V O L U M E 4
N O C T U R N A L
CONTENTS staff box
FICTION escape from mole city | ike mcintosh 10 if not me then nobody | christine nguyen 12 the pelt | j.t. wardlow 13 silence | rayan harmouch 16 thing in the bell tower | alex taylor 19
NONFICTION mama | zoey renĂ¨e 24 i look at the lights | andres garza 26 meadows | madeline buschang 27 sad in the city | andres garza 28
POETRY 32 antianeirai | julia schoos 33 mirrors of nanking | margaret siu 34 nocturne | nooshin ghanbari 35 a night abroad | scott spivey 36 rotae | cade stone 37 ex filia ad evam | libby carr 38 sonnet #10 | austin hanna 39 imagined less than lover | libby carr 40 a dock knight | kevin latorre 41 libretto | libby carr 42 marfa | kerri kilmer
S TA F F B O X
EDITOR IN CHIEF madeline buschang
editor | brionne campbell + nicole sun reader | vanessa aguirre + jessica shu
editor | arvind ashok reader | abbey bartz + josey hill
editor | nooshin ghanbari + chandler michaels reader | annie diamond + sarah flinn
editor | rhea adhikary assistants | michael sanchez + minh cao
ESCAPE FROM MOLE CITY
A Revolution, A Great Race, And A Love Story Ike Mcintosh Emma and I had been on three dates before the first movement of the Mole Uprising. We went on another date during the early days of the occupation -- peoplewatching on 6th Street became even more interesting with the addition of the giant bipedal rodent species hitting up the local establishments. This timing, however, pressed our relationship towards a certain seriousness at a rapid pace. In those days, I liked to take things a day at a time, so when the moles rose up, I was pushed out of my natural, relaxed state of being. The Race was set to begin fourteen days after the Great Vole and his mole cohorts rose from beneath the earth’s crust, along with their First Layer of The Ultimate Wall. The Wall surrounded the Greater Austin metroplex, drawing its borders around Pflugerville to the north, Buda to the south, and cutting through lakeside properties on Lake Travis to the west. No one was sure exactly what neighborhoods lay in the way of the eastern border of The Wall. It was constructed as a perfect circle, made of a strange type of clay, and was 50 feet tall and 20 feet thick. We didn’t know how the Mole Society, as they called themselves, erected such a wall underneath our feet without our notice and proceeded to propel it through the earth’s crust, but the people of Austin were nonetheless very impressed. The Mole Society were a friendly bunch. They generally stood around four feet tall, and walked on their hind legs, like humans. They spoke English well and had enough of a grasp on the Spanish language to get by, though many possessed slight lisps and emphasis in strange places in their speaking patterns. The Great Vole, who had a strong lisp and stood taller than most other moles, explained through the hijacked television broadcasts (which quickly found it’s way to a ‘Facebook Live’ stream for those, like my roommates and I, who didn’t have TVs) that they had not come to disrupt Austin way-of-life, or hurt its denizens, but instead to integrate themselves into the same lifestyle. To do this, they’d constructed The Wall, to retain the local culture, and to prevent government intervention. Most Austin residents found the plan unobjectionable. Preventing change was a cultural staple in Travis County. But, like any plan, the Great Vole’s plan to capture Austin and its residents had its flaws. It was odd for the Great Vole to explain the shortcomings in his own plans on live television, but the large mole was anything but a conventional dictator. The first of these flaws -- not all of Austin’s denizens wanted to play a role in this new city-state. A few particularly socially active citizens organized marches up and down Guadalupe street on the second and third days of the rise of The Ultimate Wall. Secondly, the moles, while technologically advanced (their laser guns had no human match), and certainly physically powerful, had a weak point in their own physiology -- their complete lack of
endurance or stamina. Many humans, especially in Austin, which prides itself as a city in which physical fitness is a priority, could easily outrun the moles. While no physical resistance was anticipated, the Great Vole could never be too sure. So, on the fourth day after The Emergence, the Great Vole announced his self-named ‘Great Race’ which would take place ten days later. He announced no further details for The Race other than the starting point (the Texas Capitol at dawn on the fourteenth day) and the length (4000 Kilocepters, a unit that had little meaning to humans). Those who completed The Race in a timely manner (under 300 Megalops, an additional unknown metric) would be able to leave New Austin (or Mole City, as some called it) with a guest of their choice. This plan would kill two birds with one mole-patented laser gun --first of all, those who might be capable of resisting the Great Vole would be removed from the city, and the people would feel like they had a choice in their participation in the grand social experiment that was Mole City. Immediately after The Race, the final vulnerabilities in the Ultimate Wall would be sealed as the large clay dome finished construction. Entry and exit from the city would be limited to helicopers and fancy camera drones through a small gap in the apex of the dome. I knew I would run the race as soon as it was announced. It was hardly a question. While most of my friends were content with life in Austin, my family lived in Dallas, and my dog Ranger’s birthday party was approaching soon. I couldn’t miss that. I also possessed a certain level of residual talent from my tenure on the junior varsity cross country squad in high school. 4000 Kilocepters would certainly be a shorter distance than the 10k races we ran in those days, I figured.
IF NOT ME THEN NOBODY Christine Nguyen I’d cram myself in a rusted van and drive thirty hours to nowhere if you would sleep in the passenger seat and wake occasionally to see the bluebonnets crowding the lip of the interstate and cattle waiting in fields to be slaughtered and cypress trees boxing us in like the lives we built for ourselves. We wouldn’t speak about how you had been content and I had never known the feeling. Or how I was in love and you were as well. Instead, you would tell me that bluebonnets are just weeds and sometimes we care too much about things that are only beautiful. By the time we’re in Nevada you’ll be babbling about the physics of the red dirt on the windshield. You’d ask if sand is liquid or solid or if perhaps one thing can be both at once. You are so brilliant but you know nothing. I wish I could have your long legs to sprint away from you, and I wish you could have my soft heart to know why I can’t. It’s not your fault that you love her. The sunset looks like an orange creamsicle that splattered on asphalt and was left to ooze. I know you cannot love us both at once. Desert moonrise is swift and too cold. In the dark, your blood is the color of sand. I take your sweater and pretend it was given.
THE PELT J.T. Wardlow Our two souls therefor, which are one, Though I must go, endure not yet A breach, but an expansion. Like gold to airy thinness beat. - John Donne, “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”
The lion’s pelt hung tacked over the mantle by nails driven through three of its four feet. A crack in the drywall ran under its middle and down toward the faded brick of the fireplace. The pelt glowed a high golden color in the offcast light of a near window. Without the sun, the pelt looked old and graying. The husband sat before the fireplace in a highbacked armchair. He had dragged the chair into the sitting room’s center and had brought along a side table from another room. He stared at the pelt. He sipped at his third glass of whiskey. “Won’t you get rid of that thing?” said the young wife. She stood in the doorway that connected to her kitchen with her arms crossed. The husband finished his drink. “I don’t like it,” the young wife said. “I don’t like having dead things on the walls.” “I like it fine,” said the husband. He shifted in his chair, and it creaked under him. It was a groaning sound. “I know you like it fine, but I don’t like it.” “Alright.” The woman spun on her heel and retreated into her kitchen. Her slippers slapped the tile as she went. When the sound became distant and illegible, the husband relaxed into his chair. Under the pelt and on the mantle sat a framed photograph. The frame was gold, the same hue as the pelt. Behind its glass was a tattered, black and white photograph of a man standing over a slain lion with rifle in hand. The savannah behind him stretched into unknown territories. The husband at times imagine himself in the photograph, rifle also in hand, next to his great grandfather. He imagined the smell of long yellow grass, like baled hay. He didn’t know what else it might smell like. The husband stood and went to the radio. He fiddled with the dial until the speakers spat out something fast and smooth. He sat back in his chair and poured another whiskey. The wife came back into the doorway. There was something white on her striped apron, but he didn’t care to know what. Her stomach had grown immensely in the past months. The room felt very small around him. “Does that have to be so loud?” the wife asked. “It doesn’t have to be.” She left the threshold and walked to the radio and turned the dial. Something 13
softer played. She turned another dial, and the volume dropped to a whisper. “Isn’t that better?” she said. She looked very content. “It’s something.” “You’re in such a mood,” she said, and then she went back to her cooking. The husband stood again, and his knees felt unsteady. He stumbled to the mantle and reached over it. The pelt felt slick and oily under his hand. He pulled his hand back and sniffed his fingers, but they smelled like nothing. He thought of how it must have felt to pull the skin off the lion, and of the wide plain space of the savannah. “We can put it upstairs,” the wife said from the other room. The man ignored her. He went and turned the radio back to his station and then turned it up. “Did you hear me?” she said. She stood some feet back from the doorway, whisking something in a bowl balanced on her engorged stomach. She had been a slight girl when he met her, was still slight now, except for the onerous bump around her middle. She might say the same of him. When he looked at her, he thought of old times. “I didn’t,” said the husband. “I said we could move the lion upstairs. Into the den?” “Good place for a lion,” he said. He felt rather drunk. “It’s settled then.” “I suppose it is.” The wife disappeared out of sight. A great calamity of steel and copper sounded from the kitchen. “Alright?” the husband called. “Yes.” “Would you bring me some more ice?” “Do you need more?” said the wife. “I’m out, yes.” “Hold on.” He heard another shifting of things and a door sliding open and the tinkling of ice as it fell into a glass. She came out of her kitchen with a claw hammer in one hand and a glass in the other. “No need for the hammer,” said the husband. “The whiskey will do the job just fine.” “I was thinking you might take it down now. The lion, I mean.” “There’s no rush.” “It might scare the baby,” she said. “I don’t think so.” “But it might.” “I can’t see how.” “Don’t you care?” “I should think so. It’s a family heirloom.” “About the baby. Don’t you care about the baby?” “Well.” “Well what?” “Well it wasn’t my idea.” 14
The wife moved to cross her arms but found them still laden with glass and the hammer. She put the glass down hard enough to rattle its ice and did the same with the hammer. The husband thought she looked very sour, and very ugly when she was sour. She reminded him of the old times. She thundered off, and he collapsed down into his chair and looked at his pelt. He thought it was a lovely sight. It was all his father had left behind. He heard the bearings of more drawers slide and then several loud slams. When his wife came back, her footsteps sounded like close-fisted jabs against the floor. She had a long pair of kitchen shears in her right hand. She marched up to the mantle and reached above it with the open shears. The shears sank into the aged pelt and sliced it in two. The young wife yanked on the head side of the pelt until it came loose from the wall,and then she flung the freed piece at her husband. “There,” she said. “One for the den and one for the fireplace.” She took the shears and left. When the pelt was taken and tanned and preserved, its eyes had been replaced with glass orbs. The orbs were very black, and the husband saw himself in them as a warped reflection. He held the head in his lap and looked up at the legs still tacked to the wall. He felt a deep numbness is his chest. He poured himself another drink.
SILENCE Rayan Harmouch
“Everyone is a racist. It’s human nature!” After using the word fuck and its derivatives too many times in what seemed to be an extremely long rant against a couple of what you would call “bigoted rednecks (Oh, the irony),” my friend Moe threw the pack of Marlboro Lights (I just bought those, and what did the cigarettes do to deserve such terrible treatment, Moe?) over the counter from where they came, in a kind of reverse transaction. I heard it, but I for one did not want to get into a physical altercation with the 6’5 or so man behind the counter, who was all tatted up, and would surely ride off on his Harley after kicking my ass (Is there a third option to fight or flight? How about silence?). I had just smiled at the Red-Haired Lady with the Deep-Southern Twang to the right of the 6’5 or so Man who was All Tatted Up and Probably Rode a Harley and had given her my ID (Moe, could you have done this before I gave her my ID or perhaps after I was outside of the store?). As fate had it, I was dragged into a situation that I couldn’t escape (Moe would surely have called me a pussy if he was clairvoyant and could read my mind). Moe’s adrenaline rush somehow initiated mine. “Moe, calm down.” He looked at me with an almost unrecognizable face, all scrunched up, fuming with anger, “no fuck that!” Well, shit. In the back-and-forth shouting match of “who could be the most profane and derogatory towards the other” between Moe and The 6’5 Guy who was All Tatted Up and Probably Rode a Harley, a feeling came over me that this was partially my fault. If only I didn’t tell Zak, who I would best describe as a street-fighter that retired for the pursuit of his next favorite thing, Money, and hence his majoring in Business here at UT, about the conversation that made my stomach flip between the (thankfully) not-currently-present sheriff and the Red-Haired Women with the Deep-Southern Twang. “Moderate Muslims are jus’ waitin’ fo’ the righ’ momen’ to show their true radical selves. They wanna cut our heads off I tell ya.” Remarkably, the sheriff nodded with great certainty that what this remarkable woman had said with great certainty and a sense of Enlightenment, was absolutely, without-a-shred-of-a-doubt, True. true with a capital T. True. What-comes-up-must-come-down True. He felt that the nod wasn’t enough, that he had to make some contribution to this pertinent and absolutely True information about the two people who decided they needed to stop at this very 711 to piss and capitalize on the 2 for $3 Gatorade for the long trip back to Dallas (and the ever-ready Moe, who waited patiently outside, waiting to assume his role as defender of the Ummah, the Muslim Nation, in the forthcoming predicament); one of whom was a retired street fighter; the other, a coward deciding between Berry Blast and Lemon Lime Gatorade (wish I got the Berry Blast). I decided that the unbelievably hard decision of citrusy versus the sweet blast of 16
berries could wait. I went to the restroom, where the retired street-fighter had been relieving himself of an over-caffeinated mixture of kidney-processed red bull and Starbucks coffee, unknowing that what he was about to hear would make him come out of retirement. The street-fighter believed the hearsay of the Silent Informant. “Moderate Muslims.... Radicals... Chop heads... Sheriff... nodding... agrees.” The pursuit of success was no longer on his mind. The Street-Fighter ran to the I’m-Palestinian-and-a-ProudMuslim-Moe to relay the news that war had been waged. You would think that I’m-Palestinian-and-a-Proud-Muslim-Moe was a Made Wise Guy with his demand of respect and loyalty, his always spiffy outfit, his nonchalant lean against his luxury car, and his constant reminder that he would “fuck up any guy that fucked with you.” At this point, I knew what was coming. The movement of the Street-Fighter’s lips and I’m-Palestinian-and-a-Proud-Muslim-Moe’s silence that I could see through the glass doors, as I frantically decided to buy two citrusy Gatorades for the price of three dollars and the Marlboro Lights (I’m-Palestinian-and-a-Proud-Muslim-Moe’s request), and when giving my ID to the Red-Haired women with the Deep-Southern Twang, whose bigotry I could care less about knowing the temperament of the man behind that now unrecognizable face, made my heart race and the transaction with it. Well, shit. There he was. In his Mafia-like appearance, he demanded that both cashiers retract their bigoted statements and cleanse themselves of their racism immediately. He threw the pack of cigarettes, as if to say, “I would die before doing business with people like you.” “Step outside!” Moe’s demands became more-and-more undesirable to the Silent Informant, who silently stood in a state of cowardice. The red-headed lady played into the irrationality of the situation as she demanded, “fight me too, why don’t ya?” The line behind the Silent Informant of a mix of colorful faces watched the altercation in solidarity with him. The Street-Fighter finally spoke, “I’m Muslim!!! Y’all have a problem with that?!” Moe added, “Fucking Racists!” In a roaring voice, the Red-Headed cashier rebutted, “Everyone is a racist, it’s Human Nature!!!” I was on neither side. I wanted this all to end. I grabbed Moe by the shoulder, trying to calm him down. I finally broke my silence and apologized to the cashiers who spoke against my people, my family, my community. Moe let out the final bursts of anger by toppling over some merchandise, which I picked up as he trudged out, taking the mayhem he intended to cause out of the store. “I….I’m sorry everyone.” They handed my ID, the Gatorades, the cigarettes, and a loud “get the fuck out of my store.” Moe toppled trashcans onto the ground and ordered his gang into the brand new Lexus that smelled like an ashtray. We drove off in utter silence, as Moe and his side-kick smoked the damaged cigarettes. I was wide-eyed looking for any cops trailing our mobile ashtray. The Silent Informant saw no authoritative figure who could administer legal ac 17
tion against his friends for their unruly behavior. “Moe, what the fuck!” (Suddenly, I was empowered to speak) “Moe, what was the point of that! You think that they feel any different about us! They probably fucking hate us even more now! We proved their point!” “Rayan,” suddenly calm and collected, “What would you have done?” After giving him a list of “Could have, should have, would have,” and tirading against his barbarity, he turned around and left me in thought for the rest of the three hours back to Dallas. “Then why didn’t you do something?”
THING IN THE BELL TOWER Alex Taylor The first and last time I heard the ringing of the bell occurred in the middle of a thunderstorm. It was faint, almost imperceptible - some people even claimed they never heard it. Those that admitted they noticed the sound said that the wind must have blown the bell hard enough for it to toll, but people did not like to talk about it. It was old and decrepit and didn’t matter anymore, they said. But to me and Jack, the sound of the bell tolling amidst the thunder resounded like a call to adventure. It was all we talked about for several days until we finally worked up the courage to climb Sentinel Hill and stare at its spectral form. The wind carried our laughter behind us as we ran down the side of the hill. I chased Jack until we stood breathless and panting at the base of the tower. Any entrance that might have led inside was covered by thick wooden boards. Each board stood ten feet high, and the tower was much taller than it looked from afar. It must have been a couple hundred feet from the ground to the tip of the belfry, and standing at the bottom we could no longer see the bell. While I still struggled to catch my breath, Jack began to circle the base of the tower. It was fifteen feet long on any of its four sides, and he disappeared for a moment as he walked around it. When he came back into view, he was chewing on his bottom lip. “Damn,” he said, “those boards go all the way around. How are we supposed to get in there?” “Maybe we can’t.” “Shut up.” Jack crossed his arms and stared at the corner of one of the boards. He paced over to it and began to kick at the edge. “Stop it,” I scolded. “You’re going to break something.” “That’s the point, idiot. These boards are still wet from the rain, and I think if I can kick hard enough—” As he said this, the corner of the plank pulled free from the wall an inch. Jack grinned and renewed his assault against the board. “Get over here and help me with this.” I joined him and we took turns kicking the board until it tore partially from the wall, exposing a doorway into the tower. Without a word, Jack wedged himself underneath the corner of wood and pushed open the door. The hinges screeched as it fell inward, and he looked back at me with a wolfish grin before pulling a silver flashlight from his pocket. He gestured for me to follow and ducked into the bell tower. I hesitated for a moment, unsure if I should enter, but childhood bravery overcame my sense of foreboding and I stepped inside. The only light in the tower was the thin sliver that filtered in through the hole we had created. It shone across the floor for a few feet, illuminating suspended dust in the air and revealing stone that looked as if it had not been walked upon in centuries. I could hear Jack’s footsteps as he walked further inside, kicking up clouds of dirt, and he clicked his flashlight on as he retreated from the lone shaft of sunlight. It threw a wide beam against the wall of the tower, which was the same dark color on the inside as it 19
was on the outside. In the darkness, I could not see Jack, but I watched as he threw light across each of the walls. I withdrew my own flashlight, and Jack started in surprise as he was suddenly illuminated. “Hey, shine that somewhere else!” he cried. “What’s that behind you?” “Very funny.” “No, I’m serious!” He turned to see where I was aiming the light. Suspended in the air, stretching down where I supposed it met the bell, was an enormous chain—each of the links must have been a foot long. “Isn’t that supposed to be a rope?” Jack asked. “I think so.” I lowered the light along the length of the chain until I reached the floor, where to my surprise a gaping hole allowed it to continue underground. “Do you see that?” “Yeah. Where do you think it goes?” Before I could respond, we were both startled by a third voice that sounded faintly from somewhere inside the tower. “Hello?” it called. “Is anyone there?”
MAMA Zoey Renèe Mama always smoked over the stove. She’d use the smallest front burner, remove the metal cage, wait for the flame after a few click-click-clicks, then get impossibly close to the dancing blue. I always thought she’d burn the point of her nose, or the tips of her long acrylics, but she never did. Every couple of years she’d re-explain to me how the fan under the cookin hood sucks all the bad stuff away from us. Safest place in the house. For all of us. Mama always smelled heavy. Livin in a cloud of perfume. I think she must’ve smelled like that all her life cause even clothes I found in boxes at the back of our storage closet smelled that way. They were clothes I’d only seen in pictures from my baby book. Mama never talked to us. Never asked us how we were or how school was. Only time she called me by name was to yell at me about somethin I did wrong or somethin I forgot she told me to do so she could get some sleep. Mama worked late. Real late. When we’d get home from school she’d be finishin her makeup, doin her hair, blasting 104.1 FM, the hits station. Singing along and movin, all with a scorchin curling iron just a gnat’s wingspan from her head. Then she’d just leave. She’d walk out the front door, gym bag on one shoulder. No “dinner’s waitin on the stove” or “what’ve ya got for homework?” Only “now gimme a kiss cause I’m leavin” Then she’d drive off in a car that always made too many wrong sounds. My little brother and sister would rush to the tv for PBS soon as we got home, catchin the last hour of cartoons before it all became news. PBS was cherished cause once that ended we had to start watchin the five movies we owned over and over. It was around that time that we usually got hungry, and that’s when I had to start cookin dinner and keep doin the laundry. Laundry never ends. Dinner was always from a box. Macaroni. Spaghetti. Hamburger Helper. But on the weekends I made Aunt Jemima pancakes. Usually I helped Jamie and Noah with homework when we were at the table, the tv always playin in the background. Not one eye on it, but we let it play. 24
Once it got real late at night, the channels would go back to cartoons. I never got Family Guy back then, not once. It frustrated me, but I love it now. Funny how ya don’t quite understand all that ya see when you’re a kid. But you figure it out later. We never smiled or laughed at what we watched. Even when it was the kid shows. Once it got real late at night, the channels would go back to cartoons. I never got Family Guy back then, not once. It frustrated me, but I love it now. Funny how ya don’t quite understand all that ya see when you’re a kid. But you figure it out later. We never smiled or laughed at what we watched. Even when it was the kid shows. We all just kinda stared. Silent. I put off the dishes a lot, if I’m honest. I hated doin em. Somethin about touching wet food gets to me. Took a lot to convince Jamie to do her fair share. I mean, I hated naggin or bossin cause I always wanted to be on Jamie’s good side. Jamie had that mean streak. Like Mama. Jamie wasn’t that young anymore though. At eight she could do a lot more round the house, shoulda even started sooner. Like I had. After food, and homework, we’d fall asleep wherever we landed in that livin room. We would all struggle to keep our eyes focused once King of the Hill popped up on Fox, especially Noah. I once watched him fall asleep standin up back when he was still in pull-ups. I guess he was just real tired. He laid his head on a swivel chair and actually fell asleep. His binky slipping out his mouth, his knees bendin and straightenin, bendin and straightenin. I’d never seen anyone sleep standin up, but I thought it must not be comfortable. So I picked him up, and laid him in on the small couch. Mama would stay gone til late every night. For years, none of us ever heard her come in. That’s probably how your parents always got away with pretendin they were Santa. I swear, kids sleep like the dead.
I LOOK AT THE LIGHTS Andres Garza Underneath us, the linear constant energy of the lights flowed, rapid waters that suck you in, dragging my body along between the rocks. Slashed and cut. The cars moved fast and the hazy city overlooked us, bright buildings as we stood on the dirty, electric bridge – lips tangled. Talked of sexual encounters and gauzed over music, breaking down barriers …was she trying to intimidate me, scare me away maybe? I wasn’t sure she was good, but I wanted her to be. Sat in front of the smells of coffee, it was lateish. Not really. Randoms sat next to me and I glossed over my phone because I wanted them to get the fuck away, I was ready to meet this girl who woke me, aroused me through a screen – digitally abusing me, it was a bit of a mystery, she was vocally verbal. The red truck we went to, stood outside the window and You was struck, speechless, happy I hope. Acted nice and let me order, spoke slowly and had a grin. Together, or separate? He asked me and pointed the screen toward me to hide the fact that he was giving me a solid discount. Modern toxic chivalry. Jumped in the truck, she jumped on too, made me make our food, and so I did. Whatever you make for her she will love, and she did. I hope. Hope, I did many times and still do now. Still hope things are good, I think they are, I really hope they are. I left a memo. I found your lil’ memo, she told me, that they’re important. The distance threw me off balance. The blank canvas of winter flew in fast, a blizzard of snow covering my body several inches high, I tried to stay afloat and breathing. It consumed me entirely. Swallowed me whole and I sled down the esophagus into a pool of stomach acid, burning and disintegrating my body. Nothingness surrounding me, walking through the surface of the canvas without any paint in my pockets. No power within. Hope was not enough. Things ended. The streaks of light the cars had stained in the darkness remain in me.
THE MEADOWS Madeline Buschang
One day from the end, one mile from the top. The walk to the hill – or was it a mountain? – took longer than the actual climb to the top. You have to walk through town to get there, past strangers staggering home after a late night and still closed coffee shops. Normally, we took our time, but today, our pace was quick. We walked without speaking, my mind running through to-do lists and recalling useless facts to silence what was happening in the back of my mind. I heard once that a mountain is any hill taller than one thousand feet. So I guess we were just headed for a really big hill. When we reached the base of the hill, the peak was still cloaked in the precarious darkness that exists right before dawn. As I stepped onto the trail, my body sensed the heaviness of the dark. My calves rebelled against the endless incline of rocky terrain. My breath came hard, and I felt the last winter air burn in my lungs. And my body felt weak, needing to acclimate at just two hundred feet. As I trekked up, I let my hand brush against the foliage until it stung. Most of the year the brush on the hill face was a deep brown, almost purple color, but this time of year the bushes bloomed into bright yellow flowers that made the hill look like it was dipped in egg yolk. The flowers attracted bees and birds, butterflies, and the occasional pheasant. It had been too dark to see when we had arrived at the head of the trail, but now, as the sun rose, it was impossible not to admire. With the sun starting to rise higher in the sky and our ascent growing shorter, my mind wandered away from packing lists and flight information and into the depths of my thoughts I had been trying to avoid. My breathing became heavier, and the path we had trekked up numerous times before, suddenly seemed impossible. My body protested every step, and it took all I had to keep heaving up the wine and depression-curing chocolate from the night before. I was not alone in this struggle. When one of us reached a breaking point, we all stopped and waited for them to recover. We paused for every moment we had taken each other for granted the past six months, for every dismissed invitation to a coffee shop and every “I’d love to, but I just have too much homework.” Only when we had all reached the top, did we walk to the summit marker and pile ourselves against it in a huddle of puffy coats and entwined legs sporting improper footwear. On most days, when the wind blows just right, you can smell the distant odor of manure from the surrounding sheep farms. The wind is always strong at the top, and I often found myself feeling like a piece of grass up there, being blown this way and that. No control over which way I’d be blown next. But in the arms of my friends, as the sun glistened over the water and began to warm the rock beneath us, I felt like The Meadows. 27
SAD IN THE CITY Andres Garza The car is beeping and it just now shut up, but the echoes continue to bounce off the infinitely tall windows of corporate skyscrapers. The breeze parallels from one street to the next, creating a whirlpool of motion around me. Man keeps asking if anyone is selling any extra tickets. Bounce bounce in front of me, the shadow goes. Bland conservative sweater and the eyes of Christ sparkle in its cheap plastic-glitter. My own breathing is heavy, clumps of rice congested in my digestive system, popping like corn in my stomach, rain of hot oil sprinkling my skin inside. Sizzling while I lay in my bed, the heat trapped in my aluminum sheets. Broken analog cracks from the police radio, numbers and numbers and singular words. My fingers are purple, glowing purple, hazy without the smoke, glowing. Jazz plays electronically, overbearingly, imitating the dotty scratchy records. The smoke appears and the haze grows hazier. Crawling out of a tight slimy tunnel the light peers in, pushing harder in needle position and a swimmer jumps out of the water the arms flap from in front to the sides, a wine openerâ€™s angel wings. The bass drills into the cork of my ears sliding thru the warm waxy butter into my head. Splatter.
P O E T RY
ANTIANEIRAI Julia Schoos The shades of heroes whisper: even the coldest iron is forged in fire. Dante said that hell is cold, but God, it burns, it aches. A Greek chorus whispers in my ear: a hero is born from anguish. “Suffer,” they utter. Blood in my throat, rising with the bile. Rattlesnakes in my lungs. I taste metal, metal, metal. I swear, proclaim, scream - I couldn’t care less about the poets, about my name in the stars: my deeds in the Herculean firmament, or ichor in my veins. Imagine this - the world is here. The charred fields nothing but a scarred, harrowed back, sawed off wings where tree trunks used to tower. A fermata’s silence where heartbeats should play, but the drums of ware have come to rest. I scorched the earth beneath my feet, poisoned, murdered ButFor the curvature of her gaze, I’d die.
MIRRORS OF NANKING, 1937 Margaret Siu listening to the collision of ash on pavement. Footsteps outside scraping the earth. Then the pounding of the door.
Green men thrust knives into grandfather and grandmother, kitchen knives to lard. A squelch of the metal through meat. And their bodies fell.
a scratching of slow brass from the vinyl dough on the cutting board, waiting for the climax of the aria. the baker presses his hands into white lifting the arm from the twirling disc, flesh music cuts sinking fingernails slicing sinews separating again and once again Father opened the door, Blood, so much of it, too much of it, father filled made rivers down her naked legs with bullets. pooling on the floor. Something hot. ration sacks Something sticky. So many, too many hands. smake the merchantâ€™s table fills with rice in the market sunset stretches its weight and bleeds an - starting with a few grains and then unwilling earth, growing wetness with an outpour the dew, rivers flushed sanguine across Their bayonets, already crusted in something hills and young creases. red, catapulted the baby, chubby limbs dangling soars limp in the December air. a red kite whistles the wind piercing its way through wings scarlet holes, scarlet flaps, crashes The green men descendedpinning Motherâ€™s flailing body, chained screaming as their mouths and teeth ripped at her breasts fish twitch on the docks as birds rip its tender flesh stripping away skin and scales gills shuddering
NOCTURNE Nooshin Ghanbari First, the sound of bodies folding into pews. Then, for a moment, silence. At the hour, the bells of St. Davidâ€™s donâ€™t ring. Darkness presses into every corner of the sanctuary. Loud. Present. What a strange phenomenon - to have eyes and open them and know that you are seeing but to only see black. What a strange phenomenon - to listen to music and hear black and white. What would it be like to use music as kindling, I think then, notes of milk and honey going up in flame, lighting up the stained glass windows that have long since dissolved against the sapphire sky. Instead, I sit and listen in total darkness - no arson, no burning honey - tearing at my fingernails until the skin there is bloodied and raw. Until the music fades away and the congregation is no longer a congregation but one person, bleeding. And then, for a moment, silence. I coil the silence around my body and let it constrict.
A NIGHT ABROAD Scott Spivey The night is screaming with vibrant electricity that runs through the city Powered by bodies, Dancing to the beat of their own rhythm: Create, sing, dance, live! A perfect storm of strangers Moving to the vibrations of each otherâ€™s curiosities To discover the world around them. We spoke no language that could not be understood. Our movements and expressions transcend all barriers that divide the human race, Until we Formed a sea, achieveing one common goalSingularity. Friendships are ephemeral and conversations are absorbed. We sing over the melody of time, Removing the shackles of mortality To live in a moent that is impenetrable to reality. The night is forever, And youth is invincible. We probe and palpate the differences between us, Only to find a mirror. We enter the looking glass into a dimension of truths That feed the famished that were searching for it all their lives. We proceed in our path that we did not know was circular, Hoping to find a revelation that was waiting for us all along. We have arrived.
EX FILIA, AD EVAM Libby Carr When I my mirror images adore, Do I remain Eve’s child without repent? She broke a rule, I broke a verse, no more, I understand her better broken, bent. She watches as I stumble and implore Him not to call me what I now resent; She whispers strength, beckoning, I obey; “I sinned as well; I made it out okay.” These Men boast of knowledge among the meek, The women they stole from fall back, submit: Our Mother Eve encouraged me to speak, Call out his craft, cut cunning with my wit. But as I stood before him I felt weak, No sound uttered, I gaped, my tongue I bit: And I withdrew, to not amuse his eyes, I did not move, I challenged not his lies. Women before me suffered for Eve’s sin, Far greater than the men who sinned along, I must endure that fault as a woman, As often I am seen as being wrong; Eve’s fault was not enough for my chagrin, A thousand generations prior belong: Guilt rises in my throat, though, as I see, I did not stand for Eve as she for me.
ROTAE Cade Stone My shoe joins to pedal with metallic crack Like revolverâ€™s clap, Like fissured steel. I am bound to cogs and carbon. We are half-lit out here, our shadows Plastered to asphalt, our shadows Flitting with treetop and townhouse, Sundials in our jubilance. In rivulets of bleeding countryside In haybales on ashen farmland My tired gaze seeks hideaways, yet Scenes drift on in the chainâ€™s metallic song. Churning My life is measured in downstroke and up. Churning My many-faced day ripens and dies.
SONNET #10 Austin Hanna I think that, in your eyes, I see my death. I am too fragile for your fiery gaze. A kiss from you would surely stop my breath, And then my last would be my best of days. If I could give myself to you, I would, But that would be to court my certain doom. Though if youâ€™d lie with me, Iâ€™d think it good To lose my life and rest me in my tomb. So handle me with cautious, holy care, And in your fingers press me not too rough. To be with you is soon to be nowhere; To be nowhere with you would be enough. The care is yours, to strike me swiftly dead, Or carry me with kindness to your bed.
IMAGINED LESS THAN LOVER Libby Carr My dearest friend, alas a name unfit To hold thy glory; words are counterfeit So grant me grace to (while we are alone) Call you lover, keep you for my own. This last will soften th’unfair work we do: In public eye, my “friend” thou answers to. But without fear I hold you close at eve, While friendship shields the magic that we weave. A mile above, you taunt me, you abstain From touch to hold me in delightful pain, Angelic form does over me ordain. Luckily, my mirror thou art designed, We love behind a gentle fem’nine sigh: In light of day we laugh and masquerade, Behind closed doors reveals the game we play. For though I may play “Friend Spending the Night,” Our love unravels shielded from their sight.
A DOCK KNIGHT Kevin LaTorre Before the black waters Weâ€™ve found a serene spot. All removed, and all muffled, Up close and too tight to us, For an expanse so wide. Cold is here, not blustery, Its lips slack and Hair not flying from its scalp While it smooths the world Off our cheeks, down the Bridges of our noses. Lights across the inked steps can Only come so far Before they hesitate, and salute, Dying out with a pretty twinkle. No dripping sounds on Our peat canvas, just a Wailing from far off, Struggling to carry its wind out Here to us. Seated. Still, This night of its day, both Given and received with The whisper Iâ€™ve Always wanted to hear.
LIBRETTO Libby Carr across your nose there’s a braille of freckles i read them easier than ABCDE a bubbled scantron, you look at me look at you and you score the test and i win, nobody else can read freckles. it is april when we can read each other’s minds read each other’s smiles read each other’s bodies read the dots on your sternum and read your red knees it is april when your teeth tear my hair out and it hurts me the leaves falling sound like you, rolling over in bed traffic lights sound like you, laughing in slow motion your drawing sounds like music and music sounds like when i came home and you wrapped your legs around my waist and i held you in the living room. and when i sigh, it sounds like you’re next to me, writing out a list of things we will do together it is april, it is list time, let’s make another list a list means it is spring. the pollen that coats my car feels like your fingers tugging at my belt loops and when i watch you draw me, it is april winter is over, the drought is over, i told you i loved you and you were happy you told me you loved me you told me you loved me again your teeth tear my hair out it hurts me
MARFA Kerri Kilmer I swear I saw The most beautiful lights Dancing on the horizon Out in the desert Stars fallen to earth But more likely they were only the Reflections of headlights Penetrating the deep black of Cacti and ruins I swear I remember The way the wind blew hard Like it knew a secret A violent and bitter secret But more likely it was only The northern wind, beckoning And tempting us into the cold Morning light, while we clung to the Dawn like children I swear I knew All the names of the desolation All the ways to say ‘don’t go’ As if the wretched glare of sun could Truly blind anyone or lead them astray As if the sands and rocks could feel Each footstep upon the earth and the way They were too happy to leave, too happy to Escape I swear I fought To stay behind and stop time Feeling blind through darkness so Complete it felt like I was falling slowly And carefully past the event horizon of Some distant future, but really there were only The calls of tell-tale coyotes and their windborne Pups who pulled me back to reality, to life, and away From the clarity Of total and absolutely nothingness 42
the official plan ii literary journal
N O C T U R N A L EST. 2015
Thank you to everyone who made the fourth volume of the Nocturnal possible! It’s been a long time coming, and I’m so excited that we finally...
Published on Oct 12, 2018
Thank you to everyone who made the fourth volume of the Nocturnal possible! It’s been a long time coming, and I’m so excited that we finally...