Staff editor Rima Rantisi FACULTY DESIGN EDITOR Ahmad Gharbieh MANAGING EDITOR Emma Moghabghab MARKETING DESIGN Karol El Masri • Nour Mashaka DESIGN & ART EDITORS Sarah Abou Abdallah • Ghofran NONFICTION EDITOR Ghada Seifeddine POETRY EDITORS Rashid Ayoubi • Boushra Batlouni FICTION EDITOR Thurayya Zreik DRAMA EDITOR Nadeem Bilani MEDIA MANAGER Yasmine Saab MARKETING & EVENTS Bana Bissat
Founding Staff Crystal Hoffman Rima Rantisi Sahar Khreibani Hisham Faraj Joanna Abillama Boushra Batlouni Hiba Krisht Ghiwa Sayegh Sara Fawaz Aya Krisht Louis Ghanem
For submission information, visit rustedradishes.com. Submission period for 2015 is January 1st to March 15. For inquiries, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. American University of Beirut Department of English Rusted Radishes P.O. Box 11-0236, Riad El-Solh, Beirut 107 2020, Lebanon Cover Art: “Ruthenium” by Rudy Chidiac. Please see biography in Contributors. Printed in Lebanon: Dar el Khotob s.a.l., 53 Dots Bchamoun - Industrial Zone +961 5 813753 Email: email@example.com All rights revert to authors upon publication.
Acknowledgements In our third year of publication, we would like to thank all of you holding this journal in your hands for believing in the power of words and art and for actively showing it! We appreciate your support and consider you the pillars in keeping this community alive and vital. Thanks once again as well goes to the Department of English and to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at AUB for your efforts toward this journal’s sustainability. Finally, to all of those who provide their time, services, and resources, we are always immensely grateful!
NOW IT IS AFTER This autumn, I was in Berlin one week before the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Cozied up at a bar, I sipped on the house wine, a Cabernet. I told the bartender, “After this glass, I’d like a Pinot Noir.” He swiftly plopped a French bottle of the blood-red juice onto the bar, and with a triumphant smile said, “Now it is after!” It occurred to me that “after” had come so logically, yet unexpectedly; graciously, though beckoned, that it melded with the present moment in a way that “before” and “after” were just strung by a few moments of time, of desire, of drinking. There I was, in a city that was reminiscing of the day that history was made within hours of a news conference, and everybody had a story of how they heard the Wall was coming down, who they were with, how they reached the Wall, and so on. (Did you know that Angela Merkel was somewhere other than a soccer game at the time the Wall began to be chipped away? She was in a sauna. She recalled that day as “unimaginable happiness.”) The city is in the “after,” 25 years after, but what about those moments just after the breaking of the Wall, when the future – and the past, literally – were suddenly in their hands? They could have never known that “after” would come so suddenly. Nor what the next 25 years would bring them. The writers and artists of the third issue of Rusted Radishes raise images and questions of nostalgia and progress; nostalgia in the wake of “progress”; the seductive nature of each; and the narratives that we weave in the interstices of these concepts. These themes arose naturally and without solicitation – as we at RR like it. Again we did not call for a theme, but instead looked for themes in the work we accepted into the issue. It seemed appropriate that the concepts of nostalgia and progress be considered together. Our writers offer us images of nostalgia. Tightly zipped pockets. Child-sized, outdated, pinching staircases. Crushing the lemons for us in summer. Eyes as vast as samaa’. In a red booth picking a lock. Black birds on a fence like a pattern of a kufiya. Frayed cushions. A long scratch in the old hardwood floor. The cliché of a café. Killers, their bones rattle while jogging along the seashore. Rocks that had been painted yellow and pretended they were the sun. Pinecones crack and spill shells from within shells. They write about moving forward, making progress, seeking the future. Christine Rice shows us the seductive powers of moving straight into a tornado, in “Atmospheric Disturbances.” Tarek Abi Samra writes about the torpor that seizes his character as he holds a heavy rock and contemplates killing a turtle with it. In “Honey Apple,” Ziad Lawen seeks out a love interest with the oldest trick in the book, honey. The photos and artwork behold old staircases and doors, tumbled gas cans, Mickey and Minnie, the subtle beautiful movement of water, the opening of light through a tree, an
ostentatious remembrance of the dead, a paradise of gummy bears, and people and rockets taking off into their own adventures. Look at our cover, and try to hold its gaze. Finally, in a conversation with Kasper Kovitz, we discover how his art is inspired by the wilderness, the rigor of creation, and the rejection of the progression of time as “progress,” or improvement. He further leaves us with a question that challenges our understanding of a narrative vis-à-vis this question of progress. In the 18th and 19th centuries, doctors believed that nostalgia was a disease, and therefore could be cured; in some cases it was thought to have been, as there are common symptoms between nostalgia and tuberculosis – chest pains, loss of appetite, fatigue. While tuberculosis may have been cured, a cure for nostalgia was never found. How did doctors ever think they could cure a feeling that was so individual and based on humans’ senses, emotions, and experience? Eventually, they figured the cure would be found with “universal progress and the advancement of medicine.” Little did they know that the progression of time was actually the soul mate of nostalgia. Rima Rantisi
11. green window
16. COLD WAR STORIES Philippa Dahrouj
20. MICKEY MAKES THE HEADLINES Melissa Haddad
21. MINNIE MAKES THE HEADLINES Melissa Haddad
25. UNTITLED (SELF-DEVELOPED) Heba Malaeb
32. THE HOLY
41. LAST BREATH Mario Khoury
42. PERSISTENCY Mario Khoury
42. STATIC MOTION Mario Khoury
70. seeking a narrative: a conversation with kasper kovitz Rima Rantisi
18. PINES OF CHILDHOOD
24. NO. 44
64. ABOUT A NOSE: A PROLOGUE
10. ON LEAVING
68. TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE
12. THEY BROKE A HOUSE WE PLAYED IN
28. HONEY APPLE
54. Sew A Side
22. THE PULL
Tala Elissa Hanania
33. ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES
Zeina Hashem Beck
47. THE TURTLE
Tarek Abi Samra
26. A SEDUCTION 27. RELENTLESS
Zeina Hashem Beck
30. ELEGY OF A LIME-GREEN COUCH
45. 6 A.M.
50. ALEPPO DIARIES
Fouad Mohamed Fouad translated from the Arabic by Norbert Hirschhorn
62. DEAR OLIVIA,
49. THE TURTLE
Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran
Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran
Zeina Bacardi Sakr
67. CURSIVE CAN’T WHISTLE 67. REJOINED
POCKETS Tala Elissa Hanania I am a traveler, a gypsy, a wanderer, a refugee â€“ but I still have pockets. I sing Romani chants in my aimless walk. I talk to my selves, who never spoke, and lull them to sleep in nights of wraths. In nights of gloom and rusted paths and blackened skies and starless sockets, I bring forward my selves to console. I have not a map or a home, but I do still have tightly zipped pockets.
on leaving Aiya Sakr These streets have grown too small: they will fit round my ankles, but as I pull them up my thighs they stop and sputter. The staircases too, are tight. With every step up they only pinch harder I need to take them off. Even in the fading twilight are a pair of outgrown streets and child-sized, outdated, pinching staircases still not beautiful?
11 green window
They broke a house we played in Samer Akl Every morning for the past month they break a house we used to play inside. Every morning they come with their big rigs their large metal cranes and I-don’t-know-what the names and barge into the rock, like smashing teeth from a smile. Over there, that kitchen I remembered it dark, her mother crushing the lemons for us in summer, making the lemonade. We chewed the pulp that made us happy, sour pulp.
release it to the dead leaves in the back yard autumn watch it flare like a red-haired banshee, screeching, her mother would shout us the name of a saint. They’re breaking that house down Now where we used to finger-paint− the walls are falling off the edge.
At night I imagined her daughter from her window shaping stars in her sweet round head− she didn’t know that the future would bring a husband with knuckles to her pretty face. Now the wrecking ball wrecks and the living room cracks open as a nightdress slipping to the shudder of our male hands clawing. We used to play in that house they are breaking down. We used to catch a firecracker in our palms,
• stairs 15 POETRY
SAmaa’ Zeina Hashem Beck We who were students then, unstoppable, useless, bored, amused, bewildered, taking to the streets together, to coffee, to alcohol, to poetry, becoming, becoming, are now mothers, in different continents, in countries that are neither hell nor home. You call, tell me you feel shell-shocked. Your daughter is six months old, you’ve called her Samaa’, a name vast, strange, yet almost at an arm’s length every time I look at the sky. I am selfish, you say, I am not big on sacrifice. I tell you anyone who is lacks purpose or attention, you say purpose AND attention, you laugh. You don’t tell me you want to be held, but I take your hand back to Beirut alleys where we follow two girls in their twenties who have our faces, our eyes, and their eyes are as vast as samaa’ and I say look, our daughters have been there all along, we have been there all along, ever familiar, ever estranged.
cold war stories
pines of childhood Nour Halawi The gate was green and high and made of steel. Everything else was made of steel, cold steel painted red. We sat on the swings and cold waves spread through our bodies as our feet sank into the pine needles that covered the sand. Voices from the playground on the school’s second floor travelled through the misty air and only faint muffled traces reached our ears. Tarek stood up and started walking around the cement fence that surrounded one of the trees, searching for pine shells. I waited for him to finish. Every move he made was assiduous. He crouched, steadily bending his knees, and with an open hand he cleared a spot from the tapered leaves, brushing them gently into a small pile. He picked up shells from the sand, trapping them between his thumb and forefinger, and examined them before discarding those that were already cracked open. He was like a soldier, meticulously sweeping the grounds for mines. When he finished, he straightened up and placed the seeds he collected in the pocket of his anorak. He was the only student I knew who wore that item of the school uniform; the navy blue jacket was coated with horridly wrinkled nylon and to its collar was attached what looked like a plastic bag that served as a hat. It fitted him perfectly. He looked at me, furrowing his eyebrows and smiled. I got up and went across to the fence, striding along the mine-free sand and picking up a fist-sized stone on my way to him. Tarek sat next to me, our legs dangling
over the edge of the fence. In the middle of the small space between us, he placed one brown shell; it was streaked with dark rough lines that soiled his hand with black dust. I had told him that it would be difficult to find any pine nuts. The sand was moist even though it had not rained for days and the leaves that covered it did not crunch beneath our feet when we walked on them. We did not know whether it was the extreme cold or the scorching sun that caused the pinecones to crack and spill shells from within shells, but in winter, the wet sand was quick to swallow all that touched its surface. “I’m going away this summer.” “Where to?” I asked, crushing the shell with the stone. “Kuwait,” he smiled, looking at the crushed seed that lay in a mess of broken shell pieces. “My dad built a tree house. He said we’re going to put a wrestling ring in it.” He cleaned the shell bits away and, using his clean hand, picked up the mashed pine seed and ate it. He placed another shell in its place, took the stone from my hand and lightly struck it against the shell. Then he took the smooth pine seed and placed it in my hand. “I’m going to miss you.” I put the little seed between my teeth and with one grind, it melted away, leaving an unexpected rich taste on my tongue. “Won’t you miss me?” he asked after a moment. I looked at his face. It was veiled with a
familiar serenity. “Of course I will.” “Why didn’t you say?” “Because you know.” “And? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say.” “Why do you look at me like that?” “How?” “Like this,” I frowned and felt my nose flare. “Because I’m trying to know.” “Know what?” “I’m trying to read your mind. You never say anything.” “I’m sorry.” “Do you want my jacket?” A cold breeze slapped my cheeks and ruffled the yellow leaves. In an instant, it filled the spot Tarek had cleared with needles that twisted into each other, forming an intricate mesh above the smooth sand. I looked at his nylon jacket. “No, I’m fine.” The sound of ringing bells erupted from the school building. As we walked side by side, I heard the clatter of the chain that hung from the invisible handcuffs, that locked loosely around our wrists. Suddenly, Tarek raised his cuffed hand and placed it on my shoulder, bringing me to a halt. “You don’t have to,” he said. He put his arm around me and we left the sandy field. “I’ll give you my jacket in class.” “Okay.”
oil and collage on canvas
mickey makes the headlines
oil and collage on canvas
minnie makes the headlines
the pull Loulwa Soweid Salmon taste seductive, daring, utterly exposed as they lie dotted with soy-sauce in strips of orange flesh atop sweet vinegar-rice, and they hatch where they expire, in piercingly-fresh water with no beginning or end. Salmon flirt with fate and waltz with currents that try to strangle them in a borderline love, rushes of water exposing them to bear-claws trying to rip open innocent scales and expose pinkish flesh bursting forth, while providing life-gracing oxygen in tiny dissolvable pellets for them to swallow and enjoy. During my seventh spring, I woke up having wet the bed for the first time since my toddler years and crept out of the room to avoid waking my brother, who would not have let me hear the end of it. After I roused my mother, and she and I cleaned and changed the sheets together, she sat me down and asked me why; I told her that it had been a nightmare. She noted that it had probably been something I ate earlier that was upsetting me, alluding to the crisp salmon-filet that my father had grilled for dinner. He had pirouetted into the dining room and set the meal in the center of the table, informing us that we should eat up before it got cold and did we know that salmon found their way back to the rivers in which they were born to lay their own eggs? It was a sentiment I found strangely magical and so alien from the slightly burnt chunk that landed hollowly onto my plate. I once confessed to my psychologist that I utterly hated my name: it sounded forced and
awkward, the kind of name that would not be poetic no matter how many stanzas you recited it in: Mukhtara, a required edit to my parent’s prior decision to name their firstborn Mukhtar before realizing, as I pushed my way into the world, that my boy-parts were missing. I also admitted my secret shame: that I had never quite grasped why all things living and not had been wired to determinism, some cosmic quip I found remarkably unwitty. While none of the doctors had an answer for me, I found it in a patient who had been hospitalized for trying to throw himself off an eight-story building. “When you’re eyeto-eye with the end, you find yourself lying on the ground where it all began,” he explained, adding that his life had been dull until he decided to die. I finally understood my mother’s parting remark, “This parasite inside of you, it’s called instinct, habibti,” she had assured me as she tucked me in again and forgot to turn off the lights on her way out. I woke up with dry sheets the next morning. And I woke up every morning afterwards being smothered by a nameless, formless weight, a suffocation not like that accompanying a crushed trachea but that of a fish suddenly robbed of its liquid environment. I would rush to the bathroom in a haze of dread and raw excitement to check if slits of gill had slashed themselves into the sides of my torso overnight. My best friend Nour took to creating delicate collages of me as a mermaid; she, who had an affinity for burying
her nose into biology books far too advanced for our tender age, who taught me that sex wasn’t really hugging and that a baby began as a zygote, “the product of a sperm fusing with an egg to create a bundle of rapidly-dividing cells,” she once recited to me proudly. She, who would go on not only to become a genetic counselor, but who much earlier became a “freak of nature” and a “miracle of medicine” after being underwater for almost ten minutes before the camp-leader realized she wasn’t reading by the lake. When her eyes opened in the hospital bed a week later, she reached out aimlessly and, finding my hand gripping hers, breathed out that she had seen minnows with their little gills flaring and their mini-fins flapping, beckoning her towards them. But they kept asking her to breathe in, and she couldn’t. I was overwhelmed with the memory of sodden blankets and apprehensive awakenings and wanted to ask her how and why, but she had fallen asleep again and forgotten that she had even mentioned it when she woke up again three days later. I started seeing a counselor again during my junior year of college, about a month after my older brother had been found drowned in a pool of his own vomit, and it was in the waiting room where I met my first serious boyfriend. Both lazing in the uncomfortable plastic chairs like our spines had adapted enough to curve into them, our weight dead and our hands almost touching, you could see the electric sparks trying to stitch them together as we smiled shyly at each other, and when we exchanged names like passengers exchanging plane seats. He repeated mine with a faint trace of longing and a timid smile, “Chosen one. Your parents must really have wanted you.” I shrugged and asked him to tell me something about himself, and he replied that he used to be a goalkeeper for his elementary team until he realized that he was “missing all the action.” In an effort to keep the conversation going, having met the only boy who had ever made my name sound beautifully tragic, I told him about the dream
I had once about being underwater, the river floor littered with thousands of salmon bodies, eyes staring, mouths gaping, while around them water fairies wriggled and beamed with life, and I thought it was so sad because the fish didn’t even get to warn them or bid them goodbye. He looked at me oddly, “Fish don’t have feelings.” We dated for three years before two false-pregnancy panics caused us to split up. There was never a baby inside of me and I never wanted there to be, and every time after we didn’t use protection and we lay apart under the sheets, I drifted off to the time I convinced myself I was a mermaid reincarnated, and to sleepover nights during which Nour had excitedly described to me those little tadpole-sperm swimming towards what eventually would be their biological predisposition: arrive, collide, cease. Even if for something greater.
NO.44 Heba Malaeb I was dicing the onions and staring at him, thinking of the way his brother’s nose almost echoed the silhouette of his, somewhere miles away. My eyes teared up when he forced a laugh, glancing at me with his mouth still amused, and I contemplated the butter as it slowly melted in the pan before letting the onions slide off the cutting board as languorously as they pleased, the collective of their tiny fragmented selves meeting the metal with a mind-numbing sssssssss. After we kissed in the bathroom, he re-acquainted himself with the TV, and I eased the pie out of the oven. It was slightly undercooked, but we ate in loose silence, hands reaching freely for bite after bite, and later for each other. “Not yet,” he pleaded when I made to clean up, so I contented myself picking up stray crumbs with the tip of my finger, guiding them back into my plate. He watched the screen, and I eventually took the plates away, blocking his view momentarily on my way out. I woke up well before sunrise and tried to find a good view of it from the living room window. All I could steal was a few streaks of the lightening sky, and I felt strangely drained after it chose its final color for the day. I slinked back to my empty bed, staring down the cracks in the ceiling until sleep finally returned to me. “I thought you’d call,” I said when he showed up a few days later. I had the door cracked open, studying what small slice of his
face I could see. He smiled and my ribcage dissolved. My resolve cracked; my door opened. We spent the afternoon counting beer bottles, each of them having been christened perfect by our indiscernible lips. When the alcohol took over, I hated myself but he loved me till dawn anyway. But the way he crossed his legs and dotted his i’s evoked too little of his brother to make me linger: we found a routine to wrap around our dysfunctional romance, and his hands soon became just another piece of furniture in my one-person apartment. “Milk,” he’d say as I read my paper, and I pretended to be absorbed in the words while secretly dissecting the sound of his scrawl on the grocery list. He bought milk three days later; I felt like a murderer. Months after he moved out, I decided to start cooking again. The wine was kind as I slowly chewed the tender meat, staring at the wall in front of me. I thought about slaughter and flightless birds. I thought about warm bed sheets and cold goodnights. I scrubbed and scrubbed the cutting board, for too long; the soap suds obliterated my hands, but the smell of onions did not leave my fingers. I tasted it on my tongue for days, each spent waiting by the telephone.
Zeina Hashem Beck
Come up to the water’s edge as a reminder. Have a coffee and maybe a smoke; this is not a figure of speech.
“Stop writing about war,” he said. “Stop writing about borders and blood. Stop writing about revolutions and revolvers, about cities, rooftops with antennas and snipers. Stop writing about bread and barefoot children with their dark skin, their hair blond from too much sun. Stop telling the story of how your friend bought hats for them and gave them out from her car window, saying put this on put this on. Stop telling the story of the gates your grandfather painted on his wall to remember, and the gates he painted on his heart to forget. For God’s sake stop writing about religion, I’m tired of minarets and crosses, even the prayers are tired and want to sleep. Just write some shade for me to sit in.”
Sitting in a red booth picking a lock with your smile, you know you’re so smooth as the woman in front of you withers in her blue dress. Ask for a kamikaze. Be nice. Lay your head down on a phone tap pretend you are a spy on her majesty’s secret lap. Keep the fortuneteller’s sound off, make a dash for her heart. You read her palm, kept her song off in the belly of a dark booth silent as a church, the bar revolves around the sweat of their collars. They chatter like the sound of bat hollers. Outside, the night is romance. You put your heart in that expensive vest, beating in its shelter, it, too, can dance.
So I drew him a tree without roots and a street with enormous wings and said, “Here is a tree that cannot be uprooted and a street that will take flight before it explodes.” And I drew myself some mud, two strong legs, a clothesline upon which to hang my drenched words, to see what this sunlight would make of them, and black birds on a fence like the pattern of a kufiya.
HONEY APPLE Ziad Lawen “Are you sitting comfortably?” “I am definitely thinking too much.” “What are you thinking about?” “You.” What a careless answer. She was that girl; she would pass my way with a clear conscience, aware of everything but me. I was...let’s say, unremarkable. Perhaps, to some, you’d say I was small. You know the phrase tall personality? Well, I most definitely didn’t pertain to that lucky group of people. I was more part of the the less fortunate, oh, didn’t-notice-you-there group. I’m average looking: curly brown hair, a younger-brother-broken-nose, and a slack style. Throughout my young life, I never found myself head over heels for a lady. I guess I never felt prepared. I was neither dashing nor daring – the two undeniable qualities that bring on the hoards of women. But it reminded me of honey to a bee: the sweet, desirable sugar lured waves of them. It was like they were blind; regardless of where the sugar settled, bees followed their urge. Honey was a peculiar thing, I figured. It wasn’t a big jar. As she passed my way, I told myself I’d impress her with honey. It was filled to the brim, syrup thick, and dried sunset yellow. A troubling jar, the bees sent me off with the warmest of goodbyes and stinging fingers. I figured the next best thing to rippling muscles and heroic bravado was this jar of honey. She sat alone, studying, perhaps. It was the moment; I had to take it. From afar, this
seemed easy. Go up, talk, offer, kiss, and love. That’s how it works, right? But with every step I took closer, the grander she seemed. It was like I was falling from measureless heights, my heart raced and my palms grew sweaty. I blinked more and breathed less. I was almost there; my feet led me astray, they caught a wind of their own. I was nothing but a tugboat flirting with a perfect storm. My bow flew in with careless speed, crashed into her comfort. I panicked; what do I say? “Honey?” the single pathetic word I managed to utter, jar shaking in hand. “I don’t know you, you can’t call me that, yet,” she said as her cheeks swelled. I think she was sympathetic of the mess she faced. “Honey is a peculiar thing, I figured.” What was I rambling about? “You’re a peculiar thing. Are you offering me a snack?” “Yes.” And my breath finally came through. But, was this reality? I didn’t move for fear I’d wake. I just stood there, watched as she elegantly wrestled an apple out of her bag. “How do you figure we do this?” She drew circles in the air with the red fruit. “I am not sure.” She reached across my person, and gracefully took the jar, relieving my tired grip. She eyed me, and with a swift turn, uncapped the honey jar. She raised the glass jar high above the apple and let the honey fall. Down, crashing was the syrup cascade, moulding to the
spherical shape. Quickly, the fruit turned into a bee’s dream, a stick-less candy apple, and a shy man’s successful court. “It really is quite beautiful, wouldn’t you say? A honey apple? All we need is cinnamon and a fire and we’d have apple pie.” The sweet scent of apple pie suddenly filled my head; I felt comfort for the first time since I encountered her. My mind strolled; I left our conversation for an easier place. I was seated along the decorated table. I was full from my mother’s warm turkey dinner, ready for the apple pie. “It’d be like our thanksgiving dinner,” I thought aloud. “Honey, you can’t be hurdling bases here, I just met you.” “You just met me, but you called me your honey,” I said, feeling the dream unravel. “But you must show me the world dear, before we feast a feast.” The world, I thought to myself, that’s a lot for a girl I just met. “Alright, perhaps tomorrow I’ll bring the world to you, show you the colors of the globe.” I was off to my home, excited, knowing what was needed to make her smile. The honey brings the bees while the world brings the girls. I knew where to go; I knew what to give her. The next morning, I stumbled back to where I had left her. “I am not sure if I can handle anymore honey,” she said smiling. “Something different this time.” I put the knapsack to the ground, unzipped the teeth, pulled out the world. “Well, you most definitely delivered the world, darling.” Passing over the continents, she focused on the oceans, she got lost in the blue, searched for the dotted islands, ran her finger along the slithering rivers and bulging mountains. “This world is lovely,” eyes fixated, “It has stolen my courtesy.” “The freckles are enticing,” I said as I pointed to the islands. “Their allure of innocence,
they steal your presence while never truly inviting you in,” my choice of words awoke her. She looked up to find me newly sitting next to her. She was still; I was restless. “Are you sitting comfortably?” she grinned. “I am definitely thinking too much.” “What are you thinking about?” “You.” She gasped! I was sick of shading my voice. Her mouth dropped like tumble leaves on an autumn morning. The sun had set and the skies turned cold. What happened? She was gone; I wasn’t sure why. I couldn’t see a thing but the droplets falling. And the rain poured on− the globe sodden, oceans ravished, and the islands overtaken. My head hung low, my neck bent with a shamed arc. I was a weak excuse of a man. The rain didn’t let up, but she did. She leaned over, pushing my slouch to a stand tall. She was wet, drenched in the clouds, but she had not fled. She glanced at my curled-wet hair, my boyish frame, and she smiled. The symphony of noise, the orchestrated raindrops, and her voice silenced it all: “I am comfortably sitting here, thinking about you, too.” After all, I guess honey does get the bee.
Elegy of a Lime-Green Couch Nawal Muradwij Monday− The lime-green couch and I have become good friends. I ask it to tell me stories of you, and recline into the dent that used to fit you perfectly, and it lets me. Tuesday− We reminisce over cheese sandwiches with cucumber on the side, but never tomatoes (because really - who likes tomatoes?), and it agrees with me. Wednesday− We laugh at your jokes, the ones about underwear and Sundays that used to make my cheeks a little pinker, and its green a shade darker.
Sunday− In fact, I become resentful of our friend, of its constancy in the midst of your absence. As others befriend it, one after the other, I see it console them in their grief, and I worry it will wake you from the serenity of your eternal slumber but then, I remember− you were always a heavy sleeper.
Thursday− I lay down on the frayed cushions, my head heaving up and down imitating your deep breaths, though the gurgle of your stomach when you would drink tea is still missing. Friday− I ask my lime-green friend to silence that incessant parrot, the one that laughs exactly the way you used to, even though you hadn’t laughed that way in a while. But it couldn’t. Saturday− There are things my lime-green friend cannot do. It cannot shake the gods that remind me of you, or turn the TV off when Hercules is playing, though it understands how much that hurts me. 30
ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES Christine Rice 1980 Just before a fight, right out of the eerie green stillness, the atmosphere in our house would shift precariously; the barometric pressure rising, winds whipping, funnel clouds skipping down hallways, rain, sleet, hail, snow filling sinks and cereal bowls. Every time Pop walked in late (always a bad sign), his well-cut suit smelling of cheap perfume (Mama wore Chanel), or sporting a speck of orange lipstick on his collar (Mama wore red), the atmosphere would churn in a frenzy of screaming and denouncements and, eventually, always, and inevitably, Mama’s sobbing. Tempest. Tsunami. Cyclone. You get the picture. Big or small, it was never pretty. Because she didn’t like the neighbors knowing our business, Mama always closed the windows before the verbal fireworks. If it was one of those calm, clear Michigan nights, just before twilight, as the neighbors dried and put away the last dinner dish, or drew their kids’ baths, Mama would close windows – in anticipation of Pop’s late return – from one end of our sprawling suburban ranch to the other. This particular early spring evening, having just walked in from my cashier job at my Auntie’s grocery, Mama’s voice, pitched and hot, hit me before the screen door slapped shut. Almost simultaneously, I smelled warm dough, zataar, lemon. Mama’s making fatiyer,
pencil and charcoal
I thought, as I shrugged off my beige smock to the tune of her voice cresting, followed by a series of popping sounds. Could’ve been metal bowls. Or Teflon frying pans. Apples. Oranges. Onions. Those were her favorite missiles to launch at my old man. She opted for unbreakable items (never glass, too messy) and relatively light (never cast iron). I’d once suggested she try the crepe pan but she’d only grimaced, That could take his head off. Isn’t that the point? I’d asked. Her back to me, both of them oblivious to their only child, Mama stood at our 70s-modern kitchen island, her hands splayed on either side of a sheet of rolled dough. She always used a juice cup to cut dough for the fatiyer but, in her anger, she’d lost any sense of finesse and bludgeoned the dough with such force that it looked like a child had gotten to it. She spat choice Arabic insults at Pop; roughly translated, they meant shit of a dog, dog shit on a shoe, and piece of shit, but she possessed an exceptionally creative talent to mix and match those with English standbys. I stood quietly behind her, unable to move, my heart pounding slightly faster than usual. I was used to the fights. Hell, I was used to them, but they still tore me all up inside. Pop sat at the kitchen table, his profile clear and crisp: tie loosened, the Journal opened in a V between his fists, his readers resting at the tip of his angular Slavic nose, dark copper hair slicked back in a perfect
wing above his high forehead. Cool as usual. A whirlwind of stainless steel mixing bowls, spoons, spatulas, a bag of Gold Medal flour, a roll of 35-millimeter film, onions, lemons, and bits of dough orbited him as if he was the king of a very odd universe. My folks never acknowledged the chaos swirling around them...maybe because it never touched them. Only me. Why? Not sure. But I would stand there, dumbly unable to speak, watching the bedlam. By the time it stopped, I’d be drenched by rain, pelted by hail, flattened by whirlwinds. From where I stood behind her, I could see the veins on the side of her lovely neck bulging, her thick black curls lifting like black snakes. She suddenly picked up the rolling pin and rounded the island to stand at arm’s length from Pop. “I want a divorce.” The whirlwind shifted down the hallway toward the bedrooms only to be replaced by a black cloud above Mama’s head. It materialized suddenly and throbbed above her like a black heart. Pop merely raised the newspaper closer to his face. It was his Kryptonite; nothing could get to him when he read that paper. “Did you hear me?” “Impossible.” “Why?” “Catholics don’t divorce, dear.” His voice remained calm. Mama pointed the rolling pin at Pop like a dagger, “Catholics don’t screw their secretaries, either...or their best friend’s wife.” “Who told you that?” “About the secretaries or Charlie’s wife?” If the old man was cool (and, yeah, he was), it was Mama who didn’t miss a beat. A light rain began to fall and, simultaneously, thunder grumbled, lightning crackled. I leaned on the island and was about to speak when a strange feeling overtook me. Usually I would let them know I was there and they’d stop. But this time felt different – this time something felt broken, irretrievable – so I kept quiet.
The rain picked up intensity. When Pop didn’t respond, Mama poked him in the arm with the rolling pin. It was one of those old-fashioned heavy ones with red handles and a thick, sturdy center. “You’ve gotten yourself all worked up about nothing, Leila. Why don’t you sit down?” “Sit down? You son-of-a-bitch…” Pop merely turned the page, flicking the paper as if he’d finished the conversation but, just then, instead of retreating, Mama cocked that rolling pin like a tennis racket and swung it right through his newspaper. It caught Pop on the chin and he pitched backward with such force that his chair toppled over and he hit the floor. It happened so fast that I thought I’d imagined it. But I hadn’t. He lay on his back, blood from his split chin already staining his white shirt, paper still gripped in either hand, as if he’d decided – on his own – to lay down and read the paper. I couldn’t move. As far as I knew, she’d never actually hit him and the sight of Pop on the floor like that, glasses hanging off one ear, gave me a sick, twisted feeling. The rain picked up intensity. Fat drops bounced off the table as Mama leaned over him, her free hand extended but not touching him, as if she was afraid to make contact. It was like she wanted to rewind time, reel him back, pat his hair into place. But Pop jerked his shoulder away from her and stayed there until, with one fist still gripping the paper, he rolled to his side to push himself up. He collected himself, grabbed Mama’s shoulders, “You crazy? Huh? You godamned nuts?” Mama didn’t respond, but I could imagine the look on her face. I imagined she wanted to spit, rip the lapels off his suit, pick apart his cool. When he finally let go, she swayed like a building about to go down, before sinking to her knees. Straightening his black frames, he looked up, startled, “Astrid−” He picked up his chair and put it back in
place as if nothing had happened. Walking around me, he grabbed a towel then cleared his throat, “How was your day?” I could barely see him through the storm. “Better than yours,” I hollered. He pressed the towel into the cut on his chin to staunch the bleeding, “Yes. Well.” “Yes. Well,” I repeated. I walked to Mama, laced my hands carefully around her waist and buried my face between her shoulder and neck. She felt fragile, her shoulder bones pressing into my cheek, smelling of lemon and spices. I helped her up and into a chair. “You’re all wet,” she said absently, “is it raining?” She was so beautiful. Even now in her miserable life, without makeup, wearing a print skirt and t-shirt, blue eyes contrasting her black hair, caramel skin pulled taught over high cheekbones. She was beautiful even as she fought the urge to cry. I could tell because she always ran her tongue under her top lip, over her teeth, and looked up as if she might be able to stop the deluge. Her sadness transferred to me and it tasted of brine at the back of my throat. I, too, fought to keep my tears in, anticipating Pop’s exasperated questions, What’s all the fuss about? Why the tears? And, while the answer always seemed obvious to me, I could never respond logically, reasonably, in a way he would recognize. The wind calmed, the precipitation stopped, but the cloud, like a dark smudge, hovered above us. “Luke,” she pleaded. “Please.” He filled a towel with ice and pressed it to his chin, “Why do you want a divorce? Why can’t we go on like we usually do?” Mama looked at me. “Astrid’s a big girl. She can hear this.” I nodded at Mama. Mama rested an elbow on the table and pressed her fist into her forehead, “You know why, Luke. We haven’t had a proper marriage. Ever.” “What’s proper?”
He loved to bait her, didn’t believe she’d keep it up, placed his bets that she’d fold the way she always did when I walked in; I guess it was her way of protecting me, not sure, but she would go to her bedroom where she might stay for days, maybe even weeks. All the same, his cool veneer seemed thin tonight; his eyes kept flicking from me to Mama. She looked at him, “Proper, as in, I’m sick of you smelling of –” She flapped her hand. “What?” “Whores.” His smirk flattened, “What do whores smell like?” Mama just shook her head. It was more of an I feel sorry for you than I’m angry gesture. She seemed calm, eerily emotionless, when she said, “I want to get on with my life, Luke. I’m finished with all of your−” She took a deep breath, “Nonsense.” She then walked over to him, grabbed his wrist and pulled the ice off his chin, “I’m serious, Luke. I’m done.” Out here, where we live, in the vast inner gut of Michigan, in this former corn field converted to upscale subdivision, I’ve stood in our family room, palming the picture window overlooking the eighteenth hole of a golf course and, beyond that, miles of farmland, to watch tornadoes in the distance, their swirling tube scoring the land, until Mama would haul me to the basement where we would sit under the steps, in the unfinished nook where Pop set up a table for my science experiments. We would make ourselves small and compact, hard for flying debris to sever an appendage, her arm wrapped around my waist, my head resting on her shoulder, her dark curls cascading down my chest. Her fear wasn’t unfounded. Her parents died in the 1953 tornado that claimed 116 lives. She’d been in the car with her parents after closing their grocery store, when the sky dissolved into a murky olive bruise. If I’d been there, if I’d even been alive at that time, of course, I’d have recognized the signs: the late spring temperature of 78 degrees, a dew point of 71 degrees, and a barometric
pressure reading that fell to 28.89 inches of mercury. I’d have been measuring all of it, painstakingly recording it in my notebooks, detecting the patterns. I’d have known that those dramatic readings, combined with the severe thunderstorms, would result in devastation. But I wasn’t there. And before they knew what was happening, an enormous funnel cloud – its base a half-mile wide, its top connected to an enormous churning thunderstorm − appeared in the distance. My Jiddo turned east and tried to get to the side of it, but it shifted quickly and its girth and unpredictability caused him to panic. Mama said it seemed to follow his every move. He’d turn perpendicular to it, and it followed; he’d turn away from it, and it followed. Eventually, the gusts pushed the lurching Buick Special off the road and he lost control, flipped and landed in a gully. It’s that− the car turtled in the gully− that saved my mother. She’d been pinned under the heavy frame, alive in the back seat while, in the front seat, her parents lay dead: crushed by the Buick’s weight. I’d imagined those moments so many times that I could feel the eerie stillness before the freight-train wind, imagine trees twist from the ground like screws, marvel at how the blue sky blossomed in the devastation’s wake. So, yeah, she took tornadoes seriously. Pop, on the other hand, never joined us in the basement. He probably thought he could stop the storm, redirect it with a sidelong glance, snuff it out by sheer will. That’s how he was, my Pop. He was that guy. Never flinched. After WWII, he came to the U.S. from Denmark weighed down by medals, saw the 1953 Motorama Corvette in New York, wrote the president of General Motors a letter outlining his plans to improve it, and the rest, as they say, is engineering history. Later, after Mama composed herself, arranged the crescent-shaped pies on baking sheets and slid them into the oven, she asked me to pull a black suitcase out of the spare bedroom closet and bring it to her room. I 36
did and settled, cross-legged, on the king-size bed to watch her carefully pack her things. The deep blue spread reminded me of the ocean and our yearly trips to Florida. We would walk for miles along the shore searching for shells, drive to the Everglades to spy on horseshoe crab and heron, visit Cape Canaveral, go deep-sea fishing. But my most vivid memory of Florida was when a hurricane slammed into the coast. One day a cool breeze blew off the ocean, the sun baked the sand, and the next, a steely lid of dense clouds blew in on a stiff wind that bent palm trees, frothed the surf, sent water birds inland. Men with boards and ladders appeared and the gentle sounds of the coast were suddenly and urgently replaced by the pounding of hammers. We drove inland, found a little motel with a sputtering neon sign and checked in. We bought candles, batteries, board games, cheap paperbacks, water, ice, a big cooler, cheese and oranges, cards, a chess set: everything, we believed, to ride out the storm. We put on rain ponchos and ran, the three of us holding hands, into the storm. We leaned into the wind and screamed. I admired the way it swallowed the sound, erased it, as if we’d never uttered a word. Even after all these years, I still see, very clearly, the three of us captured by the storm; the winds circling us, the palm trees bending, the rain falling in sheets, the pool escaping its cement frame to cascade into the parking lot. These moments marked me not because of the danger, but because I distinctly remember being surprised and relieved that this kind of drama could occur outside our home. It didn’t matter – not the sting of the rain against my bare skin, not the warnings from the hotel manager or his insistence that we go back inside – because there I was, a hand held by each parent, cocooned in a twisted togetherness, the tumult knitting us together, binding us, keeping the storms that tore us apart safely at bay. When she’d finished packing, Mama asked me to drive her to her Auntie’s, said
she’d decided to stay there for a while. The violent system that moved through our house had stalled over the miles of farmland surrounding our subdivision. Silken curtains of dark clouds dropped a steady rain. Trees trembled in violent gusts. Lightning flashed. Potholes became miniature ponds. Heavy-bottomed toads stitched their way across the asphalt. Mama, upright in the passenger seat, stared straight ahead. “You okay?” I asked. She nodded. It had been a good while since she’d fallen into a mood but, naturally, I was wary. During middle school and right up through my sophomore year, her sadness, as I referred to it, caused her to stay in bed all day. For the last year or so, though, she’d started eating breakfast, dressing in something other than a housedress, cooking, getting home just before I came home from school or practice. She seemed joyous, as if she’d lost something that had weighed her down, or gained something to buoy her. I don’t know. Parents are funny things. As an only child, I studied them like apes in a zoo – their whims, habits, moods − and believed it was my duty to make them happy. There was no Child Number Two. Everything fell on me. I simultaneously caused pride and embarrassment, joy and pain, walked the tightrope connecting them, all too aware of the gusts of emotion that could throw me off balance. During her really dark periods, Mama would scream and rant. Not at me, but at the entire world, it seemed. Her mood would darken suddenly and she would focus on something, anything in her line of vision, and glare at it like an enemy, an intruder. I would stand close by, inert with confusion, to make sure she didn’t hurt herself. Her lovely face would twist and her voice would rise to such volumes that, after a while, the strings of the baby grand would vibrate in tune to her anger. When I was a little kid, I would simply cover my head with my hands, roll into a ball and whimper until she stopped. Afterward,
she would fall to her knees in exhaustion, suddenly turn to me, reach out, and gather me in her arms. It was always like that. The storm followed by the eerie calm that, I knew, would inevitably roil into another disturbance. “You okay, honey?” I nodded. “I’m sorry you’ve had to put up with all of this, all this time. When you were little −” “It’s okay.” I kept my eyes on the road. “Let me finish. When you were little, it was easier to hide. But I just can’t put up with it. I hope you understand.” Her voice, very firm and clear, bored into the center of me. The emotional haze, kicked up by so many turbulent years, was finally lifting, and, whether I was ready for it or not, something else had moved in to take its place. When I was a kid, we would sit on our back deck after a storm to marvel at the startling transformation of the sky from silvery grey to brilliant blue or orangey red. The rain washes the sky, she’d say. She was right, in a way. The storms did their job. Knocked all the crap out of the sky. And this latest bout between my parents had done the same: all the dirty little particles of their marriage − the lies, deceit, hurt – blew away to reveal this brilliant reality. And, while it terrified me, something like relief filled me, too. I left Auntie and Mama hunkered in front of Dallas with a bowl of popcorn. It wasn’t too late, about seven but it was dark. About halfway home, something shifted − the rain picked up, trees bent, branches snapped. The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge, and I had to slow to 10 mph and pray that I remembered each nuance of the road I’d traveled so often. After nearly sideswiping a pick-up, I turned into the Goynes’s gravel drive. Gomer, his sister Blanche, and I had been friends since we were kids. Along with our friend Edwina, we were known as the oddballs of New Canaan, the kids teachers held as examples while our peers teased and taunted us. Who knew why? Looking back, 37
I suppose we didn’t fit suburbia’s budding cookie-cutter norm. Gomer and Blanche, with their creamy freckled skin and black hair − long and lean and awkward − had grown up on one of the few remaining farms that hadn’t been gobbled up by developers. Edwina’s grandfather raised her alone. My mother rarely socialized with our neighbors, the Country Clubbies, as she called them, and had the reputation of being uppity. But she’d taken in the Goynes kids after their mother died and Edwina, when her mother left, as if they were her own. So we’d grown up eating dinner together, riding bikes through forest trails to get to each other’s houses, stealing wood from construction sites to build tree forts, fishing for carp in Thread Creek, catching frogs. The elderly black walnut trees lining the Goynes’s drive, their branches thick and bony, dipped with each gust. I pulled the Monte Carlo around the circle drive next to the barn and spotted Gomer, Blanche and Edwina sitting on milk crates inside the open track doors, just out of the storm’s reach. In the summer, Edwina and I often stopped by the Goynes’s farm, after a day of cashiering, or, in her case, shelving at the New Canaan library, to make a bonfire and hang out for a few hours before going home. Gomer moved the crates aside so I could pull the Monte into the barn. By the time I got out, Gomer had set another crate out. Edwina’s auburn hair swept in a widow’s peak and, as she pulled away from hugging me, her high forehead creased. Stepping back, she held my shoulders between her palms, “You’re crying.” At Auntie’s, I’d battled my emotions, tried to act nonchalant, so that Mama wouldn’t see I was upset. I didn’t want her to reconsider; I knew that she’d stayed as long as she could. All the same, something about seeing her drag that suitcase into the house triggered my emotions. When she let go of my shoulders, I plopped on the milk crate and told them what happened.
Blanche leaned toward me; her back curled like a sickle over her long torso, and put her hand on my knee. Edwina stared into the distance as if she saw something no one else could. She could do that. Just stare like she was looking at something just out of reach. It’s what kind of freaked people out about her, I guess. But we were used to it, and I knew that if she thought she could do something to help, she would. But what can another person do when you feel like that? I mean, really? What’s to be done about it? The rain hit the gravel drive with the intensity of miniature explosions. Gomer pulled his fingers through his thick black hair, “Wasn’t a surprise, though−” I nodded, shook my head, stopped, realized I hadn’t really expected it, then realized that I should have expected it and then, just as suddenly, didn’t feel like talking about it. They wouldn’t push it. They’d let it hang, let me sit there with this uncomfortable new weight, with them, feel the comfort of their company, until, if ever, I was good and ready to bring it up again. “Dark Side of the Moon” sputtered out of a battered silver radio, the static making it sound especially eerie. While we sat there, silent and watchful, the rain turned to hail, and, within a few minutes, back to rain. When the rain no longer fell vertically but horizontally, a warning tone cut the silence before the DJ announced that a funnel cloud had been spotted about ten miles east. I found myself on my feet, digging the keys out of my jeans pocket, “Let’s chase it.” I made my way to the car. Gomer scrunched his lips to one side the way he did when he considered something idiotic, “Or we could go to the cellar.” Blanche and Edwina jumped up, their faces suddenly flushed, “Come on, Gomer.” Gomer shook his head like we’d lost our minds. Blanche slid into the back seat, “Don’t be a wet rag.” I slid behind the steering wheel, “Blanket. A wet blanket.”
“Whatever. Come on, Gomer. Don’t you want to have fun before Basic Training?” “Not really. But I’ll come along in case you die.” Gomer got up slowly, like a very old man, walked to the passenger’s side and slid in. I threw the Monte into reverse, cranked the wheel and flew down the drive. The sky became very still; feeling, suddenly, like all of the energy had been absorbed by something huge and unwelcome. No rain. Just a slight, rustling breeze. I headed east on Perry. Everything seemed in its place; the newly sprouted fields, still milky green and downy like hair on a baby’s cheek, unfurled around us as if into infinity, birch copses lined Thread Creek, the lights from singular homes flickered at the end of long driveways. Nothing seemed amiss besides the sudden, stultifying stillness and bruised mossy sky. As we crested a hill, though, we spotted the funnel in the distance, moving away from us, huge and looming and blossoming like the films of nuclear explosions we’d seen in grade school. It awed us. No one spoke. It wasn’t a twister, the elegant kind that whipped up quickly, an elongated V, only to sputter into nothingness. This thing was huge and terrifying with an anvil top thousands of feet above the ground. Bursts of light, probably electrical lines exploding, sparked its grey base. The radio became a long, droning tone punctuated by National Weather Service warnings to take cover, find low-lying shelter, stay away from electrical lines. We knew the drill. But we ignored it. It became just one more warning we could ignore. I wanted to be close enough to feel its force but far enough to outsmart it. That’s how I was then, a carbon-copy of Pop. I drove as fast as I could against the rain and wind but Gomer, Blanche and Edwina were used to that, secure in my ability to outmaneuver anyone or anything, any time, anywhere...another thing I’d gotten from my old man. No one said a word but Gomer white-knuckled the dash and, in the rearview, Edwina and Blanche sat plastered together, eyes wide, leaning as far forward as their belts
would allow. We headed toward the grey mass. I felt compelled by it; its destructive messiness, after all, felt familiar. What would happen, I wondered, if we pierced the heart of it? Would something I’d been searching for be revealed? At times, creeks swelled over the road but, for the most part, Perry ran high and straight. As we approached the funnel, now maybe a few miles ahead, the rain intensified, trees scattered like matchsticks, their branches stripped completely or bent unnaturally over now ruined fields of corn or soy or wheat. At the end of long driveways, tilted roofs or the sides of barns balanced unsteadily, horses ran wild, cows and pigs wandered aimlessly or lay broken-necked in ditches. The tornado exerted a magnetic force on me. As we approached, the rain fell harder and the winds bullied the Monte. It wasn’t a matter of me knowing how to drive. It suddenly became a matter of simply keeping the car on the road. We’d become light and insignificant, like pests, the Monte’s V-8 weak against the storm’s force, the gentle country we thought we knew now nearly unrecognizable. Edwina put her hand on the back of my seat, “Let’s turn around, Astrid. It’s too−” Before she could finish, the tornado shifted back on itself. I braked and jerked the wheel to the left until the Monte headed west. I knew to travel at a 90-degree angle to the tornado’s trajectory but this part of Perry ran straight and long with no perpendicular streets, not even dirt roads, to escape. Gomer turned to look out the back window, his face chalky white, “It’s moving, Astrid.” I pressed the accelerator but the wind felt like rubber cement, pushed us back or to the side, anything but forward. The Monte shook as if it might fall apart, time slowed, my hands felt slick on the wheel, every movement and sound and decision became simultaneously significant and insignificant, somewhere far away, a fist pounded my seat, someone else begged me to go faster, another told me to pull into a ditch. The thought that
we would be swept up by the vortex seemed entirely possible now and the road appeared like a dark, shiny, straight ribbon taunting me. In the distance, I spotted a stop sign and prayed for a paved road. I slammed on the brakes but had to pick the right direction; the wrong direction could be as disastrous as trying to outrun it. Tornadoes usually moved northwest but they were fickle and could shift any direction. It was least likely to move southeast, though. So, at the intersection, I swung the Monte south. Because of the storm’s girth, we were still in its path. I’d picked the right direction, though, because the winds, while still tremendous, had lost their ferocity. The rain picked up, making the road ahead blurry and difficult to see. I must have been going fifty when I saw the railroad crossing – too close to slow down. The road rose gently and the Monte bottomed before lifting with that sickening loss of gravity that makes your stomach go all soft and airy. As we hurtled through the air, I imagined the tires continuing to spin, the pistons plunging wildly, everything as it should be except we were airborne. I’d lost complete control. And, in that moment, my breath held, my hands strangling the wheel, I realized that everything I thought I’d known was wrong. This was reality: hovering in space, unanchored, with no one and nothing to pull us back down.
Meditating Alia Neaton A long scratch in the old hardwood floor, etched by a former tenant who dragged a couch in or out, just passing through. Swerving like an ice skater’s wake, the trail veers toward the front door. This is what you see with your head on the ground: a sudden, sideways world. Tracing the groove with my fingers, I follow its path till it disappears into the oak varnish. My father taught me this, taught me as a child to meditate like I am. Down on the floor, on my back, backside and legs up against the wall. I would find him like this in the dining room of our old Indiana home: legs at attention, feet facing the ceiling, arms extended out on either side like a man on a cross, black, curly hair feathered with gray. I remember his eyes always closed, straining to see past his anxiety, past the stress that pressed him down into the tawny carpet. He would lay there, quiet, half an hour– till his blood finished rushing beneath olive skin to the deep creases in his forehead. Slowly, he’d lower his feet to his right instead of his left, waiting for his pulse to steady itself.
STATIC MOTION (bottom)
6 A.M. Ellen Francis Today I sat in the cliché of a café at the edge of the road I thought about the bruise I saw on your arm when I was thirteen I thought about you telling me you fell down the stairs, the stairs I thought about a hundred and fifty centimeters of sickening cuteness how it had stood before me with eyes burning for an answer about why I had come back I thought about how she couldn’t see, they couldn’t see that everything had changed because they were inside its bubble like when you see someone everyday and you don’t realize she's gaining weight until it’s June and she's in a bikini I thought about how I had come back to a crowd of people in bikinis I thought about bombs and books and botox and blueprints and immigration I thought about breaking plates at 6 am
THE TURTLE Tarek Abi Samra translated from the French by Lina Mounzer
shaking and shivering and shamelessly shattering I thought about how you thought we couldn’t hear you I thought about how much I wished the thinking could stop. I thought about how this city had failed you about crossing unarmed red lights and smiling at cheerful checkpoints about murderous kitchenware and lying living room carpets I thought about how this city had failed me about men who loved men, men who had been bullied into kissing me, shamed into a two-faced sense of normalcy Today I sat in the cliché of a café at the edge of the road, I thought about how thinking never got anyone anywhere.
The turtle crawled along, weary as an old man. Torpor seized him as he watched it. A drowsiness. It was the heat, the high sun smack in his face. It was also a revelation-in-waiting: Did he have it in him? Would he release the stone? The big stone dragged him down. He stood on a small mound of earth. The stone was suspended at the end of his arms where the turtle had crawled just beneath. He had only to loosen his hands. Yet he waited for the turtle to stop. A classmate had slapped him the day before at school. He told his father, who said: “You need to know how to defend yourself.” It wasn’t the first time his father had said so. He was sometimes hassled by the bullies at school. He was, however, unsure of the extent of their toughness. They were big, seemed strong, still, he could not be entirely sure. His paralysis prevented him from discovering their true nature, and maybe his own. He could defend himself with words (words don’t count, he thought), but when he sensed a blow coming, he just froze. There was no fear. He simply froze. It was similar to a game he played by himself. His eyes would fall on an object within reach, say a plastic water bottle – full or empty, it didn’t matter – and he’d order his hand to grasp it, but his hand wouldn’t move. Having rudimentary knowledge of
the nervous system, he felt an impulse spring from the inside of his head and travel through his arm muscles to finally arrive at his fingers. But the impulse remained mute, a prisoner inside his body, without any effect on the bottle. It was so vague, he didn’t even know if he felt it or imagined it. He was also unsure whether or not it was a trick he played on himself; whether he merely told himself he wanted to grab the bottle without actually wanting to do so or if he truly wanted to grab it but was prevented from doing so by some unknowable force. He played this game often. He only had to reach his hand out to grab what he wanted to grab. And his hand would not move. Similarly, when he sensed the blow coming, he didn’t know if he couldn’t defend himself or didn’t want to. “A man is powerful through his will,” he had heard somewhere. Which was fortunate, he thought, because a lack of will was something that could be remedied, it only had to do with wanting something enough. He therefore chose to believe in his lack of will. He had also heard that a man doesn’t fear blood. He wasn’t afraid of the slaps or blows. There was simply a frozen paralysis, followed by shame. But he was a little afraid of blood, actually: the eventuality of it. Which is why, he told himself, he had to pass through a trial by blood. When he’d seen the turtle that morning,
making its way around a little mound, he’d known it had to be sacrificed. The whole family was out on a hike together. It would be easy to kill, he thought, it’s so slow. He just had to want it enough. He dawdled behind until they had all passed him and disappeared into a grove of trees. He could hear residues of their laughter in the distance. Alone, he stopped. The turtle wasn’t far. He approached it. He weighed several stones in his arms then lifted the one that seemed heavy enough to kill the turtle with one blow but not so heavy that he couldn’t keep holding it for as long as he needed. He stepped to the top of the little mound that the turtle still had yet to finish circling. It’s so slow, he told himself. He had only to loosen his hands. He felt the familiar impulse travel down from the inside of his head and throb down the muscles of his arms. It was more intense this time, translating itself into a sort of prickling of the skin at the tips of his fingers, yet he still didn’t know if it was real or imaginary, in his head or at the tips of his fingers. But did he want to release his hands? Could he? He gave himself a reprieve: he’d wait until the turtle stopped. It was so slow. There was no thought in his head. The turtle stopped. He saw a reddish stew boil up, unsure when he’d let go of the stone.
pastel crayons with pencil
49 the turtle
aleppo diaries Fouad Mohamed Fouad translated from the Arabic by Norbert Hirschhorn
(1) Killers live long. They have time to water plants in their gardens, and once in a while go to the theater. When necessary, they replace old dentures With new ones fit for biting. Elderly killers, Their bones rattle while jogging along the seashore. Ribbons of blood dribble behind them like a crippled dog. (2) Killers mince cured meat with a kitchen knife and lick traces of salt left on their fingers. A room in white wood is how I might describe that kitchen. Salt: the killer’s idea of preserving memories.
فؤاد محمد فؤاد ترجمة من العربية نوربرت هرشهورن )1( ًالقتلة يعيشون طويال َ النباتات في الحديقة المنزلية الوقت ليسقوا يملكون ِ ً ويذهبون قليال إلى المسرح يبدلون طقم األسنان القديم..وعند الضرورة .بواحد يصلح للقضم ُ القتلة العجائز .تطرطق عظامُهم حين يهرولون في الممشى البحري ُ خيط الدم .ككلب أعرج يسح خل َفهم مازال ُّ ٍ )2( ُ َ قديد اللحم القتلة بسكين المطبخ يفر ُم أثر الملح المتبقي على األصابع َ ويلحسون الخشب األبيض ُ .فكرتي لوصف المطبخ ، ُالملح ُ فكرة القاتل .لحفظِ الذكريات
THE YOUNGER SISTER Take down her laundry so she learns that we can be bitches like her. THE OLDER SISTER (Angrily) Bitches? THE YOUNGER SISTER I meant mean. (Pause.)
SEW A SIDE Darine Hotait
CHARACTER LIST THE OLDER SISTER A naïve woman trying to pass herself off as assertive and restrained. THE YOUNGER SISTER A giddy, boisterous woman and an intuitive agitator.
THE OLDER SISTER This is the third time she crosses the line. I should go talk to her. (She walks toward the right side of the stage.) THE YOUNGER SISTER No, wait. (Lowering her voice) I think she planted mines under her grapes. THE OLDER SISTER Did you see her? THE YOUNGER SISTER No. THE OLDER SISTER How do you know? THE YOUNGER SISTER Here. (She points at the line of grapes in the center) No one ever stepped on these grapes. THE OLDER SISTER And that means there are mines beneath?
THE YOUNGER SISTER I think she is extending toward our side. It is better we put an end to it.
It’s a fresh spring morning. Green and purple grapes cover the lawn. A clothesline extends horizontally from one end of the stage to the other. Clean laundry is tightly squashed to the left quarter section of the clothesline while on the remaining section laundry is neatly stretched out, where shirts, socks, underwear, pants, and linens flap gently.
THE OLDER SISTER So what do we do?
A twenty-foot tall aquarium extends across upstage. A LONE RED FISH roams within. A FISHERMAN sits on a chair upstage throughout the entire play. Next to him, there is a straw basket and a fishing rod with its line suspended inside the aquarium. THE YOUNGER SISTER enters from the side of the squashed laundry (left stage) carrying a long metal stick in her hand. She is dressed in a white cotton nightgown.
THE OLDER SISTER A wall!
THE YOUNGER SISTER (Loudly) She did it again. THE OLDER SISTER enters from the same side. She is also dressed in a similar nightgown. She loses her balance while stepping on the grapes.
THE YOUNGER SISTER Build a wall.
THE YOUNGER SISTER Don’t be silly! THE OLDER SISTER Silly? THE YOUNGER SISTER I meant innocent. THE OLDER SISTER I think we should write her a letter.
THE OLDER SISTER (Looking up at the hanging laundry) Damn that woman. Did you see her?
THE YOUNGER SISTER (Mockingly) That’s very nice of you.
THE YOUNGER SISTER No. (Using her morning intelligence) How do you know it’s a woman?
THE OLDER SISTER If someone slaps you on one cheek...
THE OLDER SISTER Well, I don’t think a man would spend time hanging laundry!
THE YOUNGER SISTER He’ll be scraping his teeth up off the floor.
THE OLDER SISTER takes the metal stick and starts sliding the squashed laundry to the opposite side.
THE OLDER SISTER Now enough of that. Go get a paper and a pen.
(THE YOUNGER SISTER exits. THE OLDER SISTER turns to THE FISHERMAN.)
THE OLDER SISTER I said she will. Now take it and toss it iit to her side.
THE OLDER SISTER Excuse me. Did you see anyone here earlier?
THE YOUNGER SISTER No, you do it.
THE FISHERMAN doesn’t move and remains silent. The YOUNGER SISTER returns with a pen and paper in hand.
THE OLDER SISTER No, you do it.
THE YOUNGER SISTER So what do we write? (THE YOUNGER SISTER sits on the floor as THE OLDER SISTER dictates.) THE OLDER SISTER Write: “Dear neighbor, we hope you are doing well. We are very pleased to have you next door.” THE YOUNGER SISTER What? THE OLDER SISTER Overall, we have to be diplomatic. Who knows for how long she is going to be here. We don’t want it to sound like a warning. THE YOUNGER SISTER But we want to warn her that next time... THE OLDER SISTER Write: “We welcome your moving in. And hope that we become good neighbors.” THE YOUNGER SISTER “So we can borrow onions.” THE OLDER SISTER “So we can both live in peace next to each other.” THE YOUNGER SISTER “And if you have mines under your grapes, we have THE BOMB under ours.” THE OLDER SISTER “We would love you to share the clothesline equally with us. Please don’t hesitate to knock on our door.”
THE OLDER SISTER (Losing her temper) I’m your older sister and I say you do it. THE YOUNGER SISTER (Annoyed) Ouf ! Why do I always have to do everything? THE OLDER SISTER Because you are younger and you should do as I say. Now do it! THE YOUNGER SISTER masterfully folds the paper into an airplane shape and tosses it to the other side. It glides through the air, then lands on the grapes. THE OLDER SISTER Now let’s go get some cooking done. THE OLDER SISTER and THE YOUNGER SISTER exit. A piano starts playing an adagio. The light grows weak. The set is dark except for a blue light pointing at the aquarium with THE LONE RED FISH roaming within. SCENE TWO Light grows large again. Laundry hangs on the neighbor’s side of the clothesline. THE YOUNGER SISTER enters, carrying a pot, still dressed in the same white nightgown. THE YOUNGER SISTER (Shouting) Did you take down the laundry? THE OLDER SISTER (Enters carrying a pot) No. THE YOUNGER SISTER (Suspiciously) I can’t believe this. She stole our clothes!
THE YOUNGER SISTER “And show us your face, you ugly bitch.”
THE OLDER SISTER Did you see her? No. How do you know she stole our clothes?
THE OLDER SISTER “Regards, Your neighbors next door.”(Reviews the letter silently.)
THE YOUNGER SISTER Why do you always insist on being silly in the morning?
THE YOUNGER SISTER Now what do we do?
THE OLDER SISTER Watch your words.
THE OLDER SISTER Now we throw it to her side.
THE YOUNGER SISTER Who else would do it?
THE YOUNGER SISTER What if she doesn’t see it?
THE OLDER SISTER Well, we can’t accuse someone without evidence.
THE OLDER SISTER
THE YOUNGER SISTER Look. (She points at the letter.) She didn’t get your letter. I told you.
THE YOUNGER SISTER Yeah, but I mean what if ?
THE YOUNGER SISTER No, you.
THE OLDER SISTER (Thoughtfully) That’s the evidence. She read the letter, then left it on the
floor to make us think that she didn’t come here, avoiding any suspicions of her being the thief.
THE OLDER SISTER He wasn’t here yesterday.
THE YOUNGER SISTER (Raises her hands towards God, mockingly) God have mercy on my sister’s intelligence. I know she’s trying too hard.
THE YOUNGER SISTER (Making fun) Ah! He sneaks in every night to the roof where you make love in the water tank.
THE OLDER SISTER (To THE FISHERMAN) Excuse me! Did you see who stole our laundry? (No response from THE FISHERMAN) Let’s think about what to do.
THE OLDER SISTER While you are wetting your bed, right? (Bursts into laughter and uncontrollable snorting.)
THE YOUNGER SISTER I told you from the very beginning, but you wouldn’t listen.
THE YOUNGER SISTER Get a hold of your snort! (Imitates snorting sound)
THE OLDER SISTER What?
There is a long moment of snorting after the laughter. THE OLDER SISTER tries to get a hold of her uncontrollable snorting.
THE YOUNGER SISTER We build a wall. THE OLDER SISTER Wouldn’t that be offensive? THE YOUNGER SISTER You keep being naïve. THE OLDER SISTER None of us has faith until we love for our neighbor what we love for ourselves.
THE FISHERMAN slides off his chair and heavily hits the floor. THE OLDER SISTER stops snorting. Both women look back at him. He fixes his chair, sits and aims his fishing rod back towards the aquarium. Prolonged silence. THE OLDER SISTER (Standing up) Alright, let’s get this done. THE YOUNGER SISTER (Pointing) The other end.
THE YOUNGER SISTER In this case, your neighbor is a witch.
The two sisters sew the wall silently.
THE OLDER SISTER Shh! She might hear us.
THE OLDER SISTER It’s taking a lot of space off our side.
(Curtain closes rapidly)
THE YOUNGER SISTER We could move it a little toward her side. She wouldn’t notice.
THE OLDER SISTER No. That’s not fair.
A divider made of piled metallic threads rising to six feet in height, loosely sewn to two metal towers, one on center upper stage, the other center down stage. THE OLDER SISTER sits on a chair, her feet soaking in hot water, a tray of dried lentils on her lap. THE YOUNGER SISTER sews the wall.
THE YOUNGER SISTER
THE YOUNGER SISTER (Irritated) Can you get on your feet and help me here?
THE YOUNGER SISTER We use this space more than she does anyway, so it’s fine.
THE OLDER SISTER (Picking at the lentils) Wasn’t this your idea?
THE OLDER SISTER Alright.
THE YOUNGER SISTER You’re talking as if your idea was any better.
THE YOUNGER SISTER Now let’s move it.
THE OLDER SISTER This wall is going to bring nothing but trouble.
They move the wall slightly to the opposing side.
THE YOUNGER SISTER Yes, I forgot he calls you my wimpy dwarf.
THE YOUNGER SISTER I think we can move it a little more.
THE OLDER SISTER No he doesn’t.
The sisters move the wall slightly more.
THE YOUNGER SISTER Yes he does. I heard him yesterday.
THE OLDER SISTER Maybe a little more.
Then we lose inches off our side?
THE OLDER SISTER (Raising an eyebrow) Well!
The sisters move the wall even more. The light grows weaker until the set is dark except for a blue light pointing at the aquarium. THE LONE RED FISH roams within. A curtain begins to descend slowly. The two sisters keep repeating the last two lines while moving the wall even more, until the curtain is completely closed. THE END
DEAR OLIVIA, Nawal Muradwij I hope this letter reaches you safely; I was told space mail is rather unreliable these days, and that sheer force of will does not alter the conditions of time and space and the laws of physics. I write to you because I have a question, and I don’t know if you have one too, because I remember how we used to pack up all our questions in a little box because Mrs. Auty was rather scary, and we always thought we’d find someone to answer them someday. I remember how we made friends with sandboxes, and how we thought monkey bars were called monkey bars because little monkeys snuck into the park and built them. And I remember you always wanted to be the leader when we played that game where you jumped on rocks that had been painted yellow and pretended they were the sun, and you would sing, Follow the leader, the leader, the leader, and I would gaze up (because you were freakishly taller than me) in awe at your god-given talent at songwriting, because I had never watched Peter Pan, and I thought you were the embodiment of beauty. I remember when we used to swing you’d always cheat me out of ten of my thirty designated seconds, and I’d let you because I feared that otherwise, your blonde hair would turn into snakes, and bite my own salad hair off. I remember that one time we stayed up late after a birthday party and wondered why Barney
was purple, and if the grown-ups really thought we were that stupid, and we dreamt of our high school prom, and how Ben was going to take both of us in his flashy car, because he loved cars and highways, and pretended the hallway outside our classroom was a racetrack, and we pretended to pretend that was the case, because we loved when he smiled at us. I don’t remember though, when we stopped laughing at the word “monkey bars,” or playing pretend, even when the world just became sadder. I don’t remember when I finally realized your hair was not magically made of snakes, and that mine wasn’t just a salad, and that maybe I was pretty too. And I don’t understand why we never got the answers we were looking for. Do you?
about a nose: a prologue Muriel Kahwagi When I first moved to London, I went on what I then-thought was a date with a guy called Morris. He was English. It was Bloomsday, and I reveled in the thought of being the Nora to his James, but I was to learn that he had sadly never read any Joyce. He looked at me rather quizzically and asked me mid-bite, “Has anyone ever told you you have a faintly Jewish nose?” I said yes, and the conversation went a little awry at that point, and we talked about Philip Roth and Primo Levi and the Holocaust, and he finally told me that his ex-boyfriend had a nose that was quite reminiscent of mine, and that he’d trashed his car when they broke up. Awkward silence ensued. Not quite the first impression one would want to leave on one’s object of affection over gnocchi and French wine, but I have grown accustomed to−and quite fond of−such queer flattery. At worst, it is the subject of gawky conversation (see above), and at best, it leads to fornication (see below). It was not always so, however. When I was sixteen, my dear mother rather graciously suggested that I get a rhinoplasty done. She is not one to waste time; she did so in the lobby of our building, just as we’d run into our neighbor-cum-plastic surgeon, Dr. Edward, who has donned many a Lebanese celebrity with celestial noses in his lifetime, and sometimes even furnished them with entirely new faces. He is in high-demand at all times, and to have your nose assessed
by him−even if it’s between muffled yawns and compulsive time-checks−is both an honor and a privilege. “I’ll give you a special discount,” he told my mother with perfunctory pensiveness. “It will be $2,000 just for you,” he added, poking my nose. I was a little blasé. As a teenager, I never quite liked my nose. I was also not too keen on my eyes (they were too big), my skin (it was too veiny and translucent), and my hair (it was too frizzy), but I could always hide my eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses, wear leggings and long sleeves, and tie my hair up into a bun. But there was nothing I could do to make my nose look smaller. My brother−my muse and my tormentor−endured my nasal pity parties for many years, and proved to be quite resourceful when he wasn’t haplessly (and fruitlessly) trying to evade my snotty tantrums. On a gloriously sweaty June afternoon, he showed me a forceps-like nose-straightening device he’d bought from the Sunday market near our home. “It can’t hurt,” he assured me. Four hours and two ibuprofen pills later, the pain was almost gone and my breathing back to normal, yet my nose appeared not in the slightest more Christian. In an attempt to console me, my best friend once told me that noses and ears are the only two body parts that never stop growing as Homo sapiens age. That knowledge alarmed rather than comforted me, but it did help to explain the disproportionality of my nose to my face at the time. My nose is
just growing faster than the rest of my face, I thought; the latter will soon catch up. Catchup growth did not occur, however, though I can safely say that my nose seems to have stopped growing since I last measured its length six months ago. My ears, on the other hand, I am not so sure. If the human clitoris is a pea-shaped construction, so is my truly beloved birthplace (my poor dear Lebanon) on a world map. It borders the Mediterranean, Syria, Palestine, and Israel, the latter of which was never on great terms with Lebanon. I tried to explain this to my therapist after an Irish guy I went on a date with called Lebanon−facetiously, I’ll admit−“greater Israel.” I said, Anne, my entire generation suffers from a collective case of pseudo-comical post-traumatic stress disorder−you can’t make inappropriate jokes about Israel to someone whose country was at war with Israel. Even my poor nose dried up and recoiled, I lamented. Anne nodded profusely, pursed her red velvet painted lips, and offered me another glass of water. “Not that you or any woman’s nose should ever have to justify feeling dried up,” she said after a moment of reflection. For all her quick-wittedness, Glam Anne, as I affectionately like to call her, is not the worldliest of Englishwomen. She is remarkably intelligent and immensely empathetic, but well-traveled she is not. Her knowledge of Middle Eastern culture was close to nil prior to our sessions. Growing up in a fairly sheltered Beiruti suburbia can look great on your college applications, I told her, but it also means that adults around you often tend to confuse premarital sex with prostitution, tampons with wide-set vaginas, a high consumption of chocolate with acne, Jewishness with Zionism. The latter of the four is partly due to ignorance, but also due to an increasingly inherent time-release aggression; it is a weighty baggage to carry, and a difficult one to get rid of. I hope you can understand why, then, when I finally came of age, and my schoolmates started pointing out my Ayn
Rand-esque features, not least among them was my aquiline nose, I could not quite figure out if and how I ought to be flattered. Nearly a decade later, my days as an Ayn Rand doppelgänger are all but behind me, and my ambivalence about my nose continues to be the focal point of some of my sessions with Glam Anne. “Being told that you have a Jewish nose is not exactly a compliment in America, either,” Aaron, my adored brother’s Jewish-American friend, reassured me. “But you’re not a teenager anymore. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Just own it.” I will never forget the first (the only?) time my nose was paid a compliment. His name was George. He was American. We talked about Seinfeld. He called my nose “graceful.” We had just met. I fell in love. Later that night, I boozed him into taking me back to his place and I fucked his brains out. He was my first.
CURSIVE CAN’T WHISTLE Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran You write my name in our script. I am all curls, swirls, swiggles, and dots. I was never good at twisting cherry stems. You slipped mints into my mouth. I was only supposed to take one. Can’t roll my r’s, or blow bubbles. Pronounce my own name. Deep shame. Both came with me. It was more than your tongue I wanted.
rejoined Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran when you went sober and kicked the drugs, all your hair fell out. it’s grown in, barely, but not as full. love your smile, the way it frames your face, and the fact you still have teeth. a few months later, what else would you have lost? we laugh, take this moment as gift. look for split ends.
66 Zeina Bacardi Sakr
charcoal and graphite
wings, but they didn’t have the strength that my brother had. Some of them dropped out of school or lost their minds. Others disappeared for months at a time or had to spend weeks in the hospital strapped to a bed. I even heard of one who tried to drown himself in a toilet, and then later jumped out of his third story window, wingless. Recently, I was thinking about those other people’s brothers while I sat on the couch with my own brother, watching a documentary about bald eagles.
TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE (AN ICEBREAKER) Elizabeth Endara Instructions: Say three things about yourself. Two of them should be true; we have to guess the lie. I When I was thirteen, I went on a trip to Alabama. There were ten of us in a fifteen-passenger van driving from Lilburn to Birmingham. One of the kids on the trip was a dead boy with brown hair and green eyes. He was loud and told lots of jokes. He told my friend he had a crush on me. I spent the whole van ride glaring at the back of his head. When we got to Alabama, we stopped at a restaurant to eat dinner. “Can I sit by you?” the dead boy asked. “Fine,” I said. He ordered a hotdog and chewed with his mouth open. When we left, he walked beside me. “You’re pretty,” he said. I kept walking. He reached his arm around my shoulders. With all the strength in my little adolescent arm, I elbowed him in the stomach. His bones rattled and shook, and his breath was gone. I walked away without a second look. Seven years later, the dead boy was found hanging from a ceiling. At his funeral, I put my arm around his mother and gave my condolences. She was wearing a red dress bright enough to raise him from the dead, but at the end of the day, they still lowered him into the ground. From time to time, I think about visiting his grave. I never do, only sometimes in my mind. I see myself walking up to the gravestone, planted at the foot of a dogwood tree. I set
down a bouquet of red violets (don’t tell me that violets can’t be red). I say, “Thank you for calling me pretty,” and then I leave him to rest in peace. II My older brother taught me how to build wings. We worked on them for years, making sure they would be just right. After I finished them, they sat in my closet, unused. “Try them out,” my brother kept insisting, but I wouldn’t. My brother studied the mechanics of wings and taught me how to perfect mine. “Use them,” he told me again, but still I wouldn’t. My brother had never let me down before, and I was afraid of what would happen if he ever did. “Okay,” he said. He took my wings from me and put them on himself. We climbed out through my window and onto the roof of the house. Our little mutt puppy barked up at us. He jumped off the roof without a word and flew up and up. He disappeared into the clouds, and I was scared. Five, ten, fifteen minutes, an hour passed by. I thought he was dead, or that he liked the clouds too much to ever come back. Then I saw him descending. “Where were you?” I yelled, angry with him for taking so long. “I stopped at the grocery store,” he said and tossed me my favorite, a pack of Oreos. From then on we flew together, always brave. He never let me down. I heard stories about other people’s brothers who also built
III I am in love with a bridge builder. I realized I loved him the week before I left for Lebanon, but I didn’t know then that I was going to be leaving. We had met several years before in the normal way you meet someone: so vaguely that you can’t remember it at all. We fell in love in the normal way too: one-sided and oblivious. But we talked about London and he built me a bright blue bridge across the Atlantic using only his eyes. He told me the story of the time he built a bridge through Europe using stones from the walls of his own heart. How can you not love a person like that? We said goodbye on one of his bridges. It looked out over Atlanta. Bikers rode over it and we stood talking about our favorite band and waiting for our voices to catch up with our thoughts. They never did. We walked away from the bridge, but that moment stayed captured like a photograph where everything remains unchanged. The concrete walls would still be covered with graffiti and pictures of Obama. The coffee shop down the street would never stop serving bad coffee. The bartender from Northhighland Pub would never finish her degree and get a real job. My airplane would never take off. Our favorite band would never break up. Our world would be frozen and filled with the living and we’d all have wings. Bridges would only be built as memorials to those who have never died.
Seeking a Narrative: A conversation with kasper kovitz Rima Rantisi So there’s an artist in Beirut named Kasper Kovitz whose work is a mixture of hilarious, philosophical, and ever-changing. You cannot say his work is rooted in a historical period or influenced by a movement. Rather, his style reflects a philosophy that can be summed up by the idea that “Progress is preposterous… who says that Andy Warhol is better than a cave painting?” Since 2011, Kasper has been living between Beirut and L.A., where he has made a home near the wilderness (I didn’t know there was wilderness in L.A. either). Before that, he was born and raised in Austria, a place that left him feeling confined.
a “Lost Explorer” narrative that I began thinking about in 1999 started to make more sense, became more substantial. That is, there is an artist in the present, who looking at this world and the knowledge and beliefs we have about it, tries to find responses to it. That artist starts out with a teleological approach, the hope that it all makes sense in the end and/or that there is direction in art (history) and that therefore he/she will arrive at something one day. But he/she finds himself lost and maybe the realization is that being lost is the only way to be and that being lost does not inhibit exploration, after all. What I needed was a stage (landscape) and a protagonist (artist / Litmus) who is free to do and explore anything and everything (this keeps my anxiety level, as the real protagonist, nice and low while I’m changing directions). I also found that I could assume other roles, genders, etc., through Litmus. So now I am making work that shows the stage (landscape) and the protagonist at work (Litmus), but claims that work was done by Litmus. Complicated, no?
Now, in the middle of Ras Beirut, Kasper’s apartment is an art studio. No couches, no dining table. Just a desk with a computer, the walls adorned only with large canvases of art made in Beirut and painted with Turkish coffee (the coffee is prepared as if to drink, but Kasper dips a brush into it and…paints). His most recent work, “Seed Rockets,” actual homemade rockets built from sausage cans and planting seeds, stand upright in the middle of the space. His refrigerator is just as sparse. You won’t find food or bottles of wine or week-old leftovers. There may be only a single package of unopened halloum. Gunpowder for his rockets. And you will always find Litmus, a wax mold of Kasper’s face, lying face-up staring at the ceiling of the fridge through hollowed out eyes. Litmus awaits Kasper’s “marching orders.” He may find himself taking on various identities and “encountering facets of him/herself” in equally varying landscapes as he is photo-shopped as various characters into Kasper’s work. The inclusion of Litmus in his work allows Kasper to explore the different characters under his own skin. Yet, with the same hard and difficult-to-read expression. Litmus is my alter ego. Years ago I went to a police shooting range in L.A. with my brother-in-law, who was at that time an investigative journalist We shot at paper target that I kept over the years. I became more and more intrigued by the faces on them. I collaged the heads together in a row; some were turned around so they are looking to the left or right, respectively. The bullet holes reminded me of birthmarks, like I have on my face (I always hated them) and it occurred to me that these could be identical brothers distinguishable only through their differently placed birthmarks. So what I was thinking about was identity. At around the same time I was trying to make sense of my diverse art practice: How could this all come from one mind? So I decided that it would be good if it were not made by me, but by a variety of artists who all look the same. Somehow, by disassociating myself from my work, the whole notion of Kasper and his alter ego, Litmus.
In the project “Nuns Fret Not,” (2013) you can see Kasper’s fictitious artist’s book, which harkens back to the old course-by-mail, the “Famous Artists Course” of the 1960s. He collaged Litmus heads and his own artworks into it. In the 8-page spread, you can find fictitious letters written, one of which is in perfect Catholic cursive (you know, the cursive the nuns would force you to practice daily in school; here it is rendered by Kasper’s wife “who’s really good at this fake handwriting stuff”). The writer of the letter is a nun, Jeanne, who begins the letter rhetorically asking, “When was it I fell out of love with Jesus and in love with truth?” She answers, “I think it was when we foolishly believed emancipation lay in forging our new path as missionary artists.” The letter is ultimately a reflection and satire of Kasper’s own questioning of art education, particularly as he began his first professorial job at AUB in the department of fine arts and art hisory. AUB is my first teaching job. I accepted and came as a visiting professor full of doubts of how can education and art work together. So I arrived to Beirut and thought, let me try it and consider these things that I didn’t want to consider. And I’m learning. I’m still learning… In my teaching, I try to never bring in my personal taste or my belief in what is good art or what is bad art. I never believed in education. I had a hard time with education myself. I didn’t think my time at university was helpful whatsoever. So coming to Beirut, I tried to rethink the whole thing. You want to try to do a good job also… I thought, what is meaningful educationally? And what I think is meaningful and what I can teach is that it is a craft. And I’m not saying that it’s a craft of academically trained drawing or a painting anymore. But the craft goes from how rigorous you are in developing an idea, executing that idea, presenting that idea; that’s the craft part of it. And that is teachable. Despite his past cynicism about art education, Kasper has been making art since his university days in Vienna. And today his career seems to be inching to a peak. He alluded to this in the very first thing he said in this interview: It’s true that things change…my teacher told me at university. I asked him, “So how’s it being famous?” And then he said, “There’s a long stretch of nothing and then once it starts, it goes very fast.” I didn’t see eye to eye with him on everything, but it was interesting because he was very famous at the time.” What do you do in the “long stretch of nothing”?
creative or artistic talent. This must come from within yourself. We are simply trying to give you the guidance, the tools, and the training – which you will absolutely need – so that you can achieve these creative ends and so produce your own fine pictures.”
You produce, you produce, you produce.
To his dismay, Kasper has been branded as “The weird material guy.” Although he has used an unusual array of materials not usually associated with “art” – bear shit, tree sap, marmalade, predator piss (from cougars, foxes, coyotes, wolves), coffee, ham, gummy bears – he says he prefers to “see what happens without the restrictions of genre, idea, or a motif. I also like to use very traditional material. I don’t always just use bear shit...” But Kasper does not use his attraction to unusual materials (or “grow a strange mustache”) as a branding ploy. In fact, he had no idea that Twitter was stacked with links and reactions to his recent work at Saatchi Gallery entitled, Carnalitos, which consists of two sculptures of Miguel de Unamuno and Sabino Arana - two historical Basque figures - carved out of jamon iberico. As he is aware of the ever-looming market that demands a narrative behind every work – what does it
Litmus fancies himself an “art missionary.” Lesson One addresses the “missionary art” student: “At no time whatever during the entire course are you to feel that we are trying to control your
mean? – he attempts to construct one, so as “not to avoid himself.” But he feels more comfortable as “the lost explorer,” the one who seeks what intrigues him and who awaits a pattern to show up in his work. The narratives attached to the materials or subject are inevitable, but the building of his own story as an artist is one that he does not try to control; rather, it’s a patchwork, an inciting of the subconscious. Why did he paint with predator piss, for example? “It needs layer after layer to become visible. This fact and that predators use it to demarcate their territories with it (they draw lines!), made it interesting to me as a material.” Animals have a very different understanding of area. They don’t understand space like we do…When we talk about animals, we talk about their “territory” when in reality it’s
lines that they draw into otherwise empty space –from ants that follow ferment trails to predators who lay out sand trails. I found this interesting because it’s a completely different way of thinking about 3-D. Instead of thinking the way we think about territory, there is a way of thinking about it as negative space. Once I thought, wow, they’re thinking about lands. So thinking about drawing and finding out about how animals do this led me to think a lot about this idea of Manifest Destiny that the Americans had of “the West.” They had empty land and the way of dealing with social problems was by opening up ever more empty land and sending all the problem cases out there. This ended in 1890 when officially the frontier was closed. I find it an interesting concept: this ever-continuing “progress” will solve all of our problems. Don’t address the social distress in the city; just find some empty land and put people there. The idea was that poor people don’t have to live in squalor in the city; now they have their own land and they can become farmers and have their own land. This concept, known as Manifest Destiny, prevails in the mentality that says, “We are going to ruin this planet, but we can have a colony on Mars soon… If we destroy our planet, we will find another one.” This is a prevailing mindset that goes beyond America, having been eagerly adopted by the developing world. The Ideology of Progress interests me as an artist. Is there progress in art? Our understanding – our delusion – of history is that we are progressing, that we are actually progressing from the Middle Ages to now. Everything is getting better all the time. Both the Beatles and Stalin said, “Things are getting better everyday.” This idea of progress is preposterous. Who says that Andy Warhol is better than a cave painting? We can equally claim the other way around. Or we could claim that they are both valuable. It is arbitrary, apparently. This view of progress is a general and pervasive view. I was working with images of people who have ventured into the wilderness and have established camps there. They were penetrating the wilderness in search of an empty stage to master. I was meditating on those images and at the same time meditating on drawing lines versus fields. I thought, let me draw in predator piss. Predators in particular, why? Because it’s a predatory stance to enter wilderness. Well, not necessarily, but I’ve been thinking a lot about wilderness. It’s just disappearing. And it will probably completely disappear in our generation entirely, which is a horrible thought… The idea of progress appears already as the concept presented in the Bible, Genesis 128: “Fill the earth and subdue it.” The argument being that making something productive out of wilderness is a sign of progress and something that “God wants us to do.” What do you mean by “making something productive out of wilderness”? Having an experience or cutting down trees? Cutting down those trees, making a field, and planting something, for example. Exploring it, making it accessible – all of that stuff. Bridging it. Climbing every mountain. Even Israel argued in the beginning, when they took away the land from the people who lived there, the argument at first was there’s nobody here; and when it was acknowledged
that there were people living here, the argument became, “Well, we made the desert bloom.” This argument of productivity has been going on through the ages. This is the same argument that the Americans made against the Native Americans: “We are making something out of this land.” This is a developer’s argument. It’s a horrible progressargument. I find this way of thinking frightening and prevalent: Anything that can be developed – should be. I do not relate to most of what is called “social practice” in art. I think you should just join the Red Cross or something because art is not really suited to helping people. It’s not feeding anybody or providing housing. But, the only time I ventured into something like that is in New York in Governor’s Island, an island just below Manhattan. Originally it had a coast guard station and an army station. It didn’t go anywhere. The government started thinking aloud, like, “What should we do with this island?” They said, “Artists should think about this.” They considered making bike paths and making it another recreational area. I proposed a different project, which was to make it off-limits to humans forever. You install cameras all over the island. But a part of it is that you just leave that island alone. This idea was inspired by Gilles Clement, a French gardener, botanist, and writer who proposed something called “The Third Landscape”: a landscape not used for human habitation, agriculture, or recreational purposes. If you look, for example, at the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between North Korea and South Korea… since the end of the Korean War, people stand there and point at each other – but between them is a no-man’s land. This no-man’s land has recuperated ecologically more than any other spot anywhere. Nature repaired itself by just being left alone. My proposal in New York was to create this type of island, which would become a green lawn for New York. So we can just see what happens. You can see what happens, but you cannot participate. What would they gain from it? They would have introduced the notion of not developing something into their vocabulary. But that’s not in their interest. But it’s revolutionary! I mean, why do we have all these cruises going to the Arctic now to see the icecaps melting. It’s horrible! Just leave it alone… if you want to protect it, don’t go there. Don’t touch it. But of course there’s no money in that, so how can the powers-that-be become interested? If you want to change the world, this is addressed to all people. We need to make some concessions. One of those concessions is to leave things alone. So in this case, the act of doing nothing is progress? Yes. If you want to put it that way, yes. So the act you encourage is the act of doing nothing. Yes.
So would you say that this is an overarching theme in your artwork? Yes, very much so. This philosophy was challenged when Kasper entered the wilderness in a way he never had before – and informed his art forever. It was 1999, and he was a broke artist living in New York City. He and his wife, an artist as well whose art is focused on wildlife and the urban environment, had free access to a log cabin with no running water or electricity in the middle of the wilderness on an island in Canada. They decided to escape New York and live there for some time. I fixed up the cabin, which had been uninhabited for ten years. I kicked out the wildlife that was living inside and as soon as that was done, I started cutting into this island because the island was completely overgrown. It was like a dense wall of plant matter surrounding the cabin. I saw a large rock that looked like a nice place to sit and watch the sunset, so I started to cut a path to it. I cut a path there, and then I cut a path to the next outlook and the next outlook…it was very romantic in a sense, it was like gardening. It was like an English garden. After a while, I was like fuck this shit, I started shaving these corridors into just dense matter that were perfectly geometrical corridors. And I was going off the deep end, basically. It was a way of ordering nature in the face of its apparent chaos. In my interaction with this blank canvas I started asking questions, “Why do you respond this way? Is there a purpose in this? Do you really need a purpose? Is your purpose purely aesthetic, or is it a power play?” So I observed myself doing this: disturbing nature, in a sense. I found that extremely interesting and extremely enlightening and frightening about myself. I also became so possessive of this island that doesn’t belong to me.
What got into you? Yeah, exactly. Was it after that you decided that you wanted to leave nature alone? Yes. This was my first real wildlife experience. Beyond the wildlife and nature that I knew in Austria or Europe, which compared to some of those areas – the desert in the southwest or northern Canada – looks like a garden. You cannot compare. It hit me hard. It changed me. What did you create immediately after that was influenced by this experience? Nearly everything I’ve done since has been influenced by that – by that moment. When an artist based in L.A. comes to Beirut, we must ask how it informs his work and how it builds upon his narrative as an artist. Kasper loathes classifications such as “contemporary art” because he finds the category “meaningless.” However, he also knows that under this category, “anything goes” – and this may have influenced him, whether he likes it or not. When else in history could he have made a 550-kilogram piece of artwork made of 120,000 gummy bears (representing a total of 1,200,000 calories!) to examine the notion of paradise or the afterlife?
You understood an inherent quality in humans? It’s in me, it’s in everyone of us, I think. I became so possessive of it that one day I was fishing from the canoe and I heard somebody chopping wood, as if with an axe, on the island. I was like, “Somebody’s cutting wood on my island?!” Which is not my island… So I canoed back to the island, and went very secretly to the cabin and got the gun out, and I started approaching, in a crouch, closer and closer to where that sound came from. I was ready to shoot that intruder. But once I was there, I realized it was a rare form of woodpecker, which is quite big, and he just hacked… whack, whack, whack… The view was cartoonish. The bird was whacking his head so hard against the wood, then he would pause, as though he was so battered by his own pecking that he was seeing stars. It made me laugh, and I was suddenly very embarrassed. Then there was a second incident. I was on the island shaving my corridors and I heard a canoe approaching, people talking. And so I started shadowing them. And I basically didn’t wear much apart from my underwear, and I had a very long beard. And so eventually I stood in this one corridor that was perpendicular going onto the lake, and I just stood there, and the canoe arrived and they all looked up and nearly jumped out of the canoe, they were so scared. All of that made me think a lot. Gummy Bears! The Sheer Size of It, 2013 Photo © Luis Vuitton / Jérémie Souteyrat
work with the support of Espace Luis Vuitton Tokyo
Since his arrival to Beirut, he has completed a body of work that for the first time in his life he hesitates to show to the local public. The themes reflect Kasper’s experience, inspirations, and observations of his time here, but he claims that the issues he has picked up are not part of his identity. He believes this may be problematic. He prefers to remain an observer, and he has developed new feelings toward teaching. Yes, I do enjoy teaching a lot. I wish it weren’t so far away from my house and my wife. But yes, it is a very interesting challenge if you take it seriously. And I would actually really try to continue it. If that’s in my cards. Had I not found L.A. earlier, maybe Beirut would have been the love of my life. For me now, I feel myself as a stranger. I do not feel part of the culture, nor do I aspire to assimilate. I am not one of those people who wears one of those Arafat things around his neck… not at all, nor will I ever be… My interest in American national myth, in Beirut, takes the form of an interest in American foreign policy. What interests me here is the history of the West’s postcolonial ideas of expansion and how they relate to the Middle East. I find that very interesting and the reaction here. I am also interested in how building stones of national myth can be borrowed and changed between cultures. I began by painting scenes of historically significant architecture related to but not necessarily located in the Middle East, such as San Remo, Italy where the Sykes-Picot Agreement happened. I have been using Turkish coffee to paint such scenes including the tower in Cairo that Nasser built after he received a bribe from the CIA and went on record saying, “I got the money for this from the CIA!” The tower came to be known as “Nasser’s middle finger.” I painted those in coffee mostly because supposedly coffee is that “divining” substance. It’s really hard to work with, and it’s interesting in that sense. I started building rockets out of canned sausage cans. I’m always interested in those forms of art that are not really art. In Austria, the farmers during the winter, when they didn’t have much work, had built baskets out of folding old cigarette packs into strips and creating baskets. I find them interesting for their mediums. I find it interesting that there is a much more open approach to material to make art in the un-schooled part of the population than the so-called academic part of the population. Because I have an affinity to the question that asks, why limit yourself? I enjoy this “breaking the boundaries.” Not through a theoretical approach, but just because it’s handy. Voila.
Kasper gives his viewers an enormous, saccharine taste of heaven in The Sheer Size of It, which upon the end of its showing was destroyed. Candy on plexiglass
approximately 120,000 Gummy Bears
1,200,000Kcal (to walk them of at a moderate speed, a normal human would have to walk 7,700km). The Sheer Size of It, 2013 Photo © Luis Vuitton / Jérémie Souteyrat
work with the support of Espace Luis Vuitton Tokyo
So I was interested in people building rockets themselves at home. I’m not talking about the Lebanese Rocket Society. I’m talking about rockets that are sent to Israel. It’s kinda interesting, this do-it-yourself approach. So I was kinda putting myself into these shoes and started building rockets. Walking around the supermarket, I saw these canned sausages and I thought, wow, if you have a few of those, you have the body of the rocket. And then I thought, what would I use for wings? So I saw these self-painted “No Parking” signs. And then I saw the money exchange signs, which I could use as well; kinda nice, because I could have “exchange” on the rocket. But the ammunition is seeds. So I build rockets that plant gardens, basically. I started eating dates for days and days and days, collecting the seeds, and so then I made the warhead out of seeds. I tried to build them so that they could work. I don’t think they could fly very far. But I tried very hard to make them as realistically functional as I could. The big rockets don’t have powder in them, but the smaller ones do. And I made shotgun shells that have seeds in the top of them, so I can walk around with a shotgun and plant gardens. 79
can also be very valuable from the get-go. It’s a matter, ultimately, of how sensitively you approach it and the wisdom you have of your own distance/closeness to the culture you are observing and representing in relation to the locals/critics. For example, your rockets may be seen as ironic or some sort of gimmick or insensitivity in Beirut. However, if you did this in America, they might not be so readily labeled as such. In America it’s not an issue because it’s an immigrants’ nation, in a sense. There are certainly times where people may say, “You just came here, what are you talking about?” That does exist, but nothing like what happens in Europe or here. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I realize that ultimately I am producing my Beirut diary. But I am reluctant to present it, to leave that diary open, for everyone to read – here. What I find more interesting is that when I was young, I assimilated. Now I’m not that good at assimilating. I’m fully assimilated in the multi-cultural blend in America. And now coming here, I don’t feel like I want to assimilate. I am an observer. Not an observer in a judgmental way. But there is definitely a distinct difference. I don’t find it necessarily problematic. I find that assimilation helps the dialogue. If I treat art as a dialogue, I’m a little bit cautious about what I’m making here as a dialogue. Kasper’s approach to his own narrative intrigued me, as it is similar to the work that a creative nonfiction writer does. There are these things that arise, conjoin, exist – the chaos – and the nonfiction writer tries to make sense of it all. What does it mean? How does it work? Why? His examination of his divergent work and interests over time in relation to each other has not yet formulated a crisp, neat narrative. But ultimately, he is seeking to understand.
Seed Rockets made of sausage cans ready for blasting off into gardens. Just behind is a painting of Sans Remo with Turkish coffee on canvas.
The biggest issue with the work I’ve produced in Beirut is that I feel somewhat Orientalist about it. I feel somewhat dirty to pick up basically political issues that are not my political issues, ultimately. I find that problematic. I am inspired but I do not feel politically invested. I am a disinterested but curious observer. Well, in terms of Orientalism, it’s not that you picked up the political cause; it’s the way you pick up the political cause… …Right, I am the foreigner to this culture. And engaging with it possibly carries a form of a stain. Well, there is a fine line to walk when writing or creating art about other cultures that you are not so intimate with… people who know the country well and have been immersed in it often sigh when someone who has just arrived suddenly creates a message or history or truth that is actually shallow because they haven’t lived the culture enough. On the other hand, the critique by these people can be unfair at times because someone’s lived experience
Absolutely. Yes. But if I understand correctly, I agree with Ray Brassier [AUB philosophy professor], that nihilism is not a negation necessarily, it is just a logical consequence of understanding more and more and more. I think, for example, I am not creating from nothing. I am using mostly 90% found-footage: I pull it off the Internet; I found an old photo album of mountain guides in Canada. The other 10% are things I find and take a photos of but there’s nothing new under the sun – I’m under no illusion – so of course I’m working with things that are already out there. I’m just framing them differently because I am interested in the examination of them. Art can be informed by anything and everything. It’s useless and illogical, but it is a tool for investigation. What is my purpose in this short life, which feels like a dream and before you know it’s over? It is to me not explainable by the idea of progress. But there is still a need for narrative: it has a timeline, a beginning and end and a climax, which suggests progress. So I am playing around with this conundrum in my head. What can I say that’s truthful? First of all, all I want is to live through this relatively short period of being alive, cleareyed. And I find this need of communicating, which is bizarre, but I do, which is similar to the need of narration; it’s a need that’s hard to explain. I acknowledge that I have that. So my form of communicating in this experience of clear-eyed staring and aliveness is by making art, or what I would describe as art for lack of a better category for it. By making work and building a record of my life through that work, I am constantly asking myself: What’s the narrative? What’s the narrative? What’s the narrative? So I keep coming back to that question: Can there be a narrative that is not linked to progress? That’s what I’m interested in – and I may never find the answer for it.
Fouad Mohamed Fouad is a Syrian physician and public health researcher. He has published four collections in Arabic. He participated in a workshop on translation at the International Centre for For Poetry in Marseille, which resulted in the publication in 2002 of a collection entitled Import / Export, Damascus / Marseille. He works currently as assistant professor at AUB.
CONTRIBUToRS Tarek Abi Samra was born in 1983 in Beirut. He majored in psychology at the Saint Joseph University. He writes short stories and literary reviews for the Orient Litteraire. Samer Akl was born in Beirut in the 70’s, Samer has been stringing words together to create poetic images and poetry since childhood. Going abroad to study film at the NY Film Academy in LA, he has since focused his repertoire to include documentary, feature film scripts and experimental video art production. Samer feels poetic imagery has driven him to expression in film. Poetry is his first love. Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet with a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Her first poetry collection, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize and will be published in August 2014 by the Backwaters Press. It was selected as winning manuscript by distinguished poet Lola Haskins. She’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her poems have been published in Ploughshares, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry, The Common, Cream City Review, Quiddity, Copper Nickel, Mizna, The Midwest Quarterly, and Mslexia, among others. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Dubai, where she regularly performs her poetry and runs poetry workshops. She is on the editorial board of All Roads Will Lead You Home, an online literary journal by VAC poetry.
Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán is the author of Antes y después del Bronx: Lenapehoking (New American Press) and South Bronx Breathing Lessons (Palabrera Press), and the editor of an international queer Indigenous issue of Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought. He was born in New York City to a multigenerational mixed-race family—Moroccan, Puerto Rican, Kanien’kehaka, Onondowaga, Irish, and German. Rudy Chidiac is a surreal painter and designer. He was born in 1992 in Lebanon. He graduated with an interior architecture degree and is a current architecture student at Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik in Lebanon. He is passionate about surrealism, futurism and neoclassicism. Philippa Dahrouj is a Graphic Design Student at the American University of Beirut. She loves writing and Photography, and published her first book, Papa in November 2013. Elizabeth Endara is a graduate student at the American University of Beirut studying English Literature. She is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and she graduated from Georgia State University in December of 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in Creative License Art and Literary Magazine and The Underground Art and Literary Journal. She came to Lebanon simply for a new experience, and because she really loves Lebanese food.
Ellen Francis is a senior at the American University of Beirut with a passion for writing, journalism, and print media. She has a keen interest in writing poetry, and narrative journalism pertaining to the ever-changing aspects of today’s Arab world, and the multitude of ways they can be interpreted. She is currently pursuing a minor in creative writing. In addition, she works as a staff writer for CES (Civil Engineering Society) newsletter and is an intern at The Daily Star. Yasmina Ghandour (penname and artist name Shizen Nana), is a Lebanese first year graphic design student at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Her artistic fields extend from Illustration to filmmaking and design. She strives to be a comic artist and a 2-D/3-D animator. Melissa Haddad is a 20-year-old studio art student at AUB. Drawing and painting is what she enjoys doing most. Nour Halawi is a medical student at the American University of Beirut. Tala Elissa Hanania is a senior Journalism student at the Lebanese American University. She is originally Palestinian and has lived her whole life in Jordan. During her stay in Lebanon, she fell in love with Beirut’s enticing glamor, poetic mystery, and nostalgic culture. Norbert Hirschhorn is a public health physician, commended by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero.” He has
published four collections. His poems have appeared in numerous US/UK publications, several as prize-winning. He lives in London and Beirut. Darine Hotait is an American-Lebanese award winning writer, film director and published poet. She is the founder of Cinephilia Productions, an independent film production house in New York City. She holds an MFA in writing and film directing from the Art Center College of Design in California. Her poetry works were published in various magazines and her screenplays were optioned and produced. She is in the process of writing her first short story collection while also preparing to direct her debut feature film. "Sew A Side" is her first attempt at playwriting. She resides in New York City. Ismail Hutet is an architecture student at AUB. Interested in light, he experiments with this medium mainly in stage design, performance, drawing, and photography. Muriel Kahwagi is a faux-feminist and failed novelist. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, jam-making and nose-picking. Her work has appeared in The Daily Star and F/I/ M2/P. She graduated from AUB in 2011, and is currently based in London. Mario Khoury was born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. His passion for art developed in search of expression and communication. His work sheds the light on under-appreciated things such as religion and societies. With a sense of abstraction, he managed to exhibit his photography in the French Consulate of Jeddah and then won the “Create and Inspire” competition which got him to showcase his artwork in the British Museum. Mario is currently preparing upcoming works in collaboration with international galleries and is studying architecture in hope to better understand the link between the habitat and the inhabitants of spaces.
Ziad Lawen is a current AUB student and has always had quite the passion for writing. Growing up a hiphop head, poetry has always enticed him. Heba Malaeb is a Product Design student at Parsons the New School for Design, shuffling between Beirut and New York. She struggles with writing in the third person. Elena Monzo received her degree in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera, Milan. Her studies focused entirely on the artistic creation and research of the feminine figure. Her work underlines the decay of society in its fixation on aesthetic rules. The tools used by the artist are acrylics, graphite, make-up, textures strips, and glitter, which unite the different parts of the bodies creating a chaotic and visionary whole. Her work has been exhibited in the Bologna Art Fair and several exhibitions internationally. She was awarded with the Camera di Commercio prize in the city of Mantova and won the first edition of the international contest CALL FOR BUSHWICK (New York). She is a recurrent resident at Alia Residency in Ain Zhalta, Lebanon. Lina Mounzer is a writer and translator based in Beirut Nawal Muradwij goes by the nickname "curly fry," which says volumes both about her hair, and her love for french fries. She has always found poetry to be both therapeutic, and a constant challenge to balance her love for the whimsical and magical, with a mind that constantly wants to write down what is wrong with the world. She aspires to be a psychologist, and adores apple pie. Alia Neaton is a writer and editor who received a master of arts in writing and publishing from DePaul University in 2013. Her poems can be seen in the Fall 2013 issue of Sixfold. She is currently working on her
first full-length manuscript, an exploration of modern society’s dynamic relationship with food. Her father, a native of Lebanon who was raised in Beirut, has profoundly influenced her writing and artistry. Alia currently lives in Chicago with her husband and newborn son. Nour Osseiran was born in Beirut in 1993. She started attending AUB in 2011 where she majored in Studio Arts. She hopes to forge a career as a visual artist in Beirut. Rima Rantisi teaches at the American University of Beirut's English department. She is the co-founder and editor of Rusted Radishes: Beirut Literary and Art Journal. Christine Rice's novel-in-progress, Swarm Theory, was recently shortlisted in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. Her work has appeared in Jaded Ibis’s Bleed, Chicago Tribune, Detroit’s Metro Times and Metro Parent, The Good Men Project, The Urbaness.com, CellStories.net, F Magazine and her radio essays have been produced by WBEZ Chicago. She’s a Chicago Now blogger at www.chicagonow.com/what-wouldroyko-do/ and the managing editor of www. Hypertextmag.com. Christine has taught at Columbia College Chicago since 1992. From 2001 to 2013, she edited CCC Department of Creative Writing’s award-winning publication Hair Trigger and chaired CCC’s national Young Authors Writing Competition for high school writers. Christine has also served as a Columbia Scholastic Press Association judge multiple times over the past ten years. Aiya Sakr is a graduate student of Literature and Writing and a composition instructor at Utah State University in Logan, UT. Born in Philadelphia, she moved back to Amman, Jordan, her parent’s hometown at the age of four. She is bilingual and multicultural, and her writing often incorporates elements from her Arab roots. When she isn’t
busy being a graduate student, she enjoys Downton Abbey and doodling on every flat surface she can get her hands on. Zeina Bacardi Sakr was born in Nicosia Cyprus but lived most of her life in Lebanon. She is an AUB junior majoring in studio arts. Most of her early artwork is portraits using graphite and charcoal on paper. Recently, she has been working with oil on canvas and has sold a number of her paintings. She has also been experimenting with clay. She has an unhealthy obsession with elephants, among other things, including music. Among the people who inspire her most are Audrey Hepburn, Ad Reinhardt, Rene Magritte, and Larry Bird. Loulwa Soweid is a psychology student at AUB and cannot read your mind. She pronounces it “expresso” and loves wearing her “Keep Talking, I’m Diagnosing You” T-shirt. She suffers from legit OCD, but after studying a range of disorders in university has decided that she also has a mix of mild bipolarity, a form of paranoid schizophrenia and an inability to deal with negative emotions, although her psychologist assures her that all she truly suffers from is OCD. Rather than fret about the ever-spiraling human condition, Loulwa prefers to drown her worries in chocolate, somehow managing to get it all over her face, and holds a grudging admiration for those who can strut in heels. She adores writing and is an avid believer in trying to understand why people act the way they do. Jana Traboulsi is a visual artist, illustrator and designer. In design, she is primarily interested in work with a social and cultural purpose, and works both alone and in collaboration with institutions on publications mainly, but also visual identities and campaigns, combining illustration and design, images and words, approaching design through the idea of authorship. She has published
a number of books as an illustrator and an author-illustrator, including her latest work, Cette blessure d’où je viens (Le Port a Jauni, Marseille, 2013). Her work also includes comics and editorial illustrations for magazines and newspapers in Lebanon and abroad. Since 2005, she has been drawing regularly for the Lebanese daily Assafir. She teaches at both the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese University. Her work has been exhibited both locally and internationally in a number of group shows including at the Tate Modern in London. Since 2008, she has been regularly posting some of her illustration work and sketches on her blog: ayloul.blogspot.com.
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In its third year of publication, Rusted Radishes: Beirut Literary and Art Journal is happy to be alive! This journal features exclusive works from a diverse collection of emerging and established writers and artists whose colorful pieces form a striking collage of fluid symbols of the Lebanese psyche in poetry, prose, drama, and art. Housed in the American University of Beirutâ€™s English Department, RR is edited and designed by a staff of faculty and students from both the Departments of English and Architecture and Design. RR presents the best of student and faculty writing and art at AUB as well as of writers and artists from a broad, even international, scope with a tangible connection to Lebanon. It defines its base as a Beirut publication in hopes of nurturing an evolving creative community that is equally willing to teach, learn, praise, and critique. Please see inside for submission and contact information if you would like to join in this mission.
Tarek Abi Samra Samer Akl Zeina Hashem Beck Ahimsa Timoteo BodhrĂ n Rudy Chidiac Philippa Dahrouj Elizabeth Endara Fouad Mohamed Fouad Ellen Francis Yasmina Ghandour Melissa Haddad Nour Halawi Tala Elissa Hanania Norbert Hirschhorn Darine Hotait Ismail Hutet Muriel Kahwagi Mario Khoury Ziad Lawen Heba Malaeb Elena Monzo Lina Mounzer Nawal Muradwij Alia Neaton Nour Osseiran Rima Rantisi Christine Rice Aiya Sakr Zeina Bacardi Sakr Loulwa Soweid Jana Traboulsi