Page 1


A Paper’s Edge Publication

1

Read This, Dammit! April 2013: We’re Not Hipsters

“I am doing things that are true to me. The only thing I have a problem with is being labeled.” Johnny Depp ❦


2

We’re Not Hipsters

Table of Contents

1 --- page 22, Jessica Fu: Life of _________ 2 --- page 15, Caroline Alexander: _________ Toward 3 --- page 4, Jenny Shen: The title of this prose piece 4 --- page 32, Rachel Newman: The title of this poem 5 --- page 25, Margaret Frainier: Where synesthesia goes 6 --- page 18, Kegan Chang: The title of this poem 7 --- page 27, Christopher Lafferty: The title of this prose piece 8 --- page 10, Kegan Chang: _________-North West 9 --- page 37, HinYeung Wan: The _________ Taster 10 --- page 20, Sarina Gupta: How many ways of looking at a pond? 11 --- page 34, Alexandra Klaassen: The title of this piece, spelled out 12 --- page 7, Margaret Gordon: Points of _________ 13 --- page 31, Jenny Han: The name of the "dumbass hussy" 14 --- page 33, Jenny Han: The title of this microfiction 15 --- page 41, Jenny Han: Who this poem is dedicated to 16 --- page 3, Joseph Kidney: The only vowel used in these poems


A Paper’s Edge Publication

Obod1 Joseph Kidney Cows moo. Condors swoop. Clocks rot crowds. Words grown from compost contort sorrows to food. Town-lorn ghosts follow spoors2 of proto-song to God (logos), north of cold moon, north of good. Look to Kosovo’s flood, so soon thrown from poshlost to horror, hot pools of blood, clots of dross. Tomb-long sorrows drop down onto solo cocoons from bomb-roosts. Comforts drown (shown: common chloroform-torpor). Fog-bloom flows down to Post-Control rocks, forms hollow crown for Lord of Loss (who wolfs down folks for sport, lops off torsos, conforms notochord knots). Who knows how to hold on (to borrow, vow, or sob⎯works not) or to prolong, not (‘Sblood!) to confront? Foolproof flops (Wordsworth/book of mormon) worth not lots, thrown to worms. Wormwood, wormwood. Brown-gold gongs throb. Doctors go from door to door.

Good Old Doctor Botch Good old clog-shod Doctor Botch, not known to work short of Scotch.                                                                                                                         1

Morn-Song

2

odor of food

3


4

We’re Not Hipsters

Cucumbers Jenny Shen “Ram your foot into it.” You say it as if I have any semblance of muscular strength between my chocolate syrup vessels and cake frosting skin, as if I do bicep curls as routinely as I steamroller my way through entire bags of barbeque chips and sleeves of Girl Scout cookies. You make shoveling dirt from the ground and heaving it over my shoulder sound easy, the way you always do. I’m tired of things being easy for you, but I say nothing. I pretend like I’m karate kicking the edge of the metal shovel but it doesn’t budge and my foot begins to throb. You chuckle and I have a feeling you don’t mean for it to ignite my defensive reflexes, but I drop the shovel to the ground immediately. I have grown one plant in the history of my existence on this planet, and it was a cucumber plant. Or rather, it was supposed to be a cucumber plant. My third grade teacher came to class one day with an entire envelope filled with grainy seeds and doled them out to each student with a half sheet of paper complete with a set of overly optimistic instructions explaining how and when to sow the seeds. I promised my mom that night that our family would never have to buy cucumbers again. Mom had just laughed and continued to paint her toenails magenta over the newspapers she’d laid out on the floor. She bought four cucumbers at the grocery store less than a week later. I didn’t believe her when she told me she forgot all about the seeds I had worked so hard to bury beneath what I now realize was rocky and insufficient soil. “I told you I don’t have much of a green thumb,” I wrap my arms around my torso and refuse to meet your eye. “This isn’t even the gardening part,” you laugh, and I want to believe it’s good-natured, but I glare at the shovel anyway.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

5

You pick up the shovel and nudge it into a particularly promising crack in the ground, and, as though scooping through melted butter, finish the job I was unable to even really start. “I don’t get why we’re doing this,” I say quietly as I roll my heel over a cluster of dandelions, watching as the shriveled yellow petals bruise under the pressure. “Let’s say it does end up growing. Trees take forever to fully mature. We’ll probably be dead by the time it actually looks like a tree.” You roll your eyes, the kind of reaction you’ve grown accustomed to giving me every time I say something bratty or distrusting. “Who says it’s not going to end up growing?” You jut out your lower lip with the kind of open defiance only someone used to getting things right the first time is allowed to show. I want to tell you about the cucumbers. I want to tell you about the way the first few leaves that unfurled from underneath the soil and how it gave me a week-long high. I was convinced that I would cultivate my own vegetable garden one day. Maybe someday when I owned my own house and had my own family and I would never have to go grocery shopping the way my mom always did grudgingly after work on Fridays. I want to tell you that the stalks never formed, that the cucumbers never appeared, how I clutched the ceramic pot with both grubby, eight-yearold fists and watched the now wilted leaves, waiting. I want to tell you about the color of dead sprouts— the exact same color as the wheat pastures we used to drive past to get to Nana’s place on Labor Day weekend. Seven Labor Days had come and gone and not once did I attribute goldenrod with death. “C’mon, I thought this would be fun,” you say emphatically, setting the shovel down and taking out the store-bought packet of apple tree seeds from your back pocket and taking my hand in yours, gently shaking the seeds into my palm. I watch them tumble from the paper packet. They’re teardrop shaped.


6

We’re Not Hipsters

When I say nothing, you keep talking, the way you always do. “Think about it—one day, people will be able to pick apples from the tree we planted. Isn’t that awesome?” I nod, but inside I’m shaking my head no. I don’t want to tell you that I don’t believe that a tree will ever come out of the seeds in my hand. I don’t want to tell you that if the tree does end up growing, the apples will probably get gnawed apart by garden pests before anyone has the chance to pluck them from the branches. I don’t want to tell you that I have little faith in growing plants—among other things—but something tells me you know without me admitting to any of it. I drop the seeds into the hole you’ve dug, one at a time, and I lose sight of them almost instantly. They’re too small and too similar in color to the soil but you don’t seem to mind. In fact, you beam and begin moving the soil back to fill the hole. By the time it’s all packed on and you’ve given the ground one last pat with the tip of the shovel, you wrap an arm around me and sigh— with content, I’m sure. “We just planted a tree,” you say with what must be resolution. Satisfaction. I nod again. I want to tell you about how I pick the cucumbers out of my deli sandwiches, about how I haven’t even had pickles in my burgers since elementary school. I want to explain to you all these aversions I’ve collected like stamps or state quarters or cats, for god’s sake, but I’m afraid you’ll laugh. Or worse, that you already know.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

Points of Interest Margaret Gordon He came from a land of dying languages. Can I love him for that? His name like a sigh of last words of innocence: calice. Take this, all of you, and drink it. This is my blood and butter. This is your wine and sin. “Do you know nothing of women?” I ask him. Stay still — No more jumping on the bed, it is made. We have dug this grave and laid in it, jumped into fever, played in it and you had to use your head. Mama called the doctor and the doctor said, No more legs spread like butter on bread sandwiched between bedsheets. Statistically speaking, this time cannot count. Oh please, don’t count this time, these calories inside of me— I already have the energy to take the necessary steps back to where it’s safe to be sick, throwing up my hands in the morning. Red Rover. Give warning. For we are too full of Great Big Bad Ideas that swell like lips, glowing and bruised and pregnant with all the possibilities of their stories.

7


8

We’re Not Hipsters

We cannot hold them in. Our hands are too small and delicate; our hands are dry like my eyes. Hold mine, so I do not have to look at yours. No more. “Do you know nothing of women?” Just that, between you and me there is no No-Man’s Land; I can see no Big Bad Other, only Lower my eyes from your feelings, your touch. Promise me you’ll stay smiling, small brother. In the most tasteful rape scene I’ve ever seen written: “He came. And then he left.” And I fell in love again with stories retold so many times they become points of interest in plotlines, not semi-severed life lines scarring our hands: they cannot hold your lips closed against the flow of Great Big Bad ideas that swell like hips glowing and bruised and pregnant with all the possibility of their stories. Do you know nothing of women We take the necessary steps back to where it’s safe to be sick, days breaking in half as they fall into step right down - we’ll come falling into arms so nice in precisely the ways we’re taught to mistrust as children.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

“Must you use these stories?” They’re all we have to hold. Our hands are too small and delicate and scarred to carry these stories. Too far, too far. He came from a land of dying languages. Can I leave it at that?

9


10

We’re Not Hipsters

North-North West Kegan Chang I would have expected Max to turn up in a lot of places: a bar, church, the hospital, maybe even that seedy strip club we used to visit during university. Not here. Never here. He wore a shirt with the top button open and a tie caked in grime, dirt and bodily fluids that hung like a noose around his neck. It flapped weakly in the wind as I approached. He’d aged since I’d last seen him. The hair that had once been thick and dark was now sparse and grey, and he squinted at me through thicker glasses than any he’d ever worn in school. He stood in the shadow of the church. Crosses, headstones and plinths surrounded him, and he had one arm around a granite memorial of an angel. The statue loomed over him, eyes wide and empty. He grinned at me and stubbed out his cigarette on the angel’s foot. A nearby gargoyle glared at him. Gravel crunched as I strode forward. I had my hand out in front of me, but he made no move to shake it. “Max.” I let my hand drop limply to my side. It joined the other one clasping a bouquet of lilies. “Sam.” He drew another Lucky Strike out of the pack and lit it, fumbling as he tried not to set the wilting carnations in his right hand on fire. We’d both been bright young men once. The kind of men that people claimed had Prospects with a capital ‘P’. Not a chance now. The same weariness in the shadows under his eyes oozed from every pore on my body. “How long?” “Eight years, three months and seven days.”


A Paper’s Edge Publication

11

“You’re off by a few seconds.” Max let his cigarette fall from his lips and he smashed it out with the heel of his shoe. I saw the look in his eyes as he lit another. I stood there and looked at him. ❦

“What’s the difference between a hawk and a handsaw?” She grinned at me and Max raised one eyebrow beneath his dark hair. “I’m sure you’ll tell me,” she said, still smiling. The three of us had to grab on to handles as the bus went around a corner. “You can eat a hawk.” Max sighed. The elderly man standing next to me turned and scowled. I winked to annoy him and he turned away in disgust. “You have no idea how long he takes to come up with these things,” Max said. “I keep telling him that he doesn’t have the…” His voice trailed off. He could see how she looked at me. She replied as though he never interrupted her. “Stop trying to tell jokes.” She laughed, and my heart soared. ❦

“Thanks.” I played with the buttons on my jacket. My knuckles were white. “Don’t mention it.” He turned to me. “And stop that. You’ll ruin your suit.” I turned to face the church doors and tried to quiet my nerves. Max patted me on the back, and I felt a flash of irritation that came more from nervousness than actual animosity. “You’ll be fine.” He said. “You’re getting married.” There was a kind of wistfulness in his voice as he said it. “How do I know?” It was rhetorical, but he answered anyway.


12

We’re Not Hipsters

“You already do, or you wouldn’t be here.” He smirked. “Besides, if you end up chickening out, there’ll be two dozen guys lined up to take a shot at her.” “And you’d be at the front of the line, right?” I turned to him, a mischievous smile on my lips. He didn’t look at me. He kept on staring straight ahead. I turned back to the church doors. Our smiles were frozen to our faces. ❦

“I don’t know.” I stared at the reams of paper scattered across the table. It was late. The words and numbers were turning into a colony of writhing black ants as I stared at them. “Max knows what he’s doing.” She smiled tiredly at me. “I’ve explained it all to you. I’ve got an inside line on this deal, and we believe it’s going to be the next big thing.” Max’s glasses glinted in the half-light. “What about competitors?” I rubbed by eyes. “And how’re you going to manufacture this stuff? High density tungsten-carbide wire? You can’t just get this stuff off a shelf at Home Depot!” I sat back. “You’re asking a lot from us, Max. And, frankly, I’m not sure you can deliver.” Max straightened in his chair and looked at me. “I’ve got to strike when the iron’s hot, Sam. I came to you because I thought you could recognize a good opportunity when you saw one. This won’t just make us both rich. This could be everything.” I looked at him. His eyes were alight with the manic energy of a fanatic. I looked at her. She had seen it too. “Where do we sign?” ❦

She was crying. I wanted to cry too, but couldn’t wrench myself away from the lab-coated man in front of me.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

13

“Give me options.” My voice rang out, cold and metallic in the white, ascetic room. Dully, I wondered about getting a second opinion. It would be a good idea, except that the man in front of us was already our fifteenth opinion. He shoved a paper towards me. There were more zeroes on it than I could count. “Excuse me.” I pushed my chair back and stood, already dialing a familiar number. ❦

“Don’t give me that bullshit.” She was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling. She’d stopped crying after the first few days, but I wished she still was. At least crying told me she was still around. Now she just stared. The voice issuing from the faded blue telephone was tinny and soft. “I can’t do anything. He’s dropped off the face of the earth. He was in Shanghai three weeks ago, I’m sure of that. Then, nothing.” “Even if he isn’t around, there must be somebody I can talk to. I’m a major stakeholder in your goddamn venture!” “Sir –” “What?” I barked, feeling a mounting sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. “Sir,” she was struggling for words. “The – the Shanghai connection fell through. I don’t – don’t know what the next plan is –” ❦

I broke his nose and he split my lip. That was how I recognized him in the crowd, three days later, as I delivered her eulogy. ❦


14

We’re Not Hipsters

“This wasn’t what she’d have wanted,” I said to him as we faced each other in that graveyard. “It doesn’t matter anymore. There’s nothing you can do.” I hated myself for the words that left my mouth. “She would’ve wanted you to get on with life.” “You mean there isn’t anything you can do.” For a second, there was a trace of the old mad gleam in his eyes. I laughed in his face. “What now, Max? You’ve got a machine that can raise the dead? Or a manual? I’ve tried that. I’ve had plenty of time to pray to every deity I could dream up.” His face coloured nicely. “Or do you have another Inside Line?” I threw those words back into his face, savouring their venom on my tongue. The sun was casting his face in shadow, and it took me a few seconds to realize that he was actually crying. “It isn’t always about you, Sam. Sometimes it’s about somebody else.” I had another barbed comment ready, but it died in the back of my throat as he produced a stack of banknotes. The foil seals glinted ominously. Somewhere, a bird chirped. I started laughing again, and didn’t stop this time. “You think you can come here, pay me what you owe me, and maybe we can be friends again?” “These aren’t for you,” Max said. “I don’t owe you anything. She was all I ever wanted.” He inserted another cigarette between his lips, and then lit it. Then he put the lighter to the stack of banknotes. The lighter and the money dropped from his fingers. Neither of us made a move to do anything. We stood there and waited. Max turned and walked away, taking his arm from around the angel. The gargoyle continued to stare daggers into his back as his feet crunched into the gravel. I stood there in the sunlight and watched the burnt offering smolder. I felt very cold.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

15

Running Toward Caroline Alexander No. 4 I analyze you the way I analyze poetry, searching for hidden meanings I'm only half-sure exist. The impeccably tailored seams speak to your sense of control, your need to keep emotions locked down: an eternal poker face, a diplomat's inscrutable smile. The polished motherof-pearl cufflinks, the neatly pressed pocket square: you're detailoriented, you like small luxuries. I catalogue your traits, I file away your tics and tells in my head. I pay attention to you; I watch you watching me. I have years' worth of memories of your eyes over a newspaper, of your fingers curled around a mug of coffee. Sitting on my desk, stealing my pens when you think I won't notice. Your smirk when I hide your post-its in revenge. And as much as I analyze, as much as I hide away those details in my brain (your tortoiseshell reading glasses, the way you do crosswords in pen), I know I'll never be able to completely figure you out. A puzzle with an eternally lost piece. And that's a metaphor for a lot of things, like how I learned to love with a gun holstered by my side and how your eyes gleam dark in the firelight. But mostly it's a metaphor for how you move against me in your sleep, because I don't have words for that. You say to me, "We need to calm down. I'm sure they know." You never specify who “they” is, but it could be anyone from our team sniper to the former members of the KGB we pissed off in Berlin. In our world paranoia is a second skin, a mask that's never removed. It’s as permanent as the scars on my body, a crisscross of lines spanning my back all the way down to my hips, a reminder of what we have to lose. I think you take it too far, but I understand. We take care, we hide in plain sight. We're discreet. And if you get upset at me for being too overt when I brush up against you for coffee, I remind myself that you’re right. We are each other's greatest weakness; we could be used against each other. I wake up at night in a cold sweat thinking about you in


16

We’re Not Hipsters

some terrorist’s lair, in some government cell. It's happened before, to other people, to our friends. Given the opportunity, it could happen again. But I would die before I would let that happen to you, so we hide ourselves away. I don't look up to watch you hack into a database, entranced by the way your fingertips waltz across the keyboard. Your eyes don't soften when someone says my name, irritated by the impossible logistics of whatever new plan I’ve drawn up. But throughout each day, my thoughts tumble like an avalanche in my head, a hopeless tangle of details: the hard planes of your cheekbones, the cool arch of your eyebrows. The black coffee you despise but drink anyway. I make damn well sure none of it shows on my face, but my thoughts still run on, a choir of voices echoing towards the sky, as pure as church bells and half as holy: Build me a cathedral, my lips on your neck, build me a world that doesn't exist. We'll spend our lives away running from each other, darling, so let's run toward instead. No. 15 The headlines read: “SIXTEEN WORKS STOLEN FROM MUSEÉ D’ORSAY,” “HEIST SHAKES ART WORLD,” and “NEW TITANIC: AN UNCRACKABLE SAFE, CRACKED.” It was a good day’s work, if a little too routine. No. 27 We're on a rooftop in the middle of nowhere, watching the sun drown in the conquering edge of night. Well, that's what you're doing. I'm watching the smoke from your cigarette curl up, tendrils spiraling toward the sky. You holster your gun. I flip the safety off on mine. We can't risk being lax. "Come on, darling," you laugh. "No one's coming after us."


A Paper’s Edge Publication

17

That's a lie. From the way you’re tracing the scars on your hipbone, remnants from that knife fight in Berlin, you know it too. You always mock me for being too cautious, but tonight it’s an act. There are dozens of people after us. They just don't know where we are yet. I put my gun away, against my better judgment. Once again, you've swayed me. I stand next to you and look down the twenty stories, down to the riots breaking out in the streets. Up here, we feel like gods: impassive, untouchable, cruel. Distanced. The Molotovs are meant for neither our friends nor our enemies. They have no impact on our lives except for a loud burst of shattered glass, the roar of oil igniting. But oh, how they light up the night. You said to me once that every thought was a gamble. A throw of dice: you believed in it so much, you tattooed it on your shoulder blade. It was fitting. You were big on taking risks, and the bigger the risk, the better. I gripped the plans you would draw up, white knuckled, thinking that you were tempting death. I wasn't wrong. Eventually, I learned that you always, always had some equivalent of loaded dice. An ace in the hole, a way to ensure your safety and mine. An informant, a damning video, the copy of a master key. A trick up your sleeve. I should have known. This is the end of the world. You always liked to take chances. So go on. Roll your dice.


18

We’re Not Hipsters

Stasis Kegan Chang One night I heard my friend was dead: he was three months cold behind a niche before the news could travel through an undersea cable and crackle softly into my ears in the pauses between words. We went to see him and prayed for his soul three months too late to catch him as he tried to fly & fell instead. We stood before a brass plaque and tried not to look at each other while we laid our hands on the marble as God decided we should. We told ourselves that there was nothing we could have done. That there was nothing two guys living three streets and four classrooms away would have been able to do. We didn’t know. We were innocent. It wasn’t our fault. The words stumbled and tumbled out of our mouths in a parade of useless nouns and verbs and all we heard was the sound the school bell used to make when it was time for morning assembly. I spoke to his mother on the phone, heard her cries and felt her sobs, and listened to a litany of whispered prayers and curses dulled by months aching for the son who would never walk through the front door again. I spoke to his sister and I listened to the flat, cold tones of a girl who had her innocence buried and was now weighed down by the awful feeling of having been left behind. I hung up and sat there at the hotel desk, numb,


A Paper’s Edge Publication

letting the setting sun coat me in amber. The next day I went back to my mother, and looked into her eyes as she searched mine for sadness or fear. When she found neither, she let me know that it wasn’t my fault. I leaned back, listened to my heart tick down, and wondered why.

19


20

We’re Not Hipsters

13 Ways of Looking at a Pond Sarina Gupta I I stare deep into the water my face looks back at me so do my uneven pigtails. Spitting into the water I retract. II I return. Vengeance in my heart, I swing the fishing rod stripping the pond of its life. III Forgiveness, Humility. The pond a solid blanket I slide across, zigzagging, in all of my juvenile splendor. IV Flowers, A verdant landscape surrounding the puddle of life.

Thirteen paintbrushes, A transparent bay window. With a flick of my wrist, I strive for atonement. V The blazing sun called for the coolness of the pond. Walking barefoot into my backyard my dog racing ahead I dip my feet he immerses his body into the shimmery blue-green. VI Contemplating, I swing my legs the water reaches the area right below my knee. I look ahead and see leaves falling but really I see Time flying by.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

VII Pelting the final bag into the trunk Is this liberation? Am I emancipated? My dog is my companion I throw him in as well. I am in the front the pond, in the back. A sturdy barrier between us, one-sided nostalgia. VIII Birds chirping above Fish swimming below Ducks on the surface Yet the water It stands still. IX The liquid now frozen Wildlife gone. Clear, translucent ice, Emptiness. X Endlessly waiting Once the embodiment of life Now a body of utter stagnation.

21 Â

XI I visit as a stranger A brief flicker of remembrance But the flame Dies. XII I come again looking for solace Getting but not yet giving. XIII I gaze amorously into the water the same recognition presents itself despite my transformation my bun does not appear. Smiling, with a hint of relief, I stare until water slips uncontrollably down my face splashing into the blue-green. A familiar place, A familiar face.


22

We’re Not Hipsters

Life of Kings Jessica Fu Mr. Hoover had been dead for two summers now, three if you counted this summer, which would start tomorrow. The weather wasn’t as warm as I had hoped, I realized as I ran my palms against the goose bumps dotting the backsides of my arms. From my seat on the damp grass, I could see the top half of the Ferris wheel rotating forward, stopping, and starting again. Jean was test operating the rides today, Albert was setting up the snack machines, and I could feel Margo running around the empty park, dripping touches of paint here and there and there. In big, brown, curly font, the words “Mr. Hoover's Twinkling Twenties Carnival” marked each of the seventeen trailers parked around the border of the park. Mr. Hoover himself had once told me that he had never actually been to a carnival in the twenties, but had chosen the name anyway, as a false reference to a nostalgic sentiment, because “people will pay to feel anything nowadays.” During the summer of his death, Mr. Hoover had caught me trying to leave the park grounds with a toy that I had stolen from the ring toss. He yanked the cheap, grey elephant from my sticky hands and dragged me to his trailer. Dusty and cramped, with past years’ posters in stacks along the wall and clear bags of compressed prize toys jammed up against one another under his fold out bed, his trailer seemed a sad cemetery for nothing but old VHS tapes, dirty magazines, and broken light bulbs. I overheard him promising to Albert that he would clean it up by the end of summer. But by the end of summer, he was dead, and I, having been assigned the unpaid punishment of a job to wake him up every morning before opening the concession stand, had found him so. Dressed in his most eccentric carnival apparel, lying crumbled on the floor of his trailer, Mr. Hoover seemed as ready to start the day as he had ever been, except


A Paper’s Edge Publication

23

that today his wrists were bloody and there was a fruit knife stuck in his neck. Deadlines, headlines, other people’s success stories, Additional fees in finely printed grey font, Warehouses of giant plastic toys, whose colors mute the brightest of nature, whose stock are replenished more quickly than the trees cut down to make space Make space, they cried, For us, we cried. We and our ever-empty trailers and insulation and leaking toilets and petty arguments and parties, Disposable cutlery and Styrofoam plates and stupid children running around more stupid adults, And their retirement funds, And interest rates and words like inflation, deficit, and decline. I stole the first page of Mr. Hoover’s suicide notes for two conscious reasons: the act of stealing seemed poetic then, and the note itself seemed poetic, as well. For a leader of a traveling carnival, the dead Mr. Hoover sure seemed unhappy. Jean insisted to the police, to Albert and Margo, to myself, that everything would be all right, and ten months later, she pulled up to the park again with the traveling carnival in tow, ready to set up Mr. Hoover’s Twinkling Twenties Carnival for the seventeenth time, the first time without the titular leader.


24

We’re Not Hipsters

In the distance, restlessness grew, as children and parents anticipated the carnival’s impending evening opening. I longed to be there, to see the ceaseless rush of screaming children toward their favorite rides, the unfounded excitement with which they throw our rings into pits of bottles, and the twinkling of the grand Ferris wheel over this warm Idahoan town. “The nights when you feel the loneliest are the nights you may as well unite with the stars,” Mr. Hoover once told Margo, overheard by me as I hid under the ticket booth where I had been attempting to steal a roll of stubs. I stared up at the sky, blank and dark, as I dust grass off from my shorts. Perhaps Mr. Hoover had felt at his loneliest point that night, or perhaps the stars had simply been temptingly bright.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

Synesthesia Goes to the Park Margaret Frainier I like to take long walks late at night in the slumber of the park when all is hush. Yes, Vincent was right - the stars, they are burning. Cold torches hung up on tiny strings against clumsily painted backdrop spangled with dust. The night is tender John said once in a poem much better than mine but as pretty as it sounds, the night is not tender it is cold and empty and shadows stalk the silent cries of children woken by monsters lurking in the space beneath warm bed-ships sailing off to a land of dreams. Did you know that words have colors? not everyone hears, but I do; they beckon, undulating fingers calling me. This man’s voice is dusky brick; the Russian letter Ш the same faded blue as the covers of examination booklets, as old baby blankets left in a closets to wither and die. I can never listen to Wagner because it hurts endless loops of Pantone splashes one after the other scritch, scratch, knock-knocking on the inside of my skull. What should I tell you when I myself don’t know what I really want to say? What do I dream of when, finally, my frantic brain drifts into impermanence? Well, maybe it seems like I’m a human who knows, who has a plan, but really we’re all just hopelessly tapping tiny hammers on the doors of significance.

25


26

We’re Not Hipsters

We don’t even know what’s on the other side, but we imagine that anything kept from us must be beautiful. And so I go on long walks late at night. Shadows on snow, of trees, of twigs, of me. Each step goes crunch through fallen stardust. My tracks a-mingle with bird, with fox, with squirrel. My name, yellow as the petals of a sunflower turns its weary head to the light – yours, yours is the darkness of a forgotten memory. Your name, the letter of lost things to be found things buried and left to rust in time. Your voice, the night sky.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

27

Decay Christopher Lafferty It’s a little thing really. A tiny itch on the forearm. I dig at the skin. Draw blood to stem the searing itch. Rinse. Repeat. Fighting the desire to look up at him. He’s there – is he? A fleeting glance. Not so sure. Is he there? A double-take. Fuck. “You have a problem. You know that right?” Eyes averted all the time. A soft tender voice is supposed to heal. “What? You didn’t think I was gone, did you?” He chuckles coldly. Eyes shut tighter, I grimace against his voice. “Why do you push me away?” Teeth clench. “I just want to help you. I’m trying to make you more aware of the fact that you have a problem.” I can hear the smile shaping the sickly sweet words. They fall like honey from his mouth onto my bowed head. A perverse baptism. “You are a grown man. Curled up on the floor like a child. That can’t be right. No certainly not.” Teeth grit. “Why do you think that is? You must know!” The itch returns. Dig at the skin. Draw blood to stem the searing itch. Rinse. Repeat. “Think long and hard. Where are we?” A timid glimpse reveals a carpet. The colour of blood. “We both know this place, don’t we? Good! This is progress!” Eyes shut tight once again. Teeth scrape each other. “Now a better question. Who am I?”


28

We’re Not Hipsters

The words trickle excruciatingly from his ash-blackened mouth. He smells of the fire and brimstone which he spoke about in Sunday school. I whimper and cry out. Squeeze my head between my legs to push the demons back. The itch returns.

❦ It’s a little thing really. Just a little thing. A little itch on the forearm. Dig at the skin. Draw blood to stem the searing itch. Rinse. Repeat. It is dark now. Darkness is a kind of peace. It hides everything. The monsters I don’t want to see. It is an indiscriminate obscurity, cherished naiveté. Here, in the black abyss, man takes refuge from the things inside that would do him harm. But it is not an indefinite reprieve. For try as he might to hide from the monsters in the blackened recesses of his mind, they will always find him. Always. I remember this black place well. I have come here to confess my sins. My sins? “You have a problem.” His sing-song words are broken glass in my ears. Grinding and slicing up the canal. “Did you know that?” No no no. Not again. “Again?” he chuckled, “Few are so dedicated to denial as you are.” Eyes shut tightly again to weather his caustic storm. “I recognize this place as well.” I sense a smile. “You brought us here didn’t you? This place is important to it as well? Come now. Ask yourself: Who am I?” I refuse. Eyes clenched to the point of pain. Teeth chipping beneath the pressure.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

29

A niggling thought. Burrowing, crawling, scratching its way into my brain. Falsifications of fractured memory. No this is not right. “Come! Acknowledge me! Give in to what you know is true.” My heart hurts as I force these thoughts back into the corners of my mind. His blackened bony fingers reach for me. A dull and disquieting ache radiates from the epicenter of his touch, pounding out pain with every beat of my heart. A wisp of his memory remains as the room comes to a quiet still. This is not real. None of this is real. Bury it. Smile. Pretend. Itch. Rinse. Repeat.

❦ The tiniest thing. A little thing. Just a little itch on the forearm. Dig at the skin. Draw blood to stem the searing itch. Rinse. Repeat. Always repeating. Always falsifying. Smile a little too wide. The itch blisters beneath my incessant clawing. Where are we now? It is bright. Cold and clinical. A harsh light pierces the eyelids. We are in a sacristy. The harshest and ugliest details of man and his secrets are revealed here beneath the unkind light. His cruel illness becomes apparent in the truthful light. The blackened bony hands drift. In a single rapid motion he tears my sleeve back. He reveals a decaying forearm, bone bare, surrounded by black and decaying flesh. The maggots swim gleefully through the rot which I follow all the way up my arm to my shoulder. A necrotic gash has carved and eaten its way to my heart. As I pull back the cloth of my shirt, now blotted with ooze, I see that the putrefaction has supplanted my flesh and bone. Like broken prison bars, my corroded ribs frame a scandalized heart, beating with furious vigour against the dead tissue that surrounds it. And I sit mortified by this absolute mortification of my


30

We’re Not Hipsters

flesh. This opening to my insides is entirely black; it is an abscess which has decayed my heart beyond recognition. A sudden gut-wrenching twist. His sickly sweet voice contorts my innards. “Dear boy, come closer to me.” But he is not talking to me. Do I risk a glance? “You do trust me don’t you?” There is wine in the chalice upon the counter. It has been drunk. “You love me don’t you?” A shy nod from the boy. No. Unzipping. Delicate unzipping. I want to reach out and stop this, but I am paralyzed by fear. “Touch it.” No movement. “Here, I’ll show you.” Tears now. “Shhh... Don’t cry my boy.”


A Paper’s Edge Publication

31

Jane Jenny Han And everyone lives happily ever after… At least, that’s what should have happened if Jane hadn’t screwed up. Now we’re all stuck behind bars for twenty to life and it’s all that dumbass hussy’s fault. But I get ahead of myself. Where did my manners go, rambling on without even introducing myself? My poor mam’d be rolling in her grave, she would. So please, let me start again. Hi. My name is Jane.


32

We’re Not Hipsters

Mirage Rachel Newman The thought of you was a mirage Across the deserted sands of my mind. You stood there amidst false palms and fronds, Shimmering cleanly like ripples on water. Like ripples on water you were empty Beneath the windswept surface. Wandering in the desert has the effect Of casting apparitions on the dunes. On the dunes of my heart, Where there used to be smooth, padded sand. You broke through the serenity, leaving Undulations and wrinkles behind. Behind the memory of who we were In between the threat of who we became. Scratches scathed across my exterior Rendering numbness underneath. Numbness underneath your best intentions You were nothing but a face. A face that now jeers and smirks at me From the clouds of steam on the mirror. On the mirror that reflected my words As soon as they left my lips. I am held accountable and I respond To the dirt that you throw at me.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

33

You throw at me your laughs, Your laughs, your earnest soul. And I am exactly the fool that I Always professed to be. To be without hands to touch with, Or a heart to love with, I wish That was the way of things, because It would be better than the silence. The silence that claws at me, And screams from somewhere deep inside. The idea of you was naught but a mirage That slowly strangled me ‘til I died.

Ice Jenny Han Sender expects affectionate reply. Silly man.


34

We’re Not Hipsters

0 Alexandra Klaassen It’s not easy playing the game. It starts in a dark space where you, seated, wait as the dealer begins. There are others here too, with shaking white hands. You don’t choose your cards, they’re given. 5… 12… 17… 23… You start out well, the cards falling easily into place as the rounds begin to stretch and that faceless mask keeps score. You’re not advanced, but neither are your adversaries. You haven’t been in the game long enough. You throw down spades, a challenge, and the one beside you lays down a club, resigned. You smile. The points pile up. 26… 19… A slight misstep. An error in calculation. 24… 32... You’re in with the sharks now and you play as you best see fit, but the odds aren’t in your favor. You waste your trump in the beginning, when the possibilities seem infinite and the game is stretched out before you. 32. 32’s a good score. 33… 33… 34…


A Paper’s Edge Publication

35

Then the rounds change. You’ve shifted and now you’re too old to dream. New rules are added, others are taken away. They claim your Queen, then your Jack, and your King begins to look small, crumpled, with bruised edges and a busted crown. Nobody quite wants Kings anymore and suddenly you’re solitary, playing cards with the infinite darkness and your dealer. The rounds are dark, receding in a bleak horizon, and you stare slowly out at them, wondering when the game will end. The cards feel brittle in your hands, the wins, minor, as the losses, the steals and the takes pile higher. 15… 10… Your fingers let go but the cards remain and play as you watch. Trump is diamonds, but your hand holds none, and the other players, unseen, begin to make their spectacular plays. Their trumps haven’t been called yet. You play because you must, because there are still cards to be put down but the game itself, the placing and the picking up, becomes a test of endurance, a repeated trial, some cycle you can’t break as the rounds roll over you again and again… 7… 4… The dealer sweeps once more and you clutch your cards in hand, staring down at the bleed of red and black parody, the cards that stick and stay. 2… 2… 1… You’re down but there are still so many cards. They grow in your hands and play, tumbling over and falling out, wearing black when they should be in red. You turn to tell someone, but the words are gone as


36

We’re Not Hipsters

they laugh. Trump is hearts now. They can’t hear you here, your words are only cards and they play as they will, because the Queen and unwanted King must keep face. The dealer smiles and deals again… You smile back and lay down your club. The game must go on. The cards will keep on coming, coming, coming though all you want to do is quit. (zero)


A Paper’s Edge Publication

37

The Poison Taster HinYeung Wan “I’m not making you do this,” the Lady told me, handing me the tiny glass vial. Its vile white contents promises death for the King – at least if I’m not executed on the spot. Across the room the Lady in a gown of black and gold talks down to a wealthy lord. Every so often she watches my movements, but I know her mind’s eye is fixed intently on the King and Queen at the center of the hall. I pluck a strip of lamb from a plate, savouring the brown and the greenness of it with exaggerated satisfaction. My employer touches her throat, a signal we agreed on; she’s understood what I’ve eaten is safe. Soon enough she is entertaining another noble. Each move between guests brings her closer to the heart of the room; the formalities slowed her down but were necessary so as not to invite attention. In the midst of their crude games, the lords and ladies are politicking and dealing, sampling the vintages of their fine, rotten gardens. The Lady plays at their game with a twist, for they – unlike her – are unaware that their food and drink are slow poison. I am her taster, her safeguard, while the nobles have taste only for their own words dripping with poisonous pink or vainglorious gold. Chandeliers illuminate the palace hall, but in the dark you see the people cast such grotesque shadows. “Long life, long shadow” is my employer’s favourite epigram: lavish lives require sacrifice to sustain. The nobles’ treachery and manipulations casually invite death, but you’d never tell from their indulgent expressions. But the Lady knows. She sees their grand, golden indulgences take their toll. They eat, they drink, they make merry; she watches them clutching the fruits of their own fates, and she chooses whether to save them with a word. She’s only just begun to play. I see her smile knowingly as the lord beside her puts down a plate of lamb without eating it, unknowingly avoiding death by a missed bite. No more time is spent entertaining this one; she waltzes slowly towards the monarchs. They are close enough almost to touch, but I am behind


38

We’re Not Hipsters

schedule, caught in a wave of serving-boys. Just as the servants bring out new flutes of golden wine, she improvises, striking conversation with a nearby red-robed lord while signaling me with a hand sign: shorten the distance. I pretend interest in a painting as I get close. Over the din and clamour of the excited crowds, I hear the lord in red boast of his conquests and achievements as a servant carries his tray of wine to them. She frowns, and I know I’ve become too absorbed in her conversation. I barely manage to grab a glass before the wine reaches her; I drink too-quickly to compensate. My vision flashes blue and I shake my head hard, only partly to dispel the mist, partly to warn her. The Lady notices and keeps her hands folded over her stomach as she wordlessly watches Red-Robes help himself to the wine. This close, I almost taste the blue again as I see it dribble from the corners of his greedy mouth, my head throbbing more in revulsion. May he enjoy it to the last drop. Finally she breaks away and motions me to her, weaving through new groups of nobles to as close to the King and Queen as we can get. She sniffs gingerly at the spread of food as we pass the long table. In her head she thinks through our experiments: the roast chickens, the steamed fishes, the glazed hams, the soft breads, the leek and the onion soups…safe. All the rest blues, mostly purples; the roast goose and the braised goose, blacks. From behind I see her pinch her nose as though she could smell the poison, I smile since she knows better. The King’s poisons were not spread through the air or he might be victim to his own plot. Even with me to taste for her, however, the Lady was wary; this king was poisoning his court. Why not his daughter? He sought war and conquest but his court was divided; most the lords and ladies loved peace and the Queen loved it most, disagreeing with him openly for the entire realm to know. The proud King was shamed. He had personally gathered all the dissatisfied nobles at his poison-laced feast laced. This mass execution would have all the semblance of a disease, any


A Paper’s Edge Publication

39

investigations would be conducted at the King’s decree and all findings reportedly directly to him. The coloured poisons would ensure that the dozens gathered fall too permanently ill to react; the black among them killed instantly. Though I’m not kept around to give opinions, I leaned in close to whisper. “Milady, let me see to the King and Queen. You convince one noble to fast, but you won’t convince them all. Leave before your lord father catches you talking. If you linger and the King asks you to eat with him – ” “Goose.” In our realm, the goose, a common animal, is believed to befit but the palate of commoners; no noble would scramble for the first bite of it. Secretly, it also happens to be the Queen’s favourite meat, laid on the feast table black as sin. The Lady’s words are chosen with care, wary of listeners. “Three months, two weeks, and four days. That’s how long we’ve been sitting on our hands doing nothing while the King has planned for this feast.” There is something raw and personal as she looks at me. It has been precisely three months, two weeks, and four days since her birthday. The Lady touches the small glass vial worn around her neck, identical in all but content to the one hidden in my sleeve. Hers was an antidote, mine was a crippling, non-fatal poison; better than the gifts the noblemen around were receiving. The pair of beautiful vials were a birthday present to her from the King. “Soon the King makes his speech. We reach him before the toast. Reach his cup or this has all been for nothing.” Picking your parent’s fate is not done a whim. When she found the cook’s apprentice vomiting blood in the morning, she had come to me immediately, and chose death for her king. The crowd finally parts, letting the Lady step forth to greet her family. I bow to hail the King and Queen as a stab of pain wracks my head when the blood rushes to it, my world turning purple at the edges. I straighten as the King breaks embrace from the Lady. He looks at me


40

We’re Not Hipsters

with disdain; had he his way, there was no way a pardoned assassin could ever become the Lady’s attendant. Only the Queen addresses me. I fall on one knee in humility and kiss her outstretched hand – there! From the faint sweat on her skin I taste purple going on black! The King claps his hands then, readying his speech as the room falls gradually silent. A decorated servant came bearing two goblets, goldlined silver on the left and pure gold on the right. Gold for glory, glory for the king. The vial was already in my hands, fingers closed upon the uncorked neck, poised to strike gold. But the servant circles the side opposite me, and I hadn’t predicted that… The Lady jumps, raising her arm the slightest bit higher, knocking the tray up. The goblets sway and slosh, I hear a man’s cry as the liquids spill from cup to cup. I move to catch the Lady and fake a stumble, snapping her vial from its lace. When I return a vial to her, the stuff inside is coloured a dull grey. It could be the last time we meet, for what I am about to do next might be the last thing I do. She will succeed in her own plans, somehow. The servant apologizes profusely but it didn’t drown out the cry of the King. Even without his sonorous help, I did not need to taste the Queen’s cup to know it had been poisoned, too. Finally, I tip my switched vial into the silver goblet when I thought no eyes were on me, and my last job was done. I did not linger long enough to learn whether the antidote had preserved the Queen. Before the clamour settled, I was arrested and taken away for charge of assassination against the Queen. At the end, the last words I heard came from the Lady’s lips. I couldn’t make out what she’d said, they must have been kind, but her words had in them a slight red touch in my world fading soon to black.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

41

Ode to an Old Friend Jenny Han Mother always said you’d be the death of me. I remember the first time we met. You were off In your own Little world, Bottled up, Yet the vapours of your essence transcended all barriers and permeated the air: Forbidden fruit. Even now, I close my eyes And immerse myself in your aroma. You were no stranger to me In the years that followed. Ever present In the arms of others, You were mine to admire, yet never mine to hold. My adoration was criminal, unfulfilled in its intensity and intent. Except in the confines of my mind. Then, the forgotten years, Full of angst and anger and an ever-present thirst. You were my constant companion, my drug of choice, my sanctuary Made all the sweeter by secrecy. We would rendezvous in the silence of night, your essence Spilling past my lips as I caressed Your slender neck Your flawless body


42

We’re Not Hipsters

You. You made me forget the cruelty of this world The futility of this Earth The emptiness in the center of my being. Everyday you presented me With rose-coloured lenses; Everynight they lay crushed Beneath our tumbling figures. That was years ago. Those lenses no longer shield me from scrutiny. I look back upon the haze of semi-solidified dreams And recall your intoxicating influence. I was ignorant, impatient, incapable of making the choices you stole from me. Our harmony held only room for discord, Our whirlwind romance buried under shameless recriminations. They tore us apart Drowning your siren’s song under facts. Warnings. Friendly advice. We were neither blameless nor to blame. I see you now and then, Across the room, behind a bar, Always, another’s lips caress you The way I once did.


A Paper’s Edge Publication

43

Some days I smile, remembering the dream that was us. Other times, my body aches with the need to drown in you One more time Oh please, just one last time. Always, I walk away.

For Ethan Ol.3

                                                                                                                        3

EthanOl, or ethanol, has the chemical formula C2H6O and is alcohol in the purest sense of the word. One member of a vast chemical family, ethanol is the only one we trust to take us back from the island of Inebriation with most of our senses intact. The poem above is the author’s attempt to commemorate this special relationship.


44

We’re Not Hipsters

Dear Reader, This issue of Read This, Dammit! was intentionally theme-less, meant only to be a compilation of whatever-the-hell McGill writers felt compelled to write. So, perhaps you’re wondering: what’s with the title? A person’s level of hipsterdom is entirely relative, and the label can be worn ironically or unironically, depending on the circumstances. It’s a one-size-fits-all joke that often consists of levity without substance – so we couldn’t think of a better way to wrap a journal created by writers that consists of substance without a lot of levity. Regardless of the title, we hope you enjoyed the content. We’ll be back next year! (Whether you like it or not.)

about Paper’s Edge Creative Writing Paper’s Edge Creative Writing Club is a Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) affiliated club that promotes creative writing and provides a friendly atmosphere for writers to share and improve their work. In addition to producing Read This, Dammit!, Paper’s Edge also has weekly workshops and “write-ins” that are open to all students. Paper’s Edge meets every Wednesday at 6:00. Questions or requests for more information can be emailed to:

papersedgecreativewriting@gmail.com The Read This, Dammit! Team Editor-in-chief: Kimberly Kidani Editors: Pamela Caccese, Kegan Chang, Margaret Gordon, Jenny Han, Alexandra Klaassen, Wei Shi Lai, Kathy Ma, Emily Martin, Alexis Montgomery, and Anastasia Pivnicki. Cover Art: Alexandra Klaassen and Jenny Han

Social Media Paper’s Edge Creative Writing Club: facebook.com/groups/109259735798457 Read This, Dammit!: facebook.com/readthisdammit


We're Not Hipsters (RTD Volume 2, Issue 3)  
Advertisement