Round 2 Volume 12
the Laughing Medusa
The Laughing Medusa
Womenâ€™s Literature and Arts Journal Spring 2017
Boston College Round 2: Volume 12
Laughing Medusa Editors and Council Editor-in-Chief Nicola McCafferty Director of Submissions Taylor Puccini Layout Editor Tiffany Liu Copy-Editors Anna Olcott Kate Oksen
Literature Directors of Publicity Colleen Reynolds Celia Smithmier Council Members Bailey Flynn Claire Kramer Katerina Ivanov Christin Snyder Jordan Tessler
Many Thanks For Your Support: Mary Crane and The Institute for the Liberal Arts (ILA) Akua Sarr Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Peter Marino & Susan Dunn at the Center for Centers Richard Downing and staff at Flagship Press
we need to say something Anonymous
On the Week my Fingernails Broke Colleen Reynolds
sit. listen to me. Morgan Hamill
To these men who think Iâ€™m nothing: Nicola McCafferty
Power of Talk Taylor Puccini
A Substitute for Cloves Morgan Hamill
Florence Kelsey McGee
On Surprising Losses Naphisa Senanarong
Note to Self Catherine Malcynsky
Doubt Colleen Reynolds
Night Vigil Katerina Ivanov
Cousins Celia Cummiskey
Something Has Occurred Francesca von Krauland
Blue Moon Nicola McCafferty
Sometimes I Read My Freckles in Your Accent Colleen Reynolds
To Peachfront Naphisa Senanarong
After Paris Katerina Ivanov
Shades of Paint Valerie Cherbero
A Mother to Her Daughter After the Election Madison Semarjian
Printemps Julia Cardwell
Encyclopedia Red: BECOMING A WOMAN Corinne Duffy
blue nude october Katerina Ivanov
you’d be prettier without your glasses Nicola McCafferty
We Eat Lamb Madison Semarjian
Tsukemen Naphisa Senanarong
Weather Francesca von Krauland
The Butterfly Effect Kate Oksen
the crucifix Morgan Hamill
Rainbow Girl Ellie Ray
Geissler’s Haley Cormier
Gravel Roads Claire Kramer
We All Burn Down Madison Semarjian
Inorganic Francesca von Krauland
The Wrong Words Liz Holman
Autumn’s Samsara Gabrielle Downey
Once Upon a Time Sarah Strohecker
First Day in Five Years Without You Colleen Reynolds
The Caterpillar and The Wallflower Naphisa Senanarong
Duke of York during intermission Morgan Hamill
Morning After Sherry Hsiao
When the Plows Come Katerina Ivanov
Appeal to my body Nicola McCafferty
The Morning After Taylor Puccini
Restitution Julia Cardwell
Sunset Soliloquy Gabrielle Downey
Kind of Girl Francesca von Krauland
Stars Ellie Ray
Riptide Julia Cardwell
121 cover, 34, 62, 68, 99
16, 52, 70
28, 74, 115
19, 49, 89, 103
86, 101, 110
39, 76, 79, 93
Sara Valdez Emily Zhao
Mission Statement The Laughing Medusa seeks to engage the Boston College community with the artistic works of diverse women. The journal provides a safe space for talented young women to express and examine our lives. We hope to emphasize and explore our collective humanity, and hope that all readers can see themselves in the pages of this journal.
As you flip through the 2017 edition of the Laughing Medusa, we invite you to reflect on the events of the past year. The current cultural climate has posed a challenge to our mission of providing a welcoming space for women to speak out at the same time as it has highlighted the importance of these kinds of spaces. Our council has had the opportunity to assemble a thought-provoking collection of artistic voices, expressed through poetry, prose, photography, and art, that boldly capture and expose elements of the everyday. As always, weâ€™re thrilled to provide a space for the women of Boston College to be unapologetically themselves; to convey their moments of triumph alongside their feelings of loss. This journal hopes to encompass a multiplicity of womenâ€™s experiences, some of which include incidents of trauma. We want to encourage you to engage with this evocative material and to take care of yourself while doing so. Ultimately, we hope this issue gives voice to the resiliency of women, and that it encourages some of you to pick up a pen, a camera, or a paintbrush and share your thoughts with us next year. The Laughing Medusa Council
Emily Zhao 12
On the Week my Fingernails Broke For my mother Mary
we need to say something after Mahmoud Darwish and so we steal from the poet a line to feed to our pen to silence the aching of the blank page. Anonymous
The Wednesday morning after Election Day crawled out of a bottle of wine empty and broken under the couch I woke up on empty and broken next to a remote and stained glass, palms sewn like I’d been saying the Hail Mary in my sleep, like I used to when I was young and stared out stained glass windows, before I forgot how to pray with eyes open— which might have happened when I went away to college in Boston and Sunday morning light became too heavy for the cornea after whiskey and wine, and my mother wasn’t there to kiss my forehead and hand me the sign of peace, and our and father were only reminders of the pieces of her he ripped away and tore in front of me—that’s when I learned to stare at the sun until the eyes can wash themselves with tears. But on the Sunday before, I met my mom in church: Penn Station, New York, for a two hour layover between Boston and Hudson Valley, where I had just broke free of five years of a boy who sang lullabies until you forget how to open eyes, move lips, and say no—but that’s another poem, not this one—in this one I met my mom for church in the Starbucks in Penn Station (a place where I finally found religion in the time spent between trips: sitting on a suitcase because there are no pews, staring at arrivals and departures and wandering and wondering about arrivals and departures and the spaces between things and days and people until time slows) It slowed for two hours in the Starbucks below Penn Station; because she came to meet me and told me she was proud of me for learning how to stand again when she was still trying to find her legs and she handed me an envelope and she handed me my
ballot and she handed me hope and she handed me a pen and she handed me power and she handed me the sign of peace, she handed me the pieces of me he ripped just like my father; and she watched her third daughter vote for the first time and she watched her third daughter vote for the first woman president and she watched her third daughter come back to life and then we both cried in the Starbucks beneath 33rd street, by the Long Island Railroad in the lower level of Penn Station where there are no windows but there was sunlight in her eyes that made mine water until they were clean because she looked at me and said proud and strong and I remembered how to pray with eyes open when she pulled my gaze upward from the shadows on the ground to someone up there, maybe on 33rd street that she called guardian angel and I donâ€™t really think there is a God but I know there is a blessed mother and her name is Mary. Colleen Reynolds
sit. listen to me.
it is not so strange: how you feel.
now: of a cigarette
not to know
put the wrong end to your lips.
it will taste not at all white but black, like ash,
which you will scatter like pigeons at the flick of your wrist, the embers, dropped coins that coast on their sides in arcs you will chase but never predict you will swallow this air and choke on your spit and decide: it is not so strange: not to know and yet still try to call this your own. Morgan Hamill
To these men who think Iâ€™m nothing: after Gloria Fuertes
Iâ€™ll light a cigarette in your honor and jab the burnt stub into fertile ground like a final flag of victory. Nicola McCafferty
Power of Talk i.
i wonder who taught you English— was it a woman?
did your mother press a book against your palms and mouth the words to Goodnight Moon
while you riddled a new vernacular somewhere between those twenty-six letters: A, B, C…
ii. i was taught the language of excuse me and
from Matriarchs passing along the Art of the Apology
(it’s written by a man).
and i was taught to form w-e, not i-e on my tongue when I speak of me, myself
Erica Mazzarelli what about i? Taylor Puccini
A Substitute for Cloves Easter is bitter. Cold. A threadbare comforter, a borrowed room, this old-dog, arthritic English house. Damp plaster walls, grey-blue mold creeping up the shower curtains and languishing over the grout between the tiles, prying under windowsills. This morning in the kitchen—chaos, dishes, disorder making its playground across every surface. Breakfast is yesterday’s reheated coffee. My spoon clinks in the sink. Teddy’s mug, displaying I’m a twat on the underside, dries upside down on the drying rack, resting against mine, which is plain white. The size of a bowl. Pier 21 in fine print. His, also poorly washed, shows signs of use, coffee stains pluming over the edges, trailing down the sides. The rest of the house is much the same. A roll of hobnobs jammed beside the couch, protective sheet pulled down, pillows flattened in the corner. A holographic Jesus poster taped on the mini-fridge door, captioned: Christ is the Light (Beer 2:25). Someone’s mug of mocha, already a week old, lingering on the coffee table. Chairs scattered haphazardly, turned expectantly toward each other. Waiting. Everywhere, abandoned boxes of crackers and rolls of biscuits and jars of peanut butter and containers of marmite and tubs of jam. Crumbs. Leavings. Plenty to eat, but no edible meal in miles. Nothing to make this place home. I’d thought, by now, after three months abroad, I’d know how to exist in this space without these boys, two of whom—the ones I know best—are now absent for the holiday. But their absence is strange and surrounds me, scattered with the crumbs—I want them, not this empty English house, all brick and mold and hunger. I wonder if they miss me, if they think of me in this short week, or if I’ve disappeared the same way the dishes have. Waiting for no one. They’ve forgotten their messes. These things just blend in. Teddy is still home, and he finds me in the kitchen, considering what to tackle first. My dishes or my doubt. He clasps my shoulder and startles me. “There is no food,” he announces. Pauses. I turn, allow him a half-raised eyebrow and, “It hadn’t occurred to me. Tell me more.” 22
Because of this lack of food, Teddy continues, Michael has invited us to Easter dinner. I don’t know Michael, but I know his housemates, Lara and Anna, in passing—from bars, clubs, places we’ve run into each other. Teddy has introduced me to Lara and Anna; he goes out with them sometimes, and all of us inevitably cross paths—there are exactly one club, two bars, and five pubs in this village. Egham. (Some names: Medicine. Armstrong Gun. Beehive. Monkey’s Forehead. The English are inventive.) Michael, while out drinking with the other three in theory, is, in practice, usually nowhere to be found—or, alternatively, can be found giving lectures to first-years about various types of ravioli stuffing and why scraping the bottom of the sauce pot is an unspeakable crime. Michael is, after all, Italian, and has his grandmother on speed dial “in case of emergency”. Emergency, in this case, constitutes not ‘did you hear about that house fire? Yes, well, that was my fault,’ or ‘I think I’ve cut off the tip of my finger, and it may be somewhere in the salad I just served you, but not to worry.’ Emergency is, ‘FUCK ME, we have run out of cloves, and I do not know what to substitute them with.’ Lara, meanwhile, is taller than me—a rarity—and cuts her bangs in a thick, glossy line across her forehead, giving her the sort of vintage, dark looks I’ve always wished I could cultivate. The first time I am alone with her, I watch as she lays the flat, chill metal of scissors against her forehead with such coolness it shakes me. That is when she turns in her chair, hair caught in her lashes, and her generous laugh betrays her. But when we first meet, I still think of her as distant, and she terrifies me—both she and Anna, who is, as Teddy puts it, “a bag of cats” and “never not high” and “maybe, ok, definitely mental,” as she is, for example, prone to yelling “I love you!” or “Food!” at any given moment the way some people type in capslock. I often think, after a run-in with the pair of them, that my anxiety around them makes no sense; Anna is, at least, approachable, affectionate, and Lara doesn’t seem to mind me. At the very least I’m not being fair to them. Or myself. But both girls are things I am not: self-assured, vibrant, certain. Both know they have a place here without condition. They are far from me—my loneliness, my desperation to know them, my fear that they sense that. 23
The two love food as much as Michael does, which is, apparently, impressive, given Michael is, as I am emphatically assured, Italian—which evidently, in Teddy’s mind, qualifies him as a culinary genius—and totes his grandmother’s recipe book around with him like some sort of gospel. He refuses to eat anywhere not owned by people of the same origin as their cuisine—with the exception of Dominos, because, “I like shit pizza, but let the Americans stay in America, please God”. The first time he makes this joke, I laugh, but uneasily. I don’t know if his barb might in some way be meant for me. Teddy tries to dissuade me. He explains Michael is “also mental”. When I ask why, I get a blank stare and, “he cooks”. While this is extremely perceptive of Teddy, it does absolutely nothing for me. Despite my unease, this talent, Michael’s ease, only solidifies Michael as someone I also long to know—the way I long to know Lara and Anna, Teddy, the other boys. The way I wish they would long to know me. With desperation, as when you meet someone with no prior warning, perhaps jammed awkwardly together on the subway, or beside each other in lecture, and find yourself speaking with echoes of your own loneliness and somehow feel full. That is how I long to know them. There is another girl, named Phoenix—I had thought, the first four times we were introduced, Teddy was fucking with me—who lives with the three of them. She, I have heard—and will later see for myself—likes to walk around the house topless and chew on ragged orange peels after juicing them by hand. However, as Teddy informs me on this cold Easter morning, she is “not mental” but “quite lovely, actually”. I’m not sure I share this assessment. But I stay quiet—both because I do not actually know, and because she, too, reminds me of all of the things I am not, not in this country, where I am so new. A place I find myself possibly unwanted. Where time is so short, but six months is forever. None of us is returning home for the holiday—Michael to Italy, Lara to Switzerland, Anna to Russia, Phoenix to Newcastle, Teddy to Manchester, and me to America—remaining, instead, in London. Or, rather, near London, but not near enough—Egham: nothing but green, sodden hills dotted with tired brick houses and half-collapsed picket fences and goats. Some charity shops. Tesco at the bottom of the hill, a long walk 24
for groceries, made worse trudging back up the incline with sixpacks of craft cider. Bad Indian by Michael standards—Mango Chutney and Megna Tandoori, both owned by Poles—but good enough by mine. Dominos, of course. Egham Essentials, stuffed with hula hoops and notebooks and rubber chickens and plastic dinnerware and bongs. It is, somehow, actually essential. I shrug at Teddy. Want to know why we can’t just go to one of the pubs for Easter brunch—the food is excellent, hot, made by someone else, and, best of all, Teddy isn’t allowed near the making of it. Ever. This is, after all, Teddy: my somehowfriend who subsists on two-day-old flatbread pizzas stolen from the bar where he works. Shakes pasta straight from the box into his mouth. Chars toast and butters it. Saves theatre popcorn “for later” and actually eats it. But he insists—catches me by the arm, tells me he forbids me from cooping myself up in the living room, watching reruns of Spy Kids on English television, which was something I’ve actually been doing. “You will love them,” he says. “Because I know they will love you, because they love food, too.” The logic is simply too circular to bother arguing with. He explains we are to pick up the wine. All red, preferably. More than that, I am anxious to impress them—so much that I cook absolutely nothing. Teddy also has nothing to show. And so Easter evening finds us trudging to dinner through wind and rain, laden with twelve bottles of red wine, an overly cautious underestimate for eight people, as it turns out. But the food suffers the opposite problem, also known as ‘Michael’. He has hummus and pita, both from scratch, for us to start with. Lara sits beside me at the island bar with the makings of a cheese board—crumbly, sweet cranberry Wensleydale, buttery brie, smoky gouda, and pungent asiago, cut neatly and laid against slivered almonds and sliced pears and rounds of toasted French baguette—and explains each of her choices, smacking Teddy’s hands away, hounding Michael to find a bottle of white to pair with the brie. Michael hums behind us at the stove, frying balsamic-glazed chicken thighs, skin on, crackling and caramelized. Anna throws bits of parsnip and turnip and sweet potato at me across the counter. She wants my help peeling and dicing and won’t accept refusal. I don’t realize what she’s done until I’m halfway through. My shoulders loosen. Our 25
arms brush. My wine is in, of all things, a cloudy tumbler. It is dark, ruby, opaque. It is the first thing I see clearly. The next is all of them, all of us together, no one behind glass at all, my discomfort laid cleanly out. Phoenix has set out plates, is arranging the fruit, stands in anxiety-inducing proximity to many oranges. I laugh, disarmed. Tell Anna how I always peel the vegetables at home for dinner, about my brother’s undying vendetta against parsnips, “those hairy white satanic not-carrots,” and my mother’s enduring obsession with grilling whole sweet potatoes. Once, my father decided to peel them, slice them into wedges, and toss them in Cajun seasoning to make fries. It was the last thing he ever did.
milk ice cream with honey. Fresh berries. Oranges. Little lemon Italian cakes stuffed with strawberry jam and topped with crumbled honeycomb. Red wine in glasses, in tumblers, in mugs and mason jars. Everything, all of it, tastes of helpless laughter. Morgan Hamill
Anna asks me what I normally do for Easter, if I see extended family or if just do my own thing. Mentions she hasn’t spent Easter with anyone but “this lot” in years, gesturing affectionately with her knife. (At this point, it still remains unclear if she actually understands the traditional uses of knives. Most of the time, I believe this does not involve ‘cheerfully decapitating passerby at random,’ but I stand willing to be corrected.) I tell her my extended family usually gathers for brunch. That they are all together at this moment, now that I think of it, given the time change. This will be the first year I spend alone. “Alone?” Lara says, and laughs. The sound is simultaneously discomfiting and soothing. She doesn’t seem to mind my mistake, and yet—I do. Simmer in it. But she takes no offense. Reaches over and relieves Anna of custody of the knife. Slides me a new glass of wine, says, “Why don’t we put the veg in the oven?” Our fingers are warm where they meet.
All this time, Michael has been muttering to himself over his cooking—Anna says he’s fussing like a mother hen over his chickens, sending Teddy, who is on his second bottle, into fits. I’ve stopped trying to make sense of things. When Michael turns to me and informs me I am not a vegetarian—not tonight, he won’t stand for that bullshit when he has thighs like these—I join Teddy in helpless laughter. Everything tastes of it. Everything. The chicken, the vegetables, the dinner rolls. Phoenix’s chocolate croissants, not flaky so much as dense, chewy blocks of butter and cocoa. Slab sponge cake filled with buttercream and covered with golden, caramelized slivers of almond. Goat’s 26
Florence Through the lens of another I viewed a small town written in the past, filled to the tipping point with chronic streets and pan fried businesses promoting solidarity through suppression, fraternité sans liberté, an America that America forgot. Bask in the encompassing glory of antebellum mysteries, willows smelling of forgiveness would whisper to outsiders, melt deep in the red cotton as cars pass on the way to Harstville, swaying at captive noon. Dear, drop everything shallower than my streams. Only in sepia-toned books is a promise worth keeping.
to the floor. The past pang clawed open my stomach and swallowed the present, forcing the push of a plate away at the sheer mention of God. I touched the progenetic future encased in a cloud of dust. Their lungs were clogged but the darlings always lived gasping for air. They wondered who I was. I said in 19, 19, 19. I’ll see them in a short 19. Kelsey McGee
A hidden man burdened by closets ceilings and carpets assumed a self-created duty to love his oppressed future. In frozen seconds and burnt hours, together we felt the crumblings of ceiling tiles and ripped the carpet from under ourselves. We brushed the squirrel poison from our hair and dreamed of asbestos with the knowledge that tomorrow could be another lost memory. We broke bread before the altar of forgotten homes and the brain drain, of white supremacy and the DNC. He told me to pray to Dorothy Day Shaquille O’Neal Ghandi and Shakespeare. I do. Under a secluded home I slept among ambivalent lives that shone brightest under moonlight and quaking palms that meant the best but dropped their coffee en route. I cupped an inopportune time in my fingers and felt its opacity melt between the cracks of my rings and drip 28
On Surprising Losses
The Maldives is sinking.
It has occurred to me recently, that it has been sinking for a while now. Whole islands don’t just collapse into water overnight, after all. These things take time. Take the city of Miami, for example, which environmentalists say could disappear underwater in as little as fifteen years—maybe not even in time for me to falter, fail, and start over on a different career path than the one I intended to be on after college. Perhaps I won’t even have kids yet—what with artificial insemination and surrogate mothers and my pathological fear of surgical tables and family vacations—I could have my first child at forty-two for all anyone knows. A part of my mind still fights with the idea that the city could be well beneath sea levels by the time I got my shit together and I would never get to experience the full glory of Miami Vice like I’d always wanted to.
I was reminded that the Maldives is sinking, I had not thought about its sinking for a while, by an article I read about the blanching of the corals in the Great Barrier Reefs, which I know is geographically irrelevant to the issue at hand. But visually, it did not feel unrelated. In the kitchen, the process of blanching is used to prolong the freshness and flavor of a vegetable by immersing said vegetable briefly in boiling water. It does not take a culinary expert to tell that the Great Barrier Reefs have been left in the boiling water for too long. In the case of the corals, the definition of blanching we are looking for is, therefore, one of losing, one of fading unlike in the case of the broccoli, where it is one of preserving, if only for a couple more nights. These two definitions feel directly contradictory to me. Counterproductive, in fact. Why would the same word have the power to move different things toward completely opposite ends of the spectrum of deterioration? The last time I saw my grandmother she was staunchly in the coral reef end of things. Each day in the hospital, propped up in bed with a stiff tube that produces loud suctioning noises as it vacuumed phlegm from a hole in her throat, the pool of deterioration grew larger and deeper around my grandmother who used to spit just to punctuate her swearing. The clearest indication of this could be seen in her hair: once a fried red mess,
carefully retouched every few weeks, was now a full, white mass, as pale as the dead reefs themselves. I imagine grandma’s brain, underneath that mass of beautiful ivory hair, must look like the Great Barrier Reefs—the parts that Alzheimer’s has claimed, drained off its color, slowly encroaching on the rest. A satellite bird’s eye image of her brain would review an ocean of pale grey dead mass, eroding over time. How long has it been since the erosion began? Was grandpa alive at the time? Are her temper tantrums a symptom of her condition or the last parts of her kicking and screaming, putting up one last fight against the growing grey mass? Could we had saved her, preserved a tiny broccoli of her essence, her true self, had we discovered the illness sooner—put her on medication earlier, entrusted her to a different physician? Had my aunts not wanted to cut costs by putting her into an inferior hospital? When did we really find out about her illness? The first time I found out the Maldives was sinking, it was 2004. My parents carefully factored this information into the consideration when their friends—or rather my dad’s longterm semi-rivals—proposed a group family trip to the paradise destination, partly as a way to gauge who had the financial means to make such a trip happen and who didn’t. We didn’t. And despite the fact that the Maldives is sinking, my parents politely declined their friends’ lavish invitation. I remember this because that was the same year the Tsunami that was thought to carry the same energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type bombs devastated the Indian Ocean and almost, but did not quite, permanently wipe out the Maldives. The Maldives is a honeymoon destination, was my mom’s conclusion to me on the matter, not a place to take your two young kids—one of whom was trying to perfect the breaststroke, the other still refusing to eat anything other than sticky rice and chicken nuggets. The Maldives was a small island anyways, what if they didn’t have a steady supply of nuggets for my brother? For a long time after that, the Maldives was where my hypothetical soulmate and I would finally lose our virginities to each other in a hut amidst the forget-me-not blue water, on top of a floor replaced with glass so we could see the marine life beneath us, not a blanched coral in sight. A small clock ticked 32
away in the back of my head, with the sands of time I had left before the island sank and my chances of finding a soulmate went down with it. It seems fitting that the first boy I thought could be my soulmate would have a vacation home in the Maldives. I never brought up the fact that the Maldives was sinking to him. I didn’t want to rush him into anything. Besides, he was taking perfect advantage of the island as is. He went there every year with his big, happy family. Perhaps it was not just fitting but in my strange, skewed childish mind, a calculated approach on my part, to have selected one of the few people in the world with a vacation home on a notoriously sinking land mass where, as it happens, is also where I planned to have my honeymoon. Maybe I thought I was increasing my likelihood of that reality by conflating The Boy with The One because of The Place. By the summer The Boy Who Was Not The One and I broke up for the last time, after three years of off-and-on relations, the summer of my junior year of high school. My family had definitely already learned about the Alzheimer’s eroding away my grandmother’s brain. It was a matter of how prominent that information was in our minds. By now, what with news of global warming and expanding research on the subject, The Boy and his big, happy family must already know that their vacation spot was a sure as hell goner. It was only a matter of whether or not this information was at the forefronts of their brains, the part where information get computed, processed, and enacted into actions, not just stored away in neat little compartments. I met the love of my life approximately the same year that my grandma lost her true self. Maybe I am conflating the two, trying to make meaning out of the senseless deterioration by balancing it out with something life-changingly beautiful. In my memory, one moment she was lecturing me about being alone with boys and the next, she could only stiffly acknowledge my presence with the faint miming of my name, on the days in which she remembered my name. My mom had asked me not to mention my foreign boyfriend in the presence of my traditional, fiery-minded grandmother, who was herself half-German halfThai but adamantly opposed to the idea of dating someone not Thai. I wondered if grandmother’s deterioration was somehow 33
sped up by the loss of grandpa, the true love of her life, because now that I remember, that was around the time the illness first officially introduced itself to our family. The word blanching has Germanic roots. Traced to Middle English, it came from the almost romantic blanchir, which was of course French, but itself was derived from the austere, flat-out blanc, a no-nonsense word translating simply to “white” in German. It seems like the word itself is growing, a quiet, deadly growth as it transgressed language lines and geographical barriers until it arrives in all its confusing, counterproductive existence today. Blanching: the act of paling, of losing vitality and color, of fading—and also, the plunging of vegetables in boiling water in order to save them for future cooking on future days, for the meantime, they would be stored away in a freezer of forgotten items once known. The way I perhaps always knew the Maldives is sinking, and had to have known my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, these losses came not like an old lover’s family photo resurfacing from the interweb, or a satellite still image of a dying ocean, but like the crushing of a legendary wave upon an unsuspecting shore, the quick band-aid pull of a tide as it takes away the foundations of an island once glorious, once standing. Naphisa Senanarong
Note to Self I saw someone get bad news today And it changed the way my coffee tasted. I thought about it all day long— How the shoulders are the first to go. Catherine Malcynsky
Doubt Last week I plugged these two ears with the spines of shell-shaped cookies I broke at a table on Mott and Bayard: wisps of confetti left at the bottom of my vanity drawerâ€” same spot, different fortune. Itâ€™s only ten minutes on foot, but I always forget the way back from that puddle in Chinatown. Colleen Reynolds
Night Vigil A sudden bout of insomnia came over Scotty when a boy she went to school with died. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, but it was the kind of tragedy that hit hard because of its suddenness and because no one ever really learns to expect death. When they put up the memorial, there was a quiet sadness to the streets, like like a public restroom after dark. Lots of cool cement and unhinged doors, the feeling your hands will never be clean. There were candles and photos outside of the peeling apartment complex that had been painted an optimistic pink before she was even born. Outside, babies gurgling on the patios; women not much older than Scotty crooning at them in garbled Spanish with long black hair dripping down their backs in oil slicks. Their voices were always rough with worry and exhaustion and a bit of smoke, hushed, careful not to disturb the children.
She knew a lot of the families in the complex, despite the isolation of living in the trailer by the grove. They were in her school, and later working around town or picking up jobs down the highway, always looking slightly worn through, but never unkempt. The streets were always lined with moth eaten sofas and scrap wood, discards littering the sidewalks. The grassy space in front would be flooded with azaleas and children and the scent of persimmons. There was no playground in Conjunction, so little girls with kinky flyways that Scotty yearned to tuck and smooth would weave between the old furniture. She’d watch, wistfully, as they climbed and danced through the bars of balconies like a ribcage. The memorial was at the end of the block, right before you hit the overgrown lots that spanned until her grove. There were always tall religious candles, sometimes flowers or notes, as well. It wasn’t like the memorials on highways. It was much sadder than that. Wistful, even. His name was Mike, and he was going to leave town one day, everyone was sure of it. Scotty only knew him in a perimeter kind of way. He was in the remedial math class with her, and he was funny, according to their teacher, so he got away with murder. He used to hang out in the back parking area that was called the pot lot: a bunch of kids perched on the hoods of their parents’ sedans, or lounging in truck beds, passing a joint and getting black ash all over their worn out jeans, canaries in coal mines. The few 38
days Scotty participated, she never saw him smoke.
There were rumors that he was deep in underground football recruitment, even though back then he was only in halfway through high school. He showed up to school one day wearing a Princeton sweatshirt, despite the heat, orange clashing joyfully against his dark skin—Mike, from the apartments next to the trailer park, in a Princeton sweatshirt—naturally the whole town knew by second period. They all walked lightly around him after, like they knew, somehow, he was destined for something larger. For college football.
She had only spoken to him once, lurking outside remedial math. He was dawdling with a cigarette, a sight that surprised her. Mike didn’t smoke. He had Ivy League lungs. You didn’t just put that fucking garbage in those. She was contemplating knocking it out of his hand when he spoke. “You half black?”
She shook her head. He had never spoken to her before. Why does it matter, she wanted to ask, and then he spoke again. “You look half black,” he said, disappointed. “I know,” Scotty managed. “I’m mixed, though.” He was quiet, so she spoke to fill the space. “I get real dark in the summer.” He hummed a little, in something she figured was agreement.
“Yeah and my hair. My hair doesn’t help.” Tight, dark springy curls had been painstakingly pulled away from her face that morning, baby hair beaten into submission with willpower. Under Mike’s scrutiny, she could feel it unravelling, fighting her scalp for freedom.
“Huh...mixed,” he contemplated. It wasn’t anything special. Everyone on their side of town was at least a little mixed. Mixed with what? she’d ask her mother, who would swat at her until Scotty let her be. “I’ve heard about you,” he continued, and Scotty grimaced. “You and your mom live out on the grove, right?” “My mother is not a hooker.” Mike laughed. “Nah,” he denied, trying not to grin. “Not what I meant.” “But you’ve heard it.”
He laughed again, letting out a little cough. She remem39
bered that little humanizing cough. Mike, smoking, coughing, sounded so fucking wrong, as if his mouth wasn’t meant to ever fit around a filter.
Mike didn’t go to Princeton. Mike didn’t go anywhere. He floated through life in Conjunction as if suspended by invisible wires that lifted his fingers, that made his whole body flutter awkwardly, as if he were merely curled up, asleep, inside of it. Scotty kept up with him sporadically, noting when his name was mentioned, when he stopped into Sam’s and gave her a quick nod. He never stopped to talk. She was always a little bitter at him, because he was supposed to have left. They were supposed to have named a scholarship after him. Fuck, at least a high school gym. Eventually, Scotty forgot about him, and high school faded away gradually, and completely. One night, she had a dream about someone she thought was him: lots of smooth dark skin and all she could think of was how pale she looked in comparison, against it. How she looked like moonlight.
The night she found out he died, Scotty wept guilty tears. She shouldn’t have blamed him for staying. Everyone blamed him, even though it wasn’t fair to put that much hope in one person. She couldn’t sleep, so she baked muffins at three in the morning, after having to run out for cigarettes and eggs at the Quik Mart. She wrapped them in a white linen cheesecloth they had lying around and brought them down the street in the morning. Flush against the concrete, she waited for Conjunction to shudder to life and remembered that dream she had, where she was moonlight. There was some ugly shit, some shit she hadn’t thought about for a while, that happened in Conjunction. Things like this; kids that died too early. They say he jumped from the overpass, but she knew about the others, who did it differently. She didn’t like to dwell on it. Instead, she smoothed her hair down and set the oven timer and climbed up her trees so high she didn’t have to see the ground anymore.
She left the muffins on his family’s doorstep in the morning, just as it started to feel light enough. She left the cigarettes next to the Mexican candles. She never told anyone about it, about the dream or the muffins or even mentioned him by name. Not her mother, not her brother. Nobody.
Katerina Ivanov 40
Something Has Occurred
We are walking to the Isle of Avalon. You are beside me, eight years old, and covered in chocolate ice cream. We hold hands and the grass is cool against our bare feet.
I am the place in which something has occurred
Arthur gives us glasses of water. A firm pat on the head He sends us home. We are walking to the Isle of Avalon and you are thirteen, a few steps ahead of me. I watch your back and wish my body was not hard but curved like yours. The knights doze around Arthur, curled tight like a fiddlehead. I am alone the next time I walk. Eighteen, with newly shorn hair, I want to wield Ex Caliber take it to family Christmas parties where you will be jealous. The sword is heavy and Arthur sleeps. I trudge back to school. We are twenty-one and happen upon Avalon by chance. We drink wine out of jeweled goblets and laugh. We are women sharing the weight of Ex Caliber between us. Celia Cummiskey
I am a body Of strings and clumps of cells Piloted by a mind Seeking direction I am the cheeks, once stained pink at your touch And the eyes Pierced with a soul that you called beautiful. I am the hair that you compared to honey and the hands small against yours and the forearms that you tested between your fingers to determine whether I was more than imagined. But I am not your favorite character To be loved, a fascination then placed back on the shelf until the next adventure I am the hero of a story that you didn’t carve and this body has lived Even when you have misplaced it Because these cheeks turn pink when I laugh At a joke you didn’t make And these eyes shine like the ocean before the rain but not the one you showed me; it’s my own And this hair has been twisted and chopped and torn far longer than you have admired it And these hands are meant to twirl pencils and someday hold a hand that isn’t yours And these lips are untested and untraced parted with words that you haven’t heard
and smiles that aren’t for you to see Because this mind is something you occupied but not something you owned and sometimes I miss you until I realize that I have me. A body lived in and loved and the site of befores and afters So when you think you know my hands and the eyes that you told me were like photographs of your happiest place know they exist far from what you do and do not know. They are among the stretch marks on my hips that you will never see and the untinted skin on my neck that I keep hidden and the small of my back, covered, and never occupied by a hand and certainly not your hand
So when you think of me and take a classic off that shelf know that you can flip through my pages but that I am the place in which something occurred. Francesca von Krauland
Blue Moon I tried to cast a spell on my tongue to get it to like the taste of beer. Someone I once knew worked in a brewery back in California
Sometimes I Read My Freckles in Your Accent I. With a finger to my arm, he mused: Have you ever connected them?
and I wanted to keep up with him. I’m not very good at witchcraft so I think the deception is wearing off now.
I feel like— if you tried, you could find some constellations.
I take a sip of Blue Moon, swirl it over angry taste buds
The heat from his skin left a warm smudge of pink moon—
and spit. Nicola McCafferty
a flash of gravity that pulled the eager stars in circles. They were left to wander, and I was left to wonder at the hum that stayed just beneath this spangled surface. It was mine, like you were mine: never quite. II. You said you loved me like a man loves a woman he never touches, but that’s not true. You did: it was by the basketball courts— we were sitting on the hot concrete— or maybe it was that wooden bench nearby. After, I wondered if you knew how I was longing to know the rest of you, with the rest of me.
But I didn’t get to know— we don’t get to know these things, because it was the only time you touched me.
So I couldn’t really read the poem. But I’m older now, reading and wondering:
But that’s not true either. It was the first time, the second was when we hugged goodbye:
how could you say that you don’t love me anymore— and how could you not love me anymore?
your hands slid down my arms as we pulled apart (the moment when the hairs stood up), and then your fingers stopped at mine—
But also, how could you say it— because isn’t that the whole point? We never say it.
not quite holding them, as much as breathing them in and out for one brief sigh.
I only write it in poems I never let you see and you read it in other people’s books— so Bukowski can tell you how you would have loved me more
III. I never forgot. I memorized your imprint, I reread it when I can’t sleep.
if you had sat in a small room rolling a cigarette and listened to me piss in the bathroom, but that didn’ happen. And maybe he’s right about that.
I slip into the sweet sadness as soon as I forget— or you remind me.
But kid, I couldn’t have loved you more in a room so small, full of so many things of mine.
Like when you sent me that Bukowski poem and said it was about us, except you didn’t love me anymore like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to—
IV. And I couldn’t have loved the smoke, because that’s the only good thing we have: the breath before a word.
and you hoped I didn’t kill myself like the girl in the poem who liked to write upper case poems about ANGELS AND GOD.
It’s there I can keep you: nestled in that lush space somewhere between July
I didn’t know what to say, other than I hope so too, kid— and I never write poems in upper case.
and September— sealed with that sweet sigh, and that shoelace you used to use as a belt.
Not because I didn’t care— but because I had gotten to know someone the way I could never know you.
It’s there I keep you safe from my fickle, sweaty hands: these palms so full of wonder. Wonder, which is more luxuriant than doubt, 49
but also more painful, more fertile. That’s where I learned it, the hunger— in the spaces between what my fingers could catch of you. So here’s what’s left: A postcard you wrote me from Paris, some French curse words you taught me, and a few more I tried to write on my own. Tu me manques. Je t’aime. Je te porte avec moi. A few years ago in a crowded drawer, I lost track of that red clock you gave me (had to unwrap my neck once the chain grew rust). Didn’t even know you knew my birthday— I didn’t know yours back then, turned out it’s right after mine. This year you asked me to remind you how old— you always forget that I am a little younger. I usually do too. I think that helps—because you say you’re talking to me so you don’t work, and avoid thinking about death for awhile. V. So you were right, or Bukowski was right, when he said it was best like this. Because I loved you the way a woman loves an echo: the outline of your voice before the frost came and quieted the stain you left—
Colleen Reynolds 50
A Mother to Her Daughter After the Election
After Paris I want the morning, that weekend in Berlin, my nose pressed
My dear, these oak leaves were not always torn at the edges. This tree splintered in half holds fifty branches stabbing fifty holes in the sky.
too cold against your neck and you pulling the flannel sheets to inky bruises climbing my collarbones like undone
Do not raise your knife.
balloons. Your voice snagged on are you okay? weighed down
These are the words to a song your future will sing,
by time and rust and German. Itâ€™s the only thing that week
now go to sleep and let your dreams hug the vultures warm and sweet.
that didnâ€™t sound like bullet casings, like humid dread, like the lilting
Daughter, do not be ashamed of the color of your trunk or the number of leaves on your bony fingers.
wails of French women. I shook out my veil of hair, trembling and dark, woven into your pillowcases,
Look at the ceilings and books and wrap your hair in the flags they burn.
and asked if you had any scissors.
They bite our roots like roasted beets and the pink stains their venom teeth.
You pressed your lips to my mess of a mind, wistful,
Do not follow them to the moon but wrap your arms around the split tree and squeeze.
and went to the top drawer of your desk. Katerina Ivanov
My darling, this is your tree. Seat the vultures next to the doves and watch how the vultures bleed. Madison Semarjian
Encyclopedia Red: BECOMING A WOMAN menstruation: periodic discharge from the vagina of blood, secretions, and disintegrating mucous membrane that had lined the uterus. … But Encyclopædia Britannica does not have a page dedicated solely to menarche: an individual’s first period, her inaugural—and emotional—ovulatory cycle. Enshrouded in layers of stuffy cotton, it’s a societal taboo to discuss the blood in the water; it’s an uncomfortable ellipsis left separating childhood from adulthood. For a tweenage girl, it’s the end of the world even as it is the beginning. To honor the sanctity of the 28-day cycle, 28 women shared the stories of their own pivotal—and traumatic—entries into womanhood, divulging the psychological as well as the physiological. This is their collective feminist menstrual-festo, their biological bildungsroman.
1: I got it in like third or fourth grade—super early—and it was a Thursday morning, I remember, because we always had church on Thursdays. I woke up and wiped and there was blood, so I told my mom and she goes, “Either you are bleeding from trying too hard to poop, or you got your period.” And I was like, “Oh no, no, no, NO.” So she said I could stay home from school and eventually we realize that yes, it was my period, and I absolutely lost it, throwing a tantrum and refusing to leave the basement. And I kept crying, and my mom tried to comfort me and I said, “I would rather DIE than have my period.” And my mom was like, “Honey, that’s so dramatic, you do not want to die.” And I said, “No, no, I’ll die, take me today, I don’t want this.” I spent the rest of the day researching how to insert a tampon in The Care and Keeping of You. I was the first one to get my period though, so at my friend’s fifth grade birthday party I demonstrated how to insert a tampon for everyone. It was a lot—I really put my vagina on display out there—but I’m all about women’s public education. —K 55
2: I woke up late and had to go to my saxophone lesson, and then I went to pee and realized I had gotten it, and then I was even MORE late to my lesson. And then, on my second period, I bled through my black, velour pants onto my seat in orchestra. And one time I fell asleep on a flight from D.C. to Switzerland and woke up in a pool of my own blood—that was like two years ago, I should’ve been better at it by then. —C 3: I was wearing light-wash jeans and bled around my pad, so it looked like I had a sunset on my ass. — M 4: At the library during summer like a fucking nerd. I refused to use tampons for like two years. —J 5: Summer before sixth grade. Gas station bathroom on a trip to Washington, D.C. Earth shattering, but also nbd. —K 6: I was on a boat in the Galápagos Islands, I was seasick in the bathroom, and the boat was rocking back and forth, and the shower water had overflowed and was swishing around the bathroom floor, and I got my period for the first time. Except, because we were in the middle of nowhere there was no access to pads or tampons, so I used toilet paper for a week. Good times. —M 7: I got my period in Ibiza—to say the least, it wasn’t cool. I was alone with German family friends on holiday in Spain, and I had to learn how to put a tampon in without 1) a tampon applicator (goddamn Europeans) or 2) any prior knowledge of where my vagina was located. —C 8: Literally on the Tower of Terror at Disneyland Paris. I had to learn how to put a tampon in using French instructions. It was terrible, but I was successful. —L 9: There is no worse manual than the Tampax manual. – H 10: Soccer practice. Fell over inside the Porta Potty trying to figure out how to insert a tampon. —E 11: It was the day before I was supposed to go to a water park, 56
and I was mortified of wearing a tampon. My girl friends and I spent so long brainstorming the excuse I was going to give to my guy friends because, obviously, I didn’t want the boys to know. —C 12: I thought that once you got your period, you had it forever— like constantly—until menopause. So when I got it for the first time at the end of eighth grade, I was like, “Whoomp! There it is. No more swimming for me.” —S 13: I was at our lake house and had it for like three days but didn’t know what it was until my mom saw and taught me how to put down a pad. So my dad takes all of us out on the boat and asks if I want to go swimming, but I have a pad in my swimsuit, mind you, so I decline, and my dad decides to throw me out of the boat anyway, as a joke. —J 14: I got it at my distant aunt’s Christmas Eve party, and my parents weren’t there, so when I finally got home my mom panicked and sent my dad to CVS. He didn’t know what to buy, so he bought $300 worth of pads, adult diapers, and tampons. —A 15: My mom forced me to tell my dad the night that it happened. Still not totally sure why. —T 16: My dad brought home cake because he felt bad for me. It was a traumatizing time—still is, tbh. —Y 17: I saw blood in the toilet, and I was like, “Dad—I just got my period.” And he was like, “What? Are you okay?” But I didn’t respond and instead just sprinted out the door and went to school with NO period products. So I just stuffed toilet paper in my underwear all day. And then for the next four days my dad kept asking me if I felt okay. Classic dad move. —E 18: I got mine at 13, and mom called everyone in the family to tell them. Dad gave me a high five, and the next day he took me to the Marlins’ home opener to celebrate instead of taking me to school. It became a tradition: I never missed a home opener from then on all through high school. —A
19: When my father found out he started crying. That summer, when I went to Puerto Rico, my grandmothers and aunts made a huge thing of it, and my grandfather wouldn’t let my feet touch the floor at night without slippers and only allowed me to wash my hair before sundown because he said otherwise I would ruin my future fertility cycle. —M 20: It was New Years Eve—Year of the Tampon, I guess. I was in eighth grade, late bloomer. I got it, and my mom freaked out and immediately started calling all my family members to tell them, including those who live in Puerto Rico. I got so embarrassed that I went to my bedroom and started crying and didn’t even know why I was crying. The blood was flowing, the tears were flowing, and that was my first experience with PMS. —A 21: I have all brothers—no sisters—so I didn’t even know what menstruation was before my first cycle. I thought I was dying; my parents took me to the ER only for the doctor to tell me, “Honey, you just got your first period.” —S
umbilical cord reimagined or something. —K 26: Mother’s Day when I was 12. I remember looking in the toilet and being like…I can bear children. How poetic, Mother’s Day. —M 27: I just recall having this distinct feeling of, “Welp, this is it: I’m a woman now.” —T 28: I had no fucking clue what was going on. I was in seventh grade, and Ally was in high school but came to pick me up after school and gave me a card that said, “CONGRATS ON BECOMING A WOMAN!” —M Corinne Duffy
22: I thought I had cut myself somehow, so I told my mom that we had to go to the doctor immediately. She just laughed at me. —K 23: I didn’t tell my mom for three months because I was afraid—she kept telling me she was going to throw me a “Period Party.” So my friend kept having to sneak me pads during school. Anyway, one day my older sister comes down and is all like, “I’m a woman! I have my period now,” and she pissed me off so much that I said, “Well I’ve been a woman for three months!” My mom got so mad that she didn’t talk to me for three days. —L 24: I was in sixth grade. I got in on a Friday morning before school and cried because I was embarrassed. My mom was so excited, classic. She was all like, “I’m going to bring you a special lunch today to celebrate!” —J 25: I wasn’t sure whether I was putting the tampon in correctly, so I asked my mom, and she yanked on the string to make sure. It was a really intimate, mother-daughter bonding moment. The 58
you’d be prettier without your glasses she tastes pretension in the sour salt of mango margaritas and the derisive laughs of people she just met but is sure she doesn’t like and the rustle of the stale wind through those hollywood palms sounds like did you lose weight or you’d be prettier without your glasses and the un-graceful wobbling of half-remembered bike rides with flat wheels and rusty breaks and the grit of sand under tires and between smiling teeth suffering through a c-list actress’ judgment of her tastes in movies and men and dodging too-tan natives of venice beach with matted hair that reeks of weed while expectation looms in the shadows of daunting metal rings that turn laypeople into acrobats and she tries to hide behind her leather jacket so no one will notice her ghostwhite face or ask her to surrender herself to upper body strength and the force of gravity and she speeds a borrowed orange car down six lane highways just to escape that cool california breeze and how it’s lulling her into complacency and setting her up for heartbreak Nicola McCafferty
Tsukemen I. Tsukemen is a Japanese dish that separates the cold noodles from simmering broth— the key here is: measured containment. Buddhist compartmentalization balances out desires to an enviable room temperature II. to the noncommittal foodie: it is the best of both worlds. III. There is something so warm in saying Happy Holidays back to a stranger in a crowded ramen joint, thanking the old lady that works at your favorite Italian leather good store for letting you try on the oxblood handbag, you have no intentions of buying. Lambskin is impossible to care for. IV. There is no heaven or hell in this: It is important to remember. V. Calling a suicide hotline is sometimes like getting a reservation at O-ya, a hip restaurant that mostly serves cold fish sluiced in ice water by room temperature hands, nine hundred dollars for omakase, translation: “I’ll leave it up to you.” May take a month to get a slot. Plan accordingly. VI. It rings forever 62
like vertigo in your head. Good thing your room is the size of a coffin, good grip for support: This is why you rent because renting, like Maggie Nelson says, “Allows you to let things literally fall apart all around you. Then, when it gets to be too much, you just move on.” VII. I’ve come to this place at 5 a.m. to let strangers peer down my throat and into my ear canals, serous otitis media they tell me, after two hours of waiting on a cold metal bench, it’s slightly warm, the impermanence of it all, I like how clean and white the walls are and how everything stays in place here. I’ve grown to love these strangers more than people I know. VIII. It all boils down I think, to this thing Buddha said once, balance, that delicate room temperature separating the too-warm from too cold. Naphisa Senanarong
The Butterfly Effect My bones splintered like a toothpick of a pink paper umbrella They cracked and Butterflies flew out of the wet marrow Of a cocoon that had encapsulated them like a time Bomb Implanted in my skeleton Since the day my mom gave me that book on Monarchs I saw their cantaloupe-coloured wings Laced with veins like road maps Sketched in heavy charcoal on the Most delicate flesh And I asked my parents why my arms wouldn’t Let me Fly Like theirs did No matter how hard I try to hide from the acid rain All I’ve got is this one paper umbrella and A pile of shattered calcium It’s the hottest night of summer but I wake up Only to pull that single sheet I kicked off Back over me I wrap myself in that second skin like a Reverse metamorphosis Sydney Bernal
My veins crumple like accordions But the music doesn’t flutter through me anymore They used to stumble in through New glass doors together; her eyes glassy, And his spectacled Holding their cocktails Adorned with pink paper umbrellas We all stumble separately now and I’m Left leafing through the wings of butterfly books And wondering How the Monarchs managed to build a nation
Of kings and Queens With antennae and exoskeletons And let my royal family Splinter Kate Oksen
I don’t know how long I’ve been walking, but my eyelashes are white with snow. And I still know where I am, so I haven’t been walking long enough. Every time I tell myself I won’t go back, but my mind’s in a fog, leading me in circles until I’m back where I started. My feet are past the point of feeling, and the curb looks pretty inviting. I ignore the icy burn of a frosted sidewalk, it’ll wear off soon enough. Maybe I’ll get picked up with the trash in the morning. Tomato soup cans and soda bottles wouldn’t be the worst companions in the world. The worst lives on Sunset Drive. The door of the diner opens behind me, and I catch a whiff of coffee and toast. Faceless coats amble off into the dusk without a second glance. Numbness only lasts so long, and I’m surprised after all this time how it still manages to twist my lungs into a hopeless knot, strangling me from the inside.
“See you tomorrow?”
“Promise.” I should go back. Yet my body makes no effort to move, because the curb may be cold, but it’s better than home. The bottle was already half empty when I ran.
Who decided I was the skin that they could all tattoo their frustration on? Mama’s broken heart across my hip bone, and a sister’s tears at my throat. And him everywhere in between. I’m a patchwork quilt of pain that isn’t even mine. I never cried, because there was no room.
I’m crying now.
Hot salt on my frozen cheeks, they carve black trails down my face. It’s been winter for so long. I had one short summer with bike rides and stolen kisses, a month of blinding sunshine. Two years later I’m still blinking away the sun spots. “I love you.”
Bullshit. You never came for me.
You never left. 67
Green glass shattering in the gutter wakes me up. There are new boots beside me, attached to long legs in patterned tights, an overcoat, and finally a face with hair tucked under a knitted cap. “Want a drink?” A hand holds out a coffee cup. I take it. The coffee is bitter but warm, sending tingles to the corners of my body. “Thanks.” She nods, and her eyes reflect the sky. “Nice night out.” I laugh. She hands me a tissue from a rainbow pocket. And lets me cry. Finally I weep myself into silence. She takes my hand, softly. “I think that’s Venus out tonight.” For the first time in two years I look up from my feet. And she’s right, this colorful girl with starry eyes holding my hand for God knows what reason. It’s not bad. Ellie Ray
Gravel Roads There is one car ride I remember so vividly For no remarkable reason I have no idea where we were going Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire it was cold, the family all together my head started to droop with tired eyes, and landed on your shoulder There is always the moment where you wonder If you’ll be allowed to stay Seconds pass and I feel the weight of your head lean onto my own In that squished backseat, I was still little but I knew I could hold you Claire Kramer
Inorganic Our limbs crushed wildflowers in the dark—petals and stems pierced and caressed, tore and withered under shifting mass. Blades I thought falsely name the dewy bed we flatten— I imagine it is the most lively green, punctured with pale yellow and mottled blues and purples. I think I prefer its embrace to his— it is lighter and bears my weight. I do not pound an inorganic rhythm against its body.
The grass sweats sticky and clear, would sheen and shimmer on my body had there been a moon. But the night is colorless, a gasp of snapped-stem sap. Francesca von Krauland
Autumn’s Samsara The scarecrow sips on spiked cider to numb the nip of Nature’s knife, puncturing the haystacks of emptiness exposing the frays of Year’s strife. Leaves of warmth rest in the lifeless pile of the vernal end; hues of passion made barren allowing the weightless branches to bend. Stripped bare of bract: the fragrance of Macintosh peels its skin away to mingle with cinnamon sticks, stirring the essence of the aged mahogany’s fortuitous rings infinitely intact. The Harvest permeates warmth at the onset of scarlet cold, Breaking from an interminable summerfloral wasteland of Mistake’s old wisdom, seeded in pollination’s lost kiss.
Mulled wine heart, wrapped in cashmere gauze, seeps at the hearth of Autumn’s fireplace, the grape blooded tears weep as it again becomes whole. In creative destruction to die is to be reborn: Transformation allows the seasons to take their course for reasons that are eclipsed by the torn altercation of moving on. The apple trees sway humbly in susurrations of reticence, shying away from the shadows presence of another season’s persistence.
First Day in Five Years Without You
Nature has its way, imposing the will to be:
Today, found my palms again.
To molt the pleas of insistence of past reminiscence To again Become, To again be Free.
Hadn’t looked at them in years— couldn’t see them from where they were curled beneath yours. Gabrielle Downey
My fingers developed a twitch, looking for any surface to put pressure on the way they would your skin: intermittent taps to remind your limbs of their pulse, so they wouldn’t fall asleep and into mine. Because yours are much heavier, even if they don’t look it. And it was getting too hard to carry both these weights, without the border between us washing away. And my shadow body needs to re-learn hunger without your hand at my waist to carve too thin into this wrapping. Because you are the only one who knows how I need pinches to remember, how I lose inches in whispers to the outside— how I long to lose flakes in prayers to winter nights; how my nostrils numb when met with firewood. And you’re the only one who met these lines with tears shaped like thank you: tomorrow, I think I’ll find my legs, and practice extension from my toes to the crown of my head.
Colleen Reynolds 75
Duke of York during intermission silent, empty, the lobby a vast echo chamber, ill-lit and close. he crushed his cigarette under his heel. Kit Harington was a rockstar magician reciting Marlowe. making his pact with Satan. loving Grace. Some people, she said, want to be loved by everyone. And othersâ€”want to be loved by one person. Andâ€”to love. That one person. loneliness bubbled beneath the veneer of conversation. never asked. how did we get here so soon? why must we always be leaving? did you ever think what you would most regret not saying? but intermission ended. electric percussion, piano. Faustus embracing thin air, an oxygenless room, Grace supine on the floor, lying dead where heâ€™d left
her, his hands black as he spun, spun, spun in slow, silent circles, with no one but himself to blame. Morgan Hamill
When the Plows Come today, I woke before the snow plows came, still coated in sleet with frozen lungs and a heart stricken like a bird that’s missed migration because last night the man who broke me sent me a friend request and that was the first time he asked before taking (and I don’t want to say broke me, a dominion I don’t want him to have, but see, he left me like a drawer of mismatched cutlery, all dull butter knives, rust for skin)
the first time, after, I said fine, not, I don’t remember, not help stop no— the trinity of collapse, of caving in on myself, the spontaneous destruction of the geological formation that once was my body (we tell our children what is not yours is not yours and we say it again and again until our tongues bleed until copper spills from our gums.) this time, when I talk about the tiny red flag at the corner of my screen
something slips on the unsalted stairs and it is a raw sound, dragged from my throat it is the sound of a womanâ€™s anger, of intrusion, of broken windows and scotch tape it is the sound a mother makes as the undertaker pulls away, it is the absence of breath in the streets at the passing of a hearse but no part of me is dead in fact, there is more of me, now I have expanded and expanded and expanded into a thinning layer of ice. When the plows come, they will find a drowned, frozen bird and a nineteen-year-old girl, perfectly preserved, shivering, shivering. Katerina Ivanov
The Morning After
To Peachfront after Ross Gay
She rises from twisted cotton and tangled knots of perfectly curled hair smelling like morning as she mourns the days of swinging yellow pigtails and cotton candy and waves rising from the sea. Taylor Puccini
One Valium down, the words on the water cooler, Beachfront started looking like Peachfront and I wondered if Peachfront was a real place. Maybe somewhere out in Northern California where sandy haired lovers slick in black wetsuits pitch up tents next to the water and in the dead of night—the onyx skin peels off and they are pink under the moonlight. Pink and raw like peaches. Silk to the touch, quick to bruise. I remember loving the beach even before I met him, even before I loved him. Strangers maybe, never again. As far back as I remember remembering and I remember how despite only vacationing near the Gulf of Thailand, the sea felt like a different body of water each time I visited. In December, with the high tide, erasing footprints and handprints and body prints and the pink bleeding into a—mostly—relatively—clean—dove grey sky, I think: first love. Ominous under a blood red moon when my father hoisted me up on his shoulders, facing the apocalyptic waves, maroon sky. The ocean spits back up all that it has swallowed, all that it has drowned, once every red moon, he told me. Water children, his father told him. It is what his father prayed for. All the water children that’ve been lost like grains of rice—nothing bigger or more significant than grains of rice flushed down the drain. Naphisa Senanarong
Shades of Paint When I was born, my bedroom walls were white. They stretched out around me, as comforting as a foamy bath or my bedtime glass of milk. Only a ribbon of pink wallpaper lined the top of the walls, right where the eggshell ceiling touched the snow white. I ran my eyes along this ribbon at night, noting the way the pink daisies danced against the stark white in the soft glow of my night-light. My eyes traced and traced until they drooped down and the dance of the daisies lulled me to sleep. By the time I turned eight, fingerprints dotted my white walls. They were faint, barely a whisper, a graze of my hand against the creamy paint, and yet they stood out to me like dirt on snow. I complained to my mother endlessly. I called it a travesty, a tragedy, or any other unfamiliar but convincing word that might express my horror at the situation. I tried to appeal to her sense of style. That didnâ€™t work. Next, I appealed to her sense of shame. None of my friends had fingerprints on their walls, I told her. Their moms made sure they had clean walls. I had learned early on that guilt-tripping a working mother is an easy thing to do, and didnâ€™t yet know that not all weapons should be used. My mother caved. The next weekend, my father came home with a brown tarp and a can of Minor Blue Sherwin-Williams paint. As he painted my room, I danced around the kitchen, shimmying past my mother as she stirred a pot of soup on the stove. She laughed with me, forgiving me for my fingerprint ruse.
For days afterwards, I walked in circles around my room, barely skimming the walls with my small hands. The pale blue paint matched the hazy sky outside, and sitting in the middle of these walls made me feel as though I was sitting on a mountaintop, surrounded only by air. I often perched on my bed, a Barbie or a Polly Pocket in hand, and recounted stories of princesses and fairies and dragons. Within these four blue walls, I felt simultaneously contained and free. I created a new world for myself with a fresh coat of paint. Six years later, and the walls were too pale. In the noon sunlight, they looked almost milky-white, a sickly color like the undersides of my wrists. Fingerprints reappeared on the space
near light switch, and the wall near my bed had faint streaks of nail polish reaching towards the window. This time, I knew better than to guilt-trip my mother or complain of fingerprint marks. The nail polish was a mark of my own, a silent rebellion against my father’s no-nail-polishin-the-bedroom rule. I had skimmed my nails against the walls one summer night, mad at my parents for some reason I can’t remember and blinded by the sense that these lifeless walls had trapped me. I approached my parents again, this time using words like “expression” and “freedom” and “please”. My parents lit up at my speech, happy to hear anything from their shy, sullen teenaged daughter. They brought me paint chips with sticky notes attached to the warm peaches and cool grays. I ripped the sticky notes off one by one, thumbing my way through the moss greens and plums. When at last a decision had been made, my father brought home the worn brown tarp and an unopened can of Sherwin-Williams paint, this time in Oh Pistachio. As my father painted my room in long, confident strokes, I felt my stomach drop. Oh Pistachio was not the soft green I envisioned in my head, but rather a startling neon color that belonged on lit-up signs advertising Cold Beer and No Vacancies. When I went to bed that night, the fumes still floating around in the air, I felt as if I was stuck in a glowing box of my own making. The walls pressed into me, and I slowly, bitterly cried myself to sleep. The walls eventually faded to a spring green, the color of mint-chip ice cream, and I grew to love the way my chestnut furniture framed the pop of green behind it. The room came alive, and with it, so did I. I hung up framed posters on my walls, cutouts of water lilies and dancing ballerinas and farms in Provence. In the spaces between the posters, I projected made-up scenes, extensions of the ones I read in books. Much like the girl in the pale-blue room, I concocted stories in my head, only this time, rather than acting them out with dolls, I wrote them down in a tattered green notebook with an elm tree on the cover. The life in the green walls woke me up, making me bolder, imaginative, the 86
type of girl who would live in a forested suburban bedroom. I left my home one muggy August morning, moving on to a celllike dorm on an unfamiliar campus three thousand miles away. Some nights in college I ran my hands along the white brick that lined my dorm walls, imagining that beneath the snow-white paint lay a coat of sky-blue or lime. I tried to scratch away at the white paint, but only charcoal gray brick lay beneath it. When I was eighteen, my parents painted my walls again. This time they did it quietly, without negotiations or pleading. I imagine my father still brought home the fraying brown tarp, a can of Sherwin-Williams paint dangling from his crooked elbow. I have to imagine this, because I wasn’t home. I didn’t get to breathe in the intoxicating perfume of paint-fumes, or touch the soft layer of just-dried paint. Instead, I came home for Christmas break to a room that looked nothing like my own. My parents had chopped down the forest that lived on my walls, replacing it with two coats of Accessible Beige. As I wheeled my suitcase across the threshold of my bedroom, I felt like I was entering somebody’s guestroom. Sometimes, when I wake up at home, I have to remind myself of where I am. The walls are a broad span of foreign territory, more familiar with my room than I am. Although clothes hang in my closet, I keep my belongings in a navy-blue Samsonite suitcase, the darkest thing in the room. My brother moved out two years ago, and now he lives in a slate-gray house across town. Sometimes I knock on the wall that joins our two rooms, or the rooms that were ours, and I wish he were there to knock back. Some mornings, the strangeness is overwhelming. On mornings like these, I sit up slowly and plant my feet on the oatmeal carpet. I breathe in the scent of my father’s pancakes and look out my window, the sky as hazy blue as it was thirteen years ago. There’s a spot just near my closet doors where my father’s paintbrush couldn’t quite reach. He tried hard to dab away the colors underneath, but the invasive beige cannot touch the layers of Sherwin-Williams paint that remain from my childhood. On mornings where I feel like a stranger in my own bed, I walk over to this little spot, running my index finger along the 87
trail of green and blue and white that lies beneath. Valerie Cherbero
Printemps Oh, the voices drifted up Into the beams of her melted shadows Infected by stories of red And she wondered how to shift Her balance to see What she thought was invaluable Was a root that led to seeds of daffodil spires Beds of tomatoes preparing to rouge Geysers springing into lakes oceans lands uncharted May lies waiting on the shore Julia Cardwell
blue nude october my father is that first day when it starts to get cold. when summer kind of gives up paddling and sinks, when your eyes are covered by a thin layer of wool, when the air lingers between dawn and dusk, and all your jackets seem too thin. thereâ€™s no fall in Moscow or there is, but they call it summer and their fingers mediate between green and violet and they call that love and their stomachs rattle and they call that strength. they stretch halves into thirds, blankets into coats and keep their eyes on the cement scented permafrost so they can catch the first shoots after winter, which they call spring. my father bares his arthritic branches to the sky. when I ask him about those winter spring summer falls, he is quiet. but he never lets me throw out bread crusts and he goes outside, that first cold day and stands with no shoes in the driveway, creaking, weighed down by the threat of long winter. he holds his head like an old boxer, bruised knuckles and blue fingers and tired pride.
once I asked him why he was outside and werenâ€™t his feet cold? and he shrugged and tilted his head a little and said itâ€™s going to snow. Katerina Ivanov
We Eat Lamb
We are gathered here today.
I told funny stories about Johnny, like the time he accidentally stepped on a frog with his bare feet, or the time he got sprayed by a skunk and had to bathe in tomato juice for a week. That’s what people do at funerals, they tell stories to stop people from blowing their noses. He laid with his arms crossed over his chest in a cardboard box that had Dirt Devil and a picture of a vacuum on the side. I yelled at him for blinking his eyelids too many times, but he said he was bored of playing funeral and wanted a snack. Okay, but after my turn.
This was Sunday.
Me and Grandma went to Church to sing and eat bitter bread and say hi to angel Mama and Dad. I wear Mama’s veil and twins on my feet that Grandma named Mary and Jane. One day I’m going to cut it short to my shoulders, like Miss Ana did after she got married. I like Miss Ana. She is pretty and smells like dried rose petals and has play dates with me on days that start with t. She and her husband, Aram, sit in the third row, one in front of me and Grandma and her friend Ernest who smells like cinnamon. Miss Ana doesn’t say much when he holds her hand. When I marry Johnny, maybe I won’t say much either.
This was Tuesday.
Grandma goes to the doctor, so Miss Ana drives me to her house in her cardboard car. Miss Ana’s house smelled like Miss Ana and what if Mama smelled like that too? Mama would like Miss Ana. She said back in Armenia her and her mayr used to make bureg so she could teach me because Mama never got the chance. Sometimes I hate Mama.
This is how to make bureg.
Paint butter on tissues called filo dough. I wanted to paint with the berry color of Miss Ana’s lipstick. I wonder if Miss Ana kissed Aram on the cheek with her berry lips. She wore a ring of lipstick around her wrists so I tried to wipe it off but she flinched and just squeezed her eyes and she said it wasn’t lipstick even though the colors looked the same. 92
Put the sweet cheese in the middle of the soggy tissues. I licked the goop off my pointer and Miss Ana made me wash my mouth with lemon soap. Raw egg would give me salmonella she said and made me cough my insides up, bitter and brown. I told her I didn’t speak Armenian like Grandma and Ernest and the people at Church but she told me that salmonella wasn’t Armenian. Fold the filo dough into a triangle, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Miss Ana did it perfectly but mine went tumble and tumble and tumble between the web of my fingers. She said the trick was to fold quickly and not think too hard but I told her I like to think. She said I was lucky because not all women could. In bed that night, I looked at the ceiling fan and tried to ask Mama if she was allowed to think but she wouldn’t respond back. Neither would Dad. So Grandma laid next to me and told me stories about her life back in Armenia when she used to steal apricots from her neighbor’s tree and squish them between her marshmallow toes and put the sticky mush under her brother’s pillow. I liked to rip dried apricots in half and lay them on my tongue and tell my friends that my tongue was orange. Grandma says me and her are both mischievous. I told her I didn’t speak Armenian like her and Miss Ana and Ernest and the people at Church, but she said mischievous wasn’t Armenian.
This was Thursday.
I spit my toast out in a paper towel so Grandma wouldn’t see. I wanted to save room for bureg. Miss drove up the driveway in her cardboard car and looked like a fly that I hit with a yellow swatter. Her sunglasses that didn’t fully cover the bruise around her eye. Maybe someone tried to hit her with the yellow swatter. She said she didn’t wear lipstick today. Miss Ana was taking too long in the bathroom and my stomach kept asking for bureg, so I pretended I was an Armenian spy like I saw in the old black and white movies Grandma and I watched on Friday nights and snuck my way around the kitchen, tip toe tip toe. I slipped off my shoes and monkeyed on the counter to search the cabinets. Behind the salt and pepper shakers I saw a gun except it didn’t look like the old black and white movie guns because it was smaller and scarier and I thought that maybe Miss Ana or Aram was an Armenian spy. It 93
felt mean and heavy in my hands. I lost my balance and dropped the salt and pepper and the gun and bang bang bang on the tile floor. I breathed in the dried rose petals and closed my eyes. Miss Ana put the gun in the drawer next to the oven like it was a fork or a spoon to eat soup. later.
I didn’t ask about the gun even though I saw her hide it
This was when Miss Ana lied.
I hated Aram and I hated Armenia and I hated Miss Ana and I hated Mama and Dad and I hated the mean.
This is today.
Johnny laid in the cardboard box but I didn’t have any more funny stories to tell, so I told this one. Madison Semarjian
But I did ask about the berry bruise around her eye like the berry rings around her wrist, except instead of raspberries it was blueberries and blackberries. She said she accidentally fell of the counter top one time and painted caramel makeup on it but I saw her nose grow. Miss Ana was too pretty to climb on counter tops. We made Armenian pizza, and I was angry at Armenia for stealing pizza from Italy. She laughed told me not to worry because this was lahmajoon. The meat was squishy and smelled like rotten eggs and I think Miss Ana could tell that I thought it was yucky because she asked why I didn’t like lamb. I didn’t know it was lamb. I asked her why we had to kill baby lambs to make Armenian pizza and she said that some things must die in order for us to live. I didn’t want anyone to die.
This is marriage.
Aram stumbled in the house all funny, like the toddlers that run around outside after Church. Miss Ana scrunched her eyebrows at him because he smelled like vodka and told him he needed to go to bed and but he just squeezed her so tight around her tummy. He said okay he’d go to the bedroom and he pressed his lips against hers real hard and not like the way Dad kissed Mama in the pictures or the way I wanted to kiss Johnny. She screamed and I never heard Miss Ana scream because she was too pretty to scream. Her purple blouse went rip and run run run but I couldn’t leave Miss Ana. Mama wouldn’t want me to leave Miss Ana so I stopped thinking and moved quickly like Miss Ana folding the bureg, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, picked up gun even though it was mean and heavy and pretended I was an Armenian spy and I put my pointer on the trigger and Miss Ana said please and my thinking said no. I didn’t want anyone else to die. 94
Weather If became then in the hypothesis of our possible genesis implausible, at first then exacting in the implementation, in the precise categorization of the you and me and him and her into a congealed new substance unprecedented: an us Its two sets of eyes fix sometimes at each other but often outward, gazing at a world spinning steadfast because between those two pairs, there are two arms met pale and long muscled and slim and one bearing faint scars amongst the freckles that trace paths to two twined hands The creature extends outward, this creature we are two complementary bodies and two opposing minds analyzing and classifying the world in which it operates thriving off of its own stubborn permanence it survives passionately a new science within its unthinkable persistence it believes in its own immortality
the crucifix to her breast, slim fingers crossing one another. some semblance of prayer beads threaded between the light fold of thumb and palm. knees broke against cold stone hours agoâ€”abandoned mahogany wood, center paling from wear. closed lids flutter back forth back again. she is nobodyâ€™s wife, but ten years ago she married a man. he forgot her needâ€”failed to comprehend her as if she could make nothing of her body but what he wanted. she kneels but denies supplication. her faith flags someone absent. not him. gathers all she once needed to her chest and finds belief wanting cold wooden beads. frozen stone eats her knees, feet, hands, everything mere representation: woman shorn from wood, laid bare on cracked stone, transfixed. Morgan Hamill
Rejecting in one mind the dying sun of the other This us breaks gaze with the cold, the forgetting, the roots between the lonely long enough to look at the sky And with neither star nor darkness in balance We weather the world well Francesca von Krauland 96
Geissler’s Cold fluorescent lights hum over White linoleum, shining dully in its Perfect ugly rows Between the rigid shelves Of Andy Warhol soup. Grocery shopping shouldn’t be uneasy But between the metal rattle of the carriage and The tension twisting in my forehead I Can’t block thoughts of you from Entering this all-too-silent aisle. I know it’s nothing, Must be nothing— A thousand times I convince myself but They gave my great-grandma electro-shock treatment in the ‘30s So maybe it’s in my DNA To overanalyze you into Nothingness.
The soup is staring Still and orange-red; it tells me again that All entropy is not meant to be reordered. The linoleum says nothing. It continues being white and dull and I want to climb into it. Maybe there, in something solid, My mind would be bone-smooth and I could stop Turning you over in my mouth but The greenish light is still here On the metal in my hands. Haley Cormier
We All Burn Down The oak is more than wood. Its spirit makes love to my hair and overstays its welcome. After the fire, we buried it with our memories on the mountain top and let our toes scale the willow branches below. I watched my cousin cry over her dead mother not yet dead while I danced down the wooden pews with the love of my knife. At my homeâ€™s funeral my mother was wrapped in woody ashes, cloaked in a gown of silkened smoke. Never again will we burn the earth as passed time. Ashes, ashes, these trees catch the night flame easier than flies. Madison Semarjian
The Wrong Words Hemingway was challenged to reduce someone, so he turned them into bar peanuts. The concept of a six-word memoir becomes increasingly absurd and horrifyingly appropriate when stared in the face by life’s brevity. It’s reductive. It’s fast food. It’s self-conscious in the way that I’ve always been. And so I toiled and rewrote them. But what if I miss out? Life is all about the stories. A series of letters to God. Learning how to be well-adjusted. I chewed and spit out my own life in an attempt to make it palatable and it left me feeling empty. Starved. Liz Holman
Once Upon a Time At one time she always sang. I wore blossoms in my hair and she slept alongside me, I was naĂŻve. Eventually melody turned to mania, extended silences, sleeping with backs turned. Her lips, her personality enveloped mine. I allowed too much time and too much of me left with her, leaving such mauve bruises on my hungry heart. We cut through each other like silk. We wanted a home the color of apricots from our first date; these were plans we had. But we gave up in mismatched moments. It always is a mix of butterflies and mosquitos. We left love swinging, creaking. Sarah Strohecker
The Caterpillar and The Wallflower June had a rule, if I’ve touched your feet, nails, hair or vagina, we are not friends. In all her years at the salon, from when she arrived in Bangkok at seventeen, her hair in the blunt chin length bob, clipping and varnishing toenails for a living till now, almost nineteen years later, she’d stuck by her one rule. She’d broken all the other idealistic ones she’d had going into the city: slept with motorcyclists—their scrawny tattooed arms bending underneath the weight of her heavy thighs as they lifted her up onto makeshift mattresses without a bedframe, dated alcoholics, started smoking again. But she’d always kept this one rule for the workplace. At times, it was difficult. Her clients would ply her with hand-me-down’s attempting to break down her barrier: last season’s Tory Burch flats, their fat daughter’s pre-liposuction cocktail dresses, and her favorite: Calvin Klein anything. Something about the way she kneaded the tufts of hair around their temples, in smooth, slow circular motions and the smell of eucalyptus shampoo, made them want to open up to her. She could see it in their eyes: in the moments before she ripped the wax paper from their bikini lines, tearing away whatever follicles of hair is left, that they wanted to tell her about their estranged sons, living abroad, playing jazz guitars in pubs or writing the news for an internet blog about neckties. She could see it when she buffed their nails, freeing so much dead skin from their hands that they must feel like babies again—reborn into a world with perfectly filed, oval-shaped nails in shades like Parisian Nights and Birthday Nude. Tiff was her one exception. Ever since she’d zipped that hysterical young bride into her beautiful but a size-too-small wedding dress, literally coaxed the sleeves of her dress back on her arms, and wiped the snot and mascara clean off her face, she’d felt a shared something with this girl. Then, they were both on the precipice of something big and daunting in their young lives: her taking on Bangkok on her own, and Tiff marrying a multimillionaire. When June was a child, she’d torn a page from an archived magazine found in the outdated public library in her province before she came to Bangkok. Nobody went to libraries in Thailand; a thick film of dust covered almost every surface, 106
the air-conditioner never worked, condom wrappers were strewn on the floors behind secluded aisles. But there it was: a photo of a Marilyn-Monroe-esque beauty sprawled across satiny sheets in a fluffy hotel robe, lips painted pepto-bismol pink to match the leave-in rollers in her hair. That was the thing: one did not get hair like that—with that much volume, but beyond that, with that much character--using a curling wand. It was the difference between grabbing sections of hair and wrapping them around a heated metal stick for 2 to 5 seconds each or massaging freshly washed, damp hair (still smelling like rose water and peaches) with styling mousse, meticulously sectioning your hair, and securing each individual roller to the roots with safety pins. The former technique gives you long, homogenous spirals-loose waves synonymous with sex, a cherished lack of effort. It guarantees you your favorite celebrity’s hair, or the hair of that girl who sits a row in front of you in class, sipping Perrier water from a portable glass bottle she keeps in her expensive handbag-mostly because they are the same hairstyle. The second technique, however, gives you reinvention. Tightly wound Shirley Temple curls, big velcro rollers lending you the bigness without the waves, or the classic, Marilyn curls for lounging about in big fluffy white hotel robes. You can be anyone. June removed the last of the curlers from Tiff ’s hair. Tight, luscious curls fell around Tiff ’s face, like perfect little Victorian drapes for her doll-like face. The two women, forty-four and fifty-one respectively, were probably the last two people on earth who still used old-school velcro leave-in rollers. It drove June nuts. She would be out of a job soon. Tiff would, however, never get her hair done by anyone else. June arrived in Bangkok, some twenty years ago, with nothing more than a bag of clothes, her sister’s phone number scrawled on a piece of paper tucked into the pocket of the only nice jeans she owned which her mom had stolen for her from a bitchy lady whose house she’d cleaned for three years (it had rhinestones that spelled G-U-E-S-S on the butt pocket), and a pageboy haircut, mandatory for local public schools in her province. The two bonded the way a seventeen year old girl from the countryside with blunt bangs and rough finger tips and hard eyes can sometimes bond with a twenty four year old socialite, straight out of grad school and a virgin bride-to-be. 107
Tiff slipped out of the salon-style reclining chair she’d purchased because she relished their weekly hour-and-a-half way too much to share it with a salon full of gossipy soccer moms, and bored wrinkly old board members getting their hair coiffed full of executive secrets and petty jealousy. Tiff ’s bare feet made soft pitter patter noises on the hardwood floor of her walk-in closet. She lifted her chin to the mirror, smiling tightly so as to pull back the loosening soft skin around her jawline, framed by decadent, if slightly old-fashioned, curls. The blackness of her virgin hair contrasted nicely against the permanent tan of her skin. Tiff had this magical type of hair that could withstand any temperature and maintain its lustre and volume--it could hold a curl for days. It had never been dyed once and yet was never graying. Each and every time she helped Tiff get ready for an event—whether it be for Tiff ’s wedding to the real-estate magnate Tim Rangsum, twenty seven years ago, or a charity ball, June always felt like she’d produced a masterpiece. Perhaps it was the hair that had drawn them together. “Do you think my hair would be prettier brown?” Her friend was running an idle hand through her new curls like a comb. June slapped her hand away. “Don’t touch it, you’ll unravel the curls” she said curtly, turning away from Tiff to mix Barefoot in Barcelona and Sweetheart together, an OPI nail polish concoction they’d decided was Tiff ’s signature shade. Now, June looked at her friend, standing gingerly on the the balls of her feet, performing little twirls in the coral shift dress she was wearing. Her narrow shoulders gently sloped to the ground. Despite June’s many pleas, Tiff refused to let June touch her eyebrows—which used to be thick and luscious like her black hair but had, over time, disintegrated into two, pale, chubby caterpillars hovering over her pretty almond-shaped eyes. Even though her movements were small and girlish, it was as if her entire body was fighting a losing battle with gravity. All five foot one of her body was loose and runny, like an undercooked sunny-side up. June wanted to grab her soft, pillow arms—arms that would cave under the slightest indication of structure or force--and shake her. But an unspoken etiquette and, even after all these years, a social contract held her back. 108
There were certain things the hierarchy permitted her to do: she could slap her friend’s hand away if she saw that her friend was ruining her curls, she could not shake the forced mirth out of her friend’s collapsing body. She could not force her to say the girl’s name, the girl that Tiff ’s husband was sleeping with. The girl that he left her to make vain excuses to friends about a “last minute company bonding trip” or a “boys’ weekend with their son Ed” when he doesn’t show up at the dinner party she meticulously planned for months. The girl that he left her in the middle of the night for, mumbling some excuse about an emergency skype call with clients in Beijing, while pulling on mismatched socks in the dark.
She could only wait for Tiff to bring the girl’s name up.
“Can you hold off on the nail color?” Tiff said just as June was unscrewing the bottle of taupe-ish clay that is Barefoot in Barcelona.
“I want to pick a different shade this time”
They held each other’s eyes in the mirror. Around the ends of Tiff ’s soft, brown eyes, tiny crow’s feet were spreading, the first signs divulging her true age. The woman barely aged. Although she was almost a decade older than June, Tiff had the sort of face that defied time. June’s face had barely changed too, but that was because she still had the same hardened expression and porous skin that she did when she was a fourteen year old girl scrambling to get enough money for the bus ticket to Bangkok. She also kept the weight of her baby fat on her cheeks and did her makeup exactly the same way she did a decade ago— eyes heavily lined and winged in sparkly purple gel liner and lips defined by a deep magenta. Tiff ’s face was different, it was a face that, even at first glance, you knew was once heartbreakingly beautiful. A teardrop shaped face with gentle, Barbie-doll eyes and thin, bow-shaped lips. She used to be on the covers of magazines, the golden girl of perhaps the last age of genuine naivety. The beauty was still there, despite all those years, but it was now a tired sort of beauty. The kind of beauty that does not quite know what to do with her time, or how to teach her own daughter make-up (having never had to do her own make up in her life), that orders the same thing for lunch frequently, is deeply invested in the romantic lives of soap opera characters, and has pink lipstick on her teeth too often. The kind of beauty 109
that did not do her brows.
Tiff averted her eyes first.
“What shade do you want?” June put the two customary shades back on the shelf and skimmed the library of colors expertly with her eyes. “Here, why don’t you come over here and have a look for yourself?” Naphisa Senanarong
the inner crevices of her body contract at the memory of last night’s undertaking dawn keeps her company as she inhales the winter air making sure her chest is rising then pauses as if not wanting to let go of life of air of nullity for a moment she feels complete a second breath she breathes with her mouth to capture something larger the smell of last night’s cheap beer the sound of metal clashing against each other she inhales the warmth as if she were addicted cigarette smoke fills the gray matter blurring last night’s momentary unity of a lack we would risk death in order to complete Sherry Hsiao
Appeal to my body
after Constantine P. Cavafy
Body, remember how tempting proximity can be. Remember how laughter shakes off the awkward but canâ€™t stop us from noticing too much, how our bodies arenâ€™t touching. Two mounds of flesh on the couch watching the mysteries of the ocean unfurl to the mating calls of blue whales. Remember nights wracked with terror and grief and all-over shakes and how he picked up his bones and walked over in the middle of the night to watch jaded cartoons and be next to your presence, again. Body, remember arms wrapped around shoulder blades, unnecessary over leather jacket sleeves. Remember the swirl of sour beer after beer rolling around on your anxious tongue and breaking down barriers of skin and bone and muscle. Remember, if you can what happens next. Body, please, remember bits and pieces.
Remember dampened grass lying down, eyes probing for Orion and maybe mouths just meeting. Remember coarse curls and the jab of a moustache 113
and remember soft repetitive touching. Remember that unfamiliar weight of not youâ€” a bruise on pale skin. Remember receding tides of longing and remember Guilt, too. Moving up from your crooked toes in waves. Body, remember disappointment. Remember how light you feel without his body nearby and how your fingers shiver in search of that black coarseness. Remember how hollow whale songs might hit your ears like the echoes of an emptied bed and how your head canâ€™t find a place to rest. Emma Campbell
Body, when all else fails and your aching lungs forget to breathe remember his absence, too. Nicola McCafferty
Restitution He entered the room likeâ€¨ Grass nips at your knees When sitting cross-legged It was the right balance Of nuisance â€“ a hair on the Back of the tongue that Your fingers dance to find And comfort Nature at your calves, politely Asking to be returned to the Earth As an offering Julia Cardwell
Kind of Girl
Sunset Soliloquy: Rainbow layers of a sun faded sky, the ombré of disillusion of another day, disguises itself behind the mask of dusk; blending from hot to cold, then painted a sudden black slowly, instantly, time has run out. And below, only the twinkle of man made lights shine in the boundless edges of a monotone dome. The earth has pulled the covers over its eyes, wishing to rest. But humanity tugs on its eyelids, begging it again to awaken. So that we can again mistake an ordinary day, for an ordinary day, and wish away the hours only to again seek their solace. Gabrielle Downey
A vanilla kind of girl you’d say she’s not quote of scones, but certainly something settled heavier than whipped cream. She is perhaps honey thick, an amber dribbling viscosity over frosted visage kind of girl. She is cracked glaze and a lemon sugar scrub— particle against pore crushing fragrance against fine softening flesh kind of girl with water between toes, between eyes and lungs expanding to captures daffodilled breezes kind of girl The kind of girl you’d say too saccharine like sweet tea on your tongue, too deafening an aeroplane overhead in the blind spot, too wiry limbs like bones and skin— too real She is everything, kind of girl, everything and you notice her perfume.
Francesca von Krauland 119
Stars Everyone has their own star, my mama used to say. Some burn out after a while, some twinkle, and some leave a trail of scattered gold across the sky. You have to look for your star; otherwise you might never find it. Lots of people never do. Danny found his. His star’s one of the twinkly ones. He says that every tree in the forest is hung with wind chimes, while birds sing harmonies all night. Avalanches of percussion rain down from the mountains, and the plains are made of paper, sheet music all composed by him, Danny, while little grasshopper and cricket bands play with maybe a frog for a bass at every toadstool. It never rains so nothing gets ruined, and there’s nobody there to laugh at a little boy who likes music, Danny says. Nobody there to make fun, and shove, and wound a boy who plays piano instead of football. It’s a beautiful star, Danny’s. What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t real as I understood real, something you could see and touch. I didn’t have a tangible paradise somewhere in the cosmos waiting for me, no one did. Mama didn’t lie, she just didn’t explain. But then how is an eight-year-old supposed to understand that to have a star is to have a meaning for your heartbeat? Emma Harney
I guess my reflection never grew up. Danny and I, on the other hand, grew up much too fast. When it’s drizzling and the streets are full of crying babies and cigarette smoke, I look at the windows and all I can see are the tangled braids and grass stained knees of the girl who just wanted a sanctuary. It didn’t seem like too much to ask for at the time. There were trillions of stars, why couldn’t I have one? My mama was forced to take a shortcut into the constellations, and Danny and I were left to the stench of bourbon and grief that tried to strangle us when we got too close. And when we finally left, Danny and I had to grow ten years in a day. It took me a while, but I learned how to build a star. It was small, but cozy. There was a big tree with a tree house in it where I would live. There were birds singing to help you sleep
at night, and there was a little pond outside, with no ugly things to scare you. Itâ€™s always peaceful. Many people share this star, all the people who are hurt, are laughed at, or crying. The man who comes home to no one, the boy who works all day to avoid a beating, and that little girl with grass stained knees alone in a great big world. Welcome, little one. Ellie Ray
Riptide Her voice sounds like a painting I cannot touch but I put my fingers in the cracks of her lips and tell her to utter something foul because I know even as I peel away the dead skin I will find the pinkest lips and the bluest water greenest love in concentric orange circles Julia Cardwell
Proud to present the most recent publication of The Laughing Medusa, Boston College's only female-only literary magazine on campus!
Published on Oct 8, 2017
Proud to present the most recent publication of The Laughing Medusa, Boston College's only female-only literary magazine on campus!