Steps Magazine Winter 2010
STEPS Magazine Winter 2010 Editor-in-Chief Max Karpinski Fiction Editors Ryan Healey Ari Resnikoff Poetry Editors Livingston Miller Eric Andrew-Gee General Editor Claire Horn Art Editor Sally Lin Cover Design Sally Lin Cover Photo Evan Newton Contributors Jade Hurter, Ainslee Meredith, Gavin Thomson, Ariel Appel, Lucinda Tang, Ian Becker, Evan Newton, Laura Freitag, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, Elliot Aglioni, Nate Mosseau, Tim Beeler, Thomas Bollier, Michael Lee-Murphy, Laura Defazio, Preanka Hai, and Emma Benayoun. STEPS is funded by the Fine Arts Council of the Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University. Special thanks to Le DĂŠlit and the McGill Daily for the use of their fine production facilities.
Table of Contents
Letter from the editor
Deer Jade Hurter
Your Exquisite Corpse Anonymous
Luciferase Ainslee Meredith
The Tree / The Lake Gavin Thomson
How I Came to Know Her Ariel Appel
The Tower Lucinda Tang
Harbour Myths Lucinda Tang
Parade Ian Becker
Close Up of a Woman’s Hand on the 80 Evan Newton
My Brother Laura Freitag
jackie, jackie, have you seen Dominique Bernier-Cormier
The Stranger Elliot Aglioni
Tangerine Max Karpinski
Waiting, Gosport Harbor, NH Nate Mosseau
When Taught the Frame and Shell Tim Beeler
Untitled Thomas Bollier
Ward St. Michael Lee-Murphy
dear steamboat captain, Laura Defazio
Pandora’s Peal Preanka Hai smoke rising from a hilltop, smoke rising from a river Emma Benayoun
Hello again, reader, I’m incredibly excited that this second Fall semester issue of Steps is in your hands (or on your computer screen). As I wrote in the first “Letter from the editor,” Steps is absolutely committed to printing four different issues this year. In past years, delays have often occurred, and we are hoping against hope that this will not be the case this year (and so far it hasn’t!). Although there are a few returning contributors from the first issue of the semester, the majority of the work in this issue is from people who we haven’t yet printed. Our beautiful cover is also from a submission. We’ve talked about including students’ art on the cover, rather than our own staff members’, and everybody at Steps is absolutely delighted with the way this cover has turned out. I want to thank all the people who submitted work to this issue, and I want to ask you all to please continue to write, draw, take photographs, whatever it is that you do. Without you, the editors at Steps wouldn’t have anything to argue angrily about. Although Steps is taking quite a long break now between issues, I would like to reiterate that we are absolutely ALWAYS soliciting submissions. Keep sending your work to stepsmagazine@ gmail.com and we will always consider it for the upcoming issue. Until then, everybody at Steps wishes you a relatively painless examination period, and a wonderful holiday. See you in the Winter Semester. With love, Max Karpinski
Deer I was the fawn in your soft bed: pillows of grass and brambles, blankets dyed with blackberries. You hung honeysuckle in the doorway. The dirt grew soft beneath our hooves. Rain like a motherâ€™s tongue. Flowers blossomed and died. Snow fell soft, mixed with feathers. I drank from your doe eyes. Your back was the curve of Earth as you pressed my hooves into soil. Moss grew, sheltered from the moon. Then, the day the owl fell from elm dead as a rat, into the brush. Her feathers floated away on the wind but her eyes remained open, yellow moons beckoning us to swim. We were bound, motionless, within a ring of stones.
Your Exquisite Corpse The exquisite corpse drinks the new wine a teabag steeped in history tall trees jackknife but only on Saturdays ripe tangerines cling to branches like babies Now starlight falters in its timeless arrival a rope was swaying yellow the triumph of the open book: graceful and fierce. somehow leaning against the butcher’s window burnt dung caught wind for the sake of some old boat searching across the black cabaret, curling, false, your grandmother’s earring—a dusty moon hanging in the sky. I sank my teeth into three moments of sin. The mirror reflected only flowers. Antimony angels poisoning the cosmos
Luciferase going to live here forever – two suitcases of split red leather, expired rego. the parlor lino cracks wildflowers and you don’t fit in the doorframes and it’s only maybe a week until your dad figures out where we could be. two russians hang over the bed, done in gouache – winter hoods, yellow fur. garage sale in rosebud last winter, five for thirty unframed. but the bedroom is whole, fumbling skinthick and i put cinnamon on my wrists and outside, old lifeboats strike silence up the beach. night is safer and the first one that comes, we take torches to the still lake – lanternfish glow and jeans fold above knees and torchlight is blue and stepped in and i am georgian and cold. there’s a lot you don’t know about me,
naomi. well you don’t know what it is to say someone’s name. my dad, he’s got a narwhal tusk in a rifle case, brings it out with the good rye. he gets the sort of visitors who don’t mind. he’s a collector. i kiss you above the large terminal mouths of the fish, boat-detached mermaid pinned in figurehead shook loose with lips to use again. he’s not a crook, just crooked – stripped the blue whale down at cyril’s beach but left the bones behind. someone else came along, and now the department’s got a witness. you can’t even buy coats this far south, naomi. no-one shoots nothing anymore, and i think unkindly of those russians, shivering in the skins of others through snow or wet chalk. their cheeks were red, but – keeps the cold out, yes it can keep the cold out.
lara kneels by the base of the tree. She examines the roots, the pattern of wood and the way the ground unfolds over the bark so quietly, like a thought. Years later she will learn that the tree is the seed made explicit, but now she only thinks of the shapes. The ground unfolds into the tree and the tree unfolds into the ground, she thinks. And yet the bark is so stiff. She touches, then grips the bark of the tree. She feels its strength and thickness and then leans her face against it. There is a little doorway at the base. The wood is pale and shaped like rectangle. Clara knocks on it and laughs. Maybe something is inside. Maybe the doorway opens to a world just like this one, she thinks, but with more yellow, less green. Years later, Clara will think of this world when she thinks about heaven, but now she only knocks.
he boat has a yellow trim around its edges, and a blue cooler in the back. You put the wine in the cooler and fill it halfway with water. The lake water is dark, but clear in the cooler. You pull the motor until it sounds and then undock the boat. I splash you with water. “Where to, captain?” I ask. “The day is still bright.” You drive us to the middle and slow down to dip your legs. Your feet light up like something glimpsed in the distance. “Let me go first,” I say, leaning. And then I am looking at empty bottles in the dark, black sand and shapes of metal, until it is too dark to see and I can’t tell up from down. There is a weight pulling at my hands, but I can’t tell which way it’s pulling. I stretch out flat and stay still, somersault, kick my feet. I try to find the sandy bottom, but everything is too dark. Then I hear you jump in above me, and the cold water moves. All at once I notice the sun, over the lake, and how the clouds spread across the water, as if under the lake, and I swim up to your legs.
How I Came to Know Her
The Tower When I imprisoned you You had begun to sound Like ringing stone. You found me fanciful. Your voice now heavy With fallen swans. My hands are cold From the casting, The bent reluctance Of your arches. Cobwebs grow slow In heartbreak. As I shaped you deep Into the last arcade, Aspiring, You called out once In paths of hush, Ink of husk. You stand in whitening lengths. In this tower, In you of dusk, I lie in a bed of apples And your blueness falls Through the cupola in shafts.
Harbour Myths i crave it now only with the saddened slither of your heart in huangpu river straight from the roof of bar rouge i drop into the revolutionary arms of shadow-boys the ghosts all wear red in the streets of shanghai and starry-eyed from river thirst you and i face dragons in our time
what a mendacious beast i found in sleepy coils upon this upset pyre maps of voltaire’s paris drawn across his back so willing to charm my mother’s ghost that i iron the love-rings of her disapproving face for she too is huangpu and i wonder would you converse in heartbeats
i keep adrift on paper screens hoping to catch your dancing shoes over the water’s crest in shadows drink with grey-eyed men of pale finance and from between this soft machinery the dragons rise high in sudden pearl but still it never slakes so françois won’t you let me the stars here are only ships bringing steel 9
xit redline tunnel at West 56th and you can already hear the roar, deafening, and only blocks away. Affect like lifting your head from under water and finding there’s no air. Sniffing out the static stampede like hounds, tourists overtake mothers with strollers at a half-jog, sideswiping aged arthritic manhattanites, orthopedic shoes, broaches. The skies are thickly grey, busy shouldering off autumn. The cold steals breath. Unseasonable. Exhaled plumes of masses create a foggy dreamscape on Seventh, temperature enforcing itself, cops in dull blue roaming on the periphery with scrunched expressions and thermal coats, eyebrows low and level, understating commands through fleece gators, a gloved gesture here, a quick waving of the club there. Browns and reds and yellows of so much autumn nylon, fleece, Styrofoam coffee cups, mouths agape blowing into coiled fingers, hands rubbing invisible flints. The sun is veiled, just a vague patch of brightness in the wintry east. And there is wind. Finding a good spot and setting up shop is everything. For warmth if for nothing else. Taking up as much space as possible without seeming to. Packing in friends and lovers. The shifting of weight from numb foot to numb foot. It is said that the floats are big this year, bigger even than last year or the years before. Expectations high. Youth on frozen toes. Michael stands against a mailbox, an infant Brando, shoulders bent inward, loose blond wisps over his eyes, hands in pockets, eyes glazed. This is so pre-Christmas, Daniel says. Stop, Jessica says, tucking curls behind ears.
Daniel shrugs. His nose is a faucet. There are clear splotches on his sweater that look like dried egg whites. Brown hair and boyish. A man selling hot chocolate pushes his cart and parts the nearby crowd. Daniel gestures chivalric, almost pirouetting to let him pass. Mucus cascades his chin. Further up the bronze bell of a tuba sprouts from a stop sign, the opening like a dilated metal eye. I’ve been doing this since I was three, Jessica says. It’s cold but worth it. When it’s over I always have good dreams. Like I’ve been drugged. For weeks. And I can’t tell you what does it because I never cared to find out, because whatever it is can’t be duplicated. It’s like the reflection of a memory you’ve never had, but it’s never the same twice. Jessica untucks her hair. Daniel’s nostrils slide across his sleeve leaving reflective trails. Shuffling to Broadway in a hurry amidst a sea of snare drummers who skip with their right feet over sewer caps, right shoulders slumped but officious, thick gold tassels like pendulums, captivating. Copper uniforms, much too thin. Salt stains on pant cuffs. They had picked Michael up from Bellevue because his mother had flatly refused, had said hurtful things into the receiver and denied subsequent calls collect. Because once, in a small room, Michael and his mother had watched daytime programs in silence, the figures all fuzzy in the old television attached to the ceiling by bolts. Eyes avoiding each other for hours. Remember when we used to watch Sesame Street,
she had asked, her voice pale. Sometimes, he had said, searching for a channel. Michael repeats the word, sometimes. Trails behind Jessica and Daniel who are leaning into each other in argumentative whispers. Picks at his bandages like they’re bug bites. Deep lacerations, this time. Red in the gauze. Reduced flexion and the deadening of surrounding somatosensory receptors. Jessica falls back from Daniel, drawing Michael’s right arm gently into hers. Gotta hurry or we won’t get a good spot, she says, barely touching him. The three embed themselves on Broadway to the right of a family with matching turkey hats, a couple and two kids, all construction paper and googly eyes, holding hands, the younger kid’s cowlick poking up full force from beneath. His family expects things that his low eye line will not catch. Face callow and sad, teeth chattering but trying to hide it, knuckles white clasped on three fingers of his father. The way children hold on. Here they come, the father says. And they do. One after another in procession, meticulously planned, thematically presented. First
a turkey, gaping eyes nightmarish, shiny industrial plastic feathers. Cranium creaking from side to side, gobble immobile, pointy tongue extending and retracting, stabbing the cool air. There are tired faces seated on the thing’s rounded back, on a bench formed for the purpose. Large smiles. Pilgrim costumes, exaggerated buckles and bonnets. Hands wave from side to side, closed fingers, regal. Like horse tails swatting flies. Can you believe this goliath, Daniel says. Must’ve cost millions. Engineered by someone, who at some Sally Lin point sat down with paper and made orders to companies and revised specifications and just committed months of their time. Months. They probably sat down with their loved ones and said There Is A Turkey To Be Built and No I Cannot Eat Dinner Right Now because of I have enormous mechanical goals. Michael remembers having been so stoned in his garage that he was counting heartbeats, bored among taped boxes and old clothes, finding the power drill and taking half an hour to place the core bit, getting it in good and (continued on page 12) 11
(continued from page 11) tight before clenching the trigger and watching it’s rotations until his head hurt, then setting it briefly to his left forearm, wanting to rewire some things, watching the skin tear and the slippery vein snap and curl, hugging the cobalt. Mesmerizing in the dim light, dreamy, like the innards of a transistor radio, circuitry spilling out, blood coming abundantly. Further up the Rockettes stare at nothing and kick eye-high with heels, goose bumps beneath flesh stockings. Michael has evaded Daniel and Jessica and dry heaves against a padlocked door next to Ray’s Famous. A marching band approaches on Broadway. The gags come in short bursts but expel nothing. Forehead moist and left hand open against the cold concrete, extending his fingers until the stitches pull taught, and in the cold it’s like they’re unzipping themselves. Still swollen. Blood still thin. Collapses against opposing wall of entrance into seated position, legs crossed. Closes eyes. Tries to hear his heartbeat amidst the static crowd. Gulps air that never goes deep enough. What death would mean in a doorway like this. Eyes open just in time to see the green blur in the distance, above the backs of so many, moving fast, driven only by ether. Pictures are being snapped like it’s the second coming, a rarity, a frozen body descending from the grey. Permanently contented smile, partially parted lips, half-moon eyes coming
clearer into perspective, almost bulging, like an addict with jaundice, a puppet Osiris, towering reptile, legs splayed, naked immunity to the cold, right hand lowered with fingers extended. The crowd is consumed by the bulk pulled by no forces, white eyes that have nothing inside, pointing finger of poison. A sound cuts through the applause. Subtle, meaningless. Then grows, reverberates against building glass. It tilts slightly to the right and begins to fall, green skin crumpling, eyes receding into themselves. It has been punctured. Michael stands up. People rush to escape the gathering shadow. He moves through them towards the street. The emptying form falls like a feather. Michael breathes deep and raises his wrists in expectation. The shadow grows, the bulk imploding. Jessica and Daniel call his name from behind, but he does not move. Get out! they say, but he stays. The nylon is almost within reach, too close to leave now. Standing on his toes. And then the shadow is upon them. More than just Michael. Under this dark green it’s hard to see, but Michael hears Jessica and Daniel nearby and reaches out with both hands, feeling limbs that he’s not sure are theirs. Draws them closer, clasping hard, stress on the stitches, breathing deep now, drowning in weightlessness, pathetic warm beauty buried in this bosom. Laughs old memories into fraught air. The sound is deafening.
Close Up of a Womanâ€™s Hand on the 80
My Brother this city is a hard place for fragility. his hands covering soft ears like holding two conches laden with majestic whispers of his own quiet mind. overcast cold winter mornings he crawls between flannel I bring my lips to graze an incarnadine ear and coo out ocean waves to watch his eyes scanning our popcornplaster chalet roof up in Jasper. methodically, like in the bath or when Mother washes dishes. a gesture she calls â€œcollecting spacesâ€? it was more like
an excavation or reading tea leaves to eke out some form. chalet days in oak burns, and tobogganing. first time he needs coaxing, but not after. we rush down together and I, press my torso against his, and I slowly fold up his toque so he can hear us on snow and I listen to his humming sledsongs stirring through my ribcage and with him I find a solace in those reverberations they are coloured white and cornflower blue.
jackie, jackie, have you seen jackie, jackie, have you seen your sweet caroline ripping grass by the handful, and painting her small palms green? and the blond american earth seeping, seeping through her shaking knuckles? jackie, you’ve torn your pearls off your neck, jackie, what a mess! and they bounce around your bruising knees, on the white kitchen tiles in D.C. because johnny’s gone, jackie killed by the heaviest metal pearl (grey, blue) that ever bloomed in dallas (gone, gone! PIF! PAF! POOF! what were you looking for on that convertible’s roof?) jackie, jackie, I’ve read many books and so have you, as you stood in pink and red and bruise
o I look like a crook to you?” The phrase was still ringing in my head. I couldn’t believe I had done it. The absurdity of it all struck me like a slap in the face. He was a man just past his prime, with a round, gentle face, and a hint of a beard. He was wearing blue jeans a size too big and an old yellow rain jacket. His unkempt brown hair made him look like he had just gotten out of bed. I was sitting on the train, and he came and sat next to me. He told me he had been “sitting next to a psychopath”; I remember the exact words. We started with small talk, and the next thing I knew he was telling me his life story. He told me everything about himself: “I have nothing but the clothes on my back and my bag.” I glanced down apprehensively at his lumpy, red duffel bag “My wife stole it all when she left.” He looked me in the eyes, but I pretended to be looking out the window. I felt sorry for this stranger, but was surprised with the ease that he told me everything. “I can’t pay my taxes, man. Don’t got the dough.” He asked me where I was going. It seemed odd to tell someone I had just met. “Umm I’m headed out to my parents’ house,” I muttered “Where d’they live?” he said without missing a beat. “Out in—well I guess it’s outside of—Marlbor-
ough, they live in Marlborough.” “Damn, they must be rich.” I started fiddling with the zipper on my backpack. “Well, they’re rather well off I guess, yeah.” “Say, could you lend an unlucky man some money. Please, I’m not asking for much, you can even write a check.” He quickly glanced down at his digital watch. It was getting out of hand. I was going to put an end to the conversation. “What do you mean lend? And why should I trust you anyways? I don’t even know your name.” I looked him straight in the eye this time. He looked down at his hands. “You’re right, you can’t trust nobody these days. Listen,” he said looking back at me, “I’ll give you my name and phone number if that makes you feel better, but you have my word, and I’m a man who keeps his promises.” “How do I know that?” I said decisively. The man shook his head slowly, closed his eyes for a second, then snapped them open and asked straight out: “Do I look like a crook to you?” I told the truth: “No.” I couldn’t go back; I gave in. As the doors closed behind him, the man turned and flashed a thumbs up. “Do I look like a crook to you?” The phrase was still ringing in my head. I couldn’t believe I had done it.
Tangerine Ripe tangerines cling to branches like babies. They look me in the eyes as I walk between the trunklegs of their mothers, kicking dirt because their glances upset my stomach. “Shall we sit?” Lizzy Green’s voice like dandelion seed settles on my eardrum, an acid tickle. The tangerine from her family orchard in Tallahassee, her offered hand. Orange smell tastes sour where I bite—“Forgive me” my teeth missed fruit made thumb skin bleed—“I was over-eager.” She drops the fruit in fright and it settles, a bruise where flesh meets skin. Her blood is grainy where I hold her hand but I can’t stop thinking about the sand in Apalachee Bay brown, almost dark red. Somewhere a father raises his fist over a son’s redstung face while Lizzy and I melt into each other and the orchard for a second where we hide from “Elżbieta!” and “Miśiu!” and I think this is how I will hold her hand when we are older than our parents. And it is just when I realize that I am forever sitting on the edge of forever, rusty fingers pry squeaking Lizzy from my fists and sun melts into horizon, blood-red now, round and bruised, looming tangerine.
Waiting, Gosport Harbor, NH
When Taught the Frame and Shell From the spit of the 1980’s you were born a white, howling tusk
and so you bared, still wet and dripping to the East-most streets. Where I met you.
Cloven, pistol-heeled, you were immune to their heckles—their chants. I watched you cut through schoolyards with a snarling grin of molars. And when you came over we played with wooden creatures, toys—it often went like this:
Have I told you about my parents?
Teach me to be unfeeling and unafraid.
Slick bone, I marveled at you, that though you were of stone you learned to produce such impossible heat. And sometimes it seemed your tormentors were just a crowd of wax that pooled at your feet— but I remember yes, you giggled at how simply you could shuck them once they had dried to your fingers. And when I was older and wise enough I met you at a bar on Normande.
You’ve gotten taller. You’re starting to put on a little muscle too.
You poke me neatly under the ribs and I look around. You rub both my arms like a child fresh home from a cold rain. Callus.
A couple down the bar has been staring at you, for a while now.
You check in the mirror and without saying anything you give me a screaming, pure-joy, razor-wide smile and a heat starts to work its way out of your skin. and as it slinks up from around your collar and spools off your shirt like a bead of smoke, they disappear entirely I ask you how it happens and you tell me when it starts its like the breath before a hum and as you turn and you say it, in a whisper or a hum, I feel the slow creep of untraceable warmth we sit in it— a fog, that heat I tap you with a hand and point. On a shelf above the bar there is a wooden toy—a mouse. Painted wooden teeth, biting into a morsel of cheese. You don’t understand. How do I reach you? says the mouse. Here we start laughing big, hot, until everyone in here cannot possibly look away. And when it finally happened, the floor came up to meet us. Or a fire. Or we flung ourselves down to it.
190 Ward St. Wallingford, CT Rent, like the temple’s curtain at our moment of ‘offer-it-up’ but ablaze as Jesus, regulating that speculative economy of his day in the temple. O Hands! Be you willed to puncture the palm, with nails. And feet, might you not forget the heat of Calvary, and back – the stooping of Cyrene. To know the point of St. Longinus’ spear as fully as yourself. Let me think of the soul as in the blood and in bruises, its ebb and flood.
dear steamboat captain, my spit tastes sick and I miss my childhood love. I am living in a city that is both lush and suspicious. sometimes it’s warm but often it’s vicious. sometimes I wonder if the river isn’t the only honest thing I encounter. usually during the day I wander, and during the night I tend to wear diamonds and laugh wearily. my eyes will beckon. I’m blinded by sleep. I’ve become a master of to kiss and vanish. some people remember how to ache or give blessings or say something tangible. most people just talk too much. most people are just a talking mouth that gets around. many people are fiscally conservative when it doesn’t come to cheeses or thousand dollar pocket squares. there are too many people you shouldn’t be giving your money to, including the mediocre fiddlers, however, I’ve always liked people who let music trip around unbidden. whatever. I’ll be the patron saint of live musicians. but that isn’t what I was trying to tell you. I’m blinded by sleep. I’ve never been acquainted with the back of my hand. I often wonder what the hell is going on. sometimes I’ve had too much wine. most one time I held your body was warm times I haven’t had enough.
my glass is always it was only the rest of you slipped away
slipped quietly into the night, head bowed
the sex comes from a tube in the arm.
Often does my contentment crumble spontaneously, like mud-bricks in the hat in hand. Egyptian sun. It is perplexing to rebuild at these times. I can only wait in my chair, nonchalantly, and try to catch the solution out of the corner of my eye. I’m blinded by sleep. I’m blinded by sleep. sincerely, isis
often I wonder if we can ever love the way we did at sixteen.
Pandoraâ€™s Peal Quivering is no good in a room full of ladies. We shun your reserve. I will pry open Those quivering lips Let lose the mocking Laughter drown The ladies in your monsters. Yes, we like that.
smoke rising from a hilltop, smoke rising from a river
here is a statue of a man in the park a few blocks away from my new house, which is not really my house but my brother’s house which is just the ground floor of a house and I am staying with him for a little while or until he finds a new roommate and I find a different city. I don’t know who the man is but it’s a strange statue. It’ s made of bronze and properly mounted but dressed like someone today, and he’s not standing with his chest forward but instead just kind of standing there like he’s waiting for the bus. He has a nice face, and the first night I was here I dreamt we fucked in the upper level of the house my brother is renting, even though I’ve never been to the upper level. An old couple lives there, and they didn’t invite me for a tour. In my dream the upper level was just like the lower level but looking out the windows it was like the view from an airplane, with soft sheets of clouds below us and the daylight so cold and blue it could cut you. What’s strange, now that I’m remembering it, is that in the dream the statue was exactly as he is in real life, just horizontal like the statues of dictators that have just been overthrown. He wasn’t alive or moving or touching me. I was just lying on top of him, on his cold bronze body, clothed and quiet, but I knew we were actually fucking. My brother tells me that the man is one of the founders of Google and that he’s from around here. I don’t see what’s weird about it, my brother says. In the future, that’s what heroes will be. They’re not all going to be dressed like Napoleon. But it seems strange to me, like planning too far in advance. Julie, my brother says, why do you always look out the window when I’m talking to you. He is younger than me, but he says things like that to me more often than I say them to him. Ever since I found out who the statue is, I can’t look directly at it. My brother is a cinematographer which I think sounds pretty glamorous In the kitchen, he has a 26
bunch of small photographs of a butternut squash from different angles, in different light. I hate butternut squash, but I like the pictures. You can’t really tell that it is a squash in most of them. When my brother brings girls home, he always has them guess. One girl thought it was a bald head with striped tattoos. He doesn’t bring her home anymore, which makes me sad because I’d like to ask her more questions if her answers are typically like that. I’ve never seen our mailman. I see his blue cart turning the corner, or I hear him closing the mailbox and get to the front door just in time to see his back, his awkward half-hop down the steps, but I couldn’t pick his face out of a crowd. I don’t know why, but it bothers me . I imagine screwing up the lock on the mailbox so it takes him forever to open it and he gets thrown off schedule, or pulling the stickers off all of the houses so they don’t have numbers anymore, or going a few blocks down where it’s all apartment buildings and crossing out the names next to the buzzers with a Sharpie so he can’t figure out who lives where. But then I am struck by the image of Ed McMahon wandering the streets with his giant check, lost and confused, and I am overwhelmingly sad and ashamed When we were little and went to the bay-shore every summer, I would try to float, half my body in the water and half out, the rough salt under my back, and my muscles would tense with anticipation until I was too cramped up and had to put my feet back down. My brother would go straight under the water as soon as he got in. He would crouch down on the sand and rocks and inhabit a quiet rippling dark world all his own. My brother’s colleague, the girl he’s only mentioned to me as Legs #2 (we don’t talk about Legs #1 anymore) is in the living room when I come home from my class at the Y. She has very long legs that are
awkwardly crossed on the futon, and she’s holding her beer lightly, impermanently, as if she’s afraid my brother might want it back. Andrew’s so funny, she says to me after we are introduced, as if I had asked or said he wasn’t. She has the kind of voice that is most often disembodied: the voice of airport announcements, the pre-recorded subway stop voice, the you-have-3-unheardmessages voice. I immediately agree with her, even though my brother’s not that funny. You’re lucky to have such a funny brother, she adds. My sister does nothing but complain. Oh. Our cousin is actually funny, you know, professionally, I say He does stand-up. You should go see his show. Maybe it runs in the family. That would be so cool, says Legs #2. Her teeth are sharp but her lips are round and smooth. Where’s his show? Well, he’s living in Baltimore. I realize as I am saying it that, because Baltimore is not near here, I have given her a useless piece of information. She makes a quick sound as if to start a word, and then stops. I make a few noises softly so they can only really see my mouth move and then leave the
room, because I know they will assume and understand. The class I’m taking at the Y is printmaking, and the instructor is a young woman named Mila. She is beautiful in the way that says without saying, ‘I have always been this way, all the rivers will end at me.’ We are starting with relief printing, specifically woodblock printing. On the first day, she showed us slides of Katsushika Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mount Fuji,” which my brother has as a set of coasters. Everyone likes “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” which is the most famous one, but my favorite is “Dawn at Isawa in the Kai Province.” It’s a strange one and the composition doesn’t quite make sense. At the bottom of the picture is a village, seen from way up above, the round hats of the villagers almost cartoonish, and the thatched roofs of the houses dripping with what looks like sticky sunlight. Then above the village is a seashore, which is abruptly cut off by a dark line, It looks as though Mount Fuji is rising out of the pale orange sky. After that class, I asked Mila if I could see the slide again. She turned on the projector and let me (continued on page 28)
(continued from page 27) watch it for a while as she gathered up her things. I looked at it until I could feel her more solidly in the room, and then I smiled and left. We are about the same age, I think, and I think it makes her uncomfortable. Everyone else in the class is older and noisier than I am. I’ve been in the class almost two months now but I haven’t produced anything. The other students are on their second woodblock prints, but I haven’t even started the first. Every week, I go to the Y, sign in at the front desk in the lobby that smells like chlorine, walk up two flights, almost turn right, turn left, walk past the scrolls of Chinese calligraphy that are up on the wall from last semester’s Saturday afternoon art class, enter the room, take my seat, and watch Mila and think about “Dawn at Isawa in the Kai Province” for two hours, and then I go home. In the print, none of the villagers are looking at Mount Fuji, even though it is brilliant and immense, bursting through the slanting early light. And even though the villagers are not much more than blue lines and yellow circles, I see Mount Fuji looking down at them like a deity, like the sun, warm and intent. Andrew is my brother’s first name technically, but he’s gone by Drew as long as I can remember. He and Legs #2 are pretty serious, I guess, because she calls him Drew now. A week ago, she brought her dog to the house. It was one of those huge silver dogs that are often dressed in people’s clothes and put into scenes, like American Gothic, and then photographed. I want to ask her if she dresses up her dog and takes pictures of him, but the dog looked very happy so I’m pretty sure she doesn’t. When she leaves, sometimes my brother asks me if I want him to set me up with her friend, Matt, because she thinks we would be great. I ask him if that means that Matt also takes printmaking classes, likes the smell of lilacs, and has a brother named Andrew, because that is all she 28
knows about me. I wake up very early sometimes, only a couple of hours after midnight, but I never return to sleep. The spring is starting, and the watery light that softly covers the city in those hours, melting to tones of daybreak, is soothing in a way that sleep is not. Sometimes at about five in the morning, when I have been up long enough not to be cold, I think I can see Mount Fuji hovering over this house, grotesque and delicate all at once. When I was younger and learned about the earth’s atmosphere, I imagined solid layers cradling the earth like many hands cupped around each other. When I watch the night unpeel itself from the surfaces of the streets and rooftops, I imagine each layer disintegrating, dissolving under the gentle pressure of the new sun. One morning at about this time, on a day that the air is filled with moisture and the earth rustles and whispers, I am too restless and I leave the house. This isn’t a dangerous neighborhood. I walk to the park, avoiding Google man’s eye when I pass him. As I sit down on a bench, I see Mila, walking a very small dog on a very long leash, and I run over to her. It is not Mila, but a woman a good deal older, with heavy eyelids. The morning starts and the city rises up, slowly and then with more certainty. The hills and grass straighten towards the dawn. As I walk the footpath in the park, in this city that is still strange and following a woman who has disappointed me without knowing, the colors on everything begin to spill. Green pours outside the edges of the leaves. The pale brown of the creek-water floats lightly in the air above it. The little dog on the leash is a vague outline, surrounded by the tan-black patterns of his fur. The moon, still in the far corners of the horizon, settles into a soft puddle of the last remaining starlight. Somewhere else, things are solid and hard and it is autumn. Here, the sky and earth have ceased their motion, if only briefly, and are taking a long breath before the strain of another day.
Steps Magazine's second Fall semester issue.