The Aster Review Volume II

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THE ASTER REVIEW VOLUME II

2017-2018



T HE AST ER REVIEW


EDITORS /////// Editor-in-Chief

Grant Schatzman

Senior Editor //////////

Reid Bartholomew

////// Managing Editor

Hannah Grip

Outreach Chair ///////

Patrick Ortez

//////// Editorial Board

Julie Bahr Kayla Ciardi Abigail Clarke Kaelen Deese James Farner Getty Hesse Taylor Hickney Jaylen Jones

Sean Lassiter Angie Maidt Tyler McElroy Meghan McLeod Dylan Rudolph Vivi Shu Linda Stack-Nelson Matthew Viriyapah Justine Yohn

//////// Cover: “Amplified Chaos” by Christian Jones Lucas Interior Layout and Design: Taylor Hickney

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TABLE OF CONT ENTS Letter from the Editor 04 / Sunlight by Raphael

Flint 06 / Breadcrumbing by Brooke Busse 07 / Discovery by Jacob Finley 08 / The Geometry of

Heartbreak by Sidney Hallak 09 / Wanderlove by

Leanne Ho 13 / Paths by Jacob Finley 14 / What

the Snuggle Bug Actually Looks Like, Fortunately by Chloe Bryan 15 / I’m Going to Use This Poem As an Example and an Explanation by Chloe Bryan 15 / Home by Ernesto Fuentes 16 / It’s Always on

My Dime by Chloe Bryan 24 / Portrait by Orlando Hernandez 25 / Grave(yard) Mistakes by Rachel

Lobaugh 26 / A Life Poem by Hannah Asfeldt 27

/ Crumbling by Mycah Higley 29 / A Look at A.K. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas by Anshule Takyar 30 / Unto Dust by Madison Jarboe 33 /

Lantern by Olivia Greb 34 / Figures_Masculine by Matthew Viriyapah 35 / Green Pastures by Sarah

Alexander 36 / Kitchen by Alyx Butt 38 / Bless

You Roger Rogers! by Chloe Bryan 39 / Stan Getz The Aster Review

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Me by Brynn West 41 / The Sea of Doubt by Adrian Demopolous 42 / Censorship by Rachel Lobaugh

43 / Never Forget Again by Angie Maidt 44 / A Monologue About Nothing by Alexandra Penner 45

/ Overflow by Alyx Butt 48 / Becoming One with the Nightsky by Hannah Asfeldt 49 / White Fever

by Leanne Ho 51 / Perfect Imperfections by Bethany Grissom 53 / Self-Portrait by Jacob Finley 54 /

411 Tupelo by Gehrig Thurston 55 / Fish Out of

Water by Jennifer Pham 60 / Mary Magdalene by Ella S. Parsons 61 / Autumn Sky by Mirandah Koutahi

63 / Stuffed by Alyx Butt 64 / A Love Made for

Mornings by Leanne Ho 65 / An Anxious Heart by Lucy Kates 66 / Upsurge in Resolve by Christian Jones Lucas 67 / Success and Aging—Defined by Chloe Bryan 68 / Neclegere by Ky Sandefur 69

/ Mother Earth Is a Woman by Hannah Asfeldt 70

/ Summer by Alyx Butt 71 / Siren Song by Tyler McElroy 72 / Foreman by Gehrig Thurston 77 /

The Secret Disposition by Christian Jones Lucas 78 / Growing Pains by Jennifer Pham 79 / Special Thanks 80

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T HE EDITOR

LETT ER FROM Dear reader,

It is my incredible honor to introduce you to Volume II of The Aster Review. This book is the product of many hands and many hours, of artists, editors, and writers as well as dear supporters, advisers, and friends. Our debt of gratitude is endless on all fronts, but especially deep toward the student creatives whose work fills these pages and the people at World Literature Today who taught us how to put it all together. We hope that the poetry, art, and prose that you find in The Aster will bring as much life and joy to you as it has to us.

The Aster was originally founded on the wild assumption that art and creativity were more intrinsic to the University of Oklahoma than most of us recognized. The eight months since we published our first volume this past August have shown us we were right, and we’ve discovered just how ready our campus was for a student arts journal. Our inbox and our conference room have become almost more crowded than we dared hope. I say “almost” because our hopes are incurably high and will continue to grow alongside the thriving arts community on campus. This volume is a product of the personal connections that have grown among artists and readers at OU. In a year of continued political tumult and insecurity for so many, from our teachers to our dreamers, it captures the resilience and persistence that we’ve seen emerge from all corners of our community. The arts have always been our best way of speaking to each other, and here you’ll find powerful expressions of loss, doubt, and anxiety, but also of youth, family, and the quiet sources of strength all around us. We invite you to listen, and hopefully, to take with you a word or two—a line—an image—as you go throughout your day.

Like the little purple wildflowers from which it takes its name, The Aster Review draws its beauty from its unity and abundance. The moment you pick up this collection, you became a part of that great gathering, and for that we thank you. -Grant Schatzman, Editor-in-Chief April 03, 2018



Sunlight

White cuts into silence, dancing by Raphael Flint across your eyelids, and dappling the blanket, like dewdrops on grass. It taunts with a subtle warmth, filling your room and greeting you, no matter how much you try to shift. Deeper and deeper under the shelter of the covers, a poor attempt to preserve the fast departing dark of dawn. Like water it trickles, and drips into the room from the veins of the window pane. Golden ichor from millions of miles away staining and shifting across the floor, a glaring but gentle “good morning,� A wordless hope that it can tempt you to raise your head, To open your eyes. Its light and intentions shine in from the outside world, beckoning you to join, to feel the kindness of its touch, to accept the love it so graciously gives without asking for anything in return. Nonetheless, your awakening is begrudgingly so. It simply flutters across your skin as you stand, always patient in its waiting. You need time to come to. It knows this. You go down stairs to get your coffee. The Aster Review

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Breadcrumbing

A girl imagines herself as Gretel, holding your hand in the dark, a trust exercise in pebbles and scarce food, but she is

By Brooke Busse

the bird that flutters along, pecking crust and dust from the path, an unsatisfying meal that leaves her alone and exposed in an empty clearing with an expansive sky from which she can see everything, including a house made of candy and a boy made of breadcrumbs just as deceptively sweet. She perches on the chimney, and finally enjoys a full bite as the fire’s heat warms her feet. You entered the witch’s trap without a Gretel to save you. The Aster Review

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Discovery By Jacob Finley

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The Geometry of Heartbreak By Sidney Hallak “Maybe we could Skype tomorrow?” I nodded, feeling the pang of missing him as I hung up the phone. People said high school relationships never lasted into college, but we were going strong, in constant contact despite being on opposite sides of the state. Long distance had been trying, but next weekend I’d drive to see him and we’d fall into our old rhythm. I would still fit into his arms; his fingers would still fit in mine. We had made plans to go to a pottery shop and paint trinkets for each other, I envisioned purple and green and yellow and blue. He would take me to the best brunch spot in town and animatedly tell me what I absolutely had to try. We would be together again and we would be happy. On the last day of my visit, we went for a walk in the park after breakfast. Our stomachs and hearts full, we were sated and content in each other’s presence. We watched the world rotate around us, sitting side by side on a bench. The leaves were starting to relinquish their grip on summer and the sun shined weakly down on the water. A squirrel scurried past our feet as the sun moved behind a cloud. I felt a drop of water hit my head. We both looked up. The rain was just starting, an occasional drip that would later turn into a downpour. We got up and started walking, not worried about the impending storm. # How many rectangles does it take to break a heart? The month before the break-up was one long rectangle of silence, stretching across the calendar and reaching across the state. In November, a rectangle squirmed in my pocket. I pulled it out of my pants and saw his name staring back at me. I picked up and heard barely held back tears. “I’m sorry,” he said. I comforted him, assuring that we were okay. “Maybe we could Skype tomorrow?” he said. I grunted an affirmation and then remained quiet, wondering why The Aster Review

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he would want to talk again after spending a whole weekend together, especially one that ended the way it did. I told him I loved him, in an attempt to fix what I knew was already breaking. He had visited me this time, and we had gotten into a fight where he said he couldn’t trust me. It was our one-year anniversary. After our brief discussion, my phone returned to a dark rectangle. He returned to his side of the state and my phone stayed dark. The next week I had a test or a quiz or a paper and it stayed dark. Thanksgiving came and went and it stayed dark. I reveled in the darkness. I wanted to climb inside the inky blackness, swim around in the comforting silence. I watched it stretch through the month as I snuggled beneath it, my own personal blanket, and one more rectangle to hide behind. Finals week arrived. It was now December and my black rectangle betrayed me. It lit up and I felt a twinge of annoyance as I saw his name interrupting my silence. “Hello?” “Hi” “Sorry we haven’t talked all month, I’ve been super busy,” I lied, rectangle pressed against my face. My screen was hot with the light, burning shame rising to my cheeks. Shame because I had not only not missed him, but enjoyed the quiet. We stumbled through the conversation because we had forgotten how to talk to each other. “Have you seen How I Met Your Mother?” I babbled. “It’s so great. I don’t have to study for my finals so that’s all I’ve been doing for the past week.” He was silent, but not the good kind. It wasn’t the silence I had grown to see as my friend, but the sting of betrayal that I heard on the other end of the phone. “I thought you said you were busy.” Now that there was light we could both see just how far I had run. I longed for the blissful peace of silence. My blanket was starting to look unfamiliar to me, no longer a perfect rectangle. The threads of solitude that wove my blanket had begun to fray. They itched. How many rectangles does it take to break a heart? In the end, it only took two: two dark screens on opposite sides of the state—radiating silence. How many circles does it take to break a heart? The Aster Review

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I lost count of how many figure eights we made, driving around the neighborhood. “I don’t think I’m the person you need,” I said. He turned the wheel. He didn’t look at me, just stared around the curves as we wove through the streets. I hoped he wasn’t going to cry. We continued to circle, the tires of his black car rolling peacefully as our relationship came to a screeching halt. “Was it something I did?” he asked. We made another circle. I didn’t know how to answer; his fingers were white on the steering wheel. No, it wasn’t something, yes maybe it was. Instead, I just ran my fingers around the glass platter sitting in my lap. One, two, three circles before I whispered, “I think you need someone who will talk about their emotions with you, someone you can trust.” I had been home from college for a week and a half, but this was the first time I had seen him. I thought being home would fix things. I wasn’t planning a break-up and I certainly wasn’t planning it for directly after our friend’s annual Christmas party. My friends joked and laughed and caught up with each other. I joked and laughed and caught up with some. He joked and laughed and caught up with others. I talked to everyone except the person who needed it. We orbited each other, crossing but never connecting. We were both scared to breach the gulf that had grown between us. Four of my closest friends pulled me out of the party and into a separate room. We sat in a circle. We talked about the relationship like he and I never had and collectively decided it was time to end it. There was an empty spot in our circle on the ground. A hole meant for him, I suppose, but he wasn’t invited to the conversation. I never considered that maybe he knew what was going on in that back room. Maybe he noticed our absence from the festivities. Maybe he knew I was okay with disclosing my deepest emotions to everyone except him. Maybe he didn’t care. I asked him for a ride home and saw his brown eyes widen into perfect circles. We got in the car, and he stared at the steering wheel. Fear crawled around my stomach, looking for a place to curl up, and lay down. It wasn’t until we were in my neighborhood that it settled and I turned to him. We started circling. I thought we would never stop making figure eights. We would The Aster Review

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pass the same rows of sleeping orderly houses forever, stranded in the in-between. In the dark we couldn’t see the space between us, taught and stretched thin. If I got out of the car, our connection would break. Every time we passed my street, I silently hoped he would turn the wheel towards home and break the cycle. When he finally did, the last circle was this: my arms around his and the semi-circle of a smile as I said goodbye and closed the door. His heart was just a shape to me, like a child’s toy I juggled back and forth. I look back and feel cruel because of how I handled it. I don’t know the shape of this feeling or how it fits into the puzzle of my brain. When it was done, I felt nothing, returning to my life as normal. No circles of water fell from my eyes, no blankets of silence called me to hide. There was no specific formula, there was no plan. I never meant to arrange the shapes into a knife.

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Wanderlove

nobody told me growing up is growing out your love unfurled in all directions new rug in an old house creating warm paths to tread as footprints grow cold

By Leanne Ho

make no mistake, I’m not talking of wanderlust that gaping-eyed desire for the exotic this is what comes after when the streets grow unexciting the skyline more comfortable than compelling this is the love that lasts you plant pieces of yourself everywhere you wander with each movement, in each moment, you can slip into a memory just as easily as you slip out from the party you move on the world turns the love stays loss, they say, is a side effect of love a love that spans continents is left in the pocket of your best friend when you hug her goodbye at your last brunch; a love extended over latitude and longitude is draped over the dorm pillow forts when you say, “forget your 8am, this is college� and surely, this love knows the greatest loss of all you see, when you leave your love in different cities you are always missing someone for every friendship you form, you fracture a little more and if home is where the heart is, you are forever condemned to wander The Aster Review

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By Jacob Finley

Paths


What the Snuggle Bug Actually Looks Like, Fortunately By Chloe Bryan

I’ve been around For as long as I can remember Then why don’t I know me better? I’ll be around Whether I like it or not Until I can’t remember Whether I like me or not.

I’m Going to Use This Poem as an Example and an Explanation By Chloe Bryan

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Home By Ernesto Fuentes

They were on the drive over to his mother’s apartment when he noticed her breathing deeply, wiping the sweat from her palms on her skirt. “Relax,” he said, taking a hand off the wheel to hold hers. “Would you relax? Please?” “Okay,” she said, “but first, you seriously need to explain what happened. What did you tell her? How did she react?” “She was excited.” “She was excited?” “Yeah.” “Okay, but, like, how was she excited?” Pablo sighed. “She literally said, ‘I’m excited.’” “And that’s it?” “Yes. What else do you want her to say?” “I find it hard to believe that your mother literally said two words to the big news.” “Well, I didn’t tell her everything. And hey, what do you mean by my mother?” She recoiled. “Excuse me? Didn’t tell her everything? What on earth is that supposed to mean?” “She’ll be your mother too someday,” he said. “Answer my question, Pablo.” He took his hand from hers and slapped it on his thigh. “I don’t understand why you’re so confused, Karen.” “You told me you were going to tell her before dinner.” “I did,” he said, his voice rising a little. “I told her we had a surprise for her. And she said she was excited—” Karen screamed. “You didn’t tell her I was pregnant?” Now he was yelling too. “No—what? We’re going to tell her together—” “Oh, my God. Oh, my God, Pablo.” She cranked the air conditioning up, aiming the jets toward her. “I can’t believe you. Why would you do this to me? Please don’t make me do this.” “What is wrong with you?” he asked. “You’re being ridiculous.” “You told me you were going to tell her.” The Aster Review

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“I told you I was going to prepare her.” “Same thing!” “Karen, we are almost at my mom’s house. I need you to relax.” “No,” she said, crossing her arms across her chest. “Drop me off. You’re fixing this.” “Fixing this?” He was barely paying attention to the road now. He slowed down and moved over to the far right lane, about ready to pull over. “How do you expect me to fix this?” “You’re going to drop me off at Ashley’s, and then you’re going to your mother’s and you’re going to prepare her for our announcement like you said you would.” “By telling her the announcement. Without you.” “Yes,” she said, glaring at him. “What am I supposed to tell my mom when I show up without you?” “Tell her I stopped at a friend’s house to do my hair and makeup.” “She’ll know something’s up.” “I don’t care. You’re fixing this.” “Why are you so scared of facing my mom? I thought we were going to do this together, Karen.” “Are you kidding me?” She turned in her seat to face him. “Pablo, you have this great, wonderful, fairy-tale like relationship with your mother, but you don’t realize what that makes me to her.” He furrowed his brow. “What does that make you?” “The enemy!” she said. “I am the evil girl who’s taking her baby boy, her only son away from her forever. We’ve talked about this, Pablo, you remember the way she looked at me the first time I came down.” “Oh, come on, Karen. My mom just has a mean-looking face.” “You keep saying that, but have you ever thought to consider that your mother just doesn’t like me?” “No. Because she does like you.” “You’re not listening to me. I’ve had enough of this conversation.” She turned in her seat again, away from him this time. “Drop me off at Ashley’s. And fix this!” The rest of the drive consisted of Pablo following her phone’s GPS to Ashley’s hotel, in complete silence. Is this the pregnancy craziness already taking effect? he wondered. This is going to be a long seven months. The Aster Review

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Ashley was waiting down in the parking lot for them in a beige sun hat and blue bikini, a drink with ice and lime in hand. Karen stepped out of the car to Ashley’s excitement. “Damn, girl,” Ashley said, checking her out. “Looking good.” And she was. She had a sundress on that took her two hours to pick out, hoping that it was modest, but not too modest, so she could show his mom “that she would have beautiful grandchildren.” She took another hour to put on her makeup to “emphasize her blue eyes,” which she knew his mother liked, but stressed that she wouldn’t put too much makeup on, to show that “her grandchildren will have natural beauty too.” Oh, and not to mention the two hour appointment at a hair salon to make her hair just right, to get that long flowing look with the curls at the tips, and getting that light-brown shine just right. She took more time and put more thought into this dinner with Pablo’s mom than she ever had on any date with him. “Text me when you’re ready,” Karen said from the passenger door. “Okay,” he said. “Love you—” She slammed the door closed. •••• Home smelled of Mom’s cooking, that old familiar scent of meat and herbs cooking in the pans, with rice simmering in the pot. Pablo sat at the kitchen table with his phone sitting in front of him, his feet bare with his shoes left at the front door, as was Mom’s rule. She stood in the kitchen going on and on about his impending graduation, the only thing she could ever talk about nowadays. “You ready to enter the real world?” she asked. “I’m ready to start paying off my loans,” he answered. She laughed. “Five months from now, and you’ll be Dr. Jimenez.” She paused and looked up, dreamy-eyed, tasting the words. “Sounds good, doesn’t it?” he asked. “Sí, muy bueno, nene,” she said. Pablo kept glancing down at his phone, the dark, empty screen showing his reflection. Maybe Karen would calm down with Ashley. Maybe she’d return to reason and want to tell his mom the big news together, like they had planned. He checked his phone again. Still nothing. The Aster Review

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“Nene?” Mom asked, speaking from the kitchen. “Baby? Que pasa contigo? Why aren’t you listening to me?” “I’m sorry,” he said, snapping out of his daze, “what were you saying?” “Where is your girlfriend? I thought you were bringing her.” “I am,” he said, wiping his sweaty hands on his pants. “I’m going to go get her in a minute. She wanted to do her hair before she came.” “Ah,” Mom said, smiling. “Good, a woman must always look her best in front of her suegra, her in-law. You should’ve seen me when I met your father’s parents.” He smiled. She rarely spoke of his father growing up. Pablo had only ever heard of him when he was being a rebellious and troublemaking son. “That’s your father in you,” Mom used to say. “She’s definitely looking good,” he said. “Well, I can’t wait to meet her.” Meet her? Oh, God. “You’ve already met her, Mom.” “I have? When?” “Last summer,” he said, “before I went to Colorado for my last rotation. You don’t remember?” “Last summer?” she asked, stopping whatever she was doing in the kitchen. “You mean la gringa? The white girl?” “Yes. Karen. Her name is Karen. You remember Karen?” “Karen?” she asked, in a deeply thick accent. “I thought she was just a fling.” “No, Mom, I told you we were serious.” “Serio?” she asked. “What does that mean?” “As in, she’s my girlfriend, and not just a fling.” “Well, does she speak Spanish?” “She’s learning.” My mother laughed. “That means no.” “No, it means yes. I’m teaching her.” She laughed again. “Apenas puedes hablar español,” she said. “I can speak Spanish.” “You speak Spanglish, boy.” She leaned over the counter and pointed her butcher’s knife at him. “Por Dios, mis nietos van aprender español,” she said. Hey, speaking of that, you have a grandchild on the way! he The Aster Review

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wanted to say, but instead he said, “Relax, your grandchildren will definitely learn Spanish.” She returned her butcher’s knife to the cutting board and shook her head. “Not if you keep going around and dating these white girls.” His phone buzzed. It was Karen. Have you told her yet? The text read. He leaned back into his chair, letting out a long sigh, staring up at the ceiling and pleading, Dear Lord, please make it stop. He unlocked his phone and texted her back, Not yet. About to. •••• “Y que pasó con Mariana?” Mom asked. “What do you mean, what happened with Mariana? We broke up before I went to PT school.” “Yo sé,” she said. “I know, I know. But you two always seemed…what’s the word for it in English? Destinado?” “Destined?” “Sí! Destined.” “Jesus, Mom, come on, why do you have to bring this up now—” “Pablo Luis Jimenez-Gonzalez!” she said, staring at him above the counter. “Did you just take the Lord’s name in vain, en mi casa?” “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She shook her head, grabbing the pile of diced vegetables she had just created and poured them into the pot. “I don’t know what that gringa has been teaching you, but you better not forget your God, boy.” “She’s Catholic, Ma,” he said. “Like us.” She rolled her eyes. “I don’t understand why you and Mariana didn’t work out, nene,” she said, back to her caring, almost child-like tone. He was never able to understand how easily his mother could sway the tone of her voice. One moment it was thunder. The next, it was sunshine. Maybe it was a Colombian thing, he thought. “Mom,” he said, turning in his chair to face the kitchen. “You need to get over her. I’m over her, and I’m the one who broke up with her.” “Ay, nene,” she said, in her sunshine voice. “I just want you to end up with the right girl.” “Karen is a great girl, Ma.” “Sí,” she said, her voice turning to thunder now. “I’m sure she’s a nice girl, pero is she the right girl?” The Aster Review

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“I think she is.” “Do you remember, Consuela?” “I do.” She was moving around the kitchen now, a dance between the cutting board and the oven and the stove, dozens of things beeping and boiling and steaming all at once, all being catered to with just her two hands. When Pablo was young, she used to tell him that juggling a dozen things in the kitchen was like juggling a dozen things in life. She had bills to pay, a son to raise, a house to clean, a family back home to support, and no husband to help her. “Pero yo tengo mis dos manos,” she used to say. “But I have my two hands. You can do anything in this world with two hands, mi niño.” “Well,” Mom continued, “do you remember her son, Enrique?” “Yes,” Pablo said. “Well, he’s been dating this gringa too, like you, and now they’re pregnant. Now they’re scrambling to get married before the baby comes, and, mira, get this…” she lowered her voice to a whisper, as if Consuela and Enrique could hear them. “The gringa doesn’t want to get married in a church. Can you believe that?” He shook his head, not in disbelief, but because he couldn’t quite stand how terrible this conversation was going. “No, Mom,” he said sarcastically. “I can’t believe it.” “Oh,” she said, “and they also want to name the child Taron. Can you believe that? That’s a gringo name. Imaginate, can you imagine your mother having to butcher her nieto’s name for the rest of her life? Qué pena.” “I’ll make sure to consult you for my child’s name, Ma.” And that was about as close as he’d been this entire conversation to telling her the news. “You know what, nene,” she said, sunshine, “go ahead and date however many gringas you want. Get it out of your system now, so when you’re ready, you can settle down with Mariana and make me several Spanish babies.” She pointed her knife at him again. “I want three, at least.” “Karen’s pregnant!” he said, the words erupting from his mouth. Pablo’s mother dropped her knife on the cutting board. She looked at him with bewildered eyes. “Qué?” “Karen’s pregnant.” The Aster Review

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“Karen? The girl you’re bringing over?” “Yes.” “Embarazada?” “Yes.” “And who’s the father?” “Me, Ma! You’re going to be an abuela!” His phone buzzed. Text message from Karen. Don’t tell her yet, the message read. Ashley brought me to reason. You were right. Let’s tell her together. I’m on my way! He looked up from his phone and said, “She’s on her way right now.” “Ay, madre de Jesus,” she said, putting her hand on her forehead, breathing deeply. “No estoy preparado para esto.” She leaned on the counter, as if she were about to faint, the unattended pots starting to steam and boil over. Pablo ran to the kitchen and turned off the stove, turned down the oven. She looked up at him and said, “Pablo, mi nene, you’re only 26, why would you do this, you have loans, you’re not even married!” “Relax, Mom, please, relax.” “Why would you do this?” She slapped his arm. “That poor girl. How old is she? Your age? Younger? You’re just like your father. How could you? Going around impregnating girls when you’re way too young. I raised you better!” “Mom, please, will you listen to me—” She turned away from him and talked to the ceiling. “Ay, Jesus, how could you do this to me? I sacrificed so much for this boy, and now my grandchildren won’t even speak to me in my own language—” There was a knock at the door. Mom looked at him. “Who is that? Is that her?” “Yes, Ma,” he said, “she’s here, so can you please calm down?” She took deep breaths, putting her palm on her forehead. “Ay, Jesus, ay, Jesus.” They walked together to the front door and opened it. Karen stood there, her dress blowing lightly in the wind, sunlight shining down on her tanned skin. She was as beautiful as he’d ever seen her. “Hola, mi suegra,” Karen said, her accent the best he’d ever heard it, better than his even. “¿Tu hijo te contó las noticias?” Pablo’s mother stood there, frozen, almost speechless. “Sí,” she The Aster Review

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said, in a voice that was neither sunshine nor thunder, but complete disbelief. “Estas embarazada?” “Sí!” Karen said. “Con tu nieto!” Pablo’s mother lunged forward, grabbed Karen by her cheeks, kissed her forehead, then wrapped her arms around her, crying tears of joy.

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It’s Always on My Dime By Chloe Bryan

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Portrait

By Orlando Hernandez


Grave(yard) Mistakes By Rachel Lobaugh

years later, eons later, lingering questions of what could have been stick to the back of my throat the answers remain as distant— as woefully unaware of my plights— as the stars on which i wish and the god in whom i believe (or at least, i think i believe) how did a girl with bloody knuckles and a sloppy undercut claw her way so deeply into my heart (do i believe?) i should have kissed you in that graveyard but i didn’t and now we’re here and there’s nowhere to go (god i want to believe)

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A Life Poem By Hannah Asfeldt

When you were born You fell from the sky carrying with you the roots of every galaxy that has a home in the nighttime Your bones grew from the milk bubbling up in the pastures of all our mothers’ breasts Finding life in the curves that birthed herds of histories Greater than we will ever know. Waterfalls and wheat fields ebb and flow when you shake Your peach fuzz mane Dropping dandruff blessings like snowfields resting all across the Tibetan Plateau. I know The discomfort of shedding your skin But invest in the process from one body to the next Even ocean borders grow. Shed that skin like the sea sheds its carbon to the air Saying “I cannot bear you any longer And still wave my cognitive reefs forward” That coral makes life from decay All things under this sun will pass away With time you will find a new day. When your baby teeth fell out You thought that the world was ending But think of all the endings that grow into beginnings under the pressure of ash from volcanic eruptions

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The process of change is a needed disruption Let the weaker plates inside you succumb to subduction You will find a green more resilient than ever before. When you took your first steps Herds of bison leapt and stampeded across the earth Shaking the ground with the promise of things to come We all come wearing clouds in our eyes Some cirrus, some stratus All a part of one sky All a part of the cycle of water The cycles of life. Those drops of restoration will fall with you when you break Proving once and for all That no matter how sunny you are You cannot grow without the rain. Our skin will grow Our skin will grow and we will glow with kisses From mountain top winds And we will make rockslides out of our fears and homes out of fallen trees You will smile like fields of poppies And I will weep like lush rainforests And we will wake and sleep like the hibernation of the leaves And our sun will never cease to rise. We’ve all got stardust building castles inside of our eyes.

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Crumbling By Mycah Higley


A Look at A.K. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas By Anshule Takyar In 2011, controversy broke out in the capital of the world’s largest democracy when Delhi University removed Three Hundred Ramayanas, a piece written by acclaimed poet A.K. Ramanujan, from its History course syllabus. This short essay tore at the seams of the so-called Hindu intelligentsia and revealed the frays of India’s secular tradition. Seven years later, with communal disharmony bubbling within India yet again, I felt it was time to understand the text that threatened the delicate academic-theocratic balance that defines Indian secularity, in an effort to seek insight into nascent interpretations of the Hindu faith. Ramanujan takes issue with the Ramayana, a typical Sanskrit derivative of the hero’s journey, an essential story every Hindu child, including myself, is made aware of. The story was straightforward: a righteous hero named Rama wages war with the epitome of evil to rescue a beautiful maiden, Sita. The Ramayana is a cornerstone text of Indian society; its characters define Hindu morality and Rama’s struggle is one that is engrained into the lives of every individual on the subcontinent. In Three Hundred Ramayanas, Ramanujan intricately deconstructs the epic, analyzing the objective spiritual merits of the text. The Ramayana has undergone innumerous iterations as the 3000 year-old text found its place in almost every society on the planet. Ramanujan points out that the variations of Rama’s journey that span across the Afro-Eurasian landmass often contradict each other, contrary to widely held Hindu belief. For example, The Thai Ramakien vilifies Hanuman, a character deified by millions of Hindus, and in its canvas, paints Hanuman as a vain monkey with an The Aster Review

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affinity for molestation, while many South Indian folk songs tell of a Sita who leaves Rama of her own volition. With such inherent vagaries in the plotline, one may question the validity of the epic itself. The stark differences, argues Ramanujan, do not take away the inherent moral value of the Ramayana. Though the story itself varies considerably, the values remain constant and in this emerges a newfound interpretation of the legend. Ramanujan sees no merit in the story; for him, the deities of Rama, Sita and Hanuman are themselves meaningless. These characters, deified as gods in their right with thousands of memorials and philosophies in their honor, are too inconsistent across the thousand augmentations of the epic to have any concrete value. Where Ramanujan sees import in their stead is the role of the legend as a medium through which to convey core Indian value systems to a vast audience. The simplicity of the Ramayana’s story is intentional, as it is not the story, but the message imbibed within its veins that is its core purpose. To understand how this notion created such a rift in Indian society, it is necessary to begin to grapple with another notion, one of Indian secularity. Indian secularity itself is a feat of extraordinary proportions, one that has allowed extremist factions of some of the world’s largest religions to coexist in relative harmony. This age-old tradition has succeeded in recent centuries by compromising intellectual curiosity within and between the faiths and peoples of India. Any remaining interest in the parsing and interpretation of texts like the Hindu Vedas diminished with the onset of the British invasion of the Indian subcontinent, as this fragile academic tradition fell victim to religious forces struggling to preserve, rather than develop, the Hindu religion. Today, this has given rise to the growing prevalence of an ethno-nationalistic intolerance for criticisms of the Hindu status quo. In this environment, Ramanujan’s revolutionary interpretation of the purpose of epics along the lines of the Ramayana drew criticism from the religious right, who saw it as a challenge to the very foundations of Hinduism. Delhi University’s academia was forced to abandon the text The Aster Review

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as religious groups saw it as delegitimizing the core tenets of the religion by insinuating that praying at the mantles of Hindu gods is intrinsically futile. However, for me, Ramanujan breathes new life into an ancient tradition by recognizing the inherent meaning of its legends, transforming an archaic Hindu worldview mired in nostalgia into one that continues to develop in an effort to realize the ultimate definition of righteousness. As part of the Indian diaspora in America, I find Ramanujan’s 1987 essay especially holds true 30 years later as the global community struggles to define foundational concepts of their societies, be it the Hindu faith or American greatness. As such, I differ with the idea that Ramanujan’s essay is an affront to the very concept of Hinduism. No, I see this not as the work of an infidel; per contra, it is one of a guru of perhaps the highest order. For as the gurus intended as they conceived the Ramayana three millennia ago, this essay calls for the Hindu, and indeed the world, to cease the superficial reverence of fictional characters of a bygone era. Rather, in the interest of the development of our value systems, we must embark on an introspective journey to grasp the core values that define our society.

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Unto Dust By Madison Jarboe Where has the time gone? Only yesterday, we were rosebuds— Too fragile to bloom, But vibrant enough to dream— Our frailty not a hindrance to our wild hearts. Though only seconds have passed (or so, it seems) We now stand Wilted, Our colors faded, Once-softened petals reaching longingly towards the sacred earth— Crumbling, Returning to the dust from which they were made.

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Lantern By Olivia Greb

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figures__masculine By Matthew Viriyapah

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Green Pastures By Sarah Alexander Take me to Mars to play in the sand. I’ll bring a bucket and claim the land. They say it’s lonely; nothing but dirt, So thank the Lord I’m an introvert! With nothing but dust, I can rot away. Honey, this is science, not child’s play, And I’m launching the rocket from your Driveway. Take me to the diner for a last meal. Never coming back home is a big deal. On Mars there won’t be free cold ice So do me a favor and forget the price. Let’s buy the specials and cut the cake. Eat it all here so there’s nothing to take. And get that one drink of the owner’s Namesake. Well, there will be ice, if you like silicon. Not oxygen, but argon. Or the phenomenon Of dying of pneumonia and silicosis! Gone Are the days of romantic space. Face it. This is no place for a sane human being. Space is not romantic anymore. It’s more A place you go to die. I live a lie that my Time may be up soon, and this red dune

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Won’t be the tomb of all of us. Trust us Space men when we say that the moon Does not make any sane soul swoon. For this is my green pasture; my own fault. Never anoint me with water, only rock salt. For if you are the pasture, and God my want, Then I am the Valley of Death. Take me to the old park by your home. The stars paint the hill in monochrome. It’s lonely out here, but I’ll be alright. I’ve got memories of you to hold me tight. Honey, it’s possible engines may fry, why It’s quite frankly likely we’ll all surely die. I know it’s hard, but hey, I only came to say Goodbye.

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Kitchen By Alyx Butt

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Bless You Roger Rogers!

By Chloe Bryan

Roger Rogers is a man of valor and “the hour” Because he never lies and likes to wear contacts on his eyes So that he can drive without hitting pedestrians. He has one daughter – she is an equestrian. In fact, she is the token horse girl of her primary school. (Every elementary has one – we all know this) Roger is remarkably normal Except for the fact that he was so proportional as a child, that his grade three gym teacher said he would become a “Classic North American Heartthrob,” And he did not, and thus invented himself just like bread crust did, And this was difficult for Roger Rogers because it is only his first time being alive. And except for the other fact that he cannot share anything Not even the road Roger Rogers likes to kick various things that fall from above off of the sidewalk when he walks Like acorns and leaves and angels. The leaves are the hardest to kick, because leaves do not weigh a lot and they usually crumble. Roger is a very well-tempered man, but if he kicks a leaf and it crumbles, the day is lost. The angels are the easiest to kick – physically And hardest to kick – ethically. Other than pulling out the eyes of passing women after experiencing leaves crumble under his Louis Vuitton shoes, he has no faults. Roger has written three books: “Married at age 16” “Divorced At Age 17,” and “Stocks: A Memoir” The Aster Review

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But he considers his daughter his magnum opus, and he asked for a raise last Friday. He got the raise. He celebrated by drinking several malts. Way to go Roger! Climb that corporate ladder! He used to have a wife, but does not anymore. Now that his wife is no longer his wife, she has gone on to another man. She has had three children with this other man, and named each after her number one struggle at the time of their birth. She had a child at 17 and named it Acne. She had a child at 23 and named it UTI. She had a child at 45 and named it Student Loans. But never mind her or her three children. Every morning Roger shotguns a La Croix, and then indulges in the two most addictive substances known to man: Heroin and Lay’s chips. His doctor calls him a medical miracle, and he usually says: “No, you can just call me Roger” in return. He is a master of conversation, and knows better than to list everything remarkable about himself all at once in the beginning of a friendship. For example, he could say: “I can ride a bike I can breathe I can swim I can do cat’s cradle from memory I can speak English.” But he’d never do that because he would not want to gloat. He is also very tech savvy. He has been described as a “Man on the streets, and excel in the spreadsheets.” Bless you Roger Rogers! “Thank you but I did not sneeze.” – Roger Rogers “I love everything.” – Roger Rogers

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Stan Getz Me By Brynn West

I want to listen to jazz with someone who Stan Getz me

to their bedroom with cheap wine and expensive conversation and who is impressively

patient with my heart in the basement starved for attention, yet

so confident in its independence that loving another presents itself as a hindrance, a hassle,

a Henri Matisse painting sold underpriced, a cocktail over preferred wine. I’m timeless! I’m infinite! I’ll never grow old.

The thoughts I convince myself of to friends who love the filtered me rather than the person I was meant to be.

Be yourself, but being myself brings shame to my mother’s name and supposedly His name and the future I’m meant to have. I thought by twenty-two,

maybe you’d have apologized, Dad.

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It’s a roiling, turbulent cliché,

a sailor and a girl’s dismay, jostling our humble ship

The Sea of Doubt By Adrian Demopolous

which threatens every day to slip into the dark, torrential gray.

You lean your face into the spray. We often end up looking toward

whatever may lie overboard;

we know that we won’t dare to leap over the side into the deep,

but also that there’s no reward

for those who fear the unexplored.

The waves approach as we embrace,

they crash back down, I touch your face

to find your eyes and cheeks are wet.

The swell is high as it can get.

We part and grab the wall to brace ourselves against the empty space.

When morning comes, the sea’s calmed down

With sunrise the horizon’s crown.

The waves have crashed, the wind has blown.

I wake to find myself alone.

I set the sails and lose my frown;

I wish I could have watched you drown.

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Censorship By Rachel Lobaugh

You ask me why

I’ve drawn a thick black line Over her eyes In each photo “You see,” I say,

“Her eyes were the first thing I saw

As I walked into that quiet coffee shop I was terrified—

She was beautiful.

Every emotion she felt swam across Those golden brown eyes

They were the first part of her That I fell in love with. Therefore,

They must be the first part of her I forget.”

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By Angie Maidt

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A Monologue About Nothing By Alexandra Penner

In Shakespeare’s day, the slang word for Vagina was nothing: “Much ado about nothing.” “That’s a fair thought to lie between a maid’s legs” “What is, my lord?” “Nothing.” That meant the penis must be something. The all-important part that filled the empty hole of the vagina. The almighty phallus, the king’s rod, the warrior’s sword, the soldier’s rifle. Hell, I could go on all day about phallic symbols of power, but none of us wants that. A vagina is not nothing, if it was, how could I feel its absence so sharply? They tell me a vagina is a magical ticket to womanhood. Because I’m missing that all important something, I have to wait until I get home to pee. People ask me when I’m getting “the surgery” that will give me the something. People ask me WHEN are you getting “the surgery,” never if I’m getting it, or if I can afford it, or if I think it’s right that the arrangement of flesh between my legs determines whether my identity is valid. It’s so tiring talking to all the well-meaning cis people, who just don’t get it. They expect me to educate them. By the way, cis means not trans, for all you well-meaning cis people out there. A well meaning cis person will call me “he” on accident, and instead of moving on with our day, they’ll bring everything to halt to let me know how sorry they are, they didn’t mean to, they’re such a good ally. Instead of a quick apology I have to tell them it’s ok, it’s The Aster Review

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Ok, it’s OK, as I’m reminded that people have to work to call me a woman, that there are so many people who still see a man. But they’re so proud that they get to know a trans woman and get her pronouns right most of the time. I can’t blame them, though. We’re a misunderstood group. A lot of people have never knowingly met a trans person, much less talked to one of us or researched what our community wants or needs. Out of sight out of mind, I guess. The media sure isn’t helping. Caitlyn Jenner got the surgery, her tell-all on page 18! Tonight, trans boy wins girls state wrestling tournament with the help of testosterone supplements! Tragic tale: woman trapped in man’s body! Tonight, on your favorite sitcom: John Everyman meets a cute girl at the bar, but whacky hijinks ensue when she turns out to be a he! The first trans woman I ever saw was in middle school. She was a porn star and I was amazed. My surreptitious thirteen-yearold foray into the adult part of internet ground to a halt. How could a woman with a penis exist? Could I be like her? She was beautiful and powerful. Could I be her? She couldn’t be real. Could she? It had to be photoshop, right? Then one of my high school best friends came out as a trans man freshman year of college. But by then I had so suppressed my identity that saw him as the other, he was trans, I was cis, right? I was just a boy, and a boy is all I would ever be. I had a penis, after all, and nothing could change that. By the time I learned that trans people were real, I had built up so many walls and excuses that there was no way I could ever know I was one. Of course, I wanted to wear girl’s clothes—they have so much more variety and color. But I could get by with Hawaiian shirts and colorful ties. Of course, I hated The Aster Review

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going in the boy’s locker room, it smells like Axe and BO in there! So, I didn’t play sports. I thought life would be easier as a girl but, every shitty man I’ve ever met told me that women had it easy! So, I told myself that was some sexist bullshit, and suppressed that, too. I built my life around justifications, excuses, and compartmentalizations. None of it mattered anyway. I didn’t have a vagina, so I wasn’t allowed to be a woman. And if I tried, I’m either a tragic story of a woman trapped in a man’s body to be pitied, just a tantalizing tabloid tale, or a dangerous predator to protect your family from — the Fox News boogie man who’s turning your son gay and assaulting your daughter in the restroom. Either way, I’m treated as the other, the one who doesn’t belong. But, I’m just a woman making her way the world. I just want to be welcome, to be one of the girls. I still don’t have a vagina. At least, not in the traditional sense. Hormones have done wonders down there! I can’t get erections, I orgasm like a woman, and it smells like a vagina now, too. I like to think of her as an outie vagina. It’s not a perfect description, but it works. Besides, surgery costs twenty thousand dollars, and that doesn’t include airfare to New York, L.A., or Thailand. Or the hotel room while I’m there. Or the fact that I can’t go to work or class during the three months of bedrest while I recover. Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford an innie. Maybe I’ll decide I’d rather stick with what I got. I’m still a woman either way, because that’s decided up here, not down there. Hell, some of the best women I’ve ever met have penises. I am not trapped in the wrong body, this is my body. She’s a bit of a fixer upper, and she’s got an outie vagina, but she’s home.

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Overflow By Alyx Butt

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BECOMING ONE WIT H T HE NIGHTSKY By Hannah Asfeldt A dark sky threatens the sun to stand down She complies like the eyelids of children Setting before the final page is reached Our story today ends in sightless Illumination Lightless constellation Heads tilt back Blankets stretch from their curled up position The resolution begins: At first there is one Then two Then blossoms like august honeysuckles Noticed before known The sky smiles, soft petals erupt The stars, the magic: it’s everywhere: sparkling One hand extends Its voice extends further The question it asks causes eyes to squint and mouths to open An interstellar game of hide and seek One girl seeks more than she lets on Her mind lights up like the sky One: I wish to stay happy Two: I wish to no longer be afraid

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Three: I wish to be soft like the others Four: I wish to stop hurting Five: I wish to never be like the moon Six: I wish to want easy things Seven: I wish to make someone proud Eight: I wish to always be free Nine: I wish to stay happy The game is endless She is endless No one is sure who is just a star and who is just a human. All the children are asleep Both eyes wide open

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White Fever By Leanne Ho Crumpled on the floor in the valleys between pillows, giggles in the air like the string lights above our heads, We dream about the boys in movies, so unlike the boys we know. My high school was majority minority. The boys we know are dark-haired, olive-toned. Curved wire glasses on stubby noses Round faces, round and around The boys in movies are defined and refined A sharp jaw, a sloped nose. The American dream: a white picket fence and a white boyfriend. A Barbie dream house, Ken not sold separately. The boys in movies are beautiful. They are white. Maybe there’s no difference. We think mixed babies are cute, but we never stop to ask If hapa means half, which half are we praising? Is a baby worth more if it doesn’t look Asian? And we never stop to wonder why The Aster Review

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Two halves Asian is too much And maybe it’s because we know that in America, to be Asian is to be exotic, and exotic is only good when it’s a costume shed and left on the bedroom floor. That’s the best thing an Asian girl can be in this world— a beautiful fetishized fool. Maybe we want more for our mixed daughters We hope for smooth Asian skin (but pale, like a white person) We hope for smooth Asian hair (but light, like a white person) We hope they look a little like us (but enough not, like a white person) (so she can pass as a white person) (so she can be a white person) So she can sail smooth through a racial minefield that never gave us the same privilege See, wanting mixed babies is wanting white privilege. But what kind of mother doesn’t want to give her child everything?

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Perfect Imperfections By Bethany Grissom I loved the subtle roughness feel of your hands, as down around they slid. Every groove and callous telling the story of where you’ve been of how far you’ve come to be here, in this moment. I loved the way they lingered over my scars and how gentle your fingers turned, reading them, as if they were braille, understanding, as if they were your native tongue, the vulnerable truths, hidden in plain sight, of all I’ve endured to finally be here with you, in this moment, if only for a moment, jaded and bruised from life and love. I loved the feel of home I found in your hands.


Self-Portrait By Jacob Finley

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411 Tupelo By Gehrig Thurston Dad found himself between jobs one spring and decided to temporarily downsize. It won’t be too long, I heard him say, so I’ll just get a small rental. Somewhere central, but comfortable and safe, maybe near a park. And so we gathered our things. The house stood there in all its goofy glory, on the boundary between the commercial district row of strip malls and the transitory neighborhood to the north and east, just down the street from the library. It was a meager little crème brûlée with trim that had let itself go some time beforehand, nestled in the overgrown lawns and bushes nobody had time to keep up; it blended into its surroundings, all of them a diorama of wear over time, with patina, rust, effervescent primer, motor oil and stagnant runoff fumes from the stonework canal all displaying an intersensual experience of what any gleaming new thing had to look forward to in its old age. Some of Aunt Lucy’s old furniture was already set up in the living room. There was the old, flat, scratchy grey couch with little black running lines all up and down that looped in the fabric, but only on those lines—why not make the rest of the couch like that? The rest of the matted threads scratched me through my shorts—it even needed a piece of plywood underneath the cushions to keep them from seeping into the springs. But the backyard had soft wisteria on the chain-link to the south and wild bluebells (that Dad knew I wouldn’t let him mow) on the west side and behind the shed, poking out of a layer of leaves that almost certainly harbored a copperhead. A small magnolia sapling stood bright and wide-leafed in the front in the space between our yard and that of the drinking man with the broken, hooded car. The nightgown lady’s house stood next to his, with several shades of crisp-stamped wood in and around the windows upstaging the tattered white paint. To its right, the creek turned toward the road, nurturing the daylighteclipsing hackberries in their mangrove attire growing silkworms like The Aster Review

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Spanish moss. In their shadow going further down—until they dropped dead at the caustic sunlight and oil slicks of the parking lot, where little was to be found save for the bits and pieces of junk abandoned in the curb corners—rested old pottery turning to topsoil and a molded wood slat fence slowly revitalizing into lichen. Somehow it always smelled like damp, mossy rain, even when it was so dry that the earth turned to crusted sand. Umber gashes in the remaining bits of sharp-scented steel fence complemented the spoiled stone pagoda across the street. And the people had known their place; they carved themselves into the rusted railing along the drainage ditch, the vitiligo on their forearms echoed the peeling bark on the sycamore branches, and they nurtured ivy and mistletoe in the forgotten places in their hair. One day I talked to Raul on his porch while he drank his wheatcolored beer, maybe the third or fourth one. It was hard to tell which porch-bottles were still wet inside. He had been working on his silver Cavalier with the tarp on the back window but was taking a break; I was walking back from the end of the road and, as usual, he decided to engage in some good-natured pestering. “You ever tried beer?” “Just once, but I didn’t mean to. I was playing with my girlfriend and she got it out of the fridge. We thought it was Dr Pepper but it was bitter and gross.” I glanced at his current bottle and imagined what it tasted like to him. In it, I saw the reflection of his grimy driveway and gleaming tool rack. “Girlfriend, huh? You’re a little stud.” “I forgot about her after we went on family vacation to South Padre. I got a sharktooth necklace that looked cool, and when I got back I thought I should give it to her. But I didn’t, and then I just kinda stopped playing with her.” “Huh. What makes her your girlfriend? You kiss her?” “On the arm once. It was weird.” “HAH! When you get older and wiser, you’ll appreciate the finer things in life. You had beer with your girlfriend and you didn’t...” Silence. A passing truck’s muffler only added to my anticipation. The Aster Review

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“Didn’t what? You don’t usually hide things. Is it an adult secret?” “Damn right. Beer makes you say shit you shouldn’t. Come back when you’re older.” Normally the curse words would have made me recoil, but there but there was something about Raul and how seamlessly his beer blended with the leaves on the porch and the dried grass on the streets. He was a prophet of my neighborhood and he used what language was available to do the job right. Nevertheless, the weight of his silence blanketed the street; I wondered whether it was that great secret about boobs. My friend Gabe told me all about who in our class had the best boobs, and how deep-down happy they made him, and that I was gay if I didn’t start liking boobs by high school. Then I remembered the cat lady two doors down, and how her chest drooped down so much she had trouble walking. Maybe there was a reason she and Raul were so friendly; he was a grown-up, after all, and he knew those grown-up things that I didn’t and Gabe pretended to. I thought maybe Raul had inadvertently revealed a great truth that I had to come to terms with. Later at dinner I tried in vain to imagine nipples on my peas, but I couldn’t make myself feel anything, happy or otherwise. I ate my dinner in as much silence as I could muster, as I didn’t want to accidentally reveal to my father what was weighing on me, lest I find myself suddenly distanced from everyone who trusted me enough to reveal such apparent truths. I walked down to the stone ditch before sunset and whispered into it how I would try really hard to not end up gay and how much I liked having friends to talk to. I spat my wish into the sluggish stream, sealing my pact, and I watched it solemnly make its way down about ten feet and get stuck on a piece of driftwood. I wondered how long the bubbles would stay there, and if it was long enough to make an impact. Before I realized summer was over, the pumpkins and other fallow decorations were out on display and the pallid sun started to poke through the neighborhood canopy. We moved back to our old neighborhood when it started turning chilly, a little sooner than Dad originally planned. I was back at school with Gabe, who had moved on The Aster Review

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from last year’s obsession to a more relatable fascination with computer games; I watched as he doused his face in the abrasive light of his screen, and, coveting the ease with which he took in so many different experiences, I learned to do likewise. We grew slightly in popularity, adding a couple more boys to our group. As we aged, we started learning to talk like adults. We cursed, objectified, covertly reveled in what few vices were accessible to us. I even played girlfriend one night with Gabe at a sleepover. I thought afterward that I understood the adult world, which was suddenly so simple: braggadocious lies covering hidden truths, shale-colored skin in the sallow lamplight, the blazing, indifferent computer glow putting all else to shame. Adult shows, adult tools, adult people—at least the ones I was told to emulate—all radiated this cruel, neutered efficiency, but I swore to myself that I would adapt. Breadth over depth, I told myself, breadth over depth. I dreamt about Raul the other night, what little there was left to dream about. He sat in the one sunlit spot in his yard so that I could see him and he drank. I watched as he flicked back bottle after bottle after bottle, and with each one he turned tawnier, falling apart, creeping closer to the patch of sun-bleached grass. Between each one, he would chant one of his curse words and let it reverberate through the half-remembered shell of the neighborhood. He boomed the incantations with increasing desperation, and finally I began to understand that his “fuck” was not my “fuck.” I cursed in a vacuum, as a novelty, partaking only in the subversion, while his voice thundered with the power of every starving, desperate fist ever shaken to God. As the sun set, he disintegrated completely, settling between the cracks in the darkened street. The eyes remained, Gabe’s shallow brown eyes, mocking me. I turned to the cat lady’s house, to the creek, to the overhanging eaves, and everywhere were his warm, flat eyes, not reflecting a hint of their surroundings. I ran to the library parking lot—a city block seems so insignificant now—and there was his laughter. The laughter he met me with when I said I didn’t get the big deal about boobs, the laughter when I told him I had never played Xbox, the laughter when I hesitantly asked whether he was sure he wanted to become intimate on that shallow, awkward night. It was The Aster Review

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the laughter I heard behind every polite societal utterance of “Toughen up” and “What happened” and “I’m sorry.” It echoed from behind, and I turned as my childhood refuge melted away, cackling in suicidal glee. I took a break from my studies the next morning to drive over and walk the area, to put this last fossil of wonderment to rest. The house was For Rent, as it always seemed to be. The trees were trimmed back, and the other houses were remodeled with architectural advertisements stuck in the ground. The tree-knots were just where I remember them, and the ditch, though filled with new debris, was otherwise unchanged. There were more children in the neighborhood now, playing driveway basketball and running back and forth from the park up the way. I paused at the end of the street to respond to some emails, and on the way back, I texted Pops a picture of the little bungalow. I captioned it “In Memoriam,” mostly out of humor; I tried to do so out of honor, but it was tinged with the knee-jerk irony present in all my serious thoughts these days. As I walked back to my car, I mentally repeated a mantra about how quaint childhood is and I meditated on how out-of-whack my emotions used to be. It’s been a long time since any unwelcome excitement disturbed my enforced normalcy. I chose my path, for better or worse, and as much as it hurts, I have to stick to it.

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Fish Out of Water By Jennifer Pham


Mary Magdalene By Ella S. Parsons To the girl with skin like poplar ash, green eyes glinting— Oh how your allergy rimmed eyes make your emerald irises glow so. Those deep-set eyes rim your face so, sallow, dark circles cupped like angel wings, with two swipes of concealer so you can fake being human. Three ruby pearls on your pink lips. Now you are passing for flesh and beating blood. Wayward yucca plant, Tensile green stems frowning. Lyrical shores lapping for more. Pull back, take back, the sun sets once more. You are on the wrong side of a sunrise again. Lick back in grey sheets. Hit reset again until you roll out at noon. What gossamer gloom, Ebony night over lacquered wood. Close the abalone lid. Three pricks of blood. A name—Snow White. Let the seven dwarves come. To the girl wanting to grow, while getting thinner— Your skeleton key rings sliding off silken fingers. Forgetting your locks, cutting them all off. A little shorter now, a little lighter how. Keep the keys flamingoing at sunset. You walk along the marshes of the Camargue Where Mary’s boat ran ashore. The Aster Review

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Those wild Bulls with black hides glinting. Dark as a night where you can’t find your keys. Stumbling to not wake a dreaming roommate. Those stubborn creatures—cut from the cloth of night Until a storm of sun-bleached stallions break away, Tearing through mud flats once more. We are at the seaside— Let it come. Let me be undone In the salutations of the shores. The purple martins are coming And going, once more, Your wasted future on ornithology. At the parties you will always be such a bore. Hang your mouth agape like the Mary Magdalene, Bring your doubting hand to pray. Like Donatello you are cut to sway. Popular wood all tarnished with gold, gilded with guess work, yet another doubting soul. Your empty mouth parts with fresh spoken words. To the girl with skin like poplar ash— You are changing now, Coming out like a rat from your own woodworks. Like a Phoenix dowsed from your own drowsy flames. From your ashes covered in blushes and concealed Come you, little doubter— Come out, your knees to the earth. Come, put your lies to bed. Pray to the rain with ruddy feet. Demand the coincidences you seek. With some bad luck your magic might leak.

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Autumn Sky By Mirandah Koutahi My father hates the autumn. He hates the fading light,

And the way my mother layers blankets On their bed at night.

He hates the bug invasion,

Squashing spiders on the floor.

He laments that carefree summers Didn’t last a second more.

My father hates the autumn,

But looks forward to the snow.

The changing times remind him Of events from long ago:

A fierce September blast that bulldozes twin pines,

The blackened dirt where bloody troops march forward in twin lines, The golden glow of fires raging on the mountainside,

The fading light, the final breath, the dimming of old eyes.

My father hates the autumn, And I understand why;

Most of his sorrows have unfolded Under an autumn sky.

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Stuffed By Alyx Butt

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A Love Made for Mornings By Leanne Ho I want a love made for mornings for bare-faced breakfast &

my legs swinging from the counter & your hair soft from the shower.

Dark nights are easy and inebriated

faces illuminated by the bitter flicker of a lighter between your fingers

and glowing kisses in unlit alleys.

You taste the way stars make me feel and when you say you love me, I believe you.

So tell me you love me in the morning

when we’re sober and can’t see the stars.

I just wanna be reminded they’re still there.

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An Anxious Heart By Lucy Kates

My heart is the locus of my anxiety.

I would like to reach down my throat And into my chest

Bending into myself to pull my heart free. I would like to cup its striated flesh In my hands

And ease its palpitations.

Grasping it between my palms

I would pack it like a snowball

Pressuring my worries into submission.

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Upsurge in Resolve By Christian Jones Lucas

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Success and Aging -- Defined By Chloe Bryan

I’m building my empire now when I’m young So I can enjoy it when I’m older and the weather is fair Because when you’re 70 you usually have time to spare And when it’s 70 degrees you usually have 5 degrees to spare In either direction And I’ll enjoy my empire within the confines Of 65 to 75 degrees Maybe in sunny California Or someplace that doesn’t bother my asthma

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By Ky Sandefur

Neclegere

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Mother Earth is a Woman By Hannah Asfeldt In the same way that ignorant men Consider themselves God By conquering the mountains, The rolling curved bodies of women Will always be treated Like something to be summited, Something to be tamed. They will grab and pull and stab and break And claim Every plot of skin you own But darling, think of the avalanches. The rockslides. The eruptions. The earthquakes. The forest fires. The altitude. When he tries to bend You to his will, Call on every natural disaster you know And remind him That it takes a seismic force To move a mountain, And he is just a man. And when he is scared And suffocating And small, Look him in the eye With no mercy, And prove to him That if he plays with a body Forged from lava He is going to get burned.


Summer By Alyx Butt

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Siren Song By Tyler McElroy Muriel Fletcher woke to the harsh screech of Lower Abbottshire’s air raid siren echoing through her small upstairs bedroom. She shook her husband and ran into the next room to rouse Maggie and Edmund, only to find that they were already out of bed. All across the town, families gathered in garden shelters and church basements, covering their heads in preparation for the nightly war game of cat and mouse. Assistant Constable George Webb, who had fallen asleep in his chair by the only radio in the two-room police station, jolted upright and shattered the mug of cold tea that had been resting on the desk in front of him. By the time a disgruntled Chief Inspector Griffiths arrived, Assistant Constable George had already hit the power switch several dozen times and kicked it a few more for good measure. “Sir, I’ve tried everything, swear to God,” he said, his hands fidgeting behind his back. “Blasted thing went off all on its own, won’t stop for nothing.” Without responding, the Chief Inspector gave the small black switch a cursory tap up and down, then bent over and peered beneath the desk. Using the tip of his gloved pointer finger, he traced a black rubber-coated wire from the switch box down the wall and along the floor until it disappeared under the door of a small utility closet. As he opened the door, both he and Assistant Constable George backed away from the cloud of loose dust and acrid smoke that wafted into their faces. As Assistant Constable George bent over and vomited into a nearby trash can, the Chief Inspector realized that they would not be returning to bed that night. It took the small police force of Lower Abbottshire almost two hours to reach every home and known shelter in the town and inform its residents of the ongoing false alarm. Once the feverish pitch had continued for forty-five minutes straight without the slightest hint of an explosion, most of the more skeptical residents had left their hiding places and begun milling about the streets. They stood in small groups, complaining idly to each other about the unbearable noise as their children and several stray dogs looped and darted between them, emboldened and excited by the strange circumstance. By the time the sun had climbed above the roofs of the singlestory buildings on the east side of town, most of the residents had The Aster Review

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crowded into the village square to hear the Chief Inspector speak. The plaza, located near the center of Lower Abbottshire, contained no less than four individual air raid sirens. Each of these had been scaled and muffled by the more nimble of the officers, who were armed with only wax earplugs and rags used to wipe engine grease. Although quieter than the rest of the town, the ominous drone could still be heard from all sides, and the crowd’s annoyance had given way to the sweeping dread one begins to feel during the persistence of something inexplicably out of place. Their worried murmurs fell silent as Chief Inspector Griffiths, perched upon a rickety wooden chair with his constables lined up behind him, put a megaphone to his well-trimmed grey mustache and began to speak. “As I’m sure you’ve all realized by now, there are no bombers coming this way,” he began, focusing on keeping the stress and exhaustion from showing in his voice. “What we experienced last night, and are still attempting to deal with this morning, is no more than an unexpected and highly unlikely technical issue.” Assistant Constable George, after receiving an approving nod from the Chief Inspector, brought a small burlap sack from behind his back and dumped its contents onto the cobblestones in front of him. The townspeople gasped, many in horror, some in disgust, and a few with incredulous laughs disguised as muffled coughing. Sprawled out in the center of the town square was the charred-black body of the largest rat any of them had ever seen. “This big brute,” the Chief Inspector continued with the audience’s shocked attention, “managed to chew through the wire that links the siren’s control panel with the town’s sound system. Clearly it ended badly for him, but the damage was done. We’ve radioed the nearest electrical technician for help, but he can’t be here until tomorrow afternoon. Until then, we will need to keep calm and continue the day as best we can.” What he did not say, out of both a desire to maintain order and a deep sense of personal embarrassment, was that none of the officers in the force had any idea how the system worked. The supply closet was an overflowing mess of outdated paperwork and janitorial supplies stacked around endless black rubber-coated wires that overlapped, crossed, and looped around each other until any hope of following a trail was lost. The large rat’s nest in the corner, constructed from a mixture of wood shavings, strands of human hair, and pieces of rubber, was damning The Aster Review

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evidence of this oversight. “Why can’t you just turn off the power to the station?” shouted an older woman in the crowd with two young children clinging to her floursack dress, raising her voice in order to be heard over the continuous buzzing of the sirens. Her suggestion was met with a swell of agreement from the crowd. “We did think of that, Mrs. Fletcher,” the Chief Inspector responded, measuring his words. “Unfortunately, we have no way to separate the power to the radio from the power to the siren. If we turn off the alarm, we also turn off our communications with the outside world.” At this, the crowd grumbled with displeasure but assumed that the Chief Inspector knew what he was talking about, and after several minutes they began to disperse. The officers stood by the exits and handed out extra wax earplugs and protective earmuffs found in storage at the police station and the small munitions factory nearby, but they ran out long before the plaza emptied. Having received no further instructions on what to do with the dead rat, Assistant Constable George made the insightful decision to leave it laying belly-up in the square as a pointed message to any other town rats with mischievous urges. So it was decided that life in Lower Abbottshire would do its best to continue as though nothing unusual was happening. This was a mentality that its residents were more than used to, having endured a state of war for some time now. Those who did not receive ear protection devices resorted to all sorts of measures in order to protect against the continuous alarm, which ranged from inserting a wetted cloth into the ears to taping small saucers to the sides of the head. The baker, Horace Armstrong, did not bother to attend the meeting in the town square that morning. After learning of the situation from an excited young nephew, Horace decided that the rest was trivial enough to find out from his wife that afternoon. Instead, he borrowed a pair of her tiny grey-feathered earmuffs and began setting up the day’s fare in the brick ovens of his bakery. Horace was one of the tallest and strongest men in the village, and also one of the most loved. Despite the rising costs and increased rationing of flour and spices, he kept his bread as affordable as possible, and often fed spare morsels to the stray dogs who would gather in the alley behind his workshop. He believed in the triumph of hardworking people who work hard together, and had no intention of letting anyone go hungry that day. In the town’s one-room schoolhouse, Ms. Eva Barnes continued The Aster Review

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teaching her lesson plans for the day, although both her and most of her students had wrapped their winter coats so tightly over their foreheads and across their ears that they could hear neither the consistent whine of the siren nor each other’s voices. As such, she was able to communicate her lecture through writing and drawing on the large black chalkboard at the front of the room and making wild gestures with her hands and body, to the amusement of the younger children and the rapt attention of the older. On a forested hillside overlooking the town, Alan Armstrong and Marion Gardner rested naked in each other’s arms, their clothing strewn across the surrounding patches of grassy moss. The young lovers had used the distraction of the air raid siren to sneak away from the prying eyes of their parents and friends and lie together under the autumn sky. Between long kisses, they heard the distant siren howl and began to laugh uncontrollably at their quaint and sometimes ridiculous hometown. For hours they remained entwined, giggling and whispering about the grotesque dead rat and the Chief Inspector’s oversized mustache until they fell into a blissful and dreamless slumber. As the sun began to set on Lower Abbottshire that evening, Horace locked the doors of his shop and used a knife to scrape the crumbs from his various countertops into a dirty wooden bowl, before opening the back door and stepping outside. There were often as many as five or six dogs waiting for his daily offerings, and rarely ever fewer than three, but today only one had come to visit him. It was Alfie, the golden retriever who was known as the kindest and most beautiful dog for miles around. He remained homeless not from an inability to find one but from the sense that whoever took him in would be depriving everyone else. Even Alfie looked on edge, habitually twitching his ears and glancing behind him, and fixing his eyes on the breadcrumbs with a hungry stare. Horace set the bowl on the ground without giving the usual pat on the head and returned inside. He decided against going upstairs for the night. His wife was having tea with the other ladies, no doubt filled with endless gossip about sirens and dead rats, and his son was still off with his friends somewhere. There was nothing to do now but sleep early or work late. So he began, for the second time that day, to knead and shape the dough that would turn to hearty loaves of bread under the scorching heat of his brick ovens. It was around this time that Assistant Constable George, having been assigned to radio duty as punishment for falling asleep, picked up the The Aster Review

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receiver to hear the voice of a radar technician out of London. German bombers were heading over Lower Abbottshire within five minutes, and they were advised to sound the air raid sirens and find shelter. Panicked, he grabbed a large umbrella from the rack by the door and sprinted down the main street of the town, yelling “Find shelter, find shelter!” as he waved his arms wildly and banged passing doors and windows with his umbrella. The call to take cover spread through the streets and homes like ripples in a pond, but the warning came much too late. It was Alfie, the last and most beautiful stray dog still left in Lower Abbottshire, who heard them first. His ears perked up at the light buzzing sound that penetrated the darkening night sky, and he turned and stared as it grew into a dull roar. When the first bomber crested the horizon, he let loose a wolf-like growl, baring his teeth and raising his hackles against the screaming metal birds. The bombs fell onto cobblestone roads and glass storefronts and quaint brick houses and picked them apart without discrimination, without knowing or feeling, a flash of light and sound and then nothing at all. Assistant Constable George was still sprinting down the main thoroughfare, his umbrella rapping harshly on Mr. MacDonald’s closed window pane, when the street below him exploded into shattered pieces of gravel and dirt. Horace was gingerly removing a loaf of bread from his oven when the back-left corner of his workshop exploded into brick and flame, igniting the thin layer of flour in the air. Eva had stayed late at the schoolhouse and was writing an encouraging note in a young student’s essay when the ceiling collapsed and the books were scattered from the shelves and the pages ripped from the books and the letters burned from the pages. Alan and Marion awoke still naked to the sound of distant thunder and were transfixed by the brilliant lights of their town aflame. Unable to move or speak, they held each other and stared uncomprehendingly at the places they used to live. For the first time that day, the air was heavy with silence. An eternity passed with nothing but their shallow breathing, then the sound of a solitary bird singing for its lost mate.

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Foreman By Gehrig Thurston Your house was built in 1972 as a starter pack for the American Dream and you who have toiled the patina into your skin Now you surround yourself with luck on autopilot and your autumnal balsa garage door sunrise window overlooks your 2014 Avalon Limited with the finest navigation system conceived in the labs at Fujima and thanks to your papers it smells of ink and featherstock Your hands choked out the Viet Cong and razed the sugar cane fields, but tremble as they fail to beat Doris in Candy Crush Too much is preserved by the elders on the block they spoil authentic reproductions for the purist consumer.

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By Christian Jones Lucas

The Secret Disposition

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Growing Pains By Jennifer Pham


///////////////////////// To the writers, artists, editors, and readers who have made The Aster beautiful since the beginning, and to all those we’ve still to meet in the years to come.


T HANKS

SPEC IAL A very special thanks to the OU Student Alumni Association, whose faith in our project helped carry us further than we dared dream this year; to Tripp Hall and Rudy Hymer, whose donation in honor of Dr. David Ray, an outstanding educator and former dean of the Honors College, will help us share The Aster with online readers everywhere this year; and to the editors of World Literature Today, without whose guidance and constant support we would be lost. Thanks to Dylan Rodolf for his help in organizing funding efforts. We would also like to thank Holly and Kelly Anderson, Dave and Beth Bartholomew, Jordan Crawford, Katie Hickney, Michelle Johnson, LeRoy McLeod, Todd and Cyndi Schatzman, and Beckie Tramel for helping us place student artwork in the hands of more readers with their outstanding financial support.

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