volume ten number one fall two thousand thirteen
The VEG content
poetry The Northwest Passage Discovered — Eric Kilpatrick — 7 How We Are — Christine Klippenstein — 9 flagstaff gardens — Hilary Mutch — 10 The Mouth — Julia Isler — 13 anaesthesia — Julia Isler — 16 The girls room — Julia Isler — 17 Sh — Matthew Horrigan — 19 The Astronaut — Eric Kilpatrick — 20 Three Darwin Poems — Joseph Kidney — 22 Prophecy — Caroline Neel — 27 As rain (for M) — Caleb Harrison — 28 The Other — Simone Vieco — 35 On A Stopover from Michigan — Caroline Neel — 37
prose Movement and Stasis — Christine Klippenstein — 12 Cossack — Emery Dalys — 14 Debussy and Chopin — Nicholas Corroon — 24 A Brave Rejection — Andrew Pickens — 29 waking up on a late summer morning — Julia Isler — 33 The Woman Atlas — Victoria Eon — 34
art untitled — Elizabeth Hamm — 8 rose’s superpower — Elizabeth Hamm — 8 The Curve — Kristen Pye — 21 The Beets — Matthew Rettino — 34 beijing opera poster — 36
editors-in-chief Lucy Cameron + Christy Frost editors Hera Chan Jenn Jesmer Clara LagacĂŠ Lucas Napier-Macdonald Zain R. Mian Matthew Redmond Mark Weissfelner design by Hera Chan
The VEG Literary Magazine is funded by the Fine Arts Council of the Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University and the Department of English Students Association.
Dear Reader, While other magazines might settle for pleasing or alienating their audience, The VEG strives proudly to do bothâ€”sometimes on a single page. Thanks to the sheer brilliance and diversity of our fall submissions, only some of which can appear here, that goal seems well within reach. In fact, the volume of great works in our inbox at present is almost insupportable; we may soon be forced to siphon some into offshore accounts. This issue is dedicated to the readers, because if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to read the folio we print on it, then we have no poetry and no forest. It is also dedicated to the writers, whose vast collective creativity we applaud with one hand. Eat up! â€”The Editors
The Northwest Passage Discovered ERIC KILPATRICK
A sheet of ice crumples around an iceberg, splintering upward; the white rose blooms through the ice cliff, blue salt dyes the stem, climbs the candelabra to its frozen wax fingers spilling above us into the warm Northwest Passage. *** Belugas dive deep in the aquamarine palimpsest of light and bring up chewed hearts of fish. Translucent eggs float and hatch beneath the icebergs. *** The Steersman battles planets; galloping through the sun, he courts Andromeda. He plucks Polaris like a nickel from the water. *** Whale bones pillar the snow clouds. The icicles between their ribcages fracture as white birds hawk the steaming entrails. *** On the other side of the Northwest Passage: cedars drop plump fruit into salt ponds. Long, slender eels swallow them. I hold the porthole open. Spices are poured into the ocean, staining the hull orange.
How We Are How Should A Person Be? CHRISTINE KLIPPENSTEIN
I want to feel (and thereâ€™s only one example of everything) alive, all startling and magnetic and satisfied. My friends, like me, like all: specks of dirt (this earth more alive than my contemporaries) yet I do what I can touch (softly) breathe (a little) please just give me more time
i try to find my way home at night
in a park in the outer suburbs the southern hemisphere the margins with the ghosts of gum trees sweet eucalyptus possums and dark birds pink heath swallowing dusk rotting networks of root and mulch evaporating into moonlight and the alien stars! the denominator between earth and sky in a park stretched between latitudinal streets over a strange city those oceans of atmosphere Virgo Lupus Crux i write maps as i search for constellations and lost mythologies the constellations of crows in canola fields the grid of a hometown NW SW NE SE centre street and the river deerfoot, blackfoot, crowfoot the topography foothills and valleys grass like the hair on the spine of a buffalo stretching like a spine and assembling falling leaves a pine needle falls between my pages sour, fermenting i learn to write about prairie roads
and the encyclopedia of ancestry “tell me a story from when you were a kid” when the farm hand left the bullpen open when the siamese cat howled like a ghost into a valley when he rode his horse half-dead five miles to town because the jehovah’s witnesses told him the rapture was coming when the crack opened up the earth “what side of the crack do you want to be on?” the side with familiar constellations i write maps for the people who fall out of love with freedom and forget those strange latitudes but in the darkness trace the stars ursa major ursa minor a knit blanket dipping over the folds of the earth
I’ve finished the third volume of Meditations on Poetry and am right in the middle of cross-referencing lines 476-82 with the older published version when I hear Joey’s careful footsteps in the hall. He hesitates in my doorway. “Mommy?” “Yes?” I say, finger questing down the page. Doorless has become Windowless in the revised edition. Interesting. He doesn’t come in. “Mommy, is it time to take a bath now?” “Sure, Joey.” I wave him away. “I’m right in the middle of this, but you’re a big boy. You can run your bath by yourself, right, honey?” Why would J. Stone have made this change? In the year of the second revised edition, he would have been — I close my eyes — newly married, grieving the recent death of his sister Catherine, and beginning to write his greatest work, Hidden Passing. Passing is full of Stone’s preoccupation with space and enclosure; the change from lack of door to lack of window surely indicates that he perceives a narrowing of opportunity. That’s quite plausible. I should scan his other works from that year for similar references. “— soon?” “Oh, sorry, honey?” Where did I put my notes on the Collected Works? Even in my peripheral vision I can see his eyes, so much like his father’s. “Are you gonna come soon?” “Of course, darling.” I rummage through another drawer. If I can prove an echo of Stone’s obsession in Hidden Passing within Mediations, I might be able to reopen an old debate. Joey has tottered away and soon I hear the sound of water running. I find my notes on one side of the bookshelf, but I can’t remember when I put them there. Quietly, then louder, Joey begins to sing as he runs water in the next room. It’s mostly nonsense but there’s something familiar in the tune. This’ll bother me all night. “Honey,” I say, opening the bathroom door. A rush of steam assaults me. He must be running the bath too hot. “What’s that from?” Water pours from the tub faucet. He’s a set of dark eyes and cotton pyjamas bent over the white curve of porcelain. “It doesn’t matter, Mommy,” says my little boy. “Does it?”
JULIA ISLER And yet, we cannot live by faith alone, Said Aaron to his brother’s silent back As he, his spirit swollen great with songs, With heaven’s light, with the pure scourge of fire, Cast his eyes toward the desert’s edge, Where loomed Mount Sinai, dim against the sky. The dry grey of the mountain spilled from The dry grey of the desert, as if the Slipped thumbprint of one who sought to drag A straight line through wet sand with a cold finger But, startled by a wave that surged past The bound described by the dogged surf, Lost balance, and with it, the perfection of the line. But were these quiet words of Aaron the words Of human weakness or the burning Word of God? For Aaron was the mouth in which God placed His words and those of silent, staring Moses. And could there be room for weakness in a Mouth so wholly filled with holy fire? For he believed what Moses told him of The burning bush, the writing in the stone, Even never having climbed Mount Sinai, Never gazed from its grey height across the greyer plain. He did not receive the Word, but spread it, For what was sweet as honeyed cherries In Aaron’s fertile curving mouth was turned To dust upon the stumbling tongue of Moses. So Aaron sang what Moses could not say, Gave lovely form to the terrible thought For those who were less strong than Moses, Who could not cross the dust sustained by but The fire of heaven and the booming voice of God, But needed something solid, needed manna. This was the will of God. He made the mouth To fill it with the Word, to envelop it in flesh. Is this so different from a golden calf: To cast the spirit’s form in gilded words? Yet Aaron’s choice, made while Moses wandered, Enveloped him in holy scorching fire, For he had surged beyond the bound prescribed By his brother’s sacred dream of order And ruined the perfection of the line.
Cossack EMERY DALYS
On the broad, unbroken plain, Sava Sirko adjusted his trousers, kicked his horse, and began to set up camp. Eighteen days now he had travelled, and besides the monks on pilgrimage passing wordlessly in the other direction, Sava had seen no one, heard no one, and had conversed only with his horse. Lazily Sava opened his sack and pulled out a small chunk of bread. With considerable yet refined effort, he ate and stared into the horizon. He saw nothing but the grassy plain, yet still felt the confines of modesty tug at him as he ate the stiff, tasteless meal. “If only,” he sighed to Taras, as the horse snorted uncomprehendingly, “I had listened to my father.” Taras stared stupidly to Sirko’s left. The next morning, Sava set out again. Although he was no longer confident that this was the right direction, he hoped to cover more ground than the day before, as the day before he had covered more ground than the preceding day, and so on. Without any variation in the land it was difficult to be sure, but Sava felt positive that he was travelling farther every day. “Do you get stronger each day?” he asked his moronic horse. “We are definitely speeding up, Taras. We have that to be thankful for. That should be enough.” Somewhere off in the distance, absolutely nothing happened. Taras kept an even pace, which meant that Sava had absolutely nothing to distract him. Thoughts of his father drifted through the boy’s mind, each fragment of a memory waiting in line to slap him across his face. Images of the stout, kingly man hunting, cooking, and swearing assaulted Sava as though his father were riding right next to him, berating him from across his horse. Sava checked that he still had enough powder for his rifle. He hadn’t seen another living thing for twelve days, but something inside him had to be reassured that, should he come across any animal capable of thought, sentiment, or pride, he had everything he needed to be able to kill it quickly. Taras raced on, slowly gaining speed. Towards nightfall, Sava thought tiredly of Cossacks, Tartars, and Catholics. Though not in that particular order. Setting up camp for another night, Sava pulled out another hunk of bread and ate in silence. The same modesty that had restrained him the night before kept him from spitting out a particularly inedible morsel now. Sava thought of his mother, and how she usually made better bread than this. The bread he now ate, thought Sava, was not much like his mother’s bread, made according to her recipe. Sava moved all his belongings into a pile and tried to fall asleep. Not until hours later, after writing and redrafting a letter to his mother concerning the constancy of her bread, would Sava manage to dodge conscious-
ness for the night. Day broke painfully for Sava on the twenty-fifth day of his travel. Taras waited impatiently for Sava to mount him before taking off. After more than three weeks, Taras was now travelling faster than Sava was comfortable riding. However, as the shifting landscape never actually shifted, Sava had only the occasional cloud and a steady wave of nausea to convince him that Taras was indeed travelling faster than on the previous day. By the thirtieth day, Sava had become more or less attuned to Taras’s acceleration, and the boy soon returned to the ennui that plagued the earlier half of his voyage. He would have appreciated seeing the occasional bird. Thinking about Russia and Orthodoxy, Sava took a drink from his flask. It felt full, but the boy could not recall seeing any river from which he may have filled it. On the contrary, Sava remembered seeing nothing but grass for about a month and a half now. Night and day still alternated around him, but it had been awhile since the traveller had alighted from his horse. Taras would not stop, and Sava saw no reason to stop him. Hunger did not pain him, although he could tell he was getting thinner. At some point Sava had ceased to hear the steady tromp of Taras’s hoofs on the ground, but whether this was deafness or familiarity Sava was too lazy to discover. The image of his father was slowly losing its colour in Sava’ mind. Only the grassy, green tint of his teeth remained intact in the memories that occasionally cropped up to disgust him. “I sometimes wish we were traveling upwards, rather than vertically,” Sava whispered to his idiotic steed. “Would you not enjoy the sensation of swift, upward movement?” “That would be easier on my feet,” the horse replied. “However, you would quickly fall off.” Sava disregarded this answer. He had not asked such an interesting question merely to hear such pragmatic nonsense. Sometime after an uneventful day, Taras galloped headfirst into an enormous red brick wall.
anaesthesia JULIA ISLER
be thankful for cold wind it stiffens dulls the nerves it whips the trembling face hardens brimming pools into stony lamps dulled by things that revolve around you and of which you should not be aware sunlight does not pierce the veil it stumbles cold is not cold enough for this.
we awaken to low moans and hide our faces beneath white sheets from the mournful light of late morning we squeeze our eyes and thighs shut against the stirring of the deep woods the high howl of the wintry gale the white whirls up the window pane crashing its wild against the glass it gathers in deep soft folds around the family home.
The Beets MATTHEW RETTINO
shshshe had glasses and acne on herface. Shughshugh shugh I felt nnughnugh intrigued, I felt intrigued. I I I wugh I wanshe was beautiful she diswore a shirt with the sleeves cut off and the sleeves she put there instead were made from tat-tat-tatthere was a butterfly on her arm, it had sharp teeth.
In the movie, the astronaut clasps the glossy handle, symmetrical in every curve. He turns it and—in the same motion—moves forward into the red, squirming nest and it dawns on him: the universe is animated and it tries and it tries to create human anatomy again but can’t make it right. 20
III. Advice Advice for good offspring: Love those from far away. Do not take yourself one from nearby. Houses are only built from local stones because of transportation costs. Observe the avalanching infirmities of incestuous princes. *
IV. Once Removed
Far from the steel thicket where the wine flows like sewage, Truth is tucked into winter, cramming the hill’s socket with snore. It must be convinced of its own hunger. Even if all it talks about is your daughter. The slapping and peeling of its flank-steak tongue off the palate, a prefiguration of her throat’s squelch when the fang sinks. For this you need a shelved self and the stone heart’s rolled momentum. He built himself an aviary, a controlled pocket inside the green clamour of living things clambering over lives. A pigeon library, the warm thrum coming from the cages. They huddled in the dark, sopping with gravity, their feathers rustling like pages of a breviary left open
by a window left open. But the kin-born kept quiet, and bore their native languish, mangled by genetic thrift: skeleton of chalk, and the gutâ€™s cauldron into which the body fed itself. She inherited rupture: an abbreviated life. Her mother gravid and the grave being dug, he did not know which God collected her. He spared them all complicity, writing home from Malvern: Now we must be more and more to one another. Take the one with whom the balm for all wounds caused by coming close is coming closer-the relic spear, blessing the blood it spills. *
V. Pause You there, sitting beneath the tree, put down the book of nature and go outside.
There is a man walking uphill, feet crunching on gravel. His knees strain slightly toward the barn on a closely cropped field. Greens roll beside the lake’s edge. Warm, mid-June wind presses softly into his stubborn white hair and chin. There’s a sign by the entrance— “This Afternoon: Classical Pianist”— and he recognizes the name but knows it is spelled wrong. It should be with a “y,” he remembers, but it doesn’t matter. This is a small town where most people know each other at least by sight if not by name, a summer town. It can be difficult to remember every last name when so many people are always filtering in and out.
At one time he was a decent-looking man, not tall, not short, not particularly handsome, but ordinary in a comfortable way, as his wife told him. A face people could trust and a medium-sized body that filled most doorways. He was intelligent enough then, and connected. He had a few children, and made friends as well as money. Things changed. It began in the forehead as his hair pulled back, shrinking away. He told himself it was a sign of intelligence and loved pointing it out to everyone. Then his eyebrows puffed out—they never stopped growing, a particular source of pride—and they just kept growing until he could comb them into a principled shape. Before long his body resembled an eggplant, with the kind of features that would look good in an office portrait—so he had himself painted into one. A dark blue diesel Mercedes sedan passes by on the driveway and a hand waves from the back seat, the glare from the sun making it hard to see. The barn is ordinary, brown and grey, old unpainted wood coloured nicely with age. Long wooden slats run vertically on the walls and horizontally on the truss of the roof. It was converted into a house and later a small community theatre, so there are several little bits attached: bedrooms, a cupola, and an open room for private events. He has walked by once or twice but never gone inside. The main attraction is a scenic, screened-in porch, an old piano sitting in front of the room surrounded by white plastic chairs and tables with a view through the darkened screen out on the perfect grass stretching down to the water. The field behind is covered by tall flowers and reed grass. He stops a moment outside while the elderly audience files in through the door. People are already seated by the time he walks in, and the music has started. “This next piece is Debussy’s Reverie,” the old woman at the piano proclaims confidently to the room of septuagenarians. She takes the black seat. Varicose hands slide slowly into action and begin to move deftly along the keyboard. “Who is she?” the man leans over to ask the younger woman sitting next to
him. “She’s wonderfully elegant.” She gives him a strange look, placing a finger over her lips for silence. The piano sings along. There’s a barely-perceptible squeak from the foot pedal each time it’s pressed. The piano is an old Steinway, warped from moisture. But still, it is beautiful. She plays nearly a half-hour set. At intermission, a retired country actor, one of the beneficiaries of the community theatre, sweeps to the side of the piano as the crowd moves away for crackers, cheese, fruit, and refreshments that have been arranged at one end of the room. There must be at least thirty people, all old, except for a group with two middle-aged women and what must be their children making videos with their little phones. They’re the family of the pianist, most likely. The man takes a plastic cup of beer and the decrepit actor starts his lame jokes. “What’s saucy and oriental, folks? Well, you’re probably thinking belly-dancing, huh?” he chuckles. “Well. Heh, have you tried the local Chinese food?” He snorts to himself, putting on a bizarre mixture of a Jamaican and an Indian accent, trying to make his joke work. It’s not really even a joke, just bizarrely offensive, out of another era. There’s some humor in that, though. The two women look horrified and their kids chortle. The washed-up old clown goes on this way for several minutes and gets no response from the ancients. The people fill themselves with morsels and retake their seats. The elderly woman returns to her obsidian stool. “This next piece is Chopin’s Nocturne in F sharp.” She perches herself delicately. The man finds himself thinking of his first wife. They had four girls and two boys together. In the evening she’d play the Butterfly Waltz. As the notes lifted, the children would scatter about the house, flapping their hands in the imitation of the insects, fluttering about the home, and he would sit silently in his side office, sipping a beer. They rose and fell through the halls, suppressing giggles of excitement and the giddiness that preceded bedtime. These are fleeting memories, like rising bubbles in the heady beer he is sipping. Ephemeral bubbles that burst just before the surface of his memory. The man turns to the younger woman sitting next to him again. “I know who she is,” he whispers. “She’s wonderfully elegant.”
The piano sings softly to itself. The notes fall up and down, rapidly and then slowly, like water pouring from a frozen gutter. Then the woman’s fingers trip and her face furrows. She turns casually to the crowd. “Whoops! I missed a measure.” She quickly takes up a previous stanza and plays through, but before the end the song trails off. Manners take precedence and she announces her next piece. It’s no Carnegie Hall so no one minds after all.
Prophecy CAROLINE NEEL
The truth comes out wrong in the half-light, naked but for your sleeping arms & the sound of your breath. Between this moment & consciousness, in your head I have not left. This heat is proofâ€” there are lies in words but certainty in friction. I can see through to the morning when the soft parts of me are gone & your eyes are still closed. In the half-light, with visions what secrets do I tell? My body is a curse so far, & it is mapped on your skin. I try to match your hollows with my own. Space filling space until we are both just bones.
we dropped, fell grounded drips. The soak of hot tears fogs superfluous glasses I cannot bear to look through. You drench me with eyes exhausted by the clench of lids shielding us from the welling flood. All leaks left, you in the wet light of a lamplit path sing, steam drains from your mouth trembling in the damp night tapped at the bottom so it empties a drenching song, and I will sing a swell of small gasps they will echo in the cavernous cold of the place between your neck and shoulder into which I dive my face hoping to find it filled with water which I will drink and sink in, drown.
A Brave Rejection ANDREW PICKENS
Two Chinese women drive a 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham down route 418, California. Blaring through the wind, they turn to their left side and see pillshaped heads on the shoulders of cotton farmers in the distance, each a different color pill: purple, orange, yellow and light blue. The colors are laid against the ripples of heat over a field of what looks like bright white cotton candy. A young woman with bristling blonde hair and snappy red lipstick rises up from her crunched position, now exposed from her hidden stance within the cotton field. She has a Mary Tyler Moore haircut, dispersed freckles and the thickest and blackest shade of eye makeup available. Her face has an intriguing blandness, one that would have you think she had no interest in anything you’d have to say no matter how interesting. She raises her arm to her head laying hand on her cheek, causing the sun’s light to reflect her gold watch. If she had not been seen before, she would be now. The two women turn and notice the long blond hair and her olive dress and do not take long to slow the car down to a stop. Rising from their seats they grab their Golf visor caps and water bottles filled with pink lemonade before making their way across the street, edging closer to this woman. The older of the two women turns and yells out to her friend a few steps behind: “Have we been here before?” The second woman looks to her friend and turns back to keep walking. She stops at the edge where the road meets the gravel and looks down, hesitant in her next steps. The rattling of the car’s motor ends and a quick loud snap is heard, shaking the two women. With trepidation in her breath, the second woman yells out loud enough to be heard over the soaring Buicks behind her: “What are you doing there? Get in…why are you there?” The black kitten the two women had brought hears her master yell and jumps out of the car, running across the road to snuggle against her leg. In a sudden jab, the cat pounces on a rattlesnake nearby. The cat’s fang bites down through the snake’s scaly skin, fervently wrestling it back into the field. The snake disappears, swivelling through the flaky rock and into the dark soil. The older Chinese woman gathers herself and fixes her dress by pulling down on it lightly, as if to sharpen it. The woman in the distance gently drags her bottom lip down with two fingers and faintly walks over to the women, while fluently plucking some cotton before tossing it in single strides. The second Chinese woman standing behind her friend lights a cigarette, then grabs the straw of lavender that has been resting on the back of her ear. She lights the lavender and passes it below her nose while closing her eyes to
better take in the smell, only to toss it onto the road. A small spasm in her left eye causes her to rub both with twisting knuckles as the cigarette bounces in between her Barbie-pink lipstick. Once she regains her vision she is met by the cotton field woman, standing in front of her with only about a foot of space between them. The mysterious woman whispers to her: “Does morality set you free? Don’t be confused by the pretenses of your wilful living.” Once she settles into her speech and finishes, she walks over to the dark green Cadillac and tears the left sleeve off of her dress. The two women are not only bewildered by the reassuring tone of this stranger’s spoken daggers, but also perplexed by their unwillingness to prevent the car from being set on fire as they watch the woman shovel the cloth into the gas tank. The pill-shaped people ignore the whole debacle, continuing to pluck the cotton and place it in their baskets. They do this without hesitation or any sense of disturbance. The desert has never been hotter. Flames burn through the metal shield of the car, peeling the paint backwards in itself and crumbling its soon to be carcass. The fire envelops the women’s only form of escape. A cool breeze swarms them, passing by their necks. It is cooling, but only for a second. 30
One of the women takes a sip from her sweating bottle of lemonade and mumbles to herself something she hopes no one hears but that everyone infers: “No more cruise control…damn”. The smell of the leather upholstery begins to cloud everyone’s noses. “Your abundant desire to see the heat and the cool hinders your galloping,” the mysterious woman asserts, as she pulls her Zippo up to her cigarette. She lights one side too long and has to canoe it to balance its burning. The car was a rental. It did not belong to either of these women, and for a short second they forget this. They believe that their own car is being destroyed and feel worse as a result. They miss that which they have never owned. It feels terrible. The mysterious woman begins to occupy herself by twiddling the beads on her wristband, holding each one in her fingertips and then pushing them away. While the flames continue to grow bigger and the smoke thickens, the black cat jumps out of the back seat, through the front window and onto the highway tarmac, untouched by the flames. Her glimmering fur looks sharper than ever in the bright and blazing light. “Do you fear it?” The mysterious woman exclaims. “Do we fear what?”
“That you will not have enough of whatever you may think you need? That you will not have enough time to shrivel up the wounds you have created for yourself – the very wounds that you deem inseparable from your person? You’ve ravenously bit the heart that gave you blood.” The first of the Chinese women responds with a cracked tone in her throat while straightening her knees: “What are you talking about? This all seems so crazy, we must have made a wrong turn somewhere.” The mysterious woman reaches between several cotton plants to reveal the same snake that had withstood the bites of the cat. It looks like a new snake, but the mysterious woman assures the two women that it is the same as before by pointing out the cat’s bite marks with her index finger. “Are we sure that it’s the same snake? There’s a lot more blood and –” She holds the snake up with a pressing grip and interrupts the woman. “Look at its tail. Don’t you see?” The younger Chinese woman remains silent. She is standing stale and motionless while her lips are dry. One can almost hear the splitting of skin across the lips, like the scraping of a sandstorm against red rock. “It’s eating itself,” she exclaims. “Should we heal it…who will comfort it?” As the words leave her mouth she feels the resilient ripple of what she has just said pass through her with a profound stir. “Let’s not fret on this and move on. This is just one stop.” The mysterious woman slowly trickles her fingers across the hand of this woman, brushing against the thin hairs with a gentle leading touch. Both women begin to walk away from the car and into the cotton field. A transient calm envelops them. The woman by the car shouts out, “You sure you wanna go with her? We don’t even know what’s going on! Where are you going?” She pauses. Turns to the car and back; anxiously looking around for something, scrambling in her pockets in search of something to hold on to, but she can’t find anything. She lays her arms against her sides and looks down at the cat with trepidation in her stare. She screams out to the already distant women, “I’m staying here, it’s a principle thing – someone has to watch the car… the very car that’s burning…it’s just becoming ash. It’s just ash!” Her composed nerves begin to give in and her legs quiver. The heat of the desert grows on her now. Was this her best? Did she make the right move in staying? These are the questions that occupy her mind, edging away at the very princi-
pled line she had drawn in her head. The ash begins to blow across the road and through her legs, covering her spotless white Lacoste tennis shoes. This car was meant to last and yet it became rubble, and this rubble became ash. The woman begins to sob. Her tears pour through her fingers and across the sides of her head as she passes them through her hair. She rummages through her scattered thoughts to find a feeling of certainty in her decision, but she can’t seem to accept the answer.
Pushing through the branches of the sea grapes, the two women that left the road and cotton fields are met by the sound of clashing ocean waves. Their feet are sore and their breath flattened from the long walk. The black sands bulge before them erupting in the ocean’s reflective gaze. The slow-moving shallow wave-wash swathes the ankles of the two women. The Chinese woman takes a step forward. The shackles of turbulent water that pass between her legs become a romantic uncertainty. Her anxiety is eased by the mysterious woman who begins to wash her own face with the seawater. She splashes the salty white foam against her face, pulling the skin down to get rid of the water but making sure the encrusted salt grains remain. They both repeat the act several times more. The Chinese woman’s knees buckle and she falls into the water. The tentacles of an approaching octopus surround her. She is cemented in a stranglehold as the tentacles wrap the legs and draw her deeper into the vacuuming current of the sea. Her shaking legs try to get free but the tentacles’ suckers hold strong. The mysterious woman is not perplexed; she knows it is part of the process. She rips the octopus out of the ocean and lifts it over the woman’s head, draining purple ink over her, and says: “Battered in the yoke, ready to be cooked and forgotten. Ready to find your other half!” She yells this enigmatically but with a hopeful and rich timbre in her voice. The Chinese woman gathers herself and is able to pull her legs out of the sand. She begins to swim away from the pool of purple ink, back towards the beach. Her legs rise up when she reaches the end of the waves and press down into the sand. It is slow and she must find her balance, but when she does she shakes off the bubbling white wash and purple ink from her body. Each successive step becomes heavier, stronger, and the foam shakes of the ocean’s warmth and draws her back a little. She pushes through the shallow waves, kicking off the stringy sand that pulls at her feet and grapples at the tips of her toes. She is no longer the extension of the life she once deemed indivisible. She is the extension of the sea grapes, of the ocean and its waves. She sees the tracing of palm trees through thin beams of sight in her shrivelled face. A feverish breath like a bird, caught, but ready to leave.
The sheets had all fallen from the single bed where they lay entangled, but the air was hazy with early August heat, and so they did not wake up shivering but slept deeply and fretfully, their skins sticking together along the lengths of their bodies. The buttery rays slanting through the white shutters coaxed them from sleep; first, only the senses were awakened, and the delight of skin finding skin animated their embraces. Soon they were writhing, serpentine, in the small space allotted by the bed. They fucked silently, languorously, in the early morning light of August. Their movements became punctuated by the staccato drills of the garage across the street; then they were fully awake. She looked at him over her shoulder, a long, wide stare. He kissed her and she closed her eyes, pressing herself to him suddenly. The drills stopped and a radio could be heard above the rushing of cars in the street below. They laughed and she crept into the nook between his arm and his ribs. Soon he shrugged her off. Too hot, he said. She smiled softly, Yeah, we’re both pretty sweaty. Yes, he was slick with sweat but her skin, blinding white in the striated sunshine, was cool and dry, only a pink flush rising in her cheeks. She sat up, gathering her legs to her chest, and turned to open the window above the bed. She leaned out, the small eyes of her breasts pressing against the windowsill. She looked out, her gaze lingering on the rooftops of the buildings opposite. The temporary storage facility next to the garage had been vandalized: “Bitches ain’t shit but hos and tricks” scrawled in large red letters across one of the doors. She could hear him fumbling about looking for something in the room behind her. He stubbed his toe and swore. He was so unattractive when he swore; he lacked conviction. The words dribbled forth spasmodically with the feeble rage of a small child. He appeared at the window beside her, a cigarette hanging from his lip. You want one? he asked, although he knew that it was bad for her breathing. Yes, she said, although she only smoked when she was very sad or very drunk, and at the moment she was neither, exactly. She looked quite beautiful leaning out the window and smoking, her bare shoulders gleaming in the sunlight, but he did not look at her. Instead, he commented on the bikes of the passing cyclists. She did not know anything about bikes, and so she merely murmured her agreement at the appropriate moments, her attention absorbed by the Hassidic children scampering by, and by their mothers, all wearing the same wig, trudging behind with sour faces. It was quite glamorous, she thought, leaning naked out of a boy’s window, smoking cigarettes. She smiled and turned to kiss him, but his eyes did not meet hers; she planted a peck on his cheek and returned to her contemplation of the treetops. She had absolutely no plans for that day, but whatever she did, she wanted to be out in the open, under the muted glare of the hazy August sun.
“Each night you come home with five continents on your hands.” Jane Hirshfield I expect a kiwi and polar bear to be mating in your hair. Your cumbersome smile burns like the hulls of the Titanic as you come in—a whisper in a peacoat. “Hi.” My feeble attempt to puncture the air, extend a piquant hello. The dog lifts his head, mechanic. He slowly rises to his feet as if a string pulls up through his thoracic vertebrae. The emphatic bark becomes lodged in his throat like steak cubes. You slap the mail down on the counter. The cat stirs, languid in my lap, licks my forearm. The slap flips a switch inside my head. Suddenly, the computer in front of me is extraneous, toxic. I can’t touch it. Like the walls you painted white then red then taupe, I watch as your muscles elongate, pulling you sluggishly through the kitchen and up the stairs. You must be Herculean, the world on your shoulders, tears in your trouser pockets.
The Other SIMONE VIECO
What exactly did you mean by wrapping your fingers around my throat, picking me up like that, and releasing me onto the bed? I am making lists of lists. I am rotating and translating each iteration; I am looking for the patterns amid the disarray. I know about the language spoken by the stones in your hands. Now, sitting in the bathtub at your parentsâ€™ house, I see below me two shining islands of breast, and lower, carefully recorded, the rhythm of your fists on the body of a doll. It can all be deciphered, if I could have one second, just one second to think. Meanwhile, I am controlling the white lines behind the airplanes in the sky. I am considering the Rorschach bruise on my face â€“ and now, I am being called out of the bath. There is much significance. But first, we must grind it all into smaller numbers. I am not sleeping well, but I am beginning to understand the gleaming lizard who crawls across the window screen in my mind, the fragile piles of colored dust, the tracks of the gulls I have some very beautiful things to say to the right person.
You came over in the morning when the pale light was slanting in through the bay windows, half the city still asleep. You were older than before, the set of your jaw less stubborn that it had been when I knew you. You kept your hair gray. My kitchen seemed foreign, the tiles too slick and something like sinister. It seemed too much that I should have this life, that we should be strangers, that you were sitting across from me with your palms flat on the table and my hands in my lap. We should have spoken then, the air quiet and slightly cold, the day still waiting for breath. I could tell by the way you held your mug that there was still something to love in you, but instead we talked about the weather, and after a while silence broke open and you studied your tea leaves in the piercing brightness of the day.
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