The Foundationalist Vol. VI, Issue I

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THE FOUNDATIONALIST

a

l i t e r a r y

j o u r n a l

VOLUME VI | SPRING 2021



VOLUME VI | ISSUE I

THE FOUNDATIONALIST

SPRING 2021


The Foundationalist is a literary journal edited by undergraduate students at Bowdoin College, University of Iowa, and Yale University. This issue is made possible by support from the Bowdoin College English Department and is published semiannually in the Spring and Fall. Copyright © 2021 by The Foundationalist All Rights Reserved.

Our digital edition is made complimentary on our website, thefoundationalist.com Fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and literary analyses are accepted twice a year in October and March. There are no page limits, word counts, or specific themes. Visit our website for full submission guidelines and deadlines. All contributors must be current undergraduate students.


AMANDA HALL A N D R E W YA N G A N N E S AVA G E ASHLEY LITTLE CECILIA WRIGHT CHRISTIAN YEO CICELY WILLIAMS CLARA KJELSBERG EMMA KARNES J E S S YA N G J O S E P H D O N ATO J U L I A M . WA LTO N K AT E K WO K KELSEY DAY L I N N E A B A C K VA L L MADDIE CHIU MICHAEL TRAUTMANN RODRIGUEZ NEILY RAYMOND RU T H S C H R E I B E R SAMANTHA ROWLING SARAH ANG SHARON MAI SHIRLEY LIU S O P H I A D I E N S TA G S O P H I E A RC H A M B AU LT THOMAS MCLEOD YO E L A Z I M B E RO F F




TABLE OF CONTENTS

F ICT I O N Nocturnal

ANNE SAVAGE

P O ETRY 2 | 70

A Libation to the Prairie

SAMANTHA ROWLING

Frostbite

CLARA KJELSBERG

9 | 71

黄 SHIRLEY LIU

empties intersect 21 | 72 Nursery

EMMA KARNES

THOMAS MCLEOD

Dreams of bak chor mee 27 | 76 My Mother Writes CHRISTIAN YEO from the Kitchen KATE KWOK

The Spine Tree 35 | 78 Sour Jar JOSEPH DONATO

AMANDA HALL

BobbyOnTheBike1980 44 | 80 History Lesson

SOPHIE ARCHAMBAULT

SOPHIA DIENSTAG

Propagation 57 | 82 Parcha

MICHAEL TRAUTMANN RODERIGUEZ

LINNEA BACKVALL

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insectarium

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Seven Ways of Looking at a Taiwanese Pear Tree

KELSEY DAY

ANDREW YANG


TABLE OF CONTENTS

E S SAY

N O NF ICT I O N

The Many-Worlds In- 92 | 130 Minae Mizumura and the Literary Project of "Unterpretation traslatability"...

SHIRLEY LIU

JULIA M. WALTON

Of Digging 97| 139 "Motherlove was a kill-

er": the Mother-Daughter Relationship...

CECILIA WRIGHT

SARAH ANG

Ode a Mes Freres 107 | 162 Woolf's Parentheses and

Brackets: Pulsation of the Interior

YOELA ZIMBEROFF

MADDIE CHIU

Home We'll Go 109 | 172 “Us have a house!" Alice Walker's Queer Reconfiguration...

SHARON MAI

CICELY WILLIAMS

Walking Over the 117 | 185 On Ortner's Nature/CulEdge ture Meditation: the CreRUTH SCHREIBER

Connectivity Issues JESS YANG

ation of Food Culture...

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ASHLEY LITTLE


STAFF EDITOR-IN-CHIEF KYUBIN KIM, Bowdoin College LILY POPPEN, Bowdoin College RACHEL YANG, Bowdoin College ELIZABETH JOHNSON, University of Iowa HELENA FANTZ, University of Iowa CATHY DUONG, Yale University ASSOCIATE EDITOR STEPHANIE STEWARD, University of Iowa SHAYLEY MARTIN, Yale University WEB EDITOR ELLA JAMAN, Bowdoin College EDITORIAL BOARD Sharif Abouleish William An Bryant Blackburn Jisoo Choi Andreea Ciobanu Anna Fleming Carmela R. Furio Tony Hao Melina Hegelheimer Ella Jaman Joon Ha Jang Yewon Kim Joshua Lin Malcolm MacDougall John Nguyen


Di Phung Bailey Prete Dex Provido Anya Razmi Lauren Salloum Azzurra Sartini-Rideout B Shearn Clayton Wackerman Jack Wellschlager Brett Zach Hanwen Zhang COPY EDITOR Pico Banerjee Amerso Bassiouny Aarushi Nohria Anastasia Slabucho Ananya Vaidya

DESIGN Logo KATARINA SILVERMAN Cover Art RACHEL YANG Back Illustration ELIZABETH JOHNSON


EDITOR'S LETTER In this issue, authors confront growth in a multiplicity of ways; from works that explore the misunderstandings between two ex-lovers as they grow further apart, use hair growth and hair loss to imagine generational inheritance and amnesia, and find critical richness within presumptions of a flattened global canon. As editors, we reflected on what growth means for our publication: how to navigate the potential of limitless, open-themed issues while challenging conventional perspectives. We reflected on what it would mean for our publication to expand as students across the world resonated with our mission, reaching out to us in ways that expand beyond our initial expectations. Our editorial team will soon welcome a new branch at University College London. We were surprised by how The Foundationalist has transformed, a little scared of the inscrutability of the next direction, but reassured by the community we’re surrounded in to let us know we’re not alone.

It’s clear that the aftershocks of this pandemic are still unknown. Many of us were struggling to cope, and asking readers to reflect on growth can seem frivolous. Growth is not always linear and may not even feel that it is for the better, but all of us have been forced to examine ourselves at point A and have ended up somewhere unexpectedly at point B this past year. And that, in itself, is worth celebrating. We hope that as you read this new issue of The Foundationalist, these demonstrations of growth provide you tangible comfort. We’re proud of our resilient authors who were able to write with vigour in a time of stagnancy and we’re proud of our readers for supporting us as we continue to reflect on ourselves and how we can better serve the community of writers we want to champion. Growth occurs at every level, but we lay this new issue down for you to grow with us, as a collective.


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Nocturnal Anne Savage Tufts University

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very night my shift supervisor Harold used to leave a saucer of milk outside the delivery entrance of the truck stop. I made fun of him for it but he never seemed embarrassed and he never tried to explain himself. He would only say: “You never know what’s out there.” I thought I did know. I saw the stray cats and racoons skulking among the shadows of the eighteen wheelers. On especially cold mornings, there would be the reliable rancid spill of innards when truckers would drive to check for creatures sleeping on top of their warm tires before driving onward and away. It was my job to hose down the blood from the cracked asphalt afterward. I was the cashier. I counted change, stocked shelves, unloaded deliveries. I earned minimum wage. I worked the graveyard shift five nights a week. The truck stop, located by the crossroads on the border between one state and the next, was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. In the three years I’d worked there, we’d endured two robberies, a category-four hurricane that flooded us in murky black water up to our knees, an infestation of rats, and a leak in the deep-fryer that released a steady trickle of hot oil, golden, bright, and beautiful at least until it scalded my left arm. We never actually replaced that deep fryer, just discreetly spot-welded the crack during a lull in customers. That wasn’t even the weirdest thing to happen at the truck stop. Harold once told me that back in the eighties, a


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man walked in with a backpack that was cumbersome as a tumor. He paced back and forth for two hours, muttering to himself, then said to the sky, “Never mind.” He left without buying anything. Later Harold recognized the man on the evening news. He’d driven off a cliff. Harold told me all kinds of stories like that. About his mother, who’d been a beekeeper. About running away from home when he was sixteen. About the tattoo of an eagle on his chest. About how to win a fistfight and how to cook an egg sandwich inside the engine of a hot car. About the time his daughter got her stomach pumped. About how once at a strip club the girl on the pole extended her leg in an arabesque and smacked him right in the face with the heel of her stiletto, and that was why his nose was crooked. Harold would pour Fireball whisky into his coffee thermos and instruct me on how to seduce Kathleen with the blue hair, who also worked the graveyard shift at the breakfast franchise on the other side of the crossroads. Sometimes she would wander over on stagnant nights. At dawn, when Harold and I walked back to our cars, he would wink at me and say, “I know where you’re going. I remember being your age.” I never had the heart to tell him that I was simply driving back to my mom’s house to sleep in a twin-size bed. Once I walked into the truck stop at the beginning of my shift, eight o’ clock, and saw a dark forlorn shape floating in the stock room doorway. I thought, that’s it, the old bastard’s gone and killed himself. It turned out a more festive coworker had hung up a scarecrow to celebrate Halloween. But Harold did talk about suicide a lot, in a jovial way. Once, he, Kathleen, and I were watching a documentary on the grainy truck stop television and the narrator mentioned how in certain Inuit tribes, when people feel they’ve lived long enough, they walk out onto the tundra. “That’s the way to do it,” Harold said.

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“But all the ice is melting,” I reminded him. “Then I’ll go into the woods and take all my painkillers. The animals can eat me and horny teenagers can screw on my grave. The circle of life.” “Killing yourself is a sin,” Kathleen said. The night when Harold didn’t show up for work at eight, it didn’t strike me as fateful, at least not at first. I counted in and I began my usual ritual of brewing a pot of coffee with Monster instead of water. I drank it slowly and watched the door until eight-thirty. The truck stop was so quiet, I could hear the fluorescent lights buzzing above me. At eight-forty-five, I began to feel slightly worried but then God walked through the door and told me I’d have to manage on my own for the night. God owned six convenience-stores-slash-gas-stations just like this one, and he wore a clip-on tie. I asked what was wrong with Harold. “He’s in the hospital. I can’t tell you any more than that. It was only a matter of time, anyway.” He had me fix him a hot dog for the road and instructed me not to burn the place down. Then I was alone. In between restocking water bottles, half-listening to the anguish of country radio, pack of Marlboro reds, breaking down cardboard boxes, brewing a second pot of coffee, lotto tickets, selling a six-pack to some furtive-eyed teenagers because who was I to judge, Native Spirit blues, giving directions to a harried couple, and sorry the chip reader’s a little finicky, could you please try again, one more time, there we go — I did remember the saucer of milk and Harold’s warning. My conscience twinged. It felt like it was located in my gut, about where I thought my appendix might be. Like my appendix, I figured that my conscience was mostly decorative. I ignored the twinge. The trick about customer service was that it ruined a human being’s capacity to be awestruck. Someone smeared


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shit all over the restroom like a Neanderthal fingerpainting the walls of an ancient cave? I cleaned it up. A rabid animal pinballed around the parking lot? I got the .22 from where we kept it under the cash register. Nothing could faze me. So even after I neglected to leave out the bowl of milk and the world started to skew, it wasn’t that I didn’t notice the change. I wasn’t stupid. I just didn’t much care. First all the clocks stopped. The analog above the entrance, the green digits on the microwave, even my supposedly invincible phone. But I’d stared at the sky through the grimy windows often enough to mark when the stars began to dim and the eastern horizon would glow the color of unwashed bedsheets. Besides, the only time I really needed to know was when the opening crew would come to relieve me. Before I could clock out and go home, I had to count and recount the money in the drawer no less than five times — the cash seemed to vanish between my fingers — and it was weird. But it wasn’t any weirder than the time a customer told me boldfaced that I ought to have been aborted. Anyway, I wasn’t superstitious. I only believed in what I could see, touch, and run away from. The second night, Harold was still gone and I still refused to put out the saucer of milk. The television flickered. A flock of swallows flew into the truck stop and I couldn’t chase them out, no matter what I did. I got used to the sound of their chirping. Then the food spoiled-- every perishable item available. The milk curdled. Soft turquoise mold spread over the crackers and candy. The fruit imploded. The hot dogs smelled like what they’d really been all along: grisly dead flesh. The coffee turned to the taste and consistency of mud, which I unfortunately discovered firsthand. Before I could rationalize what had happened — some kind of electrical failure, or maybe a mouse chewed through the refrigerator wires — a customer informed me that outside,

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each and every gas pump had run dry. “Is this the end of the world?” someone asked me as they tried to buy a skin mag. I just reminded them that there was a five-dollar minimum of credit card purchases. Later, though, once I had hauled thousands of dollars’ worth of food out back and I’d vomited into a patch of dandelions by the dumpster, I tried to ignore a sense of primeval dread. At dawn Katherine with the blue hair saw me unlocking my car and she crossed the highway. She asked me where Harold was. “Sick,” I said. I hoped she couldn’t smell the rot on me. “Shit, what’s wrong?” “I don’t know,” I confessed. She suggested that I call God and ask where we could send flowers or a get-well-soon card. I told her we were only supposed to call him during emergencies. “This is a bona fide emergency,” she said. “Harold and I are just co-workers. Not family. I don’t want to seem weird.” “Who cares? The two of you are in the shit together. You’re both nighthawks. Just make the call.” Over speaker-phone God told us, “I don’t know which hospital he’s in. But frankly? Don’t waste your money on flowers. According to his daughter, it’s touch-and-go. Now, don’t bother me with this kind of petty shit again.” When I hung up, Kathleen put her hand on my shoulder. She had never done that before. The third night I was driving to work when the road in front of me began to shimmer like a mirage. For a moment it was beautiful. Then I realized that my engine was smoking. I jerked onto the shoulder of the highway and stopped alongside the dark watchful forest. The radio transmitted the squeal of guitars, a fragment of a sermon, static, then silence without me even lifting my hands off the steering wheel. When I stepped


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outside, the wind blew like it was coming from someplace far away, that I’d never been to, blew so hard I couldn’t close the car door. I popped the hood and abruptly wished I’d had someone in my life who’d taught me how to repair engines. I waited for a stranger to drive past and help me. None did. It wasn’t that no one was kind; the highway was empty. In the last three years, traffic had only ever slowed just enough for Kathleen to occasionally skitter across the road. Now the never-satisfied rush of truckers, commuters, daredevils, runaways, and wanderers had stopped. There was nothing to do but leg that last stretch back to the truck stop on my own. Weary and blister-footed, I’d never been more grateful to see the reliable neon glow of our OPEN sign against the liminal sunset. The first thing I did when I finally arrived was retrieve Harold’s bowl from the stockroom and cross the highway to ask Kathleen to lend me some milk. All she had was soy because everyone was a vegan nowadays. I hoped that would be enough. I placed the full saucer on the asphalt like Harold used to do. Kathleen was nice enough to drive me to where I’d left my car on the side of the highway. Even before we rounded that final bend in the road, we could see my renewed headlights piercing through the trees. The car awaited me, unlocked, dashboard aglow, engine growling even though the keys were heavy in my pocket. At the end of my shift, whatever it was that lurked in the truck stop parking lot had licked the bowl of soy milk clean. I carefully, even reverently, scrubbed the saucer in the stockroom sink. I’d never noticed before the hand-painted pattern on the china. It must have been a family heirloom of some kind. That was the night I was officially promoted from cashier to shift supervisor. Two weeks ago, Harold came into the truck stop. After

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walking the feeble distance between the parking lot and the entrance, he had to lean against the counter until his chest stopped heaving and his face was a less disconcerting shade of grey. I said to him, “You shouldn’t be awake.” “I know. But I’m nocturnal now.” “The new cashier is a dumbass.” “So were you, at first. But you’re doing a good job running the place now.” Harold gazed wistfully around at the neatly arranged shelves, the enticing sale promotions. The only thing that had changed in his absence was the amount for the state lottery jackpot. He said, “I guess I better try to find that iceberg now.” I wanted to tell him that I would miss his stories but I didn’t know how to. We were only co-workers. We didn’t owe each other anything. Then I thought about telling him my own story, about what had happened those three nights he was in the hospital. But I didn’t do that either. It always sounded ridiculous when I tried to say it out loud. Kathleen believed that what had happened to me was a miracle. I wasn’t so sure. Once a preacher came into the truck stop and asked if I wanted to learn how to be redeemed. I thought I may as well ask an encyclopedia salesman or the man picking rocks out of his tires in the parking lot or my shift supervisor. The preacher left eventually, of course. So did Harold. I hugged him goodbye. I’d never done that before. He smelled like sweat, dust, and whisky. I wondered who would take care of him now — his daughter? I’m still convinced that it’s the stray cats who drink the milk in the saucer. But every night I leave it out all the same.


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Frostbite Clara Kjelsberg University of Rochester

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hen we break up, I expect it to be bloody and vile. I expect guts to topple out of our respective, no longer shared stomachs, and I expect to suck on the fat that coats your heart, still beating as the chunks lodge themselves between my long, yellow canines. Instead it is bitter, cold, and quiet, like a frostbite. My toes fall off and my ears have gone purple. I don’t shiver and my and your tears freeze long before I notice them. The battle will be fought once I am gone from you and I am alone enough to feel the fire of heat, the burn of longing, the whitehot poker of anxiety when I see you in the CVS where we pick up our prescriptions. I will be buying my fourth menstrual cup because I threw my last, bloody one out when I convinced myself I was pregnant a month ago, and that I’d likely die in childbirth, breaking my hips in half, but passing beautifully and peacefully, like in a movie. They’ll give the baby to you, and I think of the face that you’d make when you hear that you had a child, and that I tried to hide it from you. But I am not pregnant, I am not even late for my period. I’ll say that I lost the menstrual cup. I’ll rehearse this beforehand because I don’t want you to know that I am still crazy and I’ll stare in the mirror at home, covered in makeup smears, and say again and again that I lost it, letting the words fall easily from my lips. But this won’t matter. You will not speak to me. You say it is because you want to rebuild boundaries. You are right, but I will think you’ve finished caring for me, and I’ll sit at home and hyperventilate until I have those high-pitched breathy coughs

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that other men have called cute because “cute” is a synonym for “sexy in a pigtails way,” and I know I look good in pigtails. You never liked pigtails and I loved that about you. Oops, I Cheated on My Fiance! Is a show about people cheating on their fiancés. Five couples are shipped out to live with sexy singles to test the strengths of their love before they get married, and most of the time the couples all break up because the men are vaguely having sex with the single girls and the producers edit the footage and show it to the fiancés, and they all cry on national television. My father called it trash TV when I was in middle school, so I couldn’t watch it until I got into college and could pirate the episodes at 3 am while waxing my legs. I never tell my father I watch it for fun whenever I come home for the holidays: I tell him I’m too busy with my lab work and research and applications to PhD programs at Princeton to even consider more than an occasional Doctor Who episode or some other nostalgic show. My father likes nostalgia, he runs on it like a car runs on fuel; his gasoline is memories and old shows and beers and foods with too much butter. That’s why he liked you so much when you visited: you both like to watch movies and then you like to show them to me and watch my reactions more than the movies themselves. You both like “teaching moments,” when you can tell me things I know nothing about, like physics and music and long-standing theories on how the entire world exists. You both like being skeptics because it means that you’re smart: you could go on for hours about flat earthers, and astrology, and God. Faeries aren’t real and neither are cryptids or satyrs or the resurrection of Christ. When I tell my friends, I almost expect their eyes to topple out in floods of tears, for their teeth to grow long, sharp, and yellow, and for their pink nails to rip you from the flesh of their memories, digging into the pink membrane to dislodge you from the folds of it. But when they do not cry for me, when they nod and


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extend soft hands and gentle hugs, I am strangely unsurprised. They’ve grown tired of your presence, the way you sit, too heavy, on my head. Once you fall off in a whisper, I wonder if I will start crying. At night, I wonder if I will stop. I want to dig my teeth into the carpet and spit up the threads, but I am uniquely unmotivated for violence. They buy me cookies with icing that clogs my throat so they can’t hear me cry and drinks that burn away my memories and tell me to Take It Easy for as long as I need. They sit with me and rub my back when my eyes get red and puffy and salted at odd moments, and they hold my hand and let me slip up, missing meetings. They grow tired after the third week and I do not blame them, because looking through me is easier than looking inside me. Are you safe, my therapist asks. Yes, I say. I get gonorrhea in the heat of the battle that still lays dormant, and my friends say it’s because I’ve had sex with one of your friends, but I don’t remember it happening, but I don’t blame Jake (his name is Jake) because I’m sure I said Yes in the moment and everything has just melted together into a series of alarms, and smells, and nights when I sleep and nights when I don’t. Yes? She says. Yes. I’m working out. I say. By the fourth week, people have scattered like salt in the wind before the storm that’ll never hit, and I wonder, if I died in my sleep, how long would it take for my housemates to notice I’m rotting. Would they think I’m just Somewhere else and how long would that last? I wonder if I’d go all semester without being noticed, only discovered when our landlord comes to clean and finds me, soft skin that has only decayed in my chest, and silky underwear that I like to wear, even though it looks frumpy. I wonder what rotting smells like and I bite my skin to make sure I taste alive. I get a cat so that if I do pass in my sleep, he’ll get too hungry and alert my friends to my presence before he starts to eat me himself. He cries in the morning and in the evening, but I

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don’t mind. When he cries more, I must cry less. Good, she says, Let’s explore that Yes. In Oops, there’s one couple named Adam and Eve and they’re deeply, aggressively in love. When they separate for the month, Eve is mad at Adam because she says he’s clingy and annoying. “He’s always asking where I am.” She says, her hands on her bikini-clad hips. I wonder if she ever had implants because she has a D-cup pasted to her tiny frame, and I bet her nipples are perfect, even though they should be sagging low enough to touch her belly button. I think about them in the early purple mornings when my brain is too tired to think of you but too alive to wriggle away from lust. “I’m just out with my girls and I don’t know why he makes such a deal over it.” “She doesn’t have ‘girls.’” He makes air quotes during the interview. He’s always shirtless, and I get that it’s a beach, but it feels like too much. My friend says “that’s because men always feel like too much.” I can’t disagree. He has a huge scar, and it’s faint, but it makes me squirm. He could be her brother, I think, they look too much alike. “I love her, but she has one guy friend and he’s just so… Slimy.” “Scaly,” she corrects him, but he doesn’t listen, so she addresses the camera, “He’s scaly, not slimy.” They don’t interview her friend, but he gets lots of Instagram followers, and last I checked, they were dating now. Adam is probably angry in some odd, suspicious, “I told you so” sort of way, but I wonder if he even cares because he’s dating Poison Ivy now and she also wears green bikinis. They don’t dig their nails into each other’s skin anymore, they don’t even talk, but I wonder if Eve hopes he cares the way that the ocean hopes the shore cares when it pulls back its waves for just a second or two, and if she scrolls through her texts late at night, hoping that one day he messages her so that she can ignore it. I have so many pictures of you and it feels shameful


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to get rid of them, so I message you asking if you want them. It’s possible that when I send them back, you’ll sew me back inside your stomach where I can incubate in the plasma, steeping like a tea. You say No. Of course. I tell myself that this is okay because some things are meant to be lost from existence completely as I stare at the cracks in the wall. I slip my fingers in the plaster, hoping they’ll slide all the way inside, so that I can put my memories there. But the plaster is cracked and sharp, and it cuts my fingers and I spend the next hour or so researching the dust in the plaster and if it can kill me. In 2006, there was a scientific study on a gastrointestinal blockage from eating plaster, and I haven’t eaten any plaster, but if I breathe enough of the dust in my mouth, it might slip and congeal into a large, square block that will, with time, become its own organ that pumps white, sludgy fluid. I feel jaundiced. Most of the photos are of you: you slicking your hair back when you pretended to be a Greaser, you wearing my heels at one of my parties, you making stupid faces in your even stupider, loud outfits that you wore just to get a laugh. I took them because I thought you were funny in the moments when you shone orange for half a second. You thought so too. You don’t have as many photos of me because I’m not very funny, you say. Most of them I took myself, and in most of them, I’m naked. My face isn’t in a lot of them. I don’t think you mind that I crop it out. My mother used to tell me not to send these pictures because men are horrible and they’ll send them to all their friends. I wondered if any boy would ever find me pretty enough to show his friends. I took off my shirt for a boy over video chat; I had a pink bra on. It was lacey, striped, the sort of thing a 12-year-old girl would think is the epitome of sex appeal, with its glittery straps and the embroidered flowers. It was too big. I stuffed it with toilet paper. The boy, who I don’t want to embarrass so we’ll call him Max (his name was Max), was so excited that he had to turn the call off and I

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wondered what he was doing and I thought of those piles of snakes that mate together and how they form a curling mass that sits on rocks and tangles itself further and further and can’t be undone, and I wondered how long they stayed like that, like rat kings, and if human legs did the same during sex. Sex was like that. I wondered when the police would show up to arrest me for child pornography, how long would I serve my time and live alone as a sex offender for the rest of my life, avoiding children even though I didn’t find them interesting to look at in the first place, and if anyone would still find me lovable as a sex offender when I’m 35 and have already started to rot. It’s funny, I think. But then again, you don’t think I’m very funny. When we break up, I stuff my blue hands in my pockets and ask if you’ll delete those pictures. You laugh and say Of Course. I smile because I’m supposed to, but underneath, where the plaster cracks, I hoped you’d hold onto them for longer, that even when all your love for me has left, you’ll still think of my ass and the curved tattoo I have on my thigh, and the way that I sounded when you touched me. Not of my face though. It’s okay if you forget that. I tell myself that you’ll think of me when you have sex, of my long blond hair that I have now cut to my shoulder as it falls down my back, my ears soaked in blood that drowns out my brain, but I still don’t know what makes someone good at sex or if I’m even okay at it, so I eventually write that in a note on my phone and try to shove it in the plaster too. My phone cracks. I expect it to shatter. The tip of my nose turns black and I stare in the mirror, gently scraping off the dead skin with a nail file, watching the bits fall in the dye-stained sink. When Bonnie and her fiancé Clyde come onto the show, they feel doomed, but I stand hopeful. They bicker constantly, and she’s always wearing a one-piece bathing suit in their initial interviews, which means he’s going to be bored by her.


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I want to like Bonnie because I hate that Clyde seems too aloof for her. He wears sunglasses indoors and he always seems to have some sort of rum in his hand, and I wonder if he ever drinks that cup or if he just has the same one glued to his palm for the entire month, walking around asking “can someone please help me get this cup off?” But then it comes out that their roadblock is that Clyde is bisexual and Bonnie doesn’t think that real men could love other men. I stop liking her after that, even when she rejects Nick Carraway because she’s waiting to see Clyde again. Clyde and Mark Antony (one of the other fiancés) end up falling horribly and deeply in love, and I can’t help but root for them because I like them, and I like that they love each other more than I like that Bonnie hates Clyde. “I’m sorry babe. But this is me. I can’t love someone who doesn’t love me back.” He holds Mark’s hand. Bonnie is crying and swearing with her lipstick smeared, and she’s wearing her first bikini. A sign of character development. Cleopatra’s crying too, but she’s such a snake bitch the entire season (she and Fitzwilliam, aka “The Darce” are fucking all month long) that I don’t cry for her the same way I cry for Mark and Clyde. When I first have memory of sex again, I don’t hold onto the whisper of his face, I only remember the ceilings. You and I glued a face up there while we were dating and it’s hard not to stare at it, at the black eyes and the pasty smile. He asks if he can stay over and I say yes but he leaves anyway because I’m not very fun to talk to. I want to remember this sex because it’s better, but all that stays is the snake pit and the feeling that I can’t walk and the sideways slant of my words, too full of honey and marbles and little flowers. And semen. It’s full of that too. I try to scrape the face off when I’ve gotten out of bed, but it’s stuck tight and I have to leave it. It’s some stock photo kid, which I realize now is a bit disgusting to have looking down at me with the eyes of God while I feel my cervix break. It’s not supposed to, but I think that’s what makes some-

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one good at sex. I want to call you after it happens because I am scared in a way I can’t fully understand. I don’t because I know you’ll feel sorry for me. I don’t want you to feel sorry because then you’ll know you’ve made a good decision. My stomach and tongue are chalky and wet at the same time, like making Nesquik as a kid and never mixing the chocolate powder in well enough; little sludgy bubbles would form in the drink and pop in my mouth, exploding into dry powder that made me retch it back up. The chocolate tastes best regurgitated. I used to have trouble keeping food down. I once threw up bananas on the cupboards and stopped eating bananas until I decided I should like them again. My therapist asks me if I think that the banana aversion could relate to a deeper aversion to sex with men and penises. Maybe You’re Depressed, she says, Because of This Trauma with Bananas Sure. I respond because if I say yes she’ll speak for the next thirty minutes about my diet, low-fat foods, and I can wonder about how many bananas I can eat before I throw up, and that my mother hasn’t called me and you haven’t called me, and my father calls me but only to complain about my mother. I start eating bananas every day. I don’t think about your penis when I eat bananas, mainly because your penis wasn’t bright yellow, tasty, or a banana. When I look at the face on the ceiling, I wonder if I’m a friend on a TV show with poor object permanence, drinking lots of wine and eating too many bananas and listening to the main character talk about the boys she likes, even though we all know she’ll end up with the one we met at the beginning of the show, and I tell myself I don’t mind but I wonder if the best friend is so quiet because her toes have gone numb from the cold instead of hacked off with a saw or infected with a deadly, vomiting poison that gives her three days to live.


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When Adam and Poison Ivy first fuck, the scar in his ribcage tears open. She doesn’t seem to mind though, she just keeps moaning and gasping for breath. I can’t tell if she’s really enjoying the sex that much, or if she just likes knowing that he’s cheating on his wife. I vow to ask myself that later when I have sex with some woman’s husband and see if the experience is better or worse. I wonder how many bananas I have to deepthroat before I’m that comfortable, and then I wonder if bananas are like apples and cyanide and too many could give me cancer, and I look up cyanide pills to see what they do in case I have a lot of them, and then I wonder if I’m on a watchlist. What sort of google searches put you on a watchlist? I ask my therapist. What are you googling? She has her pen poised about her notebook like a weapon or a cross desperate to crucify me. Porn. It’s a good lie. We talk about my sexuality for the next three meetings. Even though my friends later say the TV show’s sex is scripted, I rewatch the moment where the scar tears open and the black goo falls onto her stomach, splattering her hips. I wonder if Romeo is going to walk in on them, because they are so incredibly loud and bloody, and they all sleep in the same room so it’s shocking they have privacy. I want to throw up and then I want to eat more bananas. I think I’m a pervert or I’m traumatized and I realize 6 hours has passed since I began thinking and I’m in the park, my fingers rhythmically pushing into my palms, trying to shove through the flesh when my hands turn transparent. I cry when Eve finds out. I wonder what it’s like to watch your fiancé fuck open an entirely healed scar, especially with a woman who is a redder and greener version of you. You and I are dating at the time, and I call you because if I don’t, you may find a scar to fuck open that I didn’t know about. You think it’s funny that it scares me, especially when

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you don’t have any scars on your ribs, just one small one on your foot, and you tell me that if you ever fuck open that scar, you’ll let me know. You’re joking, but I take that as a promise anyways, because I get so few of them from you that I have to scavenge for whatever you leave behind. When we watch movies together, you like to laugh loud, which is nice because I never laugh out loud, and you remind me to do that. I love you because you keep me tethered when we watch, you keep my emotions hot and flickering, like a candle that dances in the breeze. You love me because I make you smart and I prove what you already know but have started to doubt about yourself. When I tell you this you tell me I know nothing about you. You are right, but I won’t believe it. You like looking at Batman, but you say you don’t because he’s a man and you aren’t gay. I like Batman too because he really tries to be a good listener. You say he’s drinking his “respect women juice,” because he’s been working on loving and accepting himself, and it’s a shame when it comes out later that he sexually assaulted his last girlfriend. She comes out with the texts, with quiet posts online that are then shouted down by fans and men who haven’t seen the show. Batman probably did it. Most men probably did it. I hope that he doesn’t do it again. I think he could become someone great. I don’t tell my friends this because they joke that I make bad decisions with men, and I can’t disagree. I sit up late and check if you’re breathing because maybe you’ve stopped again. I write my own eulogy so that there’s something good to read. I tell you again and again that I love you, but you have long fallen asleep. I shove my fingers back into the wall to pull myself out. Sometimes you wake up because you can’t feel me in the bed next to you, and you watch me pace and pace and write and pace, and you tell me that It’s Okay, but you could be lying and I know that. I begin to ask if you’re okay because I’m starting to suspect that you hate me the way that Romeo hates Juliet at the end of Oops because he realizes that she’s hysterical most of the time about


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little things, and I am too. And everyone hates Juliet when they watch the show, which means they must hate me in the same tired way. This is called “generalizing,” my therapist says. I tell her that it’s getting better, but I know I’m lying and so do you because the therapist makes me more anxious than you ever did. You say you’re okay the same way the moon says that it doesn’t miss the sun, even though if I were the moon, I’d pine for the sun because it’s all felt dark until now. You say you’re okay in short, clipped sentences that edge with exhaustion because you’ve been sleeping less and waking up early for class or work, leaving long before I wake up so that I get nervous that you’ve disappeared into the woodwork. You say that you’re okay as a knee-jerk when you’re mad at me because nothing hurts me more than when you lie like that, but you’re okay with hurting me if it means I can see that we’d be terrible together. When we break up, I hope you’re not okay, and I hope you lie awake and get the kind of insomnia that doesn’t kill you but slows you down in your work and in your socializing and flirting, making you boring and stupid. And then I hope that you’re happy. And then I hope for nothing because hoping hasn’t gotten me what I really want. The finale of Oops, I Cheated on My Fiance! is always a nightmare. They always invite them back to sit down and review what’s changed, and everyone is always invested in sounding happy and rich, even though they’re sallow and sinking under the eyes, jaundiced with their own jealousy. Cleopatra has dyed her hair and Venus has gotten a breast reduction, which Romeo is trying to pretend he isn’t upset about. Mark and Clyde are on opposite sides of the room in their stiff leather chairs, and Mark has cheated on Clyde with Bonnie, who he, in a bold twist, proposes to. Most of them are single, and most of them have more social media followers than they know what to do with. All of them are skinnier and

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one of them is always pregnant. Poison Ivy tears out Eve’s lash extensions during the finale, which I find incredibly entertaining until I see your post on Facebook saying she was probably paid a lot to do that for the show, and I then find it less entertaining when I see gifs of it circulating. I want to ask you what you thought of Mark’s sex tape coming out online, but I know you’ve already posted your thoughts and I just want an excuse to reach out to you. When we break up, it isn’t a raging inferno that burns down houses. It isn’t a flame that ignites from a tiny spark, one that makes me passionate and hot, or Prometheus having his liver torn because he made sacrifices for the greater good. It’s a candle that wavers out.

I’m Sorry. You say. I’m Numb. I say. No one blows on it, not really. It just melts down to the metal core, where there’s no wick left to sustain it. All that it leaves is a waxy residue on the dining table that no one really bothers to clean up. It fades into the background. Sometimes we put napkins and tablecloths over it because it really is quite an ugly mess, and no one wants to see it during the holidays.


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empties intersect Thomas McLeod University of British Columbia

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n that cafe on Granville, which would normally hold twenty or thirty friends, was an empty clump of tables and one man sitting in the back. He was drinking wine at two-thirty in the afternoon, something people or his parents might have thought distasteful, but which he found of himself to be quite literary and enigmatic. Else on the table was a notebook, a black pencil, and a collection of T.S. Eliot, read up to the third page. He might have told somebody that he was struggling with it, but he was struggling more to understand why he would read it at all. The cafe held only one other person, a young woman behind a glass counter stacked with pastries. She wore a mask and her hair up in a ponytail, and she wiped down the counter with the heavy arms of a retail worker who wanted to close up shop and call it a day. She glanced at him every once in a while, and he hadn’t seemed to have moved from his position at the table, peering down at the open middle pages of his notebook. He leaned forward and took the pencil in the crook of his thumb, wrapping his fore and middle fingers round the middle. He pressed hard into the paper, and graphite scattered across the page like little people fleeing a plane crash. He wrote five words — “they went into the lake” — and sat back, already at a loss. He was writing a story, the kind of story that self-satisfied young men write to seem intelligent in their meandering nothingness. The barista looked up at him, having seen that twitch of movement, then went back to scrubbing clean surfaces and wiping down a relatively unused espresso

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machine. The man looked toward the door, and held his eyes there for a moment as if waiting for someone to appear at the stairs and then looked back down. He flipped open the Eliot book and read ten words: “if all time is eternally present / all time is unredeemable.” He would delve into that more deeply at another time, by which is meant that he resolved to even come close to understanding it. He circled some words and sat back again, then lowered his mask and took a sip of wine, which tasted odd when it was lit by the afternoon sun and not by dim lamps in the evening. The bell above the front door rang off the wall. He looked up, but it was no one he knew, only a man and a woman that were too well-dressed to exist in this establishment. That is the nature of the city—people who belong to higher places exposing themselves as nothing more than people. He looked down again and followed them with his ears. They went to sit down. He heard them realize that it must be near closing time, and that they would just get their coffee to go. He felt hot pinpricks down his back. He lowered his mask again, suddenly embarrassed to do so, and gulped down another swig of wine. He replaced the mask, covering his red and sodden lips. The couple looked happy, in the quiet way that people do when they have no expectations, when they are settling into a pattern of each other after a life of aspiration. They looked over at him, and the man looked quickly towards the door again, and it was clear that he was not waiting for anybody in particular. There was a host of people that he might have liked to see outlined in the doorway, people who might fill the empty space in front of him, but they would not come. He leaned forward and pressed the point of his pencil against the page again, decrepit ashes flying from the tip as he wrote another thing from his heart — “together” — before he exposed his thoughts to himself and closed the notebook, too embarrassed to finish. He gathered up his books and tucked them under his arm, stowed the black pencil inside his jacket, and walked out, placing the wine glass in the bus tub with a tight smile under


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his mask towards the barista, hoping to signal his regret to have imposed himself upon her day. Her eyes crinkled above the brim of the mask, and perhaps that was a smile, but perhaps it was not. He heard the man say something to the woman and she chuckled for a moment. He did not think about it much longer than the time it took him to walk the six blocks down to the bus stop.

She sat alone in an empty apartment, the four walls orbiting her with the driftwood of her life: the single tasteful family photo, three embroidered portraits of waterfowl, and several potted plants in various stages of flourish. The potted plants, two of which she was keeping for some friend or other, were the most loved thing in the apartment; she could not help but become attached. She herself was in various stages of flourish, chief among which was wilt. She lurched to the kitchen, bare feet padding on the floor. Her big toe clicked on the hardwood. She kept it lifted from the ground when Lenny was in earshot, but when she was alone, as she was now, she let the click ring into the back room. She wore Elmo pajama bottoms and a sweater that she had taken from an old boyfriend in high school, a sweater she had now owned for so long that it had superseded the last owner’s legal claim. She checked the time. It was two in the afternoon. She had an hour before Lenny got home and made some remark about “the state she was in,” for which there was not an easy retort, having moved to Canada. The woman in the cartoon pyjama bottoms and the “Property of the Dawg Pound” sweater that her ex had bought from a gift shop in junior high grabbed a bowl and set it on the counter. She slapped yogurt in the bowl and poured mushy-thawed frozen fruit in the little yogurt crater in the middle, and she rained granola on the whole geological model. She used an oatmeal-raisin cookie to spoon the flat parfait into her mouth.

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She looked towards the entrance, half-expecting Lenny to be standing there, mask torn theatrically from his mouth, free to breathe in domestic airspace. When the door remained locked in place, she looked back down and pulled her phone from the sweater pouch. She swiped through dating apps, matching with men that she would never meet, worldly circumstance or otherwise (though she would see one of them on a train in Brussels three years later, fall madly in love with him, and promptly forget about him by the next stop). She lingered for a moment on a boy with whom she had gone to high school with and who was now studying a year under her. It might have been interesting to briefly reconnect, but there was an infinitesimal chance of him not getting the wrong idea. Walking back over to the couch, she flicked on the television, hoping that Lenny would not return, hoping to forget about productivity. There was a thesis to write, pounding on the back door like hail in a storm: unsettling at first, but if you turn the music up loud enough, you can’t hear much of anything at all. This monkey on her back, a study on the development stages of queen bees, had been floating around her mind for six months now. There is a finite amount of selfcare in which one can partake in before the entire repository of built-up forgiveness is instantaneously converted to acid self-loathing. The stoichiometry of the whole reaction seemed to be taking place at that very moment. She swiped left on the boy from high school and went to go change into pants with a zipper. She looked behind her to the door and hurried over to her room. She would get some coffee and then start the day at three.

❦ She ran a hand through her hair as she shouldered her purse and descended the stairs to the street. She didn’t pass anyone in the cramped stairwell, and her lone steps bounced from stair to wall to ceiling, intertwining sonically.


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Calling a quick “thank you” to the driver from the back, he stepped down off the bus and the doors closed behind him. He buttoned his dark brown peacoat and readjusted the mask his mother had made for him as a light gust of wind rounded the corner. At a busy intersection, two people who had known each other well met without meeting. He hadn’t realized that she lived there. To see her anywhere other than Seattle was like seeing someone cut from the pages of a magazine and pasted to a brick wall. There were edges around her that clashed with the muted scenery, and her face — the top half, at least — stuck out brightly and unnaturally, like a celebrity making an uncredited cameo. She was zipping her coat up over his “Dawg Pound” sweater. He was suddenly very conscious of the way he walked. His left foot and his right foot overlapped, causing his hips to tilt with each step, in a way that he thought might seem self-assured. She smoothed down her hair, clearly self-conscious upon seeing him. The humidity was pulling out her curls, and she attempted to flatten out the top of her head so that she might tame the shock of hair cresting like a wave from the back of her head. She caught sight of a man in a brown coat and a hand-sewn blue mask dotted with flowers. He was walking like an ostrich, swaying pompously from side to side. In form, he walked somewhat like her ex, shoulders caving in his chest while his legs carried enough confidence for the rest of him. But this man was much leaner and mean-looking, so when he raised his eyebrows above the brim of his mask to greet her, she blinked and ducked her head, hoping those two things would be enough to sew together something that passed for a civilized acknowledgement. She stepped around him on the sidewalk and kept on her way. He turned to watch her go, not understanding. Perhaps she did not want to speak to him. He cast his mind back on why that might be so, but he could not recall any severe

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wrongdoing on his part, and perhaps that was the very problem. He turned round to watch her go, feeling as though he was watching a pair of headlights retreat down a darkened highway to leave him alone on the roadside. He pulled out his notebook. It was a thought worth recording. This was, after all, the only thing that had happened that day, or even that month. Maybe it would be a poem. There was not enough substance for an entire story.


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Dreams of bak chor mee* Christian Yeo University of Cambridge ❦ The week before I fly off, Ma is unusually inquisitive. She fires off a series of questions, studying my luggage, standing upright, pressed tightly against the antique cabinet in our living room. ‘Packed your computer? How about your passport? Got your Vitamin C tablets?’ she fires off. ‘Remember ah, Vitamin C cannot forget. Very easy to get sick there. Angmohi doctors don’t know how good one.’ This diatribe gets repeated – day in, day out. Every now and again, Ma comes along with a feigned complacency, toting a new item she says I must bring along. It might be a thermos flask she saw during a sale at Toa Payoh, or a bottle of sambal belacan.ii One time, it was two jars of pineapple tarts that she said I ‘die die must give’ to my friends at the turning of the Lunar New Year, because ‘everyone sure miss home’. ‘It’s Cambridge, Ma,’ I claim exasperatedly. ‘There are so many Singaporeans there, we’ll probably do hotpot together on chu xi.’iii ‘Yah, yah, must do hotpot on chu xi,’ Pa chimes in, playing with the remote. ‘Chinese New Year must celebrate, don’t forget.’

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‘Ask Alethea go and eat also hor,’ Ma adds. ‘Who knows, maybe will become your wife?’ ‘Don’t disturb him lah, Pa.’ ‘Sorry, sorry, I’m just teasing. You know I’m just teasing, right? Jialat,iv how did Rashford miss that?’ By now, I’m already thinking about how to fit the huge bag of sauces into my bag. ‘I’ll probably have to give up ChangRae or Woolf,’ I say in half-mumble. Inevitably, I wrestle with this choice all the way till I’m slipping on my checkered Vans at the lift landing, wondering how it has taken me the better part of a week to make this choice. A moment of indecision ensues, a tense moment of individual silence – and then Native Speaker and To the Lighthouse go into my bag. I shout goodbye to my brothers, leave my bottle of Vitamin C tablets on my table, and then I head out, letting the door close behind my luggage. The last thing I see is my labradoodle making a beeline for a door she knows she will not get past.

❦ Every year, a growing pool of selected Singaporean students leave on a pilgrimage to the American ‘Ivy League’ and the British ‘Bricks and Ivy’. Some call it a pursuit of some highfalutin ideal of higher education. It is more plausibly a pursuit of sexual and substance liberation; alternately, a final lunge at self-worth. Emergent from a Confucian-Metropolitan mill of standardized testing and extracurricular curation, I happily weave


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into the stream of students broadening their horizons, welding their iron rice bowls, and instantiating their rarified internal Bildungsromans. Armed with packets of Milo,v miniature rice cookers, and aspirations to grandiosity, our pimply Singaporean sojourners, ready for their adventures in the Big Wide World, troop off in valiant pursuit of the final brownie point, the last sticker on their erstwhile successful rat races. In Mandarin, there is a saying: ‘jing di zhi wa’.vi This world is all that you know, and then suddenly it isn’t.

❦ My first term in College, I struggle to adapt to just about anything. Britain is cold and harsh and full of people who do not look or sound like me. For daily meals, I eat at the cafeteria, or what’s known as the ‘buttery’, and quickly learn that I should sit at the ‘Asian table’. When I am walking to Wilko, a man cycles past and dumps a hot dog on my head, muttering under his breath, ‘fucking Chinese cunt.’ I wipe it off, but the tomato sauce and mustard still feel sticky on my hair as I stride back to my room. I trip, once, on the uneven cobblestones near my college gate. As I retrieve my key card, struggling to slot it into the rusting metal crucible, everything carries the stench of foreignness. Later that night at the pub, a girl from Cyprus asks me where I learned my English. Freshers week means acculturation – ‘going out’, ‘Sunday Life’, ‘pennying’ – and consecutive nights walking back at three am terrified of homeless people. I affect a strangely American inflection, and then a bad British one, and then eventually

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I just speak as I do. In the mornings, I go to Sainsbury’s to pick up packs of easy peelers. When my sideburns start to bother me, I look up Google reviews of Mr. Polito’s. My first Saturday in university is spent writing a Constitutional Law essay, and I sit next to Soriah (who I first think is from India, but who is actually from South London) in the library. The essay is about conventions. I quote a theorist called Jennings. It’s all easy enough. Falling into a routine, figuring out how to do laundry, navigating social spaces, et al. Some days are harder than others. Often the highlight is figuring out what to wear. It’s like what my pals always say: if you feel like shit, you can’t look like shit.

❦ The first time I return home from Britain, I am jet lagged for a week. Any romantic notion of the foreign student returning from ‘Abroad’ – that amorphous, reverse-Saidean concept in the colonized mind’s eye – is quickly lost in a surreal, glazed sense of fatigue that enervates and envelopes all my interactions. All the same, I get whisked off in a series of obligatory familial commitments to ‘family’, loosely defined, all Conservative Chinese Christianity and virtuousic semi-orchestral virtue-signalling parades allaying fears of contamination by the Liberal West. ‘Yin shui si yuan,’vii they remind me. Remember your roots. Grandma asks me, do I miss Singapore? Sometimes, I say, toying with the noodles in front of me. I don’t really think about it. Seventh uncle asks me, do I have a girlfriend? No, I say. Why not? he asks. Jun Feng’s son goes to Cornell and he got


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angmoh girlfriend. Good lah, third uncle says, but not everyone can have an angmoh girlfriend. As long as not black can already! Jun Feng’s son just finished summer intern at Goldman Sachs, still got time find angmoh girlfriend. You looking hard enough or not? Later you start working and still single. I know the pastor always say, singleness is better. Rubbish lah, that’s why he’s still just a pastor. Weekends go paktor,viii maybe next time you can be like Jun Feng’s son, bring back angmoh girlfriend to Singapore? Seventh uncle chortles. Angmoh pretty, got good assets. Wide hips! Flinching instinctively, I hear my laughter as if it is outside of me, emitted by another person or thing, low and braying and eager to please. Our low voices commingle in the night humidity. Third uncle laughs. You must defend him in court next time hor, when he is sued for sexual harassment.

❦ My second term in College, my parents and I begin a ritual of monthly calls. I want to tell them how I spend half the day reading Lord Denning, how stopping at the red light outside Wetherspoons on my bicycle means Pall Mall blues flicked in my direction, how my neighbour breaks down once a week till her alarm goes off. Instead, I tell them how the river catches the sun. I tell them I haven’t had time to finish To the Lighthouse or Native Speaker. I tell them about all the hard work I’m putting in, and did you know that the word ‘normative’ doesn’t mean what I thought? There is a mimetic silence. I say, again, too quickly, ‘I

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dreamt of bak chor mee last night.’

❦ Most weeks, I’m late to our call. Sometimes I’m hungover, or making coffee, or rushing an essay. Over the course of the year, the calls get more benign. I hit a swan while rowing, I’d say. I’m going to Seville with a couple of new friends. I’m doing a play with the Amateur Dramatic Club; I’m thinking about the Footlights, but I don’t see East Asians there. When I remember, I ask them how they are doing. At a quarter past nine, I say goodbye, jumping on my second crappy second-hand bike and speeding down Sidney Street to church service. I’m often late for that too, and I sit in the back. One week, Gary tells me that the stone pathway I sit in front of is eight hundred years old. As the opening prayers start, I bow my head. It always takes me some time to settle down before I come into the presence of God. When the drums start and worship kicks off, I stand up, close my eyes, and raise my hands. I reach upwards, towards the ceiling, pleadingly, like I’m begging for alms. Sometimes it seems like, should I reach hard and long enough, God will see me more clearly – a small, desperate person in a sea of small, desperate people.

❦ The rest of freshman year passes easily enough; the play is done, Seville visited, To the Lighthouse and half of Native Speaker finished. Before I even know it, I’m back at the airport waiting for the plane taking me back to Cambridge for second year.


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I am eating kaya toastix at Ya Kunx with Ma. She runs through her checklist of things I might have forgotten. I swirl my butter kaya toast in a mixture of half-boiled eggs, pepper, and dark soy sauce. Pa sends me a Whatsapp – he calls it ‘a whatsapps’ – from work. ‘See u son, love u. Take care n safe flight,’ it reads. There are some emojis at the end. On the plane, I engage in another series of now familiar rituals. I send a couple of Telegram messages; some are accompanied by ironic stickers – one reads ‘shut the fuck up nabei chee bai’,xi one shows a frog holding up a crucifix – and some are long, vulnerable messages of gratitude and love and promises to keep in touch. Before the plane takes off, I plug in my earphones and put on a hip-hop Spotify playlist, turning on airplane mode as the seatbelt sign comes on. Before too long, the plane glides down the runway. I hear the roar of the engine. Feel the steady thud of wheels on tarmac. Then, a sudden weightlessness, and I’ve taken off, I’m airborne. Here, my palms are open; there is a sense of itinerance, and there is a sense of loss.

❦ In the early morning by the River Cam, the sun spreads its fingertips with delicate tactility. Barring a few seasonal weeks in summer, the cinematographic trope of golden beams of light percolating through clear skies seems instead to give way to that atmospheric equivalent of Ted Hughes’ poetry: a gradual swelling of black and white, an overflow of melancholy’s ravine, almost the ebb and flow of the monsoon season. It is less like a gradual unfurling and more like a cocoon’s expansion, pregnant light’s seeping into dusk. Running by the river, I put on Bloom by the Paper Kites,

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because the line ‘when the evening pulls the sun down’ describes the sunrise here better than most; I chuckle a little in lieu of British weather, and my tropical rebellion. I miss bougainvilleas but I am sure they do not miss me. My mind stretches backward and forward in this space, a secret place of communion and longing. I think of how, even before I had been a dream in him, Pa had given up his dreams of being an archaeologist, of moving to Melbourne. I think of my little sisters and how proud I am that they, callow and naïve, are carving out spaces on our little island for their dreams and ingenuities. I think of how Ma cries when watching movies, and always corrects my pronunciation of jing di zhi wa. How did she know she wanted to be a mother long before she’d even known the answer to the question, to whom? Time is how you spend your love; I wonder if they can feel my heartbeat all these miles away, if they know I’m thinking of them. Closing my eyes for a split second, I imagine that I am elsewhere. The squawks of the swans are the cries of the koel when I awake in the mornings. The curve of the river along the boathouses is the path by Lower Seletar where I’d gone to see a first love. The pavement my feet are pounding on leads to The Loch, but it also leads to College, to Choa Chu Kang, to Sidgwick, to Yuhua Market where I will scarf down a hot, steaming bowl of bak chor mee. It leads everywhere and nowhere, backward and forward; mostly, it leads up. I open my eyes and keep running – down the river, and back.

...notes section at back of issue


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The Spine Tree Joseph Donato University of Toronto

T

he curtains were never drawn at night. Charlotte’s husband, Henry, refused to buy an alarm clock when there was a perfectly good east-facing window beside the bed. He’d tell Charlotte he would spend the ten dollars when the sun stopped rising. Charlotte didn’t mind the orange glow of the streetlamps flooding their room, or the neighbour’s headlights spilling onto the comforter. The window gave her an excuse to wear her makeup to bed. “In case someone drives by and sees me, dear,” she’d say, rubbing lipstick from her teeth. Henry didn’t appreciate Charlotte’s stained pillowcases, though he was never the one to scrub them clean. Charlotte was happy to spend the extra minutes on laundry day to feel like a movie star slipping under her sheets each night, lips red and bouffant pinned. She’d always tell Henry she’d remove her makeup when he bought an alarm clock. When the sun rose, so did Henry. He’d be in the middle of traffic on his way to the post office when Charlotte woke hours later. Though Henry liked to always be early, it was Charlotte who first noticed the stem. It was a late August night when Henry’s snores rocked Charlotte to the edge of sleep. Her fingers lazily traced circles into her husband’s upper back when she felt a bump. It was slight, no larger than one of the buttons on his golf shirts. Was it the tag of his wife-beater? No, she’d cut all the tags from Henry’s clothes when he’d complained about them making him itch. Could it be an extra vertebra? No, that was the sleepiness talking. Charlotte’s eyes shot open, fingers frozen on Henry’s back. They recoiled as if they’d been burned. No, she thought, it can’t be. With careful hands, Charlotte lifted Henry’s shirt to his neck and a high-pitched noise escaped her throat. Nestled between his shoulder blades and standing half an inch above the sea of curly black hairs was a stem. Charlotte sat up in bed and shut her eyes tight. She grabbed two handfuls of her nightgown and held onto the red silk like it was a cliff’s edge. Stems weren’t supposed to grow on men like Henry, men who watched football and drank beers with their lunch. Then again, Henry had always preferred the Super Bowl commercials to the games themselves, and he’d often water down his afternoon beers. Surely this was not enough for a stem

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to sprout, Charlotte was certain, but when Charlotte peered through parted eyelids, the tiny stem stared back. With a deep breath, Charlotte slid her feet into slippers and dashed to the bathroom and back. She knelt over Henry, a nail file in her trembling hand. With tense fingers, Charlotte began filing down the stem, back and forth and back and forth until it was level with Henry’s skin. When she finished, Charlotte slumped against the headboard, nail file dropping to the carpet. As her eyelids began to droop, a passing car’s headlights washed the room in white light and Charlotte rushed from the bed. With one sweeping motion, the curtains were drawn for the first time in years. “I love you,” Charlotte whispered as she clambered back into bed. Henry snored in response.

❦ The next day, after her chores were finished, dinner prepared and Henry not set to leave work for hours, Charlotte rode the bus to her sister’s hair salon. The bell chimed when Charlotte entered the mint-coloured room and scissors snipped as she stepped over fallen locks of hair, heels clicking on the tile. The salon was empty besides Gertrude, Charlotte’s sister, and the woman sitting in the chair before her, black cape tied around her throat. “Charlotte!” Gertrude was a rougher, burlier version of her younger sister. She had cropped hair and bright blue earrings. Her hands were busy trimming a woman’s bob, but she freed one to wave her sister over. “It’s been so long since you’ve visited me. Here for a cut?” Charlotte smiled, shook her head. “Just stopped by to say hello.” Gertrude rolled her eyes. “You have to let me do something with that hair of yours, Charlotte.” She nudged the woman whose bob she was shaping, pointed at Charlotte’s large bouffant with her plastic comb. “Hasn’t let a soul touch her hair since high school.” Charlotte hugged her sister, dodging the scissors in Gertrude’s hands. “I’ve been meaning to tell you,” Gertrude said as Charlotte pulled back. “A woman called the other day asking for you.” Charlotte frowned. “For me?” “She thought you worked here. Can you imagine? You, working.” Gertrude chuckled. “I told her I wasn’t going to give a stranger my sister’s address.” Charlotte laughed nervously, grabbed fistfuls of her dress and thanked her sister. She sat in one of the unoccupied leather chairs so high off the ground her feet dangled. “How have you been, Gertrude?” Gertrude launched into a story, then another, quick like she had more to tell and was afraid she’d run out of time. Charlotte listened intently, her sister’s rasp a soothing distraction from last night’s events. That was, until Gertrude mentioned her walk in the park.


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“You won’t believe what I saw! One of those fruit-tree freaks, big pear hanging over his head. Right out in the open. At a family park, no less!” The scissors snipped. “You should have seen the looks he was getting; I’m surprised he wasn’t knocked out right then and there. Was about to do it myself if he stayed too long.” The sun filtered through the large windows up front, casting strange shadows across the tile. Charlotte watched them dance. Gertrude hit her scissors against her palm and hair fluttered to the floor. “There was one at Johnny’s office with a pear tree big as the rosebush in my garden, lots of leaves. Johnny and his friends beat him up after work for looking at them odd.” Gertrude glanced at Charlotte. “Their kind are such freaks, don’t you think?” “Freaks,” Charlotte mumbled. She swatted at a fruit fly. The scissors continued to snip.

❦ One night, when Henry began to snore and Charlotte unsheathed the nail file hidden in her sleeve like a prison shiv, she noticed that Henry’s stem had already been shortened. The top of the stem was jagged, not flat and smooth like when Charlotte filed it. This wast the handiwork of scissors. Henry must have cut it himself. Charlotte bit the inside of her cheek and lowered her hands. She slowly reached over her own shoulder and touched her robe where her spine met her neck. With two fingers, she mimicked a pair of scissors, delicately snipping at an imaginary stem. Her eyebrows knit and she glanced at Henry’s stubby arms, the ones he complained he could hardly lift over his head. A lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. Somebody had cut Henry’s stem for him.

❦ Charlotte woke alone in bed. She rose, touched up her makeup, slipped into a cherry-coloured dress, emptied a can of hairspray into the bouffant atop her head. Each hour bled into the next as Charlotte swept the front porch, dusted the piano keys, wiped the kitchen counter. When Henry returned from the post office, fingers sore from eight hours of sorting envelops, Charlotte had his dinner plated and waiting for him at the head of the table. Henry’s fork scraped against his plate. Charlotte studied him over the fruit bowl in the center of the table. The two were silent, chewing to the soft jazz playing from the kitchen radio. The phone rang in the other room and Charlotte rose from her seat. Henry shot up, chair scraping against the tile. “I’ll get it.” Charlotte nodded and sat back down, said “Thank you, dear,” but Henry was already lifting the phone from the wall. “Who’s this?” Henry said, voice muffled behind the wall.

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Charlotte took a bite of her chicken, studied the lace tablecloth. She patted her hair. Her foot tapped against the tile. “Don’t call here again,” Henry said, and the phone was slammed back into the cradle. Charlotte patted her lips with her napkin when Henry returned, rubbing his neck. “Who was on the phone?” She asked as Henry adjusted his chair. He waved her away. “No one.” “No one? It seemed like someone.” “No one important.” He sat back down. Charlotte’s fork dropped into her plate, the clatter startling Henry who clutched his chest. “Tell me who was on the phone.” Henry’s lip twitched. “I told you, no—” “You’re lying. You’re lying to me.” Charlotte slammed her palm against the table and the plates shook. Henry sighed. “Charlotte—” “I know about the stem.” Henry froze, a thieving racoon caught in the porch light. Charlotte bit the inside of her cheek hard enough to taste metal. Henry, stiff as his gelled hair, pursed his lips. “How?” Charlotte raised her chin, smoothed the wrinkles in her dress with her hands. “I’ve been shaving it down every night.” A long moment of silence passed. Henry stared at his feet, eyes damp. Charlotte forced herself to glare at her husband, though her eyes begged to look anywhere besides the pitiful man. Henry cleared his throat. “It’s not—I’m not like the others.” “Stop crying,” Charlotte snapped. “It doesn’t help your case.” Henry squeezed his eyes shut. “Please, don’t leave me.” He reached across the table for Charlotte’s hands, which she jerked back. “I’ll get rid of it.” “Impossible.” “We can manage it, Charlotte. We can deal with it.” Henry’s voice wavered, his eyes pleaded. “I’m so afraid,” he whispered. Charlotte narrowed her eyes. “Afraid of what?” “Of losing my job, my family. You. I worked hard to get my life where I want it is, I won’t let a—a stem erase that.” Henry wiped his cheeks. “What am I meant to do?” “I don’t deserve this, Henry.” Charlotte folded her arms, turned away. “Help me, and—and… I’ll give you anything. I’ll give you the house, for God’s sake, Charlotte!” He waved his arms around the kitchen. “All of this, you can have it, I don’t need it. I just need you.” Charlotte’s eyes narrowed. The music played. “Tell me who was on the phone, or I’ll tell people about your stem.” Henry squeezed the edge of the table. His voice was small. “What?” Charlotte pointed her butter knife in his direction, rose from her


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seat. “You think I’m stupid, don’t you? You think I’ll sit back, be a good little wife while you—you… God knows what you do!” Henry’s eyes crossed as they focused on the tip of the knife aimed at his chest. “You’re talking nonsense.” “Am I?” Charlotte glared at her husband. “Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is for me? People will talk, Henry, they’ll talk! My friends will talk. My sister will talk.” “Charlotte, please,” Henry stammered. “All these nights I’ve been filing down your stem, I could have spent them going out. I could have slept! But no, I’ve been shaving down your secret and lying to everyone’s face. Do you know how humiliating that is?” “I know Charlotte, but—” “You are a disgusting man, Henry. I don’t know how you manage to live with yourself. If I were you, I would be kissing my feet for staying so long, for helping you when I should have run as fast as I could.” The radio could hardly be heard over Charlotte’s yelling. “Listen—” “Who was on the phone?” Charlotte shouted. “Telemarketer!” Henry drove his fist into the table and a deep crack appeared. He dropped his hands into his lap and his gaze to the floor. “It was a telemarketer.” Charlotte lowered the butter knife to her side and stared at her husband. She felt foolish, like a petulant child. “I’m sorry, I… I shouldn’t have… shouldn’t have gotten so mad.” Henry flicked his hand dismissively. Charlotte sat back down, let the radio host introduce the next song. Henry pushed his chicken across his plate. “I’ll stay with you,” Charlotte said finally. Henry looked up. “We’ll make this work. We’ll deal with it.” Charlotte reached across the table into the bowl of fruit. She took a bright green pear, brought it to her lips, smiling thinly at Henry before taking a bite. Charlotte shuddered, forced herself to chew. The pear skin was so sour on her tongue it burned, the juice filling her cheeks like acid and stinging the places where her teeth had torn the lining. She tried to swallow, but the feeling of tiny legs crawling along the roof of her mouth was too much to bear, and she spat the rotted mush onto the tile, insects and all. “I’m sorry,” Charlotte said, scraping her tongue, “I’m so sorry.” But Henry had already fled from the kitchen and slammed the front door shut.

There was a woman dressed in red that stopped by the house the other day. Mrs. Capstone, Charlotte’s neighbour, had noticed her knocking

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on the door, peering through the windows. When she told Charlotte this, Charlotte bit her lip, thanked Mrs. Capstone and told her not to worry. Mrs. Capstone wondered out loud if Henry was having an affair. Charlotte thanked her again and went inside to cook dinner.

❦ The stem was growing. It inched further from Henry’s skin each night until one morning, Henry woke with a shout, startled by the leaves he’d shed in the sheets and the stem prodding the back of his head. The two hadn’t spoken much about the stem since their fight at dinner, but it was becoming harder to ignore. Charlotte’s nail file no longer did the trick and scissor blades snapped in two. Charlotte had even bent the kitchen steak knife trying to saw the stem at its base. Things worsened when Henry shook Charlotte awake in the middle of the night with a miniature pear tree the size of his head sprouting from his spine, a single pear dangling over his eyes. The two took out the saw from the garage, quiet so as not to wake their neighbours, and got to work. The two were happy for the saw’s screeching giving them an excuse not to speak. They met in the garage once a week to trim Henry’s stem before work. Then, when his car pulled out of the driveway, Charlotte would dust the headboards, comb through the tassels on the living room rug, scrape dead bugs from the window screens. Once, she found a leaf under the bed while vacuuming, yellow and shrivelled, days old. She plucked it, crushed it in her hands, let the pieces flutter to the carpet and be sucked into the vacuum. We’re dealing with it, she thought.

❦ Charlotte stepped off the bus, her wine-coloured dress billowing in the breeze and Henry’s forgotten plastic-wrapped sandwiches tucked under her arm. She crossed the street to the post office. The sorting room was a tiny space swallowed by envelopes and the few men dressed in uniforms identical to the one Henry wore when returning from work. Charlotte weaved her way through the sorters, feeling her dress and hair were too big for a place like this. She spotted Henry in his chartreuse golf shirt at the back of the room, sitting on a box and flipping through a stack of envelopes. He was smiling, speaking with somebody to the right of him, concealed behind a shelf. Charlotte smiled and made towards him, when she saw with whom he was speaking. He was handsome, a few years younger than Henry, maybe thirty-five. His dimples caught Charlotte’s eye as she slowed to a stop in the centre of the sorting room. His blonde hair curled naturally, unlike hers, his clothes were tight around his chest, also unlike hers. Charlotte watched how they laughed so easily, how Henry’s lips never closed when the other man spoke. Charlotte’s eyes dropped to the other man’s back, where the tiniest


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bump protruded between his shoulder blades, so small Charlotte would never have noticed had she not spent countless nights staring at the identical mark on Henry. “Ma’am, you’re not supposed to be in here.” Charlotte turned to a tall man with a clipboard, and so did Henry. “Charlotte?” Henry stumbled to his feet, shooting his blonde friend a nervous look. “I was just leaving,” Charlotte said to the tall man. She spun around and hurried out the room. Her heels clicked down the hall, the noise soon met by another pair of footsteps. “Charlotte, please wait.” “No.” “Let me talk, please.” “No.” “Charlotte.” His voice was stern, and Charlotte stopped walking. Henry turned to see a few of his coworkers poking their heads into the hallway. He opened a door to his right. “In here.” Charlotte hesitantly stepped inside. They were in a broom closet, so small the two were practically touching. Henry pulled a chain and a lightbulb turned on. He held Charlotte by her shoulders and shook her slightly. “You need to calm down,” he said, though it seemed he was the panicked one. Charlotte wriggled free from his grasp. “How could you do this to me?” Henry’s mouth opened but nothing came out. “This is not how you deal with this—this mess, Henry!” Charlotte’s voice was shaking, her cheeks reddening. “We were doing just fine.” “No, Charlotte,” Henry said, eyes wide, “we weren’t. At least I wasn’t.” Charlotte wriggled free from Henry’s grasp. “Here I am, doing every last thing to make us work—” She shook the sandwiches in Henry’s face “bringing you lunch, even. Then you go behind my back with some… some freak!” Henry’s jaw clenched. “If Frank’s a freak, I am, too.” “Frank,” Charlotte seethed. “What a stupid name. And I never said you weren’t a freak.” Henry swallowed. “You don’t mean that.” “I mean exactly what I said. I suppose Frank was the one calling our house?” Henry didn’t answer. “I can’t believe you would give that man our phone number, Henry.” Tears began to well in her eyes. Henry gripped Charlotte’s wrists. “You don’t get to feel sorry for yourself, Charlotte. This is happening to me, not you. I’m the one who can’t wear thin shirts to work, I’m the one who’s neck is inches away from a saw’s teeth every week, I’m the one with a pit in my stomach because I can’t love you right. How can you stand here and make this about yourself?” Charlotte refused to look at Henry, her cheeks damp.

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“What did you think I would do?” Henry continued, his voice strained. “Live the rest of my life alone?” “You wouldn’t be alone, Henry. You would have me.” Charlotte yanked her wrist back. Henry exhaled, tears of his own in the corners of his eyes. “It’s not the same, Charlotte. You couldn’t know that. Frank—Frank understands me like you never could.” “I understand you,” Charlotte muttered, sniffling. “No, you don’t.” A wail escaped Charlotte’s quivering lips. She looked at Henry who could hardly hold back tears of his own. With trembling hands, Charlotte parted her hair and a stem sprung upwards, a crimson apple bobbing over her head. The two stood in silence, Henry’s eyes glued to the red fruit above Charlotte’s eyes. The apple tree’s leaves rustled, settled in Charlotte’s hair. Henry’s lips parted. “Charlotte,” he said, slumping his shoulders as he studied the apple tree in bewilderment. He touched a finger to the fruit. “I had no idea.” “That was the plan.” Charlotte backed into the wall of the closet. She exhaled, seeming to deflate. “I do understand you, Henry. And I know you’re right. This—” she motioned between the two of them, “is no way to live. You deserve to be happy, and I’ll never be able to give you that. You deserve… you deserve Frank.” Henry blinked. “Are you certain?” Charlotte laughed, wiping a tear from her cheek. “No. But I can’t keep pretending we’re a proper family. Because we just aren’t proper people.” She nodded her head and her apple bobbed. Henry took Charlotte’s hand in his. “Who’s to say what’s proper?” The woman’s cheeks reddened. “I won’t tell anybody about your stem.” “And I won’t tell anybody about yours.” Henry smiled, pretending to dust off his hands.. “It seems we’ve worked things out fairly well, then.” Charlotte grinned, held Henry’s palm to her cheek to feel a warmth she had forgotten existed. “As well as we can, dear.”

❦ Charlotte was in the garden again, picking out fallen leaves stuck between her tulips. Her and Henry hadn’t spoken about their fruit trees since the post office—Charlotte wasn’t sure there was anything left to say. She supposed they would revert back to normal. She would continue to wake alone, find new places in the house to scrub clean, prepare new dinners each evening. Henry would continue going to work and coming home to discuss the dreadful heatwave and Henry’s mother’s health, then they would fall asleep back-to-back in bed with the curtains drawn. The only difference was that Charlotte would try her best not to wonder about what went on in that sorting room, though the silent house made it difficult to escape these


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thoughts. They’d agreed that Henry would continue seeing Frank, so long as Charlotte never had to hear about it. If Henry was gone for multiple nights at a time, Charlotte would tell the neighbours he was visiting his sick mother. Though they still slept back-to-back with the curtains drawn, Charlotte no longer wore her make-up to bed. She figured that if anyone were to peek through the bedroom window, Charlotte’s bare face would hardly be the thing to focus on. A car door shut behind her and Charlotte looked over her shoulder. A woman stood beside a red Hudson Hornet in a matching sundress. She carried a tray wrapped in tinfoil and wore a dramatic tea hat adorned with mahogany flowers that shaded her face, but Charlotte could just make out two dark eyes staring into hers. “Miriam.” Charlotte sucked in her breath. The woman nodded. “Charlotte.” Charlotte pushed herself to her feet, peeled off her gardening gloves. “I thought it might have been you looking for me.” Miriam smiled thinly. “Can you blame me? I had to find out through neighbours that you moved across the state without telling me.” Charlotte dropped her gaze. “I think it’s best if you leave.” “Charlotte—” “Henry will be home soon and—” “Charlotte,” Miriam took a step forward. “I haven’t seen you since your wedding.” Charlotte twisted the hem of her dress. “I don’t… Henry, he’s my husband. I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t be seen with you.” Miriam gave Charlotte a sad look. “He loves you, Charlotte. I think he would understand.” Charlotte glanced down the street in the direction of the post office, at the empty spot in the driveway where Henry’s green Muntz usually sat. Miriam placed a hand on Charlotte’s. “Can we talk?” Charlotte tensed under Miriam’s touch but slowly relaxed. She nodded. “Here, I made this for you.” Miriam passed the tray she was cradling in her arms and with some hesitation, Charlotte took it. Miriam’s hat cast a shadow over the neatly covered tray and Charlotte tried not to look the woman in the eyes. With trembling hands, Charlotte peeled back the tinfoil to reveal an apple pie.

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BobbyOnTheBike1980 Sophia Dienstag Wesleyan University I The man came to install the PedalFun two days after Christmas. Robert and Lynn looked on excitedly as he carted the contraption, fully assembled as promised, down the ramp of a large truck and up to their doorstep. “Where should I put it?” he asked them. They ushered him down the stairs to their basement. They had cleared it out some months ago, always intending to turn it into a home gym of sorts. But until now it had remained empty –– white walls and must. “Just here,” Lynn told the man, waving him towards a corner of the room. The bike must have been heavy, but in one swift motion, he lifted the PedalFun off the cart and placed it down just where Lynn had specified. If you squinted, thought Robert, the machine looked somewhat like a normal, if elongated, smooth black bicycle. The biggest difference was the sleek screen that sat above the handlebars and resembled a mini television. “Is that it?” Lynn asked. “Do we owe you anything?” The man shook his head. “Can we at least give you a tip?” asked Robert, fishing around in his pocket for a few spare dollars. “Sir, all that can be handled on the PedalFun app.” “Right,” said Robert, “of course.” “I’ll show myself out,” said the man. He turned to


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mount the stairs. “We can’t wait to try it out.” said Lynn. “Thanks so much.” Then she added, “Merry Christmas!” But he was already shutting the front door behind him, and moments later they heard the rumbling of the truck as it sped off to its next delivery. Robert and Lynn were not religious people, but when it came to Christmas, they had always done a tree and gifts and such. It had been Lynn’s idea to combine the money they would normally spend on each other and instead buy the PedalFun as a joint present for themselves. Robert remembered, quite clearly, the first time he ever heard the word “PedalFun.” They had been talking to Lynn’s colleague Steph at a dinner party, complimenting her on how healthy she looked, how slim. She had put down her wine and whispered to them, as though it were some dirty little secret, that it was only thanks to her PedalFun that she’d finally managed to work off the baby weight. No one brought up that it had been eight years since the birth of Steph’s last child. “Your PedalFun?” Lynn had inquired politely, “What’s that?” At first, they had laughed about it. Only Steph, who’d always had an extravagant side, would spend so much money on a glorified exercise bike. But then, over the months, they noticed other couples –– friends of theirs –– deciding to splurge on PedalFuns of their own. They all touted the machine’s numerous fitness benefits, which were apparently unmatched. Although he knew they were no spring chickens, Robert thought that he and Lynn generally did their best to live a healthy lifestyle. They went for jogs now and again; they ate green foods.

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Lynn was the first to cave. “Honey,” she said one night as they prepared dinner together, a lasagna, “maybe we should just get one already. Everyone else has it.” “Why should we be like everyone else all of a sudden?” said Robert, stirring the onions and garlic in a large saucepan. “I don’t think we exercise enough,” said Lynn. “We exercise.” “Sometimes” Lynn conceded, then dropped it. But every few weeks she would initiate a similar conversation, and each time she did, Robert held firmly to his belief that the PedalFun was nothing but a trend, that it would soon be replaced by some other shiny, new, overpriced gadget. Things changed when Robert awoke one morning, pulled back the curtains of his bedroom window, and found he had a perfect view of their next-door neighbor Dave PedalFunning away like he’d been doing it all his life. He was really giving his all, too, clad in tight biker shorts and a muscle tank, hands clutched tightly to the handlebars, legs pumping furiously in circular motions. Until suddenly, perhaps sensing Robert’s presence through the window, he looked up and waved happily. Robert gave a quick wave in return, then watched as Dave wiped the sweat off his shiny, bald head with a towel, and, still cycling, pointed down to his PedalFun with one hand, and gave Robert a big thumbs up with the other. Robert yanked the curtains shut. He did not want his face to betray the feeling of utter shock now surging through his veins. He would never have guessed that a man of Dave’s caliber would hop onto a PedalFun along with the rest of them. And to do it so performatively at that, right in front of the little window where he knew Robert would see. He and Dave, a fellow company exec, had for years been sort of friends, but also sort of enemies. Dave was always gunning for the same


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promotions and bonuses as Robert, and he usually got them. If Dave had a PedalFun, then there was no doubt about it: so would Robert. II His first ride was a brutal one. Robert and Lynn, now late to the game compared to their friends, had committed to a schedule of PedalFunning once a day, every day –– Lynn’s idea. She had naturally hopped right on for the first time the morning of its delivery, but Robert had put it off all day, waiting until after lunch, then until after his 3PM power nap, then until after dinner, at which point, finally, he became unable to stand the expectant, side-eye glances Lynn had been throwing him every few minutes. He changed into a ratty t-shirt and loose shorts and trudged down to the basement. He positioned himself on the bicycle-like seat, which he found to be quite uncomfortable. He clipped into the pedals with his special PedalFun-patented shoes, and abruptly realized he had no idea how the machine worked, and that he probably should have read the instructions on the PedalFun app beforehand. But he was all clipped in now and his phone was upstairs. He tried simply tapping the screen, which was flat and thin like a large piece of paper. It lit up beneath his fingertips. Hello! The screen flashed. Welcome to your PedalFun! Please log in or make a new account. The icon for Lynn’s account was already there, a floating pink bubble with her username written inside: Lynn4theWin. “Clever username, honey!” Robert called up the stairs. He tapped “make a new account” and was asked to enter a username of his own. He tried: Bobby1980 Sorry! The username you entered has already been taken. He thought for a moment, then typed out: BobbyOn-

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TheBike Sorry! The username you entered has already been taken. Robert sighed and tried: BobbyOnTheBike1980 Welcome to your PedalFun, BobbyOnTheBike1980! It’s time to get started with your first ride! There were all sorts of different pre-recorded rides available and lots of instructors to choose from: a 20 Minute Beginner Ride with Sheridan, a 30 Minute 80s Music Ride with Chelsea, a 45 Minute Endurance Ride with Christine, and so on. Robert, not wanting to overdo it, opted for the beginner ride. Sheridan looked like a nice young man –– not the kind of instructor who would scream bloody murder at you until you reached your breaking point, but the kind who would gently encourage you to meet your potential. Plus, he had a man-bun, and Robert, despite knowing he didn’t have the bone-structure for it, had always wanted one of those. He tapped the icon advertising the ride. The screen blinked, and suddenly Sheridan appeared in the center of a dark room with mirrors lining the walls, already perched atop a PedalFun of his own, already pedaling. Robert began to mimic what he saw, moving his feet in circles, pretending he was on a real bike. He listened as Sheridan explained how to adjust the various buttons and knobs on the machine that were apparently there to help him control what were called “cadence” and “resistance.” Next, Sheridan went over the plan for the day’s workout. This ride can be divided into three parts, Sheridan informed him. First, we’ve got our warm-up, then we’ll do a build, and finally, we’ll end with our descending recovery. The ride was twenty minutes in total. This shouldn’t be too bad, thought Robert. Twenty minutes would fly by. He could do anything for twenty minutes.


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But halfway through the warm-up, Robert was sure he would not make it. This was it: his life, the workout, it would all end here. And it wasn’t just that his legs burned or his back ached, which they did. It was that Sheridan apparently hoped to be Robert’s therapist as well as his PedalFun instructor. He said things like, Drop your shoulders, drop your baggage. Or even worse, Treat your body like it belongs to someone you love. Blech! Thought Robert, who reasoned that if he did that, he wouldn’t be on the stupid machine in the first place. The very worst, though, was when Sheridan remained silent for a minute or two, then said, out of the blue, in a soft yet confident voice clearly meant to inspire, What if you can? But I can’t! Thought Robert. I can’t! He couldn’t take it any longer. He was going to slow his legs down. He was going to stop. But then he thought of Lynn. He thought of all the money they had spent on this Christmas present/torture device. He thought of Dave and his shiny, sweaty head. He pedaled on. Soon he arrived at what Sheridan had previously referred to as “the build.” They would begin at an easy resistance, something resembling a “flat road,” and slowly work their way up to what Robert figured would probably resemble Mount Everest. I know what you’re thinking, said Sheridan, about a third of the way into the build. You’re thinking: Hey, Sheridan, I can push harder than this. No, thought Robert, that is actually the exact opposite of what I am thinking. But just because you can push harder doesn’t mean you should. But I can’t, thought Robert. I can’t I can’t I can’t! A few moments went by. But what if you can?

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And it went on like this, Robert thinking, every minute of the ride, that he was seconds away from giving up. Until, somehow, twenty minutes had passed, and wouldn’t you know it, he had persevered, had made it to the end, survived. He cursed Sheridan for being right after all. He unclipped his shoes and limped upstairs, tore off his sweat-soaked clothes and took a long, cold shower. When he got out, Lynn was already fast asleep in bed. He would tell her about his first PedalFun experience in the morning. But when Robert awoke the next day and reached for Lynn beside him, he found only her pillow and the covers pulled back. He didn’t hear her in the bathroom, so he crept downstairs to see if she was making breakfast, but the kitchen was empty. Robert stood groggy and alone in the early light, no Lynn to be found, but realized that if he listened hard, he could hear the whir of spinning wheels from the basement below, and then a voice, not Lynn’s, that sounded as though it came from far away, and yet was shouting at the top of its lungs: a crown of sweat, and a soul of fire! It was still early, so Robert went upstairs and fell back into bed. When he heard his wife enter the room some fifteen minutes later, panting slightly, he pretended to be asleep, though he wasn’t sure why. She showered, changed, did her makeup, and all the while Robert remained in bed, eyes shut. Just before she left for work, she leaned over and shook his shoulder. “You should get up,” she said, “It’s 8:30.” Robert nodded vaguely. “Still tired out from your first ride?” He nodded again. They fell into a routine of sorts, Lynn PedalFunning in the morning and Robert at night. Between them arose a kind of unspoken agreement that they would not discuss their progress, the types of rides they took, or the instructors they chose


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to ride with. And if they did, it was only ever in the vaguest of terms. For example: “How was your ride today, honey?” “Excellent, how was yours?” “Very good.” Except, Robert’s rides were not very good at all. In fact, he was fairly sure he was regressing, becoming less physically capable by the day. Each time he rode, he tried out a new instructor, but found them all to be unbearable. There was Amanda, whose overzealous cursing made him uncomfortable (Just fucking do it!); there was Eric, who, every few minutes, let out strange, animalistic grunts; there was Suzie, whose hardened abs and alien-like space-bun hairdo he found intimidating; and then of course there was wannabe life coach Sheridan. There were plenty others too, and Robert went through them all, always finding something about the way they looked, or talked, or positioned their arms on the handlebars, that was not to his liking. Lynn kept at it, PedalFunning religiously every morning, sometimes even twice a day, while Robert began to skip. At first it was just one day, then occasionally two in a row, sometimes even three. He knew Lynn tried hard to hide her disappointment, but he was disappointed too. She was getting fit, pedaling away from him, leaving him behind in the metaphorical dust. One night, as he reluctantly clipped himself in and scrolled through the list of instructors, all of whom he had found, in one way or another, to be inadequate, Robert wondered which ones Lynn most preferred. With whom did she pass every morning, all alone down here in the basement? Before he could think too much about it, he logged out of his own account and tapped the little icon for hers. Her password was the usual one. He scrolled through her workout history, all the way back to her first ride. For the first week or so, she had, like him,

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tried out many instructors. But the further he scrolled, the more the various names consolidated into one: Denise Houghton. 30 Minute Beginner Ride with Denise Houghton, 20 Minute Power Zone Max Ride with Denise Houghton, 30 Minute Hip-Hop Ride with Denise Houghton, 45 Minute Endurance Ride with Denise Houghton. Robert had ridden with Denise before, but had written her off early on because she talked too much about her mother. But Lynn had a close relationship with her mother, so maybe, he thought, she found that endearing. Maybe, he also thought, he should give Denise another chance. He trusted Lynn. She had good judgment when it came to people. Most of their friends, like Steph, were her friends first. He was perfectly okay with that, even though it meant that everyone they knew was always just a little bit closer with her. But it also meant, because everyone came filtered through Lynn, that he didn’t have to deal with befriending people who later turned out to be clingy, or losers, or any of the other things Robert didn’t like in friends. You had to think about the trade-offs. The closest thing he had to a friend of his own was Dave, though Dave was really more of a rival, which, now that Robert thought about it, was kind of the reverse of a friend. Lynn was not the biggest fan of Dave –– thought he was an “A-hole” and a “boaster.” She certainly wasn’t wrong, but it also occurred to Robert, not infrequently, that these were two qualities which seemed to contribute, at least at work, to Dave’s great success; two qualities that, though he hated to admit it, Robert admired and knew he himself did not possess. He logged back into his own account and tapped one of Denise’s rides. She had her light brown hair pulled back in a tight bun, and wore, like most of the female instructors, a PedalFun brand sports bra and leggings. The ride began, and as predicted, Denise mentioned her mother, who had been a marathon runner, had inspired her children to love fitness


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from an early age, and whose presence Denise could apparently feel in the air around her every time she clipped into the bike. And what Robert realized now, which he hadn’t before, was that clearly, her mother was dead. Remember, said Denice, the music ramping up, Together, we go far! That night, as Robert lay in bed, he dreamt of riding with Denise, but not on the PedalFun, on real bikes, side by side, down a long and winding path. III He began to, if not look forward to his time on the PedalFun, then not dread it. He liked riding with Denise, spending time with her, getting to know her. And the more he rode, the more he learned. She never gave away too much personal information at once, but it didn’t take too many rides for him to learn the basics: she had grown up in Essex, England, had two little sisters with whom she was very close, in her free time loved to dance, was partial to a cold glass of rosé, and before becoming a PedalFun instructor had at various points in her life been a P.E. teacher, a barmaid, and a certified yogi. At the end of each ride, Denise liked to give shoutouts to some of the PedalFunners who had hit milestones that day. She’d say, JulianneSpinz, congrats on two hundred rides! Or, Happy birthday and happy one hundred rides to RachelleRyder99! As far as Robert could tell, the smallest number of rides that could qualify you for a shout-out was fifty. But in order to get one, you had to participate in a live ride, not a pre-recorded one, and Denise’s rides were filmed from a time zone six hours ahead, usually when Robert was fast asleep. Sometimes he forgot that he only ever saw her on that large, smooth screen, which felt, not flat, and not like a screen at all, but more like a window he could peer through, one that

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opened up and revealed to him a little more of her life with each passing day. He wondered if it could go both ways; if, somehow, she could see him too. He knew that when she gave words of encouragement during a ride, like, Pain is just weakness leaving your body, or, Take a seat, ride the beat, she said it for everyone. But he liked to think that she said these things just for him, and he would often respond as though she did. Even when he got off the bike, in bed next to Lynn, or at work with Dave, she would speak to him. She’d say, Robert, you absolutely destroyed that ride today. And he would say, Thanks so much, I loved hearing the story you told about the first marathon you ever ran. And she would say, You know, if you keep at it, one day maybe you could run a marathon too. Sometimes their conversations even veered off the subject of the PedalFun. After a tough work meeting, she might tell him, The boss totally loved your enthusiasm today. And he would say, I’m not sure. I think Dave kind of stole the show there. And she would say, Hey, consistency is key. I am, I can, I will, I do! He finally understood what the PedalFun craze was all about. Before he’d seen it as some crazy fitness cult, and now that he was in it, he still sort of saw it that way -- but he was in it! He and Denise were in it together. And Lynn. Together, we go far! As Robert approached his fiftieth ride, he knew he had to do something to celebrate reaching such a milestone. He knew he wanted it to be different. He wanted a shout-out. The night before the big ride, he went to bed early, telling Lynn he had a headache, and set an alarm for 2:45AM. He was so excited that he could hardly fall asleep and drifted off in fits and starts. The moment his alarm sounded, he shut it off and hopped out of bed. Lynn rolled over and mumbled something in her sleep.


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“Shhh,” he said, “you’re dreaming.” He slipped into his exercise gear and tip-toed down the stairs, all the way to the basement. He had never done a live ride before and didn’t know what to expect. He clipped into the bike. The screen awoke under his touch, let him know that there were seven minutes and thirty-eight seconds until his Live Ride with Denise Houghton would begin. He sat waiting on the bike, giddy. Soon Denise appeared and said all the things she usually did, like, Welcome back, everyone! I hope you’re all ready to ride! Everything proceeded as normal, except that it wasn’t normal, Robert knew. It was so much better. They were finally in sync, actually riding together, Denise an ocean away, and Robert right here in his dusty old basement. The screen between them was so thin, like it wasn’t there at all. They worked their way through the warm-up. Not used to exercising at this time of night, Robert began to huff and puff. But they were nearly at the build already, and Denise began to do her first round of shout-outs. PriyaGB, DerekGetWrecked, TayTay58, congratulations! One hundred rides! There were thousands of people riding live with Denise. Robert knew that. Probably, dozens of them were hitting milestones, maybe even hundreds, and he had no way of cutting through the noise. But he would keep going. They were building now; he could feel his body burning up, being pushed to its limit. But in a good way, like suddenly he wanted to know what lay beyond his limit, because he was sure there must be something there. Denise gave more shout-outs, called out more names, but not his. The air around him became hot and stuffy, and his breathing felt strained. He kept pedaling. What else could he do? Maybe he would always be right here, perpetually pedaling to his limit like some lonely asymptote. Only one more minute, she said, until our descending recov-

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ery. You can do it! Push push push! I’m pushing, Denise! He said. I’m pushing! I’m right here. Then she looked through the screen, right into his body. He could feel her gaze on his sweaty, glistening skin. He moved his legs wildly in circles through the air, couldn’t have stopped then even if he’d wanted to. Denise was smiling. BobbyOnTheBike1980, she said, and he heard her voice reverberate within him. You should be so proud. Fifty rides today! Yes! He thought. Yes! Oh god, yes!


T H E

F O U N D A T I O N A L I S T

Propagation Linnéa Backvall University of Edinburgh

T

he day before our mother died, she gave each of us a plant cutting. Two leaves on a stem, each in identical glass vases, with the beginnings of roots starting to sprout among the air bubbles in the water. She smiled her crooked smile, age-speckled hands trembling when she gave them to us, and then planted a dry kiss on each of our foreheads. In hindsight, I believe she knew she was going to die, but at the time we were all clueless, too absorbed in our own problems to notice. The four of us had gathered in our mother’s little cottage, with great towering office buildings on one side and an unkempt plot of forest on the other, to have some coffee and cake while we pretended to get along. It was unusual that we were all gathered in the same room, it practically only happened every second Christmas, and then it was always with partners and children in tow. We all prattled on about our lives: jobs, children, holidays to Skåne and Thailand, trying to outdo each other in how stressed we were or how difficult it was to go house-hunting. Our mother simply sat there with an odd smile, sipping strong coffee from a floral-print mug, and made a friendly comment every now and then. On the wall opposite where I was sitting, a dozen photographs peered down at me. In the place of honour was the picture of Mikael, pudgy cheeks and frilly shirt, smiling a toothless smile while he sat on a rocking horse. It was the last photo they had taken of him. Next to it was the wedding photo, in which Mum was holding the wedding bouquet of lily of the valley which still hung

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above the piano, dried and greyed behind a dome of glass. Beside her, Dad stood tall and proud, smiling a warm smile that I had only seen occasionally during my childhood, usually during spring. I remember feeling strange that afternoon, even though there was nothing particularly strange about the situation – another forced family reunion, that was all. Our mother watched us with clear blue eyes, holding something back. She always did. Before we all left, with promises of “let’s do this more often!” she gave us our plants and our kisses and sent us on our way. “You look after those properly, now,” she said as she ushered us out the door. Then, almost a whisper: “do better than we did.” I stopped in my tracks; I was the only one who had heard her. I was on the cusp of saying something then, but instead I walked away. The next day, our mother was dead. Natural causes, old age, died peacefully in her sleep. She left so suddenly and with such ease that I didn’t really understand that she was gone for the first few days. I had always expected to be able to come to her one day, out of the blue, and she would explain everything to me, and I would understand. Now, those questions would remain unanswered. The funeral was a beautiful affair, seeing as she’d left us with instructions for the music, the guests, the flowers. That was probably the greatest gift she’d ever given us; if left to ourselves, my siblings and I would have torn each other apart over the arrangements. We had Mozart, hymns, and a folk tune from her native Värmland. All of her closest still-living friends were there, as well as relatives we barely knew (they had not been at our father’s funeral), and some of the old pupils she’d taught to play the piano. At the post-service memorial, brief speeches were given, condolences accepted, hands shook. She was such a kind woman, they all said. When the last guest had left, the four of us found ourselves alone, exhausted soldiers in a battlefield of coffee cups and rejected slices of sandwich cake. “Have you planted the cuttings?” Anna asked, voice low,


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as we sat in a loose circle around a table, picking at food scraps we hadn’t managed to eat. Her eyes were red and puffy; she was the one who had cried the most during the service. “Mine’s still on the hallway dresser”, Kristoffer replied. He was tapping his spoon idly but rhythmically against the saucer, his eyes had a haunted look. He had had at least six cups of coffee. “I don’t even know if it’s still alive.” “It will be,” said Jenny. She was sitting rigid and straight as a nail, newly styled hair framing her face. She was the only one who’d had the courage to wear a splash of colour – a fuchsia-pink blouse under the black blazer. “I left mine in a cupboard for two weeks and when I looked at it yesterday, it was still the same as the day we got it.” “I’ve already planted mine, it’s on my kitchen table, I think it’s doing rather well,” Anna said. She was the only one of us who had inherited our mother’s love of plants. Every window in her small flat was full to bursting with orchids, geraniums, and azaleas. “Of course you have,” Jenny said. Anna tensed, placed her hands under the table. “I’ll plant mine as soon as I’ve bought a proper pot,” I intervened. I was too tired to let them dance the usual waltz. “All I have is a bucket, it’ll have to do,” grumbled Kristoffer. He seemed oblivious to the tension, lost in a world of his own. There was a prolonged silence, the clinking of Kristoffer’s spoon was the only rhythm to our thoughts. As expected, Jenny snapped. “Would you stop that!?” She snatched the spoon from his hand and stood up with such abruptness that her chair nearly fell over. Anna was crying again, and I caught her gaze. It was Kristoffer, however, who voiced our shared thought with a cynical smile, suddenly returned from wherever his mind had been: “We’re doing so well.” Jenny took her handbag and left without saying a word.

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I didn’t see her again for nearly a month. Kristoffer left after another ten minutes of silence, leaving me and Anna to ourselves. I was looking out the window, where a sharp March wind tossed budding branches back and forth. I half-expected our mother to emerge from the bushes like a troll, covered in pine needles and twigs, the way she had done when we were children, picking mushrooms in her secret spot. “Maria,” Anna said, pulling me out of my reverie. “I’ll lend you one of my pots.”

❦ We all went back to our scattered existences, scuttling about like mice in the grass. I went back to my job-hunting, frustration festering like a tumour with every rejection. I was always both underqualified and overqualified, and somehow lacked the skill to dance the dance of employer courtship. My father’s disappointed gaze constantly prickled at my neck, and I sometimes amused myself with the thought that if I got frustrated enough, my hair would turn red of its own accord and I wouldn’t have to dye it. One day in early April, Helena met me in the hallway, still in her nurse’s uniform. She was cradling our cat, Totte, in her arms like the spoiled baby he was, rocking him up and down. He gave the tiniest meow of discontent. “What’s wrong?” I struggled to take off my boots. “Honey, there’s something strange about your mum’s plant.” The next day, the scattered siblings were gathered once more, this time in the cramped living room of mine and Helena’s flat. We all stood in a half-circle in silent horror, witnesses to the plant’s undeniable transformation. When I had last checked, it had been a baby of three delicate spring-green leaves, making slow but steady progress in Anna’s shabby-chic pot. Now, it had grown to a monstrous size overnight and the leaves had turned a garish, poisonous purple – it was as if the branches were trying to suck the air dry of life. The vines were


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climbing around the entire window, blocking out most of the light, and had stretched across the ceiling, spreading delicate curly fingers towards the ceiling light. It had stopped right before reaching the bulb. I had expected my siblings to question both my sincerity and my sanity when I texted them the night before, but they had all come without hesitation. Jenny was the one who finally broke the silence with the words that were on all of our minds: “What the actual fuck.” “Did you put something in the soil?” Kristoffer asked. His voice was creaky, as if straight out of bed. “Like, I don’t know, the blood of a new-born?” I should have laughed, but the vein-like stripes on the leaves did not invite humour. “No, I just planted it.” “I looked up what type of plant it was,” said Anna. She was carefully examining one of the waxy leaves, turning it over to reveal a slightly blotchy pinkish underside. “It’s just called gullranka in Swedish, but in English it’s called golden pathos, or Ceylon creeper,” she paused for a moment, “or Devil’s Ivy.” “Devil’s Ivy?” Kristoffer said with a bark of laughter. “Well, in that case, it sure lives up to its name.” “It’s supposed to be impossible to kill, and it stays green even in the dark.” “Green,” I repeated incredulously. I almost thought I saw it grow even as we stood there watching it. I had never been a superstitious person, probably as a reaction to our mother’s eccentric beliefs, but this did not belong to reality as I knew it. “Well, sometimes Dad did call mum a witch,” Jenny said. Her hard eyes were fixed on the base of the plant, as if she could turn it back to normal with sheer willpower. “He hardly meant it like that,” Kristoffer replied. Jenny hmmed, then turned to me. “What will you do with it?” “I don’t know.” The mere thought of having to ‘deal with it’ filled me with dread. I felt more unprepared for adult

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life with every passing day. One of the branches gave the tiniest shudder. “If you try to cut it down it might eat you,” Kristoffer said, only half joking. “It might as well.” They all looked at me, but said nothing. We decided to let each other know if something else unusual happened, then parted ways, each with a wary eye cast in the direction of the living room before heading out. Scattered again, scuttling off, separate once more.

❦ Three days later, Anna came around for coffee in the afternoon. She wasn’t unemployed like me, but the library was only part-time and her freelance work made her hours flexible. She looked pale, white lips and dark half-moons under her eyes. I served steaming coffee and microwaved cinnamon buns, which filled the room with a scent that held one of the tiny comforts of childhood, one that Dad had not touched. The feeling stung all the more now that our mother was gone. Anna sipped her coffee mechanically. She didn’t touch the bun. “Kristoffer came to me last night.” Her voice sounded thin. “Oh?” “He brought his plant.” “Oh.” “He came around midnight, looking like death, crying. His plant cutting had shrivelled up and died. He kept saying that he’d let Mum and Dad down, let Kattis and the kids down, let his colleagues down, that he was worthless. I let him sleep on the sofa.” “Jesus.” I had known that Kristoffer wasn’t enjoying his job as an engineer, but I hadn’t realised things were this bad. Perhaps the gloomy cynicism should have told me something, but I hadn’t been paying attention. Anna was the only one who


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talked to him on something resembling a regular basis. “We’ll have to talk to him, as a family,” she said. She was drooping like a withering flower. “As if we’re any good at that.” I sipped my coffee, remembering the time Kristoffer had told Dad that he didn’t enjoy being in the advanced maths class in school. Dad had gone on a campaign of complaining and nagging that lasted for weeks, calling him weak and childish. He was only 12 at the time. So much for family talk. “Maybe professional help, then,” Anna suggested, perhaps sensing where my mind was. I nodded. I had considered therapy once, but cancelled last minute. What was there to say, really? No therapist could change the way things had been. They couldn’t erase the ghost of Mikael. We sipped our coffee in silence, letting the new situation sink in. In the end, I had to ask the inevitable: “How is your plant doing?” She averted her eyes. “It’s doing fine. It’s putting on flowers, actually. But…” She trailed off. “But?” “I think it’s affecting the other plants somehow.” “Show me.” We left my flat and walked through brightening streets of Stockholm’s Södermalm, where great tractors were sweeping the winter’s gravel up off the asphalt, leaving a trail of wet behind them like gigantic snails. The air was full of dust and sunshine and people were milling about in pastel spring jackets, breathing it all in. Anna’s flat was on the ground floor of a tall, yellow stone building not far from mine, facing a courtyard with budding apple trees. The green interior was evident already from the outside. Anna unlocked the door with care, as if she was afraid that something might leap out at her, then she led me into the kitchen. The plant was sitting in the middle of the rustic kitchen table in a little pool of golden sunlight. Its leaves were still a delicate green and it was no bigger than your average

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houseplant, but it differed from my purple monstrosity in yet another significant way: a tiny cluster of white flowers flowed along one of the branches and filled the air with a sweet vanilla-like scent. It was at first pleasant, but soon became overpowering clinging to the inside of my nostrils like glue, travelling up to my head and digging in like a headache. It absorbed my attention so much that it took me a solid minute before I realized what was wrong in the rest of the room: all the other plants had doubled in size. Unlike mine, none of them had turned purple or become suffocating monsters. Instead they were clearly thriving, spreading their leaves and stalks towards the sunlight in glee. It was fantastic to see, but my headache was pounding. The flowers on her orchids were the size of dinner-plates, and one of the palm trees in the living room was threatening to crack the ceiling. “Okay, this is also…unusual,” I said. I had to stifle a cough. “I assume Kristoffer saw all this?” “Yes.” “How did he take it?” “Once he stopped crying, he was just blank.” Anna pointed to a pot in a corner of the room, the only plant that wasn’t an explosion of green. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a small white bucket, as Kristoffer had promised, with the black, shrivelled remains of the plant still standing like a miniature monument to his misery. ❦ We walked the long way to Jenny’s house. It seemed a shame to take the tram in the lovely weather, but halfway there I started to regret it. There is a sort of vibrant anxiety to spring that I’ve always found difficult. It’s the coming of hope, renewal of life, but everything happens in a rush, as if we’re breaking into a run before we’ve re-learned how to walk. My heart was slamming against my ribs and the brightness of the sun made me almost nauseous. It was too much life, all at once. It made me feel like an imposter. Anna was walking at a steady pace,


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commenting on this new shop there and that beautiful flower there, trying to distract me from my discomfort. She carried Kristoffer’s abandoned bucket in a paper bag. Snowdrops were spilling over in the gardens of the tall villas in Enskede, and some crocuses had started peeking out of the lawns, still yellow with last year’s grass. Jenny’s house stood at the far end of an uphill street, raised above the others in white splendour, a bright tower in the fading light. She was the one who had truly fulfilled our father’s expectations by running a successful business, even though she was the one who had fought with him the most. The oldest child, trying to fill the hole that Mikael left. She opened the door in a worn beige tracksuit, no makeup on, hair in a messy bun. Her five-year-old daughter was clinging to her leg, iPad in hand. She didn’t seem surprised to see us, simply waved us inside. In the bright living room, to our amazement, we saw Kristoffer perched sideways on the sofa, looking rather dishevelled. We blinked at each other like owls, finding ourselves gathered once more. We sat down around the table, a mirror of our seating at the funeral memorial. Jenny’s plant was in the middle, small and bright green. It took me a moment to realise what I was looking at. Jenny’s plant hadn’t just refused to grow since it was planted, but had turned into fine, brilliant glass, frozen and timeless. I brushed a finger across one of the leaves; it was cool and hard. It confirmed the suspicion I had had since the transformation of my own plant, and when I looked around the table, I saw that the others had understood too. We had an unspoken agreement that no one should leave the table, and so we remained seated in weary suspense. Jenny’s husband came in at one point and elegantly swept their daughter away to bed, and I texted Helena that I’d be home late. The shadows grew and darkness fell, and no one made a move to turn on the lights. It was like we were in a trance. A lone blackbird sang its twilight song in the night, apt music for

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our melancholy, that sorrow we had inherited. As usual, it was Jenny who finally broke the silence. “I will never forgive her for not leaving him.” The words thundered down, singeing the air. Our conversation crawled out, testing the stability of this new ground. At first it was like trying to speak a foreign language, but then we found that we spoke the same dialect. Jenny talked about how much she resented our father for drilling that competitive mindset into us, the way she had always been in Mikael’s shadow. She couldn’t understand why our mother had put up with him; once his bitterness had made itself permanent. Things I’d always felt, but never dared turn into thought. I was surprised to find how angry these things made me, hot and suffocating. Poisonous purple. After a while, Anna chimed in and talked about how she was always trying to compensate for Dad’s bitterness by helping others, but felt that she was being gradually drained up herself, shrivelling up while watering others. In low tones, Kristoffer told us about his depression, the immense pressure he felt at work, and the paralyzing fear of not being a good father to his children. How could he be, after all this? It took a while to muster the confidence, but eventually I told my siblings about my terrible insecurity. Last child, hopeless cause. It didn’t matter what I did, failure or success, nothing had been good enough. Mum had tried to pick up the pieces, but I had pushed her away in spiteful defiance. Why hadn’t she left him? The question had plunged down and made rings on the water, and now we drifted along in the ripples. Eventually silence fell. The blackbird had gone quiet, it was well past midnight. I had almost drifted off to exhausted sleep right there on the table when I was roused by a soft glow at the edge of my vision. Everyone stirred simultaneously, heard rather than seen, as leaf by leaf Jenny’s plant came to life, unfreezing from dead glass to soft tissue. It grew golden with weak pulsating light. The branches stirred as if moved by a gentle breeze, then


P R O P A G A T I O N

stretched upwards, growing and coiling around each other. At the top of this green braid, a silvery lily opened and a scent like spring rain spilled out. It was alive. Together we drew a deep breath, and exhaled in relief. ❦ When I went into the living room the next morning, I found that my plant had shrunk down from the ceiling and resumed an air of innocent plantiness. Some of the leaves were still tinged with patches and stripes of purple, and it was still larger than it had any right to be, but it was unquestionably more normal. I held one of the waxy leaves in my hand, and for a moment I imagined that there was a faint glow of gold. Anna had promised to take a cutting of her own plant and give to Kristoffer. She was confident that it would live this time. Helena gave me a quick peck on the cheek before rushing off to work, and I walked outside, having in mind to go to a shop where Jenny knew someone. As I walked down the busy street, I felt the warmth of the spring sun and the soft breeze on my face. There was a smell of green and asphalt and newly baked bread, and I felt a strange kinship to all of the other busy city-dwellers who hurried past. It might take a while, but we’ll get there. We will do better.

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A Libation for the Prairie Samantha Rowling Arizona State University I’m standing where the green water meets the loam And the sewage-stink wafts up from the canal That holds bodies and rusting cars and all of our litter Debris from Burger King and garbage bags and old radios And behind me are prairies haunted by the laments of an ancient people Who didn’t know that concrete bridges would divide the forests Or that every summer we would burn the trees I wanted to make a home here once Under a gray sky, where I could smell the cookie factory That stands stark naked next to the highway In a place where streets are numbered and run parallel and perpendicular Where I knew the restaurants that sit lonely next to strip malls The cemeteries we drove by to scare ourselves in the dark It was never mine, none of it: Not the streets I cried on nor the parking garages I screamed in I didn’t consecrate suburbia with tears, or shrieks, or the kicking of my feet Against the door of a car that someone else was driving Everything I have can be carried with me Out of a prairie that isn’t mine Away from trees that burn black in the summer To streets never marred by our screams And cars never driven on roads you will never travel


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黄 Shirley Liu Lafayette College My local hardware store offers 112 swatches in white, chantilly and ivory and eggshell. I choose panna cotta because I have a sweet tooth and because it is two shades lighter than my palms. I don’t remember when the sun became something to avoid, just that I would scrub the dirt in my complexion with steel wool until my skin turned raw and bloody. There are 293 swatches in red, heirloom tomato and cayenne and ruby port. I am seven when I tell my mom to stop speaking Chinese to me. I was in love with a boy and his eggshell skin. There are 267 swatches in yellow, straw hat and cornmeal and hollandaise. I keep scrubbing. I am sixteen when I start learning Chinese again. The syllables set my tongue on fire. What color does that look like? Yellow in Mandarin is pronounced huang. I scour the store for a swatch with the same name. A salesperson suggests eggshell.

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Nursery Emma Karnes University of Virginia “...That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues, That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it, That all is clean forever and forever...”

— “The Compost”, Walt Whitman 1 Something might become of us in the nursery, we might become riddles of dust. And then what deer would die outside the window, bellowing for a kin, sounding like the sound of a heavy wagon. What would we write of this deer, in our gray streaks of dead grains, we would not have anything novel to say. 2 Given the abridged tune of time here, we make ourselves sick with fish for supper, we keep our own potted mint for tea. And we swim headfirst in the river, crowned with silver & beaming wetness, it gives us the pink of a christening. It is all to allay the patient mystery, our proximity to birth — we cast in our joy a false symbolling of time. We wear our hair long, & braid one another’s to indicate an immersion in life


N U R S E R Y

3 as in, what can’t we bear to be apart from any longer? Our faces are like mornings cresting over different mountains. How can it be that we will die at different times? 4 If what becomes of us is another naive disciple of the sun, if what becomes of us is more tiny flowers quivering with their nightmares in the golden palm of spring, I will try to know. I will try to say so even in tired, ragged quiet. So let us pray over our fish & with our hands wet with river bubbles: Let what becomes of us, be of all of us, let this summer be a nursery

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My Mother Writes from the Kitchen Kate Kwok University of Hong Kong

Darling I think it happens again / I forgot to buy garlic / always it is garlic missing / from the storage rack under the sink / my hands devoid of / the weight of papery skin that wraps and warps / around the cloves huddled, a twelve-faceted rosebud / it is not yet in bloom / there is no replacement / except the humble green scallions / their thin green blades taste / like petrichor on the tongue / like vapours of dawn not yet / sucked by the sun / but I forgot to buy garlic / it and its earthy musk / defines the strength of meat / and I miss the stickiness it attaches / naturally to my fingertips / its spice lingers and sticks / all over my fingertips / soaked in water before / parched dry by the smoke / I forgot to buy garlic / again I forgot / can soy sauce perhaps make up for / its lack / but I do not yearn / the savoury fermented beans / nor the wet smell of spring onions / I cannot recall life before garlic / it is not the roughness of pepper / but also it / not the sting and tang / of raw onions / but also it / not the quiet and slow flame / of boiled ginger but also / it / and why my head betrays me / but muscles do not betray easily / I am only the sum of / what my hands have touched / crushed bits of condiments / sprinkled over the corpses / we feast on nutrients of blood / there is dust on the windowsill / pair of yellow gloves hung to dry / I remember how tenderly / your five-year-old fingers grasp / the whole garlic and with both palms / split them into cloves / you learnt the shape of separation / just like how I did / dusk drapes over the rust / on the waterpipes / and I forgot to buy garlic / I really should not delay / what is ageing but / a battle between forgetfulness and due diligence / a loyalty to one thing / and one thing only / the familiarity of


M Y

M O T H E R

W R I T E S

F R O M

peeling / the routine in grating / the stickiness rubbing back and forth / on my wrinkled hands / every person darling / must find their one point of return / the gravity among listlessness / is what I am sticking to / when amnesia visits / and I almost forgot / the taste of garlic itself / I must remember the alignment of cloves / of the brown dirt and soil / from which the plant is pulled / I must remember routines / who am I but a believer to faith / remind me of safety / in knowing how to flatten / with the flat side of the blade / there is safety in knowing / how to work and fashion and meld something / into a sacred relic / and I consume / I must remember to buy garlic / go set an alarm / darling will you please go / and watch the fires / I can hear the distant call / of the hawkers in the marketplace / there is a thin layer of fume exhaust / blurring the window but / I must not be sidetracked / go set an alarm / the soup still boiling / I must fetch the garlic now / watch the soup and the fire / wait until / I return with garlic / and then our meal is ready / our insatiable palette / complete

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Sour Jar Amanda Hall University of California Irvine i swallow flavorless wafers from the hand of god, and pass salt shakers down the dinner table. it’s an exorcism, of sorts, a consummation: my mother circling me with sodium to keep demons at bay while i deal with personal temptation: his fingertips, course and sticky like vinegar, webbed against mine; my heart, flatlined and preserved inside the saccharine sweet of her kitchen’s honey jar — i know, now, that salt always comes at a cost, and cuts through everything: the bitterness of dad’s tequila, the pucker of citric acid,


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the sting of open wounds — fat, wet tears. as we lay golden under california smog, sunburn cloaking her shoulders, blue sky our epitaph, i take this moment and die in it, sands of time flowing from my fingers. i ask her to embalm me, ocean water drying memories like skin.

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History Lesson Sophie Archambault University of Connecticut My hair started to whiten when you were born like all the color had seeped out of my head

to stain yours

I thought all attempts to salvage girlhood had failed

but

You came out looking like 1948

Remember your dimpled hand in mine you asked why my hand had folds To hide my memories in I said into my palm wrinkle memory

and you whispered a secret

I tried to trap your hand in time

pressed it into every

kept every smudged palm-print flower

every surface where

you wrote your name

You used to wake up reading

in the bottoming-out chair I tried

eyes puffy hair tousled

so safe you could lose yourself

completely

to give you stories

that had once been my friends

but 1948 disinterested you


H I S T O R Y

I dyed my hair

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L E S S O N

reclaimed color

wondered if your head would turn white

wondered if I wanted it to

your face is mine

and my mother’s

and your mother’s

and do you even realize

If I repeat myself or

what it is to be old

sometimes

forget your name

don’t cry

when you see your face in mine

forgive yourself

for letting me go

looking as I do


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Parcha Michael Trautmann Rodriguez John Hopkins University The piercing ringing of the tin-can bell reached my ears first; the booming-hollow voice of the young man coated in gems of sweat, a skeleton dressed in sundried leather, let the non-locals know what the white cart he pushed contained, “Piña! Coco! Parcha!” The promise of parcha sorbet pulled me away from the breaking waves I would play in at that age, running back to my parents begging them for charity, for the dollar the small amount of the fruit treat would cost, giving relief from the beach’s warm weather. Two small scarlet scoops, just barely enough to fill an eight-ounce cup; an unnatural coloring for a fruit whose juice mimics the beaming sun of the tropics, bright yellow liquid with countless seeds floating lightly I was much older when I first saw it, the fruit—a capsule, a small cluster, a room rented out to a large family new to


P A R C H A

the city—thick un-edible skin, only made to protect the many seeds—harmless babies—covered in a sticky gel almost as if amniotic fluid; their mother must have tried her best before we stole them. On those hot winter days, my mom, with her weathered, sunspot-covered hands, would show me how to make parcha juice: first an incision that cuts through all its skin, scoop out the seeds with a spoon and stuff them into the small strainer, press out the concentrate, dilute with water, add some sugar, seeds if wanted. When I had to move away, it was the first thing I missed; I learned how to say it, passion fruit, so I could try and find it at grocery stores, a token of home. Never found that golden sun fruit in this land of overcasts; only faint memories keep me satisfied, as I press every childhood moment until they grow grayer than the new winter skies I’ve gotten used to, the ones that bring with them promise of snow, countless tiny flakes I never got the chance to enjoy as a kid, each one a letter, reminding me of one truth: I left all my loves far away with my home.

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Seven Sennets Neily Raymond University of Maine

In admiration of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1919-2021

You’re ready to escape from out your head and run astray—up to the cul-de-sac. You’re ready for a pair of jeans with pockets. You’re ready for financial aid officials to absolve you of your sins. You’re ready, too, to scurry up the stairs on hands and feet. Befits the critter than you are. You’re ready to attach a sheet of OSHA regulations to each child’s classroom door and tape one to your shirtfront. You’re ready to change your name to Christmas Day and keep it well. You’re ready for your bridal train of seventeen Muses in tambourine hats.

You’re ready to witness the Passion of Someone and brandish your definitive account before the Times and Post. And you’re ready for the cat to quit chewing the African Violet and hiding in the sofa. You are ready


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to become an orphaned waif (without your parents dying) and you’re ready to assume your birthright as a legacy at Harvard University, and turn away with glee. You’re ready for Parisian fashion mavens to glorify good effort and applaud neuroplasticity. You’re ready for your pandemic birthday: covert nineteen.

You’re ready for the good sense to maroon this half-done poem and attend to your video call. You’re ready for a hairstyle that’s attractive yet practicable. You’re ready for a retelling of Narcissus with a drier ending, and you’re ready to spot another non-gray dove in Fort Kent, Maine, or up a a D.C. cherry tree in bloom. You’re ready to stop starting emails with My Name Is, and you’re afraid if you stop starting, you’ll start stopping. So you’re ready for your work A Harried Life: The Musical Revue to premiere to rave reviews off-Broadway.

Today you’re ready for justice to come in boxes like juice—your babyhood made slurpable. You’re ready for a cure for gastrointestinal mysticism.

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You’re ready to cut your own silhouette from white paper and hold to light your chin and skin and culpability. You’re ready to attract God’s finger with your own, or at least see the blasted thing reach down. You’re ready to sprout a small and dextrous tail so you can slice it off in secret and without analgesics. You are ready to hear steady folk cry “Fiddlesticks” again, unironically, and “There’s a good chap.”

You’re ready to shout I am a rich man and you’re ready to shout I am a writer and you are ready to compose a masterwork and cure your poor ill self. And you are ready to grab your purple prose by its indurate neck and defenestrate the extemporanea in a tumbleweed of scorn. You are, now, perhaps ready to lie longer in the limp place after waking, bold as brass. You are ready to be firm and svelte: a versèd Kantian. And you are ready for golden laurel crowns to fall like hail and knock you on the temples when you fail.


S E V E N

S E N N E T S

You’re ready for refrigerators painted in avocado, sorrel, and cerise. You’re ready to forgo your flying dreams and crack down hard. You’re ready to eat only white rice and vitamins. You’re ready to consume a science textbook cover-to-cover like it’s torrid fiction. You’re ready to know yourself in the third person but for others to know you in the first. You’re ready for a dog with human manners, prim as a rose. And you are whetted ready to hang your acquiescent brain upon your mother’s ring tree, where it’s safe, and stuff your skull with some more revolutionary substrate.

You are ready please to work.

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insectarium Kelsey Day Emerson College 1: Photinus pyralis. the grass sizzles, seizes my bare feet and I hurtle through the dark with a speed only children are capable of we slam jars over everything that moves cradle crawling pulses between our knuckles 2: Phausis reticulata we smell like mud but the bugs don’t care we watch their abdomens unravel, leave stains in the air

I ask how do they do that

she says light they do it with light

I say

where do they get it she says they make it they make it with their bodies I say oh

chemicals

I say can we try

she says okay

and we do and we watch the air vibrate with their enzymes

communication


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3: Photinus carolinus dad stands by the car, watching the fireflies. he is angry. not the type of angry that shouts but that watches he doesn’t watch me he watches the fireflies water tension burning leaves

no shouting.

this subfamily of fireflies only appears in the summer in the appalachian mountains when someone has betrayed you they blink in unison, communicate without a single syllable dad watches 4: Pyractomena fireflies live underground in the winter swimming in larvae, building light in their bodies

I never see them in the city

But I imagine them waiting beneath the concrete, blinking to one another, holding on until the cavernous summer

reaches its

hand in and spreads its palms

makes a jar out of open fingers


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Seven Ways of Looking at a Taiwanese Pear Tree Andrew Yang McGill University

I A reaching sun pulls sprouting leaves from the soil like two trees lurching towards the sky grasping upwards for a sun in a pocket a glowing dot or downwards for whatever can be held in the deepest chasms of a rivered earth II fruit flows from these branches like lingering droplets on the points of icicle teeth III trees are terrestrial clouds that collect and collect


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O F

L O O K I N G

the branches sag under the weight of an impending rainfall IV who takes the pear from the tree when the fruit hangs higher than me? A-kong the ground catches nothing but that which falls — the grass has fingertips too but the life in them is different from yours V years before i was born you married two fruits into one: a western apple — an eastern pear the east emerged like a waking sun a rising inflection at the end of a sprawling question and somehow you saw yourself in this fruit and i saw it in you and i saw it in me VI so i climbed the limbs of this tree holding its hands plucking the golden orbs from its fingertips

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and in the glint of this round gilded mirror i saw a man planting seedlings in the soil muttering something to the moon VII and now the pear drops a sudden look to the ground a flat thump as it meets the grass basking in the light of a tired setting sun.

O F

L O O K I N G


• N O N F I C T I O N


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The Many-Worlds Interpretation Shirley Liu Lafayette College

TW: Abusive parent/child relationship, mention of suicide That night, our car becomes a thing of borders. As my mom drives past a sign reading Welcome to Maryland!, the radio seeps into static and I’m forced to change the station from Top 40s to Adult Contemporary. The time on the dashboard blinks from 11:59 PM to 12:00 AM. This event, as quick and commonplace as the flick of a switch, has always felt so strange to me: an infinitely shrinking fraction of a second separates Thursday from Friday, today from tomorrow. Only a fraction of a second, and then you are another day older. The barrier is paper-thin — but it is also solid, opaque. The moment you cross it, you know. We sit there, listening to the crinkled half-sounds gurgling out of the car speakers. Watching as the city slips from one day into the next. The midnight sky looks like asphalt, the steaming, molten kind, and it pours into the blue-black road as if it is made of something sweet and sticky. She exits the highway and turns onto the wide, empty back roads that lead to our house. Even with the headlights streaming from the light of the car, I can barely see more than a few feet in front of us. I’ve never learned how to drive, and I don’t think I ever want to; I don’t have the same capacity for blind faith that my mom seems to. And I think it must be faith — because she only just got her driver’s license a few months ago, but she drives with the same reckless abandon as my dad used to. He worked as a


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I N T E R P R E T A T I O N

delivery driver for multiple Chinese carryout restaurants when I was in grade school. This was before Google Maps and GPS systems, back when he had to keep several crinkled maps of the DMV area in his glove compartment until he’d memorized street names the same way that my mom memorized birthdays and parent-teacher conferences and clipped English phrases that she would need when talking to social workers. “I hate driving at night,” my mom says. “It always feels like something will jump out in front of the car at any moment.” Her fear isn’t unwarranted; she’s complained to me several times before about all the near-accidents she had with deer as they bounded in front of her headlights and froze. I feel the compulsive need to apologize, like an itch I know I shouldn’t scratch. “I’m sorry,” I say, giving in and scraping blunted nails against my flesh until it draws blood. As much as I will regret the crescent-shaped scars on my skin later, it just feels so, so urgent that I do this now. “Don’t be sorry,” she says, and I can’t tell if it makes me feel more or less guilty that the response comes automatically. We’ve winded down this conversation so many times before that I can tell she has slipped into autopilot. “I’m your mom. Of course I should drive you home when it’s this late.” The worst thing about an itch is that scratching it for just a moment only makes the act more addictive. “But you wouldn’t have to drive at night if I hadn’t agreed to take such a late shift. It’s my fault. I’ll ask my manager if I can leave earlier next week,” I say. “Or I can just take the bus home instead. There’s a W4 that runs —” “Are you serious right now?” she interjects, horrified by the suggestion. “You want to take public transportation home at 11 PM? You? What kind of mother would I be if I let you do that?” I squirm in my seat, discomfort worming its way underneath that itchy patch of skin. “I’m going to college next year,”

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I say defensively, grip tightening around my seatbelt. I feel the material leave red marks against my palms, but it is pitch-dark both outside and inside of the car, so I can’t know for sure. “I can take the bus at night. I’ve taken the bus at night. I’ll be okay.” I think that she might scowl at this, because when she speaks next, there is a serrated edge to her voice. “And what if someone kidnaps you? What if someone hurts you? What do you think I would do then?” she says. “I only have one daughter, you know. How do you think it would make me feel if I lost you because you were too stubborn to let your mom drive you home?” I start to feel light-headed, because I don’t remember ever saying anything like that. But she must be right. When I was in second grade, she had bought me a pile of math textbooks from Costco filled with subtraction and multiplication and analog clocks. I remember my eyes going red and raw from lack of sleep as she made me work through problem after problem. I would always cry after getting a question wrong, because I used to (still do) cry so easily. And she would always have the correct answer ready for when I messed up. It is so unlike her to be wrong that I think she can’t possibly be wrong now, either. “I’m sorry,” I say, and I can feel my eyes start to mist with tears. Still a crybaby. “I just want to make things easier for you.” “Nothing in this life is easy for me,” she snaps. “You think it’s easy for me to take care of you and your brother by myself? You think your father cares about you two? No. It’s me. I’m the only person in this world who cares about you. And you want to just throw that away.” I think about my dad then, about his yellow fingernails and cigarette-stained lungs and the ease with which he had driven away from us. As if there had been nothing but a paper thin barrier between us. “I could do it, you know,” she says quietly. “I could leave


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you two. Just like he had. What would you do then?” I don’t realize that I’m crying until I have to suck in great, big breaths just to feel like I’m not suffocating. “Answer the question,” she says, louder this time. “What would you do if I left you? What if I died one day? What if I killed myself? Do you even have a plan for what you’ll do when that happens?” Between my tears, I manage out, “I don’t know.” “You have to know,” she says, insistent now. “Because I could do it. And you need to know how to take care of yourself when that happens.” I realize then that she is crying too. I can tell because her voice goes thick and gritty, like a fistful of sand. I start getting scared then, terrified that her tears will blur her vision and that we’ll end up crashing. Worse yet, I am so unbelievably afraid that she can see perfectly fine, and that she will steer off the street regardless. “I don’t know,” I say again, because I really, truly don’t. “I — I think I would go and live with gu ze.” I know my aunt would take me and my brother if anything like this ever happened, but having to think about this possibility makes a hard knot of nerves form in my stomach. The answer seems to satisfy my mom, though. “Good,” she says, and she sounds a little calmer. Less like she is unraveling at the seams, expecting me to stitch her back together. “That’s good. You have to be prepared.” At that moment, I think back to our conversations about marriage and children and, by proxy, grandchildren. I’ve always wanted kids — but this is mostly because I’d seen them as plants, or pets. The rules were easy: you watered them once a day and made sure to put out some food, and then they would love you unconditionally. It had seemed so lovely to me, the idea of having another living, breathing thing depending on me. It is at this moment, though, that I realize my mom is but a fraction of a second away from jerking the steering wheel to the side and driving both of us into the side of the road.

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And if we don’t survive the smoldering wreck, then what will my brother do? Will he have a plan like I do? I know then that I don’t want children. Most of all, I don’t want the responsibility of having someone be so wholeheartedly dependent on me. And I don’t think my mom does, either. “I’m sorry,” she says after a long stretch of silence. I wonder if the phrase is like an itch for her too, or if she actually means it. “It’s okay,” I tell her, and I know I mean it. “I wouldn’t leave you two. I love you both so much.” She says these two statements like one explains the other, but I think there’s a universe out there where one is true, and the other isn’t. I’m pretty sure that this is not that universe, but I also don’t like to practice blind faith. Headlights can only help so much. That night, our car becomes a thing of borders. I imagine my mom oscillating between different realities: one where I exist, one where I don’t. One where she stays, and one where she leaves. The clock flicks from 11:59 PM to 12:00 AM, and I am no longer her child, she is no longer my mom. We pull onto our driveway, and we love each other again. She tells me not to stay up too late because I have school the next morning and I tell her that I hope she sleeps well. But the air is changed, and that asphalt sky feels more like tar now than syrup. The barrier is paper-thin — but once you cross it, you know.


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Of Digging Celia Wright Washington University in St. Louis

I

know that I spent time digging in Kindergarten. The digging would occur in a green plastic sandbox shaped like a frog. I would sit in the frog with my friend. We would dig with hands and small plastic shovels and dig and dig until we reached the green plastic bottom of the green plastic frog. I felt disappointment each time the ends of myself scraped against that green border. The digging was over and everything was still the same. It was time to play on the jungle gym. Or, if it was especially hot, sit in the shade of a tree.

• I think that we spend most of our lives digging. I have no real evidence to support this idea, it just feels like truth does. It feels true that every part of living has some opaque width and depth and length. It feels true that we spend our time deciding which parts we will bring out our spades for, and which parts we will accept as an unknowable underneath. It feels true that as I step over sidewalks that have been pushed up into sloping triangles that there is a part of me who wishes to stay and dig until cement becomes roots.

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My dad and I replant the garden in springtime. We dig shallow holes for seeds and bigger holes for the plants we buy from the nursery. Afterwards, we dig into ground once more with chopsticks to mark each plant. At the end of the dig, flags stand in the earth with a mix of our two handwritings. Each of his letters are large and formed with precision. He writes slowly, he writes with no false movement. My letters are tangled and retreat into themselves. I write with the paper tilted diagonally and with my right ear hovering close to my right shoulder. This year he did the writing on his own, I was in college. When I came home over spring break, I sat on the grass to see what he had planted. Each plant was marked with his clear, intentional lettering.

I think that March dug a piece of my brain out of my skull. It took the part of me that recognizes time, it suspended me somewhere between St. Louis, where my college, where my grandparents, where my courses, are and Los Angeles, where most versions of myself live. Some days it feels like I am still in high school. Some days I am still sixteen and my mom gets mad at me for staying up too late or for not putting away the dishes that I left drying on the counter. Some days I facetime with my friends and I am in Beijing, St. Louis, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and I can smell their smog, their lunches reheating in the kitchen, the detergent scent of their laundry. I imagine that this living between is close to the living my great grandma did in 2011. Somedays she lived in Poland, where she was born, in Austria, where she first lived with her husband, in Los Angeles, where she raised her children, in St. Louis, where she lived in a room with striped peeling wallpaper. Some days recognizing me, most not.


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For a moment I allow myself to imagine that I am her. That I have conquered, been conquered, by time and distance, I have dug into their borders, I have shaved away their letters, I sprawl beneath and over it all.

• My grandpa gave my brother a book about World War I when my brother was in fourth grade. It led to many other books about World War I. My brother would take them to the car with him and whip to face me every few pages. He would shove the open book towards me and say “Do you see the buttons? Do you see them?” and then explain the intricacies of the buttons on uniforms and how they differed depending on the country of origin to me. He tried to explain the color choices of fabrics and trench warfare and how Winston Churchill “totally beefed it.” Each car ride was filled with a hundred interjections: Do you see them? If you liked that then take look at this. Get it?! Now here’s where it really gets crazy. I never really understood what he was saying. I was in second grade and even if I wasn’t, I never shared his love of categorization, details, or interjections. I did understand his excitement though. Each time he turned to me I felt his same smile on my face, and his same joy in settle inside stomach. My mom let us dig a trench in the garden after many days of lobbying. However morbid this seems to me now, we dug. We took the gardening spades out of the garage. We held the green plastic grips. We dug past loose dirt and packed dirt. We dug past roots. We dug past rocks. We dug until there was a

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hole big enough for the two of us to sit in. We sat. We were the last two sweaty eggs in a carton. After a minute passed, I asked if we were actually going to “do something?” He said that the point was just to sit. I sat. I stared at the pile of dirt and rocks and worms that lay in front of us until it was time to clean up for dinner. The next morning the trench was filled with sunlight. By the afternoon it was once again filled with dirt.

• My memory became something precious after 2011. I would remember as far back as I could each night as I fell asleep. I would dig carefully until my spade reached the green plastic bottom. I would not be a forgetter. This made me hate Heinrich Schliemann when I learned about him. I hated him, the German business man. I hated him, the man who, after many business exploits, German and otherwise, decided at the age of 36 that he would find buried Troy. I hated how he dug and why he dug. I hated how he dug through each layer of dirt and memory uncaring. He dug and dug until he reached where he imagined Troy. Once he was there, he draped the gold and the jewelry he found across his wife. His digging jostles uncomfortably inside of me. I will never know the stories in the dirt he found unimportant. I am often worried that I am Schliemann. That I dig and dig and disrupt the earth around me. That I pull memory from dirt and display them at some unknown cost. That I smudge and warp each artifact with my fingers as I hold them. That I am constantly digging for some predetermined conclusion, some place that I have lived in before.


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My brother and I buried a time capsule behind our house when we were both still in elementary school. Unlike the dirt in the garden, the ground there is packed and sturdy. Nothing but the most head strong plants can grow. We took turns digging until we gave up and decided to just create a mound of dirt over the top inch of our time capsule. A couple of years later we dug it out again. I don’t remember what was in it besides those coins. They had all rusted over. Their shiny profiles were hidden beneath a new bumpy dullness. They smelled sharp and acidic. They smelled dangerous. We were afraid to hold them so we left the ex-coins in the equally rusty ex-can of beans that was our ex-time capsule. Whatever they were together, rusted and sharp smelling, ended up in the trashcan. Each summer before this one, each summer before our new plague, we had gone to the beach with my dad’s family. For a week we would live in a big pastel house. The trip was punctuated by a sandcastle. My job has always been digging the concentric semi circles around the sandcastle. In the mornings we would all stare out the window to see if the sandcastle had survived the night. I had to dig the water out of the moat if it had. Eventually, the sandcastle would be flattened and my knees would no longer be red and pockmarked from the perpetual digging. One time I showed my mom my dotted knees after she asked what I had been up to. “I have been dug into and digging,” I said, pleased with the balance of my sentence. Dug into and digging. My words suggested that it goes both ways. Maybe it does.

I started skating when I was two and a half. We went to a holiday rink. My dimpled baby fingers pointed to a girl doing

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a spin in the middle of the ice. “I want to do that,” my dimpled baby voice lisped. My dad took pictures that day. I can hold my baby self in my arms. I can hold her, red floral dress, white collar, white tights, in a way my baby-self did not want to be held. The pictures that I hold show her digging herself out of her mother’s grasp. She wants to skate alone, she wants “to do that,” she wants to be a red and white blur in the middle of it all.

During the first week of college, I signed up to help maintain the community garden. The first time I went I spent hours pulling a summer worth of weeds out of the earth. The garden was slowly emptied by varying sized holes. After I finished weeding a section, I stood up to find that my right shin contained a hole. A sharp rock or root or weed must have dug into my shin as I was kneeling. Dug into and digging. I went back to my dorm as blood dripped down my shin and pooled around the cuff of my white sock. Gardening was not the same without my dad and his clear and intentional presence. I eventually stopped going to the garden. I didn’t like voluntarily waking up at 7:40 am on the weekend and I didn’t like how my dad was never there.

• It was one of those heavy, yellow summer days and I was bored at my grandpa’s house. So bored that I flipped to random pages in H.H Seigele’s Carpenters’ Tools. Their Care and Maintenance and read the passages that fell before me. The only one that I remember, the only one I took a picture of, is this: “Whenever a tool is handled with ease and with mini-


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mum false motions, so that it will produce accurate and satisfactory results, it is handled the right way. The constant aim of every carpenter, especially the apprentice, should be to eliminate false motions in everything he does.” False motions. As you learn to skate you learn the difference between false and true motions. The sound of your blades across ice, the exact ripping and tearing, tear and rip into you. You learn how to tell when your lutz jump (and then your double and then your triple lutz jump) lands on a back outside edge by sound and by instinct. The toe picks and long curving edges that you dig into ice become clear and smooth, become closer to truth, become closer to some circle that Plato once dug into the surface of his mind.

• In his poem “Digging,” Seamus Heaney says that writing is digging. He says that between his finger and “thumb / The squat pen rests.” He says that he will “dig with it.” Heaney digs because his father was a digger and his father’s father was a digger. Because “By God, the old man could handle a spade. / Just like his old man.” Heaney digs, Heaney writes, because he is a man standing in a line of men whose hands hold spades. Heaney digs through peat and moss and memory and what he holds becomes more material. I do not yet know why I dig. I do not yet know why it is an instinct that rattles between soft organs. I do not yet know why my five-year-old hands clawed through sand. I do not yet know what those hands hoped to reach at the bottom of it all. I do know that between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it, I’ll be dug into with it.

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• The biggest hole I ever saw was the one my grandpa was lowered into. I know that it wasn’t. I’ve passed by construction sites. I’ve driven in Arizona where red land drops suddenly, where you are always near some sort of sharp flat precipice. But the fact that this was the biggest feels like truth does. It was a smooth sided rectangle. It had been dug intentionally. It had been dug intentionally into the shape of a period, into the end of a sentence. I cried less than my brother did as we stood in front of it. My brain tried to contain the dig in metaphor. The rectangle was a constant burn, it was the popped blister on my heel. The headstones beyond stood arched and white. They were many rows of shark teeth. They were the threat of a mouth snapped shut. The rifle volleys startled me out of metaphor. That afternoon the hole was filled with sunlight. By the evening it would be covered in dirt.

• Over time the birch tree in our front lawn dropped its arms and its leaves. It became less. Eventually, in a year my mom and I have decided was 2011, it lost all of its leaves and became a large white body standing almost dead in our lawn. Every once and a while my dad would remark that “We need to cut that thing down soon.” It was a phrase he liked to land upon. “We need to cut that thing down soon.” We would all nod in agreement. “We need to cut that thing down soon” nod. “We need to” nod. “that thing” nod. “soon. We need” nod. After about a year green leaves sat atop white limbs. It was some sort of miracle. We no longer needed to cut that thing down.


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Later, digging became necessary. Sewage filled the showers and spluttered up and over the toilet seat. My dad called a man. The man dug into the ground and used a spinning tool to cut into the birch tree’s roots. The roots had gotten into our pipes. The birch tree died. We cut that thing down. The roots had to be pulled out of earth. I had never imagined the sort of legs that spread beneath a tree until I saw them laying on top of grass. I never knew just how much, how wide, how deep, they reached. The spot where the birch tree was, and then where the birch tree wasn’t, became covered with grass and made anonymous. It is nice to imagine that there is some birch left underneath that grass. It is nice to step over ground and believe severed roots coil unseen and unwavering.

• The biggest hole I never saw was the one my great grandma was lowered into. I can imagine it though. I know that it was traditional funeral. That she was washed and wrapped in clean cloth. That someone dug a rectangular hole. That she was lowered into it less than a day after she died. That she was surrounded by her three children. It seems fitting that she takes this memory with her. That I do not have a matching copy. She had Alzheimer’s. When I was ten, she left Los Angeles. She moved to St. Louis, she moved towards her son, towards my grandpa. She moved away from me. She lived perpetually suspended between the Austria she left in 1939 and the Los Angeles she raised her three children in. By 2011 she spoke mostly Yiddish and did not like looking at her face in the bathroom mirror. By 2011, the year before she died, her memory of me had been covered in grass and I had been made anonymous. That year I happened to pass by her room after raking the fall

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leaves. She asked my grandpa if I was a gardener. It felt unfair that I remembered alone. That I remembered each street I would walk through to reach her apartment on Sunday mornings. That I remembered the taste of the hard candies (always blood orange, rose water, or lemon) that rested on the table next to her couch. That I remembered her teaching me how to float on my back in the pool, that I remembered the chlorine smell of it. I knew that was lucky to have such a clear memory of my great grandma. But I did not know what to do with the fact that memories were not hard and material and constant. I did not know that memory could not sit among hard candies in a colorful tin or be buried in my yard with coins.

Memory is a precious thing. It is eroded by time and distance. So, I write. I dig with my pen, my hands, my blade, my spade. I dig with no false motions. I dig past grass, past dirt, past coiling roots, past rock, past the green plastic bottom that cradles the bottom of everything. Here I lay my memories. Here I name them. Here I say goodbye.


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Ode À Mes Frères Yoela Zimberoff Reed College

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called my brother after my first kiss. The cold car squatted outside the house, holding its breath. The engine was off and as it cooled, it seeped the warmth from my palms. I didn’t have a jacket. Giddy eyeliner smeared my reflection in the darkened glass. Sparkly. Pride laughed through the hours, refusing sleep in exchange for his demands of what happened, how do you feel, are you happy. I don’t remember the kiss. I wanted in on my brothers’ duality. Two years older meant they had lived and soaking up their presence meant adventure. I wasn’t invited. Trust me, I asked. It was New Year’s when I finally entered our finite triohood. There, they taught me the essentials. Cook oatmeal with peanut butter. Hitchhike in pairs. Choose any two of three (nicotine, alcohol, weed) or you’ll get the spins. If you get the spins, lie in the sand, under the stars and the fireworks, head pressed into two sibling skulls, grilled corn staining your shirt with butter. Lie there forever. When you get up they’ll say, “told you so.” We’ll laugh. I called my brother during biology exams. He couldn’t help with the impossible questions, but I felt less alone. I used to spy on him through the skylight in his bedroom. I ate pears on the roof in the fall, examining my adolescent existence from afar. Glass refracted my reflection and somewhere under the juice dripping from my chin, I saw him. And I cried. Because he was there. With them. And that. I

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cried a lot. He drove three hours to pick me up so I could go to prom that spring. Part of the highway arches its back off the ground, bright concrete bending into a future that is just to the left of where you thought it would go. It would be so easy to miss the turn, blink, forget to speak. “I always wondered how that affected you,” he said. “It affected me.” I called him one time to tell him all the things I hated about his ex. It made him laugh, our shared commiseration of her evil. I loved providing the golden joy that helped erase her. “I didn’t know you saw any of that,” he said. I see everything. He was there after my breakup. And I wasn’t going to cry, but I did when I saw him, arms open. I can’t live with my brother. I know that now. We lived differently, and wanted differently and argued loud. I screamed about space, and he screamed about lack of space. It was like all of mine ate all of his and then our space just turned black and fell off. Like a frostbitten toe. But. As soon as I left, I called him. Remember to speak. “I miss you.”


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Home We'll Go Sharon Mai Mount Holyoke College part 1 // to my family question 1: what secrets are hidden beneath the stone arch? a. a book: the first night i spent in Your home i found a book sleeping beneath the black and white photos of You, the late life-givers of a family sprawled across the planet for the first time in the history of us. (my parents first made me bow three times before You with incense sticks, sending atmospheric smoke into the crevices of my lungs and into the corners of the house that has stood for generations.) i can only imagine what a strange sight i must be to You. at 20, my hands are soft, small, accustomed to pencils and pens and gently peeling away the pages of the book that confesses thousands of individuals with the same last name; 麦. at 20, Your weathered hands have worn smooth the scythes that cut stalks of rice, have frozen in the river water that cleanses the sweat off Your tattered clothes, have deftly wrestled with the reins of mighty water buffalos. like you, i can only identify and write a few Chinese characters, but the difference is that i have the opportunity to, but you did not. it keeps me up at night what You might think of me. what Your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents might think of me. b. ghosts: at the break of dawn, we wander up the slopes in search of tombstones that quietly overlook the ancient city, nestled in rows in the side of the mountain. it is the little house between the bamboo shoots in which we find Your decayed bodies just below the crust of the earth, the quietest of acceptances of Your

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pale bones. You have become guardians of the city walls, which for some thousand years have crumbled under the weight of the Chinese sun. years ago, my Father climbed these disintegrated walls, barefoot and all, stirring the dust that once harbored ghosts of footprints long swept away. c. stone, itself: broken to build the paifang, an entrance to the lake with seven crags representing seven stars that fell from the sky. You and Your sons engineered a masterpiece designed to withstand the test of time, so that, when the sky unfolds and breaks down, the spirits will still be able to dance underneath its arms. question 2: what is falling from the sky? a. the sun: as a young boy, my Father sat away his summers on the shores of the river. he believed the world began where the sun heralded a glorious climb over the mountains and ended where the sun drowned itself in the dark water. this i never knew, until we spoke of childhood memories while traveling down the winding road along the beach. like You, I threw my head back and admired the limestone crags stabbing upwards towards the sky at a 90=degree angle. but to navigate these landscapes is to navigate the seams that hold You to me, at this point so thin and knotted that sometimes i wish i could cut it with a pair of scissors because sometimes the pull is more painful than the distance. we must be honest here: You are as far away from me as i am from the nearest star. b. seven stars: a reconstruction of the Mother Bear, naturally arranged in the exact formation of the stars that make up the Big Dipper. it is a mountain range that tethers the placenta and the baby, surely tracing the path it takes for a heartbeat to send secrets rushing through the bloodstream. as a child, You would spend foggy afternoons after classes hiking the crags for forest mushrooms to make soup for dinner. little stars scattered across


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the land. (now, in deep twilight largely spent watching movies on Your iPad and eating roasted peanuts, You would rather sleep at 8 p.m. than trace the trajectory of the constellations pressed into our skin.) c. the two towers: on either side of the river the people have built towers to protect against the rage of the river monster who sends floods to devastate the city. its magic unfurls to guard the people, to still the chaos that reverberates off the walls of our home, seven thousand miles away. question 3: 阿姨,你来中国多久了? (ah yi, ni lai zhong guo duo jiu le?) (auntie, when was the last time you visited China?) a. one Wednesday night: to describe the first street You walked down as immigrants in a new country, stepping into a world that, fifty years ago, nobody from the small neighborhood in a city in southern China could have ever imagined. my grandfather had stopped the taxi in the middle of the road just so he could push his fingers into the soil, to feel the energy in the dirt of a continent on the other side of the globe. he told You that this was good land, and, should You lovingly plant and nurture seeds here, young saplings that grow from the ground can be used to build a home that will shelter Your children and Your children’s children. b. twenty years later: i can still count the number of trees in our front yard from memory and also the ones that fell to make room for other things in life. these trees cloak our little yellow house, which is nestled atop a sloping hill in peaceful shade, a miniature version of the mountains that You have put behind You. inscribed in the wooden frames of the house are the everlasting years in which we have grown and changed and learned to love. when i was younger, my legs were too short to allow me to see these stories imprinted on the walls, but, at 20, i can see it clear as day. late at night, You diligently stitched Your soul into

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biology textbooks, squinting at tiny words under a single kitchen light, while my sister and i slept soundly on warm pillows. with a Chinese/English dictionary, You taught Yourself intricate biochemical mechanisms and pathways at a graduate level, just so You could secure a menial job as a researcher at a hospital and bring in enough money in the hopes of sending Your children to college. in Your dreams, You see ghostly shapes in the form of Your sickly mother who departed too early in Your young life, and the following morning i know the way regret and sadness carve a shallow hole in Your chest. although You insist the obsessive studying is for Your children’s benefit, we have seen You punish Yourself for not recognizing the symptoms of Your mother’s liver disease with these textbooks. (these feelings, they bleed into the food that You feed us.) c. my heart has never left in the first place: Mama, You surge forward with the strength of a hurricane, commanding the winds with steady hands, as You have done all Your life. in my mind, You take up the space of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. in Your fists, You hold a power that i can only aspire to wield. without breaking a sweat, You perform the impossible. part 2 // to my friends question 4: but how did I fall in order to land among the stars? a. in a dream: if there is a word for your chocolate curls, then you are a dream to me, and this I whisper to the wind and watch the letters unravel, like the way my logic unwinds with a sigh when you run your fingers through your hair. These letters are carried on dust particles; languidly spinning from the bare ceiling to the floorboards of my room, glowing rectangles painted by the outstretched fingers of the sun. when time and time again I ventured across your physical space, I measured myself against the probability that fate would intentionally draw perpendicular


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lines in the paths where we would meet. b. tasting chocolate: it is the only dessert that may satisfy a sweets– addicted tongue, in my peripheral vision spying you hidden in a sea of people, and you are as far away from me as the currents that take me across the planet, take me as far as I can go to forget what I have found, to forfeit my mind and tear down everything I have known to be morally right or wrong. the space between is us is loud, though louder is your cool, chocolate–eyed gaze which I sell half of my heart for. in folded napkins, I keep this shame in my pockets, a twofold excess of what I should not be so willing to have. c. into the sea: for let there be a panel of glass between you and I, which stretches in either direction to a fixed point on the horizon. and now you have come to realize, like I did in the past year, that even after the panel of glass there lies a chasm as deep as the borehole of the kola peninsula, and within it is a wretched valley of unraveled words that will remain unsifted, like the rock that has settled there for 2.5 billion years. we break the continental crust when we are within the same room, but neither of us is brave enough to speak. (extra credit: what choice do you think I have?) question 5: what is your definition of us? a. love: if your life is a book, I can annotate the margins like there is no tomorrow. I have thought of the ways that I can unbind, unwrap, unwind the seams that hold the spine together, put it through a blender, and still painstakingly tape all of the bits together because I have memorized the texture of your fingertips, the shape of your hands, the length of your arms. the way your chin stubble scratches my cheek, the gap between your two front teeth, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. b. bittersweet: for two summers, I spoke to you through a phone, through a laptop screen, through anything but the spaces be-

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tween us. I am old acquaintances with the blackness of my bedroom at midnight, at four in the morning, when you are on speaker and I am speaking to the empty air. For you I swallow pills of patience, do not forget that bittersweet aftertaste, contained in the gravity of my own breath. You send me love in the form of 3 by 5, decorated, rectangular cardstock, and if I hold these in my trembling hands, I might be able to find a piece of you on these square inches somewhere. still, it was not until you stepped off the train from Ireland one brilliant August day that I discovered that your eyes shine like the sun when you look at me, when you run to me, and I am certain I witnessed a gorgeous light in all shades of love that emanates from within you. (from then on, I always thought of tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.) c. timeless: are beautiful moments when you kiss my forehead and rub my back when I am tired. timeless is the dark December silence when wispy snowflakes cling to your long, dark eyelashes. timeless is the car ride home at 5 in the morning, drifting down a lonely road where there is not a single light, under bruised clouds and a hint of gold on the horizon. and in the late summer sunrise, I feel your syllabic chest rise next to me, think I hear you murmur words of adoration in your sleep, feel the hum of the wind moving through the window, contouring the L–shaped bedroom that we inhabit. if net force is equal to the mass times acceleration, then let the breeze propel the weight of my thoughts to you, always some distance away. we do this, on repeat: I will come to you when the winter wind blisters my skin. I will come to you when the spring air calls. question 6: 你什么时候回家? (ni shen me shi hou hui jia?) (when will you return home?) a. one Wednesday night: you arrived at my door, unannounced, with two cans of beer. I want to describe to you the happiness I felt


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having my first conversation in English since my arrival to China two weeks ago, words pouring out of me like the bitter liquid that flowed into my system. with ease, you grasped my loneliness and confusion and pulled it away from my body, before casting it into the stratosphere. (sometimes, I saw it evaporating above my head on particularly rough days.) in the presence of summer twilight, the sky was mottled gold when it broke open above a skyline blossoming in light. you did not tell me how the city is a spectacle after dark, but it is evident, as we pretend to belong to opulent bars, buy cheap soju from sleepy hole-in-the-wall shops, befriend a group of Dutch boys. we were delightfully high on the uncertainty of the future. b. five months later: I can dream the span of the kilometers we have walked and recite the strange lilt of cicadas in the reeds of Huangpu jiang. Still, I think of the ways you spent countless days surreptitiously weaving me into your life, in hot pot restaurants where the heavy smells intermingle with stories exchanged, under umbrellas where the wide skies are full of swollen clouds, at bookstores with as many books there are seconds of summer I can count. it is devastating to know that in five months’ time, my memory turns against me when I wake up in my cold bedroom these odd December days and confuse myself with the white, empty land past my window blinds. there are mirrors I turn my face away from because there are blonde strands glowing a soft amber in the morning light, instead of the black hair that robs all colors from my skin. yet when I sink my hand into the New England snow that does not fall over Shanghai, it feels as if I had never left home in the first place. c. my heart has never left in the first place: in this era, I anchor myself to friends that I will never see again, solicit eloquent advice of strangers who are two oceans over. in my solitude, I spend time writing a manuscript of the most quintessential memories — how the slant of sunrise looks over a bridge in Shanghai, how you spoke from the heart because you wanted to protect me, how upset I was when you took a train back home to Shandong without telling


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me, a week before my flight back to America. note that today, the circumference of the world is between us. I confess that I do not know how to repay you. I do not think you realize how you have had a hand in composing my feelings towards my identity, these tangling spools of thread that have been dragging behind me for years. if I see you again, I believe I will not know what to say to you. perhaps in another life, I will know.


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Walking Over the Edge Ruth Schreiber Smith College

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t is a Saturday, and I’m in Rhode Island, going to see my grandfather for the last time. The air is cool, and the sky is gray. Changing leaves scatter the gravel driveway made of pointed rocks, a layer of beauty covering a raw, uncomfortable surface. I face the purple door and enter into the petite onefloor old house. Inside the home, a more forbidding environment awaits me. Barren and open land stretches out, and a cloudy haze obscures my view. There is little precipitation — a desert — yet snow and ice are everywhere. The wind, a constant chilling force, blows in huge gusts. Ice crystals whip my face, a slap from a place that doesn’t want me here. The snow is hard and squeaky, a substance I thought I knew so well, turned lethal and shimmering. It is dark and overcast, everything blurs together in a frosted shield raising its arms against my lone figure. The days it fights me the most are the days with radiating light off of a blinding white ground and cerulean sky. I stare out into nothing. Old South Pole Station used to sit on an ice shelf, now it creaks and groans underground. The station is buried, packed under snow, the environment pulling this man-made creation into the center of its ice ridden heart. I sit and watch my Grandfather walk out over the edge. This Antarctica is a terrain of white mountains and cre-

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vasses in my mind — something I can only conjure as I walk through the hallways of my Grandparents’ home into the living room.

My knees are pulled up tight to my chest. I’m sitting on a dark green couch worn in from the many years it has survived. My family is dispersed around the room. I keep looking down at the stains on the oatmeal–colored rug — stains I’ve never noticed before this day. The pictures in front of me packed in the old, rusted tin box are my dying Grandfather’s last wish. The box sat in the attic for years, a thick layer of dust developing on the top, but everything inside is preserved perfectly. Newspapers — The Penguin Post — placed in a brown folder, letters — folded neatly, wool mittens, and photographs. Our conversation lasts an hour and a half. Without explicitly saying so, he veered our weary voices to Antarctica, the journey he took sixty-two years before. I look at a slightly blurry picture of my Grandfather, smiling at the camera, the bleached backdrop stark against the fur parka he is wearing to keep warm. A slight layer of snow covers it, and the fur is pulled tight around his ears. He is putting on heavy gloves, trying to tug one on while the other prevents him from gripping too tightly. He has a beard — something allowed only because of the climate — and his hair is disheveled. The stoic man I know looks happy. I cried outside for five minutes, and then, I held it together. Another picture shows a snow tractor traversing the landscape. The snow is hard to move and creates sastrugi — large, packed ridges. A heavy, large machine is the only thing that can move across the land, prominent against the white,


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vacant background. The snow piles up in thick drifts as tall as the tractor itself. Smoke pummels out the exhaust pipe in grey swirling streaks across the already–grey sky, mixing into one. The background fades and blurs. Human interference appears to leave its mark, but the next day the snow is blown back into place, burying barracks. There are many pictures of my Grandfather with ice in his beard, his glance towards the camera makes him look undeniably at ease. There are pictures of him staring intensely at generators with a pipe hanging out the side of his mouth. There is a picture with him bent over a small wooden boat he is making, gaze down, unaware of the friend taking the photo. He wears the same small gold watch in every picture, shirt — wrinkled, leather boots. The pictures of my Grandmother sit lonely on the wall behind him next to a phone. Each sentence over the phone, was ended in “over,” the key word to converse with loved ones at home for five minutes at a time. David Cox, an electrical engineer, was chosen to embark on the first International Geophysical Year when he was twenty-three. It was 1957, he had just gotten married to his wife Pat — an elopement colored with pink–candied young love and kisses under front porches. Dave, a profoundly practical human, knew this unknown landscape was manageable. In a letter to his parents he wrote, “It snows now and then. Actually, it’s a lot like winter at home.” He worked in an electrical room in a bright orange building, kept at a balmy seventy to one hundred degrees average. “Everything except the chimneys and our two IGY observation towers are covered with snow. We have been living like miners.” He lived under snow, worked with his hands and held on to the familiar faces he left in New York. Day and night collided. “When you meet someone, everyone says good


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morning no matter what time it is.” Every letter he’d sign with a simple “Dave.” A forever reserved man, the love was implied, and it was hard to get the love out when everything around him felt frozen. Antarctica is not an easy place, nor is it heavily traveled to. The environment provides an ability to see one’s own death, a place where losing oneself in an endless grey feels inevitable. Holding on to the warmth of the twenty men he lived with was the only way to stay stable within one’s body. Entertainment was scarce, it mostly came in the form of music. Men gathered around a feeble light, leaning on one another, in a bubble among the ridges of snow outside the door. My family was left to grapple with the pain while sitting in that room. My Grandfather never left his chair, his body was suffering, but his mind traveled to a place of arctic memories. “I think it was the thing he is most proud about; he was diverging back to his glory days. I feel like that was the time he felt most alive.” — Sam Schreiber, Grandchild “I think he needed closure. It was the time he spoke most highly of. You know Grandpa, he didn’t really speak about his life, except for that. He never really talked about his old homes, or when mom was young. When you’d ask him about his life, he’d bring up Antarctica.” — Isaac Schreiber, Grandchild “He wanted to show you that he had this big piece of life, but also, he wanted to show you the concept of grasping at adventure when you can.” — Laurie Cox-Schreiber, Daughter “I think it really was his defining moment of his life. It was probably the most remarkable thing he’s


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done, and I think it was his way of saying that the best time he had was being isolated in a bunker with twenty men, living nine months secluded.” — Robert Schreiber, Son-in-Law My family houses opinions of adventure, glory days, and a remarkable journey. He lived isolated in a lonely landscape where you are lucky to see life, beyond the one lone penguin kept on location. The men became his family, not shockingly, and he spent just shy of a year in the desolate, endless place.

• He had a painful death. At home in Rhode Island, before a last resort move to the hospital, he was once again alone in the Arctic, left to his own devices to see him through. That last day though, I met him at the South Pole. I felt at times he talked directly to me, the youngest, too young to understand the slides we went through on Christmas Eve. He showed me a place that no one thinks of going, a place of eternal exploration. He talked to me about his beard and brought me to see the penguin and the tractors and songs echoing off the barracks at night, twenty other men’s voices loud and clear. He gave me his life — only nine months of it. As I sit there, the snow-white ridges in my mind appear and I shiver. My Grandfather and I meet at Old South Pole Station; the white blinds me. I sit and watch him walk out over the edge. I run towards him, I yell, “don’t leave me, I’m not ready for you to go yet. I still have questions.” But he disappears into a swirling silver cloud of light against the dull grey ice, leaving me alone to traverse the glittering landscape.


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Connectivity Issues: Essays That 'Speak Nearby' Jess Yang Bowdoin College

“A MAGICAL NIGHT TO CALL YOUR OWN” That was the official theme of the summer 2013 Catalina Sea Camp carnival, for which costumes were an absolute, without a doubt, necessity. I was just freshly twelve years old, attending my first three-week sleepaway summer camp, and, unfortunately, I had forgotten a costume. But surely it wasn’t that big of a deal, right? Famous last words. Ooh, wait, excitedly commanded my friend and cabinmate, Kate, What if you went as a wizard with me! I’m going as Hermione; you could be Hermione, too! Kate shouted her proposal with a loud and kind giddiness. I felt overwhelmed with joy at the prospect. It’s a real moment when you’re twelve and someone goes out of their way to include you. Yes! I elated as I emerged from behind my bunkbed. I can just use one of our black towels as a robe! Kate and I hugged clumsily like happy little kids do. Wait! You can’t be Hermione! shrieked another cabinmate from across the room, her shrill driving a wedge into our embrace. Her name was Zoe, and I remember exactly how she looked. Tall, pale, freckled, skinny, red-headed. She was angry. Not at me, but rather at the idea of me masquerading as her favorite book character that looked a bit like her (according to the film adaptations, anyway). You could be Cho Chang, though, she scoffed. That


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would work, Zoe said plainly, Or, you know what? You remind me of [insert Asian-sounding name] from that one anime! You know, the one with the guy who runs like this? she inquired as she folded herself forward at a 90-degree angle, stretched her arms straight out behind her, and started running up and down the aisle between the bunkbeds. Naruto! You look like that girl from Naruto! I can’t remem… Her words bleed into a fog in my memory right about there. I’d never seen Naruto. I didn’t even know who Cho Chang was. I’d never read Harry Potter. I knew the basics — Harry, Hermione, Ron, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, etc. — but I had never heard of Cho Chang. I had no idea what she looked like, but from the monosyllabic, long-voweled sound of her name, I just knew that, to Zoe, Cho Chang looked exactly like me. This is a moment I’d replay over and over again. I’d coldly dissect it like a formaldehyde-soaked frog corpse laid out on a metal tray. I felt like I couldn’t pretend, even for a night themed of wizards and transmutations and body-switching spells, that I was anyone other than myself because I thought everyone would stare right through my disguise and strip me down to my thick black hair and monolids and chubby cheeks and flat nose. I felt like I couldn’t be allowed to expand beyond the one dimension of my physical Asianness. I felt embarrassed, humiliated, and even guilty. How dare I try to be Hermione? I thought. What was wrong with me? What could have made me think that I could be her? Zoe is obviously right, I scolded myself, I just don’t look like Hermione; how could it make any sense for me to dress as her? It has taken me a long time to reflect back on this moment and understand that I did nothing wrong, that I didn’t deserve having to be so acutely, hatefully aware of my own skin and of the spaces that were not created for people who look

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like me. Why can people accept that a little girl can possess the power to levitate, transmute, and teleport, but not that that little girl could be Asian? It was the physicality of it all that made it too much — becoming aware that regardless of how I speak, what I believe, or what I love, I’ll always be perceived first and foremost by what I look like, and that first perception will most often not be good. This was the first time I can remember being so overtly othered. I guess there just wasn’t enough magic to go around. I didn’t go to the carnival. I felt sick to my stomach that night, but I didn’t have the words to understand why. The whole world just felt drained of COLOR I’ve never been able to figure out my favorite, and my friend, Sam, was struggling to describe what colors she liked, too. Lounging on the couch of my dorm common room with arms and legs strewn about like a mess of tangled up yarn, I held my phone up above me so Sam could see me on FaceTime in all my lazy-limbed glory. I just can’t pick one favorite, she sighed, It’s like, I really like green when it’s a bunch of trees or moss or something, and I really like blue when it’s the ocean or the sky, and I really like yellow when it’s a sundress or a field of flowers, but I don’t like just green or just blue or just yellow! She continued on to list more and more specific scenarios in which she found certain colors appealing. My eyes softened as I listened to her — I knew exactly what she meant. You’re like me, I said matter-of-factly. You like colors in context. Oh, wow. That’s a good way to put that…I’m gonna use that from now on, k? And it’s true; Sam is like me. We both like colors in


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context. Personally, I love purple when it’s the sky after staying up long enough for the sun to start rising, blue when it’s the glow of a dark room illuminated only by a laptop screen, yellow when it’s the evening sun flooding an open window. I can’t pick a favorite because the context changes the way I see each color. The beauty of the surrounding. The cohesiveness of what lies beyond. The context makes it make sense. Makes it beautiful. But not every color in every scenario is beautiful to me. Sometimes, the context doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, the context muddies a color’s inherent beauty for me. Sometimes, I look in the mirror or down at my hands, and I see a shade most confusing adorning my skin. I lay a skeptical gaze upon my fingers as they type, my legs as they step, my abdomen as it heaves, and I wish that the golden beige of my skin were something different. I look at my paleish sepia hue, and I see my Korean heritage imbued within it. I have only Korean blood within me; my father is a first-generation Korean American, and my mother was born and raised in Korea. These roots have given me a particular shade that is most favored by others via the pernicious prejudices of colorism. It gives me privilege, and I know that in my heart. It salts the self-loathing experience even more with the guilt of not being grateful enough. And still I look down and wish I saw something else. Lighter, darker, pinker, greener… I never care for what in particular. Just something else. I’ve tried looking in every ambiance and lighting imaginable to change the color that I see wearing me. Natural, dim, fluorescent, warm… Seeing my hands as a different shade entirely will make it all more palatable, I say to myself. But the repulsive confusion remains. So if it’s not the color of my skin itself that’s the issue, then maybe it is the context. But what is the context, then? For greens, it might be forest or lagoon. For purples, it could be the sky at dusk or a

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patch or orchids. But what is it for my skin? I exist in a state of limbo, of neither/nor. Growing up, my father forbade me from speaking Korean. He made sure I went by Jessica instead of Jihye. You’re American, not Korean, he’d tell me. At some point, I’d forgotten almost everything that I knew about Korea from my mother. As far as my cultural consciousness went, I strove toward pure Americanism. My father was part of a generation of immigrants’ children that breathed cultural integration like they did the air. Necessary for survival, they learned. He was a first-generation American, my dad. He was beaten up every day of grade school in LA County. By the white kids and the Black kids, he explained, the first (and only) time he shared about his childhood traumas. I was the only Asian kid, and they beat me for it, he said with dead eyes transfixed on the faux wood floor. And whenever he was asked about his father, who worked for American military intelligence during World War II, he’d shudder and dodge the question. Whenever he was asked what he wanted for dinner, he’d say burgers. Always burgers. You want burgers, too, right, Jessica? he’d question hopefully. And I’d say yes. Always yes. It was his way of shielding me from his own racial and generational trauma, I think. Cutting me off from my Koreanness, I mean. Encouraging my Americanness. He loved me with every ounce of his heart and soul. He wanted to protect me from every evil that he knew. And so many of those evils were, to him, intrinsically tied to the condition of being Asian in America. He thought that all those bad things happened to him and his father because they weren’t American enough. He wanted to do everything he could to make sure that I was. And I’d do it for him. I’d give up my Koreanness so that he could


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feel safe. It was the least I could do. But whenever I go to an Asian restaurant, our server’s gaze finds me amongst my white friends. They speak to me in Korean or Chinese or Japanese. (Apparently, I look rather ethnically ambiguous. It’s a case of confirmation bias, I suppose. Believing that I’m Chinese or Japanese instead of Korean based on what type of restaurant I am in.) They speak to me with hope and excitement, and they look at me like we are two people in a crowded room sharing an inside joke, like we are childhood friends happily reuniting after some time away, like it’s us two against the world for the breath before they have to take the orders. And I always have to shatter that hope, that visually perceived connection. I drop it like a porcelain plate on a gritty concrete floor with an apologetic smile and a painfully English explanation of how I’m sorry but I do not understand. They are always kind. But also disappointed. Perhaps that is why I cannot yet look at my skin with love the way that I do a purple morning sky or a yellow sunlit room. Because my context is too confusing, too contrasted. I have been conditioned within myself to think and believe and speak like the white American. I speak unencumbered English, socialize like the classic frat boy, use only Apple products, and celebrate the Fourth of July. I can play the part, sure, but I can never look it. At the end of the day, there are still people who wouldn’t let me be Hermione at a summer camp dance. I will almost always be first perceived by my yellow complexion, jetblack hair, round face, and monolidded eyes. But the part I do look, that of the Asian, is not one that I can adequately fulfill, either. I consider that my skin looks like that of a person who can speak the language of their mother and sister, someone who can name Korea’s most important celebrations, someone who has a connection with their Asianness. But I can’t do any of those things. Sometimes I feel

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that there is not an ounce of Koreanness inside of me beyond stolen potential and distant longing. My skin is fraudulent. It does not look the way that I think, and I do not think the way that it looks. What I see in the context of my skin is that I am neither Asian nor American, despite knowing rationally that I am truly both. What I see in the context of my skin is bilateral disappointment. Can you learn to love something you didn’t before? I’m sure the answer is yes. I suppose that means that another question remains for me: How?


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Minae Mizumura and the Literary “Project” of Untranslatability: Modern Novels Forged in Hybridity Julia M. Walton Princeton University

Whatever other debates are going on in the academic world of “world literature”—about what it means, who gets to participate, and why—academics have noticed that the capitalist pressures of the international literary market have sometimes led to the production of works that are aesthetically “flat.” In other words, in order to appeal to as many readers as possible, globally, works are written or translated in such a way as to deemphasize “complexities of style and language” and emphasize matters of plot (Brouillette 96). Some are even “born translated,” or written in a style that makes translation, usually into English, as easy as possible, since the author “anticipate[s] [the work’s] own future in several literary geographies” (Walkowitz 174). Haruki Murakami, the international sensation translated into over 50 languages, stands as one of the most often-cited examples of this phenomenon. A Kyoto native who grew up with a fascination with European and American authors, he eventually became a prolific translator of Raymond Carver “in part with an eye to creating a version of The New Yorker house style in Japanese, which allowed him . . . to embody a naturalized Japanese New Yorker . . . and, not incidentally, made him among the writers who have appeared most often in that magazine [in English translation] in the past 25 years” (Snyder). Murakami’s global ambitions, then, pushed him to linguistically Westernize — or “flatten,” as the academ-


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ics in this debate would say, since this process reduces linguistic particularity — his Japanese prose. Various academics and commentators have expressed views that “this writing is somehow degraded” (Brouillette 96). Emily Apter, in her book Against World Literature, links this kind of literature “to a politically dangerous ‘oneworldedness’ . . . defined by ‘the centrifugal pressure of dominant world languages and literatures’” (71, as cited by Brouillette 94-5). For both Apter and another group of thinkers, the editors of the influential cultural magazine n+1, this kind of globally circulated literature is overly “saturated by commercial and institutional pressures” and should therefore be avoided by progressive intellectuals (95-96). Many critics other than these have also expressed full or tentative support for this position, including Stephen Snyder (“The Murakami Effect”), Tim Parks (“The Dull New Global Novel”), and more. This distaste for works that betray too much of an interest in selling on a global scale — works that strip local particularity in service of appealing to a broad audience — instead, valorizes a different kind of literary writing, one that “deliberately resists being easily accommodated by the market” (96) and revels in aesthetic particularity for its own sake. In order words, for these thinkers, “the work to be celebrated is that which is finally untranslatable”; the n+1 editors, in their 2013 editorial “World Lite,” not only expressed this position, but called for a “project” to realize that market-directed oppositionality (96). As Brouillette points out, this position may place undue responsibility for homogeneity on the effects of the market, deliberately or unintentionally arguing around the fact that the direct culprit is the capitalist system itself. But the Japanese-language author Minae Mizumura — who, like Murakami, was born in Japan, and is of his same generation — is of inter-

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est here, because she writes Japanese-language literary novels aimed toward this kind of project in untranslatability. Mizumura herself is an American-educated academic; she earned her BA and PhD at Yale and later taught at Princeton, the University of Michigan, and Stanford. It’s clear that Mizumura would be acquainted with these discussions about translated literatures in the English-language literary market, and Mizumura made her own contribution to this debate with her critical work, The Fall of Language in the Age of English. This work is not focused on the aesthetics of novels per se, but it does consider the particularity and meaningful diversity of global written languages as expressed through their “national” literatures. This is all argued in defense of Japanese, the language she has chosen in which to write fiction, and specifically fiction that resists translatability. As Brouillette suggests, Apter, the n+1 editors, and others’ position has its limitations, namely that because “only a relatively elite group of readers would ever access the better kind of writing that Apter and the n+1 editors promote, preferences for one sort of writing over another come to seem merely aesthetic” (98).Further, the n+1 editors are extremely unclear about how an “internationalist” literature would be significantly different than “the globalized World Lit today” (“World Lite”). Mizumura’s work, though, adds nuance to this view, as it critically engages with the process by which her desire for untranslatability came about. Mizumura’s argument in The Fall of Language illuminates the thinking behind her “untranslatable” literary works. She laments the rise of English as a “universal language” concurrent with the death of many regional languages (40) and the asymmetry of attention directed toward English-language writers versus those in the linguistic peripheries (58), many issues often connected to the English-dominated publishing


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world. However, in contrast to these above-mentioned thinkers, who say little about how local particularities themselves come about, Mizumura makes a fascinating historical argument about the development of “national literatures”: that through translation of a work from a universal language (such as Latin) into a local language, “a local language gradually and eventually developed a written language capable of functioning on the same level as the universal language” (89). Thus, she argues, “national language” and corresponding “national literatures” (75) “owed [their] birth to universal language” (90). This occurred for Japanese in the ancient period, when translation from Chinese gave rise to the simplified syllabary in which Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji; it occurred again for Japanese, Mizumura argues, during the Meiji Period, when the government rapidly Westernized Japanese society using knowledge from Dutch and English texts, necessitating the coinage of new words from English (like “public speaking” or “copyright”). This translation from universal to local, she writes, “helped the Japanese language evolve so that writers could address the same issues as the rest of the world,” altering the very fabric of written Japanese, turning it “into a language in which Japanese writers could write modern literature” (132) and allowing for the flourishing of Japanese fiction in the early 20th century. Whether this account is historically accurate — it is largely very simplified, and she recognizes this — it reveals that Mizumura is not linguistically conservative, as she might appear: she treats language not as a static object to be nursed and protected. In fact, she points to the meeting of dominant and regional languages as a creative force that can evolve regional literatures in productive ways. In contrast to Apter, the n+1 editors, and other related thinkers, who argue that the forces


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of global capitalism force writers to pen ever “flatter” narratives in order to appeal to ever larger audiences, Mizumura suggests that the dominance of a single language can have a counter-effect of desirable diversification and change within the linguistic periphery. For Mizumura, like the above thinkers, the market forces of English are something that needs to be deliberately resisted to protect regional languages (197). But according to Mizumura, the meaningful diversification of a regional language and literature operates, it seems, precisely because “literature itself is mainly a privileged articulation of a classed sociolect,” as Brouillette writes (98). While Mizumura advocates against a class-based distribution of education, she argues that allowing for a small group of educated, fluent bilinguals allows for the protection of native languages (after all those, who don’t know English well are motivated to keep using Japanese) (197). As one of these educated few, then, she draws on her own experience as a globally-aware, trilingual academic in order to turn inward and invigorate Japanese literature itself in new, creative ways. Most interesting to me are Mizumura’s “untranslatable” novels, A True Novel (本格小説) and An I-Novel from Left to Right (私小説 from left to right). The first, partly inspired by Wuthering Heights, is told through several concentric narratives, the first a fictionalized account of the author’s own childhood as a Japanese expatriate in New York. Stretching across decades, the narratives reveal a tragic romance between the daughter of a high-class family, Yoko, and an orphan-turned-millionaire, Taro. On its face, this novel is in fact readily translatable, and when it appeared in English in 2013, it did so to general acclaim, if not cult sales. However, “the social milieu Mizumura creates . . . engenders a text proliferating with finely graded linguistic markers of privilege and subservience—in which Japanese as


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a language is particularly rich” (Snyder) and in which English is particularly poor, making the text best understood by Japanese-language readers. Meanwhile, the emotional force of the romance plot propels a larger story about the rapid social changes that took place in Japan throughout the 20th century, such as Westernization and the growth of an internationally-oriented middle class. At base, Mizumura’s novel is a meditation on the loss, change, and creative energy that arose out of the meeting of Japanese and Western cultures. Itself, an inspired blend of the Japanese confessional I-novel tradition and Western fiction genres, is an engagement with those cultures even on the most formal level. An I-Novel from Left to Right (私小説 from left to right) engages directly with this I-novel tradition, again telling a fictionalized account of a day in the author’s life at Yale; however, in this work, Mizumura incorporates several formal innovations (innovations, that is, in Japanese writing). The text of the novel incorporates sporadic American English within the Japanese prose, the English appearing as names and words that are best understood in English (Jack Daniel’s, Henryk, Disney, loft), the author’s thoughts that occur in English, or as dialogue between bilingual characters. By virtue of including English script (which is not easily read vertically), the text of the novel was published in horizontal, left-to-right format, a break from the vertical, right-to-left format Japanese novels usually take. This bilingualism ensures that only fluent Japanese speakers (mainly concentrated in Japan, these speakers generally having at least a working knowledge of English) can fully appreciate the nuances within the text; however, it also represents a significant break with high-brow Japanese literary tradition. On the level of content, the plot of the story — which has Mizumura decide to return to Japan in order to write novels in her moth-


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er tongue — also positions the modern Japanese author as one forged precisely through education and experiences abroad, particularly the English-speaking West. In sum, Mizumura’s novels seek “untranslatability,” diversity, and evolution within the peripheral Japanese literature through employing hybridity with the dominant English languages and Western culture. Despite Mizumura’s attempts at untranslatability, though, it remains that even An I-Novel from Left to Right was translated. In English, it appeared simply as An I-Novel, since the left-to-right part was no longer an innovation. This title perhaps epitomizes the linguistic flattening that occurred in the translation process: while translator Juliet Winters Carpenter represented language switching through different typefaces and bold text, meaning an English reader can “glimpse” or imagine “some of the language’s richness” (“Translator’s Note,” viii), I found that my mind smoothed most of the text into one continuous English prose in the process of reading, particularly the longer sentences and thoughts that were rendered in different typefaces. Still, the bolding of specific words (like “loft”) did have the effect of making me pause over their local American English significance. What to make of this paradoxical translation of an “untranslatable” novel? Perhaps we can regard this translation as largely an academic project, aimed toward only the curious few familiar with Mizumura’s work; An I-Novel was published, after all, by Columbia University Press, which is not known for its mass sales. Yet, the novel received a positive review from The New York Times through Benjamin Moser, who writes, “The shift [to bolding certain words] makes the whole country [America] seem exotic.” This speaks to two possibilities for global literature: first, that as the n+1 editors hoped, “the market could be reoriented in such a way that this preferred internationalism,


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or untranslatability, became the dominant taste” (Brouillette 97). This first possibility isn’t very surprising, since it is after all, “a characteristic of contemporary capital that it accommodates critique very well and finds the marketable kernel in even the most virulent anti-market gestures” (103). Indeed, Mizumura’s Japan-oriented writing undoubtedly meets “the global market’s demands of exoticism” (Sabo 50), which are becoming more ever important, subsuming difference into marketable genres. The second possibility, though, stems from the fact that even as Mizumura revels in her language’s and her country’s particularity, she also explores hybridity. Aided by the translation of her work into English and the marketability of her work through its difference, English language speakers may stand a chance at realizing their own provinciality. While the appeal of the “exotic” aspects of Mizumra’s “identity” (Sabo 49) may be somewhat stigmatizing, as many authors at the mercy of the capitalist system recognize, perhaps her concurrent exoticization of English, and other translated “projects” in untranslatability like hers, will aid English speakers’ awareness of literary worlds outside their own dominant one, unsettling the dominance of the English-language literary sphere.

• Works Cited Apter, Emily. Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability. London: Verso, 2013. Brouillette, Sarah. “World Literature and Market Dynamics.” Institutions of World Literature: Writing, Translation, Markets, edited by Stefan Helgesson and Pieter Vermeulen, Routledge, 2016. Carpenter, Juliet Winters. Translator’s Note. An I-Novel, by Minae Mizumura, Columbia University Press, 2021. Mizumura, Minae. An I-Novel. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Colum-


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bia University Press, 2021. Mizumura, Minae. A True Novel. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Other Press, 2013. Mizumura, Minae. The Fall of Language in the Age of English. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Columbia University Press, 2008. Mizumura, Minae. 私小説 from left to right. Chikuma Shobō, 2009. Moser, Benjamin. “Translating a Book Caught Between Two Languages.” The New York Times, 2 Mar. 2021, https://www.nytimes. com/2021/03/02/books/review/minae-mizumura-inovel.html. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021. Sabo, Oana. “Production: Publishing Houses and their Marketing Practices.” The Migrant Canon in Twenty-First Century France, University of Nebraska Press, 2018. Snyder, Stephen. “The Murakami Effect: On the Homogenizing Dangers of Easily Translated Literature.” LitHub, 4 Jan. 2017, https://lithub. com/the-murakami-effect/. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021. Walkowitz, Rebecca. “Close Reading in an Age of Global Writing.” Modern Language Quarterly, vol. 74, no. 2, 2013, pp. 171-95. “World Lite.” Editorial. n+1, no. 17, 2013. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021.


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“Motherlove was a killer”: The Mother-Daughter Relationship in Novels by Toni Morrison Sarah Ang University College London In 1976, Adrienne Rich argued in Of Woman Born that the ‘cathexis between mother and daughter – essential, distorted, misused…is the great unwritten story…minimized and trivialized in the annals of patriarchy’ (225). In the years since, numerous writings about the bond between mothers and daughters have proliferated to fill this void, among them Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering, Marianne Hirsch’s The Mother/Daughter Plot, and Shelley Phillip’s Beyond the Myths. Yet in her essay ‘Shifting the Center: Race, Class and Feminist Theorizing about Motherhood’, Patricia Collins argues special attention needs to be paid to non-white mothers and daughters, whose bonds are battered not just by patriarchal forces, but by racial oppression and poverty (45-65). It is precisely this attention that Morrison strives to give black mothers and daughters in her novels. In this essay, I show how Morrison depicts fractured mother-daughter relationships to illustrate the ways in which racial trauma has a particularly pernicious effect on the relationship between black mothers and daughters. Before I examine Morrison’s work in detail, it is necessary to provide a theoretical understanding of racial trauma and its effects on mothers and daughters. Trauma was introduced to literary studies by Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience, where she defined trauma as ‘an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive appearance


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of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena’ (11). Later scholars, like Maria Root, introduced the concept of ‘insidious trauma’, or ‘traumatogenic effects of oppression that are not necessarily overtly violent or threatening to bodily well-being at the given moment but that do violence to the soul and spirit’ (229). As racial ‘others’, African Americans are obvious victims of insidious trauma. Cornel West comments, ‘two hundred and forty-four years of slavery and nearly a century of institutionalised terrorism in the form of segregation, lynchings, and second-class citizenship in America…has left its toll in the psychic scars and personal wounds now inscribed in the souls of black folk’ (122). Although the scars of centuries of dehumanisation may run deep, they are most grievously inflicted on black mothers and daughters, who suffer the double oppression of being both black and female. Black slave mothers had their children stripped from their arms and were deprived of the right of mothering their own children, as Morrison depicts through Sethe’s lack of a relationship with her mother. Even after slavery’s abolition, however, black mothers carry the burden of equipping children for survival by imparting them with self-love to resist the racist discourse of the outside world. As Morrison shows in her novels, such a Herculean task is impossible when the mother herself has internalised racism and has no sense of self to speak of. Fran Scoble argues that the feminist daughter is angry at the mother who has accepted her powerlessness, who is unable to protect her from submission to society’s gender arrangements (127), but I would add that the black daughter resents her mother for her powerlessness against racial trauma as well. Black mothers see themselves in their daughters, but cannot prevent them from suffering the same fate. Morrison thus charts the disastrous consequences when daughters are not mothered and do not receive the nurture necessary for their survival, beginning with The Bluest Eye, where mothers and daughters have internalised racist standards of beauty; Sula, where the struggle


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to survive prevents mothers from demonstrating love in healthy ways, and Beloved, where mothers and daughters suffer under slavery. In The Bluest Eye, her first novel, Morrison explores how racial trauma devastates the sense of identity of all blacks, but especially that of the black female, who is conditioned to believe her self-worth depends on attractiveness. The novel is set in 1941, at the end of the Great Depression, which disproportionally affected African Americans, leaving almost 50 percent of them unemployed (Sundstrom 417). Although slavery had been legally abolished, the 1964 Civil Rights Act had not yet been passed, and racial segregation was still rampant. It is these forces of poverty, discrimination, and internalised racism that wrack characters in Morrison’s novel, particularly Pecola and Pauline Breedlove. In her foreword to the novel, Morrison comments that The Bluest Eye was a response to the Black Power movement of the 1960s, which emphasized that ‘black was beautiful’ and encouraged African Americans to celebrate their natural appearance, in stark contrast to the previous cultural message of black undesirability that had spurred generations of black women to purchase skin-lightening creams and straighten their hair. Morrison remarks that the movement made her question why this beauty could ‘not be taken for granted’ but required ‘wide public articulation to exist’. Realising that the answer lay in ‘the damaging internalisation of assumptions of immutable inferiority originating in an outside gaze’, Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye to demonstrate ‘how something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female’ (xi). Understanding Morrison’s motivation behind her novel is thus the key to analysing how she portrays the fragmented relationship between Pecola and Pauline. Out of all the Breedloves, Pauline is most affected by the narrative of black inferiority propagated by society. Pauline’s

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longing to assume a white identity arises from the impossible standards of romantic love and physical beauty propagated by the Hollywood movies she watches to assuage her loneliness after migrating to the North with Cholly. It is from movies that Pauline learns to ‘equat[e] physical beauty with virtue’, thus collecting ‘self-contempt by the heap.’ Morrison writes that Pauline ‘was never able, after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty, and the scale was one she absorbed in full from the silver screen’ (122) – implying that Pauline views herself as ranking low on this scale of white beauty standards. Pauline’s attraction to the cinema can be interpreted as a type of figural identification. Teresa de Lauretis contends that the woman in a narrative cinema is ‘framed by the look of the camera as icon, or object of gaze, an image made to be looked at by the spectator, whose look is relayed by the look of the male character’; and by seeing through the eyes of the male hero, the female spectator identifies with both the subject of the movement (white male hero) and the narrative image (white heroine), resulting in what Lauretis terms a ‘double identification’ (139). Pauline arguably goes even further, identifying not just with the male gaze and the female subject but also with the privilege and power their white skin represents. This figural identification means Pauline’s initial reaction is to emulate these white movie stars, fixing her hair up like Jean Harlow, but she abandons this attempt after losing a front tooth, which convinces Pauline she can never be like the stars on screen, compelling her to settle for ‘just being ugly’ (121). Pauline thus fully internalises a white ideology that persuades her of her own worthlessness. But why is Pauline so susceptible to the messaging in the movies? Why does she so readily accept their silver-coated lies as truth? The answer lies in the isolation that Pauline experiences upon moving to Lorain, Ohio, where she laments that ‘It was hard to get to know folks up here, and I missed


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my people’ (115). Pauline is geographically displaced from her childhood environment, separated from her heritage and family, and unable to assimilate with the culture she is thrust into – even the ‘Northern colored folk was…no better than whites for meanness’. Her attempts to make friends with the few black women she meet are rebuffed because she ‘did not straighten her hair’ and has a ‘strange way of talking’ (116). Pauline is thus estranged even from members of her own race, who measure themselves against standards of whiteness. As O’Reilly notes, Pauline becomes ‘disconnected from her motherline’ and the ‘ancient properties that would have grounded her in the values of her people and enabled her to resist interpellation’ (52). The profound loneliness she experiences leaves her with a vacuum that demands filling. Yet I propose that Pauline’s susceptibility to the messages propagated by the media could have been reduced had she some kind of foundation of self-worth to fall back upon, which her mother should have provided. This protection against racism, however, was sadly lacking in Pauline’s own childhood – even with her family, she ‘never felt at home… or that she belonged’ (109). To borrow Adrienne Rich’s words, ‘the nurture of daughters in patriarchy calls for a strong sense of self-nurture in the mother’ (247). Without anyone to nurture her, all Pauline can do is project her own sense of unworthiness onto her daughter. The ‘mind’s eye view’ (123) she has of her daughter is strongly suggested to be one of a white child. These delusions are dashed, however, when Pecola is born as a dark ‘black ball of hair’ (122). All her life, Pauline has been indoctrinated to believe that being black is undesirable, and so she naturally views her own dark-skinned daughter as ‘ugly’ too (124). Morrison thus shows that the fractured mother-daughter relationship between Pauline and Pecola is an integral factor in Pecola’s internalised racism, and eventual destruction. It is the responsibility of the black mother to dispel notions of white superiority and implant within the child a sense

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of security in her black identity; but because Pauline is herself devoid of self-worth and cannot provide a countervailing voice to a society that prizes whiteness above all else, Pecola becomes consumed by self-loathing. Tracey Walters comments that the novel emphasizes how pervasive white aesthetic values are in the lives of the black characters; from candy wrappers, to movie stars and dolls, the image of blonde hair and blue eyes as the aesthetic ideal is inescapable (118). Pecola is so taken with ‘Shirley Temple’s dimpled face’ (17) that she drinks ‘three quarts of milk’ (25) just so she can ‘see sweet Shirley’s face’ (21). She spends her money on Mary Jane candies, as ‘to eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane’ (48), trying to literally digest whiteness. Most tragically, Pecola longs for blue eyes out of a perverse notion that acquiring them will somehow reverse her ill fortune: It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that…if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different…If she looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they’d say, “Why, look at pretty-eyed Pecola. We mustn’t do bad things in front of those pretty eyes” (44). Pecola’s yearning arises out of a profound dissatisfaction with the violence and emotional barrenness of her life. The blue eyes Mary Jane and Shirley Temple possess seem to Pecola to be the key to their idealised existence. They look desirable; therefore they lead desirable lives. Developing blue eyes will, in Pecola’s deluded mind, transform the pitiful life she leads and earn her the love she craves. Pecola’s desire for blue eyes reflects W.E.B. Du Bois’s description of the ‘double-consciousness’ that African Americans face, ‘this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity’ (8).


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Pecola regards herself through the eyes of the world and feels hatred; she longs for a new set of eyes with which to behold herself. The distorted mother-daughter relationship between Pauline and Pecola is perhaps most evident when Pecola enters the Fisher household, where Pauline works as a housekeeper. When Pecola accidentally drops a blueberry cobbler, Pauline reacts by ‘knock[ing] her to the floor’, yanking and slapping her. This incident reinforces Pecola’s sense of unworthiness, as she witnesses how her mother prioritises the welfare of the white Fisher girl above her own. Pauline lambasts Pecola with words ‘hotter and darker than the smoking berries’ as she soothes the Fisher girl with ‘honey in her words’ (107), even though Pecola is the one burned by the cobbler. Morrison also highlights that the Fisher girl calls Mrs. Breedlove Polly, ‘when even Pecola called her mother Mrs Breedlove’ (106), implying that the two share an emotional bond deeper than any tie between Pecola and her mother. When Pauline repeatedly shrieks ‘my floor, my floor,’ she identifies the white Fisher household as the world she belongs to, implicitly rejecting the world of her own daughter. When the Fisher girl asks, “Who were they, Polly” (107), Pauline avoids the question, denying her relationship with her daughter. To Pauline, the Fisher girl is the beautiful daughter she has always longed for and Pecola is the shameful offspring she cannot even admit is hers. Seeing her own mother worship at the feet of white beauty only strengthens Pecola’s conviction that to be loved, she must first attain whiteness. In showing how Pecola is denied maternal love, Morrison demonstrates that internalised racism is responsible for destroying the bonds between mother and daughter. Pauline’s greatest failure, however, is her failure to protect Pecola from Cholly’s rape. Pauline is the one who discovers Pecola after the rape, ‘lying on the kitchen floor under a heavy quilt, trying to connect the pain between her legs with the face

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of her mother looming over her’ (161). Pecola’s mother is her last line of defence against her father’s brutality, but Pauline not only fails to rescue Pecola from harm, she beats her so hard ‘she lucky to be alive herself’ (187). As Candice Pipes argues, ‘Pauline’s denial of Pecola’s incestuous rape, beyond even the trauma of the rape itself, is what silences Pecola, a silencing that inevitably leads to Pecola’s self-destruction’ (194). It is not the rape itself that drives Pecola mad, but the brutal rejection she encounters in its wake. The calamitous consequence of Pecola’s lack of mothering is that she descends into madness, believing she has finally acquired the beautiful blue eyes she yearns for. Throughout the novel, Morrison never allows Pecola to speak for herself, but presents her thoughts through a third-person narrator, implying Pecola is silenced by the lack of love she experiences. The only time Pecola speaks is at the novel’s end, to an imaginary ‘best friend’ (194), which represents how Pecola has been so isolated by her community that only lunacy provides her with the solace of companionship. Morrison uses Pecola’s plight to demonstrate not just how internalised racism has fractured mother-daughter relationships, but also how fractured mother-daughter relationships contribute to internalised racism, causing the ‘demonisation of an entire race’ to take root in Pecola. In Sula, the racial trauma that characters faces is less obviously internalised, but still embedded in the mother-daughter relationships depicted. Sula is set in Bottom, a town built on ‘hilly land’ (5) that cannot support the families trying to eke out a living on it. There are few jobs available for black men as work is reserved for white labour, and black women can only have low-paid work as cleaners; black men often ‘leave the town altogether for the steel mills in Akron and along Lake Erie’ (151). It is against this backdrop of a community devastated by economic poverty caused by institutional racism that the mother-daughter relationships between Eva and Hannah, and Hannah and Sula,


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play out. After Eva’s husband abandons her, Eva is left destitute with ‘$1.65, five eggs, three beets and no idea of what or how to feel’ (32). Eva devotes all her time and effort to taking care of her children, living on scraps like ‘a plate of cold bread’ and ‘a little milk’ (32) from the neighbours. Her love for her children is focused on ensuring their basic needs are met, but this also means she has ‘no time’ (69) for conventional displays of affection, which harms her relationship with Hannah. Hannah’s question of ‘Mamma, did you ever love us?’ (67) and Eva’s subsequent response, ‘You settin’ here with your healthy-ass self and ax me did I love you? Them big old eyes in your head would a been two holes full of maggots if I hadn’t’ (68) is telling. To Eva, love is synonymous with survival, and the fact that Hannah is healthy and alive is unassailable proof of Eva’s love for her. Yet for Hannah, love consists of more than that, as evident in her question, ‘Did you ever, you know, play with us?’ Hannah’s idea of love consists, in Marianne Hirsch’s words, of ‘conventional and clearly inapplicable conceptions of motherhood and maternal love’ (180). What Hannah fails to understand is that Eva cannot possibly ‘play rang-around-the-rosie’ (69) with her children because her every waking moment is consumed by the business of survival. As Dayle DeLancey argues, ‘Eva must withhold some love from her children because she has neither time nor the energy to give it’ (17). As a result, there is a profound disconnect between mother and daughter, one that Eva gives voice to: ‘did I love you girl I stayed alive for you can’t you get that through your thick head or what is that between your ears, heifer?’ (69) The lack of punctuation in this statement reflects Eva’s indignation and hurt at what she perceives to be an attack by her own daughter. The angry tone of this statement mirrors the

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problem in their relationship – Eva is unable to express the maternal tenderness Hannah craves and can only retort with frustrated insults and ‘stories that fail to fit into the mythology of motherhood to which Hannah wants to subscribe’ (Hirsch 180). Morrison thus attributes this gulf between mother and daughter to the Peach family’s systemic poverty, which is in turn linked to racial oppression – Eva cannot provide maternal nurturance because she is focused on providing for her children’s basic needs, since her husband has left her; he left her because work was unavailable to him due to his skin colour. The inability of mother and daughter to understand each other results in Hannah acquiring a ‘steady sequence of lovers’ (42), seeking the love she desires from Eva in the arms of men. Moreover, because Eva is unable to give Hannah the love she wants, Hannah cannot forge a genuine connection with her own daughter, Sula. Sula’s failure to conform to social norms is reviled by the Bottomites – when they find out she has put Eva in a nursing home, they call Sula a ‘roach’; when they discover her affair with Jude, they label her ‘a bitch’, and when they hear she has ‘slept with white men’ (112), the entire community is filled ‘with choking disgust’ (113). Yet although Sula projects utter shamelessness in her actions, I argue this projection stems from a deep-rooted internal sense of shame. As Léon Wurmser argues, ‘if it is shame that is fought against by shamelessness, it is shame that returns in spectral form’ in shameless behaviour (262). Sula’s defiant acts can be traced back to the moment when she hears Hannah’s comment about her: ‘I love Sula. I just don’t like her. That’s the difference.’ This statement’s immediate impact is to send Sula ‘flying up the stairs…aware of a sting in her eye’ (57), but its more long-term consequence is that Sula spends the rest of her life yearning for the acceptance of her mother. Sula’s attitude towards relationships mirrors Hannnah’s – she goes ‘to bed with men as frequently as she [can],’ and the first time she makes love to Ajax, she pulls him ‘into the


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pantry,’ a gesture that ‘[comes] to Hannah’s daughter naturally’ (125). When Sula returns to Bottom after ten years, she visits Nel ‘wearing a plain yellow dress the same way her mother, Hannah, had worn those too-big house dresses’ (95). Sula’s emulation of Hannah in her love-making and attire can be interpreted as a subconscious attempt to mould herself into a woman her mother will love. By showing how Sula’s outrageous actions are, at their core, attempts to win her mother’s love, Morrison illustrates the tragic ramifications that a lack of maternal nurturance has on daughters. Sula is haunted not just by her mother’s failure to nurture her, but also by her mother’s death, which the text suggests she blames herself for. Sula witnesses ‘her own mamma burn up’ when Hannah catches fire from lighting the yard fire (78). This incident, while undoubtedly traumatic for the young girl, is brushed aside and only brought up again when Sula is on her deathbed, evoked in a dream she has about The Clabber Girl Baking Powder Lady: When Sula came near she disintegrated into white dust, which Sula was hurriedly trying to stuff into the pockets of her blue-flannel housecoat. The disintegration was awful to see, but worse was the feel of the powder—its starchy slipperiness as she tried to collect it by handfuls…At last it covered her, filled her eyes, her nose, her throat, and she woke gagging and overwhelmed with the smell of smoke (147-148). Victoria Burrows reads this scene as ‘one of the most extraordinarily eloquent metaphorical representations of a forced reliving of a witnessed death and the intense grief and powerlessness both of the memory of that time and the unstoppable repetition of the traumatic re-enactment’ (149). The smoke Sula smells clearly alludes to her mother’s burning; the Baking Powder Lady’s disintegration symbolises Hannah’s disfiguration in the fire. Sula’s stuffing of white dust into her pockets can be

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read as an attempt to save her mother, and the slipping of the powder from her fingers points to the futility of her action and her helplessness in that moment. Sula’s covering by the white dust indicates how the memory suffocates and overwhelms her. Unable to work through her trauma and accept her mother’s death, Sula relives it constantly, even in the last moments of her life. In Beloved, which is set in 1873, Morrison traces the legacy of black oppression to its origin, analysing the degrading effects slavery has on the mother-daughter relationship. Sethe is not raised by her mother, but by an ‘eight-year-old child’ (30), and took milk from ‘another woman’s tit that never had enough for all’ (203). She calls her mother ‘Ma’am’ because she does not know her mother’s real name, and cannot recognise her save for the brand under her breast. Her innocent request for her mother to ‘mark the mark on me too’ (61) is perceived by O’Reilly as a poignant cry for a ‘communal identification and historical continuity, a connection to the motherline of her foremothers’ (89). Yet even this plea for connection is tainted by the effects of slavery. It is bitterly ironic that Sethe asks her mother to set up a link between them in the form of a mark given by the slaveowner; the one responsible for decimating the natural maternal bonds that should have existed between them. Not only is Sethe prevented from forging a relationship with her mother, she also has no conception at all of what such a relationship should even be like. Without any foundation onto which to map her own experience of motherhood, it is unsurprising Sethe is robbed by slavery of her identity as a mother. Desperate to protect her three children from a life of enslavement, Sethe sends them away in a wagon to their grandmother. In retaliation, Schoolteacher has the heavily pregnant Sethe raped by his nephews while he looks on, as Sethe recounts:


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I am full God damn it of two boys with mossy teeth, one sucking on my breast the other holding me down, their bookreading teacher watching and writing it up (70). Milk is a symbol of the unique bond between mother and child; the means through which a mother ensures its survival. In robbing Sethe of her milk, Schoolteacher takes ‘what is most precious about her body—her capacity to nourish her children, to know them intimately, and to satiate their hunger for mother love’ (Mattar 243). It is this experience that causes Sethe to realise her utter powerlessness to protect her offspring from slavery, which ultimately drives her to kill Beloved: ‘It ain’t my job to know what’s worse. It’s my job to know what is and to keep them away from what I know is terrible’ (165). Faced with the impossible choice between death and a life not worth living, Sethe opts to protect her daughter from the fate that she knows from personal experience to be ‘terrible.’ In the unspeakable act of infanticide we see the pathos of Sethe’s self-sacrificial love – she would rather let herself face the consequences of death or jail than be complicit in her daughter’s future suffering, prizing her daughter’s welfare over her own. As Marianne Hirsch argues, Sethe is expressing an ‘anger handed down through generations of mothers who could have no control over their children’s lives, no voice in their upbringing’ (197). Sethe’s killing of her daughter can thus be read as her attempt to regain control over her child’s life and re-assert her power as mother; a defiant act of resistance against slavery. Yet by showing how Sethe’s expression of love in the killing of her daughter subverts the traditional maternal role of protection, Morrison also conveys the extent to which slavery has perverted maternal bonds. As Sethe remarks, ‘Unless carefree, motherlove was a killer’ (132), and weighed down by the yoke of slavery,

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motherlove cannot possibly be carefree. In Reginald Watson’s words, it is the ‘white phallus of slavery’ that makes bonding between mother and child dysfunctional and drives Sethe ‘to go beyond acceptable boundaries of mother love’ (96). Even after the unspeakable act has been committed, however, Sethe’s failure to mother her daughter continues to haunt her. Beloved’s fragmented narrative structure, where Sethe’s memories are not recounted neatly in any one chapter, but interspersed non-chronologically throughout the text, mirrors the trauma victim’s experience of memories returning when least expected. The figure of Beloved appears as a literal embodiment of trauma; a physical manifestation of Cathy Caruth’s proposition that trauma’s ‘very unassimilated nature — the way it was precisely not known in the first instance — returns to haunt the survivor later on’ (4). Because Sethe has never given voice to the guilt of her infanticide, only refused to acknowledge it, its unassimilated nature returns to haunt her with a vengeance in the form of her grown daughter. From the moment Beloved is introduced, she drains her mother of vitality. That Beloved is the incarnation of Sethe’s dead daughter is alluded to in how Sethe’s ‘bladder fill[s] to capacity’ and she voids water as if from ‘a breaking womb,’ symbolising the process of a second birth. At the same time, Beloved drinks water ‘as though she had crossed a desert’ (51). This implicit connection between the two bodies only grows more apparent as the novel progresses. Beloved develops a ‘basket-fat stomach’ (243) while Sethe ‘pick-eat[s] around the edges of the table and stove’ (242); as Beloved’s eyes grow ‘brighter’, Sethe’s eyes become ‘slits of sleeplessness’ (250). Beloved relentlessly demands more and more of Sethe, consuming Sethe’s entire existence: Beloved ate up her life, took it, swelled up with it, grew taller on it. And the older woman yielded it without a murmur. (250)


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Pamela Barnett sees Beloved as a succubus or vampire with an insatiable appetite for love (421). Trudier Harris reads Beloved’s one-sided power in the relationship, with her ability to ‘ma[ke] demands’ and get ‘anything she wanted’, as symbolic of how Beloved has assumed the mantle of exacting slaveowner, while Sethe figures as the humiliated slave desperate to cater to her every whim and fancy (Harris, Escaping Slavery 340). I would elaborate that by depicting Beloved and Sethe as master and slave, Morrison shows how the degrading effects of slavery have corrupted every aspect of the mother-daughter relationship, even after both parties have seemingly escaped its stranglehold. I see the merit in both of these views, but posit instead that Beloved is representative of a daughter who has never had the chance to be separated from her mother. According to Margaret Mahler’s theory of the mother-child relationship, young children share a symbiotic relationship with their mothers, behaving as if they ‘were an omnipotent system – a dual unity within one common boundary’ (44). This is seen in Beloved’s obsession with Sethe – Beloved insists that Sethe has ‘my own face’ (213), which implies an inability to distinguish her own traits from her mother. She ‘dressed in Sethe’s dresses… imitated Sethe, talked the way she did, laughed her laugh and used her body the same way down to the walk’ (241). Beloved’s imitation of Sethe can be attributed to how she was murdered before she was able to recognise her separateness from her mother – she clings to Sethe because that is the only self she knows. Yet this all-absorbing love is parasitic, and can only result in Sethe fading away as Beloved claims dominion over her identity. Beloved, however, is not the only one guilty of never having separated from her mother. Sethe, too, had her bond with her mother severed before she could forge a separate identity. Sethe cannot accept that her mother left her behind in an attempt to escape from slavery, as seen in her cry, ‘nobody’s ma’am would run off and leave her daughter, would she? Would she, now?’

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(203) The plaintive doubt resounding through Sethe’s repetition of ‘Would she’ reflects the repressed pain of her abandonment, and inability to accept that her mother had anything other than her daughter’s best interests at heart. Sethe thus projects ‘all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful’ (163) onto her children, seeing her life as dependent on being a good mother. As Jennifer FitzGerald comments, ‘Sethe’s excessive investment in mothering is an impossible attempt to make up for her own loss as a daughter’ (677). By showing how Beloved’s destructive love is rooted in Sethe’s relationship with her own mother, Morrison conveys how the wounds slavery inflicts on mothers and daughters are passed down from generation to generation. At the same time, Morrison also pays homage to the countless mothers and daughters of the African American motherline through her novel. Morrison dedicated her novel to the ‘sixty million and more’ who died during their treacherous journey across the Middle Passage, and in an interview with Angel Carabí, remarks this was a part of history ‘Black people themselves had never spoken about’, which she was trying to ‘insert…into the literature’ (Carabí, 105). When Beloved tells her own story through fragmented prose, she speaks of a harrowing journey on a slave ship; of another woman ‘taking flowers away from leaves’ and putting them in a ‘round basket’, which suggests a time before she was taken away, and says ‘storms rock us and mix the men into the women and the women into the men’ (211), which alludes to how slaves were segregated by gender but thrown about haphazardly due to storms. In aligning Beloved’s history with that of a Middle Passage survivor, Morrison ensures Beloved is not just a tale of an individual mother-daughter pair, but the story of the entire African-American motherline, ‘the haunting symbol of the many Beloveds – generations of mothers and daughters – hunted down and stolen from Africa’ (Horwitz 157). In structure, too, Beloved’s monologue reinforces this


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message, with its numerous gaps between words, and lack of punctuation or connectors between statements. The fragmented structure reflects the inadequacy of language to convey the full horror of the Middle Passage. The crucial difference between Beloved and the other novels I have discussed, however, is the note of hope upon which the former ends. Beloved may drain Sethe’s strength, but she is also the catalyst for Sethe’s redemption. It is only by confronting Beloved, a literal ghost from Sethe’s past, that Sethe can acknowledge and let go of the trauma of her memories. Anna Whitehead argues the only way to heal trauma is by ‘giving testimony’ and enacting a ‘collaborative relationship between speaker and listener’ (7). This is the process Beloved sets into motion, with her clamouring for Sethe to tell stories from her past. It is Beloved who is ultimately responsible for enabling Sethe to realise that herself, not her children, is her own ‘best thing’ (273), thus recognising she has her own individual identity separate from her daughter. Beloved also makes it possible for the rift between Denver and Sethe to heal. Before Denver realises that Beloved is draining Sethe’s vitality, she initially tries to protect Beloved from Sethe, constantly ‘alert for any sign that Beloved was in danger’ (240). After seeing her mother ‘sat around like a rag doll, broke down’, Denver knows she must ‘leave the yard; step off the edge of the world’ (243) and find help from Lady Jones. Denver is the redemptive saviour in the novel, the daughter who links her isolated mother to the rest of the community. She is the medium through which the neighbours’ ‘gifts of food’ (249) are delivered and the catalyst for the exorcism of Beloved by ‘thirty women’ who sing together. In showing how Sethe’s eventual reclamation is a culmination of matrilineal heritage – Beloved, Denver, and the wider black female community, Morrison demonstrates that there is hope for broken mother-daughter relationships to recover from the trauma of slavery. Mothers and daughters are not irreversibly

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damaged but can work together to effect their own healing. Moreover, Beloved is not the only novel discussed which presents a healthy mother-daughter relationship. Trudier Harris argues Mrs MacTeer is ‘the model for parenting and caring in Morrison’s wasteland’ (Harris, Fiction and Folklore 41), and I agree. Mrs MacTeer’s love is stern but nurturing; she may berate Claudia for vomiting ‘on the bedclothes’ but she ‘wipes’ up the mess, rubs ‘Vicks salve on [Claudia’s] chest and covers her with ‘heavy quilts’ (9). Mrs MacTeer differs from Eva in that her love is not confined to ensuring her daughter’s survival, she also sings to her daughters to help them endure the ‘lonesome Saturday’ (23). Mrs MacTeer and her husband also present a united front in caring for their daughters – when Frieda is ‘touched’ (97) by Mr Henry, the couple work together to punish him and drive him out of the house. Nowhere else is such a positive relationship between husband and wife depicted, and the love they show each other is reflected in the family’s healthy mother-daughter relationships. The fact that Claudia has received maternal love from her mother is evident in the narrative structure itself – it is Claudia who narrates the story in a retrospective manner, interjecting her adult realisations with her childhood perceptions. Narrating the story through Claudia’s adult voice not only shows Claudia’s firm sense of self, but also implies she has successfully matured under her mother’s guidance. Claudia and Pecola’s lives develop under similar conditions, but because Claudia has the benefit of maternal love, she avoids Pecola’s tragic fate. By including these glimpses of positive mother-daughter relationships, Morrison suggests that tragedy is not inevitable – mothers and daughters can learn to love, even against the backdrop of racial oppression. In her essay ‘The Site of Memory’, Morrison discusses how slave narratives often stopped short of relating the most appalling details of slavery, for fear of offending a white audience. Morrison sees her purpose as writer to achieve the converse,


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to ‘rip that veil drawn over “proceedings too terrible to relate”’ (91). One way Morrison rips this veil, as this essay has shown, is by depicting mother-daughter relationships fractured by racial trauma. Yet in portraying negative examples of mothering, as well as the glimmer of hope in the figures of Denver and Mrs MacTeer, Morrison also conveys the importance of motherhood for redemption. Mothers and daughters need not be stuck in a pernicious cycle of misunderstanding and misery – it is possible for them to heal. In shining a light on these splintered fragments, Morrison shows us a way to piece them together and make what is broken whole again.

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• Works Cited Toni Morrison’s Fiction Morrison, Toni. 1999. The Bluest Eye. London: Vintage. ———. 2005. Beloved. London: Vintage. ———. 2005. Sula. London: Vintage. Toni Morrison’s Nonfiction Angels Carabi, “Interview with Toni Morrison,” Belles Lettres 10, no. 2 (1995): 41. “The Site of Memory.” Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Ed. William Zinsser. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. 103–24. Secondary Sources Barnett, Pamela E. “Figurations of Rape and the Supernatural in Beloved.” PMLA 112, no. 3 (1997): 418-27. Accessed January 29, 2021. doi:10.2307/462950. Bouson, J. Brooks. 2000. Quiet as It’s Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison. SUNY Series in Psychoanalysis and Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press. Burrows, Victoria. 2014. Whiteness and Trauma: The Mother-Daughter Knot in the Fiction of Jean Rhys, Jamaica Kincaid and Toni Morrison. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. Caruth, Cathy. 1996. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Collins, Patricia Hill. 1994. “Shifting the Center: Race, Class, and Feminist Theorizing About Motherhood.” Mothering: Ideology, Experience, and Agency. Ed. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Grace Chang, and Linda Rennie Forcey. New York: Routledge, 45–65. Chodorow, Nancy. 1999. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender: With a New Preface. Berkeley: University


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of California Press. De Lancey, Dayle, ‘Motherlove is a Killer: Sula, Beloved, and the Deadly Trinity of Motherlove.” Sage 8:2 (1990):15-18.JSTOR.Web. 21 Dec. 2013. De Lauretis, Teresa. 1984. Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Du Bois, W. E. B. 2014. The Souls of Black Folk. FitzGerald, Jennifer. “Selfhood And Community: Psychoanalysis And Discourse In “Beloved”.” Modern Fiction Studies 39, no. 3/4 (1993): 669-87. Accessed January 29, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26283471. Feng, Pin-chia. 1998. The Female Bildungsroman by Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston: A Postmodern Reading. Modern American Literature, v. 10. New York: P. Lang. Harris, Trudier. 1993. Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison. 1. print. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press. ———. “Escaping Slavery but Not Its Images.” Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and K.A. Appiah, eds. New York: Amistad Press, 1993: 330–341. Hartman, Saidiya V. 2007. Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route. 1. ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Hirsch, Marianne. 1989. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. A Midland Book, MB 532. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ———. 2012. The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press. Horvitz, Deborah. “Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved.” Studies in American Fiction 17, no. 2 (1989): 157 167. doi:10.1353/ saf.1989.0019. Mahler, Margaret S, Anni Bergman, and Fred Pine. 2008. The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant Symbiosis and Individuation. New York: Basic Books. http://public.ebookcentral.proquest.com/choice/publicfullrecord. aspx?p=978637. Mattar, Barbara. “ʺThey Took My Milkʺ: The Multiple Meanings of Breastmilk in Toni Morrisonʹs Beloved.” In Toni Morrison on Mothers and Motherhood, edited by Baxter Lee and Satz Martha, 238-52. Bradford, ON: Demeter Press, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2021.

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doi:10.2307/j.ctt1rfzz5n.17. Moya, Paula M. L. 2016. The Social Imperative: Race, Close Reading, and Contemporary Literary Criticism. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. O’Reilly, Andrea. 2004. Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart. Albany: State University of New York Press. Peach, Linden, ed. 1998. Toni Morrison: Contemporary Critical Essays. New Casebooks. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan [u.a.]. Phillips, Shelley. 1996. Beyond the Myths: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Psychology, History, Literature, and Everyday Life. London ; New York: Penguin. Pipes, Candice. “Failed Mothers and the Black Girl-Child Victim of Incestuous Rape in The Bluest Eye and Push.” In Toni Morrison on Mothers and Motherhood, edited by Baxter Lee and Satz Martha, 183-200. Bradford, ON: Demeter Press, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2021. doi:10.2307/j. ctt1rfzz5n.14. Raynaud, Claudine. “Beloved or the Shifting Shapes of Memory.” Chapter. In The Cambridge Companion to Toni Morrison, edited by Justine Tally, 43– 58. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. doi:10.1017/CCOL052186111X.004. Rich, Adrienne C. 1995. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Reissued ed. Women’s Studies. New York: Norton. Root, Maria P. P. 1992. “Reconstructing the Impact of Trauma on Personality.” In Personality and Psychopathology: Feminist Reappraisals, 229–65. New York, NY, US: The Guilford Press. Spillers, Hortense. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17.2 (1987): 65-81. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988, 271–313 Sundstrom, William A. 1992. “Last Hired, First Fired? Unemployment and Urban Black Workers During the Great Depression.” The Journal of Economic History 52 (2): 415–29. Walters, Tracey Lorraine. 2007. African American Literature and the Classicist Tradition: Black Women Writers from Wheatley to Morrison. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.


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Watson, Reginald. “Derogatory Images Of Sex: The Black Woman And Her Plight In Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”.” CLA Journal 49, no. 3 (2006): 313-35. Accessed January 29, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44325322. West, Cornel. 1993. Race Matters. Boston: Beacon Press. Wolfe, Joanna. 2004. “‘Ten Minutes for Seven Letters’: Song as Key to Narrative Revision in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Narrative 12 (3): 263–80. Whitehead, Anne. Trauma Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2004. Print. Wurmser, Leon. 1981. The Mask of Shame. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Woolf ’s Parentheses and Brackets: Rhythmical Pulsations of the Interior Maddie Chiu Washington University in St. Louis In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Woolf explores the force of punctuation, particularly those of brackets and parentheses, on the text itself and those reading the text. She frequently engages with parentheses, but experiments with brackets in the novel, especially in the “Time Passes” section of decay and demise during World War I. Though Woolf’s experimentation in her writing is continuous, she did feel a sense of creative frustration from her sister and painter Vanessa Bell’s art. At Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s publishing house Hogarth Press, Bell would design illustrations accompanying books that Hogarth Press would publish (363)i. Woolf’s admiration of her sister’s art, yet inability to recreate the same effect of a painter’s work is a struggle of expressiveness that Woolf finds words cannot quite capture. In Recent Paintings by Vanessa Bell, Woolf says in the foreword, “The puzzle is that while Mrs. Bell’s pictures are immensely expressive, their expressiveness has no truck with words. Her vision excites a strong emotion and yet when we have dramatized it or poetized it or translated it into all the blues and greens, and fines and exquisites and subtleties of our vocabulary, the picture itself escapes” (2-3)ii. Woolf’s challenge is in translating the same “strong emotion” and expression as Bell’s visual art into her own writing. Words by themselves have limits, so a creative device beyond words may


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be the missing piece. Intentionally or not, Woolf’s adoption of brackets and parentheses seems to answer this challenge towards her authorship. Woolf uses brackets and parentheses to create agency in her authorship by surpassing the confines of words into the rhythmic experience, writing both the body and with the body.

Before discussing Woolf’s use of brackets and paren-

theses and before Woolf even wrote To the Lighthouse, she was typesetting at Hogarth Press. As Woolf assumed the role of printer at the press, she physically set the type for Hogarth’s publications and made decisions regarding form, composition, and spacing while distributing each line’s type to align exactly with the width of the composing stick (358). Woolf remarked how “Books are not turned out of moulds like bricks. Books are made of tiny little words, which a writer shapes, often with great difficulty, into sentences of different lengths, placing one on top of another” (368). Thus, perhaps typesetting increased Woolf’s awareness of the materiality of words and how syntax like punctuation appears on the page. Words were not simply chosen for the content, but also how they are built and set on the page. Words held meaning but were also “tiny little” pieces “of different lengths” that decorated a blank page. Woolf’s typesetting at Hogarth Press allowed her to see the page like a canvas and words like carefully chosen brush strokes to create a portrait-like book. Her writing came to hold a visual dimension, intertwining the two medias of visual art and literature in Woolf’s work. In addition, the tiresome manual labor of finding and arranging every individual letter created a physical movement to language. Hogarth Press, unlike Duckworth Books, thus gave Woolf not only a new perspective in

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aesthetic forms of writing, but also the freedom to explore and experiment with such new forms. Hence, Woolf’s experimental use of punctuation in To the Lighthouse evokes a multimedia expressiveness and corporeal manifestation of language, much like her experience in typesetting, that enhances Woolf’s sense of agency in her authorship. Through her acknowledgement that words cannot evoke the same emotions as visual art and knowledge of the physicality of words from typesetting, Woolf’s use of brackets and parentheses attempts to surpass the boundary of words merely as text. Taking from the expressiveness of typesetting both in the position and motion of words, Woolf’s punctuation can act as another form of expression to write the body with the body, adding a physical rhythm to her language. Though the standard usage of brackets and parentheses are for disambiguation and supplemental clarity, in comparing the punctuation choices in To the Lighthouse, there is a contextual difference between when Woolf elects to use brackets and parentheses. In the “Time Passes” section, as emptiness and darkness pervade the abandoned Ramsay house, “[Here Mr. Carmichael, who was reading Virgil, blew out his candle. It was midnight.]” (127)iii. There is an air of certainty attached to the bracketed narration of Mr. Carmichael. Not only does Mr. Carmichael “bl[o]w out his candle” to succinctly end the day, but it is also specifically “midnight.” The termination of light into darkness and exactness of the time emphasizes the definite within the brackets. The brackets seem to present a rigid reality and truth that rejects possibility of otherwise. Contrarily but also in “Time Passes,” returning to the Ramsay house, “(Lily Briscoe had her bag carried up to the house late one evening


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in September.)” (141). The context within the parenthesis presents possibility rather than the certainty within the brackets. Instead of ending the day, Lily is beginning her stay at the Ramsay house. Similarly, instead of a precise and definite time of “midnight,” the parenthesis gives more ambiguity as the time is vaguely “one evening in September.” The tone of the bracketed narration is matter-of-fact and somber whereas the tone of the parenthetical is soft and optimistic. Woolf’s contextual and tonal difference of certainty and possibility between brackets and parentheses make way for a difference in the way the text is being read and felt. However, the brackets are also physically sharper compared to the rounder parentheses, alluding to their respective harsher and softer effects. Along these lines, the differing sensations felt by the two punctuations can be traced to their rhythmic differences. While the bracketed narration of Mr. Carmichael differs in content from the parenthesized narration of Lily, through rhythm, the punctuation emphasizes and physically conjures the feeling of foregone truth or hopeful possibility. Certainty accompanies the hard stop of brackets and possibility accompanies the cushioned pause of parentheses. Such rhythm is apparent in examining what comes before the bracketed narration. Before the brackets containing Mr. Carmichael, there is “an aimless gust of lamentation to which some door in the kitchen replied; swung wide; admitted nothing; and slammed to” (127). The brackets following the “swung” and “slammed” door then mimic this motion as the rhythm creates a physical break and discontinuation. As a result, the brackets and parentheses effectively create a rhythm that allows readers to read with the body. In an additional example

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of physical movements manifested by rhythm of parentheses, Lily tranquilly rests while “gently the waves would break (Lily heard them in her sleep); tenderly the light fell (it seemed to come through her eyelids)” (142). The parentheses noticeably contain Lily’s sensory perception as she hears and sees her surroundings. Yet, the parentheses are interwoven in the text, creating only a brief interruption, contrary to the full cessation of brackets. The flowing rhythm of the parentheses not only imitates the movement of the waves, but also the way Lily perceives the external stimuli as background sensations, being aware of its presence but not fixating on it. For readers alike, the sensory observations are subordinated into the background and into parentheses as its rhythm structures readers to hear the waves and see the light only momentarily as Lily does. Though the brackets hold distinct content from parentheses, they share the same quality of using rhythm to make physical the written sensations of the characters. Even more than writing physically with the rhythm of punctuation, Woolf expressly uses the rhythm to replicate the emotions and experiences of her characters. Randi Koppen’s discussion on Woolf’s embodied form suggests that for Woolf, “Emotions are mediated quite simply and very directly by the body: they are manifested in the body and translated by bodily movement into shape or form” (382)iv. The rhythm of brackets and parentheses embodies Woolf’s language and its emotions as lived by the characters. The rhythmical quality of punctuation becomes a way for Woolf to physically translate the emotions of her words onto the readers. Then, with the established rhythm of brackets and parentheses, Woolf effectively reproduces the characters’ emotions “manifested


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in the body” to readers’ “bodily movement” with the text. For example, halfway through a chapter in “Time Passes,” there is a paragraph break announcing Andrew Ramsay’s death, “[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous.]” (133). Much like how the characters would have suddenly learned of Andrew’s death through a newspaper headline or telegram, the bracketed message comes as an analogously violent interruption in the reading of this chapter. In addition to the paragraph break’s empty space, what rests before and after the brackets is a striking silence in the Ramsay house that is punctuated by a “thud of something falling” (133). The “thud” that follows is the isolated and bracketed death of Andrew Ramsay, but also the “thud” of heartache after receiving such news. The death, like the brackets, imposes a jarring stop to the characters’ lives, just as it does to the rhythm of reading the passage. The pain in the message itself, contained in the sharpness of the brackets, then penetrates the rhythm of the text for readers to feel the impact of death. Similarly, Mrs. Ramsay’s death is unexpectedly revealed in harsh brackets, but a subsequent mention of her death is enclosed in parenthesis. As Mrs. McNab revisits the Ramsay house, she notices how “There were boots and shoes; and a brush and comb left on the dress-table, for all the world as if she expected to come back tomorrow. (She had died very sudden at the end, they said)” (136). The difference between writing in brackets and parentheses is the rhythmic impact that embodies the level of shock characters feel as they hear news of death. The initial bracketed death of Mrs. Ramsay disrupts and halts rhythm as it is also spaced off into its own

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individual paragraph like Andrew Ramsay’s bracketed death. However, in the parenthesized death of Mrs. Ramsay, the news comes as a mournful, but gentle reminder of the already known death of Mrs. Ramsay. The parenthesis creates more of a reverberation, rather than the halt of brackets. Furthermore, the sentence before the parenthetical emphasizes the stasis of the Ramsay house “as if [Mrs. Ramsay] expected to come back,” so Mrs. Ramsay’s death is already implied, and the parenthetical only serves as Mrs. McNab’s remembrance of the death. The “they said” also repeats the discourse surrounding news of Mrs. Ramsay’s death, as remembered and experienced by Mrs. McNab. Thus, not only the content, but also the rhythmic form of the parenthesis imitate Mrs. McNab’s emotion of resigned acknowledgment since the death is less a surprise, but more a sorrow that provokes an intermittent pause to her stream of consciousness. The particular rhythm of brackets and parentheses becomes a technique for Woolf to express and materialize internal experiences, provoking the reader’s body to physically react and move with the emotions attached to her words. The interior thus becomes visible with the possibility of adding and altering history. Considering the historical context of “Time Passes,” the experiences of characters that take rhythmic form are also all related to the Great War imposing on individual life. The “Time Passes” section occurring during World War I contains years within a mere twenty pages compared to the expansive one-day in “The Window” and “The Lighthouse.” Though time passes rapidly during the war, the rhythm of the brackets and parentheses reclaims time for individuals experiencing the traumas of war. Instead of reproducing dominant discourse,


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the punctuation makes known the hidden emotions. In a final synthesizing and curious case including both brackets and parenthesis, Woolf’s rhythmic punctuation manifests an imaginative and absolute space in response to the war. As the war ends in “The Lighthouse” section, the “[Macalister’s boy took one of the fish and cut a square out of its side to bait his hook with. The mutilated body (it was alive still) was thrown back into the sea.]” (180). Within the content, the sacrificial fish itself is already suggestive of the wasted lives during the war. More importantly, following the rhythm of Woolf’s punctuation, there is a certainty of disturbing affliction within the brackets that imposes on the slight possibility of life within the parenthesis. The punctuation imparts the sentiments of war as there is a quiet and soft rhythm of individual hope resting within the parenthesis yet surrounded by the violent halts of truth within the all-encompassing brackets. Woolf’s punctuation materializes rhythmically the experience of being gutted and stripped of optimism during the war, a feminine and muffled experience. Strikingly, the aggressive force of the brackets over the parentheses creates a prolonged effect, rhythmically slowing down time. The unsettling mutilation of the fish becomes the focus as hope that “it was alive still,” resting in the parenthesis, becomes lost and forgotten in the reading with such punctuation. The bracketed deaths in Woolf’s writing come as a slow stab, deeply penetrating and twisting the interiority of one receiving news of death. In contrast, the parenthetical almost exists as a nonessential aside, easily overlooked and ignored. As a result, the impact of rhythm controls time to pass swiftly with parentheses and torturously and lifelessly slow with brackets. Thus, the rhythm of the brackets and parentheses

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scattered throughout “Time Passes” during the span of the war alters how readers grasp the flow of time. Rather than allowing standard time to control one’s experience of war, Woolf uses punctuation and its rhythm to manipulate time, extending the intimate shocks of death from the war. Just as typesetting had materialized words for Woolf, the rhythmical punctuation materializes death past the outward truth into the internalized emotions. Death comes as more than a fact, but also all the silent inner sorrows that accompany such loss. Her power over time imparts readers personal and micro time over standard and macro time, embodying the idle and enduring individuals muted out by the force of and focus on death. “Time Passes” then becomes a bracketed and parenthesized section with periods of stagnant and periods of rapid time to portray the personal experience of war rather than the cold and factual regurgitation of history. “Time Passes” even concludes with a sudden “Awake,” as if signifying the end of this otherworldly passage of time during the emotionally tumultuous years of the war (143). Woolf’s use of punctuation commands a physical bodily movement and suspended movement of time, creating a portrait of the individual during war. The use of punctuation as a rhythmical device proclaims the sensibility of war. Woolf thus creates a language that speaks not through words, but through punctuation. The corporeal cadence speaks the unspeakable and unwritten emotions during the war that standard language fails. Such emotions, though seemingly subordinated and confined into the background, burst out of the apparent confines of the punctuation with visceral tension, impinging on the reading of Woolf’s writing just as the consequences of war impinges


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on the daily lives of characters. Much like Woolf’s praise of Bell’s cover art that gave a “sympathetic atmosphere – feminine, imaginative, delicate, modern but domestic,” Woolf’s new language captures the same painterly expressiveness in her authorship (364)v. Punctuation delicately yet effectively arrests the dominant exterior of war and standard time to utter the sounds of the interior, emitting a “feminine” voice of the war. Woolf’s language subverts what Hélène Cixous believes is male discourse’s confinement and the “‘within,’ to explode it, turn it around, and seize it; to make it hers, containing it, taking it in her own mouth, biting that tongue with her very own teeth to invent for herself a language to get inside of” (887)vi. Punctuation as a language escapes the “within” of dominant discourse that has written the individual sufferings, like those on the home front rather than the war front, out of history. The language of rhymical punctuation becomes the “écriture féminine” Cixous believes women must find to write their bodies and themselves into existence in history. Woolf’s embodied language creates a new dimension to her authorship, gesturing through punctuation the wordless and internalized movements of the individual into a new history.

...notes section at back of issue

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“Us have a house!”: Alice Walker’s Queer Reconfiguration of Domesticity in The Color Purple Cicely Williams University of British Columbia

The plot of Celie’s story in The Color Purple almost invariably occurs in or around a house. This setting comes with implications of the ideological structure of domesticity, which means not only a “home-space or a set of normative domestic relations” but also that space’s production of “emotions, kinship, friendship, … and different flows of power” (Pilkey et al. 129). Broadly, the domestic world constitutes a feminine domain (in contrast to the male public domain) but organizes itself around a rigid patriarchal hierarchy and an assumed heteronormativity. Under this domestic order, Celie experiences gendered, sexualized, and racialized oppression, but eventually liberates herself and designs a domestic life that accommodates all intersections of her identity. Celie inhabits four houses throughout the novel: her childhood home with her stepfather Alphonso, Albert’s home when she is forced to marry him, Shug’s home when she begins to liberate herself from heteronormative domesticity, and her family home when she inherits it. By chronologically tracing the emergence and development of Celie’s queer sexuality through these four domestic spaces, I locate the ways Walker attempts to reconfigure the concept of domesticity in order to cultivate a sense of queer belonging in domestic structures and to posit a multiplicity of possible domestic reconfigurations for queer individuals.


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Alphonso and Albert’s Homes As Martin Dines points out, queer narratives, and especially queer bildungsromans, often paradoxically illuminate the domestic realm as both a comforting, “pre-sexual space” and a “[site] of sexual discovery” (180). Queer characters begin in the pre-sexual stage where their domestic surroundings teach them the structure of gendered domestic roles (Dines 180). Then, as the queer subject ages, they undermine the heteronormative institution of domesticity by turning it into the setting of their queer “sexual discovery” (Dines 180). Dines claims that queer narratives set against the heteronormative domestic backdrop make a deliberate “contradiction” between the period of pre-sexual innocence, where the child learns the familial pecking order from observing their (heterosexual) parents, and their subsequent sexualization of that same space as the setting in which they experiment with queerness (180). Paradoxically, Celie’s narrative both follows and diverges from Dines’ theory. Her childhood home with her mother and Alphonso indeed teaches her the patriarchal structure, with her mother being “half dead” from all of the children she has produced because of Alphonso’s constant sexual advances (Walker 1). When Celie’s mother finally refuses his advances, Alphonso rapes fourteen-year-old Celie, an act which exposes Celie to the male-dominated order of heterosexual domesticity yet violates the domestic realm’s constitution of a “pre-sexual” space for the young queer subject (Dines 180). Her introduction to the wifely role further internalizes her understanding of heteronormative familial relations and her belief that this structure is inescapable. Her wedding day includes physical assault from Albert’s son, cooking dinner, untangling the neglected hair of Albert’s children, and being forced to have sex with him (Walker 12). Through these acts, she understands

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the servitude expected of her in this domestic framework. And, when Albert’s sisters encourage her to “fight” back against Albert’s cruelties, Celie “think[s] bout Nettie, dead. She fight, she run away. What good it do? I don’t fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive” (Walker 22). Adhering to the patriarchal structure of domesticity becomes a method of survival, and trying to find an alternative option means, to her knowledge, death. Thus, Dines’ “pre-sexual” stage of the queer subject’s domestic life is indeed where she becomes indoctrinated with the gendered power structure and heterosexual order of this oppressive notion of domestic life. Yet it deviates from Dines’ theory in that Celie’s childhood period of sexual ignorance is defiled by both Alphonso and Albert’s forced advances. However, with Shug, her friend and eventual partner, Celie turns the domestic space of Albert’s home into a space of sexual experimentation, which Dines claims is the next stage of development, and she thus begins to consider possibilities for alternative domestic orders. In some ways, Celie is also able to reclaim the innocence of the pre-sexual phase. After admitting to Shug that Alphonso raped her, Shug tells Celie she loves her, and they have sex. Not only does this act “defile”, as Dines says (180), the “sanctity” of Albert and Celie’s heterosexual union by occurring in their marriage bed, it also allows Celie to reclaim the sense of innocence that she lost when Alphonso raped her; for the language used to describe this act is rich in infantile associations: “Then I feel something real soft and wet on my breast, feel like one of my little lost babies mouth. Way after while, I act like a little lost baby too” (Walker 115). In contrast to the trauma and violence of Alphonso’s rape, this act of queer experimentation with Shug is ripe with innocence. As Christopher Lewis notes, “Walker represents black women’s sexual relationships with and tutelage of one another


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as an alternative to being subjected to masculinist and dominative ideas of sex” (162). Because the language characterizes both Celie and Shug as “babies”, the power imbalance Celie experiences with both Alphonso and Albert is replaced with an equity where both women can be vulnerable. Additionally, Celie admits before the act, “I don’t know nothing bout it”, and Shug replies, “I don’t know much” (Walker 115). Their mutual naivety characterizes this scene as an innocent act of exploration, thereby aligning with Dines’ emphasis on the queer subject’s transformation of the domestic sphere into a “[site] of sexual discovery” (Walker 180). Furthermore, since Celie is able to “act like a little lost baby”, and the scene is preceded by her confiding in Shug about Alphonso’s rapes, the act is not only a way of discovering her sexuality, but also a mode of healing from her trauma and reclaiming her stolen innocence (Walker 115). Shug and Celie’s queer exploration while under Albert’s roof marks the point where Celie begins a tentative consideration of other possibilities for female existence in the domestic realm. Shug and Celie imagine themselves assuming gender-bending domestic roles in small ways before actualizing their love. When Celie bathes Shug she says she “thought [she] had turned into a man” (Walker 49). Since heteronormativity is the only framework available for her to understand her attraction, this act of imagining herself in male form is one of the early ways she discovers her lesbian identity. Further, when Shug admits she fell out of love with Albert once Celie told her he beats her, she says, “If you was my wife … I’d cover you up with kisses stead of licks, and work hard for you too” (Walker 111). Imagining Celie as her wife shows a “trying on” of a queered and favorable domestic scenario. Shortly after this, they have sex for the first time in Albert’s bed, and this is pre-

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ceded by an innocent-sounding excuse for their sleeping together: “Mr.____ and Grady gone off in the car together. Shug ast me could she sleep with me. She cold in her and Grady bed all alone” (Walker 113). It is evident by this point that there is a desire–driven connection between the two women, but the boundaries of heteronormative domestic structure prevent them from expressing it openly. Shug’s excuse provides another way the two women can “try on” domestic roles without overstepping boundaries. These small acts catalyze Celie’s understanding of options outside the heteronormative domestic structure whose hegemony she has existed under thus far. Shug’s Home A new reconfiguration of the domestic sphere emerges when Celie and Shug move to Shug’s home in Memphis. This reconfiguration contrasts the paternal hierarchy of Albert’s home by being a portrait of almost totalized femininity. In Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Sedgwick discusses gender–separatism, a queer theory framework popular in the 1970s, which suggests gay women and men reside on the most polarized points of the gender spectrum, meaning lesbians could be viewed “as more female” and gay men as more male (36). Although this is an outdated theory, its era of relevance is contemporary to Walker’s writing, and I find resonances of it in this section of the novel, where Celie and Shug’s queer domestic life is absolute in its femininity. The house itself “is big and pink and look sort of like a barn”, which indicates femininity in its coloring and nonconformity in its nontraditional shape (Walker 211). Most telling, however, is Shug’s dream to, as she says, “build me a round house” (Walker 211). Shug says, “I just feel funny living in a square. If I was square, then I could take it better” (Walker 212).


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Here, the square house is a metaphor for the confines of traditional domesticity that exclude nonheterosexual relationships. Hers and Celie’s plan to build a circular home, even though “everybody act like that’s backward”, represents their wish to design their own version of domesticity that provides the comforts of the conventional kind but is also tailored to their identities as queer (or non–“square”) women (Walker 211–2). As they draw the design for the house, they have a back-and-forth collaboration style where the two women take turns contributing ideas: Shug contributes the “flower boxes”, Celie the “geraniums”, and so on (212). Their relationship is thus without the hierarchy implicit in heterosexual relationships that Celie knew the extremes of with Albert. Further, Celie draws “a wood skirt around [Shug’s] concrete house”, showing a metaphorical appareling of their envisioned home with a feminine garment, a skirt (212). Celie and Shug quite literally redraw the domestic realm, round unlike traditional square houses, designed in equity, and bordered by this distinctly feminine “skirt” to be one devoid of masculine associations. Shortly after, Celie describes Shug’s elaborate cooking sprees where she “get[s] up early … and go[es] to market”, cooks all day and serves Celie, Mary Agnes, and Grady “ham and greens and chicken and cornbread. Chitlins and blackeyed peas and souse … Caramel cake and blackberry pie” (Walker 213). In this scene, Shug seems to enjoy displaying a dramatized version of a typical feminine duty, cooking and serving meals for the members of her household. After eating, Celie and Shug relax in bed together, and “sometimes Shug read the paper out loud” (Walker 213). The two women agree from reading this that “people insane”, because they’re always “fussing and fighting .... and never even looking for no peace” (Walker 213). This evokes the divide between the feminine domestic

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realm and the masculine public realm. The “peace” Celie and Shug have found secluded in their feminized and queered domestic home contrasts the chaos of the public world, thereby accentuating the preferability of their idyllic feminine reconfiguration. Celie and Shug’s domestic life reads as a queered yet relentlessly feminine image of the domestic sphere and a purposeful juxtaposition against the totalized patriarchal order of Albert’s house. Thus, the novel’s first positive representation of domesticity aligns with gender–separatism, where samesex desiring women are considered “more female” than their heterosexual counterparts (Sedgwick 36). Despite the resonances of this framework, to suggest that Walker is advocating for it would be to ignore the forthcoming gender–bending characteristics of both Celie and Shug. It is more likely that Walker includes this absolutely feminine domestic reconfiguration in order to critique this understanding of homosexuality for similar reasons as Sedgwick: it denies the well–evidenced “cross-gender or liminal” possibilities for queer women (Sedwick 36). Walker illustrates these possibilities in the forthcoming scenes. Both Celie and Shug find empowerment through activities outside of the domestic sphere and on the border between what is traditionally considered masculine or feminine. Their transition out of their idyllic feminine world is marked by a key sentence: “But pretty soon, after cooking a big dinner and making a to-do about cleaning the house, Shug go back to work” (214). Shug’s performance of the most stereotypical feminine duties, “cooking” and “cleaning”, ends with the moment she returns to her role as the household’s breadwinner. Although the nature of her work is rather feminine, given that as a singer she dresses up in elaborate gowns, and her beauty is an essential part of her spectacle, the diction refuses to let the


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reader forget that her occupation is anything other than “work” and that she provides for Celie financially, as a husband would. Yet, at this time, Celie begins to step outside the domestic sphere as well. After Shug leaves for a two-week tour, Celie finds a productive outlet in making pants (Walker 215). Sewing is a traditionally feminine skill, one which Albert later claims his male identity prevented him from learning (Walker 277). Yet sewing pants for women demolishes early 20th century ideas about gender–specific clothing, which function as a metonymy for gender roles in general. It also becomes the thing that grants her economic freedom, both from Shug and Albert. She further names her business “Folkspants”, a name blatant in its gender neutrality (Walker 217). The whole endeavor is thus decidedly nonbinary: she achieves success in the “masculine” public world through the application of a “feminine” skill to create “masculine” garments for people of all genders. Celie progresses from living under a totalizing patriarchal and heteronormative order to an absolutely feminine one to one where there seems a balance between the masculine and feminine realms. Celie’s Home Walker’s definitive portrayal of domesticity begins when Celie inherits her family home. The structure of the scene where Celie learns about the inheritance parallels the earlier scene where Celie tells Albert she is going to leave his house to go to Shug’s; in both scenarios Shug and Albert are faced with their domestic partner moving to a different home with a nonnuclear familial arrangement. Shug and Albert’s contrasting reactions to Celie leaving characterize the respective natures of the two relationships, and, more broadly, Shug and Albert’s contrasting views on alternative domestic orders.

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These contrasting views are largely influenced by their respective levels of adherence to the “salvific wish”, meaning the aspiration of black communities to contradict white accusations of sexual or domestic indecency with strict adherence to “‘bourgeois propriety’” (Lewis 160). This has especially resulted in the sexual oppression of black women and lesbians, and Lewis has argued that The Color Purple criticizes the salvific wish in several ways, the most potent being in its “shameless” assertion of black lesbianism (167). When Albert learns Celie will be moving to Memphis with Shug, he shows his adherence to the salvific wish by reacting, “What will people say, you running off to Memphis like you don’t have a house to look after?” (Walker 203). Albert’s reflexive counterargument is to point out the impropriety of the arrangement. This concern is undoubtedly an attempt to compensate for the sexual “deviance” assumed of him and Celie because of their racialized identities and to use “‘sexual propriety’” as a “‘shield’” against racist accusations of black sexual deviance (Lewis 167). Meanwhile, Shug is Walker’s most effective vessel for critiquing the salvific wish and, as Kimberley Love puts it, “intervening in the link between black familial pride and black familial degeneracy” (Love 533). In response to Albert’s plea, Shug says, “Why any woman give a shit what people think is a mystery to me” (Walker 203). She rejects the idea that women, and especially nonheterosexual women, should sacrifice their desires in order to uphold the respectability of others. Therefore, it is no surprise that it is Shug who changes Celie’s mind when Celie learns she has inherited Alphonso’s house and at first says, “anything coming from him, I don’t want it” (Walker 249). Shug responds, “Don’t be a fool … You got your own house now … That dog of a stepdaddy just a bad odor passing through” (Walker 249). This directly foils


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Albert’s reaction, as Shug not only accepts Celie’s independence, but encourages it. Walker shows that Celie and Shug have a nonhierarchical understanding of domesticity that is not structured around control or propriety but aims to support the desires and growth of the other person. However, Walker does not attempt to portray their relationship, or queer relationships in general, as quixotic fairy-tails juxtaposed against toxic heteronormative oppression. Shug leaves Memphis to be with Germain, and this is heartbreaking for Celie. Yet, since Shug falling in love with Germain coincides with Celie spending a summer fixing her house; the independence that Shug’s absence forces her to adopt facilitates Celie’s project of designing her own tailored version of domesticity. After all, a round house was Shug’s dream, not Celie’s. The independence Celie gains from this process of tailoring her new home becomes evident in the scene where Shug returns and Celie gives her a tour of the house, as it mirrors the scene where Shug did the same for Celie when they first arrived in Memphis. In Memphis, Shug gives Celie a bedroom in the sun because, as Shug says, “I know you use to morning sun” (Walker 211); at Celie’s home, Celie paints Shug’s room pink, and Shug says, “You know I love pink” (Walker 289). These two considerations show each woman’s concern for the other’s preferences. Celie designing a pink bedroom for Shug shows she has graduated from being provided for to being the provider. Also, each woman’s own room is self–designed to reflect their individuality. Shug has “silk and satin … sheets” representing her natural glamour (Walker 211); and Celie has purple and red furnishings with a “bright yellow” floor, perhaps representing the “brightness” of her new life (Walker 289). These personalized furnishings show that both women have designed domestic spaces through which they can

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express their unique identities. Moreover, each description of their respective rooms ends with mentions of two additional symbols for their personalized domesticities. At the end of her description of Shug’s room Celie adds, “And her bed round!”; and Shug ends her tour of Celie’s room by pointing out the “little purple frog on [Celie’s] mantelpiece” (Walker 211; 289). Shug’s round bed is the miniature version of her round house, a symbol for a rounded–out, flexible version of the domestic sphere accommodating Shug’s bisexuality and her refusal to conform or be “square” (Walker 212). Meanwhile, Celie only tells Shug that the frog is “a little something Albert carve for [her]” (Walker 289), but readers can trace this back to Celie telling Albert that “men look like frogs to me” (Walker 258), and saying, “I still don’t like frogs, but let’s us be friends” when he asks to marry her again (Walker 288). Celie’s frog therefore represents her acceptance of her lesbianism, and the peace she has made with Albert that allows her to exist freely in her new domestic life. These two tokens, Shug’s round bed and Celie’s frog, punctuate each description of Celie and Shug’s rooms, and function as the most important symbols for their personalized reconfigurations of the domestic sphere. Once Celie gains independence by owning and furnishing her own house, Nettie and her children return. Responding to criticism that such a perfectly happy ending is “unnatural” by the standards of literary realism, Catherine Romagnolo has asked: “Would this imply that a ‘natural’ narrative of black female development must be predicated upon a less-thanhappy, even tragic, ending?” (130). Walker’s ending refuses this definition of a “natural” realist narrative, and the idea that the “narrative of female subjectivity” can be “naturalized” in general; rather it is “always in the process of becoming” (Romagnolo


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130). Perhaps Walker suggests also that the narrative of queer subjectivity is similarly in constant flux, unable to be “naturalized” or confined to a singular definition. Celie explores queer domesticities throughout the novel: from subtle reconfigurations in Albert’s home to adopting Shug’s style of domestic life to tailoring her own at her new home. She finally finds peace when she finishes designing her own version of domesticity, yet the addition of Nettie, Samuel, her children, and Tashi will add yet another dimension to the tailored domestic world she has built. Like the “narrative of female subjectivity”, this presents the queer narrative of domestic reconfiguration, again, as “always in the process of becoming” (Romagnolo 130). Therefore, Walker suggests the plurality of continually developing domestic reconfigurations for queer women. This serves to oppose heteronormative hegemony because queer domesticities, in their embodiment of innumerable possibilities for familial arrangements, undermine the stativity of the binary domestic order. This poses the concept of domesticity as a flexible one, capable of being tailored to the unique identity of each designer and inhabitant in a way that cultivates a sense of belonging for the queer individual — not in spite of their identity but because of it.

• Works Cited Dines, Martin. “Sacrilege in the sitting room: Contesting suburban domesticity in contemporary gay literature.” Home Cultures 2.2, 2005, pp.: 175–194. Lewis, Christopher S. “Cultivating Black Lesbian Shamelessness: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.” Rocky Mountain Review, vol. 66, no. 2, 2012, pp. 158–175.

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Love, Kimberly S. “Too Shame to Look: Learning to Trust Mirrors and Healing the Lived Experience of Shame in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, vol. 33, no. 3, 2018, pp. 521–536. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/hypa.12430. Pilkey, Brent, Rachael M. Scicluna, and Andrew Gorman-Murray. “Alternative Domesticities: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Home and Sexuality.” Home Cultures: Alternative Domesticities: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Home and Sexuality, vol. 12, no. 2, 2015, pp. 127–138. Romagnolo, Catherine. “Naturally Flawed? Gender, Race, and the Unnatural in The Color Purple.” Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 2016, pp. 113–133. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. E-book, Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2008, https://hdl-handle-net.ezproxy. library.ubc.ca/2027/heb.30582. Accessed 21 Mar 2020. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1982.


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On Ortner’s Nature/Culture Mediation: The Creation of “Food Culture” in Toni Morrison’s Paradise Ashley Little Franklin and Marshall College Notions of mothering, nurturing, and providing are often equated with the “nature” of women. This “nature” designation conflates biological function with expression, thus restricting women to roles as mother, nurturer, provider. By this logic, a woman’s cooking is an extension of her biological function: she gives milk and thus sustains the life of another. Women’s space also represents these functions. The “nature” of woman is to preside over the domestic space: to feed and to cook are her primary means of mothering, nurturing, and providing in that space. Juxtaposed to these ideas of woman as “nature” are, historically, ideas of man as “culture.” Sherry Ortner presents the standard logic of this scenario: if the woman’s function is biological and the woman’s space is domestic, then the man’s function is symbolic, and the man’s space is cultural and social. The “culture” of man enters the domestic space as prevailing authority over a woman’s nurture. However, the prospect of a “food culture” for Black women — as represented in Toni Morrison’s Paradise — complicates this binary. It grants women a source of cultural community through food, not of mere biological function, nor the cultural types attached to a woman’s biology. To explore this notion of women’s “food culture,” I first analyze the gendered assumptions of the “nature/culture” binary through scholarly references. I then assess women’s cultural expression through food, particularly

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in terms of sexuality and spirituality. I ultimately propose that Black women’s “food culture” — epitomized by the convent women of Paradise — functions as, firstly, a challenge to biological presumptions and cultural restraints over women’s domestic space and, secondly, a challenge to binary structures of meaning. Sherry Ortner maps the “nature” of woman and the “culture” of man unto historic conceptions of gender difference. She does so to challenge preconceptions, namely that woman is “immanent” feelings and things, whereas man is thoughts and categories. To Ortner, woman’s “feminine personality” or “psychic mode” enables her transcendence to “the highest levels of the cultural process.” That is, woman transcends the need for category, achieving instead an “ultimate moral unity” characteristic of every society. In other words, Ortner’s psychic woman is a communal guide and mediator. Ortner proposes that the “nature” of women, such as mothers, lies in their loyalty to community and individuality simultaneously, a balance which Ortner describes as a “from below” and “from above” societal mediation. With this analysis, Ortner effectively disrupts the binary; what is deemed “natur[al]” about women is also how they negotiate culture. Nature is therefore a reflection of cultural conceptions of gender. It is not self-evident. The categories of nature and culture are themselves interdependent, reciprocal, inseparable, and yet, made oppositional through the lens of gender. Specifically, Ortner suggests that this binary separation is inherently hierarchized on account of gender. With respect to socialization, “women perform lower-level conversions from nature to culture, but when the culture distinguishes a higher level of the same functions, the higher level is restricted to men.” Food is one example of this


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conversion. As both sustenance and child development aid, it exists between function and value, a passage mediated by women. The culture of man nevertheless attributes meaning to food as a space, practice, and concept for the domestic “woman,” thereby relegating her to a cultural status that is embedded in biological function. To propose women’s food as transcendent of the nature/culture binary, I must first explicate the relationship between the “domestic woman” and food, including food as space and food as concept. Ortner’s assessment of domestic space demonstrates the nature/culture binary as an act of socialization, so women’s place in the patriarchal family structure as caregiver reaffirms her biological role as mother. Specifically, the woman cares for children, an association that may “compound her potential for being seen as closer to nature herself” so long as children are viewed biologically; as “barely human” and animal-like, they require motherly guidance in the form of nurture. To understand the development at the cultural or social level of the domestic space, within which women occupy “a lower order of social/ cultural organization,” Ortner draws from Chodorow’s work. Ortner describes a hypothesized identity development process whereby the daughter mirrors her identity with the mother’s and the son with the father’s. These identification processes result in a female practice of “personal identification” with the concrete and a male practice of “positional identification” with the abstract; again, relative to woman as “like nature” and man as “like culture.” This logic supposes a cultural separation of tangible, gendered spaces, with women physically sustaining life in a domestic household, such as through food, and men symbolizing life, such as an ideology of “food culture.” This framing thus begs the question: Is the domestic space a repre-


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sentation of woman’s “like nature” designation? Or, is the domestic space a site of female agency in which women achieve a “food culture” distinct from male cultural ideologies? These are the questions which guide my evaluation of food in Paradise as conversion, passage, or meditation between “nature” and “culture.” Critics often discuss the maternal nurture and care of domestic space in Morrison’s texts, usually in reference to mother-child relationships or “mothering” practices between women (Hichri 209; O’Reilly 12-13). In Andrea O’Reilly’s reading of Paradise, the kitchen is a womb from which men experience motherly nurture, as in the case of the character Morgan, whose memory activates by drinking milk. In short, mother’s milk becomes a symbol of female domestic space. Here, the cultural notion of woman — as confined to domestic space — is inherently tied to her “nature” capacity to provide, thus upholding the binary. Mother and milk, as both biological excrement and cultural mothering practice, are inseparable from that domestic space. Yet, the milk symbol emerges as the cultural property of man, even from within the domestic space. What O’Reilly describes as a balance of woman’s cultural symbol, as the milk of “maternal nourishment,” and man’s cultural symbol, as the pistol or phallus of “patriarchal power,” is also a testament to Ortner’s hierarchized levels of nature/culture conversion. Morgan wields the symbolism of man on one hand and the symbolism of woman on the other, as if no overlap exists for woman or man within domestic space. Man’s cultural phallus symbol is stand-alone, inactive, and erect. In contrast, woman’s cultural milk symbol is apt for use, consumption, and depletion. The domestic woman thus performs her “natural” functions, like lactation and birth, as if in the metaphorical


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food service of man: to create and cultivate for man’s use. This symbolism embeds woman’s biological function — as mother — within a domestic culture that serves man. O’Reilly’s interpretation of the kitchen space in Paradise ultimately envisions nurturance/care as biological functions turned spiritual. Notions such as “mother-children intimacy” manifest as “psychological and spiritual maturation.” According to O’Reilly, to nurture is to heal and to nurture is to a point of growth or “wholeness,” for the sake of others, requiring “full and complete healing” of oneself. O’Reilly’s vision thus aligns with Ortner’s. This is an individualized and communal nurture and care that depends as much on a woman’s ability to receive nurture as it does to give nurture. Such interpretations incorporate food imagery throughout the text. Holistically, they suggest a correlation between spiritual attainment and food culture that transcends binary conceptions of nature and culture. This relationship develops for the convent women in Paradise and, particularly, for their spiritual leader Consolata. O’Reilly’s reading lends a critical framework for my inquiries: How might Black women’s food culture complicate the symbols of domestic motherhood? From there, how might cooking enable Black women to re-define domestic space in terms of spirituality rather than biology and, in turn, access a nature/culture mediation? Asma Hichri’s analysis of “nurture dialectics” (in Beloved) presents a useful framework for assessing spirituality within the domestic space. Hichri notes a key pattern: nurture can both create and disrupt kinship relations, particularly through the “sharing of sustenance” or the absence of that sharing. She refers to a literal presence or absence that creates figurative meanings. For instance, the cohesion of the family


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structure depends upon spatial location. To eat outside the kitchen is to exclude oneself from the family nucleus. This link between spatial location and meaning is essential to domestic space for it raises the question of projected material meanings — woman’s space as domestic space — versus latent, immaterial meanings — woman’s space as spiritual and experiential and not bound by domestic setting. Hichri’s discussion of sacrifice seems to mediate this divide. Hichri attests to a sacrificial nature of motherly nurture wherein mothers sacrifice sustenance of one body to sustain another body. In particular, hunger is seen as a symbolic “appropriation” device that illustrates the potential for appetite to disrupt bodies and familial relationships. In other words, hunger and appetite become representative of culturally-defined communal identities, a trend highly evident in Paradise. Hichri’s conception of “narrative feeding” is also noteworthy as a framing device. The concept derives from historical slave narratives and functions to actively engage “listener and reader” in communal experience. This idea fittingly ties narrative structure to these relations between literal construction and symbolic meaning. Such themes and narrative constructions balance the literal and figurative throughout Paradise in the process of mediating the nature/ culture binary. Morrison constructs two primary sites of gendered food culture in the narrative: the convent kitchen and the Oven. The Oven is the center of Ruby, the center of kitchen life, and the central domain of man in the town. The narration affirms this centrality with permanence, describing that “no family needed more than a simple cookstove as long as the Oven was alive, and it always was.” Every other kitchen — kitchens predominately run by women — ought to be a “simple cookstove” by


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comparison. Right away, this construction hierarchizes the domestic space. Man is the Oven; woman is a “simple cookstove.” The Oven deemed itself a source of “slow cooking,” where a “twenty pound turkey roasted all night and a side could take two days to cook down to the bone” and as the place “waiting to be seasoned.” The convent kitchen was a source of opposition: always active, heated, moistened, seasoned by women. The convent kitchen was not the “simple cookstove” the men of Ruby desired. In fact, the convent redefined “slow-cooking.” Though seemingly counterintuitive, the immediacy of food — such as hot, salty potatoes brought before Mavis — brings her patience. A simple act of coffee consumption becomes a slow, methodical moment to cherish food, even when that food is not a slow roast but a mere cup of coffee. The women of the convent subvert a dominant male food ideology that values large scales of time, size, and space. Thus, the contrasting Oven symbol is also a mark of a cultural order that values tradition, male progeny, and a male dominion. Another minor reference to male cooking in the text occurs in the space of the “male cozy.” This anecdote presents as adherence to these dominant ideologies of cooking space. The men, returning from a hunt, eat “thick steaks prepared the old-fashioned away, fried in a piping hot skillet.” The preparation lacks the flavor and variation of women’s cooking throughout the novel. Rather, it represents a man’s adoption of custom. Men’s cooking is labeled as “old-fashioned,” much in the way man attempts to define women’s domestic cooking as traditional and thus a common, recursive, and expected practice. From this, Morrison’s commentary is clear: the ideological tensions between the male culture of Ruby and the culture of the convent women manifest in the contrasts between their cooking spaces and

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their cooking methods. This established ideological framework informs the application of the nature/culture binary in the text. Ideological contrasts in Paradise replicate nature/culture binaries. The recurring theme of “appetite” well illustrates the nature/culture binary as an ideological concept surrounding food. The male version of “appetite” is violent. Morrison marks it with references like a man’s “hunger for violence” and an ability for man to “kill appetite.” For men, then, appetite is linked not to sustenance and nurture but to cultural ideology. To exemplify one account, man “needed to understand in order to subdue” his “ravenous appetite for vengeance.” Note that appetite is prior to understanding. For man, appetite is an implicit desire that only comprehension can mitigate. Morrison probes this need for comprehension, asking, “What was the origin of this incipient hunger for violence? Or was it Ruby?.” Morrison effectively attaches the notion of male violent appetite to the entire town of Ruby, implying that Ruby is characterized by manhood. This is a move like Hichri’s “narrative feeding”; it offers the explanation that Ruby inspires violent appetite, so a reader must understand Ruby to understand appetite. As a whole, this initial frame situates culture above nature, placing a culture of Ruby and the men within it as prescribers of meaning, particularly meanings related to food. The men of Ruby’s appetite become a cultural status display and a projection of meaning unto women. Men told “tales of luck and outrage,” not stories to “pass on,” nor even children to raise; “they wanted duplicates” of lineage. This is a clear point of contrast from the male expectation of women in Ruby, who are valued for their capacity to mother rather than simply procreate duplicates. Seneca’s trajectory to the convent illustrates the risks of a “duplicates” culture and the costs for


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women who don’t embrace a “mother” role. Before hearing an ominous call toward the convent, Seneca describes a feeling of ostracism due to her mother-less identity. To the women in her life, she was as an unloved and unnamed, “stray puppy.” Her unwilling caregiver — not mother — treated her as an object and an exhibit, choosing to “Not love. Not name it. Just feed it, play with it, then return it to its own habitat.” This is a story reminiscent of male caregiving in Ruby, for without a name, it evokes a story that can’t be passed. This was Seneca’s story before the convent. Yet this is man’s story throughout the novel. Men project a cultural ideology that situates their children as duplicates or crops to be bred. They perceive a family line as “crop feeble”; they view children as economic obstacles, noting “the fewer children, the more money.” This male narrative is a capitalist driven and culturally contrived perception of child-bearing, one that lacks a mother presence and the connotations of “nature” as love, nurture or care attached. The convergence of pleasure and food imagery in the text further illustrates binary approaches to food as concept and the convent women’s subversion of that binary. The convent women find pleasure in the simple act of “chewing food,” an act seemingly physical or “natural” from the surface. However, description elevates the act’s meaning to a symbolic status: “all the day’s unruly drama dissipated in the pleasure of chewing food.” If the act of eating becomes a site of pleasure, it intrudes upon cultural conceptions of women’s pleasure, specifically its practice and its directionality. Pleasurable eating resolved the drama between the convent women, not between man and woman, nor for the purpose of sexual engagement. In fact, these women engage with food in spite of male sexuality, obtaining rather a sensuality with food itself. These are joy-


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ful, pleasurable acts which evoke feelings like “Oh, yes…Oh, yes…”. This is one of Consolata’s several narrative asides and instances of “narrative feeding.” Through these asides, cooking begins a subversive cycle of pleasure: partial and non-sequential in the text, it is not one moment of sexual climax; it therefore also challenges procreative sex. For Seneca, a craving for “sweetness” has an implication of sexual release, for she craved it to relieve panic and distress. These experiences counter the male cultural expectation of women’s pleasure: that “natural” pleasure depends upon man, reproduction, and bodily sex. The convent women’s approach to sensual food pleasure also contrasts the women of Ruby. The women of Ruby worry about how to please men through food rather than please themselves. Dovey Morgan and her sister distinguish between a man’s sexual pleasure and food pleasure, stating, “If he’s satisfied in bed, the table won’t mean a thing.” This expression separates food and sex as determinants of pleasure, while also situating food pleasure as a lower order than sexual pleasure. The same applies to the men of Ruby, who equate a craving for sex with a craving for sugar and to such an extent that craving “rendered him diabetic, stupid, helpless.” While the convent women expand the notion of pleasure beyond its sexual connotation, the women and men of Ruby restrict their experience of food culture to their cultural ideology and thus cannot achieve the same degree of sensual pleasure with food. To adopt Ortner’s logic, this hierarchizing of pleasure mirrors a culture/nature hierarchy wherein one cultural notion of pleasure predominates another: in this case, sex over food. In other words, the cultural notion most rooted in the “natural” conception of pleasure — that notion being sex — overshadows other means of creating and experiencing pleasure, like through


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food. The religious connotation of cooking spaces reflects a similar reinforcement and subversion dynamic between the male vision for the women of Ruby and the counter vision posed by the convent women. The role of motherly nurture is directly situated in religious space. During a church service, the narration places the women beyond the central religious space, where the pastor and sermon reside, but rather, in a space “above their heads.” There, the women are “pacing, servicing, fetching, feeding—whatever it took to save the children who could not save themselves” [emphasis added]. In this moment, a woman’s religious practice is associated, in part, with the act of feeding and subsequent saving of children through that feeding. Man thereby ascribes religious worth to women on account of their “like nature” function: to feed and to preserve the life of children. It is only deemed the status of “saving” because the children “could not save themselves” without woman fulfilling that “nature” practice. This combination of cultural notions — religious and motherly status — further relegates women to a male-prescribed function in the cultural ethos. Even their religiosity, in the eyes of the men of Ruby, is to serve their “nature” as woman. The convent woman, by contrast, perceive an association between a spiritual pleasure and communal womanhood, not a procreative act of mother-child relations. The convent kitchen image exemplifies this perspective. Described as “the longest table she [Gigi] had ever seen, in the biggest kitchen” and “loaded with food, mostly untouched,” the kitchen parallels religious images of the Last Supper. The untouched nature of this space signifies to Gigi a worship-like, communal environment shared by woman; hence, her impulsive reac-


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tion that “there must be nuns.” This “biggest kitchen” is not only distinct from the “simple cookstove” image but a striking contender to the Oven. The kitchen table symbolizes the lack of maleness in the convent and, not coincidentally, inspires “ravenous” hunger in Gigi. Gigi’s experience of kitchen space reveals that a woman’s appetite in Paradise need not replicate dominant cultural ideology: she does not feed to nurture but instead feeds to commune and heal. Such a conception of the kitchen table is explored by Patricia Moran. She describes the kitchen table as a space “where the mother can feel good about the food—and herself.” I contend that in Morrison’s Paradise the kitchen table is not simply for mother’s pleasure but a pleasurable space for a communal Black womanhood. Black women’s relational bonding of food space extends to food practices, like cooking. A reconnection between two women of the convent, Mavis and Connie, incites the urge to cook and to “cook fresh.” Here, cooking acts as healing through a re-kindling of hearts. Mavis first feels relieved by “the thump of the woman’s heart against her own” — a mother-child symbolism of the womb — and then Connie’s “scrunched” heart seems to release itself through the act of cooking: with the urge to cook she could feel her heart again. Under a “like nature” prescription for mothers, the desire to cook is read as a desire to care and nurture for another human and metaphorized as a mother’s womb. At the same time, however, this moment of cooking situates two grown women within that metaphorical womb relationship, thereby suggesting that the practice of mothering is not confined to biological function. Rather, it actively fosters community among women, granting them a cultural space. Consolata’s account also constructs community spaces through cooking. In the previously


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mentioned “narrative feeding” of Consolata’s asides, the narrative interjects descriptive food preparation, detailing spice combinations to fragrant smells which compile smaller dishes of a larger course. Strategically placed, these moments thread together the accounts of other convent women in that same chapter, thus meeting the same end: creating a pleasurable shared community place or plate. In the subsequent chapter, the narrative confirms this collective sharing: all convent women engage in food preparation together. These experiences complicate the notion that traditional “mothering” occurs between women (re: Hichri, O’Reilly). These women are not domestic mothers. They are women who quite simply love and care and heal without role prescriptions of “nature” attached. Consolata’s role over the domestic space of the convent is to mediate designations of culture and nature for womanhood. She challenges a woman’s presumed role as “nature” as the central cook whose food actively consoles and unites other women, not children and traverses a subversive role as “culture” through her commitment to the souls of the convent women, an ideological matter traditionally restricted to man. As convent “mother,” Consolata ultimately achieves a symbolic authority role through food. Consolata does not explicitly separate the tasks of cooking and mothering but, instead, de-emphasizes the physical body entirely. Describing herself as a “child body” that “leaps into the arms of a woman who teach me my body is nothing my spirit everything,” Consolata inverts several dimensions of traditional mothering. The child is not dependent upon mother for biological growth or cradling but leaps of its own capacity and own will; the child strives for teaching and spirit, ideological notions overly associated with man and culture. Consolata then enacts a personification of


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food, continuing, “my flesh is so hungry for itself it ate him. When he fell away the woman rescue me from my body again.” The repeated pronoun substitutions here suggest a gender and subject ambiguity of this “child body,” but one message is explicit: him — or man — is consumable and expendable whereas “the woman” rescues and “saves” the child through spiritual means. This distinction is not due to composition, as both man and woman are just “bones,” but to something intangible and spiritual that only mother and child share. The convent women share the very same care and nurture with Consolata. They remark shortly after this “introductory speech” that “with Consolata in charge, like a new and revised Reverend Mother, feeding them bloodless food and water alone to quench their thirst, they altered.” Consolata extracts motherhood and nurture from bodily processes and fleshly existence, suggesting that the importance of mothering lies in an inward nourishment like the so-called “bloodless food and water” distinct from a blood-filled body. This is a statement of a cultural order of womanhood founded upon spirituality, not biology, but no less significant in the formation of a child’s livelihood than a man’s cultural order. To place the woman’s cultural order alongside the man’s is one effort to achieve Ortner’s nature/culture mediation but a binary effort at that. To consider food spaces as truly subversive of the nature/culture binary, there must a subversion of the domestic sphere. To assert this claim, I must consider the historic significance of domestic space for Black women. Historically, Black women’s kitchen space functioned as a “communal bond” that opposed white workplaces, an experience Patricia Moran describes as solace and a “form of therapy” from the “domestic labor for white women.” Each of these elements


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applies to the convent. Arguably, the men of Ruby channeled a similar communal experience through their formation of the Oven. They sought to protect womanhood from the historical association between white kitchens and the rape of Black women, a fact they believed was “if not a certainty a distinct possibility.” The Black men of the Oven perceive Black women’s kitchen space as relative to whiteness and the prospect of sexual violation. Man’s aversion to a female kitchen space is a result of a woman’s cultural association with sexuality through that space rather than her traditional role as mother. Thus, the man’s acceptance of a male communal kitchen space is a result of cultural preservation. Indeed, “it was that thinking that made a community “kitchen” so agreeable” to the men. To the men of Ruby, a community kitchen functions as an ideological performance, a projection of their cultural identities and the identities they seek to protect. To the convent women, however, a “kitchen” is personal and intimate, connoted with individual traumatic histories, yet no less a cultural bond among women. In other words, Black women’s food culture creates community while maintaining individuality. As a place that values history as communal yet challenges identity prescription, Morrison’s convent space epitomizes Ortner’s desired “mediation.” The convent kitchen is its own culture and thus an ideology of its own creation, not simply a space for cultural adherence. Toni Morrison ascribes the nature/culture binary to characters, themes, and spaces of the text in an effort which exposes and ultimately undermines those binaries. The narrative subtext of food well exemplifies these attempts because food possesses an abject status in our society. To some, food is a link to nature: it reflects a composition of cultivated earth, a product of ecological growth processes, a satiation of a


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human body’s biophysical needs. To others, food is a link to culture: it harnesses intimate connection between earth and human, consists of tastes and flavors that each body identifies with differently, instills feelings and emotions in the eater. If food is either tangible entity or symbolic meaning, depending upon the perceiver, then food disrupts convention and category. Similarly, if food is either nature or culture, its entry into culture is volatile, unstable, in-concrete. The nature of food risks erasure under a culture designation, while the culture of food risks erasure under a nature designation. This is the predicament of women’s domestic space. On one hand, women cannot embrace the artistry and subtlety of cooking, the sensation of flavors on their pallet, when a prevailing cultural order of man negates those experiences by deeming them unserviceable. Man values the product of this process: the food which services child and the appetite which services man over the process which services womanhood. On the other hand, it seems women cannot embrace the empowerment of a communal, domestic space alongside an embrace of motherhood. The woman risks submission to tradition and procreative function as she aspires to care, nurture, and heal through food. Thus, to create a “food culture” demands an expression of food that is neither nature nor culture but a non-binary: a liminal space or “meditation” between category. Society must perceive domestic food culture as a source of its own meaning, not a consequence of societal projection and not a consequence of natural predisposition. This is the message of Ortner, of Morrison, of Consolata: meanings that come from others, meanings that come from within, are not necessarily so. Meaning is about the act of creation. Cultures of spirituality, sexuality, food — they are all, to some degree, an act of creation.


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• Works Cited Hichri, Asma. “Hunger ‘beyond Appetite’: Nurture Dialectics in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, vol. 44, no. 2-3, 2013, pp. 195–220. Moran, Patricia. “‘A Sinkside, Stoveside, Personal Perspective’: Female Authority and Kitchen Space in Contemporary Women’s Writing.” Scenes of the Apple: Food and the Female Body in Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Women’s Writing. State University of New York Press, 2003. Morrison, Toni. Paradise. Random House, 2014. O’ Reilly, Andrea. “Maternal Interventions: Reconciliation and Redemption.” Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart. State University of New York Press, 2004. Ortner, Sherry B. “Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?” Feminist Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 1972, pp. 5–31.


The Foundationalist is not operated by Bowdoin College, Yale University, or University of Iowa. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the institutions or its official representatives.



C O N T R I BU TO R S SARAH ANG (she/her) grew up in Singapore and is currently

a final-year BA English student at University College London. She has won multiple international awards for her scholarly and creative work, including first place in the Wilbur Smith Author of Tomorrow Award, first place in the iYeats International Poetry Competition (Emerging Category), third place in the Alpine Fellowship Academic Writing Prize and third place in the Ledbury Poetry Competition for Young People. Her work has also been featured in publications such as Idle Ink, Mithila Review, Alexandria Quarterly, Medusa’s Laugh Press, the Claremont Review, and the Forest for the Trees Journal, among others. You can contact her through her LinkedIn.

SOPHIE ARCHAMBAULT (she/her) is a junior at the University of Connecticut. She is majoring in English and is excited to be a part of this issue of The Foundationalist.

LINNÉA BACKVALL (she/her) was born and raised in Sweden but stubbornly pursued her dream of studying abroad and is graduating with a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Edinburgh in June 2021. Interested in literature and linguistics on the academic side of things, Linnéa also harbors a deep love for fantasy and speculative fiction, and nothing fires her imagination more than world- and character-building. She has not written actively since her early teenage years but is now hoping to take up the craft once more, to one day fulfil her dream of publishing a novel. You can contact her through her LinkedIn.

MADDIE CHIU (she/her) is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis studying English and East Asian Studies. She lives in Pasadena, CA with her family and shih tzu Mocha. She is always happy to hear from others, so feel free to connect with Maddie through her LinkedIn!

KELSEY DAY (she/they) is a writer and environmental ac-

tivist from southern Appalachia. They are most well known for their poetry collections “The Last Four Years” and “Rootlines.” Kelsey is a contributing writer for Two Story Melody and the Head Poetry Editor for the Emerson Review. Her work has


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appeared in literary journals such as Expositions Magazine, Stork Magazine, Astral Waters, Atlas Magazine, and Blindcorner Literary.

SOPHIA DIENSTAG (she/her) is a recent graduate of Wesleyan University, where she majored in film and English and minored in German. As a senior, she served as editor-in-chief of Intercut, Wesleyan’s only literary magazine dedicated to publishing writing on TV and film. She now plans to return to Los Angeles, where she grew up, to pursue a career in television writing. JOSEPH DONATO (he/him) is a third-year student at the University of Toronto studying anthropology and creative writing. Aside from writing, Joseph enjoys escape rooms, Taylor Swift, and lottery tickets. He can be found @josephdonato13 on Instagram and @newartform on Tik Tok. AMANDA HALL (she/her) is an English major with a CW minor. She loves beautiful people with deep voices, and worked as Editor-in-Chief of New Forum during UCI’s 2020-21 school year. After rediscovering her bisexuality last summer, she made the executive decision to be as obnoxious about it as possible. You can find her at https://twitter. com/sampaguitasound! EMMA KARNES (she/her) recently graduated from the

University of Virginia with a degree in English and Poetry Writing, and is currently pursuing her Masters of Public Policy. She has been writing poetry ever since her second-grade teacher introduced her to acrostics and diamantes and has had her work published in Rattle Young Poets Anthology, BreakBread Magazine, Tilde, and elsewhere. In addition to writing, Emma enjoys dancing and hanging out with her pups, and she’s spending the current summer working on agricultural cooperative stewardship in Wisconsin. She is thrilled and humbled to have her work included in this issue of The Foundationalist!

CLARA KJELSBERG (she/her) is a graduating senior from

University of Rochester, majoring in psychology and planning on attending Boston College for her Masters in Counseling. She enjoys and writing and reading pieces about fairy tales, romance gone wrong, and the connection between perceptions of reality


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and reality itself.

KATE KWOK (she/her) is a writer, translator and singer-songwriter born and raised in Hong Kong. She studies English Literature and Translation. A day in her ideal life would be sipping boba milk tea and playing her favorite songs on a Steinway grand piano.

ASHLEY LITTLE (she/her) is a recent graduate of Franklin

and Marshall College. She studied English Literature and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies with a focus on feminist literary criticism and feminist philosophy. She is especially interested in the intersections between food culture and feminism.

SHIRLEY LIU is a writer from Lafayette College. As a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sharon Mai (she/her) majored in Biochemistry and minored in English. After college, Sharon plans to attend medical school. Despite her interests in the sciences, she finds writing and reading to be an escape and a way to express her creativity. Her main inspiration comes from her family, such as by understanding what it means to be a child of immigrant parents, her Asian American identity, and cherishing relationships in the past, present, and future.

THOMAS MCLEOD (he/him) is an undergraduate in

Honors English at the University of British Columbia. Thomas is currently the editor of both the blog and opinion sections of UBC’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey. You can find him on Twitter (@thomasmcleodtm) if you’d like to to subject yourself to some of the most generally senseless thoughts you’ve ever encountered. Thomas is originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

NEILY RAYMOND (she/her) is a native Mainer of Acadian descent. She studies English and Philosophy at the University of Maine and will be a Visiting Student at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, in 2022.

MICHAEL TRAUTMANN RODRIGUEZ (he/him) is a Puerto Rican poet and recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in English and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Engi-


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neering at the University of Delaware.

SAMANTHA ROWLING (she/her) is an English student

at Arizona State University. She lives with her husband and son and is expecting a second child this September.

ANNE SAVAGE (she/hers) is a senior at Tufts University, where she studies English, French, and Film & Media Studies. She is also Head of Writing for Tufts’ only gender minority comedy group, TFL Comedy. RUTH SCHREIBER (she/her) was born outside of Boston, Massachusetts. She is a rising senior at Smith College studying English with a Creative Writing Focus. Ruth has taken a variety of creative nonfiction and fiction courses and loves to explore the intimate and complex emotions around everyday life. You can contact her through her LinkedIn. JULIA M. WALTON (she/her) is a recent graduate from Princeton University, where she concentrated in English and earned certificates in Creative Writing, Humanistic Studies, and East Asian Studies. Her scholarly and creative work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Philosophy World Democracy, COUNTERCLOCK, The Foundationalist, The Paper Shell Review, Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy, Figments, The Nassau Literary Review, Questions: Philosophy for Young People, and The Best Teen Writing of 2016. Her senior thesis, entitled "The New Global Canon of Japanese Women Authors: Yōko Tawada, Minae Mizumura, Mieko Kawakami, and the Writing of a Heterogeneous Japan," was granted the Earl R. Miner Thesis Prize by Princeton's English Department. She lives in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. LinkedIn | Facebook CICELY WILLIAMS (she/her) is a 4th year English literature honours student at the University of British Columbia. Her academic research is principally concerned with gender, sexuality, and intersectionality in modernist and postmodernist texts, with a particular emphasis on extreme or alternate modes of femininity. Her creative work often explores surrealism, introspection, and femininity, and was featured in Issue #10 of The Garden Statuary.


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CECILIA WRIGHT (she/her) is a rising Junior attending Washington University in St. Louis where she is double majoring in English and History. ANDREW YANG is a writer from McGill University. JESS YANG (she/her) was born and raised in Orange County, California to a Korean mother and a Korean-American father. For high school, Jess attended Cate School, a private boarding institution in Carpinteria, California, and she now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently a rising sophomore at Bowdoin College, and she plans to major in Asian Studies with a minor in English. Jess plays for the Bowdoin Women’s Rugby Team and spends her free time skateboarding, playing any video game with a narrative arc, and writing. CHRISTIAN YEO (he/him) is an outgoing finalist read-

ing law at Magdalene College. He won the Arthur Sale Poetry Prize in 2019, has performed at the Singapore and Lancaster Poetry Festivals, reached the semi-finals of UniSlam 2021 with the Cambridge team, and has poems published or forthcoming in The Mays, Anthropocene, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Ekstasis Magazine, and The Tiger Moth Review, among others.

YOELA ZIMBEROFF (they / them / theirs) is a rising senior at Reed College where they study Religion. They write best with a deadline and can be found scribbling into a worn composition notebook in between daily tasks. Currently working on the Hudson River, Yoela is looking forward to another fall of writing on the horizon.


E N D N OT E S DREAMS OF BAK CHOR MEE * ‘Minced pork noodles’, a Singaporean dish. i

A Singlish term meaning ‘Caucasian’ A type of chili popular in Southeast Asia. iii ‘New Year’s Eve’ in Mandarin iv ‘Oh no!’ or something to that effect in Hokkien, a dialect of Mandarin. v Chocolate malt powder of the ‘Milo’ brand, colloquially referred to by said ubiquitous brand name. vi ‘The frog in a well’ in Mandarin. vii ‘When you drink water, think about its source’ in Mandarin. viii ‘Dating’ in Hokkien. ix A popular coconut marmalade spread in Singapore and Malaysia. x A Singaporean local chain store. xi A coterie of swear words including some choice ones in Hokkien, indicated (in the way of Anglophonic Asian literature) by Italics. ii

WOOLF'S PARENTHESES AND BRACKETS: PULSATION OF THE INTERIOR i

Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (Vintage, 1996).

ii

Virginia Woolf, Recent Paintings by Vanessa Bell (London: The Association, 1930).

iii

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (Harcourt, 1981).

iv

Randi Koppen, “Embodied Form: Art and Life in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse,” New Literary History 32, no. 2 (2001): pp. 375-389, https://doi.org/10.1353/nlh.2001.0017. v Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf. vi

Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Signs, 1976, pp. 875-893.


AC K N OW L E D G M E N T S To Cathy Duong, Helena Fantz, Elizabeth Johnson, and Shayley Martin; your leadership, contributions, and fellowship have been invaluable. Our deepest gratitude and joy in being part of a team with you.

We would like to acknowledge our Faculty Advisor Brock Clarke, The Bowdoin Department of English, especially Laurie Holland for always passing along our messages, and the 80+ universities this issue who participated or encouraged students to submit to our journal. We are deeply grateful for the undergraduate writers who weren’t afraid to be vulnerable, out-spoken, and experimental; sharing their critical words in such an especially critical time. To our committed and enthusiastic board members who carved out space and time in their heart for meetings at all hours (and timezones) of the day and their steadfast presence in our community. We are so grateful to our readers. With your interest, perspectives, and engagement we are better able to fulfill our mission to serve undergraduate writing across the globe.


A NOTE ON THE TYPE This issue was set in Baskerville & Didot. Baskerville was designed by printmaker John Baskerville in the 18th century in England, influencing the development of the Didot family in Paris. Didot is favoured for its condensed armature, vertical stress, unbracketed serifs and is considered a Neoclassical typeface. It was also favoured by Voltaire for his publications, becoming a standard in French printing in the late 1700s.



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