettina watched as they ate from her hand. The light hurt her eyes in the morning. Trucks bellowed in the street below like animals thirsting for water. That first bridge from sleep to waking was a time of panic. To acknowledge another day, to wash, dress and eat before she allowed herself finally to sit by the window, safe in the dimness of her alley. She would turn on the radio and listen to the mumble of tincan voices talking about the probability of rain. They soothed her as did the cup of pale cocoa. "I am a dying woman," Bettina might have said in a moment of clarity had there been anyone to say it to. But then the deep, unguent voice would sound in her memory. "You will grow old, Bettina, older than a monolith." Dante had grown a mole, a dark one, at the base of his neck. When he was writing he would hold it under his left forefinger as though it held some creative power only unleashed by touch. Bettina used to watch him while he wrote. She would wait, her knees hunched up under her chin until the waiting became a space inside her and she pounced. His pen would drop and his lips move with laughter as her nakedness gathered him in. Out of the shadows of her alley his voice came clear and alive and urgent. "I love you, Bettina, I love you, Bettina, 1 love you..." The words came in and out of time, words of love, words of laughter, and finally words of anger. "1 do not care, Bettina, whether you live or die. 1 think perhaps, that you will only grow old."
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It was less frightening by the window. To remember all the empty places, the great dark stones against the sky. Dante had not died. Or rather she did not know where he was. She had not seen him in ten QUARTO
years. But his voice had stayed. Some days it seemed much more real than her own. Her voice had become like the old piano, dusty and wheezing and out of tune. H e r sister used to come once a m o n t h . She flew down from Boston to bring "food and cheer." She talked too much, her mouth shiny with lipstick. Bettina had never decided which of them was the more dishonest. In the silence with which she outdistanced Cecily's on
most rapid sentences, Bettina sometimes wondered if it were possible ever to rise and say yes, Cecily, 1 know you dislike me and I dislike you, let us finish and say no more. But they were both too obedient. Their father had told them it was their duty to love each other. Cecily was dextrous. She had once taken Bettina to the East 80th Street Neighborhood Center. Bettina felt uncomfortable leaving the West Side but Cecily was adamant. "You will meet people, Bettina; being alone is unhealthy. Why, if I didn't have George to take care of, I would just collapse. I just wouldn't know what to do with myself. Even with all my committees!" Cecily had bought Bettina a pocketbook. It was large and white and Bettina rammed it between her knees as she sat quietly on the bus. "It's ridiculous not to have a pocketbook, Bettina. You have to have a place to put things." "What things?" Bettina asked. The purse had taken on the quality of a cave. "Well, a handkerchief for one thing." Bettina was embarrassed. It was true, her nose dripped. It was a Thursday night at the Neighborhood Center, which meant Bingo. Bettina sat at the back of the room with Cecily. A small shiny man called out numbers from the stage. The room was pale green with thick wooden chairs. All Bettina could concentrate on were the patches of pink scalps on the heads in front of her. She began counting them. Cecily had forgotten her and was filling out the card, clicking her nails on the little buttons. Suddenly her body quivered. "Bingo!" she shouted. "Bingo, Bingo, Bingo!" All the heads turned and stared at them with watery eyes. Bettina had wet her pants.
Once Bettina had fallen asleep by the window. The summer heat had failed to penetrate the dark stones of her alley and its moist breath had sustained her the entire day. She had closed her eyes with the dusk, her head leaning against the frame ot the open window. She awoke to a strange light that was neither night or day but the space between. It held no color but that of mist. The city was in such slumber she could almost hear the river lapping against the far-off wharves. Her age seemed to slip and loosen, she felt utterly transparent. She could remember the delicate hands parting the lace and her mother's face resting like cream against her own. "The peonies are in bloom, Bettina. The peonies are in bloom." The light was brief. The city began to stir with noise and heat. Bettma's dress was covered with a veil of soot. When her mother died it was a day as soft as feathers, an April day with the sun skimming the new leaves. Bettina had sat inside underneath the stairs watching the frightened fices pass by her. She almost envied Cecily's babyish wails. They were so much easier to comfort. Bettina had not cried. She kept the pain like a sliver of glass inside her heart. Only Dante had known, in those white flashes of passion, what Bettina could be without it. There had been no funeral for her mother. Her father had been explicit. "Your mother has committed suicide, Bettina. We must pray and ask God to forgive her." He had talked to Bettina then, in hard little paragraphs of bitterness. Each carefully chosen word seemed to form a wall around her. "You must be brave, Bettina. You must be brave for yourself, and for Cecily, who is only a child. There will be no mother in this house but you." Bettina had been brave all through the many years and corridors of her fnher's house. She had walked Cecily to school and back. She had helped her with her homework before she did her own. She had learned how to clean the house and order groceries by herself so that she could tell the housekeeper what to do. She wore a pink hat to Cecily's graduation and a blue one to her wedding. She had even sewed lace apple blossoms on Cecily's bridal veil. QUARTO
Her father had told her she could leave after Cecily's marriage but Bettina had refused. She couldn't imagine where she would go. And her father bv that time was already ill and arthritic.
"Bettina, you can not refer to Father as a pretzel!" Cecily had been horrified. "But that is precisely what he looks like. And it is what he feels like." "He never said he felt like a...a pretzel!" "No, Cecily, he probably didn't say that. What I am telling you is that he feels like a pretzel when I touch him. When I give him his bath." "Oh my God..." Cecily stared down at her small, plump hands. "Bettina, you know I think it might be time for you to hire a nurse. I mean a full-time professional who could..." "And who will pay for that, Cecily? We both know Father could afford it but he would never have a stranger in the house. 1 le can accept Mrs. Kirby because she's been with us for thirty years and he can accept Mr. Owen because he's been my piano teacher for almost twenty. Father doesn't have to talk to either of them. He doesn't even look at them nowadays." "Bettina, you do know that the whole situation is extremely odd." Cecily's eyes were a pale green, the same luna-moth green as their mother's, and they were beginning to fill with tears. "It won't be long now. I would say two more years, at the most." "But Bettina, how can you stand it, I mean...maybe George would pay for someone..." "Father would refuse, Cecily. He has told me he won't have strangers in the house." But he did have a stranger in the house and it was Bettina. The space she kept for herself was so private even she didn't know her. Dante was the first person to meet her. Or create her. In the shadows of her allev Bettina wasn't sure.
It took her father eight years to die. He had outlasted both Mrs. Kirby and Mr. Owen. Bettina had been tidy about his last wishes. No funeral, just the little black box of his ashes to be buried at the bottom of the well. QUARTO
LYDIA R A U R E L L
"But it will poison the water, Bettina!" Cecily gasped. "There is no water. The well has been dry for years." They were both staring down at the mouth of the old stone well. It was almost completely covered by honeysuckle vines. No one except their old family lawyer would ever know. Bettina lifted the box and wedged it between the vines. Then she told Cecil)1 to hold her hand and they would both close their eyes while Bettina dropped the box down the stone tunnel leading to God knew what. They waited a long time. Finally there was a faint scratchy thud. "There now," Bettina said firmly. "There now." She opened her eyes and saw Cecily standing close to her with her eyes scrunched shut. She was a full-grown, married woman and she looked like a child. Bettina sighed. "It's all right. Cecily. We can go now." Cecily kept hold of her hand as they walked across the overgrown fields, up the hill and into the house. They sat on the window seat in the garden room and drank chamomile tea in paper cups. Cecily cried softly and then stopped. Bettina had sold or thrown away everything in the house except the piano. There was not one object left. The garden room smelled like antiseptic. Bettina had been thorough in her cleaning. "I have the cottage all ready for you, Bettina. I know you may not like all the chintz but it really is comfortable and George and I thought we could give a little party..." Cecily's voice was shaking. Bettina looked out over the brambly lawn to where the river wound its lazy way through the valley. She was not feeling well. She was too taut, too ready for the spring that leapt and burst just outside the window. Bettina had kept her mother's garden, and the peonies were heavy with buds. She knew she had come to the point at which she had always wished to stand. High and alone on some nameless cliff m her mind. Yet Cecily was already weaving and winding with silken threads. "George always said we should keep the cottage for our children... but since we never could have...Oh Bettina. I do want you to come so badly!" Bettma's eyelids began to flutter. She had never felt faint before but she did now. It was her moment. And she knew it would only come once, this moment of choice. The garden seemed to swirl before her, QUARTO
the peonies and brambles all shifting before her eyes. She had absolutely no idea where she should go. She just had to go away. Away. "Bettina, you can't stay here! And you can't just disappear. You must be somewhere! The cottage is just waiting for you!" "I shall take a trip." Her voice came out as small and sour as a lemon. Bettina could barely breathe. She had never said those words in her life. Where would she go? Cecily was making it all so difficult with her bracelets clinking and jangling. She could feel Cecily's hands closing around her wrists. "All right, Bettina. Take a trip. You can go to that inn in Maine, the one that father used to enjoy so much when we were children. It might be cold just now though, you might want to wait a month or so when it will be summer and you can swim and relax and then come to the cottage. I can have your music room finished by then." "I shall go to Egypt," Bettina said. "Egypt!" Cecily screeched. Actually Bettina was just as surprised as Cecily. She had no idea where the idea came from but it was enough to stop Cecily with a rush. Her hands stopped in midair. At the moment the image was shared between them and it was a daunting one. Bettina among the pyramids.
"What are you?" he called loudly. "What are you in the shadows? This is a bad place for a woman. Come out and let me see you." Bettina stared at him. He was a large, hairy man with his shirt undone and his arms thrashing around his head keeping off the flies. "Why are you hiding there? What are you?" he almost shouted. "I am Bettina," she said. It was all she could think. "And what is that? What is a 'Bettina'?" His voice sounded angry and urgent with a strange, deliberate accent. He took hold of Bettina's arms and pulled her into the sunlight. Then he peered into her eyes so that his nose was pressing against the sunglasses. His breath smelled of some sweet wine. At first Bettina wondered if she were being assaulted. No man had touched her except a doctor. Not even her father. She wondered if she should scream, but the man's nose, faintly green through her glasses, was too much and Bettina began to laugh. It was not her usual small chuckle but a wild tittering giggle which terrified her and she stopped almost as soon as she had started. The man dropped her arms as though he had been struck by lightning. "A spirit..." he breathed. "A spirit I have rescued from the land of the dead." "Don't be an ass," Bettina said. She did not feel at all like a spirit. Then the man laughed with his mouth wide open, showing a large pink tongue and gold fillings. "Come," he saici finally. "Come and have breakfist with me." "It's not time for breakfast. It's five o'clock in the afternoon." Bettina felt suddenly old and dry. "So? Listen, I just woke up. So now time for breakfast. Come." "What is your name?" she asked severely. "My name is Giusseppe. My name is Dimitri, Jean, Sven, Allal, Raoul. My name is Dante! Dante! And I am a poet." Bettina stared at him. "Dante...?" "What can you lose by having breakfast with me?" His eyes were black and curious. Bettina could have told him there were three things: her money, her virginity, or her life.
Bettina was gone for three months. It seemed at first as though she had only replaced one desert for another. The dry lands of sun and sand were often too similar to the arid days in her father's house. She stayed in a clean but mediocre hotel and she went to look at the Ancients everyday. She even rode a camel. By the third week her digestion became so turbulent that she was tempted to lie down in the sand and die. Instead she got royally sunburnt and retreated to her hotel for three days. One night she dreamt of her mother's peonies, rows and rows of magenta and white peonies edging a lovely road. When she awoke she went downstairs to the gift shop and bought a pair of sunglasses rimmed with rhinestoncs. She decided to explore the shadows of the pyramids. It was there where Dante found her. Stiff and thin and alone staring out from the shadows. QUARTO
They went to a restaurant and had breakfast. They ate for tour hours. Bettina got drunk and went to sleep. When she awoke she was naked and alone in a strange bed. Dante was staring at her from a chair across the room. "Go back to sleep," he said. Bettina rubbed her eyes. The room was absolutely stark. There was nothing in it at all except the bed and the chair. "Why'" she said. "Because you are drunk. When you wake up you won't be drunk anymore." He was still staring at her with dark, curious eyes. "Are you going to steal my money?" "No." "Are you going to rape me?" "No." "Are you going to kill me?" "No." "Why not?" "Go to sleep. 1 want to watch." "Do you still think I am a spirit?" "Yes." "I'm not. 1 am a virgin." Dante's eyes opened very wide. "Dios mio," he breathed. "1 am forty-seven years old and I am a virgin." Bettina spoke to the ceiling. There was a spiral of cracks in it. A spiral almost as tall as the one in her chest, the glass one that was starting to curve and wind. Her hands fluttered above her, trying to keep it from touching her heart, but Dante was there beside her, breathing salt and marmalade. "Then, my beloved, you are not a spirit. You have not yet been born." He took off his clothes and got into bed. Bettina could feel his heart pounding and pounding as he began to touch her.
In the winter Bettina placed a candle by the window. The standing lamp was too heavy for her to lift and the corner became too dark without any light. That way she could see into the darkness, know the alley was there and still see her own reflection in the glass. It was an old QUARTO
face, hollowed and sagging. Her eyes were sometimes too big and Bettina would close them. That way she could still imagine Dante in the apartment wrapped in (he small Turkish rug, his hair standing in tufts all over his head, pacing the room and clapping his hands. "Good morning, Bettina! Good morning, ice maiden who lives m a land colder than a witch's crotch!" But that first morning m F.gypt he had not leapt and stretched. Hehad cried, big heavy tears running down his cheeks. Bettina had held him and held him until the tears stopped. Her arms ami hands were like wands touching gold and silver on his skin. Wherever she touched him, he shivered and trembled and groaned. "Aye Dios...Aye Dios! Me, Dante, who has had more women than grass in the field! Me, to be struck with love for a forty-sevenyear-old virgin. I love you, Bettina. I love you. I love you, Bettina!" He said it over and over again through the terrible thick heat in the small room through that day and night and week. At the end of the month he told Bettina that they must go to America. Bettina bought the tickets, put on her sunglasses and went to the airport. Dante had gone and bought rugs, lamps, baskets, hookahs, and a parrot they would not allow on the plane. They arrived in New York City wrinkled and nearly hysterical. Bettina had never been to the city before. Dante dropped her at a coffee shop and went off to rent an apartment. "I have a cousin," he said. "He will find us a home." Bettina was to discover that Dante had many cousins. This particular cousin found them an apartment on the Upper West Side m a neighborhood where few people spoke English. The apartment was huge and sprawling and filled with cockroaches. Bettina did not care. Dante showed her how (o squish them between her fingers.
"Bettina, he is a dirty Mexican gigolo! He will ruin you! He will take all your money and ruin you!" Cecily's mouth was trembling in anger. "Good," Bettina said. "I need to be ruined.' She could not stop smiling but she knew she was not being quite fair. Cecily's first meeting with Dante had been unfortunate. She had arrived at an awkward time because Bettina had forgotten that she was coming and had gone to bed QUARTO
with Dante instead. Bettina had risen, like a crane, her body dancing in that miraculous arch that could make Dante grow with the slow seeping speed of oil, when the doorbell rang. From the heights of Icarus Bettina plummeted to a scurry of clothes and explanatory whispers. Dante filled the room with oaths, his arms flapping in rage. Cecily was piqued. Her shoes clacked on the bare wooden floor. "Where have you been? 1 have been in that hall for twenty minutes! Bettina, this is not a safe building. This is not a safe street. How can you be so...What is the matter? You look so silly!" Bettina pulled at her dressing gown and tried to look like a virgin. But Cecily had turned away from her and was staring at Dante. His dark eyebrows were furrowed in a long line across his forehead. He was wearing nothing except a small pvirple towel wrapped around his waist, which made his body look prehistoric. "Cecily, this is...ah, this is my..." Bettina couldn't talk anymore. She ran into the kitchen and leaned against the wall, torn between laughter and tears. She felt as though she were suddenly thirteen years old. She had never felt like a teenager before in her life. She could hear Dante's heavy breathing and then Cecily's voice, which sounded brittle and squeaky. "My sister seems to have lost her manners. I am her sister, Cecily. You must be...?" "What? Of course I must be. I am Dante. At least that is what I am now. Before, I was another name but I think I will stay Dante." "But what is your real name?" Cecily sounded determined. "What is more real, the name you are given or the name you give yourself? Tell me that?" "Well, I..." "I'll be right there...!" Bettina yelled from the kitchen. She ran frantically around the kitchen grabbing a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers, bananas and grapes. Her head was whirling. She had to protect them from each other. "You ask me my real name. Hah! Who are you to ask me such a question? Who are you!" Dante's voice was getting very loud. Bettina rushed into the hall. "Come, come, let's sit down...we can..." She grabbed Cecily's hand and pulled her towards the large sofa. Dante stomped in behind her. QUARTO
"I have already told you my name," Cecily said primly. Bettina sat behind the wine bottle, staring at both of them. She felt as though she were being sliced right down the middle. Each one of them, her sister and her lover, was separately real, but together, sitting there together in the same room was like an hallucination. It made no sense. No sense at all. Bettina felt paralyzed. "My husband says I am jolly," Cecily said suddenly and with such stiffness that Bettina realized she was afraid. Dante lunged with all the smell and darkness of a back alley. At that moment he really did look evil. The hair lay in great mats across his chest. He leaned across the table and his smell moved with him. "What is this word jolly'? Is this what you say you are? A jolly? I do not like this word, I do not like sisters who arrange to arrive when there is no need to arrive. I do not like your green eyes that see only your own nose. I think you are a hard woman with the soul of a beetle!" Dante's arm had risen, palm inwards, like a beacon of virile omnipotence. Cecily's bracelets sent off chimes of metal as she rose to leave. It seemed to Bettina that the room had begun to crack. The splinters rose around her. "Cecily...please, it was my mistake...I..." The words flurried out of her mouth. But Cecily was gone with her shoes clacking far down the hall. Bettina jumped as she heard the front door slam shut. When she turned towards Dante, it was as though all the color had left the room except where Dante sat. His body seemed too bright, almost obscene. "Dante..." "What, my pale one?" Having got her alone again he was all benevolence. "Dante, I think perhaps that you should take a bath." "What are you saying, Bettina?" "You smell, Dante." His eyes grew small and beady. "I smell because I am alive. Death, too, smells but with a stench of decay and rot. I hope...I hope that you do not join the still ones. Bettina, the ones who refuse both life and death."
Dante stayed for seven years. Bettina sometimes felt so h;v that she began stopping in churches to give a prayer of thanks and leave a donation. She felt overwhelmingly grateful for everything, even the smallest thing like sparkles of mica in the sidewalk, the ripened guavas at the bodega, the sound of rain falling on their fire escape. Dante's love surrounded her like a gossamer cloak. Everywhere she looked was wondrous, miraculous, and funny. She spent her days in long walks, buying food to cook tor Dante and playing her piano. Mostly, though, they made love. Hours and hours of lovemaking followed by long sleepy discussions about Dante's words. He felt that all words had an individual soul and identity and that each word resembled a person or an animal. As far as Bettina could tell, Dante spoke five languages all mashed together. It was his own unique blend. She loved his poems, which he recited aloud. Bettina could never quite understand the sense of them, and was not quite sure they did make sense or even should make sense. It was the sound of his voice that mattered. After that first meeting Cecily still came to visit once a month but only when Dante was out drinking or writing or staring at the sky. Bettina had never installed a phone and Cecily worried. "But it's so impractical, Bettina!" "I was extremely practical for forty-seven years. It did not make me happy." "But it's not safe for you, Bettina! Suppose something happened?" Cecily looked frightened. "You mean suppose something happened to you?" Bettina asked gently. It was not quite a fair question. Bettina knew that Cecily needed her in the same way she needed oxygen. But Bettina felt she had done enough. She thought there could be a limit on giving. What she did not know then was that the cancer had already begun sprouting its deadly buds in Cecily's stomach. And it was not Cecily but rather Bettma's neighbor, Mrs. Valeski, who told her. Cecily had made Mrs. Valeski promise to look in on Bcttina, which Bettina resented but Dante liked. He enjoyed talking to Mrs. Valeski about the old country. Bettina never knew which old country it was, or even if they talked about the same one. QUARTO
Mrs. Valeski told her one day when Dante was out. I ler face was dark and sad with the enduring love of misery that only a mother ot nine can have. She said it shaking her head, saying that it wasn't right for ( Cecily not to tell her sister of the trial God had sent to her body in the name of cancer. That night the dream began. She was standing m the center ot the long corridor in her father's house facing the window. At one end of the corridor was her father pointing at her with his sad, bitter eyes and at the other end was her mother dressed in silk and laughing, the flowers around her floating and falling. The window was before her. Bettina began walking into the window waiting for the glass to break into long raised spears. She awoke as stiff and hard as a stick, and there was nothing Dante could do to soften her. I ler jaw was clenched shut and her hands were cold and moist. Bettina watched Dante mouth words at her but she could hear nothing. Only when the morning sun had dappled its way through the filmy curtains could Bettina even hear him but her body remained locked. She told Dante about Cecily's cancer and then about the dream. Dante folded her body into his and rocked her like a child. "My poor Bettina. Pobresita. I thought I had rescued you m Egypt. But they still want you. They want you even more now because I gave your soul birth! They still want you, Bettina." "Who wants me, Dante?" "The Dead." "The dead! Don't be ridiculous." Bettina was annoyed. "It's just the shock of... of hearing about Cecily's illness. I had a nightmare, that's all." "Bettina, sometimes when you talk you sound like a not intelligent person. And when you do this I know that the real Bettina is hiding." "Dante, just let me get up and have some tea and a banana... and..." But Dante still had his arms across her. He looked at her sadly and shook his head. "You can try, Bettina, but you won't be able to move. I have seen this before, a very long time ago. I never wanted to sec it again. I will have to get my cousin. " Bettina pursed her lips and tried to raise her body but she couldn't. Dante removed his arms and stood up. away from the bed. Bettina still could not move. "1 will go find my cousin. I will go now," Dante said softly. QUARTO
Once it had rained in her alley. It had rained for three days with a wind that was louder than the freight trains she and Dante had watched from the bridge. It howled and roared and the radio said it came from the Northeast. Bettina ate tuna fish out of the can and watched the water fill up in the alley. She had wrapped a dish towel around her head so that she wouldn't get her hair wet when she leaned out the window to see how deep the water was. When the rain finally stopped, the alley was like a reservoir. The wind still blew and the water moved in little ripples splashing against the stone walls. She had heard a strange sound, a kind of sour snoring sound that came and went, came and went. She looked further out the window and saw that a cat was dragging itself through the water moaning. Bettina screamed or rather, tried to scream. It took her eight tries before her voice came out loud enough. Finally someone's head appeared in the window far above her. "A cat! A cat is drowning in the alley!" Bettina screamed as loud as she could. The sloshing sound continued, the ripples spreading around the cat until finally the superintendent came out with a plastic bucket and scooped it up. He waved up at her and smiled with a big toothy grin. Bettina cried she was so happy. It took almost a day for the water to recede. By nightfall there was only a thin film but it was deep enough to reflect the stars. Bettina tried to count them but fell asleep before she could finish.
When Dante's cousin came he brought a chicken, twisted roots, bags of pennies, bottles of strange colored liquids and three attendants. The attendants were large, soft women with gentle faces and big strong hands. Dante and his cousin spoke in a language Bettina had never heard. Or perhaps it was only a different accent. 1'he women sang while the cousin made a fire in a wire mesh box and the bedroom began to fill with a sweet smoke. "Dante, this is all ridiculous. Completely ridiculous." She felt as though she were watching herself in a bad play. "Bettina, it doesn't matter if you think it is ridiculous or not. You can think it is ridiculous. But we have to do something to make you able to move." QUARTO
"Why not call a doctor, Dante? That seems rather logical." "My cousin is doctor." "I mean a real doctor, Dante," Bettina whispered this because she didn't want to hurt the cousin's feelings. "Bettina, you are being not intelligent again. There are many kinds of doctors. All of them are real but some are good and some are bad. My cousin is a good doctor." "Real doctors don't build fires." "Bettina, if this doctor does not work, we will get the other kind of doctor. We will try all the kinds of doctors. We will pretend we are in a restaurant where we order different doctors. It is OK?" "OK," Bettina said. "Dante, do you really believe?" "Yes, I do believe that the Dead want you. We have to find out why." Bettina would have asked him more questions but the turquoise liquid she had sipped from the spoon had suddenly taken effect. She looked into Dante's velvet eyes and felt her mouth smile. Then she was sleeping again. The dream was the same. Only this time she walked through the glass and felt no pain. There was a hand leading her. It was a thin brown hand like Dante's cousin's. She could smell smoke but then that faded and she could only smell the peonies. There were hundreds of them growing in the garden. The wind came and scattered the blossoms, lifting them into the air so that she could barely see. It was like a storm of petals. The hand paused and then turned her back into the window. Bettina watched the spears of glass go through her body without bleeding, and without pain. She held more tightly to the hand. Suddenly she was running and her father's voice was shouting at her to stop. He was shouting so loudly that her mind hurt. The hand gripped hers and they ran. The smell of peonies was sickening. They ran into their mother's bedroom. Bettina felt like she was in a hurricane of tear. She felt her other hand being held as well. It was Cecily's baby hand. Cecily was with her. Bettina stood still, looking up at her mother's beautiful face as she stood in front of the tall, gilded mirror. She stood and watched as that lovely, smiling mouth opened and the gun went inside. Her mother pulled the trigger and her head exploded. QUARTO
When Bettina awoke she was lying in a hospital bed. Dante was
became jealous so they did his feet as well. By the time the summer heat
sitting by the bed holding her hand and humming. She tried to speak
had embraced the city and Dante had set up fans all over the apartment.
but Dante put his finger to her lips.
Bettina was well enough to be out of bed. She had spoken to Cecily
" N o Bettina words now. Only Dante words. Sott words like
twice on Mrs. Valeski's telephone but neither of them had mentioned
'mariposa,' 'pistachio,' 'heartbeat,' and again, 'heartbeat.'" Dante said
Cecily's illness. Nor did Bettina tell her about the dreams. Dante had
the words slowly with his eyes smiling. He took her hand and held it
told her that she was forbidden to talk of it to anyone, even him, until
over his chest where she could feel the flesh rise and fall, in that
she had seen his cousin again. He said she wouldn't even be able to speak
wondrous Dante heart rhythm.
about it because the cousin had put a "veil" on her so that she could rest.
Bettina felt her eyes fill with tears. "Dante," her voice was thin and raspy.
When the cousin did arrive he was wearing his arm in a sling made up of brightly colored scarves. The attendants followed him with large
"No. You are forbidden to talk. By all the doctors. You see I tell
paper bags which turned out to be filled with dozens of peacock feathers.
you we try all kinds of doctors. My cousin, he said it was time for you
The cousin lay down on the bed and told Bettina and Dante to sit on
to see the blind doctors. No., .listen to me. He means what you call the
either side of him. The attendants sat on the floor, humming softly and
real doctors. He calls them 'blind' because they cannot see the soul.
waving the peacock feathers back and forth in the air.
This does not make them not real doctors, only different doctors. 1 le said your body needed help after he had cured your soul."
Bettina looked very closely at the cousin and waited for him to speak. She could see that his eyes were slightly bloodshot and that he
"Dante, did your cousin tell you...?, did he...?" Bettina felt a
looked very tired. He gave off a peculiar smell which was both sweet
severe pressure at the back of her neck. Her throat seemed to close shut.
and musky. 1 le drank some clear liquid from a cut crystal vial that he
"My pale one, you must not speak. Yes, my cousin told me everything. Now sleep. 1 sing you my cousin's humming song, which will make you sleep." "But what about Cecily, I must...I must take care of her. She saw! She saw it too!" "Sleep, Bettina, sleep."
wore around his neck and then turned to look at Bettina. "We had very perilous journey together." His voice was very clear and highpitched. It sounded almost like a flute. "Peligroso. Muy pcligroso." He looked up at the ceiling and sighed. "You, Bettina lady, have very fierce relatives." Bettina looked down at her hands. She felt suddenly ashamed. "Do not accuse yourself. We do not choose our blood relatives." Bettina was beginning to feel ill again. The cousin turned from the
It seemed to Bettina that she slept for the better part of two weeks. The hospital had released her under her "husband's" care but only after she had sworn to the nurse that Dante had never abused her. The doctors had said she had suffered some kind of extreme emotional shock but they were puzzled by the deep bruises on her wrist. Bettina offered them no explanation. She was grateful that the thin brown hand of the cousin had held her so tightly. She could not imagine what would have happened if he had let go and left her there. Wherever "there" was. While she was at home, the cousin's attendants came every day to massage her feet. Bettina did not bother to ask them why, but Dante
ceiling and looked at her closely. "I am stronger than your relatives. And 1 did not let go of your hand." He began to smile. "And you did not let go of mine." Bettina tried to smile back. "1 must ask you question, Bettina lady. And 1 will lift the veil so you can answer me with truth." Bettina felt suddenly that her mind was clear and still. Like a smooth pond of water. "Do you remember this death of your mother?" the cousin asked quietly. QUARTO
"Now I do. I didn't before." "So this was her true death?" "Yes, it was her true death. I had forgotten." Bettina felt the pain at the back of her neck again. "1 wish 1 had not remembered. It is ugly. It is so terribly ugly." "Bettina lady, you must listen to me. Maybe for your mother it was not ugly. Maybe for her it was beautiful. She chose her death. Maybe she knew she would do harm if she lived. I do not know. I believe...that she wanted you to remember and then go free. She did not try to keep you there. She is not the Dead that wants you." The cousin was staring deep into her eyes. "Why are you all so convinced that I am wanted by dead people!" Bettina blurted out. She was beginning to dislike the cousin and the attendants with their waving peacock feathers. Her mouth felt sharp and bitter. The pain at the back of her neck was getting worse. "It is all ridiculous. Ridiculous!" "Bettina, you do not sound like youself." Dante was looking at her oddly. His face was very pale, almost as if he were frightened. "Please listen to him. To my cousin. He will help you." "Oh for goodness sake. This is all such nonsense. I just need a little vacation." Bettina's voice sounded peculiar even to her. There was a strange rushing in her chest as though a swarm of bees had entered. The cousin's face had narrowed and become very still. Bettina watched as his cheekbones seemed to widen and the lips part. The sound of the bees in her chest was beginning to deafen her. The attendants had become very agitated. They were now standing around the bed, waving the peacock feathers faster and faster above their heads. Their mouths were moving but Bettina could not hear them. When she looked back at the cousin, his face looked like a snake's. The thin hand reached for her wrist again but exerted no pressure. Bettina felt her body become weak. She could see nothing in the room except for the cousin's eyes. "Bettina lady, listen to me. I know you can hear me. Do not listen to them. Listen to me. You are not to go there again. And I will not take you. They are fierce but I am fiercer. Wake up. Now." Bettina felt her head snap back as though she had been hit. Suddenly the room was quiet. QUARTO
The cousin sat up in the bed. He looked very tired and very grumpy. "You do not have a happy family, Bettina. It is very sad. Very sad." Bettina stared at him. All the noise inside her had gone. Her body felt numb except for the pain at the back of her neck. She looked over at Dante but he had crawled onto the floor and was curled up with the pillow over his head. The attendants kept up their steady waving of peacock feathers. "Bettina lady, I have done everything I can for you. Well, not everything but I am too tired now. Muy cansado." He shook his head slowly. "Very fierce family. But that is good because you are fierce too. Fierce fight fierce. You must fight that Cecily. Her dead spirit wants you. She wants you to be her servant. To take care of her forever, forever. You must tell her no." "But Cecily is alive!" Bettina whispered. "Not tor long. Dead spirit very strong. Very hungry. She fight for your hand. She fight hard to keep you in the shadows, but 1 am stronger. I beat her but she nearly pull my arm out." The cousin suddenly grinned and said something to his attendants which Bettina could not understand. They began to giggle and started stroking Dante with the peacock feathers. "Somewhere inside you know this. Just as part of you knows it was her voice you spoke in. That is what put Dante under the pillow! Hah. Dante was afraid." The cousin laughed. "But I know you have this part of you which knows. You must always listen to this. You must not hide. And you must fight this Cecily. You must tell her no."
At first Dante tried buying her exotic kinds of food. He said it would help thicken her blood so that she could fight this bad spirit of her sister. He brought her sea urchins from Chinatown, eels from France and mushrooms from the Ukraine. Bettina politely ate everything but still remained in her listless state. They slept on either side of the bed. Not touching. Cecily had started her chemotherapy treatments in Boston but she still visited Bettina every month. She referred to her illness as her "little problem" and told Bettina about all the interesting people she QUARTO
met at "the center." She also reminded her, every time they spoke, that the "cottage" was just waiting tor her and that the music room was ready. It became a kind of refrain. Bettina did not tell her about the dream. Dante bought her a pair of canaries. They sat in a pink cage by the window and sang everytinie Dante came into the room. He named them "Piccolo" and "Viola" and gave them chopped-up lettuce and hardboiled eggs to eat. Bettina did not like them. She thought they looked like yellow mice. She spent her days lying on the bed and watching the light change through the filmy curtains. Dante had found a bar where people read their poetry out loud. He began spending many hours away at night. When he came home his body smelled of sweat and wine and cigarettes. One night he touched her and she lay beneath him, feeling nothing but a dull kind of curiosity. She realized that her sexual desire had been gone ever since Mrs. Valeski told her about Cecily's cancer. When Dante fell asleep next to her, with his mouth open in a steady snore, Bettina knew something terrible had happened. She tried to wake him to tell him that she was sorry but his snores were too loud and his body too heavy and after staring at the wall she too fell asleep. The next morning Bettina used all her strength to get out of bed. She walked into the big messy living room to find Dante sitting in the big armchair staring out the window. He was smoking a cigar and blowing big smoke rings out the window. "Dante...I..." 1 le did not look at her but continued to blow the smoke rings. "Please listen to me, I know..." "There is only one thing to know and only one thing to do. You must tell her no." She covered her face with her hands. Her mind was always like this now. She kept running back and forth inside it seeing her mother on one side and her father on another. They were both angry at her. Both accusing. Cecily was a baby crying and crying. Bettina could not bear it. The spiral of glass had entered her body and she could not get rid of it. It was like a sword between her and Dante. "Dante...please, help me..." QUARTO
"1 help you! I, Dante, gave you birth! You, who came from the land of the Dead, lost like an unborn soul, 1 gave you life and now ami now.â€˘â€˘you are lost again! You will grow old Bettina. Old." Bettina backed herself against the wall. Dante's words felt like stones. He had turned around and was standing above her. His eyes were glaring and he wheeled his arms in anger. "You are a bone. You are a rock. You are an old paperbag. I would rather make love to a piece of veal! Mierde! Corio!" Dante spat at her feet. Bettina felt herself stiffen. She had to be strong like her father had told her. She had to be so strong that even the amber and spice of Dante's breath could not penetrate. "You must tell your stinking beetle sister!" Dante shouted. "That is ridiculous!" Bettina hissed. "How can I say such a stupid thing? Oh, by the way, Cecily, some fake old voodoo man tells me that you want me to be your slave. Oh no, excuse me, it's your dead soul that wants me to be your slave. Well, I'm so sorry but I won't do it. 1 do hope you don't mind." "That sounds very fine. Very good. Much better, Bettina!" "No, it doesn't sound better. It sounds as though I were insane. She would have me committed!" "You must choose, Bettina. You must choose between life and death. Otherwise there is only fear." He wrapped all the lamps and hookahs up in the Turkish rug and slung it over his shoulder and left. Bettina did not see or hear from him again.
Cecily came to the apartment a week after Dante had left. Her makeup got brighter as her skin got yellower. She had barely stepped inside the door when she knew. "He's gone. The smell is gone." She began to cry. Bettina looked at her. She watched Cecily cry until her arms moved by themselves. She reached into Cecily's pocketbook and took out a handkerchief and handed it to her. Cecily stopped crying almost immediately. QUARTO
"Thank you, Bettina." "You're welcome, Cecily." They never spoke or referred to Dante again. Not at the 80th Street Neighborhood Center or at restaurants or at home. He might never have existed between them at all.
Her sister must have been a fierce person because it took her many years to die. They kept taking pieces out of her and sewing her back up again. It was much the same with Bettina only her disease was silent and invisible. And she did not die. She only got older. Bettina had not gone to the funeral. Mrs. Valeski brought her doughnuts on the day of the church service. They were great thick doughnuts like sugar-coated cotton. Bettina thanked her and sent her away. She found Mrs. Valeski's moist eyes even more vulgar than her doughnuts. There was only one death she could have celebrated; sung a paean ot grief and love. She could have screamed and gnashed her teeth for Dante, screamed and pulled out her hair. But there was no space for screaming or tearing, only the slow agony. The wordless, empty space like the flame that is blown out, leaving only a wisp of smoke like dreams, fading and fading. Each day became longer than the one before it. Each day was a wider desert for her to cross. There was only the window at the end of it. The one in her dreams or in her alley. It did not matter which. There was just the progression towards it, slow, so slow and far away.
There had been a terrible heat wave and Bettina had found herself unable to eat. She lay her head on the window sill and slept. When she awoke she looked up to see a flock of pigeons suddenly swirling up the cavern of the alley. Bettma peered down and held her breath, the alley was filled with a thick creeping smoke. She shut her eyes and then opened them quickly. It was real, the smoke was real. She felt dizzy and realized that she was coughing. Fire. Bettina pushed her hands against the sill and pulled herself up. The whole living room was filled with the sickening smell of burning trash. Bettina pulled the dishtowel
around her mouth and staggered towards the front door. When she opened the door she saw three firemen rush by her, carrying a hose and shouting. A fourth fireman saw her and swore. He grabbed hold of her arm and hauled her down the stairs, and then carried her out to the stoop where a crowd had gathered. The policemen were shouting at the crowd and pushing them back. She coughed and coughed, blinking in the odd, bright sunlight. She had not been outside the apartment for weeks. The street was filled with firetrucks and police cars and the noise was deafening. Bettina wiped her mouth and saw a little girl walking over to her. She was a pretty girl with a plump face. As she got closer, Bettina could see that she was crying. "My mother told me to wait outside the store but I saw a cat and...and I followed and now I can't find her. Will you tell me where she is? Will you help me?" Bettina looked into her eyes. They were the same color as Cecily's had been. That same soft green. Bettma drew away from her but the little girl came closer. She put out her hand to Bettina. "No," Bettina said. "No. I will not. 1 will not." Mrs. Valeski came hobbling towards her. "Oh thank the good Lord. I told them you were in there...I told them to..." she puffed. For such a tiny, ancient woman her voice was still sharp and clear. "Mrs. Valeski, you must help this...this child find her mother. I have to go." Bettina felt her heart beating like hummingbird wings. She had to get away from that child. "But Bettina, you can't go back into the building! There is a fire!" "I am not going back into the building. I am never going back into that apartment." "Now, Bettina, you have had a shock...a fire is an awful...Stay here, Bettina. We can just wait here." "I am not waiting," Bettina whispered and started to walk down the street. "Bettina, stop! Where are you going?" "To Egypt," Bettina said without looking round.
The Society of San Lorenzo Annual Disco Dance JESSICA NEPOMUCENO
We dance on the sagging wood floor, moving with innate rhythm in the American Legion Hall that stinks ot Lysol and Schlitz We dance because it's dancing not sex We dance to touch each other conscious ot our Catholic We dance to sidle closer and closer to the groaning buffet We dance to work off seconds, thirds and fourths of butter cake, rice, adobo. bangoose and lasagna We dance to get a better view of the old women on the fringes twitching their hips and flashing gold-toothed smiles. Everyone dances, the asian girls with bad perms and nervous laughter the mean girls with spitfresh mouths the brownskinned girls with arched brows and knowing smiles (with dripping wombs and San Miguel eyes) their whiteboy friends who feel us staring their feet thrown off by the vibrations ot tsimis leaving our tongues the voting men with elaborate hair smelling of the street, Drakkar Noir and their mothers' pansit the old men with oily faces, bellies bulging from their Sears tuftskin slacks the little girls with gold earstuds twitching their hips and stamping mary-janed feet the little boys playfighting, weaving in between the beats QUARTO
The deejay is ecstatic, flanked by nnlkcrates filled with vinyl and a barricade of police lights, pulsing in time with each synthesized moan. He reaches over, flicks on his prize light: The crowd reacts: it's like an epilectic seizure seizure seizure Black, then bleached white on every other beat granting the crowd the illusion of slo-ino moving through jackfruit syrup The screaming neon girls, raising hands above heads and each black rubber bracelet slides one by one down their arms There's a satellite of boys beaming sullen signals to the girls wriggling in skirts as short as their mothers will let them These boys with their blue eyes made transparent with each flash of light And those boys in the corner, coolly watching. They are spiky like their black hair. Their mouths moist with curses at the bulges in the jeans of the intruders Their lips spit threats while the blistering light reveals the old men in the doorway sighing with every other word: "You... keep.. .you... hope..."
THE SOCIETY OF SAN LORENZO ANNUAL DISCO DANCE
You can't keep up, you can't hope to keep up We'll spin you right round, baby, right round
In Heat SARAH GYLLENSTIERNA
You can watch our girls they're cute, aren't they, brod But don't try to get close Wiien we whip it, whip it good we whip your ass all over this place 56
Watch our feet, just try You '11 get lost. Give it up and stand by the sidedoor and smoke and tell jokes about we who be sleek and smooth and scented
I don't know how to be nice to people. I don't know how to be nice to my father's friends. They come around the house every- night, grinning, scraping their feet, kissing my cheeks, patting my shoulder. 1 see their sweaty palms when they wipe themselves on whatever fabric is near: corduroy pants, wool scarves, cotton shirts, the new sofa. I know they are looking at me, I know they are thinking of me. They pretend to focus on my father, who talks and laughs, and on my mother, who smiles and smiles. But without me there, they would act differently. I don't like it. I don't like it when they steal glances at me, so I look the other way and tell my mother: What am I going to be when I grow up? Then, when everyone stops and looks at me, 1 go into my room.
gelled and protected in this hall on this night sweating proud.
My room is an octagon. It is in the tower, above the rest of the apartment. It has a window on each wall; eight round windows. The windows do not open, so I have papered the walls with light blue wallpaper with white birds on it. That way I have the sky inside my room and the air gets easier to breathe. Maybe I will paint an ocean on the floor, so that I can smell the sharp sensation of seaweed and salt. In the middle of my room is a bed. I have rounded off the corners so that it will fit in better. I have rounded off the corners so that my lover won't hit his shins on them when he comes in the dark. My lover comes when I lay in bed, staring at the flickering patterns on my ceiling. He comes at my silent command and does everything the way I dreamed about it. He does everything the way I read about it. He never does anything. He never comes. But I wait for him anyway, planing the pliable wood, sandpapering it for softness, polishing it, dampening it with my tongue. I have to lock my door when I do this, so my parents won't notice. I always have to lock my door.
My bed is almost gone now, it has shrunk to the size of a teatray. Then to an ashtray. I do not smoke, so I put it in a kitchen cabinet. I sell it to a friend. I give it to another friend. I sleep on the floor now, QUARTO
on a pile of soft, tickly sawdust. The pile reaches almost to the ceiling,
about Francois, the man on the beach in Antibes; Giovanni, the man m
so I have to climb up to get to the top. I hope my lover won't get lost
the grocery store in Terracina; the dark-locked man at the circus in
in the sawdtist when he comes to visit. I know he will come.
Tisvildeleje; the god at the bicycle shop around the corner. We don't have to look at each other when we dream; we read the stories m the flickers of breath, the bursts of sighs, the tenderness of our fingers,
One day a new man conies to our house. Another of my father's
holding each other.
friends. But he is young, handsome, sweet. Oh, I want to...My ears get hot when we shake hands. I quickly turn around so he won't burn 58
himself on the hot air. I quickly walk away so he won't burn me with
I can't believe my mother has the same dreams that I do. Yet she
his eyes. But he is cool, like a Swedish summer. 1 le exudes relaxedness
hints to me that she does. She gives me a new bed, custom-made
and case, so I run away with my tension. 1 go into the kitchen and turn
round. I don't want to lay in it, 1 sleep on the floor next to my closet. 1
on the oven and open the oven door, so that no one will wonder
leave the closet door slightly open at night to keep my fears awake.
where the heat is coining from. My mother enters the kitchen to get an
They meet me in the chink, on the border between transparent dark-
ashtray for the visitor. Oh my, it is hot in here, she says and opens both
ness and solid blackness. The chink keeps me aware of my aliveness, of
the windows. 1 am making bread, 1 say. 1 low nice. When she leaves, 1
my vulnerability, ol my mortality. I see the chink even with my eyes
go to a window and lean out. I put my hands firmly on the window-sill
closed. 1 see it even when I close the closet door.
and let my feet lift from the floor, and I hang. I hang that way in a Vshape, keeping my eyes on the ground five stories below me. I am waiting for my head to cool off. I begin to sing. 1 sing an old Swedish
When the young man comes back I am ready for him. I have put
folk song. "Dear little girl, come let us g o . . . " It is a song you need to
lip gloss on my lips and curled my eyelashes. When I do that 1 think my
tap your foot to. It has a beat. It has a special beat. The kind of beat that
eyes get prettier. When I do that 1 look better. When I do that I see
if you forget the words, you can just hum the rhythm. You can just tap
better. I come out of the bathroom and walk swiftly into the living
your foot. You can just be still and feel the beat.
room, trying to look careless, trying to look easygoing and free. My father laughs. My father laughs at me! Does the man know he laughs at me? 1 laugh too, to make it seem like I'm in on the joke, like we're
1 must see the man again. Every night I hope that he will return. 1
laughing at something together. The man looks puzzled. I think I love
forget about my secret lover. I scatter the sawdust, sweep it out un-
him. I hate my father but I don't want to tell him now because I don't
locked door down the stairs to my parents' apartment. look at all this
want to seem like a child. I will trick him and act mature. I converse,
sawdust, my mother says. I luh? my father says. Look at all this sawdust,
say witty things, say smart things, let my laughter out like a sprinkling
1 say and throw a handful at him. lie brushes it off and continues
fountain and let my sarcasms out like razors, just grazing the men's skin,
watching the TV screen. My mother and 1 lay down in the sawdust and
not entering. The young man seems impressed. I beam, I float. I won't
begin whispering. We whisper and giggle. My mother has felt my heat
go to bed. I keep entertaining, distracting my father's attention away
but she pretends to know nothing about it. She doesn't ask what hap-
from the fact that it is late. My mother has gone to sleep, but I can tell
pened to the bread. We tell jokes; silly jokes; stupid jokes. My mother
she is keeping a watchful eye on me. She can see my performance, she
tells me 1 am beautiful. I tell her she is beautiful. We revel in our beau-
can sense mv success.
ties. We dream about our glory. We dream about the men in our lives;
The man is so sweet, I know how he must taste. The man is so kind, I know how soft his skin must feel. The man is so beautiful, | know how we must fit together. 1 know that he knows about me. I know that he knows me. He has another woman, but that doesn't disturb me. He is young, I am young. I can wait, 1 am generous that way. When he leaves, we hug awkwardly to say good-bye because niy father is there. The man is twelve years older than I, but he is young. I know him, 1 can feel his soul tickling my lungs. It stirs around, swirls around my heart interrupting its beat. Now it beats slow, now fast. I like the instability of it. My fuller looks at me strangely. I send fires out of my eyes straight at him; flames of joy, of defiance, of anger. He recoils, then gathers his composure and says: I didn't know you could be that nice to people.
I'm Sorry ANDREA DENNY-BROWN
"It's not the toetiail clippings, so much as the way you let them grow and grow until they're painful, scratching my legs at night and then you just clip them, you know, too short."
You have this peculiar way of bringing up my most personal habits on Sunday morning while reading the paper on too much coffee and no food. I'm not sorry about the toenails or the way I always finish the ice cream or throw my clothes on the floor or ignore the stink from the cat box. I'm not sorry that you notice these things and point them out on Sunday mornings or sometimes on other days if the moment's right. When I wake up in the middle of the night to find your leg on mine 1 always fling it off without thinking, and when I left for that weekend without you I didn't miss you as much and the longer I love you the less you really like me and I'm sorry.
T PERSPECTIVES ON THE FAMILIAR
JASON E. NOCITO UNTITLED, I 99-4 PHOTOGRAPH
GABRIELLE FELL BOTTLE,
NOEL SUTHERLAND ARIZONA,
I 99 I
ELIZABETH CAVE UNTITLED, I 9 9 4 PHOTOGRAPH
ANA ORTIZ UNTITLED, I 9 9 5 PHOTOGRAPH
GABRIELLE FELL FAN, 1 9 9 5 PHOTOGRAPH
ALEXANDRA MCCAGG BLACK AND WHITE, I 9 9 4 WATERCOLOR AND INK ON PAPER, 7" X I O"
Jake Sclavus STEPHEN PAGE
OIL ON CANVAS,
I 3" X
My beeper is going off so I look down to see the number on the display screen. It's the grocery store. I run toward the store, hoping it isn't anything serious. This job is generally boring, in fact, deathly boring, but when something exciting happens, it is usually the kind of excitement that sane people try to avoid. Crossing the large parking lot, I dodge moving cars, scattered shopping carts, and slow-moving people. I check to see that my handcuffs are in place on my security belt as I enter the store. My three-cell, heavy-duty flashlight is in my right hand. The manager of the store tells me there is an "undesirable" walking around, one that has been picked up before on shoplifting charges. The manager points him out to me and I begin to follow him around. He hasn't yet noticed me when he cuts into one of the aisles with some food items in his hand. When I turn the corner of the aisle, there he is, gulping down a quart of milk. There is half-eaten lunch meat and cheese in his hand. He has long, matted hair and he is wearing an army trench coat, old jeans, T-shirt, and worn-out tennis shoes; all of which look like they have been worn for several weeks without a washing. He gapes at me. A few of his front teeth are missing. I ask him if he is going to pay for the items, and he says "Yes." I say "Let's go then," and he says, "Fuck you." He begins to walk out the door. I tell him if he walks out the door, I will have to apprehend him. He says I â€˘wouldn't dare. 1 tell the manager to call the police as I follow him out the store. When we are outside, he turns and bumps me with his chest. I am surprised because his body is hard and wiry; his muscles hard as steel. A fork has appeared in his right hand, and he is holding it in a menacing manner. I notice that the sun has gone down and the parking lot has emptied. There is a slight chill in the air. The manager comes out and tells me that the police will not arrive for at least halfan-hour. Then he disappears, ducking quickly back into the store. I look down at the very sharp fork waving around in the air. Just then, a police car pulls into the parking lot. I think they are there to assist me, but it turns out they are headed for the Mexican restaurant located at the other end of the parking lot. I yell, "Hey!" They turn their car QUARTO
around and head toward me and the hungry man with the fork in his hand. They end up arresting him.
take off my shoes and socks and notice the skin is missing on numerous spots around my feet. I soak my feet in Epsom salt and wince at the pain. The next day, when I wear tennis shoes, the sergeant of the guard chastises me for not having black shoes on.
I am walking around the parking lot. I am bored. My mind is numb from lack of use. It feels like someone has had it freeze-dried, or at the very least, cut off its blood supply. The only part of my brain that is alive is the motor-function area, and a minute section of the language area that keeps reverberating, "I'm bored, I'm bored, I'm bored." It takes absolutely no intelligence to do this kind of work. I am trying to figure out how a person like me ends up with a job like this.
A commotion breaks out at the far end of the parking lot. Because of all the cars, I can't see what it is, but I can hear a lot of shouting. I follow the noise until 1 arrive at the scene. I find a man and a woman arguing. A few people have gathered to watch. Nobody is interfering or saying anything, even though the man is moving toward the woman, gesticulating in a manner that is causing her to walk backward. The man is about six-foot-four, and weighs about two hundred and forty pounds. Maybe that is why nobody is doing anything. I check to make sure my battery-powered zapper is on my belt. My ever-present flashlight is swinging in my right hand. "Please take your argument elsewhere," I tell them. They ignore me. I say it louder. They still ignore me. "I want my baby," the man says. "If you're going to leave me, I want my baby." "No," she says. "I'm taking her to my mother's." By this time the man has the woman backed up to the trunk of a car. She looks like she wants to crawl backward over the top of the car. She is not afraid to argue back, though, and keeps the emphatic rhetoric going, all the time eyeing his hands. I walk up next to them and yell, "Take your problems off this parking lot." "Stay out of this," the man says as he turns his head toward me. That is all the time the woman needs. In the split-second it takes the man to turn his attention toward me, the woman ducks under one of his arms and begins running toward an idling car. Behind the steering wheel is another woman, holding a baby. The man turns and takes a step in their direction. I quickly maneuver around him and stop a few steps in front of him. He looks intent on tearing me limb from limb. His eyes are flashing fire. He steps up to me and towers over me. I stand my ground. He looks surprised. "You're only doing this because I'm Black," he says. "No," I say. "It's my job. I have to do this." The car behind me squeals off, carrying with it the two women and the baby. The man looks over my head and begins to relax. "She's a terrible mother," he says. He turns
It is near closing time. Three more minutes and I can lock the doors and go home. I am lazily staring through the glass doors and out over the parking lot. Suddenly, a man appears in front of me, on the other side of the glass. His eyes are bloodshot and glassy. I have to let him in because it isn't yet closing time. I open the doors and he just stands there. It isn't very cold out, but he is shivering. "I just seen my friend get killed," he says. "Over drugs." I feel terrible. Then I remember I'm on duty. "Was it here, in this parking lot?" "No," he says. "A few blocks away." His eyes stare unfocused on an imaginary spot over my shoulder. His pupils are dilated. "He was shot, man. Three times. In the gut. He just lay there and bled all over the ground." I look down and notice he has one of his hands in his jacket pocket. There is a bulge in that pocket, and he is lifting the bulge up, pushing it forward, pointing it toward me. "Sorry," I say. "But it's closing time. I have to lock up." I quickly begin to close the doors. He doesn't move. He's still staring at the imaginary place behind me, still pointing the bulge at me. He looks like he is ready to cry. I finally get the doors closed in front of him, lock them, and move off like I have something to do.
I am walking around the parking lot. My legs are tired and my feet are killing me. My new shoes are pinching across the tops of my toes and rubbing sore spots on the backs of my heels. When the eight-hour shift finally ends, I hobble to my car and drive home. When I arrive, I QUARTO
and saunters off toward a large four-by-four vehicle, gets in, and slowly drives off. I relax the tight grip I had on my flashlight. â€˘
Tonight I am working at the local hospital. It is near the end of my shift, but my replacement hasn't arrived yet. I wait, fifteen minutes, half-an-hour, an hour-and-a-half. It is near midnight. I call the officer of the day and tell him what happened. He asks me to work a double shift. They never pay overtime, but I agree. I drink another cup of coffee, buy a newspaper and check the want-ads.
I am working out in the Palomar area, guarding an office building on the midnight shift. I took this post because I can sit in my car most of the time and study. I only have to walk around every hour, check the area, and make sure all the office doors are locked. It is cold here at night. Whoever said it doesn't get cold in sunny Southern California never lived away from the coast, and never worked outside at nighttime in the winter. I have a Volkswagon, so the heater doesn't work unless I am driving 40 miles an hour. Since it's hard to drive around a parking lot at night at 40 miles an hour and study at the same time, I sit in my car and study by flashlight. The bad light bothers my eyes. Even when I wear longjohns, my legs go numb after ten or fifteen minutes.
Some time around three in the morning, on one of my rounds at the Palomar office building, around the back, next to one of the dumpsters, where the smell of rotting lunch scraps and ink-smeared photo-copy paper mingles with the night air, I find a man sleeping on the ground. He is wrapped up in a dirty army-surplus sleeping bag. He is snoring. With my foot, I tap the end of the sleeping bag where his feet are. It takes me three or four nudges to wake him. "You're going to have to leave," I say. "No one is allowed on these premises at night." "Man, do you know who God is?" he asks. "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to leave." "Do you go to church, man?" "Look, you have to leave the area." "I didn't think you went to church. Otherwise you wouldn't be kicking me out of here." I wait as he slowly stands and rolls up his sleeping bag, grumbling all the time about God and church. I watch as he picks up pieces of food from the ground, wraps them in a greasy piece of typing paper, and deposits the package in his pocket. I follow him until he walks off the parking lot. "Go to church, man," he says as he walks away.
I got this job, finally. After six months of checking the want-ads, making phone calls, driving around, pounding the pavement, filling out apps, and getting drunk every evening, I got this job.
I am sleeping soundly when the phone rings. It is the officer of the day, he is asking me to come in to work. I look at the clock and notice it has only been six hours since 1 left my last post. A headache creeps into my frontal lobes. My neck tenses up. I tell him, "Yes," hang up, and stumble toward the shower. As the water washes over me, I remember what I studied last year in American history. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Bosses exploited their workers to every extent possible. As I make myself coffee, I wonder what happened to the strong labor unions of the 1970s. As I drive to work, I look down at the gas needle. It hovers near the empty mark. I think about the one hundred-fifty dollar paycheck I received for last week's pay.
SABRINA ORAH MARK
Kitchen SABRINA ORAH MARK
The Mexican clay, Cut into squares, tile slabs that my father laid down On our kitchen floor. Sweat from his back, from the back my mother tore the shirt from, as cold as the Cold ceramic tiles from the warmth of Mexico, A warmth turned sour in our Brooklyn home. The stools stood high around a formica counter, Where I ate cold pizza bagels that tasted like napkins. And the oven was never turned on— It wasn't that type of home-cooked meal kind of home. My dog barked at the police and their walkie-talkies that invaded our kitchen. Then laid her head in the curves ot my ten-year-old lap. It was the only escape. My brothers grew up here. I had already grown up. We hid under a blanket my brothers brought down from their room. My mother's green eyes flickered, hurt, darting, reflecting green from her heart, to her eyes, off the kitchen walls, on her children, on my father— He picked me up from gymnastics once, and ordered hamburgers and trench fries That we ate in the kitchen Where I held my brother when he ran through a glass door until somebody came home To stop the blood. I made smurf shrinky dinks in the toaster, but let them melt and smoke into black and blue globs. Because I was angry. I sat on my stool and spun in my gray jumpsuit, until I became a blur and my kitchen became a smudge. The backdoor was part of it all, and swung open to let the air in, And my grandmother and her calm fragrance of wrapped presents and grace. But she had to go home.
I padded around in my pajamas and picked my nose and climbed up on the counter to reach the cabinets for some white bread and peanut butter. The words "relationship," "fuck you," and "lawyers" were scattered through the kitchen Like crumbs. I wrote my essay on California and glued sparkles and stapled my thumb because I was bored and used the band-aids from the junk drawer that took me forever to find beneath the pennies and the rubber bands and the twisty ties and a curious tampon and my dad's old pipe and my mother's charcoal pencils to bandage my wound. I led my brothers around the kitchen singing songs from Winnie the Pooh. 6 AM at the kitchen counter: blow-drying my hair because I hated my curls and wanted to have long straight blond hair so I could be beautiful. I told my mother I hated her and wanted Dad to take me away because there was no food in the refrigerator. My brothers cried as I lugged two obese suitcases around the kitchen threatening to leave. I promised I would come back for them. Dead love rotted behind old boxes of spaghetti. "I think they once loved each other." My mom became a shriek from the basement, One floor below. It was the only escape. My dad cried, face in hands, affair in his pocket, addiction in his wallet, chocolate chip cookies, Hershey kisses— We ate his guilt. We carved a pumpkin for Halloween even though we were Jewish and my mother got mad She waited for him. I learned not to wait, and instead sat on my kitchen stool and spun in circles while my mother taught us country songs about husbands who leave their wives. The telephone never seemed to ring. We lit the jack-o'-lantern and shut oft all the lights and watched the moon through the kitchen window. My brothers' lips smacked as they munched on roasted pumpkin seeds.
I thought god hung over the threshold of the backdoor. "I hate you, god," I whispered, to see what would happen— But nothing ever did.
Mother Scrubber STACEY MILLER
"Mother Scrubber" is the first portrait in a new pantheon of gods the author is developing.
She lives very close to death. She has to, to catch the souls before they go flying off to no-one's-sure-where, to all ends of the universe— after that they'd never find their way back. Some are just so excited when the body dies, they leap right out and if you don't catch 'em early, they're ofi and running with no end in sight. She lives at the end of the tunnel, to the right, in one of those wooden cottages found in fairy tales, like Grandma's house or Baba Yaga's house, except without the chicken legs. It's just big enough to hold the souls that die every day and the endless shelves she needs for her cleaning supplies. She tells me that she's collected all the best used by mortals throughout time, she has them lined up in her cupboards— every type of scrubber, cloth and solvent, lined up according to size and color. She has an eye for beauty—she says every soul is a little variation of beauty, and if you could collect all the souls in one place, it would be such a sight that there would be no more art ever again. So as you might expect, just the arrangement of her cleaning supplies rivals the beauty of waterfalls, fading sunlight and flower petals. She spends most of her time on her front porch, holding a closely woven net on a long pole to catch the souls as soon as they fly out of the tunnel. She says some souls are so weighted down on earth that by the time they emerge, they've gained so much speed they knock her right off her stool. Those souls arc usually the dirtiest too, she says, and if they come out at night they're the most difficult to catch, and once they've passed her they rarely come back. She gets very sad thinking about the blackest souls that escape her, because they need her scrub brush the most—but nothing makes her happier than talking about scrubbing. Scrubbing fills the time she doesn't spend catching souls, and she guarantees that every soul will be spotless, squeaky clean when it leaves her hands, so that once one soul is clean she can work by its light through the night. She says this light helps the souls
too, especially to find their way through the slippery slopes of the tunnel to her porch, where she greets them with her tub of water and dripping scrub brush. Watching Mother Scrubber work, you can see how she got the job of scrubbing souls. She has the power of a bull. Her strength funnels through her intertwining sinews and muscles down to her massive hands, giving her a grip on her scrub brush even Beowulf couldn't break. And when she's bending down scrubbing the layers of grime off a soul that has accumulated from many long years on earth, she smiles as she scrubs. There is no pain in her labor. Her only pain is from the soul she catches in the dead of night, the one that arches in her net like a suffocating fish, the stubborn soul she stays beside, scrubbing without end when the others are clean. She moves down her shelves of supplies, trying one solvent after the next until her arm muscles become warm from the effort, and once she erases the last shadow from its surface, leaving it glimmering like mother-of-pearl, she feels the happy sorrow of a new mother when she first sees the being of her womb gasp its first breath.
Raven and I Getting the Hell Out of Santa Fe, New Mexico METTE BOM
Raven and I are always very much in love. Today, getting the hell out of Santa Fe, we are especially in love because Raven keeps leaning over to kiss me while controlling the car with his left arm. I'm not really that comfortable because I'm sitting on an empty Coke can and Tarzan is on my lap, causing my feet to fall asleep. Butterflies all over. Inside of me the devil roars, but God must want him there as it is now the fourth time I am the fallen woman, Jezebel, the one who spits out fire from underneath. The one who wears eye makeup to tempt men. And for-ni-cates.
We pass the reservation where my ancestors once lived. Raven points and laughs at the sign that says: No visitors before 11 am and please no cameras. The "e" is dangling, making the sign look funny like one of Maria's experimental paintings. "What do they think this is, a zoo? Fuck them!" I like Raven because he is political. He writes angry articles at night that never get published. He says we must educate ourselves because the government keeps us down by not educating us. But I really don't care much for school. I'd rather model for Maria and listen to her stones all day than wear those itchy white shirts, and the bra that reduces my breasts to the size of my fourteen-year-old sister's. Can't wait till I leave home.
We pull into the clinic. Raven looks at me and puts his hand on my stomach. I hate when he does that. "Have you been promiscuous?" she asks. Not that I know of, no. "Contraceptives?" Look, Nurse Simmons, inside I grow these wild hibiscus that talk to the moon and together they decide these things, that's the way it works for me. Please, don't tell my stepmom again. This time, she'll send me to the convent to drive the Indian, the devil, the fertility, the kisses and Raven out of me.
RAVEN AND I
Through Nurse Simmons' clean white window I see the old people sitting outside their houses. Tumbleweeds. They wait like I do, wait for the hot summer to turn into fall.
Daddy's Girl ALBA DELIA HERNANDEZ
"La vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas tc da la vida... "
â€”From Ruben Blades' salsa, "Pedro Navaja" If she had tripped at least once, maybe 1 might have liked her. But she didn't. Not even when Daddy kept spinning her round and round. After she spun, her black heels would step in place, perfect with Tito Puente's beat, and her big butt had every man's eyes bouncing. I punched my brother Pito for looking too hard and he said without shifting his view, "What you hit me for?" "For staring at her butt," I said, punching him again trying to get him to look at me. But he didn't. He just sang under his breath, "Selly's jealous 'cause she aint got no butt and Daddy's new girl does." 1 didn't bother saying anything else. It's true I didn't have a butt, but that's not what pisst me off. It was the way she danced. It was evil the way she made everyone stare. The whole night I watched her dance, not because I gave in to the evil, but because I wanted to see her trip. But she never did. And that's when I decided she had to die. A month later, on the morning of her death day, I went to church. I didn't confess to the priest because the line was too long and my plans couldn't wait. And besides, it was Father Adam doing confessions, the one who always dyed his gray hair black, so I knew his response wouldn't be sincere. So I talked to God without him. I waited five minutes for the sign. Five minutes passed and my head did not go into a violent spin, so I left reassured. God agreed with me. She had to go. When I got home, she had made my bed and put Curious George in the wrong corner. That made me more determined. When she went into the shower, I ran to the kitchen and got the knife. I had fifteen minutes. I went into Daddy's room and her skimpy, tiger-striped unitard was on his bed ready for tonight, for Pito's big birthday party. And then I saw themâ€”her evil black patent-leather pumps. 1 used the knife to separate the heels from the shoe. I put the heels back in place with Pito's cement glue. By ten, everyone had gotten there so Daddy put on his favorite salsa, "Pedro Navaja." She, of course, came running. Everyone who
had been dancing sat just to watch her. Daddy was spinning her so fast that everyone shouted "Wepa!" and clapped and I smiled and clapped too as I stared at her black heels. They were loosening and the thump of my pulse was the only sound I could hear. Anyone else would have stopped the moment they felt the loosening, but not her, she went on spinning until that right heel surrendered. Her head took long to reach the TV. When it did, everyone ran to her. Daddy raised her lids, then felt her pulse and raising her to his chest, ran out the door. Everyone else ran behind him. I stayed behind. Ruben Blades wasn't done with his salsa. I got up and started moving my hips, my black heels not missing a step. I spun myself round and round singing along, "sorpresas te da la vida, ah ha..." This was the way, the way I was moving, the violent way my head spun, the way my butt shook, that a real salsa, a good salsa, was meant to be danced.
Rosario Castellanos in Mexico City NANCY ROSS
Every morning you leave the cold house, Rosario, where your parents live like ghosts. You walk the streets of the city; the city built on a lake, and rivers of blood surrounded by now-calm volcanoes.
Your hair done up in a sensible bun. Your eyes black, calm, like those of a dark wounded bird. â€”through the streets with nahudtl names. Cinder rain gently falls; all the birds are dead. On street corners men breathe fire and swallow knives. In a hotel in la Zona Rosa,
I stay in my room, sick, going to the bathroom, ordering consomme de polio and 7-Up from room service, facing the large TV. I go out, weakened, get lost and end up taking a taxi. I see crumpled buildings, exposed insides like fresh wounds. Later, when I have enough strength, I go to El Museo de Antropologia.
There, in a small store, a few dusty things for sale, is your novel. I readâ€”your mother learning of the death of one of her children, cries out, "Que no sea el varon," QUARTO
ROSARIO CASTELLJi.NOS IN MEXICO ClTY
but it was the boy; your father rides his horse, every Sunday, to your brother's grave where he reads him poetry.
Rosario, I am looking from behind a glass window. 1 look out from my house. I am parted in two; my son is born. I leave the house. I walk with you through the gray, smoggy streets. I, too, remain open to visitations.
Jonicia Antonia Cordes, Love Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself MARIA OLIVAS
Carmela Apohnario hitches her left shoulder down and her right shoulder up, then looks at my eyebrows. She's done that since we were girls—I know because she told me beside the river one day, saying: "That way I'm still looking at them, but I don't have to meet their gaze." We'd been giggling about our teachers, about which ones scared us, which ones were pathetic enough to laugh at, how hard it was to be a good girl like the priest wanted us to be, like the teachers wanted us to be. That was a long time ago, though, and since then I have been a teacher myself, of more things than I bargained for, of many things I'd prayed against. "Ate Joni." Ah, I know Carmela wants something when she addresses me like that. For the past half a year she's only called me "Big Sister Joni" when she needed something from Manila. Last month it was a new Bible. She wanted it by Christmas. The guys laughed, but they brought it. Carmela loves that book. She keeps it on the teak coffee table in her living room. I'd more than tripled her money, gotten a top-of-the-line model: creamy kidskin cover, and the Savior's name lettered in red throughout the Gospels. I had the printer list the Apolinario family in gold ink on the inside cover, with "From a Loving Friend" at the bottom. It wouldn't do to use my name—she'd have had to keep it out of sight then. Now, it's January 5th, 1946, and Carmela is in my parlor. It's the first time since the war started that she's walked into my house. "Ate..." She twists a little on the marble seat of my Chinese bench, fingers tracing the vines and blossoms carved on its ami. My great-great-grandparents bought the set because the stone stays cool during the dry season. But Carmela is hot nonetheless—there is even sweat on her earlobe. I wonder if mine sweat, too? Maybe when I come. I sweat all over then. "Ate, it's not for myself I ask, you know. Your business is your business; everybody needs money, and we are all happy you are doing well." QUARTO
JONICIA ANTONIA CORDES
I smooth down the silk of my skirt, finger the Thai sapphires at my wrist. One of the GIs has a jeweler friend near Bangkok; last September, 1 made that soldier feel so good with my mouth that he cried. A week later he came back with the bracelet, shipped express from Thailand. He must've ordered it by phone. Carmela pulls the corner of her lip with her teeth; she knows that used to work with me, but we're not in high school anymore, Carmela, and you haven't kissed my cheek since the day we buried my filther. She'll have lipstick on her front tooth again. Happens almost every time I see her. She doesn't brush regularly; she'll lose them all before she's fifty. I have my apprentices brush every day, and I make them drink the powdered milk the guys bring us from the base. You can't erase a year and a half of starvation, and malnutrition still stalks us, so I suppose all of us will have partials when we're older. But despite those facts, I try to give our mouths a fighting chance. "It's because of the children, you know, Ate Jom. For their sake." And the sake of everything you used to be. She doesn't say it, but I can hear her. The power runs in my family, though my portion is only strong enough to irritate me, not strong enough to save me from my fate. And really, it takes no seer to understand that she wants me back the way I was, the way we both were: before the Jeeps came with their piles of hairy GIs, before the Nipponjin marched in and conscripted me for their "comfort." Before I dragged myself back from the mountains, and started turning a profit doing what Hirohito's soldiers had forced me to do.
"I understand you want us to be more tidy, Carmela." I top up her jasmine tea. She hasn't touched the carabao-milk taffy, though it's been her favorite since her teeth came in. I bought a box as soon as I knew she wanted to see me; the sweet-cream drops gleam pale on the inlaid mahogany tray. "But I have been back for more than six months now, with no complaints. What has triggered your concern, so suddenly? What is upsetting you at this joyous time of the year?" For a moment it seems she will cry, but anger washes in, and her upset is an eddy beside it. QUARTO
"Oh, Joni! It's Lissa; she brought some of those...personal items into the house." Such a prude, little Carmela. The nuns taught us to be gutless, and you were always an eager student. In high school we feared that angels would strike us dead if we even thought certain words. Well, there are no angels, Carmela, I want to hiss. No angels, I learned that in the mountains during the war, while you were here in town putting together the Nativity scene. Her hands were fluttering like birds; now, they stiffen and slash toward me like the bolo knives used to harvest sugarcane. "I know you are used to such things, Jom, but remember that me and Albert—we...our— Life is very simple for us. We want to keep the children safe. Japanese time was so hard—the violence, the killings..." Her hands flutter again, the eddy grows into a riptide. It was always easy to make her cry. "Lissa thought they were balloons, and..." I stare down my reflection as it ripples in my teacup, try hard to keep my mouth controlled, to keep from howling. Precious little Lissa, who was christened Melissa Jonicia, my goddaughter, my namesake, innocent enough to think rubbers are party favors! Once I might've thought so, too. "And she put them up in bunches, all over the house—even on the shrine of my grandmother. |oni! Can you imagine?! On the shrine of Lola Felicitas?" Oh, I could, all too easily, but 1 don't let myself. The image would break my control. And that would only upset her more. In my crocodile pumps I pinch my long toe under my big one, then raise my eyes to Carmela's. "She washed them first, 1 assume?" My best detached voice, my most professional concern. Certain men want me to talk that way, particularly when they've tied me up. It's the contrast that excites them; they want to break the veneer. Toward the end, of course, they always want you to scream. "Yes, in the river. Then she blew them up on the porch. She put them to her lips! My Lissa, my baby, put those...She told me while we were clearing them away—she did all the decorating before we woke up. The whole house, Ate Jom, the bannisters, the cabinets. Only QUARTO
JONICIA ANTONIA CORDES
eleven years old, she was so proud of herself. 'Mommy, Daddy, I know we don't have money, but I made our Christmas look nice, see." Albert dropped to his knees. Gilberto and Citas said nothing. Even Esther was speechless! I think she knows what they are." Carmela is gulping air now. With rage? Or is it humiliation? Part of me wants to hold her, give her some comfort, for no Catholic mother deserves such a thing, that in honor of her Lord's birth, her child adorns their home and sacred altar with used contraceptives scavenged from the trashpit of the neighborhood brothel. Part of her wants to hug me too, the part that remembers our confirmation, both of us with lace and jasmine petals in our hair, pacing toward the altar with offerings for the clergy: papayas and mangos we'd picked together the day before. Afterward at the party on my porch, where the newly oiled boots of five privates now stand (shoeshines are part of the special service we give regulars), I overheard Father Domenico lauding us to my parents: "They could be nuns," he said between bites of roast pork. "Nuns. They both have the calling. You can tell by the fervor in their eyes, by the way they sing the hymns."
candles balanced on our heads, or strumming her brother's guitar. I can hear the crows scolding her as she walks over the bridge spanning the canal between our backyards. When I was a child looking at stars, I wished for our houses to turn and face each other, so every morning I could sit on my porch-rail and wave to Carmela as she rocked in her mother's rattan swing. These days, I am glad it's our kitchens which peer across the rice paddiesâ€”I've hired a maid to work in mine. On the rare days the girl has off, I keep myself busy chopping vegetables and rinsing pots. Staring hard at the blade before me, I don't have to look outside. And if someone stops by and sees tears, I point my knife at the onions, and they leave me alone.
But Carmela found her Albert, and together they made Gilberto, Citas and Lissa Jonicia. A rebel, a scholar, a lover of dance. They're devoutâ€”no condoms employed on that side of the irrigation ditch. Then Esther Gabrielle was orphaned, and they took her in. Four children. And I? I, Jonicia Antonia Cordes, blood cousin of the headman, former director of the choir? I, Jonicia Antonia, will never marry, never have children, never take communion again. "Oh, Carmela, I am sorry," I give her my handkerchief. "And I will tell the girls to keep them inside the house until they are ready to burn them." As she dabs her eyes, I see that her nails are pitted and bitten. She washes her walls. The tips of my own fingers are gleaming, long and smooth. No red polish for me; French manicures are more tasteful. In any trade, the classic is enduring.
After Carmela slips out, eyes darting around to see who will see her leaving my house, I He back against the cushions and try to avoid my memories of days we spent here in the parlor together, dancing with
About My Grandfather
Something Like Dying LAURE DE MONTEBELLO
Last night, you oozed into my nighttime and stole one of my dreams. Just like back then when you drained yourself in my room, and helped yourself to my sleep. I was with you at Le Cirque, stiff silent mistress, painted and bejewelcd, an infant in a whore's gown, waxy lips fixed in a pout. The pear-shaped rubies in my necklace made dents on my throat the shape of your fingernails. I guess I didn't look at you just right, or say the right things; or maybe I didn't respond to the caress of the knee under the table, because you left after the salad course and didn't come backâ€” the key m my back unwinding, and no one to cut my meat.
(for Francis, 1964-94) LAURE DE MONTEBELLO
When I was twelve and you were twenty I asked you what it was like to be high, and you said it was something like dying; and dying, you said, was a sweet and slow unwinding dream 1 still remember the sorrow in your arching brows when you offered me some.
Before you got high for the last time, I wish I had asked you how it feels to decay in the morning of a final thought, and taste the unraveling rapture of all the different days that felt so long what it is like to feel the heart tire, breath despair, and time erupt and I wish I had asked you how long the dying is. Is it impatient and tired, or does it wait for the longest pause in the solitude to blister and settle into dust?
INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES SIMIC
Perspectives on Poetry
Is there something that you've wanted to write about but haven't been able to INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES SIMIC
Charles Simic's collection of prose poems, T h e W o r l d D o e s n ' t E n d , won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His most recent book of poetry is A W e d d i n g in Hell, published by Harcourt Brace & Company in 1994. The following is excerpted from his conversation with H'riting Program students Jeffrey Enke, Josh
Green, Aijen Poo, and Mary Ellen Ugactz in January 1995. Interviewers: Do you make a conscious decision as to what you're going to write about or do your poems happen spontaneously?
Charles Simic: All my poems have different histories. Some of them are written quickly, others evolve slowly. I've always kept drafts and notebooks and they're my source. Every day I look through them, make new entries, fix this or that. It's a kind of archeology, going through all of these abandoned poems...Like, this is a nice beginning but everything else stinks. Until one day, I get a hunch, I see how to make it work. When I was young, I would say to myself, "Tonight I'm going to write some poems!" [laughter]. Now I never write; I just tinker. As you're writing, do you ever have your audience in mind?
CS: I don't think of an audience. I may have someone particular in mind, a friend, an acquaintance. The purpose of the poem is not just to sit pretty on the page read. The poem is saying something to someone. You want to seduce, entertain an ideal reader of poetry, someone hip enough to follow all your nuances and associations. Many years ago President Carter had a reception for American poets at the White House and I was there talking to Phil Levine when this lady from "Voice of America" comes up to us and wants to ask us some questions. We say okay, and she asks, for whom do you fellows write? We were a bit tipsy, so we told her we write for the workers, for the downtrodden, the humiliated of the earth, etc. etc. She loved it! [big laugh] Here we are in the White House eating caviar and drinking champagne and sounding like a bunch of old-time commies. The idea for me is, the poem has to go out to someone, it has to speak to someone.... QUARTO
quite capture in a poem?
CS: You can't really select your subject matter. I can't. Whenever 1 did, I wrote bad poems. On the other hand, one thinks, wouldn't it be nice to have a sequence of love poems or odes or whatnot. I know there are poets who can do that. You'll ask them, what are you doing? And they'll say, I'm writing an ode to the west wind. You ask them three months later, what are they doing, and they'll still be working on their ode to the west wind. With me, it's a different story. I'll start with the west wind and end up at the dog races. I have more faith in words on the page and where they're leading me to than I have in my original intention. When you come to a poem, do you distrust your own use of language?
CS: A lyric poet always distrusts language. I mean, you always feel like words are failing you. I feel this way, but I can't say it right. I can't find the right words...And then, a phrase pops into your head and you say, wow, this sounds pretty good! The language, for reasons mysterious, has just presented you with a huge gift. Still, even if you put it in a poem, you wonder if you can trust it. How important is explicit narrative in a poem? And what do you think of the distinction between the lyric and the narrative poem?
CS: You know, even lyric poems have a bit of a narrative line. Like, "I loved you so much but you, ungrateful creature that you are, did this to me, so I'm miserable waiting for the day when you'll see the light" [laughter]. The narrative in a poem requires economy, a quickness and an ability to leap imaginatively and suggest much more. What is called narrative poetry today is just the most pedestrian realist prose that treats the reader as if he or she were a little dimwitted. No good fiction writer would write like that. Read Ovid's Metamorphosis, I say. There you have a brilliant storyteller, inventive, quick, entertaining. Who do you read?
INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES SIMIC
PERSPECTIVES ON POETRY
CS: Everyone [laughter], I read a lot of poetry, always have. Pound said something about poets having to know everything. I took his advice when I was young. I read every kind of poetry from China to Argentina. Have you noticed any trends?
CS: Well, there are always trends, but the trends are the expressions of 96
the mediocrity of the age. It's the law. What everybody seems to be writing, what seems to be the prevalent mode, is what gets forgotten first. As far as the universities are concerned, it's common knowledge among booksellers that academics no longer read much contemporary literature. They read theory, I guess, and so they are out of it. You won't find any great discernment about contemporary writing among professors of literature. How does one teach poetry in a workshop?
CS: Good question. You look at a poem and ask yourself aloud, what is wrong with this poem? You talk about it with the students. While you talk, you mention things that are relevant, like other poems, matters of prosody, tradition, etc. You show them. You raise the poem together. You do this over and over again until some of it rubs off on the students. Then, one day, suddenly, hallelujah, Henry got it! He's written a pretty good poem. Everyone's astonished, including the teacher. It's hard to know how it happened, but it docs happen. Wliat's your assessment of the value of All1'A programs or writing programs like this one?
CS: I don't think there arc better alternatives now. This is a huge country and its writers are lonely. You need a place for writers to get together and hold hands. If you live in some remote burg in Maine, how are you going to get hold of literary magazines and new poetry books? I realize there are all kinds of problems with writing programs, but I see no other choice. Is there a moment or perhaps a series of events that led to your commitment to writing?
CS: No. It took me a long time. I started as a painter. I painted from the age of sixteen to twenty-six. I used to think of myself as a painter. I only showed poems to closest friends or someone 1 was in love with. Poems were a part of seduction. "Oooh, you wrote that!" she'd say [laughter]. It was pretty embarrassing. At the same time, I knew people who were literate students and would-be writers like Nelson Algren. Books and art was what we all fought about. Algren caught me once reading Lowell and told me to forget it. Me, an immigrant kid just off the boat reading that Boston Brahmin shit! Then there was Existentialismâ€”it took awhile for it to get from the Left Bank to Chicago. You talk of your prose poetry as an instance of "squaring the circle. " Could you discuss the relationship between your prose poetry and your verse poetry?
CS: A lyric poem is a circle. If you are reading a terrific poem, by the time you come to the end, you want to read it again. That's what happens with poems. It can be an Elizabethan lyric or a Chinese poem. You know to read it again because certain images, certain words, stick in your mind and have set your imagination working and you want to reexperience that. Prose, on the other hand, is a straight line. This happened and then that happened and so forth You read on to find out more while in poetry you reread to do the same. Now, prose poems are an attempt to combine the two incompatible strategies, something that begins as a narrative and turns into a lyric. You can't will that. I mean, I can't say to myself, now I'm going to write a prose poem. It just happens somehow. It starts as a story and then it begins to circle back on itself. Wliat was your reaction to the criticism of the book of prose poems that won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry?
CS: My experience is that no matter what you do, someone is going to say something stupid about it. No matter what. There are many literary people out there who don't believe in the existence of prose poems. The prose poem is like a dog that talksâ€”an impossibility, and an outrage. Mine was the final nail in poetry's coffin. American Civilization is doomed when shit like this wins prizes, they said. I must admit I loved it. It's always a pleasure when you can upset defenders of some imaginary virtue. QUARTO
T PERSPECTIVES ON POETRY
David Ignatow recently retired from The Writing Program here at Columbia and in a previous interview you mentioned that he was an influence on your writingâ€”
CS: A terrific poet. He taught me a lot. He used to write about working stiffs at the time when I was one myself. Ignatow described the city that I knew. Poems about delivery boys, print shop operators, little luncheonettes. 1 le wrote without idealizing these people. Clean writing, very precise. A fellow is loading up a truck and the box he just put on the truck falls back on the sidewalk. He bends to pick it up wearily, and as the reader you know exactly how it feels. Ignatow doesn't tell you more. I loved his compassion and his sense of tact. He was very important to me. Need a writer be politically responsible? You mentioned Heidegger in some of your writings, and you also brought up Pound a couple of times. Figures like this really make one wonder what the role of poetry and poets is in society.
CS: It's pointless to say poets should be this or that. The fact is that some absolutely awful poeple have been great writers and poets. It's up to the reader to decide. If you can't read that anti-Semitic bastard Pound, I'll understand.... Emily Dickinson said nothing about the Civil War, although boys who were killed in the war were buried in the churchyard across from her home in Amherst. She was obviously politically irresponsible and ought not be read in schools. Today we have thousands of poems written by poets from the rust belt which do not mention the closed factories and the poverty of their cities. We wish they would, but even if they did, that wouldn't guarantee good poetry. Nadine Gordimer suggested that poets are caught between the social responsibility of the broader world and the responsibility of the intellect, that the work of the poet is always a struggle. How do you feel about that?
CS: I don't see it that way. It's not that I have to tear myself away from contemplating the sunset over some beautiful New Hampshire pond in order to write about homeless people. As with any other human being, my interest fluctuates between my inner world and the outside. I QUARTO
INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES SIMIC
mean, there are periods when one is preoccupied with one's memories and one's thoughts, and there are other times when one just looks at the world. I don't see a moral struggle here and a tragic division. Somepoets almost never live in their inner world and others rarely pay a visit there, but most of us exist in both worlds simultaneously. Could you talk about your poem
"Wliere the Dreamy Wabash Flows" and
why you changed the title?
CS: The reason I put the Wabash m is to situate the poem geographically. When I lived in Chicago, my great debate was whether to go East or West. So these folks in the poem are going West over the plains. I must admit I don't remember my original intention. I had a few images and they lead to others. That happens often. I see fictional possibilities that have nothing to do with the material I started with. As a poet, I prefer to go in directions that I cannot predict. I let the words and the images find their sense and coherence. I like the surprise of not knowing why I wrote something the way I did. I have more trust in that process than I have in the notion that I have things to say. To tell you something about this poem, I would have to read it and see what it says. In other words, I'd be just a careful reader and not someone who has the inside dope. In your introduction to the
1992 anthology of South American poetry, you
talked about things that poets seek to do, for example, poets hope that somebody in a remote part of China will be able to pick up their poetry and get something out of it. How important is that, that kind of universal accessibility?
CS: Chinese poetry is one of the big literary hits of the twentieth century. Not just in English-speaking countries. The Swedes read it and the Patagonians. To me this is incredible. I remember one summer, I was just out of high school and lying in bed on a Sunday afternoon. Picking up an anthology of Chinese poetry, I read a poem by Li Po and the world stopped. I sat on the edge of the bed and said to myself, this is the most beautiful poem ever written. What did I know about China beyond a few stock images from movies and chop suey restaurants? I knew next to nothing, and yet this old poem, in a translation which probably wasn't the greatest either, worked a miracle. I had an aesthetic QUARTO
PERSPECTIVES ON POETRY
experience. I was moved. I experienced the beauty of poetry, etc. Clearly, I had no way of reading the poem in a way a Chinese reader would have. I was as ignorant as Chinese readers must be when they read a poem by Emily Dickinson. What do they know about the culture of Emily's Amherst? As much as 1 do about Li Po's China. So, to go back to your question, yes, thank god, there are experiences that are universal. Anybody who says, for example, that only Italian-Americans can understand Italian-American writing is talking absolute nonsense. Poetry's strength is that it engages experiences that are universal. If that wasn't true, poetry would have died out. Can you think of some poets that you think are neglected, who are quite original?
CS: I'm sure I could make a list. Russell Edson, for example, has not received his due. To use a cliche, he's really an American original. He is almost never reviewed. At the same time he's loved and translated in Eastern Europe. They admire his irreverance and humor, but I guess we don't. Someone once told me a story about a reading of Edson's in which the audience laughed and screamed for more, and then on the way out he overheard a woman say to her companion, God, wasn't that funny? And her companion replied, yes, it was but, of course, what he read was not poetry. In other words, poetry to be good has to be solemn and a little boring. Also, 1 bet she was wondering where was the self-pity? We like our poems to tell us about the poet's incredible unhappiness. The moment the poet is a bit happy, we get suspicious. Where's the confession of sins? Poor Russell. His selected poems have been out six months and I haven't seen a single review. It's disgusting.
INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES SIMIC
CS: Don't expect to make any money out of it. Try to educate yourself. Read a lot of poetry and learn about the craft. Look at photographs and paintings. Listen to all kinds of music. Hang out in bars, although that's not obligatory [laughter]. You can get a white dress and sit in the corner of the attic [laughter]. Stay away from the Academy. I mean, if you have a chance do something else in life. Then educate yourself properly. That's all one can say. When I was young, older writers would tell me, "Don't be in too much of a rush to publish." Well, I mean, who's going to listen to that? Mr. Simic, you're fifty-five, fifty-seven...Ah, sorry, I don't think I'm ready yet to publish. One shouldn't set up some sort of imaginary I will do this, I will do that plan. Just stay alert to what is happening in the arts and keep writing. At some point you're going to get pissed oft" and say, I'm tired of writing their kind of poem, writing the same fucking poem over and over again. I'm going to do something different. And then, one day, you meet another idiot who thinks like you and he tells you about a crazy girl he knows who has been writing these absolutely fantastic poems, and all of a sudden you feel part of a group, a movement. That's how it goes usually. But you've got to persist in your madness.
V\lio are some of the poets that you are happy are getting some attention?
CS: Heather McHugh has gotten some attention and that makes me happy. She got nominated for the National Book Award in poetry. She also has a book published by Wesleyan called Broken English that is one of the best books of essays that I've read in a long time. I highly recommend it. What advice would you give to the fledging writer or poet?
Ting Bell graduated from the Harbin Institute of Technology in China with a BS in Computer Science. She will receive her BA in Literature/Writing from the School of General Studies this October. Her poems are part of a series about a village in Manchuria, China. She lived there with her parents in exile for two years during the Cultural Revolution. Her poems have won the 1994 Bennett Cerf Award and the 1995 Arthur E. Ford Poetry Award; her fiction was awarded the 1995 Bennet Cerf Prize for Fiction. Mette Bom is a twenty-four-year-old visiting student from the University of Copenhagen, where she is studying for her MA in Literature and Women's Studies. She has been taking writing classes at Columbia to enhance her writing skills. She writes prose poetry and short short fiction. Elizabeth Cave grew up in Summit, New Jersey. She took art classes as a child and went on to study painting at Hartwick College. When a professor there told her she had no talent, she tried photography. She's been taking pictures ever since, and is largely self-taught. She graduated from Hartwick in 1987 and has lived in the Boston area for the past eight years. Ms. Cave has traveled throughout Europe, South Africa, and the United Statesâ€”where she has photographed the South Carolina low-country extensively. Andrea Denny-Brown grew up in East Holden and Hancock Point, Maine. She graduated from The Walnut Hill School for Performing Arts in Natick, Massachusetts in 1987, and was a professional ballet dancer for the Boston Ballet from 1987 to 1992. In fall 1992 she entered Barnard College, and is now working toward her BA in English/Writing. David Dupuis studied Fine Art at the University of Washington, Seattle. He has been living and creating art in New York City for the last fourteen years, and shows his work in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, London, and Cologne. QUARTO
Gabrielle Fell is the mother of two girlsâ€”Amelia (age five) and Lilian (age four). Ms. Fell has a background in modern dance, studies yoga, and enjoys taking pictures whenever Amelia and Lilian permit. Sarah Gyllenstierna is a native of Stockholm, Sweden. She has worked in film production in New York City since 1990 and is currently a senior at Barnard College. Alba Delia Hernandez was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn. She is currently a senior in the School of General Studies majoring in Writing/Literature. For tun she studies African dance and yoga. Werner Hoeflich studied Fine Art at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has been living and working in New York City since 1984 and has exhibited his work in New York, Washington DC, London, and Paris. Jennifer Leigh lives in New York with her husband and Otis, their obstreperous pug dog. She works at a graphic design firm, and is currently completing her BA in Literature/Writing at Columbia's School of General Studies. Jennifer would like to thank her mother, who deserves it, and John Bowers, who taught her to think of herself as a writer. Sabrina Orah Mark is currently a sophomore at Barnard College. She would like to thank Chnsta, Deanna, and Natasha tor their encouragement, love, and a thousand different inspirations. Thanks to Janet and Mika, and thanks to Dad for unconditional support. Alexandra (Xanda) McCagg is an artist, a painter, an art educator, and a stained-glass artist working on both commission and in restoration of leaded glass. She has exhibited her paintings in New York, Michigan, Florida, and New England. Currently, she is teaching school children applied art lessons at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City. Stacey Miller attends Columbia College, where she is majoring in English, and writes whenever she can.
Laure de Montebello was once a student at Columbia University and remains a loyal devotee of The Writing Program. She is currently enslaved at a New York investment banking firm, where her creative writing skills have not gone unappreciated. In addition to working as the firm's editor and chief-of-staff of the Latin American Division, she has often been enlisted to lend her poetic sensibility to the composition of birthday greetings and commemorative paper weight inscriptions. 104
Zesty Meyers, a graduate of the Massachusetts College of the Arts, currently lives in New York City. He is a multimedia artist exploring nontraditional uses for glass as a medium. Mr. Meyers founded the B Team, a collaborative of itinerant glass artists who demonstrate and teach their art to audiences across North America. The B Team was recently nominated tor a Tiffany grant. In his piece, "Champion," glass is used in the fourth dimensionâ€”alternately magnifying, condensing, and distorting the image behind it. Marcella S. Nelson grew up in New York City. She lives above a bakery in Little Italy. Ms. Nelson paints miniature portraits the size of snapshots as well as larger paintings of the interior of the Enid Haupt Conservatory at the Bronx Botanical Garden. Jessica Nepomuceno, Barnard College '96, is an English major with a concentration in writing, She is also a member of Native Souls, a multimedia, multicultural creative collective that performs spoken word all over the New York City area. Jason E. Nocito grew up on Long Island and has been taking pictures for seven years. He is currently enrolled at Parsons School of Design, where he is completing a BFA in Photography. Maria Olivas was born in the Philippines. She has taught Uechi Ryu Karate Do in Virginia, and "English Through Music" in Japan. Besides writing, she performs with Soh Daiko, a New York City-based Japanese drumming group. She thanks her friends (especially Karl), family, and everyone at the General Studies Writing Program (especially Nicholas Christopher, Colin Harrison, and Leslie Sharpe) for their inspiration, support, and relentless commentary. At work on two novels and a children's book, she plans to finish two of these projects by 1996. QUARTO
The story "Jonicia Antonia Cordes, Love Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself is an excerpt from her first novel. Ana Ortiz grew up in Puerto Rico. She likes taking photographs, wearing hats, and going for tea. Stephen Page is an undergraduate majoring in Literature/Writing. He has had more than thirty poems published in journals and magazines such as Surgam, Piedmont Literary Review, Bravura, Frog Pond, Brussels Sprout, Our Reader's Quarterly, Japanophile, and UI Gaucho.
Lydia Raurell received her BA from Columbia's School of General Studies in Spring 1995, with a major in Literature/Writing. She received the Writing Award in 1994 and has had previous publications in Sporadic. She lives on the Upper West Side of New York City and is currently working on a novel. She would like to thank Alan Ziegler, Austin Flint, Nora Sayre, and David Markson for their faith and encouragement. Grace Roselli lives in Brooklyn with her pitbull Tar and is currentlyworking on a project involving feminine subjectivity and personal taboos. Nancy Ross takes classes in the General Studies Writing Program. She lives in New York City with her two-year-old son, Jordan, and is originally from Vancouver, Canada. Sarah Berney Skutel grew up in rural Northern Vermont. She attended Smith College for a year before transferring to Juilhard where she has just finished her third year as an oboe student of Ronald Roseman. She wishes to acknowledge her sister, Maia, as the inspiration for "When One Is Four Years Old." She would like to thank her parents for raising their children around chickens (dogs, horses, hamsters, and a cow) in the first place. Janice L. Sugarman graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1983 as a photography major, specializing in editorial, environmental, and documentary portraits. Her work has been featured in Tlie Los Angeles Times, Billboard, and Cover magazine. Her photography has been exhibited at the Gallery Eclectic, the Ethical Culture School, and the Trinity School, QUARTO
where she taught photography. She has photographed many celebrities, notably Pavarotti, Rosemary Clooney, Keith Richards, and Carly Simon. She lives in Manhattan with her cat Brie.
Noel Sutherland was born in Jamaica and now resides in New York City, where he has been working as a freelance photographer for the past twelve years. He began taking pictures in Paris and Milan and has lived in Italy off and on for a total of seven and a half years. His work has also taken him to Uganda, Botswana, Ireland, Scotland, and Cuba. Mr. Sutherland's photographs have appeared in Details, Glamour, Travel & Leisure, Cotidc Nast Traveler, Self, Forbes FYI, Uomo Bazaar, and Lei.
Rupa Viswanath, Columbia College '95, has been published in the literary journal of St. Xavier College in Bombay and in the Asian journals of Columbia University. She was a participant in the Intercollegiate Reading Series at Hamilton College in fall 1994, where she represented Columbia in the prose category.