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underground Undergraduate Art & Literary Journal Spring 2016 Volume VI, Issue ii

ii


underground Editor-in-Chief Raven Neely

Production Editor

Carla Bazemore-Colclough

Poetry Editor Kelly Barraza Staff Sharrod Brathwaite, Savannah Elder, Rachel Ponce de Leon

Prose Editor Breana Cranford Staff Whit Bolado, Teodora Mitroi, Cassandra Stanton

Art Editor Jessica Burnett Staff Maddalena Alvarez, Kofi Stiles Miscellanea Editor Christian Bowman Staff Nadia Deljou, Kriztian Johnson Media Advisor

Bryce McNeil, Ph.D.

Cover Art

Rebel, Riki Prosper Kujanpaa photography iii


Underground is funded by student activity fees. Issues are provided free to all Georgia State University students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests. All work located herein is the creation of Georgia State University undergraduate students. Underground retains “first publication rights� for submissions accepted by the journal. It is our understanding and intent that all rights for accepted submissions remain with Underground until the submissions are published, at which point all rights revert to the author. For more information, visit us online at www.undergroundjournal.org.

Publicity PR Manager Maddalena Alvarez Staff Crysta Jones, Kristina Scurry, Isabella Gomez, Tionnie Lopez, Whitney Cooper iv


underground

Contents Letter from the Editor

1

Poetry

Jillian Bower Pilot Grin S.C. Sherman’s March r. ponce de leon autumnal plea slow meditating on the total Whitney Cooper After Starry Night Christian Bowman Stormy Monday Captain’s Sonnet “I, Oreo” Teodora Mitroi Always Dirty, Never Clean Apes, They Are Kristen Oyler Post Traumatic Growth Nisa Imani Floyd Ice Cream v

3 5 7 9 11 12 13 14 16 18 21 23


David Revzin lilith, lost dog transliteration Stephanie Brooks Anais would have understood. Cassandra Stanton The Sound of You

25 26 28 30

Prose

Jillian Bower Life in a Small Town Whitney Cooper Glass Jars Rebecca Natali Commanded by the Voices Bracolla Faith Peters Cervezas to Go Around Lindsey Baker Congestion Jo Benshoof The Death of a Grandmother India Davis A Good Goodbye Roy Williams I Would if I Could vi

33 43 45 48 67 71 74 84


underground David Revzin We All Worship the Same Water 86 Between 89 Snotti Prince St. Cyr A Pursuit for the Ages – The Displaced Student Project 94 Yahriel Pearls of Fate 117 Brian Martin Pictures 124 Linda Tran Stubborn to a Fault 142 Cassandra Stanton Inaccessible 156 Anastasia Jones Stardust 164 Malik Gill Capture 167 Savannah Elder Addiction 170 Aya S. Burroughs Searching for Freedom 174 Corey Zijian She High Life 190 Inevitable 196 vii


Charles C. Bailey Platicide

201

Art

Riki Prosper Kujanpaa Up The Self Money on My Mind Rebel The A Always Watching Nadia Deljou The Devil’s Hour Tea Time Pt. II Cassandra Stanton Up from Down You Asked for Utopia, She’s Laughing Joshua Sun Yu mom045B mom141B mom008B Jordan Grubb Prom viii

207 210 212 216 218 219 208 214 212 222 220 220 221 223


underground Miscellanea

Gail A. McFarland Daddy’s Girl Ben Martin Social Chameleon Margy Hayes Navratri Suite Gabriel Scala Up Down

226 227 228 229

Spolight Art Competition

Ijeoma Chukwukere Drawing Uduak Ita Sculpture Jessica Harrell Photography, Overall Crystal Adams Painting, Ceramics

ix

232 234 236 238


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underground Letter from the Editor Raven Neely Hello, friends! Since this is by far our longest issue, I’ll make this letter my shortest, so you can get straight to the good stuff. For this issue, we wanted our readers to get to know our contributors. They were generous enough to provide some information about their status at the university as well as links to their social media platforms, which we’ve listed for you beneath the titles of their first pieces in each section. If you like what you see, we invite you to let us know by letting them know. We want you to be able to follow our artists off of our pages, and in this digital age, it’s never been easier for a community to be built around the things we love. Underground has always been a place for our students to engage with the creative fellows around them, whether that be at a lunch date in a student lounge, an evening at the High Museum, or a night of quality entertainment at Cinefest. You may be wondering what we’ll do next, but in truth, that’s entirely up to you. Cheers! 1


Artist Bio:

poetry

2


underground Pilot Grin Jillan Bower

Senior, English (Literature) History (Minor)

Boats in harbor, men at port, Children clutching mama’s skirt. Crates on chain climb sea-bound stair, Look, a coffin lifted there. But it’s empty, It’s empty. Lovers kiss and sailors board, Air fills up with seagull soar, Boys in breeches wave to boats, Funny how the metal floats. But it’s empty, It’s empty. Spies a shirt like one she knew, Spies a sandprint like his shoe, Spies a shape on shadowed beach, Thinks she knows him thinks to reach, But he’s empty. He’s empty. 3


Bower Empty when she shuts her eyes, Empty when she counts to five, Empty when she sees sunrise, Empty. Now and then hears pilot grin, Caught in dusk on summer wind, Sits alone on port-side plank, Watches sky wash rosy bank, But it’s empty, It’s empty. Legs swinging, toes trailing the surface. Drops a penny between two planks And waits to be missed.

4


underground Sherman’s March S.C.

Junior, Journalism neverkerouac.tumblr.com, sickwithlackofbasis.tumblr.com Twitter: @SydneyMCun Instagram: sydnasty666

atlanta is burning and i feel alive tonight and i meant to be gone only for awhile the world gets slow and i waste my time, drinking all my money, crying in public restrooms, nursing wounded scabs, grabbing my skin until i think i can unzip it atlanta is burning it’s burning bright i don’t know quite what i’ve done but i feel alive tonight 5


S.C. i meant to be gone only for awhile i haven’t returned /i think/ and everything stops feeling like my life as the time rolls and goes on by atlanta is burning and i’m stuck inside

6


underground autumnal plea r. ponce de leon Junior, English (Creative Writing – Poetry) Religious Studies (Minor) Facebook: eggyweggs

i have spent the month watching the persimmons hover as they do, shortly, soft despite the chill, frozen pinkish fungus spattering the pale like a sweet illness. now only treetops to the west glow, they have swallowed the sun. the first persimmon i ate showed me that feeling, all sweetbruise and bitterseed fibrous under, so soft scalding down your tongue. still dropping it tips the light inward, all shivering orange now. have you ever swallowed a persimmon whole, for foolish ecstasy? darling you cannot see this, no, friend. i am beating persimmons fat from the sky with a branch. free persimmons all falling far, split ripe 7


ponce de leon thunder to these cold palms. they’ve turned up again, turned to face you of all things and this wind seems to rain in the face of it. hush and have fruit, breath from those in eddas, cradle persimmons to ice on your back before they decide to yield. or, is it like this: so orange it could kill, cold, filled sweet to point of burst and strung high all month where they’ll rot at the end of october.

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underground slow meditating on the total r. ponce de leon that new facebook pic, it really suits his air of careless douchery. listening to Roy Orbison’s Crying in the dark and smiling ear to ear, i’ve come to a place now surrounded by soft salt water, built up of human bone. my own body lies so thick, so pale, so new: a doll named Havisham, a magnificent corpse coughing up gray things in the night. they said there’s news of him, well, here i go again into that brine that breaks against the bone, and broke me before i reached it. i won’t run out of words to say about it. when

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ponce de leon he reached me, and i reached everywhere about me, all that frantic reaching wrought a reef, a groundbreaking recontextualization of the place I live (my body.) i tend to it now like an old woman’s rock garden, slow meditating on the total. the nose and breast and eyes all softly burn. it’s cold in february like christmas when he was here, haunting my head, drawing out the heat from one who only sought to sleep.

10


underground After Starry Night Whitney Cooper These golden lights ring out ripples like church bells at Christmas; blue reverberates, and the light showers everything. It latches onto the swirling breeze, as it sweeps and curves around the cypress, this twisted cypress, its dark branches churning and wailing in frenzied pain, like a flame that has lost control, not meaning to singe any skin with its heat or choke any creature with its acrid smoke, but only to shine its never-ending light over these hills—like rising tides— and whomever lives in the village below. Who was it that stays there? Do they walk about freely under this tyrant moon, who puts the silence out with its relentless gold?

11


Stormy Monday Christian Bowman Back then, they was storms thrashin’ through town like some drunken father. Rain pour like whiskey on them nights, and the wind howlin’ ol’ Delta Blues— I’m gone beat my woman ‘Till I get satisfied— Mother nature tell that po’ chile “git” when daddy come moanin’, crashin’ lamps, trashin’ home. Chile, you gotsta know daddy drink when daddy lie, and when daddy lie daddy cry, and daddy done did a very bad voodoo – some call it Stormy Monday but Tuesday just as bad. Lightnin’ crack a whip, thunder stumble and fall, and I shook ground as mama and papa exchanged blows through the Mississippi. 12


underground Captain’s Sonnet Christian Bowman Sometimes a storm showers within my chest, and floods the maroon mast with bloody waves. Its lightning leaves a scar upon my breast, but lights the chalked up carvings in my cave. The sky saunters, suspended in a haunt, a grey-flamed lantern flicking west to east, and I, a sailor, point my head in front of misty haze and torments from the beast until the howls and clawing come to pass, the crying sea tiredly sways asleep, the thunder lows its cackle to a bass while drowning cries from sobbing to a weep. Still the air leaves something to be said silently swaying, a dampness in my head

13


“I, Oreo” Christian Bowman They call me Oreo. They dip me, dunk me soak me, saturate my cookie with two percent white milk, and make me soft. “What is a cookie anyway?” A moldy ball of sugar shaped by the heat of an oven. Didn’t your mother ever bake for you? The rappers want dough, Wu-Tang preached C.R.E.A.M, and I, Oreo, am cream-filled dough y’all, sweeter than everything around me. And still I say Douglass had chocolate chips Dubois, raisins 14


underground Martin, macedamia nuts. They even say that Malcolm had rainbow sprinkles. Yet they split me, lick my thickened cream, kiss my sweet ass, bite me, chew and swallow me, choke on my chocolate, and spit me up into chunks on their laps picking my crumbs, off of their jeans and undermining my double stuff with their two-percent two cents. What they don’t know check my ingredients. I bake my own batch; I just like to add a little sweetness to my recipe. 15


Always Dirty, Never Clean Teodora Mitroi

Freshman, Journalism teodorawrites.me teodorawrites.tumblr.com Facebook: Teodora Mitroi

I walk up and down a laundromat Heaters making me sweat Dehydrating my body completely Bargain sauna. I see the clothes Spin ‘round and ‘round Around I see these people Spin ‘round and ‘round And around. Never once stopping. 16


underground I have to Pay 25 cents to See you around.

17


Apes, They Are Teodora Mitroi

Teeth bared, heads out the window Showing who the alpha male really is Next would be the beating of the chest Or the besting of the meat? They grin and utter absurdities I’m glad I can’t hear them They let me cross And while I walk, They say something disgusting through their yellow, bone rectangles Act like I owe them the world Like they performed the most gracious of acts To let me cross the street I should gesture them to pull over Right? For a quickie or a blow? Of course, of course Let me get my Taser out A weapon 18


underground For me to feel safe In a place where I call my home. I feel the need to Twitch, itch, lynch These men who think— NO —Have the audacity To blow me kisses, whistle Lick their lips Yell “Hey baby” at me “Your hips sure don’t lie” Who knew pop culture would make me want to gag in such a way? So keep on blowing me kisses Whistle like a lovely bird Lick your lips slowly With your head like an owl Bending over backwards Just to make someone uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in your own skin. Because I will rise above your repulsive comments 19


Mitroi You are nothing but a grimy creature Foul, foul man Wash your mouth well Because you don’t (shouldn’t) kiss your momma with the same lips I saw today.

20


underground Post Traumatic Growth Kristen Oyler I fell in love with the world When I was leaving My rapist’s house

Senior, Psychology

His walls closed in Like a too-tight embrace That you can’t escape His cigarette smoke, The same kind I told him I was allergic to, Filled my lungs even if I held my breath He yelled at me, It will be over soon, He called me names, It will be over soon, He raped me, Will it be over soon? I would get in my car, Still half-drunk and ready to die, And drive across the city 21


Oyler It was so expansive— I could finally breathe In its wide spaces I imagined all the life In and between those tall buildings All of these people Living just another day They did not know The death that I knew So it washed away With their light They doused me clean Except for my heart, Which was blackened by smoke And will never be clean Those strangers And their ignorance I loved them And I could not resist a smile 22


underground Ice Cream Nisa Imani Floyd

Senior, English French (Minor) Instagram: nisaimani

Back in the day when I was young: On a stoop in the middle of summer I poured two cups of tea. It’s really grape juice. The sound of an ice cream truck hypnotizes the block Like a snake charmer to a gaggle of cobras. My twin brother, Khari, gets a plain chocolate ice cream cone. I get vanilla with sprinkles. When the truck begins to leave the dead end street My brother throws what’s left of his ice cream at its back. He laughs. After my sprinkles are gone I return to my tea party. I smile. I’m not a kid anymore: The kids outside are not as eager about the sound of 23


Floyd ice cream trucks in Fayetteville. Instead they all have store bought ice pops neatly tucked in their sweaty palms. Probably from their moms. They don’t serve my ice cream in the vans that pass by the neighborhood. If they pass by at all. I scoop three big scoops of vanilla ice cream into a bowl Shower them with rainbow sprinkles. My brother, who is also a creature of habit, gets two scoops of chocolate ice cream. One for him and one for the freezer. The chocolate slowly begins to melt onto the laminate floor. He laughs. I eat my bowl of memories and clean up my brothers. I am Brooklyn in the summertime. I am the rag behind my twin’s inevitable messes. When my sprinkles are gone I return to the living room. I smile.

24


underground lilith, lost dog David Revzin

Junior, English Philosophy (Minor) Facebook: David Revzin

no one is looking to fucking find you, lilith dear we don’t wonder where you whimper tonight, what corner you cower in, what roads you run there was, however, a search for you, lilith dear part plea, part wanted poster; no reward in still life, you are black and white, lilith you look loved, vaccinated, spayed, like the ones who forgot to include what digits to dial where was your collar, lilith dear when you made your move? you dog, you were last seen with the veterinarian, that ornery old man. so was it your plan all along, or did one thing lead to another? 25


transliteration David Revzin we tend to plan vacations in a hurry— arguing, shooting arrows at one another on the trampoline. i’m in your corner grabbing the ceiling, hours abating. a short ride in your purse, my money ripe, we rub light on yours and mine just grows and grows— a ballet for tornadoes, a shower of shrapnel are we arbitrary? a bunch of foolish flowers floating on, choking on the air, putrid and yellow. slick moon, lurid leftovers; another notch knocked on rocks, a magnetic interference for my senses. 26


underground languid, we let go our laconic love, because that’s not what happens on dilapidated porches under pusillanimous light.

27


Anais would have understood. Stephanie Brooks

Junior, English Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (Minor) Psychology (Minor)

The only reason I ever slept in your bed is because you were in it (even if I never slept). You offer it to me now. Now that the sheets are cold and stained. Now that the pillow is bunched, with lumps that poke and prod. Now that the comforter holds no comfort, only a single gaping hole that grows— a hole I hope swallows you in the night when you’re tossing and turning, lightly snoring. I sleep better knowing I’m here. You’re there. But her? She is where I want to be. 28


underground Six hours should be enough. Enough time to sleep, not think of you. Unless I dream. God forbid I dream.

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The Sound of You Cassandra Stanton

Junior, English (Creative Writing)

Newly nubile, you appear from sounds foaming, inching into sight; eyes fight over moments on you in increments, those inches slowly implementing a remedy to prevail. Predominantly because I boast myself the cherry cordial of debauchery, words of silk form as archery—a point spun with a sherry tilt, I kiss her breastbone inside out, tickling the arteries already red, irritated with lust of breathy inhales. Are you tantalizing only to those infantile, void tongues ashen by awareness? Chiding chocolately creaks in cartilage of your choosing, they lap you up in knobby gurgles to taste you in yesterday’s fog. Ruminate away, carcass those hovering between air and suction. Edible cries alert cavities, shuddering sweet blisters when you blink. Rolling eyes sing feathery with motion, clucking, prior to your poison, become yolks of milky vision unsure of your precision. Ink pours from cerebellum to 30


underground earlobes, mimicked fingerprints claiming sounds previously slain as you purr erratic ecstasy should thumb and knuckle press. Purple buttons stretch you closed while inside blue roots thump Morse so your skin calls for the deaf. Trembling, colloquial. Eat it, Eden, gnash from the plastic impostering flesh.

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prose

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underground Life in a Small Town Jillian Bower

Senior, English (Literature) History (Minor)

There was somethin’ ’bout Mrs. George Green that made people uncomfortable. It wasn’t her voice or her face because, well, she was about the prettiest little thing you ever saw. She would walk down to get the paper each morning in a pair of slippers so small they might’ve belonged on a doll, and she musta known the boys was watching out their doors, ‘cause she’d walk real slow, kinda like to give them an eye full. She’d do a little turn when she got to the paper, then bend down like she was just reaching for a daisy out of her garden, then rise up, letting that daisy trace her face real slow-like. A lady lion taking a stretch after a long nap. She didn’t know about me—at first. I was the kid at the end of the cul-de-sac with the crop of red hair and the awkward freckles. Folks in those days didn’t pay no mind to me. Everybody had their Ford Fairlanes and their American Bandstand—a paper in 33


Bower the morning, a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie at night. Course, there was those who visited Eddie’s for dancing and drinks, but the nice folks didn’t talk about them. I met the lady lion at Eddie’s the night her husband died. Talked right to her, face-to-face. Boy, after that night you won’t believe all the folks who wanted to talk to me. Figured I had a clue what happened—like she’d confessed all to me or something. Mrs. Green was just about the tightenest lip you ever saw. She knew how to keep a secret. When the cops found Mr. Green stabbed in the back in her dressing room with her shearing scissors and her lacy panties riding his Timbuktu, everybody wanted in on the scoop. I’ll never forget the way she traced her eyes up and down my body that night at the bar, like I wasn’t worth the clothes I’d got on my back. “You old enough to be serving drinks?” she asked me, letting loose a stream of smoke through her teeth. She had one of them movie star cigarette holders—the fancy kind that I reckon made her feel 34


underground superior. Clung on that thing like it coulda anchored her in a ship wreck. “I want to know if you need a kid to cut your lawn for ya.” “If I need a kid to cut my lawn for me?” she mimicked, choking on a laugh. All I smelled was the lily of that morning’s perfume spray, and a bit of mint riding the smoke. The smell of rich gone sour. “No call for laughing,” I told her as I sidled onto the stool beside her. “Well, aren’t you a little sharp thing? How old are you anyway?” “Twelve, going on thirteen.” The July heat rode her forehead, and she turned to face the electric fan, loosening a button on her blouse. She had movie star lips too, like everything else. Folks said she paid for those lips, but they fit her face, and I reckon if I’d been her, I’d have let go the cash to pay for ‘em. Don’t seem like any other set of lips would’ve looked right on her face. I felt her predator eyes return to me after a moment. “You here with your daddy?” “My daddy’s dead,” I returned. “You know 35


Bower that. Everybody knows it.” “Oh, that’s right. He was that funny little farmer, wasn’t he? The one with the road store. Sold corn.” She chuckled and quirked a brow. “Who sells corn anyhow, this day and age? No surprise he died on a tractor. Real shame though,” she added quickly, in that after-the-fact voice that accompanies poor manners. “So what about it?” “The lawn?” Again she laughed, the movie star lips sucking in a dimple. “Well hell, sugar, I got me two boys already. And another for the garden. You sore for cash or something?” “It ain’t right, me living with my uncle for free.” “Well, honey, you ain’t no bigger than a inch, and your uncle has plenty to spare. Eat it up while you can. Life sure as hell’ll take it when it can, and then you’ll be wishing for… for something back.” I studied her, drinking in the honey of her. I reckon that’s a pretty cheap description for any lady, let alone one the likes of Mrs. Green. But honey’s all I can think of to describe her. Honey skin, honey hair, honey eyes. “Honey, why don’t you run along outta here 36


underground now? This ain’t no place for a little boy.” She drew on the cigarette, a sad kinda slowness in the gesture, like the tobacco contained her last breath, and somebody’d steeped that breath in bittersweet. “I ain’t really here ‘bout the lawn, Mrs. Green.” She turned, barely looking at me. “Oh, you ain’t? Well, what do you want?” she asked, her bourbon voice pasting the words into one long syllable. When I didn’t respond, she leaned closer. “Cat got your tongue, farmer’s boy? Your little friends dare you to steal a kiss or something?” “Your husband hired me.” “For what?” she laughed. “He looking to buy a kiss? Well, I ain’t selling. Get the hell outta here, boy, and let me drink in peace.” She reeled on her stool, beating the counter for another bourbon. I started to leave, cramming my hands deep in my pockets, then at the last second turned back. “He knows about Mr. Willoughby, ma’am.” “What do you know about Tom?” she demanded, snatching at my collar and pulling me close, her words all air now, sprayed out between 37


Bower gritted teeth. “What’ve people been saying? What? That I’m a whore? That I’m sleeping around? Well, let me tell you, farmer’s boy, it ain’t easy being Mrs. George Green. It gets lonely at night. Lonely, and cold, and well, a girl gets to craving some place warm.” “Your husband knows—something. Hell, the whole town knows, Mrs. Green.” “Who cares? I hope they know.” “And Mr. Green’s paying me to get proof. A picture, or an eye witness.” “What for? He’s got himself three women. Anybody talking about that? Anybody talking about Mrs. Hollister down on 7th Street? She’s sleeping with two men at once, and ain’t neither of them married to her. Good God! Girl can’t take a piss in her own bathroom anymore without finding it headlined in the morning paper: ‘Mrs. George Green has relieved her bladder—neighbors are scandalized, and husband ain’t talking.’ Son of a bitch doesn’t talk about anything anymore but the stock market and that damned car of his. One of these days I’d like to take a baseball bat and dent that thing all over, just to see if he’s got any steam left in him.” I settled in beside her, mindful of the 38


underground bartender eyeing me from behind a table and a revolving washrag. There was somethin’ ’bout Mrs. George Green that made people uncomfortable. I thought of my father—the sturdiest, strongest man I knew. Till last year, he’d been all to me. The fixer of my bike, the mender of scabbed elbows. He tutored me in my homework, much as folks made out like he was dumb Irish. A big, bonegiant of a man; all ruddy face and rolling chuckle. He was street smart—and as book smart as a poor man could get with no more’n a seventh grade education. He did what he could. “If you go to Mr. Willoughby’s tonight, Mr. Green’s gonna kill you.” The lady lion turned on her stool, green eyes trailing the air. “What?” I leaned close—close enough to smell the minty bourbon at her lips. “He’s got a gun and he’s going to kill you.” She drew back as if slapped, the ice in her glass clattering. “Shit, kid. You‘re scaring the skin off me. What’re you after?” 39


Bower I pulled the bourbon away from her grasping fingers. “No, you gotta listen to me, ma’am. He’s serious about this. He said he’ll be damned if you make a fool out of him, then he bought the gun off a friend. A real big gun. Shoot, you’d be dead before his finger hit the trigger. If I was you, I’d steer clear. Maybe go up North to your sister’s house—” “How do you know about my sister?” “Or talk someone else into letting you stay with them. Someone real, real far away. Cause he’s got the ‘mean’ in his eyes. You know what I mean? Might as well be married to a grizzly.” She swallowed a morsel of peach-sized apprehension. “You figure he’s that mad, kid?” “Why would I lie?” The chair legs called out a yodel as she scooted back, clutching the table. “Maybe I should just call Officer Pete. He and I go way back and—?” “Sure, if you think he can save you. If you think he’d put Mr. George Green in jail—on your word.” *** 40


underground I didn’t hear about the murder till the next morning, when I rose up outta bed and met my cousins at the table. I ain’t gonna say I was surprised. Fact is, I expected it. Same as I expected butter for my toast and a good book after dinner. Same as anything, I reckon. They caught her on her way out the front door. Some unnamed boy called in a tip on her, just late enough the damage was already done. Too bad. They arrested her right off. Didn’t even have to search for evidence. Poor flake hadn’t thought about how to drag out the body. Ended up wrapping the thing in duct tape and leaving it on her dressing room floor with a spritz of lemon oil staining the collar, like she’d tried to cover up the smell before it started. Hard to say how long she planned to leave it there. The town took the news pretty lightly. Mr. Willoughby was devastated of course. Fortune woulda gone to Mrs. Green, but with her in jail, it got ate up by the court and her lawyer. Nothing left for the town or her lank-legged lover. He sidled on off to Texas, like a cowboy caught in the sundown of a really bad movie. Never have heard from him since. Me? I kept on going to school, dodging the 41


Bower sorry looks and the sympathies. Life in a small town ain’t easy. You gotta make of it what you can. Knock out what don’t sit right. The day my daddy died, I heard them two talking about him. The Greens. Well, not talking about him exactly. But the tractor. Talking about how they’d saved money on it. Got one real cheap. A used model with poor brakes. Now, I don’t figure they expected him to die. If it’d been a real accident, well, I’d have rolled along like the others in town, satisfied with the bit I could grab. Not worried too much about more’n getting by. But what ate me up was how little they cared. How they laughed and didn’t never once take the blame. That didn’t sit right. Guess I told a little white lie. Guess I earned it.

42


underground Glass Jars Whitney Cooper A shop clerk, more belly than woman, smiles at the elderly couple as she waddles by. Rob’s grip tightens around his wife’s fingers. He tries his best to avert his eyes while remaining polite. They all seem to come out in wintertime, he notices. Swollen bellies seem to be as much a tradition as Santa Claus. His wife sported it in winter too. By that March, she looked about ready to pop. He barely remembers any of it besides that. Did she cry? Have cravings? Probably. He doesn’t recall a thing otherwise. Except for the blood. Pools and lakes and rivers of it, soaking the floor where she had plopped over and started pushing that morning while Rob still slept. It’s raining outside. Marie is whimpering like a dog. Rob’s underarms are damp, then soaked. Where is this doctor? The doctor knocks on the door, but takes his sweet time settling in. Instead of “push!” he keeps telling Marie to “shh.” Marie’s groans are quiet and inconsistent. Rob wants to get her a glass of water, but his hands are shaking too much, and he knows he’ll just spill it everywhere. 43


Cooper “Shhhh.” Will he shut up? Rob’s teeth, yellow from smoke, are grinding. A puddle of blood begins to form on the floor. Then it’s everywhere. There’s blood on the walls, on the ceiling. They won’t be able to clean that out, Rob realizes. They should forget about it, just move out. They have to move out. They will move out. The silence in the room pops between his ears. What’s happened? Has he missed it? The doctor has no face when he’s examining the humanshaped weight that’s spilled out. Marie lets out a wail, but he goes on touching it, probing for nonexistent pulses all over. Rob can see where the doctor lives. He sees the walls made of metal. The caged monkeys and rats, scrambling over each other and swiping at the steel bars with their dirty claws. The dried organs suspended in air. The glass jars, containing bodies floating in cold fluid.

44


underground Commanded by the Voices Rebecca Natali

Senior, English (Creative Writing) Facebook: rebecca.natali.1

Wake up to the sound of whispering. Hear the repetitive scratchy voices seeping out. Beg the noise to stop but don’t get angry because no one likes it when you’re angry. Try and take a breath, but you can’t. Listen to the voices getting louder, clouding your mind further and further until you can’t stand it. Try and imagine something else. Close your eyes. Imagine a warm summer’s night when the stars are visible in the dark sky and the only sound comes from a nearby stream. Open your eyes and realize there are no stars or streams, just jarring voices that pour out into you. Now get up. Walk down the street. Don’t look at anyone because they won’t be looking at you. Look down. Always look down. Watch your feet step one in front of the other. Listen to the quiet voices. Feel the tightness of your skin and the sweat building up behind your neck. Keep looking down. Keep walking. Look up even though you aren’t supposed 45


Natali to. See the blackness of the street and watch how the light disappears as you keep walking but instead of a street, it’s now a black hallway with a door at the end. Keep walking as the walls close in, touching your shoulders, as the raspy voices grow louder. Crawl towards the door, the ceiling shrinking the closer it gets. Feel the soreness of your hands and knees as you crawl faster, the voices in full shout. Reach the door and open it. Recognize that you’re back on the street, voices still shouting. Look back down. Hear the voices get hushed. Always look down. Notice the people around you. Think about who they are. Maybe you know them, maybe you don’t. Don’t start talking to them until they start talking to you. Don’t say anything dumb or the voices will get louder. When they speak to you, tell them you are fine. Tell them you are doing okay. Ask them questions about themselves. Get the attention off of you. Don’t listen to what they have to say. Nod your head and act like you are listening. Instead, focus on the voices. Consider how dulled they are right now because they are not angry. Don’t make them angry. Try and go to sleep. Close your eyes and concentrate on the sound of rain outside your window. Listen to the loud drops that slam against 46


underground the windowpane. Imagine that each drop is a dagger, sharp and pointed, and the sound of them hitting the window is the sound of the daggers stabbing each voice that drowns the space around you. Don’t imagine that. Cry as the harsh voices get louder yet again. Blame yourself for letting them get powerful. Punish yourself for getting angry. Never get angry. Fall sleep eventually from exhaustion. Wake up to the sound of whispering.

47


Cervezas to Go Around Bracolla Faith Peters

Senior, English Spanish (Minor) Facebook: Bracolla Traylor

Today everything feels stale. The floor of heaven is shut up in a deathly gray. María Amora Vasquez wonders eyes turned up toward el cielo in hopes for an answer that she doesn’t get. South Normandie Ave. hums below her with the familiar sounds of car stereos with 808 beats and high school students leaving their band and dance team practices. María looks back to the moment where all of her mistakes and pitfalls began: the party. She and a few of her guy friends from the university decided to have a party in one of the frat houses off campus. María knew all of the frat guys, being the president of the only Latina sorority on campus. It was the weekend after midterms. The night was live and there were plenty of cervezas to go around. The lights at the fiesta were a mixture of reds, yellows, and blues. The familiar sweet smell of weed invaded everyone’s lungs and intensified the natural high of the night. 48


underground The DJ puts on a throwback. He instinctively increases the bass in the track so that 808s begin to match everyone’s heartbeat. The reggaeton is hypnotic. María can’t help but dance. She takes off her coveted sorority jacket to show off her Mexican coke bottle shape to all of the frat guys. She shakes her body so in sync with the beat that guys try to join her, but she pushes them off. María was just fine with dancing with her sorority sisters tonight. She had on a simple black spaghetti strap tank top, black combat boots, and large gold hoop earrings. Beads of sweat began to form right under her neckline from all of the dancing, staining her shirt and shorts. The smell of her sweat mixed with her passionfruit paradise body spray. Another throwback plays, but this one was faster and smoother. María closes her eyes and is taken to another place. As her heart is pounding in her chest, unfamiliar hands grip her hips as firmly as the bass does when the beat drops. At first, she wants to push him off, but she lets him stay waiting to see what he will do. Her hips gyrate as he firmly matches her pace. Without removing his hands from her waist, he has taken her challenge. As María continues dancing time, the room, the music, and the guy don’t exist. Despite her tries to zone him out, he stays 49


Peters rhythmically glued to her body as if they were sewn together like fabric. When the song ends, María spins around to see the face of her mystery dance partner and she is surprised. The guy is a güerito—light skinned dude— probably from the Dominican Republic with gray eyes. He is much taller than her and has a naturally lean build. He smells of Corona, and Axe body spray. “What’s your name?” he asks. “My name is María Amora Vasquez.” “Can I call you Amora?” “If that’s how you want to remember me.” “That’s exactly how I want to remember you, mi amor. My name is Ricky.” “You seem familiar. Do you go to the university?” “No, but my friends invited me. I actually live on South Catalina Street.” “Me and mi papí live on that street too, man.” They sat down in two chairs along the wall peppered with multicolored lights and continued talking for the next hour about growing up on South Catalina St., their high schools, and their friends. María didn’t know whether or not it was the contact 50


underground high from the smog of weed that hung in the air or the two cervezas she had earlier, but Ricky made her feel at ease. One of her guy friends needed an extra chair for the drinking game they were about to play upstairs. Ricky smoothly—like güeritos naturally do—motioned for her to sit on his lap. She happily obliged as he wrapped his toned arms around her waist. They continue talking, and he pushes aside her dark long wavy hair and grazes her ear. She likes the way he makes her feel. She lets him cling to her body as the way he did on the dance floor, unafraid, unhindered, and unrestrained. He begins to talk in her ear so that she can hear him over the party. Ricky grips her tenderly around her culo inching under her shorts. María enjoys the way her skin tingles when he touches her. Their eyes meet, his gray, hers like copper, and they kiss—slowly, sweetly and passionately. He sends electricity up her spine and between her thighs. That was all that María needed to allow herself to fold. After the kiss, she grabs her jacket and leads him to one of the open frat brothers’ rooms upstairs, ignoring her guy friends sideways glances full of overprotectiveness and jealousy. 51


Peters *** Five weeks later María is hanging out with her father at the 95th Street taco stand. Every Friday night María and her father go out to the local food vendors in the El Salvador community and have dinner together. It is their way of reconnecting with each other after a long week of schoolwork for María. It’s a tradition that she and her father have shared since her mother’s death when María was a little girl. Her father works many ahoras at his jobs in landscaping and furniture upholstery, but he never wants to be too busy for María. That’s how the young girls he remembers from México get in trouble. He flashbacks to the time where he was the smooth talker getting girls out of their calzones when their fathers weren’t home. But that was until he met María’s mom in Oaxaca. His wife’s name was Marcia. Marcia made his heart flutter, and her beauty was matched only by her level of class. Her waist was slender like a snake, but she had hips so wide it would make priests in the church hold their rosary beads a little bit tighter when she greeted them. Her hair gracefully flowed straight down her back to her thighs and was dark and lovely. Her eyes were round like the moon. 52


underground Beautiful straight white teeth showed from her mouth with a tiny gap in the front, but María’s father thought that made Marcia all the cuter. Marcia’s skin was the color of gold. Despite all of her beauty, she wore long dresses and kept her hair in a bun so that she wouldn’t bring attention to herself. Marcia always lived by the Apostle Peter’s instructions to women in 1 Peter 3:3-4. She always believed that her beauty didn’t matter if God’s beauty didn’t come first. Marcia and María’s father immigrated illegally into the United States while Marcia was pregnant with María. They survived the trip over and settled in Los Angeles, but due to complications with the pregnancy and less than sanitary traveling conditions, Marcia died soon after María was born. María’s father still cries over his wife sometimes, but only when María isn’t looking. He sees so much of his late wife’s beauty in María that it hurts him, yet fills him with a sense of pride. María’s father proudly smiles at María as he remembers all of her accomplishments, organizations, and everything she has done in school. She is the first in the family to go to college and on a scholarship. He couldn’t be any happier with her. María doesn’t know how to tell her father 53


Peters the news yet. Her period is ten days late and the pregnancy test she took two days ago has confirmed her fate. Her dad is her best friend. The only one that takes her crap and can still stand to smile despite it. Hiding this secret from him makes her feel like she is dying inside as he blissfully and ignorantly eats his chipotle tacos. María can’t hide it from him anymore. “Estoy embarazada” blurt off of María’s tongue before she even has a chance to catch the words. Her father looks at her shaken to his core as if his life’s purpose has just failed. Then his shocked demeanor slowly transcends into a look you only see a judge give to a criminal on death row. A baby is too much for María right now. He knows that she can’t handle it—so young, and a senior in college. He can’t handle watching her life roll down a storm drain in the street like so many other immigrants in America. They silently finish their tacos together and head back home on South Catalina St. The walk back is unbearably silent. María kicks rocks to distract herself from her father’s stone cold face. They walk into the house, and they both sit at the kitchen table. “Who was the chico?” the father asks. “His name is Ricky,” María said keeping her 54


underground answers as terse as her father’s. “He lives on South Catalina, closer to Venice Boulevard.” “So when are you guys getting married?” her father asked as if the question was no less than obvious. “We’re not.” “What do you mean you’re not?” Her father heavily believed in the sacredness of the holy sacraments and marriage was one of them. “I don’t really know him like that. I can have this baby on my own. You raised me well even though you didn’t have mamí to help you and I know I can do the same.” SLAP. María’s father had tattooed his handprint right across her face under her eye. He is standing over María in a pit of rage that he doesn’t know how to control. His face is flushed, and he is yelling loud enough for the neighbors to hear. “You don’t know what I had to do to raise you on my own. I didn’t do this by choice. I gave you todo so that you and your niños could have the life I could never have. And you just throw it all away to some güerito who screwed with your head and got in your panties.” The thought of María being condemned 55


Peters to live a second class life in a first world country made the intensity of his slap harder than he had anticipated. He turns away from María ashamed at how he handled the situation. After a few minutes, he looked over at his daughter who was still recovering from the shock of his slap. The red handprint on her gold skin begins to turn purple as a bruise forms. The hurt on María’s face reflected the pain on his own. She only lets him have the satisfaction of seeing one tear fall, but no more than that. He instantly feels regret for what he did but also feels too justified to apologize for it. In his anger, he continues. “I thought you were going to be someone different. Someone special. I saw you spending so much time at the cathedral; I thought maybe you found God. Maybe you would grow up to be a woman of dignity and honor like your mother. But I guess I was wrong.” As her father ignites a flame in her at the mention of her dead mother, María doesn’t give him time to say another word. She runs out of the house angry that her father had done and said such things and feeling guilty that she pushed him to do it. She didn’t just get slapped by her father; she was betrayed by her only confidant—her most trustworthy friend. 56


underground They were all that each other had in this country of hatred and judgement and now their bond was forever broken. Tears fall against her command, staining her breasts and camouflage pants, as she runs to the only place she can go, St. Sophia’s Cathedral. María runs to the back of the church in the shadows where no one sees her pull out a metal ladder. She places the ladder along the side of the building and climbs up to the roof once it is secure. *** I began coming to the roof of St. Sophia’s Cathedral a few months ago. La Unidad Fraternity and Sigma Lambda Upsilon Sorority were doing some community service work at Loyola High School. After we were done, we began to walk around the neighborhood. I saw my parents’ Catholic church in our wanderings: St. Sophia Cathedral. They started renovating the building a few months ago. When they started renovating the building, a few workers left behind some of their ladders and work tools along the wall on the back of the cathedral. Some frat guys and I couldn’t resist. It was as if the paint covered tools and ladders were calling to be tampered with. I was dared to go to the roof 57


Peters of the church using the flimsy ladder. A pang of fear washed over me as I veered at the roof around 100 feet over my head, but I refuse to be punked out by those chichis. We stole one of the flimsy splintering ladders and darted behind the church. When we were sure that we were out of sight, the guys held the ladder, and as I went up, they tried to take turns squeezing mi culo. If I wasn’t dreading the top of the ladder, I would have gladly taken the opportunity to curse them out, but I didn’t want to die from falling. As I climbed up, I began to see more of my city, Los Angeles, the city that swallows up the lives of the living and the peace of the dead. I could finally place my hand at the top of the building. Internally celebrating ascension to the top without getting caught or dying, the top rung breaks and my foot slips. I hold on to the top of the building flailing my feet, attempting to hold on to something tangible. “Ave María, ave María, ave María” rained from my mouth as begged God to keep me from falling. I hear the guys either screaming at the fact the ladder fell from below me or cheering that I made it to the roof. It was all noise to me. Using all of the strength that I had, I hoisted myself up on the roof of the cathedral and crawled to the center of 58


underground the green where I knew I would be safest. The noise was becoming fainter. I appreciated the familiar sights of la ciudad below me. I lifted my head and saw something greater, the creeping sunset across the horizon. Its oil pastels, and watercolors of oro, rosa, and rojo were breathtaking. How could a man with all of its renovators and paint brushes create something more holy than this sight? I sat down on the rungs of the expansive roof. My bottom fitting comfortably between two rungs like the pews inside the cathedral. I saw the floor of heaven and no one else knew it. The beauty of the Los Angeles sky captured mi alma in a relationship I can’t explain. If something as beautiful as this sunset could exist in a world of chaos, maybe there was some weird order to things after all. I stayed up there for a few hours watching the processional of clouds move across the sky pretending them to be God’s chariots. The colors of heaven’s floor turned from naranja, to rojo, to faint morado and añil. The chariot races ended, and I was left in awe of the angels that illuminated the navy night sky. Once heaven became still, I stood up quietly, followed the two rungs to the edge of the roof. I was no longer scared of falling if it would take me to a 59


Peters place more glorious than what I had seen. By that time the guys replaced the wooden ladder with a sturdier metal one. They were out of sight and had probably gone home out of impatience. I descended to the ground. On the ground, I pondered the sight that had secured me and looked over to the ladder. I picked it with all of its bulk and dragged it to another side of the church. I placed it under a tarp in a rusting pile of junk for later. I walked away calmly as if the whole scene had never taken place. I hoped that God would forgive me for stealing a ladder. *** The memory of my first time on the roof fades away as I look up to cielo for answers. I wait to feel the familiar breezes on my face and colors in the sky but neither happen. My heart fell in love with the stupid rooftop because it was peaceful and beautiful in a world full of chaos. I feel like up here I don’t have to be Amora. I don’t have to be sexy. I could just be me. There is no reassurance for me. There is no comforting for me. Everything is stale and grey. I sinned and my punishment for it was the mistake growing inside my belly. I don’t want this baby. I can imagine la Virgen María talking to God about how much of a little slut I am. I don’t think that Jesus and 60


underground Mary talk about that kind of stuff, but that is how I feel. Tears and nose drippings rain harder at this thought against my command and cover my tank top. I have no one. My father is ashamed of me. I can’t find Ricky. (I tried calling him at the number he left me. It was disconnected.) None of the neighbors know him either. I am so stupid for just sleeping with this dude I met at the party. I stand up letting the tears dry and look across 15th Street and Venice Boulevard where I have grown up. I look to the west and find my old high school, staring back at me with a quiet and eerie disdain. Rosedale Cemetery to the east is dotted with flowers in the front that make it look like a holy processional. It is peaceful and silent. Right now I need peace because I am too scared to have this baby. I am too scared to have an abortion. I am just scared. Papí is right. I can’t have this baby. I refuse. In the back of the cemetery is silence and darkness almost like a black whole. Maybe fear dies in death too. I begin to make my steps toward the east in my socks ready for hell’s gate. Whatever happens has to be better than this fear. “Well, God, if you feel like my life is worth saving send me a sign.” 61


Peters I hear and see nothing sign worthy for the next ten minutes of my life. I need control. I approach the edge of the roof and look over. I hear and see nothing except the humdrum of Los Angeles. I let my foot hover over the edge of the building, full of peace and resolve, ready to leap into the angels arms so that they could carry me to either heaven or hell. “WAIT!!!” screams a more masculine voice in the distance. I look down in front of me to find a tall, lean black man in skinny jeans and a gray t-shirt, holding a camera and staring at me. He has long black dreads that are pulled back into a ponytail. “I need to get a picture of you in my shot. I’ve never seen someone on top of the cathedral before, yet alone trying to jump. I want to add this shot to my portfolio.” FLASH. The light blinds me and makes me forget what I was doing. Is he stupid? I’m trying to kill myself, and he wants to capture me in my misery. Aggravation boils and stews in me. “Go home. No necesito tu ayuda!” I snap at him. Maybe my rudeness will scare him off. I don’t have time for him interfering with my suicide plans. “So why are you up there?” he asks, ignoring 62


underground my comment. “I’m having dinner,” I reply. “Why up there?” he continues. “Because there is no better place in the world to eat tacos and drink beer than on a roof of a cathedral.” I sarcastically contort. “Well can I come up to see?” the black man asked. I could tell from his demeanor that he wasn’t old enough to be a predator. He was probably a student from the university about two blocks away. I unsurely tell him “I guess you could have dinner with me.” He begins to look around the base of the building and finds my hidden ladder in its customary holding place—a pile of junk in the back of the church. He climbs the ladder, camera dangling from his neck, quickly to my location. “Where are the tacos?” he asked. Is he serious? “There are none,” I said to kill the charade. “I know” he replied. “Now why are you up here?” “I don’t deserve to live. I have disgraced my mother and father. The Virgin Mary must think I’m a slut, and God has even ignored me. I feel unholy.” 63


Peters I spilled my heart to him because I needed someone to care. I’m probably being more dramatic than the situation actually is. I feel pathetic for sounding so wimpy when I was so sure a few hours ago I could take care of this baby on my own. “This roof is like my second home. It is the place where I come and talk to God and la Virgen María. Up here I’m at peace, and I get to see the floor of heaven open up. This is the first day that it hasn’t. You probably think I’m crazy.” I feel my tears starting up again, but I choke them back down. “I don’t think you’re crazy,” he said. “Everyone has something that is sacred to them. For you, it is this green roof. For me, it is my camera. An old superstition about cameras is that they capture people’s souls. I like having that kind of power and control over people.” He stops to show me the picture that he took of me as I tried jumping off the roof. I look so sure and unafraid. I wish I could stay that way. “Look at how beautiful you are,” he said. The breeze raises chill bumps on my arms, and I turn away from him. I know he feels me distancing myself from him. He walks toward me closing the gap, placing his muscular hands on my shoulders. He has 64


underground broad shoulders and is skinny with at least foot of height over me, but I’m only 5’4” anyway. “Let’s go to my house for some real tacos. I know you are cold and hungry, and sitting on this roof alone won’t make you feel better. Do you drink Corona?” I looked at him and knew I didn’t have a choice. He looked at me with a look that said he wasn’t going to leave without me, and I don’t want to go back home to my father. “I guess so,” I said. I know it’s bad to drink when you’re pregnant, but I need something to take this horrible edge off. I feel like I have a hangover only without the beer. We climb down the ladder into the street and walk along Normandie Ave. I peer at him from the side as we silently walk toward his apartment near the university. I know I shouldn’t be leaving with a total stranger, but I’m really hungry, and this guy’s aura puts me at ease. About two blocks from the church he says, “My name is Marley.” I wait, pondering and licking over the name in my mind. “My name is María.” We continue into the night almost unaware of each other’s presence yet 65


Peters walking in sync every step of the way. I guess Jesus thinks I’m worth saving after all.

66


underground Congestion Lindsey Baker If one says one doesn’t pick one’s nose while driving, one is full of it. Everyone does it. First, it’s shy; a tepid recon to see what has sprouted. When an acceptable candidate is discovered, one commences digging, and then excavation. One pulls that sucker out to be examined. Biopsied, if necessary. Driving on congested highways calls for a special kind of distractedness, a zone of mental purgatory. There is nothing rushed about rush hour traffic, nothing more leisurely than stop and go. Or stop and roll forward a foot, considering the complications of one’s existence against one’s will. And this is why the hand, encumbered with these complications, might slip into the nostril to fulfill curiosities. I am talking about myself. My slender hand, my equine nose. In my white car with the windows rolled down, located at 33.7550 degrees north, 84.3900 degrees west, latitude and longitude meaningless to everyone around me, I can become 67


Baker completely invested in the simple drama unfurling in my nose. Traffic halts. It’s springtime now, and a sweet smelling breeze tries to detangle itself from the exhaust fumes. I look over to my left and see a usual character in the gridlock social circle: late forties, white skin, dyed brown hair, reflective sunglasses and a suit, a muscle car that serves only to drive him to his windowed office every morning and back home every afternoon, where he probably kisses his wife on the cheek after dinner and then goes into the shower, masturbates, and goes to bed. You know, an average guy. I pull up so our windows are aligned. I look over at the man and feel him looking at me through his sunglasses. I can almost see myself reflected in them. My hair is pulled up into a loose bun, revealing my bare shoulders, my naked neck. My tank top is loose and blowing in the breeze. I know how he must read me: normal, together, and very young. I try to make meaningful eye contact. His lips curl into a little smirk, and it’s so self-assured, so confident in the world, that I almost laugh. But I don’t, because that would ruin the illusion I’ve created. So I return a kind smile and feel him taking 68


underground in my pretty lips. Maybe he’s thinking that he wishes to have sex with me. Or maybe he’s hoping his daughter grows up to be me. Or maybe I remind him of someone he once knew. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter, because he’s looking. Traffic unties itself and we follow the line dutifully, skating forward another few feet. I curse, afraid that I’ve lost him, that our windows will never align again. But I can see that he has stopped prematurely in order to ensure that they will, and that his window is wound down. Got him. Now he’s wearing his sunglasses lower on his nose and peaking over the lenses. It looks like he has mirrors built into the middle of his face. One eyebrow lifts. Now, this is weird. I know it is. A nervous tingle alights in my stomach. I lift my hand from the steering wheel, past my chest, and onto my face. I point out my pinky finger and wedge it into my nostril. There’s one little curl of snot in there, unpicked, ripe, and I wiggle it out. All while looking into his eyes. His smirk turns into this sort of contorted frown, the face one makes while watching a lion tear apart a gazelle, all blood and claws and strips of 69


Baker flesh. He is fascinated and disgusted. His fascination disgusts him. More than anything, he looks terribly confused, terribly unsure of everything he once knew to be true. I wink at him and then traffic allows me to ease forward, out of his line of sight, out of his life forever, to exist only as the story of that girl who was picking her nose in traffic while he watched.

70


underground The Death of a Grandmother Jo Benshoof

Junior, English Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (Minor) Psychology (Minor)

She was Dar. Really, she was Sharon, but Dar was so much more dear and loving. Dar—because Alice couldn’t say “Darling” back to her when she talked to her over the phone as a tiny child. Alice couldn’t remember being that young, but her mother told the story all the time before Dar died. Now, raindrops created waves on Fire Lake down the hill from the gargantuan house, which had once belonged to Dar, while Alice and her mother sorted through her things. She’d known her grandmother for fourteen years, her whole life, and yet, it wasn’t until this moment when she found how little she actually knew. They sorted through the kitchen— cleaning out cans of green beans and black-eyed peas, dated 1993—the year Alice was born. “Why does Dar still have these? Didn’t she know to throw them away?” she asked her mom. “Dar had a hard time letting go,” was all her mother would say. 71


Benshoof Alice’s favorite part of the house was the elevator. It was plated with gold, and had bars that she slid across the entrance before the elevator shook down into the basement where the hot tub, extra living room, porch, and master bedroom were. Alice and her cousins had made a fort with blankets, the couches, pool table and bar across the length of the living room and porch, with individual rooms for each of the kids—she made sure that she got the room that was underneath the pool table. They put on puppet shows for Dar and their parents; Dar always laughed the hardest. The singing fish and giant traffic light sat on the bar and sang with joy all through the warm evening. When Alice rode down the elevator this time, into the basement, she felt the dry coldness of being alone. She found her grandmother’s closet, where styrofoam wig heads, dressed in black, curly, frizzed wigs, stared back at her. The king-sized blankets they made the fort with were still there, folded neatly on the hospital bed in the porch. They were cold to touch, and stiff, as though folding them was the last thing Dar had done before she’d left that home. Alice wondered if she should take them home with her—she knew they were the blankets her 72


underground grandmother loved most. She pondered in silence, alone. After a week of cleaning through Dar’s house, Alice and her mother left for home. Alice kept a few of the arrowheads Dar had collected, as well as her sharpshooting trophies. The old lamp that hung over the master bed in her grandmother’s house now hung from the ceiling in Alice’s bedroom. A framed, cross-stitched version of “Amazing Grace” was mounted on the wall, illuminated by the lamp—Dar’s favorite song. Fish blankets now covered her bed. Electronic lounge chairs were now in Alice’s living room, and a giant, framed map of Fire Lake hid behind the china cabinet in the dining room, waiting to be put up. Waiting for Alice to grow up and call her grandchildren darling, just so she could also be Dar.

73


A Good Goodbye India Davis The only good thing about Jason being stubborn to a fault were his tendencies to be in the same place. It made him that much easier to find. Ava found him by the riverside under the tree because Jason had a weird aversion to sunlight at times, said it was too much. It was funny. He hid from it while she, his best friend, chased it day in and day out. Ava sat down beside him, throwing her arm over the stiff line of his shoulders easily. He kept his brooding gaze on the river, refusing to look at her. She stared pointedly at the side of his face but he kept staring in the distance. She sighed when her patience started to wear. She moved her hand back to her side, opting to nudge him so he would talk to her. “I’m leaving,” Jason whispered finally. Ava nodded slowly. “I know,” she said. “But not tonight. We still have that.” He shook his head. “I’m not going tonight.” She smirked, her 74


underground eyes sly as she looked up him up and down. “You know I’m not letting you miss it,” she told him. “There’s no point in going,” he argued. “Well, you’re going to be here all day today and we’re going to end up back here to watch the lantern festival anyway so you might as well spend it with me.” Ava smiled at him, moving her face annoying close. Jason lightly pushed her back. “There’s no point. Just ask your mom,” he said. She rolled her eyes. Of course he was brooding about what her mom had said long ago. Her mom had warned Ava away from Jason for years. “It’s not going to end well,” was the catchphrase her mom constantly repeated. Ava refused to listen, still did. He, however, liked to point out her “idiocy” at times. “You hurt yet?” he asked. “No. Gonna push me down again?” she asked him with a tilt of her head, referring to the one time he purposely hurt her. They were only five and he pushed her down. Ava got a bad scratch on her knee, cried for an hour even after her mom patched her up. He brought Ava her favorite snacks for a week as an apology. Jason sighed. “The five-year-old me was smart.” He looked 75


Davis down at his shoes. “You were stupid to forgive me afterwards.” “I’d like to think that was one of my highest moral moments,” Ava replied easily, seeing his expression darken. She moved her hand to his shoulder and gripped it tight, making sure he stayed with her. Last thing she wanted was for him to drown in whatever thoughts were churning in his head. “If only you weren’t so charming.” “If only you weren’t so easily swayed by snacks.” “Always so moody,” she said, pecking his cheek before she stood up. “Now come on. The festival is tonight and we still have to make our lanterns,” he huffed before standing up. He marched down to the path that would take them to her garage. She struggled to keep up at his fast pace. “I see. We’re getting exercise on the way there,” she said lightly. He scoffed and mumbled something under his breath. “What was that?” “I said I’m waiting for you to give up,” he snapped. She just giggled knowing how much her lack of anger would infuriate him but she couldn’t help the little sting she felt in her chest. She bumped her 76


underground shoulder into his, ignoring her internal reaction. She refused to acknowledge it. She had plenty of time to do that later. In the garage, Ava worked diligently on the lantern’s design as the scratchy, old radio in the corner played music. She forgot which one of her parents got it from a garage sale when she was small. She just knew that it was a staple in their garage as other things came and went. The only songs that sounded any good on the radio were the older, jazzier ones that already had that sound built into them, like the one playing now. She wasn’t sure what song it was but she heard it enough times to know a few of the lines. Stars fading but I linger on, dear, still craving your kiss... “Could you cut this?” she asked as she straightened the edge of the paper she was working on. “Your hands are steadier than mine.” He grumbled for a moment before going to her side. He picked up the X-Acto knife from nearby. He lined the paper up and move to cut it but stopped suddenly. “What is this?” he asked. She followed his gaze before noticing his was looking at the sun 77


Davis design she had made, cursive words serving as the outline and sun rays. She had written different phrase-like lyrics and snippets from their first conversations as kids. He ran his fingers over one ray in particular that had three phrases. No one ever leaves you. I don’t need truth. I’ve always had you. “We’re supposed to write something on them,” she said with a shrug. “I figured it was appropriate.” Jason scoffed but she could see the shine in his eyes. She ignored it as she pulled out another similar-sized piece of paper. “You want a dragon on yours right? Or did you change you mind?” “You’re really trying to hurt yourself, aren’t you?” he spat. “Why are you even dragging this out?!” “Sorry, I don’t give up easily. Just let it go, Jason,” she said. “Like you can talk!” he finally screamed. “I am trying to build the lantern!” she yelled back. “All you’re doing is getting angry.” “At least I know why! At least I know it’s not mine!” he seethed, his eyes still keeping their earlier sheen and she could feel dread forming in her chest before pushing it away. 78


underground “Will you please help me over here?” she said quickly, changing the subject. The question took him aback and Ava watched Jason set his jaw but moved to her side anyway, like she knew he would. After that one time Jason hurt Ava, he was always careful not to yell too loud and never to be rough or upset her. He never wanted to hurt her even as they both grew older and realized it was inevitable. Ava knew he got frustrated with her optimism at times, was even understanding of why, but she couldn’t afford to concede to him, not on this. Not when she had so little left at the moment. So she exploited his other weaknesses: Jason’s willingness to always help her, which was ironic for a guy who was so pessimistic. Jason placed the X-Acto knife in her hand. Before she could protest, he was moving behind her, holding her hand steady as they cut the paper together. She relaxed at the reassuring movements, letting herself fall back into him. She whispered something silly to break the silence and she could feel him try to hide his laughter in the side of her neck. He hated his smile. She loved it more than anything. The rest of the afternoon was easy, making it 79


Davis easy to forget their earlier stop and starts. They kept talking just loud enough to be heard over the music. Their words were fast and nonsensical, running from the earlier frustration but building something more dangerous: hope and memories. In the background, the radio kept singing. But in your dreams whatever they be, you better make me a promise/promise to keep/ just dream... Jason and Ava were smiling as they made their way to the riverside, lanterns in hand. They joked and relaxed as the sun set steadfastly behind them, ignoring the people that passed by and gathered on the other side. Ava’s cheeks started to hurt from smiling and laughing so much but a countering anxiety started to build as the sky darkened. Finally, it was time. She pulled out the lighter she brought from home and they both grew quiet as she lit the lanterns. She felt a lump in her throat as the words she wrote stood out against the paper. One line caught her eye especially. I don’t need faith. I just want you. It was a song lyric she had heard in passing. She didn’t know it would be something she would understand 80


underground so well so soon. Before she felt ready, the lantern was slipping from her fingers and into the sky. Jason let his go a moment after. He smiled, chuckling as he watched his lantern catch up to hers before both spinning around each other. “It’s like they’re tied together,” Jason commented. Ava nodded, biting her lip as she stared at him. His smile was radiant under the soft glow that surrounded them. It was too much, too real and she felt the heaviness she’d been hiding all day crash into her as she looked back up at the sky, where the lanterns acted like stars. Her mind flashed through different memories of her and her best friend. Running around as kids. Eating ice cream on the bad days. Sharing their first kisses. Leaning on each other. Chasing warmth that wasn’t their own. The last days in the hospital. The even worse day at the graveyard. “Look,” Jason said, snapping her out of her memories. “There they go again.” He pointed theirs out amongst all the others. They were still floating together, bobbing and weaving in the sky. “It’s so beautiful...” he sighed. “I think I’m ready now.” She 81


Davis could tell he was looking at her but it was her turn not to look back. “And I think you’re going to be okay.” She smiled as she kept her eyes on the sky, not wanting to see how his face looked under the lantern light again. Not wanting to see the smile she knew was still there. “I think you’re wrong,” she told him, her voice too low for him to hear. “They’re like stars,” he mused, her guessing he was looking at the lanterns again. She heard him laugh. “There’s stars on your face.” “Just their reflections,” Ava corrected. “Maybe,” Jason conceded. “But I think I’ll take one for the road.” She closed her eyes as she felt the briefest pressure of his lips on her cheek, taking away one of her tears. She bit her lip and let her world slow down to those few seconds. Everything in that moment felt heightened; the rough fabric of her jeans where her fingers dug into her knees, the bumpy ground she sat on, red behind her eyes from the lights, and the too light pressure of her best friend’s last touch. Ava opened her eyes slowly. She looked to her side and Jason was gone, never there to begin with. Tears chocked her with sorrow as she looked 82


underground back at the sky filled with lights honoring a person lost and the ones left behind to mourn them. She searched the sky for their lanterns again. She found hers but Jason’s was finally lost in the crowd. Maybe it was stupid to look at the action metaphorically but she couldn’t help but see the poetic justice in that one moment. Of Jason disappearing in sea of light while she was left on the ground, in reality, watching each flame go out alone.

83


I Would if I Could Roy Williams

Twittter: @tafkar7

My daddy jumped out of a plane at 19 for God and country. The chute didn’t open. Mama was 16. When he hit the ground she went into labor. We were coming and going at the same time. I wonder if he saw me. I want to be an Astronaut. She says lots of colored teachers. I promise I won’t jump Mama. She said truckers make good money. Just take the curves easy. I believed till a preacher laid hands on me and he wasn’t searching for the Holy Ghost. Don’t tell nobody, not even me. My buddy Will was high as a kite when I told him they shot King in the neck. He said KKK stands for knights kill kings. I can run and jump like a deer. The Fuzz can’t catch me. Nobody can. I’m too fast for my own good. Mama is losing her faith. Can’t spend what you don’t have. Will says I don’t believe in nothing. That be the pot calling the kettle black. Carol is cola-bottle fine and she got faith... 84


underground Kinda like that sister in chains the FBI got for wasting a judge. Carol be with-child. Sister-girl wasn’t fast enough. Ali is fighting tonight. I’ll be running. He has some loot so he could stop. I don’t so I got to go. Malcolm X stopped running. They started gunning. Miss Leila taking me to the embarkation point. She did the same for my daddy. I feel so much better knowing that shit. Mama and Carol off somewhere crying. If I thought about it I’d cry too. I would if I could, but I can’t so I ain’t. Now I’m in a six foot deep crater dug by a bomb. God and the Devil on their way. Seconds now I guess. Maybe they’ll bring a brother a cold one. The least the fuckers could do.

85


We All Worship the Same Water David Revzin

Junior, English Philosophy (Minor) Facebook: David Revzin

Here, there are no signs. No faded placards honoring the men, women, and children who drank water from the spring. There is, however, the chalkwhite, soft stone of Temple Butte, rising one-hundred and ten feet above the artesian well bubbling at its base. Here stands a shimmering sign among a sea of sagebrush and sand—an ethereal roadside billboard—pointing the hungry, the tired, the thirsty, and the lost to an original American roadside rest stop. Most travelers who find themselves driving through the fly-over states admire the Butte for a moment from the Sinclair gas station thirty-one miles to the west, as they stretch, yawn, and refuel their cars, eager to press on before the sun tips over the western rim of the mountains. A few clutching their cameras later struggle to remember when, where, or why they took a photo of a shiny white dot 86


underground on the distant horizon. The Butte beckons some. It is a right of passage for the intrepid explorer. From the Sinclair gas station, it is a fifty-minute trek on a two-track dirt road through the desert. Like all rest stops along America’s roaring roadways, Temple Butte spring is the story of its trash. It is the story of things left behind by those seeking golden hope in the lands of the setting sun. Empty rust-covered cans of Prince Albert chewing tobacco are all that remains of the shepherds and cowboys who shared the spring with their herds. Names, forever etched into the base of the Butte—some as many as thirty times—record the ritual. No statue stands for those who wandered this desert or for those who stopped here to pray and quench their worldly thirst before retreating further, ever further, from the Federal troops on their trail. Crudely carved crosses and unfinished verses are all that remain of hopes snuffed out, of lives hinged on elusive watery succor. Peace signs, hearts, and a list of self-given names stand as a reminder of the time twelve fiercely idealistic men and women of summer nearly perished in an early winter whiteout before being 87


Revzin rescued by a local shepherd, who saved those twelve souls he found, out looking for his own lost sheep. In the heat of the summer, when the water recedes, core chipping stones, carried many miles from their obsidian sources, arrowheads, and stone mallets surface in the sand. Layers of life among the refuse of the dead. No other monuments to this history unremembered. No book of the names of those seeking solace. Those whose eyes were blighted by the searing sunshine of salvation by god, gold, guns, or glory. Who looked out and wondered, as we do. Who were blinded, as we are. We, who all worship the same water.

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underground Between David Revzin In the days between Super Nintendo and cell phones, we waited patiently in our parents’ unfinished basements. Outside, neighborhood dogs honored a heat-induced ceasefire. Too hot to bark. Bellies to the ground, snouts on paws, and tongues dripping with perspiration, they panted like idling engines and let birds, chipmunks and squirrels surf freely by on shimmering waves of heat. In the evenings, when the Sun’s angled rays relented, we ventured out of that climate-controlled, fluorescent daydream into ultra-violet reality, miners up from the stagnant depths of cloistered laundry room mines. We stood awkwardly in our parents’ oily carports and on their pollen-dusted front porches, hands shielding our eyes against the glare of candycolored cars and chalky empty sidewalks on those late summer afternoons. We would shiver and shudder and shake off the last lingering coolness of our cavernous bedrooms and swim away through the swampy air. At night, with our backs against the cool grass of manicured lawns, we felt the earth turn 89


Revzin and watched as the lightning bugs filled the spaces between the stars that the city wouldn’t show us. In the short days between between paintball guns and M4s, we battled in the backseats of our parents’ stationary wagons, under soft, suburban skies. Twists of smoke, turns of steel, and snow, ashes of that day’s final fire settled finally and finally, we were our father’s sons. We left for summer camp in a place called Kandahar. Roared out of town, leaving behind trophies, sun-bleached basketball goals and dented gutters. Crouching in the backs of Humvees, we lost our Lego fingers, X-Box hands, and the two left feet that hopped through tires, training for a God who wouldn’t remember and a country that would soon forget. Lost those two left feet that made the girls laugh when we tried to dance and made them toss back their strawberry-scented hair and scare the shit out of us, because they were clearly women, and they knew it. And we were merely boys and they knew that, too. We have trouble touching them, now. Trouble tracking them down. We are missing limbs and they have different names. And those faces—the ones we dreamed of—who wandered with us, kept us alive, made us tell lies to our brothers as we waded 90


underground through the heat and the sand—they couldn’t wait. Didn’t wait for us. Had sons of their own. Boys with skateboard skin and Christmas-morning eyes. Boys like us. We, who waited patiently to die in the desert. We are older than our favorite athletes, now. Some of us. Those of us who made it back, more or less. We wait for the clock’s angled hands to relent and venture out of offices into dimly-lit daydreams. We stand on our city’s oily sidewalks by exhaust-blackened walls and feed our eyes with iridescent sunsets. The last time we moved, our dusty bikes of ten thousand screaming miles went to the kids next door who smiled politely and shook our hands seriously, before racing inside to return to PlayStation battles. Battles won and lost in armchairs, the convenience of pausing another chance, always another chance. Always in control. They storm the sands of Normandy and creep through the Mekong Delta, unhindered by the ghosts that stalked our grandfathers and fathers, shadows they never could shake. Our grandfathers and fathers, who sat up in dank basements breathing in the white nothingness of the three a.m. radio, surrounded by the ranks of our green plastic armies. We awoke to find entire units mysteriously flattened or scattered by boots 91


Revzin that hadn’t even registered their existence. Fathers who didn’t bring us to summertime beaches or grill burgers on humid back patios. Who worried, wondering what would rub raw those invisible, tender scars or pry loose their grip on some screaming-hot vision incompatible with the wellknown safety of the suburbs. We, like our fathers and their fathers before. Between Apollo 11 and 9/11, our fathers filled basement bomb shelters with spring horses, faded doll houses, and empty fish bowls. Our televisions and common sense told us to fill it instead with spring water, grow lamps, propane, and guns. We’ll run out of bread, canned beans, and pickled beets long before we ever run low on bullets. There will be more battles won, statues toppled, stars and bars flown in foreign winds. We will try to identify armies without faces, fight wars on all fronts. We die in churches, malls, and schools. We leave picnic baskets with half-eaten apples and runners with half-length legs. We, who in the days between Super Nintendo and cell phones threw rocks at passing cars and filled our fathers’ empty vodka bottles with water. We, who once had counting fingers, football 92


underground hands, and Nike feet. Who returned to wonder where all the girls had gone, who returned to find wives and mothers and daughters of their own. Whose fathers left quickly and died quietly in a distant desert. We, who in the hours between sun and moon rest, sprawled out on our backs beneath the manicured grass, beneath stones which bear our names. We, who feel the earth turn and watch as lightning bugs fill the gaps in the starry sky that the city smog won’t ever surrender.

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A Pursuit for the Ages – The Displaced Student Project Snotti Prince St. Cyr

Junior, Exercise Science Mathematics (Minor) www.snottiprincestcyr.com www.gofundme.com/sendsnottitocollege facebook.com/snottistcyr Twitter: @Snotti_StCyr linkedin.com/in/snottistcyr

Regularly finding comfortable places to sleep in Atlanta is hard to come by when you are dealing with “residential and financial instability,” my personal term to describe how one fluctuates between establishing his or herself in a safe environment called home and being left to make it on the streets. Nearly all of my days throughout the Summer 2015 semester, when I took Discrete Mathematics and Introduction to Sociology (eventually getting a Hardship Withdrawal via the Office of the Dean of Students), would end by me sleeping at the Library, on the MARTA buses and trains, some of the Atlanta Beltline stops, the benches 94


underground near the Sam Nunn Federal Building, and the steps of the John C. Godbold Building (also known as the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals) in the Fairlie-Poplar District. On August 20, 2015, however, I wanted to minimize the time and distance I had to walk to get breakfast at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and, eventually, to Library North for some studying. Entering Classroom South, which usually opened around 6 a.m. each morning, seemed like the most prudent and obvious thing to do because that is what I usually did if I wanted to get some extra hours of sleep. This day, however— Thursday, August 20—would wind up being a day that lived in infamy as I became the victim of and witness to a Pearl Harbor of bureaucracy, standoffishness, disdain, and another preview into the pervasiveness of the blue wall of silence. Being the genius that I am, another homeless student and I overslept on those comfy couches on the fifth floor of Classroom South and Officer Perkins rode in one of those annoying Segways and asked for my student ID. Here is my recollection of how the confrontation went down at around 9:15 a.m. that morning: [Perkins, on Segway]: Can I see your ID? 95


St. Cyr [Me}: (gives him PantherCard for check with Dispatcher) [Perkins]: Are you a current student here? [Perkins]: Do you have any business in this building? [Me]: Well, I was just getting some rest in before I do some work. [Perkins] (chuckling): And, um, what type of work do you have to do that is in this building? [Me]: I was just planning on doing some work in the Library. [Perkins]: And which buildings will your classes be in this coming semester? [Me]: I don’t know, I forgot. [Perkins] (chucking, annoyed and stern tone and countenance): I don’t think you understand—unless you have permission, you’re not supposed to be here. I don’t wanna see you in here again. [PantherCard check is completed, Perkins escorts me down to the first floor before I walk out.] Similar treatment from a female Georgia State police officer towards Damian Whitaker, a 96


underground close friend of mine and fellow homeless college student sleeping directly across from me, is what makes this entire episode more disheartening for me—and a larger indictment against the Georgia State Campus Police in general—because he is one of the most important people advising and inspiring me to push forward and permanently solve my issues. Law enforcement officials like Perkins and most of his other colleagues, however, behave in a manner that almost succeeds in being a roadblock to my development by using their authority as the foundation upon which they can build a mystique of “zero tolerance” and a “safe space” where the stereotypical college student can thrive. Being a non-traditional homeless college student, however, almost gives Perkins et al. the green light to treat me like a white tee-wearing deviant hanging at the gas station. I was, once again, officially a second-, if not third-class citizen because my inability to achieve prior goals in the past empowered Perkins to treat me the way that he did in the present. I needed time to recover, reflect on what the fuck just happened to my friend and I, calm myself down before I did something I would later regret because I still had to continue my bodyweight exercise routine that 97


St. Cyr evening. I was going through the same fuckery that happened to me during the Summer 2005 semester here at Georgia State, my first bout of the homeless college student life where I would contemplate suicide as well as become an atheist. (My oldest nephew and one of my cousins in New York are the only two members of my Liberian-Grenadian family who know these two facts about me.) Eventually, I would speak to Fallon Proctor and Anitra Patrick, the Student Advocacy leaders at the Office of the Dean of Students, and partially alleviate the shock of the event at Classroom South by telling them what happened. The conversation between Ms. Proctor, Ms. Patrick, and myself is changing the course of my life as you read this—and will eventually be the cornerstone of a revolution in how institutions treat transient and non-traditional students. Development of this essay is a culmination of the losses, anger, sadness, and regrets that have taken over my adult life like a salt being supersaturated in an aqueous solution. Suppressing this phenomena helps no one except those who have a vested interest in seeing poor and/or black American men in a permanently subservient state, and I am not about that life. The 98


underground pieces to my puzzle of existence are being picked up and arranged by many hands, so perhaps this initial homelessness essay will serve as the moment where I actually put them together, conveying an image of the purpose that I established for myself. My purpose, whatever I consider it to be, actually fluctuates based on all of the knowledge and information I have received while this and many more tribulations, but originates from my challenging history as a first-generation American whose parents (let alone other family members and friends) deemed me their “prodigal son.� Acting on the behalf of other homeless, foster care, and otherwise non-traditional students requires me to give you a brief understanding of how I got to this point in the first place. My father, from St. George, Grenada, met my mother, emigrating from Monrovia, Liberia, in a park in Brooklyn, New York in 1981. They would get married a mere three years later and give birth to me at the Kings County Hospital Center on November 15 of that year. It was obvious that I displayed an attachment towards sports and learning new things, especially considering that my parents are avid sports lovers and recorded many a game on VCR players. 99


St. Cyr My development, combined with degradation of our neighborhood via the War on Drugs, influenced my parents to move to Clarkston, GA while one of my older brothers would enroll at Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia before going to Staten Island, NY and graduating from New Dorp High School in 1996. The time spent in Clarkston, and then Riverdale High School from 1998-2002, would be the first environments that truly set the table for who I am today—being a designated Scholar Athlete, four years of football and two years of track and field. Being a young man of direct Afro-Caribbean heritage is never easy because the aforementioned “prodigal son” reputation hoisted upon me exposed me to such pressure that I would wilt at the very thought of failing. Witnessing many unique family difficulties—specifically immigration issues, multiple financial hardships, and verbal and psychological abuse from my mother to my father—reinforced the desperation I felt to take my family out of the hood. (Some family members and I came to Riverdale around the tail-end of that city’s “white flight” period in the late 90’s.) My inability to truly develop a form of resiliency, based on this extreme fear of failure negatively affecting my athletic and academic 100


underground performance, resulted in my violating the Honor Code—cheating on a Calculus I exam—at Sewanee, the University of the South during the Fall 2002 semester. The shame and embarrassment associated with being a “cheater” and a “flunk-out” was the first moment in my life where I not only doubted my family’s ability to groom me into a success, but also doubted my own capacity for overcoming adversity. Nothing seemed real any more: I couldn’t believe that my failure to properly prepare for the Calculus exam resulted in my expulsion from Sewanee, and I had no way of anticipating the vitriolic backlash that originated from many of the same family members and friends who claimed to love me with all of their hearts. Nothing seemed possible anymore: the fall from grace was swift, overwhelming, and I was erroneously used as an example of what will happen if one’s parents do not get the respect and admiration they claim they deserve. The next 12 or so years have mostly been a long episode of unfulfilled potential associated with four separate bouts of homelessness, clinical depression, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I eventually enrolled at Georgia Perimeter College 101


St. Cyr and transferred to Georgia State by the Fall 2004 semester. Continued emotional, psychological, and financial hardships resulted in the aforementioned Summer 2005 events, followed by a lengthy dead period of self-directed studying, traveling throughout the East Coast, gaining and losing friends, struggling to find suitable jobs, and realizing that I truly have the power to choose who enters and exits my life. 2014 was the year where some semblance of progress was coming into fruition when the Enrollment Services Center approved my Satisfactory Academic Progress appeal letter—which was completed in 2012, but I was too scared to turn it in—before the Summer 2014 semester. This occurred right on time because I was able to find a bed in the University Lofts with two roommates and permanently (I hoped, at least) rid myself of my mother and biological sister (who attempted to illegally kick me out of her Lawrenceville home). Despite my making the Dean’s List during both the Summer and Fall 2014 semesters and having a meal plan, many problems did not go away. I was still struggling to find work, still struggling with my college football and bodyweight workout routines, and missing out on scholarships and Federal Work Study. My 102


underground “residential and financial instability” continued as I was forced to move to an off-campus house during the Fall 2014 semester and ultimately spent the Spring 2015 semester living with a friend and his family in Alpharetta. Things started to look up for me as a friend of mine convinced me to move into a different offcampus location in the Lakewood Heights area of Atlanta right after my Spring semester Final Exams. By June, however, my situation took a turn for the worst once I found out that the residence was supposed to be vacant and I legally had no business being in that property. There was nothing I could do and quickly found a storage space and left by the first week of June. What occurred up until the second week of this past October was, for lack of better terms, a “remixed” version of my Summer 2005 melodrama: a smorgasbord of disrespect, misunderstanding, panhandling, arguments, lack of confidence, and exemplifying the same stereotypes and images about homeless people that I risked my life trying to avoid. My unwillingness to contemplate or plan a suicide attempt was the major, if not only, difference between 10 years ago and today because I was actually hired by Nick Vogt of the Georgia State 103


St. Cyr Panthers Football program as a Student Assistant Equipment Manager amidst all of this turmoil, and they accepted me from the first day I stepped in the facility. (Mr. Vogt fired me the Monday before the Georgia Southern game for making too many mistakes and allegedly mistreating a game-day volunteer after the Panthers’ 31-21 victory over the Troy Trojans.) My daily routine fluctuated much more often than I would have liked because, besides the fact that I was way too tired at times to do some things that I should have been doing, I was once again allowing other people and institutions dictate how I navigate through my environment. What follows now is a brief insight into how I negotiate these experiences in order to remain goal-oriented. Prejudices and interrogation techniques from the local police, not to mention the prejudices and biases from other people as they stare me down, are the most challenging ordeals that I faced every day that I was homeless (whether I was a college student or not). Security guards and law enforcement officials profile me up and down from the millisecond they see me; they have already made up in their minds that I “don’t belong” in the vicinity and do not give a flying mallard duck what I have 104


underground been through before I entered their range of sight. Carrying anywhere from 30 to 70 pounds of my most important belongings makes me an outsider. There were multiple incidents where officers, predominately from the Georgia State Campus Police and City of Atlanta Police, would attempt to make me incriminate myself or “lead the witness” outside of the court system process; the most recent example of this was in early October, before moving into the University Lofts for a second time, when an officer approached me at Student Center West and blatantly asked, “Don’t you have a CTW (Criminal Trespassing Warning) at Classroom South or somewhere on campus?” And like many previous episodes over the years, about three or four fellow officers would enter the scene for the sake of “strength in numbers.” Many of these same cases are where the officers are quite familiar with me already but must proceed with their methods of checking my identification cards. Maintaining some level of sanity and selfappreciation amidst the general stereotypes against homeless people is another significant barrier to my goals. Carrying four or five different bags everywhere I went did not help matters, but I dealt with it while still attempting to conduct myself with honor 105


St. Cyr because none of these people contributed to my struggles. They need not burden themselves worrying about how I became homeless to begin with because I take full responsibility for my actions and decisions that put me in such a position. Nevertheless, this does not prevent many people from reporting to the police because they do not think I “belong.” This does not prevent people from assuming that I have given up on my life and, consequently, that I am not worthy of being in their presence or conversing with them. This does not prevent my fellow schoolmates and classmates from staring up and down at me like I could infect them with something via vector transmission. Homeless people throughout the metro Atlanta area are considered a nuisance rivaling that of a West Nile virus-infected mosquito and being a college student does nothing to deter this attitude. For some people, the phrase “homeless college student” is so oxymoronic that their vantage points and interpretations of my condition worsen as time progresses. • “Why don’t you stop begging for money and get a job?” • “Stop eating out of trash cans!!” • “How the fuck are you in college, but 106


underground can’t find a place to sleep? That don’t make no goddamn sense.” • “If you’re really homeless, you should be thankful I’m giving you this sandwich to eat.” • “Take care of yourself. Jesus loves you and so do I.” • “My brother used to be homeless and now he’s doin’ somethin’ with his life. He got a car, job, house, everything. If he can do it, they why can’t you do it?” Some embellishment or variation of the statements above have been preached towards me over the years whether I was homeless or not, but seem to be used in some perverse sort of motivation that doubles as condemnation for not keeping up with the Joneses. When one takes gender and racial expectations into account, he/she can predictably reach the conclusion that people look at me as a lost cause, a statistic, another black man who could not cut the mustard. I am pretty used to people looking right past me as if I am part of the background. I have adapted to people demanding that I take their plastic bag full of junk food—I am including peanut butter-and-jelly and bologna-and107


St. Cyr cheese sandwiches—and bottled water because, as a homeless black man, I cannot afford to reject anything from anyone and my nutrition standards do not really matter. College football and sports science expert dreams be damned, many people do not consider me to be a “true” or “real” homeless person unless I have disheveled clothes and hair and promise to apply for 50 jobs in a week. Logistics and upholding a workable schedule for information and services were also a struggle when I was persevering throughout homelessness. Since many organizations for particular goods and services are spread throughout the metro Atlanta area, making certain to go to certain places (assuming I have a MARTA Monthly Breeze card, of course, because I do not know how to drive) for specific services is paramount to my survival. Many places, particularly homeless shelters, have intake processes and assessments only for certain days and hours each week; missing these days may mean that it could take weeks, if not months, to get what I need. Food pantries, clothing closets, career development centers, and networking functions are also frequent but spread out and open during their own hours—so that subsequently means a 108


underground potentially lengthy delay in accumulating resources to get ahead. Some services get cut short or are no longer provided because of employee deficits, waiting lists for clients, and public policy changes. These inopportune changes do not even account for how much stuff I must always carry with me when I am homeless. Going to some areas is very challenging because I have to take many breaks and always keep track of how much or little time I have to make it to my destination(s) each day. The seriousness of all these problems are incrementally lessening—but still generally exist— by the day because of Georgia State’s Enrollment Services Center approving another Satisfactory Academic Progress appeal, which included a successful Hardship Withdrawal for the Summer 2015 semester after making a C in Introduction to Sociology (SOCI 1101) and making a D in Discrete Mathematics (MATH 2420, which I repeated and passed with a B this past Fall semester). Exposure to the police has dropped off exponentially since moving into the University Lofts. I am a regular at the Panther’s Pantry, located in the parking lot basement of the Urban Life Building. My sleeping and exercising habits still fluctuate because I am so 109


St. Cyr busy, but the paranoia and mental preparation for physical altercations have certainly lessened. My haphazard memory retention and continued efforts towards landing employment and getting EBT and health insurance are the only major goals that I have yet to achieve. Each day that I stare at the downtown skyline through my Lofts window is an opportunity I take to intensify my focus on everything that is still possible and achievable for me. Dwelling on my failures and missed opportunities still occurs periodically, but I typically overcome that instinct by reminding myself that I still have the necessary faculties to create a redemption story for the ages. Redemption, for me, means realizing that I can use my talents and determination to positively influence many approaches towards societal problems that I witness or exemplify. Setting the example through my own conduct in the Georgia State community is the approach I should use to convince people that we can all improve each other’s existence. Conducting myself and treating others with respect, appreciation, courtesy, and a desire for long-lasting success will combine to be the foundation upon which my homelessness activism platform will be built. An ethical code based on 110


underground critical thinking skills and the scientific method will engender the reputation I hope to put forth as a man of principle who will help other homeless and foster care students conquer their circumstances to change the world. No matter what, my pledge is to listen to people’s concerns, show compassion, provide my own perspectives, and follow through on whatever I say I do. This pledge can be summarized by the New Ten Commandments as posited by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his classic work The God Delusion: 1. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you. 2. In all things, strive to cause no harm. 3. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect. 4. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted. 5. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder. 6. Always seek to be learning something new. 7. Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard

111


St. Cyr even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them. 8. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you. 9. Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others. 10. Question everything.

Students who are displaced can see me as a confidant who has their best interests at heart because I will do everything I can to live by the aforementioned ethical code. Applying this philosophical system to my life to enrich others’ lives must occur in the form of realistic solutions that get them off the streets and conveys the space they need to fulfill their own goals. My proposal is a housing- and support system-oriented approach informing these people with both words and actions that they are as valuable to the Georgia State and city of Atlanta communities as any other student. Helping these students improve their financial standing so that permanent housing is affordable is the first step in embracing their presence among their Georgia 112


underground State peers. Developing specialized scholarships and grants for students enduring displacement, via the Enrollment Services and Scholarship Resource Centers and the Georgia State Alumni Association, must be a top priority so that displaced students can increase their chances to pay for suitable housing and keep up with typical living expenses. Showing compassion to people in these dire circumstances with credible information and tangible resources will encourage these individuals to remain focused on their studies at Georgia State. Regardless of displaced students’ employment status, they must be connected to on- and off-campus career centers and networking organizations (e.g. Crossroads Career Services, Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, Atlanta Regional Commission) to put themselves in the best positions for professional development. Crowdfunding, microloans, and free (or reduced cost) bank and credit union accounts could also help displaced students tremendously by creating pathways to financial literacy, not to mention reducing the fear of missing another semester because of insufficient funds or funds being processed after deadlines. Students enduring residential and economic 113


St. Cyr instability definitely need to be shown that professors and counselors are sympathetic enough to point them in the right direction as well. The need for Georgia State professors, faculty, and staff to give proper references throughout students’ careers underscore the fact that it is people who do things for people. When anyone from the Georgia State community takes time out of his or her schedule to help a student endure financial and emotional hardships, it sends a message that we believe in, care for, and look after each other. Nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to navigating the college years, one of the most crucial parts of a person’s development because of the relationships, ideologies, ideas, attitudes, and habits that form. Homelessness, in my opinion, is the phenomenon of people taking each other for granted and underestimating the severity of traumatic events in order to maintain some semblance of normalcy; for those who are not in dire straits relative to those sleeping outside, it is the unforgiving obverse of humility associated with exalting one’s own development at the expense of the other person. Georgia State’s new mission for achieving its Strategic Plan is setting the standard for using humility, along with structured incremental 114


underground plans, in order to empower our community to share more stories of redemption. Since Rome was not built in a day, addressing the needs of college students experiencing homelessness, the foster care system, and economic and familial hardships must be a comprehensive and multi-pronged system that can potentially test the patience and mettle of everyone choosing to embark on this journey. But I think that this journey is well worth it because there is a certain propensity for humility, pride, and grit that must accompany an undertaking of this magnitude. Someone on the Georgia State campus, regardless of whether that person is a student or not, is suffering from the totality of internal and external forces resulting in the relegation to second- or third-class citizenship as you read this. One must ask—and I definitely implore the reader to do so!—whether that is a part (if not the primary component) of the legacy that he or she wants to develop as a member of the Georgia State community. Who are we to reap the vast benefits of this institution while withholding the same from our peers? Who are we to look down upon them as if they do not have the wherewithal to help us in both the short term and the long term—as 115


St. Cyr if their knowledge and experiences are obsolete? Some sections of Georgia State’s faculty and staff are at the preliminary stages of discovering who can be considered displaced students. A recognition of the problem and participation from multiple parties throughout campus is paramount if there is any hope of alleviating this societal ill. I am confident that, given the crossroads that our institution is facing, there are enough humble, considerate, and driven members in this community who do not merely want to help uphold the status quo, but set the tone for a groundbreaking social, economic, scientific, and political cause. Together, we can get there; apart, we will fall asunder, contemplating the errors we made and wondering, “What happened?�

116


underground Pearls of Fate Yahriel

Junior, Film Video Theater (Minor) www.YahrielsHands.com Twitter: yahriel007

(Deep southern accent of an older white woman around age 60) Uh huh... see there? They tell me you reap what you sow... uh huh... I guess what I’m really trying to say is what goes around, comes around. What you start, God will finish. Oh, I’m sorry, let me introduce myself. I’m the beautiful antique pearl necklace that has been worn around the necks of many generations of damaged women. Now, I’m not just any old pair of stringed pearls – why, I’m uniquely decorated with quartz crystal and other interesting amulets on a strong sterling silver chain. Some large round pearls. Some small and even tiny pearls. Some (spoken with deep southern drawl) whiiite and some gray; but all English cultured pearls, nevertheless. There’s a beautiful silk gray ribbon that twines its way through every chain and 117


Yahriel indeed, I’m something to behold. It’s hard for me to walk into a room amidst the neck of a beautiful damsel and not be noticed. Which is why I’ve always told those silly women NOT TO WEAR ME. It seems that whenever I’m worn, the ultimate tragedy takes place. If only Ruth had left me on Clarissa’s neck to begin with, maybe I’d have been buried in the ground with Clarissa, never to bear witness to any of the unfortunate tales I’m about to bestow upon you today. It was 1862 in South Carolina, not long before the slaves were emancipated. Clarissa Belle Winchester had reached the ripe old age of 49 and thought it necessary to try and give her husband a baby to replace the two children that she’d lost to that dreadful scarlet fever. Clarissa always despised the house slaves, since her husband Jerry Clyde Winchester used to have his share of sexual pleasure with so many of them. It angered her to know that he found delight in the colored slave, and without her own children to nurture, she felt worthless. This is when she decided to go back and try to force her body to perform like it did when she was a young bride. So, on that breezy fall day in October, something felt so odd about this delivery until even 118


underground Ruth could sense that it would not be a good night for a new life to enter. Having birthed every baby on the plantation, Ruth was no stranger to mid-wifery. But the amount of blood that Clarissa was losing was a bit much and her pain was so severe that she reached up and slapped Ruth several times, just for being there. There was something in that slap that caused young Ruth to snap. Now back then, the slaves didn’t have no say. If your white slave owner slapped you and spit in your face, you were supposed to act like she’d just kissed you on the cheek and render unto her the services that were due with a smile. On this day, Ruth was supposed to deliver a baby that would cause Mr. Winchester to appreciate his wife once more. But this baby wasn’t scheduled to walk this earth. It just wasn’t meant to be. Stillborn he was. Never breathed the breath of life. And Clarissa took it all out on Ruth; somehow, she had to make it her fault. As Ruth cleaned the blood, Clarissa kept spitting at her. Spit on her brow. Spit in her hair. Spit on her arm. Well, I can just imagine in between that spit, placenta, and birthing shit, Ruth’s right mind just got up and split. Yea... that’s what I said... uh huh... see there? “Ruth? Brang me my special charm pearl 119


Yahriel necklace from over there off the boudoir. My granny passed them down to me before she died. Hurry up and fasten my pretty pearl necklace around my neck. Don’t want my husband to see me looking like this. Hurry up, you dumb bitty!!!” I remember like it was yesterday, the first time a stranger’s hand touched me. Ruth’s slaved palms against my fine self just didn’t match. But she did as her Ma’am said and fastened me around Clarissa’s neck. Clarissa thanked her with another hawk of spit to her left eye. Ruth didn’t dare wipe it off, but stood there and waited for permission to move. That’s when it all happened. As if fate played its part, Master Winchester walked in the room and learned of the fate of this half-born child. Born... but dead. In his frustration, he grabbed Ruth by the arm and snatched her out of Clarissa’s presence. Clarissa clutched on to me for comfort and I was there, ever so faithful to give life to such an ugly and dead situation. She held up a mirror to admire my beauty around her neck as she could hear the ramblings of her husband taking out his frustration sexually on Ruth. She screamed in rebellion, “Mas’sah No? Please Mas’sah?” But his bestial grunts gave way to the relief that was at hand. When Ruth returned to her presence, 120


underground Clarissa was writhing with bitterness and anguish. She clawed into Ruth’s face and demanded that she bring her some soup. This is where it all went wrong. Ruth brought soup all right. Soup made with some poisonous mushrooms and a few drops of blood from the scratch on her cheek. This tasty brew was sure to take Clarissa to an early grave. The bitter Ma’am found her last breath at the bottom of that bowl. And as soon as her Ma’am left this earth with her last panting gasp, Ruth snatched me from around her neck and put me in her apron pocket. Only to send me on a journey that I’d rather have just taken to the grave with Clarissa. Ruth had tried and tried to make a baby with her husband and was under the belief that the good Lord had fixed her so that she’d never have chil’un. She’d grievingly delivered baby after baby whether it was for a slave or a Ma’am but never her own. All the herbs in the world couldn’t fix it so she could have a baby until nine months after Master Winchester had his way with her on that strange October eve. So, come to find out, her husband Sam was the problem, and not Ruth. I suspect Sam had the babies knocked out of him after getting beat so many times for mouthing off to Master Winchester. Either way, 121


Yahriel when Ruth’s baby came out mulatto and passing for white, Master Winchester sent her off to live with his relatives up North in Maryland. He wanted his daughter to live a normal life as a beautiful white woman. So at the ripe old age of 15, Ruth clasped me around Cindy Lou’s neck and told her to guard me with her life. Cindy Lou had a hard life because Winchester didn’t live long enough to keep up with her. Once she arrived in Maryland and his kin folks realized that she was a Ni’gra... they sent her to go be a domestic in New York. She worked hard and entered college to become a nurse. She was doing fine until she pulled me out and clasped me around her neck and headed out to take her midterms... that’s when she was snatched off the street and raped. I don’t know what kind of omen seems to follow when these gals wear me, but I wish for once they would just place me in a drawer and tuck me away. That rape baby that Cindy Lou had went on to be a famous singer in the Cotton Club in 1924. Rachel Ann never knew her mother because she was raised in an orphanage. But Cindy Lou, made sure to leave me in that basket with her when she abandoned her on the doorsteps of that Catholic Church. 122


underground It was a cold night in October when Rachel Ann went searching through her jewelry box for something special to wear. She knew that this was the night that her Italian Mafia Boyfriend, Louie just might propose. So, as hidden as I’d like to be, she dug around until she came across me and adorned her neck with a fate that would end her life by midnight. The happiest ending for me was to lay around Rachel Ann’s neck and be buried in silence. I sat still and quiet as they closed the casket. I was ever so relieved that my fate had come to an end. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”... then it happened, a crowbar cracked the casket open at the request of Louie. He removed my clasp from around her neck... uh huh... see there? He just couldn’t leave well enough alone.

123


Pictures Brian Martin

Junior, Philosophy Twitter: @brianfmartin94

Ronan’s eyelids cracked open to let in an unexpectedly intense and greatly unwelcome ray of light into his eyes, forcing them to immediately shut like small, skittish animals retreating into their den to avoid detection from a fearsome predator. They would remain shut for a few more minutes, in an attempt to convince his mind to lull itself back into its once peaceful slumber. Their efforts came to no avail, as something that had pushed far back into Ronan’s consciousness the night before began to well its way back up to the forefront of his mind, and refused to let him ignore it any longer. He had to get up. He had to go. Eventually Ronan was forced to submit, and opened his eyes to face their luminous antagonists streaming in through the cracks in his blinds. “Fuck,” he let out with soft groan and rolled over in his bed only to be met with a face full of long red hair. “Right,” he thought to himself, “forgot about you.” After a few moments of further deliberation, he 124


underground managed to sit up and swing his legs over one side of the bed. He immediately regretted this decision as a wave of intense pain shot straight to his head, punishing him like a teacher would a schoolboy for his overindulgence the night before. “Fuck,” he let out again, this time slightly louder, but still not loud enough to wake his slumbering companion. “Comatose,” he mumbled, “dead to the fuckin world.” As he turned his head, a ray of light reflected off one of his poster frames beamed into his eyes and caused him to squint. The posters were the only real decorations in the room. Just a few here and there mostly of early New York hardcore bands. Ronan was always jealous of New Yorkers, and Americans in general. Irish bands were mostly shit. He once heard it said that punk rock was all about the problem while hardcore was about the solution, and he agreed wholeheartedly. All you ever heard in punk was fuck this guy, fuck that guy, fuck the system, the president, the queen, and whoever or whatever else Black Flag or The Clash decided was infringing upon the rights or livelihood of the proletariat. Hardcore music on the other hand didn’t just complain, it told you what to do. It told you what mentality to have and how to live your life. At it’s core, that’s what drew Ronan 125


Martin to it. His life hadn’t given him time to sit around and whine or complain. To Ronan, you had to take action, because life was going to move on with or without you and the only person you could rely on to keep you moving was yourself. Nobody else gave a shit. After a few more minutes of mental preparation for the long and painful journey to the kitchen that was to come, he finally managed to stand up without too much pain bouncing around his skull. He threw on a pair of sweatpants that had been laid over the back of the one chair in the room, and made his way into the living room. It was messy, as always, but more so in particular from the night before. The clutter was only amplified by the small size of the place. In exchange for the nice view of St. Stephen’s Green and good location, Ronan had sacrificed space to keep the cost of his Dublin flat within range of his meager budget. As small as it was, Ronan was proud of it. He paid the rent for it every month out of his own pocket, as well as kept himself fed. Surprisingly, his job working security at a nightclub was relatively low stress. Standing at six foot three with an equally built frame meant that most altercations he would be presented with while on the job could be solved by 126


underground his simply standing up from his stool at the back and giving any troublemakers a stern look that let them know exactly what their options were in regards to the outcome of their time at the club. The only downside to the job was that every now and again, if he had had a particularly a rough week, Ronan was prone to making certain mistakes. The most recent of which was still asleep in his bed and drooling heavily on one of his pillows, which of course would have to washed, eventually. He made his way through the small living room to the smaller still kitchen at the front of the flat and poured himself a glass of water from the tap. He took a small sip, then popped two aspirin from the bottle he kept in the drawer under his sink, washing them down with a few larger gulps. Breakfast of champions. Just as he put the glass down and began to turn to open his fridge, a loud buzzing emanated from somewhere on top of his small kitchen table, causing him to jolt, and involuntarily knock the glass off the counter. As Ronan looked down at the shattered remains of what was one of the last of his remaining few glasses, he heard a familiar moan emit from his bedroom, though it was certainly much groggier than it had sounded the 127


Martin night before. Excellent, he thought to himself, bloody excellent. Carefully tiptoeing around the shattered glass, Ronan went to check and see just who was responsible for the ruining of one of his hard earned drinking glasses. As he looked down at the table, he saw the culprit’s name, followed by her message illuminated on the screen of his phone: Don’t forget. Service is at noon today. St. John’s. Try to wear something nice. Aunt Maggie will be there and you know how she is. –Mom Ronan knew exactly how his aunt Margaret was. He knew she was so senile he could walk in dressed as the pope and she would probably ask for his blessing on her nephew Ronan. Just as he picked up his phone to respond, he heard his bedroom door creak slowly open and out walked his nocturnal playmate. Ronan could tell that she was far worse off than he was. While they were both heavy drinkers in their own regard, Ronan drew the line when it came to substance abuse, a sentiment not shared by his compainion. He could tell that she was still experiencing the effects of a comedown at least to some degree by the fact that she seemed to be holding onto his bedroom door for support and the fact that she was still completely naked, either too 128


underground oblivious or too preoccupied with her body’s deep resentment of the previous night’s choices to care. “Morning Nessa,” Ronan grunted. Nessa simply stared at him for a moment, as if trying to convince herself that it was it was in fact the morning before she eventually responded. “...D’yeh break somethin?” she mumbled at him. Christ, he hated her voice. Even at the level of a hungover mumble it still sounded shrill to him. Ronan found the northern accent to be a bit irritating to begin with, but somehow Nessa Ryan had a way of adding her own personal grating touch to it. Much to his relief, Ronan normally didn’t encounter many people from that neck of the woods in his day to day existence as they tended to keep to their side of the island, but Nessa never was one for conformity. He couldn’t really blame her though; Belfast was a shithole, especially the neighborhood she was from. She was a regular at his nightclub and he usually tried to keep their interactions as free of conversation as he could. If Ronan was honest with himself, he really didn’t like anything about her at all, besides her looks,of course. When he did allow himself to endure a conversation with her, he almost 129


Martin always immediately regretted it. All she ever did was complain, or gossip, or ask him stupid questions he didn’t want to answer. Normally he would have given her the cold shoulder but it had been a rough week and he knew she liked him and frankly, she was there. And there she stood, swaying back and forth in all her pale, naked glory, mouth slightly agape waiting for his response. “Eh, yeah, knocked over a glass, don’t come over here there’s glass all over the fuckin place,” Ronan finally responded. “Ye broke a glass?” she repeated back at him, deadpan expression covering her face. “Yeah, s’what I just told yeh,” he said irritated. She paused for a moment before asking, “The fuck you do tha for?” and raising her eyebrows at him questioningly. “Obviously I didn’t–,” Ronan began before realizing he didn’t have time for a pointless back and forth. He had to get going and he needed her leave. “Look,” he continued, “D’you maybe want ta, ya know, put somethin on, or somethin?” “Put somethin on?” she asked, as if genuinely confused as to what he could possibly be referring 130


underground to. Ronan could see the wheels slowly turning as her mind began to analyze his statement, until finally it seemed to dawn on her. “Ooooh,” she let out softly, looking down at herself as if taking in her body for the first time. “Heh,” She began with a slight chuckle, “S’pose it is a bit nippy in here to have the girls out and about,” she said while playfully fondling her large breasts and retreating back into the bedroom. Okay, that’s step one over, Ronan thought. Provided she didn’t pass out or see a particularly trashy tabloid article on her phone, he could get her out of there and still have time to get ready. Just as he bent down to start picking up the glass off the floor, Nessa walked back into the room, now clothed in his robe. “Ah for fucks sake,” Ronan began, now very irritated, “I didn’t mean my clothes!” “Well mine are dirty!” Nessa exclaimed, sitting herself on his couch. “I think I must’v spilled somethin on em last night. So if ye want this back I’ll have to throw em in the wash.” “Fuck, fine, whatever. Wash is just in that closet,” Ronan said gesturing to the small closet that housed his washing machine and dryer. She really 131


Martin was going to make this difficult, he thought as he again bent down to start picking up the glass that still remained scattered across his kitchen floor. Washing her clothes was going to take at least an hour, but if he was ready and pushed her out the door right when they were done he could still make it down in time. Just as Ronan was beginning to feel some semblance of hope return to him, the familiar scent of cheap cigarettes that permeated every inch of his nightclub suddenly wafted into his nose. But that didn’t make any sense, how the hell could it smell like cigarette smoke in here? The pants he was wearing had been in his room all week and he never smoked much himself. But she did. “The fuck, Nessa?!” Ronan yelled as he stood up from the small minefield of glass shards and looked over to the living room to see her perched on his couch, lit cigarette hanging from her mouth, almost taunting him. “The fuck what?” she casually responded, hitting Ronan again with her famous deadpan eyes. “I told ye a million times last night, ye can’t smoke in here. The old woman that owns this building is adamant about that shit and she’s thrown people out for less, so put that shit out before you get 132


underground me fuckin evicted,” Roman threw back at her angrily. “Aye, ya did, ya did,” Nessa responded with a smile, almost as if remembering a fond memory from her childhood. “Well, eh, I’ve nowhere to put it unless you’d like another hole in the beautiful couch of yours,” she cackled. It was true, Ronan’s couch was old, but it had also been free. Some generous benefactor had left it next to the dumpster behind the nightclub one night, and as Ronan was already a man who hated waste, he was quick to lay claim to it, not that there had been much competition for it amongst the night club staff. She was right though, it was a bit beat up. The upholstery was coming apart in certain places and there were a few tears here and there, but that still didn’t give her the right to make fun of it, let alone burn another hole into it. “Don’t you dare,” Ronan said with a look of true seriousness upon his face. “Just, hold on a second.” He gingerly stepped over the remaining pieces of glass to one of his kitchen cabinets and took out a small bowl and made his way to the living room. “Use this,” he said handing the small blue bowl over to her. 133


Martin “Thanks very much,” she said, quickly rubbing out her cigarette into the bowl’s white porcelain interior. She held the bowl in her hands for a moment, looking it over like a child would a particularly interesting rock or bobble they had found in the woods. “Me mum has bowls just like these. Did your mum give you these? Seems like the kind of bowls older ladies would have ye know?” Nessa asked him genuinely. “Uhm, yeah, actually, I think so,” Ronan said as he turned towards the adjacent wall to switch on the ceiling fan in the hopes of clearing out some of the smoke that had already begun to settle in a haze throughout the living room. “D’ye look like your mum?” Nessa asked, still holding the bowl of ash in her hand. “Ye haven’t any pictures of her, or anyone really anywhere.” “Eh, I mean, not really. Same eyes I s’pose. That’s about it.” Ronan responded, slightly taken aback by the question as he made his way back into the kitchen in the hopes of finally completing his task. “Why haven’t ye any pictures?” she piped up again from the kitchen. 134


underground “What?” Ronan responded. “Pictures,” she continued, “Ye haven’t got any. None, actually, of any real people at least. ‘Cept for those lads with the guitars yelling at people. That’s a bit weird don’t ye think? Everyone’s got pictures. You come over to my flat, there’s pictures all over the fuckin place. Me, mum, da, cousins, aunties, friends, all over the fuckin place. Now I know I’m a girl and all but still, every other flat I go into’s got pictures. ‘Cept for yours. Why’s that?” she asked at him with her head cocked to one side. He had pictures. A few albums of them actually. All filled with pictures that likely would have pleased Nessa. Pictures of himself as a kid, relatives, his mom, and his dad. That was precisely why he didn’t want them up, and why he had left them at his mother’s home when he had moved out years ago. They all represented the past, back when his father was still around, and back when Ronan was still a fool. Now more than ever he didn’t want to see those pictures. But all he would tell her was, “I dunno, I just... just don’t have any. S’not that weird. I’m sure not everyone has pictures.” “Well, d’you look like your dad?” she threw back at him. 135


Martin “No,” he answered curtly. In fact, he looked exactly like his father. Same round face, same build, same everything for the most part, except for the eyes. Except Ronan’s father had let himself go right after Ronan was born, a mistake Ronan was sure not to repeat. Nessa could clearly tell she had touched a nerve, but as was her nature, she pressed on. “Did ye have a fallin out?” she asked him. Ronan let out a sigh, his back still facing her. Maybe he should just tell her. It might get her out of his apartment quicker. What did he care if she knew, as long as she left? “Did he hit ye? Is that it?” she asked with voice like she was asking for the time. “I know what that’s like. Me da used to come home pissed of his arse every other week and smack me and me mum around until he passed out. Then he’d get up and leave the next day and we wouldn’t see him till he needed a shower or money. That what your da was like?” Ronan was taken aback for a moment. Nessa had probably told him a thousand stories about the various bits of mischief she and her girlfriends got up to when she lived in Belfast, but he had never once 136


underground asked her about her family. Here she was, all of a sudden, opening up to him like this. She did seem to care. The least he could do was offer her the same. “No,” he said. “He never laid a hand on me. Or me mum. He... ” Ronan paused for a moment before continuing, “He was obsessed with eh, with gambling. Bet on everything. Always convinced he’d make it big. It’s not like we needed more money, we weren’t livin in luxury but we weren’t livin like knackers either ya know? But I s’pose that wasn’t good enough for him. Apparently he got involved with these real estate fellas who said if he gave them a lump sum they could turn it around and he’d make it three times back. Well, to no one’s fuckin surprise they scarpered the second he gave them the cash and that was that. He’d given them almost everything. When I found out what he did, I... I just left. Couldn’t stand the sight of him. Went to live with my Aunt Maggie until her health gave way. By then I was old enough to make it on my own.” “I’m sorry, Ronan. That’s a shameful thing t’ do. Have you ever talked to h–” she started. “He’s dead,” Ronan stated bluntly. “Last week, actually. Heart attack. Never looked after himself. The service is today, and it’s all the way 137


Martin down in Nenagh, so I’m actually in a bit of a rush this morning.” “Ah Jesus, Ronan, I’m sorry,” Nessa said sincerely. “If ye’d told me, I’d have got a move on quicker, I’m-I’m really sorry,” she said awkwardly, unsure of what to do with herself. “It’s fine,” he said, almost a little too loudly, and bent back down, back still facing her, to retrieve what was left of the glass. As he scoured the ground for the last of the shards, he suddenly felt a pair of small, cold hands drape themselves over his shoulders. He was greeted with the smell Nessa’s perfume mixed with the scent of her cheap cigarettes as he felt her lean her head on his back. This was not what he wanted. “It’s fine,” he said as he quickly stood up, forcing her to back off and stand as well. “Really, I don’t give a shit. He was a shit father and died because he was a fat fuck who didn’t care enough to stick around. Not that it would have mattered anyway.” “So why go?” Nessa asked him. “What?” Ronan turned around, taken aback. “I mean if he was a shit father like you said, 138


underground why go t’the funeral? Sounds to me like he did a number on ye, so why go? What right does he have to inflict grief on you, ya know?” she asked him, eyes suddenly serious and full of concern. “I... ” Ronan began. But he couldn’t think of anything to say. Why was he going? He had spent so many years trying to distance himself from the memory of that man, and now he was just going to run back to his hometown to commemorate him. But just as he was about to give some excuse about moral obligations he didn’t really feel, a sharp pain shot up through the bottom of Ronan’s foot. “Fuck!” he exclaimed. He lifted up his leg and held his foot in one hand. Sure enough, a piece of glass about an inch long was protruding from the bottom of Ronan’s foot. The pain was excruciating, but he knew it had to come out. Ronan’s hand shook and he gritted his teeth as he slowly pulled the piece of glass out from his foot and threw it in the trash. The floodgates had been opened, and blood began to flow out from him and drip onto the floor. “Jesus,” Nessa said, eyes widening at the sight of the blood that began to flow out of his foot. “Well come on, let’s get ye to the tub before the floors ruined.” 139


Martin With Nessa’s help, Ronan hobbled over to his small bathroom and sat on the edge of the bathtub. He stuck his foot under the faucet and turned on the water. Ice cold, as usual, but it helped to distract him from the pain of the cut. “Ronan, that a nasty cut,” Nessa said, sounding almost worried. “Ye might need to go get some stitches. Really.” “Yeah, maybe,” he said, staring down into the tub. Despite the pain, he was still thinking about what she had said. Why was he going to this funeral? Why was he going to honor a man who had never cared? Nessa was probably right about his foot, and it would be a reasonable excuse not to go. Not that anyone in his family, especially his mother, could really blame him in the first place for not attending. He looked down at the river of water mixed with his own blood flowing down the drain. Even if he put his hand into it, the water still worked its way around his fingers, continuing its constant flow. Life would keep going, the same as it ever had, even if he didn’t go. No one would judge him. Nothing would matter if he simply did nothing. His father probably wouldn’t have even gone to his own funeral, couldn’t have cared less. And that was exactly why Ronan had to 140


underground go. If he wanted to be different, he had to act. “I’ll get it looked at once I get back,” Ronan said looking up at Nessa with a small smile. “Well, if you see your mum, ask her to give ye a few pictures,” she said with a laugh. “Make the place a bit less depressing.” And he would.

141


Stubborn to a Fault Linda Tran

Junior, English-Creative Writing www.goodreads.com/lindaytran Instagram: @lindatrantran blossomsandbooks.tumblr.com/

Ron screams at the top of his lungs, far more than his vocal chords can handle. His pale lips are chapped and broken, tiny discolored flakes are hanging on with the tenacity of a mountain climber fearing for his death. “None of your business, Grace! Go away!” It’s more of a roar this time. Grace, his elder sister, steps forward to the queen bed Ron is lying on. She’s furious at the disrespect. Furious at being shunned for trying to help. She clenches her hands, long ruby nails digging into her large palms. He’s only thirteen, what does he know?! Their grandmother sits on the edge, facing Grace. Her face is worn and wrinkly, and her hazel eyes are drooping. She shakes her head. 142


underground “Leave him,” Grandmother says. “He’ll regret it later.” She struggles to get up and goes into the adjoining bathroom. Grace wants to get her last words in. “Not eating your dinner because it has black pepper on it is pathetic,” she seethes. *** “Ron! Bring your bowl down to the sink,” Grace calls. She scrubs at a plate with a dried, hardened speck of rice stuck on it. She bends her thumb, using her nail to force it off. She hopes she doesn’t break it down to the root. Someone probably crazy-glued it as a prank. No, Grace thinks as sweat builds on her temple. No one in this house would have the time or energy to play pranks. After five minutes, Grace finally scrapes the sticky bastard off while her thumb pulses in overexertion. She then notices that Ron hasn’t come downstairs with his bowl. Irritation festers in her chest. Grace turns the chrome faucet on and washes her plate. She thinks of Ron’s hollow cheeks and skinny arms that flap around in anger whenever 143


Tran someone tells him to do something repeatedly. So she doesn’t call him a second time. She’s had it with him. *** Ron asks Grace to help him with his math homework. She’s curled on her flowery bedspread, a red hardcover book in her hands. Grace’s eyes roam over a few more sentences before rolling over and looking up at him. Her dark hair falls over her eyes, the top mussed from lying down. She looks like she could use some sleep. Ron is standing there, waiting for a response. He minds, but he doesn’t mind that Grace never answers him immediately. She doesn’t even say ‘yes’ when he asks to use her computer, just raises her eyebrows like a breath isn’t even worth wasting on him. Ron never gave it a thought at first, but the Grace that loved to hold him, (Grandmother told him one rare night when Grace was asleep by eleven), and peck all over his cheeks when he was two-months-old to four-years-old was gone. She is almost cold now. She is here right in front of him looking tired, yet serene. But detached in every way, especially in her eyes. Grace flips a page with her sky blue nail and 144


underground opens her mouth, “What’s on it?” *** Grace knows she’s a bitch to her own brother. Her reasoning is that he’s irrational. And stubborn. Has been since little. However, he was also smacked in the head a lot intentionally. Their father was semi-abusive and emotionally detached. He left them when Grace turned sixteen, Ron eight—though Grace prefers to ignore the statistics of their broken family and pretend they didn’t have any problems at all. It’s worked for her so far. But when she’s staring at Ron’s tiny figure scrunched over his desk, working out problem number six with exponents, the regret slowly grows larger in her heart. She should be more sympathetic and understanding. Be the big sister that’s always caring when their mother is away at work to keep them sheltered and fed. Be less of a bitch. Grace stubbornly lets some of the vines caging her heart uncurl. She shakily reaches out to rest her hand on top of Ron’s brown head. Ron slowly removes it. With a twist of his mouth that reassures Grace of not angering him, he turns in his seat and asks her, “What are you doing?” Opening my heart, she thinks. 145


Tran smile.

“Just messin’ with you,” she says with a weak

It’s the best she can do right now. *** There is a permanent spider web on the living room flat screen. It’s in the lower right corner, shimmering with neglect. The remote lies face down on the floor under it. Ron slumps on the dust-colored reclining chair across the room, his tiny body a pathetic comparison to it. A dark periwinkle settles under his eyes, leaving them bulging against his also tiny face. Grandmother and Grace stand in the middle, under a tiny gold chandelier. “Your mother’s going to kill you,” Grandmother warns Ron. He looks away, lips in a tight line. Grace sucks her teeth. “You’re done for.” “Shut up, Grace! I didn’t do anything.” Ron scowls and slumps further. His hands ball into fists. Grandmother and Grace glance at each other. “Then who did it?” “Not me.” Ron jumps up, kicks the recliner, and stalks past the two people he is getting sick of. 146


underground *** “Grace, just give in this one time. He’s stubborn, you know that.” Grandmother is pleading with her from the bathroom. I’ve given in more than a thousand times, Grace thinks. Grace is stubborn, too. She’s his older sister, so why should she be getting a cup of Coke for him? He has two working legs. He’s thirteen. Yet he acts like a baby! “Grace!” Grandmother shouts and coughs. She sounds past irritated. Grace is afraid the bathroom door will get knocked down soon. She stomps down the stairs, muttering profanities, and growls when some Coke spills over the kitchen counter and onto her white cotton shirt. *** Grace waits by the stairs, tapping her heeled boot impatiently. Ron jumps down from the last step, sliding on his socks to the front door. It was a small distance, but a thrilling ride. He laughs when he sees his sister’s amused face that makes her pleasant to look at. Grace chuckles, “You ready, Sliding Boy?” 147


Tran She jangles her car keys. Ron bends over to slip his sneakers on. “No, Slider Man! That can be my superhero name!” He stands up and Grace reaches out to straighten his blue Detroit Lions wool hat. Ron flashes her a brilliant smile with baby teeth he should have lost already. “How can you be a superhero if you don’t eat?” Grace asks playfully. Ron lifts his arms up in surrender, “Fine! I’ll eat and drink a glass of milk every day. Okay?” Grace grins, “Okay, Slider Boy.” *** Grace notices the purple bags under Ron’s eyes are fading. *** “How many times do I have to tell you to turn the TV off if you’re not going to watch it?” Grace swipes the remote from the bed and angrily pushes the power-off button. Ron’s growl comes out more ferocious than a pack of hungry bears. “Just because I wasn‘t watching it doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening to it!” he shouts—the under of his eyes suddenly turn darker. 148


underground “You were sleeping!” Grace shouts back, a hand on her hip—the other dangling with the remote. “You don’t know anything!” With his small body, Ron is able to shoot up from the bed in an instant and rip the remote from Grace. Grace’s jaw slackens. Ron doesn’t care. She can go cry about it like she does at night when everyone’s sleeping. *** Ron isn’t professionally diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but Grace looked it up on Google and she is sure that Ron has it. Very sure. Erratic behavior, stubborn, temper tantrums, self-centered. Is she going to take Ron to the doctor to make sure it’s ADHD? There is no point when she’s very sure. *** Ron imagines shoving the both of them off a cliff. Into the ocean. The abyss. Out of the house. Onto the street. In front of cars. Down a hill. Into a creek. Over a pond of mud. And let them roll like pigs. Let them dirty themselves so they wouldn’t be allowed in their own house. Let them nag at themselves. 149


Tran *** Ron notices Grace’s perpetual scowl has lightened the past three days. The lines of her beige face have softened. Her chestnut hair is tangle-free and shinier than ever. Her tone towards him remains soft, and when he deserves to be scolded, it is firm but never louder than the birds’ constant chirping outside the kitchen’s back window. Grace finally looks like she’s twenty-two. Grandmother also still makes sure to remind Ron to do everything he needs to do. It sparks irritation inside of Ron, but he forces himself to clamp his mouth shut and say, “Okay.” *** “Don’t talk back to me!” “But you never listen!” Grace yells, tears choking in her throat. Her silver nails dig into her thighs. Grandmother is the boss of the house. Grandmother makes the decisions, has been ever since she moved in after Grace’s father left. But Grace can’t stand that she has no control over her own life. “I don’t have to listen to you.” “But Yale, Grandm—” Grace tastes the salt on her bottom lip. 150


underground “Too expensive. You’d be better off at a local college.” Grandmother doesn’t bat an eye and proceeds to slip on pink rubber gloves to wash the oily dishes. “I’ll take out loans!” “You’ll ruin your life with loans.” Grandmother turns to face her, eyes hard and unmoving. “Stop crying. I know what’s best for you.” No you don’t, Grace cries. *** “I think he’s sick in the head,” Grandmother says. She sits on a green and blue striped folding chair, hands folded together, ankles crossed and to the side. Like a royal. Grandmother’s lips frown, and Grace’s stomach churns in what she thinks is guilt. “Is he?” Grace asks, leaning on the glass door that led to the backyard deck. Grace hasn’t told anyone about the ADHD. She believes it’s not as horrible as the internet’s exaggeration. It can be fixed quietly. She just needs to be softer with Ron. Be more attentive. He’ll see her sweet side and be sweet back. He’ll learn and mature with her. “He just knocked over his plate of spaghetti because I got him too much. Of course he is!” 151


Tran Grandmother parts her hands, curls and uncurls them. She’s ticked, but doesn’t want to show it. “He’s just like his father. Doesn’t give a shit about anyone else.” Grace cringes at the horrid accusation. *** Grace believes she is the replica of her father, minus the physical abuse. She cries because she knows it’s true. She has his tainted blood in her. She has his horrible, horrible traits. She’s selfish. She wants more than she can have. She’s lazy, and good for nothing. She can’t control her temper. She’s greedy, cold, and unloving. She’s not perfect like she wants to be. Instead, she’s worthless. To everyone. Grace clasps her hands over her mouth to muffle her sobs. She pulls her knees up, feet dragging across the bedspread, and drops her head between them. The force of her body involuntarily shaking makes her tears fall more violently. She wants to scream until her throat’s hoarse. She wants to ask the world, “What did I do to deserve this?” What unforgivable sin did I commit in my previous life? *** 152


underground Ron barely remembers his father. He can only recall the instantaneous pain in the back of his head when he hopped from one dining chair to another. When he stood on the living room coffee table. When he didn’t get up off the couch in time when told to go finish his homework. Even at thirteen, Ron’s memory is blurry when it comes to his father’s image. So every time his father is brought up as a topic of heated discussion between Grandmother and Grace (Ron counts, on average, 7 times a day, 49 times per week, 196 times per month, 2,352 times per year; about 11,760 times in total for the past five years), he doesn’t know what to feel about him. Hate for being abusive? Love for being his biological father? Ron doesn’t have an opinion. He’s too confused that he thinks of his father on his own about only 200 times per year. *** She stops sniffling when she hears her bedroom door open quietly. “Gracie?” Ron whispers through the dark. A flicker of warmth fills Grace’s heart when she hears what baby Ron used to call her. 153


Tran “What, Ronnie?” Her mouth curls. He giggles and closes the door. His footsteps are light, but still heavy enough to cause creaking across the fake hardwood floor. Grace wipes her face with the crumpled tissue in her hand. She doesn’t care that it has some dried snot in it. She can’t let Ron see a single tear, dried or wet. She needs him to see her strong. The side of the bed dips and Grace barely makes out Ron’s small frame against the filtered moonlight. Her eyes are puffy and it hurts to keep them open. “What can I do?” Ron asks. To make you stop crying. Grace shakes her head. Nothing. She sees Ron’s shoulders slump in disappointment. There she goes again, only thinking about herself. Always shutting her own brother out and making him feel useless. It breaks her whole self and tears begin to spill again. Grace lets out a gasp and raises her arms out to Ron. She shuts her eyes and feels his head fit into the crook of her neck. “I’m sorry,” her voice warbles against his mop hair. Grace finally feels warm. And loved. Not 154


underground alone anymore. “Don’t be, Gracie,” Ron says. He realizes Grace isn’t as far away as he thought she was.

155


Inaccessible Cassandra Stanton

Junior, English (Creative Writing)

You ease into the driver’s seat buckling in reflex. Somehow the belt feels restricting against your chest rather than securing. You take heed of the rain beating down behind you, and reach for your glasses suspended from the visor mirror. [Music] You leave the garage at a poor angle, nearly hitting the stonewall to your left and curse as you adjust direction and relive each innumerable time you’d done this, were you ten years and four days younger it’d be a snake giving the wall its purpose. You note how natural the motion of backing up a car feels and consider the transition from unfamiliar to ordinary. [Reflection of gaining a habit] [Slight commentary then crash] Children must find the thought uncomfortably foreign, having control of such a committedly responsive beast. You think about 156


underground maneuvering a plane to relate, but you can’t because you know sensibly you never will. Imaginations are funny to you; they’re meant to be void of boundaries, yet reality forces its practicality refusing the senses access to fantastical heights. Three songs have come bearing their lyrical rhetoric and gone leaving whispered residue. You’re on the highway before the fourth. Rainwater has muted the familiar colors and sounds of your advancing motion. The windshield wiper’s refusal to fall into rhythm with your music instead mimics throbs of percussion, like those during a sacrifice. Your rearview mirror is angled to allow your reflection to meet its own gaze, usually for casual self encounters, but today you glance up to the right with stares of scrutiny. Your hands are numb from the vibrations caused by the steering wheel, which shakes due to axel misalignment, another petty malfunction you refuse to address. You feel a little nudge in your mind wanting to crave cigarettes while in the car and picture yourself smoking with the windows down despite the rain. You like the image—it’s familiar and foreign in the moment. You think of past trips you’d done so, allowed yourself the aromatic vice, so you 157


Stanton wonder further about where you’d been going and how you felt during those moments. [Triumphantly thoughtless you inhale and exhale while humming. You drive hurriedly as you have some place to be and yourself to live up to. Your mind ignores the rush, focuses momentarily to wordlessly address the grey sky. You check the rearview mirror but pay little attention to the singing, preoccupied reflection of a mindfully sound you] You feel unsure, too absorbed in today’s journey. Now, your smokeless throat is tight with tart uncertainty, something waiting unplanned in route. You glance again into the mirror, as it seems the same three songs have come and gone again. You see something in the expression on your face and scrutinize a moment longer than intended. You don’t like the benefit of pity or that of self-doubt. So when your heart reacts before your foot. When breaking becomes an ancient notion as somehow you’ve already made contact with the large sedan you’d been following. Your hands throttle the wheel most unfortunately, permitting physics to force your car over the railing on your 158


underground right. The airbag resists reaction, allowing a clear line of sight for the next few seconds. Your heart is audible, the same percussion, the sacrifice yours. Deep below your fear, your imagination perks up trying to anticipate how to feel. You panic realizing your imagination is being stifled by your senses. You have no foundation to anticipate how you will feel once the water below is penetrated. Unable to empathize with the look and feel of being submerged, willing to no avail. You instead picture a fish tank on wheels, humans with heads in clear bags. You give up thought; water and bumper united ten blinks ago. Unnatural awareness blinds your eyes, threads into your nose–bites off your fingertips, lacerates your tongue, annihilates your ears. Consciousness ebbs. Your mind creates an image of you. You see yourself in the driver’s seat below. You’re steering calmly and looking straight up into the air. You peer down at yourself staring up while the sensation of falling greets both selves of you. His greeting sounds faintly like a toaster you’d once met.

[A moment earlier] 159


Stanton You’re laughing hard enough to notice release, so you revel in your surroundings. The room’s not lit but six or so bulbs, the white walls dance from black paintings and movement. Certain moments catch when someone’s shadow aligns with a painted silhouette, one slightly human until the face, whose expression reoccurs thrice. Three tawdry grimaces under a bouquet of upturned noses. Six eyes all managing to look both straight or shoot in six directions. Four feet off the ground the table hits higher on your body than you’re used to. Leaning forward over your elbows, ass to calves, you’re close to three unique faces. One is Nick, he’s farthest away, perched across from you diagonally. A face fittingly narrow for such lanky gait moves about also in laughter. Around his mouth sprouts sandy hairs like flaccid cacti spars, appearing in all the places a cowboy’d wear them. Will’s a warmth on your right, stocky but limber in gesture, his eyes trace laughter chiseled with amber. What about the fourth? Nick speaks suddenly, reliving something from memory and soon you’re laughing at something he just said about yesterday’s tonight. The four of you neglected sleep and went to the bridge on Cheshire. The paneling looked 160


underground strangely new as either white end curled towards and mimicked the moon, a vertical smile that’d gained enthusiasm as you approached it. Will had gone ahead and stood before the group with his back facing the bridge, hands gripped the white rope railing. His cadence shifted as he spoke in the only voice you could summon to mind when you afterwards considered how a peevish bridge would sound, “Hey, hey kids, on the other side of my mouth there’s loads of candy, just cross and give my railing a handy.” The voice had been too heinous not to laugh, pervy and breathy, idiotically nostalgic like you’d met this fucking bridge before; a perk of Will’s friendship had been basking in his flair for nailing personas destined within inanimate items. You dreamt exclusively in kitchen appliances once [twice]. You snickered and coughed, while the other two, Nick being one, fell into fits over this side of Will they’d yet to witness. You stood next to Will and waited for quiet to offer your own monologue for the wooden grimace; “Seeking meta-deep throat into the waters all I need: one human sacrifice to choke me out.” You opted for a robotic tone, sexually maniacal. Your awkward attempts at being crude usually garnered laughter. 161


Stanton Has someone done that to you before? The laughter began as Nick attempted his own take on the strange bridge-mouth they’d found, he’d sat up straighter and took on a noble accent, “All aboard the Shrink to the Future ray, next stop, a ride on the preteen mouth of George Washington, wooden braces and all!” His complete lack of sense and dorky delivery had you cackling, a laughter familiar yet sticky with unaccounted time. [Who’s are you hearing, your mouth isn’t open] You kept up a smile as you leaned back from the table, burning to turn and face the face. The body retained its original dwarfishness but its three faces seemed less cohesive. In disagreement with one another, a feud on shared flesh. It’s a wall and laced with paint, either wood or concrete, where’s combatting flesh? You got up from the table wordlessly, your extremities all felt detached. The bathroom mirror a beacon, you head straight to the toilets hoping solidarity with yourself will level out the chaos in your [our] organs. Once the door closes and eyes of the same face meet the weightlessness ceases. 162


underground You get one last glimpse of yourself to meet a look beyond inquiry, one of sterile hardness. Sterilized you’re closer but the water still seems cold. [Tubes for throat and cotton gums, a robotic voice reminds you]

163


Stardust Anastasia Jones

Junior, English (Creative Writing)

The dusk burned the clouds. The sun’s image dripped across the ocean to tickle my toes; its form gasped and wheezed over the water’s white caps. As I maneuvered through fields of fragmented shells November wind whipped aimlessly at my hair as if the strands had personally insulted it. After traversing the beach’s self-defenses, I sat in the sand, watching the sun saunter closer to the horizon. My lip drew into my mouth as anticipation gnawed at my insides. The sun’s glow whispered its final traces against the vast space before the water gulped it down below the horizon. Washes of honey and grape took the sun’s place, welcoming the landscape’s oncoming scorched edges. My eyes flew up to the sky. Breath flickered between my parted lips as my nails dug into my arms. The atmosphere’s color chased down the sun’s path. I was alone. 164


underground The soaked sand was an unforgiving seat, and the waves’ percussion vied for my attention. Always on cue, always in time, the ocean poured itself against the shore with the intent to drag the sharp shell fragments and myself down into the navy abyss. As my eyes adjusted, the moon hummed to life, content to exist as backdrop for the real show. The stars breathed into existence, each one more brilliant than the last. I fell back against the sand with a dull smack. My body went slack, and I shuddered at the sight. Worlds upon worlds shined bright above my quivering lashes. Aldebaran burned idly in the eye of the bull as the powerful animal charged across the scene. Bellatrix and Betelgeuse sat loyally on Orion’s shoulders, guiding the warrior to his new adventures. If I had brought my telescope, I’d see more. I’d know more. I’d feel more. I closed my eyes, wishing to join the stars more than anything; the naked eye could only take me so far. I envisioned the sky as I’d seen it—more ravishing than any painter’s spilled palette could hope to portray. The pads of my fingers rubbed minute circles into the sand, trying to stimulate the atmosphere 165


Jones around me. The gritty substance collected between my fingers, and I imagined I held dwarf stars, cold and pale with death.

166


underground Capture Malik Gill

Junior, English

They shoot the white girl first. They save you for last. She kneels down on the frigid ground. The miniature rocks altered by weather and construction begin to burn her knee caps, but she ignores the torture for what could be her final moments. You watch her as she trembles with trepidation. Three large intimidating men dressed in dark clothing approach her. They do not see you yet but you can imagine their cold eyes locking in on you through the small slits of their ski masks. They yell at her and draw their guns. Three Colt .45’s. She pleads for mercy frantically as they aim at her. “I’ll give you anything. Please!” “Shut up, Lady!” the ringleader shouts. The goons snatch her shiny purse, and shove her to the ground. The ringleader rummages through her purse, moving everything around to make sure he wasn’t passing on any valuables. The white girl is still being held at gun point. They pull 167


Gill out an expensive looking wallet from her purse, and drop it inside of a black bag. You suddenly begin to shake. You know you will be next. You and the white girl were brought here together. You hear her scream underneath the explosive gunfire. She crashes to the ground, permanently. The goons exchange looks at one another, and end up looking at the ringleader for confirmation. He signals for them to leave with the nod of his head. They run towards a smokey grey van. You sigh at length. You start to shake even harder now as your hands become warm and clammy. You think about the white girl. You stare at her, uncertainty wearing your face. She is still. Blood flows from her mouth. The goons hurriedly pack into their suspicious van. The bumper is a bit crooked and there is a chipped window. The front passenger window. The license plate number sticks with you. AGL2548. You become very frustrated now, knowing you already have enough to remember. You were forced to remember your grocery list from the night before that totaled up to $76.35, the right amount of sugar and cream for your morning coffee. And those lines. Even what you wanted to wear today. You instead had to settle for an outfit that was more 168


underground comfortable but less fashionable. You rest your face in the palms of your clammy hands. The engine roars and a light smoke fills the air as the men pull away from the scene. The man standing behind the high powered video camera yells, “Cut.� The white girl stands again, coming back to life, and you take her spot in front of the lens for your audition.

169


Addiction Savannah Elder

Junior, English Journalism (Minor)

I walked home from work today with a dragon following the whole way. I didn’t feel that he was a threat. He seemed curious to see what path I took to get where I was going. I hadn’t noticed his presence until I made it out of the building onto the streets. I saw first the shadow of his head. His horns grew with the nature of my path, whether I was to walk fast or slow. When I changed the direction of my path, his shadow showed his nose elongated outwards to the side, and his mouth slowly opened exposing the cast of his teeth. I realized that this was now my opportunity to embrace the creature’s presence since it seemed I was not to rid him by simple disregard. When I turned to look at the dragon directly, his eyes were bright and playful. He shifted his stance and a certain melody played with each shift in his step; the sound of bells, but with a charismatic tune which then lightened my stare 170


underground towards the creature’s company. I immediately relaxed, and continued to walk. His nostrils filled with smoke at crosswalks. He exhaled as we crossed the streets and his body slowly sashayed through the people coming the opposite direction. People gawked at the sultry movements of his head and tail. The head seemed to flow upwards then gracefully fall down, as if he was nodding to each passerby. His body curled to follow down through the midsection of his belly, and when his chest dipped his tail rose. He was truly magnificent. We walked two miles with him always behind me. Upon arrival at my house, his breath had stifled and his eyes batted with sleepiness. I turned around before entering the front door to confront my visitor. “Go home,” I tried to coo to him like a dog that needed to find its master—mostly in a way as to try not to offend the creature. Its head tilted and the mouth opened into a faint smile. I thought about the size of my apartment. There was no way that a thing that large could have entered into my abode. More 171


Elder importantly, I wondered why I was even considering such. The bells chimed at the turn of the lock. I looked behind me saying again, “Go home.” Smoke eerily seeped out of its nostrils. Now, I was beginning to be worried. I didn’t want to enrage it. I just wanted to go inside my house. So, I let myself in hoping it would not follow. I entered my apartment which oozed a sort of ambiance that I couldn’t quite address right then. I set my stuff down without looking back to see if the dragon had made its way into the full proximity of the living room. I quickly paced my way to the bathroom to take a shower. The steam rose in the bathroom quickly. It was rather hot in my apartment, but I was freezing. The water couldn’t have gotten hotter any faster. I was desperate to clear my head. Ever since entering the apartment, my body became sluggish and my heart wouldn’t stop racing. I thought about calling for help or reaching out to a friend but the dragon was still in my apartment. I closed my eyes while lifting my head up to the stream of the water falling from the faucet. The steam reached down into my lungs pulling out the 172


underground heaviness in my chest. My eyes began to clear behind the lids. My heart slowed to a regular beat. My ears tuned the water falling into a melodic whisper that my mind was happy to be listening to. My thoughts were quiet. Then, the bells chimed. First, quietly. Next, with fever. The bells danced so quickly they were no longer pleasant. The sound was ringing and the steam pressure in the bathroom began to illuminate the volume and bass of the sounds by wrapping each note into its clouds. My ears screamed for it to stop. My mouth was silent and my eyes were unable to open. I snatched open the shower curtain to jump out and escape the noise. I blindly raced out of the bathroom into my bedroom and jumped into my bed covering my whole body with the blankets and pillows. Tears streamed down my face as I begged to practically nothing, no one, that it should have stopped.

173


Searching for Freedom Aya S. Burroughs

Junior Middle Level Education (Social studies and Language Arts) ayasimone.tumblr.com Instagram: @knowitsgoodfest Twitter: @knowitsgoodfest

I lifted my head towards my mama when I heard her chuckling all of a sudden. I shielded my eyes from the sun in order to get a better look at her. “What are you laughing about?” I asked her. “Oh, nothing,” she managed to say in between giggles. “You’re laughing about something. Look at you! You’re turning red by trying to hold it in.” “Turn around and look at your daddy. He’s over there,” she pointed towards the shoreline. I rolled over and sat up just in time to see my daddy struggling to get away from someone’s dog. Mama and I instantly burst into laughter. It was obvious to us that the dog was harmless, but I 174


underground guarantee that daddy was imagining him as a vicious mutt. “The damn guy will scale a high-rise to clean the windows, but he’s afraid of a dog that’s smaller than him,” my mama was still laughing. “I don’t get it.” I rolled back onto my stomach and propped my head on my hands. I continued reading Gulliver’s Travels while I buried my feet in the sand. *** I opened my eyes and was reluctant to believe that what I had dreamed was not my reality. The warmth on my feet as I wriggled my toes into the sand; the cool, salty air that my lungs relished; the rushing sound of the waves as they crashed onto the shore and slowly receded—it was fading. All of the memories were fading now that I had been brought back into this room that I should’ve left years ago. I sighed and turned my head towards the window. It was overcast, and there were rain droplets planted on the glass. The wind was howling. Typical, I thought to myself. It’s like this stupid town only has two seasons: cold and snowy, or not-so-cold and rainy. I sat up in bed to stretch out my arms and 175


Burroughs back when I heard a loud THUD coming from downstairs and a shriek following short after. I quickly swung my legs out of the bed and grabbed my robe before leaving the room. I ran down the stairs two steps at a time and sloppily covered myself up before reaching the bottom. I could smell something burning. Was there food forgotten in the oven, or maybe on top of the stove? I turned towards the kitchen and hollered, “Mama?! Mama?!” I had the notion that maybe she had fallen over and died. I lingered on that thought more than I would willingly admit to anyone. When I entered the kitchen I saw my mama on all fours scooping spilled pancake mix with her bare hands. The runny mixture was falling through her fingers although she desperately wanted it back into the tin bowl. I grabbed a nearby towel and walked towards the sink to moisten it. “Mama, stop. Let me handle this now.” I hated seeing my mama like this. Years ago I would have never seen her make a silly mistake like this. She would have known not to pour too much milk into the mixture. She would have known to use a larger bowl. She would not be on her knees helpless 176


underground and always in need of my care. She stood up and moved towards the oven grumbling under her breath that she’s been cooking before I was able to wipe my own ass. I rolled my eyes at her when she wasn’t looking. Mama opened the oven door, and I was instantly reminded of the burning smell of food. Crap! I thought. I rose to pull out the pan before she singed her frail hands. “Mama, use a towel before touching hot things! Please move. Go sit down over there.” She sat down at the kitchen table and after a few minutes asked, “Is the egg casserole overdone?” “It’s burned, mama.” “Damn. Well save it anyhow. You know he’ll eat it.” I looked at her as she wiped her hands clean with some napkins. I was not going to tell her again that daddy had died two years ago. The memory of seeing her doubled over crying and refusing to eat for several days was a constant reminder to keep my mouth shut. It escaped her mind after about a month, but the images have stuck with me. It would have pained daddy to see mama in such despair. He would have been so disappointed to know that I had broken his promise. 177


Burroughs *** “Daddy, do you think I should order a smaller gown or not? I don’t want to look fatter than I actually am.” Without peeling his eyes from the KOMO 4 news, he replied, “Hannah, you look nice. Don’t start taking those diet pills the models are pushing on you kids. Macaroni is good for ya.” I rolled my eyes. “I’m not taking any diet pills.” I moved to stand in front of the television. “You didn’t even look at me. What do you think?” He gave me that gap-tooth smile that I loved. “I’m proud of ya, kid. Me and your mama are both truly proud.” “Thanks, daddy.” He opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the phone ringing. He told me to hold on a minute as he struggled to get up from the couch. I told him to relax, as I was closest to the phone anyhow. “You’re a sweet girl. Where’s the real Hannah?!” He was laughing hysterically at his tired-old joke when I answered the phone. 178


underground “Hello?” “Hey, it’s Rodney. Where’s the ole’ Fisher at this evening?” “Sitting in front of the TV, of course.” “Ha! I guess I could’ve answered that one myself.” We both laughed. “Can you pass along the message that I’ll be in town this weekend for a job?” Rodney asked. “Yeah, of course. He’ll be stoked to see you.” “By the way, your dad told me you’ll be graduating in two weeks. How about that? Congratulations.” “Thank you! And yes, I am so excited.” “Have you decided where you’d like to go to school?” he asked. “I’m deciding between either the University of California or Stanford University. The problem is that Stanford is so expensive! But I would really—” Rodney cut me off, “Wait. You’re still planning to go to California?” Why wouldn’t I be going? I thought to myself. “Of course, Rodney. That’s my dream.” “But who’s going to take care of your mama if your dad... when your dad... ” he sounded like he 179


Burroughs was choking up. What the hell is he talking about? I asked myself. I could hear him shifting around on the other line. His tone had changed when he said, “Well, uhh, look. You already have a lot to deal with considering your mother’s condition. And now this shit with your father and all. It’s not fair, man! But you better believe that I’ll be helping out as much as possible.” “Rodney, what are you talking about? What about daddy?” There was a long pause before he responded, “Aw man. I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this. I really shouldn’t. The ole’ man’s got way too much pride. He’s got a tumor on his heart, Hannah, and it’s only been growing. Dammit! The man could die next month and he didn’t even tell you? Shoot, I want to say he told me back in November, maybe mid December. Definitely before Christmas... ” As Rodney was figuring out a definitive timeline of when daddy announced the news to him, I was staring at him from the kitchen doorway. Mama had taken her place beside him on the couch. 180


underground He was stroking her hair while he talked to her. The phone was clutched in my sweaty palms. My heart was pounding, and my breath was sparse. I hung up the phone. I forced myself to move my legs. Daddy asked without facing me, “Who was it, Hannah? Tell ‘em if they’re selling, we ain’t buying.” I quietly said, “It was Rodney.” Mama, obviously unaware, gave a wide smile and said, “Oh, Rodney! How nice.” The tone of my voice alarmed daddy so he turned to look in my direction. He was instantly aware of the pain that I was feeling. He always knew exactly how mama and I felt just by looking at us. He looked into my eyes with so much grief, and the only thing that he could say was, “When has Rodney ever kept true to his word? He still owes me fifty bucks from a bet he lost.” Mama moved to get up from the couch. She said, “Well let me get started with the cooking. You two look hungry,” forgetting that daddy brought home pizza two hours ago. He spoke again when she left the room, “I know I can trust you, sweet girl. Promise me you won’t tell your mother. She couldn’t handle it.” 181


Burroughs Before I could respond he turned to face the television again, but I knew that he was far away in his thoughts. Jeopardy was playing on the screen, and normally he’d always mention how Alex Trebek would never be as good a host as Art Fleming before changing the channel. *** I caught the single tear that fell from my eye as I blankly stared at the computer screen. I was pulled out of my misery by the shrill ringing of the telephone. “Good afternoon, this is Dr. Donahue’s office. This is Hannah speaking. How may I assist you today?” My greeting was responded to by Mrs. Maloney’s familiar raspy voice. “Hey there Hannah, dear. I need to make an appointment for the 15th. I think I may have a chest cold or something.” You always think you have a chest cold. The problem is that you smoke too much, I thought to myself. On cue, Mrs. Maloney began an intense coughing fit. “You hear that? I think the weather is catching up to me!” 182


underground Seems more like those packs of cigarettes are catching up to you, I rudely thought. “Yeah, I hear you. I’ve booked you with Dr. Donahue at noon on the 15th, okay?” “Sounds good, darling. Take care.” “Same to you, Mrs. Maloney.” Shortly after hanging up the phone, Sandra walked into the office. A cold breeze followed her in and caused me to shiver. I clutched my cardigan tighter around me. Shit. I forgot that I promised to grab lunch with her today, I thought to myself. I was not in the best mood to go out, but I was comforted by the fact that Sandra is oblivious to problems outside of her own life. We’ve been friends since our junior year of high school because she never asks me what’s wrong, never notices that I’m sad on most days, never questions in depth about my life. I don’t have to think about myself around her. “Hey, hun! You’re looking as feisty as ever,” she greeted. Sandra described me in ways that I never understood. I hadn’t thought of myself as looking feisty. Ordinary, yes. Pretty, sometimes. But never feisty. She unzipped her parka and hung it on the coat-rack nearby the door. I’ll admit to myself that 183


Burroughs I’ve sometimes envied her simple life. She didn’t have troubles aside from dealing with her loser boyfriend. She was not compelled to remain a care-taker for her mother. She never felt trapped.... She leaned against my desk. Her perfume invaded my nostrils. “So where’s Dr. Handsome?” she asked in a whisper. I looked behind me to ensure that he was nowhere nearby. I lowered my voice as I replied, “Sandra! You know he’s married.” She giggled, “So what? And I have a boyfriend that I need to rid myself of. Besides I’m sure he’s tired of her old tricks.” She backed away and motioned around the lobby very suggestively. “Can she do this, or this? Oh, I learned this one from my roommate!” We burst out in laughter at her silliness. I had to remind her that someone could walk in at any moment and see her. She told me, “You have got to take a chill pill. Let’s get a couple of cosmos.” “Seriously, Sandra? I’m not drinking on my lunch break. But I’ll grab some coffee.” “Pick your poison, hun. I’ll drink one for the 184


underground both of us.” “Give me a moment. I’m going to leave a note for Dr. Donahue. Where are we going?” “The Diller Room. It’s been around for a while, but it’s gotten more popular with city folks and out-of-towners lately.” “Do you know the phone number or address? I just need some way to be contacted in case of emergency.” “Yeah, I understand. I have the address for you.” Sandra had the address written down on a scrap piece of paper that she pulled out of her handbag. I quickly scribbled it onto a note for Dr. Donahue, and we both moved to grab our parkas from the coat rack before leaving the office. I always gave Sandra the free reign to choose where we ate. She was hip to the best bars and restaurants around town, as far between as they were. We entered The Diller Room and were greeted by an attractive host. “Welcome. Would you like a table for two?” “No thanks, sweetie. We would prefer two of your best seats at the bar,” Sandra replied a little too seductively. 185


Burroughs He smiled. “Of course. Follow me.” He’s flirting back with her. How does she do it?, I inquired to myself as I followed behind. The Diller Room isn’t the type of establishment that I would choose on my own to eat at. Sandra belonged here more than I did. The dimly lit bar was full of posh city dwellers smoking cigarettes and business execs stealing sips of whiskey on their lunch breaks. After taking our places at the bar we were instantly acknowledged by the bartender. Sandra ordered a cosmo, and I ordered a coffee with cream and sugar. The bartender frowned a bit at my request, as if requesting coffee at a bar was completely unordinary. “See,” Sandra teased, “Even he can tell that you could use something a little stronger.” The bartender returned with our beverages as well as a dish of olives and almonds, compliments of the host. After downing her first cosmo, Sandra was chattering non-stop about how Joel cheated on her again. She sputtered, “I don’t know why I always go back to him, Hannah. He doesn’t appreciate me the way that he should, and one day he’s going to lose me. This time I’m serious!” 186


underground By the time she was halfway finished with her second drink I had to constantly remind her to quiet her voice. “But can you believe that he cheated on me with some fugly second-rate stripper? I kid you not!” I shook my head in false disbelief. I didn’t interrupt her monologues about their issues as it allowed me to tune out the worries in my own mind. I was growing very tired, mentally and emotionally. Rodney’s money helped with bills and paying the nurse, but money wasn’t enough. I longed for daddy. The life that I had dreamed for myself died along with him. I could feel tears brim my eyelids when the bartender interrupted both Sandra’s speech and my train of thought. He handed me the phone and a napkin with a name written on it. Sandra peered at the paper and read, “Rodney. Hmph, you didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend.” I was short with her as I replied, “I don’t,” before tentatively answering the phone. “Hello?” “Hannah? It’s Rodney.” “Yeah, I know. How’d you know I was here?” “I’ve been trying to contact you any way I could for the past hour! Thankfully your boss 187


Burroughs answered the phone and knew where you were. I was just hoping you hadn’t left yet.” I looked out my peripheral to see Sandra cleaning under her nails. “No,” I said, “But I imagine that I will soon. What’s going on though?” I could hear him sigh. This seemed like déjà vu. The feeling gave me anxiety. “Damn, man. I hate to be the one to tell you this, I really do. I drove down here to visit you and your mama today. I was at the intersection when I heard a slew of fire trucks blazing their alarms, whizzing by me one after the other. I was thinking, ‘Oh man, something real bad must have happened.’” “Rodney, I’m out with a friend right now. Please get to the point,” my voice quivered. “Hannah, your mama is hurt real bad. She’s being transported to the hospital, but they don’t know how long she’ll last. That nurse we hired to watch your mama—what’s her name? Joanna! She left to get some groceries while your mama was watching her soaps. The damn woman didn’t even realize she was broiling a chicken in the oven for the past three hours! Who knows how the hell that went unnoticed, but the fire marshal says the fat and oil 188


underground dripping on that heating unit must’ve stirred a good fire. When your mama opened the oven after all that time... flames were just waiting to escape.” I was unresponsive for a long minute. Rodney called, “Hannah? Damnit, Hannah, I am so sorry. Can you meet me at the hospital?” I sat there with sweaty palms and a rapidly beating heart. I placed the phone onto the bar table without hanging up. I couldn’t bring myself to answer his question. Sandra swigged the last bit of her drink, and by that time had forgotten all about the phone call that I received. “I’ll never go back to that greasy-haired wannabe again, cross my heart,” she declared for the third time. Without turning to look at me she said, “Hannah, promise me we’ll get out of this stupid town. Do you want to go to the beach?”

189


High Life Cory Zijian She

Senior Computer Science, English (Creative Writing)

On a rainy night in late September, your mother will drop by out of the blue at your dingy flat with a little waifish looking girl in tow. As you wipe the sleep from your eyes, your mother will explain that your grandfather died a little after breakfast yesterday morning. Since you weren’t close to the man and you care about very little right now other than sleep, you will mutter your condolences and make to go back to bed, vaguely promising your mother to discuss it in the morning. Then your mother will look to the waifish looking girl, with her dirty blonde hair and listless eyes, and say something along the lines of, “Now Belle. Won’t you say hello to your nephew?” This is how you, a 24-year-old grad student, find out about your newly acquired, six-year-old aunt. Not strictly by blood, of course. Belle’s father, your grandfather, the resident black sheep and obsessive compulsive hoarder of the family, 190


underground adopted her three years ago without telling anyone. Why? Well, your grandfather’s the only one who can answer that question and he’s dead now, crushed to death by the complete works of William Shakespeare, a plastic bust of Rita Hayworth, two dozen rubber chickens and a tea cozy set. You will resolve to start a bit earlier on your spring cleaning this year. The next morning, over a cup of coffee that’s only a little better than dirt mixed with boiling water, your mother will explain in a harried manner that no one wants her, that none of your relatives will take her in, that none of the orphanages in the city can afford another free loader. Your mother will beg you to just look after her for a day, maybe two, just so she can find someone, anyone to take her off your family’s hands. You’d much rather adopt a sack of potatoes than babysit a relative who barely looks potty trained, but since you really don’t have a good reason NOT to and because your local supermarket doesn’t actually sell potatoes or sacks (the blasphemy) you will grudgingly agree to look after your aunt for a day or two. To your pleasant surprise, you will discover 191


She that your aunt is a quiet enough child and will spend most of her time watching reruns of Tom and Jerry on your TV while playing with a ragged looking rabbit plush that has quite obviously seen better days. This will allow you to toil in relative peace and you will manage to get most of your work done, balance your checkbook, do the dishes and even start on that spring cleaning you said you would. When evening comes around and your mother still hasn’t called, you two will take turns passing a box of Lucky Charms around for dinner while a spaghetti western starring Eastwood and a gratuitous amount of Mexican stand-offs plays in the background. Two nights will turn into three, then four, then five, six, seven. A week. A month. You will find yourself shopping in the children’s clothes section, something you haven’t done since you were a kid yourself. You will end up buying a horrid orange shirt with a pink cartoon alligator on the front that your aunt proudly picked herself. It glitters and clashes outrageously with her hair. When you tell your aunt this, she will kick you in the shins and wear it proudly for the rest of the week just to spite you. In retaliation, you will eat all the Lucky Charms in your pantry and make yourself sick in the process. 192


underground Belle will obediently fetch a ginger ale and an aspirin when you ask her to and she will attempt to stay awake most of the night to pat you consolingly on the back as you purge your stomach of the lies of the Irish and your idiocy. Afterwards, you will rinse your mouth out and carry her to bed. You will end up enrolling Belle into the local elementary school near your flat, much to her dismay, and she will only cheer up when you promise to let her drop out if she doesn’t like it. You know that won’t happen and when you come to pick her up, Belle will run up and greet you with a grin on her face and regale you with tales of the first grade and how awesome it was. “Molly Brannigan keeps pulling my hair,” Belle confides later on the walk home, munching contently on a Popsicle that you purchased solely to keep her mouth busy. “She said I was a weirdo because I told the class that Granpa was my dad and that I had a nephew who’s also my brother.” You wipe her mouth with a napkin and straighten out her shirt. “Tell Molly Brannagan, politely, but firmly, to shove it up her’s.” The very next day, you will be called in by Belle’s principal in regards to an altercation between 193


She Belle and Molly Brannigan. You will sit there and be lectured, nodding at all the appropriate times and clucking your tongue while Belle pouts sullenly behind you. Afterwards, when you are finally set free, you will buy Belle a popsicle and tell her with gravitas to ‘never do that again’ and that she has ‘a nice hook, but you need to put more weight behind it.’ Time will pass. A routine will be established. And then, out of the blue, your mother will call you on a rainy night in late September with wonderful news, that somebody has agreed to look after Belle, a distant relative on her side of the family thrice removed. A relative, who will have no idea that Belle won her first spelling bee a week ago and that her certificate of completion hangs neatly on the wall of your flat. A relative, who will have no idea that Belle can read at a fifth grade level despite being in first grade and that she was the one who proofread your thesis and deemed it acceptable only after you explained that the word hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia was the fear of long words. A relative, who will have no idea that the raggedy looking bunny doll she carries around 194


underground with her all the time is actually named Cat and that she will only go to bed if Cat is with her to protect her from the bogeyman. “John? John, are you there?” your mother will say as you watch Belle do her math homework. “Hello, John?” And then, you will silently hang up the phone. “Who was that?” your aunt will ask. You will casually shrug. “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” you will say, heading to the kitchen to get started on dinner. “Nothing you need to worry about. Nothing at all.”

195


Inevitable Cory Zijian She A second ago, you watched by the moonlight as the man bled out on the sidewalk, the color mixing and matching horribly with the snow on the ground. Ten seconds ago, you saw the man fall to his knees, coughing wretchedly, gasping for air. He looked up to you with wet, scared eyes that asked, why? Why? Why me? You heard another bang and the man fell backwards, silent now. You didn’t have a good answer to those questions. Thirty seconds ago, you heard three loud bangs, one quickly followed by the other. Bang! Bang! Bang! A minute ago, you were holding the gun to the man’s head, and you demanded in a quiet, calm voice for him to not make a scene and to hand over his wallet and anything valuable. The man had crossed his arms and looked you dead in the eye. It was the look of a man sure of himself. A man who was nervous, but also believed that things would work out in the end, because that’s how things ended, right? Things would always work out in the end. He 196


underground told you this and you couldn’t help but notice as he was talking that his front teeth were ever so crooked. Ten minutes ago, you were hiding behind a tree as the man stopped in front of the jeweler’s window, perusing the necklaces on display with an interested eye. You were telling yourself over and over again, it’s time, you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it, don’t think, just go and point and ask him for his money, don’t think, don’t think, think about her, just think about her and the kids and that it’s all right, all right, because you are a good person, a good person. Half an hour ago, you were coming down the steps of your duplex, bringing up the back of your hoodie and cursing the city weather. The gun sat awkwardly in the pockets of your hoodie and while your hands were freezing, you hated having the feeling of cold metal against your skin, so you kept your hands out in the chilly night out and breathed ineffectively over them. Anything to get the feeling back in them. A man with a moustache and a familiar air about him nodded as he walked past you and you felt your breath catch because you knew he was the one, the game changer. An hour ago, you made your decision, 197


She consequences be damned. Two hours ago, you were tucking your boys into bed when Lloyd asked you if momma was going to say good night as well. You had to tell him that mommy felt up to it and that’s when Linus started crying because he hadn’t seen his mother in days and he was only a child, only a baby. A day ago, you were in the bathroom, taking the bottle out of the medicine cabinet when the strangest urge came to you. You wondered how it would be if you just fed her all the pills, all at once, without stopping. Would she choke? Would it be quick? Would it be painless? When you came back into the bedroom, she cracked open an eye and you must’ve had an odd expression on your face because she asked, what are you thinking about? You replied, I love you. A week ago, she fainted while climbing the stairs, scaring Lloyd and Linus silly. She had to be confined to the bed afterwards, a demand she accepted with a bitter sort of grace. Is this a game changer? She asked you later and you pretended not to hear her. A month ago, you were wondering where all the money went because you could’ve sworn that you 198


underground had some cash saved up somewhere, anywhere. Three months ago, you were listening numbly as the doctor explained what her headaches actually were. She listened silently, only nodding when the doctor asked if the two of you would like some time alone. After he left, she turned to look at you with wet eyes, scared eyes. Eyes that asked why, why me? This is a game changer, she said and you had to leave the room for fear of lashing out or worse. A year ago, she started getting headaches during random times of the day. When she confided to you about them, your immediate reaction was to call the doctor. She stopped you before you could even pick up the phone. It’s nothing big, just a little woozy is all. I’m not going to spend money on a doctor who’s just going to prescribe me an aspirin. I’m fine, okay? Let’s just worry about the bills and Lloyd and Linus, alright? We’ll get through this, like we always have. It doesn’t have to be a game changer. Two years ago, she gave birth to two boys, twins, and as you held Lloyd (or maybe it was Linus. You hadn’t yet decided on names yet and they looked pretty non-descript at the time, like little wet raisins) and she held the other, she looked at you with an 199


She expression so mixed with love and exhaustion and tenderness. And all the fights before this point, the lonely nights, the accusations that were only shouted, the apologies that were only whispered, everything. Just gone. And you can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, things will work out.

200


underground Platicide Charles C. Bailey

Senior English (Creative Writing) Facebook: Lyrical Gemstones

Trench never really felt alive, except when it was dinnertime. From the gleam of the gold along its black edges and the stars at each point along its rim, nothing made the plate happier than when its well was full of piping hot food. The sizzling, smoky aroma of baby back ribs, mashed potatoes and broccoli littered the plate from deep inside its middle. Thick, white, fluffy potatoes and its pat of leaking butter sat silently at two o’clock, while the green, veiny broccoli lolled against the smoky reddish brown ribs, their green buds soaked with barbecue sauce as the plate’s best friend, Fork, pierced the green skin. Fork and Trench bade each other a fleeting hello, as they always did during mealtimes, Fork’s tine tapping the inside of Trench’s well while the family ate. The family each had their own plates: the woman, a pure white porcelain plate with green and gold lining, and the two little ones 201


Bailey each had plastic red and blue plates, but the edges had shown signs of wear—the plastic had been gnawed and chewed on like eggs from breakfast, except that wear and tear wasn’t going anywhere soon. Trench’s rim gleamed in the light above them, the clink-clink of Fork’s tines scraped the man’s plate as their chatter filled the little dining room. The little ones gurgled and banged plastic versions of Fork onto their plates while the woman’s mouth moved while chewing and talking to her husband. If Trench had real lips, he would smile even though the man usually ate pretty quickly, got up, scraped Fork against his leftovers into the garbage, and after placing them both in the sink, he’d kiss his family and disappear out the house. Trench noticed this family meal happened less frequently now. Most nights Trench heard the man enter from the kitchen door quietly through his place in the cabinet. Trench recalled that, as the gleam on his skin shone just before the woman washed him in the old days, he missed the family dinners sometimes they ate in the bigger room, and because he enjoyed the glow of the – whatchamacallit – television on his surface. Then, the man started coming in after 202


underground leftovers were being put away, utensils and kitchen cleaned, and the kids were in bed. The woman would slide him dinner on paper plates and forks, which he’d eat with gusto, kiss his wife, and disappear from view. Soon, this ritual happened more, with Trench and Fork drying in the strainer more than being put away. One really special day, the woman got all pretty and pulled Trench out for a special dinner, but the man never showed. She tipped the food into Tupperware, rinsed him off, and leave the kitchen sniffling and wiping her eyes. She washed dishes next day, then put them away, not cooking all weekend. Trench grew dusty, being left in the cabinet for weeks. The woman cooked, fed the babies on paper plates, but stopped cooking with him in mind. He’d walk in, hours later, open the cabinet for his plate, but thought better of it. Trench would watch from the open cabinet, seeing a paper carton of beef with broccoli, chopsticks at the ready. This was the last straw. Fork and Trench both heard them screaming later that night. Fork tapped from inside the drawer. During Trench’s last wash, she’d left him in the strainer. So when the man slammed the door for the 203


Bailey last time, she roared at him, throwing Trench at his retreating head. He hit the door in a brilliant shower of porcelain and sadness, with no one to hear his unceremonious shatter but Fork, who scratched the drawer in grief with his handle.

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Artist Contacts Nadia Deljou Senior, Sociology nadiadeljouphotography.weebly.com/ Radio Broadcast: www.mixcloud.com/exitonly/ Jordan Grubb Freshman, Studio Art (Graphic Design) www.familypet.space Instagram: @slaybelles Riki Prosper Kujanpaa Junior, Film flickr.com/rikirprosper Instagram: @RikiProsper; Twitter: @RikiProsper Cassandra Stanton Junior, English (Creative Writing) Joshua Sun Yu Senior, Studio Art (Photography) www.joshuasunyu.me Instagram: @joshuasunyu; Twitter: @joshuasunyu 206


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Up Riki Prosper Kujanpaa 207 ohotography


The Devil’s Hour Nadia Deljou photography

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The Self Riki Prosper Kujanpaa 210 photography


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Up From Down Cassandra Stanton photography


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Money on My Mind Riki Prosper Kujanpaa photography

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Tea Time Pt. II Nadia Deljou photography

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Rebel Riki Prosper Kujanpaa photography 216


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The A 218 Riki Prosper Kujanpaa photography


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219Always Watching Riki Prosper Kujanpaa photography


mom045B

mom

Artist statement: m0m is an interpreta nearly-fatal accident recordings from my work provides a way reconstructing the ga

Selections from m0m Joshua Sun Yu photography 220


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m141B

mom008b

ation of my mother’s life prior to and following the moment of a t when I was an infant. By repurposing her self-portraits and audio family, I create memories that I have never experienced. The y of imaging the events surrounding my mother’s accident and aps of an idealized but corrupted memory of her. 221


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You Asked for Utopia, She’s Laughing Cassandra Stanton drawing ink and colored pencil 223

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Prom Jordan Grubb digital art


miscellanea

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underground Miscellanea Bios Margy Hayes Junior, Music Composition, Film and Video mkhayes4@gmail.com Facebook: Margy Hayes Ben Martin Sophomore, Film and Video www.swervocity.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/swervocity/ Instagram: ben_martin Gail A. McFarland GSU-62 student Senior, Film and Video Twitter: twitter.com/Gail_McFarland Facebook: Facebook.com/the.fitwryter Linkedin: lnkd.in/baGdD9 Gabriel Scala Junior, Nursing

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Daddy’s Girl Gail A. McFarland film

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Social Chameleon Ben Martin music

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Navratri Suite Margy Hayes music

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Up Down Gabriel Scala music

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Spotlig Competitio

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ght Art on Winners

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underground Ijeoma Chukwukere Drawing

Major: Chemistry Classification: Senior Favorite Atlanta neighborhood: Downtown Best place on campus to work on artistic projects: In my dorm room Plans after graduation: To get my Masters in Chemistry

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Uduak Ita Sculpture

Major: Graphic Design Classification: Junior Favorite Atlanta Neighborhood: Inman Park Best place on campus to work on artistic projects: for Digital work: Digital Aquarium Traditional media: Arts and Humanities Building Both: Digital Aquarium Plans after graduation: Internship with either an in-house or independent graphic design studio to further my education and involvement in the graphic design community. I would also like to find more time to tap into my traditional arts side by working on personal pieces as well as finding more opportunities to travel in creative circles with other artists and collaborate on projects together. 234


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Jessica Harrell u n d e r g Overall round Photography, Instagram: gorjess_behavior Twitter: fflower_child Snapchat: gorjesssnaps

My name is Jessica Harrell aka GorJess aka Flower Child for obvious reasons if you are familiar with me as an artist. I am 23 years old. I major in Criminal Justice at Georgia State University. I am a Senior and will be graduating in less than a month from this wonderful institution. I am a street shooter. My favorite Atlanta neighborhood, and there are multiple, are the Historical West End area, the Downtown area, the Midtown area, and specifically Peachtree Street. I am currently exploring and becoming more familiarwith the Decatur area. My aspiration is to one day become a traveler photographer. I do not have a specific favorite place to work on artistic projects on campus. However, the piece that won me a spot in this magazine is located right next to a Georgia State parking deck and is the circular parking deck right next to GCB (Langdale Hall). My plan after graduation is to apply to grad school, and eventually pursue my doctorate and become a therapist and a traveling photographer and continue leaving the footprints I am starting to 237 leave now.


238One, Crystal Adams painting


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Rhyton Deinotherium, Crystal Adams ceramics

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Crystal Adams Painting, Ceramics Winner

1 m m a b Th H o e w m v Artist Bio m Major: Studio Art Classification: Senior b Favorite Atlanta neighborhood: East Atlanta and Little 5 Points a Best place on campus to work on artistic projects: 5th floor of Art and b Humanities Building e Plans after graduation: Create more artwork and apply to grad school h b a h

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underground Artist Statement The inspiration for this series comes from a slave revolt that occurred in 1841 on a ship called the Brig Creole where 135 slaves gained their freedom. In doing my research I discovered two books that were about this historical event. A white man by the name of Arthur Downey authored “The Creole Affair” where he writes about the successful events on the ship, yet his main focus is the later political battle between the United States and Britain that would lead the rivals to their third war. The second book is written by a black man named Fredrick Douglass titled “The Heroic Slave” where Douglass also writes about the historical event, yet his focus is on the life of the leader of the revolt, Madison Washington, and his act of heroism. So essentially, you have two people from different generations, lifestyles, and ethnicities writing about the same thing, yet their interests on the event are completly different. My artwork draws no specific meaning. I encourage the viewer to see my work and determine what is means to them. I am interested in hearing how the viewer responds to the work and how their personal background may translate its meaning. Personally, My artwork is addressing consumerism and hip-hop culture, but more importantly, it is also addressing the parallels between the history of blacks and modern day blacks. I am interested in finding events in black history that have been over-looked or swept under the rug and then creating works inspired by these events. By doing so, I have the opportunity to address the hidden and forgotten history that needs to be acknowledged. My aim is to capture the attention of young black Americans by including popular materials in my paintings that will get their attention then connecting it to deeper meaning to educate them on things they may have never learned in black history.

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Profile for Underground

Underground- Spring 2016, VI. ii  

Georgia State University's undergraduate art and literary journal

Underground- Spring 2016, VI. ii  

Georgia State University's undergraduate art and literary journal

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