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VLR 1979




Spring 2017 / Volume 42 / Number 2

The Virginia Literary Review Spring 2017 Staff Editor-in-Chief Rory Finnegan Fiction Editor Natalie Wall Art Editor Katherine Smith Treasurer Adam Willis Production Manager Colleen Schinderle Marketing Manager Elliana Given Review Staff Will Brewbaker Emily Clark Steven Kiernan Anna Karoll Jacqui Lucente Chichi Abii Caitlin Flanagan Peyton Schwartz

The Virginia Literary Review is a contracted independent organization run by undergraduate students at the University of Virginia. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the University. The magazine is funded by a student activity fee allocation. VLR is published twice annually. The review staff considers literary and art submissions from individuals in the University community during the first three-quarters of each semester. Work selected during the current semester is published during the following semester. For more information about the magazine and submission guidelines, please visit our website: This issue was produced for print and online publication by the review staff using InDesign software. Copyright 2017. No material may be recorded or quoted, other than for review purposes, without the permission of the artists, to whom all rights revert after the first serial publication.

Contents / Spring 2017 Poetry 7 / a (single) love poem Selby Perkins 16 / A Snake Sweeping His Porch Jacqueline O’Reilly 17 / Sometimes Olivia Comm 19 / Church Going Jack Carlin 21 / III. Prime Nan Macmillan 23 / April 5 Madeline Rita 25 / Diagnose My Color Cherise Holmes 29 / The Snake At Home Reed Brown 36 / When people ask her why she Caroline Hockenbury likes Sting 39 / I’ve decided Olivia Comm 41 / Porches Caroline Hockenbury


11 / How Big The Christ 31 / dust 33 / Old Hitler

Jack Carlin Selby Perkins Andrew Norman

Visual Art Cover / Miss Placed Anna Warner 6 / Hidden Fears Diane D’Costa 9 / Double Portrait 2 Courtney Brubaker 15 / Layers Daniela Jones 20 / Untitled Emily Yun 24 / Untitled Lily Ouyang 27 / Snow Angel Renee Spillane 32 / Untitled Emily Yun 37 / An Impossible Year Xiaoqi Li

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a (single) love poem some time back life sucked my vacant mouth void as a stringless guitar and my teeth like quiesced crickets crawled shaping soundless words waiting till one winter morning i fell in love with the dapple-dyed dawn’s dance out my window and the snug of my bed in the day-bud liminal spent lying (almost) awake i fell in love with the wind in the trees and the trees in the wind how my baby sister eats cake both fists full

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and i fell in love with you (and not just the way you never eat my food never oops-use my toothbrush never kick me from sleep or talk too much for me to find the time to write a poem) but i fell in love with you for the freedom and the stillness and your promise that i don’t have to be waiting to be whole. Selby Perkins

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How Big The Christ He could not help himself now. Especially now, he thinks. Cutting limes is simply that. Mindless tasks only mean your mind is elsewhere while doing them. Mind full of all else, he knows, and isn’t she all else? She has been of course. Even arriving this morning was a reminder of the day before. But she had been on his mind when he woke up too, no? And in the shower and in the car on the drive here. And now that he is here again it’s as if she is too but of course she isn’t—that being the entire issue. The limes are sweet smelling and cold in his hands and the knife is the dull one but he is managing. Felipe can handle the customers, he thinks, though I will watch for her. She would not return again the day after but he is not above hoping and he has already seen the right shade of brown three times but everything else was wrong. A full day later and the comparisons have not stopped, have not come close to stopping, increased actually, he thinks. Each girl he serves now judged, unfairly, in relation to her. Her smile less clumsy, her brown hair shinier and more—what, full? What were the words for what hair can do, for how hair can look? The way it hung and swayed in the breeze. The way it framed her face. The color—incomparable, no? To compare was wrong and also impossible. These girls lacking in some key respect, namely that they are themselves and not her. The scales always tipped in favor of the pretty. The unlovely remain unloved, he thinks, and surely that’s where I remain. But these ecstasies are for everybody. He must find her. Now you are thinking like a romantic, he thinks, transferring the cut wedges into the pitcher where they keep them, now you are understanding what love at first sight is supposed to mean. For years he has worked atop the Corcovado, serving drinks and pastries and smoothies for the tourists who want to spend more time and money at the feet of Christ and every day he sees hordes of people from around the world. But this face! This face and the rest of her. Never has a stranger so debilitated him. Her face among the plenty, one he had tracked through the crowd as she walked and looked pleasantly around while navigating the traffic surrounding her. Briefly he would lose her behind a passing group or else she would be otherwise hidden and each time, for those moments, things were not right. This agreement violated by people unaware of any agreement at all. But for him, God! Be merciful! This was unjust, these minor betrayals when real time felt suspended or otherwise 11 / VLR

unreal. But he had managed, somehow, to keep her there and, yes he thought, there’s her white shirt—how it shines—as she made her way over to him, pointed at the menu, asked for an açai. The scene replays in his mind. He must find her, he thinks again as he pulls more limes from the bag and balances them so that they will not roll. There is little chance of that, damnit. Here is the only place he saw her. The way she looked and what she ordered the only things he has of her. He cannot find her and he cannot find her number one because it would be too difficult, impossible even, in all of Rio to find her and number two because to find her would mean, obviously, that he had found her and what would she think of that? The way it is in films is not the way it is—she would be surprised and maybe flattered but underneath would be asking how did he find me, why did he find me, the guy from the acai shop. I would be the overbearing foreigner. The creep. But accidental, perhaps, to make it seem accidental? This lime is shit. Nobody should eat this. That could work—seeing each other out and acting as if this is something we shared, interest in this place. She would pretend that she recognized me and I would help her along and remind her that I served her acai, that I work at the shop at the top of the mountain, that I make smoothies and cut fruit under God and she would like that. Something about the foreignness lending something special to the menial. As if even this job was honorable and important here. That life is somehow simpler. You idiot, he thinks, you idiot. You haven’t even found her and already you are deciding how the rest will go. They are fortunate that the line isn’t long but it’s early yet and the crowds will pick up. For now Felipe can handle the customers, there are more limes to cut and even if she was coming back today, which she wouldn’t, but if she was she was not going to come back in the morning and especially not around lunch time so he could afford to not pay attention to the crowds. No, if she was coming back she would be back late in the afternoon when it has gotten cooler and maybe she is back to see what a sunset looks like from the feet of Christ and what Clarice Lispector has to say. That was the book, wasn’t it? The Hour of the Star. He had seen it yesterday when she ordered the acai because she pulled her money from its pages to pay and he had asked—oh Christ what had he asked? Something. Something. He didn’t read, but had a certain awareness of the power of a book that made him feel like he should read but also unworthy and incapable. Like those who did read had an understanding of the world that those who did not read could not attain. 12 / VLR

And here, a tourist, choosing to bring a book rather than a camera to the greatest view in Rio, made him think that she not only had a superior understanding of the world, but was a part of another world altogether. The limes are done, enough for the day and maybe even extra for tomorrow. He scrapes the unused bits and ends off the board and into the trashcan with the blade of the knife. He looks over the counter at the people passing by in the distance and thinks again that he must find her. With nowhere to begin somehow he must. The umbrella canopies opened and offering shade. The clouds distant but building. Maybe they will get rain today. It would be a good day for afternoon rain and he wonders if she is thinking the same thing. That maybe the Corcovado is the perfect place to sit and read and watch an afternoon rain above Rio with a drink in your hand. An acai even better. She did say they were her favorite yesterday and he had made hers slowly and perfectly because of the obvious reasons. She watched him work and would smile and look down after their eyes met each time he glanced over at her. How lovely those little things looked. The little squint when reading over the menu, tucking loose hair behind her ears—the sway of her earring—struggling to count her smaller bills until giving up and handing over the 50. How lovely it was to feel her looking at him behind the counter, to know that she was waiting on him, that they were bound together for these moments, that he was the person who most immediately mattered most to her. He felt self-conscious and childish and open and impossible and did not care. If this is what it feels like, he thought, then this is what it feels like. Where was that feeling now, he thinks, I would clean all day if she were to watch me do it. He rinses the knife blade and turns the water toward the cutting board until the juices and pulp run down and off and into the sink. I will find her, he thinks again. There is no question now. He returns the cutting board to the shelf and the knife to the cup and thinks again about yesterday. How instead of handing her the açai over the counter, he put out the BACK IN A FEW MINUTES sign, stepped out from behind the counter, performed a slight mock bow, and held out her drink. He did not and does not know what made him do that but she seemed to like it. The girl, with her pale arms folded over the book she held against her chest, did a mock bow of her own in return and smiled and accepted the drink. She thanked him in an accented Portuguese and he had not known that obrigado could sound so—somehow. But then that was over and he knew what would come next and now thinking about it again, 13 / VLR

leaning on the counter looking out over the crowd, he decides again she must return or else otherwise he will have to find her. Isn’t this how those stories start? Not his parents’, no, but others. He remembers again how, then, he looked at her, smiling, and realized that now that she had the açai his service to her was over. What more could he do? What more would she want him for? Now she would leave, he thought, she would take her drink and her book and her body and would look out over the city for a while and would leave, down the mountain, away from him, remembering only how good the açai had tasted, how impressive the view, how big the Christ.

Jack Carlin

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A Snake Sweeping His Porch You are the reptilian Friend: such a strange standing Amongst (them) the apples swelling Unbitten with sweetness Too subtle to paint With one color of emotion. You tempt them With lusty crimson. Your scaly lips Hiss: Turn for me Against soft peels Mix and ripen. Pregnant-purple, Kiss: Turn for me Brownblue They’ve bruised now Fallen & rotten. So you sweep Away skins of you & dead friends: eaten. Jacqueline O’Reilly

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Sometimes you’ll be walking along with her and it may be the early morning after one of those nights that she had cried to you about the crow with the broken wing and the lone old man’s song she overheard and the child suffering and you will start to slow on the rocky gravel road with the trees and their summer yellow-smelling green leaves surrounding you and she’ll sayher face for once turned away from the groundlook at that tree and you’ll both stop walking and stare at the tree the tall tree with skinny, crooked branches with misshaped black spots with brown folding bark and creviced lines that reach and point to the dawning sky

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and she’ll look at you and say again look at that tree and you’ll look at her and say I know

Olivia Comm

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Church Going Once I am sure there is nothing going on I grab a book and step outside leaving the door open, slightly, for the cat whom I hate. It is Sunday and I will not go to church but I will kneel and pray for the daisies sprouting from the dark earth and listen to the hymns of windblown leaves and jays and sparrows— that is, unless the cat gets to them which we know it can because it has before, jumping, impossibly, onto the fence and into the trees— and I will read the word of a different lord in a wrought iron chair at the round glass table in the grass, and drink wine and eat bread and the body of an animal whose life was sacrificed for the sake of mine. Jack Carlin

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III. Prime

third prayer of the canonical hours I can’t remember the last time I awoke with a mind that was quiet. There’s this voice with whom I am in constant conversation. She rarely lets me rest on things like candles and mountains and beauty. She rarely lets me rest on God. No, she and I wear light pink ballet slippers and dance to things like death or the sound of my milk curdling in the fridge. She and I drive after drinking a glass of wine and write screenplays about places like rocks under cherry trees. I remember when I would wake to the sound of my father’s voice, when dreams were heavy on my tongue, when the house smelled like bacon. I remember when the sun woke me up, when the low hum of my piano pulled me to it, string to fingernails. I’ve tried keeping the curtains open, tried turning off the phone and seeing if my body remembers how to awake without alarm. But no, my mind still rises loudly.

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Is it because I left the ocean too soon, because I haven’t touched a tree today? Do you want me to breathe, ten times, with intention, before I fall asleep? Should I burn incense? Shall I abstain from rubbing the corner of my blanket? Please, be quiet and sing me something like waves gliding on cold sand. Nan Macmillan

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April 5 Call the moment Heavy when remembrance clings like a Human Body to your shoulders, like your mother wading through unmowed Scrub and Thistle, sun glaring on her naked Knees, Bees swirling up from clovers into the hem of her Milkwhite Nightshirt – Heavy like gathering strewn laundry from the carpet after the Love has been Made and you have gone. Clearing cold lip-stained cups from the Table. Opening blinds. Ghostly Debris: weighing almost nothing and still Some, along the Way, will be crushed by them. Others – those Hopeful Fools – write poems. Madeline Rita 23 / VLR

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Diagnose My Color Please tell me I can wrap my palm around our blazing sun and pull it from the sky so that its fiery tendrils are at my lips then reaching into my throat until the entirety of its grandeur is in my core. Tell me it will emit golden drops as it twirls on tiptoes at the base of my stomach, allowing its deep yellow to course through my veins, and its heat to rise and rise and carry me away with it. Please tell me that if you took your pocketknife, cut down from my collarbones to my bellybutton, and unfolded me, you would reveal walls painted in sweet lemons and daffodils, or perhaps a place where songbirds first learn to sing, or maybe just a space to return to – a space to soak your frostbitten fingertips after an ice blue winter. Please tell me that if you pressed your ear to my open mouth, you would hear the ocean calling, that you would hear the back and forth of frothy waves and the beating wings of seagulls. Tell me that salted pearls would roll off my tongue to find their way into the not yet yellow parts of your brain, to break themselves open and lay their divided halves belly up so you can trace the rings, trace the timeline that lead to their milky luster.

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Please tell me that when I stand under a streetlamp, some of its bright glow seeps into my skin so that when I walk into the night, I shine too. Cherise Holmes

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The Snake At Home Response to “When My Brother was an Aztec”, Natalie Diaz My sister is a snake when she comes home, sliding and slinking her way around the house through the flapped open dog door, squeezing the refurbished leather leftover from the last time her spit flew just a bit too close, and the sofa sizzled down to a crisp. She comes in with no feet and leaves with two, strong and supple, she sheds her skin when she leaves. Each of us has donated a leg at least twice, otherwise she would never have left the house to begin with. Ebony scaled and green latticed, eyes like storm and night she strikes the way she used to dance, sinew and muscle carved up into a small waist and pointed fangs. She has bitten my brothers so often they bleed venom, too. We throw them all in a cage to sleep, heat deep in the basement while we huddle in the frigid attic waiting for the time when the clock reverses and turns my sister back into a girl again, with the silly smile and a mouse’s gaze.

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She might not be able to strike her enemy, but she will give our parents back their limbs. Reed Brown

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dust No one remembered the exact day Isa stopped smiling. “I think she was five,” her mom would tell the doctors, “Maybe six.” It had been a long time ago; Isa was eleven now. Even still sometimes, on occasion, people—strangers mostly—would ask Isa to smile. Isa would reply as she always had: “Not yet. Soon. But not yet.” Last week during school pictures, the photographer had snapped at her, “You are ruining the class picture. And what on earth could you possibly be waiting for?” Even Isa did not know what she was waiting for, and though her friends and parents had begun to despair that “not yet” would ever come, Isa hoped patiently. And while she hoped, Isa read books, and planted flowers, and sang. Selby Perkins

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Old Hitler Rich feared the water of Boca Grande Pass; no body of water looked like Boca Grande Pass for a hundred miles either North or South. To his left, the blue faded into the brackish green of Gasparilla Sound. To his right opened the brilliant turquoise of the Gulf, but Boca Grande Pass loomed a deep and impenetrable cobalt blue. As the tide rolled in and out with the passing of each day, the Pass tumbled and boiled like a great salt rapid. He didn’t dare touch the surface or dangle his toes over the sides of his kayak, not even along the shore where bottom was visible; the current could easily tear a boy from the surface and send him to the depths. Rich had known since a young age not to wade into Boca Grande Pass; he had seen the dorsal fins and clouds of baitfish leaping into the air to escape the cavernous maw of some unseen Goliath Grouper or Tarpon. Though he had grown up in the Carolinas, Rich visited the island several times a year with his family. His mother had grown on the island, and on long car trips she would recount the stories of great catches and Tarpon runs since the island’s settlement. In sixth grade, Rich faced suspension at his middle school for referring to Goliath Grouper as “Jewfish,” a ghost of his mother’s islander lexicon. At fourteen, he still didn’t understand the controversy over the massive grouper’s name. There, sitting suspended above the salt in the plastic hull of his kayak, Rich fantasized hooking a grouper, bearing solemn respect for the fish’s impossible power and size. Rich sat atop the hull of his kayak instead of in the seat cavity. Two pontoons reached out like arched shoulders from both sides of the stern, granting him the ability to perch atop the craft despite the tumult of the Pass. From there, Rich could stare right down into water and thus avoid the intense glare of the sun’s refraction on the waves. It also allowed him to store his tackle and additional rods where his feet were supposed to be. From a distance, motorboat captains and their fishing clients peered with curiosity at the odd triple bodied profile of the pontoon kayak. They joked that Rich’s shirtless adolescent body looked like some sort of waspy Budhha sitting cross-legged atop the hull, unshaken in the tumult. Rich turned and looked back at the beach, careful to keep from leaning too far over the blue below. He could see his parents and his dog standing knee-deep in the surf watching him paddle. His big sister walked down the beach alone, head angled down as she scanned the beach for whelk shells. At that moment he felt that every thing was in its right place. His family was on 33 / VLR

the beach; they had never let him paddle in the Pass before. He felt big in his kayak, and flexed his new masculinity with every paddle stroke in the current. Maybe, he hoped, he would bring home an enormous Snook they could eat. It was a half-conscious notion of a primitive thought. Mostly the sun felt good on his back as it evaporated the surf spray that prickled cool on his skin and speckled the lenses of his sunglasses. When Rich reached the mouth of the Pass at the top of the current, he set down the paddle and reached into belly of the kayak for the beefiest rod he had. Inch by inch, he guided the fluorocarbon line out of the reel and through the ring guides of the rod until he reached the tip. Next, he tied eight inches of woven steel leader to the tip of the line before cinching it to the largest stainless steel hook he could find at the island tackle shop. Rich had spent two entire years of savings from babysitting and mowing lawns on the outfit; he gleamed over it with pride. He had even custom ordered titanium gears for the inside of the reel to prevent rusting and to guarantee the advantage in any fight. With the rod in his left hand, Rich reached back into the hull and grabbed the dead stingray he had caught the previous night with a leftover piece of shrimp. He slipped the hook through its belly and left the point protruding from its back. In another motion, he sliced off the stingray’s tail and let it down into the water. With his left index finger, he flipped the bail and watched the stingray plummet out of sight trailing a cloud of blood. With that, he laid down across the length of the kayak’s top so he could tan. The rod sat firm in the belly of the kayak, held in place by his legs so that he could feel any strikes. The wind pushed his salty blonde hair over his eyes, and he trailed the distorted rainbows in his vision caused by the sunlight crossing his squinted eyelashes. He could hear a distant fisherman laugh as he rested his bare arms on the beams connecting the pontoons to the kayak and let his head wobble against the hull as waves bumped by. While they struggled with the motor throttle to maintain the correct drift, Rich let the wind and the tide carry his kayak meter by meter toward Gasparilla Sound. The boy would have looked like Christ on the Cross drifting by if not for the sleepy smile across his lips. It only took a few minutes for the combined tide and wind to push the kayak into the shallow water at the mouth of the channel, and Rich noticed the water calm underneath the craft. He leaned forward and grabbed the rod only to have it torn from his hands. The entire rod flew forward and would have gone overboard had the grip not caught on the edge of his seat. He launched his hands forward in time to recover the rod, only for the rod to almost pull him out of the boat. Rich slid forward into the cockpit of the kayak and jammed his bare feet against the footholds. The rod again tried to tear from his 34 / VLR

hands, so he slammed the butt of the grip into the floor of the kayak. Now the whole kayak jilted forward in rapid movement against the current of the tide and toward the sea. Rich looked up at his rod as he held it; it was bent nearly in half and cracking with strain. He could hear the fluorocarbon whining as it does when it threatens to break, so he loosened the drag. The reel zoomed in response as the unseen beast tore line away, but the rod eased and the kayak slowed in its bolt toward the Gulf. In his moment of rest, Rich waved for the attention of his parents, but they were too far to notice. Again he pushed his feet against the footrests and buried the rod into the floor of the kayak. He had lost too much line, so he tightened the drag of his reel. Again the kayak leapt up in the water, spraying Rich in the face as it split the oncoming waves. The rod tore at his hands, and they began to bleed. Rich’s eyes drew wide when he saw the arched razor of a Great Hammerhead Shark’s dorsal fin rise from the surf and tower over him by several feet. He approximated the distance between the kayak and the shark and measured the gunmetal grey fin with the middle segment of his little finger. Four feet. Rich remembered his mother’s story of Old Hitler, a twenty-twofoot-long legend of a Hammerhead that ate the sailors of ships sunk by U Boats in WWII. He didn’t believe in the legend of the single evil shark, but he did believe the mammoth towing him to sea was over ten feet longer than his kayak. With ease, the creature could swamp his boat and swallow him whole. Indeed thoughts of being eaten or drowned or lost at sea made him think of his parents. He turned his head back to the beach and saw them panicking while the fisherman gawked from their boats. Both groups screamed at him in terror to cut the line. He reached for the knife at his belt, but his hand stopped before it reached the blade. He sat still for a moment, watching the water pass beneath his kayak at great speed. Slowly, his hand came back to the rod. Rich turned his eyes forward to the towering fin, and with euphoric determination in his chest he flexed his arms and held on.

Andrew Norman

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When people ask her why she likes Sting so much she tells them about how you used to toss her synth solos in handfuls while she rode backseat, ridges of carpeted cushion pasted to the backs of her thighs, unsteady whirring rocking up from asphalt. She shows them how her thumb would strum the seatbelt on offbeat, how your fingers spun coordinates into radio knobs —that quiet precision. Warm days were windowless so you wove radio waves and sun into her hair. And she thinks you must have known the first day she drove without her dad Every Little Thing She Does is Magic would be stapled to her chest.

Caroline Hockenbury

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I’ve decided I’ve decided whoever answers more questions falls in love first. Tell me about your childhood house? I’ve decided if she leaves in the night she doesn’t love you. And if she lets you see her smudgy makeup eye rubbed plump lip soft morning face, she’ll stay around. Even for a bit. And I’ve decided that the toothpick tip-toe love isn’t it. I’ve decided if the wind blows hard on a Tuesday or the car in the first spot round the corner is black, it is meant to be.

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And I’ve decided it’s either the darkest shade of navy blue in this midnight flashlight fickle moon, or that God is a subtle guy and I’ve got to call you. Olivia Comm

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Caroline Hockenbury 41 / VLR

Spring 2017 Š Virginia Literary Review

Profile for Virginia Literary Review

Virginia Literary Review: Spring 2017  

Virginia Literary Review: Spring 2017