Vassar Student Review Volume 2

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vassar student review

volume II

VASSAR STUDENT REVIEW 2015- 2016 Volume II vassar college editorial staff 2016 Editors-in-Chief • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Ethan Cohen Jacqueline Krass

Managing Editor

Arts Editor • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

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Catherine Tween Karam X. Anthony

Secretary • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Jade Wong-Baxter Maria Bell Layout Editors • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Jordy Schnarr Sam Panken Copy Editors • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Olivia Dontsov Ilayda Takil

English Department Liaison

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Abby Johnson

Staff Member

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Victorien Jakobsen

We would like to thank Daniel Lasecki, Production Manager for Vassar Print Publications, for his support. Vassar Student Review is a student-run publication and a member of the Vassar Student Association, working in collaboration with the English Department

Letter From The Editors Dear Readers, Welcome to the second issue of the Vassar Student Review! Since changing our name from Helicon in 2014, we have striven to extend the reach of our magazine to represent a wider variety of student concerns and art forms. We hope to continue to open more channels for literary expression on campus, and to bring students together through the appreciation and creation of art. The 2015-16 issue is the first in recent years to feature a critical essay, and also marks the beginning of our collaboration with the newly-revived Vassar Review on the first annual Vassar Review/Vassar Student Review Writing and Art contest. Congratulations to the first and second place contest winners, Matt and Allison Pearl, and to the two runners-up, Lillian Kalish and Katharine Rooney. We also want to recognize the dynamic range of work we received for the competition. Thank you to everyone who participated! Some more acknowledgements: Thank you to the English department for your continued support of the Vassar Student Review, and to Daniel Lasecki at the Print Publications office for your invaluable aid in overseeing the logistics of production. And thank you to all the members of the org, who made our weekly meetings in the Rose Parlor so enjoyable and enriching! Sincerely, Jackie and Ethan



Allison Pearl

Keeping Distance

Joshua Schwartz Daphne Violet Cole

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the big dipper

Jordy Schnarr


Lillian Kalish

Seeing things

Sam Panken Sarah King


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Mariah Ghant

Slumber Party

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A Cursory Rumination



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Save the Buffalo

Ethan Cohen

why not take all of me

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Robert Sherman


Sheharyar Imran Karachi

Jacqueline Krass (t)o my holy suffering ancestors For Nell

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Matt 20: On Black Being and Magic The last time

Anonymous I Didn’t Say No Zoe Wennerholm


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Robert Sherman

Jennifer Ognibene


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Saskia Globig

Lillian Kalish



Sally Over



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Saskia Globig

Sofía Benitez

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cartesian meditations

Lucy Rosenthal façade

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Lucy Rosenthal portrait

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Jacqueline Krass After Banquet Still Life with Ewer and Bread

Imrul Islam

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Nicole Schonitzer stroll into the cavern, tumble out of the void Green Apples


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Red Pines

Karam X. Anthony

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rIPenD YoUTh

Nick Barone


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Mariah Ghant

Alex Raz


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panfollicular epilogue

Madeleine Schafer


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stains of known origin

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Yael Haskal

underwater oxygen

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Jade Wong-Baxter The Disappearing Man Maria Bell

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Things I Didn’t Know I Loved

Patrick Walker At the Hospital Bed Michael Fracentese left foot back Jimmy Pavlick


We Can’t Be Dead, We’ve Been Photographed

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Michael Fracentese Syzygy

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Violet Cole

little resistances

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Maria Bell


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Katharine Rooney

The Circus Called

Patrick Walker Silas Alex Raz

The Nightstand

Jordy Schnarr


Catherine Tween


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Sudden Emergence of a Memory from Childhood

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KEEPING DISTANCE Allison Pearl I was too young to know, and I craved a hopeless closeness that the water-sunken earth couldn’t bestow. The slanted shade pressed out a depth of hedge, while below, the endless velvet petals and lamb’s ears I pressed in my palms were a maddening, heartsick test: holding each one, I could not bear to choose if I preferred crushing it to a dense, wet bruise or if prolonging its softness pleased me best. How to shade or blur this skin away, pull the brush tighter over myself and cover my limbs— where down hair on my restless legs still held rims of slanting sun. Twigs snap and clothes fray, a hasty hand slips down the bias of a stone. The cut sings out and I hum all through myself a flowering pang. Tears, hotter than blood or air, roll down then hang on my cheek as I sob over the miserable, silly state of things. I scramble up and out, into hot, unbidden arms from indoors, but something would not stop seeping deeper in and in— what I had sought without now burned and blushed within. That was when I first felt it: the sting of wanting and getting more. So now I do my best to keep my distance, letting the far stay afar, and desire is tempered: wanting only blurs further inward. Growing up I’m getting better, though sometimes it’s still hard to leave a softness alone — but I know we must, graceless handlers that we are.


DAPHNE Joshua Schwartz They came over the hill like a parade, skipping and jumping to the rhythmic stamp of their small feet on the earth. Their days were spent flitting in and out of the old wooden cabin at the peak of the hill for meals, showers, an afternoon game of kickball. They were The Lost Boys, drunk on youth and happiness, wrestling each other like cubs and then, in the same breath, tumbling into each other’s arms in peals of laughter. They often picked through the brambles that rolled down the side of the hill to find the tart blackberries and raspberries and stain their mouths and hands with the sweet juices hidden from them like secrets, like tiny wild jewels. When at last they reached the top of the hill, they heard a soft rustling from the depths of the bushes. “Holy shit,” one of them said, “a skunk.” And then they were all there, attentive and silent in the beating sun, a half-moon formation, staring from a safe distance at the animal. It stood inside a trap: a large, gridded wire cage glinting in the sunlight beneath the shadowy trees. And inside, the skunk (lured by tasty promises, kept in by the triggered door falling shut, a guillotine of freedom). Its fur was shiny, its glistening nose a large dewdrop in the center of its pointed face, its coal fur only made more alluring by the dash of white down its back. It tottered in stunted circles inside, shuffling round and round, snuffling with its pointed snout, and rocking on its tender paws. The boys stood together, their sticky skin breathing in the thick air. Tall blades of grass tickled their calves; sleepy mosquitoes drifted in and out of their ears. The earth was soft with the wetness of the summer. One of the boys crept closer and closer to the skunk, pulled by intrigue, its magnetism, some undefinable attraction to the variations in its shifting body. He stepped slowly, recalling myths from the humid New Hampshire forests accompanied by flashlights and loud voices, thinking of the tomato baths and lingering smells of late night walks down wooded paths. “Don’t be such a pussy!” said one of the boys from the crowd. He picked up a small rock at his feet and threw it sharply at the trap, but the rock fell short of the cage and the firmament remained. The skunk looked at the rock then fixed its gaze on the boys, silently reproaching, and they looked back, the reflection of distant longing in their eyes. They named the skunk Daphne. After all, beneath her mound of fur, wasn’t there a warm torso, soft curves, a beating heart? They began to bring her food, nudging soft crusts cut off their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches towards her crate with a stick, pushing cold pieces of pizza between the bars. They watched with pleasure as her pink tongue pushed between her lips, her long eyelashes batting lugubriously at them as she nibbled on morsels stolen from the dining hall. Some of them shared secrets with her. Jonathan snuck out one morning to show her his damp armpit, where three thin hairs poked out of the surface of his skin. Seth drew portraits of her in


DAPHNE - Joshua Schwartz a little, black notebook he carried around in the pocket of his cargo shorts. And Adam collected a few of her fallen tufts of fur, blown out of her cage by the wind, and kept them in a tiny jar he wore around his neck. Within days they’d forgotten their usual crushes, the Hannah’s and Samantha’s, their pangs of adolescent longing, all for a single name that pulsed like blood within each of them. Daphne. Daphne. Daphne. Together, they plotted escape, sitting on each other’s beds during flashlight time, waiting until their counselors were asleep to whisper plans into waiting ears and to listen to the susurrations carried into the un-paned cabin windows imagining that with them they brought the gentle breath of Daphne, their moonlit princess, peacefully asleep among the tangled berries. The night they planned to free Daphne, a gibbous moon hung blithely in the sky. Bathed in the silvery light, sheathed in their pajamas and sweatshirts, they looked like knights. The spangled sky winked down at them from above their heads. They left their cabin in a single file line, closed the creaky door behind them, and then continued down the hill, pushing through the bushes and brambles, stomping their way to the cold, metal cage in which Daphne lay. They halted uneasily the moment they were close enough to see her. Her fur, once so bright and rippling, was now a dull grey, a muddy white, like dirtied snow. She lay, not on her stomach with her paws folded angelically beneath her chin, but on her back, tiny hands pointing towards the darkness of the night. Their Daphne lay dead in her chamber. Andrew was the first to cry, a wounded howling that pierced the dusky night. The other boys joined in, moving towards Daphne’s cage, unlatching it, and lifting her body into the freedom of the bright air. They carried her up the hill, howling and whimpering, the tallest of them holding her high above their heads, a sacrifice to the wind, and when they were done climbing the hill she was gone, carried away like a specter or apparition. And they found that their bodies were suddenly closer to the ground, that they were walking not on two legs, but on four. They found that they could smell in a new way, see in a new way, that black and white fur covered them fully and that everything was bright and that everything was beautiful. They padded away into the pressing darkness, each going in his own direction back down the hill, perhaps to eat a worm or a leaf, or to bury his nose into the wet ground and breath in the ancient scents of the fertile earth.


the big dipper Violet Cole i. we plateaued in the middle of the night in oregon. the car was working okay but you were losing steam. meanwhile the love of my life sat by a riverbed in california. ii. you’re probably reading this by accident the boy i love is an art piece, a flat weave textile we keep the light on late and spill wax and my feet hurt and you peel me like a blood orange this is how the knowing happens. the i-can-see-you even in the dark you reach deep down come up with nothing. iii. this girl in my class has never seen anyone in their underwear. iv. i am my mother’s flesh and blood, i’m witchy california and obsessive and compulsive. i’m unraveling myself on his papaya-printed sheets. iii. if i could tell her what it’s like i’d explain staring at the ceiling for hours on end. your boxers and my handprints. our tiny resistances, the way you set down the mug of tea, the way i can take sips without asking. your exhaustion to my wakefulness, your nails to my back, the way you hold on and then let go. v. there are so many constellations, he said. there are galaxies uncurling while we take catnaps and get high. i said that you’re so beautiful it puts stars in my eyes and oceans in my fingertips. i can’t leave i can’t leave i can’t leave. gone but my hip still hurts. iii. if i could tell her what it’s like i’d let her read the letters and say that he was so sweet it made me disintegrate. that it wore down my viscera. if i could tell her what it’s like i’d tear everything up and talk about nebulas let my coffee brew too strong and then wipe away the acidity.


unwound Jordy Schnarr along your heel, my stitches still mark where your shadow clings. they are raised and ugly things, more scar tissue than thread, pink: it was the only color I had. I trace my indelicate attempt at embroidery with fingers still clumsy, still wondering. I wanted to make art of you, but I mucked it up, fucked you over. walking will never come like breathing— but has it ever? have you ever known the ground? even your shadow floats when we go out, or it would: I can’t really take you out. you’re so luminescent your shadow glows, brighter as it grows across the pavement with the hour. you think an hour is a silly thing. it’s always summer to you, the days mere moments. time is not your currency: you cannot spend it, cannot waste it. you let it be. I think in ticking clocks, but I let you be. I am happy to trace your nuances with my fingertips, following a train of thought across your forehead. I marvel: your skin never used to wrinkle, but you have grown like a shadow in the evening light; you have known this world and me, if only in the night. you land at my window as the sun sets against your back, shining through, lengthening you, your spine, your shoulders. I watch your shadow stretch across my bed.


UNWOUND - Jordy Schnarr in the dimness before dawn, I lie awake while you sleep, dreamlessly. your scent, cedar and stardust, imbues the stillness with the ache of moments passing. a breeze peeks in my open window, whispers of the rust of autumn. its cool fingers pass in greeting through your hair. you stir. I know we’ve spent the summer. I know our stores are gone, lost to the ticking of my watch, my heart. I know. I pluck your stitches, staccato, unwinding your scars, resetting our acquaintance like a clock. when you stand in my window, the same boy but for your shoulders knocking against the frame which once swallowed you whole, when the wind remembers your name, when the stars recall the way, your shadow will remain perched on my windowsill, warm as a sunbeam’s echo, dull without your summertime glow.


SEEING THINGS Lillian Kalish In the daring minutes before daybreak assembles an unlikely orchestra patiently awaiting the rustling of toes: an imperfect metronome to break night from day An organ player on the tip of her eyelashes A violinist strikes the bow down her cheek a frightening note A harpist strumming her lips, thin quivering strings And her mouth, exhaling melodies crumbles slowly into a smile The best prelude of all, before morning time duties call follows right after the band goes home The symphony herself, the woman arises— The accordion that is her ribcage breathing in sunlight while the abdomen squishes air and sleep out of the way Mute notes out of her bellybutton —


Seeing things - Lillian Kalish Some mornings between the echoes of elsewhere and birdsongs I don’t always hear her silent, private symphony I am but a rare witness to music making thankful to welcome morning against her tune


panfollicular epilogue Sam Panken at long last I am a “Porcelain Ivory” replica (makeup shade #1, the palest, does it cover the pink, puckered skin to my mother’s liking?) A Roman plastic surgeon’s hand’s copy of the Greek original and I stand at attention in your bathroom, Aphrodite, naked but for my context. were I to mount the pile of your clothes and stand stock-still: I might be like the women in the museum, not the honey jar of flesh but the marble, illuminated, poised as if to take a step, unhindered but for the unbalance of a blemish on my left side. it’s not as if I’m clay, nor tusk, despite what it says on the bottle I am elastic of the block that bore me, standing in your bathroom, tolerating bad lighting, insufficient makeup, until gravity turns me to marble and I am placed in the museum, in the honey jar, poised as if to take a step.


SToops mallowmars a mouth opens for mallow marscookie and sticky stuck marshmallow filling her mouth open and closed for sweetness and conflicted crunchy soft too late to wonder but I am as I look at you at us sitting on this stoop too much in the mouth and the mind to speak and I opened my mouth to marshmallow fluff but instead heard some words come out as I looked at you at us I can’t see us can you?

I feel so lonely when I go to sleep I think I yearn but despise my acceptance of it that sleep you love to sleep, it is rest

Sarah King

I want to wander on this stoop forever if I go to bed my thoughts will wake up too clear and defined I want to wander with my mouth full of marshmallow ponderings next to your smeared mascara— You started weeping it often happens at this point in the night or the morning when the movement of the day slows to a


STOOPS - Sarah King stoop , and we sit here wandering cigarettes smoked liquor lost to the blood and mind you started weeping I realized it may have been something I said I hate sleep I love eyes open I fear my eyes closed at myself you love sleep you are exhausted from looking at yourself whereas I adore it I love awakeness for the dark is not— you love sleep for the dark is— I love for the dark— You love for the dark— perhaps we love the same thing: but we love it differently


the mallowmar still fills your mouth though we stopped eating long ago at least I think that’s why you’re not speaking— we love for fear of our faces I love for fear of waking alone with my clear thoughts of thinking I love for the love of staying awake to hear you cry and speak to me of your love for fear of cognizance of wandering thoughts that lead you alone in your body that leave me alone in mine you love for the love of free rest where there is no obligation where there is nothing

w co it m w ta th it lo en fo to

I o m I

th to in sl an I to aw

to an

o n w cr co sa m in li

STOOPS - Sarah King what about the chocolate coating? it crackles when my mouth tastes it when my mouth tastes the thought it crackles loud enough for us both to hear I love for fear of not loving myself I think you do too though you want to drink yourself into wandering sleep and I want to eat myself awake to taste, absorb and feel— otherwise I get so numb sometimes without the crunch of the cookies saliva and sticky mallllow in between my lips—

I cannot make myself feel I love you for fear that I cannot make myself feel— you remember to touch my shoulder you know that I forget if I’m real sometimes you love the freedom from that touch perhaps you love not being real I think I’ll put you to bed now so your staring wanders into realness can stop for a time you know me after you sleep I’ll sit out on the stoop for a while longer afraid of my bed, bite a mallow mar and throw the rest away now too afraid of the echoes of myself of my need to fear I love for fear of this moment on the stoop when I don’t know where else to go


STOOPS - Sarah King I envy your love of being lost do you envy me too? tomorrow night maybe you’ll go to bed with someone who can get lost somewhere too I’ll be on the stoop too awake to let someone lead me to my bed to anywhere I’ll be here loving my awareness fearing a fate of fantasy I should submit myself to the morning awakeness Awareness I will fear after falling into the sleep I fear the wandering I fear too much we love for fear of our faces. sometimes I wish I could love like you do we don’t love that differently do we?


rIPENED YOUTH Mariah Ghant August dignity had our tongues from the start. We were bright beet, out of breath, heaving burnouts, and you never let the rip chords end. We found the chartreuse belly of disappointment, yet we still pushed our feet to frenzy beneath us. You had a habit of painting galaxies then trying to name them after me. Oh no. Lord knows you challenged me to a duel or two, but how could we ever let textbooks rule our nights shaded dark by the hue of deep purples. August dignity had our tongues from the start. But damn, we bit back.

And we felt the blood of a thousand broken records placed under the needle one last time. Nobodies carved their names in your orange heat, and you promised me that someday would come back. (You promised that someday would be forever.) And at last, we’ve skated too far to the edge of our homemade ice rink. Drunk on the last taste. Babies cry when their faces turn red, or is that the adults who’ve been cast out into the shadows between resentment and redemption? August dignity had our tongues from the start, and we got plucked. Heavy.


Slumber Party Mariah Ghant A reflection on the painting by Eric Fischl Georgia gets hotter each night. I dip my toes into the creek Out back beside his family’s barn. We walk side-by-side Not minding the mosquitoes and The dirt caking around our ankles. I dwell on his drawl That manages to sound thicker Than any boy I have ever spoken to. He teaches me how to use crickets to tell the temperature. We sit silently, counting their chirps, Searching for answers. I watch him climb the stairs to his attic, One ladder rung at a time Checking down to make sure I am still behind him. Still following. He turns on the TV, A relic that he cherishes— more than baseball and Lemonheads— All five channels and endless amounts of static it produces. “I’ve only listened to a radio. My momma won’t buy a TV. She thinks it’ll spoil me.” He laughs at me and pokes my sides. We make forts with our sheets and our bodies and quickly destroy them. He turns back to the TV, eventually.


SLUMBER PARTY - Mariah Ghant /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

He has a long scar— I notice it as he undresses, But he only seems to notice the television— It runs down the back of his thin left thigh. The shadows of us two in here Looking bigger and closer Than we really are, They are beginning to play tricks on me. Naked but for my underwear, I curl into my sleeping bag as The TV continues to crackle. But he doesn’t seem to notice. I start to count the crickets’ chirps, Curious of the hot Georgia night Seeping in though his window. One, two, three, four,,,,


Red Pines Madeleine Schafer “I don’t think it will reach us,” Thomas said. “I think you know nothing about anything,” I said. Kira laughed and pushed her head against my stomach. “That’s not a kind thing to say,” said Pastor Marilyn. She looked absent, her shoulders loose. Her voice was slow, like seeping honey. “We must always speak to each other with kindness.” Together the four of us stared. The cloud of smoke was sweeping out along the edge of the tree line, a tired storm lying across the ground. “It’s going the wrong way, blowing west,” Thomas said, pointing, “and it’s rained the last couple of days. I’m sure we’ll be fine.” “No, no, no, you numbnut. Wind changes,” I jabbed my elbow into his side. “Are you incapable of thought.” Pastor Marilyn laid a thick hand on my shoulder, her fingers heavy with simple rings. “Kindness, Olivia,” she said. Her hand squeezed. We stood on the shoreline of the lake, the cabin to our back. The sky looked brighter than usual, filtered, and I sniffed the air. I couldn’t smell anything. I didn’t know if there was flame — the sunset made it hard to tell what was the sun’s red and what was the earth’s. “Well,” said Thomas, eyes on the smoke, “I think we’re fine. And I’m the Shepherd today. So we’ll let it sit overnight, and if we need to leave in the morning, we will.” “Yay,” said Kira. “Excellent reasoning, Thomas,” said Pastor Marilyn. “We’re all going to die,” I said. This time, the Pastor ignored me. The cabin belonged to a wealthy member of the congregation who’d donated it to the “Redemption Retreat” program after his grandson had used it to “get back to God” and stay out of juvie. It had big windows everywhere, because there were no neighbors to worry about, and a shed with canoes and bocce ball and Frisbees. Thomas had a room with a bathroom attached and a big bunk bed. He slept on the bottom bunk with a yellow comforter and nothing but a picture of his parents on the wall because he was a horribly boring person. Kira stayed in the guest bedroom, adjacent to the master suite, which Pastor Marilyn had claimed as her own. I had a room in the basement, next to the boiler and the recycling bin. The boiler sometimes made noises in the night, which sounded like uncomfortable ghosts crammed into walls too small to hold them. Thomas had offered to switch, I had refused, and then regretted it. Our parents had sent us there. Well, Thomas said that he had come by choice, but I didn’t believe him. Just three other people, one whole summer, days to fill with nothing but God and each


RED PINES - Madeline Schafer other? It barely registered above Hell. But, said Thomas on the first day, his hands folded across his legs, he had a head to clear of sin and refill with new things. “Like canoeing?” Kira had asked, small and eager. “Like reading and hiking and puzzles?” “Growing,” Thomas had said. Like he wasn’t fourteen, like he was an adult. I then offered to chop his head off, you know, should he grow too much. Kira, in turn, offered to bite off my fingers. Pastor Marilyn heard us and we all had to skip dessert and pray for an extra half hour. This was a typical day at the cabin: wake up, prayer, eggs, threats (betwixt the children and then towards the children), lunch, activities, threats, quiet time, dinner, threats, quiet time, prayer, bed. Every day someone different was a Shepherd. Pastor Marilyn said that we needed to learn to trust each other as brothers and sisters under God, to rely on each other amidst hardship. We needed to learn how to take control and lead ourselves and others on the righteous path. The days Kira was the Shepherd we did ten-year-old-girl things. We colored, told stories, and played involved games of hide and go seek where those hiding were princesses and the seeker was a menacing dragon. On Thomas’ days we embarked on projects of improvement. We learned to build fires, to splint arms, to cook. I was terrible at everything, but Thomas always said kind things. Pastor Marilyn made us sing and read and pray. Sometimes she got crazy and mixed it all together and we’d try to learn the harmonies to a hymn. Pastor Marilyn had a fair voice, and she could play the piano, but not very well. Kira was endlessly pressuring her to go faster, faster when her stuttering fingers moved too slowly for the proper tune. On my days we didn’t leave the cabin. I only ever picked Bible passages out of Job, which I never understood but which was bloody and cruel and inappropriate. The first week I found a box of old records in the storage room next to mine and I forced everyone to listen to each skipping, scratching track. The second, I read Moby Dick in an accent until Pastor Marilyn took it away and hid it. Another day I ripped up all the old magazines in the cabin and we made collages. Mine looked like a blob. It was so ugly that I tore it up and screamed. Pastor Marilyn had insisted, and we had quiet time for the rest of that evening. If I had my way we would have missed the smoke. It would have come in the night, and we would have burned in our beds. Thomas first, the yellow comforter smoldering on his skin. The following morning came without us noticing. Even Pastor Marilyn slept in, so used to the filtering light of dawn through her wide windows. We awoke lazily, and our morning prayers were short and simple. The cabin was quiet, and it was my day, so we had eggs with lemon salt instead of pepper. “Spooky!” Kira whispered, pressing her hand against the glass porch door, munching on toast and dropping crumbs into the carpet. Fog, we thought, had settled over the lake so thick that we couldn’t see the other side. “Can we go play hide and seek?” “It’s Olivia’s turn to lead,” Pastor Marilyn said, patting Kira’s head as she passed. “Ask her.” “Olivia—” “No,” I said. Kira whimpered. “You’ll get lost.” “I won’t!” “You could get lost in the woods if there was a spotlight on the house and it was sunny.” “I could not.” “Picture it,” I whispered. I crouched and leaned towards her, and she glared back at me. “You walk outside. You wanna hide in that spot by the ATV trail, that really good one in the trees. You


RED PINES - Madeleine Schafer walk towards it, but, oh! Where’d it go? You turn around, and the fog is there, and you can’t see the house, and it gets closer and closer and then you can’t see the trees, or the ground, so where are you? You’re lost. Forever. And you can’t even hear because there’s so much fog—” “Stop it,” Thomas said, bumping me with his shoulder so that I was forced to reel back to keep balance. Kira scuttled away, sandwiching herself between Thomas and the Pastor and refusing to look at me. “You are an impossible child,” Pastor Marilyn informed me. Her eyes looked round and protruding in her pudgy face. She turned. “But Olivia is right, Kira. It’s dangerous outside. See, look.” She gestured, and with a great sigh I opened the door. The air slithered in, low and heavy. It was smoke, of course, not fog. I slammed the door shut and a wisp of ash floated to the floor and collapsed. “Dear lord,” said Pastor Marilyn. Our church was the kind that they showed on TV on the Church Channel’s Sunday marathons. Actually, they did show it on TV, or at least, they showed our Thanksgiving special. The building was new, the facilities shiny and expensive. The congregation itself was huge, numbering easily in the thousands, and represented all the wealthy suburban Lutherans for miles and miles. Communities like ours were noisy with whispers. When Kira killed her babysitter with a steak knife, the neighbors knew before the police, and the congregation soon after. The casseroles came for days. Everyone had sympathetic smiles and prying eyes. What a tragedy, they said. They watched her color and laugh, play on the swing set with her siblings. She must be traumatized. That was why Kira was there, I think. Not traumatized enough. Good Christians are traumatized when they kill people and Kira never knew she had to feel remorse. The program was created to deal with problems like Kira, children run astray from God. The Pastor Donald, who was our chief Pastor, started it after a boy in Chanhassen County robbed a store at gunpoint and shot the proprietor. It was the policy of the Church that our children didn’t belong in prisons but in the arms of shepherds, and the local law, officers and judges alike, members like everyone else for miles, agreed. Pastor Marilyn, who facilitated the redemption service every year, had volunteered to run the program. She had once been led astray, she said. She had once turned her back on God and had suffered for it. She had fallen into the Devil’s vices (heroin, I always wanted her to say, just say heroin) and committed a host of crimes and sins. My mom was positive that she had gotten an abortion. My father said she had sold her body. Still, they were very kind to the Pastor whenever they saw her. They told her she was very brave. When the school found my list nobody was kind. I told my Mom it was a joke and she cried. My father asked me over and over again why he was on the list, and I told him it was because he hadn’t let me quit the volleyball team, even though I had begged. He listened and then turned red in the face. “The truth!” He said, banging a hand on our kitchen counter. “Lord save us, Olivia, tell the truth!” I cried, louder even than Mom, because it was, finally, true and he still thought I was lying. The stupid volleyball team. With Christine Jacobs, who’d told the whole school that my eczema was contagious so that no one ever touched me or passed the ball. “But you were good at it,” he said. He had small, unfashionable glasses that he wore sliding down his nose. His eyes were watery and grey. “I just wanted you to make friends. I’ve done noth-


RED PINES - Madeleine Schafer ing to hurt you, to warrant this.” The schools said that I couldn’t come back unless I went to therapy, so my parents called the church. Pastor Marilyn came the next day. She sat with my parents on our creamy living room couch and they whispered with their heads together, faces very grim. I listened on the stairs. “I understand the pull of sin,” Pastor Marilyn said. “I can lead her back to the flock.” “You’re very brave,” my Mother said. “Under God, I fear no evil,” said the Pastor. “The program costs 4,000 dollars for the summer, and that covers food and housing. We leave on the 14th of June.” “4,000 is a lot of money,” said my Dad. The Pastor simpered. “Yes, of course, but it’ll be safer and more effective than state programs. And I think Olivia should be with those people who know her, don’t you?” That night, when they told me, I cried and smashed my lamp. My room was plunged into darkness and mother cut her foot on a piece of broken glass. She started crying again, and ducked away into the bathroom. When the door had closed behind her, my father snatched my flailing wrists and squeezed them. “You’re a young woman! Fifteen!” He hissed. “And I will not take your childish cruelty in my house. You will go with the Pastor, or you will go far away, and then you’ll go for good.” He left me in the darkness. I packed then, crying into my clothing, sightless. When I got to the cabin my clothes smelled like salt and none of them matched. So you see, I hated Thomas for choosing this. The cabin was supposed to be for bad people who dressed hatefully in darkness and Thomas did not belong. Pastor Marilyn was on the phone with someone from the park service. She was locked inside her bedroom, but we could hear her voice getting increasingly shrill through the door. Kira was making herself a sloppy peanut butter and jelly sandwich, licking more jelly from her fingers than she was getting on the bread. Thomas was praying, but I saw that he kept sneaking looks at the window. “You’re a disgusting animal,” I told Kira as she tore her bread with her enthusiastic spreading of the peanut butter. “Give me the knife.” “I can do it!” “I’m in charge,” I said, “give me the knife and I’ll show you how to spread it better.” She handed it to me with a huff. It was thick, plastic, and dull. It was terrible for cutting, it was even terrible for spreading condiments, but Kira had been disallowed from touching sharp utensils. Even her spoon was plastic. I swept the Jiff out of the jar and went slowly, carefully, with little portions of peanut butter. The bread still ripped. Kira was unimpressed. “More,” she said. “More, more, more. I love peanut butter and jelly.” “You’ll get fat, like Pastor Marilyn.” I gave up and piled the peanut butter on. “I won’t,” Kira said. “Like a little marshmallow. Kira the marshmallow man.” I took a spoon and dumped a scoop of strawberry jelly. When we pressed the bread on top everything oozed out the side. “Marshmallow princess,” Kira crowed. We smiled at each other. Pastor Marilyn’s footsteps stomped and reverberated around the cabin. Outside, dark pieces of ash were becoming more distinct against the low-hanging smoke. “Look!” Thomas whispered. He slipped off the couch and went to press himself against the


RED PINES - Madeleine Schafer porch door. “Is that fire?” Kira and I moved to join him. In the distance, by where the blanket of smoke had lain the evening before, there was a pulsing red glow under the gloom. It could have been the sun, sent by God to show us the light. It could have been rescuers, here to save us from dying in our beds. “It’s fire,” I said, certain. “It can’t be,” said Thomas, but he sounded unsure. “The smoke is too thick, the fire too far away. We shouldn’t be able to see it.” “Well, it isn’t the Holy Spirit,” I said. “We should show the Pastor,” said Kira. “What do you think burning feels like?” I looked at Thomas and imagined his yellow comforter burning. He glanced back at me and smiled. His blank, boring face and his guileless wide eyes were twisted with it, with his joy. “You’re a freak,” I told him. “If you say so,” he said. He wouldn’t stop looking at me. “I just don’t mind fire.” One of the rules of The Redemption Retreat was that we weren’t supposed to talk about our sins with each other until the end of the summer. First we had to accept for ourselves what we had done and ask the forgiveness of Our Lord and Savior. Once we had achieved communion with Him we could seek support from earthly sources. Like each other. Dear God, hello. How are you today. Good, I’d guess. The weather’s shit, it is SO hot, so, if you’ve got a minute, fixing that’d be superduper. Omnipotent as you are, you must have noticed that I’m the same person today that I was yesterday. I have been informed that this is an issue. Feel free to send a bolt of lightning to give me scars and erase my memories. That’d probably do it. Remember — I want to change. I want to change. I want to change, dear God. I don’t know why I did it. Or. I mean, I do, but I didn’t mean it. Those people on the list -— they took everything I wanted away. Especially Christine Jacobs, and my Dad, and the stupid volleyball team. Side note: If you feel like bringing back the plague, Christine would be a good guinea pig. I’m just kidding. I don’t really want anyone to die. I just want them to go away. I just want to be in control. Please seriously consider the lightning, and tell Jesus ‘hi’ from me. When I prayed, I pictured waking up with no memories. I pictured waking up with straight hair and teeth, with smooth skin on my hands. I imagined going to school and saying hello to no one, and no one noticing, because I wasn’t me. I imagined that I did nothing that I didn’t want to. I imagined that Christine Jacobs didn’t know my name. I asked Thomas what he had done to deserve this place on the car ride up North, which earned me a first week without dessert. The first time that I was the Shepherd I ordered everyone to divulge their biggest sin, and Pastor Marilyn took away my Shepherd privileges for three days. “What a gimmick,” I said. “What a load of crap.” What was the point of being the Shepherd if you had to follow the rules? “Everything has rules,” Thomas had said. “God made rules so that the world would make sense. The sun is powerful, right? But it still has to rise and set.” Except for when the smoke came. Then the sun didn’t rise at all. The children sat in the living room, sprawled across the couch. We hadn’t spoken for a few minutes, focusing on the sound of the Pastor negotiating our earthly salvation through the door. I was bored. “Kira, why’d you kill your babysitter?” I asked.


RED PINES - Madeleine Schafer “Not supposed to say,” she said, haughty on her perch from Thomas’ lap. He seemed disoriented and his mind far away. Kira was watching him critically and kept grabbing his face and angling it down to look at her. He grinned at her pout, but his eyes were unfocused, like they were seeing in her the horizon’s reddened gleam. A group of river otters slithered by the dock, intent on escape. We’d been watching animals flee all morning. Kira thought it was funny, kept pointing out which ones she thought were going to die. “Well, we’re leaving, right?” I pressed. “So it’s the end of the experience. God is with us. Why’d you kill your babysitter?” “Pastor Marilyn wouldn’t like it.” “She’s busy,” I said. Thomas’ eyes drifted back to the window. Kira scowled at him and then heaved her skinny shoulders, grabbing his head by the ears and pushing him back to her. She looked right into his eyes. “Well, it’s probably because she was molesting me,” she said. Thomas startled and almost knocked Kira onto the ground. She flailed and grabbed at his sweatshirt, squawking. “What?” I said. I could hear my own heart loud and throbbing in my ears. This is what you wanted, I thought. What now? But Kira, prim as the princess she so earnestly pretended she was, was calm as she resettled on Thomas’ lap. “Or maybe,” she continued, “she tried to kill me, first. Maybe she blasphemed against God. Or maybe she tripped and fell. She was a clumsy, stupid babysitter.” “Kira,” I choked. “Why do you care?” Kira asked. “She was bad and now she’s gone. God is okay with it,” she looked so earnest, gesturing towards the ceiling. “I asked.” There was a resounding silence. Pastor Marilyn stomped back into the room clutching her cellphone in her hand. “The road’s not safe,” she announced. “But the park service said they’ll send firefighters to come get us.” “In a helicopter?” asked Kira. “I love firefighters.” “That’s what I want to be,” whispered Thomas. “That’s nice. That’s a good job.” Pastor Marilyn seemed oblivious to the change in her living room. She sat down on the couch next to Thomas and Kira wearily, and shut her eyes. Kira played with the drawstrings of Thomas’ hood and hummed. No one looked at each other. The air in the house smelled like a campfire. Like warm nights and s’mores. In the distance, the tree line glowed. I kept it taped to the inside of my locker, behind where I hung up my coat. The list, the list of people that I wanted to kill — I wrote it to remind myself to be patient. Kira wanted to kill people. Or she didn’t mind if she did. But I didn’t want to hurt anybody. One of the police officers was convinced that I meant it. He tried to prove it by asking me how I was going to kill them all, wanted to show that I’d had “intent.” I told him I hadn’t given it any thought. The list wasn’t a place for me to articulate bad thoughts from my head, or plan out tragedies. The list was meant to remind me that there was a life beyond the Now that I was waiting for, where all those people were gone.


RED PINES - Madeleine Schafer Now, we are living in my cruel, cruel Book of Job. My bag is slung over my shoulder and we are gathered on the dock of the cabin, watching the licks of flames jump from behind the closest line of trees. It is so, so hot. Pastor Marilyn is coughing and coughing and wiping her eyes. The sky is yellow and then orange and then nothing but ashy grey. “You’ve killed us,” I tell Thomas. “We could have left last night but you killed us.” In the Book of Job, Job is a righteous man. But the Devil goes to God and he says, That man is only good because you have blessed him, God. Were his life full of suffering he would fall to his knees for me. And God says, basically, You wanna bet? And God lets the Devil curse Job, make him ill and in pain and alone. Job’s friends, who were jealous of all Job’s stuff before, see this pain and say: Your God has abandoned you, punished you, turned against you. Job says No. My God loves me and I love him, I am sure that this is happening for a reason. His friends say: C’mon, your family is dead. Your wealth is gone. Your body is ruined. What have you done, Job, to deserve this? What horrible sin have you committed? Job says, None. But then it gets so bad Job wants to die but he can’t, and he doesn’t understand why all this is happening. He tells God: I am Innocent, a Good Man, and I don’t deserve this! His friends say: You must be a sinner, somehow, for God is Just. God listens to Job whine and whine. Finally he says, You don’t get it. I am God, and I will do what I want. Here, let me blow your mind with all the things you will never understand. And He shows Job His creations, and tells him of the start of the universe. Job says Yes, yes, I am sorry; you are right and good, you are powerful and inscrutable and your justice need not make sense. And God says: Good, you’re forgiven for doubting me. Have all your stuff back. And more. Get new friends. At the cabin, I sit on the dock and dip my feet in the water. I start to imagine that it is boiling. I look at Thomas. I used to think I was Job, abandoned cruelly for no reason, someone else’s dumb, divine debt, but no. He is Job. He hasn’t done anything wrong. I can tell, when he looks at the fire, that there are impulses in him. But he came here. He talked to God, like Job did, and tried to learn how to be good without understanding everything. I’m his shitty friend. I hated his fortune and crowed over its absence. I thought he was a sinner. Kira, I think, watching her scamper up and down the dock, scanning for helicopters, is probably one of the Devil’s children. The Pastor is just a pastor, never as sure as she pretends to be. But I am the friends. I am sad and jealous and don’t know how to talk to God. The fire is getting louder. Thomas’ face is lit. God saves Job. God saves Job and Job saves his shitty friends. That’s what people in the Bible do, they save people who don’t deserve it. We’re going to be fine. Lesson learned, I think fiercely, we’ve learned our lesson. Everything has been stripped from us — our control, our families, our pride and now we know. God is powerful, we are nothing, we can never understand. We can never understand we will be punished when we try. Please, please, please, Lord, forgive us. I’ve never felt more helpless. Kira shouts that she can hear helicopters, but I don’t look up from the water around my feet. The lake is rough with the acrid wind. I don’t know if I can even feel my toes anymore. I can hear no blades chopping over the sound of flame. Thomas sits next to me and, after a roaring moment, dips his feet into the lake. “Therefore I despise myself,” he recites. “And repent in dust and ashes.” His voice is rough, and I choke on the sound of it.


RED PINES - Madeleine Schafer “Get up!” Pastor Marilyn says, frantically flapping her hands at our backs. “Get up so they can see us!” “Was that Job?” I rasp. “I don’t know,” Thomas says. “Maybe.” I reach blindly for his hand. Smoke stings my eyes. There are shouting voices around us, or trees falling. “Was it a prayer?” I ask. “I don’t know,” Thomas says. “Maybe.” It is so bright and loud that I could not hear God answer us if He tried.


stroll into the cavern, tumble out of the void Nicole Schonitzer Purple/orange pastel rectangles press against the wall in regular/irregular array Xylophones bang in the background and the old telephone rings on the ground The shadow sneaks around the corner He jives on the backs of tortoises and gets up on his toe tops scooting along the brick wall His mustache is growing faster by the minute— by now it drags along the ground He looks up into the air and bobs his head twice in each direction, Science! he slips away through the pipes ‘Science!’ my great uncle yelled out just before he fell into an animal trap and proceeded to climb out of said animal trap The forest is a treacherous place but so is the back of the Shadow Man’s palm on any given day, I wish I could tell you that tickle creepin on up your leg wasn’t a spidey But it is, oh! look how he grooves and tips his hat what a guy What a guy— best we brush him away before he makes his way to where your one leg meets the other If I were a tiny tiny woman I’d have a tiny tiny uterus and maybe I’d live inside a top hat or a big water container with a face fifteen holes on my body— counting my belly button— not counting nipple holes—


STROLL INTO THE CAVERN, TUMBLE OUT OF THE VOID - Nicole Schonitzer the holes have different uses and are susceptible to all types of ailments— Science! inner and outer ailments, In my childhood outer space didn’t particularly interest me Outer space doesn’t particularly interest me now— But it’s the idea of outer space And after this, oh, how it would please me to build a big pile of dirt in my living room with my ceiling covered in glow in the dark stars to close my eyes and imagine reaching into a swirling animated wormhole and pulling out a little green man by the finger while I wear my tinfoil hat and tell HAL to keep his big mouth shut…. But think of all the physics and men it took just to get a grasp of a little moon dirt— Science! Up there just doesn’t give me the same jollies as down there Everybody gets their jollies in their own kind of way Imagine a desert full of tiny holes clustered, creature-created holes for hiding the meerkats pop in and out in rhythm together— like a dance number I can feel my holes opening up as we speak— Opening up so wide they could engulf me and swallow me and I would be inside myself as opposed to outside myself as I’ve felt in most my dreams ever since I bought that mattress pad from my new-age neighbor, since then the Shadow Man visits me— he slips through the vent each night Xylophones bang in the background


Green apples Alex Raz I lost my watch some time ago and when you returned, our differences. But now, like your stubble they creep back and from my sleep, I listen to the minutes. Through thirteen showers I tried to get the sleep off But when the sleep stayed I dreamt alone, watching lotuses fall from the ceiling, and sand As dawn passed, and twilight As three boys stood with green apples, and one hit the glass. Around the cul-de-sac, They broke the neighbors’ lights, them not knowing they broke mine too. I fell asleep to their play, and the rattling of the trestle Asleep to newspapers, your mail and Packages piling on my doorstep in holiday ribbon And snow. Following supper, one boy lingered still clutching his apple He ruined what was left everyday lights and snow people hills flattened by houses, and houses trampled by blizzards. Before the sun fell, he dug a hole beneath the hours Or when I crawled into bed in the middle of the night to you biting your nails He curled into a ball, alone.


At some point I arose, from late-night carolers or dog-walkers, or too much sleep

GREEN APPLES - Alex Raz I vacuumed the sand from the rug I shook the petals from the linens. And when he saw that I saw him crying out there he dropped his apple core. Composed, I said as he wandered in, Had you acted differently, you could have had a different day. In turn, he told me of his friends, those that he lost in the snow or that lost him. He told me of a sadness that kept him awake while he should’ve been sleeping, and then of his dreams of loss between remembering. He asked, How long were you going to let me freeze, Before you let me in? I handed him another green apple but he said, I prefer the red ones. When he fell silent, I noticed the seconds grow louder and when he left, I looked for my watch, and prepared for your return.


After “banquet Still Life with Ewer and Bread” Jacqueline Krass The meat, and the roll. The burnished silver. “No ideas but in things,” says Williams though I don’t know what ideas lie wrapped in that wrinkled white tablecloth, those glasses still half-full. The food in Jan Svankmajer’s movies is famously disgusting, gray and slimy, porous eyeballs glaring at you from between the tines of the fork. Even worse, the actors sop it up eagerly, fingering their Slavic yellow bread as if they couldn’t tell the difference between gelatin and tongue, as if they’d eat any organic matter splattered across their plates. This chicken glistens.


a cursory rumination Nick Barone The cumulous clouds meandered, in space, climbing to the throne of Bukowski and Botticelli. Under the phantoms who bled past the smoky committee-room doors, I stop and light and think for each who stopped and lit and thought for I, for I am here, evolved, for now, a man or child or insect who may discov’r the recipe to life itself, and its life alone. Perhaps time has come for a walk.


cartesian meditations Karam X. Anthony ghost town, senior year (but i graduated so long ago) bearded papers to write, weekends of palish white— infinite jest: words, lectures, text “you’ll never learn the truth” dreaming sundays are best, spent on the phone with my ex. singing songs alone, palish blue, there is no “you”— just me, in a frozen sea of disingenuity, a paper writing, smiling, cacophony. i pretend to see— i project memories but really, there is no “you.” there’s just me.





hiraeth Imrul Islam The rains don’t smell like rain back home. The lights are brighter, the streets strange. Religions clash here, 9/11 happened and almost overnight, Muslims weren’t the token minority anymore. Everything’s in English and Bangla has to claw its way out of my throat when I speak. The children we bring into this world will have to decide which culture to grasp onto, which language to speak, which God to believe in. When we got on to a flight from DAC to JFK we fragmented forever the notion of home. You and I, we will never belong to any one physical location, our tongues will not prefer any one language over another, our dreams will teleport endlessly across the Pacific. Why then, do the rains not smell right? Why do the streets appear unknown? Why is home still packaged in red and green? Hiraeth is a series of images that seeks to define what home means to me, whether it is a physical location or a collection of voices, thoughts and images. In doing so, it also strives to tell the story of Bangladeshi immigrants in New York City. Like my ideas of home, it is a work in progress.



















karachi Sheharyar Imran Karachi has come to be defined largely by narratives of extreme violence, oppression and terror. As political instability, debilitating gang wars, rampant street crime, public harassment, blatant extortion and terrorism sweep the city, over 23 million people are forced to grapple with trauma on a daily basis. However, despite the turmoil that has become so deeply ingrained in the collective imagination of those who call the city home, resilience, strength and an undying love for a city so widely misunderstood have supplanted the bloody strife. For those who are forced to navigate their entire lives through an intricate mosaic of nameless streets, criss足crossed wires, winding back alleys, bright lights, traffic, sirens, chants, horns, pigeons, kites, waves, dust, water, desert, ocean, sand,足足Karachi represents much more than violence. Over 23 million hearts beat with a burning passion for a city that gives them, amidst its burning walls, an unfading sense of hope. Through these photographs, I hope to present this alternative narrative.



casa? Sofía Benitez home is no body and no place it’s sometimes the moonlight or making the train on time it’s soft blankets on rooftops and nights that do not end bitter coffee from a place you’ll only visit once home, casa, is a border that expands and contracts in non linear, non sequential waves sometimes hurt is home sometimes displace is home sometimes someone you don’t want to be with is home on a hammock and the subway the front seat of a cab on opposite sides of a museum wall home is wanting to remember and being able to forget unfulfilled goodbyes and other furniture inhabiting a place I wish I’d see again my veins, translucent snakes of clay like the currents of the river given free rein shift and pump a substance that carries stories I wish I could always see


CASA? - Sofía Benitez of families, of fights, of tears and compromise how many have you forgotten, how many have forgotten you? it is no longer my birthday and my parents are still in another country in a house that is no more, not yet a home a distance I’ve come to terms with like ants caught in drops of amber and a trance seeing lives revolve at haphazard speeds hanging sorrows like herbs on a fridge, unknown, untitled picking lemons for your mother now for yourself a decapitated deer dancing in the water and twenty heartless beats and my body, like a lover that loves themselves best, slips away before dawn, perhaps, but likely not, with regret


(t)o my holy suffering ancestors Jacqueline Krass i remember: your sacred martyrdom in poland, your creased palms in brooklyn, the cramped yiddish noises of your small-roomed apartments, where old friends and distant cousins drifted in and out. we have achieved everything you wished for. and still my grandfather, he died of a heart attack all alone in the spacious basement of a house he could not afford. father, recite the lord’s prayer the way you learned in elementary school, your old testament name pressed between your praying hands. you don’t know the mourner’s kaddish and neither do i— at shabbat service i turn my head in confusion and shame, unable to join in the intimate knowledge of those who cover their faces and beat their breasts. the words remain opaque— not words but shapes— the worshippers’ faces like solemn stones to my unbelieving eyes, my desiring gaze.


for nell Lillian Kalish “Now at last they are desperate. Thank God. They are desperate.” – Gunther Anders

When you come down from the tower, and you see the toy boy hit by the toy car— When you go down South to see the house where your grandmother was born And you sit in the airport registering the names of southern cities Greensboro, Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Little Rock You read their names but only hear men ripped from lunch counter seats, pulsing water not extinguishing fire but the unfamiliar contours of the dreams of little black girls and little black boys, heads hitting pavement, a thump so strong you wonder why none of the passersby jump with you And you descend into somewhere that could have been your Hell and still could be. You are desperate. Thank God. You are desperate.


FOR NELL - Lillian Kalish For facts, and dates, and figures, for whos, whens, and hows. for names, and deaths, and births You ask and ask and ask and questions are spit back at you in the moisture, then you feel for something else a—you pull out a moment, sitting on your great grandmother’s porch flipping through a photo album not sure who it belongs to as the newer generations and the older ones all chit chatter away and the mosquitos and the gnats form a halo around you and the grass pokes at your ankles and your mom cackles and your dad stands awkwardly until your cousin asks him about his family and the sun hits the pecan tree just right so you all melt a bit under its warmth and the picture becomes blurred, sweaty, sweet Though you are still desperate, desperate thank God, desperate to return again to the three houses forming a halo around the land your family tilled and worked and owned because they did not want you to go on suffering.


FOR NELL - Lillian Kalish And the toy boy and the toy car together are no more chaos than they are theatre is beauty is tragic is now is Alabama is where you no longer know but will someday go


20: on black being and magic Matt For a dear companion who was my creative, moral conduit bringing me joy in a time of loneliness. Context: I am in a friend’s dorm room sitting on her big, blue-black, inflatable couch, two glasses of wine in. I am listening to a song on repeat, as I usually do in order to ground and sustain my writing process, this time opting for “My Need” by Janet.1 My love, my need, tonight I feel so tight My love, my need, tonight Just how I like I met Janet as a kid watching Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. My cousin and I (well, mostly myself) would watch the “Doesn’t Really Matter” music video on repeat. Fast forward the VHS tape through the film to the music video at the end. Play, rewind, play, rewind, play, rewind. I was attracted to the anime-inspired art direction; the levitating 3D platform on which she danced, surrounded by video screens in what looked like a futuristic Best Buy; the cute, cozy, minimalist apartment where she magically woke up like dih, offering a sweet smile to the small electronic dog rolling about the floor (a dog which I imagined was mine after receiving a similar dog one Christmas); and her impeccably choreographed flow, which I have practiced many times in many mirrors. But I really met Janet in the summer of 2014, living on College Avenue down the street from Vassar. I randomly decided to check out more of her music one night and discovered the contagiously horny, harmonious groove of 1993’s janet., and the emotive and devastatingly complicated beauty of The Velvet Rope. Janet was my introduction to non-binarism, a truer, franker, more deeply investigated queerness and intentional movement away from a preset gay Black male identification and into the gender, or lack thereof, that I interrogated and developed the following autumn. Janet introduced me to my own velvet rope, my erotic, my Femme. I selected “My Need” on this night because I needed something relatively simple and upbeat to write to, nothing that would force me to get up and tipsily dance, and nothing or too emotionally strenuous. Feeling down, the song’s rapid rimshot and symbols flirting with Janet’s longing croon gave me a pleasantly productive pick-me-up. I had just watched2 a production of Lacunae, an experimental play produced by two Black students as their senior thesis for the Drama Department. One of the creators stated in the playbook that Lacunae sought to discuss “the panopticon” and the police brutality that Black Women endure, 1 As I edit this essay for publication, I am listening to D’Angelo’s Voodoo album. D’Angelo is an incomprehensibly talented and sexy Black man with an ultra-soulful disposition. 2 Friday, October 23, 2015.


20: on black being and magic - Matt to “bring the truth into the light.” The other creator wrote that his Black Mother tells him to always think of her before making decisions that he is nervous about, and he hopes that his Mother is proud and that viewers will be able to find truth in the production. I reserved two tickets, one for myself and an Asian friend who first did not attend dinner and later did not attend the play without prompt explanation. This is now the second time that my non-Black friends failed to surface in support of Black art, the first being my acting in an Ebony Theatre Ensemble production last spring. I am beginning to wonder whether Black art is actually of value to these friends or whether “Black” is merely a fixation or façade of consciousness for them. At the moment of writing this, I am leaning towards the latter.3 As I entered the Powerhouse Theatre, I crept through the crowd of waiting consumers to check-in and retrieve a playbook. I briefly went to the gender neutral restroom to blow my nose for the umpteenth time that day. As I pulled the scruffy toilet paper away from my nose, I noticed spots of blood resulting from the dryness of the recently shitty weather of Poughkeepsie. The Vassar plague is relentless. The scenic design, a collaborative effort by the ensemble, was simple and dynamic: long white curtains framed the four corners of the black box theatre, and over the center of the stage hovered white curtains shaped into a cube which later in the play served as screens displaying the names and photos (or captions reading “no photos available”) of Black Women (both cis and Trans) who fell victim to civilian and police brutality. The stage itself, ground-level, was a gleaming white, which viewers were explicitly instructed by white student-ushers not to walk on but to rather walk along the perimeter of the stage to find their seats. A lone tree, also white, with rather creepily sprawling branches hung from within the curtain cube like a lynching site. This essay is about the erotic –– my erotic and the erotics of other Black Queer Femmes. I have been thinking a great deal about the erotic this semester, the deep place of knowledge that Audre Lorde says is within us all. The erotic is the leashed wildness of our souls. Hell, as I’ve said in class once, it is soul itself, and it is our souls; our, assumingly, is Black Women and Femmes whose identities, personalities, cultures, struggles, and sexinesses have been historically and routinely suppressed. As I said in a literature reflection when I was initially exposed to this idea of the erotic, the erotic is my Black Queerness and Femmeness –– when I stopped cutting my hair, abandoned pronouns, allowed myself to explore aesthetic more freely, and made the decision to move toward Femme. It was only natural. In an introduction to the seminal collection of written works by radical Women of Color, This Bridge Called My Back, Cherrie Moraga says, “Sometimes for me ‘that deep place of knowledge’ Audre refers to seems like an endless reservoir of pain, where I must continually unravel the damage done to me,” the pain that Lorde implores us to reach deep within ourselves, touch, and “see whose face it wears.” Prior to attending this play, I was in quite a funk, the cause of which I was struggling to identify. This play gave me my answer: I used to feel hypervisible on campus but I now feel invisible. This experimental production was a conduit to reach deep inside myself and touch my pain, identify those/that who/which damaged and veiled me, and locate, feel, unravel, and entertain/exercise my erotic, the continuation of a process that Janet gave me the tools to initiate. $$$ 3 Months later, while editing this for the Review, my worries have digressed but not entirely.


20: ON BLACK BEING AND MAGIC - Matt Let’s just pretend That we have no more tomorrow Can we make love Like it’s our last time, baby? Scene, “For Aiyana”: Aiyana is 7. Her grandmother plays with her, wrapping a veil around her arms and head, running and dancing, joyously reminiscing on the days when Aiyana was younger. She is now a big girl, her grandmother says, to the delight of Aiyana who is then wrapped in the white veil and put to bed by her grandmother. She does not wake again. The ensemble turns Aiyana’s body over to face the sky, covers her face in the white veil, lifts her lifeless body, and carries her backstage as another performer gently grabs the veil and lets it seamlessly snake from her body, proceeding into the next scene, “Earthbound”. Aiyana Stanley-Jones was a seven-year-old Black Girl shot and killed by Officer Joseph Weekley on May 16, 2010 in my hometown, Detroit, Michigan. Aiyana did not die very far from my childhood church, All People Church of God on East Canfield Street, the neighborhood where my great aunt’s house once stood, which I once visited with my Mom and Nana only to find a mound of bricks and a few of Aunt Phil’s scattered possessions. My Mom and Nana assumed that this was another instance where wealthy scammers in the city commit arson on vacant homes in order to begin rebuilding and gentrifying the neighborhood for rent and sale. Detroit has become so famous for violence that it is has become mythologized, like Compton or “Chi-Raq”. Officer Weekley underwent two mistrials; the prosecutors promised that there would not be a third. Aiyana is an unwilling martyr. I worry for my cousin, Anaya, also 7. A later scene, “For Renisha”: Renisha is looking for help. She is desperate and thinks that she might be sick and in need of hospital intervention. She cries for help in search of someone, anyone, who might lend her a hand. She wanders and wanders, and cries and cries, and eventually is met by a curious man whose arms are projected toward her head. The white veil reappears, erected between the two. Renisha, unlike the curious man, cannot see beyond the veil. The curious man jerks his arms and she falls. He then stands over her body, lowers himself face to face, guides his rigid arms toward her head, and jerks again. Renisha McBride, 19, was murdered by Theodore Wafer at about 5 a.m. on November 2, 2013, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, a nearby suburb of Detroit, after crashing her car and knocking on Wafer’s nearby front door pleading for help. Wafer shot her through the screen door. I worry for my sister whose husband is quick to aggravation. I pray that my sister, and my infant niece, never have to suffer the physical or psychological consequences of his fragile masculinity. I worry for my Mother and Nana. I worry for myself during my frequent travels. $$$ Let’s not get too Soft and gentle with it cuz I Am not feeling In no mood to play around Nicole R. Fleetwood in her book Troubling Vision offers a thorough examination of the visibility of the Black body and an analysis of Janet’s 2004 Super Bowl performance, explaining that the Black body, particularly the Black Woman’s body, is “simultaneously invisible and always


20: ON BLACK BEING AND MAGIC - Matt visible, as underexposed and always exposed” (111). Fleetwood quotes psychoanalytic theorist Kaja Silverman, stating, “...What is determinative for each of us is not how we see or would like to see ourselves, but how we are perceived by the cultural gaze” (123). Following, under the guise of white supremacy, our existence is for consumption: Janet was consumed at and by the Super Bowl, “the largest televisual event annually,” and was consumed and discarded by Justin, a white boy “who is a generation younger than Jackson and grew up studying the moves of the Jackson family and other Black musicians,” resulting in her total silencing, blacklisting, and erasure following the controversy (128). Janet’s Super Bowl performance fell on the eve of the release of her album Damita Jo, on which she unveils the many personalities that “live inside [her].” Fleetwood offers the notion that “excess flesh is not necessarily a liberatory enactment … and does not destabilize the dominant gaze or its system of visibility. Instead, it refracts the gaze back upon itself ” (112). The Black Woman’s erotic is a public spectacle for the white heteropatriarchal consumerist gaze, and self-liberation is really delusion, fostered and controlled by corporations that encourage a public schizophrenia that convinces her that she is both free and enslaved. Eventually, she “goes too far” and is damned and erased. “It’s a familiar trope in American culture –– the oversexed black woman, now willing to whip her tit out on national television to sell some records,” says Carla Williams, quoted by Fleetwood. Was Janet oversharing by expressing her “need?” Janet’s performance of racialized sexuality, “while titillating, threatens the social fabric of white heteronormativity and public decency” (131). The “victims”, the audience (the normative subjects) share a “positive attachment to sameness” which was disrupted by the victimizer, Janet. Fleetwood goes on to quote Sarah Ahmed’s theory of affective economies: “The ordinary or normative subject is reproduced as the injured party: the one ‘hurt’ or even damaged by the ‘invasion’ of others. The bodies of others are hence transformed into ‘the hated’ through a discourse of pain.” Two days following the performance, the cast and crew invited students to participate in a talk-back in the ALANA Center, a private space for Students of Color to convene on campus. One performer extensively shared her thoughts on her discomfort in performing before white audience members. There was an unsaid understanding between the cast, crew, and Black audience members that the message that the producers were attempting to deliver was not for them. We were not the ones who needed education. (Or perhaps we did –– someone mentioned that there were high school students in the audience who probably did not know what they were preparing to watch.) Two students said that, before the play, they felt invisible on campus as Black Women and Femmes; afterward, they became hypervisible in two ways: they felt confident in their skin and expression as Femmes and felt uncomfortable (and mourned) by white people approaching them with praise for their onstage courage to unveil their pain, congratulating them on a brilliant, passionate performance, and offering awkward half-smiles and nods in passing as acknowledgement of their Black existences. For your consideration: “...The context of mass culture and the ways in which visual spectacle is manufactured and widely distributed muddies issues of intentionality” (126). The Black Women and Femmes who created and performed Lacunae were so hungry for visibility that they unintentionally became hypervisible, like Janet had. However, the crime that they committed was one of fostering white guilt. Rather than outwardly demanding an apology from the performers who made them feel so confronted and uncomfortable, white viewers, intentionality aside (fuck white intentionality –– instead of always “meaning well,” just do well for once), flipped whiteness on itself


20: ON BLACK BEING AND MAGIC - Matt and made these Black Women and Femmes feel confronted and uncomfortable, and rather than apologizing to white viewers, these Black Women and Femmes had to apologize to themselves and Black Women and Femmes in the audience. I asked a white queer non-binary friend who attended the play the night before how they liked it. They said that it was both painful and beautiful to watch, but that didn’t really give me a clue as to what to expect. When I attended the play, it once again became clear that my experience of Black pain and beauty are totally unique to what white people perceive. I interpreted the play as a desperate plea to acknowledge misogynoir and to incite some duty to stop being racist, misogynistic, queerphobic, transphobic/antagonistic, and every other -ist under the sun. I texted the white friend after the performance, “Fuck.” They asked if I was okay and said to let them know if I needed anything. I thought, what the fuck could you offer me? What could the white audience give the Black cast and crew whose blood poured onstage? I don’t know what I expect or want from them but what I need, they likely don’t have. For Black viewers, especially Women and Femmes, it was to say, “I see you and you are not alone.” Perhaps it was a time to be reminded of the pain that we never forget but bury in order to deal with our daily obligations, obligations that include constant resistance of reminders of our marginalization. But to perform a reminder is to forcibly confront our pain, this time in the presence of our oppressors. Are we to confront ourselves in the presence of our oppressors or is confrontation and healing to be a private affair? What would the play look like if it were produced in the same vein as Ebony Theatre Ensemble performances –– in the ALANA Center where the audience self-selects as primarily Viewers of Color, mostly Black? What if the performance, like the scene “Celebration” near the end of the play in which the ensemble happily dances about the stage, unabashedly honoring themselves, was just joy? What if, as one friend suggested, we produced an adaptation of The Wiz? $$$ Won’t make excuses I just want you inside, baby We don’t need to Talk about no promises Two of the final scenes, “I Hope You’re Listening” and “The Pledge”, featured the full ensemble telling the stories of a multitude of Black Women who flash across the overhead curtain screens, singing, stomping, and clapping Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout (Say Their Names)”. The ensemble approaches the audience. They yell and cry in fury, demanding that the audience say these Women’s names. To my seated section, one performer bellowed, “I just said a whole bunch of em – name one!” It is in these moments that I often feel guilty that I cannot keep up with the ever-growing list of names of murdered Black people. I remember when Mike Brown was killed. I had not yet changed my pronouns. I read the news on my laptop, glued to my living room couch on College Ave. I watched the footage and observed, inhaled, the photos of Brown’s lifeless body in the street, blood spewing from his cranium onto the gravel. I imagined myself, perceived as a Black man. Yesterday,4 I met with a group of students at a workshop discussing how to combat and 4 Thursday, October 22, 2015.


20: ON BLACK BEING AND MAGIC - Matt engage in thoughtful dialogue about bias incidents on campus. During one exercise, I told a white girl that I was afraid to leave my house for a few days. It was a nightly ritual to lie in bed and seal my eyes to my balcony door, awaiting a white man to run from behind my garage, climb my fire escape, storm onto my balcony, burst through my door, and eliminate me. After the exercise, we discussed what it was like to hear someone’s story. The white girl said that she had tried to identify a similar situation in her own life in order to contextualize my feelings, which she found that she was unable to do. Another white girl said that that’s just it – you cannot compare your experiences to something that you have never endured and the only thing that you can do when hearing someone is acknowledge and respect their lived experience as their own without attempting to reflect on and identify an equivalent.5 $$$ I need you, like the flowers need the rain I need you, like the blues needs the pain Like the stars need the night, I need you Like the waves need the sea I receive daily Christian words of wisdom via text on my phone. This spring, one said, “Access is a powerful tool. Don’t give it to just anyone. And once it’s violated, revoke it quickly. Guard your peace at all cost.” My peace is my erotic. Be careful of who you invite into your erotic –– it is not to be shared with everyone. But what do we do with the shared erotic that we revoked? Do we try again with the same tactic or do we try something new? WWJD: What would Janet do? Janet tried again with two studio albums, a greatest hits collection, two tours, three films, and a book (not that these tactics did not work, if they should even be called tactics). She eventually left the public eye, married a Qatari billionaire and relocated from the U.S., reconnected with longtime partners Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and released a star album and tour in 2015. Janet cannot be erased. Unbreakable is a pop record reminiscing on her brother, thanking fans for their unfailing support, and encouraging listeners through the hurt that the world is experiencing in this moment in time. But the composition of the album mostly brings joy to her listeners. I can’t help but to stop and dance, or at least imagine myself dancing, to “Dammn Baby” or to feel lifted by “Black Eagle”. Even now, as I reflect on my own simultaneous invisibility and hypervisibility at Vassar and elsewhere, my mind goes to the heavy influence that The Velvet Rope has on me, particularly on my unapologetically magical Black hair. My hair is sometimes my only source of vitality, the only visible marker keeping me alive and apparent. I’m now thinking about our own visibility and our futures. Javon Johnson in his essay “Black Joy in the Time of Ferguson” tells us that on the night of Mike Brown’s death, he fell asleep listening to classic Black singers because he “wanted to be happy and Black.” Johnson also gives a nod to Danez Smith’s poem “Dinosaurs in the Hood” in which Smith wants to make a movie about dinosaurs...and that’s it –– not a movie that positions a troubled Black boy as another stereotype in a plot of destruction, and not a movie that is about or causes Black pain. In this movie, Cicely Tyson delivers a speech (or two), Viola Davis saves the town by stabbing the dinosaur in the neck 5 Recalling how the performers were mourned by white people, it might be useful here to consider Freud’s concept of the process of identification as cannibalism: Black culture and struggle are equally adored and feared by white people. Whiteness seeks to kill those who natively embody Black culture and seeks to possess Blackness (both culture and struggle) for themselves as a form of remorse and fantasy. Black people are magical and never truly die, right?


20: ON BLACK BEING AND MAGIC - Matt with a Black Power fist afro pick, and “nobody kills the Black boy and nobody kills the Black boy and nobody kills the Black boy for once.” It’s just a movie. The erotic has endless interpretations and we are called by God and connected throughout the universe to manifest representations of our erotics. Black people need other Black people to make movies about dinosaurs, music to satisfy our cravings for soul at the end of a long day, and hairstyles that polish our glow when we are weary. We need Black people to bring other Black people joy in the millennial era, a frightening era that has us afraid to leave our homes yet zealous to take action. It is important in this time to entertain and exercise the erotic more than ever before because the erotic is our sanity and keeps us alive and apparent.


the last time Jennifer Ognibene someone told me I was beautiful, I ran a lap around Sunset Lake before collapsing on the ground. I stared up at the night sky with its fading starlight and clutched the grass tightly between my fingers, fearing the world would fall away and that I would open up too, tiny crevices tearing apart the scars on my back. And as I cried silent tears that my tear ducts carried into the ground to lead to the earth’s erosion, students studied for finals in the rooms behind me. You said you knew everything about me, that you knew how I ticked. But when I took you into the hall of Mudd and stared at you until I found that pulsating vein barely visible beneath your right eye that you had never noticed in your twenty years of existence, you were taken aback by the world I moved in. The night that we were so close we could see the Empire State Building from our room, you turned me away from the city lights to mouth the words I love you against my lips. Even in the darkness of the hotel room, I felt a bit of the world that you moved in and I shivered against your embrace. I reached up to touch your lips and felt the haziness of your words intermingle with warm breath as I smeared them against my palm. The next morning, you whispered it again lazily in my ear as I looked in the mirror, and I felt the firmness of a lie setting in and taking root. If I had turned around to grab you then, you would’ve disappeared like smoke. I wanted your fingers to bruise my flesh, to delve far beneath the surface, to grasp at secrets that I hid for you to find. You practiced the scientific method but your explorations always came up short, your caresses all too soft and too quick. You never did appreciate the value of a lingering touch. I’ll never marry. And if I do, I’ll marry lighter than you. You cut me loose not long after speaking those words. Your desire to charm, fuck and marry white did not surprise me. I’ve always found myself half in love with bullies. Mean-eyed men who made me twice over in the palms of their hands only to snuff out their creation with a single squeeze. I raged against you by reliving every memory. Like that time at the pier when you called me “your love” and first felt the tenderness in my eyes, my soul leaping up to meet yours in the roof of my mouth. And then you inhaled sharply. Swallowed them whole. The first and last time I heard those words.


i didn’t say no Anonymous I didn’t say no, even though I wanted to and I really wish I had but I just didn’t say it I didn’t say anything and I don’t know why I didn’t just say no I don’t want to, I am going home, I don’t actually like you that much and you don’t even respect me, you don’t, I can tell you don’t even respect my body and I don’t want you to touch me anymore I am going— that’s what I wish I’d said I wish I’d just said why the fuck didn’t I just? get up and leave I’d had too much to drink— why is it easier sometimes? why does it actually feel easier sometimes, at the time to just let it happen than to say no why couldn’t I just say no? But also why didn’t you ask, you bastard— my silence is not my consent I didn’t say no but I didn’t say yes either


and if I stop you the first four times you try to take my pants off, my silent resignation the fifth time does not constitute consent

I DIDN’T SAY NO - Anonymous my drunken passivity the fifth time does not constitute consent and just because I don’t mind if you kiss my neck that doesn’t mean I want you to do more that doesn’t mean that you get to assume that I want more and I know you are just thoughtless, selfish insensitive and immature, not evil and I know you were drunk too and if I had said “NO” you would have stopped and I don’t know why I didn’t say it but I really shouldn’t have to say it I really shouldn’t under last night’s circumstances have to say it I told you I was drunk and dizzy couldn’t you feel me not participating couldn’t you feel me just tolerating couldn’t you feel that I didn’t want to and I just wasn’t saying so because I felt like somehow I owed you or like it would be uncool of me not to or something stupid like that because I am young okay I am learning I am still learning to speak up for myself and do the right thing for myself okay and well now I have learned I have learned because of you because when I got home last night I stood in the shower and cried and I couldn’t stop crying and I wanted to stay in there longer but all the hot water ran out and I have spent all morning this morning crying too because I feel not clean and not respected and like there is something in me now that I don’t want to be there and I don’t know how to get it out I can’t picture myself laughing or having fun today you will never understand this feeling, you could not I am a beautiful young woman I am a sensitive kind girl, and you treated my body like a thing and it is partially my fault, I feel because I didn’t say no but also fuck you fuck you fuck you so much


I DIDN’T SAY NO - Anonymous When I woke up this morning I swore to myself I promised I said never never never never never never ever again never again sex without mutual respect I looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, I am sorry I said I love you I am so sorry you deserved so much better and I didn’t speak up for you I am so sorry and I promise I promise you now I have learned once and for all I will not forget this and next time I will not hesitate to find my voice believe me I will not be silent again if there is a next time that I don’t want to and I can stop it with one word I will say “no” loud and clear I will say “no, wait, stop” “I don’t want to” I will not let myself be used I am stronger now because of this, I am not unclean I will be stronger now because of you, you cannot make me unclean


stains of known origin Zoe Wennerholm I crack a mirror. Suddenly, you swallow it. Bright shards disappearing into blackness. I wonder at how unfazed you seem: you gulp at the sharp pieces like candy. I watch myself fall into you. How can one person contain so much nothingness? They say we carry vessels. I try to keep myself full—imagine a bowl balanced precariously, brimming with cool water. I walk with my chin up and try not to spill, dream of noble Greek women, marble statues. You cycle madly, hurricane whirlwind, branches breaking, swallowing everything into nothing. Broken vessels begin to leak; broken vessels begin to bleed. Three Septembers ago you were playing with a pen, purple ink. Cartridge broke: pages, fingers, hair stained dark. I find purple fingerprints everywhere. The wine-dark sea follows. Stains are important: impressions of the past hurled unendingly into the future. People stain people. Tess of pure water, then pure water tinted red; at least it matches those peony lips. When I was five, I was a king, the living room my kingdom. Castle of cardboard and blankets. Sliding backwards on the coffee table, then off the coffee table. I wonder how many kings have been beheaded; what are the statistics? Let’s run the numbers. Imagine a bowl balanced precariously, brimming with cool water; imagine it dashed furiously against stone (the fireplace of stone). Anyway. Blood stained the white couch, the king’s robes, the car seat. Some kings wear crowns of gold; this one wore a bag of frozen peas on the way to the hospital. How do you fix something? Sometimes you wait. Sometimes you wait until you can’t wait anymore and bust out of the place, screaming until your lungs are raw. Sometimes you want to do that, but know that the little boy next to you with a broken arm is having a rough day too. This is what my mother thinks. I don’t remember this part well. I do remember the light blue cotton pajamas, head held over a bucket, numbness and pain at once. Stitches are how you fix something. Later my mother found blood dried on my ears. I didn’t care too much since I got to keep the pajamas. Those stains came out in the wash. You told me stories about when you were young, too, before we knew each other. Was your vessel whole then? What was its shape? What did it hold? You told me how sleep wouldn’t come (still doesn’t now), how you would stare at the sloping white ceiling turned grey in the dark and think about dragons and gods and turbulent seas. The wine-dark sea. You used to go to your parents’ bedroom, look for consolation in their big warm bed. One night your father, tired and aflame, dragged you to the bathroom, to the bathtub. Turned the shower on, blinding light and cold cold water. You were still in your pajamas. (Little me would have lent you her hospital pajamas.) The pen snaps, the bowl breaks. You say, that’s not how you fix something. When a vessel breaks, where do the pieces go? Does everything leave behind a residue, a stain? Is nothing clean?


STAINS OF KNOWN ORIGIN - Zoe Wennerholm Lady Macbeth scrubs her hands eternally. You take a lot of showers now. One morning I awake to find my vessel of cool water clouded as though by ink—the wine-dark sea? Waters that can never clean, waters that can never be clean. Here’s a story I don’t like to tell; I told you anyway to spite myself. I was too young to remember him, but they say he used to play with me: building blocks and peekaboo. (The time before object permanence) (The time before people permanence) (There is no time when people are permanent) He was a good kid. He had red dyed hair and he liked playing drums and sailing. My parents took infant-me to his bar mitzvah and I cried during the service. He left on a sailing trip and didn’t come back. The wine dark sea comes for us all. A vessel filled to overflowing, a vessel swallowed up. He was eighteen years old. Who can know the death of a child until one’s own child dies? My mother’s sister tore her clothes, expression of grief. Washed her hands often, expression of guilt? Anyway. I can barely remember, I say. You look at the floor and say, I’m sorry. I say, it was years ago. I can barely remember. I don’t tell you that sometimes I dream of him, boat overturned, wearing a life vest that wasn’t enough. Strong winds, strong waves. He was a king too, with the name of a king and the grave of a king. Are you swallowing a mirror now too? Can you feel it scrape and scratch and slice your throat? Where do the pieces go? What happens when water is stained by water?


underwater oxygen Yael Haskal Once I read an article about a man’s journey to understanding the world with more compassion and less frustration. The trick was, he said, to imagine that every single person and situation in the world is a product of enlightenment. It was a Buddhist theory. Everyone you encounter knows something important that you do not, and everything that happens to you is teaching you a lesson. With this logic, you can never hold a meaningful grudge — if such a thing exists — against another person. The boy who hurts you is offering a lesson you are required to take. The old woman who scratches your car knows a secret you have yet to discover. This was the secret. You cannot begrudge your angels. For a while I sustained this point of view with positive results, but met my downfall in the feeling of enlightenment I experienced myself. The probability that the people I interacted with each day had read the same article was miniscule. I knew the secret, but they did not. I knew that they knew and that I didn’t know. I knew that they were teaching me what they knew but they didn’t know that I knew that I didn’t know. But how can we be enlightened when some of us know and some of us don’t? How can we be enlightened when some of us don’t even know that we know? I think true enlightenment is the day that everyone in the world reads about this theory and secretly decides to undertake the challenge themselves, and from that moment forward we are all treating one another as if we are the unequivocal embodiments of nirvana. I don’t think I really believe in heaven but I would like to think that enlightenment is a halo of acceptance for each of us, multiplying until we are all wearing luminescent merited crowns. Tangentially, in an alternate universe, we will all be smiling mini-Buddhas who rub each other’s stomachs for good luck, and under the purple sky someone will shout, “Enlightenment at last!” Another time, Anaïs Nin told me, “I must be a mermaid…I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” I wanted to reply that I was a mermaid as well, but for different reasons. I can only truly breathe underwater, where the physical world no longer exists and everything is muted. When we were younger, and paddling through the lap pool at summer camp, my friend Jessica called it “Peaceville”: the only place besides outer space where all was still and sound wasn’t. It was in water that I found stillness, as I had found worlds within wire and dimensions in stereograms. I have found in the past several years that brain operates in gray when I can control it, and extremes when I cannot. I either see the world too much, or not at all. I am absorbing everything, or nothing. When I take in everything, it is the whole world at once and the pain of the trampled dandelions is unfathomable. When my senses switch off, it is the inhalation of flavorless air: empty. Conclusion: I will take the cruel and the heavy over the mild and empty, any day. When I first encountered Marina Abramovic, I was struck by her respect for her life. She threw herself in front of a crowd of people for six hours with a table of weapons in front of her, letting the audience do what they pleased with her body: “Rhythm 0.” 1974: the same year a tight-wire was strung between the Twin Towers and crossed like holy feet on water. She respected herself so much that she laid down her life for the sake of it. She pursued the unthinkable because


UNDERWATER OXYGEN - Yael Haskal she thought of it. She said, “We are used to cleaning the outside house, but the most important house to clean is your own house — yourself — which we never do.” So today, I am cleaning my house. I am Windexing my heart and brushing dust from the grooves of my brain. I have borrowed gloves from the front hall closet, and I am swirling sterilized fingers through the misty cloud of central aura. I am taking the gasless car and stealing through the night to meet my wandering pneuma. Freud me out, MTV. I want my healed-up scars back. My spiritual body is walking the tightrope with Philippe Petit. My metaphorical lungs are sipping the stratospheric air while my pen plots the next route into space. Gymnopédie. It is the only piano piece I want to learn today. Gymnopédie and I am sinking into my chair. I am above the city and between the rubble. Gymnopédie is my mother’s palms. Immediate stillness. Man on Wire is the film that fills me up and taught me to hover. I am what I’ve seen and I feel what I’ve heard and my ID is a patchwork of the lives I have met. I am a cosmic mermaid, and I want to swim through space.


the disappearing man Jade Wong-Baxter They say his shoes went first— scuttled out the front door like they’d been wasting a lifetime like they wouldn’t wait for anyone to walk a mile in them. (That was the first sign, and he should have known to run barefoot down the manicured lawn, grab the loafers, keep sprinting and never return.) He didn’t mind at first— ankles to shins to crooked kneecaps all vanishing in perfect order, an army of obedience. (And why would a man need to walk a thousand miles when even his shoes have abandoned him?) A fingernail, a coffee spoon, an heirloom watch All these measured lives, gone— until he remembered nothing but how to walk alone, with his vanished body smiling, with his invisible mouth.


things i didn’t know i loved Maria Bell It’s Thursday, March 23rd, I can hear the pattering of rain on the roof. I can’t see it but I can imagine the last of the snow melting into mud— I always liked mud season, When I’d tromp in the creek, feel myself sinking slowly down, Pretend it was monsters come to grab me. At the last second I’d make a leap for it, leaving the tops of my red boots Peeking up above the muck like marooned dinghies at low tide. I didn’t know I loved to laugh. I miss the out-of-breath feeling you get When you laugh so hard you have nothing left inside. And here I’ve loved that old cat all this time, I always said I didn’t. I can see the scars she left on my arms from all those trips to the vet; She’d hiss at me and I’d hiss back. I miss how warm my feet felt with her tangled around them at the foot of the bed. I can’t feel the anger anymore that I had over the ugly orange ceramic vase My little sister made for me that the cat left in pieces on the floor. I don’t know why I loved that ugly orange ceramic vase But I miss the way it tilted to one side, And the squished-in part that made it look as if someone had kicked it. I don’t think my sister was cut out to be a potter, She’s better at writing. I have her letters, a whole stack. I didn’t know I loved to read until the letters stopped And all I had left to decipher was a cinderblock wall. I never knew I liked the smell of burnt quesadillas, Sizzling and sooty black when I finally remembered to turn off the heat. I always forgot to set the timer. I suppose I trusted my memory too much and underestimated How distracted I would get hunting for the last can of beer.


THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW I LOVED - Maria Bell I don’t know why I’m thinking of burnt quesadillas But I can hear my stomach growl. I don’t think it realizes its last meal was yesterday’s undercooked pasta. I used to eat like a horse, Back when us boys would sneak into the all-you-can-eat buffet One at a time so they never noticed us making off with cartons of Fried chicken and egg rolls, Wiry teenagers concerned with our stomachs rather than our futures. I didn’t know I liked the old porch swing at my grandparents’ house. It creaked so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think, And little bits of wood were always chipping off. I imagine I am sitting on it now, not strapped to this cold metal chair That knows nothing but the ends of lives. I had my first kiss on that swing, I don’t remember her name but I remember the taste of my blood After I cut my lip on her braces. I wonder if that swing is still there, It probably isn’t. I never knew I liked the way my grandmother said my name In her Alabaman twang when she yelled at me To stop chipping wood off the old porch swing. I didn’t know I loved being a father until I couldn’t be one anymore. I wonder if he’ll remember the sound of my voice, Telling stories of rocket ships and detectives until he fell asleep. Perhaps it’s better he won’t remember what it’s like to have a dad. Maybe my life would have had a different ending If my father disappeared before I was too old to forget. It’s funny how we follow in the footsteps of those Who abuse us most. I didn’t know how not to love him, But loving gets you hurt. Maybe that’s why I forgot I loved so many things. I just remembered my shoes, The red ones with the scuffed toes and laces riddled With knots holding together the pieces the cat chewed through. I loved those shoes— The only pair I bought instead of stole. I didn’t know I loved being alive. I guess I realized too late because I lost the right to love it When I left that man lying there on the pavement. I wonder where he went when his heart stopped beating,


THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW I LOVED - Maria Bell Or if he ceased to be anywhere. Will I remember any of this? Or will it all be gone just like that. I think I know now why people believe in heaven and hell, Loving the unknown is hard to do. The rain is falling harder, soon the thunder will come. I never liked thunderstorms. I watched a video once of a man being struck by lightning; Every time it stormed I dreamed I was that man. Stay away from trees and water my mother told me, And the lightning will never catch you. She was wrong. When storms came I steered clear of trees and never went near water, But the lightning caught me anyway.


at the hospital bed Patrick Walker “Wow this one has faded! You can’t see the sunlight Hidden by dust and monochrome, but I Can remember it all. It was bright that day in early October how innocent We look and to think next month everything would change. I wish I could remember what I was laughing about Though sun was bright fall chill had arrived as you see He’d already changed into leathers but I Was still in that sundress I loved so much Pink and shining, hair in two braids, that was The newest style of the time. I wish I could Remember what I was laughing about That grey grass was actually green. While most Of the aerodromes were a muddy hell By this time, not his—In Rimes, or was it Loan?— I know it had been a dry summer though He always tried to convince me it was his Perfect landings that were keeping it smooth. Maybe that was what I was laughing about? Early October, so he had just taught Me to drive that new car! Ford T, or was it Buick? —Can you make out the name? Where did I put my glasses?— I learned so quick and boy did I like driving That thing around the aerodrome and on Those dirt lanes through the land around you can see He’s hardly paying attention anymore That’s how good I was! Maybe that was what I was laughing about? But what was he looking at? One of his pals had just purchased this newfangled Camera and he would not stop photographing Everything! The mess hall, flight line, and the hangars— It’s a mercy they kept him out of the latrines! But what was it beyond the camera


AT THE HOSPITAL BED - Patrick Walker That caught his gaze that day? Was it the distant cloud Of war, or the tiny dot of a departing comrade Never to return. I wish I knew what he was looking at I have other pictures of him but this Is the last. Both your father and you remind me Of him so much at this age and to think, he never Met either of you. I remember the day he didn’t come back 11 am I’d just heard the news And I got on my bicycle, joyful! Only the night before he’d told me that He’d loved me, and in that moment He asked me to marry him! Now The war was over, we’d run away Everyone was busy celebrating At the aerodrome they had not noticed His absence, until I asked... It was sometime between six and eleven am I wish I knew what actually happened but At least I remember what I was crying about.”


left foot back Michael Fracentese i have to read a book for class called salsa dancing into the social sciences and the trick is it uses salsa dancing as both metaphor and not a metaphor and im not sure if theres a word for that but i wish there to be but the problem is that i can dance with metaphor but not with my body because arms and legs dont move as smoothly as a pen (but thats a lie because i have terrible penmanship) the point anyway is that i dont have the figure for literal dance though i can bob my head with the best of them and flail my arms (once i get a few drinks in) and i have always wished that i could riverdance all arms steady with furious footwork like lord of the dance michael flatley who in the year of my birth was named a living treasure by national geographic for his mastery of a traditional art but now that fox has bought them out does their approval count for anything is selling out even a valid concept because harvard university presses published salsa dancing into the social sciences and harvard as an institution is just as much a club for the rich as fox and still i cannot dance


we can’t be dead, we’ve been photographed Jimmy Pavlick The bent, shoddily rolled cigarette is tired of Glowing dim in the shadow of the puke-dry, Spilled beer, 40s and twenties and torn leggings Tired of its filter and its insta filter and it’s Filthier. Burnt out and drifting unconsciously from Being dabbed into the scraped, half painted ashtray That is shaped like a turtle Which you found quaint Because you acquired it at a flea market where it only cost two dollars And reminded you of Some shattered mirror, Some post-novelty, post-nuclear-family, post-ennui, post-post something Or, as you put it, in terms of the self How you are cheap to acquire For the purposes of other tortured people To snuff their pains into your lack of A soft back to stab Through classic occidental symbolism And we’re all bored of the babble by then. Sipping spoonfuls out of the cesspool. Where did this packet of shrooms come from? Did you pay for them, or Are they a tradeoff for the weed you gave your friend last week? There is no ethical consumption under capitalism, So what do you call this trip? This fight club? How many cups of gourmet coffee, craft beer, or even lines of cocaine Does it take before the beating of the heart sounds as distant as a wave of vapor? Youth millennial vintage aesthetic culture Reminds me less of half torn polaroid snapshots Eagerly abusing some postmodern interpretation Of the visual rule of thirds And reminds me more of Another meaning of culture:


WE CAN’T BE DEAD, WE’VE BEEN PHOTOGRAPHED - Jimmy Pavlick A contained dish, Festering, growing inward on itself, Parsing crate upon crate of names For the purposes of learning. The bacteria isn’t the one who learns, you see, And when you construct pain to be artful, It hurts a little less, Becomes less like pain, More like the social capital city in a country You colonized firsthand. Its last exhale sounded like Brooklyn, or topknot, or war bonnet, Or spirituality by name, not by sight, Or fraudulent sweat lodge, Or culture bound, Or trendy neighborhood, Or homeless expulsion, Or shameless ableism, Or the “right kind of weird,” Or the “right kind of fucked,” Or the “right kind of culturally pleasing depression,” Or maybe it didn’t sound like Anything at all Through the haze of paper smoke and a liquid gun, Clique-bait, Irony firing shots into itself, I’m sure that was it, the sound: Nothing at all.


the circus called Katharine Rooney The circus called. They want our act. You tear our hearts out with your teeth, and wear them on your fists like boxing gloves. I draw my brains out through my nose and wrap them like a boa ‘round your neck. You peel my skin like a ripened peach and hang it from the trees I cannot reach. We hold our breath and count to ten million nine hundred ninety nine thousand twenty one. The crowd cheers. They had fun.


syzygy Michael Fracentese Why aren’t we aligned the way we used to be? I cannot say Aligned the way the planets are; I cannot say if you’re a star The planets are whats on my mind, if you’re a star (so intertwined) Whats on my mind: we used to be so intertwined, why aren’t we?


little resistances Violet Cole we spent the last few days kneeling on prayer stools or kissing in the girls’ bathroom. I’m not sure what the difference was to me. to you, i’m sure, my whole body swelled up twice its size and still was arachne to athena. sin against god. you took me anyway, a light leak over your whole left half so all we could see was my arm draped lazily over your shoulder in front of the twin bed. i laughed and blushed. you took me anyway, didn’t tell your father we loved carefully and hardly, your nails on my back, mouth open, almost in prayer. i apologized to no one. you told your sister and said sorry. we spent the end gazing at the ceiling, each other, ourselves. idly we began to untangle, your fingers slipping from mine. i didn’t try to stop them.

— — the bottom of the river gave me deep vivid scrapes on the backs of my thighs you were all corners the hardwoods turned to softwoods overnight while you turned away. your wildflower body, the lightning storm, her fists clenched like balls of iron and imprinting crescent moons into my wrists. your voice caught in between two songs on the album my inability to show affection my inability to extend my sentiments beyond paper. in the forest i repented and stooped to my knees and asked the mountains to take me home. among the white pines and beeches i identified striped maples and bent, low, whispering i love you, i’m sorry, i love you.


leave Maria Bell Leave1 (past and past participle left) verb. 1. Go away from: As in, I left the house sometime after dark by slipping out the back door. 2. Go without taking (someone or something): I left Annika drawing at the kitchen table to sneak off to Jackson’s party which the police busted up in less than forty-five minutes; Dad took the last of the emergency money, just enough for a few shots of Bacardi, leaving the empty jar sitting on the counter and leaving Annika spitting blood onto the marbled tiles of the kitchen floor. 3. Cease attending or working for: My dad didn’t know I knew he left his job at the bank months ago but I did and I should have known what it meant. 4. To remain: When I slipped back in through the side door and found her curled in a ball under the table I remember our mom’s voice saying, ‘Will, you’re all she has left.’ 5. Cause (someone or something) to be in a particular state or position: Dad left Annika with a snapped wrist, a split lip and a gash across her cheekbone; I left my sister alone with him when I knew he was in one of his moods; the way she smiled at me through the blood dripping down her chin left me puking in a potted plant on the porch. 6. Bequeath: I wrapped her in the brown coat Mom left for Annika that she had not yet grown into and carried her out to my car. 7. To entrust a decision, choice or action to (someone else): I wished in that moment that she’d given me some old coat instead of leaving Annika’s safety up to me. 8. Let (someone) do or deal with something without offering help or assistance: I used to tell myself it was because she trusted me, but I think now she left me to take care of her because I was the only one who felt I needed to; I left Annika to slow the bleeding with her t-shirt in the backseat while I drove haphazardly towards the emergency room. 9. Remain to be used or dealt with: Once her face was stitched up and her wrist splinted, a doctor asked how it happened and she said she left her box of paints on the floor, tripped on them, and fell into the counter; I stood abruptly but my words tangled up on themselves and the lie was left hanging in the air long after the doctor walked away. 10. Abandon: ‘Those are the Sebastian kids,’ I heard a voice say from the other side of the flimsy curtain. ‘Their mom walked out and left ‘em a couple years ago but the father’s a good man — he’s an executive at the bank on 5th Street.’ 11. Depart from permanently: I took Annika by the hand and heads down, we walked straight through the ER and left before the doctor came back with more questions; just before I turned onto our street it crossed my mind for a fleeting second that perhaps he had left for the last time that night, and then the silver Mazda came into view, parked in its usual place in the driveway. 12. Cause to remain as a trace or record: Seeing it there left an ache in my chest, whether of relief, disappointment, anger, I didn’t know; the stitches in Annika’s cheek soon dissolved but they left a thin white scar from the corner of her left eye to the edge of her mouth; if it left an impression on him he never let on; we got so good at pretending everything was fine I could almost believe it until I’d catch her smiling at me, and then the ache in my chest reminded me it had never left.


silas Patrick Walker Slow, great breaths Great, slow, deep breaths Ground swell on a soft shore welling Up from unknown depths for unknown time Growing pregnant with foam to run Along the breaking crest-line and hurry Up the long gently slopping pebble-ridden beach Then back in shrinking rills taking new Leaving old yellowing foam dried On driftwood green with age. Hissing through the sand Hissing through nostrils Great, slow, deep breaths Deep, dripping eyes Slow, dripping, deep eyes Dark wells of patience One clear, one clouded Rock lined and cool Overflowing with stoical sorrow Soiling long lashes grey with age And the witnessing of So many passing years. Full of clear water Full of tears Slow, dripping, deep eyes


Silas - Patrick Walker

Long, agile ears Agile, long, warm ears Swing on hinges deep within Stirred by winds of mood Sway in the gentle breeze of pleasure When rubbed just right, twitch in the Wind of annoyance at a biting fly or Flatten in a gale of fury when threatened. Move with the breeze Move with life Agile, long, warm ears But breaths come slower now Eyes blink tiredly and ears Relax as knees gently buckle He falls to the November bleak asphalt Two hundred CCs of sweet pink barbiturate They drag him with a whining winch into The cold, stinking box truck leaving only A dark smear across the drive.


the nightstand Alex Raz I killed the panther in my sleep, I dream his body calms the forest now. A lunge, my feet against his chest, then over a rose on the adjacent rocks corresponding dreamers, he and I, our regrets faze the morning light. I toss and turn, I sweat your burdens weigh my heart and your breath, and How silly of me to believe a single light could fill the forest Even after the morning fell spirits and rodents still called this dream home— Black orchid amiss between the rocks and the ocean before I kicked him I told him: I have to be honest, Although I appear to revel in shadows, I do desire the sun on my back And I know I don’t always know where I am going. I know I know, he said, and then he asked, But why do you doubt? You lift the stones you’ve lifted before as if Something’s different. Although we’ll both seem vicious, I replied, In the light of the morning all my dreams come staggering back then vanish and I enter each dream searching, yes my arms are full of stones I know somewhere here day is close.


The nightstand - Alex Raz But you think you’ll forget your sorrows? Fearful, I thrust my feet up and then Black orchid, there’s only so many ways that water can hit a bank He wailed: I take a deep breath! Between breaths I’ll breathe deeply. A humid mind made for a humid sleep a humid memory on the pillows and the nightstand.


stalemate Jordy Schnarr my father taught me chess, but we don’t play. when we did, he let me win. I hated it, hated him, hated how he gave me everything, even victory. how could I resent a man who’d stop the world from spinning if I told him I was dizzy? I never did. I never told him anything. love doesn’t make a man patient, kind. his impatience rattled in my sleep. when he yelled, my bones retreated deep. his swears dug beneath my skin, twinged, gnawed my nerves to bits. my father’s flaws embedded in my flesh. he taught me chess. we used my board, wooden, with a broken hinge. his board before he called it mine. I loved this set; I love it now, I will love it with a love I keep close to my chest, a love I could never let show, let go, share, grow. could never let my father know how much I loved this dusty, disused set. we don’t play chess and I have never said, I love you, dad. if I had, would I have meant it? if I pulled my chess set down and set out its well-worn pieces, if my father and I sat across it, could we play? or would the gulf between our sides keep even queens at bay? he wouldn’t know my game, couldn’t guess the moves I’d make. he wouldn’t need to let me win— would he try? could I stand checkmate? my father taught me chess, my best defenses. could I let them break?


sudden emergence of a memory from childhood Catherine Tween

I close my eyes halfway to sleep and suddenly I am very young in autumn clouded skies and puddles on the ground I’m crossing a paved road holding my father’s hand nearing the entrance to the autumn fair. The day is cool and wet and colorful, and damp; the road overhung with trees, the air humid and sweet with the smell of rotting leaves, and although only this brief moment surfaces, it is so beautiful, my mouth waters, and, eyes still closed, there comes to me the thought:


SUDDEN EMERGENCE OF A MEMORY FROM CHILDHOOD - Catherine Tween Be someone who respects the solemn sweetness of this memory, long-lost and now, reasonless, unlost— be someone who feels the cool damp magic of that day when all the leaves were in the puddles on the road the puddles full of fallen many-colored leaves the autumn day and I was crossing the wet asphalt glistening blue-dark like the sea at night and glancing back over my shoulder my father’s hand in mine I saw the road behind us disappearing into white mist fog and all the trees were dripping.


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