a feminist journal of language and art
summer 2013 online issue
a feminist journal of language and art
Summer 2013 Online Issue
So to Speak Summer 2013 Online Issue Subscriptions and all other correspondence may be addressed to: So to Speak, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MSN 2C5, Fairfax, VA 22030-4444. <www.sotospeakjournal.org> Subscriptions: $7/sample issue, $12/one year, $22/two years Submissions: We welcome all work relating to feminism. Please submit no more than five (5) poems at a time; all forms are invited. Limit fiction to 5,000 words and essays to 4,000 words. Art should be sent electronically (.tif; .jpg) to STS@gmu.edu. We welcome collaborations. All submissions should be sent electronically through our Submission Manager. For more detailed guidelines and for contest information, visit our website at sotospeakjournal.org. Our reading period is from August 1 through October 15 for the Spring issue and from January 1 through March 15 for the Fall issue. Cover art: â€œPerditaâ€? by Launa Bacon The editors would like to thank Jennifer Atkinson, all the authors and artists who submitted to our journal, Jacques Moyal, the Phoebe staff, William Miller, the Fall for the Book Festival staff, the editorial circle that founded So to Speak (Jamy Bond, Sara Brown, Leslie Bumstead, Jean Donnelly, Colleen Kearney Rich, Isadora Lector, Stephanie Muller, and Rebecca Wee), as well as all past editors of the journal. So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art is committed to representing the work of writers and artists from diverse perspectives and experiences and does not discriminate on the basis of race, class, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, culture of origin, disability, political affiliation, marital or parental status, Vietnam-era veteran status, or similar characteristics. So to Speak is published bi-annually at George Mason University. Opinions expressed by authors and editors do not necessarily reflect the official views of the university. All rights reserved. No material herein may be reprinted by any means, recorded or quoted, other than for review purposes, without the express permission of the authors or artists, to whom all rights revert after serial publication.
a feminist journal of language and art Editor Michele K. Johnson Managing Editor Erin McDaniel Assistant Editor Christina Elaine Collins Fiction Editor Elizabeth Egan Nonfiction Editor Jessie Szalay Poetry Editor Amber L. Cook Art Editor Ceci Cole McInturff Blog Editor Sheryl Rivett Assistant Fiction Editor Julie Dickson
Assistant Nonfiction Editor Alexandra Ghaly Assistant Poetry Editor Alicia K. Padovich Fiction Readers Paula Beltrรกn Ah-reum Han Claudina Hannon Dan Hong Christyne Kern David Robinson Matthew Salyers Nonfiction Readers Liz Hambrick Poetry Readers Catee Baugh Anya Creightney Luke Huffman Moirah Jones Michael Kern James Merrifield Kate Partridge Lauren Stahl
FICTION Katya Kulik Io: the Lost Part
Dawn Corrigan Kitty and the Three Decisions
NONFICTION Jennifer Arin Means of Support
Michele Leavitt The Swizzle
Lauren Banka On Permissions To Be Queer
POETRY Michelle Lee Milk: A Year in Chapters Kendra Bartell Blason
Karen An-hwei Lee On the Biographical Injunction of Persimmons Dear Sor Juana Kafka Faces up to His Old Flames On Lilies and Cyclamen Dear Xenophobia
26 27 28 30 31
Jane Otto Before Roe v. Wade Postcard to Sigmund Freud from Istanbul, Turkey
Lauren M. Plitkins We Nap Alexa Doran Sex Studies (see also solo) 6 So to Speak
Gail Waldstein Luxembourg encore
Ruth Williams The Bright Side of Sister
Christie Collins Whole Nine Yards
Jacqueline Kolosoff Scaffold for a Paper Doll
Rebecca Morgan Frank BLOOM
VISUAL ART Launa Bacon Perdita
Marcia Weisbrot During the War
Stephanie Sauer there is no grammar
Duat Vu Immigrant Women: Choosing Pillars of Salt Anna Helm Helm Dr端ben vor der Scheunent端re
Adislen Reyes Pino Explosion Rojo
Camden Richards and Alessandra Echeverri Captive
Sue Leopard Girl Struggles
Nikki Thompson Dodger Blues
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Ying-Chieh Liu W-LB-G-B-B-G-LB-W
Leilei Guo Nest-Soho
8 So to Speak
During the War
Paper, thread, and buttons 16”h x 5”w x 1”d So to Speak 9
Milk: A Year in Chapters Chapter I. I measure your life in ounces. Chapter II. Each drop collects in a cask of hard plastic as the machine sucks and pumps and I hear the clatter of glass bottles left by the back door in my mother’s day, when starched white men delivered milk ice-cold, fresh from the cow cream foaming at the top. Chapter III. “DRINK ME,” and so the little girl ventured, and finding it very nice, like cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast all swirled on her tongue, she very soon finished it off. Chapter IV. some days thin as pond water some days centimeters of fat curdling the mouths of jars huddled and crowding the fridge, jars of me liquid, congealing. 10 So to Speak
Chapter V. Listen, my child, to Lady MacBeth: Come to my woman’s breasts, and take my milk for gall1. Not long ago I played MacDuff and wore knee-high boots. I was the only one who cried on bended knee for my children carried a sword and bled for my king. For four nights, I vanquished tyranny. I was 35—in an all-female theatre troupe and was the straightest arrow in drag. Listen, my child, come to my woman’s breasts and take. Chapter VI. mumpty, you call it with such ardor but sometimes I hear mommy empty -you drink me ravenous and I am swallowed into the plump of your cheeks, the full of your belly, the length of your cry that tells and retells the story of how you burrowed breech into the hole of my muscle and, over time, grew so large you claimed me. Chapter VII. And so said the angel of the house, looking down upon the coo in her arms: She is a dove/My soul draws to its breast. Chapter VIII. And so said I, barely remembering my name and wearing a top 1
Bold, impudent behavior So to Speak 11
gnashed with holes for a greedy suckle: And so my breast is rent/With the burthen and strain of its great content. Chapter IX. And so said my mother: I never breast-fed any of you kids and you turned out fine. Chapter X. They don’t tell you how a woman’s hindmilk separates after chilling. For nearly 400 days, I split in two and two and two again. The fat peeled away from bones and my emptiness became you. Chapter XI. Recently, I heard about women selling their milk for cash. I still have nightmares, the color of vanilla on stainless steel, of pouring my milk down the kitchen sink because my daughter didn’t like the taste of frozen milk thawed: jar after jar, milk as thick as buttermilk clinging to the sides of a churn, sliced by the rubber teeth of the disposal, then ground into last night’s macaroni and cheese. Chapter XII. Wean. Want. Withdraw. Discourage. Detach. Remove. Replace. Turn one away from something long desired. Free.
12 So to Speak
there is no grammar
Pattern tissue, ink, linen thread, metal 52.25”h x 20”w x 11”d So to Speak 13
Immigrant Women: Choosing Pillars of Salt
Ink on paper 11”h x 15”w 14 So to Speak
Means of Support For the first time in over a decade, I’m buying a bra. I’ve never cared for these confining undergarments. And yet, a new teaching job at a local college means that the happy days of free rein are over—at least, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Going bra-less in the classroom is unthinkable; despite the odds, it’s possible that not every student will be texting all the time. A dedicated few might even sit in front and look at their instructor. So here I am, browsing through a department store’s lingerie collection. The racks in lingerie teem with bras of all shapes. My own bra size remains a murky memory: 35 or 36, I think, followed by an equally uncertain letter (B? C?). Seeing my confusion, a saleswoman strides towards me. Sixty or so and bosomy, she gazes brazenly at my chest (which, I remember now, becomes public domain during brashopping expeditions). She measures me, then selects a handful of items. They look like aliens: something from close encounters of the gird kind. I carry them, reluctantly, to the fitting rooms. Once inside, I fumble with each bra’s too-tight straps. Worse, my right arm seems to be in the left-arm loop, which would explain why I can’t get the thing on. No slacker (though I wish the bras were), the saleswoman approaches my dressing room, asks if I’m all right, and quickly pulls the curtain aside. Another memory returns, now as reinforced as a cup with underwire: bra saleswomen are like parents who barge into your room without knocking. Watching me struggle, she tugs at her measuring tape: “Is this your first one?” Parents who enjoy condescension. “Just my first in a while.” “You burned the others, hmm?” If I weren’t stuck in my bra-to-be, I’d protest—but one difficult situation at a time is plenty. The saleswoman exits, sighing, and closes the curtain firmly around me, probably to spare others my apparent lack of apparel skill. Minutes later, she returns with a couple So to Speak 15
of sports bras. Pathetically, I struggle with those, too. How tight they are around the back! Getting in and out requires Houdini-like skill—and I might suffer a Houdini-like fate, barely able to pull each bra over my shoulders to wriggle out. It’s hard to say which is worse: wearing a bra, or shopping for one. Still, the semester starts next week, and I’d rather avoid student evaluations with comments like “decent instructor, indecent outfits.” So I check other bra options on the shelf, and find Chantelle’s Rêverie. Maybe this bra, as its name suggests, is the one women dream of—especially since, according to the garment’s dangling tag, “At Chantelle, the birth of a bra is always a happy event.” Bras are good things when they fit properly, I tell myself, and return to the fitting room in pursuit of the dream. Cup size: check. Elastic band: tight, but I guess it’s supposed to be; they all fit that way. No wonder I never liked these rib-restrictors. When I get home, strapped into my new item like a skydiver into a parachute, I turn on the TV just in time to catch Oprah. Her guest is a woman who’s gushing about a brassiere that saved her life. She was about to mow the lawn without her bra, the guest says, but a higher authority made her change her mind and put on her Maidenform Liquid Curves. A piece of the lawnmower blade, one-and-a-half inches thick, broke off and flew towards her chest. The liquid padding caught the piece. She concludes, “I’ll never mow the lawn again without my lucky bra.” My own doesn’t seem so luck-enhancing. After an hour, a red ring circumferences my rib cage, even though this fifty-dollar garment is supposed to be top of the line. Unlike wine and cheese, the bra— this one, at least—appears not to be a French specialty, despite the term’s French roots. Spelled bracière in the 14th century, when errant knights fought for their kings, the word meant a piece of armor for the bras, or arm. My personal armor, the Rêverie, slowly cuts off my blood supply. Though the day and my bra are still young, I take off the chest-squeezer and tuck it into a dresser drawer. This is a reasonably safe maneuver because I live in an apartment and have no lawn to mow. The bra waits for me like a small but sharp-toothed animal, poised to pounce, and curled into a deceptively soft bundle. 16 So to Speak
Blason Make do & mend: sew up your skin & do not say NO. Your face in the mirror in parallel—one eye winks in pair, seven millisecond delay of process Your scar that proves a child’s wonderment, what wandered away. & fingers, callused from years of guitar, guilt; neck, cricked from books & breath. Your breasts, the switched off silver lining. You have felt the weight of your hair as it falls. The blazing & blush, bloodstream hushed by still skin. We as humans are just decay: you have yet to be yourself & still another’s.
So to Speak 17
Io: the Lost Part I. Plot. This is a story of a woman who was a toy for the people she loved most. She was beautiful and they turned her into a cow. Is this a tragedy? Pretty tragic, yes. But if you mean, whether anybody dies at the end, then no. It’s a comedy then. Kind of. If you find being a cow hilarious. II. Characters. My name’s Iolanta. Iola. But everybody calls me Io, because we live in the age of haste. Can you imagine that pronouncing two vowels instead of four with three consonants in between saves you a second and a half which you can spend on something else? If you say twenty Ios instead of twenty Iolantas a day, it makes thirty seconds. In the busy world where people don’t have free time for those who love them, that’s hell of a lot of free time, if you think of it. Half a minute. Thirty Iloveyous. But remember — brisk eh-oh. Don’t drawl and turn me into Eeyore, that one is an absolutely different story. * My mom, June. Juno, actually, but she didn’t like the sound of it: so damn archaic. 18 So to Speak
And not my biological mother, too. I was adopted. June used to say that my dad was not even a history, but a mystery, and my real mom was some nymph. It seemed to me so romantic until I grew older and found out that it was a shortened form of “nymphomaniac.” In this family we are keen on abbreviations. June is authoritative, powerful, smart, and haughty. Her sharp tongue is a legend. She always called me an inert cow, and it vexed her that I was calm, soft, and unlikely ever to hurt a fly. Even if it were a gadfly. No spine. No ambition. Good you have these beautiful cow eyes of yours. At least we can lure some guy to marry you one day. But I love June. I admire her, I worship her, I try to imitate her. * And last but not least Jup, the world’s greatest womanizer. Jup is short for Jupiter, another linguistic innovation of June in the on-going struggle against the time waste. Jup is gorgeous and has thousands of stories which involve him and a certain lady. He is an enthralling storyteller and always the winner. Women feel god blessed when he sleeps with them a couple of times and then disappears forever. June hates these stories, and her left eyebrow starts twitching at the mere mention of Jup’s diverse love life. I could never understand whether June and Jup are or were married, but there is some history, I can feel it. June smiles more often than usual during his visits. III. Thoughts. After I turned sixteen, Jup started to pay me more and more attention. He told me his stories, always the funny ones, took me to the movies, always the stirring ones, brought me books, always the exciting ones. So to Speak 19
When June noticed it, she went berserk: Silly cow, do you want to be fooled like those in the stories you like so much? They had a fight, because she was jealous and he: didn’t mean any harm. I didn’t want to hurt her, but it was stronger than anything. He was irresistible, and we started to see each other in secret. I was nervous about having sex, but with him everything was just as it should be: so good. He said that he had never seen anyone enjoy their first time so much to which I responded that maybe the genes of my biological mother had finally started to kick in. It was the first time I made him laugh so hard and I was very proud. He told me how beautiful I was, and how he liked my shapely figure, and that we had a special connection between us. We had a lot of fun. IV. Reversal of situation. Thinking about it now, I don’t know who, in fact, turned me into a cow: Jup or June. They both were so imposing and strong, that I never dared to talk in front of them, just stood there, silent like an animal, staring at them with my large cow-eyes with long eyelashes. It was just another huge fight over me. She’s mine! shouted June. She’s old enough to decide whether she wants to be mine! he thundered. I stood there and didn’t know what to do, because I loved them both. I loved June, my real mother, and I loved him, even though I never found the courage to say that aloud, but it was only because my mumbled Iloveyou would never describe how I adored him, worshipped him, enjoyed him. What do you mean, old enough? She’s a stupid sixteen-year-old cow, who runs to her mother’s bed when she has a bad dream! Well, now you can have some rest, June, while she is running to mine. I didn’t want them to quarrel, but they just couldn’t stop. They would never be satisfied unless only one of them would have me. It was unbearable, it was painful, and I felt so heavy that I couldn’t stand 20 So to Speak
up anymore, so I lowered down on my fours. Something strange was happening: my skin became fleecy white, and my palms and feet became black and rough. A long thing with a tassel was now hanging from my rear end, and an enormous ugly udder protruded its pinky teats between my hind legs. They were swearing at each other while I was turning into a cow. And they didn’t give a damn, because it was all about them, not me. Stop it, I wanted to shout, Stop it! And they stopped. Because the only sound that fell now from my wet hairy lips was Moo! Moo! Moo! V. Recognition. And later it turned out that in addition to being a cow, I was pregnant. At first, there were reassuring words: that they would help me with everything, that I would be fine, and it was going to be all right. Although how could it be, if I was really a white heifer. Beautiful for a cow, maybe, but not for a woman who dreamed about sitting for Praxiteles’ sculptures not so long ago. Soon June avoided me as much as possible. Jup, who said that he would be always there for me, suddenly became a very busy person. I am sorry, sweetheart, I am not coming over today, I have an important meeting, Very important deadline, honey, I am sorry, I don’t have time. Darling, I am so so sorry, no free time, those Trojans, they are impossible. God, my life is so difficult! And then, there were accusations. You are really growing fat, sweetie, you should look after yourself. You should go out more often, you really shouldn’t focus all your life on me! You are not listening to me, you blame me for everything, you don’t care about me, and my life is so damn difficult! His life was difficult? Try to be a pregnant cow for a change. And then, like a thunder: It is not you, honey. I am just not a relationship kind of person. So to Speak 21
VI. Spectacle. And you know what, he added, you never even loved me. It was all about your adult life initiation. And that was it. I didn’t love you, you, selfish bastard? I lowered down my head which now had a pair of glossy black horns on it and gave him the strongest butt I was capable of. He tumbled down with a clap. What the heck? shouted Jup, but when he saw that I was preparing for the second time, he got up and started to run. I followed him and butted him again and again. I let him escape after the seventh one, because I got tired running fast, pregnant, but he had had enough— he could hardly walk. I had beaten the crap out of the guy. VII. Song. And then? I traveled to Egypt, and there in the sacred waters of the Nile gave birth to a boy and became human again. My son’s name is Ep—shortened for Epaphos. My smiling chubby baby boy. June turned out to be a great grandma to Ep, and she never calls me a cow in front of him. When I told her about our tragic parting with Jup, she laughed like mad and said that finally her cow-girl showed some cojones. It was the first time I made June laugh and I was very proud. Jupiter is fine too, philandering around, telling his stories. He had never told anybody what happened to him that day when he was found lying on the road beaten to pulp, just vaguely mentioned that he suffered from a bout of some mysterious mad cow disease. Does it bother you that only his part of the story is remembered as the myth of Io? I don’t care what goes into myths and legends. I know what I know 22 So to Speak
And what I know is that I have beaten the crap out of him. I have beaten the crap out of the bastard.
So to Speak 23
Helm Drüben vor der Scheunentüre
Hand-bound artist book, horizontal format Edition of 10 13.7”h x 11”w
24 So to Speak
Adislen Reyes Pino
Silkscreen artist’s book of 12 pieces in limited edition 9”h x 27”w
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Karen An-hwei Lee
On the Autobiographical Injunction of Persimmons What is the autobiographical injunction in these words? asks a persimmon. On the first of the new year, this questionâ€” more of an injunction of sorts to tell a tale. God designed my face small-boned and hairless, just as I was born. Nothing of note erupted. Reams of paper in the office, a calyx. Blossom-end. Reams of paper aside. The labor of lilies unspinning in fields peeled from my skin. One hachiya ripens in a bag on the counter, heart- curve. No children run home on the sidewalk or ride their bicycles with summer dresses on, since I am not a mother. No recent news to brood over, The world, its blue of influence, rakes over and again, cut persimmon flesh bathed in an organ of its own bloodâ€” push-and-pull, a sac of tides. I turn forty this November. Is the season for love already passed or yet to bear fruit? To be continued. 26 So to Speak
Karen An-hwei Lee
Dear Sor Juana Unleavened bread left in the oven, frĂo. Cold. And a woman lives in blindness. Black mold flowering on winter days and nights. And sleeps without a light. A mustard seed cascado under its mother tree. Cracked, it cannot sing. And no one sees she is blind. Giving in marriage, a parting of olives, new wineskins. And a woman opens her hands. Skin of a leaper heals smooth without a rift. And a woman waits upon God. Sor Juana writes silva in the darkness, praying. Silva to silva in one language. And strophes of alternating primes. Silvaâ€”seven syllables, eleven syllables, floating rhymes. And a woman tastes bread. Casi me he determinado a dejarlo al silencio. And she takes refuge in silence.
So to Speak 27
Karen An-hwei Lee
Kafka Faces up to His Old Flames1 Dear Max— Yesterday, before falling asleep, I heard the voices of women. I opened my personnel folder— A novel I did not write, everything recorded by invisible angels. Novel-I-did-not-write in a stack of insurance reports, grievances. I weep— Must I undergo anti-sexual harassment training every single day for the rest of my life? Yes, the answer is yes. A woman is not an object. No quid pro quo. How do I atone for this catalogue of sins? How do I tell my love, Dora? Note—p. 79 In a letter from Franz Kafka to Max Brod dated July 10, 1912: “Yesterday before falling asleep I thought I heard women’s voices.” 28 So to Speak
Karen An-hwei Lee
Felice? Julie? Milena? Please burn everything.
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Karen An-hwei Lee
On Lilies and Cyclamen Once upon a time, I had not yet lost anyone I loved. La meurte stayed at bay. No close kin in any sense of the word. Everyone I grew up with was alive. Doing what life does every day. When a woman lost her mother, I brought lilies and cyclamen. I was a girl. Long tulips in a muslin bag with satin tresses. I wrote in a card, and everyone signed. Later, she said, I wish the funeral guests sent more dessert. Macaroons or lenguas de gato or pie. Enough of casseroles and fowl-laden dishes. Cut flowers wilt quickly, twice deceased. I did not know what to sayâ€”and how to say it. Empathy listens to words behind the words, a face behind one in the mirror. Taped to the console, a note. Flowersâ€” a reminder of the loss.
30 So to Speak
Karen An-hwei Lee
Dear Xenophobia Dear xenophobia who mistook me for a girl, one could not speak your language well
I turn forty this November.
Yesterday, my name was girl. This hour, my name is woman. This is not the poem you wrote today, sitar ghazals or flowing-brush zuihitsu in dual languages twice, a quartet. This poem never arose translating four shi by a Chinese woman poet, deceased, whose work is not circulated in the West. At this moment, stranger you are the one who is obscure.
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Camden Richards and Alessandra Echeverri
Mirror, plexiglass, transparency film, book board, and book cloth Closed: 6”h x 6”w x 3”d Opened: 2’h x 2’w x .25”d
32 So to Speak
Artist’s accordion book of 36 individual collages on 18 double-sided pages, on various Italian and Japanese papers, housed in a clamshell box Edition of three Closed: 6”h x 6”w x 2”d Opened: 6”h x 108”w x 2”d
So to Speak 33
The Swizzle In a month’s time, an unusual month, I lost six clients: three women who worked as prostitutes fell victim to unsolved murders, a heroin-addicted man took a header out of a window during an aborted burglary and split his skull on concrete, an alcoholic man drowned when his dory capsized at the mouth of the Saugus River, and then there was Shawn, the one I killed. In the early 1980’s, I worked on a contract basis for the Essex County public defender’s office in Massachusetts. The city of Lynn spread out to beaches and forests from a downtown dominated by abandoned brick factory buildings, sleazy barrooms, and boarded-up storefronts. Our courthouse, the busiest one in the county, had been erected in the 1970’s as a replacement for the make-shift second floor of the police. The new courthouse was top-heavy; the levels jutted over the lower ones, creating an overhang where people stood and smoked cigarettes out of the rain or snow, once smoking had been prohibited inside the building. But the story about me and Shawn began before that, on a Monday morning back when smoke in the lobbies and hallways of the courthouse still hovered just below the ceiling like a flying carpet made of fog. Back when the state mental hospitals had released all but the most dangerous or most vulnerable of their patients to the mercy of the street, when the pendulum of justice for mentally ill folks had swung from the side of protectionism to the side of self-determination, when much of the state’s mental health staff had moved from hospitals to courthouses. The interior walls of the new courthouse were made of poured concrete slabs with finger-sized ruts, as if a rake had been drawn down the walls, top to bottom, over and over again. Smoke residue collected on the nubby surface of the wall and in its channels, so the cream-painted concrete became progressively tobacco-toned as it rose to the ceiling. I smoked then, and had just stubbed out my Marlboro when the elevator door opened to take me to the lock-up in the basement where I would begin interviewing the weekend’s arrestees who hadn’t made bail. The lock-up was a cinderblock room with a 34 So to Speak
metal desk where court officers sat and snoozed or played cards or read magazines. This room, too, was filled with smoke, but the smoke did little to disguise the smell of poorly metabolized alcohol and the sweat of fear and withdrawal. The desk faced two barred cells where the prisoners were kept: men, women, and children. Since there were only two cells and each of these three groups had to be segregated from the other two, sometimes women or children sat in the main room with the court officers. On that morning, as I peered through the narrow rectangular window from the hallway into the lockup, I was surprised to see an unrestrained white man sitting outside of the cells. Brendan, one of the court officers, opened the door for me, and then I could see that one cell was occupied by women, and the other by men. “Michele, how’s it going?” he said. “Do you have Shawn? Shawn Delancey?” The unfamiliar, unrestrained white man was Shawn Delancey, and I did, in fact, have him. I had been appointed to represent him that morning on a question of bail. He was a big man, clearly of Irish descent, well-nourished and remarkably unwrinkled, considering he’d spent at least one night locked up at the police station. “You know the Delanceys, don’t you, Michele?” asked Brendan. “They own the Swizzle.” I knew the Swizzle; it was a bar in a formerly Irish-nowincreasingly-Dominican neighborhood, a rough place. I had drunk there, picked up men there, even sucker-punched someone there, and I had probably met the owners, but without their faces to remind me, I couldn’t be sure. But I was sure I knew Shawn. “Sort of,” I said. “You their son?” I asked, turning to Shawn. “Yah,” he said, grinning. His hair was collar-length, auburn and wavy, his complexion ruddy, his nose long and thin; his lips were red and he had all his teeth, white teeth, straight teeth. He looked to be in his early thirties, a little older than me. Someone had lent him a razor, and someone had decided he didn’t need to be handcuffed, and someone had decided he could sit out in the room with Brendan, away from the other defendants. The hot, soured whiskey smell seeped from his skin, though, as it did from so many defendants. He balanced on the back legs of his chair, cocked his head back and So to Speak 35
squinted down his nose at me. “Can you get me outta here?” That squint, that uplift of his jaw, brought me back to how I knew him, to a night when he had been bartending, and I had been drinking. My friend Diane and I, who fancied ourselves ass connoisseurs, had admired his from the other side of the bar before he swung around from the cooler to shove the long necks of our Bud Light bar bottles into our waiting hands. “Two-fifty,” he had said, rolling his shoulders back and looking down his nose at us. It was a working man’s bar. Women were suspect. He was right to suspect us. It was the late 1970’s. Diane worked as a supervisor for the railroad and I was in law school. We thought we were just as capable and proficient as any man when it came to work, and we thought we were just as capable and proficient as any man when it came to drinking, too. And when it came to sex, which it sometimes did. “Listen, Michele,” Brendan said, tugging on my linen suit jacket, “Shawn here is a good kid. He broke into the bar after hours with some friends and they tore the place up and his dad had a shit-fit and called the cops. They probably won’t prosecute.” “Okay,” I said. I put my briefcase on Brendan’s desk and pulled out my clipboard. “You’re lucky, Shawn,” Brendan said. “She knows what she’s doing, unlike some of . . .” “Yeah, yeah,” I interrupted, pulling a pen from my flimsy chignon and turning to my new client. “Shawn, have you always lived here?” Brendan sat down and picked up a magazine. He respected me for getting down to business, and my business was to make the strongest argument I could to set my clients free. At that time, the bail statute required the prosecutor’s office to show the defendant was a flight risk in order for bail to be set because defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty, and bail was just a mechanism to insure a defendant’s appearance at trial. In practice, though, prosecutors often made comments about a defendant’s history of violence and judges often considered whether a defendant was dangerous when deciding whether and how much bail was warranted. So, when I asked Shawn my standard bail hearing questions about 36 So to Speak
his roots in the community – his family ties, length of residence, job, church, social clubs, volunteer work, school – I also asked about his criminal record. “Nothing major,” he said. “A couple of DWIs I went to drunk school for.” He paused for effect, and then said ���That’s where they teach you how to get drunk.” I’d hear the joke before, but it seemed particularly ironic in Shawn’s case. “Ever been to rehab?” I continued. “Treatment? AA?” “Just drunk school for the DWIs. Those AA people are fucked-up.” He paused and squinted down his nose at me again. “Can you get me outta here?” “Probably,” I said. “I’ll see you upstairs.” I had a line on my interview form for drug and alcohol counseling. I wrote “N/I” for “not interested” on the line, my shorthand for the futility of trying to talk people into treatment if they had no interest in it. Behind the bars of the two cells, there were a dozen other defendants waiting to talk with me. Most of the men were in for driving drunk, or for breaking into a neighbor’s house to steal something to get money for drugs, or for exchanging drugs for money, or money for drugs. The women, four of them that morning, were in for common nightwalking, a euphemism for street-corner prostitution, which is all about getting quick cash to buy drugs. Periodically, I glanced back at Shawn, who was playing cribbage with Brendan. There had been no look of recognition in his eyes when we talked. He didn’t recognize me. People I had known in other dimensions of life rarely did recognize me in court. As I finished up my last interview, there was a sharp, authoritative rap on the door. Brendan groaned. “It’s Two-Scoops,” he said. Two-Scoops was the court officers’ euphemism for our court psychiatrist, Steve. I never knew if the nickname derived from the white lab coat Steve wore that looked like a soda-jerk’s uniform, or if a more derogatory connotation escaped me, but I did know the court officers resented Steve because his area of expertise was commitment hearings for people alleged to be mentally ill or otherwise a danger to themselves. These hearings, often added on top of regular criminal proceedings, inevitably delayed the processing of defendants through So to Speak 37
the court system. And no one could go home, or even step out for a beer or to pick up dry cleaning, if the basement still contained unprocessed defendants. Steve and I were enemies because we both liked to be right and because our opinions rarely coincided, though I wasn’t above sucking up to him when I had clients who wanted to be committed or who wanted to go to treatment. Another authoritative rap hit the door. Brendan pushed up out of his chair, turned the locks, and Steve swept in. He was a short, slim man who took long steps, giving him an aura of importance in spite of the fact that he always wore sneakers. He was still young, but balding a bit, and he wore his hair and beard in a Freudian style. “I’ve been asked to evaluate Mr. Delancey!” he said. I took a few steps to stand next to Shawn. “Asked? By whom?” “His parents.” Steve said. “His parents are concerned that he may be suicidal.” I referred to my sheet, pausing and frowning as if searching for an important fact, but I wasn’t searching for a thing. Shawn could only be evaluated if he chose to or if someone brought an application – a “pink paper,” we called it – for an involuntary commitment. Someone had to come into court and sign that pink paper saying Shawn was a danger to himself or others due to mental illness or substance abuse. I shifted my weight to one foot and let one considerable hip jut out. “Mr. Delancey is thirty-two years old, Steve. Mommy and Daddy no longer have jurisdiction. Has anyone filed an application?” “Who is this guy?” asked Shawn. “This is Dr. Graaf, our court psychiatrist,” I said. “I believe he wants to evaluate you to see if you need to be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital or substance abuse facility, but you do not have to speak with him, especially if no one has filed an application to have you committed. In fact, if you want to walk out of here today, I advise you to refuse to speak with him. Because he is an employee of the court, anything you say to him can be repeated to the judge. There’s no confidentiality.” “And everyone he talks to gets pink-papered,” mumbled Brendan. 38 So to Speak
“Fuck that,” said Shawn. “And there you have it,” I said to Steve. “My client declines to speak with you.” Steve whirled back to the door, his white coat fanning out around his wiry frame. “I’m going to see Judge Camuso about this,” he said over his shoulder, “and we’ll see what happens.” A doctor’s job is to alleviate suffering, and some doctors believed that the laws making it difficult to involuntarily commit at-risk people resulted in greater suffering for those people. The job of a public defender, on the other hand, is to even up the odds, to level the playing field in the conflict between the individual (often a person stigmatized by poverty, ethnicity, mental illness, or addiction) and the machinery of justice (police officers, detectives, prosecutors, court clinic personnel, and probation officers) and to argue for that individual’s freedom, even if that means the freedom to make bad choices. I did not doubt my philosophy that day as I interviewed clients and advocated for their rights in the courtroom. I did not doubt the moral weight of the universe was on my side, the side fighting for each person’s right to self-determination, the side fighting for freedom from involuntary confinement. I bulldozed my way through each case, leveling that playing field as best I could. When Shawn’s case was called in the main courtroom early that afternoon, Judge Camuso invited me and the prosecutor, Jerry, up to the bench for an off-the-record conference, signaling the clerk to pause the tape recorder. “Dr. Graaf thinks this fellow should be evaluated for a possible commitment,” he said. “Apparently, he’s been causing his parents a lot of heartache with his drinking and the parents called the court clinic to see if he could get some help. What do you people have to say about it?” “I have no objection,” Jerry said. “No one’s filed an application for an involuntary commitment, Your Honor,” I said, “and my client has no interest in a voluntary commitment. It’s his family’s bar that he is alleged to have broken into. My client has a minimal record, and he wishes to be released on personal recognizance so he can make peace with his family. He’s an excellent candidate for personal recognizance.” “What about the booze, counselor? Is he interested in getting So to Speak 39
some help for that? Not necessarily a commitment. . . ” “Not at this time,” I said. “Okay. Step back. We’ll go back on record for the bail hearing.” Two Scoops brushed past the court officer who stood at the bar. “I’d like to be heard on this matter, Your Honor,” he said. “There’s nothing pending that requires your expertise, Doctor,” said the judge. “I just spoke with the parents, and they are coming down to file an application.” Judge Camuso looked up at the clock on the opposite wall and released a sigh worthy of a steam engine. It was ten minutes before one o’clock, the hour of our usual court recess. “Tell them to get down here before we come back from lunch, Doctor. I’m going to call this case again at precisely two p.m.” “I’ll do that, Your Honor,” said Steve as he turned on his heel and made a beeline for the lobby. I followed him out, with less energy. Shawn had been my last case of the day; everyone else had been processed, so I was a little ticked off that I’d be coming back after lunch. The lobby was deserted. I lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall next to the elevator. At the other end of the lobby, Steve made a U-turn and headed back toward me. “Your client is depressed,” he called out, still a dozen yards away from me. “His mother is frantic. She said he was talking about shooting himself yesterday morning when they found him in the bar.” Each word was punctuated by a long step bringing him closer to me until we stood nose to nose. “He’s a danger to himself. He needs to be committed.” “My client is a drunk,” I said. “He was probably still drunk from the night before when he made those statements. People say stupid things when they’re drunk.” This was common sense, but I was also speaking from personal experience. “He doesn’t seem suicidal now that he’s had a day and a half to sober up. He wants out. He has a minor record. He’s never defaulted. He’s going to walk.” “Not when his parents show up.” “How many times has his mother called you today, Steve?” I asked. “No; let me guess: half a dozen? Ten times?” 40 So to Speak
“She’s very concerned.” “How many times? More than ten?” I pushed the elevator call
“She’s very concerned.” “She likes the drama, but not enough to show up.” The elevator door slid open, and I got in. Asking Shawn a few questions about his mother, like whether she drank or whether she usually forgave him his excesses, seemed like a good idea. I had been to this particular circus before: the hysterical parent or spouse on the telephone, demanding that the defendant get some help, hanging up, calling back, and hanging up again when no one hopped into the ring with them. They rarely showed up in court, preferring to ride their little pony from a distance. Two p.m. rolled around and Judge Camuso came back on the bench. The court officers brought Shawn up from the basement into the prisoners’ dock. He looked pretty good from a distance, except for the way his eyes kept rolling to the courtroom door. Two Scoops leaned against the far wall. I imagined what that must feel like for him, his angular shoulder blades pressed into the concrete ruts. He was not a popular person, even among his colleagues in the court clinic, one of whom claimed he should have been a podiatrist because podiatrists can’t really hurt people. “Commonwealth versus Shawn Delancey,” the clerk intoned. I stood up in the prisoners’ dock next to my client and smirked a bit as Judge Camuso asked the clerk to hand over the file. “I don’t see any pink paper in here, Doctor,” Judge Camuso said, looking over at Steve. Judge Camuso was known for his big heart, but also for his lack of patience and for his sarcasm. I could tell by the way he stretched out the first syllable of “Doctor” that he was irritated. He turned to Jerry. “Does the Commonwealth wish to be heard on the question of bail?” “We do, Your Honor,” said Jerry. “We share Dr. Graaf ’s concerns.” “Dr. Graaf ’s concerns are not before the court,” Judge Camuso said. “In any event, I would object, Your Honor,” I interrupted. “The question before the court is whether bail is warranted, not So to Speak 41
whether my client needs a babysitter. Mr. Delancey has a minor record, no defaults, and he is a lifelong resident of the city. His family owns the bar he is accused of breaking into, and up until a few weeks ago, Mr. Delancey was the manager of that bar. This is a man who is not going anywhere; he is not a flight risk, and he is charged with nonviolent offenses. I respectfully ask that the court release him on personal recognizance.” From the opposite wall, Steve glowered at me as Judge Camuso reviewed Shawn’s probation record. I grinned, showing all my teeth, knowing Shawn’s record was exactly as I had represented it to be and that Steve was silenced by procedure and the rules of evidence. His conversations with Shawn’s parents were inadmissible hearsay; he had never seen or heard Shawn do or say anything that could be construed as a suicidal gesture. Unless Steve wanted to go out on a limb of his own making and file a pink paper himself, Shawn was going to walk. “What date for pretrial, counselor?” Judge Camuso asked me. I chose a date as far into the future as I thought I could get away with, betting that given enough time, the current Delancey family circus would fold and so would the case against Shawn, who was already walking out of the prisoner’s dock to shake my hand at the defense counsel’s table. I wrote his court date down on one of my business cards and strolled out of the courthouse with him into the wind of a raw afternoon that only slightly cooled the warm, cozy feeling of success. Shawn shook my hand once more on the courthouse steps, and then hurried off to attend to his own affairs. I stood under the overhang, smoking and trying to piece together what I remembered of that night Shawn and I were on opposite sides of the bar. Diane and I had run into two men we knew, friends of friends; one of them got a little too friendly with my ass, and I sucker punched him into a table. My dog, a black Great Dane named Mink who had been dozing under the table, leapt out and up toward the guy’s throat, seizing his forearm between her jaws. She was my back-up; she had been trained to do that. Chairs upended and beers spilled as people backed away from the snarling dance of dog and man. I knew that the harder he pulled away, the tighter her grip would get. At some point I called her off. 42 So to Speak
We may have been asked to leave, but as I remember it, the bar lights had been turned on, and it was time to leave any way. Walking back to my apartment, Diane and I ran into two boys who had some beers; they invited us back to their house for a party. It was high summer, the night was warm, and we weren’t done yet. The boys looked like high school kids, but we went with them anyway and drank their beers. The backyard they took us to obviously belonged to one of their parents, a fact they tried to deny in spite of the swing set, the laundry left hanging on the line. Diane woke up on a couch the next morning with a little girl poking her. “Who are you?” the little girl demanded. I woke up naked in an attic bedroom filled with early light, my cheek pressed against the tanned and hairless chest of a blond young man who was saying “My name is Billy. Remember?” A week after Shawn’s arraignment and release, as I made my way through the smoky corridor, Steve came pacing at me like a lion that had spotted prey, his hair wild and streaming, his stride so long he seemed to be levitating across the ceramic floor. “I hope you’re happy,” he hissed. “I just hope you’re finally happy.” “About what?” I asked. “Didn’t you hear? Shawn Delancey. His father found him Sunday morning. He hung himself in the bar. From a metal pipe.” For a minute I was aphasic; Steve’s words hung in the air, disconnected. Then an image of the Swizzle took shape in my mind – the bright lights of closing time turned on, the barstools flipped over onto the varnished bar, leaving the floor free for cleaning, and Shawn, hanging and spinning from one of the pipes in the ceiling, a chair kicked over on the floor beside him. “Maybe next time you’ll listen to me,” Steve said. But I would not listen, not the next time, nor the next, nor the next. I have never been a very good listener. We would both continue to be stuck in our own ruts, advocating either for the net of safety offered by paternalism or the tightwire of freedom offered by self-determination, the back-and-forth of how an imperfect system approximates justice, the back and forth of anyone’s imperfect life, of my life. Suffering people would continue to pass between us. All I can do for them now is remember their names. So to Speak 43
Before Roe v. Wade we hauled heavy loads— bricks in laundry baskets, a punch to the belly. We flung ourselves forward— dove down staircases to cut short the quickening in our bodies. We drank castor oil, took hot baths, swallowed purgatives, laxatives, brewer’s yeast, ergot, mugwort, “silver pills” of mercury. In the panic of a missed period, we douched with lye, bleach, slippery elm, potassium permanganate— the purple crystals that make flashbulbs flash, the uterus flush. Not even gin and quinine can quell the pulsing throb of a hard rubber catheter— a nozzle, thin as a pencil packed in a vagina, held fast by gauze. It could take two weeks for a fetus, no bigger than a bean, to emerge. In back alleys, in the hands of unwashed hands, it took cash, a kitchen table, and a coat hanger to risk death or a jail sentence. 44 So to Speak
Wearing our coats, clutching our purses, biting a filthy pillow to stifle the screams, we were felonsâ€”shoes on, ready to run, panties dangling from an ankle.
So to Speak 45
Postcard to Sigmund Freud from Istanbul, Turkey How is it that the two great loves of my life—my mother and my husband, not necessarily in that order—float in and out of my poppyfield wallpapered room at the Kybele Hotel? Just when I’m lost in the warp and weft, entwined in my husband’s arms and legs on a crimson and cobalt kilim—just when the digits of my spine are about to be rubbed raw from carpet burn, I’m in church with my mother. It’s the opiate of this room. It’s this ceiling, where antique lanterns glow like stained-glass windows above my bed—where red burns, holy as my mother’s lipstick. It’s hot in here. When I open the French doors to get some air, the smell of roasting corn and chestnuts rolls up from a street vendor’s cart. In the distance, the Hagia Sophia glows like a peach. As the call to prayer layers itself over the city like my velvet mauve and saffron covers, good Doctor, I push the loves of my life aside—step out on my balcony, offer my prayer. Let me lay down in a scarlet field of remembrance. Let me smolder and flame.
46 So to Speak
Lauren M. Plitkins
We Nap Hear yourself say stone, feel the soft womb, warm weight of that word inside your mouth, even the tongue savors sound, wet tip pressed like violin bow to tight string, syllable submerged in silver. Love, a clatter of stones thrown together.
So to Speak 47
Sex Studies (see also solo) II. My mother locks the door behind me / Steals the Bible from my shelf /sets the gold / rimmed pages before me / She wants to know if I still masturbate / if I still hold my body / taut like a sling / shot to see where it will send me / I think she should know the way she came to me / in my dream with her shrill scarlet stretch marks / her pubic hair mussed in blood / lifting her caul coated hands / to my cheeks / as she caked my face in blisters / Go on / from the woman who is all / perm and parched lips / put your hand / where your name is engraved / Not like our neighbor / Mrs. Johnson / who compared come / to lemon juice / clear and sweet / as it escapes the flesh / who pulled the curtains / to ask what no one else would / if it felt good / Mom knows better / that pleasure is never pleasure / if itâ€™s intentional / that God has ceased / to be anything but / a dotted line we are all forced to sign / before we are forgiven / Feeling her glare dilate from under / the faint fluorescents / my fingers find / the clean leather bound book beneath them / / even now /I see the word holy / in print/ and know I am the worst / kind of person
48 So to Speak
the skyâ€™s alight with swallows swift clouds blue billow topiaried trees make all the
difference two years ago October same park different people, my daughter and I
silent sky chill inked her ultrasound freighted depilated stoic nude trees
stone statuary spewed frigid sterile water shaped like fronds
only the air floated unbreatheable
cancer a treason of the body wild terror our posse
leafed squares green now Catherine Mediciâ€™s plan levels and fountains play
grounds wide fields grass and children my daughter leaves another ultrasound do eggs remain
ovaries move after hysterectomy 15-25 centimeters floating clouds of possibility So to Speak 49
a sib for Oscar who laughs babbles stumbles a year ago he funneled
through surrogateâ€™s womb fragile favor
50 So to Speak
Letterpress and giclée Closed: 7”h x 7”w Opened: 10”h x 38’w So to Speak 51
Kitty and the Three Decisions There once was a princess named Kitty and she lived in a kingdom in the temperate zone. Each year the four seasons passed in the usual way—the trees breaking out each spring in an epidemic of flowers; then a summer of sun and humidity and afternoon naps; fall with its return to color and leaves crunching underfoot; and winter with snow and ice and more naps. And the princess was content. One day her cousins from the tropics came to visit. There was a young prince almost the same age as Kitty, and it was assumed he and Kitty would become playmates. On the first day of their visit, Kitty, a proper little hostess, asked Prince Steve what games he liked. It turned out Prince Steve liked to chase cats and pull their tails, or catch daddy longlegs and pull their legs off. Soon Kitty was very busy, shooing cats and daddy longlegs away, or, if they were unlucky enough to be caught by Steve, doctoring them afterward. She pet the cats and sent them on their way, sadder but wiser for their experience, but the daddy longlegs required more attention. So she set up a little spider hospital with dandelion bandages and an eyedropper full of water. One afternoon Steve, momentarily tired of torture, watched her tend her patients. As she nursed a daddy longlegs with five and a half legs left, Steve said, “That’s nothing, you know.” “What’s nothing?” Kitty asked. She didn’t especially care to hear, but it sounded like Steve was about to start bragging, and when he bragged, he generally forgot to torture things. “That spider is nothing. In my father’s kingdom, the spiders are the size of dinner plates.” “Bodies only, or counting the legs as well?” “Counting the legs as well. But that’s still pretty big. They bite, too.” “Oh?” “On the ass. They hide in the toilets at night, and then, when you have to go, they come up the pipes and bite you on the ass.” 52 So to Speak
Kitty considered saying, “Nuh uh,” but the only thing Steve liked better than tormenting small creatures was winning arguments without proof. So instead she simply said, “That’s horrible.” Steve grinned at her. “Yeah.” The day passed, and then it was time for bed. Kitty’s royal parents came to kiss her goodnight. As long as they were in her bedroom, Kitty felt safe. She cajoled them to stay and tell her a story, which they did, and then she asked them questions about kingdom administration. But eventually she could think of no other way to detain them. “Go to sleep, and then you can tell us about your dreams tomorrow,” the Queen said. They backed out of her bedroom, saying “Good night! Sweet dreams!” And then they turned off the light and were gone. When they left, the room was very dark, and Kitty instantly had to go to the bathroom. But she’d already promised herself she would never again go to the bathroom after dark. “I can hold it,” she thought. “I’ll just make myself go to sleep, and then it will be morning and I can pee as much as I want.” She squinched her eyes tight and willed herself asleep. Five minutes later, she was awakened by a dream in which she was standing in front of her third grade classroom, preparing to give a presentation about owls, when suddenly she started to pee. Right there, in front of everyone. “Oh cripes,” Kitty said, tossing the blankets aside. She slipped her feet into her slippers and padded down the hall to the royal bathroom. Kitty turned on the light and searched the room. She looked in the shower stall, and the tub, and the medicine cabinet, and the sink. She even took a peek in the toilet. There was no sign of spiders anywhere. When she was finished looking, she retired across the room and stood with her back against the door. “It’s now or never,” she said to herself. But she continued to stand there. It seemed there was nothing to do but go climb into bed with her parents. She’d made every effort to handle the crisis on her own. She could admit when she’d been beaten. So to Speak 53
As she started to make her retreat, she caught a movement in her peripheral vision. She’d been on constant lookout for the black squiggle that is a spider. Now there was one! It was more the size of a saucer than a dinner plate, but that still seemed excessively big. It came to rest on the wall beside the mirror. “Oh geez,” Kitty said. “You’re not going to faint, are you?” “I wasn’t planning on it. You can talk?” “Of course. I wouldn’t be much help to you if I couldn’t.” “You’re here to help me?” “I am.” “Great. So what’s the deal with the whole spider down the toilet thing?” “There’s nothing down there. Your cousin’s a schmuck. Do you need me to go down and show you?” “No need,” Kitty said quickly. She was from a long line of just rulers, who didn’t abuse their servants. Kitty moved over to the toilet. As she did so, the spider crawled into the shower stall and hid his eyes behind the curtain. Kitty quickly did her business and washed her hands. Then the spider emerged from the shower stall and followed her down the hall into her bedroom. He stationed himself on the wall opposite her bed while she settled in. “What’s your name?” Kitty asked through a yawn. “Archie.” “Good night, Archie.” “Good night, Kitty.” Now started a time of great happiness in Kitty’s life. Under the watchful eye of Archie, she learned to speak up for herself. The very next day after Archie’s first appearance, she whacked Prince Steve in the head with his G.I. Joe doll when she found him holding a magnifying glass over an anthill. She didn’t stop whacking until he sought refuge in the chambers of the Queen Mother. As Steve dashed past their grandmother and hid in her bedroom, Kitty pulled up, breathless, before the old woman where she sunned herself by the window. 54 So to Speak
“Good for you, Honey,” the Queen Mother said. “Don’t take shit from anyone.” After a week Kitty’s royal cousins returned to their tropical kingdom, but Archie stayed. He watched over Kitty as she grew into a young woman. And before anyone knew it, she was 18. On the day after her birthday, Kitty’s parents summoned her. “It’s time for you to grow up now,” said the King. “I know that, Daddy. But I’m not exactly sure how.” “You have to make The Three Decisions.” “The Three Decisions?” “That’s right,” the Queen explained. “What are you going to do, where are you going to live, and who are you going to live with.” “That’s it?” Kitty asked. “Yup.” “That doesn’t sound so hard. Do they have to be answered in any particular order?” “Nope.” “I think I’ll get started on the ‘what to do’ part.” “Sounds good. We’re here if you need us.” The next day, Kitty made an appointment with the high school guidance counselor. “What can I do for you?” the counselor asked. “I’d like some guidance,” Kitty said. “About what to do with my life after graduation.” “Great. You’ve come to the right place. Just complete this multiple choice test.” He handed her a stapled sheaf of papers and a Scantron form. “You can sit over there.” The guidance counselor smiled when she returned. “Let’s see what we’ve got.” He ran the Scantron sheet through a scanner. The scanner screeched and whirred, then printed half a page. The guidance counselor took the paper off the printer. “Hmm.” Kitty felt some apprehension. It didn’t sound like a good “hmm.” The guidance counselor tugged on his lower lip. Then he looked up at her brightly. “Well, Kitty,” he said, “it looks you have several career choices before you. The test suggests your skills and So to Speak 55
personality would be very fulfilled by a secretarial career, or you could look into work as a dental assistant.” “A secretary or a hygienist!” Kitty exclaimed. “You’re kidding me! Not that there’s anything wrong with those,” she added quickly. She came from a long line of just rulers, who appreciated the efforts of the working class. There were several other people in the office, including a few students and staff members. The students snickered at Kitty’s outburst. At the same time, another guidance counselor scurried over to Kitty’s counselor and whispered hurriedly in his ear, glancing worriedly at Kitty as she did so. Kitty distinctly heard the words “king” and “daughter.” “For cripes sake,” the first counselor said. “Why didn’t someone tell me?” With one final, frightened glance at Kitty, the second counselor scurried away. Kitty’s counselor shuffled some papers, then tapped them briskly against his desk. “Well, Kitty,” he said, “let me tell you about your other career possibilities. The signs suggest you’d make a great investment banker—or a supermodel!” “Really?” “Absolutely! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I’m sure you’ll meet great success, whatever path you choose!” The guidance counselor stuffed his papers into his briefcase and rushed out of the office. Kitty knew there was something hinky about the counselor’s revisionism. It’s not as though he were the first person to be intimidated by her family connections. A hairdresser had once gone on suicide watch for a week after giving Kitty a bad haircut, though Kitty had personally assured him there were no hard feelings, until finally the King had to issue a proclamation stating Hair Grows Back and There’s No Use Fussing Over It. Nonetheless, Kitty found herself seduced by the words “investment banker.” Though she’d never had the slightest interest in finance, suddenly she had a new mental picture of herself in a suit and some killer heels, stalking around an office barking orders and frightening people. 56 So to Speak
For the rest of the day Kitty carried this image around. Though it wasn’t the self-image she was accustomed to, she found it strangely appealing. In homage to it, she went online and ordered a suit from Bloomingdale’s, and decided she would go by Katherine instead of Kitty from now on. That evening back at the castle, Kitty announced she’d selected a career. “Splendid,” said the King. “What have you decided?” “I’m going to be an investment banker.” Her parents exchanged a quick glance. “Really?” the Queen asked. “That’s what you want?” “Yes. And I think you should call me Katherine.” “Very well, Katherine. Investment banker it is,” her father said. “It’s not what I expected, but if you’re happy, I’m happy,” said her mother. Suddenly Katherine was exhausted. She excused herself and went to her quarters. She flopped into bed without even changing into pajamas. A few hours later she was awakened by a pressing need to pee. Still half asleep, she got up and shuffled into the bathroom. But she’d barely sat down when she felt a stinging pain on her behind. “Ow!” she cried, leaping to her feet. She turned to see what was going on. There on her bum was the rising welt of a new spider bite. And there, sitting on the toilet seat, was her old friend Archie. “What the hell!” “An investment banker? Do you even know what an investment banker does?” “I can find out!” “If you need to find out, it’s not what you want to do. You’re not going about this the right way. Forget about job titles. Just look back on your life. When did you feel the most useful and important?” “I dunno.” “You’re answering too fast. Close your eyes and think.” Scratching her bottom, Kitty closed her eyes. A series of random images from her life drifted through her mind. Then suddenly, a specific image rose up. It was seven-year-old So to Speak 57
Kitty. She was tending a daddy longlegs with five and a half legs. She opened her eyes and looked at Archie. “It was when I was helping the daddy longlegs. The day I met you.” So Kitty gave up her dream of being an investment banker and decided to become a veterinarian instead. The next day she informed her parents of her change in plans, and downloaded vet school applications from the web. Several times during the next few weeks, the image of herself waving spreadsheets around and biting off someone’s head arose unbidden. It was a seductive image, to be sure. But then she’d feel a tweak in her bum where the spider bite itched. And thus she stayed on track. The following fall, Kitty started veterinary school. At first she struggled. She hadn’t excelled in science classes in high school. However, she found that with better instruction, she enjoyed these subjects. Soon she was very busy, studying and socializing. Kitty’s best friend in school was a boy named Barry. She had female friends too, but Barry was the person with whom she felt most comfortable. A scholarship student, he was fun but worked very hard. They arranged their class schedules to coincide. They would stay at the lab finishing experiments all night, then go running in the morning. Under Barry’s guidance, Kitty caught up in the subjects where she was weak, until she became one of the strongest students in their class. Barry was always first in everything, though he downplayed this when other students inquired enviously about his grades. During their junior year, Kitty and Barry took advanced feline anatomy with Professor Stark. It was the first class they’d had with the popular instructor. Professor Stark was in his early forties. He had twinkly green eyes and made little self-deprecating jokes during his lectures. Students loved him. “You love him,” Barry teased Kitty, when they left their final feline anatomy exam. “I do not!” Kitty said, blushing furiously. That night, Kitty was in her room packing for the summer when the hall phone rang. It was Professor Stark. 58 So to Speak
“Now that you’re no longer my student, would you like to have dinner with me?” So Kitty began dating Professor Stark. When Kitty returned to school the following semester, she and Professor Stark continued dating, though they kept things on the down low. Barry never commented much on the relationship. He didn’t approve of professors dating students, but when pressed to offer an opinion, all he said was, “He’s a little glamorous for my taste, but to each her own.” As it was her senior year, Kitty was very busy, and the year passed quickly. One evening during spring term, Kitty was in Professor Stark’s apartment studying while he worked on an article. Suddenly he set his manuscript aside. “It’s time to talk about the future. After you graduate, you’ll get a research fellowship and spend two years at another university. We’ll be apart during that time. It will be hard, but it’s necessary. After that we’ll see if we can get you an assistant professorship here. “I have some forms for you. You’re a little late, but these places are all still taking applications, and most aren’t very far away.” Smiling benignly, he handed her a sheaf of papers. Now the truth is, Professor Stark had always been a little bossy. But as long as he was deciding where they would eat, or what movie they would watch, or even what they would do in bed, Kitty didn’t mind so much. She liked all kinds of food, and movies, and things in bed. But that he would presume to spell out her future for her! Kitty didn’t want to do research; she wanted to practice animal medicine. Admittedly, she hadn’t discussed this with Professor Stark. But then again, he had never asked. Kitty stared at the pile of papers for a moment. Then she jumped up and began packing her book bag. Professor Stark looked up from his laptop. “What’s up?” “I’m heading back to the dorm.” It wasn’t until she’d reached campus that Kitty’s head began to clear. When it did, she found herself standing in front of Barry’s dorm room. She knocked. He said gruffly, “Yes?” So to Speak 59
“It’s me.” He let her in and poured her a cup of coffee as she plopped down in the room’s only chair. “What’s up?” Kitty told him everything. How Professor Stark expected to plan her whole future, and how he never asked her opinion about anything, and how for months he had been running her life, deciding what she ate, what movies she watched, and what she did in bed. Barry winced. “I could have done without that last part.” “Sorry.” Kitty giggled. “I guess in a way I haven’t been fair. I’ve been planning my life in my head, and I haven’t told him what those plans were. But he never asked!” “And what are those plans?” “I was hoping you and I would open a clinic together. That is, if you want to. I don’t mean to go all Professor Stark on you and plan your life without your input.” “I can’t believe you still call him Professor Stark.” Kitty yawned. “I’m tired,” she said, slumping in the chair. She moved over to Barry’s bed and curled up at the foot of it. In a moment, she was asleep. Barry covered her with a blanket and took his pillow into the hall. Kitty woke early. Once she figured out where she was, she jumped up, grabbed her bag, and headed out of the room. Barry was snoring on one of the common room couches. She left him a note, then headed to Professor Stark’s office. The breakup wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. Professor Stark was hurt, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to show it. He told her he’d enjoyed their time together and would be happy to aid her professional development in any way he could. As she left his office, a female voice called, “Is that you, Kitty?” Kitty turned in the direction of the voice, which came from the office of Professor Bennett. The door was open, so Kitty peeked in. Professor Bennett was sitting behind her desk. She smiled. “Please come in and shut the door.” Kitty did, then looked curiously at Professor Bennett, an attractive woman in her early thirties who specialized in small animal medicine. 60 So to Speak
“Did he tell you he would always help with your career?” Kitty’s jaw dropped. Professor Bennett smiled again. “It’s a lie. He’ll never help you again. It’s okay, though. You’re a good student, you’ll do fine. He isn’t your thesis chair, is he?” “No! I never worked with him again once we started dating.” “You’re smarter than me, then.” Kitty’s eyes widened. “So you and Professor Stark…?” “Yeah. While I was a student. And I always called him Professor Stark, too.” They both laughed. “What are your plans after graduation?” “Barry Miller and I are going to open a clinic together.” “You two are good friends, huh?” “He’s my best bud.” Professor Bennett nodded. “That one’s a catch. The kind girls don’t notice right off. But soon someone will snatch him up.” “Definitely. Bar’s a great guy.” “I’m glad you agree.” The following week was spring break. Kitty decided to spend it at home with her parents. She spent the first day sleeping. At breakfast on the second day, she found herself thinking about what Professor Bennett had said about Barry. What had she meant by it? Was Professor Bennett planning on hitting on Barry? The idea made Kitty smile. On the third day, the idea of Professor Bennett hitting on Barry didn’t seem so funny. On the fourth day, Kitty stood on the porch of Barry’s parents’ house, ringing the bell. Barry answered the door. He looked at her quizzically. “We have to talk,” Kitty said. Then she kissed him. For the rest of spring break, Kitty and Barry were inseparable. Then they returned to school to finish their final semester. Between school projects and plans for the clinic and new love, time raced by, and before they knew it, it was graduation day. As Kitty came offstage with her diploma, Barry went down on one knee. “Kitty, will you marry me?” he asked. The female students around them squealed with delight and jealousy. Kitty felt something funny in her stomach. She supposed it So to Speak 61
was the feeling of all her dreams coming true. “Okay.” The King and Queen were very pleased about the engagement. Plans for the wedding began immediately. However, the funny feeling in Kitty’s stomach persisted. It seemed like one’s dreams coming true shouldn’t hurt so much. Kitty found herself picking fights with Barry at the slightest provocation. One night after such a fight, she fled to the castle. The King and Queen looked up in surprise when she appeared in the doorway of the living room. “I’m going to sleep here tonight.” She trudged up the stairs to her childhood bedroom and lay on the bed. After a moment there was a knock on the door. “Come in.” Her father entered. He began pacing and rubbing his hands together. “Listen, honey, you know your mother and I love Barry. But you’re our daughter. If you don’t want to marry him, then… don’t. Do you understand what I’m saying?” “Yes, Daddy,” Kitty said, and she burst into tears. Her father comforted her until the tears stopped, then excused himself so she could have some alone time. She went to the bathroom to splash some cold water on her face. “That’s it,” she thought. “I have to break up with Barry.” The thought made her eyes fill with tears again. She looked at herself in the mirror. “I know it’s terrible, but I can’t help it!” This made her cry harder. “I have to pee!” she shouted. A moment later she was springing back onto her feet. “Yow!” She turned around, and there was a spider bite. And Archie, looking a little wizened. “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,” said Archie, shaking his little head. “You never learn.” “Why don’t you teach me, then?” Kitty snapped, grabbing some hydrocortisone out of the medicine cabinet. “What do you want?” “I don’t know!” “Stop the waterworks. It takes time to answer The Three Questions, you can’t just go blurting the first thing that comes out of your mouth. Think about it for a minute. What do you want?” 62 So to Speak
Kitty sat gingerly on the edge of the tub, shut her eyes, and thought. She saw herself working at the clinic she and Barry planned to open. Barry was there, too. At the end of the day she gave Barry a kiss, got in her car, and drove home. Home was an apartment in a loft downtown. She entered the apartment, threw her keys onto a side table, and looked around approvingly. Everywhere she saw her things, just the way she liked them. There was no enormous entertainment center, Barry’s dishes weren’t stacked up in the sink. Then the phone rang. It was Barry, asking her to dinner. “I don’t want to break up with Barry at all!” Kitty said, opening her eyes and looking at Archie with amazement. “I’m just not ready to live with him, or get married.” “Bingo.” “But what if Barry doesn’t like it?” “What if he doesn’t?” “I don’t want to lose him!” “You’re right. Silly me. Go ahead and marry him. You can handle walking around with that stomachache for the rest of your life, right?” “I hate it when you’re sarcastic,” Kitty grumbled, but she went to announce her decision. As she feared, Barry wasn’t thrilled. He yelled, he complained. Then he broke up with her for three days. Those were hard days, but Kitty had her spider bite to remind her not to cave. On the third day he called and said they could try doing things her way for a bit. “But we’re still getting married eventually, right?” “Of course!” “In five years, right?” “Well, sure. Five years...give or take.” So the King and Queen issued a proclamation that Kitty Is Going to Spend Some Time Establishing Herself, but She and Barry Will Still Date Exclusively, and the wedding was postponed. Now Kitty had to look for an apartment. She looked at duplexes and townhouses and cottages. She looked near the castle, she looked across town. Finally she settled on an adorable garden apartment about ten miles from the castle, which seemed the perfect distance, as she explained to Barry over coffee that afternoon, because So to Speak 63
she wanted her parents to be able to visit often, but not too often. That night when she got back to the castle, Archie bit her again. “What was that for?” Kitty thundered. “I made the right decision this time, I know I did!” “Sorry,” Archie said meekly. “Everything in fairy tales happens in threes.” Kitty got out the hydrocortisone, and they all lived happily ever after.
64 So to Speak
The Bright Side of Sister A symbol meant nothing to us. We ate everything and regretted nothing. It was a capsized hunger white on the teeth. Someone's phone ringing all night long, a girl's voice leaving message, message, messageâ€”a loop to grasp, a grappling hook on the thighs. Some spread, some staid. We said we'd love anything you put in front of us: an orange, a girl on fire, the jacks you'd played with as a child. Rumble sockets in our mouths. The diagnosis was we made no sense. Our sunk parts twined tight in a way you cannot part.
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Whole Nine Yards Local police called when a woman, 52, was seen tending to her garden topless, wearing only a bright yellow thong and pink gloves, reports the Arizona Daily Star. No one mentions the yard unless the weather is mild and warm. Yard leaps from word to memory, dead like clay, until dug up again. I say the world does not die. I say it takes a woman to build a world. What girl didn’t dream of a secret garden: a green moor, an English mansion, stone walls and eyes that peek. What woman would deny the wind on her bare form? This is intimacy: saying yes to mean yes. I’ve been the seed and the shovel. I’ve been shipped and sized. I’ve been green like turnip, white as the skin on the onion. I’ve been all colors, lover, and the best one is free.
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On Permissions To Be Queer When I was in high school, I secretly considered myself queer, though I didn’t have the words for it at the time. Looking through old photos, it seems obvious. I wore men’s pants and little boy’s T-shirts, whose pandas and trucks stretched and cracked over my breasts and exposed my belly-button. I cut my own hair and shaved my head. I also thought of myself (despite mounting evidence to the contrary) as definitely heterosexual. I had inoffensive sex and marriage fantasies with my boyfriend. One of the curious motifs of my recent life has been a surprising proportion of my presumed straight male friends coming out to me as, essentially, only mostly straight. There’s a sense of apology to this, different than the apologetics of women learning to come out. Usually it’s explained as a string of exceptions to the rule, individual men with whom they would. And then they pause, and look at me as if waiting for me to pass judgment. To tell them they count, or that they don’t. (My friend Fiona told me, less than half joking, that it was because I was a gay man in a woman’s body. It’s worth mentioning also that most of these men had all had some sort of mutual attraction with me in the past. Why was I chosen as the safe-keeper of their confession? Was I like one of their exceptions? Fiona is also the first person I ever heard say that if you were attracted to her queer self, it made you at least a little queer.) The word queer is different from gay or bi for a reason, but I don’t think we’ve figured out yet what it is. There’s something there about love and sex and gender; about danger; about invention. There’s something about queer that abhors privacy and repression, that asks Why should I? There’s something about choosing multiplicities over binaries. As a friend, I do what I can to say Yes to the men (and, more rarely, women) who share this fear-not-spoken-as-fear with me. The truth is, I don’t know how to define queerness. What follows is my best attempt. So to Speak 67
Our culture is structured by prejudices and inequities treated as natural law. In the realm of love, sex, and relationships, there is a strictly defined image of what is expected: A cisgender man and a cisgender woman in a single long-term, monogamous relationship. They are of the same race (white), the same age (or the man is slightly older), and the same economic and educational background (uppermiddle). They are both able-bodied and neurotypical, though the woman sometimes feels crazy, after a long day, or for about three days each month. They are thin, attractive but not stunning. Neither of them has survived sexual trauma. They have sex one to three times a week. He initiates it nearly every time; she has a good time once they get going. They perform dutiful oral sex on one another, then finish with vaginal penetration. Sometimes they experiment with blindfolds, when they want to get kinky. Soon they will start talking seriously about kids. She will initiate that every time. Queer, as far as I can tell, is the condition of being intolerably suffocated by that model of love. It is the condition of being acutely and constantly aware of the harm that that model does to your identity, your heart, your physical and mental health. Recently I have been secretly believing that the queerest thing about me is the sexual violence in my past. More than anything else, that event has destroyed my ability to survive in the patriarchal relationship model. While I was gender-atypical before then, and loved women before then (among other variances from the model), I was perfectly able to have multiple vanilla relationships with men without any real harm to my soul. Now I cannot bear the thought of it. With this standard in mind, I say to the men who have halfway come out to me that they do count, of course they count. Not because of what they wanted to do or have done to them, but because of the pain they so obviously feel, the confusion and hurt. If it sounds like Iâ€™m saying that the root of queerness is traumaâ€”well, perhaps I am. The patriarchy is a set of interlocking structures of violence, and not everyone (including LGBT people) sees it clearly enough to process it as trauma. And the naming of oneself as queer is both a coming out, and a necessary step of recovery. 68 So to Speak
Queerness, then, is less a demographic category and more a quality that someone possesses or doesn’t. Less like being gay and more like being an optimist. It is about living one’s life in a way that is actively resistant to destructive norms. Therefore, the group can include not only lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people, but people in interracial or polyamorous relationships, relationships with significant age gaps, kinky and/or asexual people, women who identify as women (the patriarchy demands we identify as “girls”), people with no allegiance to gender at all, women who don’t want kids, stay-at-home dads, survivors of sexual violence, people outside the beauty standard, people with invisible or visible disabilities (including mental illness), to name a few. I know people in most of these categories I would privately consider queer, and I know people in most of these categories I would not. I realize that this definition sounds vague, unverifiable. The queer in me asks: What are you going to do about it? How are you going to come to terms with the unverifiability, the lack of objective physical proof? What are you going to do in absence of a litmus test? I want to close with a brief discussion of how queerness can and must move forward. I have been lucky enough in my lifetime to live in communities where obvious queernesses (same-sex love, gender non-conformity) are not only tolerated, but celebrated. In these communities, the queer people seem increasingly comfortable within their community’s own liberation rhetoric, and increasingly satisfied to let the fight rest once tolerance of their own deviance from patriarchal norms has been won. Far be it for me to say to anyone what level of comfort or self care they do or do not deserve. I know how important it is for us to nurture our mental and emotional well-being. But. If your queerness only extends to the edge of your own self-interest, you do queerness a discredit. To be queer is not only an identity, it is a responsibility: to feel harmed by the patriarchy because the patriarchy’s harms are interconnected, and to resist it all—not only the parts that most obviously hurt you. If I let a casual racism, a joke at the expense of homeless people, a “that’s retarded” to pass unchallenged, I have been a bad queer that day. So to Speak 69
More days than I would like, I fail my own standard. The everyday practice of queerness is hard work. But—if my not-exactlystraight friends are still with me, still following along—it comes with the joy of living honestly. Of living with an honesty we were told doesn’t exist.
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Scaffold for a Paper Doll Draw the body on opaque paper. Use a light touch, you may need to erase. Keep facial lines minimal.
Lone women, like empty houses, perish. No woman wants to see herself clearly.
Deepen shadows beneath chin, breasts. A womanâ€™s hopes are threaded with sunbeams: a shadow annihilates them. Always, a curve is the loveliest distance between two points. One is not born a woman. One becomes one. Cut the body close. Clothing should surround the body. Follow its contours. A woman can look both moral and exciting. To dress the body use sealing wax. So to Speak 71
Press gently lest you tear her.
72 So to Speak
Rebecca Morgan Frank
BLOOM After Anna Shuleit’s 2003 installation at the Mass Mental Health Center I saw only the hint of something godlike, removed from the mineral and green of the yard outside the chapel. The hospital’s peeling halls packed with blossoms, as if mold had become seed and everything rancid, fetid, bloomed. I walked into your old room. A rusted frame, the window pane jagged beneath the bolted bars. A sky outside would have been yours before they tore out your eyes. That’s what you said, their lightening blazed your body and made the world go dark. The edges dull and then the pills drowned out the sound and then, then, you said, you repeated again and again, then, they took my legs my arms, my mouth, the tongue a rag that absorbed no taste. A life of wasting muscle and teeth turned black from the sugary contraband your father smuggled in his pockets, doubled by the way you filled your cup with more sugar than tea. You showed me So to Speak 73
Rebecca Morgan Frank
pictures of the day they set you free. You had killed a man, served the rest of your childhood. Four months later, had me. Your burial was early, my freedom late. I fingered the bars, the wet glass tear, and imagined your escape. We were condemned: the building, your body and mine that came of you and some other part. Silence, seeping through.
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Hand-cut silkscreen prints 10.5”h x 14.5”w x 1”d
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JENNIFER ARIN is the author of the poetry book Ways We Hold (2012), and her essays and poems have been published in both the U.S. and Europe, including in The AWP Writer’s Chronicle, Virgin Atlantic, The San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Book Review, Gastronomica, Puerto del Sol, Poet Lore, ZYZZYVA, Paris/Atlantic Review, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Among her awards are a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a PEN Writer's Fund grant, a Poets & Writers WritersOn-Site Residency, and funding from the Spanish Ministry of Culture for editing of, and collaborative research for, a book about the Spanish Civil War. She teaches in the English Department at San Francisco State University. LAUNA BACON created The Bed of Roses series when living in Pasadena, California: the City of Roses. She became interested in the parallels between genetically modified roses and plastic surgery norms of the modern female. This piece combines influences of vintage Playboy pinups with pre-genetics roses and the 1970s collage work of another artist, Sterling Linder. Bacon now works from Lincoln, Nebraska. LAUREN BANKA is a poet, artist, and printmaker living in Seattle, WA. In the last four years, she has competed in five national-level poetry slams and performed in countless local slams and events. Since then, she has been spending most of her time under two comforters, watching Netflix, and working on her first full-length manuscript, Come On, Overcome (Red Beard Press). For more information, please visit laurenbanka.com. KENDRA BARTELL received her B.A. from Cornell University in the Reading and Writing of Poetry and is currently an M.F.A. candidate at UW Seattle in Poetry. Her poems are forthcoming in Mare Nostrum. Her writing engages in ekphrasis, as well as in working from and out of current events. Kendra is interested in exploring the belief both in religion and technology, and how the realm of belief can exist in today’s world. She is also currently working on poems that explore the sense of embodiment and especially that of being an embodied woman in today’s environment. CHRISTIE COLLINS is currently an instructor in the Department of English at Louisiana State University, where she teaches English composition, English as a second language, and poetry.
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DAWN CORRIGAN holds an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Florida. Her poems and prose have appeared in more than 80 print and online journals and anthologies. ALEXA DORAN is currently enrolled in the M.F.A. Poetry program at UNC Wilmington. She graduated with an M.A. in December 2011 from Austin Peay State University. Two of her poems were finalists in the 2011 Pocotaligo Poetry Contest. REBECCA MORGAN FRANK’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, Guernica, Post Road, The Georgia Review, Best New Poets 2008, and elsewhere. Her first book, Little Murders Everywhere, was published in 2012. Her new work was awarded the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript-inprogress, and she is the recipient of an AWP Intro Journal Award and fellowships from such places as the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Writers’ Room of Boston. She is an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers, and she edits the online magazine Memorious. LEILEI GUO is a Beijing artist who hand-cut this silkscreened book cover of Beijing’s Soho skyline. She writes: “When looking at the scene, one cannot easily tell which city in the world the cover portrays. This view would look common in many cities around the world; there are no typical Chinese characteristics to be found anywhere on these buildings. When they were constructed, many trees and old buildings were taken down and demolished. When the book is opened, it forms a spiral, like a snail’s shell, mirroring the fact that everyone in these buildings resides or works in a very small unit, just like in a shell. The spiral also reflects the growing spiral of globalism and internationalism as it conquers the world.” ANNA HELM was born in Munich and studied book art and design at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle (diploma degree) and at Roehampton College, London, U.K. She has since created 35 books as unique pieces or in very small editions. The love and knowledge of modern and historic writing and literature is an essential part of most of them. JACQUELINE KOLOSOFF’s work has recently appeared in APR, The Writer’s Chronicle, Terrain.org, and several anthologies. 78 So to Speak
KATYA KULIK is a graduate student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Moscow State University and a master’s degree in English from Fordham University. Her work has appeared in theNewerYork and Outside in Literary & Travel Magazine. MICHELE LEAVITT’s poetry and prose appear in The Journal, Umbrella, Mezzo Cammin, The Tower Journal, Passager, and Per Contra. She was the winner of the Ohio State University’s 2010 William Allen Award for creative nonfiction, a finalist for the 2011 Morton Marr Poetry Prize, and a semi-finalist in the 2013 Discovery/Boston Review competition. A high school dropout, hepatitis C survivor, and former trial attorney, she now teaches in the Center for Environmental Arts and Humanities at Unity College in Maine. KAREN AN-HWEI LEE is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo Press, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo Press, 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), and the winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize and the Norma Farber First Book Award. Her work recently appeared in Best Spiritual Writing 2012, edited by Philip Zaleski. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she lives and teaches in greater Los Angeles, where she is also a novice harpist. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. MICHELLE LEE is an assistant professor of composition, creative writing, and literature at Daytona State College. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin. Recently, her work has been published in Northwind Magazine, Sliver of Stone, and The Flagler Review and will be included in an anthology by Red Bridge Press. SUE LEOPARD is a Rochester artist. She intends “Girl Struggles” to be an artifact for future generations of women. It includes a hand-written letter that begins, “My Dear Girl, I am getting to be an old woman now. Old enough to have imagined who it might be that comes after me. It must be you…“ Addressing personal and universal themes of love and loss, its palpable words are of one person speaking to another across the vastness of time about the qualities and shared across generations and cultures. YING-CHIEH LIU is a Taiwanese artist. She interprets each of the pages So to Speak 79
of “W-LB-G-B-B-G-LB-W” as fragments of time, equates page-flipping with the becoming of self, and presents this work as representing the duration of an entire life. JANE OTTO’s work has appeared in such publications as Eclipse, The Journal, PANK Magazine, Raleigh Review, and Talking River, and recently received an Honorable Mention in New Southerner. She has studied with reputable contemporary writers and poets such as Carolyn Forché, Campbell McGrath, Suzanne Lummis, and Cecilia Woloch. Jane earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Utah and has spent most of her professional career as a speechwriter for four Nobel Laureates and as a grant writer in the nonprofit sector. She raises money for the arts, biomedical research, modern dance, and educational institutions. ADISLEN REYES PINO is a young Cuban artist living in Havana. She is among a small group of younger artists working within the idea of “kitsch.” “Explosion Rojo” is a calendar book, featuring one unique piece for each month of the year. Each is about menstruation and power. LAUREN M. PLITKINS lives and works in Western Washington. She completed a B.A. in English literature and creative writing in 2010 at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. She is currently enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Pacific Lutheran University. CAMDEN RICHARDS is an East Bay, California-based book artist, graphic designer, and printmaker whose work includes one-of-a-kinds and small editions. ALESSANDRA ECHEVERRI is an accomplished printmaker and book artist whose colorful and pattern-driven work stems from her Colombian heritage. Both hold an M.A. in art and the book from the Corcoran College of Art and Design. STEPHANIE SAUER is a multidisciplinary artist featured on the cover of the forthcoming issue of Boom: A Journal of California. Her work has received a Corporation of Yaddo Fellowship, two Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission public art grants, and been selected by Elizabeth Alexander for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fellowship in Writing. NIKKI THOMPSON is a poet, book artist (Deconstructed Artichoke Press), and describes herself as “a happily failed architect.” A little bit 80 So to Speak
humorous, a little bit bittersweet, “Dodger Blues” tells a bittersweet story of a softball player’s gender issues and the misery caused by family and friends. Each poem is named after a Dodger player. Two accordions, bound as three diamonds, with 108 stitches, represent the 108 stitches on a baseball. Inside each diamond are photographs of a baseball field taken with a pinhole camera. Text is letterpress printed. DUAT VU holds a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. in painting and currently teaches at Missouri State University. His work has been selected in prestigious competitive exhibitions throughout the US, and he lectures nationally and internationally on his traumatic escape from Vietnam and experiences as an immigrant living in the West. Vu now works from Springfield, Missouri. GAIL WALDSTEIN practiced pediatric pathology for 35 years and began writing seriously in the mid-90s. Her work appears in places like Nimrod, Bayou, Connecticut River Review, The Iowa Review, and numerous anthologies. Two of her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart. Her poems have been finalists in the Pablo Neruda Contest and the Faulkner contest and have won first place in the Milton Kessler Contest. To Quit this Calling, Firsthand Tales of a Pediatric Pathologiest (Ghost Road Press) and AfterImage (Plan B Press) were both published in 2006. MARCIA WEISBROT is a San Francisco artist and writer who works in book and paper arts. She holds an M.F.A. from California College of the Arts. “During the War” is part of a series of handmade paper dresses with text that document women’s lives throughout history. Made from paper, thread, and buttons and adapted from a 1940s Dior design, it honors the women who worked in the fields, factories, and offices, but who went back to their homes when men returned from war to these jobs. The full text reads: “During the War I worked at a man’s job, but was paid a woman’s salary. When the war ended...” RUTH WILLIAMS is the author of a chapbook, Conveyance (Dancing Girl Press, 2012). Her poems have been previously published in jubilat, Cutbank, no tell motel, H_ngm_n, alice blue, past simple, Bone Bouquet, 42 Opus, Barrelhouse, Barn Owl Review and Bateau among others. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in DIAGRAM and is forthcoming in South Loop Review. Currently, she is a Ph.D. candidate in English literature and creative writing at the University of Cincinnati. So to Speak 81
JUDGES For our 2013 visual art contest, The “Hybrid” Book, we sought entries in all media which the makers consider to represent—in any and all ways—the book experience. Increasingly digitalized, culturally iconic in its historic codex forms, valued always from Kindle to library as an experience, is the book. What that actually means to each reader/viewer/handler is at a time of highly fluid interpretation. Art, object, and installation as “book” also is a rapidly expanding area of contemporary art. The following judges selected this issue’s eleven visual art pieces for inclusion in the magazine.
ALICIA BAILEY has served as independent curator, juror, instructor, creative consultant, mentor, and visiting artist throughout the U.S. for 30 years. She is owner/director of Denver’s Abecedarian Gallery, exhibiting book arts, works on paper, assemblage, and collage. Since 1998, she has served on the executive committee of the Guild of Book Workers. In her studio, she acts as record-keeper for moments both ordinary and obscure, utilizing a broad range of material and method to create works that incorporate object, image and text. Her work has been featured in dozens of solo and group exhibits throughout the world and is held in numerous public, private, and special collections. For more information, visit aliciabailey.com and abecedariangallery.com HELEN FREDERICK is a visionary artist, educator, curator, entrepreneur, and collaborator internationally recognized for art which is both outer witness and inner lens to natural and man-made catastrophic events of culture, history, and soul. She is Director Emeritus of Pyramid Atlantic, Curator of Breakthrough Art Organization, Director of Navigation Press, and Professor and Coordinator of Printmaking at George Mason University. Her work is in the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Corcoran Gallery of Art, New York Public Library, Yale University, and art collections around the world. BRIGITTE REYES-DAVIS is founder/director of Reyes + Davis, art consultants in Washington, DC, which since 2008 has curated and produced independent exhibitions for emerging and mid-career artists who work in different media. A native of New Mexico, she is a senior Washington art community artist, teacher, gallerist, and advocate. She attended the Corcoran College of Art and Design and has served on the boards of non-profit art-centered organizations including Transformer, the Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground, and the advisory council of Save the Corcoran Coalition. She also curates annual art auctions for Project Create, an 82 So to Speak
organization that works with homeless and at-risk children by using art education to promote positive development. For more information, visit reyesdavis.com.
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